In seeking answers, Kramer has written one of rock’s most engaging and readable memoirs ... What emerges...is a real sense of the claustrophobic life inside a band, regardless of whether they’re playing high school dances or headlining Coachella: the power-plays, conflicting points of views, nursed grudges and never-to-be-forgotten sore points. Someone can always be counted on to ego-trip or refuse to do what has to be done; someone is always killing your dreams. In the story of the MC5, the legacy is huge and the records have endured. But from the inside, it reads less like rock & roll immortality than a kind of suffering.
The Hard Stuff can be read as a manual of how not to become a rock star. Drugs, band feuds, jail and radical politics all combined to prevent stardom. This is a story of bad luck and bad behavior in equal measure ... Kramer captures the sadness of jail life ... Being a regular working-class Detroit guy in a band who could never quite get their act together, Kramer doesn’t mythologize. He simply tells it like it is, painting a portrait of American life far bleaker than you might expect ... All of this feeds into a far more likeable and engaging rock memoir than most ... Kramer brings to his writing a quality so many rock stars lack: self-awareness. Clearly written and imbued with a hard-won, commonsense strain of wisdom, Kramer’s tale of a life in street-level rock’n’roll is as gripping as it is sobering.
The author may lament that in 1975 he was caught dealing 11 ounces of cocaine in a sting operation that saw him serve 2½ years in a federal prison in Kentucky, but a reader of The Hard Stuff suspects that, without forced incarceration, Mr. Kramer would not have lived much longer, let alone long enough to tell his tale ... But that doesn’t make The Hard Stuff a feel-good story ... The middle of the book’s three sections offers a painfully repetitive cycle of squandered career opportunities, depression, self-medication and self-loathing, then brief glimpses of sobriety and betterment followed quickly by artistic or personal disappointment and renewed addiction ... Thankfully, the early days of the MC5 provide more joyous material ... his humor is sadly lacking from the written page ... The Hard Stuff is rarely poetic, but in its brutal honesty Mr. Kramer may succeed in deterring future musicians from contemplating serious drug abuse by numbing them with a litany of legal misdeeds and career missteps—implying, if not stating outright, that life is much more enjoyable, even as a rock ’n’ roll outlaw, when one is in control of it.
The main line of cultural wisdom is that this band is the progenitor of all punk rock music. Yet in the memoir, Kramer spends the majority of his musical attention making the case for free jazz as the most superior form of composition for both its improvisational and its collaborative capacities. He devotes literally just one page to Iggy Pop ... he struggles to find any meaningful difference among the punk acts he's encountered ... It does seem clear that he would like any consideration of the legacy of MC5 to focus at least as much on their political thought as on their musical talent ... There is ample opportunity in these political musings for Kramer to give deeper insight into his own character, yet many of these passages are delivered with a surprising coolness that keeps the reader at a long distance. He may be laying bare new facts of his life—such as the precise details of his breaking and entering schemes or the volume and frequency of his drug abuse—but the self-portrait rendered here is far from touching ... Perhaps this is because Kramer is a jerk. I don't know if he is one, but reading this book didn't make me feel like we could hang out. The voice here seems rather entitled and often seeks to smooth things over where there is clearly still woundedness ... Throughout reading The Hard Stuff, I had a creeping sense that the disparate facets of this book could all be much better written by [John] Sinclair. I doubt Kramer would disagree.
As this wide-ranging, matter-of-fact memoir makes clear...the goal was always 'to capture joy' through a visionary strain of rock music, laced with radical politics and free jazz extemporisations. It is a mealy-mouthed cliche to talk of people who have done a lot of work on themselves. But clearly Kramer has gone at analysis and restitution with the ravenous gusto with which he first embraced rhythm and blues and the British invasion—and, later, crime. His journey from fatherless child to musical maverick to junkie to upstanding survivor reads like a history of the late 20th century, or possibly a gritty paperback ... This journey through the hard stuff is admirably hard on Kramer himself. The self-portrait that emerges here is of an intelligent man of no little principle, slugging it out with his inner thug, losing battle after battle before finally, painfully, winning back both career and respect.
The Hard Stuff...is a frank telling of Kramer's life story, in which he takes responsibility for drug issues that landed him in jail and offers a stark view of the MC5's rise and horrific fall. The Lincoln Park native writes vividly about the robust Detroit music scene of the mid- and late-'60s, as well as the anti-Vietnam War counterculture ... The most illuminating part of the book, however, may be how that scene let the MC5 down, from a falling-out with manager John Sinclair to what Kramer calls 'pushback from the hard left' over some of the band's decisions as it pursued its music career.
You’ll learn a lot about the MC5 in this book, but only when Kramer’s the centre of attention ... I found it significant that he briefly mentions [bandmate Fred] Smith’s death, but does not mention that at the time, he was long retired, living in Detroit with his very famous wife, Patti Smith, who does not even merit a name-check. Also unmentioned is his long campaign to shut down a documentary film, MC5: A True Testimonial, which took two fans more than seven years to compile. They eventually prevailed, but were unable to afford the music rights after a long lawsuit. For a man who so readily admits his faults, it would have been nice to learn why he so vehemently fought its release, but I suspect that if you have paid attention to The Hard Stuff until the end, you will make an educated guess.
His new memoir...creates a full, deeply personal depiction of the Motor City in its blue-collar heyday ... The Hard Stuff contrasts the brilliant arc of his band with the darkness that engulfed him in the years that followed 1972 collapse of the MC5, run to ground by drugs and infighting. Disillusioned and wired to heroin, he entered a spiral of petty crime and dealing. Inexorably, the quantities he handled grew larger and larger, his contacts reached farther and farther into the underworld. In 1975, an arrest on cocaine-trafficking charges sent him to federal prison for more than two years.