Sep 232011

I swear I’m not trying to be an asshole here, and I admit to not being all that familiar with their work, but — man, I’ve never really understood Fugazi. And I’m from Washington, DC!

Minor Threat, I get. HarDCore punk, yeah, “straight-edge,” yeah. All sinews and tendons and youth and loudness and anger. Got it. But Fugazi? I dunno, man. They strike me as being, like, a grown-up, much artsier, much proggier Minor Threat. And I’m not sure it translates.

Which is not to say I don’t understand the process/problem of growing up punk. And I have to say, the Fugazi backstory rules. All that jazz about $5 shows, $10 albums — yeah, very Clash, very old-school, very un-DC… very cool. To be able to “grow up” and stay like that is pretty amazing. Kudos. But on the musical tip, I fear I must be missing something. So I guess I’m throwing my arms open wide, waiting for the nurturing embrace of a Fugazi-loving Townsman who can help me see what I’m missing. Tell me: why do you like Fugazi so much?


  54 Responses to “PLEASE EXPLAIN: Fugazi”

  1. shawnkilroy

    i like them even LESS than I like R.E.M., but for similar reasons.
    it’s all so UNsexy.

  2. Fugazi might be the ultimate Please Explain band for me. You state your case well. I will let the thought of rhem fester and write more later

  3. tonyola

    Sorry, can’t help you much. Hearing “Waiting Room” in heavy rotation on the local college station pretty much ended my curiosity for Fugazi. Mildly interesting song at first, but any appeal wore off quickly. From what I’ve seen elsewhere, shawnkilroy has it right – not sexy, and not much fun either.

  4. BigSteve

    I was a late convert to Fugazi. Their music is pretty much punk rock, except that the drums are at half-speed (or at normal speed, if punk rock drumming is double-time). It does get hard to distinguish songs and albums from one another, I admit. I think I’ve posted this clip before, which I think is one of the greatest live clips I’ve ever seen:

    One of their first and best songs too. This band was never meant for wide appeal, certainly not meant for me or for you, hvb. They were for the kids in this clip, who really just warm my heart every time I see it. They don’t need an explanation like we do.

  5. tonyola

    Was this a paying gig, and did the scrawny, flailing dude with nothing but a mic get a cut?

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    That’s touching, BigSteve — seriously. But I’m not buying the notion that they were a “kidz” band, and that oldsters shouldn’t be expected to like them. The truth is, Fugazi were *my* age, and I knew a lot of old-school DC punks who grew right up alongside — and eventually into — that band. I believe the opposite of what you state is true: that Fugazi were a punk band it was “smart” to like once you were slightly more grown up. I bet the media age of the kidz in that clip was about 25. All of the guys my age were just hanging out in the back of the hall with their arms folded.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    To be clear, I believe Fugazi were a punk band it was “smart” to like once you were slightly more grown up.

  8. I like them a lot–the early work at least. Agreed with Big Steve that over time, they got samey. Musically, I think they qualify as post-punk (argh, I know, so save it): they’re more angular and slashing than the straight-ahead punk of Minor Threat, and so represent a breaking out of overly narrow notions of what punk music could be. Live, in DC, in the summer, they could be a fantastic experience–great playing, great sense of community involvement.

    I don’t see them as meant “for the kids”–after The Grateful Dead (who I don’t like much, but whatever). they really come in as one of the great tribal bands, committed to a community and a political project, of which their sound, especially with the chant-like elements, is very wrapped up. They define a lot of what is meant by the idea of alternative rock communities–them, and the Olympia scene, and maybe a few others. Their social and political thinking is smart, although I was never (hardly) a straight edge guy; they have a lot of leftist activist and literary and art world fans, for whom ideas often count a lot more than simply “good playing” as such. I would run into them sometimes in neighborhoods in D.C. back when I was in college, and they were always good for political conversation.

    Great music? Not quite, if you ask me–musically I’ll always prefer The Gang of Four, with whom they have a fair amount of resemblance. But a good, solid, thoughtful band that could really play fantastically sometimes.

    It’s not surprising to me at all that neither The Mod or Bakshi would quite “get” them–one of these basic “clash of values” issues that crops up on Rock Town from time to time.

    That said, I hear that some of them have lately been involved in playing some non-electric folk music? Think I’ll skip that, frankly.

    Coincidental (or maybe not) that R.E.M. and Fugazi should come up so close together here–they were bands getting a lot of attention around the time that those of you who were my college friends were playing a lot of gigs.

    Trivia history memory for the Mod and others; does The Mod remember shouting, “Look out R.E.M., here we come,” at a show that Nixon’s Head played at GWU? In the Marvin Center I believe.

  9. ladymisskirroyale

    That first Fugazi EP – I can listen to it over and over and over and still enjoy it. I like that Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto trade off on vocals (the Lennon and McCartney of Punk?) and I love the volume and energy of the music. Their lyrics can be a bit “hit you over the head with an anzil” but I appreciate that they bring up a greater understanding of leftist and gender politics.

    I agree with mwall’s comments about community. I saw Fugazi in Providence in about ’89 and it was nice to be able to go to a show in a less-than-stellar part of the city and not know anyone in the crowd, but still feel safe. (It hasn’t always been easy to be a woman interested in seeing live shows and actually wanting to hear the music rather than gossip about the people there, as was more typical of some of my other female music friends at the time.) And there were the apples at the shows.

    I also agree with the comments that Fugazi’s later stuff became less interesting. Mr. Royale recently gave me a cd of one of their recent efforts and I haven’t had the heart to tell him that I’m going to sell it back. That first EP is all I need, but it would be on my list of Top 100 albums.

  10. Jeez, mwall, I do not remember shouting such a thing, but it wouldn’t surprise me, remembering the old, Young Me. You’ve pretty much ruined my night, making all the cool things I was going to get into about how Fugazi is a band that promises a sort of Urban Primitivism not worth getting into. I think I’ll crawl under a rock for the rest of the night.

  11. machinery

    I think Minor Threat was the best hardcore band of all time. They ran circles around Black Flag, for instance, since they had sense of humor and a certain dynamic I could get behind. Seeing them in DC was a huge treat. I think Ian McKaye has the ultimate hard-core voice — part angry, bemused and snarky at the same time.

    I was impressed to learn that he played guitar. Who knew?

    As far as Fugazi is concerned, the closest I got was listening to Wugazi — the Fugazi/Wu-Tang mashup. But to my ears it’s 90 percent Wu-Tang.

  12. Actually, at the time I thought it was right on; you guys rocked the house that night. It was partly the high of that night that led to a later, shall we say mind-altered conversation, perhaps a few years down the road, where I felt you guys had gone too pop. I know you remember that one, because you reminded me of it.

    In any case, at the time it was hilarious. Nothing at all to crawl under a rock about.

  13. BigSteve

    Sorry, but I consider people in their 20s to be kids.

  14. BigSteve

    I think what mwall is saying about them being “committed to a community” was what I was trying to get at.

  15. Yes, that’s what I think too, although probably in a more negative light. I’m all for the community of rock, but not at the exclusion of rock. Any time I hear a Fugazi song I hear a pretty good opening riff followed by a lot of sensitive-macho yelling. They display much manlove, like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but even less tunefulness and no (few?) shit-hot solos. Beside the community vibes, are Fugazi fans hearing anything cool beyond the opening 8 measures?

  16. hrrundivbakshi


  17. BigSteve

    No solos, maaaaaannn!

  18. BigSteve

    Why can’t we get comfortable with the idea that there’s rock&roll that’s not for us, has nothing to do with us? There’s plenty of music out there, a lot of it intended for as broad an audience as possible. But maybe some artists will function better with a smaller group of intense fans whose needs are met by that kind of interaction. The way our ultra-connected society works now, those kinds of music will become known outside of those smaller circles. We sometimes imagine that music exists in a pure zone that anyone with ears has access to. What if that isn’t so? Why do we imagine that all cultures must make themselves available to everyone?

  19. I hear you, Steve. The “us” of Rock Town have never functioned that way though, and they aren’t likely to, although they’ve never been one-dimensional. They believe deeply in the values they believe in, and they don’t understand themselves as a subculture (well probably they do, but it’s a sore point). Of course, the bands whose members comprise this list were always part of a much smaller subculture than Fugazi was ever part of, with musical values that are shared by very few people. I think that’s the contradiction that is hard for folks to come to terms with.

    Being a subculture that dislikes subcultures is fascinating though. I’ve always thought Rock Town is a great subculture, and I always thought that the Philly suburban outsider college musician boys who were great friends of mine were also a fascinating subculture even when they dissed DC punk. And they could play, too, a lot better than most (though not all) DC subculture punk bands.

  20. The question isn’t really to explain why Fugazi can’t make music intended for a broader audience, is it? Like any Please Explain piece, isn’t the point to ask the often unknowable, which is “What appeals to you, who like a given band, that I can’t for the life of me discern?” Or something like that. The question has the potential to bring about some actual understanding and personal insights. Obviously the question is posed in a confrontational way, but that’s entertainment.

    It’s beside the point whether anyone’s comfortable with the idea that there’s music that has nothing to do with us. It would be nice and mature of some folks if they could feel that way and concentrate on posting lists and links, but then those maladjusted folks (myself included) wouldn’t have the fun of seeing if a) anyone will speak for this group that’s outside of the Please Explain author’s usual point of view and b) feel a slight sense of superiority if no one is capable of “explaining” away the author’s bad attitude toward a critical darling. As someone who’s written his share of Please Explain posts, believe me, outcome a) is way more satisfying than outcome b).

  21. I can’t speak for any other so-called members of Team Us, but when you grow up an outsider not only in your neighborhood (actual city limits, for me, man – although not exactly the Mean Streets) but a tiny private school where you wouldn’t think you could get too far from the center, the sanctity of subcultures never meant a lot to me. I’m all for them and depend on them in my own life, but I poke at them in hopes of knowing them a little better.

  22. jeangray

    Being only familiar with their first album & their last has given me a skewed perception I’m sure, but I do hear a true progression in their sound. The latest stuff is angular, mildly discordant Hard-Rawk with nary a Punk chord progression to be found. It’s actually quite interesting.

    I’ve mixed feelings about their “scene.” I appreciate their cost-cutting measures & fan loyalty immensely (how cool that they give out apples at their shows?), but am fairly turned off by what I see in that youtube clip that BigSteve posted. There’s jus’ little too much Bro-Love going on in that video for my refined tastes.

    No one’s mentioned Emo in this thread yet??? That’s your problem right there!

  23. misterioso

    Oh man: the “It’s All About the Kids” argument. The problem with that, BigSteve, is that it tends to make any discussion of the music impossible (not saying this was at all your intention). “What we say doesn’t matter, these kids ‘get it,’ the band was all about fostering a sense of community with their fans, etc., etc…” So often that is a total cop out. It may all be true in some sense: I mean, of course, people who like shitty music can feel as much a part of a community as anybody else. But I’m not so sure that has anything to do with the music per se. This is a probably a worthy topic of another thread: people whose main connection to music is feeling part of a community vs. those who are just interested in the music. I am aware that this is overly schematic and it is not necessarily and either/or. People have all sorts of voids in their lives that they fill in all sorts of ways, and I am not really trying to be a jerk and say that I think it is stupid to feel a bond with other Fugazi fans just because I think the band is lousy; just that a discussion of why they are lousy or great needn’t hinge on whether the kids dig ’em or not.

  24. mockcarr

    Scenes and communities are good, it means a lot of people I want to avoid have all paid money to go to one place for a period of time, thus making them even easier to avoid for a bit if I happen to venture out into the world.

  25. misterioso

    mockcarr is on a roll…

  26. BigSteve

    The belief that It’s All About The Music and that someone (us) is capable of judging The Music objectively — these are ideological positions. I might even take those positions myself sometimes. What I’m saying is that believing those things involves a set of assumptions, and those assumptions are not obviously true.

    If it were Mongolian zither music or something, we might say “I don’t get what’s so great about it, but how could I?” But we think we have the right to judge whether Fugazi is Good or Bad. Because they play guitars?

  27. If Monogolian zither music became the anointed new thing, RTH would have no problem judging it.

    I am not a big Fugazi fan, but there are other bands from that general subculture that I adore. Philosophically, though, I am totally in Big Steve’s corner on this one.

  28. You, of all people – a Townsperson who’s come forward and acknowledged that you finally came around to liking Fugazi – have not really answered the post’s simple question, have you? Or maybe you have. If anyone could learn from anyone on this topic, you may be the best-available teacher, a late convert to the band. Surely you went through a period in which their music didn’t fully appeal to you. Then it hit you. Was it solely the result of the power of that live video you’ve linked us to and the community spirit expressed? If so, that’s completely valid, and I apologize for wondering if you ever answered the question rather than questioned the point of the thread’s question. Based on music alone, for instance, I can’t say I’ve got that much to throw behind my support of The Mars Volta. A live performance I came across and posted maybe a year ago, however, of them appearing on some Henry Rollins show, totally opened my eyes – and ears, even! – to their music. Is that how Fugazi eventually hit you, BigSteve?

    I don’t think anyone honestly believes that we’re ever capable of being All About The Music (, mannnnnn!). I think, in terms of this thread, we are curious to learn something about the music and something about the people who will speak on the band’s behalf. What’s wrong with that? Why should we pretend we’re a bunch of robots or, on the other hand, completely subjective beings floating through the universe? Aren’t we a little of both? Don’t we deserve the opportunity to feed our split interests in the company of friends?

    Do you remember years ago, back on the old Yahoo version of RTH, when I posed a similar challenge and laid my beefs on the table regarding Jackson Browne? Don’t you recall the efforts people like you, dr john, and mwall made to get me to work through my issues and have a chance of at least slightly appreciating JB? Then you, I believe, sent me a copy of one of his early albums, which I spun with a slightly enlightened mind and actually found myself capable of appreciating.

    We have the right to question or judge whatever we want to judge, for reasons reasonable or not. Why not? Rock Town Hall is a safe haven for working through these issues, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to get your knees and elbows scraped in the process. I think any Townsperson who posts a thread, especially a Please Explain thread, is full aware that he or she is seated on the RTH Dunking Tank. If you don’t want to try knocking HVB in the drink that’s cool, but why question the value of the dunking tank? It’s a beautiful thing, man. It gives us an opportunity to get out of our virtual group hugs for a few minutes and experience a jolt of cold water and soaking wet clothing.

  29. hrrundivbakshi

    You repeatedly force me to quote you. I suspect this kernel of senior year mwall wisdom has some relevance here:

    “No trend is definitely a trend… BUT IT’S THE BEST FUCKING TREND THERE IS!”

  30. misterioso

    BigSteve, I hope I have never suggested that any of my views are expressed with the certainty of Objective Truth. I am not Jehovah thundering to Moses on Mt. Sinai. But I do believe that I am capable of making informed judgements (i.e., thinking critically) about music, literature, movies, politics, food, and other subjects that interest me and about which I feel I have a good base of knowledge. I am unwilling to withhold judgements (critical thinking) on the basis that “other people dig it,” and I am more than willing to hear that my judgements are good or bad and to rethink them, or not.

    So, in short, “people like it, who am I to say it is good or bad,” is lame. Not to mention boring. I feel able to say the pasta dinner I had last night were good, and that it was not as good as some that I have had in Italy, but it was better than Chef Boyardee’s spaghetti and meatballs. On the basis of what you are writing, I have no grounds to make and express such a judgement. “You think you have the right to judge those foods? Because they all involve pasta?”

    If we aren’t going to form and express our critical views on things, maybe someone should start another forum where all hang around and smile at each other?

  31. BigSteve

    I think the difference is that Browne’s music is *my* music. It was easy to explain it’s appeal to me and people of my demographic.

    It was perhaps incorrect to describe myself as a “convert” to Fugazi’s music. I had never really heard them at all when they were current. Playing music trivia in a bar 4-5 times a month with people mostly 20 years younger than me has brought me into contact with some stuff that I’d missed. I just decided to explore Fugazi because people that age who generally have good taste like them. What I found was that they were kind of the last post-punk band. They took some of the pieces of punk, slowed it down, and found the funk inside of it, kind of like the Gang of Four but ten years later.

    We use that term ‘angular’ all the time, and I guess it’s like pornography — we know it when we see (hear) it, but we don’t really have a definition. But once you’ve stretched out the guitar riffs in that angular way, and you’ve loosened up the rhythm, there’s not really anywhere to go. So the music sounded fine to me, right up my post-punk alley in a way, but the lyrics did not speak to me, as they obviously did to their community.

    So I support what Fugazi did with punk rock, even if others had done some of it before, because I don’t expect 90s kids to be satisfied with Go4 and other bands made up of people my age.

  32. BigSteve

    I understand that in its extreme form my argument would dictate that we couldn’t discuss anything about music meaningfully.

    But to take your metaphor, some people don’t like pasta at all, right? If such a person said to you, explain to me why pasta is good and why I should like it, you couldn’t really say anything very helpful.

  33. Rock on, BigSteve. Thanks. That makes a lot of sense. I’m sure HVB (not to mention misterioso and I) wasn’t expecting you to be the sole spokesperson for Fugazi. I’m sure there’s a true Fugazi Demographic Fan along with ladymisskirroyale checking in on this discussion and wondering if he or she should come forward with his or her views. He or she should. Subcultures Welcome!

  34. misterioso

    BigSteve, it is true that there are some discussions that are entirely pointless. “Tell me why I should like pasta (or Fugazi)” is not a promising line of discussion. “Tell me what you like about Fugazi (or pasta) and I can agree or disagree” is much more promising. Which you have now done. And for which I say thanks.

    I am not really all that interested in converting people to my likes and dislikes. I am not a missionary. Don’t put me in that position.

  35. hrrundivbakshi

    To be clear: for me, a PLEASE EXPLAIN summons is a sort of cry for help. Fugazi is a band that counts some of my best friends as its fans. For that reason, I find myself wanting to like them. And yet I don’t. The fact that I haven’t really spent much time in the Fugazi Community Pool makes me wonder if I need to investigate further — and, in a larger sense, it makes me wonder why people whose judgement I usually trust *do*. Hence my post.

  36. Mod, I have some agreement with you here. The value of subcultures is that you can develop your aesthetic and ideas without having to appeal to the whole world–you have a crowd that shares your values, and within that space, you’re not forced to constantly defend yourself.

    The downside of subcultures (and I know this from long experience) is that they become insular and isolated, and never have to really deal with responses of people who think profoundly differently from the way they do.

    That said, Rock Town is at least as guilty of this as the Fugazi community–which is a much larger subculture, with national level connections and even international ones, than Rock Town’s subculture has ever been. Fugazi has sold many many records over the years; they don’t match the top mainstream acts obviously, but they have a lot of fans.

    Whenever I think of Rock Town’s subculture, I think of this line in an interview on Big Star’s Live record from 1974. “What’s it like to play this kind of music now?”–that is, what’s it like to play Beatles-influenced pop rock at a time when it’s no longer popular and has become a subculture?

    And just so I’m making myself clear, I encountered the subculture of you and your musician friends at around the same time I encountered the Fugazi subculture. I always knew you guys better, but I talked to them sometimes too. To me, Fugazi and Nixon’s Head will always be more closely intertwined than others might think.

  37. Of course, we both remember this. A fun moment. But one response to it is that it was also never really “no trend”–it was a trend, because it had values. It was just a trend that had nobody much in it. I’ve spent a lot of my life establishing trends that had no one much in them but me.

  38. Fugazi was, of course, artistically opposed to shit-hot solos, because of its emphasis on the virtuosity of an individual. Their notion was more band as ensemble political rally agit-prop. The goal is not to perform for an audience but to interact with it and get it to respond. Many of these ideas can be found in Bertolt Brectht’s manifestos about theater. How well Fugazi does it is open to question, but asking for more solos is to miss what they were trying to do.

  39. Just for the record, Mod, I never asked you to come to terms with Jackson Browne. I can’t stand the guy’s music. In fact, you were won over more by Late for the Sky than me. That record still stands for a bunch of things that I think are total shit.

  40. Well, mockcarr has had a lot of practice. He was already an experienced misanthrope at 20–mock, please correct me if I’m wrong.

  41. I hear this, but it strikes me as odd. You’ve played music near where these guys have for 30 years, sometimes literally down the street from them. Are they really that hard to understand?

  42. The solos comment was a red herring or straw man or whatever it’s called. I threw that out there to see if anyone had a pulse, but what I was also getting as was than when I hear their music I don’t pick up on any particularly distinctive musical styles from the band members. They often sound a bit like Gang of Four, for instance, but when I hear Andy Gill do his thing on guitar, I know I’m hearing him. When I hear the Fugazi guys, I hear guys playing in that style. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s the lot of 99% of musicians, definitely myself included, if I may call myself a musician.

    I’ve got some friends, including 2 RTH lurkers, who are friendly with McKaye and that crowd, and by all accounts they are as cool and friendly as people as their apple-supplying acts of community building might suggest. It’s funny and totally unplanned, but this whole week has centered around bands that I probably would identify with as people more than many bands I love, yet I don’t feel a great connection with their music: Fugazi, REM, some of those “lesser” UK post-punk bands… I mean, given the chance of hanging out with Stipe and Buck or McKaye and the monobrow guy vs the Davies brothers I’d choose one of the former sets of musicians. They seem like the kind of dudes who could hang in the Hall. The Davies brothers, on the other hand, whose music I love, strike me for some reason as real drags when it comes to nerdy rock community hangouts.

  43. I can understand why you would want to clear your name, mwall. My apologies for lumping you in with that Healing Team that actually opened my heart just a little bit.

  44. mockcarr

    Sure, but it’s hard to tell who was doing the avoiding for a long time.

  45. misterioso

    mw, I’m not sure how “Rock Town is at least as guilty of this as the Fugazi community” in having a “crowd that shares your values, and within that space, you’re not forced to constantly defend yourself.” Surely everyone here is constantly being called on to defend themselves. This strikes me as almost the whole point of this forum and thus it is almost the polar opposite of the kind of insular scene you describe. Mod is constantly forced to defend his perverse love of Kokomo, Pere Ubu, and other terrible things; tonyola his weird predilection for prog and songs about elves, or what have you; saturnismine his inhuman incapacity to enjoy the UK version of Revolver; ladymisskirroyale her abiding love of post-punk; and so on. If there is a sense of community here it is based on, I hope, the capacity to disagree, maybe even the fondness for disagreeing. Feel free to agree with me on this point, or not.

  46. I think we have a significant degree of common ground here, Mod, although I probably find Fugazi’s sound more immediately identifiable and unique than you might.

  47. Clearly there are musical differences on this list, misterioso. But I think the crowd and the context is still pretty narrow. So what though, really? All crowds and contexts are narrow.

    But look, and no insult meant on a group that I’m part of, but the mid-30s to mid-60s white American rock nerd guy, even with one comment out of fifty made by a woman, doesn’t quite represent the universe of taste. Of course, that’s also why conversation here can be so interesting–we share so many reference points.

  48. Misterioso, this may be a function of how long a person has been a part of RTH. I’ve been around since 2004 or so, and I know that certain genres, bands are just not worth bringing up in detail around here. Mainly because I don’t always need a band I like (or even am just curious about) to be dissected and disdained for lack of cool bass lines or healthy respect of tight pop arrangements, etc. Those aren’t always my rock values, so artists that veer outside of them may not necessarily have a place here. To me, that’s a limit of this subculture. There’s nothing intrisnically wrong with that, but we should recognize it.

  49. Yes, it’s always a great feeling to Take Back The Power.

  50. misterioso

    mwall, Oats, you are probably both right. Not about Fugazi, obviously. But about the often unspoken constraints of any forum or subculture.

  51. mockcarr

    I think this argument has become something like watching a girl’s soccer game. Does anyone really care if their daughter isn’t involved? In fact, SHOULD they care? That would be creepy.

  52. hrrundivbakshi


  53. jeangray

    Rock is jus’ one facet of my every-day music consumption.

    Is there a cool way to impart to others how being limited to any one form of music feels extremely constricting to me???

  54. I wonder if some Fugazi fan trolling for some mention of their favorite band excitedly stumbles upon this thread only to be crestfallen that it’s a debate on the nature of subjective versus objective taste.

    That Waiting Room video is GREAT. Punks dancing, clapping their hands, and singing along instead of violent moshing is refreshing. I do feel the love in that room, and that’s a good song. (the bass riff works well on Tuba too if you’ve ever heard the Big Mess Orchestra play it)

    Still, I’m not thrilled when a band exists more as a concept than a creator of lasting music. And shouldn’t they have fed the band after they were liberated from the Cambodian prison camp before they made them play a gig?

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