The MC5 have all the elements of a great rock biography, and author Brett Callwood, has brought the group’s story to life in Sonically Speaking, which was culled together from interviews with the surviving members, previously printed material, and the author’s research. Callwood does the right thing by letting the story tell itself, without letting his opinions color the proceedings frequently. With chunks of MC5 history already found in other books (Please Kill Me, From Velvets To Voidoids and Guitar Army, among others) it’s the final third of Sonically Speaking, detailing band members’ post-MC5 activities, that’s the most interesting. It’s fascinating to read about everyone’s (mostly failed) attempts at holding down a career in music, with most eventually quitting the business at one point or another out of frustration. Drugs, bad business moves and in-fighting may have torn them apart, but there’s a happy ending, with the three surving members reuniting for a very credible reunion tour in 2003. If someone could only rescue the documentary MC5: A True Testimonial from legal limbo, the band may finally get the widespread recognition they deserve; until then Callwood’s book is a reminder that The MC5 were one of the most important bands in rock history.
Music Video Distributors, with a little help from the recently resurrected Creem magazine, continue their string of solid archival DVDs with this MC5 release. True to the original artistic spirit of The MC5 this is no simple regurgitation of old footage. Instead, the film’s creators, Leni Sinclair and Cary Loren (who also co-founded Destroy All Monsters), reconstruct rare video footage of the band into a new visual experience. There’s live clips of the band playing with a fervor and energy that seems almost superhuman, plus random shots of hippies and classic psychedelic visual effects, mixed together to create a fascinating time capsule of the late-1960s. Of course, it’s accompanied by live audio of the band’s revolutionary mix of Chuck Berry, The Who, The Troggs, Sun Ra, and Jimi Hendrix. Though no concert dates or locations are given, the songs are mostly from Kick Out The Jams so one would assume the audio is from the same period. If you’ve never been exposed to The MC5, start with their albums, as this is for seasoned fans only. The sound quality is decent at best, and the visuals are occasionally unprofessional (some clips repeat several times throughout the film). But for those already familiar with the MC5, this is a great opportunity to dive deeper into the band and the heady times that spawned them.