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John Sinclair 1941 – 2024

Big Chief has left the building
let the love flow

Instead, this Saturday’s 53rd annual Hash Bash will partially be a de-facto remembrance event for Sinclair. Event coordinator Jamie Lowell said there was already a portion of the Bash earmarked to pay homage to other legalization activists who have recently died, including Rick Thompson, Brad Lemke, Gersh Avery and Rhory Gould. Several politicians and cannabis activists, including John’s ex-wife, photographer Leni Sinclair, are scheduled to speak Saturday.

“You got to/live it not just/say it or/play it that’s what this is/all/about,” Sinclair wrote in a 1965 poem.
Upon the dissolution of the White Panther Party in 1971, Sinclair formed and chaired the Rainbow People’s Party, which embraced Marxism-Leninism and promoted the revolutionary struggle for a “communal, classless, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist … culture of liberation.”
Sinclair proudly and aggressively fought for progressive policies as part of the burgeoning “New Left” movement.
“In those times, we considered ourselves revolutionaries,” he said in 2013. “We wanted equal distribution of wealth. We didn’t want 1 percent of the rich running everything. Of course, we lost.”
Sinclair often kept a toehold in the world of music, managing for a time Mitch Ryder and perhaps most notably MC5, a Detroit-based quintet known for “Kick Out the Jams” and as a hard-rocking forerunner to the punk movement.

“He’s an incredibly persuasive and charismatic person,” Kramer told Rolling Stone. “He’s this great big cat and he’s got all this energy, you know, and he just turns it on you. There is something to John’s father-figure effect on the group. I had just left home, and here was this older cat who could explain all these things that I didn’t understand about the world. And he did have a strong effect on everyone else, philosophically strong spiritual attitudes that he instilled in us.”

John was my mentor in the 70s self-determination music,” says Detroit musician and label operator RJ Spangler, whose Planet D Nonet collaborated with Sinclair on the Viper Madness album in 2008. “John really turned us onto New Orleans music and culture; we had grand times together in the Big Easy. It will not be the same without him.”

Gross — who like many in Sinclair’s circles refers to him as “The Chief” — adds that, “If you could hang out with the guy, it was incredible. To experience his love for jazz and what he could teach you in an hour was amazing.” And, Gross notes, “He never for one second veered of his path of pushing back against The Man. John stood up for the downtrodden, as cliché as that might sound. He would champion black culture and blues and jazz music, and anybody who seemed oppressed, John was in their corner.”

John Lennon read “The Entrapment of John Sinclair,” and decided to do something about Sinclair’s very very unjust sentence, “Ten Years for Two Joints.”–Ed Sanders, The Entrapment of John Sinclair.

Long before social media’s instant impact, Sinclair helped spawn the pointedly politicized alternative newspaper movement as a fast fount of information about the “underground,” as the counterculture was termed at the time, with Detroit publications such as Fifth Estate (which still exists), the Ann Arbor Sun, the Detroit Artists Workshop Press and its offshoot Work Magazine. Later in life, he worked as a spoken-word performer and recording artist with an eye toward what he called “jazz poetry,” recording more than 30 albums with different band names, including the Blues Scholars which included his longtime friend Wayne Kramer, the MC5 guitarist and cofounder who passed away in February this year.