Emo kids, fall to your knees and heed the wisdom of the legendary Ian MacKaye.
Before I go into MacKaye's Q&A speech on Sunday in Hollywood (he's been touring the West Coast the last several days), recall this: The musician/singer/songwriter/Dischord Records founder--of Fugazi and Minor Threat fame-- helped sow the seeds of the punk and hardcore scenes that flourish even now. And from which, in turn, sprung the "emotional hardcore" that begat today's emo.
MacKaye, a lifelong Washington, D.C. resident, talked about both music (he laments that his early band Teen Idles' demo was ruined by a disdainful producer, resulting in it sounding very different from the single that followed) and social activism (he said he welcomed the "Riot Grrl" movement, which is largely credited to the D.C. area, as it helped break down gender barriers in punk and beyond). Indeed, when asked whether music or activism was more important, MacKaye replied, "For me, music is activism."
I'm not writing this post just to school snot-nosed youths and the grown-ups who cater to them. (To be sure, the last line in this post shows MacKaye's not nearly as curmudgeonly as I apparently am.) Mostly, I'm doing it for the peeps--of all ages--who found their lives profoundly affected by him or his bands. It was clear who these fans were when, as pictured above, a lot of them lined up to have MacKaye sign mementos, or just to thank him personally.
These bands used their music not only to address society's ills, but also to demand that responsible denizens do what they could to foment change. Perhaps even to convince the world's powerful to act for the greater good. It wasn't about whining; it was getting mad and doing something about it, in whatever large or small way you could. Shit or get off the pot, crybaby.
I don't want to cheapen MacKaye's compelling, often amusing, sometimes disheartening tales. So much like the recurring Esquire magazine feature, I'm just going to let some of his quotes do the talking.
"Punk rock is what no one has heard before."
"In the '80s, it wasn't the greed of the musicians, it was the greed of the indie labels... they ripped off artists."
"If you're going to do it (hand-make 1,000 album covers for your own label's records), don't use rubber cement. Elmer's!"
"As much as I hate those big corporations, they've affected my life. I didn't get here on a donkey!"
"I can be defensive. It's a challenge."
"I wrote a song called 'Straight Edge.' I didn't align myself with the straight edge movement... (Some of) those people don't care about sobriety, they care about power and violence."
"People my age--and guys 10 or 15 years younger, like 30 or 32--say good music is dead. And the day it died happened to coincide with their last show."
"The most important music, what can cause change, is happening right now. I study the past... but I want my ass kicked today!"