Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Revisited Vol. 1 - Fugazi's "Steady Diet Of Nothing"


The first word out of Guy Picciotto's mouth on Fugazi's second full length, Steady Diet Of Nothing is "exeunt." According to Webster's, it's used in the theater to indicate that two or more performers have retired from a scene. You'd think that hearing this word repeated over and over would be a fitting introduction to a band that dedicated themselves to creativity and meaning in a "scene" that they felt was stagnant. However, this powerful declaration was lost on me when I first heard this record.

It was a dreary Saturday in Montevallo, a small Alabama town where my mother grew up and my father went to college. We were visiting my Grandparents. I was still too young to drive, but too old to spend the day in front of the Television as my family talked business and politics. Frustrated by being away from most of my CD's and tapes, my bike, and my friends for an entire Saturday, I decided to go for a walk and explore some of the places in town I'd never checked out when I was younger. The rush of wandering around in search of creepy (and hopefully haunted) houses, bike trails, and playground companions was gone. In its place was a new found confidence and attitude that had apparently been hiding deep in the back of my head up until the music of Black Flag and Minor Threat kicked it's door open and tossed it into the outside world a few months prior. I wasn't going to just sit there and stew all day, I was going to go out and search for any trace of this new and exciting culture I'd discovered. At that point, it was just about the only thing that mattered to me.

I headed up to Montevallo's main street, home to my Grandparents' church, a couple of restaurants, and a car dealership. I walked up and down the street a few times to take in all of the scenery that wouldn't have meant much to me as a child. One business that had never really commanded my attention before was a college book store. I can't remember the name of it at this point, but I'll never forget how I felt as I walked in and noticed that they had a small selection of used CD's for sale. Used music was my bread and butter at the time as I only had allowance money to spend. I'd say that almost every cent I earned from doing various tasks around the house was spent on music or music related magazines. I wasted no time with any other merchandise in the store and immediately started with the "A" section of the CD's. I had memorized a library of bands to look for that had been mentioned in the Thank You Lists of records I already owned, and Zine articles I had poured over time and time again. Nothing piqued my interest until i got to the "F" section...then I saw the cover of Steady Diet. I knew that the singer of Minor Threat was in Fugazi, but I had never heard them before. The title struck me immediately. I felt like my life was a steady diet of nothing with the exception of music. I held on to the CD as I continued browsing. All I could think about was the fact that I was going to hear Ian MacKaye sing on another album, and decided to go ahead and buy it despite the fact that I had no clue what it might sound like. I took my prize up to the counter, paid, and damn near ran back to my Grandparents' house to listen to it on my Discman.

In almost no time, the intro to "Exit Only" was making it's way through my headphones as a I gazed at the liner notes. There weren't any photos of the band hanging out on porches or playing shows. Instead I saw shots of a Teepee and some sort of old hospital room. My surprise and confusion increased as the song went on. The music was brooding, and immediately reminded me of the slower parts of some Nirvana songs. I liked the sound, but at the same time I was angry that it lacked the aggression of all of the Minor Threat material. I continued listening to song after song, happy to hear Ian's voice in some of them, as I read along with the lyrics. This was definitely not "I Don't Wanna Hear It" Volume II. My frustration continued. By the time I was finished with my first listen, I almost felt cheated. What had happened here? Why didn't this music make me want to give everyone in the world a piece of my mind whether they liked it or not? Why wasn't I ready to tear the room apart with my bare hands? I gave it another listen on the ride back home, which yielded the same results. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the music, but I just could not connect with it on a personal level. I had been able to relate to Minor Threat in a way that it is still hard for me to verbalize to this day. In that band, Ian was screaming some of the things that I'd always thought and never been able to articulate at the top of his lungs. I wanted so badly to feel that connection again with Fugazi and Steady Diet, but it just wasn't happening. I'd bitten off a bit more than I could chew. Ultimately, I felt defeated and shelved the album for quite a while afterward.

Luckily, that feeling of defeat didn't last forever. I gave Fugazi another shot about a year later with the purchase of Repeater and 13 Songs. They had a slightly more punk sound and feel. Listening to those two records over and over helped me connect with their attitude and ethic. The lyrics slowly began to make more sense and not look like a foreign language to me. I began listening to Steady Diet again, and while it didn't get as much play as the other two, it served as a lesson to me. From that point on, I tried my best to give music that I seek out more than one or two chances. At that point in my life, music was not as disposable as it is now. Discographies of the bands I was searching for weren't a click away. I held on to Steady Diet when my only option would have been trading it in for store credit towards other albums. Every time I put it on, I'm glad I didn't make that hasty decision.

I am almost 26 years old now. I have been listening to Fugazi for more than a decade, and was lucky enough to see them on their tour in support of The Argument. It seems like I find a new line or two that I can relate to as the years go on. Recently, the song "Runaway Return" on Steady Diet has become incredibly important to me as I struggle with the balance of my responsibilities in the workplace and the DIY projects that truly drive me. Of course lines like "There's nothing living/There's nothing given/The weekender gives in/puts on his working suit" and "There's nothing waiting/there's nothing imminent/Nothing forgiven for the young idea" weren't going to impact me as an adolescent. They weren't meant to.

I won't ever pretend that Fugazi had more of an impact on me than Minor Thread did, or that Steady Diet is my favorite of their records, but it is one that truly made me think. For me, it's the sound of the realization that rebellion isn't always as simple as a destructive act or a "Fuck you!" to an authority figure. It's the soundtrack to the moment it dawns on you that they aren't always the problem. Sometimes rebellion means being introspective, calling yourself out on your own mistakes, and having the guts to learn from them instead of making them again. Sometimes, it's the desire to create art even if you are the only on that sees, reads, or hears it. Sometimes, it's picking up and starting over.
Sometimes it's looking back and laughing.

1 comment:

Matt said...

the one record i don't have. damn.