Politics

Wayne Kramer's DNC Diary

Listen to Wayne Kramer talk about playing the Democratic Convention--then and now

Wayne Kramer

Alex Cohen, whose coverage of last week's Democratic National Convention can be found here and here and here, also got a chance to sit down Wayne Kramer, one of the founders of Detroit's seminal rock band MC5. MC5 played at the 1968 Democratic convention and Kramer got a chance to play this week in Denver with Rage Against the Machine. Alex's piece on Wayne didn't make it on air, but you can listen to it here via the link at the top of this page. Wayne was also kind enough to share some impressions of the Denver conclave with us, as well as the only surviving footage of his 1968 performance. It turns out that that concert was recorded for posterity by employees of the Department of Defense in Chicago to monitor the crowd.

Wayne Kramer: Here are some quick impressions of my 48-hour blur here in Denver.

It begins with a whirlwind flight from LA and an arrival in Denver that took me immediately into a couple of press meetings. One was a filming for a Canadian documentary for Sundance on the collision of art and activism called Sounds Like A Revolution. The second, a local Denver film student program on roughly the same theme. This proved to be the thread in a lot of the questions that I would get from the press this trip.

We hit the Denver Coliseum early on Wednesday morning and it was great to hook up with my bros in the IVAW—Iraq Veterans Against the War. Garett Reppenhagen was looking especially dapper in his formal uniform and surprisingly youthful having shaved his beard. Thirty-three years old, and he's one of the old guys. DC chapter president Geoff Millard snagged me an IVAW tee shirt and I was off to the press races. And I do mean races.

These high-intensity press meetings are surreal. Everyone grabs a 10-minute interview with you and they all ask basically the same questions, so I'm trying to figure out eight different ways to say fundamentally the same thing. It's an impossible task, but I'm trying to put a fresh spin on each conversation. Basically I'm just grateful that anyone's interested in what I have to say at all.

Almost everyone in the press knows that I founded the MC5 and a lot of them know that we were the only band to play at the DNC in Chicago in '68. And that I am here today playing as Rage Against The Machine's special guest. DNC 2008, in Denver does bring up some interesting comparisons. The main difference, it seems to me, is that street demonstrations were actually a viable tactic in the 1960s in the anti-Vietnam and civil rights marches, but I honestly don't think they're so effective today. They serve a different purpose now.

I've observed that the authorities learned their lessons well from the time back when there was a draft to worry about, and that information is now controlled to a degree so narrow, that I'm sure it's making the framers of the Constitution spin in their graves. We don't see photographs of flag-draped coffins or the battlefields of war, the details of the atrocities or of the terrible horrors of war. I saw so much down-on-the-ground activism these last two days. I promise you that little of it has actually made it to your television or newspaper or radio station. The media flow and the streets themselves are so utterly controlled that the old ways to carry a message to the government don't work as well these days.

Here's the good news: The authorities haven't figured out how to control art, yet. And I think that what the IVAW and Rage Against the Machine and Adam Jung at Tent State did by putting together a concert like the one I played yesterday is the wave of the future. It is the new paradigm.

There were 10,000 kids there who had a ball at the concert who didn't lose control of themselves, who agreed with all of us — that non-violence was key to successfully carrying our message. Our message was one of personal activism focused toward a simple demand that the illegal war in Iraq and Afghanistan be stopped immediately. Not unlike the war in Vietnam, these wars we were lied into.

It was a ball playing "Kick Out The Jams" with Rage. And after they finished their set, we took to the streets, along with roughly 5000 demonstrators, and we marched behind the IVAW men and women. Tom Morello, Zack de la Rocha, Boots Riley, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk, some of Denver's Flobots, and other performers from the concert along with me carried the banner that read: "We Support War Resistors." We all felt like it was the right thing to do to use whatever media attention we might generate to carry the vets' message. It was a long march. The sun was hot. No matter, everyone was well disciplined and in good spirits.

We marched about four miles, and to illustrate my point that the streets are absolutely controlled, we were forced through deserted industrial neighborhoods for the majority of it. As a matter of fact, the Denver Police Dept. let us know every step of the way they were ever present and prepared to deal with any illegal activities. There was a constant exchange between the IVAW leadership, keeping everyone cool and aware of what was happening each step of the way. The little bit we did get through and into the city was limited to stopping in front of Obama's hotel (to show our numbers) and then shuttled down back streets and alleys into a pre-arranged dead end, where the Denver police were waiting en masse, ready.

At this point, things could have gotten very, very ugly, with the police fully prepared to use whatever force might be necessary to disperse us. The vets weren't going to move, and neither were we, their supporters. Filmmaker Patricia Foulkrod mediated between the IVAW and Denver police to bring Obama's camp into the picture so the vets could deliver their letter of demands to the presumptive nominee. After a few tense minutes, the Obama camp agreed to meet with the IVAW. It ended as a win-win for everyone concerned, displaying again what reasoned diplomacy can do.

Made my way out of the throng, found my wife and off to Shepard Fairey's art show. Filmed again for a documentary on Shepard himself. There are so many cameras everywhere. It's funny to think that the only footage we can find form the MC5's '68 performance is courtesy of the United States Department of Defense. Here it is, discovered in the National Archives by a researcher who had been working on the Weather Underground documentary that came out a few years ago.

We almost crawled back to our hotel, exhausted from the eight-mile march in the sun. A mere eight hours later and we're off to Free Speech TV for an interview about all of this. (The program Grit TV also featured my dear friend Jill Sobule.)

And then here, to the airport, where I write this report. All in all, a blurry 48 hours well and truly rocked.

Thanks, Wayne. For you MC5 fans, here are three songs for you to enjoy.

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Bad Seeds:

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Crack in the Universe:

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Kick Out the Jams

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