Author of new book on MC5 appearing at Borders, Ann Arbor District Library
Brett Callwood admits he’s a pretty unlikely candidate to chronicle the 1960s Ann Arbor rock ‘n’ roll scene.
“I’m 35 and I’m English, and I wasn’t even alive when most of these bands were playing,” said Callwood, who, despite his relative youth and birthplace, has written books about both the MC5 and the Stooges, two of Ann Arbor’s most-famous (and most infamous) bands.
“I loved David Bowie, and he was saying to check out Lou Reed and the Stooges,” he recalled of his introduction to Michigan's high-energy rock 'n' roll. “When I finally started linking geography to music, I realized that the majority of my favorite bands came from Detroit.”
And, of course, from Ann Arbor.
Eventually Callwood’s music fandom evolved into freelance jobs as a music journalist, writing for magazines like Metal Edge and Kerrang!. Eventually, he decided it was time to write a book.
Naturally, he turned to the Motor City.
On Nov. 9, Callwood will read from his book, “MC5: Sonically Speaking” during a signing event at the downtown Borders Books and Music. On Dec. 1, he’ll also lead a discussion about the book at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.
The MC5 book, as well as Callwood’s “The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underground,” both were published last year in the UK and are being republished in the States by Wayne State University. The MC5 book is already out, while the Stooges book will be available early in 2011.
Both bands are inextricably connected to Ann Arbor. All four members of the original Stooges were raised in the Ann Arbor area, while the MC5 relocated, along with manager John Sinclair and his White Panther Party (Later the Rainbow People’s Party) to Ann Arbor following the Detroit riots in 1967.
For the MC5 book, Callwood interviewed all three surviving band members (guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith and singer Rob Tyner both died during the 1990s), each of whom, he said, was eager to talk about the band, which, over the course of three albums, achieved artistic — though not financial — success.
“They were all forthcoming,” he said. “(Drummer) Dennis (Thompson) and (bassist) Michael (Davis) were completely open — very easy and happy to talk about their time with the band.
“(Guitarist) Wayne (Kramer) was a little more suspicious. I got the impression that he was bored with it and would rather talk about his current musical projects.”
The story that emerged has all the intrigue of a spy novel, complete with government wiretaps, drug busts and, for two members of the band, jail time for narcotics trafficking.
“It’s not your typical, boring story about how many drugs they took and how many groupies they had sex with,” Callwood said. "It’s about the real people and the real struggles they went through to pursue their art.
“It’s incorrect to say they were a failure. They just didn’t make any money.”
For Callwood, researching and writing about his favorite bands was a dream come true, as was tracing the bands’ Ann Arbor connections. He's since moved to Metro Detroit and is a frequent contributor to the Metro Times.
“The funny thing about Ann Arbor — being English — is that while still in England, I thought of it as a suburb of Detroit in the way that Royal Oak is,” he said. “But then you realize that it has its own kind of scene that spawned all of this great music.
“It's a great town with a great history in terms of rock music.”
Brett Callwood will read from, discuss and sign "MC5: Sonically Speaking from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 9 at Borders Books & Music, 612 E. Liberty St. He will also appear on Dec. 1 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room at the Downtown Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.