Busting on Ian MacKaye (“In on the Killjoy,” 10/17) is as easy as shooting Phish in a barrel. My own short-lived rock band once quipped: “Everyone knows Johnny [Thunder]’s gonna die, so why you wanna listen to Ian MacKaye?” Then, lo and behold, JT did die, alone and full of smack in a seedy New Orleans hotel room.
Before making Fugazi and, in turn, Dischord the scapegoat, for the death of D.C. rock, you might consider the following: If you want to pigeonhole Fugazi as a rock bandI would consider Fugazi a rock band, only in the sense that I consider the Alan Parsons Project a rock bandtake it a step further and slap on that wonderful misnomer referred to in polite circles as “punk.” Fugazi’s preachiness, which I find less prevalent than you lead your readers to believe, grows out of moral indignation toward the fat apolitical rock gods of the ’70s, an attitude shared by many of the early punk bands. The lifestyles of the stoned and stupid got just a little long in the tooth back in the day, and there was a feeling that there was more to rock than driving your car into a swimming pool and drowning your chauffeur. The Clash and the Pistols felt that way but unfortunately steered themselves into the same tired rut. (Sid Vicious died of a drug overdose in 1978, and Joe Strummer, tired of preaching politics to the masses, finally admitted that dictators don’t dance.) The most undervalued band of this genre, Crass, stuck to its political and moral guns but in the end found that rock and rebellion didn’t mix, and dropped the rock.
Its members now struggle on in other media.
Fugazi’s success at pop protest is to be lauded, if just for its fiercely uncompromising perseverance. Sure, the band is boring at times, and I have to admit I would rather play Highway to Hell than Repeater, but I also happen to know that Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson like AC/DC, too. So if there is a void in the D.C. rock scene, don’t pick on Fugazi and Dischord. As a matter of fact, don’t pick on anyone.
And if the crown of rock, as you say, needs to be wrestled away from Fugazi, here is the best way to do it: Pick up a guitar, practice for few years, form a band, write some songs, get some gigs, and try to get signed. And if Dischord won’t sign youit may be easier for Henry Rollins to pass through the eye of a needle than for anybody to be signed by Dischord these daysstart your own label. MacKaye and Nelson won’t stand in your way.