Continuing down the radical Detroit rock ‘n’ roll rabbit hole I stumbled into last week, here’s another John Sinclair-centric post. As a refresher, here are a few words from Michigan Today:
John Sinclair, born in 1941 to an autoworker’s family in the little town of Davison, Michigan, took his B.A. in American literature from the University of Michigan—Flint College in 1964. That may have been the last conventional act of his life.
Captivated by jazz and radicalized by Beat poetry, Sinclair became the Midwest’s version of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, an outrageous promoter of cultural revolution via drugs, music, and free love. In Detroit, he managed the hard-rock band MC-5—the only band to play outside the chaotic Democratic National Convention in Chicago—and promoted the Grande Ballroom, a haven of psychedelic rock. After highly publicized ruckuses with Detroit police, Sinclair and friends decamped to Ann Arbor in 1968, set up housekeeping in two bright yellow manses at the corner of Hill and Washtenaw, and anointed themselves the White Panthers—shock troops in a “total assault on the culture.”
The second biggest event in Sinclair’s life was his 1969 arrest for giving two joints to an undercover police officer. The biggest event of Sinclair’s life was the 1971 rock concert cum political rally that’s credited with freeing him from the infamous Jackson Prison. The John Sinclair Freedom Rally was made into the concert film Ten for Two, referencing Sinclair’s decade-long sentence for his offence. John Lennon and Yoko Ono headlined the show, and Lennon’s song about Sinclair is the most recognizable pop cultural artifact from the happening. Watching the film I came away especially impressed by Bob Seger’s scorched-earth take on Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” and the berserk energy of Archie Shepp’s band. The concert also includes performances by Phil Ochs, The Up, Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, Stevie Wonder, Joy of Cooking, David Peel and Teegarden & Van Winkle. Speakers include radical luminaries like Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, Rennie Davis, James Groppi, Sheila Murphy, Jonnie Lee Tillmon and Ed Sanders.
Here’s Ten for Two…