John Sinclair was Detroit's Avant Impresario for decades. Here is his marvelous tribute to the ultimate Roadkick: Bob Rudnick.
Remembering The Righteous One
By John Sinclair
Going to Chicago last September to help celebrate the life and times of the late, great Righteous One Stanley Bob Rudnick of Pottsville, PA, Coral Gables, FL, New York City, Detroit, Chicago and the West Coast felt particularly apt for me, because Bob really gave me what I know of the Windy City and made for me a second home there in the poetry bars and gin mills of the modern era, in what Rudnick always referred to as the city of Nelson Algren.
I go back a long way with the Righteous One all the way back to the Winter of 1967-68, when I was managing the MC-5 in Detroit and Rudnick was music columnist for the East Village Other in New York City and founding coordinator of the fledgling Underground Press Syndicate. A devout follower of Lenny Bruce, his lifetime idol and role model, Rudnick hustled his music columns and other demented writings to Cavalier, Circus, and divers large-circulation publications.
I was writing an arts column called The Coat Puller for the Fifth Estate in the Motor City and sending out inflammatory press releases detailing the daring exploits of the MC-5, who were drawing as much attention from the police and other authorities as they were beginning to win the affections of thousands of alienated post-industrial youths.
My modest writings soon captured the already well-inflamed imagination of the Righteous One and his partner in crime, the young Dennis Frawley. Together they penned the weekly Kokaine Karma column in the Other and hosted one of the first truly creative free-form radio programs at WFMU-FM, the voice of tiny Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey.
|My modest writings soon captured the already well-inflamed imagination of the Righteous One and his partner in crime, the young Dennis Frawley. Together they penned the weekly Kokaine Karma column in the Other and hosted one of the first truly creative free-form radio programs at WFMU-FM, the voice of tiny Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey.
When we released the MC-5's 45 rpm single of Looking At You b/w Borderline on the A-Square label in the Spring of 1968, Rudnick & Frawley immediately slapped it on the WFMU turntables, where it joined the heady mix of music by Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, Jim Pepper, Larry Coryell and Howlin Wolf the two scenesters had devised for their listeners.
Big Apple radio exposure for our single pressed in an edition of only 500 copies was combined with almost weekly mentions in the East Village Other as part of Rudnick & Frawley s personal crusade to insure that everyone they knew was aware of the MC-5.
This resulted in much big label interest in the band and the particular attention of a young A&R man at Elektra Records named Danny Fields, whose opinion at the label had been held in high esteem ever since he had suggested that Light My Fire be lifted from the first Doors album and issued as a single.
Danny Fields also did an air shift following the Kokaine Karma Show on Friday evenings at WFMU, where Rudnick & Frawley s repeated spins of Looking at You had kindled his interest in the MC-5. Bob and Dennis introduced me to Danny one night while I was visiting the station during a typically kamikaze venture into New York City in hopes of landing a record deal for the MC-5, and we hit it off at once.
Soon Danny convinced his employers to sign the 5 to an Elektra recording contract and gave us the beginning of our national career, serving unselfishly as my principal mentor and guide through the maze of the music business for the next two years.
Danny also got Elektra to sign James Iggy Osterberg and the Psychedelic Stooges the 5's close friends and associates following Rudnick & Frawley's repeated raves and a trip to Ann Arbor to see the bands in action at a Draft Resistance benefit at the Union Ballroom.
I can t recall the exact date when Bob Rudnick & Dennis Frawley came out to Michigan to join our commune, Trans-Love Energies Unlimited, and take paying jobs at Detroit's first underground radio station, WABX-FM, but I know we were together in Chicago for the Festival of Life at the Democratic National Convention in August 1968, where the MC-5 was the only one of the many bands committed to playing there that actually performed in Lincoln Park, and they were there for the recording of the MC-5's first album, cut live at the Grande Ballroom on October 30-31, 1968.
While Rudnick was in Michigan he helped me with national publicity for the MC-5 and generally carried out his duties as Minister of Propaganda for the White Panther Party, furthering the cause of rock & roll, dope, & fucking in the streets and every thing free for every body which was the unholy mission of the only revolutionary organization in American history to be led by a rock & roll band.
A founding member of the WPP, the Righteous One was with me one ugly evening in the late spring of 1969 when the MC-5 dropped the bomb on Jesse Brother J.C. Crawford and myself, relieving us of our respective responsibilities as road manager/emcee and personal manager. They had decided to pursue a more conventional path to popular music glory than the one they had blazed as founders of the White Panther Party, and the three of us were the first to be cut loose.
The Righteous One was always close at hand to provide genius media manipulation support for my court battles in Detroit in the summer of 1969, and Rudnick's is one of the last faces I saw when the Recorder's Court bailiffs dragged me out of the courtroom into a holding cell to begin serving my 9-1/2-to-10-year sentence for possession of two marijuana cigarettes.
Righteous had been closely following the proceedings with a microphone up his sleeve and our first-generation cassette machine strapped to his body, providing the defense with an accurate recording of each day's testimony. At night he would champion my cause on the airways, which soon led to the precipitate departure of Kokaine Karma from WABX in the summer of 1969.
The next two-and-a-half years are a blank to me as far as happenings on the streets are concerned. I was incarcerated in Michigan's maximum security prisons without appeal bond while Rudnick and scores of others worked selflessly in my behalf to get me out.
When our organization, by now known as the Rainbow People's Party, staged a massive rally and benefit concert at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena on December 10, 1971, drawing 15,000 marijuana advocates to the University of Michigan campus to demand my release from prison, Rudnick was on stage to host the show and bring on people like John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Archie Shepp, Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen sort of a live version of a Rudnick radio program.
The Righteous One and I were together again in Ann Arbor during 1972-73, and for a short, glorious period we were both on the air at WNRZ-FM, spinning out hours of free-form, Black-music-based programming . . . until Rudnick reported for his shift one Sunday afternoon in 1973 and phoned to save me a trip out to the station: The new owners had locked the doors and changed the format to country & western music.
While I was in prison Rudnick had established a new base for himself in the Windy City, and for the next few years he went back and forth from Detroit or Ann Arbor to Chicago as events dictated. I called him there one night in 1974 to invite him to join us as house emcee and deejay at the Rainbow Room, a nice little joint in the basement of the Shelby Hotel in downtown Detroit where Rainbow Productions was presenting a continuing blues & jazz festival onstage, featuring artists like Howlin Wolf, Charles Mingus, Hound Dog Taylor, Albert Collins, Sun Ra, and Sunnyland Slim.
A free room at the hotel was included in the deal, you could sign for your food in the coffee shop, and the lounge in the lobby boasted the Motor City's finest jazz ensemble, the Lyman Woodard Organization, six nights a week.
The Shelby Hotel turned out to be a very interesting place indeed, but as always the good times had their limits, and soon we were back in Ann Arbor while John Petrie & Lisa Gottleib ran the nightclub (now called the Savoy Room) until the hotel itself folded in 1975. Rudnick split for Chicago, I moved back to Detroit with my family, and I lost touch with the Righteous One for quite a few years.
One Sunday afternoon in 1986 I accompanied three Detroit-area poets M.L. Liebler, Errol Henderson, and the late Larry Pike on a trip to Chicago, where Liebler had promised we would do several performances. After 15 years as a political and cultural activist in Detroit and Ann Arbor, I had returned in 1982 to my original calling as a poet and journalist and had resumed reading my works in public, usually enjoying the musical accompaniment of a band of jazz & blues players I titled the Blues Scholars in honor of the late Professor Longhair's splendid ensemble from New Orleans.
This was my first trip to Chicago as a poet in 20 years, ever since I had performed at the University of Chicago and other venues with Joseph Jarman and his band in the mid-1960s, and I was eager to make a good showing. Our first night was a Sunday at No Exit, just around the corner from the Heartland Cafe, and we were scheduled to appear at the Monday night set at Butchie's Get Me High Jazz Lounge, one of Mark Smith's early venues.
When I walked through the door at Butchie's the first face I saw belonged to the Righteous One, who had been laying in wait for me along with my old friend John Petrie. It turned out that both were now poets themselves and would read their works there before the night was over. Rudnick had this particularly great piece about the scene at Butchie's in which he remarked on the practice of charging the poets a dollar to enter and wondered if he could read five poems if he paid $5.00.
Another of Rudnick's striking works in verse was called Food Fascists of the North, addressed to his former co-workers at the Heartland Cafe, where this old-school, Lenny Bruce-inspired, hard-core dope-fiend and meat-eater had labored at constant ideological loggerheads with the resident vegetarians.
Everything I heard him read was bright, well-written verse coming from his own uniquely twisted take on the world and rooted in the particulars of daily life, and my first impression remains true today: Bob Rudnick was a very fine poet with magnetic stage presence and a wildly effective delivery.
He was also in considerable trouble as a person: dodging a narcotics warrant from New Jersey, living off of General Assistance and the occasional weird job, drinking too much alcohol, hustling for drugs and living just one step ahead of the game at all times. Bob was rich only in friends and in his own creative potential, which he sold as cheaply as the market demanded.
But his many friends cared about the Righteous One very, very much, and time and time again I was blown away by the depth of devotion and the unconditional love and tolerance evidenced by people in Chicago who literally took care of Bob in the 80s.
Rudnick's sweep was vast: he hooked up a lot of people, relentlessly but quite unobtrusively, and brought friends together with friends in ways and places that enhanced the lives of all concerned. He stayed connected to our old pals from the 60s who remained active and vital in modern Chicago life people like Warren Leming, Mike James, Abe Peck, Kate Nolan, Marshall Rosenthal, Petrie, Skip Williamson and continued to make and share new friends in the post-modern era, a number of whom have become important persons in my life.
After that night at Butchie's Get Me High, Rudnick took over my case in Chicago and arranged appearances for me at a great number of establishments during the next five years, including the Heartland Cafe, Estelle s, L&L Lounge, the first Frankie Machine Festival in Wicker Park, the Green Mill, Links Hall, and my favorite nightspot, Weed's the world's greatest tavern where the Righteous One, Sergio Mayora and I conspired to bring poetry to the club in a series of group performances Rudnick called The Night(s) of the Cookers.
Rudnick was at his finest as a producer of collaborative poetry events, and his several historic series like the legendary Literary Bouts that gave birth to the Poetry Slam movement, the Erotic Poetry Festivals, the Nights of the Cookers, the tribute to William Burroughs at Lower Links made important contributions to the development of the contemporary literary scene in the Windy City.
These events brought together a great many disparate poets and presented them intelligently, with great humor, in a dynamic setting. Rudnick was not a person to manage a continuing enterprise, but he was a fantastic starter he got good things going, and then he stepped out of the way, back into the shadow world where he preferred to live, and let his ideas live on in the work of others too numerous to count.
During the 80s I pursued my calling as a poet and performer in the time I could spare from my duties as an artists manager and booking agent based in Detroit. I was personal manager for a horn-led dance band called the Urbations, which was desirous of entering the Chicago nightclub market, and I importuned Rudnick until he got us our first gig in Chicago (I can t remember the name of the place) and supervised our many subsequent bookings in the Windy City, which took us from Weed's and the Heartland Cafe to the Park West, Biddy Mulligan s, Fitzgerald's and other fine establishments.
Rudnick was such a beautiful street-level cat from the old school: he knew everybody in every joint in town that was worth a visit, and he reveled in amassing weird groupings of people whose only previous contact was Rudnick himself, working out vast details of logistics over the phone, wrestling everyone into vehicles and propelling some small mob from place to place, mixing with the inhabitants, regrouping ( All right, he d whisper in each person's ear, we ll be leaving in ten minutes and let's see it ll take us exactly 24 minutes to get there ), and lurching off into the night, always unbelievably attentive to every social, sexual, recreational drug and musical need of each member of the party.
By the fall of 1987 things had pretty much bottomed out, each in our own way, for Rudnick and myself. My younger daughter had graduated from high school in Detroit and left to attend college in New Orleans. My companion and I had separated, the band I was working with broke up, leaving me in considerable debt, and I was living alone in a loft in downtown Detroit from which I was about to be evicted.
Rudnick had burned out most of his support network in Chicago and had been offered rent-free lodgings by an old friend in the Motor City who had somehow developed into a low-level slumlord with several properties in the Cass Corridor, a desolate post-industrial wasteland that stretched north from the wreckage of downtown to the campus of Wayne State University.
Rudnick immortalized his first night in the Motor City October 30, 1987 in a brilliant poem called For Gavin Whose Night It Was :
Walking down Woodward at 1:57 a.m.
when Detroit bars close
and no one is on the street
The wind chilling to the bone like the Hawk,
welcomes me to the Murder City
on Devil's Night.
A smell of burning wood in the air
Only a hooker and me witness the burning
pausing paranoid to hear if there are any screams
And from abandoned Victorian townhouses
the cries of copulating cats
echo through the Cass Corridor
bouncing off my consciousness
sounding like the helpless pleas of abused hillbilly children
Tonight is Devil's Night
One thousand nine hundred and eighty-seven years
after the Common Error
even the word Detroit feels cold
And Geraldo Rivera missed an exclusive interview with Jesus
and last call by three minutes and a field goal
Murder in the Motor City is up 10%
Think we ll pass Hank Aaron's home run record
As things started to pick up for both of us Rudnick energized by the companionship and devotion of a young woman from suburban Detroit named Jenny we hooked up in Detroit on the poetry issue. First at a place called the Mansion, then at the Union Street Bar, Alvin's Detroit Bar, the City Arts Gallery, 1515 Broadway Theatre and other venues we hosted several well-received poetry series showcasing the great contemporary bards of the Motor City: Ron Allen, Mick Vranich, Lolita Hernandez, Trinidad Sanchez, Raymond Waller, Leslie Reese, Jose Garza, Nubia Kai, Melba Boyd, Glenn Mannisto, Dennis Teichman, Chris Tysh and others.
In the fall of 1988 I went to work for the Detroit Council of the Arts, a City agency, as editor of City Arts magazine and director of the City Arts Gallery. Rudnick was an important collaborator during this period, always coming up with exciting ideas for fresh presentations and helping bring people together in a common artistic purpose.
At the same time he was living a life of utter penury, staying in crash pads or people's basements and scrambling for what he called turd money enough to put something in his belly to hold the beer, wine and spirits which dwelled there in such abundance. His drug use was cut way down he d definitely cop every two weeks, though, when his GA check arrived and by the time I left Detroit to resettle in New Orleans in the summer of 1991, Bob d started having trouble with his liver.
During the next four years I d get calls from the Righteous One in the middle of the night. This is your rabbi, he d croak, Why haven t you called me? And we d laugh and carry on like we always did, but his report on what everybody was doing would be laced with horror stories about operations, stays in the hospital, doctors ultimatums and the vain hope of a liver transplant.
Things were happening to his body that terrified him, but the desperate, degenerate lifestyle to which he d been committed for so long wouldn t allow any escape. He shuffled back and forth between friends in suburban Detroit and hospital beds and borrowed pads in Chicago, still hopeful of getting a new liver but without the resources to guarantee even his next meal.
In the summer of 1995, by now unable to process what food he did eat, Rudnick checked into the hospital to get his bloated stomach drained, but the swelling wouldn t go away. Then they diagnosed cancer in Bob's pancreas, and we all knew the time of his departure from this earthly plane was nigh upon us. Jo Jaffe and John Petrie rescued the Rud from the dreadful hospice to which he d been condemned and got him comfortably back into the hospital, where another tirade by his friends resulted in a steady flow of morphine into his veins to ease the pain.
By mid-July people were flying in from around the country to hold Bob's hand and say goodbye. Richie Stoneman came out from New York one weekend; Skip Williamson arrived from Marietta, Georgia and stayed by Rud's bed around the clock. When I called one night a week before Bob passed, Skip told me how the Righteous One had scrabbled around the room that afternoon looking for his purported stash: I know I ve got some heroin in here somewhere, he cawed, pawing through toilet paper rolls and discarded tissues. I love heroin.
So, after 25 years of half-expecting nightly to hear of Rudnick's death from an overdose of drugs, the Righteous One finally passed away, a week short of his 53rd birthday, in the hospital, surrounded by friends, of more or less natural causes or at least the natural results of his dedicated lifetime of beatnik degeneracy. He lived every minute exactly the way he wanted to until the illness took over his life, and he died as happy a death as anyone could ever have wanted for him.
Now the long night of pain and suffering is over, and the Righteous One is safe in the spirit world. His poems and his many key contributions to the cultural life of our nation in the second half of the 20th century will live here with us as long as we have breath.
Goodbye, dear friend. We miss you like crazy.