Perfect Sound Forever

The (R)Evolution of Rob Tyner

photo courtesy of Future Now and Becky Tyner- Detroit, 1990

by David Thomas
(November 1998)

"Robin Tynerís the name and I kick out the jams!"

The MC5 collectively redefined the limits of Hi-Energy performance in late 60s Detroit and America, changing forever the look, the sound and the feel of Rock Music. Lead singer Rob Tynerís massive white-boy Afro, splashed across the cover of Rolling Stone in January 1969, came to define the MC5ís visual image. Like a counter-culture icon, an interracial signifier, it served as visual metaphor for the MC5ís stated intent - to blend the provocative beat of working-class roots Rock and Roll and the strident politics of Black Power and Youth Insurrection into a Hi-Energy soundtrack for The Revolution. Tynerís Afro, instantly recognizable and worn like a badge of liberation, a "Natural," paralleled the raucous sentiment of "Kick Out the Jams" - to take it, whatever "it" was, to the very edge of extreme. It was Tynerís stage antics and persona, his unbridled energy and ability to "run down the situation" for his audience, as much as the twin guitar attack of Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith and the precision groove of Dennis Thompson and Michael Davis, which defined the MC5ís image ---- embodied the spirit of the 5. Abandoning the "Konk" style ironing of his kinky curls in the early days of the sock-hop MC5 (as he had abandoned his given name, Robert Derminer, in favor of the Coltrane-inspired "Tyner" - an act which paralleled Black Americansí rejection of their "slave names" for African-inspired monikers) Tyner redefined himself as the ultimate front-man, the Shaman at the center of the chaos, the tribal leader intent on "resensifying the People" through song, dance, expanded consciousness, and ecstatic union (the White Pantherís "Total Assault on the culture through Rock Ďní Roll, Dope and Fucking in the Streets," man!) Rob Tyner sure looked like one baaad motherfucker. As his hair "grew out" so too did the music of the MC5 "grow out" - from predictible British Invasion-inspired covers to awe-inspiring Avant Rock, incendiary proto-Punk, and a slinky form of pre-Metal rarely recreated since.

"Freedomís yours right now if you rule your own Destiny!"

Following the breakup of the MC5 in 1972 Rob Tyner expanded on his abilities as a lyricist, honing his skills as a writer and journalist and serving for a time as a contributing editor of CREEM magazine. He was a frequent contributor to Phonograph Record Magazine where his Detroit reports were regular features. His friendships with Lester Bangs (in spite of a rocky start after Bangsís less-than-laudatory review of the Kick Out the Jams LP in a í69 issue of Rolling Stone), Dave Marsh and Ben Edmonds certainly inspired each of these writerís creativity. In September 1977 New Musical Express (NME) commissioned Tyner to report on the new English Punk scene, then in full flower. His resulting cover story, "Back in the UK," complete with photos of Tyner with members of Dr. Feelgood, The Clash, and The Sex Pistols, gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up seal of approval to the then-current Punk movement and established historic and stylistic links between the insurrectionist MC5 and the brash new English bands. Tynerís UK trip also resulted in the first major-label release by any of the former MC5-ers: a one-off single with Tyner fronting Eddie and the Hot Rods ("Till the Night is Gone (Letís Rock)" b/w "Flipside Rock" - Island WIP6418).

"Think of a world where Art is the only Motivation!"

Rob Tynerís graphic art, while largely unknown outside of a small circle of family and friends, testify to his formidable abilities as a visual artist. From his days as cartoonist for Detroitís Lincoln Park High School yearbook, Tyner drew cartoons which demonstrated his unique wit and world-view as well as his formidable drafting ability and artistic vision. Detroitís Grande Ballroom poster artist, Gary Grimshaw, a high school classmate of Tynerís, has said that Tyner "was a much better artist than me then - he could draw anything." The most readily viewable example of Tynerís cartoon style can be seen in the MC5ís High Time LP jacket artwork and accompanying full-page ads which ran in Billboard and Cashbox. He also drew MC5 handbills throughout the bandís career and contributed cartoons to Detroitís underground paper, The Fifth Estate, particularly in 1966. His unpublished works include a wonderful series of alphabet animals for children, numerous hot-rod and fantasy character drawings (in which his love of Science-Fiction is readily apparent), and a particularly comical series of caricatures of John Sinclair and other Trans-Love personalities. Letters he wrote to his young son while the MC5 where on tour in England and Europe from 1970 to 1972 contain many cartoon strips that serve as travelogues of his experiences and a window into the soul of a warm and loving family man.

"Let Me Be Who I Am!"

Rob Tyner remained busy throughout the Eighties, fronting several different bands in and around Detroit, producing demos for fledgling Detroit groups and lending his support to Detroit-area artists. He recorded a number of his own demos and finished studio recordings during this period, which, like much of his cartoon art, are known only to a small circle of family and friends. Retaining the spirit and energy of his efforts with the MC5, in the mid-80s Tyner again embarked on the unexpected, teaming up with a group of Viet Nam veterans he had befriended to record an album which drew its inspiration directly from their personal war experiences. Released under the group name Stev Mantiev, Ambush (SM-001) is a moving and at times harrowing record. Along with Johnny Maxwell (whoís career with The Capitols of "Cool Jerk" fame was cut short in 1969 by the call-up and a tour of duty in Viet Nam with the 101st Airborne), guitarist Drew Abbott, horn man Marcus Belgrave and a handful of Detroit vets, Ambush brings Tyner and the MC5ís humanistic / tribal subtext full circle. Like a tribal medicine man, the frontman of "The Band of the Revolution" leads a handful of Americaís forgotten warriors in healing song.

"I believe in the Circle - and the Power of Truth!"

In 1988, Tyner acted as Detroit emissary to the 20-Year Anniversary of the "Festival of Life" in Chicago. Traveling to the scene of the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, as the MC5 had done, he once again "ran it down" for an audience of activists, Yippies and square journalists. By the time of his only full-length solo release, 1990ís Blood Brothers (R&A CD10601-2), Tyner had reinvented himself again. Appearing frequently in all-black post-apocalyptic "armour," brandishing a samurai sword and immersing himself in Bushido code, Native American folklore and the writings of Joseph Campbell, Tyner seemed to embrace the timeless ideals of the classic warrior / poet. The songs range from the open celebration of "Letís Rock" and "Grande Days" to the darker storylines of "Renegade" and the title track, to the Hi-Energy mantra of "Taboo." Throughout, Tyner exercises / exorcises his demons and lays them to rest, celebrating for us, once again, the redemptive power of Rock Ďní Roll. The spectre of history, Detroit, and the MC5 seems to hover over all the songs like mythologies of a recent past - or perhaps a near future - much of the CD seems to lyrically foreshadow some of Wayne Kramerís recent work.

"Well Iíll see you all later, I gotta rustle me up some action!"

Tynerís liner notes for the CD reissue of the MC5ís Kick Out the Jams are sheer poetry and perhaps the finest encapsulation of the MC5ís spirit ever written. Once again, he "runs it down" for us like no one else could. Tragically, Rob Tyner died of heart failure just weeks before the CDís release. He had remained a devoted family man until his death in 1991. His two youngest daughters knew him not as the lead singer of the dangerous MC5 but as the father who serenaded them with playful songs accompanied by his autoharp - songs he wrote and performed just for them. His gravestone in a Detroit-area cemetery, designed by his life-long friend, Gary Grimshaw, is inscribed with Robís own drawing of his spirit animal, a buffalo, and perhaps his greatest lyric: "Let me be who I am." The stone is large, black and circular. It is scalloped around the edges. From a distance it looks like a giant Afro.

Suggested listening:

The Power of Rob Tyner - Cretin 66 Burnin Rubber Outta Hellís Garage (Woundup MCP 012)
Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa - MC5 Kick Out the Jams (Elektra 9 60894-2)
Tonight - MC5 Back in the USA (Atlantic / Rhino R2 71033)
Edge of the Switchblade - Wayne Kramer The Hard Stuff (Epitaph 86447-2)
Brian - Stev Mantiev Ambush (SM-001)
Blood Brothers, Grande Days, Taboo - Rob Tyner Blood Brothers (R&A 10601-2)
Future/Now - MC5 High Time (Atlantic / Rhino R2 71034)

©1999 David C. Thomas, Future/Now Films

David C. Thomas is the Director of MC5 * A TRUE TESTIMONIAL, a feature-length documentary film about Detroitís dangerous MC5, currently in development and production. To read more about this historic production and purchase exclusive MC5 Film merchandise please visit: BE PART OF THE SOLUTION!

Note: color strip photos, England 1977, courtesy of Future Now and Becky Tyner

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