I have seen Fugazi play at least a dozen times. I have driven to the Fort Reno shows in D.C., to Montreal and even caught one out of coincidence in Utah. My band EULCID was lucky enough to play on the last Fugazi tour in 2002. They were a band that changed my life. No really… changed my life. I am not using hyperbole.
Reclamation is the first song I remember. The guitars were lightning fast, the drums and bass were slow. I heard it. I listened to it. I was within it. Many of my friends felt the same way. There is something sacred about their music, something that makes it feel wrong to do a cover of a Fugazi song.
But that is exactly the power of the band. They blurred to larger than life and somehow shed that pretense at the same time. They are a living entity beyond the four (and sometimes five) people that made the sounds.
At one Fort Reno show there was a particularly bad lightning storm. Since this was an outside stage it posed a pretty big risk to the band and the crowd. Several thousand people were essentially in the open. But so many people showed up to the free show, (and some from ten hours away like us) when there was a break in the storm the band tried to get in a few songs. The plastic covering came off the amps and instantly every chord and lyric was familiar to the people that were standing around me. Being able to hear the audience and band blend as one was always stunning at a Fugazi show. I’ve seen a crowd finish a song when Guy’s mic went out (Rend It). Anyway, back at the Fort Reno show, four or five songs into the set the storm began to return. The bass line to Waiting Room had just begun and the thunder matched it. At the familiar break before the vocals came in, seemingly on cue, a huge bolt of lightning spread out across the sky without pattern, like a crack in the sidewalk. This was staggering, like staggering in a way that I don’t recall ever seeing that kind of lightning in my life. It felt like Fugazi vs. Nature and it was a lopsided bout, the power from the stage dwarfed the clouds colliding.
After the show my friend Pete said that the weather fought Fugazi and Fugazi won. I am pretty sure he was correct.
A Slow Kite.
For me growing up in a post-industrial manufacturing city in America Fugazi was like a kite hovering over the skyline of crumbling brick factory buildings. It was an affirmation that some things I suspected were wrong actually were, and that there were other people like me who noticed. They were making an articulate description of the cracks all around me. Though I initially misunderstood the intent of the words to Reclamation I got some ideas right away, that I didn’t need to try and fulfill this aggressive macho idea of a person I was forming, or aspire to be a consumer, an employee. The voices of ignorance I heard around me, in media, on the radio that just didn’t seem to add up were fucking wrong at best (I remember thinking the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world were not honest from a very young age even though I couldn’t articulate why.) Maybe I would have found my way out of thatRising When People Fall mentality regardless, and Fugazi didn’t save me from it, but I know they made it a LOT easier… and to be honest, I think they might have saved me from it. To invoke Howard Zinn, you couldn’t be neutral on that moving train.
My Grandfather really did not like cops. He had all kinds of jokes about them. At least once when we got pulled over he refused to speak to a cop and just handed him his license. Another time he rolled down the window while displaying a greeting of his middle finger. One of my particular favorites was when he was asked a question by a regular cop traffic cop he replied, “You’re a fucking detective, you figure it out.” Though I am not sure, I doubt it had anything to do with them as individuals but what they represented to him. My Grandmother thinks it’s from just not wanting to be told what to do, ever, and the beatings he took from cops when he was young. Her exact quote I think is, “Well… he never did go peacefully.”
Similarly, I also don’t know exactly what Ian McKaye meant with these lyrics, I know he didn’t grow up a Native American kid in West Virginia like my Grandfather. I imagine there is some in-between though. There is some general revulsion most of us have to the sentiment I am reacting to in this song, the bullying by what amounts to in some cases a thug. The implication that you are supposed to be a certain way and the questions if you aren’t, the arbitrary power over the “others” that cops possess. I can’t stand someone being bullied, ever. I wanted to cover this song for a very long time. I would always think of my Grandfather. It does feel different to me though; I wasn’t perceived an “other” in America’s identity like my Grandfather was, but maybe in thought. Perhaps that is where the feelings met. I was also given another huge advantage, Fugazi flew a kite over my town via distros and mix-tapes. Now when I get a lot of demeaning questions directed at me in just about any situation, I know that pig would make a great cop, and I’ll let them figure it out themselves.