Harry Duncan’s Roots and Rhythms Series returns to Amoeba SF Saturday Oct. 27 from 2-5 p.m. To hear a sample of the music Duncan spins, listen to In The Soul Kitchen with DJ Harry Duncan on KUSF In Exile Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Listen to past shows here.
This Saturday’s show will include a rare appearance by legendary poet and activist John Sinclair. Sinclair was once the manager of Detroit proto-punks MC5 and lead anti-racist and pro-marijuana efforts in the 1960s. He was imprisoned in 1969 for the possession of two joints of marijuana, which spawned the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Mich. in 1971, which featured John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman and another of other luminaries from the time. He was soon after released, and the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the state’s marijuana law was unconstitutional. He was charged with two others in the 1972 Supreme Court case United States v. U.S. District Court, which upheld that warrantless domestic wiretaps were illegal.
Sinclair is now based in Amsterdam, where he continues to write and record poetry, which is often accompanied by blues, jazz and rock musicians. He hosts a radio show at RadioFreeAmsterdam.com where he plays jazz, blues, R&B and other music, and maintains a blog, Fattening Blogs For Snakes. I caught up with Sinclair over the phone as he was working on a documentary in Healdsburg, Calif.
Me: What can we expect Saturday? Will you be performing, speaking, spinning tunes or some combination thereof?
Sinclair: Spinning records, I think. Sharing the dial with Harry D.
Me: I heard you’re working on a film right now.
Sinclair: Yeah, I’m working with a fellow named Bill Donoghue, a documentary on the great Sonny Boy Williamson.
Me: When you play records, what are some of your favorite artists to play, and what are some of your favorite artists you like to turn people on to?
Me: What brings you to the states right now?
Sinclair: I’m pretty much in the states, traveled all over doing performances and other kinds of work. From Portland, Ore. to Portland, Maine and back to California. I’ll be going back to Detroit on Sunday and Amsterdam after the election. I’m here to vote. I’m here to vote as I always do — straight democratic! (laughs)
Me: Have you been following the election while in Amsterdam? Do you keep up with American politics while overseas?
Sinclair: I read The New York Times in Europe and International Herald Tribune every day, so I keep up as best as I can.
Me: Were you surprised when the Occupy Wall Street movement first took place? Does it seem to you that that has faded out, or do you think that kind of unrest will keep bobbing up in the foreseeable future?
Sinclair: Well, that’s up to people who are involved in it. I was happy to see them emerge on Sept. 17, 2011. They finally asked a question after 40 years and pointed out that everything is fucked up! (laughs) I thought that was great. But then when it got cold, it kind of went away. … I’m sad, I thought it was a great idea.
Me: There’s a lot of measures to legalize marijuana here going on, and it’s looking like it will pass in Washington state. Do you think the United States will ever have comprehensive law legalizing marijuana?
Sinclair: The federal government? They seem to be pretty adamant against making any kind of change. They won’t even recognize its medical properties. I don’t know what’s wrong with them. They’re out of their goddamn minds, as far as I’m concerned. But I’ve always felt that way (laughs).
I just think it’s great the citizens have led the way toward recognizing the truth of this issue, first with California’s medical marijuana initiative in 1996 and now 17 states have accepted medical marijuana, and they’re going for legalization in Washington, Oregon and Colorado. I just visited Oregon and Washington on this trip to see how they were doing, and people seem pretty confident. I’m just writing about this for a column in [Michigan] Medical Marijuana Report. Here in Detroit, we’re going to vote Nov. 6 on legalization within municipality, also my hometown of Flint, Mich., they’re going to do the same thing. So I think that’s a positive thing. Detroit was five years ahead of the state on the medical issue. I was part of the movement in Ann Arbor 40 years ago in which we decriminalized marijuana there and turned it into a $5 fine. It’s just taken so long!
Me: What are you working on at the moment, writing or otherwise?
Sinclair: Well I’ll be doing some things in Michigan next week when I’m there. I work every chance I get. I love to perform, and if they let me perform, I’ll be there. If I can find a band, they’ll be with me. I don’t really follow the pattern. I just go wherever I want and do what I want. I do it because I want to, not because there’s any market for it or any public demand. I force myself on the public, usually (laughs). A poet with a band — not really what they’re looking for. But I don’t care! That’s what I want to do, so I’m gonna do it.