The official site of author Ed Lin.

The Paradox of Ian Mackaye

Posted by on Dec 2, 2007 in Music | 2 comments

Ian Mackaye

I went to see Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat, Fugazi and now The Evens speak at this on Saturday.

I had sat in the front center seat for the previous panel, which was all about publicizing your work to became famous and rich or both. I felt somewhat uncomfortable during the discussion I guess because there was such a disconnect between the business and the craft of writing.

I remained in my front seat for Ian’s talk, so he actually ended up right in front of me. When someone handed him a bottle of water, he ripped the paper label off so it wouldn’t look like was endorsing the brand. That’s punk!

Ian brought up that good ol’ DIY ideology of creating art and moving forward. “We have our world, and they [meaning corporate America] have theirs.”

Ian also noted that he knew artists who had crates of unsold records and books piled up in their homes. But that shouldn’t be discouraging because even if you don’t reach what you perceive to be your deserved level of fame — “at least you failed at doing something you loved.”

He talked a little bit about the Nike thing and in a subsequent answer to a question, he mentioned the phrase “just do it.” Someone pointed out that that was Nike’s motto. Sheepishly, Ian took a dollar from his pocket and handed it to the guy who spoke up.

Some jerk asked him if he were still straight edge. There were some boos in the audience. Ian paused a long time and before answering told him, “I’m not mad that you asked. ” Then he went on to say that he had written “Straight Edge” when he was 18 and asked the questioner how he would feel if years later people used something he had written as an 18-year-old as justification for bombing a McDonald’s or beating up people.

Here’s the thing that that jerk questioner didn’t get, and a lot of other people don’t get. Ian has dedicated his life to being independent of pretty much any movement (and ironically straight edge became a movement). And yet, after writing song after song that told listeners to be individuals and to think for themselves, people just stuck up Ian on a pedestal and dehumanized him.

I guess Ian underestimated how much people crave to be told what to do.

Most revelatory about Ian’s talk was that he was inspired by Jimi Hendrix to write “Straight Edge” after hearing these words in “If Six Was Nine”:

“I’ve got my own life to live
I’m the one that’s gonna die when it’s time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to”

“Straight Edge” inspired by a decidedly non-straight-edge man who was similarly bent on independence? Just goes to show — keep an open mind and seemingly unlikely sources may inspire your own work.


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Sharline

    Hey, great recap of the talk, inspiring too.

    I used to love Fugazi. Good to know he’s still so rad.

    “I guess Ian underestimated how much people crave to be told what to do.” So true.

    peace, Sharline

  2. burnedouteyes

    very cool entry ed. yeah, ian’s not to blame for tha straight edge facists…

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