On May 1, 2007 revolutionaries (and hippies) around the world celebrated the 35th anniversary and re-release of John Sinclair's book Guitar Army (Process Media). Originally published in 1972 following Sinclair's release from prison after serving two and a half years of a 10 year sentence for possession of two joints, Guitar Army served as an entire generation's handbook for revolt. So popular - and controversial - the book quickly went out of print and developed into a cult classic. Thanks to Process Media, the new expanded 35th Anniversary edition features 40 previously unreleased photos from the heyday, a new intro by Michael Simmons and a nifty bonus CD with rare recordings from MC5, Uprising, John Sinclair, Allen Ginsberg, Black Panther Bobby Seal, Up! and more.
As a young man growing up in Detroit in 1966, Sinclair became the manager of the hugely influential band MC5 (Motor City 5). "The Five," as they were often called, would not only help set the stage for punk and hard rock, they would become the house band of the revolution. In 1968, the MC5 recorded their first album, Kick Out The Jams, which would help ignite a fire that raged against the political and social climate of the day. Coinciding with the album, Sinclair released a statement of the declaration of the White Panther Party. Sinclair, along with the members of MC5 and a select group of fellow revolutionaries, created the White Panther Party to oppose the U.S. government and support the Black Panthers through a "total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock & roll, dope and fucking in the streets."
So, how did a young kid from a nice family in Flint, Michigan turn into a revolutionary hero and political prisoner with the likes of John Lennon and Stevie Wonder fighting for his release?
"I just started smoking joints and taking acid and peyote and it lead me into something completely different from where I started from" says Sinclair. "Between that and the black music, I was in a different world. And I've been there ever since, and I ain't leaving!"
Inside this world of mind-expanding drugs and black (blues and jazz) music, Sinclair was transformed. He became a beacon of light, "the leading intellectual of long-haired people," he claims. And that's exactly what opened up the MC5 to his influence. "John Sinclair was the first guy who wasn't a music business type guy. He was like us, and we respected him," says MC5 guitarist and co-founder Wayne Kramer. "He agreed to join with us to try to see if we could combine our efforts to push our various interests to a higher level."
These were the seeds of the rock & roll revolution. The years that followed are chronicled in Guitar Army. Although Sinclair says, "It's not something I'd write today, but I thought I got my hands on the moment," the book is a necessary record of a movement that changed America.
In 1969, Sinclair was sentenced to almost 10 years for giving two joints to undercover narcotics officers. In 1970, the FBI declared the White Panthers "potentially the largest and most dangerous of revolutionary organizations in the United States." All this during a time when approximately 58,000 American soldiers were dying in Vietnam, and a rough estimate of one million Vietnamese combatants and four million civilians were killed in the war. This was also the time period when John F. Kennedy (November 22, 1963), Malcolm X (February 21, 1965) and Martin Luther King (April 4, 1968) were assassinated. With these events as a backdrop, it was excessive to declare the White Panthers a major threat to America, and it was beyond comprehension to go one step further and send their leader to jail for 10 years for two joints. With blood flowing at home and overseas, America's citizens simply wouldn't stand for it.
Detroit :: 1970
In a true testament to the power of rock & roll, The John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan on December 10, 1971 would be the final step in setting Sinclair free. The eight hour event featured John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs and many others speaking and performing in front of 15,000 people. Three days later the Michigan Supreme Court released Sinclair and overturned his draconian conviction.