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In early July of the year two-thousand and one, Fugazi ended their Western Canadian tour playing the Bill Copeland Sports Centre in Burnaby, BC, Canada, a suburb of Vancouver famous for being the birthplace of Michael J. Fox. Despite the fact that the venue had a.) never been used for a rock concert before and b.) there was a bus strike happening (not a great thing if you are trying to put on an all ages gig!), 2,500 kids showed up! It was one wicked “happening” that many will never forget. Thanks to Miss Terry, the amazing promoter who brought Fugazi to Burnaby, for setting this interview up. What interview? This interview...
Ian’s like the Dalai Lama of punk. He’s equally hated (or is it feared?) and revered. Eloquent, insightful, and wholly humanitarian, MacKaye is noted for his critical role in Minor Threat and Fugazi, but he may be just as well known for his militant belief in anti-corporatism and DIY culture.
In 2001 while Fugazi did limited touring for The Argument, Ian and Amy Farina formed The Evens, a folky, indie rock two-piece with Ian on baritone guitar; Amy playing drums, and both laying down vocals. Later that year, Fugazi went on hiatus due to its members tending to family obligations. Without Fugazi to focus on, Ian, co-founder of Dischord Records, set to re-mastering and producing albums for acts like Q Not U, John Frusciante, and Gray Matter.
In 2003, The Evens released Vowel Movement, a Sesame Street style sing-a-long for an internet based children’s program, leaving Ian’s fans scratching their heads at his new musical direction. 2004 had its ups and downs. The Evens recorded their debut album. However, this new venture was eclipsed by the death of Ian’s mom, Ginger, from emphysema. An integral part of Dischord, Ginger received the label’s mail from the very beginning and later greeted kids who stopped by the Beecher Street address looking for its headquarters. In 2005, Dischord celebrated their 25th anniversary and in ‘06 The Evens released their second album, Get Evens,opting for booking gigs at local libraries and community centers instead of clubs and bars.
Always trying to shine a light on injustice, in 2007, Ian re-mastered audio from one of the survivors of the Kent State Massacre back in 1970. MacKaye’s work exposes a National Guard clearly giving orders to shoot the unarmed college kids protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the lingering effects of the Vietnam War. It is unclear if this new evidence will cause the case to be reopened.
Ian and Amy Farina saw the birth of their son, Carmine, in 2008 and in November 2011, Ian lent his name in support of Occupy Musicians, an off-shoot of the Occupy movement comprised of musicians willing to lend their talent during demonstrations. Ian launched the Fugazi Live Series (http://www.dischord.com/fugazi_live_series) on Dischord’s website in December 2011, with a goal of archiving over eight hundred Fugazi gigs. Fans are encouraged to submit content such as photos, recordings, and the like. So far, the site has uploaded fifty recordings, including their first live show on September 3, 1987 in Washington DC. A sliding scale fee is offered per download.
Now over ten years later, Ian is staunch on an open-door policy, neither refuting or confirming claims that Fugazi has disbanded.
–Kristen K., 2012
Nardwuar: Who are you?
Ian: I’m Ian MacKaye of Fugazi from Washington, DC.
Nardwuar: Ian, you’re here in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Burnaby. (to be exact) Canada. DOA, Minor Threat. You have a poster in your hand. What do you remember about that?
Ian: This show is fairly legendary in Washington, DC terms. DOA first came to Washington, DC in October of 1979. They played a commune called Madame’s Organ and, actually, I was sick that night. It was one of the two or three shows I intensely regret not going to. Everyone that came back said, “This band from Canada is incredible.” This was 1979, when nobody was touring, and they showed up and played in a hovel, basically. It was a commune. The PA was made out of oatmeal canisters and stuff. The fact they had come—there’s a live tape from that show that spread around. Everyone just traded and traded and traded. In 1981 we got word that they were doing a show in New York and wanted to come down and we had no real access to any venues whatsoever, but there was this alternative high school, H.P. Woodlawn, and they let us do one gig before. We had another gig set up there, so we called DOA. “If you guys want to come down, we can’t pay you. If you want to come play in this high school, we’ll let you play in this show we have.” It was a free gig, basically. They showed up. They played an incredible set. We passed the hat. We raised seventy-five bucks. They were totally happy to get the dough. The fact that they showed up meant so much to us. It was actually one of the main reasons that, as a band like Fugazi or any band I’ve been involved with, we’ve always had the philosophy, “You must always make the gig.” If DOA can make it to a high school in 1981 just to pass a hat, we damned sure have to make it to every gig we commit to. That’s the most important thing. That was really inspirational. DOA. I think a lot of people forget what an important band they were. The fact that they did all that touring early on—they were the mavericks. Them and Black Flag. Those were the bands that really blazed the trail.
Nardwuar: You also enjoyed the (Canadian) Subhumans, right? Didn’t you guys play with them?
Ian: Yeah, yeah. Actually, Minor Threat didn’t play with Subhumans. The Bad Brains and SOA played with Subhumans. Subhumans stayed at my parents’ house. So did DOA. Everyone came and stayed at my parents’ house. I remember The Subhumans guys, too. They were really great guys. That was a really cool show. That show was shut down. It was at a place called The Rumba Club. It was in a corner of an alley and SOA and Bad Brains were great. Then the Subhumans came on—actually, I think they played before Bad Brains. When they were playing, there was this guy—a Krishna guy, lived in an apartment building behind there—was trying to meditate, but there was so much noise coming up that he called the police and the police raided the show during The Subhumans set and there was a long discussion about if the show would go on. The show did go on.
Nardwuar: When DOA did “Hardcore ‘81,” was that the first time you heard the word “hardcore”?
Ian: I don’t know, actually. I’ve thought about that a lot. I remember, from our point of view, the reason we started using the term “hardcore,” we were really trying to differentiate between what people were calling punk rock, which was this really Sid Vicious kind of New York or London, kind of posie kind of fashion. It was a fashion thing. That was punk rock. You were supposed to spit on yourself. All this kind of stuff. We thought, “That’s a fashion thing.” We’re hardcore, punk rock kids. Have you heard of the term “hard-shell Baptist”? A hard-shell Baptist is someone who’s relationship with God is so intense they actually don’t need to follow—they can smoke and drink and whore around, do anything they want—because that’s how hard-shelled they are. So hardcore punk doesn’t really need to do any of the stuff that people attribute to punk rock other than be dedicated to what they’re doing. So that’s why we started using that term. I don’t know if DOA was the first band to use that. It was right at the same time.
Nardwuar: What about other Canadian bands? I know the rock’n’roll band Sloan and they told me they made a pilgrimage to Washington, DC about 1988 and almost stayed at your house. Do you remember some guys from Halifax coming to your house?
Ian: Yeah, sure. There’s also a band called Jellyfish Babies from Halifax. Those guys were cool. They’d drive all the way down—we did this free show in the park. We’d run into them from time to time. I don’t know many Eastern Canadian bands. I only know a handful. Obviously, when we’ve toured, we’ve played with bands. I remember a band called Porcelain Head.
Nardwuar: Porcelain Forehead.
Ian: You are the man. I always liked them. They were always cool. Over the years—The Viletones, of course.
Nardwuar: Did you see them?
Ian: Never saw them, but that single was one of our—that was part of our constellation.
Nardwuar: One of their T-shirts is for sale in L.A. for $250.
Ian: If people will buy it, that’s what they’ll sell it for, I guess.
Nardwuar: Ian, are you a vegan?
Ian: Why do you ask?
Nardwuar: Just curious what you’ve been eating on tour and how Canada’s been doing. I understand you’ve had some good food there in Winnipeg.
Ian: Where’d you hear that from?
Nardwuar: Just heard it from a little bird. Did you eat good food in Winnipeg?
Ian: I did eat good food. Canada’s been very good for food, but I don’t generally think it’s that interesting to talk about my diet.
Nardwuar: What’s something that you eat two of?
Ian: What do I eat two of?
Nardwuar: Like, right now. If I saw some cheese, I’d have two slices of cheese.
Ian: Two bananas could never hurt anybody.
Nardwuar: Doesn’t Joe live in some sort of satanic house or some house that was deemed satanic?
Ian: According to the Prince George’s County police, yeah. Joe lived in a house with a bunch of young kids living together. It was outside of a university. They listened to Joy Division, stuff like that, but they weren’t Satanists by any means. But what had happened was that one of the people who lived in the house had found—in the university there’s a biology section—they found a bunch of dead cats in the dumpster and they thought, “Oh, this will be cool. We’ll get some cat skulls.” So they had these dead cats hanging in the sun to try to get the hide off, to get back to the bones. And somebody called the police. When they raided the house, it was in the paper that they were a Satanic cult and stuff. I don’t think they were. I think that’s just a typical misunderstanding.
Nardwuar: And Guy of Fugazi, Ian of Fugazi, lives by that Condit senator guy? He’s in the news a lot, isn’t he?
Ian: I don’t know where Condit lives.
Nardwuar: I heard he lives right next door to Guy.
Ian: They live in the same neighborhood, but I have no idea where Condit lives, so I couldn’t speak to if he lives next to Guy or not.
Nardwuar: George Tabb said that when Minor Threat showed up for some gigs that you were wearing Izod golf shirts.
Ian: George Tabb, you can take it from me, his column is largely full of shit. He may not be full of shit, but his column is nonsense.
Nardwuar: Ian, your dad was in the Kennedy motorcade. I find this fascinating. Please explain if you could.
Ian: Where did you hear that?
Nardwuar: In Punk Planet, collected interviews.
Ian: Oh, yes. My father was in the White House Press Corps, 1960-1. He was working for the Minneapolis Star at the time, I guess. He was just in the press corps. He was just in the motorcade. He was just in a bus with a bunch of the other journalists following the limousine as they came into Dallas. They were two blocks back. They had no idea what had happened. The bus they were riding in suddenly accelerated and just whipped through Dealey Plaza, where the shooting occurred. And they saw everybody running. They knew that something bad had happened but no one had any idea. They didn’t know what had happened until they hit the Parkland Hospital. They just pulled up in front of the hospital and that’s when it became apparent that something very bad had happened at that point.
Nardwuar: Has your dad seen JFK or does he have any conspiracy theories about it—like the driver killing Kennedy.
Ian: My father doesn’t really think anybody did it but Oswald. He has no conspiracy theories whatsoever about that. My father actually feels the real mystery is not the JFK shooting, but Martin Luther King assassination. He thinks that one was a setup. He didn’t think that James Earl Ray did that alone. He thinks that’s definitely a conspiracy.
Nardwuar: He’s a pretty smart guy, too, editing the crossword puzzle for The Washington Post. That’s not too easy, is it?
Ian: I think it’s sort of a habit thing. If you’re in the habit of doing crossword puzzles, it’s not that hard to edit them. He’s been doing them for quite awhile. Both of my parents are certainly very intelligent people.
Nardwuar: When Fear played on “Saturday Night Live,” Ian, did you go down to “Saturday Night Live” and check it out in New York with Rollins and the gang?
Ian: Rollins was not there. I’ll tell you the story if you’d like to hear the story about that. At eight in the morning, some point in October, I got a call. I was driving a newspaper truck for The Washington Post at the time, so eight in the morning was brutal. It was Lorne Michaels’ office. Lorne Michaels being the producer of “Saturday Night Live,” and I get this woman’s voice—“Lorne Michaels’ office, please hold.” I was completely delirious. Lorne Michaels gets on the phone—“Hi, Ian, it’s Lorne Michaels of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ I’m calling you because I got your number from John Belushi. He says that you might be able to get some dancers up here ‘cause we want to have Fear on the show.” I was completely baffled by this. “Pardon me?” Then he says, “Hold on a second.” John Belushi gets on the phone and he says, “This is John Belushi. I’m a big fan of Fear’s. I made a deal with ‘Saturday Night Live’ that I would make a cameo appearance on the show if they’d let Fear play. I got your number from Penelope Spheeris, who did Decline of Western Civilization and she said that you guys—Washington, DC punk rock kids—know how to dance. I want to get you guys to come up to the show.” It was worked out that we could all arrive at Rockefeller Center where “Saturday Night Live” was being filmed. The password to get in was “Ian MacKaye.” We went up the day before. The Misfits played with The Necros at the Ukrainian hall, I think, so all of the Detroit people were there, like Tesco Vee and Cory Rusk from the Necros and all the Touch And Go people and a bunch of DC people—fifteen to twenty of us came up from DC, along with NYC kids like Harley and Abbie and Al. Henry was gone. He was living in L.A. at this point. So we went to the show. During the dress rehearsal, we were dancing and a camera got knocked over. They were very angry with us and said that they were going to not let us do it. Then Belushi really put his foot down and insisted on it. So, during the actual set itself, they let us come out again. If you watch the show—have you seen it?
Nardwuar: Yes I have.
Ian: If you watch it—during the show—before they go to commercial, they always go to this jack-o-lantern. This carved pumpkin. If you watched it during the song, you’ll see one of our guys, this guy named Bill MacKenzie coming out, holding the pumpkin above his head because he’s just getting ready to smash it. And that’s when they cut it off. They kicked us out and locked us out for two hours. We were locked in a room because they were so angry with us about the behavior. I didn’t think it was that big of deal.
Nardwuar: They locked you in a room?
Ian: Yeah, we were locked in a room. They said they were going to sue us and have us arrested for damages. There was so much hype about that. The New York Post reported half a million dollars worth of damages. It was nothing. It was a plastic clip that got broken. It was a very interesting experience and I realized how completely unnatural it is for a band to be on a television show—particularly a punk band that kind of has a momentum—to suddenly be expected to immediately jump into a song in that type of setting. It was very weird. Largely unpleasant. Made me realize that’s not something I’m interested in doing.
Nardwuar: Was Rollins the hardest dancer in DC?
Ian: I don’t think there’s any sort of meter for that sort of thing. I couldn’t tell you.
Nardwuar: Or one of the wilder ones? Because you mentioned one of those guys at “Saturday Night Live.” Who are some of the ones that were some of the more adventuresome dancers, Ian?
Ian: We all had our own styles. The thing about DC kids is that we actually danced. There was this whole thing that kinda came up later on which was called—whatever it was called. The slam dancing thing was kind of a media invention. We actually had choreography in our dancing, we felt like. We were also tough, though. It was an era when there was a lot of fighting going on. That was part of that era. When punk was new, it caused a lot of friction and I think a lot of kids who were involved in it fell prey to the more aggressive elements to society, so kids fought back. And then that language became a little bit too deeply engrained in the community and the violence itself became a problem and that needed to be eradicated.
Nardwuar: Have you been in the slam pit at all?
Ian: In my life?
Nardwuar: Yeah, recently.
Nardwuar: I thought in Brazil, you jumped in the giant circle pit.
Ian: Ahh. That was 1994. That was actually a show we played at the Belo Horizonte Festival in Brazil. It was a giant, free festival. It was the first independent festival that they’d ever done. It was in a parking lot of a train station. There were about 4,000 people there. The stage was about twenty-six feet high. It was a totally absurd situation. But between the bands, over the PA they would play bands like Sepultura. They love grindcore, metal kind of stuff and when they would play these bands, they’d play these insane—five or six hundred people circle would develop. And Guy and I were watching this. We were incredulous. This seemed impossible that this many people were dancing. It was a huge, huge circle pit thing and Guy said, “I’ll give you a buck if you go for that.” I just did the whole, one circulation. It was incredible, actually. I was laughing so hard. It was totally enjoyable. Those kids were not slamming, per se. There were no punches being thrown. Just dancing in a giant circle.
Nardwuar: At Haagen Daz, working there with Henry Rollins, did you guys once put out rat poisoning as a topping?
Ian: That is true. But we obviously didn’t serve it. We just thought it was funny because it was pink and colorful. And nobody ever asked for it. I don’t think we would have put it out for too long, but I think the idea was that it looked so humorous among the jimmies, the sprinkles, the coconut, the raisins. Then you have this pink confection.
Nardwuar: Did you and Henry also give a rat a mohawk?
Ian: Henry. That was his rat, Spike.
Nardwuar: Did he give it a mohawk?
Ian: I didn’t. Actually, it wasn’t a mohawk. It was a stripe. It wasn’t a haircut. It was a hair dye. He put a black stripe down his back.
Nardwuar: And what’s this about it being in the freezer and melting on Jello Biafra, Ian?
Ian: Well, when the rat died—the rat was gotten. Henry worked at NIH, which was the National Institute of Health, and his job at the time when he was a teenager was he had to deal with, basically, gassing rats, which were experiment rats. So they would just do these experiments with four hundred rats and he would take the rats in a garbage bag and then gas them and kill them all. So he decided to liberate one of the rats, which was Spike, but whatever test they were doing on this rat ended up developing some very bizarre tumor and then the rat died. And Henry, instead of getting rid of the rat or burying the rat or whatever, he actually made a little milk carton coffin for it and put it into the freezer. The part of him melting onto Biafra, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Biafra about that.
Nardwuar: When Henry Rollins quit Black Flag, did his hair end up on the wall of the Dischord office?
Ian: No. You’re getting different stories mixed up.
Nardwuar: Please correct me, Ian.
Ian: On the wall in the office was a mirror that Henry had smashed with his head and we had pieces of this mirror with blood all over it and it was on a piece of cardboard that said, “Mirror that Henry schlonged his head on, plus blood.” There was a bag of hair that belonged to me, but I got rid of it because it was disgusting after awhile.
Nardwuar: Has Henry every offered you, Ian, to get you into show biz or get you any acting parts or anything like that?
Nardwuar: Because I’ve seen Minor Threat pop up there a tiny bit there in SLC Punk. There’s a little bit of Minor Threat in that movie.
Ian: Yeah. Henry had nothing to do with that, though.
Nardwuar: How about yourself, though? Have you ever listened to the Jim Rome sports show?
Ian: No. I know what it is. They play our music.
Nardwuar: Yeah. I thought that was pretty cool. Jim Rome.
Ian: Jim Rome.
Nardwuar: Jim Rome, the sportscaster.
Ian: The Washington Redskins football team, last year, apparently, during the third down they would play “Waiting Room” in the stadium. I didn’t hear it myself. I was told that by many people, though.
Nardwuar: So that’s what’s probably influenced Limp Bizkit then, eh?
Ian: Perhaps. I don’t know what to make of this Limp Bizkit thing. (There is a rumor floating that Limp Bizkit is going to cover “Waiting Room.”) I don’t know what to make of that.
Nardwuar: Ian, what do you think of that Poison Idea record, where it’s “[makes throat slitting sound] Ian MacKaye”?
Ian: I don’t think that’s what it’s called. I think it’s just called “Ian MacKaye” and the cover is a big, spread asshole. I think you’re getting two different records mixed up again. But, what do I think about it? Um, huh. It hurts my feelings, but I don’t really care.
Nardwuar: Had you known those guys or done any gigs with them?
Ian: I don’t know them, but their point of view—and a lot of people who assail my name or image or whatever—their point of view is that, “There are people who consider him a god, so we’re just trying to show he’s just a human.” But my position is that you don’t throw rocks at human beings. So if you’re going to be cruel to me, then you’re making me into something that’s apparently larger than life. If they’re going to be ugly about my name or ugly about me, then all they’re doing is reinforcing the idea that I’m not a human being, that I am some weird god. I’m comfortable with myself being a human being. I don’t know why they have to waste their time writing about me. But that’s twelve years ago, or eleven years ago. Let’s get topical here.
Nardwuar: Well, how about your pockets? Do you carry five dollar bills in your pockets in case you have to kick somebody out and give them their money back?
Ian: No, I don’t. But if I need to escort somebody out of the room and give them their money back, I’m sure I can borrow the money from somebody in the room. But I wouldn’t carry it in my pocket. I have done so in the past, but we don’t have that many problems any more. We don’t really have to ask many people to leave. You’d be surprised, though, if you just give one person’s money back, how enjoyable an evening can be because usually it’s just one or two people who are causing most of the problems.
Nardwuar: Have you ever planted anybody in the audience, just for a joke, and pretended to kick them out, just for fun?
Nardwuar: Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, how about stuff that’s been chucked at you? What kind of stuff’s been chucked at you when you guys have been up on stage?
Ian: It’s been quite a while. Recently, actually on our last tour, three nights in a row people threw beer on stage. Huge, full glasses of beer. Generally speaking, people don’t usually throw that much stuff. I guess we have a T-shirt now and then. Last night (in Victoria, B.C.), someone threw a spiked wrist band and, oh, an Indian necklace. It wasn’t chucked at us. It was just dropped on the floor and tossed up on stage. And, oh, in Kelowna B.C., people were in the first row with their fingers in their ears so we gave them some ear plugs and about a song or two, some ear plugs came on stage.
Nardwuar: Did Allison of Bratmobile inadvertently chuck a tampon at you guys?
Ian: You’ll have to ask Allison about that.
Nardwuar: Do you remember the story at all or perhaps what I’m alluding to?
Ian: Oh yeah, but you’ll still have to ask Allison about that.
Nardwuar: Well, what’s your take on that story, Ian?
Ian: My take is that you’ll have to ask Allison about that.
Nardwuar: How about your take on this story: Calvin Johnson glass ashtray.
Ian: I didn’t throw it.
Nardwuar: What happened there? It’s kind of dangerous if you open for Fugazi, isn’t it?
Nardwuar: Wasn’t it for Beat Happening that night? Calvin got a glass ashtray in his forehead or something like that?
Ian: It was 1991. Is it dangerous to open for Fugazi now? No, it’s not. 1991, we were playing Los Angeles. It was a different time and people there were very aggressive and when they were playing, someone threw an ashtray. It was not glass, however, but it was hard enough to split his nose open, but he didn’t miss a beat because he immediately said, and you may actually get his reference, “Somebody broke my nose. Dump the whole balcony,” which is a reference. Do you know the reference?
Nardwuar: [head shake]
Ian: I’m so disappointed in you, Nardwuar.
Nardwuar: Help me Ian, help me. Teach me, Ian.
Ian: It’s a Germs live album where Darby says, “Somebody broke my nose. Dump the whole balcony.” So, in other words, somebody broke his nose and he immediately quotes Darby, who is, of course a quintessential L.A. punk rock guy. I think that was Beat Happening’s first big punk rock show experience. They’d played smaller shows, but I don’t think they’d ever been in front of something like that. The crowds have been—they’ve gone through quite a cycle. I’ve been involved with music for twenty-one years now, so I’ve seen this scene go through all sorts of weird conniptions and that particular era was weird. When we first started playing, the music we played was so bizarre. That’s what I find so funny, people talking about our old record being so classic, but when we first started playing “Waiting Room,” at that time, contextually, with the music that was being played, people thought, “What is this weird, reggae crap?” They hated that song. So that goes to show that there’s always room for growth and change and if you don’t take advantage of that, you’re just going to keep beating on the same drum.
Nardwuar: Ian, how about some crazy stuff from doing your own gigs and doing your own stuff, like a stage collapsing on you in Phoenix and helicopters overhead? Do you remember that? Didn’t you go through the stage?
Ian: Yeah, I fell through the stage. It was a water-logged stage. I was jumping up and down and it went up to my knees and actually managed to cut my shins fairly severely, but meanwhile the police helicopter going around with a spotlight on us and skinhead kids rioting out in the street there.
Nardwuar: Ian, do you still have your bass from The Teen Idles?
Nardwuar: When the Teen Idles flew out to L.A. to do a gig, did you play with The Mentors?
Ian: We took a Greyhound bus out to L.A. We didn’t fly.
Nardwuar: Sorry, I correct myself.
Ian: I’m so disappointed with you. We played at the Hong Kong Café with Vox Pop, who ended up being 45 Grave, The Mentors, and a band called Puke, Spit, and Guts. We borrowed Puke, Spit, and Guts’ bass amp. We borrowed Paul Cutler’s bass. We actually took this Greyhound bus out there carrying a guitar, a bass, and a pair of drum sticks. We just assumed we’d be able to borrow equipment. We did, actually, end up borrowing equipment, but they were not pleased about it and we were paid for that gig.
Nardwuar: Fifteen dollars.
Ian: That’s absolutely right.
Nardwuar: And eleven dollars in San Francisco.
Ian: That’s correct. At the Mabuhay Gardens. You know who we played with? We played with The Wrong Brothers there. That’s new wave. The Wrong Brothers, instead of The Wright Brothers, you see?
Nardwuar: How did San Francisco respond to you with the speed and the aggression of The Teen Idles?
Ian: Well, the night we played was a new wave night, so the actual response of the new wave crowd was one of disinterest. Extreme disinterest, I might say. But, the night before, the show we were supposed to play on was The Dead Kennedys, Flipper, and The Circle Jerks. Dirk Dirksen, who was the guy who ran the joint, The Mabuhay Gardens, just dropped us from the bill. He asked us for a photo. We sent him a fuckin’ photo. Sorry. We sent him a photo and he just said, “Dumb photo.” So he dropped us from the bill without telling us. So we’d taken a bus all the way out there for two shows and we got to the one show and it was gone so he put us on the next night, which was new wave night. But a lot of the kids we met, primarily HB kids from L.A., the Huntington Beach punk rock kids who came up for the Circle Jerks, and they seemed to like it.
Nardwuar: What were The Mentors like? Did they help prepare for working with Tesco Vee (lead man of The Meatmen)?
Ian: No. They were just kind of scary guys. Big, with hoods on. El Duce would carry his SVT cabinet by himself. That’s a heavy cabinet. They were kinda weird. It was all weird. We were all so overwhelmed by the whole experience. The whole thing was just strange. Tesco, on the other hand, I knew as a person. I didn’t know him as a character.
Nardwuar: What do you think of Tesco Vee, because some people think his records are kind of crazy. Crazy. Tesco Vee. Hey, that kind of rhymes.
Ian: Um, I haven’t listened to a lot of his records. I produced the one. Dutch Hercules. And I know the first one, We’re the Meatmen and You Suck!, but I’d never listened to the other ones, really.
Nardwuar: When other Minor Threaters got involved with him, you weren’t embarrassed for them or anything?
Nardwuar: Ian, HR of Bad Brains. When they started out, was he a pre-med student?
Ian: So I’ve read. I didn’t know of that until it was recently written about in a book.
Nardwuar: And what was HR like? Did he ever give any homophobia towards you at all?
Ian: No. Not to me. HR was the energizer. He was really passionate about what he did. He was a visionary. He really got a lot of us kids thinking we could do anything. He was really full of great ideas and was always the one who said “Go!” The Bad Brains always started their set with, “Are you ready?” They were a complete inspiration as a band, so I knew them on that level. When he became a rasta, things became more distant and all the homophobic stuff kinda came up later on. At that point, I didn’t know him any more and now if I see him, we will say “Hi,” but we haven’t actually been able to have a conversation in twelve years.
Nardwuar: Ian, [reads quote] “I have some really great practice tapes with about seven minutes of music and about eighty-three minutes of arguing.”—Ian MacKaye.
Ian: By which band?
Nardwuar: I don’t know. That was a quote of yours.
Ian: Oh yeah. What do you want to know?
Nardwuar: What did you mean by that?
Ian: Minor Threat practice tapes. That band argued all the time. People ask, “Why did you break up?” Because we were sick of each other. We argued all the time. We were kids. Brian was fourteen or fifteen. Lyle was sixteen. I was eighteen or nineteen and we were struggling how to live and grow up and that band was full of fire, so we had intense arguments. And, actually, one of these days, I might try to do a record of just arguments because they’re just so classic.
Nardwuar: Thurston Moore did those for Venom. Didn’t he? Did the Venom stage banter.
Ian: I never heard that. I’d like to hear that some day. There’s one argument we have about how much to charge for the Out of Step record, because I wanted to charge $3.50. I thought $2.50 for a single. Make it a twelve inch, make it $3.50. Bam. It’d be nice, but we ended up having an argument for half an hour about that.
Nardwuar: Speaking of arguments and stuff, Ian, what was the last time you got in a true blue fist fight?
Ian: How do you define “true blue fist fight”?
Nardwuar: Real, full-on fist fight. Like James Dean.
Ian: I think in 1985. I had been in a hospital with a shoulder problem that they thought was cancer, but it wasn’t. It was undiagnosed pain and I came out of the hospital. I had a biopsy on the shoulder and I went to see The Minutemen play. Rites Of Spring had opened for The Minutemen. Brendan had been in a car accident and had his arm in a sling and they had to do an acoustic set because he couldn’t actually drum. He had to play a stand-up snare, or percussion-type thing. And during that show, a guy punched my brother, Alec. And I think I hit him with a right, but my arm was sore and it just reminded me. It was such an intensely painful experience that it reminded me again I was done fighting for good and I did not fight again. I’ve had moments of altercations—not fights—in a sense of like there was an argument that got into a fight. More like somebody pushed me or did something where I pushed them back. But I don’t fight. I think, as a form of communication, it’s a bankrupt form of communication.
Nardwuar: There was a rumor in the fanzine Butterfly Juice that you once hit a kid in the head with a hammer.
Ian: That’s not true. That’s a mutation of a story about when I was in high school. There was a kid named Josh.
Nardwuar: Josh Freese of the Vandals?
Ian: No, because he’s from Los Angeles and I’m from Washington DC.
Nardwuar: I was just throwing a joke out.
Ian: Oh, okay. We were in a theater production together called The Wilson Players. It was a community theatre that was actually in the school and I was building a flat. Do you know what a flat is?
Nardwuar: A house?
Nardwuar: A flat of beer?
Ian: The flat would be the things you put up around the stage that backdrop the scenery, the set. To build a flat, you build frames. Then you stretch out some fabric. You paint the fabric to look like walls. I was squatting on my hands and knees, banging, nailing down a frame for a flat. A bunch of kids were smoking dope in there, which was pretty normal at the time. It was 1979 and I was just building this flat and they were all getting high in the corner and Josh came over and tapped me on the shoulder and I stood up and said, “What’s up?” and he was at arm’s length and he blew pot smoke in my face, which was just insane. I took a step back and threw the hammer at him. I hit him in the knee. I didn’t hit him in the head, though. It was not in the sense I was trying to break his knee. It was that I was having a reaction to being sort of assaulted. I felt like I had been assaulted. I don’t appreciate that. I was minding my business. He was a bully. Do you understand that?
Nardwuar: Yes I do, Ian.
Ian: I wouldn’t hit someone in the head with a hammer. I’m not a malicious person.
Nardwuar: Ian, winding up here with Ian from the rock’n’roll band Fugazi in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia Canada.
Ian: What fanzine was that? Butterfly?
Nardwuar:Butterfly Juice Fanzine. When SSDecontrol came down to New York, they brought a lot of their crew with them and it was the Boston crew fighting the New York crew. Who do you think won verses the two crews?
Ian: Was I there?
Nardwuar: I was just curious what your take was. The intense loyalty. The Boston crew versus the New York crew.
Ian: What is your question?
Nardwuar: What is your take on that? The two crews fighting. Boston going down to New York and New York crew’s there and there’s a big slam pit and some of the kids from Boston had giant “X”s on their foreheads so they knew who was on their “team.”
Ian: Hmm. Where did you hear all that from? Where’s your source on all of this stuff?
Nardwuar: This is a friend of mine, Jonas told me this.
Ian: “X”s on their foreheads? Well, early punk rock, things were very regional. There were kids from Philadelphia, Boston, New York, DC, Richmond, Detroit, Atlanta. Part of being a punk rocker is feeling marginalized and looking for a family to belong to and because it was an era where there was so much sort of animosity coming towards kids who were punk rockers, they started to form fairly tight cells—their families. So, when they moved and went into other places, they would run into other people who were also in their own kind of families. I know Boston had a crew of people. I know those kids from New York. I know those kids from Washington. I knew there was a lot of friction but not everybody from Boston hated everybody from New York and not everybody from Washington hated everybody from New York. It was sort of like, you just knocked heads. As far as Boston and New York in a slam pit with “X”s on their heads, that sounds like a big cartoon to me. I don’t know what you’re talking about. But sure, there were times when people had disagreements or whatever, but who would have won? Who cares?
Nardwuar: Has a lady ever come up to you and said, “I want to have your kid?”
Ian: Um. In those exact words?
Nardwuar: Maybe not quite.
Ian: No. Not in those words and not in that kind of sentiment, no.
Nardwuar: Have you seen The Filth and the Fury?
Nardwuar: How would you compare that to Instrument (the movie that covers ten years of Fugazi’s existence) and you guys played with P.I.L. at one time and have you met Johnny Rotten?
Ian: He didn’t speak with me, so I didn’t meet him, I guess. Minor Threat did open for P.I.L., October 31, 1982, Ritchie Coliseum. We played for a pizza and a case of Coca Cola. That was our payment that night. When we came off stage, they pulled up in a limousine after us. It was sort of two ships passing in the night and I don’t really compare Instrument to Filth and the Fury. I never bothered comparing it. Did you?
Nardwuar: No. I was just curious if you thought of any comparison between the two.
Ian: No, I didn’t think about it.
Nardwuar: How did you guys get on top of the Capitol building with Bikini Kill?
Ian: We’re not on the top of the Capitol building.
Nardwuar: Well, there was some big concert there. It seemed pretty well in front of the Capitol buildings or whatever the American word is.
Ian: [laughs] Whatever the American word is? What does that mean?
Nardwuar: I dunno. American explanation. “Park.” “Buildings.” “Capitol.” We don’t have words like that in Canada, Ian. We have “parliament” and “democracy.”
Ian: What is your question?
Nardwuar: Bikini Kill. Did you do a gig with Bikini Kill?
Ian: Fugazi and Bikini Kill played. We had originally hoped to play in front of the Supreme Court, but ended up only being able to do the show in a part about three blocks to the north of the Capitol, which is the home of the U.S. government, which—I guess—is not a parliamentary system, so I’m sorry about that. You seem put out by that.
Nardwuar: I was just joking.
Ian: Yeah. Thing is, Washington, there’s a lot of federal land there and if you ask for a permit, you can use those grounds. You can’t really have concerts there, but you can have demonstrations, but because our concerts tend to be—we have themes about them, usually—they’re considered demonstrations, so we’re able to pull off a lot of that stuff. Conversely, there’s some places you can’t have demonstrations, but you can have concerts. It just depends on where you go. For instance, the Lafayette Park, which is right in front of The White House, we wanted to put a concert on there. This was 1988 or so and we just wanted to have a May Day celebration kind of concert. They wouldn’t let us have one because it wasn’t a demonstration, so we decided, okay, we’ll have a demonstration for education of teenage pregnancies. May Day. It was kind of spring. And they said, “Yeah, no problem.” All you have to do is come up with something. It’s arcane and it’s bureaucratic and that’s the U.S. government. That’s all governments, probably.
Nardwuar: Thank you very much, Ian MacKaye. I really appreciate your time. Keep on rockin’ in the free world. And doot doola doot doo…
Ian: Nice to see you again, Nardwuar.
Nardwuar: Please, Ian. Doot doola doot doo…
Ian: Take care. That was rhythmic.
…for more Nardwuar interviews, to go http://www.nardwuar.com/