I have a picture of Bono on my computer desktop. He's
wearing fashionable expensive blue-tinted sunglasses that
probably cost more than an appendix operation. One of his
Versace-clad arms is draped around the arch-conservative
mummy senator, Jesse Helms. The popular Irish rock
personality's other arm extends upward to a summit where a
fist poses precisely for the photo flash. Yes, Bono is a douche
bag. Despite what Time-Warner-AOL-McDonalds-Enron-Pepsi Co.,
Inc. has toted recently as a rock star on a mission, the line
between pragmatism and protest is blurry at best when well-meaning
celebrities spend more time covorting with people who create
problems than working with the downtrodden to find solutions.
Would the people who cut the checks to support Bono's playboy
lifestyle really do so if any "progressive" agenda
he was pursuing had the slightest possibility of effecting
their bank accounts? No --Bono and his persona are mascots,
and as stated earlier, the man is a douche bag.
From the beginning of time, rock stars have been schmucks.
They would sing songs that fanned the fire of idealism in
their youthful audiences, while as they aged and their bank
accounts swelled, they would have a family, move on out to
the suburbs and become neighbors with their young fans' future
employers. Gene Simmons has been sighted on certain
late night panel discussion programs touting the importance
of fighting the Vietnam war Eddie Van Halen
put down his guitar and plays at celebrity golf tournaments
for a living now, I think.
On the other end of the space-time continuum of music lies
Dischord records, an independently-owned record label
run from a small unassuming house outside Washington D.C.
For the past two decades, Ian MacKaye, head of Dischord
and singer/guitarist for the band, Fugazi has become
the American poster child of all things that purposefully
exist outside the corporate foundations. He responds to all
his fan letters, answers all questions that come in via e-mail,
and you can even find his office number publicly listed. Fugazi's
odd, beautiful, often difficult, and always interesting music
is a staple on college and pirate radio but unlike most of
their indie-rock kin it's tentacles have reached the playlists
of giant super stations like K-ROCK in New York City. The
fifteen-year-old band is an influence to the anarchist gutter-punks
as well as arena rock frat boys. Plain-spoken, intelligent,
and direct, with a voice that echoed no pretense of celebrity,
MacKaye bounced out some of his views on the current world
situation and his passion for music. To call MacKaye a personable
guy, who you would want to have a few beers with while out
for a night of bowling, wouldn't exactly be the truth, but
it was refreshing to hear idealism coming from someone who
has lived the life Bono has only written boring songs about.
How's World War Three treating you so far?
I don't consider it world war three.
You don't think so yet?
I don't know if I think of it period. I think it's a
continuation of aggressive behavior on parts of the businesses
that run the country here. I think the notion of World War
Three plays into the hands of the ruling party. They trade
on fear. They want people off balance and they want them scared.
The fact that the word "war" came up within fifteen
minutes of those planes crashing into those buildings to me
tips the hand immediately that they're interested in fomenting
fear because when people are scared, they listen. In other
words if you're in a panic and you're scared and someone says
"go this way" everyone just goes that way. And that's
kind of what I see going on in a much more general sense.
So, terms like "World War Three", I don't buy into
it --it just plays into the hands of the people who want you
to be scared. Since the beginning of mankind, people have
been doing ugly things to each other. This is nothing new,
it just happened to be on our block. The world will survive
it. The world will survive everything....
See I'm opposed to war period. So, people say to me "so,
was there ever a right war" - No. But, was it ever necessary
to fight - yeah, it sure is. If you came at me with a knife
I would definitely try to beat your fucking ass. Is it okay
- no. Is it necessary - yes. I'm opposed to war.
Has Fugazi or anything else you've been involved
with played the middle east?
No, we've tried to actually. But we've never been able
to play out there. I've spoke with people in Israel -in Tel
Aviv I guess it was. I've also spoke with people in Jordan,
and at one point with the Egyptian Cultural Ministry. But
we've never been out there. I would love to go there.
Would you do it now, or would you wait for the world
situation to calm down a little.
I don't know if I would go with the band because there's
people in the band with children. But would I --probably.
I mean, I've lived in Washington D.C. my whole life. And there
was a time in the eighties when people thought that if you
went to Washington D.C. -you'd just get shot, but it's just
not the case. Just because you go to Israel doesn't mean you're
going to get blown up by a suicide bomber. It happens. It
happens frequently. Once is too many, so obviously it's a
terrible thing that happens too much. But I don't think that
Israel is a checker board of suicide bombers blowing up. It
happens. I mean the rest of the world thinks this country
is insane --you would just get shot. I mean you don't read
anything good in the paper, you only read about the bad. So,
people in the rest of the world read about the United States
and see how someone just shot thirteen people at a fucking
fast food restaurant or something - so that must be what it's
like in America. There's no articles about just people living
going about their business or building things. They don't
write about that. It's the same thing in Israel or Palestine.
How many articles have you read about people getting along
-it's just not newsworthy....
I mean what's going on with Israel right now it's worrisome
of course. But ever since Israel was created as a country
in 1948 -they've been fighting. It's never stopped. It just
happens to be a little bit more out of balance at the moment.
I've heard you in interviews talk about how Fugazi
is basically a Live band and whenever you are in the studio
it's just trying to capture the energy of the live show -
so why no official live Fugazi album?
We've discussed it - endlessly. And we have hundreds
and hundreds of pretty high quality tapes of the shows - we
record almost every show and I have all of it. But the problem,
for us, is that they don't seem to translate. I guess the
version would have to be really distinct or historical....
Like when you play live -it's the moment and the atmosphere.
And that's really hard to get on to plastic. Having said that,
there is a merit to historical recordings. If we had our way
we would make all our tapes available to everybody. If technology
can figure it out, we'd just have a web site where anybody
has access to all our shows and they can just pick and choose.
Fred Durst, the [the balding repressed fourteen-year-old]
lead singer of Limp Bizkit has gone on in interviews about
how Fugazi and the band, Tool are the two most talented bands
of all time. Has he ever offered to hang out or anything?
No, I've never met him. I was just at a movie premier in
LA for Dogtown [and Z Boys] and I think he was
there, but I didn't see him; though, I don't know if I'd actually
even recognize him. I'm not really too familiar with any contemporary
music, really. I don't listen to the radio. I don't look at
the television. I don't really give a fuck about any of it.
When I got into Punk Rock, I signed off on Top 40. There's
an enormous amount of music in the world, and I chose to focus
on music that isn't owned by the corporations. So, whether
it was Seals and Croft or Ugly Kid Joe or whatever
it is now. They do their job, but it's just not something
that I'm interested in necessarily. Not to say they're bad
bands, I'm just more interested in people who are into struggle.
I mean I've certainly heard of Limp Bizkit, I believe
I've actually heard their song "Who's got the Nookie",
but I don't know too much about them. I gather that Fred
Durst is a fan though, I've heard from a number of people
who have written me that they were planning to do a cover
of "Waiting Room". But anyway, I've never met the
guy, I don't have anything to say.
It seems to me that the underground or independent
spirit that was part of the punk movement is more relevant
and alive today in underground hip-hop - do you listen to
any of that stuff?
I listen to some hip-hop. Recently I haven't listened to
a whole lot, but I was quite interested in some of the underground
stuff coming out of San Francisco. I kind of listen now and
then. Some of that is actually the only realm of top 40 that
I would be familiar with - but not in the last year, I don't
really listen to the radio at all. But there was a time, maybe
two or three years ago, I was kind of interested in what was
happening with hip-hopeven on the major label scene,
I thought it was interesting technologically and there was
a lot of interesting ideas coming out. I'm not really up on
the independent stuff a lot of it is so genre specific
that the form starts to overwhelm the content.
I don't agree with you however, that the current punk or
independent thing is not flourishing. There's a ton of stuff
going on underground, but because its underground, it's not
visible. There's lots of stuff going on all over the place.
What I meant was that a lot of what is calling itself
"punk" is pretty boring. And bands that call themselves
"hardcore" just seem to be rehashing a lot of the
ideas that Minor Threat put out two decades ago.
I guess if you limit the scope of the word punk to that,
then I would say you're right, but I don't. There's bands
like Earthrealm or The Black Dice. There are
all these bands that are playing that are bending the form,
and they're challenging, and that's punk to me. I kind of
see it as alive and well. For me, it's taking something and
reinterpreting it in a really honest way -that's what I'm
I heard you on an interview on NPR where you compared
what Fugazi does to Jazz? What jazz influences you?
Brenden's [Canty] more of the super jazz aficionado. My
music interests are not genre specific. I'm more into music
that sounds like its being made by people who don't have a
choice in the matter. I mean, jazz-wise, I do go down to the
Jazzfest in New OrleansI've been there three or four
times. I really enjoy live jazz when it's done very honestly.
A lot of it is presented in such a cliché manner. I
mean, I like old [Charles] Mingus. I like [John] Coltrane.
I'm a massive Nina Simone fan. I think what my point
in that interview you brought up, had more to do with experimentation,
improvisation, and defying the rule. People routinely call
us a hard-core band and they always talk about our raging
guitars and so forth. It's just not accurate. There are moments
when our guitars are raging, and there are times when they're
very quiet or gentle.... That's what we try to do with our
musicto create a kind of living thing. It's not always
loud, it's not always soft, sometimes it's fast, sometimes
it's slow. Sometimes, it's discordant, sometimes melodic -we're
trying to stretch the ear in all directions.
You had an interesting line there about people who
make music like they "don't have a choice in the matter".
I'd agree with that, and I'd also use that for other art forms...
I would too.
A lot of those people express themselves in multiple
mediums, do you do anything other than music?
I talk on the phonedoing interviews. That is probably
one of my great art forms. I'm a talker. I do writeI'm
not a creative writer, per se, or I'm not at all. But, I've
been writing foreverI'm a correspondent to many many
people. I do think I have a relationship with words. I'm very
interested in them, and I like to put them into an order that
creates an effect. So, it's possible that I'm a writer, but
I'm so busy that I haven't really sat down formally and tried
to write. I'm not much of a hobby guy, frankly.
I know that drugs are not part of your creative
process, which I can respect. But Allen Ginsberg had a saying
which I like that drugs can be used for aesthetics or creative
means, but it's a waste for anything else. Do you think drugs
have any use in the creative process, or just not yours...
I think for creative people, it's possible that drugs can
accentuate that creativity. But, I've also seen a lot of creative
people who have lost their creativity because of drugs. Certainly,
when you die, you don't have anymore creativity. I can think
of a number of peoplewho are some of the most talented
people I knowwho have been consumed by addiction. I
think that Allen Ginsberg was speaking a truth. But
it's a truth that is wrapped in arrogance too, because it's
an intellegencia or intellectual kind of argument. It's like
[William S.] Burrough's argument about heroin being
a maintaining drug and you can deal with it. But not everyone
can deal with it and there's an arrogance involved in saying
that heroine is fine and cool and not bad for you. But it
is bad for you. I know it is, because I've known enough people
who have died from it. It's bad for you. It's clear. ...
[I'm not exactly sure how Ian came to this next point, but
to hear it, it came from a very decisive and true (and apparently
not drug-enduced) place.]
I'm not a fundamentalist. I'm just anti-option. I tend to
think of options as a negative thing, not a positive thing.
I'm unlike the rest of the country. I think options are a
distraction. People spend more time choosing than doing. I'm
not interested in spending my time choosing. I want to do.
I don't know what to say about that. So, let's go
on to something else. You grew up with Henry Rollins - and
he, of course, has lots of anger towards the Police. And Fugazi
has some anti-cop lyrics here and there like that song "You'd
make a great cop". Do you think you have a negative view
I have a negative view towards anybody who uses violence
to enforce their will of course. Hypothetically, the police
job descriptionthe idea of protecting the people
that is nice, and I applaud people who put themselves in a
position of perhaps danger to help people. But, by and large,
my experience with police is they're just fucking bullies
with guns, and they have the weight of the law behind them.
I would say that my feelings about police are consistently
suspicious. Ironically, the song "You'd make a great
cop" isn't actually about a cop. But the point is that
cops don't trust people. And I don't like to be distrusted.
I don't appreciate that and I think that if you approach the
public in a position of distrust, then we have a problem in
the relationship. If you're calling to interview me and I
distrust you, then I'm not going to answer your questions
in an honest way, because I'm just thinking that you're just
trying to fuck me over. The same way -if you have the situation
in a society when the people who you hire, you pay their wages
- they don't trust you, then it's just a very unhealthy situation.
I think that police cultureparticularly now, that it's
moved away from a neighborhood-based policing thing, to a
much more professional style, which is basically quasi-military.
This is evident by the fact that police routinely refer to
the people in this country as "civilians". Which,
of course is wrong, police are in fact civilians. There's
the military, and then the police who are the civilian security
force. But when you see the police start referring to people
as civilians, you can see that they've been militarized. And
they've been militarized anyway - they've been armed to the
teeth, by and large by this absurd so-called "war"
on drugs, which is a bunch of bull shit. So, yeah, I'm not
a big fan of the cops, is that your question?
Yeah. Basically, what I was trying to get at was
-I'm a fan of yours and Rollins, and I understand a lot of
where you're coming from, but that was the one thing I've
never understood. I mean, I was a white kid who grew up in
the suburbs, sure, but I've had pretty good experiences with
I've had good experiences with cops too, but I've also seen
things that are completely reprehensible. For instance, you
look at the civil rights error, and you see the way that police
are just cracking people's heads. Or if you look at the anti-war
movement in the sixties and see the role they are playing.
They are the tools, they are the pawns, they are the front
line. The people are fighting for something that is right
and just. And they are trying to convince the governmentthe
people representing this countrythat you do not agree
with something that this country is doing, they send out the
police, and then you end up having to fight the police, and
this is absurd, this is not a good role. Obviously, you're
a kid in the suburbs, cops are nice, they teach you somethingthey
get your cat out of the tree, that's fine. I agree with thatI
like that idea of it. I'm talking about this whole other role
which is becoming really what they do. Now, maybe you've had
positive experiences with the police. Henry [Rollins], on
the other hand, has not. When he was in Black Flag,
they were being harassed and hounded by the policetheir
shows were being shut down regularly. And in L.A., the police
culture there is disgusting. I mean, I've been damn near dragged
out of the car by police in L.A. for nothing.
That would certainly change my views
Hell, yeah. And the thing islike, I'm a white guy.
And I've had to struggle and come to terms with the way I've
been treated. People who are not whitethey get seriously
fucked with and it's just ridiculous it's disgusting.
It's a disgusting culture, frankly....
But if you look at my lyrics, you don't see me saying things
like "fuck the cops" or "shoot the cops".
That's not my thing. That's not my style. See, I don't hate
humans, I actually love humans. I hate the habits of humans.
I hate the habits of the policethey're the ones with
the gunsthis is always going to be the way. And it's
discouraging, because it makes them always right. And, of
course, they have the entire legal system behind them... The
damn police man, they're a pain in the ass.
You had an interesting line thereyou hate the habits
of humans, but love humans. That's a very western religious
idea - specifically Christian. Was that how you were brought
up or did your ethical stances come from just your life experience?
Well, that depends on if you think Christianity gets to
put the trade mark on giving a fuck about other people. I
happen to think that giving a fuck about other people pre-dates
Christianity by thousands and thousands of years. ...People
are always trying to tag the idea of morality or ethics as
a Christian thingbut I don't buy that. I think that
human beings at the root are not interested in hurting each
otherI think it's all learned behavior.
What do you think about the advancements of home-recording
technology. If he can steal enough software, some kid can
make a Michael Jackson record in his room - how do you think
this will effect the future of kids, who like you did, are
starting labels and recording their own stuff?
Well, I think technology can make things sound better. But
some kid's not going to make a Michael Jackson record
unless he can write the songs.
I was speaking more in the line of production value...
Right. It's always the songs though, it's always been the
songs. If the music's not thereit doesn't make a difference
how good a song sounds.
I had trouble getting into early punk like Minor
Threat or The Misfits because the recording was so rough,
it seemed not out of choice but because they were made by
kids, and that stopped it from becoming as popular as it could
From my point of view, it was a relief. I find a lot of
the more produced stuff unlistenable, because all I hear is
the machinery. I'd much rather hear the organic aspect of
music. ...It comes down to the songs. I mean the Misfits
wrote incredible songs. At the end of the day, I'm way more
interested in the songs than the dressing.
Evan Dashevsky is an author/poet/playwrite/artist/journalist/philosopher/rock
star who lives in Manhattan. He has had two plays produced
off-off-off Broadway and has numerous poems published on the
net and in various zines, and has had pieces of art featured
in New York galleries and in on-line galleries. He is currently
a staff writer for Hybrid Magazine. Sometimes, he likes to
pretend he's an eskimo, and sometimes, when he consentrates
really really hard --he is.
Send him a shout-out and maybe
he'll holla back - firstname.lastname@example.org
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