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Five Words with Ian MacKaye

Text by Aaron Zimmerman

Straightedge, Hardcore, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Dischord Records. Do these words mean anything to you? If they don't, they should. Google them, get a Minor Threat or Fugazi Album. (I recommend 1995's "Red Medicine" or the Minor Threat discography) or watch Jem Cohen’s amazing documentary "Instrument." Then you might understand what Ian MacKaye is all about. Conversations about him elicit words like passion, integrity, sincerity, and independence.

He's a born leader, a thought-provoking musician, a watchdog for genuine quality in the punk rock community. I've loved his music since the first time his voice screamed "What happened to you!?" at the beginning of "Filler" into my young ears. I continue to respect him like few other artists on this planet. I am honored that he granted me the time to respond to the 5 Words project.


The first word that comes to my mind is shade. I think that shading …the kind of shading that time has on things …. It affects in tints and colors, people’s perceptions of why they do what they're doing and all sorts of things. It also -- I think sometimes people hide in the shade of time. They use their longevity or their age as something to hide in. But also just as a nebulous concept, period, time is such an elusive fucker.


A much abused word … I think that the word love has been incredibly co-opted by the marketplace and perverted and twisted by the marketplace as it's wont to do. I mean, that's what it does, I mean, it's trying to figure out ways to poke people in a way that will result in them coughing up money and love is a particularly — obviously, it's a particularly vulnerable subject and a very emotional subject and therefore its part of people's deep insecurity and I think that's where the marketplace really likes to trail out at times. But, if you ask me about love, you know, I see it as something that is — and I mean, I'm not using this in a Christian sense at all, but it is something that is -- it's holy. Love is something that is, again, it's so removed from our sight and yet is completely surrounding us, and it is such an intense driver.


It's strange, I was just in a rehearsal and we were discussing anthems and their vocal parts. I guess an anthem — in terms of popular music, I think an anthem is some sort of timber or tonality that kind of gets people fired up or something, I'm not exactly sure. And it's something that can be manipulated — you can use it to manipulate people. Of course it would support the idea of the national anthem, which you know ultimately it feels like those pieces of music have somehow been anointed as sort of sacred music and are sort of sacred forms and they trigger this sort of sense of patriotism or whatever it is, but basically it makes people sort of stand at attention. And I am actually staggered when I think of this in terms of most of the anthems I've heard, most dense, weirdo, wandering pieces of music — they're puzzlers — and again I think that it's like the puzzler concept can work so well because you actually get to thinking about well, what the hell are we doing here? We just woke up on this piece of land — this just happens to be where we woke up. What does this have to do with the nation? — Nothing.


Funny, I was just talking about this today. I was talking to somebody who works here as a social worker. She was talking to me about — well, she's an activist and she does a lot of community work — and she was talking about philosophical differences that she finds in social work. She's been doing this for many years but suddenly it is becoming increasingly more evident to her that in her mind, the work that she does — she works with teenagers — that her work is really to assist kids in their work — it's largely an art group — and basically just making resources and materials and space available to them, but she also sees other people who approach social work as service, and sort of a service industry, so, in other words, it’s mostly that we're providing a sense of community by getting kids off the street, which is really twisted. I was thinking about service because it’s the idea of being 'servile' and thinking about the kind of schism within social work and the people who are doing that kind of work and it's really a rut. And I had never thought about the distinction in the way people might approach these things. I would think, you know, that everyone would think that it's great that you’re doing social work, but even within that there are these really intense philosophical approaches and I would imagine that in that the government is really -- the whole issue of whether or not you should help people or not help people is just — somewhere in there there’s a service industry -- I can’t figure that out, anyway, it's really a baffler. But the word service has really been on my mind, I've been thinking about it, so it's odd that you asked that.


Earlier today I was driving — my mom died last summer — and I was driving today listening to her talk. My mom, in the seventies especially, she started to tape record herself — not even really herself. You would come into a room and she'd be talking to a friend and there'd be a Panasonic cassette deck taping and a lot of time the family would be sitting there talking or even just making a jigsaw puzzle or something and she'd just run the deck and I used to think it was really kind of nice, you know, that she’s taping us so she can listen to us all talking while we're out doing other things. And then, now it occurs to me that she was never making those tapes for her to listen to. She was making them for us to listen to. That's wisdom.

The Evens' (Ian’s band with Amy Farina of The Warmers) new album can be purchased for $10 postage paid at www.dischord.com.

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