The Trans-Love Energies Unlimited cooperative community was a late 1960s radical, anti-establishment group in Detroit and later in Ann Arbor. It was formed as an umbrella organisation or “tribal council” of the area’s “hip” organisations. At various times the TLE commune was known as the Hill Street commune, the MC5 commune or the White Panther commune.
The Trans-Love Energies Unlimited cooperative community was founded in Detroit in February of 1967 by Leni and John Sinclair, together with artist, Gary Grimshaw. The TLE became a conglomerate of various rock bands (MC5, The UP), light shows, artists, underground newspapers (Guerrilla, The Warren-Forest Sun, Fifth Estate), and headshops. Leni and John Sinclair had previously been founders of the Detroit Artists Workshop, a small colony of bohemian artists which existed between 1964 and 1966 near Wayne State University. Leni, a refugee from communist East Germany was a photographer and John was a poet. John and Gary Grimshaw had worked together for a short time in January 1967 in the 1967 Steering Committee together with Rob Tyner of MC5. The members of the TLE saw the potential of using rock music as a vehicle for radical change and left wing political actions. John Sinclair became the manager of the MC5. With the anti-war movement in full swing and a wide spread use of cannabis and LSD, the members of the TLE saw an opportunity to turn on and radicalize the growing American youth movement. TLE was based in the Plum Street neighbourhood. Their commune in the central apartment building, “The Castle” was dedicated to working and living in an environment that fitted their ideals of freedom for everyone.
The “Belle Isle Love In” and after
The TLE organised and promoted the Love In as a gathering of peace and love to celebrate a new vision of society. It took place on April 30, 1967 at the large metropolitan park on Belle Isle on the Detroit River. Several thousand people attended, and all went well until the evening, when police arrested a motorcyclist. The situation escalated into a full scale riot, and the press coverage depicted TLE and John Sinclair as being mindless hedonists, more interested in picking a fight with police than with peace and love. (e.g. Detroit News, May 1 and May 2, 1967).
The experience at Belle Isle led to a change of direction in the TLE. Up to that point, they had believed that all you had to do was “Tune in, turn on, and drop out”. Now they realised that there was full scale repression taking place as a response to the hippie cultural revolt. Just as in the communes in Berlin at the same time (Kommune1,Wielandkommune), the police infiltrated the community with at least two undercover cops. John Sinclair began to come to the conclusion that the countercultural forms proposed and lived by the members of the TLE were political statements. TLE began to concentrate on educating young people about the liberating aspects of the new cultural forms, but also about the risks. They urged a “total assault on the culture”, they increased the distribution of the underground press and other propaganda at MC5 concerts, performed “street theater” actions in public, and assisted high school students with publishing alternative newspapers. Even though they did not advocate militant actions against police and the state, TLE’s actions increased police interest in the group, and the end result was increasingly severe reprisals.
A further event which contributed to the political evolution of the TLE was the five day long 12th street riotin Detroit in July 1967.
Opposition to the hippies and the festivals from both press and police increased, and so did vandalism against the TLE commune in Detroit. A fire bombing while the whole commune was out of the house at the Grande Ballroom lead to the TLE decision to move out of Detroit.
Hill Street, Ann Arbor
In May 1968, TLE moved to Ann Arbor, 45 miles west of Detroit. The new commune consisted of twenty eight people, including three children and the MC5 members. Together they occupied two old, sixteen to eighteen room houses at 1510 and 1520 Hill Street, on the edge of the University of Michigan campus. Each person had their own room. According to Leni Sinclair, there was no hierarchy within the commune. Men and women contributed equally. Everyone pitched in, did chores and work. Child care and kitchen duties were shared. Other sources (in Joe Ambrose’s book, “Gimme Danger” pages 34 – 35) depict the commune as being more traditional in the gender roles.
1510 Hill Street was a large house with a wooden porch and big grounds. It was home to John Sinclair and the MC5.
1520 was home to the members of The UP, Dave Sinclair (John’s brother and The UP’s manager) and a number of the White Panthers (see below). It was also a safe haven for runaway teenagers who were looking for somewhere to stay and for free meals. It was reputed that you could always get fed on Hill Street. 1520 hosted White Panther meetings and their printing presses, and they had a range out back for target practice.
At the start, police repression was less in Ann Arbor than it had been in Detroit, but the police had the phone tapped. (See Interview with Leni Sinclair linked below) Repression increased after the “Ann Arbor Riots” in Summer 1969, and lead to the imprisonment of John Sinclair for drugs offences.
The Hill Street Crowd
Hill St. Crowd photo by/from: Leni Sinclair/Detroit Artists Workshop at detroitartistsworkshop.com
Visitors to Hill Street
The commune had a number of “famous” visitors, including Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda, The Hog Farm, Sun Ra and his band (who stayed there a couple of times for a couple of weeks) and members of Iggy and the Stooges. The Stooges had their own commune in a farm house outside Ann Arbor (Stooge Manor) and hung out a lot of the time in the Hill Street communes. Like MC5, they often played at the Grande Ballroom.
The White Panthers
The White Panther Party evolved out of meetings at the Hill Street commune. Their “ten point program” and statement of November 1, 1968 included: “We demand the end of money… Free food, clothing, housing…free access to the information media – free technology from the greed creeps! Free the people from their phony “leaders”… Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock n’ roll, dope and fucking in the streets.
Rock and Revolution in “Blastitude” #13, August 2002, Eternity Blast Special.
WHITE PANTHERS’ “Total assault on the culture”, by Jeff A. Hale, PH.D.
“Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop, by Joe Ambrose. Pages 34 -35. Omnibus Press, 2004.
Introductory Summary of The Frank and Peggy Bach Papers
Introductory Summary of The John and Leni Sinclair Papers
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