Wayne Kramer’s autobiography The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 & My Life of Impossibilities, is a journey into one man’s ‘heart-of-darkness’ –a road pitted with wrong turns, bad relationships, drug abuse and crap decisions that lead to a prison cell and a long jagged journey back. Kramer opens his life in an unfiltered light, beginning with some horrible family abuse in childhood. Kramer is a natural writer providing details told with honesty and humor.
The Hard Stuff follows a time-line through Kramer’s life, with the MC5 as a returning refrain and never fading presence. Picturesque details are provided; on recording each MC5 album, on tripping with Dennis Thompson at Timothy Leary’s home in the hills of San Francisco; the violent political shit-storm MC5 confrontation with the Motherfuckers at the Fillmore; and on the death of his comrades and their reunion as the DKT/MC5. The stories fly by often hilarious and totally insane.
Dickensian storm clouds appear in The Hard Stuff as Kramer slips into a seedy lifestyle as a drug addict and petty criminal, soon after the MC5 dissolves. He finally lands into the legendary Lexington ‘artist prison’, with old chord changes scrawled on the walls. There he meets Red Rodney an old-time Jazz pro and drug addict who mentors Kramer into a more serious relationship with his instrument. Another interesting character at Lexington is Nate Cohen, a fat Jewish gangster who takes over Kramer’s “no-work gig” on the quarterly prison paper— pumping it up into a weekly publication, teaching Kramer valuable lessons about work ethics and prison con artistry.
Prison does little to rehabilitate Kramer, and after his freedom he backslides with more self-destruction while trying to get on his feet. Kramer is a cat with nine-lives, and he uses them up quickly. His collaboration with Johnny Thunders in Gang War was short lived, mired with heroin addiction, a Lansing club rip-off gone wrong, and Thunders finally wanting sole billing.
Along the way Kramer gives props to family, friends and councilors who gave him positive guidance. Recognizing help when needed most was Kramer’s best insight. Poet manager of the MC5, John Sinclair is a wise friend, and although their initial falling out was tragic for them both, their friendship survived, remaining tight through time. Musician-educator Charles Moore was another steady light and mentor, who collaborated with Kramer on Lexington, their successful Jazz album released just before Moore’s death in 2014.
Underground journalist, provocateur and lead singer of the Deviant’s Mick Farren was another creative co-conspirator. While residing in New York City in the ’80s they wrote songs together for a bizarre Off-Broadway musical based on William S. Burrough’s totally bonkers book The Last Words of Dutch Schultz. I hope it gets a revival soon.
The Hard Stuff is littered with surprising surreal-but-true stories and makes an engrossing page-turner. Kramer’s at his best when he penetrates the meaning of his actions with quick insight and self-analysis. “I was the architect of my own ruin,” he confesses.
The real hard stuff is forged when Kramer turns things around, finding help for himself, coming up against his past and regaining control, realizing a sense of kindness within himself and the joy of helping others. “One of the ways I grow and heal is by being of service to my fellow man,” writes Kramer. His non-profit work with Jail Guitar Doors merged with his love of music and remains one of his proudest accomplishments.
Kramer’s statement on the meaning of success is profound; “I am content to remain a student,” he states. It may be a coincidence that the book’s release coincides with the upcoming MC50th tour, but regardless, it’s a redemptive story MC5 fans should know and appreciate. This being the 50th anniversary of the seminal album Kick Out the Jams, makes reading The Hard Stuff another reason to celebrate.
The end of The Hard Stuff feels like a new beginning, with all things possible. A child and fatherhood enter Kramer’s life, bookending his own childhood in the book’s beginning, completing a cycle of life with another chance to make a better world.
Wayne Kramer will appear at the Motor City Muscle Festival at the Underground Stage on Saturday, Aug 18, at 6:30 PM –appearing with Kramer will be musician/producer Don Was, a longtime friend of Kramer’s who will discuss the book together. Joining Kramer and Was in performance will be Tino Gross and Ty Stone. Book Beat will supply books for the event, and a signing will follow the presentation.
Signed copies may still be available, please contact Book Beat at (248) 968-1190 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.