Image via WikipediaIf someone asked you to name the two or three most important and influential individuals in Punk Rock, what names would spring immediately to your mind? Likely, the names Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious would be quickly mentioned; certainly people like Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra would be on the short list as well. It always surprises me how far down on most peoples' lists you must go before you reach a name that I would argue belongs near the top of anyone's list of influential Punks: Ian MacKaye. I was very pleased, then, when Tom R. submitted his NW4NW request and first on the list was Minor Threat.
Through Minor Threat, MacKaye and bandmates Jeff Nelson, Brian Baker and Lyle Preslar (later replaced by Steve Hansgen) did more to create and codify the sound that would become known as Hardcore than almost any other band working in the early days of the genre. Through his self-run Dischord label, MacKaye took the DIY ethic of record release and distribution to higher levels. Through his lyrics, MacKaye almost single-handedly (if unintentionally) spawned the no-drink no-drugs Straight Edge Hardcore subculture. Nearing 30 years since their break-up after only three years of active existence, Minor Threat remains one of the most historically significant and continually referenced bands of its time and genre.
Formed after MacKaye and Nelson left The Teen Idles, Minor Threat debuted in late 1980 by opening for fellow Washington, DC punks Bad Brains. Bolstered by a high-energy, full throttle musical blast, MacKaye delivered blunt yet intelligent lyrics about the lives he and his friends were living at the time. Minor Threat's songs were positive and motivational, urging the kids who were their audience to go DO something with their lives and not fall into the haze of violence and self-destruction that even today seems an all-too-common destination for disenfranchised youth.
In 1981, the band released two 7-inch EPs, Minor Threat and In My Eyes (later reissued together as a full 12-inch LP). Trouser Press describes the contents of those two records as well as I or anyone else could:
"The twelve selections effectively define [DC's] hardcore sound, with a powerhouse adrenalized rush and Ian MacKaye's explosive and articulate vocals. "Filler," "I Don't Wanna Hear It" and "Minor Threat" are some of the classics of the genre; if you haven't heard them, you have never — repeat, never — heard Hardcore. [Two] of the most intense, ungodly-force-of-technology records ever launched."Minor Threat's lone album, 1983's Out Of Step, slows the tempest by about a half-step (without losing any of the intensity). The title cut is a re-recording of a track from the In My Eyes EP, and begins to show MacKaye's own disillusionment with the scene he was integral in helping create, particular with regard to the Straight Edge movement. In 2009, while speaking at Franklin and Marshall College here in Lancaster, PA, MacKaye explained that he never intended his lyrics about abstaining from alcohol, drugs and sex to be a manifesto for anyone; he was simply singing about his own experience. Unfortunately, a certain subset of those who came to identify themselves as Straight Edge became militant and belligerent, infamously knocking beers out of people's hands and threatening those who did not conform to the abstinent lifestyle. MacKaye's disappointment in his words being used to justify such action was already clear on this record: this version of "Out Of Step" includes a spoken bridge in which MacKaye declares, "This is not a set of rules!"
Minor Threat would break-up in 1983, but MacKaye continued to be a major force in the independent music scene, especially in DC. After participating in a number of one-off projects or sideline collaborations like Egg Hunt (with former bandmate Nelson) and Pailhead (with Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen), MacKaye formed another high-profile and highly revered band, Fugazi. All of Minor Threat's recorded output was collected on one essential disc, Complete Discography.
Here are two Minor Threat clips for your enjoyment. The first is an audio-only clip of "In My Eyes," followed by a collage of live footage as the bedding for the classic "Out Of Step." My thanks to Tom R. for this excellent request!