There have been thousands of articles written about Fugazi since their inception in 1987, and with good reason. Few bands have had the kind of impact musically and culturally that they have, and almost none have accomplished it in the way that they did. All hail Fugazi, the greatest band in American history.
I feel obligated to say that I think a lot of what happened in the early American punk scene was silly. Intentionally so. I read an interview with Ian MacKaye recently where said that the media’s coverage of the early DC punk scene as being full of violent nihilists ended up actually delivering a lot of violent nihilists to their scene who suddenly thought “hey I must be punk” when the truth could be that or maybe anything else. Growing up, my understanding of punks was that they were assholes. Some kind of very intentional desire to be shitty to make a point about society maybe? I wasn’t totally sure. Now as an adult who went through a lengthy and painful learn everything I can about punk phase recently… I don’t think my opinion has changed much. “Fat Mike drinks his own piss and that’s why George W. Bush is bad?” That is probably a thought I had at Warped Tour ’03, as a 17 year old kid in chuck taylors and a Millecollin shirt.
Every movement is bound to include people with different intentions for their involvement. The revolt and rebellion of the early US punk scene on the west coast wasn’t much different than the hippie revolt that happened just a decade before. In the very good 33 1/3 installment Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Jello Biafra himself is quoted as saying that all of the fire and promise of the sixties was “mellowed out, left unfinished, paved over into what we now call yuppie culture… Rock and Roll had been reduced to a spectator sport.” It started as something cool, and ended as something socially acceptable and therefore no longer impactful.
The point I’m slowing making here is that counterculture operates in this vicious cycle of anger, art, change, co-opting by popular culture, followed by eventual meaninglessness. It’s a shame, but all good things come to an end. If you’ve spent any amount of time around the punk/alt music scene you’ve probably seen it first hand. I can talk about dozens and dozens of bands that went from playing small bars and diy spaces to cashing in on major label deals. Regardless of what you think about them now, Green Day was a great punk band that hit the major market at the exact right moment and cashed in bigtime. I don’t blame them for it, if I could do it all over again I would have sold out in a heartbeat and would probably be on tour with Puddle of Mudd right now. I don’t know those guys but they’re the shittiest band I could think of in a pinch.
There are exceptions to this rule. I would argue that Rage Against the Machine found a way to exist on a major label without changing who they were or what their music sounded like. Limp Bizkit is another (someday I’ll write a whole series about how criminally underrated LB is but the time for that is not now). Sleep famously signed a major label deal in the mid 90s, only to deliver a single track that was over an hour long and later declared “unmarketable”. Just a hilarious story of a major trying to make the heaviest doom metal band on earth into a major label act.
If you deep dive into the career of Fugazi, however, you will find a band that seemingly never flinched on their purpose, and found tremendous success while staying true to their sound and their motivations.
There exists a really incredible project called Visualizing the History of Fugazi, that according to the site was put together for a thesis project. I have spent a few hours exploring this page and it gets better and better as you continue to process how much work was done to display the career of Fugazi in such a way.
The stats: Fugazi played 1,048 shows in 372 cities, on 5 continents, and in all 50 U.S. States. They booked their own tours, and only played all ages shows. To do this now would be remarkable… to do this before the internet existed is absolutely fucking incredible. They also tried to make the ticket price of every show as close to $5 as possible. Through their own label, Dischord, Fugazi is estimated to have sold somewhere between 2 to 3 million records. They have also released live recordings of over 800 shows that can be purchased on a sliding scale of $1 to $100, depending on how generous you’re feeling. Their DIY ethic was deliberate and indomitable, and they never lost focus of it for as long as they were a band.
Above and beyond their work ethic, they also helped raise through benefit shows about $250k for local DC activist organizations for causes ranging from immigration rights to housing and homelessness initiatives. I truly think Fugazi is one of the coolest bands to ever exist.
As an adult human being, existing in a world that will absolutely fuck you up if you let it, it’s tough to do much of anything deliberately. I was looking at the usage settings on my phone the other day and it said that I average about 230 notifications per day. 83,950 notifications, on average, per year! All of which are trying to get me to read an email or go to a meeting or respond to my kid’s teacher about something he forgot to bring to school or whatever else. Whole weeks go by without a single moment of intentional or deliberate action aside from trying to put out whatever fire seems the hottest at that moment. This is how we go from people who care about things to dead-eyed shells of who we used to be, standing in the car line wondering how the fuck we’re going to make it to that amazing moment when we get to go to sleep for the night.
I am unbelievably bad at setting goals, but finding ways to live with even the most remote speck of intention can dramatically change how you live. If you know what you want to accomplish in any and/or all aspects of your life, you can better understand if you’re tracking in the right direction or not. Are you getting better or worse? Imagine having the kind of deliberate energy that Fugazi had and being able to sit back when it’s all over and know that you came anywhere close to living how you wanted to. Maybe it’s possible, probably won’t know until we get there.
If the view is all I can ascertain
Pure understanding is out of range If I make that call
Why can’t I make that change?
FUGAZI- Ex-Spectator, 2001