Glen E. Friedman at the D.C. Public Library

As part of the D.C. Punk Archive’s one-year anniversary celebrations, on October 25, 2015, renowned photographer Glen E. Friedman appeared at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. Alec MacKaye interviewed Friedman. The photographer also took questions from the audience.



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.


The Coits are an Interesting Band that Almost Nobody Knows About – Interview by Nick Tape

The Coits are a very weird and interesting band from Washington, D.C., that almost nobody outside the region knows about. I am hoping to raise some awareness of their existence. I could spend a paragraph describing their well-trod sound, but suffice it to say, “punk.” Their live shows are always entertaining, as Seth Feinberg (interviewed below) is quite a frontman.

The first time I saw the Coits, they started their set with Seth nonchalantly dropping stacks of china plates onto the floor; a computer followed; then a keyboard. Fellow-rager Teresa took it upon herself to try skateboarding in the small basement.

I looked up and saw a cast of freaks: a guy in sunglasses, a few random punkers I had never seen, a norm-looking drummer, and my friend Simon wearing a hockey jersey and literally solo’ing over the entire set.

I was bewildered, but ended up getting really pumped. The tunes were decent, but the live show was incredible. The destruction was contagious.

Teresa tried to smash the keyboard with no luck, so I told her to hold it up for me and I tried to punch through it. I ended up getting a really big gash on my hand (stupid), but I was pumped and it didn’t hurt, so who cares?

1. How and when did the Coits come together?  What were the goals of the band upon its inception?

First of all, thank you, Nick, for your enthusiasm and support for the band. I’m a fan of yours and of Coke Bust, so it is more meaningful to me than you probably think.

Also, thanks for giving me a chance to talk about my favorite subject: myself.

The Coits started in 2003 at the Notasquat and Georgetown University. The band was started by John Albaneaze and me.

John was just learning how to play guitar, but he is a savant when it comes to songwriting. He wrote most of the songs. He also contributed to the lyrics. We are good friends who are on the same wavelength to an extent that is highly unusual for me.

The members of the band we cultivated were like-minded feminists who thought our music was cool; because we were in college, people were always studying abroad, dropping out, or quitting the band because we didn’t sound like Fugazi, but we didn’t let that deter us and we stuck with my vision: self-aggrandizement and smashing computers.

Roughly in this order, the goals of the band were: compose and perform catchy and creative hard punk with overt grunge, folk, hardcore punk and garage rock influences, complemented by funny and political lyrics; not be a boring live band (unlike nearly every band I watched perform around the time); use our shows to support causes we believed in (we played a lot of shows to benefit campus workers; we were lucky that there was a lot of activism around labor issues on campus at that time and we were able to participate and do some fundraising for the cause); use our shows as a vehicle to have fun and give our friends opportunities to have fun; win back the Liz of my life; play as many cool shows with cool bands as possible; and overtly reiterate and propagate the most intelligent, interesting and humorous aspects of the entire rock ’n’ roll genre (it’s a great genre). We have accomplished some of our goals.

John is currently attending law school at Columbia, but played one show with the band in 2011 when Psi-Dog quit. John is also set to play our eight-year-anniversary celebration in October. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but we took 2005-2008 off. Our first show was at the Notasquat, on Oct. 12, 2003.

2. Can you run down each of the members of the band and tell us a little bit about them?  What do you perceive their meanings of life to be (including yours)?

Zomawia “Chino” Sailo, guitar: A talented artist, musician, and artist of the information superhighway, Chino is a quintessential antisocial badass with a heart of gold.
The child of a hardworking and well-educated single mother, Chino grew up in the ghetto of Gaithersburg, Maryland, with a tight and exceedingly racially diverse group of friends who were also generally into alternative rock and punk music.
A big fan of At the Drive In, the Black Powder Fuzzbox, Fugazi, and Gang of Four, Chino is a member of a relatively obscure Indian ethnic group, the Mizos. He looks Asian (hence his nickname) and has visited his family in India. He once told me that Mizos are “stupid and cheap.”
He was the soundman at the notorious D.C. punk-rock venue the U-Turn.
We met when his old band, Pattern Against User, played the “Punk Rock Picnic,” at Georgetown University back in 2004. I solicited bands for that show on the Pheerboard, so the Internet brought us together. Chino is smart, generous, a true friend and a very useful person to be friends with. We played in a hard-folk band called Usuario2 in 2007 and 2008. That band sounded like a mix of the Coits, At the Drive In, Sunny Day Real Estate, Pattern Against User, and Refused – with folk lyrics – and we played some really good shows and were well received by our friends. Usuario2 ended when our guitarist and primary songwriter, Adam Piece, moved back to Boston to pursue his true love: music that sounds more like Sunny Day Real Estate.
A skilled and unique guitarist, Chino is also quite responsible, unlike most good guitarists. He is arguably the most unconventional, liberated member of the Coits, which is really saying something. He is the third coolest-looking member of the Coits.

Shintario “Shin for the Win” Doi, bass: Shin grew up in Japan on a steady diet of alternative rock. He is extremely bright. We met at Georgetown University in like 2004 (we became friends in like 2005). He was considered the best bassist at Georgetown and he went to his fair share of Coits shows back then. We played in a band called Coitus Detritus that played one exceedingly destructive show in 2005. Shin is very artistic, articulate, and well versed on international affairs, economic theories, technology, and many other matters. He works at the Black Cat, a Washington, D.C. rock club. An experienced political activist, he has held a very wide range of jobs, from anti-mountaintop removal organizer to trade union spy in a Starbucks to deep house party doorman to Thai chef. His parents have high-status jobs. He has also lived in Korea and Thailand. He is very knowledgeable about a large number of genres of music, and can also hold it down on guitar and drums. He is a good songwriter, but doesn’t really write songs for the Coits. He and I interviewed Ian MacKaye in 2005. He has also interviewed Joe Lally. He is a great friend and a generous guy. He joined the band in 2008, when Prescott got the band back together in order to really freak out the squares and teach the indie rock lames what rock ’n’ roll is (did we ever). Shin fit right in. He is the second coolest-looking member of the Coits, which is really saying something.

Simon “Psi” Cohen, guitar: A virtuoso-type axist and a prominent metal promoter in the D.C. underground, Psi has a good sense of humor and is intelligent. He is the leader of the band Midnight Eye. The son of a diplomat, he went to the same boarding school in Switzerland as a son of Kim Jong Il. Psi joined the band in like 2008, after John went to law school, so we went from having a beginning-level guitarist to a Marty Friedman-type. A talented writer, Midnight Psi has already quit the band three times and is considering quitting again. Who knows how many times he will quit? Personally, I think it’s safe to say that only God knows.
Psi-Dog has long hair and is the Coits’ primary songwriter at this point. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, and teaches guitar for a living.

Prescoit, drums: The son of a working drummer, Pres is half-Greek, which is important to him. While in college, he studied in Greece and worked for the Greek embassy in D.C. We have been friends nearly since I moved to D.C. in 2002. A graduate of a prestigious D.C. college, ’Scotty is a lifelong friend of a close pal o’ mine from G-Town.
Prescott joined the band a few months after our first show, and he fit right in. It was really nice to have a drummer who played drums; it changed our sound in a major way. We were roommates at the Hardcore Hilton when he was in college (I graduated in 2004; he graduated in 2006).
I have never been able to keep up with him when it comes to partying, and I stopped trying to keep that killing pace a long time ago.
He grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, but considers D.C. home. He is a talented lyricist. Operation Ivy was his favorite band in high school.

Garrett Underwood, guitar: The most recent addition to the band, Garrett joined in early 2011. He was a Coits enthusiast before becoming a Coit.
The youngest member of the Coits by several years (he is 21), G has been in a number of notable D.C. bands, including Wyld Stallyns 3000, Body Cop, and Ilsa (he is currently in Ilsa). We met at a Wyld Stallyns show in 2007.
An overt badass, G memorably said, “I thought I was weird until I joined the Coits; the Coits are fucking freaks.”
He fits right in.
He is arguably the most unconventional and liberated person in the band, which is really saying something.
He is one of only two people hardcore enough to live at the Corpse Fortress on two distinct occasions. He parties like a drug addict and walks dogs for a living. A native of Rockville, Maryland, G is highly intelligent and is very popular within “the scene.” He is not considering quitting the band (as far as I know!), but Ilsa is his primary focus. I am encouraging him to compose more music and lyrics for the Coits. He is the coolest-looking member of the Coits, which is really saying something.

Seth Feinberg, mouth: Thank you for affording me the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject: myself. I am a negative creep. If asked to expound upon the subject, I would reply that I am the son of a pair of freethinkers with unusual integrity. I feel that, at my best, I am a cross between my parents (with whom I am close): My mother is a librarian, journalist, and nature enthusiast; my father is a politically aware tough guy, union man, sports fan, and nature enthusiast. I have lived a charmed life and am politically engaged. I follow world affairs more closely than the average person, and am an environmentalist, trade unionist, and Democrat (in that order). I have a younger sister who is a badass, and we grew up in the middle of the woods in a very small town in upstate New York. I was the only person into punk in my town; there were maybe a dozen kids in other grades into punk and hardcore throughout the course of my middle/high school years (the towns up there are so small that kids from a few towns attend schools in a central location; it was the ’90s, so I had a pal who had blue hair and was into Christian punk, etc.). We lifted weights to Sick of It All.
In a “notable twist of fate,” I first heard Nirvana on an elementary school field-trip to D.C. There was a boom-box on the bus and the kids were playing Ace of Bass. My friend commandeered the ’box and played “Teen Spirit” dozens of times in a row. It took hours for the other kids to start complaining.
I got into Minor Threat in eighth grade, courtesy of an older guy who grew up in D.C. They quickly became one of my favorite bands. Growing up, I never knew anyone who was straight-edge.
In addition to Christianity and socialism, I believe in evolutionary psychology.
I think the meaning of life is to enjoy oneself, help others, and, in the modern world at least, forestall the demise of every species on earth (including our own) at the hands of humanity. I know that’s a boring definition.

3. It is evident that you are all a very eclectic group of individuals with very different lifestyles. How does the band mesh? How do you all get along?
Our lives might not be as different as they seem (with the possible exception of Chino’s; he is the most aggressively antisocial member of the band; who knows what that guy is up to?).

Brendan Griffiths once described us as “an extremely diverse group of extremely liberated people,” which is high praise.

Big Al Acosta described us as “the bad boys of D.C. punk” – high praise.

We get along well; sometimes we get annoyed with each other, but we are close friends in general (although there are inevitable “relationship dynamics” in a six-person band with a wide range of musical tastes and non-musical interests). For example, it might seem that Pres and G have nothing in common, but they get along really well. I consider everyone else in the band a close friend (except Simon).

4. I am specifically intrigued by your drummer, Prescott, who works as a lobbyist for a trade association. Apparently he is quite a hit with the ladies. How does he do this and what is his style? Feel free to speak for him.
Prescott is extremely gregarious, socially adept, and easygoing, and he’s fun to be around. Additionally, he’s handsome, funny, and a secret genius. He has a good job and parties like he’s in Ilsa. That combination is a well-trod formula for sexual success (depending upon one’s definition of success, of course!).

According to Prescott, he learned everything he knows (about getting girls, not about drumming) from Pip (the Lone Rangers’ drummer in the 1994 comedy “Airheads”), who was portrayed by Adam Sandler. Pip gets “his hands on more bumper than a body shop,” as explained by frontman Chazz Darvey (Brendan Fraser).

“While some may mistake his style for the I’m-so-stupid-I-must-be-cute routine, in actuality, that’s the quiet cool – chicks, man, they just flock to it,” Prescott comments in response to this query.

5. What are the songs about? What is the lyrical MO?
In general they have always been political statements, love songs, diss tracks, and diss tracks about myself – with a twist of lemon. I’ve been writing more diss tracks about myself lately than anything else, by far.

6. Your band has achieved cult notoriety within the D.C. scene for breaking large quantities of electronics during your sets. Some people have criticized this as a tactical gimmick (Ed: If it is a gimmick, it has surely won me over, regardless).
How would you respond to this criticism? Why do you break shit during your sets?

I’d never heard anyone call it a gimmick before receiving this question. Since then, James Doubek made the same type of statement, so I reckon that’s what people think. I’d never thought about it that way.

According to, a gimmick is “an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal.”

While it may be ingenious and somewhat novel, I know that our enthusiastic embrace of destruction always alienated and turned off more people than it appealed to.
I also know that the demolition really appeals to like-minded people, which is all a punk band should hope for, anyway: to appeal to those who get it, while alienating those who don’t.

I’ve really enjoyed destroying stuff for as long as I can remember; my old friends can tell you numerous stories about me smashing and burning things for no reason other than the joy it brings. Thinking back on it all, I have a lot of happy memories. I remember sneaking off as a child to smash bottles. The best date I ever went on was when I asked my friend if she was into breaking stuff and she replied “Yes,” and we went into an abandoned ski shed and demolished everything in it. There was a lot of stuff in there; it took a while and was a lot of fun.

We started smashing stuff at our shows because I enjoy doing so.
My beloved Hoyas had a plethora of “outdated” computer monitors laying around all over the place – like 50 of ‘em piled up behind the library at a time and numerous others in corridors all over campus – and I would stockpile them in an on-campus apartment. It was just a way to enjoy myself, although it immediately became apparent that our friends also really liked smashing computers, computer monitors, outdated A.V. equipment that we found in dusty corners of rarely used rooms, etc. G-Town had all kinds of derelict technology all over the place, forgotten or waiting to be disposed of. I disposed of it the right way – by smashing it with the hammer of God!

It’s just a way to enjoy myself and provide some fun for my friends and the people who enjoy the band.

I have an inordinate amount of rage for some reason, always have, and it is one way to let the rage out. One always feels better, for a little while.

In addition, this stratagem is one way the Coits adhere to our mission statement of not being a staid live band.

Finally, smashing stuff at our shows also offers an obvious statement about the value and lifecycle of technology, as well as our nation’s rabid consumption and the nearly immediate obsolescence of our purchases.

Things worth hundreds, thousands of dollars just a few years ago are now worthless. It’s kind of interesting, if you think about it – what we buy and what it buys us.

At one show I tried to auction off a few computer monitors and even a desktop computer or two. No one bid on them. Trenchant commentary, to be sure.

Let’s talk about you, if you don’t mind.  You’re a very bright, well spoken, successful guy. Why do you continually live in sub-par living situations (Corpse Fortress, Chris Moore’s room in 2008, the smallest room in the Newton Street house, etc.)? You can surely afford a real room. Do you have an affinity for such living spaces?
1) I dispute the premise of your question. For a person like me, those living situations are well above par. Putting me at the Corpse Fortress was like putting a pig in slop. I fit right in. I really like Loren Martin and Jessie “Corpse Fortress Princess” Brennan. Living at the CF also gave me the chance to become friends with Dylan and Brendan Griffiths, who are awesome. It also gave me the chance to get to know Psi-Dog and other people who used to hang out there.

Also, it allowed the Coits to have a practice space and a place to book shows whenever we wanted, and it allowed me to see a lot of great shows for free, and even occasionally make some money (for the house!) by facilitating awesome shows.

There aren’t a lot of things more fun than seeing your favorite bands performing in your basement while every few hours people hand you hundreds of dollars.

Also, my rent was $90-a-month for an entire year, allowing me to exist as a freelance writer. The second time I lived there, I had a much bigger room and my rent was $250 a month.

1a) Chris Moore pimps out a bedroom like he pimps out his life. Living in his room at the Chill Factory was one of my best living situations ever, and it gave me the chance to get to know Justin Malone, Nick Tape, Pat Vogel, Drew E., Big Al, etc.

It also gave the Coits a great place to practice and record, and it allowed me to go on a weekend tour with Sick Fix and borrow money from Pat Vogel. There were a lot of cool basement shows happening within a few blocks of the Chill Factory at the time, too. It was great. That place was kinda expensive, though – like $500 a month.

1aa) The Newton Street house is a similar situation: Living there gave me the opportunity to get to know Zizzack, John of Today, Ahron of Judah, etc. – I’m on the same wavelength, more or less, as all of ’em, but didn’t really know them well (or at all) before. Now they love the Coits! My bedroom is small, but that’s just fine with me; it’s comfortable, and I don’t have many possessions compared to the average 30-year-old American. $350 rent.

2) Thank you sincerely for the compliments. They are meaningful to me. I don’t necessarily see myself that way. I often see myself as a depressive, narcissistic, boring, useless sellout full of soul doubt, an idiot savant offered a charmed life on a silver platter who has done a great job of throwing it all away.

3) I have accomplished a lot as journalist, and have enjoyed far more success as a writer than I expected to, but I spent years eking out a living as a freelance reporter, and journalism is not very remunerative for the vast majority of its practitioners. If you view it as an art, you might end up living like an artist!

4) My father recently informed me that I will probably live and die deep in debt. He said that’s just normal for our social class and I should just accept it. I hope that, if that’s the case, I can live high on the hog and enjoy an extremely rich array of experiences and material goods and leave Wells Fargo with the tab.

What are your dreams for the Coits?
We’re on a good trajectory now, where it seems like more and more people are into the band and our old friends still come out to our shows. If we can stay on this trajectory, keep writing cool songs and playing cool shows, I’ll be happy.

However, I hope to move out of town ASAP. I work downtown and terrorism and world affairs provide me with near-constant dread, despite my anti-anxiety medication. I hope to return to my hometown and coach high school basketball, which is my calling.

What’s your take on that FAGGOT show you guys played? What did you think of them?
Oh man, Faggot was awesome! I really liked both the songs and the shtick. They were the only band we’ve ever gigged with that put the Coits to shame insofar as presenting a great stage show and taking punk to a psychotic extreme. It was great, but I don’t want to compete on that level, because we all know where that ends, and who wants that? Well, not me, for my band, anyway.

The Coits seem so different from the other punk bands in DC …  not even in a good or bad way. I don’t even know where to start. Can you shed some light on this?
It is interesting to me that the vast majority of the people who are the prime drivers of the local scene – such as NickTape, ’Bec Levy, Spoonboy, James Doubek, Chris Moore, Orion, etc. – grew up in the area and have known each other since they were in high school or for even longer.
People who grow up around here have a lot of shared points of reference and influences, which influences their bands. It is relatively easy for them to become conversant in the sprawling universe of punk / HC / underground / extreme music.
John Albaneaze, Prescott, Hunt-Nat and I didn’t grow up in D.C., so our conception of punk wasn’t Crispus Attucks, the Suspects, Spitfires United, Enemy Soil, Q and not U, Nation of Ulysses, Page 99, Black Eyes, Lungfish, Fugazi, Autoclave, Scream, or Aggressive Behavior.
My conception of punk rock was Minor Threat, Bad Religion 1980-1985, Operation Ivy, the Sex Pistols, Devo, Rancid, the Ramones, etc. – stuff that would be accessible to a kid in the ’90s in the middle of nowhere.
I also tried some more avant bands (Fugazi, Flipper, etc.), but didn’t like them at the time. I liked punk, but was also into grunge and alternative rock and Megadeth, Ani DiFranco, Bob Dylan, etc.
We’re coming at punk from a really different place than someone like Chris Moore is, because I spent the first 21 years of my life in a small towns in upstate New York, and it wasn’t easy to get down with the local scene even after I transferred to Georgetown (I always had a ton of homework, plus I am a lame square, etc.).
I didn’t really “converge with the D.C. scene” until I started booking the U-Turn (when I was 24 or so) and moved into Chris Moore’s pimped-out bedroom a few years after that.
Also, I sing, and not too many D.C. bands that play hard punk have vocalists who vocalize in that fashion.

Can you speak on your current and previous relationship with Garybird?
Special thanks to Clementine O’Connor, Libby Ellsworth-Kasch, Ayush Amatya, Alex Owings, Luke Bailey, Rachel Horst, Kurt Steigel, Parker and Lianne Bollinger, Abby Lavin, Jamie Gahlon, Jamie Bowman, James Viano, Greg Mortenson, Chris Rufo, E-Roc, James Doubek, Zack Pesavento, Pat Jagla, Ilsa, the Screws, John Scharbach, Justin Malone, Loren Martin, Nick Popovici, Sasha Rex, Mike Bazzone, Chris Barnett, Heather Green, Johnny Bones, Hussain M., Kalim M., Ben Crabb, Stephanie Sailo, Stephanie E. Sears, Matt Parsons, Drew Bashaw, Jay Nye, Sven Curth, Ricky Fitts, Donovan DeMacy, Josh Chase, Joel White, Elisabeth Schulte, Emily Reynolds-Stringer, Fil, Toast, Margarete Schulte, Michael Battaglia, ’Bec Levy, Ian MacKaye, Head-Roc, Jarobi White, Brian Baker, Brain Damaged, Flora, Mookie, Dave Stone, Rachel Klein, Maurice Alvarado, Rachel Horst, Big Al, Adam Piece, Mark Andersen, Chad Clark, John Langford IV, Ron Bercume, NickTape, Zachary Wuerthner, Simeon, Miguel, Alexandra, Blake, Roger Scully, David “Bones” McCullough, James Willett, Dave Homeowner, Daniel Jubert, Surgery Dot Com, At the Graves, Revolta, P. Spencer, Jamie Sherman, Ian Svenonius, Justin Moyer, H.R., Krist Novoselic, Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Rachel Atcheson, Triff Store Magic, Usuario2, and, of course, Rachel Horst.

What does punk rock need, and what does punk rock need less of?
I can’t even say. I’m in my own world nowadays and don’t have a particularly valid perspective on that. However, I sure would be glad if the world had fewer bandwagon riders, avid consumers, crypto-fascists, fascists, lazy people, thieves, frightened rabbits, herd-stampeders, and people who always take everything so seriously all the time. Life is too depressing to take it seriously.
I remember Greg Graffin saying something like, the definition of punk is being different by being yourself. I embrace that definition.
Punk rock, like the world, needs more joy and less shame.

The Last Corpse Fortress Show

Weeks later I’m still feeling what happened at the Corpse Fortress.
I stopped by the house relatively early in the evening with my friend James. People were just starting to show up, so we decided to head into D.C. to a friend’s party. As we left, I started to experience the strange emotional cocktail of excitement, joy and depression that often hits me before a great house show.
In D.C. there was a man hunched over in the median hitting a tree with a giant stick. It looked like he would fit right in with the Coits. James and I stopped by the liquor store, where they gave him nasty looks. He had to pee, so I found him an abandoned building to go behind while I waited out front. It looked like he would fit right in with the Coits.
When we arrived at the party, I got drunk really quickly and James broke vegan for some shitty cake. We spoke with a resident about how there used to be coke parties at the house. The conversation wandered into my perennial obsession: relationship difficulties. There was also a guy who previously patented sex toys for a living. I passed my primo idea by him and he gave me the green light – no one’s done it yet.
After sobering up we drove back, pulling up just in time for Ilsa. We could hear Ilsa beginning their set as we walked down Philadelphia Avenue.
I ran up the driveway to the Fortress’ little basement window and peered in. It was packed. The energy was incredible, and it hit me right away that this was the best I had seen them play. I’ve seen them play a lot of times.
I watched through the portal as Orion read a curse on the house from a crumpled sheet of paper, and I decided I had to get in there.
I put my legs through the window and slid in, landing in a pile of grimy music gear. I stood a few feet from the band as the curse gave way to a song. Orion was smiling and everyone was sweating and moving as the air shook.
The sound was perfect at my spot by the PA and amps. For the first time I could hear the drums erupting from within Ilsa’s swamp of guitars as a mass of bodies spun in front of the band.
All the sounds were dirty, but they rang out clearly and resonantly. Ilsa was heavy as hell, but the energy in the room was ecstatic.
The basement was filled with joyful doom.
I only thought two words: holy fuck. Ilsa is a sexy band that plays sexy music.
After a long setup, the Coits needed a guitar. The one they got seemed out of tune, which added a cool Flipper vibe to their set. I’d seen them a month before, so I had some idea of what to expect. Musically, they sounded more psychotic and noisy, which was right up my alley.
Seth kept telling Simon, “turn up your guitar!” but the amp couldn’t go any louder, putting Simon in same sonic space as Garrett. Hearing the two guitar lines merged together seemed right.
To me, the “fuck it” effect the Coits might be going for is better achieved by sonic destruction, and they delivered. It was a killer sound.
The physical destruction didn’t even start until midway through the set. I’m a wuss, so this was a plus.
I loved hearing Seth yell “Silence!” at the band when they fucked around between songs. Frontman dominance cracks me up, whether it’s performance or not.
Seth’s singing voice has two notes, both of which I like, and he handed off the microphone to a girl who really destroyed it on “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
The kids were all roughhousing, and I entered the pit for a minute. It says something that while I find activities such as setting off fireworks inside totally obnoxious and unnecessarily dangerous, I still savor the Coits experience.
My memories of the set are vivid and fragmented. In my head I’m always ready to run for the door or shield myself with another person.
Few punk bands push me outside my comfort zone.
Some bands try to be strange, others angry; I have no idea what the hell the Coits are trying to do.
It’s very easy for me to slip into the role of a cynical, detached observer at shows. The Coits make being cynical and detached fun.
I spent the rest of the evening talking to friends outside, enjoying the background music of wanton destruction in the street. A drunk guy kept talking about his penis. On Monday, I returned to my job and told my coworkers I “had a good weekend.”
Sorry to the Gift, the Deads, Midnight Eye, and Earthling. Wish I’d caught your sets.
By Ross Dot Com 

(Editor’s note: Special thanks to BIG ZOM)

Why I Write

Someone told me that she don’t understand why anyone would want to be a critic, which strikes her as merely a way to put oneself on a pedestal and opine. However, the voluntary critiques I provide via DayAfterDayDC do more than that. The opportunity to run my virtual mouth to dozens of like-minded Google searchers a day is appealing, but the chance to render my judgments is just a small part of why maintaining a media outlet is fulfilling. That conversation made me realize that a lot of people probably don’t “get it,” so here are the reasons I’ve kept DayAfterDayDC going for three years.

1. Documenting the Scene & Propagating the Ethos
Why document the scene? To support it; I like to think of myself as a cheerleader for the scene. The main reason I started the site was that no one else was doing it. If you want something done, do it yourself. In D.C., punk-ridden music is almost never afforded any respect by the establishment press (or the alternative press), and I wasn’t familiar with anyone trying to document the contemporary scene on an accessible level, so I opted to.
Punk in D.C. ain’t history, it’s vibrant – and it still can be whatever one wants it to be. DayAfterDay is a way to get the word out.
I don’t want to write an essay about what punk is. Suffice it to say: Get your rules away from me. If I want to write about heavy metal or soft indie or anything else via my e-zine, I surely will.
Punk = You don’t need permission for anything (look it up) + being different by being yourself.
Those ideas are the basis of punk’s appeal to me – that and the fact that I prefer the aesthetic because it validates my ever-boiling cauldron of hatred, anger, angst, unquenchable thirst for speed and ravenous hunger for kicks, etc. – you know, my feelings.
Although punk is nearly 40 years old, the initial style and ethos and their progeny still appeal to me in ways that few other things do (particularly other aesthetics) – and is 40 years even really that old for an artistic movement / sub-cultural ideology? I formally studied political science, not art history: For an ideology, 40 years ain’t shit.
When something better comes along, I’ll be the first in line; I’ve been trying to invent that thing for years.
In addition to the aural aesthetic, the “DIY thing” is great, too; the fact that I see such a personal, poorly-disseminated endeavor as a good use of my life shows what I think of the “DIY thing.”

1A. Providing information
I generally dig the bands/people/scene and I want to help people learn about ‘em. In particular, I want to help young adults like my erstwhile self learn about fun times and fast bands in the big city that are happenin’ in the time in which we’re living. In D.C. punk, there’s far too much focus on the past.
Based on the impressive variety of Google searches that draw people to DayAfterDC, it is clear that there is significant interest in reading about subjects such as “Corpse Fortress parking,” “Nicktape and chicks” and “Jen Hauser.”
Top Google searches that brought people to DayAfterDay: Corpse Fortress (377 searches), Magrudergrind (139), Bodycop (86), DC punk shows (80), Ilsa band & similar searches (68),  Ian Svenonius interview (39), Corpse Fortress DC (38), Dayafterdaydc (36), Corpse Fortress shows (33), Mischief Brew (28), Spoonboy interview (26), punk shows dc (26), windhand (24), Sick Fix (23), Lotus Fucker (16), Chad Clark DC (14), Sad Bones (10), Greg Mazur Baltimore (8), Mass Movement of the Moth (8), Jen Hauser (7), The Coits are quite possibly the greatest band ever (7), Kiki Tropea (7), Tim Lorndale (7), Pat Vogel interview (7), Brian Baker interview (5), Revolta thrash (5), Beauty Pill Benneton (3), etc.
Where else can all these wretches – hunched over their keyboards as their lives slip away, peering into to our modern oracle – turn for information about these and all the related subjects DayAfter covers so insightfully?
It’s cool to be able to provide information to the fans and the curious potential fans. In a world of marketing, hype, and similar sewage, I am happy to provide actual information.
People all over the country (and beyond) looking for insight into cool D.C. bands, etc. can get that info from someone who actually knows something about the community.
Also, the site is a potential time-capsule for the future, and will be particularly valuable after D.C. gets nuked.

2. Creative outlet
This aspect of the site is far more important to me now than it was at first; it’s actually far and away the most important reason I work on it nowadays.
Between the ages of 17 and 29, I was a student journalist and then a professional blessed with a steady flow of work as an arts, sports and news reporter and editor – all of which drives one to write creatively, straining to produce prose that is simultaneously informative, vivid, entertaining, insightful, and economical.
Even in those halcyon days, however, I wanted an outlet where I could raise my freak flag to half-mast half-anonymously. I couldn’t be weird or obnoxious – or write about my friends’ weird, unambitious, unpopular bands – in the newspaper, but I could do that online, for kicks.
When my life-sustaining stream of freelance assignments dried up early in 2011, I realized how exceedingly blessed I was that I’d always received reportorial work.
With no journalism $ flowing my way, I spiraled down a vortex of debt and madness and sought refuge in a well-appointed office where I currently correct the spelling and grammar of businesspeople and mathematical analysts. Consequently, I crave a creative outlet.
DayAfter allows me to write with verve which must be wholly bleached from my daily bread.
… I also initially wanted to create the site to do some absurdist / funny writing, which professional journalism generally doesn’t encourage.
A lot of DayAfter’s humor is derived from extreme narcissism. This mocks and highlights the appalling narcissism of my time. I also endeavor to treat D.I.Y. rockers as celebrities, an obvious formula for hilarity ha.

3. Compiling material for a book
I hope to publish a book rife with interviews with my favorite D.C. musicians and reviews of local shows. The site is a draft of a book which will likely be little more remunerative than its source material, but which will, hopefully, give me more credibility with potential employers.

4. Putting myself on a pedestal
All I have ever wanted in life is to sit in my rightful place.

So that’s it. See ya in the pit!

Fan response: Critics are less useful than even musicians, and I think punk is dead, personally.

Response to response: This is journalism, not criticism; punk is dead like blues and jazz and Woody Guthrie and Francis Scott Key.

George Orwell: “Politics and the English Language”

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse.

It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or horses to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

It is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: It is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer.

However, an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely: A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration, so the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been selected because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse – but because they illustrate various mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
– Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder .

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossa)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
– Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the “best people” from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
– Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as “standard English.” When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!
– Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision.

The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.

As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

I list below, with notes and examples, various ways through which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:

Dying metaphors.
A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is “dead” (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without the loss of vividness, but between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning, and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact.

For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way around: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators or verbal false limbs.
These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc.

The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of, instead of by examining).

The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un-formation.

Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that, and the ends of sentences employ language such as greatly to be desired, must be taken into account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on.

Pretentious diction.
Words such as phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements.

Adjectives such as epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, using words such as: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion.

Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance.

Except for the useful abbreviations (i.e., e.g., and etc.), there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers (and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers), are often haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words such as expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.*

The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French, but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (de-regionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Meaningless words.
In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.† Words such as romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless: They do not point to any discoverable object, and are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.

When one critic writes, “The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality,” while another writes, “The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness,” the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words such as black and white were involved, instead of jargon such as dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way.

Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.”

The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice all have several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.

In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed-upon definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted by all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country “democratic” we are praising it: Consequently, the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.

The person using them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements such as Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with the intent to deceive.

Other words with various meanings that are generally used more or less dishonestly are: class, totalitarian, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they result in. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Exhibit 3 above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English.

It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations – race, battle, bread – dissolve into the vague phrases “success or failure in competitive activities.”

No modern writer of the kind I am discussing – no one capable of using phrases like “objective considerations of contemporary phenomena” – would ever tabulate his thoughts in the precise and detailed way Ecclesiastes does.

The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.

Analyze those two sentences a little more closely.

The first contains 49 words, but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life.

The second contains 38 words and 90 syllables: 18 of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek.

The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (“time and chance”) that could be called vague.

The second contains not a single fresh phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first.

Without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate: This kind of writing is not yet universal, and flowerings of simplicity occur here and there in the worst-written pages.

Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist of picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists of gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.

The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say, “In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that” than to say, “I think.”

If you use ready-made phrases, you don’t have to hunt for the words and you don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry – when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech – it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Phrases such as a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump.

By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save yourself mental effort at the cost of leaving your meaning vague – not only for your reader but for yourself as well.

This is the significance of mixed metaphors.

The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash – as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot – it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming. In other words, he is not really thinking.

Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in 53 words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip – alien for akin – making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness.

Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means.

Example 3, if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless; probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs.

In 4, the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink.

In 5, words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning – they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another – but they are not interested in the details of what they are saying.

A scrupulous writer, while working on every sentence he writes, will ask himself at least four questions:
1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will best express it?
3. What image or idiom will make my point clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

A good writer will probably ask himself two more questions:

1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I composed anything that is avoidably ugly?

You are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you – even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent – and they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning (even from yourself).

It is at this point that the connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing.

Where that is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.”

Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.

The political dialects found in pamphlets, opinion articles, manifestoes, and the speeches of campaigners and bureaucrats do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade phrase.

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating familiar phrases, one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.

This is not altogether fanciful: A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine.

The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself.

If the speech is one that he is accustomed to making, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church.

This reduced state of consciousness is favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.

Things such as the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the ruling political parties.

Consequently, political language has to consist largely of euphemisms and sheer cloudy vagueness.

Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.

Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers.

People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.

Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Consider some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.”

Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

“While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.

When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms.

There is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.”

All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.

I should expect to find –  this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify – that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last 10 or 15 years, as a result of dictatorship.

As thought corrupts language, language also corrupts thought.

Bad usage spreads by tradition and imitation even among people who should, and do, know better.

The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases such as a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of cigarettes always at one’s elbow.

Look back through this essay and you will find that I have committed the very things I am protesting.

By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he “felt impelled” to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: “[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a cooperative and unified Europe.”

He “feels impelled” to write –  feels, presumably, that he has something new to say – and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into a familiar pattern.

This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them; every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who would deny this would probably argue, if they produced any argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by tinkering with words and constructions.

So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail.

Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists (Editor’s note: !!).

There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be exterminated if enough people would interest themselves in the job.

It should also be possible to laugh the not un-formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and to make pretentiousness generally unfashionable.

The defense of the English language, however, implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with, the defense of the English language has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a “standard English” which must never be departed from.

On the contrary, it is especially concerned with scrapping every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness.

It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance as long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a “good prose style.”

On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one in every case , though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning.

What is needed above all is to let the meaning select the word, and not the other way around.

In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.

When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you think until you find the exact words that explain what you are visualizing.

When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect comes rushing in and does the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can select, not simply accept, the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last intellectual effort cuts out all stale or mixed images, prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and general humbug and vagueness.

One can be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(2) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(4) Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.

(5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(6) Break any of these rules instead of writing something barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and they are, but they demand a deep change in the attitude of anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.

Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism?

One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.

– 1946

*An interesting illustration of this is the way in which English flower names were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, Snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.

† Example: Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness . . .Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bittersweet of resignation.” (Poetry Quarterly)

*One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

Midnight Psi’s review of “Chinese Democracy”

His Despotic Majesty

Or: He Kicked My Ass Like He Said He Would

Midnight PsiMon C. Firefly on Axl, Izzy, Bumblefoot, Guns N’ Roses, and Chinese Democracy – written in 2009

Well, I guess Axl wasn’t kidding when, on “Use Your Illusion,” he said he was in a coma. It’s been 17 years since we’ve had any original material from this guy. That’s fairly insane, especially if you consider the fact that the entire previously-existing Guns N’ Roses catalog was written from 1987-1991.

But now Axl has blessed finally us with his middle-aged near-masterpiece. Yes, a good two-thirds of this album is some of the best popular rock music released this decade, whereas a handful of songs sound like extra tracks not quite on par with the old MTV show “Daria” (Editor’s note: WTF?).

The inconsistency is unfortunate, especially because in the past even Guns N’ Roses’ bad songs still managed to be charming due to the spaced-out goofball angle.

Since I’m being negative, why not continue? The album cover is absolutely boring and terrible. Good gravy, it’s like Newsweek or something. Then again, I suppose GnR never had good album covers. “Appetite for Destruction” was fairly cool (skulls of the band on a Christian cross!!!), but as the old saying goes, “If you stare at a Guns N’ Roses album cover for too long, you die. They are not meant as targets for long-term staring practice.”

So, the cover’s a bummer. Who cares? (not me, obviously, ftw)

The album’s much-talked about industrial elements don’t fit together everywhere. It sounds like a third of this album was written in the angst-ridden ’90s, when Axl was busy being mysterious and listening to tons of industrial jibber-jabber, like NIN and La Bouche. The results of this can be heard in the first two tracks, “Chinese Democracy” and “Shackler’s Revenge.” They seem forced.

Perhaps the biggest surprise and potential letdown of this album is the fact that Axl doesn’t go off on any racist rants about Chinese people! This is the first time Axl has specifically mentioned an ethnic group in his music since 1988’s “Lies” and legions of true believers doubtless expected him to include loads of spot-on zingers. Alas, it is not so – this album’s lyrical choices are Puritan-clean, especially when compared to an average song off of the 1991 “Use Your Illusion” dual release.

Not that I think Axl is actually a racist dude;  that one song off of “Lies”– it was like when your friends make an ingeniously clever, racist joke; except in Axl’s case it was an ingeniously clever, racist love song. As I was discussing with a good pal of mine who shall remain anonymous (let’s call him “Seth F.” for convenience), Axl just seems “emotionally complicated.” Much like Dave Mustaine or some other “bad boys” in metal, Axl has a ridiculously sarcastic sense of humor and had a truly unhappy (Christian) childhood, so he’s a bit upset.

Of course, the problem with (or the gift of) anger is that it alienates a lot of people and results in a lot of negative press and attention, and angry people are also always narcissistic and self-involved (I should know).

Since people love it when celebrities fall apart, they love Axl Rose because he’s such a perfect and exciting media icon in this sense. His presence yields a roller-coaster ride! You never know what’s going to happen when he’s around. Either there will be a fight, or there will not be a fight (but seriously, he is a charismatic performer in addition to being a classic “eccentric” genius).

For these reasons, Guns N’ Roses was always more entertaining to me than contemporary heavy pop music groups composed of suburban white kids with nothing to say (i.e., my band). Thus Guns ‘N Roses intrigued me as a kid because Axl’s background is so bitter—a real tale of rags-to-riches.

Axl came from a seriously abusive family filled with Christian zealots in Indiana, from which he ran away before he was legally an adult. His biological father, William Rose — whose existence he learned of while snooping as an adolescent — was considered a (perhaps sexually abusive) psychopath and was not to be spoken of within the young William Bailey’s home. This was strictly enforced, and Axl’s adoptive father was a physically abusive religious fanatic.

Axl alit and reunited with his old pal and songwriting partner Izzy Stradlin in LA and, through various incarnations of the bands LA Guns and Hollywood Rose, Guns N’ Roses came to fruition.

The band rose to prominence right before the popular reception of gangsta-rap and grunge music, and GnR always evokes some kind of old-school Americana (and not just because of the racist comments!). There are some parallels with rap music and the American dream of making it big through sheer brilliance, self-belief, persistence and hard work. The guys from GnR became successful not terribly long after moving to the sleazier side of Los Angeles, but it was no picnic — Axl and Izzy Stradlin came there from bumblefuck America in the first place (no offense to bumblefuck residents). It sounds like there was nothing at all glorious, or happy, about Axl’s early life, except his interest in music.

Overcoming personal hardships is part of what makes cultural icons romantic in the public’s eyes. In terms of drama and emotional depth, it lends credence to their artistic expressions and offers images of martyrdom for young people to fantasize about and “relate to.”

Axl’s notoriety and success are similar to those of Eminem, and I do think their seriously disadvantaged personal stories resonate with listeners nearly as much as their music does, and there’s a bluesy, country-style feel to this stuff – self-therapy through art, or whatever.

Guns N’ Roses also occupied a strange pocket of time in the post-Reagan, pre-gangsta rap, pre-grunge era, and they really epitomized rock stardom and excesses and yet remained somewhat functional (ironically, Axl was the most mercurial, unstable part of the band, but also the first to drop heavy drug use).

The controversial pop-star still exists, what with the last two decades of gangsta rap, black metal, grunge, and the troubled legacies of epic losers such as Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. But the classic, bluesy, sexual rock n’ roll era seemed to end with Guns N’ Roses.

I cannot think of any band that has made such a serious impact on popular music since Guns N’ Roses. The only parallel in rock music one can think of from the past quarter-century is Nirvana, a band that, of course, rocketed to fame just a few years after Axl et al.

While there have certainly been other genre-defining bands since then, their songs have not penetrated the mainstream with such tenacious success; many of Guns N’ Roses songs are rock classics—cultural staples up there with the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Everything off of “Appetite for Destruction” is slick as hell. Ever since I was 12, “Mr. Brownstone” has rocked my world, and I don’t mean the song.

GnR was the Scarface of American rock ‘n roll: an updated, stylized, more dangerous version of the excesses of the genre. GnR may have initially looked like hair metal, but they were a hell of a lot more dangerous. Not that the reckless, crazed, addled, violent, hedonistic sensibility made the band good, but it lent it a certain panache, and few, if any, metal bands that are so overtly violent, crazed and angry don’t write nearly as many songs about loving girls. GnR were never afraid of getting cooties. Actually, you might even say GnR really liked getting cooties.

When Guns N’ Roses first came out in 1987, they shined as something dangerous, new, and exciting. Their music was explosive, sexual, over-the-top, and raw. Guns N’ Roses were living proof that men can do an obscene amount of drugs and maintain widespread sexual allure over a generation of women!

Since then, it’s been a long, characteristically strange ride, and since GnR’s’ heyday, modern albums may not have the ability to create pop-cultural staples that they did 20 years ago. Plus, comeback albums are generally lackluster, forcing one to wonder what made the band’s earlier work so different. Was it merely youthful exuberance? Do they lack real artistic integrity? Is this artist simply inconsistent? Are they washed up?

These are the testing grounds for Axl’s new album and — along with the long, long, strange delay — are the reasons for all the media pressure and hype.

Thankfully, “Chinese Democracy” has its fair share of fine tracks.

The album opener, “Better,” has some moving melodies and contrasting dynamics — it is one of the better industrial-tinged tracks on the album; the heavy, moody, “Sorry” has some of the best hooks on the album; “This I Love” is a dirge-like power ballad with really amazing vocal moments (Axl’s finest?) that are reminiscent of Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and even newer Ihsahn and King Diamond (!); “Prostitute” and “Street of Dreams” are other mid-paced built-up ambient rockers where Axl shows how his singing has actually improved with age; and “I.R.S.” is a charming, heavy, mid-paced tune with a decent build-up to some serious and concise shredding by Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.

Incidentally, Ron Thal is a total heartthrob of a guitarist. His solos, mixed in with those of other session guitarists such as Robin Fincke and Buckethead, are masterful. Thal is one of the craziest, most humorous, capable “shredders” on the modern fusion/rock/metal electric guitar circuit.

Bumblefoot is like Buckethead if Buckethead had a balanced, mature personality to top off all his weird social phobias (Ed.: In other words — not Buckethead). He’s pretty notable for the really cool sounds and tricks he gets out of the instrument, and though it’s reigned in here, it often complements the production on this new album. Yes, ‘Foot can really rip on the guitar, then abruptly move into slick moments of carefully controlled digital effects and feedback loops, and to (give ’em the) boot, the guy has an awesome sense of phrasing and harmonizing. His solo on “IRS” is totally sick! My only complaint is that Mr. Foot doesn’t get to go off unrestrained for more than a few measures at a time. Somebody’s gotta cut him loose! Really, though, who else could you get to replace Slash? (except maybe any other Shrapnel Records guitarist)

I guess the new style indicates that Guns N’ Roses is no longer a rough-around-the-edges blues-based heavy rock outfit.

Some of this new stuff approaches a Queen-like progressive sound, with the prevalent piano parts and occasional layered vocals, and there are some other interesting elements: reggae or dub-influenced build-ups and ambiance, or some aesthetics similar to mid-to-late-period Smashing Pumpkins stuff (consider Axl’s nasal vocals and the juxtaposition of harmonized guitars, electronic kits and some industrial influences).

Axl’s voice can be a bit weak in a couple of extremely brief, solo, single-tracked moments, but then some of his meandering vocal phrases are quite fascinating (I swear!) and he hits higher notes than usual in some places. As I said before, his performance on “This I Love” is outstanding: really phenomenal, gorgeous harmonies with drawn-out, thoughtful melodies exuding a haunting sense of melancholy unusual even for Axl. Good grief, will someone please give this man a cheesy and meaningless music award already?

This is all good news, but I have to say, I never want to hear a half-speed break-beat again in my life: This album has way too many, to the point of being comical. Half the time it sounds like some Guitar Center hipster from the late 90s is playing an electronic kit (which may actually be happening here … just who are you, “Josh Freese”). It’s annoying occasionally, but it’s not all bad. At first I thought the programmed moments and electronic drum kits would give it a new-Radiohead type of spin, but strangely enough, the big-band production and Axl’s circular wandering vocal patterns give it a soulful feel sometimes like this is classic Sly or something (or maybe I don’t know anything about Sly and the Family Stone (I actually don’t even know who they are)).

Though I don’t dig every single industrial element, this album has certainly succeeded in creating a completely new aesthetic, some of which is very notable, and I wonder why the title track is the new single, because it absolutely does not demonstrate the appeal of this album.

Before ever hearing this album, I used to think the quality of a pop star’s music was directly related to how much plastic surgery it had received. Just look at the Jackson family – Michael and Janet’s music gets progressively lousier the closer their faces get to resembling Japanese anime (Ed: RIP (jk – good riddance to bad rubbish ftw )).

It’s as though with the release of each good pop album, the pop star has to cut another piece of its face off (please note my striking theory here, where I posit that the pop icon’s face is its actual soul), but with this album, I am pleased to see my hypothesis proven false!

While Axl may now look like the Predator (with his large red dreadlocks and plastic surgery and long bouts of invisibility) his music does not sound at all like that of the Predator!

Considering the hackneyed nonsense we’ve gotten recently from Metallica, the plethora of trashy ’80s hair metal comeback attempts, and washed-up pop stars such as Aerosmith et al., Axl’s new GnR album is startlingly fresh, although I think the industrial stuff should be shelved for a project where he does not use the Guns N’ Roses handle.

Fortunately, the above-mentioned songs and several others are really substantial works; they’re further developments of the epic ballads Axl was doing on “Use Your Illusion.” A lot of this album resembles classic GnR songs like “Locomotive,” “Coma,” “Estranged,” “Dead Horse,” “Civil War,” and other brooding, melancholy numbers written by Axl.

Some of GnR’s punk ‘tude is missing, because guitarist Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan are no longer in the band (and neither are any of the original band members. It has been reported, incidentally, that Axl titled the album “Chinese Democracy” in the mid-90s because that’s how he governs his band. GnR is, in other words, a dictatorship). Izzy and Duff wrote many of the band’s really catchy, punked-out tunes, such as “It’s So Easy,” “I Think About You,” “Dust N’ Bones,” and “Double Talkin’ Jive.”

The absence of Izzy, who always offered simplistic, effective songs, is particularly apparent. He contributed a good portion of the band’s sound.

At the same time, Axl does prove what a large part of GnR’s brilliance he contributed (like any charismatic frontman should), but it is really a shame that Izzy and Duff are not here to contribute songs. Maybe Axl was trying to fill in those gaps with his industrial edginess, but those efforts fall a little flat.

This album definitely demonstrates some changes in attitude. The vibe throughout this one is more professional, thought-out and melancholy. This stuff is not fueled by a rage or venomous rants at specific people. Most of this sounds nostalgic, remorseful or slightly heartbroken, which I actually think is pretty cool. Although Axl may be a touchy fellow, his creative output is emotionally intelligent, which is more than I can say for the plethora of dopey indie-rock, post-rock, crust-punk, retro-metal bands making the rounds these days. This stuff even has hints of newer Katatonia, Ulver or mid-period Amorphis!

So take the plunge, dear reader! Dive into this gilded pool of high-quality Hollywood neurosis and rock n’ roll brilliance. I was all set to write something snooty about how bad this album is, but it managed to melt my heart, and my sense of humor.

Abbreviated Axl Rose Timeline:

1987: Axl records himself having sex in the studio. These recordings are mixed into the song “Rocket Queen.”

1988: On the album “Lies,” he rants about immigrants, homosexuals, black people, and police in the song “One in a Million.”

Early ’90s: In addition to punching a lot of people, he challenges Vince Neil and Kurt Cobain to get in the ring with him and also settles a pair of truly ugly lawsuits from an ex-wife and ex-GF in which he is accused of (in addition to generally unhinged, abusive behavior) anal rape.

1991, Montreal: Axl refuses to go onstage during the GnR/Metallica tour after Metallica has to cancel their show because singer James Hetfield is burned by onstage pyrotechnics. Rioting ensues, so like a good friend, Axl takes the rap for James (jk).

1992: Axl swims with the dolphins in the music video for “Estranged.”

Mid-to-late 1990s: Everyone leaves or is kicked out of GnR and Axl fights a lawsuit to retain exclusive rights to the band name. Axl lets Slash keep his top-hat.

1995-2006: Axl Rose disappears into his industrial music lab for over a decade, emerging only for the occasional mug shot.

Early 2000s: Eminem fills in for Axl as America’s bad-boy pop genius

2008: 20 years after the Tianmen Square incident, Axl releases the well-timed sixth Guns N’ Roses album, “Chinese Democracy.”

2009: Coits guitarist Psi Co. reviews “Chinese Democracy” in Seth’s fanzine.

2011: Midnight Psi’s now-classic review is reprised on DayAfterDayDC (ftw).