Monday, November 16, 2015

Uniquely Detroit: John Sinclair

Published On: Oct 20 2015 10:08:31 AM EDT   Updated On: Oct 20 2015 12:35:56 PM EDT

Originally from Flint, John Sinclair made his way to Detroit to attend graduate school at Wayne State University in 1964.
"Wiggled my way right in," he said.
Sinclair has lived quite a memorable life. His immersion into the 60s counter culture movement happened shortly after he stepped foot on the Wayne State campus with a John Coltrane record and a book of poetry by Leroy Jones under his arm.
"I had the brand new one in the spring of 1964, called 'Coltrane Live at Birdland,'" Sinclair said. "I'm walking down 2nd Avenue from Wayne State to my pad at the the Forest Arms apartments. This guy comes up to me and he says, 'Man, Coltrane, huh? Where'd you get that Coltrane record? Leroy Jones, huh? I'm a poet.' And it was a guy named George Tish who was a young poet like myself."
They bonded and became friends over what Sinclair refers to as "artifacts of culture."
"Shared among very few people at that time."
This led to other like-minded people getting together and forming the Detroit Artists Workshop. They just celebrated their 50th anniversary:
"So this is like the seedbed of alternative culture in Detroit," Sinclair said. "And out of this a lot of things came. The MC5 were attracted to this and moved into our neighborhood."
The MC5 brought unparalleled energy to every performance.
"Attitude and opposition to the way things were," he said. "It was important to me because it was how I felt also. We felt that America was in terrible shape and it was going down the drain and somebody needed to say something and do something about it."
Leni Sinclair, who married John in 1965, took some of the most iconic images of the Detroit rock scene.

"It was before the civil rights act. The black freedom struggle was going on in the South, the integration of facilities. The war in Vietnam was starting to escalate. It was all wrong. We smoked marijuana and we found out that we were just regarded as criminals. All of these things pressed on you as a young person. And the bankruptcy of American intellectual life at that time, basically."
"He came to my rescue and got me out of prison," Sinclair said of John Lennon. "What does it mean to me? It means everything to me. It was the happiest moment of my life so far. He got me out of prison. I was serving nine and a half to 10 years for two joints of marijuana and he got me out! After two and a half years, so I was a pretty happy guy. He talk up my cause and was a beautiful cat. He believed in it."
Not only did Lennon believe in his cause, he also wrote a song and performed it at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally. The rally was held in Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor on Dec. 10, 1971.
"I enjoy it, it's my idea of a good time," Sinclair said of performing poetry live. "I feel like I've done something and ice added something to the tradition that I entered into and was inspired by. I take my poems and put them to music, it's more than just a thing, you know, it's a thing!"
He loves playing music and even deejays at Radio Free Amsterdam. Sinclair also managed the MC5.
He wrote a new book called "It's All Good." The book is a collection of poems and other writings about his life. You can pick up a copy at The Book Beat in Oak Park (Lincoln Shopping Center, 26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, MI 48237).
Check out John's entire rooftop performance of "We Just Change the Beat":


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