Reviews & suggestions for punk rock fans.

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities by Wayne Kramer – Book Recommendation

Wayne Kramer is my Spirit Animal

Within the pages of The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities by Wayne Kramer, guitarist for the MC5, the question of whether people can change is answered with “yes,” as long as they are willing to put in the work. His smooth, rock ‘n’ roll writing style was entertaining, and much like the music he plays, his book is a hard-hitting read that will blow you away.

The prologue starts with the Isle Belle Riot, where the MC5 performed when Wayne Kramer was 19. He explains in these first pages his political views towards police brutality. As he puts it, “the line had been crossed; never again would I believe the myth that the police were there to protect and serve.” It doesn’t stop there. Throughout the book, he reveals how his experiences shaped his worldview on racism, the U.S. prison system, and addiction. I enjoyed it immensely, and it helped me understand the ideology behind the MC5, a band that revolutionized music with the hope to revolutionize the world.

After the prologue, you head back to Wayne Kramer’s childhood where he lays it all out, from his mother to his alcoholic father, who leaves and is replaced by a racist, abusive stepfather. You see this kid navigating the world on his own, trying to figure it out, deciding what is right and wrong, including thoughts towards authority figures, racism, religion, and sex. 

As Wayne Kramer progresses in age, he explains his drive to play music. You are introduced to various characters that come to form the MC5. Bob Gasper, Fred Smith, Dennis Tomich, Michael Davis, and Pat Burrows. Plus, the band’s manager John Sinclair. Music lovers will be left drooling with anticipation as you learn about the formation of songs like “Kick out the Jams” and the various nicknames like Fred “Sonic” Smith. 

In 1968, Danny Fields comes into the picture, and the deal with Elektra Records goes down. (I talk about it in this post.) The signing with Elektra Records is the mountain top for the MC5, for after they sign the band slowly declines due to the Fillmore incident, the fiasco with a group called the Mother F**ckers, along with substance abuse (of course), and the MC5’s greatest strength in performing live begins to fade.

The band dismantles in 1972, and by this time, Wayne Kramer is a drug addict who affiliates himself with crooks and scam artists. He begins breaking into homes and selling the stolen goods for money until he is arrested. He never does prison time for B&E, it’s not until the DEA busts him that he is given a prison sentence. The bust is a pretty crazy story, too, as Wayne Kramer explains the smell in the air was terrible due to the police officers releasing their gas out of nervousness (ha.ha). 

Wayne Kramer would spend years in prison learning and playing music with his fellow inmates such as Red Rooney, a famed jazz trumpeter. To be honest, his time in prison is well spent. He is working out, gaining knowledge, and keeping busy. I also felt he summed up how we should look at people who do time perfectly with this paragraph:

In our system of justice, when we are convicted of breaking the social contract, we serve time. We lose our freedom for a duration of time. Time is our most valuable commodity, and it is finite; we cannot get back the time we lose. We are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities by Wayne Kramer

Upon his release, Wayne Kramer finds himself returning home to Michigan in a state of limbo. Attempts are made to return to his previous life as far as love interests are concerned, yet he misses the rigid structure of institutional life. He finds work playing a few nightly gigs with drugs and alcohol still hanging around, aiding in his self-destruction. Eventually, he hears word that Johnny Thunders, guitarist for the New York Dolls, wants to play with him. They form the band Gang War, and in 1980 he moves to New York City.

Gang War doesn’t last long. Yet interesting to hear from Wayne Kramer about playing in the town where the MC5 had so much influence, especially with the early punk rock scene. Once Gang War ends, he finds a gig in Key West and lives the life of a daily, alcoholic musician. He soon misses the creative life of New York City. Seeking change, he moves to Nashville.

Wayne Kramer’s time in Nashville is important to note as this is the first time he goes into therapy and starts to look inward for answers. He learns about the effects of being a fatherless boy and that he will not be happy unless he is an artist, a creative type. This leads him to leave Nashville and head to Los Angeles, where he will find Epitaph Records, the record company by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. From there, his music life renews as he records solo albums with Epitaph Records and continues to attempt a life of healthy sobriety.

The last remaining chapters of The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities wrap up nicely showing the change of Wayne Kramer from drug addict to sober, from thief to working musician, and from a person who never wanted kids to a loving father. It’s why I love this book. Wayne Kramer seemed on autopilot to crash and burn. Once he seeks counsel after hitting rock bottom, he begins to work on his life. It allowed me to understand it is possible to change, and I am forever grateful.

It’s a happy ending, and one we all deserve.

Including YOU, mother f**cker.

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