Sinclair's words less radical, still relevant
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 9/18/2001
CAMBRIDGE - Unlike most performers during the past week, spoken-word
artist John Sinclair did not mention the recent terrorist attacks on America,
because their aftermath is making him uncomfortable. "When people are
waving a lot of flags, it's best for me to keep my mouth shut," he said
following Sunday's show at the House of Blues.
With his goatee and wire-rimmed glasses, Sinclair looks like a symbol of
the 1960s. Suffice to say he's a legend from that era, having founded the
White Panther Party, managed Detroit punk band the MC5, and been
immortalized in John Lennon's song, "John Sinclair." The song stemmed from
Sinclair's 10-year prison term for selling two marijuana joints to an
undercover agent. He served two years, but that was enough to make him a
martyr, affirmed when he performed at the pro-pot Freedom Rally on Boston
Common on Saturday.
On Sunday, Sinclair, who turns 60 on Oct. 2, began a three-week series of
New England dates with the Devil Gods. They're a skilled Boston rock act
adept at improvising to his spoken-word poems, which generally avoided
politics at this House of Blues set and instead paid homage to his musical
idols such as Lennon, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane.
Several pieces were in honor of Monk, including "Rhythm-a-ning" (a funny
imagining of Monk as a baseball pitcher facing the likes of Sonny Rollins,
Art Blakey, and Charlie Parker, who tags him for a three-run homer) and
'Monk in Orbit." The last is a true story about how Timothy Leary turned
Allen Ginsberg on to LSD in Cambridge in the '60s, then Ginsberg turned
Monk onto it in New York, where Monk reportedly said, "It doesn't seem to
be making too much of a difference to me."
While the Devil Gods vamped behind him, and occasionally burst to life with
potent acid-blues solos from guitarists Ted Drozdowski and Mark Sullivan,
Sinclair and his baritone voice evoked the days when Beat poets like
Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac would recite verse to music. And Sinclair did it
well, wrenching the emotion out of poems like "Excuse Me While I Kiss the
Sky" (his homage to Jimi Hendrix) and a closing piece dedicated to Lennon,
in which he said, "Let us live life as long as we can. And let there be men
like Monk and John Lennon to show us their hearts and light up our ways as
long as we may live."
It was a long way from the harsher radicalism of Sinclair's past, but was
still a relevant message for all who heard this often inspired performance.
Some future Sinclair dates: Friday at the Rhythm & Muse in Jamaica Plain;
Oct. 3 at the Press Room in Portsmouth, N.H.; Oct. 6 at the Free St.
Taverna in Portland, Maine; Oct. 7 at the Fishtown Art Space in Gloucester;
Oct. 10 at Johnny D's in Somerville; and Oct. 11 at the Squawk Coffeehouse
in Harvard Square. All are with the Devil Gods, except for the Johnny D's
gig, which is with drummer Bob Moses, whom Sinclair met at this summer's
Berkfest in Great Barrington.
This story ran on page F1 of the Boston Globe on 9/18/2001.
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