Few bands encapsulated the wild tumult of the 1960s as thoroughly as the MC5. In a few short years they went from being dorky enough to wear matching band outfits to performing for the protesters outside the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. By early 1973 the band would break up after just three albums; in 1975 Wayne Kramer was busted for selling cocaine.
Released in 2002, David C. Thomas’ movie MC5: A True Testimonial was one of the most highly praised documentaries of that year. Unfortunately, in 2004 Wayne Kramer sued Thomas and the film’s producer, Laurel Legler, over purported assertions that Kramer would serve as the movie’s music producer. It took three years but Thomas and Legler prevailed in court.
At one point Kramer explains that Rob Tyner came up with the name MC5, which he liked because it reminded him of the name of a machine part such as those being manufactured all around him in Detroit. “MC5” stood for “Motor City 5,” of course, but the band members would sometimes make up other possibilities, such as “morally corrupt” or “marijuana cigarette” or “more cock” or “marijuana cuntlappers” or “Mongolian clusterfuck.”
The MC5 were surveilled by the U.S. government in connection with their revolutionary politics; MC5: A True Testimonial includes some of the government’s footage of their 1968 performance in Chicago.
The legal wrangling over the movie has meant that the movie never saw a DVD release. It has seldom been seen on YouTube but it popped up—in full—about a month ago, so we strongly recommend that you watch it while you still can!
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘The Mecca of Hip’: Essential doc on Detroit venue where the Stooges & MC5 made their marks