Since its birth, rock ‘n’ roll has been a music worm-eaten with the myth of the lone, outlaw rebel.
From Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy” to the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel”, from The Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack” all the way to Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55”, both the songs and the singers have paid humble homage to the idea of the music as dangerous and streetwise. New performers are challenged to wear the mantles of excess reached by a cast of legendary folk heroes from the golden age who, we are chronically reminded, sodomized and opiated themselves into oblivion.
The rebellion celebrated in these songs and myths is the American sort, as typified by Dean’s Rebel and Brando’s Wild One, a lone expression of non-conformity against the school and the family structure, with the case study aloof and misunderstood, though always adored by his singing biographer. Sometimes, the heroes of these popular legends flaunt the breaking of society’s rules, but always in an inarticulate and reactionary way.
Nostalgic types, semioticians, and critics celebrate this as meaningful, unprecedented rebellion when, in fact, rock’s bemoaned rebel advances American capitalism’s preferred mode for all its drones: individualist (read: elitist), wild (consumerist) and enigmatic (macho). Indeed, as Bono of U2 announces his subversive (not) intent to “fuck with the mainstream” on the MTV music awards, and Ice-T describes the hoary details of his cop-killing fantasies (yawn), there is no concern in the business community, as there is no chance that these abstractions will affect the mega-conglomerates who rule our neo-colonies.
In contrast to these rough characters, however, there is one high-selling group conspicuously ignored in the industry-written ad-rags (which masquerade as unbiased music journals). Although capitalism can gleefully assimilate any and all fashion, sound, lyrics, et al, the one true threat, which it must destroy at all costs, is that which threatens its own insidious machinations.
Particularly, the one group of its scope and popularity which consistently abstains from dealing with the Mafiosi music business: Fugazi is a music group with no discernible antecedents. To understand Fugazi’s sonics requires that one forego the reference-laden mindset which is so popular with rock ‘n’ roll bands today. Old genres are resuscitated rampantly as the new guard wraps itself in the tried and true, knowing there’s safety in history’s cloak.
Instead, Fugazi strikes into the nether worlds of forms unfilled, chords unstruck, and questions unbroached. Music which is always sonically tough, freaked-out, and, importantly, consciously independent from the industry marketing-publicity machine, despite that machine’s constant demands for submission.
Indeed, Fugazi has a communard’s ethic of autonomy, with singer/guitarist Ian Mackaye still booking the gigs (typically in theaters and halls from the vaudeville/James Brown Entertainment era) and retaining ownership of Fugazi’s label, Dischord Records. Such a feat is typical enough in the underground, but the extent of Fugazi’s popularity, both live and recorded (over a million records sold), is what makes it both notable as an example, and threatening to the investors, CEOs, and various other trolls who comprise “the industry.”
Fugazi’s example is present in all their endeavors, as their gigs are unrivaled for showmanship and crazed, soulful catharsis.