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John Sinclair was manager of legendary political rockers MC5. Then, in 1969, he was imprisoned for drugs offences, becoming a cause celebre for John Lennon and Allen Ginsberg, amongst others. Now, he is coming to Ireland to tour, alongside fellow outlaw, Howard Marks
Olaf Tyaransen, 30 May 2012
Veteran poet, journalist and political activist John Sinclair doesn’t hesitate when asked what’s been the most memorable moment of his long and interesting life. “Getting out of prison 40 years ago,” the 70-year-old American counter-cultural icon says, with a wry chuckle. “That was easily my happiest moment.”
In 1969, following a series of convictions for possessing marijuana, Sinclair was sentenced to ten years in prison. His crime? Giving two joints to an undercover narcotics officer.
His imprisonment sparked public outrage and ultimately led to the landmark ‘John Sinclair Freedom Rally’ at Ann Arbor’s Crisler Arena in December 1971. Three days after the rally, which featured performances and speeches from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman, he was released.
Amongst the numerous poets, writers, lawyers and musicians that Sinclair had to thank for his acquittal was a certain John Lennon. In addition to performing at Crisler Arena with Yoko Ono, the former Beatle had written and recorded the song ‘John Sinclair’ to highlight his plight (later featured on his Some Time in New York City album).
“After I got out of prison, I went to New York to say ‘thank you’, and then we became friends,” Sinclair recalls. “We were meant to do a project together, but the government found out about it and they tried to drive him out of the country. Lennon was a great guy. People are either great guys or they’re assholes. But he was a great guy. I always really enjoyed him.”
Shortly before his arrest and imprisonment, Sinclair had been fired as manager of hard-edged, proto-punk Detroit band MC5, who he’d been managing since 1966. “I didn’t come from the managerial or MBA or business side of things,” he recalls. “I was a poet and a journalist, and I just loved their music. And I wanted to see them concentrate fully on their music and that’s why I took on their management duties.
“I’ve heard the members of the group describe themselves during that period as ‘unmanageable’,” he continues. “So I figured out a way to make things work for them for a couple of years, and then they decided they wanted to try another direction so they fired me, basically. But I enjoyed working with them, I really loved the band’s music. Rob Tyner and I became very close friends.