Counterculture icon John Sinclair in Cork next week
Friday, 25 May 2012It’s quite apt that one of the first Irish appearances by 1960s US counterculture icon, John Sinclair, will be in the Rebel City, where he appears in the two-handed show Breathin’ Air, with ‘Mr Nice”, Howard Marks, at Cork Opera House next Wednesday.
But, the 70-year-old poet, who now broadcasts a music show on his own internet radio station Radio Free Amsterdam, resists attempts by this reporter to draw any link between his rebellious past and the Rebel County.
“That was all a very long time ago,” Sinclair laughs from his home in Amsterdam during a telephone conversation with The Cork News ahead of his show with Marks next week.
In fact, Sinclair, one-time manager of legendary Detroit band, The MC5, is more interested in Cork’s Jazz Festival, which he confesses he had been unaware of: “I’ve been to the North Sea Jazz Festival, but wasn’t aware of the one in Cork, so that’s really good news,” he says.
Having seen live performances by jazz and R&B giants such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Muddy Waters, Sinclair is still inspired by jazz in his own recorded work, which sets his verse to jazz backing. “For me, it’s the emotional content of Coltrane and Davis’s music; their intelligence and ability to improvise and think on their feet, creating new music as they perform. I’m working in a different form, but I’m inspired to achieve in my verse what they did in music,” he said.
Sinclair met his partner on the Breathin’ Air tour (named for a lyric in Free John Sinclair, written by John Lennon when Sinclair was jailed for 10 years for possession of marijuana), when Marks collaborated on Sinclair’s Beatnik Youth album.
“Howard came to one of my readings, and I went to one of his, and our managers got to know one another, and then suddenly, we’re going on tour,” Sinclair recalls.
Sinclair was impressed with the way Marks—a former drug smuggler turned author—engaged with young kids, which he describes as “my audience, because old people don’t go out any more!” Breathing Air is, Sinclair explains, “just two old geezers reminiscing about life. There’s a lot of audience interaction”.
Sinclair has a wealth of material to draw on, including his formation of the militant White Panther party, his ongoing campaign to legalise cannabis, his work with a host of underground papers, and his current broadcasting work and poetry.
Sinclair resists being defined by the past, and looking at the modern world of today, highlights options for young people who want to make the world a better place.
“There’s the Occupy movement, I can’t say for certain what difference that has made, but it’s better than sitting there and taking it,” he said.
The world is not a better place than it was in the 1960s, he said, before concluding on an optimistic note. “The only thing that’s improved over the past 50 years is digital. Everything else is for shit!” he laughs, adding: “Ultimately, all you can do is live the way you feel is right.”
See John Sinclair with Howard Marks next Wednesday, May 30th in Cork Opera House at 8pm. For tickets, €21, visit www.corkoperahouse.ie.
FATTENING FROGS FOR SNAKES 2012