Music is Revolution
Selections from the White Panther Party & The Rainbow People's Party Central Planning Commitee Meetings and Archive 1967-71
Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Saturday, April 21 2001, 5:42 PM
It's dicey and questionable whether those raised on the theatrical spoken word CDs of Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins will appreciate 72 minutes of former white radicals from the Midwest sitting around in a cloud of reefer smoke talking "revolutionary politics, revolutionary culture and the Revolution," between 1967 and 1971. These longhairs ponder, they argue, they grope for concepts and the big picture, they try on for size and style borrowed Marxist and Maoist concepts and internationalist phraseology as they might cowboy boots.
Issues are discussed on tapes that were evidently kept as assiduously as those by their enemy, Richard Nixon. White Panthers discuss the hashish that's making them cough, kick around the organizational need for each 'Panther chapter to set up an LSD fund, whether or not the guitar is a gun or vice versa, macrobiotics and the possibility their people will be offed before the next issue of the Ann Arbor Sun appears if they don't apply "theory, practice and all that shit!" Sometimes after the most ponderous stretch of broad-brush left economics, roll call of their ruritanian ministries (Defense, Propaganda, Chairman), and cadrespeak, they break up in a snicker or inquiring "Dig?"
The lead wordslinger on this CD is the excitable poet and former MC5 guru John Sinclair. "Rock n' Roll music and fucking IS revolutionary violence!" he insists. He harangues his peers, is quick with his ideas but a bit hobbled by an unexamined romantic racism (his insistence that "carrying a piece" is universal in black culture) and the macho posturing that caused Adrienne Rich to skewer Sinclair in her poem to sexist male radicals "Goodbye to All That." Nevertheless, Sinclair proved a righteous rhetoritician in his manifestos, broadsides and editorials and has written some memorable poems in a sort of lyrical early Beatnik style a la Allen Ginsberg. He commemorates the police inspector who busted him, Warner Stringfellow, in an impassioned but badly recorded tirade. Sinclair's wife Leni (Magdalene) speaks low in a German accent like Nico as she recounts his indignities in prison, where he was allowed a record player but no records. In a prison interview, Black Panther Bobby Seale defends the White Panthers, after his initial skepticism towards their "psychedelic program," and points to Sinclair's imprisonment as testimony to the activist's effectiveness.
Music is taken very seriously by the Panthers and their circle. Avant jazzman Joseph Jarman rambles about spacey "great black music evading the reality of what's going on if we're interested in communication, creating something of value to coin a phrase from a novel written about Africa and the dude who had to deal with it there." And Dan Carlyle and Frank Bach discuss on WABX radio whether or not mid-Michigan's immensely successful Grand Funk Railroad are to be considered truly a part of the Detroit freak community.
The disc's producer and publisher Cary Loren is owner of the jampacked independent bookstore Book Beat in a suburb just north of the Detroit city limits. As an artist Loren explored the radical rhetoric suffusing and impacting his formative years in the 1998 video Strange Frut, where he filmed White Panther texts circa 1970 spoken by 1990s Goth teenagers. As with his Destroy All Monsters collaborators Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw, showy molotov cocktails of revolutionary verbiage were a part of the mix of remembered cultural phenomena. Like Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, goofy Detroit kiddie show and horror movie hosts, it helped shape their regionally- and generationally-distinct Pop Art sensibilities. An excerpt from a TV news broadcast about a campus banning of the White Panther paper reminds the listener that the mainstream media voice in the sixties sounded different from today's but was just as strident and ultimately clueless...which is why smart kids, then as now, sought input and insight from the fringes.
Loren has provided a sampling of the rich archival material from the eranow found in the John & Leni Sinclair Library at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. It's a fun listen for contemporary intellectuals and activists who may recognize themselves in the skull sessions or may not. I would like to hear some of these readings, like Bernadine Dohrn's echoey 1970 "Weather Report," over a dance track. Yet what shines through thirty years later is how the bunch of left hippie stoners on Music is Revolution grapple with the possibilities of making existential and cultural choices significantly political, smack dab in the heart of a working, shopping, consuming land that still wants you and its youth to have anything but that.
Music is Revolution is available from the Book Beat Gallery