Episode 13: Ian MacKaye – “The Argument for The Conversation”

Episode 13

1st July 2019

We speak with Ian MacKaye about slam dancing, stage space, and much more.

Episode notes

Fitting that these notes come to you today from what has become a liminal space between “home” and “tour” for me.  That space is, of course, “New Jersey,” and it’s fitting because it was from here (this very house, in fact) in 1987, that I wrote a letter to our guest, Ian MacKaye.  Ian’s new band, Fugazi, was asking people to rethink their relationships to each other in the space of “the pit” and consider not slam dancing/moshing.  This was a radical proposition back then, but I understood it, and I respected it.  I think coming from a break dancing background made the idea of a more inclusive dancing aspect to punk shows appealing to me.  What I didn’t respect, and what prompted me to write the letter, was seeing a bunch of people who had traveled with the band up from DC to The Anthrax in Norwalk, Ct., physically grabbing people and stopping them from slamming/moshing.  It seemed like just another form of policing and fascism to me.  It was an angry letter.

Ian wrote me back – he agreed with me and assured me that the people doing this were not under instructions from the band and he didn’t agree with the physical policing of the space either, and that was that.

We reconnected in person when I moved to DC about five years later, and Ian remembered the exchange.  He SAYS he kept the letter, and I live under a standing threat that it will be produced for all to read if our arguments ever get TOO argumentative.  And as I sit here thinking about this now, I realize it’s one of many things I’d like to revisit with him, because I wonder how our stances on that issue may have evolved.  I’ve certainly spent a lot of time on the edges of pits since then, attempting to take the blows so people less willing (or able) to can just watch the bands.  I’ve jumped off my own stages to stop fights.  Would I do it to stop unruly pit action these days?  At MY shows these days, it pretty much never happens, but I might.  You take a responsibility for the space when you take the stage – it’s a responsibility that Ian MacKaye still takes seriously, and his is an example that I’m glad I’ve had in my life.

Other things we discuss that I’d like to expand on and encourage our listeners to think more about are:

1. Characters and masks – I keep thinking about this idea of what’s “real” and what’s not, and I’m thinking more about who gets to define that and what it means to different cultures.  Yes, as we discuss in the interview, one can see how a certain type of person uses masks and characters to AVOID responsibility, but what about the idea of being able to self-create one’s identity?  What about drag and camp?  Glam and goth?  What about when society tells you you’re NOT “real” what then?

2. Well… maybe just the one thing is good for now – I’ve already gone on too long.  Feel free to tweet at us if anything else strikes you!

Also, I realize that I said Dischord started in the 70s – I was thinking the Teen Idles 7” came out in 78/79, but it was, of course, 1980.


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As promised, here are some MUSIC LINKS:

TEEN IDLES “I Drink Milk” (1980)

BAD BRAINS Live at CBGB 1979 Hard to overstate how important these people were to many of us, especially as an all black band in an increasingly white scene. Check the slickest move ever as HR avoids a flung beer can (or ashtray?) with a flick of his head at 8:43. Legendary.

MINOR THREAT Live at Buff Hall, Camden, NJ 1982

VOID “Who Are You?” One of my favorite songs of all time. Hilarious to hear Ian say they thought they sounded like Ratt, and yet… now that I know that… I kind of get it!

THE EVENS “Around the Corner” (Stroudsburg, Pa. public library 2005) Also want to give props here to Amy Farina, who should have her own episode at some point. She’s and incredible talent, and was my very first collaborator in what we called “The Pharmacists,” back circa 1996!

FUGAZI “Suggestion” with Amy Pickering on vocals (DC, 1991)  Given what Aimee and I talk about in the intro, re. women’s roles in rock song lyrics of a certain era, I wanted to include this version.  It was really important when Ian sang this.  It shook the earth when Amy Pickering stepped into that space and sang it.

EMBRACE “Give me Back” (1987) I’ve got the receipts. This song is about process.

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In this episode...


  • Ian MacKaye

About the show

The Art of Process with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo is the newest artistic collaboration from legendary singer-songwriters Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. Every other week, Aimee and Ted talk to friends across the creative spectrum to find out how they work. And sure, they’re friends with a lot of musicians, but weirdly not as many as you’d expect. So you’ll hear from comedians, directors, novelists, show creators – ok, yes, some musicians – writers, producers and more, as they discuss the process of turning an idea into art.

Follow @artofprocesspod on Twitter and Instagram.


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