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Detroit, Motorcycles and the MC5

Last Friday Michael Davis (the bassist of the seminal band the MC5) died.

One of the most scintillating acts to ever take a Rock’n’Roll stage, the MC5’s Detroit performances in the late 60s are legend and their music became an anthemic soundtrack to bikers, at least in my home state of Michigan.

Their debut album, Kick Out the Jams, was the high-water mark in their career and the sonic standard for loud, fast and anarchic music of the kind which attracted the biker set of the time. The MC5’s pre-punk stance and radical politics provided a spark to the fire of the most turbulent years in our nation’s history, and the MC5 played loud and long during a real American revolution.

What did they get for their troubles? A horrible review from famous rock critic Lester Bangs, a string of broken contracts, harassment from the authorities and censorship and attempts to suppress their musical output.

The legend, and the music, has lived on and you can hear the band’s influence in punk, in heavy metal and grunge made throughout the last forty years.

Their place in rock history – and their place in American history – is both a story of redemption and a cautionary tale.

Theirs is a story of bikers, fast motorcycles, dragstrips and riots. They hung with the Panthers and got busted for pot. They were continually monitored by the FBI. They were five genuine American originals.

Former MC5 bassist, Davis, began a slow slide into oblivion after a motorcycle accident on Monday, May 8, 2006 when he was hospitalized with a laundry list of injuries – but he ultimately recovered. Davis had been riding his Harley Davidson on a Los Angeles freeway when he was unable to avoid a muffler which dropped from a vehicle into his path. He was wearing his helmet and leather jacket at the time but  still suffered a fractured spine, bruised ribs, and road rash.

This week, the motorcycle and music community lost one of their own, and that’s the way of the world…RIP

 

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