Friday, 17 April 2009


John Sinclair. Manager of the MC5, Chairman of the White Panther Party, cultural revolutionary, political prisoner, marijuana campaigner, gadda gadda gadda. You know all this. Less known is his work as a music journalist and poet. It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader collects a sample from forty four years of writing, and the man is here to celebrate the publication with a poetry reading.

As befitting a man who penned a manifesto that included the commandment “Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock ‘n’ roll, dope and fucking in the streets”, this is no staid, solemn, blanket-on-the-knees poetry reading. The first piece, from “Delta Sound Suite”, sets the tone for what follows: a testifying beat poetry performance. Whereas Jack Kerouac would occasionally perform to a calm jazz accompaniment, John Sinclair sets his words to a wild Delta Blues backing.

Assisted by Gary Lammin on guitar (who scored valuable points earlier in the evening by playing a song with “Queen’s Park Rangers” in the chorus), Buffalo Bill Smith on “blues saxophone” (that’ll be harmonica to you and I), and Charles Shaar Murray let loose with a bottleneck, Sinclair gets down to business. Stands tall, rocks gently on his heels, arms straight by his side, shoulders back, head up, spectacled eyes wide and glazed, snowy Egyptian beard jutting out, and that voice. The deep yet scratchy voice of a million spent spliffs. Half smoky Detroit urbanite, half swampy New Orleans funk, it’s a wise, captivating, storytelling voice.

“21 Days in Jail” begins: “Robert Lockwood Junior was born on a farm between Aubrey & Marvell, Arkansas, around 25 miles west & north of Helena, on March 27, 1915”. That sounds like nothing on the cold page but from Sinclair, and the sympathetic backing, it’s a magical, mythical tale of mystery and suspense. You find yourself willing the verses forward, onwards, go, go, go.

Much is centred on Sinclair’s love of the blues, of jazz, of the original beats. “The Screamers”, written in 1965, starts with a line that could come straight from Ginsberg’s “Howl” (“stagger down overgrown sidewalks of memory, giving hand and giggling”), whilst the aforementioned “21 Days in Jail” contains “secret hero of these poems” which is straight from it.

After a time, he gently bemoans the smoking ban and hot foots it for what one can only assume is some much needed herbal relaxation. Inspiring stuff.

It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader is published by Headpress, priced £12.99.

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