Ian MacKaye, 52, is a fifth-generation Washingtonian who founded punk bands including Minor Threat and Fugazi. Since 2003 he has been performing with his partner, Amy Farina, in the Evens.
Do you think you’re misunderstood?
Do you think anybody is understood, really? Do you think any public figure is correctly understood? I have no idea.
Well, what role do you think people have assigned to you?
I think people quite often think of me as a fundamentalist, and I don’t think I’m a fundamentalist. I think they think of me as being intolerant, and I’m not intolerant. I think people, depending on what they think of punk rock, might think, Oh, he’s a tough guy or whatever. But I define punk rock as free space. It just happens to be the moniker of that free space at the time that I came across it. But it’s a free space that always existed. It used to be called rock-and-roll, or blues or jazz or folk or beat. It’s a place where new ideas can be presented without having to act under the tyranny of profit. Profit tyranny. [Laughs.] You can have that.
What trait of yours do you like the least?
What does that mean, trait?
You can’t answer all of my questions with a question.
I’m just looking for clarification.
What behavior, what aspect of yourself?
There is a part of me, and I think this was instilled in me growing up, in which I developed an almost instinctual defensiveness that I find unattractive. I get threatened by something, and I push back in a way that is unnecessary.
Are you a good father?
I don’t know. How do you define good father? I’d like to think I am. I certainly am happy to spend time with him. I feel very fortunate to. The reason I’m reticent about discussing this is that I think there’s kind of a magnificence placed around parenthood that makes people who aren’t parents feel like they’re missing out on something. And I just don’t believe in that either.
When your son was a toddler, do you remember what songs you sang to him?
Sure. I wrote them. Here’s an interesting thing about me: I don’t know the lyrics to other songs. And I don’t really know the lyrics to my own songs, honestly. So if you asked me to recite the lyrics to a Fugazi song or a Minor Threat song, I’d have a very hard time doing that. So I wrote some simple songs that I thought would be of interest to him, or entertaining. There were a couple of camp songs as well. You know, “I’ve got a little old piece of tin/ Nobody knows what shape it’s in/ Got four wheels and a running board/ It’s a Ford, it’s a Ford. Honk honk/ Rattle rattle/ Beep beep.” That one I’ve got memorized.
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