INTERVIEW WITH CAROL GATES ON CORPORATE RADIO REJECTS PORTLAND 2013.
This is the first interview I’ve ever done about the Punk Rock era. Carol and I cover a lot of ground in this conversation.
Photo: Me onstage at YoYoAGoGo Olympia 1997.
INTERVIEW WITH CAROL GATES ON CORPORATE RADIO REJECTS PORTLAND 2013.
This is the first interview I’ve ever done about the Punk Rock era. Carol and I cover a lot of ground in this conversation.
Photo: Me onstage at YoYoAGoGo Olympia 1997.
FUGAZI DUBNARCOTICSOUNDSYSTEM WARMERS QUASI STAGE TIMES PORTLAND 1995
Here’s a neat little scrap of Portland Rock history I’ve held onto these many years.
I don’t have any big story about this show except I remember it being a very good time. All the bands were great. Line-ups such as this were like family fun time for all my friends from Portland, D.C. and Olympia. I’m glad to have been a part of such a community in that era.
It turns out a live recording of Fugazi’s set from this night is available from Dischord as a download.
(LaLuna stage times sheet from my personal archives)
IAN MacKAYE INTERVIEW PART TWO OLYMPIA 1994
Here’s PART TWO of my interview with Ian MacKaye.
This interview took place 7/16/94.
Do you ever have dreams that seem to have a power or meaning beyond the average dream? Like where you wake up just saying “What the fuck was that?!”
Yeah, I’ve been having a lot of dreams like that lately actually. Usually I don’t remember my dreams. Lately I’ve been having really vivid…uncomfortable dreams.
Have you ever gotten a song idea from a dream?
I’ve had dreams where I have this incredible song, like the best song ever but when I wake up I can’t remember it. I can start to kind of pronounce the drumbeat maybe but what I come up with sucks (makes an arhythmic slapping sound with his hands) but at the time in the dream I was fully sold on it,“This is the shit!” (laughs)
I’ve had some dreams featuring Fugazi that were out of this world, like nothing I’ve ever heard. I’ve also had some like that featuring Metallica so don’t let that go to your head! When I’ve had these dreams it makes me think about how music exists on so many levels inside and outside of us. Music is a mystery in and of itself. I mean, there’s no real reason that since the beginning of time people have played music, but we always have.
Well, it’s to echo the heartbeat. That’s how I think about it. It’s a rhythm and it echoes the heartbeat. You have a natural rhythm going on in you, music is a counter rhythm that works with or against your natural rhythm. That’s the way I kind of feel about it. It seems to me that’s what it’s about. You can construct a beat that slides right into you or you can make one that’s a weird counter beat or it can be something without a beat but you’ll put the beat in yourself. It’s like a canvas, an aural canvas of sound.
Most of my own Fugazi dreams are where we’re playing and we can’t remember a song. That kind of shit. I had an incredible dream once where much to my horror Jeff Nelson, Minor Threat’s drummer, had organized a Minor Threat reunion gig without asking me. I’m just totally horrified. I’m like, “I am not gonna do this!” but the tickets are already sold and I feel this obligation, the kids bought the tickets, they really want to see it, and it would be a dick move not to do it. So I go down to this gig, I’m totally embarrassed about it, humiliated frankly, because this is something I never was gonna do…
So back to the Minor Threat reunion dream…
…yeah, so I get to the show, totally bummed about the situation, but something about me is that if I’m obligated to do something, I fuckin’ do it. Straight up. If I say I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it. That goes for anything, if I have to clean up vomit, I’m gonna do it, as much as I may not want to, I just do it. So I get to this fuckin’ gig and the band is not there. It’s just a guy with a turntable and a Minor Threat record on it and there’s like 2000 kids chanting “Min-or Threat! Min-or Threat! Min-or Threat!”
So I walk out on stage and I’m like “Hmmm…this is really embarrassing. This is a total rip-off!” I’m thinking these kids are gonna be so bummed, none of the band is there, just me and the guy with the turntable…a single turn table...just one. So I’m thinking, “I’m gonna do this, I’ll just give it my all” so I tell the guy “Put the record on!” So he puts the record on and it’s just the record, with me singing on it and everything, and I just start singing along with the record!
Are the kids into it?
I’m just like “YaaaaaH!!” Screaming, totally jumping around, singing, and the kids are just standing there going “…wha? This is a rip-off!” And I’m just going “RED! I’m SEEING RED!!! Ahhhhhhh!!!” doing my best. I know on the one hand it is a total rip-off but on the other hand at least I’m trying.
It was such a fuckin’ surreal dream. I woke up wanting to kill Jeff! Most all my dreams with Fugazi are like, we’ll be playing Australia and then we’re all at home and I’m like “Wait a minute…we have another show in Australia! We gotta get back there in like 12 hours! It’s a 15 hour flight! Ahhh!” It’s usually organizational stuff because I’m the organizational one.
So it’s more anxiety dreams than power dreams about playing music?
Yeah. You know, but you gotta remember the difference between you and I is I play…
I’ve been in bands all the time. You don’t. You want to be a performer but you never do it, so your dreams might be working something out…
…yeah, maybe I’m realizing something internally you don’t have to…
In the early 80’s I was a total Punk fighting kid. I fought a lot. I used to have these incredible dreams where I’d be fighting with somebody and I’d throw my hardest punch at them and my fist would just end like a quarter of an inch from their face, it might even touch their face but I could never quite get a contact. I’d hit them as hard as I could but could never hurt them. But when I stopped fighting I’d have dreams where I would bludgeon people!
I stopped fighting in 1984. I never fought after that. After I stopped I’d have dreams where I’d be pounding people’s heads against the stairs and shit, just beating the fuck out of people! Before, when I was fighting, all my fighting dreams were really frustration dreams. I could never actually get a crack on somebody.
I’m not saying this is true for everybody, but for me it just filled in the blanks. I have had some dreams that I think were kind of prophetic. Where in life I’ve thought, oh my god…where something happens to me and I think “I dreamt this!”
Can you think of an instance?
I can think of a couple actually. For the most part I think they’re regenerative dreams I believe. I believe your mind is in a feedback loop or something. You think you remember something. I mean what is memory? Who knows what the fuck it is?
I can say “I remember this from a dream”, but do I? I don’t fuckin’ know, it could’ve been a computer chip stuck in wrong so it only seems like something I remember.
I do have one story: I got hit by a car in 1982 in Camden, New Jersey. Minor Threat was playing there with SSDecontrol, Flag of Democracy and…Agnostic Front might’ve been on that bill. I was standing out in front of this place, it was a little union hall, a fireman’s hall or something like that and I was standing out front in the street. It was a really shitty neighborhood in Camden, a very tough neighborhood. I’m in the street, there’s a kid skateboarding, Punk Rockers are all hanging around and SSDecontrol pull up in their black van, Al had bought this brand new black van, so I go out and I say Hey, How’s it going? I go over to the window of the van you know? There’s like 16 Boston kids in there. So I’m standing in the street talking to them through the window
On the driver’s side?
yeah…they’re stopped on their side of the street…kids skating around.
As I’m standing there talking to them I notice two blocks down a car makes a wild turn onto the street. The car was going pretty fast, I could see that. So I say to the kids in the street “Yo! Get out of the street this guy’s coming fast!” I squeezed up against the van and there was plenty of room for him to get between us and the parked cars on the other side. Anyhow, he’s driving up really fast and then about 20 yards away he pulls into the middle of the road and I just think “I’ve dreamt this before!”
The next thing I know there’s this insane explosionand there’s an orange light going in a circle, like a parking light, and then I’m lying somewhere behind the van. I’m in a fetal position. I wake up and I’m going “Where’s my shoe? Where’s my shoe?” because my left shoe is missing. It was like 40 feet down the street. What happened was this guy had totally plowed into the van, he’d run right into the front end of the van and totally destroyed stuff. I was looking for my shoe and everyone was asking me “Are you okay? Are you okay?”
The guy’s car is wrecked, he’s down the street. People see me coming and they’re like “Ian got hit!” Then the guy takes off. The point is I remember just before it happened thinking “I dreamt this! I remember this happening.” I knew he was gonna hit us.
Now I don’t know if I actually knew he was gonna hit us or not. My memory…well, I got hit by a car. I got flipped and landed on my head. I had a huge knot on my head, my calf was fucked up, I broke a toe. When I went to the hospital the guy there told me how lucky I was to be alive. I still played the show, as a matter of fact there’s a videotape and a bootleg single from that show. I was totally out of my mind and I fainted after the show. I woke up in Washington pretty much.
The one thing about it that was weird was that I talked with this one kid who witnessed it and he said about it afterwards, “Man you really looked like you knew what you were doing!” I asked him what he was talking about and he said, “well, the guy came down and he hit the van and it was like you were timing it because the moment he hit the van you grabbed the top of it, the little rail, and you jumped up and pulled yourself up so that when he hit the front of the van and slid down the side of it, the brunt of the car, you jumped over it!”
You pulled yourself up over the point of impact?
Yeah, I jumped over the grill of the car. My foot, this foot, hit the windshield. My leg and my toe hit the windshield and it flipped me around. I flipped upside down and landed on my head. The kid told me it looked like a stunt thing, like I knew what I was doing. I don’t remember any of this, all I remember is BAM! and then this orange light going in a circle…
Was this orange light an internal light from the impact or was it a light in your environment?
I think it was a parking light, like maybe on the back of Al’s van, a side light or something. I just remember seeing an orange light going in a circle…
…as you were going in a circle?
I guess! I don’t know, this is just what my mind tells me I remember. The fact that that guy told me it had looked so much like I knew what I was doing, that in tandem with my memory of right before I was hit feeling like I had dreamt it before…made me think…ya know...strange.
The only other thing like that involving dreams that I can remember, and I should say I don’t take a lot of stock in this stuff, believe you, me. A lot of people talk about this sort of stuff and they say “I dreamt it then it came true!” I’m not like that, I say “I think I dreamt this but I’m not sure”. I think my mind is more powerful than me, than I can give it credit for being, and that I didn’t actually dream these things ahead time…that’s what I really believe…that said, there is one time I can think of where I had some kind of proof that I’d dreamt something ahead of time.
Let me see if I can get this right. I dreamt once that I was driving down the New Jersey Turnpike and Mark Sullivan was in the backseat and he’s singing. He’s singing some 60’s song or maybe it was Chaka Khan’s Tell Me Something Good, a 70’s song. This is in the dream, he’s singing it and I’m singing and we’re laughing, and the next day I told Mark, “I had this crazy dream, where we were singing and laughing” and we laughed about it. It was some ridiculous song.
So anyway, about eight years later we’re driving down the New Jersey turnpike and he’s in the backseat and we’re talking about songs and Mark starts singing a song and I go “Mark! This is that fuckin’ dream!” and I reminded him about the dream and he goes “Oh yeah! I totally remember! You told me you had a dream about me singing this song!”
…from the backseat, on the New Jersey turnpike…
Yeah. It sounds crazy. Like “Wow, it’s proof!” but, you know,who’s to say A) the suggestion I made by me telling him the dream in the first place didn’t play a role in it happening later? B) Maybe the dream was about such ordinary stuff that it’s not so unusual that we would’ve lived it later, or C) Maybe I didn’t really have the dream, I just remember having had it, and he falsely remembered me telling him about it. That’s as close to something like that as I’ve come.
I did write down dreams for a while, but when I look at them now they’re hopeless, just totally nonsensical. My dreams are nothing special. I don’t think the power to see the future lies in some insane, holy injection into reality. I just think that when you think about stuff you can figure it out. It’s like gambling, if I put all my chips on 14 and I win it doesn’t mean I saw the future, I just played the odds. That’s the way it goes.
Can I ask you if you’ve ever seen a dead body or seen someone die or get killed?
Uh huh. Yes I have. I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies because I’ve been to tons of funerals and stuff like that.
How about in a circumstance outside where you might expect to see one?
Yeah, in 19…84…I went to go see a Yellowman concert, it was really packed, this was at the 9:30 Club and the place was packed. I knew a lot of people that worked there and they had asked me if I could help work security that night because it was a pretty crazy crowd. So I said yeah, sure. My job was basically getting Yellowman from the basement dressing room to the stage. At the club there is no direct access from backstage, the performer has to walk through the crowd to get to the stage. So our job was to open up a lane through the crowd and then work stage security.
Let me tell you, people went crazy for Yellowman. Like when he had to leave for an encore women were punching me in the face trying to stop me from opening up a lane, because they wanted him to play more. It was a very intense show. So when the show finally ends, after he does like four encores and finally we get him offstage, I go back to the stage to look after the equipment. People are exiting out of the place when all of a sudden I hear all this screaming. Everyone is screaming “GUN! GUN! GUN!”
We’re all diving to the ground because someone is shooting, right? So anyway, I’m lying there underneath, like, a keyboard on the stage, I’m holding down someone else because I thought someone was in the main room shooting up the place. Everyone is lying there then I realize the shooting is happening out front and some of my friends are out there so I decide maybe I should go out there to see what’s going on.
So I go running around to the hallway, there’s a long hallway at the 9:30 Club, from ‘F’ Street to the room it’s like maybe 30 or 40 yards. Halfway down the hall there’s a sort of little room, where there is an elevator and in that space I see a man lying there. He’s just lying there, and the hall is completely clear.
So I go running down the hall to the guy. He’d been shot. He’s lying there shot and when I get to him, I kneel down and he’s spitting and choking and stuff, vomiting, he’s pissed his pants and that kind of thing. So first off I get him on his side, so he doesn’t choke to death, cause I can see he’s choking and vomiting, so I turn him on his side and I get his shirt open and this guy Eric Lagdameo who sang for the bands Red C, Dove and Double O, he goes off to get some napkins, towels or something so we can stem whatever bleeding there is. I’m looking around for a bullet hole and I find one little bullet hole on his side but there’s no exit wound and there’s no blood to speak of, there was no blood because he was dying, he was on the way out.
I thought, fuck it, I’m gonna do anything I can for the guy so I’m sitting there telling people to get an ambulance and I’m holding the guy, talking to him, telling him, “C’mon, c’mon you can make it” or whatever. Then the cops come in and I say to the cops, “Hey is there an ambulance?” and the cop just looks down at me and says “That guy is dead, he’s fuckin’ dead.”
Was he dead?
Maybe…not exactly, he was jerking around a little but they were just his death throes. He died while I was with him. I remember driving home after that and I stopped fully at every stop sign because mortality was up my ass in a big way, ya know? One minute you’re totally happy, watching Yellowman and the next minute you’re fucking dead. It was weird. It was a very weird night.
It turned out it had been a drug-thing. This guy who died was the leader of a gang called The Baldies. They were Christian Jamaicans, they were called The Baldies because they shaved their heads. There had been a tit-for-tat drug shooting war going on with another Jamaican drug gang, or so-called posse, they were Rastas, dreadlock guys. This guy who died had already been shot twice before, his name was Patrick Grey.
I got called into the prosecutor’s office because I was listed as a witness and it turns out I actually knew the suspect, I found this out before I went down to the prosecutor’s office. The suspect was this guy I knew who used to hang out with the Bad Brains. I was like oh, shit. I knew a lot of the Rasta guys and this scene was involved with some very heavy players and I didn’t want to be called as a witness because I knew this guy and he knew me.
So I called up another guy I knew, one of these Rasta guys, and I said to him, “Hey, I’m in a bit of a predicament here, the prosecutor wants me to come down to testify and be interviewed, but this guy we know is the suspect…” My Rasta friend just stopped me and says, “Well, what did you see?” and I told him I hadn’t seen anything, I was inside when the shooting happened etc. so he told me to just tell them what I saw and not to worry about it.
It turns out it wasn’t the guy we thought had done the shooting who had done it, it was actually that guy’s brother. I went down to the prosecutor’s office and told him what I saw happen. They said “well, it’s nice that you had a guy die in your arms but it doesn’t help our case at all, so thanks for coming down.” I don’t know what exactly happened. I do know this though: the next night, the night after the shooting, on Georgia Avenue fourteen people were shot at a Rasta night club.
It was a related shooting?
It was totally related. It was a reprisal shooting.
How many died in that shooting?
No one died in that one. Fourteen people were injured though. The next night they just went in there and shot the place to hell. So yeah, I saw that guy die. That actually…you know what? That actually was a crucial time in my life, man. That really changed everything in my life.
In what way?
In that I realized it’s fucking hardball.
Life, you mean?
Yeah. It brought it all to a point. You know? This is the real shit and that all the fighting I’d been involved in, it was all just totally petty and ridiculous. It taught me…I just revamped…My whole life changed in 1984 so much. You can hardly imagine. There were all kinds of small, side things like I stopped eating meat. I stopped fighting. I just really started rethinking everything I was involved with and I thought about exactly what it was I wanted to do. That was the point.
You know with Minor Threat I knew I wanted to do something cause I was pissed. It wasn’t until after that, in 1984 that I thought “Hmmm…how is all this gonna translate into the rest of my life?” Seeing a man die was a major defining moment for me.
It was heavy. Other than that, I was there after a friend of ours had O.D’d. I was there when her body was discovered.
Were you the one who discovered her body?
I came pretty close to it, yeah. I went there to deal with it after another friend found her. She had not been answering her phone or her door for like two days. The door was locked from the inside. That’s kind of a bad sign. This was a case where it was like, she’s in there and she’s dead and you know it. So I went down there. She had been living in an apartment that my family owned. My mom wanted me to go down there so I could get there before this girl’s mom showed up. I ended up getting there like two minutes after her mom had gotten there.
Her mom and another guy had kicked a window in to get access. I had a key. So when I got there I went to the door of this basement apartment, they were already there, the mom was screaming. I asked the guy she’d come with through the door “Is she dead?” and he said “Yes, do you want to come in?” I said, “No, I don’t need to come in but don’t touch anything.” As far as I was concerned it could’ve been a murder. This was in a tough neighborhood.
I didn’t want to go in because as far as I was concerned it was a crime scene. It wasn’t though, she’d O.D.’d., straight up overdose. It was hard. I had to clean that joint out. I also cleaned out a place where my friend’s dad had died, after he’d been dead for a bunch of days. I had to clean that place out.
See, that’s the kind of stuff, like I was saying earlier, if I have to do something I’ll just do it. I don’t get fazed. I’ve had to put a lot of dogs to sleep too. That’s hard. I hold them when they put the needle in. I hold them right on the way out. That’ll fuck with you too. You just know, that on and off position. It’s not a fuckin’ game. You’re here or not.
I was with my grandfather when he died. It was an incredibly powerful experience. It really was like a light switch…where did that light go? Do you have any thoughts about that? Where the light goes after death?
It’s pointless even to make a hypothesis.
It’s totally pointless?
Yeah, for me it’s like, whatever! The pilot light is out, pal! The television is off, it’s just a box again. It’s definitely not present and you can tell too. When something is dead, it’s dead. That body is not being used anymore. When someone or some animal is dead, they might look like they’re living if you squint your eyes, but anybody who’s looking knows that thing is no longer alive. When I set one of my dogs down after it had died, it’s the same color, same shape, but it’s not sleeping, it’s gone. Straight up not there anymore.
The way the muscles go is really incredible when you feel something or someone die in your arms, the way the muscles relax is incredible. In a way it’s even kinda reassuring because it feels like they’re getting pretty comfortable. Everything just goes. It’s kind of amazing.
You said earlier in this conversation that death scares you…
Sure, because it’s like what the fuck does it mean?
Do you ever have a feeling of curious anticipation about the experience in any way or do you just accept that whenever it gets there it gets there?
Yeah, that’s how I feel. It’s so incomprehensible thinking about it just drives me crazy. I remember my first reckoning with death when I was about 11 years old. I was sitting on the porch with my older sister Katie and her boyfriend, we were looking at the stars and Katie said, “Isn’t it weird to think about how many stars there are?” and her boyfriend said, “yeah” and so I asked them “How many stars are there?” He told me there are more stars than you can even imagine and that it’s impossible to count them. I was like,“but you have to be able to count them! Is there a thousand? A million?” They told me that you just can’t count them.
So I’m thinking “How can that be!? How far out does space go? Where does heaven begin?” Then I started thinking “Wait a minute, heaven doesn’t begin anywhere!?” Up until that point I always had it really worked out in my mind ya know: 1st floor earth, 2nd floor space, 3rd floor heaven...that’s the way I had it worked out in my mind. Then I started thinking about it differently, like, “Let’s say there is a heaven on the 3rd floor, then what is on the 4th floor?” Then I thought “What if there is no 3rd floor? What if it’s just 1st floor earth, and second floor INFINITY!?”
This line of reasoning started to fuck me up! I started to have a nervous breakdown at 10-11 years old! I thought this is fucked!
It scared you, the thought of infinity?
It scared the fuck out of me, because suddenly, god is impossible. I realized it’s only there if I choose to believe it. If I choose to take this mission, it’s there. I remember I went inside and called my dad 223-6575 The Washington Post. I’m on the phone saying, “Dad! I’m having a problem here!” I’m crying on the phone because there’s no god, right? I ask him, “Where do you go when you die?” and he says, “Nobody knows, that’s why people go to church to try to figure it out, but nobody knows, that’s why they try and have faith.”
I say,“That’s not enough! You’re my fuckin’ dad! Tell me what the fuck is gonna happen!” He tells me “Nobody knows, they might tell you they know, they might believe they know, but nobody really knows.” It fucked me up endlessly, even to this day. I can remember for a few weeks afterwards I was seized with panic about it. Every night I’d just lay there terrified. Completely and utterly terrified. It was a sensation so strong I can’t describe it to you now how fucked up it was. I can still experience it and I still can’t explain it to you.
No part of that realization makes you feel good, it still scares you now?
Yeah, but you know, it’s not the dying that bothers me, it’s the incomprehensible eternity factor! Like what the fuck does it mean!? It makes me almost hope that the light just goes completely out.
Isn’t that no more or less incomprehensible an idea? I mean what would that be?
I have no fucking idea!
…because that’s still infinity…
Exactly! So where are we? What are we? What are we dong here? I have no idea! It’s insane, man! It makes my fucking organs rumble. Just thinking about it. I have no idea what it all means, I’m just totally clueless. So a lot of times, when faced with this realization, some people might throw their hands up in the air and just say “fuck it! anything goes!” but the way I look at is like this: I don’t know what any of it means at all and I’m terrified about it in a way, but I’m resolved to be here, since that’s where I am. So I’ll just do it. I’ll just be here and while I’m here, no matter how fucked up it seems. I’m just gonna try to pass my time in a pleasant way.
Doing what you think you should do…
…trying to do the right stuff, while also trying to be thoughtful about what other people might be going through while they’re making the same tough passage I am. I’m trying not to kill people in my life and I’m trying not to help them get killed.
That’s the thing to me about taking drugs too. Some people say to me the thing about taking drugs is that by doing them you’re trying a bunch of different things and you’re living life to the fullest by getting all these different experiences. I submit that you’re not. I submit that if you want to experience life to its fullest, that you don’t cloud yourself. That you just take it at full volume. It’s like when you’re in the recording studio, you have straight signal and then you have all these effects.
The effects may make it sound weird and they might jangle it up and make it supposedly interesting or whatever, but ultimately the straight signal is what it is, man. That’s what it really is. A beautiful note that has an effect on it, if it affects you, if it moves you because of the effect, that’s cool. But If a single note moves you, without any help, that’s amazing. For me, I’m way more interested with having an uneffected existence. I hope I can be moved without having to alter myself to get there. I mean how many people have religious epiphanies when they’re totally out of their minds? Everybody!
It makes it all easier to believe when your mind is effected. I’m waiting to believe something when my mind is not effected. That’s the real shit. It’s funny though, I’m kind of a loner on that sort of thing. It’s a lonely sport, but it is the way I am. It’s also not because I think anyone else is so fucked or anything either, I just think everyone has to deal with their own situation as they are. It’s a tough situation whatever way you do it. I’m just trying to make things interesting while I’m here.
Would you like to have kids someday?
Yes, I do think the kid thing is pretty important. The more I think about it. I mean, I’ve always wanted to have kids anyway but I do think there are some answers there.
In raising children?
You see the thing is, if you have parents, some people don’t have parents, but if you have people in your life who are older than you, you’re given an opportunity to watch them and to exist with them. You get to see them dealing with their situation as they go. Then there’s you on the next level and then if you don’t have that next level, which is a kid, there’s something missing there that fulfills the picture.
I think of when my grandmother died two years ago, she had been dying for god knows how long. She’d be dying then she’d pop back, “I’m okay now!” and she and my dad had a deal that if it came to it he’d pull the plug, ya know? It just went on and on, she’d live in a nursing home for a while but we thought that was too depressing so we got a house for her, we had her living in a Punk house. My brother lived with her, she had a place in the basement.
She was part of a Punk group house for a while. It was cool, it worked out pretty good for her. Otherwise she sat in her fuckin’ apartment looking at television until the nurses would come in and feed her. At least at the Punk house there were the Punk Rockers coming and going. She didn’t want to talk so much she just wanted to see people walking around…to see life going on.
So any way, eventually she died at our family’s summer vacation place in Connecticut, a place she’d had for like 60 years. My father was with her and I felt like she was totally ready to go. I find an incredible amount of solace when I see that a person die when that person is ready to die. That’s a lucky thing.
When I think about dying…I flew on a seaplane the other day and I thought about the plane crashing. I thought “If I die this is gonna suck” not for me but for everybody that depends on me for stuff. I always think about my mom. If I died my mom would bum out. You know, no mom wants to see her kid go before her. That’s my fear of death: my mom would be bummed…
(Nikki McClure walks up. “Nikki!” tape stops/starts)
…so anyway…ultimately it’s about that kind of stuff. When I think of my grandmother I just think that’s the way to go, when you feel like you’ve kind of done it, now you’re tired and ready…
I also have a wacked theory about senility too. I feel like everybody contains the insanity clause in life, which is essentially what we’ve been talking about this whole time…that everyone is kind of kooked out on life. People I know who are 25 and they go crazy, any of us can go crazy at any time! You have a license to because this is a totally ridiculous situation we’re in! But I think you might as well just put it on hold, go about your business, and try to interact with people and live.
You’ll probably go crazy on some level. Most people do, they work, and do stuff until they lose it in the end. That’s what I think senility is: you’re old enough to finally just let go and go crazy. What better time to go crazy? You know a lot of people once they go crazy they have a hard time ever coming back from that, at least socially you know? If you meet somebody who is like eighty years old though and they start replacing food with color, “I’d like to eat some more blue!” No one is gonna fault them for it. It’s okay, they’ve been around. That’s my theory about senility…obviously it’s not scientific!
When I see younger people go crazy I often think, just put it off! I don’t care how fucked up your life is, put it off! People might think I’m pretty arrogant about this, but in a way I mean it. Okay you’ve been fucked over in life, your family treated you like shit, yes. I acknowledge that that happened but, you know, don’t let them or that shit fuck you up anymore if you can help it! Live the life you think you want. Live that life! Don’t continue to suffer because of what happened to you. You’ve suffered enough, stop! If you have to go nuts, wait til you’re old.
Of course you might play this tape a few years from now and say “Listen to this guy, now he’s a fuckin’ kook!”
My whole thing has always been really straight forward: you want to do something, do it. You don’t want to do something? Don’t do it. You don’t like something? Don’t do it. Something makes you mad, think about something else. It’s like who the fuck is in the driver’s seat around here? That’s the burning thing for me always, who the fuck is in control around here? I submit that we are in control of our own lives.
All this shit about ghosts and all that, we have the power to create paranormal phenomena in our own minds, that shows you the power of our minds. You just gotta step up and use your mind. Sometimes I think people suffer because the think it’s an effective tool.
In what respect?
It becomes part of their thing, their identity. Like, that dude suffers, he’s bumming. I say, let’s not suffer. Let’s not do that.
Don’t you think that that way of living is rooted in being chained to the past or living in fear of a possible future outcome? It seems to me that the happiest people I know tend to be the ones who are able to enjoy what they’re doing at the moment.
Yeah, right. I think you’re right about that.
It also seems like that’s where creativity thrives as well, unless you’re doing some kind of academic art or music that is a tribute to a past master or something. It seems like all art that is about self expression is rooted in the moment.
That’s true for me. I don’t think of myself as someone who is stuck in the past, but I’m certainly aware of it. I have a good memory. I can remember stuff. I think it’s interesting to think about but when we talk about these sorts of things, I don’t think of them as building blocks. To me I just like to consider the past because it’s interesting and maybe it did have something to do with who I am now. Sure it did, why not? I also don’t regret anything. I have no regrets. Everything I ever did was a step I needed to take in my life to bring me here.
People might ask me “You were a fighter? Don’t you regret that?” I tell’em “No I don’t regret that I used to fight” It doesn’t mean I think other people should do what I did, it only means that’s what I did. That’s all. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite either that now I think violence stinks. I changed…tough shit!
As far as worrying about the future, I do get impatient. There are moments in the present when I do get impatient. Like something’s gotta give. I hate waiting for the future! Like in my life right now, I’m in a stasis. I can’t move. I can’t write a fucking song. I’m in this band. Either I have to write or the band’s gotta stop. Maybe I gotta be in another band or maybe I’ll never be in another band again! Something’s gotta happen. I’m not hedging my bets and I’m not worrying about the future because I know something will happen but right now I’m clicking my feet.
I’m pretty well seated though, I’m excellently seated in the present. I mean I’m here now, seated with you now as though I’ve been sitting here for five years. I enter into pictures, scenes, and situations as if…from the moment I’m there I’m instantly comfortable…here I am. That’s the way my life is. I know people for a few days a year maybe. I’m really comfortable, like right now I’m here in Washington, in Olympia. A week ago I was in D.C., yesterday I was on Orcas Island on a seaplane! I love it. The present is something I’m pretty comfortable with.
Yesterday I was on a seaplane, today I woke up and I thought “I’m gonna go over and see Jason, do this interview” After that I’m gonna go look at a garden! You know, bring it on!
END OF TAPE
(Photograph clockwise from top left: Monte Seifert, Shelley Seifert, Joe Lally, Cynthia Connolly, Ian MacKaye, Jason Traeger and Star Seifert (center) sitting on the front steps of the Dischord house. Arlington, VA. 1995. From my personal archives.)
IAN MacKAYE INTERVIEW PART ONE OLYMPIA 1994
This interview took place 7/16/94
PART TWO can be read HERE
When I was in high school in San Diego my crew of friends and I missed no chance to drive up to L.A. or San Francisco on the weekends to hang out with our friends and hopefully see a Punk show. Whenever we made it up to The Bay Area our first stop was always the MAXIMUMROCKNROLL house, first at its location in Berkeley and then later in SF when Tim Yo and the magazine relocated to The City.
The first time I met Ian MacKaye was during one of these trips up north in 1985. It was in the post-Minor Threat/pre-Fugazi era and he was out west visiting Cynthia Connolly, his long term girlfriend at the time, who was in town for an extended stay at MRR. I don’t remember a whole lot about that encounter except that they both were very cool and that I was surprised to see him sporting a full head of corkscrew hair.
In the following years I made it back to Washington a number of times and I was very taken with the people that made up that wonderful scene. When I was in town I always stayed at the Dischord house and had a great time every time I visited. I was moved by the down-to-earth, loving atmosphere of the place. I loved the dogs, the good food, the music, and most of all I loved the friendly, brilliant people I met there. Ian himself couldn’t have been a funnier or more gracious friend and host.
I have fond memories of going to a family dinner at the MacKaye’s Beecher St. house, where I met everyone including Alec MacKaye, another well-known D.C. Punk who would also become a friend. Later on in the Fugazi era I even remember once jamming in the basement with Joe and Brendan on Ian’s white SG while they were waiting for Ian and Guy to show up for practice (all I could think to do was to make Ian’s chugga-chugga sound). How’s that for a D.C. moment?
Now I’m just tooting my own horn.
I should keep this intro short and tell you a little about the interview. This conversation with Ian took place one sunny afternoon in Calvin Johnson’s front yard in Olympia. He was in town visiting his many friends while also checking out the Yo-Yo-A-Go-Go Music Festival that was happening that week. I interviewed him with the intention of putting together a zine that was to consist of two back-to-back interviews each issue.
I had recorded a conversation with Beck the day before, who was in town playing the fest. These two interviews were going to make up my first issue. For whatever reason, the zine never came out. In fact, I never got around to transcribing either interview until now: 18 years later! Better late than never I suppose. I haven’t listened to the Beck interview but I will soon. Luckily, I still have that cassette too.
Of course Ian has been interviewed countless times and some of the stories he tells in our conversation may be familiar to anyone who knows him personally or who has paid attention to his career over the 30 plus years he’s been an active force in the culture. What I think makes this particular interview unique is the slant it takes toward the mysterious, the strange, and the inexplicable. To give you a feel for what I mean, the term “straight-edge” never comes up once but we do talk at length about religion, death, ghosts, UFO’s, prophetic dreams and the mystery at the heart of the human experience. It’s a fun and fascinating read. I had a good time working on it.
I hope you enjoy this walk on the weirder side with myself and Ian MacKaye.
Were you raised with any religious beliefs?
I was baptized Episcopalian, my dad is definitely an Episcopalian but we went to a super, super radical church in Washington. A place called St. Stephen and the Incarnation. Throughout the 60’s, when I think of church it was embroiled with the Vietnam War protests and stuff. The church was a sanctuary for protestors and there was always all sorts of radical stuff going on there. They had soup kitchens, the first gay marriage, the first gay priest, first woman priest in the city, all that sort of stuff. It was an inner city church in what was called “crimes square” which at the time was the worst, so-called most dangerous block in Washington, between 16th and 14th on Newton Street. It was a super active, inner city church, it wasn’t a real standard “Christian values” kind of thing although there obviously were Christian values…
Truer Christian values?
…you would assume, what I would assume is a Christian value. You know, they were looking out for people. I can remember on Palm Sunday 1968, it was the day or two days after Martin Luther King was killed.
How old were you?
I was 6 and there was major rioting going on 14th St. which was like a block and a half away and the whole church marched down the middle of 14th St. and buildings were still on fire.
Were you a part of this march?
Yeah, I was totally there. People ask me what my earliest memories are and that’s gotta be one of my earliest memories. I might remember something before that but that’s the earliest memory I can actually date. I know I can remember that, straight up. That was the kind of upbringing I had. My parents…my mom is a Catholic but she converted to Episcopalian when she married my dad, but as time went on she started to go back to her original Catholic stuff, although she’s not a practicing Catholic in the sense of going to any kind of church, she’s just more of a Catholic expert. Both my parents are totally smart about all matters theological. They’re totally brilliant.
My dad actually was the religious editor for the Washington Post but I don’t think that had a whole lot of bearing on anything for us. The kids were made to go to church, we all had to go right up until about the early 70’s. Then the family kind of went haywire, as a lot of families did in the 70’s. Everything just kind of went to hell and it was sort of like…my dad was the only one who ever went to church after that. I stopped going to church in 19…I would guess…74 or 75.
My mom would never go back to church, the kids would still go on Christmas Eve with my dad because he still goes to St. Stephens. He’s still a super active person there, he’s on the board of the Washington Free Clinic which operates out of the church, they do a lot of AIDS outreach stuff. That church is, even today, and this is just relatively speaking, as way more mainstreamy and soft-core as they are, still compared to other churches, they’re pretty radical and they’re still super involved in the neighborhood. He still goes, we all go on Christmas Eve as a family. We come out, like “Hey it’s the kids!” shake hands, make an appearance.
I think none of my grandparents were religious at all, in fact they were almost all kind of anti-religious. My dad’s parents did not practice at all, he got into it on his own. He wanted to be a priest. My mom’s parents didn’t practice. My grandmother was a Baptist, a Hard Shell Baptist. Which means…Hard Shell Baptist means that sin doesn’t really count with them because they’re such good Baptists that sin just kind of bounces off them. So they can get away with all kinds of stuff. You know what I’m saying? That’s what a Hard Shell Baptist is, it’s not like the fundamentalists. My grandfather came from a super Catholic family but he didn’t practice. My mom got into Catholicism through her aunts.
It was weird, there was a lot of religion around us, my family knows a lot about religions, not just religion but religions. We still have a lot of dinner table arguments about it. None of the five kids, I have three sisters and a brother, I don’t think any of us are practicing anything, or have any interest in practicing anything, that I know of. I could be wrong. I personally totally have major problems with all organized religion. I don’t have a clue, I don’t have clue about how people can actually embrace something so preposterous. That’s my religious story.
What is your idea or concept of a higher power, or of God? Do you have one?
I don’t know. Ultimately for me something exists that gives people some kind of strength or faith or whatever. I don’t know what it is and I certainly don’t perceive it as anything really tangible other than the fact that it seems to really ease some people’s load. I think what it comes down to is people are terrified of death. Lord knows I am! But whatever, if by creating a scenario…well, you know… It’s sort of like outer space…what’s beyond it? You can say “it’s a sea of cotton candy” if that makes it seem good to you at least it’ll be fun and sweet. Fair enough! If it eases your load to think that, then cool. For me, when I think about it in terms like that it actually just exacerbates it because I know I’m bullshitting myself because I don’t really believe. I don’t think I’m an atheist…but I don’t even think I rate as agnostic either.
A lot of people say “well yeah, there’s a higher power or whatever” but I’m not even exactly so sure about that. I just think that something exists within human beings that makes them able to create something, and manifest something within themselves that gives them solace. I could be wrong, that’s okay, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. People can get terribly offended when you doubt their decision, but it’s not that I so much doubt their decision, it’s that I doubt mine. They can do what they want.
I talk about this stuff with my dad all the time. I go to these Christmas Eve masses and I listen to these sermons and I think “this is just rife with fuckin’ contradiction and hypocrisy!” and I go back and I argue with my dad…I go like, how can you…like the Nicene Creed, are you familiar with it? It’s a creed that says something like “I believe there’s only one God…blah, blah, blah” It’s a creed, like The Pledge of Allegiance for Episcopalians. It terrifies me! It terrifies me because if there’s ever a major default self-destruct button in a religion for me, it’s when it refuses to acknowledge other religions. It immediately says “my fuckin’ pie in the sky is real but yours isn’t” Which is just bullshit. I have a lot of problems with that.
When I see people who are totally devout and really comfortable though, that’s cool…I envy that…at least I envy their ability to create that appearance. Some people might even assume I have that too. They might think “that guys really got it together, he’s really got it figured out” HA! (laughs)
I met some Buddhists a few months ago. There were these priests that were traveling around the country from Southern India, they’re exiles from Tibet. They were opening for The Beastie Boys in Washington, there was a benefit…
They were doing music?
Yeah, it was The Artists for Tibet, it was a benefit. The monks chant, they did music. There’s a lot of mystique about Buddhism and stuff like that, and whatever, I don’t have a lot of time for that kind of stuff. The guys were amazing though, they were very interesting fellas. They were all older dudes and they laughed all the time and seemed quite confident. I enjoyed being around them and they made me feel like they were actually kind of holy guys.
I talked to this woman who was traveling with them as their handler, and while they were watching The Beastie Boys play, it was insane of course the kids were going nuts, and those guys were just laughing and laughing. I said to the woman, “This must be pretty crazy for them.” She said “Not really, they’ve had a crazy tour this time…” I asked her “What do you mean?” She told me that during the trip their spiritual leader had died. He’d just dropped dead at age 90 or whatever. I said “Oh my god! Was it devastating for them?” she said no, for them it’d be sort of like, you know, if you and I were friends, talking and then one of us got on a bus to go to Denver. For them it’s like, oh well he’s just over there now, we’ll see him at some other point.
Then she told me they had been in Salt Lake City doing a performance in a library or something and some guy who had some kind of grievance with the world decided to take advantage of this gathering and he took it as an opportunity to kidnap some people and kill them. So this guy kidnapped the Buddhists and a handful of other people and while he was doing that there was a meeting next door of a bunch of off duty police and one of the cops happened to notice something amiss and he stepped out as the guy yanked the hostages into a room and he jumped in with them and became a hostage too.
Apparently the bad guy said to the hostages “okay, I’m gonna kill a couple of you to let them know I’m not kidding around, how many people have I got here?”The cop said “You got sixteen people including me.” So the guy says, “okay, line up against the wall, who wants to die first?” or whatever, you know, this is my version of the story she told me, which is probably her version of what happened…although she was there…
As a hostage?
No, not as one of the hostages but she was at the event where this went down. So anyhow she said this woman started to flip out, one of the hosatges started to flip out, and was screaming and she distracted the gunman and right when he turned the cop pulled out his gun, killed the guy, shot him in the head and dropped him. This was all in front of the monks, they were right there! She said the monks immediately ran over and circled the guy. He dropped on the floor and they circled the guy to make sure he had a good send off because, you know, the circumstances of his travel were not good. He was in a really bad karmic cycle at that moment. (laughs)
I’d say so!
Yeah, so I thought it was…they impressed me. I really respected the fact that they were so…I’ll just say they impressed me. So anyway when I came back I said to my dad, “Ya know, I think I’m gonna become a Buddhist.” of course, ya know, totally joking…and my dad was like, “Look, give Christianity a chance!”
I appreciate people like these monks or people like Mother Teresa or Father Wendt, the priest who baptized me who was a total fuckin’ fighter. The Barrigan brothers, Mitch Snyder, even people like Jimmy Carter, who talk about their faith being such a big part of what they do. Those people, that’s where faith seems pretty darn good. That obviously is, of course, totally offset by endless, stupid, silly wars and power struggles because of the whole organized religion thing.
But those guys, I think it’s cool when I’ve met Buddhists. I’ve been to protests, like once I was at a protest at The Department of Energy, everyone was like “We’re gonna shut down the DOE! We’re gonna block all the doors!” It was pretty terrifying. There were a lot of cops. We were all just standing around like, let’s all go get beat up! Then these Buddhists came, these guys with drums, and they start playing and everyone was less scared. It was really cool.
I’m not a Buddhist, I know some Buddhists, I’m not interested in being a Buddhist. I just think the one’s I’ve met, they’re at least using the stuff kind of right. Even with all the mystical stuff, I still have to say fair enough, good enough for them.
I usually don’t talk about religion at all because for me it’s a subject that’s really closed. I don’t talk about it except with friends. You know we (Fugazi) have a lot of Christian followers…
I was gonna ask you if you did.
We get tons of them and they often want to talk with me about Christianity. When I say to them I’m not really a Christian, although my dad would argue with me about that, but I say I don’t buy into that. A lot of times these kids want to know why I’m not more overt with my Christian message and I tell them it’s becauseI don’t have one. I don’t buy that. They think it’s bullshit. They accuse me of telling half the truth. I say to them “Fuck You! Don’t ever fucking tell me what my truth is!”
I had a Mormon kid come up to me once and tell me that he felt like it was really good I was doing such good work but that he felt bad because I wasn’t quite there and he gave me The Book of Mormon. I wrote him a letter and said, “I didn’t say fuckin’ shit to you about your fuckin’ religion, don’t ever, ever presuppose anything about me or my beliefs!”
My beliefs are complicated. What we’ve just talked about, that’s just the surface of it all really. Like I say, I don’t like talking about religion for the most part because it’s tedious, a lot of it, because if someone believes in something, anything you say to them at all to suggest that you don’t fully believe in it immediately throws them into a really weird defensive posture or mechanism because this is what they’re hanging their fuckin’ hat on. This is what makes them not scared. If you say to them “I don’t really think your truth is everybody’s truth”it immediately means “You’re fucked!” but that’s tough. That’s their decision.
I’ve known plenty of people who are totally religious and I feel like, well, cool. I guess I kinda equate that with people who are in really good shape and who take good care of themselves. They’ve got something covered and that’s really, really good but just because I’m kind of out of shape, or I’m in less good shape I should say, that doesn’t question their…it doesn’t mean I can’t admire them for having that part of their life sorted out.
Do you really think they’ve got it sorted out?
They seem to be at peace. If they are at peace, I’m happy for them. I don’t know…
Many people see in you, and in Fugazi’s music generally, a higher, more refined set of ideals and values than is typical for an artist working in your field. The power of your playing and your presence combined with your obviously serious message and intention, as you’ve said, have lead some to think of your work in spiritual terms. Does your own experience making music give you a sense of the spiritual or of a transcendent feeling of some kind?
Well, when people use words like “spiritual” I just feel like…well, whatever…we’re a band. We play music. When you say “spirituality” it suggests to me that something special needs to be accessed to get into it. Like you have to be “spiritual” to reach that. But that’s bullshit. To me it’s like music is the thing…there is a spirit to music, that’s the whole point!
People often ask me, “what is your message?” They ask if I can state my message more clearly or whatever and I tell them, “The message IS the music and the music is the message!” That’s the whole point.
Music is powerful, powerful stuff. It’s been trivialized because it’s a marketable thing. There is the commercial music that can be sold. That has trivialized it. To me though, if you think about a lot of the music that’s sold by the major labels, that’s bought and sold, a lot of it is like the Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker version of religion. It’s packaged and delivered, it’s easy to digest. But true religion, as practiced by people who are fully down, you can’t package that stuff. Music is the same. It is the real thing. It exists on its own. It doesn’t need to be qualified as “spiritual music” or as “political music”. Music, unto itself, as a singular thing is enough. It doesn’t need to be qualified by anything.
When we play, the way I look at it is any show, any show has potential. You have a venue, the setting. You have people, you have the band, you have the people in the crowd…then there are the circumstances around the gathering, you have the weather…there’s all these different things. The potential for something really good to happen is there. Because when people get together it’s an opportunity for this energy thing just because everyone is there. I see so many bands and frankly, I’m surprised how rarely it happens that people actually take it to that level. I think it has something to do with someone not giving it up right. I’m not saying it’s the band, it could be the crowd, it could be the band, it could be the setting, whatever.
The way I look at it, when I’m playing at least, I know I’m just there for the full…when I play, that is…I think it’s as free as I’ve ever been. Straight up. Because I just don’t give a fuck anymore. When I’m playing I try to go for the full commitment. The times when I’m not happy are the times when I’m aware that I’m playing. Those are the shows that suck. When I become self-conscious I hate it. When I’m just out there making a total fool of myself, just being totally gross about it, that’s fun.
When you and the band write songs, is that process of creating similar to the live experience, in terms of seeking a feeling of flow? I guess what I’m asking is how much is your material a product of conscious thought and what part of it is the result of letting go of yourself?
Musically or lyrically?
Is there a difference?
Yeah. Musically we write together as a band. The four of us just write. Sometimes we have an idea, then the four of us just mess around with it. We’ll tear it apart and play it like 10,000 different ways. Everyone just tries different things and we keep hammering away until something makes sense. So musically it comes really naturally. The four of us just play together. Brendan might come in with an idea or a piece and one of us might not be able to play it so we might say, “I’ll do this instead.” All four of us write our own parts for the most part.
It’s funny because sometimes when we try to remember songs, I’ll say “well, the song goes like this…” then I’ll play my part and that part will totally mean nothing to Guy or Joe, they’ll just look at me and go “…uuuh…I don’t know what you’re talking about.” So it’s like that. If someone forgets their part, the rest of us are of no help at all.
Lyrically, I don’t have a fuckin’ clue. I actually wish I could write a song right now. I haven’t been able to write a song in months and months and months. I’ve written like one half-assed song in the last two years and it’s really a fuckin’ drag to me. Actually, that’s not true. For the band I’ve written one half-assed song, for myself I’ve written a couple songs that I’ve felt pretty good about but they’re not really band songs. I can’t really explain to you why they’re not either. They’re just not.
When I’m writing a song, when it’s happening, there’s really no formula. A song like Repeater I must’ve rewritten that thing about 200 times. I’d just walk my dog every night and I’d keep going over the lines over and over and over again. Changing up certain lines, trying different ones, totally taking it apart because you know, that song has such a small amount of lines. Lyrically it’s sort of a bunch of interjections. So I was trying to find the most powerful lines for the eight lines that make up the lyrics. They had to be really concise.
Then for a song like And The Same, I swear to god…I know you hear people say this kind of shit all the time but I swear to god I woke up one night, I had this idea for a song, I turned my light on, sat up in bed, got a pad of paper and wrote the whole thing from the beginning to the end, straight out. Man, I wish to god I could figure out how I did that, cause I can’t do that anymore.
The same went for the Pailhead stuff, I used to write that stuff from beginning to end. I’d just sit down and go Plooowah! and just write it all out. Even on And The Same I have the original lyrics and there’s nothing even crossed out. There’s a song I’m working on now, I’ve replaced every line like 25 times and it still isn’t that great, it’s just okay.
You know what the problem is now? The problem is I don’t have a clue what I’m writing about! One thing that has changed is before, I had a really clear vision of who I was writing to. Throughout the time I’ve been writing songs I’ve been a part of a community and I knew who I was singing to. In 1994 I don’t have a fucking clue who I’m singing to anymore. This is due partly to the phenomenon of Fugazi, which crosses so many various lines. I mean we have Punk Rockers, we have skater kids, we have the political guys, we have the indie rock kids, college kids, older people…all these different types of people who come out for shows and who like us. It’s too hard to write…I just don’t know who I’m writing to at this point.
So if I write something really direct some would say “well it’s just typical, trivial political posturing” or whatever. “There’s another fucking didactic rant, another Sermon from the Mount.” Which I totally hate, I just hate that kind of shit. I mean opinions become sermons because you sing them? Then if I try to use a lot of metaphor and I try to smudge it a little bit, people say “He’s backing off and can’t be straight forward” or “He’s trying to get an “A” in some college poetry class or something” or even worse, they assume I’m actually singing about the metaphor! So like if I use something like this tree (taps on the tree) as a metaphor for a community or whatever, kids say, “Dude wrote a song about a tree!”
Ian’s some kind of Arbor Day freak?
Exactly, like if I used a thunderstorm as a metaphor for war they’d be like,“Dude’s into weather I guess.”
A Punk meteorologist…
Right! It’s partly because Fugazi is a phenomenon on the level it is but it’s also, I think mostly due to the fact that the music I’m involved with is just completely under siege at the moment. 95% of it is a fucking joke because the major labels have just come in and uprooted everything and changed the language. They’ve just completely changed the circumstances to the point that now the lines are so blurred, you have no idea…
On one hand it’s like, fuck the majors, fuck’em, fuck’em, fuck’em they’re such bastards! They buy up stuff and use money to undermine everything. On the other hand, I have friends who are on majors and I’m like hey, good for them, they’re getting some money, they can live. You know, fuck man, I’ve been playing music for a long time, people I’ve known for years play in bands, tour, get home and work their day jobs. For me that was sort of the point, it was okay to work a day job. It wasn’t really a goal to make music into a meal ticket. But what can I say? I haven’t worked a day job in a lot of years. On the other hand I would, I did work at a record store up until about 1987/8. Then again I could argue that motherfuckin’ Dischord is a day job!
I was gonna say, I think of you as someone who is on the clock 24 hrs a day.
The whole major label thing today has turned into a mess. I did an interview with this guy recently and I made an analogy to him about the majors, it went something like…
….In the beginning Punk Rock and underground stuff existed and we were like farmers who had a valley, a secret fertile valley, and everybody had a little plot of land and everybody took good care of their little plots of land or if they didn’t that little plot would die but everybody around them could still maintain theirs. Like every little indie label was a little garden in this valley. The valley where everyone was doing their thing and kicking ass. The valley didn’t make a lot of extra food but it made enough to keep everybody fed. It was a really healthy thing. No one was getting rich but we were all stayin’ warm, ya know?
Then one day someone left the valley and said to the factory guys “yo! I got this really fertile little piece of land over here, why don’t you check it out?” The factory guys say, “Cool! Let’s go check it out!” So they go to this one fuckin’ little garden and it just explodes with bounty. So immediately all the factory guys come in and buy up as many of the gardens in the valley as they can. They want what the land produces, they don’t want to reinvest in it, they just want to rape the land because that’s how they work…they’re factories.
They want to pull as much out of the land as they can and then they fuckin’ leave. All I’ve ever been interested in is maintaining and defending my little plot. I don’t want to sell it to anybody. This may be a totally bullshit analogy but for me it kinda makes sense. If I’m wrong, then at least I went out wrong on a poetic note. I am an idealist, a lot of people might say I’m a fucking idiot. Maybe I am an idiot! I guess I just feel like it’s far more interesting to go out like that. It’s just too predictable to become one of them.
Part of it is that I come from a point of view where I remember when it was us and them.A lot of kids nowadays see it differently, and I’m not saying anything bad about them, it’s just not as clearly defined as it used to be. Before it was way obvious. When people say or ask me “How can you say no to major labels?” I say…
How can you say “yes”?
Exactly! How can you say “yes”? Are you kidding? What do they have to do with anything? They just say “What’s the problem? They’re just trying to help you get exposure to reach more people.” I just say puh-lease…
I remember a time when the majors were totally disinterested in anything to do with us and I was happy about that. I loved the idea of us building our own world and the thing was, we DID! There was a network way before Nirvana did their record. I’d been all over, traveling the world before that. I knew people all over the country. The network did exist and everyone was perfectly happy about it. Then as soon as someone made some money people looked around and said, “This sucks! I want to make some money too!”
On the other hand, not only was it bound to happen, it’s just as well that it did. Everything just goes on. It only gives us all a new set of circumstances to work in and keep ourselves entertained. It has resulted, at least in this particular place and time, in the situation I find myself in though, where I don’t have a clue who it is I’m singing to.
(sound in the mic of a gust of wind…)
…about 20 apples just fell out of the tree we’re sitting under…
I wanted to ask, and I’m not sure exactly how to put this but, I’m wondering how what you’re talking about might relate to what happened with Kurt Cobain’s recent suicide. I’m talking about the issue of not knowing who you’re singing to. Kurt was obviously someone who cared deeply about his music. Do you think the sort of disconnect you’re talking about might’ve played a role in his tragic end? I’m not suggesting that his signing to a major label killed him, I just see this disconnect between serious artists and them finding mass appeal as being a potentially treacherous issue.
I was talking with Beck the other day and he was telling me that as his own star is rising he feels the contradiction of drawing people together through music but then having stardom and all its trappings erect a barrier where there didn’t used to be one. I think this mix of adoration and alienation could act kind of like a speedball or something it’s a rush that can kill you, and maybe in Kurt’s case it is what killed him…
…yeah it did…
Do you ever find yourself struggling with these sorts of issues related to Fugazi and your own popularity and “bigness”?
No, not so much because I think I do a pretty good job of sort of…
(A guy walks up looking for Beck who was staying at Calvin’s house)
I feel like I’ve done at least a fairly good job of meting it out. I’ve had a lot of transition time. I mean by the time you first started going to shows I was already kind of a well-known figure. When was that?
Yeah, so it’s been like 14 years (laughs). I’ve had a lot of time to transition. Kurt’s transition was like, Hi, I’m in a band called Nirvana, we’re from the Northwest, we sell like 10,000 records… to the next day being...Hi I’m the guy who just sold 4 million records….
I’ve also…my whole thing has always been about community. You know, people often have talked about Fugazi, especially in the beginning as being “Ian’s band” but it’s really clear it’s not my band. I’m comfortable being a part of a community and being a part of the band. It’s not just me, with Kurt it was kind of all on him. Dave and Krist were always sort of like the others in some peoples minds. For me it’s like fuck that, the band is the band.
Washington, you know, where I’m from is all about the community. The community there is a really heavy deal. I’ve always felt like that’s part of who I am. I’m from Washington not because I think it’s like the best place or anything. It’s just that it’s where I’m from and I’m acknowledging that this is not me, this is about us.
I can take it to a further place with Punk Rock. It is a network I’m a part of. Even though I’m well-known and it can be frustrating when kids can’t relate to me as a person because of that, and I can find it hard to relate to them in return… but in the end that’s all just tough-titty, ya know? It’s partly due to age too. I’m 32 years old. A lot of these kids are 18, 19 ,20 years old or whatever. I understand that. That’s cool.
As far as I’m concerned, I feel really comfortable. Like when I’m at these shows (Yo-Yo-A-Go-Go festival in Olympia,WA.) I’m comfortable even though I know people are looking at me and saying “ “there’s the dude from Fugazi” or whatever. They may in their own minds have me confused with someone like a guy in Nirvana, they might think of me as a fuckin’ star or whatever but I’m really solid in my mind about who I am. That’s partly because I’ve had a lot of practice but, it’s also because I’m not shooting heroin. So it’s a little easier for me to hold onto my reality. I’m not a junkie. Whatever…with Kurt it was a combination of things. I mean a lot of people have to deal with fame and they don’t all die. He had a tough time, I don’t know…it’s not my place to talk about that though. The point is…
It is possible to stay grounded…
…well at least I can try. Maybe I’m not. Some people might say I’m not. Some people might say I’m a lofty little prick! I’d like to think though that if they ever talked to me they might find that I was approachable. I don’t walk around with an entourage or nothing. I’m just a guy who is around.
If I may I’d like to just switch gears completely here and ask you if you can think of an event or circumstance in your life that has been mysterious or inexplicable in some way. I’m interested in hearing about anything you’ve experienced that might’ve led you to question the nature of reality. Do you have a story like that?
Hmmm…you know when I was a kid I was really into supernatural stuff. I was fuckin’ fascinated by it. Totally. Ghost books, I loved that shit! Loved it! Any paranormal stuff, I was fully into it. As I’ve gotten older, and this is sort of one of the sad things of life, for the most part nothing that has ever happened to me has been beyond…well, there have been some coincidences that made me stop and go “Wow! That’s crazy!”
Can you think of one?
…oh I don’t know…stuff like where you’re reading the paper about some guy named Steve and the phone rings and what do you know…it’s Steve! That kind of thing.
Yeah, whatever…I’ve seen music performances, seen things that have been totally mind-blowing but they’re just generated by people. That’s the thing, the thing I think is a miracle, what is unbelieveable is how insanely powerful human minds are. Things like ghosts and all that, it’s amazing that people have gotten themselves totally gassed on the idea.
I do remember this one time when I was kid, visiting this place in Washington called The Old Stone House. It’s the oldest house in Washington, built in the 1600’s. It’s in Georgetown and all my life I’d heard that place was haunted.
How old were you?
I’m not sure, maybe 12. It was a given, the place was haunted. It’s in the guide books, you know...no lamp will stay lit after 10pm, they go out inexplicably… that kind of thing. So we were down there one day, we’d go down there a lot, since it was in Georgetown we’d just stop by on our bikes and walk around. So anyway, this one time we were there and we asked the guy who worked there to tell us some ghost stories about the place. He told us about the lamps, and he told us about how a lot of people had reported seeing an old woman sitting in a rocking chair and we were like “Oh shit!”
Then he told us that sometimes just by talking about it spirits will enter the room! So any way, right when he says this a fuckin’ door just swings open! We all just totally flipped! Like…Fuuuuuuck!
There was no one there?
No. It was a big old door too, and there was no one there, it just opened. The guy was definitely nowhere near the door either. He didn’t push a button or anything. He even went “Whoa!” Most of that kind of shit, what’s amazing to me about it, is that our minds can just add shit up and be like…door opens: a fuckin’ ghost just came in the room!
Didn’t I hear once that Cynthia Connolly lived in a house in D.C. that people thought was haunted?
Yeah, I saw a ghost there supposedly. She lived in this house on Hawthorne St in Washington. It was a creepy house, it was definitely weird. She used to hear shit there all the time. It was a really old house, a Victorian they were renting. It was furnished too so there was other people’s stuff in there. It had a weird feeling, like someone else had set it up for themselves. It went beyond just that though. Like I’d be talking to her on the phone at night and at like 2 in the morning she’d say, “I can hear someone walking around in the attic.” This is when she was the only person there, ya know? Then she’d go “wait, shhh…” and I’d go “What? What’s going on?” She’d say “I can hear someone banging around up there!” I’d say…that sucks, ya know? She’d get freaked out then that would start to freak me out.
Once I was over there, this is my only experience with anything weird there, we were sitting in this room watching television andout of the corner of my eye I saw this woman, this blonde woman just come out of the kitchen and go by in the hallway, she just walked past the doorway. I assumed it had been her mom I’d seen and later we were talking and I asked her when her mom had gotten back from California and she told me her mom was still in California. So I asked her who was with us in the house, because I’d just seen that woman walk by and she goes “there’s no one here”. Maybe it was because all that other stuff had happened, it could’ve been a trick of my eye, I don’t know.
You know, when I was a kid, I’d be walking down the street…I’d be walking down the street, I’d be walking behind somebody, I’d see somebody walking ahead of me, and I’d look down for a second, look back up, and they’d be gone. That particular thing happened to me all the time. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that means they weren’t there, I just imagined that they were, or that I lost track of time, I’d been looking down way longer than I’d thought I had and I’d missed it when the person had walked up into a house or whatever…in my mind of course I thought they were disappearing. That they were ghosts. I really wanted to believe in stuff like that.
As I got older I realized it’s not so pat. There’s not just a heaven, it’s not so easy. Once I realized this my mind started to disassemble all the things like that. Whereas before true ghost stories were believable to me, like check out this picture of a ghost! I look at those pictures today and I’m like Come on, puh-lease! Somebody just blew some cigarette smoke or some shit. When I was a kid my mind wanted to believe bad. Now my mind doesn’t want to believe, it might have something to do with growing up, it might have something to do with megrowing up, I don’t know.
It’s kind of a drag. I gotta tell you it’s taken a lot of…I mean, it’s made me much more of a boring hang. I don’t gas on stuff. I don’t get all excited and enthusiastic about a lot of things. I’m just not a believer like that, I’m a real fuckin’ rationalist. I look at things and I go, if something happens it happens because of this and that happens because of that. In some ways it’s kinda too bad, but ya know, what can you do?
I’ve had the thought before that maybe people experience or are led to believe mystical occurrences and supernatural phenomena as a reaction to the mysterious nature of life itself. You know, as a reaction to the big questions at the heart of being, like why are we here, How are we here, etc. etc. Life is very mysterious after all.
Maybe UFO’s and ghosts are a way for people to imagine the mystery of life as a concrete phenomenon that can be seen and maybe even understood?
Yeah, I’ve encountered tons of people who’ve told me about far-out stuff and they’ve told me this happened. They’re very sure of it and I’m like that’s cool. I don’t believe the stories though. They may be sure whatever they tell me happened but in my mind I’ve already figured out what could’ve happened and why people could’ve said that.
The way my mind works is that I always try to think around both sides of a thing. If someone tells me these people all saw Sasquatch or whatever I immediately think it just doesn’t make sense that this creature would come out in this part of the country at this particular time and never again. My mind wants to figure things out. Like UFO’s, how could it be that all these motherfuckers see a UFO and then the Air Force can just cover it up completely? It just seems unlikely to me that all these guys who work for the Air Force and are in on the secret would go to their graves without ever spilling the secret, it seems unlikely. I can’t believe that. I immediately start thinking of the things that don’t make sense.
Things like The Loch Ness Monster, it’s all too pat. I like the stories. I get a kick out of hearing about local monster lore because I think it’s funny. Not because I believe it. I guess mostly because that shit just didn’t happen to me. A lot of times when people say it happened to them and they make a big deal about paranormal stuff there’s something at stake, they’re getting paid for it in some way. When I heard the guy who took the picture of The Loch Ness Monster died and admitted it was all fake, I was like, yeah, big surprise!
END OF SIDE ONE
PART TWO can be read HERE
(Photo of Ian MacKaye with my parakeet Tiny from my personal archives)
CERTIFICATE OF PATIENCE TO ME FROM MINOR THREAT TACOMA 1983
This is exactly why as a kid I loved sending away for records so much.
Minor Threat were one of my very favorite East Coast Hardcore bands second maybe only to the incomparable Bad Brains. I loved their lyrics and their message but more than anything it was their sound that set them apart from so many other lesser bands.
Lyle Preslar's thick, rich guitar tone, Jeff Nelson's urgent, artful drumming, Brian Baker's bouyant bass lines and of course Ian's tuneful, heartfelt, shouting, talking and singing when heard together in tightly knit, perfectly rendered chunks were just awesome.
Living in Seattle and Tacoma as I did during the band’s brief run meant I never got to see them perform live. I do remember seeing their name on a list of upcoming shows at The Metropolis and being ecstatic about it. As fate would have it however, the band would break up before fulfilling my dream of seeing them. The show never happened.
At least I had the records.
Their first two 7“‘s and the tracks on Dischord's excellent Flex Your Head compilation, (which constituted a third e.p. the way I listened to the album, always setting the needle back at the beginning of Minor Threat’s bands of grooves as soon as the last note of the track “12XU” sounded) was a miraculous sounding body of work to my young ears.
When I learned there was a new 12” out I was beyond excited. I sent away for it as soon as I heard about it.
In an earlier post I wrote about the necessity and thrill I had in this era of ordering records through the mail. I mentioned the long wait you’d often have to resign yourself to while the wheels of commerce and the US Postal service spun. Usually I was fine with the wait but this time it was different.
Three days after I ordered the new album “Out of Step” I started searching the porch with my eyes, looking for the square flat cardboard box. A couple weeks into the wait I remember I’d even close my eyes as I approached the front steps so I could blink them open and make the record show up. Maybe it had been stolen?
Now that I think about it, that’s really cute.
When it finally did arrive a month after I’d ordered it I couldn’t have been happier. I was doubly stoked when inside with the album I found this “certificate of patience” made out to me personally and signed by Ian and Jeff of Minor Threat. I thought it was very funny and too damn cool at the time and I still do!
Of course the record is one of the greatest of the era, a total classic, and a great work of art for all time.
Minor Threat continues to be one of the rare bands from that era whose music always sounds fresh, new, and exciting. The songs never sound the least bit dated, the lyrics speak to anyone in any time and the sound is still the sound.
I gotta get this thing in a frame! Pronto!
Minor Threat “certificate of patience” made out to me and signed by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson from my personal archive.
EXPLOITED BACKSTAGE PASS/POSTCARD FROM IAN MACKAYE COMBO 1984-87
I decided to present these two cool pieces of ephemera together not just because they happen to have been stuck together in my archive box for the past 25 years but more importantly because they bookend a very important experience in my teenage life: the 1986 American/Canadian tour I went on with 7 SECONDS.
The backstage pass sticker is from a Goldenvoice show that featured The EXPLOITED, Battalion of Saints (who ended up canceling), 7 SECONDS and Tales of Terror at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, CA, in 1984. This show was the first time I met the guys in 7 SECONDS who my friends Martin Sprouse, Pat Weakland and I had likely gotten in touch with through some combination of doing our zine Leading Edge and by knowing Bessie Oakley and Jone Stebbins of the Reno, NV. all-girl hardcore band The Wrecks (whose 1982 demo cassette is a total classic of the era btw) and the great zine Paranoia.
The show was a typical Goldenvoice affair of the time with a big Brit-punk headliner, a couple popular American bands known on the national scene and a lesser-known California opener. As was true for all these shows, there were tons of kids from all over the greater Los Angeles county area and from further flung places as well and everyone was packed into a big,old venue that was equipped to handle the mayhem that would almost certainly occur.
I don’t recall any especially noteworthy craziness at this event but I do remember something about the music and I know 7 SECONDS ruled the night. Of course when it comes to music and art its all just a matter of taste. As far as me and my friends were concerned, the very popular mid-tempo spikey-haired British bands like The Exploited and G.B.H. who rolled through So. Cal. a couple times a year never held a candle to the urgent, stripped down, no bullsh-t American hardcore acts like 7 SECONDS.
We hung out before and after the show with the 7 SECONDS guys and really hit it off thus setting the stage for the tour I’d go on in a couple years. I think they might’ve come down to play San Diego and stay at my Mom’s house after this show. Though that could’ve been after a different show.
The postcard from Ian MacKaye was written in response to a letter I wrote him when I got home from that 86 tour. I’d met Ian once before when he and I were both staying at the Maximum RocknRoll house in S.F. in 1985. I got to know him much better when me and the band stayed at the Dischord house on tour. I was very enamored with Ian, Cynthia Connolly and the D.C. scene after spending some time there (who wouldn’t be?) I wanted to come out for that summer for an extended visit. That’s what the postcard was about.
I met the other D.C. Ian (Svenonius) and a lot of other cool people at the Dischord house on that tour stop too. Spiv, as he was known, was my age (young) was obviously smart, had great style (duh!) and was in a band he told me was called “Ulysses”. I’ll talk more about D.C. and the Ians in future posts.
I’ll also revisit that 7 SECONDS U.S. tour without any doubt.
Oh and by the way Ian, I’m still working on resolving that money issue, be there soon!
Postcard by Ian MacKaye. Backstage pass by Gary Tovar.