photo by Leni Sinclair
Last RitesI had several Rock n Roll heroes back in the late '60's One of them was Rob Tyner, lead singer from the MC5. The other was Dave Dixon, Chief Air Ace from Detroit's WABX Radio. Back then, Dave filled all our minds with radical politics and radical music, while Rob personally incarnated and exemplified that wild revolutionary hard rock life-style that made the late '60's into that powerful pivotal historical epoch we all remember with such suffering and such joy.
by Rod Reinhart
Patti Smith, wife of the late MC5 guitarist, Fred "Sonic" Smith recently told Rolling Stone Magazine, "My husband Fred used to tell me that the MC5 really believed they could change the world. They didn't just say it. They were intoxicated with the feeling that they could stop the war in Vietnam, that they could stop prejudice. And their music reflected that." Many of us agreed with Patti Smith, both then and now.
When I went to seminary in the 1970's to become an Episcopal Priest, some of the people I most respected were the clergy who put their bodies and their integrity on the front line of the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Movement, and every other cause of justice and equality. Like so many others, I followed their example through a ministry of serious political activism, In the early '80's, I was pasturing St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on the Detroit campus of Wayne State University, right in the same Cass Corridor neighborhood where Rob Tyner, the MC5, the White Panther Party, WABX and so many radical, world-changing groups had once called home.
At St. Andrew's, we started a vital ministry to college students, street people, Vietnam Vets, artists and musicians, people with AIDS, refugees from dictators in South America and the Middle East and many other struggling people.
St. Andrew's Church has a long association with Rock and Roll. Father Malcolm Boyd, the radical priest form the '60's had been the pasture there. Boyd had started a set of coffeehouse concerts in the basement of the church. When I was there in the '80's, I did the same thing. With the help of some very good friends, and many musicians, we started the Community Concert Series. Every other Friday night, we held marathon concerts that went from sundown to sun-up with poets, performers and musicians of all types.
The Community Concert Series was a wonderful success, but it really took off when Rob Tyner and Dave Dixon joined our organizing committee. Dave was on Public Radio in Detroit and pushed our concerts on his program. Rob was promoting several new bands and booked them on our shows. Thanks to them, and the rest of our committee, the concert series really began to take off. The Concert Series at St. Andrew's Church soon became one of the most important concert venues in Detroit.
Rob Tyner soon became a regular performer at the coffeehouse. He did a lot of solo work and he often performed with the bands he was promoting. I was always impressed that he was promoting several all-women bands like the Vertical Pillows. He felt it was his responsibility to help women find an equal chance in the all-male world of Rock n Roll. Rob also promoted the work of Vietnam Vet musicians. He helped groups like Stev Manteiv (Vietnam Vets spelled backwards) make records and perform. The vets loved him. I had the privilege of performing with Robin, and with many of the bands that took the stage at the concert series. For a while, people were calling me the Rock and Roll Priest of Detroit.
The amazing thing about Robin Tyner was that he lived his life with such integrity, honesty and love. All during the years I knew him, he balanced his life between his music and his family. Most of the time, he would walk around Detroit sporting the same wild look of the Rock and Roll Rebel, we had all come to know in the '60's. As a musician and as a promoter, he lived his life right on the rebellious edge of rage… just where he needed to be.
But that rebellious rage was only half of Rob Tyner. So many of our '60's Rock heroes died tragically and much too young. Alcohol, drugs, violence really took their toll on many of the rock stars we all know and love. But Rob Tyner was determined not to go that way. Robin was a family man with a lovely and supportive wife, Becky Derminer (Tyner). And Rob and Becky had a whole crew of teen-age kids… kids who needed a solid, trust-worthy "down-to earth" man as their father. And Robyn was the man they needed.
We all knew that Rob and Becky were serious, dedicated and faithful parents. They did not allow drugs, alcohol or the music business to get in the way of solid and effective parenting. Their kids (like all kids today) faced many challenges, but Rob and Becky, and their close family members and friends guided them in loving, caring and effective ways.
Robin died much too young. He died of a heart attack at age 46. It was not related to drugs or alcohol. He died in the simple, prosaic way that all too many men his age are dying today. But he left behind a legacy that all of us respect and remember. He left us the powerful history of the MC-5, on video, on vinyl, on CD's and in our memories. And Rob left us a whole gang of new and creative bands that performed at my Community Concert Series and in many other places around Detroit. And Rob left a wife and a family, and a raft of personal friends who knew him, and loved him, and will always miss him.
I had the privilege of being Rob Tyner's pastor before he died. I performed the weddings of his children and I also led Rob's Funeral. I recently found the eulogy I delivered at at the funeral and I thought I should share it with you today.
Many of us remember how Rob often got arrested for obscenity when he began the MC-5 concerts by screaming, "Kick out the Jams... M_______ F_____ers! Well, I started out my eulogy by saying, "Kick out the Jams..." Everyone immediately became tense, looked around for cops and prepared to bolt for the doors, and then I said, "Brothers and Sisters…' And everybody calmed down and listened attentively. And here it is, the eulogy from Rob Tyner's Funeral.
WORDS ON THE LIFE OF ROBIN TYNER -- 9/21/91
By the Rev. Rod Reinhart
The Rock and Roll Priest of Detroit
Kick Out the Jams... (long pause) Brothers and Sisters.
How long these words have echoed in our hearts. Rob Tyner, at full cry, could touch our souls with a joy so deep and powerful that all we could do was "Kick them out… Kick them out… and keep on kicking them out until there were no jams left in our way. Rob taught us to kick out all the jams… all the barriers that controlled and contained our lives. He taught us to kick out the barriers of fear, the blockade of racism and the iron walls of Nixon and his war. Rob and the MC5 taught us to kick out every force that jammed shut the doors of the hopes and dreams of a generation coming of age… a generation growing up in a world that didn't seem to want us and didn't seem to care.
Kick out the Jams… Rob Tyner's uncompromising demands echo and re-echo from the Grandee Ball Room of Detroit to the barrooms and stadiums of London, Moscow, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Kick Out the Jams… Rob Tyner's incomparable Rock and Roll Riffs of Motor City Madness resound from the mean streets of Detroit to the myriad streets of every uncountable and unimaginable major city across the face of the earth.
Kick Out the Jams… Rob Tyner's electric, frenetic, fantastic images and sound reverberate from the 1960's to the Two Thousand Sixties…. and on to the depths of time.
Kick Out the Jams… Rob Tyner's words… and friendship… compassion and love resonate and remain in our hearts today and for the rest of our lives.
He was our hero and our courage-teacher. His life and his work burned with a furious energy, but he was never fueled by fury: he was always fueled by love.
I remember the first day I ever saw Rob Tyner; it was a day I will never forget. The MC5 headlined a daylong concert at Meadowbrook, the lovely open-air concert venue in Rochester Michigan. One after another the groups came up: each one powerful… each one doing its own thing. But we had come for the MC5… the heroes of the day, the White Panthers of Rock and Roll, the living about to become legend. These guys were the innovators… the band of the future… the prophets of the musical age to come.
Rob once described the band himself. "We were Punk before there was Punk. We were New Wave before there was New Wave. We were Metal before there was Metal, and we were MC before there was Hammer. We were either the electric, mechanical climax of the age, or we were some sort of cruel, counter-culture hoax. We were Killer, Righteous, high energy dudes who could pitch the whang-dang doodle all night long." I met Rob Tyner again in the early '80's when I was pastor of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, located on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit. I was helping to direct a campus cultural and religious outreach program called the Community Concert Series. We were drawing in nice Friday night crowds for a poetry and music coffee house. Can you imagine my joy when a hero of my youth… a living legend… walked in through the door and said, "Hey, I want to help get this thing rolling?" And soon, it really got rolling. Rob helped us draw in the bands and crowds that other clubs could only dream of. And they came because Rob was there, and they kept on coming back. Soon, the Community Concert Series at St. Andrew's Church was the wildest, most creative music venue in Detroit. We'd have music all night on Saturday… and wonderful, vibrant church services on Sunday. It was a great place to be the pastor.
When you got to know Rob, you got to know his whole life. He'd draw you into his home, his history, his family, his loves, his feuds, his hopes, his rages and his dreams. Robin had that incredible ability to be a true star and a regular guy… and carry both roles off like a champ. The woman who helped Rob lead a beautiful, balanced and solid life \was his dearly beloved wife, Becky. She is a woman of substance, with a job, a business, and a character and power all her own. Becky Tyner backed Rob up in all of his creative work all through their marriage. and served as an inspiration, a compass, and a Guide.
Without Becky, Robin and his whole family could have fallen prey to the many dangers and disasters which have fallen on so many of our friends in the business of Rock and roll. All of us have been deeply impressed with the way the Becky Tyner has maintained her strength of purpose and her power of personality through their long and happy marriage, and we have been doubly impressed in these last, difficult days since Rob's death. Becky is a woman we have all come to know and respect over these many years we've known her, and now she, and her whole family, are going to need our loves and support in these many days to come.
Robin was an amazing man. Because of his own strength, and the love of his family and friends, he never burned himself out on booze, hard living, violence or drugs. He devoted himself to being the best husband and father he could be. He loved his children Robin Jr., Amy and Elizabeth. He was very connected and concerned with his parents, Jacqueline and William, and with his brothers, Richard and David. He also maintained close ties with his many friends in the music business and with close friends around Detroit.
Robin knew who he was and knew who he wanted to be. Not all of us can say that. Even as he lived out his life and image as an out-law, and a Detroit Rock and Roll Warrior, he was also determined to build a safe and happy world for his family and his friends. As he said so often, "That's why we have to be warriors… to make the world safe and right for those we love."
When Robin got mad, he got good and mad. And when he was mad at you, then you'd better watch out because you didn't know what he might do. His feuds were legendary and he didn't give in easily. But when Rob was your friend, he was really your friend and he would stick by you through the toughest of times. When you are a priest like me, and when you run powerful and creative program like we did at St. Andrew's Church, you often run into controversy. Robin and our good friend, Dave Dixon, host of the afternoon music show on WDET stood by me when we faced some real struggles to keep the program open and flourishing on the Wayne State campus. They fought to keep our ministry alive in Detroit and for that, I will always be grateful.
Robin cared deeply about the struggling veterans of the Vietnam War. And even though many Americans rejected them, Robin stood beside them when they came home. He hated the cruelty of the war, but he was among the first to declare his love for the warriors. He made us all aware that these men and women were our brothers and sisters and that they deserved all the love and respect and real support from the American People and from the government that they had served so bravely. And the Vietnam vets of Detroit have always been grateful to Rob. When they call his name at Last Report today, he may not be able to answer, but we will all answer. "Here."
Robin stood faithfully beside the young bands that were just coming up, and also by the older bands that were going through times of struggle. I watched him sweat high energy and blood to help the Vertical Pillows, and Weapon, and DOA and many other bands as they started down that long road to success. He gave them the courage and creativity they needed to not give up or go soft. And many Detroit Rockers will long be grateful for that.
And Robin stood by his own music and never gave up on it. Even in lean times, he always kept on plugging away, supporting the music of the MC5, along with creating, recording and performing his own new music, keeping himself visible on the scene, constantly moving toward new goals and renewed success. Robin was never like a musical meteor… lighting up the sky for a moment, and then dying out. Robin has been more of a comet, lighting up the sky over and over again. Even his death will not extinguish his memory or his music, and for that, we are all very grateful.
Robin Tyner was originally named Robin Derminer. He was born and raised and baptized in the Episcopal Church. He has been a life-long member of the great One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded and continued in Christ and the Apostles. Robin comes from a Native American ancestry, and has often sought ways to incorporate Native American Spirituality into the western Christian faith of his birth. Robin was glad to learn that the Episcopal Church has grown strong among our Native communities because we have worked so hard to encourage our Native American congregations to live out their customs and culture within the life of the Episcopal Church.
I have come to appreciate and support the profound beauty that the Native heritage brings to our church. Because of this, I was glad to applaud the courage Rob showed in delving into the Indian culture as a means to find a deeper spiritual life. In the midst of all his seeking, Robin kept on increasing his capacity love God, care for others, and enter boldly into the cause of justice, equality and peace. Robin deeply respected the fact that Jesus calls us to love one another. Robin totally understood that Jesus told us that the deepest love we could possess was revealed in our willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. When our church took on the challenging ministry of caring for people with AIDS, or in working to end the wars in the Middle East, or in working with poor, addicted, unemployed Vietnam veterans, Robin was right up front helping us in raising money for the work.
Robin laid down his life for us and he lived out his life for us. He poured out his talent, his energy and his time into creating music to touch us to the heart and to catapult our souls, our flesh, our energy and our dreams like lightning across the sky.
Robin knew that God is a God of love. Today, God has drawn Robin close to his side and given him a place of honor in Heaven. Today, God has given robin that guitar of eternity and ordered him to play. We can hear him if we listen. He is up there, waiting for us. He is up there now yelling, "Kick out the Jams" to all the angel choirs.
Rod Reinhart is the former pastor of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Detroit, Michigan. He is currently pastor of St. Clement's Episcopal Church, Harvey Illinois, St. Joseph/ St. Aidan's Episcopal Church, Blue Island, Illinois.
Also see our four-part interview series in our Rob Tyner tribute
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