Just managed to catch a terrific show on the always-excellent BBC4, entitled Motor City’s Burning. Unfortunately, it’s now disappeared from the BBC’s iPlayer (which is where I saw it after downloading it a couple of weeks ago), but these things usually get repeated ad infinitum, so keep an eye on the schedules and there’s a good chance it’ll turn up again.
Tracing the history of Detroit’s music over that fertile period from the early-1960s to the early-70s (i.e. from the inception of Motown to the last throes of Iggy and the Stooges, by way of the MC5), the programme mixed contemporaneous footage with modern-day talking heads reminiscing. While neither the subject matter nor the documentary’s tried-and-tested format could be described as new or ground-breaking, the quality of the interviews was what made Motor City’s Burning so engaging. From a bare-chested Iggy Pop (does this guy own any shirts whatsoever?) to the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Rob Tyner, via an incredibly well-preserved Mary Wilson of the Supremes, the show joined the dots between the ubiquitous motor industry, Berry Gordy’s company, and the political and financial disenfranchisement that led to the riots of 1967, before taking in the White Panther movement and the Stooges primal howl. If it had been extended by half an hour and managed to take in Detroit’s latter years as a hotbed of techno (again, the presence of Ford, General Motors et al not a coincidence), then it would have been nigh-on perfect.
Perhaps the most eloquent and sympathetic interviewee was John Sinclair, marijuana martyr and MC5 manager. Seemingly chastened by his experiences, he appears to have opted for a quiet life away from revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll, though he gleefully reminisced about the band’s appearances in now-decrepit and abandoned Detroit ballrooms.
The show sent me back to the MC5’s astonishing first album, Kick Out The Jams (as the documentary asked, would any record company sanction a live album as a group’s debut these days?). And it still holds up, though the impact of the title track has been slightly blunted through over-playing. So, instead, here’s the first track on the album, Ramblin’ Rose, a to-the-point workout that clocks in at only 2 and a half minutes if you exclude the lengthy spoken-word introduction, and which, to my mind at least, sounds a bit like Cream if the latter had been taking amphetamines rather than heroin.
Download Ramblin’ Rose by the MC5 (deleted May 2008)