Ian MacKaye has been one of the most respected figures in American underground music for over twenty five years. Whether as a musician in influential bands like Minor Threat and Fugazi or as co-owner (with former Minor Threat bandmate Jeff Nelson) of the Dischord record label, MacKaye has established himself as someone committed to the concepts of individuality and integrity, putting them well ahead of worries over profit and popularity. Unlike hoards of famous musicians who give lip service to pet social issues while raking in cash from their latest million seller, MacKaye has consistently put his time and money where his mouth is, playing countless benefits for causes he supports and refusing to charge more than five dollars for performances.
But on top of being socially conscientious, MacKaye has made a career of defying musical expectations. When his seminal hardcore outfit Minor Threat broke up in the early eighties, rather than staying within his comfort zone, he took up the guitar and formed the melodic, at times experimental, Fugazi, a band whose reputation far exceeded the small venues the group played, their sound carrying through to even the most mainstream rock acts. With Fugazi on an extended hiatus, MacKaye has changed direction again, stripping his sound down to only a guitar and drums in his latest endeavor, The Evens, a duo that pairs him with ex-Warmers drummer Amy Farina.
In talking with Barrelhouse, MacKaye spoke about topics ranging from his earliest musical influences to what the word punk means to him after making music for two and half decades. Given Barrelhouseís literary bent, the conversation began with MacKaye talking about the types of books he likes.
Ian MacKaye: I like fiction where people commit to a story. I think thereís a tendency, especially for young writers, to take advantage of style to avoid having to commit to any kind of narrative. Iím more interested in people who have a story. It doesnít have to be neat. It doesnít have to be tidy. It doesnít have to have an ending, you know? I think some of my favorite writing, once I got my head around, [comes from people] like Raymond Carver who just leave things. Somebody like Carver, I feel like thereís an entire novel there and he just went in with a razorblade and snipped out an hour of it and you have to figure out what happened before and what happened later and thatís like life. That style is something Iíve seen emulated [by other writers], and thereís no larger story. They feel like it looks writerly.
Barrelhouse: In workshops Iíve been in there are a lot of young writers obviously trying to emulate someone elseís style. And that can probably be good and bad. Itís hard to be original right at the beginning, but eventually if that writer evolves into his own style, the base he had was probably helpful.
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IM: In music thereís a parallel to this, with a slight adjustment. In terms of my interest in music, what I find endlessly fascinating is peopleís struggle with their instruments as they learn them. They pick up their instruments, theyíre engaging with music, theyíre inspired by something, and they want to sound like that thing, so they play what they think is an emulation of that music. However, their relationship with their instruments is so completely different than these other people have with their instruments and it really sounds nothing like that, or very little like what they think it sounds like, and in that you have innovation. I think with writing itís a little bit trickier because I think a lot of writers come through a kind of training more than music people. I mean thereís certainly no shortage of people who go through a music training, but at least in the punk worldóI think thereís a lot of writers who think, ďWell, I went to school to be a writers; I should be a writer.Ē Itís funny. Thereís a sense of entitlement to that kind of work, which I essentially classify as artist. Artist, in my opinion, means translator. An artist is somebody who, if theyíre, say, a visual artist, they see things and then they try to translate them to share them with people. If theyíre writers they hear or think things and they translate them for people. They kind of draw a circle around what theyíre thinking. They distill it in a way people can get that. With a musician, of course, you know, I think people hear things and they try to translate that. They try to recreate what theyíre hearing. In this society, thereís such a premium on livelihood. And I engage with people who talk to me like this, fairly regularly, they say, ďIím a musician. How do I pay my rent? How do I make a living through my music?Ē And I have no fucking clue. Write a good song? I donít know what the answer is. I think that if thatís your priority, youíre probably not going to. Same with writers. People say Iím a writer. I actually went to school. How do I make a living? Well you probably wonít if thatís your priority.
BH: Can you start by talking a bit about your earliest musical influences, the stuff you listened to growing up? Did your parentsí taste have an effect on you or was it mostly stuff you heard on the radio? And how, if at all, did that music influence the type of music youíve made over the course of your career?
IM: In the very beginning obviously I listened to my parents records. The first record I really recall hearing, and my mother, when she was alive, she agreed with me that this was my first record, was a recording called The Last Date by Floyd Cramer. It was a great song and she said that I loved it. I played it over and over and over again. And I remember [my parents] had a rundig kind of cabinet style stereo turn table and playing it and putting my head on the floor and listening to it over and over until I feel asleep. We lived in Glover Park, up off of Wisconsin Avenue, thatís basically where I grew up. The neighborhood was largely families but there was beginning to be hippie group houses and college group housesóitís now largely college group houses.
BH: This is the mid sixties about?
IM: Yeah, mid to late. I was born in í62. So I think that my parents, they had hip friends so I would hear the Beatles a lot, which I liked. And, you know, I heard Jimmi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. And those are people that I really adored and still adore. All of those bands, I still love all of them. And then I remember meeting these kind of hippie kids in the neighborhood. I became friends with them. I was probably 8 or 9 years old and they were probably 18 or 19. I started going through their record collections. I remember there was a woman who had probably one crate of records and I remember just staring at that crate thinking, ďSomeday I hope I have this many records.Ē I couldnít believe how many records she had. She had, like, James Gangís ďThirds.Ē Jefferson Airplaneís ďVolunteers.Ē Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Just all of this, I think, fairly iconic, sixties major label stuff. But I was so interested. I was just tantalized by it. And of course the Archieís had the televisions cartoon. The Monkies, obviously. The Beatles had a cartoon. Anything like that I would watch.
My parents were not really musicians. My mother played piano, but she was a site reader. She would only play if she was reading. She loved music and actually thereís a theory, a family theory, that part of the reason music became such a big part of my life was that when I was born she had spent a lot of time playing piano when she was pregnant with me. Take it for what itís worth. The fact is, however, I started playing piano when I was three. I still play piano. I kind of consider it my basic/main instrument, but I canít read. Even though Iíve written a million songs on it I forget them all. I can just sit down and make something. But itís my primary instrument in a way that I would probably never play it live. Itís just my private thing.
So I think I just ended up listening to a lot of music. Anything I could get my hands on, really. And somewhere around 1972, maybe í73, I donít know what year it was, I of course was really aware of rock. I knew about what was going on. And also my parents, you know, we were liberals. We went to St. Stephenís Incarnation, an Episcopal Church at the corner of 16th and Newton Street. It was a very radical, left church. What I mean by that is that it was fully engaged with the Civil Right Movement, fully engaged with the anti-war movement, fully engaged with womenís rights, fully engaged with gay rights. We had, you know, Stokely Carmichael spoke there. We had rock bands playing in the church. There was a sanctuary for protesters.
BH: In the Ď70s, in Washington, all those things must have come together, in terms of civil rights, anti-war, gay rights.
IM: It was a confluence. There was a lot of stuff going on here. When Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of 1968 it was just before Palm Sunday and 14th Street was on fire. There was rioting on 14th Street and over on 7th and 8th Street in Northeast. In any event, 14th Street was in serious chaos and it was Palm Sunday and the church left the building. The congregation marched down Newton Street and made a right on 14th and we marched right down the middle of all the mess and had a service in front of an abandoned building in the midst of these fire engines everywhere and stuff. The one thing I remember from that day, and this is significant I think, was this woman, Mother Scott, playing guitar. She was a country/blues singer and she was a member of St. Stephenís congregation. Sheíd put out a couple of records. She was great. But she sat on this porch and played some songs. And that music just seemed so powerful to me in that context. Music is always powerful to me. So I think that was really, Iím just trying to give you a sense: I remember all of the music. I donít remember hardly anything but the music.
So I think I was exposed to a lot of different ideas. You know when Jesus Christ Superstar came out the band that did the music at the theatre came and played the whole score in the church. We sat on the floor of the church. It was hippies. I liked it.
BH: When did punk come into it?
IM: I guess I havenít quite gotten there yet. I was first totally intoxicated with Woodstock. I loved Woodstock. That movie just blew my mind. I think I saw it 16 times in the theatre. I owned three or four copies of the record. I was just fascinated by it. When my family would go on trips I would look out the window looking for my concert. I really loved this idea of outdoor shows. And I loved smashing the guitars and all that. So I decided that I really wanted to be in a band, but I didnít want to play keyboards; I wanted to play guitar. My mom bought me a guitar from a garage sale when I was probably 10 or 11. It was totally screwed up, not playable really. She hired a neighborhood bully to teach me how to play it. This had a two fold reason. She was a very smart woman. Part of it was so I could learn how to play, but she also figured if she paid him, heíd stop picking on me. She was right. But he didnít really know how to play guitar, either. She gave him ten bucks and he taught me how to play Smoke on the Water on one string. But I could not understand how to make chord on a guitar. At some point, I just realized that this is like the province of the elite. Music belonged only to Peter Frampton and Jimmy Page.
BH: People who are incredible at it.
IM: Yeah, they were like bluebloods. Obviously I was never going to do it. There was a brief spell of time when we would go shoplift toy guitars just to practice smashing them, but the reality was I was never going to be in a band. Around that time I started skateboarding, the mid to late seventies. I skated a lot. I had a skate team called Team Sahara. But we were totally a gang, basically. We were not sponsored. We got our own little jerseys. The members of that were Henry Rollins, Mark Sullivan, Bert Keros, all this people who later on would be punk rockers. I donít know if youíre familiar of The Dog Town movie, but it was sort of our version of that era. At that point, Henry and I were listening to Ted Nugent. Double Live Gonzo was like the Holy Grail for us. We loved that record. I was actually intrigued by [Nugent] because I didnít know much about his politics, certainly didnít have any idea about his right wing politics. What I did know that he was straight--he didnít drink, he didnít take drugsóand Iíve always been straight. I was relived to hear it about him. And also he was super visceral. When I saw him play live it was incredible. He spit on stage. He cussed. This was unheard of. It was scary, and like many things that intimidate me, I go towards them. So he was really interesting. We just loved his music.
And it was in probably 1977 or 78 that my friends in high school started getting involved with new wave. They were listening to The Ramones and Iggy Pop, maybe Devo. We started to argue about who rocked harder. I was just so adamant that Nugent kicked everyone ass and finally one of my friends lent me a stack of punk records. And it was The Sex Pistols first record, The Jamís first record, Generation X, probably the Damned. That was probably October or November of í78. I took the records home and put them on. And at first it didnít sound like music to me. It was such a shock to my ear. The analogy Iíve used in the past to give people a sense of what Iím talking about is that if you grew up in America and you ate just a hamburgers and French fries and hamburgers and French fries and thatís dinner every night. Then you go to a Japanese restaurant or a Chinese restaurant and they put dinner down in front of you, you just donít see it as dinner. And thatís the way hearing that music was. I couldnít see it as music, but I knew it was music. I had to figure out how it was music. In listening to it, the filter pealed away, and it just opened my mind. I thought, ďWow, this is incredible music,Ē and I became fascinated by it. Then I saw the Cramps. It was the first punk show I saw at Georgetown University in early í79 and that gig was just mind blowing. I just thought, ďWow, here it is, this is the counter-culture. This is the world I want to be part of. This is the zone where people are challenging conventional thinking and thatís what I want to be.Ē
BH: You can hear influences in all the bands youíve been in, but thereís also, not exactly a reaction against those influences, but youíre definitely trying to make something different. Itís not a rehash. When you go in are you trying to make a type of music thatís never been made before, or is that more of an offshoot of the personalities involved in the bands?
IM: I think anytime you enter into a creative process organically with other people youíre going to make something thatís never existed before. Itís only when you enter it deliberately or in a calculated fashion that you make referential music. I donít want to be referential. I donít have any problem tipping my hat to the music that inspired in me. Iíve always said over and overóMusic kicked my ass; I only intend to return the favor. But what kicks my ass about music is the innovation, the freshness, that freedom. Anything I do I always try to fuck with the form. Always, always try to fuck with the form. Why play something thatís already been played? It doesnít make any sense to me. And even beyond that, even genre, why even engage in a genre? It just seems so limiting to me.
BH: Well all of your bands sort of defy characterization. There was nothing like Minor Threat before it. And Fugazi stands outside defining, too, but some people have tried to characterize it as emo. Even the The Evens is different. Some people have tried to call it folk but itís certainly not that.
IM: I would call that desperate categorization. But better that than something else. At least it makes you scratch your head. ďFolk, huh?Ē Where as if it was something like power pop, that seems so boring to me.
I want to engage with people. I want people to be engaged by music. I want to continue to challenge the idea of what music is. The limits that I think I exist under are my own limits, in terms of what I can actually do. My range in terms of singing and guitar playing, I can only do so much, but I always feel like every band has the potential to be totally fresh if they just go for it. Just actually try. Itís like when we started talking today, I mentioned this idea about people who commit to stories. Well I fucking commit to songs. I donít back away into a haze of genre. I certainly donít want to waste my breath singing about metaphorical, nonsensical things. Thereís a difference between people who do vocals and people who do songs. And a lot of times people approach things like, well these are the vocals, letís come up with some words. So they donít really want to commit to any ideas, they just want to put a voice on this music. To me it becomes so dismissible, because a lot of times if I see music or read things and it becomes so evident that the creators donít care. And if the creators donít care, why should I? Itís like, weíre just passing time.
Iíve often said in 1979 I turned the radio off forever. And thatís the truth. I donít listen to commercial music. I just donít. Like yesterday I was at a party and this song came on and everyone kind lit up and I was like, ďWhat is it?Ē And somebody said, ďCome on. Itís Beyonce.Ē I said I know the name but I donít know the music. Iím not trying to be an elitist. I just donít know it because I turned that radio off. And people ask, ďDonít you feel like youíre missing something?Ē The answer is no. In the time that you and I will sit here today the total quantity of music that is generated in this hour that we sit here, that if you took all that music and stacked it up, it would be more than we could listen to in a lifetime. Thereís so much music in the world so why spend time listening to music that is so obviously being engineered to be manipulative, commercially minded, and ultimately just trying to get you to buy it. I want to hear music that comes from people who donít have a choice in the matter. I understand that advertising works. Thatís clearly evident.
BH: People buy it.
IM: Yeah. And we understand that on everyone front. Advertising works. We know. I want to hear music from people who donít have a choice in the matter. I want to read books by people who donít have a choice in the matter. I want to see pictures from people who donít have a choice in the matter.
BH: How do you go about writing songs? Do you have a process?
IM: If I knew it my life would be a lot easier. For the last year Iíve been essentially in a wring block. Since my mom died. I donít know how it works. Iím not nervous about it. I donít worry about it. Itís just reality. Music will come. Thereís a certain kind alignment involved, for me. Things in my life have to line up. There has to be a certain amount of space, than you just hit the tap and things start coming out of you. And I think that the experience of my momís death was so profound. I donít mean to say it was horrible. It wasnít horrible. It was actually almost incredible, but it was so significant I think it, pretty much, you know, knocked my socks off a little bit. Itís going to take me a while kind of likeÖI donít think itís grieving, although thereís certainly an element of it. Grieving manifests itself in many different ways. But I donít think itís, ďOh, heís grieving he canít write.Ē I donít think in terms like that. What I do think is that when a person has an opportunity to witness the world change, and this can be in the form of attending either the entrance or an exit of a life, itís a shock. Itís a really tremendous experience. And I figure that itíll reverberate through me and my nature has always been to let those reverberations pass through and when they finally do I will be a better person. Iím always working to be better.
So to answer your question. I have no idea how to write a song. Except to mean it.
BH: Letís talk about The Evens a little bit. How did that come about? Itís such a total, sort of very different from Fugazi. Itís different than the music you made before. I mean completely.
IM: Not completely. I mean you can clearly hear a lot of melodic stuff in it. Someone said to me once itís as if you had taken Fugazi and distilled into each member and you just had my pureÖNow the problem with that theory of course is that Amy [Farina] is half the band, so much of the band. But I think this person was referring to a few songs that I had written, that I sing on. There like, ďWow, this could be a Fugazi song.Ē But I donít know. Amy and I have known each other for almost fifteen years now. Her band, Mr. Candy Eater, opened for Fugazi at St. Stephens in 1992 or 1993. I met her there. Then she played with Lois Maffeo, sheís on K Records. She toured with her. Lois is from Olympia, and lived here for a while. A really good friend. And then Amy played in a band called The Warmers with my brother and I made the record. I went in the studio with them and she and I became friends. We talked a lot about music. At some point we were like, ďWe should play music together.Ē It just never came to pass because we were both busy. Then, in the late 1990s, Fugazi started going into a series of breaks. I got sick in í96. I had a collapsed lung in Australia and spent like twenty days in a hospital in Sydney.
BH: Just out of nowhere?
IM: Totally out of nowhere. Insane. Lost half a tour. That was one of the first major interruptions to Fugaziís schedule. Then Brendan [Canty] got married and had a kid in í97. So that knocked us out of commission for six months or something. Then he had another kid and Joe [Lally] had a kid. Then peopleís parents were getting sick, all this stuff. It just kept interrupting the work. So at some point in 2001, Joe was getting ready to have a daughter and Fugazi was going on another break so I said to Amy, ďLetís do this. Letís play music.Ē So we started playing music together and it was, from the very beginning, so effortless. It was kind of mind blowing. But we werenít thinking about forming a band. We were just playing, writing songs for each other, and making music that wasÖI was still in Fugazi and I wasnít trying to pair between the two; this was just what I could do when I wasnít working with Fugazi.
Fugazi played for another year and then at the end of 2002, Brendan had a third kid coming and it was just unsustainable, we canít continue working. It canít work. So we decided to go on this indefinite hiatus. So another year went by and Amy and I were still playing and it was like, ďMaybe we should do a show.Ē So it happened organically, which is much like the way Fugazi happened. It just sort of slowly developed. I mean, youíve got to remember Joe and I started playing together in 1986. It was another year before we played our first show with Brendan in January. Guy [Picciotto] didnít joint until October. And it was another year before we put out a record. Itís kind of my way. I really like the idea of laying foundation. You just work, play, and play.
BH: I want to talk about a little bit about the idea of punk. It seems like such an appropriated word by a lot of people. Corporations take it. Even people selling stuff like soda takes it. What does punk mean to you?
IM: First of all I would say that all words are appropriated by corporations. Certainly literature is. The word book and journals, too. Itís just the nature of it. If people can make money, theyíll try to make money. I mean punk for me, and obviously if you asked me this question 25 years ago or 26 years ago, I probably would have had a different answer because my context wouldíve been different. But, talking about it now, it seems clear to me that punk is the free space. Itís where new ideas can be presented. And it may not even be called punk. Thatís how free it is. Thatís what I call it.
I think that throughout history thereís been mainstream society and then underground society. Itís always existed and it always will exist. In this particular era, that part of that society, the underground area, that counterculture society, is punk rock. Thatís what I consider punk. But it doesnít necessarily meanÖif someone says, ďWell, Iím not a punk,Ē but if they engage in the idea of creating music for musicís sake, of writing for writings sake, to make food to feed people, things that are divorced from pure and simple profit. To me thatís mainstream society, the idea that everything has a price, this whole fallacy of what the market will bare, all this kind of suff. In my mind, punk is just the term I use to describe the free space, an area, where new ideas have the possibility of being presented.
Rock clubs and commercial music and so forth, those things, they basically require clientele because itís a for-profit industry. Someone needs to buy the records, someone needs to be buying the drinks at the clubs, someone needs to be paying for the tickets, and all this sort of thing to fund this operation. That clientele that the industry relies is also the same thing a band might call an audience. The problem with new ideas is that they donít have audiences; they havenít been thought of yet. When you always have to have an audience what happens is you start falling back into referential stuff, like ska music, you give it a classification, which hopefully will draw people in, or you say like, this person is from this band. Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. They use that as a selling point. But new ideas, what I really love about the idea of punk, is itís a community of people that are open. They say, ďWe will gather and hereís a stage.Ē And the people playing on it will say, ďHereís a new idea.Ē And from there, you never know what might happen. Thereís always a potential for it.
Thatís what I think punk is. But I understand that I donít claim sole ownership of that word. I donít really care what people think. People will say, ďYou canít say that!Ē Well of course I can say that. I remember there was a period of time there was some very serious, politically minded people in the mid Ď90s who told me I had no right to sing about womenís issues. My response, of course, is, ďFuck you. I can sing about anything I want to sing about.Ē Thatís punk. Itís just crazy. I feel like we can do anything.
BH: A lot of people I know come to a point in their lives where they get frustrated with the places they come from, and that seems true whether itís a big city or a really small town. Whatís kept you so dedicated to DC over the years?
IM: I donít know. Iím fifth generation Washingtonian. My mom was born here. My grandfather was born here. My great-grandparents were born here. I donít know. Itís my town. I was born at GW University. I grew up in Glover Park. I went to public schools here. I think if you live in Washington, you become very aware of the transient nature of this town. There are a lot of people coming in and out. Like right now. If you were to ask all the people in this park where theyíre from, chances are that 95 percent of them are from elsewhere. Itís not to suggest that theyíre not good people, it merely means that this is a transient town and if you live in an area that is prone to tidal flooding, you have to lay deep roots and you have to hang on tight. If you live in a city where people are coming and going and coming and going and coming and going if you want to feel like you have roots or a culture you lay deep roots and you hang on to each other tightly. My closest friends are all natives. Almost everybody, theyíre all people who grew up here whoíve been here forever. I think part of the reason that DC punk was so hardcore was that we knew we only had ourselves. So we were like, ďLetís be serious. Letís make it happen. Letís be serious.Ē
BH: What was the music in DC like before DC punk?
IM: First off, I donít know a lot of the music, but there was a lot of bar rock stuff. There was a thriving bluegrass scene here in the sixties. Massive. Very well known. A highly respected bluegrass scene. And of course weíre talking about white music largely right now, because of course there was go-go and the whole U Street corridor had a lot of jazz and stuff going on. When I first got involved in new wave there was some great bands. There was the Slicky Boys, White Boy, The Nurses, True Facts and Insanicas, The Penetrators. A lot of decent bands, but they were kind of new wave, bar bands. And we were like, weíre going to make our own music. But from the very beginning they dismissed us as kids. They called us ďTeeny Punks.Ē That drove us insane.
BH: How old were you at the time?
IM: 17. But I mean my brother was 14 going to shows. But we were being dismissed. Right off. No one was taking seriously. And that of course is like the last thing you want to do with people like us. Because we were like, ďWe donít give a fuck whether you take us seriously or not. We take ourselves seriously and weíre going to go.Ē You can look at early reporting of DC punk shows and they talk about us in ways that made us furious.
But I donít know why things lined up the way they did. It just so happened there was this sudden burst. It started out with these kids in my high school. There was a guy named Nathan Straightcheck, he had cut all his hair off. He had hair down to ass before. He cut it all off and died it pink. I was like, ďWhoa, what the fuck?Ē My first forays into the fashion aspect of punk rock, just cutting my hair for starters. I mean, itís very difficult, I think, for people to understand this, but in 1979 when I cut my hair off, I had hair below my ears probably, but when I cut my hair off immediately people started calling me names.
IM: Totally. Thatís the thing you just can not understand. If you didnít wear bellbottoms people called you names. And if you wore childrenís sunglasses, you got into a fight. I mean that was the thing, it was really incredible the kind of visceral reaction one could get by just appearing a little different. It was incredible, actually. Iíve said it beforeóWe knew we were on to something good because it was making everybody so mad. But at the end of the Ď70s, it was a weird time.
BH: In what way?
IM: Well, the 60ís saw this incredibly social revolution. I mean it was amazing. So much social progress was made. In 1974 when Vietnam came to an end, or at least US involvement in Vietnam came to an end, I remember thinking, ďWell thatís the end of war. Thereíll never be another war.Ē I was sure of it. It seemed so obvious. Itís like fools fucking errand. And what good is it? All it did was kill a million people in another country. You also have to understand that that war started right around the time I was born, maybe even a couple years earlier. So I grew up with that war the entire time until I was 12 when it ended. The draft was in place. So in my mind, when I turned 18, I would go to war. There was no question. My understanding of the draft was, you turn 18, you go to war.
When it ended I thought, ďWow. Nixon out. Vietnam over. Wow this country rocks.Ē But part of what happened then, was I think, a lot of the energy, part of that social revolution, or a large part of that, was too soaked in just drug abuse and people getting too fucked up and reaching too far. I mean, Iím no expert, Iím just talking, but I think it really resulted in a deep funk by the end of that decade. And the kind of partying that was going on was just so squalid by the end of seventies. Going to see shows at arenas then was just insane. I saw Queen in 1976 or 77, I saw Nugent three times. You would walk in, say to the third level, and there would be like a cloud of pot smoke from the ceiling all the way down to ten feet above peopleís heads. All of the bathrooms were full of drug dealers. I mean it was really intense. In the 70s, this country was depressed. Thereís a little bit of a short memory going on right now in society right now. I mean anyone who lived during 1974 or 1979 gas crises knows what itís like to spend an hour in line to get gas. I spent a lot of time in 1979 taking my parentís cars to the gas line. And it was incredible to me that we had a president who said, ďWear a sweater.Ē Thatís amazing. What an incredible guy. So hated, but loved by me.
So anyway I think that era was really just a different time and punk was a super direct response to that. It was something that was so new and it just flew in the face of this idea of musicians as royalty. We were clearly not royalty. We were kids. We were punk rockers. People would say to me, ďYou canít be in a band in DC. You have to move to New York,Ē or even, ďYou canít be a punk and be in DC. You have to move to New York.Ē Like New York was the only place you could be a punk. And anything people said we would just reject out of hand. Because it was such a new thing there was a lot of violence around it. Anything new, the birth of anything, is attended by friction. The friction in this case, was definitely weird. Then Regan came into office and that threw everything into insanity. He definitely paved the way. Regan was a spokesperson. I think he had his own agenda, but largely the Regan revolution was not authored by Regan. But It was part of a much longerÖwell thereís this theory that conservatives were completely furious with the social revolution of the Ď60s and decided to fucking take this country back. And theyíve done a good job of it. Made a fucking mess.
But thereís always opposition. Thereís always people doing good work. I mean people say to me, ďThereís no anti-war movement.Ē Of course thereís an anti-war movement. I was involved with marches to stop the invasion of Afghanistan in September of 2001. People have always been opposed to war, there has always been active people working for that. In fact, compared to, I donít know this, and maybe I should go research this more, but I would suspect from 1962 to 1965 there was not a really concerted, organized anti-war movement against Vietnam, but that war was happening. I would guess there is probably more of one now then there was then. But by 1966 and Ď67 there was this momentum.
I feel like that when people talk about protests they sometimes confuse protests with this idea of they want something to end, as a means to an end. So with stuff like Punkvoter.com a lot of people say, ďI went out and protested then Bush won. I quit.Ē Or ďI spent an afternoon out there and the wars still on. I quit. Iím discouraged.Ē Protest is exercise. You just do it. And you do it forever. You live protest. Because there always will be things in this life, in this world, that demand attention. I never go out to a protest thinking weíre going to put an end to this. I think this has to do with my realization after the Vietnam War, the fact that this country went into Grenada, went into Panama. I couldnít believe it. You know, I just thought there would never be another war. I eventually realized that this is just an ongoing condition.
One thing Iíve learned about a lot just by being alive as long as Iíve been is that everything is always here. Itís just a matter of focusing on the things you want. There always will be brutality. There always will be angels. Always. Even when we see things that are so horrible, and sometimes they happen on another continent, or maybe in another city, or maybe in your front yard, but human beings have been brutal to each other since the beginning of time. Itís never stopped. I donít reckon it ever will stop. But I think if something happens at your front door, instead of becoming consumed by what happened at your front door, keep in mind what didnít happen in front of everybody elseís front door that day. Because thatís the reality. Most people in this world are good people. Thatís just a fact. Brutality is something that I canít quite figure out but it doesnít seem to ever go away. I would never forgive it, but I canít surrender to it. I canít think, well I give up this is too depressing. Itís hard. Right now, you get so hopefully about any little bit of a drift toward something that might undo the badness.
I was talking to a friend yesterday and I was like, I hope someday that we, someone like you and my friend or me, that we can talk in a humorous, good spirited way about the fact that George W. Bush was wearing a wire at every press conference. It would be just knowledge. We can just say, ďItís insane. Can you believe we lived through this?Ē One hopes that we will experience. One worries that this country will never acknowledge what is so obviously the case.
Itís the emperorís clothes. What has happened, and I think itís been largely engineered by the conservative movement, is that people have become isolated. This is something youíll see throughout society. People are not engaging with each other in group settings that much anymore. You donít see people going to regular meetings. People arenít having block parties. People are at home watching television, or working on their computer. Itís so solo. Everyone is just solo. Or theyíre just concerned with their family. You know, your man from PA Santorum he just wrote a book, obviously in reference to Clintonís ďIt Takes a Village.Ē His wrote ďIt Takes a Family.Ē Thatís a Republican for you. Family first. Family values. I donít think what people perceive is that what theyíre really saying is ďus.Ē We look after ourselves and we donít care about other people. Itís not family values like take care of everybody. Itís family values like take care of ourselves. Thatís it. Fuck everybody else. And I think focusing on that has isolated people so that if they care for anyone beyond themselves they care for their family.
That kind of environment makes it very difficult for people to take that risk, or what they perceive to be a risk, of acknowledging that this is wrong. The movement you do that you risk your livelihood, which is all that everyone is thinking about. So someone like Kanye West, on the one hand we can talk about him. I can mention what he said right now and people will know what Iím talking about. Maybe a month ago I wouldnít have heard of him. But at the same time, that kind of move, you can bet there are people trying to fucking pull the carpet out from underneath that guy. Bruce Springsteen. The Dixie Chicks. Anybody who has stepped up has faced that. And thatís in the music world. The artist world is not that tricky. I think in the corporate world, if you donít toe the line, youíre fucked.
BH: Do you think corporations have always had this much power?
IM: I think itís more now, probably having to do with communications, specifically computers. It seems like thereís more of a grid that gives them a lot more power. They can mechanize things in a way. Itís something I havenít quite figured out how to get around. If itís all in, then I donít know what you do about that. Itís like the gas prices. Itís insane. I donít understand how on earth natural gas prices are going to double. There are already so high. How are people supposed to live?
I think what we donít really understand is that what we live on is sustenance, you know. But the people who are making decisions, for them, they can give a fuck how much anything is because they have more money than they even know what to do with. It doesnít make any difference to them. Letís say you and I went in to a store to buy something to drink and put a bottle of water up on the counter and the person behind the counter says, ďThatís seven dollars.Ē Weíd probably say, ďSeven dollars? Okay, no thanks.Ē But somebody else might say, ďNo problem. Hereís a twenty.Ē It just doesnít make a difference to him. And I know this must be the case because over the years Iíve worked a lot. I have a record label. Iíve been in bands that have sold a lot of records. Iíve got some dough. I have more than a lot of people who are my friends. And I know there have been situations where they said, ďI canít afford that.Ē And I was like, ďWell fuck it. Iíll pay for it.Ē The relative aspect of that is whatís the big deal. Itís forty bucks. Spend the money. I can only imagine that guy up at American University. Ladner [recently fired chancellor of American University accused of misusing more money than the four founders of Barrelhouse will make combined if we all live for the rest of our natural lives]. These fuckers. It skews their perception of how things work and itís created a situation where the corporations have to make as much money as possible. They donít worry about where they get it from.
BH: In conclusion, we ask of all of our interviewees one important question: What is your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?
IM: I have no idea. What movies was he in?
BH: The Outsiders.
IM: I saw it. I thought the book was much better.
BH: It was.
IM: I was a huge S.E. Hinton fan. I really donít give a fuck about Patrick Swayze. I actually donít care about movies. I donít really watch movies. Not really. You know, my relationship with them is that I feel like Iím being manipulated by people who donít have my best interest at heart. So fuck them. I do love movies. Like cinema. Like recently I saw Grizzly Man, that Herzog movie. And that was pretty incredible because Herzog was working with hundreds of hours of raw footage. He didnít shoot it. But what he was able to do, by going through it, and this is where you know he was cooking with gas, was that he made these editorial decisions and selections out of this huge mass of footage, he culled these really incredible moments. And you realize, thatís art. Itís really incredible. It was actually incredibly uplifting.
But in terms of Hollywood movies, I really donít care. In fact, I get really creeped out by movies. Well, itís a little bit like your question. Like when you talk about movies you say, ďHave you seen such and such yet.Ē Thatís a very common thing. And thereís a presumption in that. It would be like me saying to you, ďDid you read that Danielle Steele book yet?Ē Itís a presumption and the presumption is that of course youíre going to go see it because thatís what everybody goes to see. And thatís really interesting. Hollywood has somehow managed to insinuate itself into ďthe fabric of our lives,Ē the way they would like to put it. Itís not enough that they have their own awards show. Think about the Oscars. What a fucking pile of shit that is, right? Think about it. You have an industry where disgusting amounts of money are spent, most of it just wasted, making movies. Insane amounts of money are being spent doing things that are just absolutely crazy. They throw money at things. Theyíre so wasteful. Itís just waste upon waste upon waste. And then when they get done with the movie, they spend untold amount of money having it marketed, trying to figure out the best way to edit it. That kind of thing. Then they spend fortunes advertising it, just shoving it down our throats. Then they have the audacity to fucking have an awards show to award themselves, to say that this is the best movie of the year. Well maybe in their realm. Itís like the Grammys. They always talk about the ďBest Record of the Year.Ē Or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I donít think Iíll ever be in the Rock and Roll hall of Fame. And I donít think any of my records were ever considered as best record because they donít even exist on their radar. So, those kind of awards shows, the idea youíre not real until you make a major label record, youíre not real until you do a Hollywood movie, itís just insane to me. Yet punk rockers will take time off to go to Oscar parties. Itís just this pop culture affection. I could give a fuck about pop culture. Iím just not interested in it.