“I think the word happy, like many words, has been perverted. Perverted by a society to some degree, but by a marketplace entirely. I think for me to be happy—which, I think you’re asking me what it means to be happy—is when I’m not thinking about it … I think life is the ideal. The way I’ve always tried to live is just in the moment. Just do my work and just try to deal with things as they come along. I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m just doing this right now. That’s happiness.”
Introduction by Ed Templeton
Short-Film by Derrick Woodyard
Photographs Courtesy of Glen E. Friedman
Ian Mackaye barely needs an introduction. There might be a young soul out there who has no inkling of what an Ian Mackaye might be , or experienced any of the music he has released into this world. So I will share a few thoughts regarding him.
The first time I met Ian was backstage at a Fugazi show in LA. A mutual friend, O, had got me the wristband but insisted that I go and introduce myself to Ian after the show. Ian can be an intimidating figure. He is no-nonsense and his reputation precedes him. Although I had spoken with him on the phone before regarding music for a skate video, I was quite scared to just walk up and start talking to a guy for no reason. But I did it and Ian was gracious and instantly dispelled any awkwardness. A few years later when Fugazi went on tour but was only going as far west as Texas, Deanna and I decided to drive from California to Austin and then on to some other cities, basically following them around Grateful Dead style. It was on these few days I got to see the Fugazi operation from the inside. These were just guys doing what they loved to do, and doing it in their own way. We are all just humans navigating through life; no one is more important than the other. This band of people made amazing music, and the lyrics actually said something, and the concerts were magical and raw. An expression of art done live for the few people who were there. Years of playing together made them a well-oiled machine, no set lists needed; all songs could be played and started by any member of the band with a look or musical cue. It was fucking nuts to see it go down. I feel so lucky to have been in those rooms, and honestly, no concert I have ever seen since has come close to the energy and power of a Fugazi show.
I run a skateboard company and do various other things. My life is busy just like everyone else’s. And like most of us, each day I’m bombarded with choices; some are big, some are small. Some of my choices impact a lot of other people, but most don’t. In what direction should I guide my company? How should I navigate this or that project? What shirt should I wear today? On some of those bigger decisions, I sometimes ask myself this: “What would Ian do?” I wonder how he will feel being associated with a popular slogan from the world of religion? My bet is that he would be mildly amused. He’s probably heard it before, I can’t be the first person to come up with this. I’m not trying to equate him with some sort of deity. He is a human. This is not anything close to worship. It’s just that he has been a public figure in the music and skateboard communities for over a generation, and therefore the moves he has made have been public and viewable from afar. And he knows it. He has been accessible and vocal about what he is doing through myriad interviews. He has led by example. He is an inspiring human being.
I have been inspired by the way Ian started and ran Dischord Records, and especially how, as a group of people, Fugazi conducted themselves. They made sure their concerts were at places that allowed all ages shows so as not to alienate young people. They made tickets to their shows cost only 5 dollars to make their music available to more people. They didn’t have a “merch table” festooned with t-shirts, posters and stickers of their band because as Ian famously said, “We are not a t-shirt company, we are a band.” Fugazi would stop the show mid-song if they saw someone in the crowd who needed help, or to offer a troublemaker his 5 dollars back to “get the fuck out”. They refused to sell their music for commercials but would give it for free to a young person like me who called Dischord records asking if I could use some Fugazi songs in a skateboard video. In 1980 Ian started Dischord records by putting out an EP by his broken up band, Teen Idles . He knew nobody would put out a record from a broken up band, so they just did it themselves. DIY is a catchphrase these days. It’s a catchphrase I like, and it applies to any world. (Well, maybe not surgery. I don’t think DIY surgery is a good idea.) What Ian and his friends did was not wait for recognition from some higher source; they just became their own label. That way they would be calling the shots and they would be making up the rules as they went. Rules that were logical and made sense to them.
WWID? – It’s sort of a joke, but it does pop into my head when I have a big choice to make. I have become the person I am through a variety of circumstances, both physical and mental. The people I grew up around, my parents or lack thereof, skateboarding, music, books, life lessons. All of these things add up in forming you. The music Ian MacKaye has had a hand in making has been a big part of my life. The music itself, the lyrics and my interpretation of them, the thoughts he has expressed in interviews, all of this has been a part of what has formed my politics and how I see the world. I feel fortunate that it was these bands, and not hair-metal or pop, that struck a chord with me. I guess what I’m saying is that if I could run my company, or my art career the way Ian and his bandmates ran Fugazi, then that would be something.