Kick Out the Jams by Chris Green
The MC5 don’t often come up in conversation these days. Many of you reading this may not have even heard of them but back in the day, they were big. In 1969, the MC5 were the loudest band in the world, louder even than The Who. Their 133 decibels recorded at the Ford Auditorium, Detroit, Michigan was not exceeded until the days of Motörhead and AC/DC. Kick Out the Jams, their hard-rock, proto-punk masterpiece was seen by many as the most important album to come out of the counter-culture years. 1969 is, of course, a very long time ago. Things that were once important become forgotten with the passing of time. So, the late Johnny Rocco is overjoyed to hear a group of dissident youths on the number 28 bus from Minehead to Taunton talking about The MC5. The spirits of the dead might be fixed in their thinking but they are sensitive to their surroundings. They are aware of what is going on around them.
When Johnny was alive, The MC5 were his favourite band. He even moved to Detroit to satisfy his obsession. He saw them play no less than thirteen times. He wonders if this may have been a contributory factor to the acute tinnitus he suffered from as he grew older. However, there is nothing wrong with Johnny’s hearing now as he listens eagerly to the grungy youngsters on the bus talking about the MC5. They seem to know their shit. They mention the band’s involvement with the Black Panther Movement, the White Panther Movement and others of the militant-left back in those counter-cultural times. Who would have thought grubby teenagers in rural England would be aware of such bygone crusades across the pond, let alone the MC5’s involvement with these? The MC(Motor City)5’s mission statement was to be strong, arrogant and powerful, to just do what we want, to knock shit over if we wanna knock shit over. They stood for freedom and justice, along with dope, guns and fucking in the streets.
The last thing Johnny remembers from when he was alive was that kids of the nineties thought The Progidy’s Firestarter was the last word in revolutionary and dangerous. What had the world come to, he wondered, that pantomime clowns like The Progidy were so revered? Johnny had been saddened that rebellious youth had sunk so low.
Johnny’s life was tragically cut short in 1997 by Randy Godd, a violent Sparklehorse fan brandishing a Gurkha knife at a Radiohead concert. Sparklehorse, a notoriously troublesome unit were the support band for the Oxford rockers. Since then, his immortal soul unable to rest, the late Johnny Rocco has criss-crossed the south of England. Unseen, he has witnessed the lamentable decay that appears to have ravaged the human spirit over the last two decades, once or twice even taking in Glastonbury, only to be sorely disappointed by the blandness of the headliner bands. Oasis might have thought they loud and irreverent and Primal Scream might have thought they had attitude but really, compared to Detroit’s finest, these performances were lame and predictable. You might as well have been watching Take That or One Direction.
It’s not easy being a wandering spirit. Having no physical form means it is not always possible for them to choose their location. They can easily find themselves blown off course. But, if the deceased wants something badly enough, he can often bring it about. The determination spirits of the dead can display should not be underestimated. The late Johnny Rocco, restless though he is, wants to stay in the company of the youths on the bus long enough to find out what is going on.
He is thus able to discover that the five of them have dropped out of college and formed a hard rock band, The Anarkysts. In fact, it would be fairer to say that they did not drop in as none of them actually made it to the campus. They argued there was no point in all that rubbish they tried to fill your head with. If they followed a destructive enough lifestyle, they would not be around long enough to make use of it. It has not escaped their notice that several members of the MC5, victims of their hedonistic life choices, had died before their time. Others too, from Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison to Kurt Cobain, were to be admired for their disdain for longevity. Live fast, die young is The Anarkysts’ battle cry. While for some it be hard to interpret taking the bus from Minehead to Taunton in sleepy Somerset as living fast, the late Johnny Rocco is so taken with the youngsters’ attitude he is prepared to overlook this. The conversation frequently turns to drugs and all the lads appear to be making rapid progress with their experimentation. They certainly all seem too wasted to detect his presence. One of the things he has noticed is that, contrary to popular belief, stoners seem unable to tune in to the wavelength of the spirit world. Hallucinations are an entirely different phenomenon to seeing ghosts.
One of the highlights of The Anarkysts’ act, Johnny discovers is going to be a number called Fuck Off Nazi Pigs which will feature a three-minute chainsaw solo by frontman, Skunk during which he will dismember an officer of the law. The band have already acquired a tailors dummy and hope to be able to get a policeman’s uniform from the local theatre in time for their gig at the village hall in Williton. The small Somerset town is a long way from the Ford Auditorium, Detroit maybe but everybody has to start somewhere. For their encore, The Anarkysts are looking to play Kick Out the Jams. Their plan to use explosives at the end of the number to blow up the hall will not necessarily endear them to the locals. They might not get them many subsequent bookings in West Somerset. But their almost certain arrest and probable imprisonment will surely help them make a name for themselves in rock mythology.
The late Johnny Rocco is keen not to be blown off course before he gets the chance to see this spectacle. He feels it will make up for his recent disappointments. It will go some way to making, well not life, that is of course gone, but making limbo worthwhile. As he is insubstantial, he cannot go home and listen to The MC5 on his hi-fi or turn on his laptop to watch a YouTube video of the band. After all, he is a spirit. The only thing he can do is to try to stick with these bold trailblazers. He is determined to do so even if he has to travel backwards and forwards on the number 28 bus between Minehead and Taunton until the weekend. This is when The Anarkysts are due to give their concert at Williton, the halfway point between the two towns. It will be a small price to pay if it means he can hear Kick Out the Jams.
© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved