I was 15 when Fugazi’s second full-length album, Repeater, hit the racks at Cut Corner Records in Lexington, Ky. in the spring of 1990. My cousin had made copies of the DC hardcore band’s EP and first album, so this was a highly anticipated event.
Righteous and angry vocals matched with dissonant and explosive instrumentation — it sounded like urban America pulling apart at the seams to me and raging against the hypocrisy and greed of the Bush Sr. era. At the same time, I was attracted to the intentionality of the band’s outlook, and its disdain for both commercial success and chemical excess. It seemed built to last — an antidote to the depressive indulgence and self-destruction of the grunge wave just over the horizon.
I put out a ’zine in those days called Blackmail. Ian McKaye, initially the band’s principal songwriter and vocalist, was my hero, so it was a given that when Fugazi booked a show at the Wrocklage, a dingy club in Lexington, I was going to be there with recorder in hand. Meeting McKaye in person disrupted my utopian misconception of the punk scene and also in some small way cut through the bratty fogginess of my immature viewpoint.
The show was awesome. The band raged and caterwauled onstage, fusing fierce head-on punk, taut funk and a sound that was starting to stretch into jammy, experimental territory. I also remember that they were funny. McKaye pointed to the mounted TV at the end of the bar and exhorted, “Go Bullets!” When the bartender hastily switched off the television, McKaye seemed genuinely disappointed that the band wouldn’t get to catch their hometown team’s game during their set.
During an instrumental break, McKaye slipped off the stage and swigged from a water bottle. He paced the corridor beside the stage in a kind of trance, almost like boxer preparing for another round. Naively, I approached, hand outstretched and greeted him: “Ian McKaye!”
“I’m in the middle of a concert,” he said, glowering. “I’ll talk to you after the show.”
Afterwards, when we sat on the edge of the stage for the interview, I decided to set the tone for the interview with what I thought was a suitably provocative gambit. I challenged the Jose Ortega y Gasset quote on the cassette insert of Repeater: “Revolution is not the uprising against pre-existing order, but the setting up of a new order contradictory to the traditional one.” I’m pretty sure I said something idiotic like, “I think all order needs to be destroyed so that we can be truly liberated.”
Whatever it was that I said, I won’t forget McKaye’s response: “If there was no order, I’d probably punch you in the face.”
Towards the end of the interview, my dad materialized at the end of the bar, bearded and bespectacled. I suddenly snapped back from my fantasy that after the show I would be heading back to the squat to dumpster-dive for dinner or plan for a protest. Instead, I would be piling into my dad’s pea-green Nissan pickup packed with landscaping tools and making the 40-mile trek back to our rural farmstead.
“Who’s that?” McKaye asked.
“That’s my dad,” I said sheepishly.
“Well, tell your dad he’s a good guy,” the punk singer told me. “It’s cool that he took you to the show.”