As in the Sky — Interview from 2005

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“Goddamn — you got a lot of fucking questions.”                                                                           — Photo by Shintaro Doi

Ian MacKaye made a lasting impact at a very young age, and by keeping up the good work in the decades that followed he has inadvertently provided a guiding light for generations of idealists and iconoclasts.

Washington region recording wizard Chad Clark once told me that Minor Threat, the band the teen-aged MacKaye fronted in the early ’80s, is “kind of the punk rock ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ Every day there’s a kid who buys a Minor Threat record. It’ll be around forever and it’ll stand for what it stands for – forever.”

That quote describes my experience.

I was an eighth grader in a rural town. Everything was just dirt. My friend’s sister’s boyfriend was a high school senior who gave me a tape with Minor Threat’s complete discography on it, and a group that broke up shortly after I was born became one of my favorite bands. None of my friends liked it much at the time – it was too abrasive and raw (which was why I liked it) – but it was the next step beyond the raging alternative rock on my cassette deck, and I continued carefully venturing down the rabbit hole, and 20 years later here I am, writing to you via this severely D.I.Y. media outlet.

It was characteristic of MacKaye to take the time to do the following long interview with a college newspaper reporter in 2005.

I particularly appreciate this quote: “I think it encourages people to work, and to follow their hearts and really stick by it and to let it develop. I think you’ll find that if you follow your beliefs – really – whatever they may be – you’ll find that down the road they will develop in a way that they’ll come true. Things will happen. … Yeah, 25 years after the label started I’m in a good fucking position. But five years after I wasn’t. I was working three jobs, you know? I was working my ass off.”

Ian: So what are we doing [this interview] for?

The Hoya; Georgetown’s newspaper of record.
I know it.

I was wondering, actually – maybe we could start the interview by talking a little bit about Georgetown. I know you saw the Cramps in Walsh and you worked
It was called Hall of Nations, actually, back then. You mean the building on 36th Street across from the Tombs or whatever it’s called, 1789.

When I first started listening to punk stuff in late ’78, early ’79, there was a radio show on WGTB {Georgetown’s student radio station}, a couple of punk shows on there that were pretty legendary. They were pretty great shows.
I used to listen to a Doo Wop show that was on every Sunday morning – great show. Anyway, just around the time I first really started getting into punk stuff, as I understand it, this dean – I think it was Healy, actually, although I’m not certain what his relationship to Healy Hall was – but Father Healy, I think that he was very angry with the station. Have you ever studied the history of that station?

I mean, they were really radical, and I think they agitated the school a lot, and eventually, I think the school was looking for any way whatsoever to get rid of them, and, as I understand it, the straw that broke the camel’s back was that they ran an ad for Planned Parenthood, and Father Healy yanked their charter, or whatever, and sold the station to UDC for a dollar or something ridiculous, and there was a huge uproar and there was going to be a protest.
And I skipped school – I was in 11th grade at the time – I was going to Wilson, up in Tenleytown – and we came down for the rally. It was in the middle of the afternoon in front of Healy Hall. Is it called Healy Hall? Where the circle is.

It was pretty rambunctious. They set a fire, and they tried to get in the door and there were cops there. They were really angry about the station being shut down, and it was decided that they would have this benefit concert to raise money, I guess for the legal fees that would be needed to get the station back, and they had the Cramps come down.
I had heard of the Cramps. I didn’t really know their music at all – they only had one single out at the time.
We went down and it ended up being my first punk show. I had seen Ted Nugent before that, and Queen.
It was so incredible to see, because it was the first time I had ever seen the underground, the counter-culture.
It was like, “Oh, well, this is what I’ve been looking for.”
I certainly didn’t feel at home at the Capital Center – at the arena shows. I just didn’t like those shows.
I knew there had to be some kind of revolutionary or rebellious music, something that was challenging conventional thinking, and finding this collection of freaks and deviants made me feel right at home, because I certainly felt like a freak and a deviant as a kid, and I still do.
Coming into the room, they had regular, big folding tables, two rows of them perpendicular to the hall with maybe 10 tables with folding chairs around them, from the back of the hall to the front, and there was a low stage, which I think is probably still there.

It’s a pretty tiny room, actually.
Yeah, in my mind it was massive. I felt like there were 900 people in there or something. There might have been, because that thing was so

They might have remodeled it.
Maybe. It was so, so big.
I actually played there when I was in Embrace and it was the same size.
I remember walking in and it was about as big as this room (his dining room) we’re sitting in right now, which was shocking, because in my mind’s eye it was giant, but I think you’ll find as you get older, you go back to the first gigs you saw and the experience was so profound that it made the actual setting seem much larger-than-life.
So the room was just packed, so if you can imagine it, people were standing on chairs and on the tables, like wall-to-wall. You can imagine: You have the one row of people who are standing on the floor, and you have a few people standing up on chairs, so they’re a little bit higher, then a whole row of people, maybe 8 or 10 people per table, standing on the tables, and they were all higher.
And the show was so packed and over-sold that people started breaking in through the windows, and the windows were on hinges, so people would pop the window – they opened horizontally, sort of, so the top would open and the hinge was on the bottom and people would squeeze through.
It was mind-blowing.
Then people started dancing and the tables started to collapse. So you’d see these 10 people who were all higher than the crowd and the whole thing would just drop into the crowd. That’s the way I remember it.
This is actually of the show [shows photo]: The Cramps at Hall of Nations.
… Anyway, it was epic. He threw up on stage. He’d apparently been sick. They were doing two sets that night. He threw up, they cleaned the stage, then they came back out and did the second set.
It was fantastic. It was an incredible night.

It seems like you have kind of a love/hate relationship with Georgetown. I read “Our Band Could Be Your Life.”
I never read it. What did I say in there?

In there you said you worked at the Hagen Daas and on Saturday nights it would be time for all the idiots to come down.
Yeah, but why is that about Georgetown University? Are you talking about Georgetown, the area?

Oh, I thought you were talking about the students out of Georgetown.
It’s funny, I don’t think of the kids hanging around in Georgetown as necessarily Georgetown students. It’s just the cruise strip. I actually had way more problems with Marines then. They’re the people that were most problematic.
You gotta remember: I worked down there for many, many years. I also grew up there. I grew up in Glover Park.
I actually quite liked Georgetown. It was a freak scene in the ’70s. It’s very hard to believe how crazy that area was.
You know Fruits de Mer, at the corner of Wisconsin and Dumbarton? I don’t know what it’s called now; it’s probably a clothes store or something.
When I was a kid it was called the Bar and Grill, and it was the most hardcore gay club. It was a slugfest – a brawl there every night. It was so jacked-up down there.
Georgetown’s been through a lot of changes. For years it’s had sort of a boutique-y quality to it. We’re talking about not the university, but the area.
My boss at the Georgetown Theater – which is now the Jewelry Center, that place, it used to be the Georgetown Theater – I worked there for five years … My boss down there, the guy that owned it, grew up above Nathan’s – at that time Georgetown was a really bad neighborhood, really rough. You know, it was a black neighborhood for the most part, and it was also full of immigrants, a lot of Greek kids – just a tough, tough, tough neighborhood.

It’s hard to believe.
Yeah. Even when I was growing up in the ’70s there was a glue thing down there. They used to bring rendered horse parts down to K Street and they would melt them down there. It’s insane, the way Georgetown used to smell so bad. They had a train that would come up and down K Street all the time to get to the coal factories – there were a bunch of factories down there. It was a really different place.
By the mid-’70s there were so many burned-out hippies and a really crazy street scene going on down there.
I’d say in the ’80s, for the punks, we were the Georgetown punks.
You see, all of this, I just don’t think about the university. It’s not connected really, to me. I understand it’s “Georgetown University,” but them students tend to stay over there by 37th St., you know?
I don’t think about them so much. There is the quintessential university student, which is not necessarily from Georgetown or GW or AU, but just that kind of roving pack of students: They were a problem, period.
You gotta remember that in my mind in 1979, 1980 and even ’81, the opposite of punk rocker was college student. You go to college or you went to punk.
Obviously that’s changed immensely.
By the time Fugazi was touring around, it’s fair to say that college students were our fans.
But early punks, I think the college students wanted to hand the punks a beat-down all the time.

Guy went to Georgetown, right?
Yeah, he did.

Did he graduate?
Yeah. He went to Georgetown, Jenny Toomey went to Georgetown – a lot of kids went to Georgetown.
I don’t really have a relationship with Georgetown University other than I got 21 stitches in my knee at the hospital there.
I’ve played the Hall of Nations, but that wasn’t really the university. Georgetown University is kind of, actually all the schools here, they’re kind of – it’s almost by design – they kind of close off to local culture it seems like. I remember AU had a series of shows.

They still do.
This is a long time ago I’m talking about.
We actually had a police-riot with AU police in 1981 at an S.O.A. show. You know, it’s hard to say – we’re talking about two different eras here.
I know that there are shows – AU’s been having a pretty good series of shows in the basement up there. I like those shows a lot, up at that chapel basement. I’ve seen a couple of gigs there. They’re weird. Sometimes they’re in that food court area and that’s just an unsettling place.
My brother saw Patti Smith at Georgetown. I guess I’ve seen a couple things in the hall in Healy – Gaston Hall – I’ve seen a couple of things there. I saw Jay Leno do stand-up comedy there in like 1983.
I’ve never played Georgetown, but it’s mostly because it seems so decentralized. I don’t know who does what there.
For instance, I think you mentioned that hunger-strike thing. I heard about it by reading the Washington Post – I’d never heard about it prior to that. I feel like there is a lot of activity going on there, but obviously it’s not connected with the circles or the things I would hear about.
There’s been a couple of gigs over the years at Georgetown that I’ve gone to, but not many, in terms of punk shows.
I spoke at Georgetown once. I spoke at a thing with Patti Smith, actually. I spoke with her for the Future of Music Coalition conference. Twice, I did that. I did another one, too, and I’ve forgotten what that was – some other panel.
I remember the first time I ever saw a microwave oven was at the Georgetown hospital little coin joint down in the basement.
It was a special trip – you’d ride your bike or your skateboard down to Georgetown cause they had the frozen hamburger in the case and the microwave oven. I never saw one before that. I was like “Goddamn! That’s cool.”

When was that?
’76, maybe. ’75.

I wanted to ask you about your involvement in the local hardcore scene or just the local music scene, and how much you pay attention to it these days. Like, are you familiar with 1905?
Yeah, I know them. I know the people better than I know the bands.
I think it is very hard to define “hardcore” or “punk” or “alternative” or “independent.” I feel like there’s a series of different fingers – the scene just continues to split, which is natural, but I don’t follow all the bands.
For me, punk is alive, but punk is always going to be the front of the wave. It’s going to be the thing that disturbs the water, not the foam behind it. That’s what punk is to me.
What I’m looking for is music that is challenging on some level, provocative, that makes you feel something, and there’s human connection to it. It can be referential, but it’s not necessarily referential. It’s inclusive. That’s punk, in my mind: It draws you in, so you feel compelled to get involved, and usually it’s performed in front of like 25 people.
A lot of times I see bands that denote themselves as hardcore or punk rock, part of the way that they shore up that classification is by using referential imagery or sounds, which is not bad, just not necessarily what I’m interested in.
I’m not speaking about 19o5. I think they’re a decent band. They’re good. It’s a more general statement about music and the progression of music.
Think of it like this: Right now it’s 2005.

30 years.
Exactly. I got into music in 1980. If I was to use rebellious music from 30 years before that I’d be doing some ’50s stuff.
We were trying to make something that was completely new – and our own.
I feel like that’s the mission of all kids: to take what’s been given, examine it, get rid of what’s not needed, what’s not wanted, and fashion something new, and not think about what people are expecting, but rather what you desire.
I think it’s happening all the time. The problem is that so much of the music we’re aware of is music that’s being presented or played in conventional settings: nightclubs or whatever, these sorts of circuits, and those settings, they’re great, except that they’re venues that require clientele, because they’re paying the bills.
The way you create a clientele – you have to have an audience, right? That’s the clientele, an audience.
But new ideas don’t have audiences.
So what you end up having a lot of the time in those situations is bands that are already known, have members that are known, or are playing a genre that is known.
I think it’s more engaging to try to find spaces that are off the beaten path …
I do hear about, “Oh, these crazy kids did a show at this house party.”
That’s interesting to me.
It’s funny, on occasion I see bands that I think are very good and I like what they’re doing, and I’m happy for them. I’m not necessarily blown away by them, because it’s hard to blow me away.
I was talking this morning with someone about improvisational music. He had recently seen somebody do an improv set.
For that to work for me, either they have to be extremely gifted musicians whose relationship with their instrument is so profound, or they have to have some kind of spiritual craziness that makes it, but if it’s just, like, “Well, we’re pretty good, we’re just going to see what comes out of this,” usually it’s pretty tepid, doesn’t really do much for me.
I want visionaries. I want people to either be extremely good with their instruments, or extremely visionary, just going for it. That’s more compelling. That’s how you shake shit up.

What does the phrase “blessed not lucky” mean? 
I have a problem with the word “lucky.” People often say, “Oh, you’re lucky,” like, “Well, you’re lucky – you can live off of your music.”
First of all, I don’t live off of my music. I’m not playing music right now. I’m working. I work all the time. I don’t play guitar for weeks sometimes, because I run a label, I administrate all this stuff – and it’s work. So that idea of luck, to me, tends to supplant work.
I feel I’ve worked hard and I’ve made decisions in my life that have afforded me the opportunity to do things. It was not luck …
I think people are so busy thinking about the things they desire that they don’t think about the things they have. I think about the things I have in my life, and I’m blessed, but I’m not lucky, because that would suggest that I won the lottery or something. I didn’t win a fucking lottery.
But I am appreciative of the things that are in my life. I think it’s important to be appreciative. What’s tricky about that phrase, “blessed not lucky,” is that it evokes a Christian ethic.
I’m in a wrestling match with the religions of the world over the use of language. I don’t know why Christians or anyone else thinks they have a corner on blessings. I think human beings, all of us, are blessed.
Hey, we’re talking, we have a moment, we’re drinking tea, you got a thing that takes pictures, you got a machine that takes voices and sounds, puts ’em on a tape. I mean, come on – we’re doing pretty good.
I’m not a Christian and I’m not a subscriber, but I can’t think of a better word to describe what it is I’m getting at, so “Blessed, Not Lucky.”
I think it encourages people to work and to follow their hearts and really stick by it and to let it develop.
I think you’ll find that if you follow your beliefs – really – whatever they may be, down the road they will develop in a way that they’ll come true, things will happen.
Again, people will say, “Look at you, you’re in a good position to say that.”
Yeah, 25 years after the label started I’m in a good fucking position. But five years after I wasn’t. I was working three jobs. I was working my ass off.
With the label, for instance, with the 20 year box-set – I know a lot of labels and bands celebrate anniversaries. I didn’t celebrate the anniversary with Dischord. There was no celebration, there was no party, there was no backslapping. The box-set had two distinct missions, as far as I was concerned.
The first mission was to honor all the bands that have been on the label. You’ll notice that on that box-set each band has one song and every band that has been on the label is represented. The point being that the label could not exist without the bands. It is to them that we are indebted.
There are plenty of bands that have no label. There is no such thing as a label with no bands – bands, of course, can mean musicians, if you want to parse it.
The second mission was a little more pointed on my end. Since the beginning of the label, people, time and time again, accuse us of being too idealistic and unrealistic

It won’t last.
Right. They kept saying it won’t work, because we’re not following a rational business plan, especially in terms of the American business model, but I think the American business model is an obscenity. I do not believe the oft-repeated tenets that people chant, like, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” and, “What the market will bear,” and that sort of stuff. That is just nonsense. I reject it and the label rejects it.
So, after 20 years: Alright, are we real yet?
It’s 25 years now. Is this a real business yet? We’ve never had a really negative year; we’ve never lost much money. We’ve had a few years that were tighter than others, but we’ve always basically come out in the black. We have four or five employees who all get a decent wage, plus health care, plus benefits.
In a way, that was the mission – to say, “Yo, this can be done.”
If we had abandoned that early on, listened to the critics or to the people chanting that American business model mantra, we would not be sitting here, because I would have been discouraged. We would have stopped.

How is being in a band with your girlfriend different from being in a band with your friends?
(long pause) Every band is different, whoever you’re with. Bands are relationships, period.
Amy is not Brendan, Joe, and Guy.
I don’t know, I can’t really say. I’m not a comparative person. I don’t really think about things like that.
I’m interested in making music and I always work on that mission. Playing with those guys, they’re my family, and we made music that only the four of us can make together. And the music that I make with Amy – she’s my family, and only the two of us can make this music, but I can’t really compare, because the initial difference has very little to do with the fact that she’s my partner: it’s that she’s a different person, with a different musical aesthetic. That’s the most profound aspect of it, in terms of being in a band. The other stuff, I’m sure I could discuss it, but that would really be irrelevant, I think, ultimately.

Do you feel a kinship with bands like NOFX, who have been independent for the same amount of time?
As who?

Well, as you.
Have they?

I guess they started out in ’83.
I mean, I know Fat Mike – I’ve talked to him a few times. I guess there’s a connection there. I think they try to do the right thing. I feel like in their earlier years they were trafficking in obnoxiousness and humor, which was never my kind of humor. I have a much drier sense of humor. I think that they were a bit more reactionary than I was. I’m not a reactionary person. I’m an actionary person. I think that they were looking at a situation and reacting to that situation. Like, “We just want to get fucked up,” or, “We’re just gonna drink beer,” that kind of thing.
I’m not talking about NOFX, necessarily specifically, but I think that there are a lot of people in punk rock that celebrate destruction. Not necessarily the bands, but they create music that becomes fodder for destruction workers. But I’m a construction worker. I’m more interested in building things than tearing them down. I wasn’t trying to smash the state, I was trying to build a new one – separate, but equal.
I guess I feel a kinship. I don’t know those guys that well. I’ve just talked to Fat Mike a few times on the phone. I respect the fact that they’ve worked hard. Obviously this Punkvoter thing was pretty cool, that was a lot of work, and he meant it. It was cool.
… I’ve never heard any of their records. They opened for Fugazi – or we opened for them, I forget which – I guess they opened for us. It was in Amsterdam in 1988, but it wasn’t really my thing.

Why did you pick the photo on the back of the Evens CD?
Seemed like a good photo to put on our record, I don’t know.

It’s kind of an unflattering photo. No offense.
It’s interesting – everyone says that. Why is it unflattering?

You look old. You don’t look as old in real life. You look like 60 years old [in the photo].

No offense.
Oh, I’m not offended. It’s funny. I’ve got a friend that’s a photographer and he called me up, just appalled. He was like, “Why would you fucking use that photo? Both you guys look terrible.”
I have no idea. Seemed like a nice photo. We saw it as: We were just sitting there at a gathering for a friend. It was an important gathering and it was totally candid. She just walked over and took two pictures of us sitting there.
I just think we look like real people. If you want to spend four hours with me looking through band photos on the Internet, I think you’ll see this really intense repetition of very similar poses: usually four white dudes, staring into the camera with a firm jaw, or maybe with eyeliner on with a button-up shirt and a tie. It seems so affected.
You know, when I first started playing music I went to this music store called Rolls, out in Falls Church. This was probably ’79. When I walked in they had one entire wall plastered with 8 by 10 pictures of bands.
Keep in mind this was 1979, so the bands that were up there were all these ’70s rocker bands called like, “Angel Wing,” and “Feather Devil,” and “Touch of Class,” and they all had this really uniform look.
I remember looking at all of these bands – hundreds of people – on one wall in one fucking music shop on Route 9 in Falls Church, and I thought “that is seriously depressing to me.”
It was like looking through somebody else’s yearbook or something, and I realized that what was depressing about it was not the fact that those people were playing music; it was that they all were engaging in this clichéd presentation.
If you put them together, what you see is – not the bands, not the people – the cliché, and I feel like that is still practiced – it’ll probably always be a practice – but it’s not something that I’m particularly interested in being a part of.
I’d rather just look like people, because I think it’s more important that we’re recognized as people than as performers.
Also, I like the fact that we’re sitting in this lush, green scene, but on the front you have this giant creature [an elephant] eating what looks like shredded newspaper. We probably should have changed places. He should have been having a snack on that nice green stuff.
I don’t know. I’m not going to defend it. I can’t defend it. Perhaps I wanted people to think that I was ugly and 60.

I thought that’s what you were getting at – looking like a normal person.
Well, I don’t think normal people are ugly. I also don’t think that picture’s unflattering, but it’s interesting that you said that, because many people think that.
But that’s all right – there are plenty of photos that people like of me that I think are just horrible. There are other photos I like of me that other people think are horrible.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really make any fucking difference at all.
All we were trying to do with any record cover – this is what really will, I think, fairly secure the existence of the record or the CD as opposed to digital formats: that jacket gives you some context of where this music is coming from …
Bands who hire graphic designers are sending a statement.
It’s like wrapping a gift. It gives the person the idea of, “OK, this is where they’re coming from.”
If you take it to the store and have them wrap it, you get a really generic kind of wrapping. It might be well wrapped, but it doesn’t have any kind of personal impact. If you wrap it yourself you might use newspaper – you have an endless assortment of options of creative wrapping. It suggests the energy or the emotion or the emphasis in which you were making the gift.
So, we wrapped it with that.

Shintaro Doi: I personally am a great fan of John Frusciante and I listened to the DC EP and I was actually very, very impressed.
Yeah, that came out nice.

Maybe taking that EP as an example, what do you bring to what you produce, what do you try to bring to the studio, to the artist?
I think I usually try to encourage people to think about the music and not about the convention. There was aspects of that recording, for instance, that John had never done. He sang sitting down in front of the mixing board, and he was like, “Wow, are you serious?” And I’m like, “Yeah, just sit here, sit next to me and sing.”
I just got into that idea of recording sitting there, and people think it’s odd, but if you’re standing in a room by yourself, you’ve got a glass window, you have a microphone and you’re singing, then you’re in a kind of isolation tank and your performance is lonely.
If you’re sitting next to people in the room and you’re singing along to the speakers, then it’s a shared moment. There are people in the room, so you have to perform. If you’re a performer, you have to. And that tension brings out great, emotional performances, because you’re feeling the energy of the other people in the room.
From my point of view, all I was trying to do was make music with him.
As a producer, I was involved in the arrangements of some of the stuff, and the textures, and I thought it was great. I was surprised it didn’t get more notice. I thought it was a really, really good session.

I think it was one of the best that I’ve heard.
Thanks. It was amazing. I kind of thought he’d come back and do some more. He may – they’re in the middle of work on the new Chili Peppers record.
That guy is immensely gifted. There’s just no fucking around, he’s one of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever seen, and he just knows music. All he does is study music, all day. He just sits and listens to music all day long. He can play any song – if he can hear it, he understands it and he can play it, which is completely beyond me. I can’t even figure out how to play my own songs.

I just got the Minor Threat DVD, and on it you said that you were an angry person. Are you still?
Of course. Don’t I seem angry to you?

Not too angry.
I think there is a persona of anger, the way people visualize it, then you have what an angry person is. I’m still angry about things, of course, but when I sing, the work I do, I’ve always thought about: make a better life, make life good, that’s what we desire.
And, at some point, probably 20, 15 years ago, maybe a little longer, I made a conscious decision that, if I really believed in the songs I was singing, I would live that way.
In other words: I would live happily. It doesn’t mean that I’m not angry – it just means that I would live happily.
I can still be angry about things that I think are unjust, that are obscene. For instance, war is obscene. Period. So I’m always going to be angry about the fact that there are people who are sort of forcing other people to engage in that kind of behavior, and that there are people who do engage in that behavior. That makes me very angry.
At the same time, if I were merely to live my entire life screaming about how everything was so fucked up, then it would suggest that I didn’t actually desire for things to get better or to repair, because I’m wallowing in the disrepair. Do you understand?
So it seemed clear to me that we should be happy in life; we should celebrate life and not just agonize over death. I think if you look at the lyrics of the songs, they’re still pretty critical of things, and I also celebrate things. It’s a balance.
In Minor Threat, you know, 1980, ’81, there are a lot of different factors, a lot of different things going on at that time. First off, it was a new punk scene. Brand new. Any time anything is new, there’s a lot of attendant friction at the birthing, right? A volcano, that’s something growing up, an earthquake, something’s moving, that’s the friction.
That was a new cultural movement that was causing an immense amount of friction in this society.
I think it’s difficult for people now to understand just how tense it could be and how easy it was to infuriate other people. I mean – your haircut would have gotten you into a fight in 1979.

It’s a pretty normal haircut.
Right, but in 1979 you would be a fucking freak. I know it seems odd, but that’s the way it is. At that time, longer hair and wider clothes were so de rigueur. Anything that wasn’t orthodox – it was very easy to upset people. So there was that aspect of it.
The other aspect was that we were kids and we were confronting the outside world. We were leaving our biological families and going into the larger family, and in that process there’s also an awful lot of tension. We were angry a lot, angry with each other, and then you’d go to other cities and there were other kids like you who were also angry, and no problem: You’d get into a fight almost anywhere you’d go. That’s a different kind of anger. That’s just kids’ anger.
But at the root of it all, the things that I was singing about, I sang about it because I thought they were wrong, and I thought that things should be better, that we should do better. So, try to do better.
You know, if I were really angry, you wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I wouldn’t have time for you. I’d just tell you to fuck off.
If your door is locked you may keep out a few irritants, but you’re also locking out thousands of the most interesting, incredible moments.
That’s what I was talking about earlier, when I said, “Blessed, Not Lucky.” The idea’s you have to be open. You never know what might transpire. If you’re just pissed and you don’t want to talk to anybody, I think that is a lonely sport.

You do a lot of interviews. Are you normally happy with the way they come out, are you normally happy with the kinds of questions you’re asked?
I don’t read most of them because they don’t ever send them to me.

You don’t go out of your way to find them?
If I see it I’ll read it, but I don’t go out of my way, because I forget they exist. I do a lot of interviews.
I like doing interviews. It’s a way of having a conversation.
My reputation precedes me, and it’s very difficult for people to get into a conversation with me, because they know me in a way that I don’t know them. They’ve been listening to my records for maybe their whole lives. I’ve been making music for 25 years. So if it’s a 20-year-old, it’s possible they’ve been hearing that music their whole lives.
Maybe their parents were fans. Who’s to say? Maybe there was a massive Minor Threat fan in 1980 who had a kid. And that whole time, that kid’s life, they’ve been hearing Minor Threat. It’s possible!
By the time they come to talk to me the relationship is so out of balance.
I had an experience the other day with a guy who just started asking me all this personal stuff, like, “Am I married?” and, “What’s my personal life like?” I was like, “What the fuck you talking about?”

Was it an interviewer?
No, it was at a show! We played and he started asking me these questions. The problem was: his relationship with me was so intense, because he’d been listening to me and thinking about my music and looking at pictures of me, and all this kind of stuff. I of course never met him, didn’t have any idea who he was. He was a stranger – almost a complete, total, perfect stranger.

And to him it was the opposite.
Kind of. The problem is that his relationship with me was his relationship with who he thought I was – not who I am. Some things may line up, but I’m not the person that most people think I am, because in my little universe there’s so much discussion about who I am, the things I believe in, because I’m outspoken.
Doing interviews is a way to actually engage with other human beings.
For instance, the Frusciante record: That’s a record I really enjoyed making, but I don’t think I’ve hardly ever seen any reviews of that thing and nobody I know has had anything to say to me about it. So, in a way it’s an opportunity for me to be like, “Oh, I’m glad somebody heard it! Somebody liked it.”
‘Cause really I can tell you, maybe nine people have ever fucking mentioned that … (tape runs out)
… Maybe that was the strategy: to surprise people with how youthful I look. I just turned 43 the weekend before last.

What did you do for your birthday?
Oh, just hung out.
But I enjoy interviews because it’s practice, and I get to think about things.
I used to keep a journal pretty regularly – I kept it for 10 or 12 years – and at some point I was writing in my journal that I was writing in my journal and I thought, “I gotta stop. I’ve just lapped myself.” So, I stopped keeping a journal.
But by doing interviews, if I look at the interviews over the years, I can see my growth. It’s like having a mark on the wall of how you’re growing.
It’s practice. You think about how you speak, you learn how to drop words like “like” and avoid using the phrase “it’s about this” and “it’s about that,” which I find repellant.
It so completely riddles American culture. It’s kind of receded in the last year or so, but there was a period where every politician, entertainer, and athlete would use the phrase “It’s not about this, it’s about this.” Or, “It’s about freedom.”
It’s such a strange fucking phrase, when you think about it.
What are they talking about?
I think it is a method to summate things, to sum it up: “It’s not about making money; it’s about having a good time.”
I’m sure if you interview people, you hear it, because people use it all the time.
It’s bite-size, and people go for the quotable.
My family were all very interested in language, so I do think a lot about language. In doing interviews I think about the way I speak, and I think about the best way to make points.
I read a lot – I look at other people’s interviews and some of them are just appallingly bad. They’re just like, “Yeah, I guess. Sort of.”
Or they just talk about what everything is about and say “like” every third word.
It’s interesting.
… It’s a rhythmic thing, to some degree. There’s a cadence to language which I find fascinating. When you’re with friends, when you’re with someone you know very well, you can speak in a way that is almost unrecognizable to other people.
I remember once Fugazi was in New Mexico and we were staying with a friend of ours. We got out of the van, Brendan and I were talking, and I said to Brendan, “so, ugontthelaundrymat?” and he said, “Yeahuneedsomethingcleaned?” and then [our friend] said, “What the fuck was that? What language was that?”
Because of the cadence of it, she couldn’t hear it. We were talking to each other. It’s an intimate exchange.
It’s something that you learn about. It’s tribal, which I’m very interested in.
I love regional accents. I’m very interested in regional sayings. They’ve been largely flattened out by the federal entertainment system, and that, by the way, extends to MTV, because MTV did an incredible disservice to regional music. Suddenly you had flannel shirts, torn jeans, Chuck Taylors, Jaguar guitars – Nirvana – beaming into every house, and that parlayed into a somewhat generic musical wash.
You go around the country as a touring band, and then you start seeing it around the world. The same behaviors – the same guy jumping on top of the crowd, crowd-surfing, pumping his fist, all over the world, the same exact thing. As soon as MTV started showing it, it was just everywhere.
I think that music is very regional. There should be regional attributes and flavors. It should reflect where people are coming from, which has a lot to do with why Dischord is a D.C. label, not a label that’s trying to cover everything … and punk, because ultimately it’s coming from people – new ideas haven’t been put on MTV yet.
So, language is something I’m really interested in and I think interviews are an opportunity for me to engage in language, and I hope I get better at it.
Give you something to think about anyway – that answer your question at all?

How many more you got?

Um, three?
Alright, let’s try it.

You mentioned your Dad and your family. What kind of relationship do you have with the Washington Post?
I don’t have one.

No? How do you feel about it?
In what sense? My father worked for the Post for 19 or 20 years.

He was an editor, right?
Yeah, he was. He was a religious editor. Initially he worked for the Houston Chronicle and the Minneapolis Star. He was on the White House beat and he was in Kennedy’s motorcade when he was assassinated. He was in a bus behind them.
Then he went on to be in the White House press corps for Johnson, he was there for Johnson’s whole run, eight years, and in 1968 when Johnson left my father was not interested in being in the White House press corps – first off it’s a lot of work, and second off he didn’t want to deal with Nixon so he got the religion editor role, which he liked – my father’s a theologian – and then he became the Washington Post Magazine editor.
He kind of got blackballed by the Post, because he was involved in the Pressmen’s Strike of 1975. Our family was on strike for six months. My father wouldn’t cross the picket lines, and it was a really, really ugly scene. So then he became the Associate Editor of the magazine, but they cut him off there. He couldn’t get any higher than that.
And he left there in 1986. So, my whole life the Post was present. I went down there a lot.

And you worked for the Post.
Well, I delivered papers. I guess I worked for the Post. Yeah, I drove a newspaper truck.
I also delivered the Post as a kid.
I also read it every day. I do struggle with that. I never look at television news, I don’t read newsmagazines – I think it’s all ridiculous. I think watching the television news is actually unhealthy.
You think about the number of things that are happening in the world right now and it would fill up five hours – so you can imagine that of the 17 minutes that the half-hour newscast actually has some content, and then split that with the sports and the weather, so you’re talking about nine minutes, maybe.
What they select to put in for news is a really biased and strange decision. It’s entertainment.
They want people to feel like they have to tune in. So, what would be a good way to make people feel like it’s really important for them to tune in? Well, by letting them think that they would have information that’s emergency, important information. Like there’s a poison gas cloud coming or something. But they don’t have any information that’s going to save any lives.
They’re fear-mongers, and they’ve made people feel like things are much worse than they actually are.
If you want some evidence of this, speak to anybody who watches television news all the time. Don’t watch it, ever, and then speak to them.
When you have situations along the lines of the anthrax, that sort of stuff, when that anthrax stuff was going on, people I knew were terrified. I was not terrified. I’m not scared.
So much of that terror was connected to what they were seeing on television. Certainly, the damn plane-crashings in 2001 — you know, the Pentagon is just over there, and I saw all that the smoke – I was sitting right here, had my breakfast, did not look at the television at all. It’s out of my control. People would call me up, like, “What are you gonna do?”
I’m like, “What the fuck are you gonna do? I’m just gonna sit here and answer the mail.”
I answered mail all day. I didn’t watch television. I didn’t look at it. I knew that the planes had crashed.
People kept calling, being like, “Oh, the planes crashed. Well, where are you gonna go?”
I said, “I’m not gonna go anywhere.”
Of course I was discouraged, because it was a really ugly act of human brutality. But humans have been brutal to each other since they found they could hit somebody with a stick, practically. This is sort of an ongoing cancer

Since there have been humans.
Right, that’s it. I felt terrible about it. I have to say in some ways I felt less terrible about it than I did when I think about the insane pounding of civilians in Iraq, which to me seems much more despicable. Think of it like this: there are devices that cost more to make than you may make in your lifetime, cumulative salary, that are being dropped, and the purpose of them is to explode and send millions of flying pieces of metal into human beings, and that’s one of tens or hundreds of thousands of these sorts of things. It is completely insane. That’s a very discouraging, ugly act of human brutality.
If you didn’t look at the television, and I didn’t, my relationship with that experience is really different, because I realized right then and there that there was nothing that a television could tell me. What it would do is show me over and over and over and over a visualization of an incomprehensible act.
Human beings have the mental processes to – when you see something that doesn’t make sense, you figure out a way to smooth it in to the sense. You try to make sense of it. If you look at it enough, you won’t feel it anymore.
“You won’t feel a thing.”
If I brought you a giant bowl of shit with a spoon, that first bite would be unpleasant. We’re not supposed to eat shit. But if you had to eat it, if you felt that you had to eat it, you would figure out a way to not taste that shit anymore. Your body will adjust. It has to. If I slap you in the face, you’ll feel it. But, the tenth or fifteenth time, you will not feel it anymore. Your body will adjust. The mind and the body will adjust to the situation, or it will die.
So I think television news is really extremely poisonous and toxic, and I suspect the Washington Post probably is as well. I’ve been trying to not read the paper, but I do read it every morning. It’s been like that my whole life. My family, you know, we have dinner every Sunday, and everyone talks about, “Well, what do you think about the way they talked about this?” Or you know, just study things.
I think that probably that hour would be better spent reading a book. But I haven’t quite figured out how to work that out yet. I’ve been thinking about this for about two years, and every once in a while I’ll call ’em up and say “Maybe you should cut my subscription off for a while,” then I think “ah, no, keep ’em coming.”
So, what’s my relationship with the Post? (shrugs) Could be a lot better. In fact, recently, editorially I think they’re fucked. There are clearly neoconservatives and hawks involved with that paper, and their role in starting this war was absolutely despicable. A few of the columnists are especially despicable. I think Michael Kelly was insane. I mean, he died in Iraq, but any person that wishes for police brutality against protestors is not OK in my book.

I don’t know anything about him.
Because you don’t read the paper every morning like me. What’s your other two questions?

What do you miss most about playing in Fugazi?
What I miss most about playing with Fugazi is, you know, Fugazi. They’re some of my closest, dearest friends, and we made a lot of good music together, and I miss that. You know, we are extremely close. I’ve been friends with Guy since 1980 or ’81. Guy’s first show, by the way, was also Hall of Nations. It was coincidental – we didn’t know each other at the time. I’ve known Joe since 1983 or ’84. Joe lived in this house for nine years – we’re very close. Brendan and Guy lived in the same house. What do I miss about it? I miss those guys.

How often do you write songs?
Depends. I’ll go months and months without writing a song and then I’ll go through a month where I write 20. It just depends. It’s a little slow right now, but I think it’s normal because there’s so much machinery in place in getting the record out and doing all other sorts of stuff. Life is full of stuff to do, and my life has been extremely full of stuff to do the last few years.
In a way, for me to write songs, I need to be able to get a piece of quiet so I can fill it up. Music used to come to me – songs would come to me – at times where I couldn’t do anything else.
I used to write a lot of songs in the Georgetown Theater. I used to work in the ticket window, just sitting there writing songs.

That’s where most Minor Threat songs were written?
Yeah, so many of them were inspired by these people, walking up and down Wisconsin Avenue, being complete idiots.
I had to be there. I had nothing to do. I was just sitting there, I had all this time – so I just started to create.
Because of portable communication devices, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have time – I mean, there’s so much to occupy your mind. If you look at television, you can look at 200 channels or a DVD or a videotape. Or, God forbid, if you’re gonna play games, I mean, those things will take your time right away.
I actually feel really fortunate. For me, video games are really – you had to go to an arcade and put a quarter in. I just narrowly missed that home video game thing, but sometimes, if I’m ever at a college or I go by a dorm, there’s those games and people go in so hardcore. I’ve never experienced it, none of my friends play ’em. I don’t fool with that at all. People go deep on that shit. They get so heavily into it. If I were involved with that I would never get anything done. We wouldn’t have time for this interview if I was a video-game guy.
I was thinking about this the other day: There’s so many forms of communication. Recently, for somewhat pragmatic purposes we started using instant messaging between that office (Dischord’s office) and me and this person who used to work for us.
I realized I have email, telephone, with voicemail, two lines, and instant messages coming up on the computer, and I have a cell phone, but I don’t use it – but I was thinking about that: There’s no quiet. There’s no rest.
I remember reading an essay years ago about 24-hour banking, and how it’s pitched as a convenience. You know, there was a time when, let’s say, you needed to check your account, but it was two-in-the-morning. Well, tough shit! You’re not checking your account. Too bad.
I mean, I can remember Sundays where everything was closed except for the pharmacy. For real. And if everything is closed, what are you going to do? Well, I guess you just had to be alive.
Convenience has its costs, and part of that cost is that it’s taken up a lot of the air from the creative space. So, I endeavor to find some quiet so I can do more writing.


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