GLAHN POSES THIS QUESTION TO MC5'S WAYNE KRAMER: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN
AN ARTIST HAS MORE TO SELL THAN HE HAS TO SAY?
and sisters... I wanna see a sea of hands out there... I wanna hear
some revolution out there, brother..." In the late '60s rock 'n'
roll dropped the "roll" part, cranked up the volume, politicized
itself, and became an instrumental part in overthrowing two corrupt
administrations (Johnson and Nixon). A line was drawn on the concrete
between America's youth and the status quo. None drew it deeper
than Detroit's MC5. The Five spearheaded manager John Sinclair's
philosophy of "total assault on the culture by any means necessary,
including rock roll, dope and ****ing in the streets" with their
groundbreaking debut, Kick Out The Jams. The military-industrial
complex was the enemy, as were the corporations that fueled it.
time has come for each and everyone of you to decide whether you
are going to be the problem or you are going to be the solution.
You must choose..."
After the Vietnam War wound down, rock maintained its revolutionary
stance in the form of Punk. But by the '80s, rock was in immanent
danger of being dragged into the mainstream by the same forces that
it had rebelled against. Crass commercialization was the order of
the day. The voice of rock 'n' roll was being co-opted to sell everything
from perfume to beer. And when it accelerated from the occasional
radio jingle into the arenas and concert halls, under the guise
of "keeping ticket prices low," music journalists around the globe
went on the attack. Who could blame them? When an artist has more
to sell than he has to say, the music most certainly becomes diluted.
recognized journalists such as Dave Marsh and Charles Young began
taking the artists to task. Marsh began in 1983 when The Who took
on Miller Beer as a sponsor for their second "farewell" tour. Marsh:
"Ad agencies and corporations bought starpower, and this called
allegiances into question: What would the Who have to say when the
Miller workers went on strike?"
Moving deeper into the decade, not even upstart acts such as The
Long Ryders and The Del Fuegos could escape the critics' wrath.
After the financially strapped Long Ryders took on Miller as a sponsor
in 1987, the public perception of them went from one of being one
of the hippest bands on the planet to being corporate lackies in
a matter of weeks. While never overtly political, The Long Ryders,
fronted by the leftist-leaning Sid Griffin, were hardly an example
of "corporate whoring." For them, an injection of outside funding
was what was needed for survival. While some band in-fighting and
label problems may have played a part in their demise, Griffin attributes
the whipping they took in the press for the Miller ads as the straw
that broke their back. In the end, the war against commercialism
in rock music was yielding few victories and some undeserved casualties
to go along with them. These days Marsh states, "It's different
now than it was then. Then, there was a chance to stop it. Still,
we lost and the whole campaign seems a mistake in retrospect."
is an understatement. With every passing week, there seems to be
another classic rock tune being incorporated into a new TV commercial.
Everything from the silly (Iggy Pop's Lust For Life used to promote
a Cruise Line) to the sad (The message of The Clash's London Calling
being bastardized to sell Jaguars). But not every artist is being
seduced. As Marsh correctly points out: "The level of resistance
to sponsorship is pretty high; it's ineffective but it's pretty
those of us that like our music untainted, there are always artists
we can count on to resist the lure of the corporate dollar. Ever
wonder why Cadillac has a new ad campaign titled Break On Through,
but features Led Zeppelin's Rock And Roll? It's because The Doors'
John Densmore nixed the use of that band's music as a selling tool,
as he has done religiously through the years. But if he were to
give in, there is no doubt that it wouldn't be considered newsworthy.
Densmore doesn't put the kabosh on commercialization of The Doors'
music out of fear of a media backlash. He does so, among other reasons,
out of respect for Jim Morrison's wishes and because he doesn't
need the money. He can afford to keep The Doors' music pure.
Ex-MC5 guitarist, Wayne Kramer, should be so lucky. The sound of
Kick Out The Jams still reverberates among those with a revolutionary
bent. When Kramer took on, not one, but three sponsors for his recent
Adult World tour, it did raise eyebrows. And a few danders as well.
"How on earth could an artist who describes himself as 'left of
left' jump into bed the enemy?" Avoiding the term "corporate sponsors,"
Kramer terms his deals as "strategic partnerships." The trinity
forming his transgression consists of Fender Guitars (an obvious
choice), Apple Computers (a stretch, but still an instrumental tool
in his music-making), and X-Large Clothes Inc. (say what?). Kramer
had some explaining to do and he welcomed the opportunity to do
time to testify. I want to know.... Are you ready to testify?"
I started off by asking Kramer to explain how his deals work. He
explains that he doesn't receive money for his endorsements.
having the million dollars necessary to market Muscletone Records
(Kramers' own label), I have to find new ways to reach the audience.
One way that I do that is with what we call "strategic partners."
It's a business principle. I've developed a relationship with Apple.
I've used Apple computers for years now. Music and film people have
really supported Apple. So when the opportunity came up to do some
demonstrations for Apple, I jumped at it because it's a win-win
deal for me. I get to go directly to the people that I want to reach
and expose them to the things that I'm trying to do. I didn't ask
Apple for anything. I didn't want anything from them. To me it's
being of service to a product and a tool that I appreciate, that
I think is a good tool. And it gives me a platform to market my
records. That's the way the deal works. They promote. They do a
flyer. And they let people know that Wayne Kramer will be there
to do a demonstration of Pro Tools (a music mixing and mastering
program) and the power of a Mac and how he made his new record on
been a Fender endorsee for years. I've played Fenders since I've
been a boy. Fender does a lot of good work in this world. I'm not
really a big deal at Fender. But Fender recognizes that the long-term
artists, the guys that have been playing guitars for years, are
where their credibility comes from. And they appreciate that. And
I appreciate the fact that they're there for me and people just
like me. I own both Gibsons and Fenders. I buy these guitars. They
don't give them to me… Fender has given me some guitars, but Gibson
doesn't give me any guitars. The point is, that by utilizing the
resources of Fender, I can reach more people. See, this helps me.
They move very slow. I'd like them to sponsor my tours. But they
move very slow. It's a monolithic corporation. X-Large gives us
some clothes to wear on stage. They're good looking clothes."
own both Gibsons and Fenders. I buy these guitars. They
don't give them to me… Fender has given me some guitars,
but Gibson doesn't give me any guitars. The point is,
that by utilizing the resources of Fender, I can reach
more people... X-Large gives us some clothes to wear on
stage. They're good looking clothes.
already own a Fender, and the Mac sounds interesting, but I'm not
quite ready to jump on-line and buy some X-Large Clothes. Fashion
was never my strong point. But as pitchmen, Ed McMahon and Paul
Harvey have nothing on Wayne Kramer. I ask him if he thought being
a product endorsee was ever a valid issue in the first place. And
did he think there was some unfairness in the way some bands were
trashed in the '80s.
it was never really an issue. And if somebody can write something
about a band and it destroys the band, the band wasn't about much
Ouch! I had to challenge Kramer on this one. The Long Ryders outlasted
the MC5 by two albums. What does this say about the MC5? Kramer
backs off a little.
think it's placing too much power on the press to say that a bad
review… You know there's a dilemma in being an artist because artists
egos gets out of control. I use my ego as power. If I'm using my
ego, there's a component in there that's my grandiosity. Part of
being grandiose is big schemes. Big plots. I wanna be a big star.
Especially when you're young. And part of grandiosity is being thin
skinned. I don't like it when people criticize me. 'How dare you!
Don't you know I'm godlike? Don't you know who you're talking too?'
I'm thin skinned. I don't like to be teased. I don't like to be
criticized. I use this as power, as fuel. I never understood this
when I was young. I never knew that my ego powers me and in the
end it fuels my alcoholism. Because I can't live in the world like
that. So it's easier for me to get drunk. Cause then I don't have
to deal with it. That's the problem. This is a self- imposed crisis
that I've created. The truth can be… and the truth for me today
is, that if I do this work to the best of my ability, by principle,
then I'm not subject to criticism. Because I've done the best I
another man's criticism doesn't ignite my ego, my grandiosity, my
thin-skinned-ness, because I know I've done the best I can do. And
another man doesn't sit in judgement of me. Jon Landau told me a
story that he wrote a review of Eric Clapton (when Clapton was in
Cream) where he said that Eric Clapton couldn't sustain a 30- or
40-minute solo. John Coltrane can play for 20 or 30 minutes and
keep it compelling. Eric Clapton can't. And it ****ed Clapton up
so much that he had a nervous breakdown. See, we can't stand to
be criticized. We can't stand it! So perhaps that bad press affected
those bands that deeply that it broke their spirit. I know in my
life that it affected me terribly when I read bad reviews of the
MC5. And my whole life was a knee-jerk reaction to bad reviews.
But that's not my life today."
Is there some point at which an artist shouldn't engage in these
type of partnerships with corporations for any amount of money?
saw where John Densmore raised the absolutely valid point about
selling The Doors' music to sell cars or something. 'We don't need
the money. Why would we do this?' That's really a good question.
If you've got millions, why would you do that? I'm not sure. How
many homes can you own? I don't do this (make music) for money in
the first place. I do it to keep on doing it. But part of the deal
is I need money. I've got to pay the rent just like everybody else.
I've never had money like that. I've never had the kind of success
that many of my contemporaries have. I don't know what they're up
against. I've known some people that have that kind of money and
who have the right idea about it. To use that money to be some kind
of contributor. Not be a taker. I think there's a way to have money
and be ethical. You don't see very much of it, but I think it can
This doesn't strike me as the lingo of a self-described leftist.
But Kramer makes many valid points. I recently saw Dwight Twilley
play in front of about 12 people at an out-of-the-way ballroom somewhere
in the sticks of Wisconsin. It isn't unusual to see such lesser-known
but still vital artists as Alejandro Escavedo and Slobberbone playing
in front of equally sparse crowds. I'm not sure I can get used to
the idea of London Calling being used for a Jaguar commercial. And
I still have to wonder where Wayne Kramer will place his allegiance
should Apple workers ever go on strike. But maybe the idea of "strategic
partnerships" is an idea whose time has come as an instrument for
putting the spotlight on artists that are struggling. It's just
too bad that it came about 15 years too late for The Long Ryders.
Note: Wayne Kramer's current release is Adult World, on Muscletone
Records. The Long Ryders' Rockin' At The Roxy DVD is now available
from Ventura Distribution.