In The Beginning There Was Ian MacKaye

Ian MacKaye Watching The Juggalo March On Washington

I was in DC last weekend covering the Juggalo March on Washington when I noticed someone on a bike watching the event. It was Ian MacKaye the frontman of Fugazi, Minor Threat and the Teen Idles. He was the founder of Dischord Records and is essentially the godfather of straight edge. I tweeted out the photo and it got picked up by some music blogs and made its way around the internet a bit, but for me it brought back a pretty intense memory.

When I was about 14 years old my friend Tom and I went to see Fugazi play a free show on the Mall in Washington. We were just getting into punk music and we were pretty excited about the show. Tom brought one of those big tape recorders people had back in the early 90’s so we could tape the show. We were wandering around before it started and we saw Ian MacKaye just standing there waiting to go on.

We were pretty star struck, but we were 14 year old punk kids and we were way too cool to ask for an autograph or something. We wanted to talk to him but so we came up with a completely unnecessary scheme. We would show him the tape recorder and tell him we had a magazine that we wanted to interview him for.

When we asked him to do the interview he said yes, but he asked us what our zine was called. We hadn’t thought that far ahead so I looked down at my Black Flag t-shirt and said “Nervous Breakdown” the name of my favorite song.

We didn’t really have any real questions and we asked him bullshit like “who are your influences”. To be honest he was kind of a dick about it, but at least he played a long. I remember we asked him “What’s Fugazi’s direction in the future” or something inane like that and he answered “Fugazi’s direction is always Fugazi’s direction”. Very insightful interview.

We did get him to talk to us a bit about Tom’s older brother Charlie Danbury (who passed away this year sadly) who was in the band Trenchmouth who was playing shows in DC just as Ian and the early Dischord bands were coming of age. Charlie was our one connection to that legendary DC punk scene.

The important part of this story is not that I met a dude in a band when I was a kid, the important thing is what happened next. Tom and I decided we would actually start a zine. A few months later Nervous Breakdown was born. We actually somehow got our high school to pay for 100 copies of the first issue. We put out a few issues of it and we started meeting punk bands in DC and when we were 15 years old we started our own record label called Outcider DC.

Putting out those records and zines was better experience than anything I learned in college. That DIY mentality is the reason I do everything I do now. I learned graphic design and how to manufacture and distribute all sorts of stuff. I learned how to book bands and throw events. Some of the first things I ever did on the internet were related to our label.

I even picked up a camera for the first time to shoot punk bands. I had a book called Banned In DC and it had photos of all the early 80’s DC punk bands I loved so much. It even had a photo of Charlie Danbury in it. It really inspired me to take photos and there was a photographer in it named Glen E. Friedman who quickly became my favorite photographer. In 2002 I actually tracked him down and ended up buying a photo of Minor Threat from him and he sort of became a mentor to me. I would send him my work from time to time and he would tell me how bad it was. It was exactly what I needed.

Long story short, if it weren’t for that random meeting with Ian MacKaye when I was 14 years old my life could have been completely different. I’ve seen Ian from time to time over the years and have never said another word to him after that moment, but seeing him 100 yards from where we first met 25 years ago has me reflecting on how impactful that one meeting really was.

Thanks for the interview Ian…