Ian MacKaye vs. the Bay Area
Ian MacKaye: The prankster, mindfucking of the Bay Area, that just kind of goes on and on. it’s interesting cause I actually see it as a self-cleaning oven, you know? My impression is that when you have a community or you have an environment where you have a lot of social activist people, or people trying to be socially progressive, or whatever, that there are gonna be people who, for some whatever reason, feel threatened by other people’s progression. They actually, as progressives, get intimidated by other people’s progressions, so then they try to kick ’em down a notch. It’s very, very judgmental.
This is not a condemnation of every person in San Francisco, it’s just something that I’ve seen over the years. Highly developed social progressive communities, they tend to be at some point the hard definition of these communities, the judgment starts to turn on itself. And it undermines the work, ultimately. Over the years, I feel like I’ve been, and the bands I’ve been in, have been the receiving end of a number of those kinds of pranks.
The first time I played there was with the Teen Idles, in 1980, Mabuhay Gardens. We were booked to play with Dead Kennedys, Flipper, and the Circle Jerks. Dirk Dirksen decided that our photo we’d sent him, was a “Mickey Mouse photo,” is what he said. So he just cancelled our show. But the thing about it was, we had taken a Greyhound bus across the country, and we had one show in Los Angeles and one show in San Francisco.
We did the show in LA and were kinda driven out of LA by the police. We’d almost gotten arrested at the Greyhound station, they accused one of us of making a homosexual proposition. And they kind of beat him up and dragged him away, and we were kicked out of the Greyhound station til half an hour before the bus left.
We get to San Francisco and we stayed at Damage magazine, or Target Video. They were in the same building. We talked to Dirk and he’s, “Oh yeah, I dropped you from the bill.” Which was just so fucked. We had six of us on a bus, three or four days on a bus to get to LA, we made 15 dollars. We’re already at such a deficit. But at least we’re gonna get these good shows. And then to be dropped without even telling us. But then people at Damage and Target, who kind of knew us, intervened and they yelled at Dirk, so he put us on the next night. And it was a New Wave night. We played with a band called the Wrong Brothers, as opposed to the Wright Brothers. And a band called Lost Angeles. They were just pretty terrible New Wave bands.
I almost hate to talk about this. Fugazi played Gilman two or three times. It became clear that we were just too popular for that room. It was just too small. And as much as we supported the space, and we did, we totally supported it, and we wanted it to do well. We were one of the few bands that had grown, that was still even concerned about Gilman.
Even though you go there, and you say, Hey, I called, can you do me a favor, do you mind going to the store and getting us a few waters, for stage? And they’re like, “You fucking rock star!” I’m asking you a favor. “We don’t do that.” They were offended that I asked for water or something. I was like, I was asking a favor. You know? Come on.
In any event, it just became clear that it was actually, irresponsible for us to play a room that small. Because somebody’s not gonna get in there. I think the biggest show they had in there was like 400 or 500. We were crushing the shows. And it was just obvious that we had no business playing a room that size. But we wanted to support them.
So they had contacted us about playing, and I said, Look, I’m sorry, we can’t. We have to be mindful of the situation. You can’t go into a room where 500 people at the most can fit, and have 1000 people try to get in. It’s not a good combination. Not only is it dangerous, because a lot of times, at that time kids in the street often ended up being kids who were breaking things or fighting. In that era there was a lot of skinhead problems in the Bay Area. And I was just very leery of frustrated congregations.
So the band talks it over, and I called them back and say, Look, we’ll do a show there. We’ll do it, but it has to be unannounced. It really has to be unannounced. I said, basically the people who would know about the show would be the Gilman regulars, and then anybody who just wants to check out Gilman Street. The idea was to sort of show our appreciation of the establishment and show our support for it. But we didn’t want to have it announced because we didn’t want to turn people away.
Well, first off, they listed it, they put it in the listings, on the radio, and I was like, “Come on.” But then, Jesse [Luscious] went around town putting up flyers saying, “Guess who’s playing at Gilman and doesn’t want you to know.” It said, “F blank, G blank Z blank from Washington DC.” I was like “Fuck you Jesse.” I think his point was, he felt we were being elitist. But we weren’t being elitist. We were just trying to make it work.
And it was ironic because we had had really been going back and forth with Gilman at that point, the people who ran Gilman, I should say, because I kept telling them, the punk bands are getting big. Don’t treat them like shit. This was sort of the nature. As you got bigger, people became suspicious of you, and then the bands felt unwelcome, and the bands were like fuck it, we’ll play somewhere else.
This is sort of before Op Ivy and all them really kicked in. Basically what you’re having is a situation where the only bands that were playing Gilman were really small bands, their friends or whatever. The bands that could really fill the place, and then in turn fill their coffers, were just ostracized for being popular. Because they would ask for things like water, which was just fucking insane.
I had argued with Tim Yohannan about this, and I was saying, I really think that you all should think about your agenda here. If a band is popular, wants to play there, you should be supportive of them. You don’t have to build a special shower for them, or something, or get them a deli tray. But if they ask for water, it’s not that big of a fucking deal. I was enraged about this. I really felt like it was clearly malicious, and it was underhanded. The irony of it was, we were gonna give all of the money to Gilman. And we did. We gave all of our money to Gilman. ‘Cause we wanted to support the place. But that was the end of that. I wasn’t gonna play there again.
And this of course comes on the heels…I think the first time we played there Jesse had done a flyer for the show, it was a pig and a police officer raping a woman. And it said, “Fugazi.” What the fuck was that? These are the typical kinds of really smart-ass kind of agitating pose.
Over the years, we had a guy shoot a fire extinguisher at the Russian Hall, that was a fuckin’ disastrous mess. San Francisco’s a tough town, man, we had some crazy times there.
I think it was our kind of straight, not straight-edge, but our presentation was so unadorned, and our work was so straight-up, that I think it just drove them nuts. That’s as near as I can guess. I don’t know what to say, that’s just what it feels like. But I think also, we fucked with them. There’s a bit of, the Bay Area lifestyle kind of reigns supreme. And people often talked about straight-edge as being a lifestyle. But in fact it’s not. It’s life.
My concept of my work over the years, first of all I don’t identify as just that constant straight-edge lifestyle, I reject that idea, because ultimately it’s just life. We are what we are. I’m really interested in being straight-up, just simple. Like if you call me, I answer the phone. I call you back. It’s no bullshit. I think that to some degree, it’s almost like a comfort zone with life now, people get into these environments and they get kind of caught up in the lifestyle of the environment. But it’s all accourtrement, right? It’s like tribal identification, but to a degree where instead of developing a reassuring sense of community, rather, it highlights the other. I think in that area, lifestyle is such a political thing there. That’s just the way it is. I like to think that my work was never connected to lifestyle. My work was always connected to life.
Obviously, we come into a town, I’m like, hey, don’t engage in self destructive behaviors. And if they have invested a lot of energy into defending and relationalizing a lifestyle of self-destructive behavior, then they’re not gonna take too highly to it.
[The Bay Area is] the most conservative place in the fuckin’ world. I remember being shocked when Tim rejected the idea of vegetarianism in a way that was like, much worse than my parents ever did. He just thought it was absurd. He was like, “That’s bullshit.”
I remember once getting to Maximum House, I came in really late, we’d been driving all night, we were really good friends with everybody that lived there. We got there and one of our friends was not around but the other guy was. He immediately said, “So did you hear? So-and-so started eating sugar again.” That’s the first thing he said when I walked in the door. I was like, why the fuck do I care? The first thing he did, was to rat out his fuckin’ roommate. It never even occurred to me. I wouldn’t think about that. I’d never fuckin police people’s behaviors. It’s so absurd. Yeah, isn’t it great — he’s eating sugar!
Ian MacKaye: In ‘82 we took another stab at it, and we made it out there. We stayed with Biafra. Which was kind of an interesting experience. After the show we came back to his house, got to the house late, and there was these people sitting on the porch and they were drinking. As we got there, one person stood up and started vomiting.
Winston Smith: Biafra was out of town. And I had come down to do some artwork. His wife at the time, Teresa, who has a rollicking good sense of humor, we had been sitting around the house, there was no television or anything. One of their friends had dropped by, and we had all been drinking the $1.99 12-packs. So we were pretty plastered by the time the Minor Threat boys showed up. We knew they’d be back after the show at the Mabuhay.
Ian MacKaye: We walked into the house, and there was a giant syringe sitting out, like a horse syringe, or an elephant syringe. I mean, giant. It was ridiculous looking.
Winston Smith: It was an eyedropper type of syringe that you give medicine to the cat. The kind that you used to squirt medicine down their throats. We got toilet tissues and we rolled up what looked like joints, and put them everywhere. We made roaches and roach clips out of little hairpins. A burnt spoon. Then we got some white powder that was probably like talcum powder, and put these lines everywhere. We had empty bottles from earlier in the week of other more exotic stuff, bourbon or whatever. We did this whole thing to make it look like there had been a wild party, like we were all fucked up.
Ian MacKaye: There were bongs, and bottles of beer and wine everywhere. It was so weird. Turned out that it was all his agit-prop friends. Winston and them were basically trying to freak us out because we were straightedge kids. And it was all a set-up. The person wasn’t really vomiting. They put the drug paraphenalia out to try and upset us.
Winston Smith: We pretended to be completely shitfaced and plastered. And I was “Hey, howya doin’ Ian,” and I was falling down on my face. And then I’d get up and stumble back to the kitchen area and started doing these nasty gargling sounds like I was barfing.
And finally when I realized they weren’t going, ha ha very funny, they were all really disturbed, I said, “Sorry you guys, we’re just kidding. we’re not that plastered, we’re just joking around. Just wanted you to know we’ll be taking therapy class.” They were, “Oh, yeah, we knew that, sure.” Later on, when I came to regaining consciousness and able to understand, yeah, it probably wasn’t that funny. Biafra was outraged. He was like trying to apologize on my behalf.
Jello Biafra: I felt real bad about that because I was on tour and I wasn’t home. The whole house treated ‘em shitty.
Winston Smith: It was 25 years ago. I’m reminded now and then, when Biafra brings it up. He can hold a grudge for a long time. “You should apologize to him.” And I go, “How? I don’t know the guy.” So Ian, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, I apologize. You were right and I was wrong. It was a silly prank.
Ian MacKaye: It was just a typical San Francisco fucking move. Always fucking smart-asses. The prank philosophy. It’s just a lot of mind-fuckery going on. Some of it’s really entertaining. But if you’re being constantly made the butt of it, it just gets to be a little tedious after awhile.
Jello Biafra: I’m sure it was Ian who left a note tacked on the door “Ha ha for thinking we were all Moral Majority types. In fact we even stole some of your silverware!”