Last week, Fugazi reissued their demo, which came out on cassette in 1987. And our colleague Anthony Pappalardo wrote an essay about the band for Alternative Press. It’s since gotten 15,000 Facebook likes. In the piece, Pappalardo posits that Fugazi are the only American band with six great-if-not-classic albums. He says the Washington, D.C., quartet are arguably the best band ever from the United States.
Can anyone name another American band with that many good records? Band–not a solo artist like your Robert Allen Zimmerman-types.
This argument has been a topic our friends love to have when drunk. Sonic Youth, as Pappalardo points out, comes closest. But really, SY doesn’t have the six consecutive good albums Fugazi released over a decade, beginning with “13 Songs” (1989) up to “End Hits” (1999). That’s peak Stones-esque.
Thus finding a better American band than Fugazi is the music equivalent of eating six saltine crackers: It can’t be done.
“In On The Killtaker” is my all-time favorite punk/hardcore/post-punk album. After it came out in ’93, I saw the band play a show outside Boston. 3500 people showed up. It remains one the best few hours of my life. Singer/guitarist Ian MacKaye and his fellow singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto told the crowd to stop moshing. Instead the entire room started pogoing, a mass bounce dance that alleviated more teenage angst than anything I’d ever done at that point (I was only 14, so not much).
The show cost $5. “In On The Killtaker” went on to sell about 200,000 copies. They were reviewed in Rolling Stone. Their annual free summer show in D.C. was attended by 20,000 people. Fugazi was mainstream but never compromised.
We live in a strange moment where post-hardcore bands like Slint, who played to maybe 1-200 people on tour in the ’90s, reform and sell out 1000-capacity rooms and play corporate festivals like Coachella. At the same time, people talk about bands like The Clash, The Smiths, Televison and such all the time with words “best band” attached. Rarely does Fugazi come up.
On the cover of last Sunday’s Times Arts section, A.O. Scott led a discussion on the political economy of culture. He wonders why no classic works of political art are being made in this time of socio-politco-economic turmoil. The whole piece spins off the rails–“Chef” Eddie Huang, a guy who is known mainly for selling pork buns, was on the panel. But you can certainly say that at some point since the No Logo ’90s commerce beat art. Corporations were no longer the Man, man. But let’s not jump into that “why” wormhole–the Internet, Nirvana, blah, whatever, nevermind.
Fugazi are forgotten because they never reformed, cashed in or sold out. “You are not what you own” was their theme. The only Fugazi shirt wasn’t even made by the band and said “This is not a Fugazi t shirt.” At a moment when everyone “creative” is also a “brand” and wants to be an “influencer” and famous, Fugazi are even more relevant.
The current model is not working. Inequality is growing. And culture is losing to commerce. See you at the next Rolls Royce X Monster Energy X VFILES-type party during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.