RIP John Sinclair, grand old man of the counter-culture

John Sinclair Charles Shaar Murray Filthy McNasty's, Islington. 2009 (Pic Anna Chen)
John Sinclair and Charles Shaar Murray at Flithy McNasty’s in north London

John Sinclair, a revolutionaries’ revolutionary

I’m deeply saddened to learn of the death of John Sinclair at 83, grand old man of the counter-culture.

Even in the 1960s, at a time when we had many figures with a revolutionary bent, John Sinclair stood out. A poet, activist and cultural commentator, he was convicted in more ways than one.

John Lennon wrote a song about him, he was the mentor of the punk pioneer band the MC5. He founded the White Panthers in the 1960s as a white auxiliary to the Black Panthers who regarded him as an ally, went to prison for his principles and remained outspoken on anti-imperialism to the end.

I was lucky enough to meet him through author Charles Shaar Murray and it was an honour to have John grace us with an appearance on Madam Miaow’s Culture Lounge on ResonanceFM in November 2013.

The Freedom Rally

John Sinclair Freedom Rally Poster 1967

His politics always took precedence over showbiz. He once told the MC5, “You wanted to be bigger than The Beatles. I wanted you to be bigger than Chairman Mao”. They were worried his political activities were bringing down heat on them.

Indeed, when the Detroit cops busted him for giving two marijuana joints to an undercover narc in December 1966, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. The draconian sentence was so outrageous that, in 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono headlined a Free John Sinclair benefit concert and rally in protest against his fit-up and imprisonment in Michigan along with Stevie Wonder, Bobby Seale, Allen Ginsberg and other cultural and political figures.

The success of the rally – filmed and released as “Ten for Two – prompted the authorities to release him after two and a half years in the pokey. It remains an example of what solidarity and collective action can achieve.

He spent his last years as a DJ on Radio Amsterdam, his programmes revelatory classes in blues and jazz history. He never stopped agitating for the legalisation of what he called “the sacrament” – the weed that gave the authorities the excuse to put him away for two and a half years.

Keep kicking out the jams.

Video: John Sinclair. Guest appearance performing The Delta Sound with Charles Shaar Murray and Buffalo Bill Smith a the Oval Tavern, 2009.

Ten For Two Freedom Rally for John Sinclair 1971 – Part 1 on YouTube

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top