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An Inter View With John Sinclair

An Inter View With John Sinclair image An Inter View With John Sinclair image An Inter View With John Sinclair image
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SUN: You are one of the di rectors of the Rainbow Multi Media Corporation (RMM). Could you explain how RMM came about? JS: Well, as you probably know, I was involved for some time before I got locked up in 1969 in an organizaron called Trans-Love Energies, which was a jion-profit multi-media collective centered on band management (MC5, the Up, the Stooges during their earlier stages) and dedicated to providing full services to the bands so that they could control as many aspects of their productive work as possible. Trans-Love was also involved in concert production, publicity and promotional activity, graphics, the publication of the street-sheet Ann Arbor Sun and other literature and posters. In addition we did a lot of work for Russ Gibb. the Grande Ballroom and other of his projects, serving as consultants, publicists. what-have-you. During the Trans-Love period. (1967-69), we had a great deal of success with our approach - so much success that the state was forced to lock me up in order to cripple our effectiveness! This was because a major aspect of our activity was to provide a focus for the tremendous amount of energy and creativity in the Michigan rock and roll community - what we now cali the rainbow culture - and to relate this cultural activity to its economie and political underpinnings, if you will. We worked hard, not only to créate an exciting body of musiqand related artwork, but also to unify the scène and to try to steer it along its most positive lines. We were interested further in creating a company which would be just as together as straight pröfit-oriented organizations, which' could do work which was as good or better than the straight companies' work, but which would not opérate on the profit motive. This is where the non-profit thing comes in - we discovered that it wasn't the fact of being a Corporation which was bad or oppressive about established companies, but the fact that the corporations were organized to bring high profits to an individual or a group of individuals at the expense of both the workers and the consumers. In other words, the FORM of the corporation, the gathering together of individuals into a collective for more efficiënt production, was something we could as a people profitably use, but the CONTENT - the accumulation of profits for an individual or group of individuals to use for their own selfish pursuits - definitely had to be transformed into its opposite, which would be the accumulation of surplus capital for the people's eommon utility, you know what I mean? SUN: Yes--so the concept of non-profit, organized work began for you with Trans-Love. But Trans-Lowe was a po I i ti cal organization, wasn't it? JS: Well, the White Panther Party came out of Trans-Love when we began to realize that all our cultural activity took place in a political context which had to be dealt with specifically in a political way . For example, we were prepared to produce free music concerts in the parks on Sundays, but the city government and its pólice department were totally opposed to freeks being able to get together and get down to the music like that, so we had to organize ourselves politically in order even to bring off the free concerts we were committed to producing. After I was incarcerated the TransLove operation feil apart - the MC5 deserted us completely, the rest of the organization committed itself to trying to get me out of prison, and the problems of survival and struggle with the government prevented us from operating the way we had prior to my imprisonment. But I never ceased thinking about the operation all the time I was in the penitentiary, and when I got out my first concern was to start rebuilding and improving on the kind of organization we had developed with Trans-Love. See, the other thing about Trans-Love was that it operated in a strategically important arena ot struggle - the music industry - and it provided a way to intégrate cultural, economie and poiitical activity into a unified whole, under the dual banner of selfdetermination for our people and self-reliance on the energies, resources and skills of our own people. It provided an economie foundation for our existence as politieal organizers by returning the proeeeds from our ereative produetive activity to our own eommunity, and it also helped us créate a base of mass support for our ideas and programs among the thousands and thousands of our people who followed rock and roll music as a way of life. SUN: So what you're saying is that RMM represents a revival of the TransLove Energies concept? JS: Right, only on a mueh larger, much more effective seale, because our people have grown so much more numerous over the last five years, and their need for independent socialist economie development so much more intense. For this reason, an increasingly large part of our current organizational activity is designed to promote the concept of the non-profit worker eontrolled eollective or corporation as a model for alternative economie and social development, and we're trying to insert this concept not only in our own local environment, but also in the national musie industry eommunity as well, and not only as a concept, but as a real working alternative to the rest of the industry, which is strictly profit-oriented. See, everything has to keep coming back to the non-profit nature of RMM, because that's the basic organizing principie of our operation - we have set out not to make money as individuals, which would certainly be easy for us to do, but to créate and build up an effective organization which can contribute in as many ways as possible to the people's struggle for self-determination and freedom and to the development of the people's culture along its highest, most positive lines. That's what RMM is about first of all, everything else flows from that basic principie. RMM is an actual, real, working alternative organization which people can experience for themselves by seeing and participating in the living results of that form of organization - things like the Blues & Jazz Festival, the Community Parks Program, etc. SUN: How does RMM Work in actual practice? What s the internal structure and how does it differ from, say. Ford Motor Company or General Electric? JS: In the first place, as I said above, RMM is a non-profit, worker-con- trolled collective. No one 'owns' the company or its assets - we're all employees of the Rainbow Multi-Media Corporation, which is an indivisible entity in that no one owns any shares of stock and everything accrues to the corporation itself. The decision-making apparatus as it presently stands consists of a Board of Directors - Pete Andrews, Darlene Pond and myself - and a staff collective, made up of all the employees of RMM. We have board meetings once a week, where Pete and Darlene and myself discuss all the aspects of our operation, set organizational policy, make decisions on our daily course of operation, and generally deal with all the problems involved in carrying out our organizational work. Then we have staff meetings once a week, where we discuss the same matters with the entire working staff, get their input on each particular problem, criticize each other's work for the past week, talk about proposed new projects and what to do about them, etc. We're trying now to get everyone in the company to accept greater and greater responsibility for the overall work and direction of the organization, but people are generally accustomed to working in the opposite kind of situation, so we have a hard time getting that particular point across to everyone. People 'move up' in RMM by taking upon themselves increasing responsibilities for both the everyday work of the company and the long-range overall develop _ . - John Sinclair, Vice President of Rainbow Multi-Media and Chairman of the Rainbow People,s Party, grew up in a small town outside of Flint, Michigan, and became addicted to rock & roll as soon as it hit his ears. His career started as a disc jockey, spinning records as "Frantic John, Flint's youngest D.J." in 1958. Turned on to jazz while a student at Albion College, he's stayed close to the heart of the Motor City music scène ever since. John has been a beat poet, jazz musician, editor of jazz and poetry magazines and alternative newspapers, author, personal manager of Detroit's most powerful rock &roll bands and a community organizer. He, Leni Sinclair, poetfilm-maker Robin Eichele, and trumpeter Charles Moore founded the Detroit Artists' Workshop in 1964 and John, Leni and artist Gary Grimshaw started Trans-Love Energies in 1967. After taking on personal management of the MC5 and moving his base of operations to Ann Arbor in 1968, John was snatched away to serve 2'years in prison until legal and political battles caused the Michigan Supreme Court to uphold his contention that the Michigan marijuana laws were unconstitutional. While in prison, John wroteGuitar Army (a DouglasWorld book) and published Music & Politics (World, 1971) co-authored by Robert Levin. Soon after his release, John became immersed in what was to become Rainbow Multi-Media, co-producing the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972, serving as personal manager for DETROIT, handling booking for the Community Park's Program and the Ann Arbor People's Ballroom, organizing countless benefits for community organizations, helping to organize the Michigan Marijuana Initiative, serving on the Board of Directors for Amorphia, Inc. and producing a weekly radio program, "Toke Time" on WNRZ-FM (no longer on the air). ment of RMM. It's a very difficult process, and we haven't been progressing as rapidly as we should've been, but now that we're in our new offices at 208 West Liberty Street and have all our people in one place, we're starting to make some headway. Up until the first of August the company was split into three separate operations, located at Pete's house, at the Rainbow House on Hill Street, and at the Rainbow Press offices behind the Blind Pig, and we were desperately struggling for survival as an organization, but now that we're all together in one office, we can begin to concéntrate on developing our internal structure the way we had always planned to do. SUN: How come it took RMM so long to get offices? Most businesses start out by renting office space and setting up shop... JS: Yeah, but that's precisely where you have to get back to ' the nature of RMM and the way it operates. See, we started with no capital whatsoever, just the energy of Pete and his staff - which consisted then of only Bill Belian and Sue Wyborski - and myself, and I was fresh out of two-and-a-half years in the penitentiary with no staffat all. We decided to créate the corporation in the spring of '72, after we had decided to try to get the Blues & Jazz Festival together, and our original projection was that we would have to support ourselves otherwise than through the company until the Festival was over, at which time we presumed we would have made enough to finance the company's first year of operation But then we actually took a $4000 loss on last year's Festival, and we had to borrow money from friends in order to continue what we had started. Until a month ago neither Pete nor myself had received any salary - we now get $75 a week - and Darlene actually works at another job so she can afford to support herself and continue to work on RMM. I'm supported financially by the Rainbow People's Party (RPP), while Pete has been supporting himself through his salary as producer of the UACDaystar concerts at the University. SUN: What exactly is the connection between RMM and the RPP? Is RMM control led by the RPP as some people seem to think? JS: No, not at all. RMM is made up of about 18 people, of whom only five are members of the RPP. That would be Frank Bach, Peggy Taube, Leni Sinclair, Sam Smith and myself. The other people are just brothers and sisters from the communitv like ourselves, who are not members of the RPP. Of the three Directors of the company, only one - myself - is a member of the RPP. SUN: Okay, what kind of work does RMM do, besides organizing the B&J festival? JS: Well, RMM is involved in band management, record production, concert production, graphics, printing, advertising, publicity, radio, video, and other mass communications media. We're a multi-media production company basically, with a standing commitment to putting our resources at the disposal of the community and its concerns as best we can. We promote what we consider to be the most positive aspects of our rainbow culture and are trying to créate an exemplary form of busness organization which can serve as a model to our people of how we can organize ourselves to take care of business for ourselves, using our own resources for our own people. SUN: What about the RPP? What is it and what does it do? JS: The RPP is a political collective - a collective of people off the streets who are into community organizing and share a common political analysis which has been laid out to a certain extent in my book, GUITAR ARMY. The RPP is really an organization of organizers whose job it is to help créate alternative organizations and organizational forms through which people can begin to control their lives and the life of their community. By alternative organizations, I mean things like the People's Produce Company, the People's Ballroom, Free Concerts, etc. The RPP now has only eleven members - for the record, they are Frank Bach, Peggy Taube, Kathy Kelley, David Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon, Genie Plamondon, Linda Ross, Sam Smith, Lori Melton and myself. The party is organized eeonomically, politically and culturally as a COMMUNE, in which each member has an equal commitment and share with every other member. SUN: How is the RPP work and house hold set up? JS: The work and the internal economy of the RPP proceed from the basic communal principie: 'from each according to their ability. to each according to their need,' with people's needs being determined by the dictates of their work rather than by some ad they saw on televisión last night, you know what I mean? I would say that the party's basic organizational principie is that any work which needs to be done, whether it's reproductive work -cooking. eleaning, caring for our collective's three children - or economie work, or creative work, all the work is equally important, because it's ALL necessary to our existence and development. If the dishes aren't washed or the food cooked, the everyday life of the organization grinds to a halt, if there is no money then we have no place to stay or food to eat, let alone the equipment and materials we need to do our other work with, if the political work isn't done, the economie and cultural work can't go on. Everything is a part of everything else , and all the elements are equally important or they simply wouldn't be there, right? Party members have no money of their own separate from that of the organization - each member receives pocket change, room, board and the money and materials needed to carry out their assignments. which are determined by the collective as a whole. In return we are expected to commit ourselves to the work of the RPP. The RPP house is at 1520 Hill Street, just west of Washtenaw, where we have been since we moved here from Detroit as Trans-Love Energies in 1968. We are buying our house and the one next door at 1510 Hill, which we were forced to do in 1971 when the owners tried to evict us. We took the advance I got for my book $5000 and borrowed some more money from friends to make a downpayment on the property, so now we make house payments instead of paying rent, and nobody can put us out that way. SUN: How does the RPP support itself? JS: In the first place, our communal organization minimizes our expenses and collectivizes all our income, so continued on page 16 s c 3 Tl . s ' 5' o 2 o T a I o oo 10 John Sinclair Interview Cont'd. continued from page 9 our expenses are much less than if we all lived separately as individuals. When people have jobs that pay money, like my job at RMM now does, that money goes into the collective account to be used to pay our collective bilis. Some people are engaged in primarily political work, which doesn't bring in any money at all, and their existence is secured by the money that comes in from people in economie work. For the past year and a half we have been supported through many of our friends in the community, who have lent us substantial sums of money to enable us to make the downpayment on our houses, bring them up to code and equip ourselves with the machinery we need to do our work. We've also borrowed money from friends to begin what we hope will be the answer to our financial problems - the Rainbow Trucking Company (RTC) operation, a nonprofit, manufacturing and distribution company which is staffed and administered primarily by RPP members. So RTC will hopefully provide the money to support us, and as it expands it will also be able to provide jobs for other sisters and brothers who need a way to support selves which integrates with their politica! views, as RTC does for us. SUN: How does Rainbow Trucking intégrate with your political viewt-would you explain that? JS: Well, for example, while Rainbow Trucking is now being developed primarily as our basis of economie support, our long-range goal is to develop it into an alternative distribution service which can be expanded to handle whatever products our people need to survive - food, clothing, information, cultural artifaets, tools, transportation, what-have-you. It already provides a means whereby we can produce goods- on a very small scale so far - and distribute them to the people we make them for, without relinquishing control over the process to an outside party. Also, the nature of our products reflects our political views and we are able to intégrate the products into our political and cultural work. We produce our own T-shirts, although we still have to buy the shirts from honkie manufacturers, and we can print on them anything that we or the people want. We make People's Ballroom shirts, No More Sleeping Pilis shirts, legalize marijuana shirts, etc. We also make pillows which we print with the same designs. And we make shirts promoting bands. We want to do more band shirts as soon as we can market them, because we believe that people should support the bands that help support them. Rainbow Trucking also distributes the SUN, as you know, some Michigan music publications, roach clips which are made by people in the community here, cigarette papers made by Amorphia, Blues & Jazz Festival albums, and we hope to develop a whole record distribution arm over the next few years. We have also just acquired all the copies of my book, GUITAR ARMY, from the publisher, who quit the book business right after the book came out. We bought all of them back from him and will be distributing the book ourselves through bow Trucking. The way we see it, the harder we work, the more control we obtain over the fruits of our labor, and the more closely we're able to intégrate our economie and productive life with our cultural and political concerns. That's our goal. (See Part II in next issue on: Gay liberation, sexism, future plans and more.)