I recently took in 20 to Life: The Life and Times of John Sinclair, which comes out on MVDvisual at the end of the month. John Sinclair is a poet, revolutionary, band manager, activist and lover of rhythm and blues who arose up from the intense cultural climate of the sixties to become a hero and a legitimate political prisoner. 20 to Life tells Sinclair’s story through interviews with him and his friends, family, and cohorts from the past. Sinclair sought to destroy the status quo by a “total assault on the culture by any means necessary” through “a new music, new politics, and a new way of life.” Managed by Sinclair, the MC5 were the music, and as their popularity grew, he had a plan that the band would get huge and they would take all the money and buy radio stations to disseminate information to change the culture. The government was obviously concerned with the going ons of Sinclair and his growin influence, considering the amount of time the authorities spent hassling him. His ultimate goal was freedom and to challenge the “constitutionality of Michigan’s marijuana laws” (especially after have received an extremely harsh sentence for only two joints). Sinclair spent about two years in prison and was released within days of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally – where John Lennon & Yoko famously performed (perhaps the place where Lennon’s trouble with the U.S. government started).
20 to Life is an interesting look at Sinclair’s life, and the White Panther Party, Detroit Artist’s Workshop, and Translove Energies collectives which he organized. Indeed, this was a time when there was so much happening that anything seemed possible. John Sinclair appears all throughout the documentary, looking back at his exploits, and at one point even states that the blind idealism they displayed was only possible, because of all the LSD they took. The documentary is entertaining and gives an insightful glimpse into a time when real change seemed possible. The thing I found most reassuring is the way in which the present John Sinclair is positive and enjoying life, and hasn’t succumbed to the bitterness that often comes from the fall of idealism. In the end, Sinclair’s message is that “we have a right to our bad habits, and it ain’t nobody’s business what we do.” If you’re a fan of the sixties culture, then 20 to Life, will be right up your alley.