A SINGER WHO DOESN'T SING
Author, Music Researcher and Veteran of '68:
Blues Poet John Sinclair Comes to the Quasimodo
By Peter E. Muller
June 25, 1998
He is apparently comfortable here. "I've just called New Orleans." John Sinclair grins behind his gray beard. "There they're sweating in 98 degrees in the shade. And here I am sitting in Berlin and I have a jacket on."
John Sinclair is the honored guest of this year's "Heimat-klaenge" (Down-Home Sounds) Festival that begins on July 8 in the Tempodrom. The easy-going giant came two weeks early from the Mississippi to the Spree and appears this evening--so to speak as overture to the Festival--at the Quasimodo.
The fifty-six year old Sinclair recites blues-, jazz- and life-in Louisiana-inspired texts with his own band. "I am sort of like the singer in the band, but I don't sing, rather I recite. And it doesn't rhyme at all. It's definitely not Hip-Hop," he explains of his show that will be drawn from powerful blues, rhythm & blues and jazz. Beat poetry from Louisiana that is even more, pure poetry read with music.
Since 1991 the poet, author, journalist, and passionate music scholar has lived and worked with his wife in New Orleans. Here the father of four daughters began a new life but without, to be sure, completely rejecting his past life.
John Sinclair was a principal figure of the political sixties, founder of the anti-Vietnam War activist White Panther Party and became in the fall of 1967 the manager of the legendary Detroit rock band the MC-5 ("Kick Out The Jams"), that in those days was no doubt harder than punk would later be.
Sinclair made headlines after being sentenced to nine-and-a-half to ten years in prison for possession of two marijuana cigarettes. That spurred a wave of protest and the "Free John Sinclair" campaign, coordinated with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. After 29 months Sinclair was freed when the Supreme Court rescinded the decision and struck down the harsh marijuana laws.
He became artistic director of the Ann Arbor Jazz Festival, managed various Detroit bands including Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, wrote books such as Guitar Army, Music & Politics, and This Is Our Music. At the end of the Eighties he held a professorship at Wayne State University in Detroit and lectured on the history of the blues and the roots of rock 'n' roll.
In New Orleans today, Sinclair works as a DJ at radio station WWOZ-FM (also to be found, 'round-the-clock on the Internet at http://www.wwoz.org), writes music criticism for daily newspapers and magazines, owns his own firm, Big Chief Productions, and has to date put out four records, including 1996's Full Circle with ex-MC-5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, that High Times magazine celebrated as the "best spoken-word album since William S. Burroughs's Capital City Radio."