Published February 1996, The Music Paper


Wayne Kramer

Fighting a 'Dangerous Madness'

Former heroin addict, petty criminal, coke dealer, punk rock founding father, disrupter of the 1968 Democratic Convention and all-around guitar legend/survivor Wayne Kramer has just delivered an 11-song musical wake-up call to America.

On his newest Epitaph Records release, Dangerous Madness, Kramer, 48, a one-time Johnny Thunders bandmate who kicked his methadone habit, co-founded the White Panthers, guested on the first two Was (Not Was) albums, played on a GG Allin single, failed a Red Hot Chili Peppers audition ("I didn't have enough tattoos"), served two years for dealing coke and traded licks with Fred "Sonic" Smith as a member of legendary proto-punk band, MC5 takes a long, hard look at the state of our nation.

What he sees is not pretty.

Taking political activism to heady extremes, the stark, disturbing, lyrical images and blistering soundscapes on Dangerous Madness paint grim, apocalyptic, all-too-real pictures of a society in ruins, human compassion gone bankrupt and redemption just beyond our reach.

"I come from a political time and a political band," Kramer understates during a recent phone call to discuss his second record on former Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz's label. "Music is the most direct form of awareness and activism that I know. I see my mission as a musician," he adds, "along the lines of someone riding through the neighborhood on horseback shouting, 'The fundamentalists are coming! The fundamentalists are coming!' "

Propelled by crisp, crunchy, neck-snapping alterna-metal riffs ("The Rats Of Illusion," "It's Never Enough"); frenetic punk-pop energy ("The Boys Got That Look In Their Eyes," "Wild America"); the occasional, Neil Young-like epic rave-up ("Back To Detroit," "Something Broken In The Promised Land"); a frayed, on-the-edge guitar energy and Kramer's ragged, raspy, Morrison-esqe, Sun Ra on acid spoken-word rap ("A Dead Man's Vest," "Dead Movie Stars"); Dangerous Madness careens wildly through a melodic no man's land of broken promises brandishing high hopes and huge hooks.

"My songs," Kramer begins tentatively, "are somewhat emotionally expensive. My challenge as an artist is to muscle up the courage to tell the truth on each album. To be able to stand up and say, 'This is how I feel.' "

"I could make instrumental albums," he adds emphatically, "if I didn't care. But, I feel somebody's gotta say something about what's going on out there and it might as well be me. The madness," he laughs ruefully, "has gotten truly dangerous."

"I guess I'm something of a man on a mission," Kramer chuckles, "and part of that mission is to describe what I see out there while continuing to try out new approaches to music and experiment with new concepts of playing."

"It was the sound of the electric guitar," he reminisces, "that first attracted me to it. It was a new, unexplored instrument back then that came with its own devil box. To me, it was the sound of the future. It was also a way out," he reflects, "of what would've, I'm sure, turned out to be a mundane, boring, Detroit factory life. I saw the guitar as a way to reinvent myself."

"When I first started to get into playing, I saw a clear line between Chuck Berry and John Coltrane," he explains of his unique style. "I found that if I pushed my guitar just past the most furious Chuck Berry solo I could muster; the noise I produced closed in on what Coltrane was doing with his 'sheets of sound.' It was almost like trying to hold a wild dog back," Kramer laughs. "The influence of the free-jazz movement is definitely major in what I'm attempting to do with my guitar."

"The more opportunity I get to work, record and play and the more encouragement and support I receive from fans, critics and the folks at Epitaph," declares Kramer on the glowing praise Dangerous Madness has received so far, "the more I continue to grow. There's so much that I still want to do, musically and lyrically, that I can't see me stopping just now. The world provides us with, literally, a limitless palette."

-- AL MUZER