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By Jarrod Dicker
New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Images courtesy of Dennis Thompson
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a “machine gun” as a gun for sustained rapid fire that uses bullets; broadly: an automatic weapon.
Wayne Kramer, Michael Davis, Francis TAIEB,
Dennis Thompson, Handsome Dick Manitoba
(credit: Francis TAIEB)
The Rock & Roll Dictionary has a different characterization of the term. It states that a “machinegun” is a drummer from Detroit, Michigan who employs a battering style of rapid, hard strike drumming whom is also a founding member of the legendary Detroit rock group the MC5; broadly: Dennis Thompson.
Apparently Noah Webster had never been to Detroit…
Dennis “Machinegun” Thompson, co-founder of Lincoln Park hero’s The MC5 and now proficient blogger, is a man of many words, sentiments and ideals. Exploding onto the scene in 1964, DMGT became one of the original bad ass drummers of the era. He has held relationships and collaborated on stage with music’s elite, and has conquered all there is to accomplish in the Rock & Roll world.
Now, as he continues his worship of drumming, Dennis has added a new-fangled hobby to his extensive activity catalog: Blogging. Unlike many of the music legends from the ‘60s era, Dennis actually writes his own material and contributes to his blog project consistently. From the tales of playing with the Who, to rolling around and partying in Australia with Ron Asheton, Dennis relays these memorable instances through his own perspective and idiom for all fans and interested parties to enjoy.
Jarrod Dicker sat down with Machinegun to converse about his celebrated musical history with the MC5 and beyond, some upcoming aspirations and projects, his philosophies on life and politics and his current pastime blogging. Let’s Kick Out the Jams!
THIRSTY: Hey Dennis, Jarrod Dicker here from Thirsty magazine. I know you’re going through a tough time (read: Machinegunthompson.com) and I truly appreciate you taking time to speak with me.
MGT: This is sort of a sluggish time for me right now. I took care of my father for ten years. Myself and my wife Patrice took care of him the ten years after my mom died and we had a lot of great times together. It was pretty tough to see him go because he went slowly. I don't wish it upon anybody. It’s tough losing your parents. I'm getting through it.
THIRSTY: Yes I’m sure. But it’s one of those things that are unavoidable I guess.
MGT: It is to be a little trite; the circle of life, but that doesn't matter. When this sort of thing happens it still hurts. I'm a survivor so I will bounce back. He wasn't just my dad; he was my best friend too. I just miss him right now, it’s a big hole. OK Let's Go!
THIRSTY: [chuckle] alright let’s get it going. I’ve read through your entire blog this entire week…twice. It’s incredibly interesting. What I find most interesting is that YOU actually write on your own blog. It seems a lot of these rock and rollers would have someone else do the blogging for them. How did this whole thing get started?
MGT: It got started actually…well…I met Kim Maki from Retrokimmer.com in 2002 on the beach at Silver Lake in Pinckney MI. We met and Kimmer used to be a show promoter. We discussed doing a concert at the State Theater in Detroit (The Fillmore). At the time, Kim had a young daughter and couldn’t commute to the city but she told me that one day she’d find a project that we could do together. Seven years later we found that project, Machinegunthompson.com.
That was a little bit before I went to the Toronto Film Festival to see A True Testimonial when they were out and about doing their premier. Then we kept in touch via email as DKT/MC5 went on World Tours for years up until February 2009. Then one day Kimmer called and we talked on the phone about a new idea she had to collaborate on a “blog” featuring my career. I really wasn't very aware of the blogging world at that time. Kim said don't worry about it let’s go for it. She emailed me the first draft of Machinegun’s Blog on February 22, 2009. It was made out of images and stories that she found on the net. Fans and friends began to find MGT.com and we began our journey into the world wide web and beyond…
Gradually as I began to learn about writing for a blog, I took over writing the majority of the posts. I love it as I have always been a writer. I currently have 2 books in the works, one of them has been in the works for 12 years [laughs] but I'll finish it when the time is right. I'm working on it right now. Another one of the books that I'm working on is a series of philosophical essays, and that one is closer to being done.
THIRSTY: Ah that’s exciting. So you’re expanding beyond your reputation being a world renowned drummer? Go on please…
MGT: So I'm a writer. I've written songs too. Kimmer says “Well would you write something for Machinegunthompson.com?” and I said yeah sure. In the beginning I didn't really want to get into the MC5 and all that, just wanted to see what she could do on her own. She was doing a great job with the materials that she had. To make a long story short I realized that it was a good venue for getting some entertainment and helpful information out there and doing some things that I hadn't done in my life.
THIRSTY: That’s interesting. Is this something that was going to replace you playing music professionally? Or was it just another hobby that you liked, picked up and added to your repertoire of activities in life?
MGT: Well, DKT/MC5 was winding down. And that band no longer is in existence and has been formally disbanded. So I was touring with them since 2003 across the world. We would go out mainly in the summertime. We went out in the winter a few times but that was a mistake as it was terrible traveling, especially by bus. We winded up doing summer festivals, we'd do a festival say in Spain and then we would do 2-3-4 gigs around it. So it would be a 7-10 day trip. We might go out 2-3 times in the summer. So that's what I was doing.
Kim caught me at a time when I was at sort of a crossroads in my life and wondering what I would do next. Maybe I should get back to this book, then this blog thing comes along and it's all about writing. It took me a while to catch on. And then I looked at her blog, RetroKimmer.com, and then and I saw what she was doing, using images, videos and writing stories. And sometimes very informative, sometimes humorous, sometimes...whatever she wanted. Putting pictures out there, this looked like it could be a lot of fun. So my first actual attraction to it was this is going to be entertaining, the more I started to do it, the more I started to like it. What we started to do was take MGT’s blog to different levels. Why don't we interview people? Why don't we write some stories on people that never really quite got their due? Why don't I write about a few of my musician friends that passed on and tell some stories about them and give the fans some background on things they never read or heard before. Because I have a lot of the inside dope on a lot of people. So I have a wealth of background knowledge to write about, especially when it comes to musicians. We've been doing it since February and I guess it’s been as successful as it could be at this point. But I think we established a new niche because I don't think there are any other celebrities out there that are as rabid about what they're doing as we are.
THIRSTY: Absolutely not. And I highly doubt they even do their own blogs as I stated earlier.
MGT: Well they don't because it requires effort, time, study and homework. If I write about something that requires research, I do a little work inside the encyclopedia. If I have to look on Youtube or Facebook or whatever then I'll go and do that homework so I can get that information. We decided to make it a multimedia approach. Hey, let's make it entertaining, let’s make it fun and let’s make it informative. Let's go out into the world and start to film people doing culturally oriented types of things such as artists, painters and musicians. Let’s go out, film them and do interviews. Since I know a lot of people, we started with these people.
THIRSTY: I know that you are currently interested in obtaining your own Sirius Radio program. What would be your goal there? Interviews? Talk radio? Incorporate philosophies and experiences you’ve learned in your life?
MGT: Yes but I’d like to take it a little further, making it a philosophical/political forum. Like take Larry King and take out the bias element and leave it open to the whole spectrum of political thought or philosophical thought. We'd like to interview different celebrities or non celebrities, people that have written books, PEOPLE THAT ARE INTERESTING. When you listen to the MGT show, it’ll be like, “Hey this is cool I can't wait for the next one because it’s always a little bit different.” And maybe throw a little bit of music in there too. I have an eclectic taste in music and I can come up with 350 songs that would involve and entertain the listeners. The people from my generation that don't really get a chance to grow musically because retro rock radio stations that have like a billion songs out there never allow the audience exposure to much of it. And the young people…they don't get exposed to it unless daddy plays it or one of the bigger brothers plays it or he hears it from a friend at school. There's a lot of music they should be exposed to that would enrich their musical lives. So I see this show as being multi-media. We can go out in the street and interview people then come back with a taped interview. Right now the ideas are more open minded to well, where does the journey take us? I always thought that was the way you should approach life.
THIRSTY: Can you elaborate on that philosophy?
MGT: It's about the journey and the end point because I myself have gotten to those end points. I got the record deal, got to play with The Who, got to play with big time performers and celebrities, and I got to go to Australia and Japan. I did all those things. Those are like end points, goals. But once you do it you say to yourself, well what’s next? What do you like to do? This is something that I like to hammer on in MGT’s blog. I am always pushing people to Kick out the Jams and to be your self. Don’t waste your life working at a job that you despise. Always be working on who you are. Find out who you are and then pursue that. Because without the passion...the passion provides the energy, provides the engine to get you there.
THIRSTY: I read that you credit your brother Peter with being one of the biggest internal musical influences in your life. Was he a positive motivator in propelling your musical direction?
MGT: Absolutely. My brother is ten years older than me by two weeks. So when he was fifteen-sixteen, I was five or six and his band, which was mostly an instrumental rock band back in the 50s when Rock and Roll was just being born, would rehearse in the basement. The drummer would always leave the drums there. After he left I would go downstairs and play on the guy's drums and my mother would yell down the steps, “Dennis get off those drums they’re not yours!” Ok MA [laughs]. She would let me play for about ten minutes. She was cool. Eventually my brother “borrowed” my father’s checkbook when I was around seven and we went out and bought this really ugly set of drums for $69. He took the heat from my dad for borrowing the checkbook, and now I had a set of drums. So I would practice with my brother; he played guitar and keyboards. Eventually the family got together musically. My mother was a singer on the radio back in the ‘30s. She developed bronchitis and that killed her career. My sister Donna played keyboards and my dad played the upright bass. But my brother actually encouraged me, and then he did go out and buy a set of gold sparkled Ludwig drums. I don’t know how old I was maybe nine or ten, and that was the real kit. That’s when I started to get really serious. I was playing at weddings when I was 13.
THIRSTY: Wow that must have been incredibly intimidating at such a young age.
MGT: No, I loved it [share a laugh]. It’s just…when it’s in your blood you just go out and do it. Actually it was a blast. That’s how the MC5 started. We started when we were like 14-years old. We played together in a band called the Bounty Hunters, myself and Wayne Kramer first. And it was just three guitars, no bass, drums and we would play instrumentals of the day. Then, Fred Smith was in another band called the Vibratones which were a nemesis band. They had battle of the bands back in those days. I quit the Bounty Hunters and Fred ended up joining the Bounty Hunters. So this band here was a breeding ground of a few of the MC5 players who eventually got together in its current lineup around 1965. Every single one of us (MC5 members), except for Michael Davis, went to Lincoln Park High School. We were all pretty much the same age. Rob Tyner was a little older.
(credit: Gary Grimshaw)
THIRSTY: I read your post when you recollect on the infamous days during the Detroit city riots. You mention John Lee Hooker’s song, “The Motor City’s Burning” and how you guys used to play that song in your set as a “homage to the strife suffered by all victims on both sides.” How accurate was this song in regards to the actual events going on in Detroit at that time?
MGT: That song written by John Lee Hooker was DEAD ON. It tells the story of how it started and what was going on. And the Motor City was burning; I mean it actually was on fire. And there were riots and there were deaths and there were a lot of people being taken to jail. It’s a good thing it didn’t last longer than it did because a lot more of Detroit could have burned down. But the same thing was taking place in a lot of cities around the US as well. So the song, historically, is correct.
THIRSTY: The MC5, Motor City Five, IS Detroit’s rock band. How did you utilize your city while the band was together?
MGT: We had four different band houses. We had one that was in the center of the Beatnik community, down on the Wayne State University Campus area. Number 2 and 3 were in Ann Arbor for a few years. We had two houses that had supported 50 people. And then we had band house number 4 that was in Hamburg, MI. We wanted to get away from Ann Arbor because we just wanted solitude.
THIRSTY: What was your experience growing up in Detroit pre-MC5? How did Motown and other symbolic Detroit musicians influence your style of music and the music you eventually became involved in?
MGT: That music [laughs], that music influenced me TOTALLY. I was a Motown factory junky, you know? All the Motown music that came out I loved because there were so many great bands and the drumming in it was very excellent. I love all the music that came out at that time that had rock and roll or was influenced by rock and roll. So whether it was Duane Eddy or listening to Muddy Waters or the Early Butterfield Blues Band or listening to Motown, all the instrumental bands that existed then, local bands, I just followed it all. I bought records like a teenage girl, you know [share a laugh]? I’d buy these records and learn how to play the beats. I listened to a lot of music. The family would get together around holidays and we’d all play. During Christmas we’d play Christmas music. We’d play and the whole family would be singing these Christmas songs. My taste in music was very homegrown and much influenced by the music that was around me.
THIRSTY: You were stuck in the middle of the whole Vietnam draft fiasco. You actually wrote a HILARIOUS recollection of it which had me laughing out loud while reading it. I know it’s easy to talk about now, 35-40 years later, but how seriously shit scared were you that you might have been drafted?
MGT: It’s all true too. I was shit scared to the 9’s up until the very day I had to go. But it was in the way I prepared for it. There were 2-3 of the other guys from the band that had already been there and they had broken the code on how to do it, how to beat the draft. You would go in there and you would be as anti-establishment as you could. You would just go in there and the idea was to be resistant to everything. Just to make a fuss, to make a noise because what you wanted to do was get to the head shrink. Once you got to the head shrink, the head shrink would interview you and that’s where you really put on the dog. There is a very special question, and that very special question is, “Are you high on drugs right now?” And you MUST say no. So I had all this information from the guys beforehand, so before I went I didn’t wash or bathe for two weeks, I ate LSD everyday, listened to music, I mean I was out there. But I was shit scared because I’ll tell you what, at that point in time the draft, if you got drafted you were going to Vietnam. And I wasn’t the type that was going to make it over there, I wouldn’t have made it. Something would have happened to me. But the bottom line was we wanted to stay back home and work to end the war. That’s what the MC5 wanted to do. I made the decision to quit Wayne State University, which floored my father and made the guys in the band very happy. I had about a little less than 2 years. Once I had made that decision then I had to do it. Yea I was shit scared but the day I went, I was supposed to be there at 7 in the morning …I went at 9 on purpose.
The idea being to front the military authority on every level. I made it to the head shrink’s office in record time. It took about an hour. When I got to the shrink I told him everything. I told him I was queer, back in those days, and took drugs galore, any kind of drugs, and I believed in free love, it didn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl and I loved to do orgies and I hated the army [chuckle]. And I was high on LSD at the time, but I had that LSD awareness because I could wear the mask and play the game. I actually made the shrink break his pencil with one of my answers, I was with this guy for five minutes and then I was told I got a full F and they escorted me out of there. I said in the post on MGT’s blog, I had hot pink pants with the crotch torn off which I yanked just at the right time [haha]. I walked through the office with all these stenographers and all the secretaries with my nuts hanging out! C’mon you can’t get any crazier than that. Down the line I heard from young kids who’d come to us in the dressing room who would come in and say Jesus god tell us, how do we avoid the draft, we don’t want to go to Vietnam and kill people and die. We would tell them here’s what you should do. But as time went on the army would get adapted to this and they would hold people over for three days regardless if they suspected that they were playing a game…if they were playing a game on them or if they were using drugs. And they can and they do and they did hold people for three days. That gives you enough time to get scared. So many, we had so many young men coming into the dressing room outside of the gig or whatever. I had a lot come up to me and ask me, “Den how come you guys got out of the army?” I told them the story, and that’s how we did it. MC5 was very way ahead of its time…kind of a group of misfits.
THIRSTY: I recently interviewed John Sinclair, former manager of the MC5 among other things. How did John’s influence affect the band and you in particular?
MGT: John was an incredible influence on the band in a positive way for I would say a 2-3 year period and then I would say the band’s politics drifted away from John’s politics.
THIRSTY: Yes, that’s what he told me as well.
MGT: There is no animosity on my part, none at all. It’s just that my politics and John’s politics were a complete 180. I did not want to go out in the streets to shoot people to make marijuana legal [haha]. It just didn’t make sense. What happened was the revolution was over in Chicago in Lincoln Park. It ended that day it was done. My personal philosophy is that Nixon knew that all the white, the counterculture white students, mostly students, were using drugs. They were using pot and LSD and whatnot. I think that what they did was just dry up those particular chemicals on the streets and introduced THC and Acid and Heroin. Then everyone, more or less, did what was available and people started doing death drugs, then the revolution just sort of withered away because they were not taking drugs that would open their minds they were taking drugs that would make you want to go to sleep. I think it was that simple really. Then a few people, and the Chicago 7 was treated rather terribly, and people started dying. I think people just got afraid because we were up against a really powerful enemy, the establishment. It wasn’t going to be this glorious revolution where they all changed just because the kids thought they should change. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
THIRSTY: The MC5 was known in the media as being an extremely politically driven, anti-establishment group. Did you agree with this label and, if not, how did you deal with being associated in that way?
MGT: We got tagged by the media as the band of the revolution by Newsweek and Time Magazine and numerous other writers. And then they tagged us as the vanguard of the revolution, sort of what happens to you in the press is that once that’s done it sticks. Rather than try and talk it down and deny it all, which takes a lot of energy and wastes your time, we played into it in the beginning. We didn’t go crazy but we played into it. But the more we played into it, the more serious they got, until we were being followed by the FBI. There are a stack of FBI files that time two feet high of us. The MC5 was considered a danger to the security of the United States. So I think the whole thing was rigged. I think it was real easy to put John in jail again because he had prior arrests. They put John in jail and that sort of disrupted us. We weren’t ready to go our separate ways yet. So we were sort of floundering in that period for a time looking for management. We asked Danny Fields and he turned us down and he winded up managing the Stooges. He favored them over us. It was more his style. We had a hard time finding new management. We hired Dee Anthony. He could have gotten us to a few places but we made some tactical errors and ultimately we were responsible for it, like playing a free concert at the Fillmore. It should have been a normal concert just like the Who would have played, you pay your five bucks and you come and see the band. Bill Graham got smacked in the face, promoter and owner of two Fillmores. He had a lot of clout and he black-balled us. That was not a good thing [haha] at all. All of a sudden, the Boston Tea Party doesn’t want us there and the Chicago Aragon Ballroom didn’t want us. So ultimately what we did was we moved to Europe and Europe embraced us. And we enjoyed living there and playing there. So we just said we’ll recreate ourselves again which is what we did on every album, we recreated our music.
THIRSTY: What do you mean specifically when you say you re-created your music on every album?
MGT: Each one was significantly different than the one prior to it because the band kept going through changes. We were young and fairly creative and five very distinct personalities. As we went through all of this we grew and as we had more time in the recording studio we became better recording artists. Rather than playing live. So as time went on, here we are, we find ourselves in Europe but we have drug problems. It is very difficult to keep a spiritual connection between each other when you’re doing those very heavy death drugs that I talked about before hand. We were doing bad drugs and these drugs to me, personally broke up that band. Everything else that happened to us we survived, and we were still a band. Ultimately the decision to destroy ourselves was done by our own selves.
THIRSTY: But as you’ve stated, every band breaks up eventually right? It’s just a matter of time?
MGT: Yes. Every band breaks up, except for the Rolling Stones [laughter]. Every band has an arc, like a conversation has an arc. Every band has a period. They’ll last five years, they’re going to last 12 years, and they’re going to break up. Because over that period it’s like a marriage, but it’s a marriage with 5 individuals or 4 individuals and things start to fall apart. A band gets to the arc and everybody’s grooving and things are going great, selling records and touring, and fans love ‘em and everybody loves each other. But the next album comes out and it wasn’t quite as good or whatever. The audience isn’t buying it and all of a sudden sales are down and things get harder. Harder to get jobs and the jobs are lesser quality and venues become smaller and then the infighting begins. The drugs pop in, and then one of the women in the band says, “I don’t want my husband doing this anymore.” [haha] I mean they’re a million things that break bands up. It all happens in real time and in real life and it happens today. Nothing’s changed.
THIRSTY: They’re a lot of documented texts -- whether they are books, articles, etc – on the MC5. In your opinion, which one text is the most accurate? Or rather, which one do you think holds the best grasp on what the MC5 was all about?
MGT: I had Professor Matt Bartkowiak do a guest post on MGT’s blog. He wrote a book called MC5 and Social Change which came to be as a result of his dissertation of his Ph.D. Now that book is available as a text book at about 30 universities including University of Michigan, University of Pittsburgh, University of Wisconsin, University of Chicago…so that book is very good and highly recommended. It is one of the best reads about the MC5 and how they actually affected the outside world.
THIRSTY: You have been fortunate to share the stage with notable artists such as the Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Pink Floyd…honestly the list is endless. What do you cherish about collaborating with such legendary artists?
MGT: Many of these stories I have yet to write. Every one of those, those bands that I got to share the stage with were great. They were all very good. There were so many good bands back in that day because I really believe that the bands had a lot of content and a lot to say because of all the things that were happening in the world at that time. There was a world-wide revolution, a Cultural Revolution taking place. There was a very VERY unpopular war going on which was the umbrella for children or students, younger people from all countries to form a united front. And that was, “Let’s end this war, because people were dying.” If they had any time at all to dig into it and find out what it was all about, they knew it. I mean Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense at the time, finally came out and said in a documentary The Fog and War how it happened. How we wound up in it. Here are the decisions we made. He came clean right before he died…not too long after that. That war I believe was a very magnetic attraction for the cultural movement plus the Black Panthers, plus MLK, plus feminist movement, plus the drugs, experimentation with drugs, and the Dr. Timothy Leary LSD contingent. There were 7-8-10 contingents that all seemed to fly the same banner and the banner was CHANGE. So at that time there was so much at stake.
THIRSTY: Why do you think there were so many good bands at that time? I mean, not just good, but GREAT bands that basically repaved the musical highway and laid down a new and exciting layer to walk upon.
MGT: Why there were so many good bands at that time? I think it was because there was a lot going on. Today there’s not a lot going on. You don’t have much to draw from. Like nowadays there’s a lot gong on, but there’s nobody pointing a gun to your head. There is no draft. If there were a draft right now these kids in college would start to talk [laughs]. Right now they’re safe; they don’t have anything really to worry about. The world’s wars are being fought by mercenaries and stop-loss. Stop-loss are people re-upping and doing 2-3-4, tours which is, if they continue to have these wars, they’re going to run out of people and then a draft could happen. There used to be a peace corps. That was a long time ago when I was younger. The idea of the peace corps was to export knowledge, to export education to third world nations. We really don’t do that anymore. And the money we send over through separate charities etc,etc they barely ever get to the attended destination. It’s sort of partial, this person takes a chunk, this person takes a chunk, and then finally when the cheese does get to Iraq there’s one pound left.
THIRSTY: That’s interesting and proves very true…
MGT: If I was interviewing…I would ask you who is your favorite band today, do you have one? A couple favorite bands?
THIRSTY: Yea…well…I have a problem breaking the new music boundary. And by new music boundary I mean post 1995. There are a couple “newer” bands I can appreciate, but it is absolutely tough to fully submerge myself in this era. That’s why I interview all the legendary and classic artists who played years and decades ago. My obsession and focal interest lies within these classic musicians.
MGT: Do you have a problem with today’s music, with their lack of lyrical exposition and their lack of exploration in the music department? They play the formulaic stuff because they want to make money. No one is willing to go out there and go into different directions. It’s all 1...2...3...4...you know what I mean? It’s like I heard that song a thousand times [haha].
THIRSTY: I absolutely agree. And that is where the difficulty lies in my ability to break through the modern music barrier. I have my exceptions. Most notably Jack White, Derek Trucks, the Gorillaz, the Antlers and a few others.
MGT: Jack White is an exception. It’s like math. N = the number of bands that are exploratory and N = 2. [haha]
THIRSTY: Do you enjoy modern music? Anything specific?
MGT: I listen to it when I’m in the car and I look for new music. I have a lot of young friends and I ask them what’s happening? A lot of it is either hybrid hip-hop or gangster music or it’s techno or it’s what I would say, washed down washed out rock and roll. But I listen to them, they’ll give me stuff and tell me to go to this site and listen to this band. I haven’t heard anything that excites me. I’m not being hypercritical I’m just, I’m a drummer with a lot of background and I’ve studied a lot of different types of music and drummers. I would sort of expect a lot of other people and a lot of other bands, younger bands, would be doing that. You see, there’s no gun to their heads. This is my personal philosophy. Unless there’s something threatening your life, you’re not really going to dig down and defend yourself. These people dug down and really had to defend themselves you see a lot of different lyrics and a lot of different types of music come out. Strangely enough that is the only common dominator I can foresee in that equation. I’m trying to do the math [haha]. I was a math major at Wayne State [chuckle], I’m trying to figure out why there isn’t anything.
THIRSTY: Honestly I think you have something going here…
MGT: I really REALLY understand the early rap music from the earlier days. They’re talking about their environment, they were talking about the lack of opportunity, and they were talking about police brutality. They were talking about how they weren’t getting the sense of entitlement that everyone else gets, to get a good job and education. But now that isn’t the case. I think everybody’s in the same boat. It doesn’t matter who you are, anyone can get laid off. It doesn’t matter what color you are, you can get a good education and a good job I think that it’s all about self-determination and that’s one of the things I like to touch on is “Hey you make your own life, if your parents can’t afford to put you through school then work two jobs, shut up and work two jobs, shut up and do it. QUIT YOUR FUCKING WHINING” [haha].
THIRSTY: It seems you are up to speed with many of the modern innovation in today’s society, especially in the cyber world. What is your take on modern technology and do you think it’s moving too fast?
MGT: I don’t like the technology moving much quicker than human evolution. Technology is moving at light speed and human evolution, the humanitarian end of human evolution, is moving more at the speed of sound... so [laughs]. Technology is taking over and taking the place of human interaction. It really is. You see four people sitting on a park bench and they’re all on the cell phone talking to someone else, rather than having a conversation with each other. I don’t relate and I don’t get it. I mean everybody’s living their lives in a 3D network. Geez guys if you talk to each other, even if you do it on the internet, which I know they’re doing I’m not 100% negative about this not at all. I would just like to see it grow. So that’s the purpose of my blog, ultimately to inform and to help people find themselves, and get involved. Somehow get involved, because no one is going to change the corruption in this country. No one’s going to change the way things are going the way the money works. It’s never gonna happen unless the people get together and do it on their own. That’s how it works with communication. I don’t think they communicate, they have plenty of forums to communicate about topics but it never goes any further than just talk. Americans are at their best when there’s a disaster. All of a sudden everyone comes together. And then it fades fast.
THIRSTY: Yes well, being from New Jersey I can tell you that after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, this area was COMPLETELY unified. There were flags EVERYWHERE. I specifically remember one man who would stand on a median on the highway and wave a flag every day. Days later it continued…then a couple days later it slowed down…then eventually it stopped.
MGT: Yea it’s like everybody’s got A.D.D. you know? Part of what creates that is the way MTV goes 47,000 images per second and what television’s got to offer, which is another thing. These reality shows and lack of anything, really, with any good content unless you’re watching Discovery or A&E, and the video games, and gaming, talking on cell phones all the time. Everything is like, superfast. It’s that’s Andy Warholian 15 minute thing but now it’s down to five minutes. Then you have all these opportunists like Jerry Springer and Oprah who exploit peoples’ miserable lives and miserable situation for ratings. They’re all competing for ratings on misery and fear and negativity... GET WITH IT MOTHERFUCKERS [haha]. I’m so tired of it. You may not be able to change the world, but you can change yourself and you can change your attitude and the way you look at things. This takes effort, this takes work, wake up one morning and say, “Oh I’m a different person”... BULLSHIT! You have to work on it. You can get proactive within your life.
THIRSTY: You had an excellent relationship with Ron Asheton from the Stooges. You two played together in the New Order and the New Race. I read somewhere that the Stooges and the MC5 didn’t really get along. Is this true? And how did you and Ron get so close?
MGT: Well that’s really not true. Myself, Michael Davis and our road manager we were great friends with the Stooges. We would go over their house and hangout, The Funhouse. I watched them from their infancy; I watched one of their first or second rehearsals. I liked them, they were fun, it was more fun to hang out with those guys than to hang out with my band. I thought it was getting a little too political. And I never did like the road we were taking personally. So we used to hang, we used to go over there and drink beers, smoke pot, watch TV, watch the [Three] Stooges on TV and basically have a good time. Iggy would be around sometimes, but mostly he was out doing something else. I would hang out with the Asheton brothers because I really liked Scott and Ron a lot. And then we went our separate ways, and eventually both of us experienced the dark years and then one day a call from Ron Asheton. I was determined after the MC5 broke up to go and continue my musical career so I had a 1967, 427, silver/black hard top Corvette convertible, 290 HP which I sold for $4,200 to finance my trip to LA to continue my career with Ronny’s (New Order) band. The band that he had then, they didn’t even have a name for it. It had Jimmy Recca from the Stooges and had Scott Thurston on the keyboards. Anyway he was in the band, but he was out of the band. So basically it was Ron, Jimmy and me. We lived in one apartment on the Sunset Strip and for a couple of years we ate bean soup. We call it bean soup because that’s what it was. Our manager would make a pot that lasted a week! [haha] I happened to walk past the sports car lot in the neighborhood and I didn’t have a dime in my pocket but I said one day I’m going to own one of those sports cars, one of those classics. We were friends then and when the band broke up we were still friends because it wasn’t our fault that the band broke up.
THIRSTY: Yes I read about the fall of the New Order. It was indeed very tragic and out of your control. To assist the readers, basically David Gilbert was acting front man for the New Order. They were this close to signing with Mercury Records and all they had to do was play for them at one live show just to showcase. It was so easy…but…
MGT: David Gilbert screwed up. If there was a time to NOT get high it was THAT NIGHT. And that was the night he got high. That’s the problem with alcoholics and drug addicts. They get high at the worst possible times. “Time to go see your parole officer, well I think I better get fucked up before.” [haha]. Still well knowing they’re going to go take a piss test and it’ll come back positive. It’s just insane. That’s the nature of alcoholism. So anyway, Dave Gilbert screwed up our whole arrangement. All of us, we were all so poor for so long, and so geeked for getting this deal. We were right there, and they just wanted to see us play live. We couldn’t do it. So we all just split and left each other. That was like ’72-’73. I get another call from Ron in 1981, and he asks if I want to go to Australia with him and Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman). And I said sure. Ron and I roomed together for the 6-8 weeks that we were there and we were great friends. And we had been great friends all along. He was a pleasure to be around. I talk about the fact that he was funny, that he was intelligent, clever and he was fun to hang around with. You can just sit there and watch TV with Ron for 8 hours and you’d be happy because the conversation would always be interesting. Ron was just that way. I really do miss him.
THIRSTY: The New Order played a lot in Los Angeles. I think the name of one of the main venues was The Starwood?
MGT: Yes that’s it. We used to play there occasionally like once every two or three months. We’d play the Troubadour as well.
THIRSTY: Well, at the Starwood I was reading that Van Halen used to be the opening act for you guys. They ended up becoming big…bigger than big. At the time, did you think they were a band that would eventually be selling out stadiums and massive arenas?
MGT: No... No I didn’t think they would. We used to go see them play at a place called Gazarra’s on the strip. They were the house band. They’d play like five nights a week and we would go see them. We thought they were a very good band, we thought they were very tight and had a great drummer, guitar player and vocals but I never did think that they would get to be as big as they got. I had a feeling that they were going to get a deal. They would make waves, but not as big as they eventually did. We saw them a lot in the early days. When it came night time, the guy at the door knew us and we’d go in there for free and have our one beer [laughs] it’s all we could afford and we’d check them out. We used to hang out at the Whisky a Go Go.
THIRSTY: Sounds good. You mentioned before that on your blog, you wanted to highlight musicians and friends of yours that never quite got the attention they deserved. Were you thinking of anyone specific when you mentioned that?
MGT: I was just starting to write a post about Fred Smith. That’s one person that no one has given any attention to. When Fred died (1994), I was sitting down on my couch at the coffee table and I had a spiral notebook and was listening to MC5 music. I had just heard that Fred died. I just wanted to write something about him for myself. Nothing was coming. I was drinking some Jack Daniels and I think I had a few lines of coke, my normal thing back in those days. By the way I’m NINE years clean and sober. I get a call from his wife, Patti Smith, while I’m sitting there, is that serendipity or what? And the bottom line she asked me if I would do the eulogy for Fred’s service at the Mariners Church in downtown Detroit. I had to think for a few seconds. Well that means I HAVE to write something [haha] so I’m thinking oh Christ standing in front of 600 rock and rollers I don’t know...this sounds like a monumental challenge. But I wanted to write something so I told her I would. She told me that Fred wanted me to represent him out of all the other members of the band. He had asked [Patti] on his death bed for Dennis to represent. So I went out and got the third album, High Time, and I opened it up and looked inside the linear notes and saw the picture of Fred in the sonic smith outfit. He had a picture of the world behind him and all of a sudden I had the idea for the story. So I wrote the story which was, I had to write a story rather than talk about his personality. I wrote that he was a man of the future, and he was. That’s going to be a great post. Fred was truly one of those mysterious artistic types. Mysterious in the fact that you never got the answer you expected when you asked him a question. Sometimes you never got an answer at all. He was his own man 100% ,but the bottom line is I haven’t heard or read much about him and I just think it’s time to talk about him in a very positive light.
THIRSTY: That’s very beautiful of you to do. Is there anyone else in mind you’d like to reminisce on?
Dennis and Ron Asheton
MGT: I’m going to do the same thing for Rob Tyner. I think people like to know, they want to read about things that they haven’t read about before…Inside stuff. And that’s what I’m going to give them. I’m not going to be a sensationalist tabloid and give out crap. I want to keep it positive and keep it happy. Everybody likes the attitude; everybody likes the posture that we’re taking.
THIRSTY: As stated repeatedly throughout this interview, the MC5 was known for their role in politics and society. How have your political views changed since 1969?
MGT: I’m still not a democrat nor a republican, nor a radical, nor an extremist. I like what Wayne Kramer said in one of his CDs that he’s a citizen of time and space. And I prefer to think of myself as an observer. I don’t espouse any particular creed. The only creed that I espouse is essentially an existential, it’s called existential relativism. It’s basically the pursuit of the knowledge of who am I and how do I relate to the universe. It crosses all political schools of thought. One day I’ll think of things in one certain way and the next day I may change my mind. So I’m open-minded and I’ve kept my open-mindness politically. I was open minded politically back then except I had to go along with the company line. The company line was end the war and sex, drugs and rock & roll. For a time I believed in that but I think I evolved beyond that sooner then everyone else did because I just saw that it just wasn’t going to work that way [haha]. Let’s just write great music and deliver our message in the lyrics. If we had a message, and we did, the second album is actually more political than the first. These were all statements about things that are taking place around us without actually coming out and saying, “End the fucking war and end the draft...dadadadada.” I like to keep it that way, I really do. For anyone to say that they’re a Democrat that means that they just held themselves beholden of all the Democrat’s thoughts. Do you believe in everything they say? Of course you don’t. If you call yourself Republican do you believe everything that the Republicans say and stand for? I doubt it. I think everybody ought to be a little Democratic, a little radical and very open minded. You must look at both sides.
THIRSTY: Absolutely. This strangely reminded me of the ruckus in New York the prior week. I work right near the UN where the whole G20 Summit was taking place. Roads were blocked off; officers were in riot masks it looked like we were back in the 1960’s for god sake. The unnecessary fear they strike into people...
MGT: That’s the point. It was the same thing back in the riots, all the police riots that the MC5 performed at. We performed at three or four of them. How do rocks and bottles stand up against all that fire power? And these guys came in there with three foot batons at Lincoln Park, Chicago when we played at the Democratic convention. We’re on a flat bed truck, halfway through out set and all of a sudden this triangular formation of police on horses start plowing through the back of the crowd with three foot batons swinging them wildly. If anything, the people were throwing rocks and bottles. They had the place SURROUNDED Jarrod, they had helicopters in the air and paddy wagons to line them up. That’s how they treated that musical gathering. No wonder Janice Joplin didn’t show up, no wonder Big Brother didn’t show up or the Stooges and Bob Seger didn’t show up. They didn’t want to get hurt. So we’re still in that same kind of mindset. The government is even worse now with the Patriot Act.
THIRSTY: I know you’re focused on doing the Sirius Satellite Radio show and to promote the growth of MGT’s blog, but are there any musical ventures you’d like to delve into in the near future?
MGT: Yes if the right one comes along. It would have to be people that are my professional peers, with the business acumen and machine that you need already in position. The offer would have to be with the right musicians too. I know how difficult it is to put a band together from scratch. I’m 61, I don’t really have the energy to go and do that right now because I know that a lot of money goes into it as well. Every dime that was made would have to be reinvested and that’s really not a route I want to take right now. But...YES I’m open to the possibility that if the right group of people, or conglomerate of musicians, would say, “Hey Dennis would you want to do a tour?” Then YES I’m wide open to that. I will play with some musicians here in Detroit. Retrokimmer keeps pushing me in that direction, she’s finding my band for me [laughter]. I am going to write about music and I’m going to write about musicians and bands.
THIRSTY: I know why you’re called Machine Gun but whom officially gave you that surname, and if you wouldn’t mind explaining it’s root a little as well?
MGT: I’m fairly sure it was Fred Smith that called me Machine Gun the first time. It was either Fred or Wayne. And the reason it came to be was that there’s a drumming rudiment called the single stroke roll. I used to play it REAL hard and REAL fast. The reason I had to play really hard back in those days because the rest of the boys in the band had these marshal stacks...you’re talking 200 watts. In those days PA systems were just for the vocalists, it didn’t light the drums up. So I had to develop a style like Keith Moon’s and Joe Butler’s to play really hard just to cut through the other music because there was a wall of sound. It was really loud. So I had to develop a style of playing that was hard, brutally hard. I used to have blood blisters and three blisters on one hand and four on the other. I would tape them up and whatever. I would break 15 sticks a set. Bottom line is, I developed...instead of using the second rudiment which is a double stroke roll which is the style Mitch Mitchell used. I reverted to the (attack style) single stroke style and I could play that roll really really fast. So someone says, “You sound like a machine gun.” So then it happened...Machinegun Thompson stuck.
THIRSTY: Are you still the Machinegun? Do you still have the speed?
MGT: I’m better now then I was then. I just finished five years on the road and I’m in great drumming shape. I’m in good physical shape. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week. So I still work out and I still practice. I’M READY TO GO PLAY.
THIRSTY: Well Dennis, it’s truly been a pleasure.
MGT: No, my pleasure Jarrod.
THIRSTY: This is why I do it, to talk to the people that laid down the groundwork and continue to keep on goin’.
MGT: Thank you very much, appreciate it buddy. Have a good day.