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Notable book honor brings Wayne Kramer back hom

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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For a while Wayne Kramer didn't think he'd write another book after the award-winning success of his 2018 memoir "The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities."

"I wasn't thinking about it — until I got cancer," Kramer, 71, says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "Then I thought, 'Hmm ... I wonder if there's anything to be learned from this experience? I'm sure there is. I'm just learning it now, so I'm thinking about another (book)."

Kramer was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer earlier this year and recently finished radiation treatments. But side effects, including a 25-pound weight loss, aren't keeping the Lincoln Park native from making a trip home this week for four events tied to "The Hard Stuff" and the Michigan Notable Book honor it received in April.

Nor will it keep him off the road later this year with MC50, the all-star band that traveled the world during 2018, dynamically re-creating the music of the legendary MC5, which Kramer co-founded back in 1964.

"It's curative," Kramer says of those endeavors. "Being with friends and being able to play music is all positive and reinforces what I want to reinforce. (The cancer) is certainly making me ruminate and consider and ponder things I hadn't before — just the totality of what's a life's worth? What does it all mean? What am I doing with my life? Am I helping things? Am I improving things? Am I adding to the world? Is there more I can do?

"These are the big-ticket, existential questions when you face (mortality)."

Kramer can, of course, answer most of those in the affirmative. Besides more than 50 years’ worth of music with the MC5 and beyond — including solo releases, film soundtracks and work with Johnny Thunders, Was (Not Was), Mitch Ryder and others — Kramer has launched Jail Guitar Doors, a nonprofit prison music therapy program that was the result of his own late '70s incarceration on drug charges. He and the MC5 have also been cited as influences by scores of subsequent punk and alternative rockers.

"Wayne's the one guy I've seen over the decades popping up and making noise," says Ryder, whose new album "Detroit Breakout!" features Kramer in a guest appearance. "He's driven. He's driven to be a part of history, and I think he's already part of the history. But he has a bigger frame in mind for himself."

Kramer's own assessment is a bit more modest. "I say, 'Am I doing anything?' and, well, yeah, I am. I'm doing a few things, and a lot of it holds up pretty well," he notes. "I don't feel like I get a failing mark in life."

"The Hard Stuff," which came out to critical raves, has certainly earned more than a passing grade. Frank and insightful, the book offers a thorough examination of his life, including musical adventures and the drug misadventures that ultimately landed him in jail. "I tried to avoid revisionism," Kramer explains. "It happens a lot in rock 'n' roll books, and it's a really foul practice. For a book to be any good, it's got to have good stories, and the stories can't be good if they're lies." And he remains proud that "The Hard Stuff" is hardest on himself and not others.

"I think it was worth my while to make sure that I was kind and tried to take the high road whenever I could — and to be accurate and get the facts right," Kramer says.

He did a number of events in book stores and other venues when "The Hard Stuff" was first published, and Kramer is looking forward to another run of those through his home turf. "I really enjoy the give-and-take," says Kramer, who will read from the book and play some songs during the appearances. "For me it gives me a chance to see what effect it has had on people and get a sense that this music has been with them all of their lives. It's been with me, 'cause I made it, but I never actually considered that it's meaningful to other people over a 50-year span.

"I'll talk to one guy who got an MC5 record from his older brother. Another guy's dad turned him on to it. Someone else says, 'This record helped me through this hard time in my life.' It's good stuff."

There's more of that stuff to come musically, too. The MC50 — featuring members of Soundgarden, Faith No More, Fugazi and Zen Guerrilla — returns to the road in August for dates in the U.S. (including Aug. 30 at Detroit's Saint Andrew's Hall) and in Europe. In addition to a live album recorded at Third Man Records Cass Corridor last year and due out this fall, the troupe also is eyeballing a set of new material in the near future.

"I've got an idea for a record," says Kramer, who's also been working with Alice Cooper on another new album. "I discussed it with all the cats before we finished the tour last year, and everyone said count them in. They all want to try and get into the studio and see if we can take the sound we have on stage and turn it into a record.

"So I've got a plan. Now I'm trying to get all the ducks that need to be in a row to get a record started and recorded and released and promoted. I'd like to give it a try, anyway. I mean, what the hell — You put all this work into getting a band going, so you'd at least like to come out of it with some new music. We'd all love that."

If you go: Wayne Kramer's Michigan Notable Book Tour will make four stops this week for free events, including:

• 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at the Bay Theatre, 214 N. Saint Joseph St., Sutton's Bay. 231-271-3772 or thebaytheatre.com.

• 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20, Salem-South Lyon District Library, 9800 Pontiac Trail, South Lyon. 248-437-6431 or ssldl.info.

• 6 p.m. Friday, June 21, Hamtramck Public Library, 2360 Caniff St. 313-733-6822 or hamtramck.lib.mi.us. An afterglow takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Planet Ant, 2320 Caniff Ave. 313-365-4948 or planetant.com.

• 1 p.m. Saturday, June 22, Berkley Public Library, 3155 Coolidge Hwy. 248-658-3440 or berkley.lib.mi.us.

• Also: Kramer and MC50 perform Aug. 30 at Saint Andrew's Hall in Detroit. Tickets are $35 advance, $40 day of show. saintandrewsdetroit.com.

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