"I like people to support the label, but as a musician, when I write a song I want it to be heard." Ian Mackaye
April 29, 2007 7:05 AM   Subscribe

An interview.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:05 AM on April 29, 2007

I hope it is OK to link these, they're from my website:

Interview: Fugazi (2001)
Interview: Ian MacKaye (2006)
Video: Ian MacKaye talks to DC Council about the All-Ages ban
Fugazi (Profile)
Fugazi officially goes on hiatus (2004)

Perhaps one of the greatest independent bands of all time, and one of my personal favorites.
posted by aubin at 7:16 AM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks for such a great Sunday morning post - my little brain needed to be woken up with an important blast from the past! Why are there not more bands with the talent and importance of Fugazi out there now - I mean, look at the world!
posted by mctsonic at 7:33 AM on April 29, 2007

Those were good times, what an incredible band.

Ian actually yelled at me once, when I got in a minor fracas with another girl in the audience - "Boys will be boys, but girls shouldn't fight."
posted by Liosliath at 7:38 AM on April 29, 2007

Why are there not more bands with the talent and importance of Fugazi out there now.

Mostly because that level of talent and inventiveness is still a very rare thing indeed. Always has been, always will be.

Great post. These guys are still among my all time favorites, as well as being one of the perhaps most misunderstood bands of all time. It's hard to understand why that is, given how straighforward McKaye has always been.
posted by psmealey at 7:41 AM on April 29, 2007

Repeater. Audio not perfect, ambience all there.
posted by imperium at 7:49 AM on April 29, 2007

i like fugazi.
posted by brevator at 7:53 AM on April 29, 2007

posted by stackmonster at 8:04 AM on April 29, 2007

posted by Busithoth at 8:09 AM on April 29, 2007

it's kinda funny to see fugazi go from naked sweaty guys playing for naked sweaty guys to stylish gents playing for cute little punk girls. it would be less fun to see this if they didn't still kick ass.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:28 AM on April 29, 2007

Some great stuff here!

Tangentalfilter: Fugazirum's blue album is freely available for download. Blues hip hop malarky. They are only related to Fugazi by name. Apparently they came up with the name independently and checked with Fugazi that it would be OK to use it...
posted by algreer at 8:28 AM on April 29, 2007

This is not a Fugazi comment.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:32 AM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

12 freely downloadable concert recordings that are legal and encouraged.
posted by brewsterkahle at 8:41 AM on April 29, 2007

If you're a MacKaye fan and you haven't heard The Evens... well, you should.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:51 AM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

"We're not...we're not Fugazi! We're not...we're not Fugazi! They're way harder than us!"
posted by Abiezer at 9:23 AM on April 29, 2007

it's kinda funny to see fugazi go from naked sweaty guys playing for naked sweaty guys to stylish gents playing for cute little punk girls.
There were always plenty of "cute little punk girls" at Fugazi shows. I know, because I was one of them, starting right around the time that the first EP came out. Unless this fabled macho sweaty guy era occurred sometime before 1988, this is kind of bullshit. And it's annoying bullshit which reinforces the misogynistic tendencies that were always present in harDCore and that I'm pretty sure the guys in Fugazi were anxious to combat.
posted by craichead at 9:32 AM on April 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

one of the greatest things about ian mckaye is how down to earth he is. while in high school in the mid '90s he'd already attained god status among myself and friends. two friends wrote him and received handwritten replies which were really thoughtful, not to mention it only took a few months for him to get back to them. the rest of the guys are equally genuine. i bumped into them on a ferry in washington and walked over to introduce myself and thank them for being a band that meant a great deal to me over the years. some of the nicest people ever, we sat around for about 15 minutes just talking. they were more friendly then just about anyone i've ever meant. one of the most important bands ever, on so many levels. if they don't get inducted to the rock and roll hall of fame it'll be a crime.
posted by andywolf at 9:56 AM on April 29, 2007

if they don't get inducted to the rock and roll hall of fame it'll be a crime.

There's got to be a better way to honor them and their contribution than that though, don't you think?

The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame is the very embodiment of the arrogance, bloat, self-congratulation and corruption that gave them the impetus to do it their own way from the very beginnning, e.g.: insistence upon all ages shows, self produced and distributed records to keep costs down for the fans, and no rock start posturing, etc.
posted by psmealey at 10:03 AM on April 29, 2007

At the risk of appearing to be trolling...I watched "American Hardcore" the other day, and, among other things, came out of it wondering how things might be different if Mackaye had gotten hit by a truck when he was ten or something.

The guy inspired (and continues to inspire) much that is good and righteous, but there is this weird flipside to all that goodness that is really gross, ignorant, and arrogant.

His comments in the film on "Guilty Of Being White" for instance seemed to me incredibly dumb and self-centred, esp. considering he's had about twenty years to consider the matter.

And of course you didn't have to be a brain surgeon to see that "straight edge" could become what it became (an excuse for jockhead punks to be even bigger self-righteous assholes than they already were).

I don't know...I like his music, and you sure can't fault the guy on his principles - but he's had over two decades of everyone around him considering him as The Guru and, yeah, I guess it's always kind of rubbed me the wrong way. His way is not the One True Way, as so many would have you believe.

And so, what would a world without the influence of the mighty Ian Mackaye be like? Better? Worse? The same? I don't know, just musing aloud. Take it with a grain of salt, true believers.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:32 AM on April 29, 2007

Well, I'm more a fan of the band than the man, but I still think he'd read your comment and say: "Right on; no idolatry. I'm just this guy who makes music."
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:37 AM on April 29, 2007

i don't know much about the place. i was just saying they deserve a place next to the likes of the clash and police. i didn't realize the place was built over the remains of silverdale and the hellmouth. kidding aside, you've got a point. they're just a band i think everyone should have an understanding of having a significant place in the history of music. i'll stop fawning now.
posted by andywolf at 10:41 AM on April 29, 2007

I think some of those are valid points, stinkycheese. But I don't know that he has ever represented himself as the Guru, or that his way is the One True Way. I think he realizes that he has a voice and occasionally uses it to speak out (sometimes very inarticulately), but mostly, I think he's just trying to be true to himself.

From my perspective, I mainly admire him for having done it his own way, to have had complete creative control of his product, and career trajectory, and that he managed to make a nice little life for himself as a result. The other stuff is just politics and largely has little to do with him (particularly the Straight Edge thing), and doesn't matter a whit to me.

As for the music, there's something transcendent about Fugazi, the few other bands can even approach. Just for the music alone, the world to me is an unquestionably better place with Ian Mackaye having contribute to it.
posted by psmealey at 10:43 AM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, look. I think Ian MacKaye has a tendency towards a kind of lefty self-righteousness, and although he knows it and tries to check it, he can sometimes come across like an asshole. He'd be less annoying if he took himself a little less seriously, that's for sure. On the other hand, I don't think he's responsible for every little twerp who's ever declared himself a militant devotee of straight-edge, especially since he's made it pretty clear that he wasn't trying to start the purity police and doesn't approve of people who interpret it that way. And I don't think he could have predicted where straight edge was going to go or in fact that Minor Threat was going to become anything like the phenomenon that it did. We're talking about a bunch of teenagers from a cultural backwater here. I'm sure they had no idea that in 25 yeras anyone would still be talking about their records or the ideas espoused therein.

And I guess I think that his particular DIY thing, as humorless and self-righteous and annoying as it often is/was, has been a pretty positive force in American music. It's easy to whine about the very bad things that have happened in the music industry over the past couple of decades, but I think it's kind of bracing to be told that we, as audiences and performers, are responsible for creating and maintaining the kind of music scenes that we claim to want. It may be hippy bullshit, but it's productive hippy bullshit, or at least it could be.

I'd be really curious to hear, though, what he has to say about "Guilty of Being White" these days.

Anyway, Fugazi =/= Ian MacKaye. It seems to me that he's actually more of an icon for the people who hate him than for the people who supposedly worship him. But I could be wrong about that, because it's been a good fifteen years since I thought as much about Ian MacKaye as I did while writing this comment!
posted by craichead at 12:03 PM on April 29, 2007

Recent interview with MacKaye.

I'm of two minds about the future of Fugazi. I'd like them to give another album a shot, sorta. Part of me is just fine with where they're going with individual projects like The Evens.
posted by bardic at 1:44 PM on April 29, 2007

I love and hate Fugazi. The music is great (mostly). I concur with the feelings expressed about the aura of self-righteousness/smugness. Seems to me this is due to a mixture of the band itself and its fanbase. Also Guy Picciotto writhing around like he's in a Pentecostal church seems like a hilarious affectation.
posted by basicchannel at 2:39 PM on April 29, 2007

craichead: I'd be really curious to hear, though, what he has to say about "Guilty of Being White" these days.

Basically - and I'd be more than happy for someone else to jump in her eon this - he starts by saying he has no regrets about anything he's ever written, and then defends "Guilty Of Being White" by explaining that in DC, where grew up and went to schools, he was the minority, and he was the one (I'm paraphrasing here) being beat up for the colour of his skin.

The song is, in his opinion, clearly anti-racist, and Mackaye is apparently perplexed, even in 2006 or whenever the interview was conducted for the film, that it is mistakenly seen as being pro-white, white power, or what-have-you. He tells the story of a Polish white power skinhead praising him for his trail-blazing insight into the white man's situation, and, as I recall, he even says something to the effect of, "how was I to know it would be taken this way?"

I found a (negative) opinion piece on his comments in the documentary re. the song, which includes the lyrics. It is here.

Look, Mackaye is not responsible for what every black-X-wearing dickhead does or says. But he was/is certainly responsible for the rise of the movement, and the major figurehead thereof - something he himself implies in the film, relating how HR of Bad Brains had told him that the youth were awaiting his word for direction (as though he were Moses on the Mount).

And Mackaye is undeniably responsible for writing the lyrics to "Guilty Of Being White". Now, I don't expect or desire to see him disown his words - I just really question the wisdom of his not only defending them, but acting like it was everybody else who got it wrong and not him.

Minor Threat are one of the all-time greats, but the guy should have, in my humble opinion, been just a little more humble and careful in addressing such an explosive issue as race, even at the tender age of 19. From where I'm sitting, its statement is, at best (and even taken with its writer's proclaimed intent in mind), odious and wilfully blind.

Had he never been outside of DC? Was he not aware that his situation was outside the norm, was in fact the opposite of the norm? And if he didn't get all that back when he wrote the song, why doesn't be get it now?

/rant off
posted by stinkycheese at 2:56 PM on April 29, 2007

The song is, in his opinion, clearly anti-racist
You must be kidding me. I guess I'd sort of expected him to have admitted that the song was a terrible mistake!

(I'm not denying that it must have been no fun at all to be a white first-grader in D.C public schools during the MLK riots. But Christ. You'd have to be a complete moron not to realize that D.C. is full of examples of profound structural racism, and not against white people.)
posted by craichead at 3:18 PM on April 29, 2007

I know I listened to the song a bit back then, but I had totally forgotten about it. I've been trying to work out what he might have meant all day. Here's the lyrics:

I'm sorry
For something I didn't do
Lynched somebody
But I don't know who
You blame me for slavery
A hundred years before I was born

Guilty of being white

I'm a convict
Of a racist crime
I've only served
19 years of my time

Guilty of being white

Now for an admittedly tenuous attempt to defend the lyrics....

It sounds like a classically ironic song, but remember, this guy is pretty earnest. Basically, he means it. He -is- sorry for something he didn't do; he suffers from a strange experience of guilt and can't understand why, since he can't identify any blameworthy actions. But on further reflection, he realizes that he has lynched strangers, not in fact but in his mind. He's imagined the deaths of nameless African-Americans, because, for all his egalitarianism, he also resents and distrusts people with different skin than his own. Yet at the same time, he resents being pegged as a racist because he shaved his head. He's not a skinhead, he's a punk, right? Why don't people see the difference?

Okay, I admit that that's a stretch. The other possibility, as suggested by a commenter on stinkcheese's link, is that the song's 'I' is not MacKaye, but, like "Suggestion," he's singing in someone else's voice, portraying a racist without espousing racism. But I doubt it. MacKaye's no Rollins, after all.

Charles Mills sums up the problem in his book The Racial Contract: poor whites are just as excluded from the aristocratic elites as blacks, but they still sign on to the racial contract, because racism lessens the despair of poverty by providing a feeling of superiority. That's why the majority of whites believe they're in the middle class: "No matter what my situation, at least I'm not black." White privilege becomes a cultural phenomenon, disjointed from class issues and political domination, and this produces support for white elites in the form of racial solidarity, and keeps poor whites fighting blacks and immigrants rather than going after the elites who are supposedly 'like them.'
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:49 PM on April 29, 2007

MacKaye recently (2, 3, 4) on Ian Svenonious' Soft Focus.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:59 PM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I find it a bit of a stretch to interpret "Why are you blaming me for slavery when it happened 100 years before I was born?" as racism.

Do we blame modern German teenagers for the crimes of the third reich? No; and it would be racist to do so, I would have thought. The song appears to be expressing similar sentiments. And the 2nd verse clearly describes those events of the past as a "racist crime". He's not saying slavery was good. He's not saying slavery was inconsequential. He's saying slavery was a crime. But he's also saying it's the fault of generations past, and he's confused as to why it may be held against him now.

More PC that Ian...
posted by Jimbob at 8:05 PM on April 29, 2007

On further thought...maybe the racist element is the suggestion that someone (presumably black) is holding it against him. This may be the point of debate, and the song doesn't really make it clear. Maybe some individual did one blame him for the crimes of the past because he's white, and this is his response. I guess it's not clear.
posted by Jimbob at 8:08 PM on April 29, 2007

The problem, Jimbob, is that this sense of resentment is a major talking point amongst white power groups. It's actually a pretty common trope, of which you can find many examples on stormfront and other hate sites. Slavery ended a long time ago, but LEGAL segregation continued until the 1960s, and of course that was arrested by the federal government, not brought torn down by unanimous disgust from whites. Basically, bigotry was still acceptable in polite society through the seventies and early eighties, and the structural elements of racial inequality continue today, so it's a bit disingenuous to claim that slavery is some ancient crime. Contemporary whites are still reaping the rewards of that past injustice, and that includes MacKaye.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:29 PM on April 29, 2007

Fugazi is probably my favorite band ever. Don't get too caught up in what they stand for or what it "means". When it comes down to it they are artists and art should make a statement. Some of the best and most intense live shows I've seen have been by Fugazi. When I was a kid growing up in Northern VA I lived for this band catching every show they did in the area. If they ever go on tour again I'm going to pack up the car and follow them like the Grateful Dead. Everytime they play a song live it's different. They don't write set lists. And Guy's spazziness is always great to watch. And the band seems to change it up with each album. Perhaps, I just found this band at the right time in my life, when you're a teenage kid filled with angst. But, now I'm 30 I've got a lot less angst and the music still resonates with me. Be sure to check out Ian's new group The Evens.
posted by trbrts at 7:21 AM on April 30, 2007

lol Abiezer - that's one of the funniest consolidated 'press conference' bits ever. i like to say "we're not fugazi!!" in that desperate, exasperated voice at work. and nobody knows what i'm talking about :)
posted by joeblough at 11:17 AM on April 30, 2007

Thirding the recommendation for The Evens. Mackaye (and don't forget Amy Farina) is doing something new, which is admirable for an artist at least two decades into his career.

I've been disappointed that Mackaye's audience has taken his message to be a series of set political positions to be adopted wholesale. The result is the guru/self righteous jerk disagreement.

I see Fugazi as being about self-determination. Punk DIY is at heart such an optimistic philosophy! You don't need to consume someone else's manufactured music. You can make it yourself! That's why I have a picture of Fugazi in my office right above my computer screen. I want to remind myself that I should work hard for the things that I believe in, rather than complaining that others aren't doing so.

There's some discussion above about whether Mackaye is a racist. I don't express any opinion, but I'll say this. If we are serious about eliminating racism, then surely we will need all the allies that we can get. If even Ian Mackaye isn't pure enough to earn our "seal of approval," then we can be sure that it will be several generations before we can forge a workable coalition to improve race relations. Fifty years from now when the problem is solved, we can all laugh about what racists we were. Or we can determine ideological purity on this issue now and fifty years hence have the same arguments over the same problems.
posted by ferdydurke at 3:03 PM on April 30, 2007

« Older Vintage 80s Cartoon Intros   |   NYMag's Top Five Tribeca Film Fest shorts Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments