Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Beatle People: John Sinclair

John Sinclair (born October 2, 1941 in Flint, Michigan, United States) is a Detroit poet, one-time manager of the band MC5, and leader of the White Panther Party — a militantly anti-racist countercultural group of white Socialists seeking to assist the Black Panthers in the Civil Rights movement — from November 1968 to July 1969.

1960s activism

Sinclair was involved in the reorganization of the Detroit underground newspaper, Fifth Estate, during the paper's growth in the late 1960s. Fifth Estate continues to publish to this day, making it one of the longest continuously published alternative periodicals in the United States. Sinclair also contributed to the formation of Detroit Artists Workshop Press, which published five issues of Work magazine.

Involvement with the MC5

Sinclair managed the hard-edged proto-punk MC5 from 1966 though 1969. Under his guidance the band embraced the counter-culture revolutionary politics of the White Panther Party, founded in answer to the Black Panthers' call for white people to support their movement. During this period, Sinclair booked the "The Five" as the regular house band at Detroit's famed Grande Ballroom in what came to be known as the "Kick out the Jams" shows. He was managing the MC5 at the time of their free concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The band was the only group to perform before baton-wielding police broke up the massive anti-Vietnam war rally, calling it a riot. Eventually, the MC5 came to find Sinclair's politics too heavy-handed. He and the band went their separate ways in 1969 but they are still friends and he has spoken at their recent reunion concerts, including Massive Attack's 2008 Meltdown at London's South Bank.

Arrest and imprisonment

After a series of convictions for possession of marijuana, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints of marijuana to an undercover narcotics officer. This sentence sparked the landmark "Free John Now Rally" at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena in December 1971. The event brought together a who's-who of left-wing luminaries, including pop musicians John Lennon (who recorded the song, "John Sinclair" on his Some Time in New York City album), Yoko Ono, David Peel, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger, jazz artists Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, and speakers Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. Three days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statutes were unconstitutional. These events inspired the creation of Ann Arbor’s annual pro-legalization Hash Bash rally, which continues to be held as of 2009, and contributed to the drive for decriminalization of marijuana under the Ann Arbor city charter (see Marijuana laws in Ann Arbor, Michigan).

Performances, writing and poetry

On March 22, 2006, John Sinclair joined The Black Crowes on stage at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, and read his poem "Monk In Orbit" during the instrumental break in the song "Nonfiction." Two days later, he went back onstage at the Black Crowes show in the Paradiso, reading his poem "Fat Boy" during the long instrumental jam following the Black Crowes' song, "How Much For Your Wings?"

On Saturday 17 May 2008 John Sinclair performed 3 poems as part of the 100th weekly improvisation online video, with in London.

In 2008, John Sinclair became editor-in-chief on the apolitical anthology series Headpress from the independent publishing house Headpress, a collaboration that continues with It's All Good: A John Sinclair Reader + CD, and live appearances and events.

On 20 January 2009, to mark Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of the USA, Sinclair performed a series of his poems accompanied by a live band at Cafe OTO in Dalston, East London.

A day later, on 21 January 2009 he returned to the weekly improvisation to take part in yr3wk32 (the 3rd year, the 32nd week) online video with in London.

On March 12 2009, he performed two pieces - including The Delta Sound - at The Oval Tavern, Croydon; backed by Charles Shaar Murray on guitar and Bill Smith on harmonica.

On April 15 2009 John played a show to launch his new book IT'S ALL GOOD at Filthy Macnasty's Whiskey Cafe in Islington. Accompanying him were Charles Shaar Murray, Gary Laminn and Buffalo Bill Smith on Harmonica.


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