The legendary guitarist and co-founder of Detroit's proto-punk The MC5 recounts his tumultuous early life, rollercoaster musical career, drug addiction, prison stint, and artistic rebirth under the tutelage of jazz trumpeter Red Rodney.
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.