from Maximumrocknroll #8, September 1983What follows is a discussion, led by Vic Bondi of ARTICLES OF FAITH, with Ian MacKaye of MINOR THREAT, and Dave Dictor of MDC; three of the most aggressive, verbal, and outspoken frontmen in punk, anywhere. It was done late one night, after a gig they all played in Chicago, and the participants were understandably tired. But, despite the meanderings of the conversation, it is a remarkable insight into their thinking on a variety of subjects, their similarities, and their differences.Vic: Why do you think there are so many political punk bands on the West Coast?Ian: I think a lot of people pick up on it the same way in the East Coast. It sort of sets a mood. There's plenty of bands on the East Coast that have pretty radical ideas, you know. Not exactly the same, but similar. There are plenty of political bands out there, too.V: Ok, maybe they're just not as recognizably political as the stuff that MDC is doing?I: Well, the difference is that MDC is knowledgeable about what they're saying and they're not just a bunch of fucking kids getting on stage and shouting, echoing what they've already heard. I mean, "Fuck Reagan" has just been such a fucking over-utilized cliche, and these guys check into it. When I got to San Francisco this time, I found Dave leafing through a book about Guatemala in this bookstore. I have great respect for that, because these guys get down and they fucking check it out, and that makes a difference. And a lot of bands do not, and that's who I have no respect for; the band that gets up and whines about politics and they don't even know what the fuck they're talking about.V: Do you think the same way?Dave: Yeah. There are a lot of people who pick up on an idea and they don't have the necessary follow-through.I: They don't research it at all.D: We research it... you know, you've got to be wary of not checking out your sources, because you hurt political people by coming off like an idiot.I: Sure do. That's what the R.C.P. and the Yippies' biggest weakness is. The majority of those people are just a bunch of fucking idiots, who're just as bad as anyone we know. They're just the same people having a different trip. There are a few real good people who have good ideas, and those people I support. It's the same with punk rock. Punk rock has more assholes, in a ratio sense, than any other kind of music. They don't have respect for anything. It drives me crazy.V: Well, here's an interesting thought I had the other day. I'm not saying it's my opinion. I thought that perhaps politics are not a good thing to be approached in music. Because music is a very emotional medium. You don't sit at a show and analyze it the whole time like you would reading a book or something. It's something you respond to physically and emotionally. Now, when you put politics into music, you're asking, you're demanding, an emotional response from people. And sometimes, I think maybe it's better that when discussing politics, we talk about rational responses, rather than emotional ones. The thing is, if you respond emotionally to a problem, you may end up making a mistake. What I'm saying is, music being an emotional medium, doesn't seem to be an apt place for discussing matters that need to be discussed rationally.D: I disagree, because when I do my think, I'm not asking for discussion, I'm just telling what I feel, what I'm seeing, my viewpoint. Ian does the same thing, if he's talking about "Filler" or "Bottled Violence". It's a clip of his life, and he's sharing his emotion of it on stage. He's not asking for a discussion about it. It just is, and that's what I'm doing when I do a song like "Corporate Deathburger". I'm just giving you how I feel about it. I'm not asking everyone to raise their hands, "Who are the vegetarians?" I'm just sharing my emotion about eating meat and about corporate manipulation of food and what happens to Third World countries whose land is bought up by multinationals and have cash crops that are exported instead of feeding the people, so therefore the people go hungry. And I'm delving into the emotion of that. So, yeah, it's emotional, but not everything political has to be a sit-down discussion.I: The thing about politics and music is that by thrusting it into the music, at least it gets people interested enough where they might sit down and read the lyrics. It's basically an awareness thing. I can't imagine going on stage and playing music and actually expecting people to become Democrats and Republicans, that's ridiculous. But if people say, "I like MDC, I'm gonna buy their album," buys their album, hears their words. The same thing with us. Then the message is sent through the lyrics. But, the same way, too many people got blindly into the Straight Edge scene and wreaked havoc to Straight Edge and the idea, just twisted it, distorted it, and fucking abused it, the same thing is happening with MDC. Where they did that 'Millions Of Dead Cops' just got so blown out. The same idiots who pick up on 'Straight Edge' and mutilate it for their own thing and don't even think about what the idea is, the same thing is happening with politics. The worst thing about the politics is that, I would say, it's just so much easier to say, no offense Dave, "Fuck Reagan", than to say "I'm Straight". Actually, there's no reason to be offended.V: The thing about what you're saying about is you're going to be 'Straight Edge' is that it demands a commitment to a mentality, the same way that his political ideas demand a commitment to a mentality.I: But the point is that it's a lot easier on a social level to say "Fuck Reagan", it's a political, radical thing, whereas "I'm Straight" is sometimes, depending on where you are. I'm not trying at all to say that our thing is better; it just makes you look a little more stoic, especially the 'Straight Edge' thing. Now for you to say you like MDC because of all the backlash - we got plenty of backlash, now they're getting some. It's good. It sort of humbles, and at least people are thinking about it.V: You seem to be making a distinction between the way your music is appropriated by people, as though there are some people who are going to take your music to confirm whatever feelings that they had in the first place. And there are other people who are going to take it as a means of maybe opening their minds a little bit.I: That does not encompass everyone at all. There's still a whole other sector of people who take music just to fit their own thing at the moment, who just pick up on it and it doesn't mean shit to them. It's just what they're like and what they're wearing at the moment. I'm not talking about what they're wearing, like punk rock, but what they're wearing for the time being. In two years or so, they'll be as far away from it as they were two years before.V: What do you think the function of music should be?I: For me, it's a total emotional outlet. I think the function of music is... the blues. I do like listening to the technical aspects too, however. I think it should be whatever a person wants out of it. But I sure as fuck do like Janis Joplin. She and I would probably not agree on a lot of things, but man, the fucking lady did it! What you hear in her voice is what I love about music. I'm a brutally emotional music person. I don't like the technical aspects. I play piano. I refuse to take lessons because I'm scared that the way I play will become warped if I learn the technical aspects and will take away my personal approach and my totally emotional way of playing. It's like with our band, those guys are into playing it right, which is a great thing for me, because I would personally rather just go, go, go. Like the amp you used tonight was fucked-up looking, right? I love it like that. I prefer it like that, but those guys say "That's pretty ugly". But I say "Just do it". The emotional thing.V: A lot of classical musicians would maintain that they find a lot of emotionalism in the technical.I: Like I said, they have the same differences I do. I'm saying it's emotional. Everyone should have their own fuckin' reasons for doing it.D: It's communication for me, as well as a lot of emotion.I: Definitely communication, but emotions are communication.V: OK, but communication for what purpose? It seems to me that what you're saying is as a vehicle for personal expression, you know, for "my blues", right?I: Yeah, but because my blues I'm sure are felt by so many people, just like the real blues were, my one communication thing is that I got tired of hearing how bad life was for everyone, and not hearing about what we can do about it. And I really attempt, instead of putting out whiny-ass songs, put out a song that says, "This is the problem, and this is what can be done." Most of them are just basically saying, "I wish everything could be better." By stating that you're unhappy with something, just basically means you want it to be better. In some of my songs, I don't have any real solutions, that's where the frustration aspect comes in. And other times, it's sort of like, "hopefully everybody can get respect for themselves and each other, and then everything will be a lot smoother." I sure have a lot of respect for Dave and MDC just because of the fact that he respects me. I like what I'm doing, and I like what he's doing, and that is why we're able to sit here and do this, whereas I do not respect a lot of other musicians and other bands where I would not even want to be involved in the same interview with them. I wouldn't want to have anything to do with them. I wouldn't even go into an interview with them to denounce them. I wouldn't even mention them. I won't waste my time with them, because that's the way I feel.D: Which is good. That's like saying the things we have in common, and that's the fact that we both see what we want to communicate and the whole approach is straight ahead. And Straight Edge and that part applies to what we're doing. That's to be straightforward and do what we're doing and not clog it up with drugs or being drunk or not being the best that you could be in certain situations.V: Since the idea is to communicate with your audiences, how do your audiences communicate to you?D: They do it at all sorts of different levels. Sometimes I get all these people screaming back, and I wonder if they are really getting into it or if they've heard the album on the radio or have it and when they see it live, something triggers off in them. I gotta wonder... a lot of people who are singing "Corporate Deathburger" and they just whistle their way on down to McDonalds, just like people can be singing "Straight Edge" and drooling all over Ian, and 20 minutes later be drinking a beer on the sidewalk waiting to get fucked up to go to some party.I: At least we're still throwing it up in their faces.D: Oh yeah! Even if they just have it for a couple of minutes. You just gotta face the fact that you're not necessarily changing them. You're approaching them, which is the first step. And you say, "How do they communicate back?" A lot of different ways. People come up after the show and tell you - tonight there were 250 or so people there. A lot of people came up and just said hello or just looked at me for one minute.V: For MILLIONS OF DEAD COPS though, it's not simply a matter of...I: You mean MULTI DEATH CORPORATION.V: Right. It seems different, to me, from dealing basically with a common expression of emotions; you seem also interested in education people to a certain awareness about the way you see things. I mean, tonight before you started, you got up there and talked about political situations worldwide and multinational corporations as you see them exploiting nations. Have you ever stood up and talked about straight edge?I: Not for a long time, but I take advantage of what's happening at the moment. Sometimes there's nothing to say at all. It totally depends on the situation. I like to be spontaneous and do not plan it out. I don't come up with raps, because I don't like to rap - I like for it just to happen. Perhaps something will happen at a show, and it will go so well with what I'm doing that I'll pick it up and use it. I might way a few words, but in general there's not a whole lot I can say on stage. I've gotten to the point now where my total communication is when I'm singing. I can't fool people, because the music is the vehicle. When I'm singing, I'm there. When I'm not singing, I'm not there. I got through a whole fucking row of things, so I can't be one thing the whole time. I've got to be honest about it. When I sing "Betray", I'm like "Fuck you man. My best friend and you stabbed me in the back." And then I sing "Look Back And Laugh" and I say "Man, I know we can't fucking pull it off sometimes, but let's work on it, let's keep it together." And then I go into "Filler" and it's like "You got sucked into something that you didn't even believe in. Not only do you abuse yourself, but you abuse religion, you abuse romance." I just go through every one of these emotions and then into "Stepping Stone", which is like "Everyone, come on." I can't go for one, so that's why I don't bother talking.V: OK, why do you Dave?D: Because I want to, and also I need to. The points I think that Ian makes in his songs are more subtle. I think the points we're making aren't so subtle. I did the set at some points where I didn't talk hardly at all between songs. I just did the songs as hard and as fast as I could. I was always interested in them getting the song title, and I'd throw in a couple of tidbits. But at the time I was too afraid to put all the heavy views on the point. I was ready to sell out for the music, for the tightness of the group. And then I found I wanted more out of it. I wanted that communication to happen and I extended it. I felt secure: "This is not just a song called 'Corporate Death Burger' - I'll tell you about it." "This is not just a song called 'John Wayne Was A Nazi' - let me tell you why I think he was a nazi", and talk about his career and how it influenced people in the subtle, psychological stuff; where he was using movies to portray the 'good white man' in cleaning out America from Indians and Mexicans and Japanese and even the Viet Cong, when it came down to it. So I just felt the need to communicate farther, so people have more of an understanding, so it becomes not just surface political stuff, so it's all comprehensive and it's there and it's intelligent. If you do something political, it's like Ian said before, you have to be well up on it. You're gonna say "Yeah, Reagan's doin' real bad stuff, he's doin' really crummy things". It just sounds bad. You have to be up on it.I: One thing I've noticed about MDC anyways is that when I first saw them, and I've said this to them so many times, that here they have this heavy fucking statement, and they play so fast that I know some of the lyrics, and I can't even tell. It goes so fast to the speed where Dave would sometimes lose the inflection, so that their whole thing is all music. Every time we see them, we say "Yeah, you play fast, but man, you're not getting this out."V: Does that bother you sometimes that maybe your message is getting lost in the medium?I: They're not folk singers.D: Yeah. I've tried at different points to slow the group down, but I really can empathize with my group. They're feeling the same things I'm singing about, so they get in this adrenalin source that comes out at the speed of the music. They have this theory that the closer it gets to 1984, the quicker it's got to be said... in emotion, the harder it's got to be felt, if they're going to portray their end of it.V: It seems like what you guys politically do is portray these emotionally political points with a real desperate sense of urgency.I: Yeah, it's definitely urgent music.V: So what we're talking about is portraying a sense of emotion that you can give some definition to. It's more than just a treatise on the political state of the world.D: Um, I'm not sure I understand.V: Yeah, I'm not quite sure I understand either.I: I think what he's saying is that opposed to you just informing people, that you're informing them but with opinion.D: Yeah... you have to have the emotion there to tap into. It can sound hokey or weird or phoney, but I really try to tap into this spirit that feels a lot of the universal pain. That's the emotion and my ugly look when I'm singing about desperate things. That's where it's coming from; it's coming from a third eye or sixth sense, I don't know. But that's why people can say "On stage you look so ugly, so monstered out". And that's because I'm tapping into the emotion that's flipping me out. Then I can do it on a more rational level later, when I'm sitting here, because I'm not all pumped up and squeezing and feeling that direct thing. I get to sit back from it and discuss it.V: You're both talking about tapping into something that seems almost mystic.D: It's weird to try to give it a label, like third eye. It's some different side that you don't necessarily bump into it every time we've got to go up there, and there's people there ready for you to do your thing and relate to them. That's when you turn on to it, or you get left behind; that happens every so often.V: The whole premise of doing this interview just seems shot to shit, because it seems like the more you talk, you don't have any differences, more or less, whatsoever. You guys have got to have differences. What are they? What's the difference between MDC's approach to playing music and MINOR THREAT's approach.D: I'd say, right offhand, the difference is that they deal with much more social situations, and it's more obvious, and we deal with more overt political situations, even though we deal with a lot of the social things within a political situation.V: What's the defining line between social and political situations?D: I think a lot of Ian's things are in the "I". First person.I: Every song I've written is about me and you. Every song. Because every song I write is this, "That you did this, but man, so have I". That's the whole point. It all boils down to like "Seeing Red"; "You see me and you laugh out loud, you taunt me from safe inside your crowd." Man, I know. I've done it too, and I fucking hate that. Every song I do, I put on both sides of the coin. That's the way it is. The one thing about the politics and all is that these guys have to go out and check it out, right? I don't need to check it out. I know; it was me. First person. And these guys, even though we know that the may be personally concerned, obviously they are, but it is not the first person. And like Franco said to me - we had kind of an argument about it - he says "If it was first person, we'd be dead." And I said "That may be." So that is like a big difference. One reason I think you're having problems getting at the differences is that I don't want to say something that would... because we don't necessarily do it doesn't mean that we don't think they should do it. That's the main reason, because we both don't want to get into an argument about who's right and who's wrong. I do not think MDC is wrong at all. I think that for me and my band, I feel that it's pointless for me to try to attack a mountain when I know I can change this and that. To attack something so big, I would feel frustrated, and I can't feel that I would actually do anything. I think that I would like to work in my space - that's the whole personal thing in general.V: Well, would you even say that you're tackling a mountain with what you do?D: Yeah, talking about the Multi Death Corporation, change is gonna have to happen.I: Mountain is an under-exaggeration.V: But don't you share his feeling that you really can't be that effective in this area, obviously. You wouldn't be playing the music that you're playing if you didn't feel you could be effective.I: I didn't say that. That's the point I was trying to make. They can be very effective in that area. But, for us, I don't feel it. I guess the difference is that when Dave goes to McDonald's and buys a hamburger, he thinks about the cows, etc. Every time we talk, they tell me something, so at least it makes me think and I feel guilty sometimes. I don't even eat at McDonald's that much, regardless, but they told me that one quarter of the world's grain, or something like that, is fed to produce cows for American beef, whereas you could feed the whole world... wasn't that how it went?D: Yeah.I: So when Dave walks into McDonald's then he thinks about that. If I walk into McDonald's, I think about me being hungry. I'm not on that level. When I walk into McDonald's, I just think of it as food to put into my stomach. I don't think. It's a different awareness. But, at the same time, while Dave is so worried about this and that - like when we were out in S.F. and we really got into it about this whole Multi Death Corporation thing and what is happening in Latin America, which I agree is a very fucked up situation, fine - but four blocks away from them, or downstairs, or whatever, there is some really bad shit going on. Because of what they're going for, they miss that the same way I miss what they're going for. I mean, there's like 13 year old kids shooting speed, the whole thing, man. It's ugly. It's a fucking ugly situation. And where I might have a whole lot more punch on that and I may be ignoring what's happening in Latin America, it's sort of vice-versa for MDC. I like to see it as the two of us kind of being like a full novel, filling the whole picture.D: I got that feeling tonight, too. I got a good feeling that they got their political dose and they got their social dose. When I say social, I mean "How do I act? How am I fucking up?" You know, the guy breaking the bottles, starting the fight, causing the cops to come and close down the club here tonight. I think that's real important. I'm trying to do both, actually. We have a song, "Selfish Shit", which is about drug dealers.I: We have a song, "Guilty Of Being White", which definitely deals on a political level.V: What does "Guilty Of Being White" mean? That's a song that can be mis-construed.I: Not at all, I don't think. But I'll explain it. I live in Washington, D.C., which is 75% black. My junior high was 90% black. My high school was 80% black, and throughout my entire life, I've been brought up in this whole thing where the white man was shit because of slavery. So I go to class and we do history, and for 3/4 of the year slavery is all we hear about. It's all we hear about. We will race through the Revolutionary War or the founding of America; we'd race through all that junk. It's just straight education. We race through everything, and when we'd get to slavery, they'd drag it all the way out. Then everything has to do with slavery or black people. You get to the 1950's, they don't talk about nothing except the black people. Even WWII, they talk about the black regiments. In English, we don't read all the novelists, we read all the black novelists. Every week is African King's Week. And after a while, I would come out of a history class, and this has happened to me many times, like in junior high school, and you know that kids are belligerent in junior high, and these kids would jack my ass up and say, "What the fuck, man, why are you putting me in slavery?" To me, racism is never going to end until people get off this whole thing. It's going flim-flam, back and forth. When people will just get off the whole guilt trip... First, all the white people were like "Fuck the niggers", and all of a sudden, it's "The black man is great. We love him. We're going to do everything for him," all the time. It's never going to get anywhere, because one generation it'll be the KKK, the next generation it'll be the Black Panthers. Now we see the KKK come back in again, more popular. I think the best way we're going to have to deal with it is that if I am able to say "nigger" without everyone gasping, and if I'm able to say that word, because I don't have any problems with that word. I say "bitch", and that means a girl asshole. I might say "jock", which means an athletic asshole. But you say "nigger", which means black asshole, everyone flies off the handle. That's where the racism thing is kind of fucked. That's where the whole thing gets out of hand. I think it'd be great if people could come down form that. I'm sure you know about the racism thing.V: I live in Chicago.I: You just got over the most ugly fucking thing. And it's ridiculous, man, for either side to feel like that. I mean, I'm white, fine. A hundred years ago, I was not alive. Twenty five years ago, I was not alive. So whatever happened a hundred years ago, I am not responsible for. No more than, since I'm Scottish, I should be responsible for the Celtics or whoever we fucked with then. Or the Egyptians should feel bad about the Israeli people. People have got to get off the guilt wagon. And I'm just saying I'm guilty of being white - it's my one big crime. That's why I get so much fucking shit at school, that's why I cannot get on welfare in Washington, most likely. That's why when we took the PSAT's, when Jeff checked off the black box, he got awards, he got scholarships, he got all kinds of interest, but when he admitted he was white, all that was gone. Just like that. It's ridiculous. I don't think it's fair.V: You seem to totally not have any sense of group identity whatsoever. In this country... well, go ahead. You talk first and I'll go from there.I: Take my position, Dave. Remember my position.D: I understand what you're saying you're doing as an individual who's part of a fucked up system where to reverse the problems that they set in, you know, there's such a bad self-image given to black people and their history has been almost wiped out. I'm not going to lay onto you that you accept the guilt part, but just what happened to the black people that got kidnapped out of Africa and shipped over here is really horrible, it's really scarring. They're trying to give a sense of identity and you know all that. A lot of bad things that have happened in the urban city situations have been at the expense of urban white people because all the rich people left and took all the money out to the suburbs and sent their kids off to private schools and out of the hell hole of public education in bigger cities. What I'm just trying to say to you is that it's ok not to be guilty of being white, because I'm not saying you should feel guilty for being white, but don't you be guilty of being ignorant about how there is still a lot of oppression of black people in this country. A quarter of black men will go to prison by the time they're 60 years old. The economic and the educational opportunities for black people in this country are statistically worse than they are for white people. You could say, "Well, is it the chicken or the egg? Is it because they're fucking up so bad that they're not doing nothing, or is it that society's fucking up so bad that they just can't do nothing?" I might say it's part of both. That's just sociologically how I feel about that. You're just expressing an emotion about how you feel towards something, and that's ok.I: But it's simpler than that. I'm making a statement that I think the whole thing boils down to race. I would prefer to see the whole thing out of the way. There sure was a time when the Irish or the Jewish people in this country were getting a lot of fucking shit and just because they were white they had one good thing going for them. Things worked out eventually where the Irish people were just a part of this country. Whereas before, they were always made fun of, they were ostracized and treated like shit in general.V: There's a difference. Irish people came over here voluntarily and black people didn't. When you come over to America and you get shit, you're, "Great, but anything's better than what I had. I'll do anything I can to get my shit together here," and you're socially motivated towards it. Black people were never given that option. that kind of choice was never demanded of them. There's talk about socializing black people into American society, assimilation-like other ethnic groups have been assimilated. The difference is that their set of standards in coming to this country wasn't the same.I: I understand what you're saying. The point is that there are still ugly feelings. The main thing is that they're a different color, and that's the worst part. But what is guilt going to lead to? Dave?D: I don't think guilt is good at all.I: No, I'm saying if someone made you constantly feel guilty, what do you think that may result in?D: A resentment..I: Thank you. And what would that resentment lead to? You just go right back. They're going to beat me over the head about African kings and stuff to the point where I'm going to say "Well, fuck the African kings. And fuck the black people too. Fuck all this shit. I've had it, blah, blah, blah..." Guilty of being white. Well, fine. I'm not going to play it like that. It's an unfortunate thing, but when I'm in Washington, D.C., I'm the minority, so I have a totally different view.V: You can make the argument though, Ian, that it's not going to change. If you say "Fuck this guilty shit, I ain't gonna feel guilty. It's not my fault." They're going to say, "Well, who the fucks fault is it?" It's like, well, it's nobody's fault; it's history. But the situation is that they're still left with the remains of their historical past. Black people as a group still do not have the opportunity that white people as a group in this country have. What affirmative action and all that in the 60's tried to do is instead try to set the clock a little bit ahead towards more of a point where we can accept each other as equals but different.I: That's fine with me. I understand, but I guess what it basically boils down to is that you guys talk social and all that and if I can deal with people as individuals, not black and white, which is the way I do. Even though if I'm walking down the street and I see a whole lot of black kids coming up the street, I know from my experiences, I know that there can be trouble. I know someone can say, "Oh, you've been bred to hate black people." But if I'm walking down the street and I see a bunch of rednecks coming down, I know even more that my ass is about to get fucking kicked. But people don't jump on me for hating rednecks, even with college kids, a group of anything.V: But you would not hate rednecks period because a group of rednecks jump your ass.I: That's the whole point, though. I work on an individual level. I could say, "I hate hippies," but that's baloney. I don't. I know plenty of great people who may consider themselves hippies. And one thing that used to cause a lot of controversy was I used to say, "I hate everybody. I hate black people, I hate white people. I hate everything. I like individuals." Just blow the whole generalization, across the board business out. I can't do it. Even the whole cop thing. "I hate cops." Well, I may agree with some of the cop thing, but what it stands for. I certainly don't hate all cops. I know cops who I like on an individual level, and I can understand why people can be resentful towards cops. But that's not the way I work.V: Well, how do you work in situations where you're going to have t