JULY/AUGUST 2008

Ian MacKaye

[MINOR THREAT/FUGAZI/THE EVENS/DISCHORD RECORDS]

“MUSIC IS NO JOKE.”
Washington, D.C., in the 1970s:
No perceptible rock scene
Lots of cover bands
If you wanted to be punk, you had to move to New York
Some punks stayed in D.C.
D.C. punk was born

In the ’80s underground music scene, integrity was everything, and D.C.’s Fugazi had more of it than anyone. They only played five-dollar all-ages shows and their sole merchandise was their music. A mere mention of the band’s 1995 post-punk magnum opus Red Medicine to a once indie-leaning man will likely reduce him to babbling admiration.

Fugazi’s singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye was often thought of as the group’s ideological figurehead. Years before, he had fronted what many contend to be the perfect hardcore group, Minor Threat, and founded the D.C. punk label Dischord Records. One of the key Minor Threat tracks, “Out of Step,” contains the simple verse “Don’t smoke / Don’t drink / Don’t fuck / At least I can fucking think” that became the unofficial mantra of the straight-edge movement. Likewise, MacKaye became the movement’s adopted poster boy.

After three years with Minor Threat, MacKaye spent nearly two decades in Fugazi until the band went on extended hiatus after the release of The Argument in 2001. Since then, he has formed the Evens with Amy Farina (of the Warmers)—she on drums, he on baritone guitar, both sharing vocal duties. The songs hark back to Minor Threat’s pointed knifing at the status quo, but use a stripped-down version of Fugazi’s intricate textures.

I caught the Evens in New Orleans at the punk-rock collective Nowe Miasto. The band kept the audience rapt for an hour, fielding questions between songs, answering heckles with dry humor, blurring the barrier between the stage and the crowd. “We make the show together” was the pledge he made to the audience. MacKaye was besieged with fans after the show, signing things and congenially answering questions, even handing his guitar over to a curious onlooker, so this interview was conducted by phone, about a week later, after the tour was finished.

—Alex V. Cook

*

IAN MacKAYE: So in the same way, music is now considered a natural companion to the consumption of alcohol. That, to me, is a fallacy; it’s something that has been foisted upon the people by the alcohol industry itself, and now the rock industry, because the two are intertwined. So what you have is that virtually all music, except the super high-end music like opera, is essentially available only in bars. If there’s music, there’s booze. And you don’t need to look any further than the laws dealing with age limits to recognize how insidious that arrangement is. How could it be that someone under the age of twenty-one is not allowed to see a band? I mean, did you like music when you were under twenty-one?

THE BELIEVER: Of course.

IM: Did it mean anything to you?

BLVR: Yes, it meant everything to me, in fact.

IM: Of course it did. It is completely absurd and insane that because of the economic dependency that musicians have been faced with which maintains this status quo, that they are forced to say, “That’s the way it is.” And I think that’s a bunch of bullshit. I know music predated the rock club. I know music predated the music industry. I know music predates the alcohol industry. I know music predates it all. Music is no joke, and the fact that it has been perverted by these various industries for their own profit is discouraging to me.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Alex V. Cook is a music critic from Baton Rouge and music editor for outsideleft.com. His work has appeared in the Oxford American, the Wire, and metal magazine Hails and Horns. His first book, Darkness, Racket, and Twang, was published by Side Cartel in 2006. He blogs furiously at alexvcook.com.

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