“Obscenity”

mc-5-sherwood-article
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
FUCKING OBSCENITY

We produced a killer “End of the World” announcement heralding our MC-5 opening. Posters and flyers were printed and circulated at every record store, bar, shopping mall and theater complex in a fifty-mile wide area. “End of the World” production involved using ten or twelve music cuts within sixty seconds’ worth of copy and combining a “Voice of God” delivery with heavy sound processing and elaborate editing to make an event sound like “the End of the World” was at hand. Anything so offered dare not be missed! One key ingredient was to use material from the group being promoted to drive the emotion and intensity of the spoken word. We also dropped in a brief sample of J. C. Crawford’s harangue. It worked perfectly.
It was showtime!

The event had been scheduled to run from 6 ’til 10 p.m. with doors opening at 5:30.
The MC-5 were guaranteed $1,000 vs. 50% of admissions. Don Sherwood would receive 50% of net profits after all expenses were deducted and would also contribute the same percentage in the event of a loss. Irons and I would evenly divide or pay the rest. Tickets were priced at $3.00. Expenses totaled $1,550. “Break-even” was five hundred and seventeen tickets sold. Anything past that was profit. It was the essence of Capitalism. The MC-5 did not play without pay.

Over a thousand had filled the new hall as we started playing records. When we introduced the opening band, the capacity was becoming strained at 1,500. At 7 p.m., we closed the doors with 2,000 bodies crammed wall-to-wall and three or four hundred more turned-away during the next hour.

At 8 P.M:

“Brothers and Sisters, I want to see a sea of hands out there! I want to see a sea of hands!”

Road Manager Crawford was in a particularly buoyant mood. We had been together in the box office only minutes before. I had counted out $3,000 in cash for the group which represented three times their original guarantee. Power to the People!

After thirty minutes or so, I heaved a deep sign of triumphant relief. I reflected. How could the Grand Opening have gone any better? A turn-away crowd, an excellent show, profits for all and happiness everywhere. But hold on, I was forgetting one last little thing to make the night absolutely perfect!

In my younger years, I willingly confess; it was often not enough that I, myself, merely win. With the “want it all” impatience and competitive lust of unseasoned youth, it was also emotionally required that others must lose.

What was happening at that K. of C. Hall?

The MC-5 had thirty minutes left to play. The crowd, although wildly euphoric over each new song the band introduced, was extremely well-behaved. Everything was under control. Plenty of time for reconnaissance.

“Hey, Flanders!’ “Let’s take a ride!”

Pete “Fat Cat” Flanders had recently joined our WTAC announcing staff from WAMM.

WAMM was a local day-time operation and enjoyed decent, although limited, ratings as Flint’s only black radio station. I had been impressed with Pete’s airwork for several years. He had worked at “WHAM” for quite a while as the station’s only white disc-jockey. He loved those funky soul sounds and could “walk that walk” and “talk that talk” better than most of the brothers. I had mentally made a note to offer him a position at WTAC should the opportunity ever present itself and talk him into coming on board. It did, I did and he did.

Flanders and I jumped in my car and sped up along the long Sherwood Forest driveway leading out to Richfield Road. We took a right on Richfield, hung a left on M-15, grabbed another right on Davison Road and there we were, smack-dab in front of the Knights of Columbus. We turned into the circular driveway. Less than a dozen vehicles were in the lot. All riiiiiiiiiiiight! Victory was absolute!!MC-5

We headed immediately back toward Sherwood. Not five minutes had passed. As we pulled back onto the property and headed past the jammed main parking area, we saw the the hall lights flash-on inside the lodge. Hmm? The MC-5 weren’t schedule to complete their performance for another fifteen minutes. ??? People starting streaming outside. Huh? As we pulled up to the back entrance, Flanders said: “Holy Shit!”. What?

Directly adjacent to the lodge were at least twenty police cars parked at five foot intervals. City of Davison. Davison Township. Richfield Township. Mundy Township. Lapeer Township. Uniformed officers milled about, waving flashlights and directing exiting concert-goers toward their cars.

Edward Boyce was the Chief of Police of the City of Davison.

He was a former U.S. Marine with a quarter-inch crewcut, a pit-bull demeanor and a general attitude wired tighter than a mouse’s ass stretched across a barrel. He ran his force the way he used to run his grunt squad in Korea.

Tight. Right. Tough. Rough. Steady. Ready.

Ed had learned that John Sinclair’s band, a fucking-faggot-hippy-long-haired-bunch of left-wing punks, was coming right into Davison, “City of Flags”. These were the kind of people who snuck around in the dark of night obliterating the letter “L” from the illustrious Davison City Motto on all those plaques the local American Legion Chapter had proudly posted all over town. Sinclair was a useless, un-American, Commie, Prick-Bastard, Piece-of-Shit.

Military training clearly called for bold, decisive action.

But, what?

You couldn’t just shoot the sons-of-bitches at the city line. Goddamn it!

Sleepless nights of analysis, phone calls to other area police departments requesting extra manpower, discussions with the County Prosecutor’s Office reviewing options under the law and careful scrutiny of the MC5 “Kick out The Jams” album (which Ed purchased for $6.59 with clenched teeth at K-Mart) finally brought forth an excellent plan.

Even as Flanders and I were only seconds away from the Sherwood Forest entrance drive, the trigger was pulled.

“And right now. Right now. Right now. Right NOW—-It’s time to———

—————–KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHER FUCKER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Obscenity! Obscenity! Obscenity! They said: “Mother Fucker”! Got that on tape? Did you get the “Mother Fucker?” Alright!”

“Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!”

Fifty helmeted, riot-geared township police officers rushed through the front door at Sherwood Forest and worked their way slowly toward the stage. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. What was this? Part of the show?
Heavy!

The band finally saw the cops heading in their direction. As one, they collectively flashed a single, simple, solidified and unified vision. Not “Up the Revolution”; not “Fuck the Pigs”; not “Power to the Proletariate”. The united thought was something much more personally powerful.

“WE’RE HOLDING!!!!”

“Holding”, to the uninitiated and in this context, means “having illegal, controlled substances on our immediate persons”. The MC-5 was not interested in taking on the establishment, fighting for human rights and freedom for the oppressed or upholding the sacred revolutionary codes by which they lived and for which they played. Their entire life philosophy and sole purpose on the planet instantaneously transformed into but a single ambition:

“Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!”

As with all great battle plans, the execution of the police maneuver had encountered a number of surprises.

Although the crowd of “kids” was enormous, they were all actually quite docile. Everyone seemed more curious than concerned as the officers “stormed” the hall, although “waded tentatively into” would be more honestly descriptive. While many of the men had seen military action and had visited places and enjoyed experiences they’d certainly never shared with their wives and mothers, none of them had ever been on Mars before.

They were surrounded by two thousand deliriously entertained, screaming, shouting, dancing MC-5 enthusiasts. Brilliant lights were flashing every color of the raindow. That unearthy, piercing, pounding, rolling, strange excuse for music was shaking the ceiling, walls and floor with thundering pulsation. The cops were not only in an unknown universe, but one louder than a carrier deck at full launch.

Strategy was to arrest the band for “obscenity”, but it took at least five minutes to get through the crowd to the stage. They had thought of sending a few of the troops in through the back door, but had decided every man was needed in the main entry formation should there be problems with “control” or “riot”.

The MC-5 finished “Kick Out the Jams” with fifty-five seconds to spare. Other than Rob Tyner, who was spending the night in town with several Flint friends, they thanked everyone for coming and were out-the-door and in-their-van, hurriedly heading for Ann Arbor. They were gone almost in less time than you could say “Mother Fucker”.

They shot by me in a blur as I entered the backstage area.

“Cops! Bye!”

I hit the stage the same split second as Ed Boyce.

Only very few times in my life have I abandoned all thoughts of reason and deliciously surrendered to the full, pure, powerful passion of furious Irish rage.

Boyce’s eyes darted sharply about in anxious anticipation.

“Where’d they go?”

“Who the fuck are you?”

Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m the fuckin’ promoter and you’re on private fuckin’ property!”

“This place is fuckin’ closed and you’re under fuckin’ arrest!”

“For fuckin’ what?”

“For fucking obscenity!”

Applause for the group was just beginning to fade. John Irons had joined me on stage with that look on his face that said, in no uncertain terms, they were drivin’ ol’ Dixie down. He joined the discussion.

“Hey, Chief! Fuck you!”

This place is fuckin’ shut down now and your both under fuckin’ arrest!”

John and I replied in exact phrasing and perfect unison:

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!

Nothing mattered save honor.

John headed for the record booth to hit the music.

I took the microphone and walked to the front of the stage.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, The MC-5!!!!!!!!!!”

There was a resumption of raucous applause.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have some visitors tonight. Let’s hear it for the cops!!”

Since the MC-5 were truly theatrical, who could tell? Maybe this was part of the show. The crowd cheered wildly for the police.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!! We’ve got the new Bob Seger album and we’re gonna play it all the way through!!”

The affirmative roar drowned out Boyce’s yelling for re-enforcements on stage.

Opening strains of “Lucifer” filled the room.

I emphatically motioned for Chief Boyce to join me in the backstage area. Several friends had whispered interesting information. I’d figured the only move. No turning back.

The face of the Chief was scarlet red. His head was spinning. His heart was heaving. He was actually breathless with unmitigated anger. He could not contain or conceal his fierce frustration. The fuckin’ Commies had flown the coop.

He couldn’t call a car for interception. All of his cars and his buddies’ cars were all already at Sherwood. He couldn’t call the State Police or the Sheriff. He’d look like an asshole and they were a whole separate bunch of pricks. They’d laugh their asses off. But, he still had these fuckin’ radio boys. That fuckin’ shithead with the glasses admitted he was the goddamn promoter. That’s at least one fish in the net; no, two, counting that fuckin’ little bastard partner.

“You’re both under arrest!”

“How many, Chief?”

“You’re under arrest!”

“How many cars and vans, Chief?” “How many?”

Boyce shifted his steely gaze back and forth between us. Were these guys druggies? Were they “high”? On that “acid” crap? What the fuck were they saying? Cars? Vans? They were ignoring an arrest. Two arrests!

“At least a dozen, Chief. At least a dozen. Probably more. You’re in deep, deep shit!”

Something had strangely shifted. He was in deep shit? They were the ones in the deep shit. They were. Weren’t they? Fuck; those Commies got away. Shit! What the fuck are these guys talkin’ about?

“What the fuck are you assholes talkin’ about?”

“Nice move, Chief. No search warrants. No permission. No witnesses. What were you guys doing? Stealin’ shit? Get any tapes? Any radios? Any stereos?”

I assumed my best Dan Berrigan mode and addressed the Chief with measured patience, as though explaining the Gospel of St. Luke to a six year-old child. My voice was evenly modulated without a trace of rancor.

“Chief Boyce, I’m afraid there were witnesses. A number of compaints have already been brought to my attention regarding uniformed police officers breaking into cars and vans tonight in the Sherwood Forest parking lot. The vehicles were unoccupied. I’m sure you are intimately familiar with specific procedures required by law concerning such entry. In the absence of signed search warrants or honest reasonable cause, there is growing speculation that attempted thievery was involved or attempted.”

The Chief glared at me with lingering contempt, but I had his undivided attention.

“There are also questions concerning your entry into a private facility without permission and potentially endangering the safety and security of a lawful public assembly.”

Boyce blinked. There was no other change in posture or presence. But, he blinked.

“It’s my own suspicion that your officers were searching vehicles for illegal contraband and erroneously felt that they were lawfully doing so. I would also wish to apologize for any untoward language expressed by myself or my partner, Mr. John Irons, who is standing to my left. No disrespect was intended. We were stunned and confused by your sudden appearance and responded on an emotional level highly untypical of our normal demeanor when communicating with members of the law enforcement community. If you feel our conduct requires our arrest, we will offer absolutely no resistance at the conclusion of tonight’s presentation”

“Where’d those fuckin’ hippies go?”

“Chief Boyce, the MC-5 and their entourage left immediately, fearing an undesired encounter could create a full-scale riot. As you have seen, the young people gathered here have been peaceful and calm. I assure you that they would not have remained so in the event you had attempted to actually effect an arrest on any member of the band. The MC-5 departed to assure your safety.”

His voice was much more subdued. Confidence was cracking.

“I want this place shut-down.”

“Chief Boyce, this place will be shut-down in exactly ten minutes time.
We have announced a ten-o-clock closing on WTAC. We must honor our promise or there could be severe problems with the Federal Communications Commission regarding false, misleading advertising. That could bring in The Bureau.”

This was really starting to stretch it. Irons was pissing his pants. Flanders had to walk away.

The Chief whirled about and left the room. We could see him speaking with his officers near the front of the hall.

We bid the gathering farewell at 10 PM sharp, plugged the next week’s attractions and turned the house lights up.

Chief Boyce and his helmeted forces blended into the departing crowd until the building had finally emptied for all except employees and cleaning crew.

Don Sherwood was understandably upset. His new hall had debuted with overflowing attendance. He had earned more in one night than in an average two weeks of full operation. At the same time, Ed Boyce was really mad. The last thing Don or any businessman needed was problems with a pissed-off Police Chief, especially a former Marine agonizing over a failed mission. I agreed that things had to be set straight and the Chief made comfortable. I would review all options and conjure up a plan. There had to be a way!

Stewart Newblatt had been elected a Circuit Court Judge several years prior and had resigned from the bench in frustration. He was an honest man with a superlative intellect. Stewart felt that rigid requirements of sentencing had restricted him from rendering fair judgement in several situations which had arisen involving certain circumstances not adequately contemplated by or written into the law. He was a man of principle and passion. Decades later, he would resign early from the Federal bench over similar discomforts relating to mandatory sentencing of drug offenders.

Stewart was a good friend of Charlie Speights.

In great detail the following day, I explained to Charlie all of the prior evening’s events. There was a lot I didn’t have to tell him. It was all in the Flint Journal and on both major Flint television stations.

The official Ed Boyce version was that he had been alerted to the appearance of the MC-5 at Sherwood Forest and had assembled a force of uniformed officers to be ready should necessity require professional intervention.. As it turned out, the officers had been successful in maintaining the peace. When the group used a “blatant obscenity” during their show, Ed and his men had approached the stage to demand the performance be stopped. The group abandoned said performance and left the hall immediately. There were no arrests.

Chief Boyce promised that all future “rock concerts” at Sherwood Forest would be heavily policed and that there would be arrests for any violations of the law, including the use of obscenity. Don Sherwood was quoted as saying he would certainly abide by any decisions made by the Chief and wanted to “get along”. My own quotes related to “misunderstandings” and “missed communications” and the like. No one had spoken to the press about illegal entry, searches or threats. Yet. These matters warranted and awaited private discussion.

Charlie Speights arranged a meeting with Stewart Newblatt.

Stewart was outraged.

There was no question that Chief Boyce had violated any number of rules and regulations in ordering the search of any “suspected” vehicles for drugs or drug peraphernalia. In his quest and zest for major ass-burning, he had envisioned confiscating a mountain of shit. He didn’t even have a mini-molehill.

The MC-5 van had been heavily guarded by White Panther security, concerned more about equipment or van theft than drug concealment. Hell, there wasn’t any dope in the van, anyway. Good weed on the road was far too valuable to just leave it hanging around. The guys carried it right on their persons, like disposable jewelry!

The rest of the searches had turned up a few roaches and a clip or two. Nothing more.

Newblatt was very clear and wise with his summary of deliberation.

While Boyce had acted imprudently and might successfully be called to account, he could probably justify his actions enough to get off with a slight slap on the wrist. No one had been actually arrested and no complaints had been forthcoming on the illegal searches and minimal seizures. He would be waiting in the bushes from that point forward and had every legal right to do so.

“Rock Concerts” were not Sunday School picnics. We all knew the nature of the counterculture. It would only be a matter of time before opportunities presented themselves for Chief Boyce to gain glory.

An accomodation was desirable. Anything less would guarantee continuing vulnerability and eventual difficulty, if not disaster.

After leaving attorney Newblatt’s office, Charlie and I stopped for a few beverages at the Shorthorn on South Dort and thoroughly explored options.

During Baseball’s off-season, the Shorthorn regularly featured an aspiring organist who was much more widely known as a thirty game winner for the Detroit Tigers. Denny McClain was a fine entertainer off the field as well, substituting melodic booms for fast-ball zooms. It was at the Shorthorn in Flint that Denny McClain was said to have formed certain “associations” which subsequently led him to periodic difficulties with the law in matters of gambling and more serious rambling. Charlie and I were not among such associations, although we would often chat with him about baseball over booze.

As Denny finished “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, a Shorthorn favorite, Charlie and I concluded that Chief Boyce had to be approached at the soonest possible time with a conciliatory gesture. I had everything to lose at Sherwood Forest.

I returned home and drank a six-pack of Colt 45. There are times when the most important aspect of acute analysis is continually re-examining the obvious. Not racing it. Facing it. Pacing it.

Rock crowds almost always appeared wildly raucous, but this was not their true nature or essential characteristic. Rock enthusiasts were at a concert to be entertained, by the performers and by each other. In a large sense, they were performing off-stage as much as those elevated above the masses. The musicians were surrogates. In words and music, they expressed thoughts and emotions unspoken and unexplored in their absence.

It had always been so, but Rock ‘n Roll magnified the intensity of participatory experience as ever more powerful amplifying systems expanded stimulation in geometric progression.

Rock ‘n Roll audiences wanted to have a “good time”. Any other consideration was completely secondary. Having a “good time” included being at peace with themselves and each other. There was a delectable dichotomy in safety within chaos. In many ways, the more frenetic things appeared, the more security was insured. When the fun’s right, who wants a fight? Rock crowds were the easiest controlled, most cooperative assemblies on earth when given proper respect and entertainment.

What was first and foremost in the mind of the good Chief?

Only one, single, basic thing.

To not look like an “asshole”. Who does?

Everything else was a detail.

Taking pen in hand, I composed a brief statement to the Chief. I then called Western Union and dictated the message word by word. I asked that it be immediately “phone-delivered” to the Davison Police Department and “hand-delivered” to Chief Boyce the following day. This would maximize exposure within the Department and emphasize the formal importance I placed upon the communication.

Although specifically rejecting any attempts at defining “obscenity”, we certainly recognized a concept of “community sensitivity” which the Chief had so reasonably outlined. All future groups contracted for performance at Sherwood Forest would be asked to avoid specific limited language as a condition of appearance. I asked to meet with the Chief at his earliest convenience for further discussion.

Don Sherwood contacted me early the next afternoon. Chief Boyce had called him to express surprise and pleasure in receiving the telegram. He had shared its contents with the Mayor, a number of City Council members and the local Davison newspaper. The Chief said that I could phone him at any time. I did so at once.

The concordat established late that same evening over a number of beers with Chief Boyce and several of his off-duty associates was the essence of simplicity.

“Ed” would be in charge of security and arrange for up to a dozen other officers to be present at Sherwood Forest at every future rock concert scheduled. An hourly rate of $8.00 in cash would be paid each member of the security detail, while Ed would receive twice the rate for his organizational efforts and personal presence. This was the same formula used by bands, the “leader” getting double. The specific size of the force would be determined by anticipated crowd size. Ed would also receive advance copies of every Sherwood Forest performance contract which would specify that the word “Fuck” or any form of “Fuck” could not be used during performance. Any “Fuck” uttered would result in forfeiture of payment to the artist.

The Chief agreed that the sole purpose of the security presence was to assure peaceful assembly and guard against “Fucks”. Within this understanding, it was emphasized that the police were being paid by the promoters to protect the crowd within the walls of Sherwood Forest in every way possible. This was fundamental to our relationship. This also meant policing the police. Anything which might arise of a concerning nature would be brought to the promoters’ attention for mutual resolution without unilateral action. No games. No hassles. No problems.

The stipulations were finalized and mutually honored.

The “No-Saying-Fuck” clause was added to all bookings and thoroughly discussed beforehand with agents, managers and musicians. It bowed to “sensitivities” without importantly sacrificing content. It was a relatively small thing compared to the opportunities for all presented by the venue. It was a very big thing to Chief Boyce. He was highly praised in many Davison circles for his courageous stand and mighty victory. Concert-goers never noticed the difference. In return for not hearing a clear “Fuck” from the stage (although muffled variations or phonetic substitutes were perfectly acceptable), the Sherwood Forest audiences existed within an environment approaching unlimited liberty.

Smokin’ a joint? Just don’t wave it under a cop’s nose.

Playin’ with some warm titties under your lady’s blouse? Just be a little discreet.

Wearin’ an inverted American flag to protest the war? Remember; not one of the cops is named Nixon.

Each concert saw most of the same crowd peacefully intermingle with most of the same police. Repeated and uneventful proximity erases fear, creates familiarity and breeds content. It was an amazingly rational arrangement.

Meanwhile, the MC-5 episode and corresponding media coverage had put Sherwood Forest irrevocably on the map.

The following Sunday, Bob Seger drew 1,600.

The next Friday was Halloween Night.

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