One ridiculous Wednesday night in 1992 my band in college was the opening act for Fugazi.
Her name was Alice Miller and she lived for any band on the Dischord Records label (a label started by Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye). She wasn’t a shaved-head straight edge chick with tackle dangling from her face, she was a doe eyed blonde liberal arts college student in Ohio, who just happened to be plugged into everything that was cool. Fugazi was always very selective about where they would play and Columbus Ohio never seemed to make the cut. At the time, they were one of the only bands that would circumvent Ticketmaster and sell tickets at the door of the venue for only $5. It was a political statement against corporate music and also an acknowledgment of the financial means of their younger fan base. That all made them impossibly cool.
Alice worked at a suicide hotline for some extra college credit (and presumably because she cared about people.) She was a motivated liberal gal, and saw that the hotline was strapped for cash. Alice was also desperate to see Fugazi play live. In what turned out to be a legendary feat, she not only convinced Fugazi to do a benefit for the hotline, she also swayed them into letting my band Skin Whig open for them. I’m not sure how many real gigs we had done at the time. It couldn’t have been more than a dozen, but there we were, slated to warm up a crowd of 1,500 at the Newport Music Hall for one of the greatest post-hardcore bands of all time. It was the same venue where I had seen Primus open for Fishbone just weeks before. We were amped, but shitting ourselves. What was the first thing on the agenda? Get D to the Double D Drunk.
We were already wasted when we arrived in our dressing room which was stocked with a giant bucket of bottled Old Milwaukee. We had invited 4 or 5 friends up with us and we were being drunk and loud and 20 yrs old and totally fucking awesome. Then we heard a limp-wristed feminine knock at the door. In one magical moment of shared consciousness, we all thought “GROUPIES!” Now is when I should probably tell you that I had no idea what anyone in Fugazi looked like. I opened the door expecting to see 5 chicks from a Great White video. Instead, there was a tiny unassuming man with a receding hairline who looked me right in the eyes without acknowledging the mayhem behind me, and said,
“Hi, I’m Ian [MacKaye]. I just wanted to see if you guys needed anything. We are all in our dressing room writing poetry. Come by and sit with us if you want.”
Now, had I been a Fugazi fan, I probably would have released right there in my pants. Instead, I was an ignorant, entitled college kid with an ironic polyester shirt that stank of someone else’s body odor. I said, “OK, umm thanks.” and shut the door in his face. I turned to the rest of the people in the room and shouted something like, “That dork just told me he was in his room writing poetry. Is there a band before us or something?” To which everyone responded in unison, “That was the dude from Fugazi.” It’s a good thing I was drunk, because otherwise, the wave of panic that coursed through me would have shut off an entire hemisphere of my body.
After the wave passed, and everyone was done laughing and calling me an asshole, I realized that Mr. Ian MacKay was being a bit of a wanker himself. Why would he tell me that they were writing poetry? It’s one thing to say you’re writing, but to be specific enough to say you’re writing poetry is obviously a jab at our pathetic attempt at recreating a Warrant after-party.
Really, Fugazi? Poetry? You’re ALL writing poetry? Just sitting there in silence cross-legged with your little journals and Haiku fantasies? Did you really think we were gonna put down our shitty beer and sacrifice what might be the most memorable party of our lives (it wasn’t) to “sit” with you while you write poetry? Are you really that conceited? I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware I was in the presence of The Dali Lama. Just because you’re straight edge, doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Writing poetry is for a rainy day in your bed, not for pre-gaming a rage filled angst fest. I’m not saying you have to drink or use drugs, hell, you can meditate, cry or stuff your face with quesadillas, but please, don’t write poetry. There’s nothing wrong with it, that is, unless you say Fugazi in the same sentence. You know what would have fixed the whole thing for me? If instead of saying poetry, he said lyrics. Because that’s one of the things Fugazi does, they write lyrics, not poetry.
We went on stage and stunk up the place. I had my eyes closed the whole time and people were yelling “go back to your garage.” This was a crowd that desperately wanted to mosh, but we gave them nothing moshable. Our songs were supposed to be rockin’ but funny and ironic. No one has every raged to funny music.
Years later I realize that Mr. MacKay might have just been a socially awkward weirdo who was trying to be inclusive and nice. In fact, that’s most likely what he was doing, but at the time I had an ego-filled image of myself that desperately needed to remain intact. The best part is that we have a video of the whole show. The worst part is that our guitar player’s dad taped over it with an episode of Magnum P.I