Ian MacKaye, who helped launch the American hardcore punk scene in the early '80s with his band Minor Threat and then helped expand that sound and scene later in the decade with Fugazi, will conduct a question-and-answer session at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art Thursday, September 16th. The event is sponsored by the Memphis Music Foundation.
Though MacKaye may be best known as a singer and guitarist for Minor Threat and Fugazi, perhaps more relevant to his Memphis appearance is his experience as a co-founder of the long-running Washington, D.C.-based independent record label Dischord.
"I've done several speaking engagements over the years," MacKaye says. "I enjoy them, but I usually only do them when asked. It's like with interviews. I don't go beating the bushes looking for interviews. But if somebody calls me, I'll do it. It's just a Q&A, essentially a public interview."
MacKaye says he doesn't know what to expect.
"If I get invited to come speak to a school or a class, I know there will be an audience," MacKaye says. "With this, I don't know what it will be. Even though I'm largely unknown in the mainstream world, in the underground there are plenty of people who know my work. But I don't have anything to say unless people have a question for me."
Though Dischord is an indie success story, MacKaye's entry into the music business wasn't really business-driven.
"I came out of punk rock, so in the beginning it was the art of necessity," MacKaye says. "We wanted to document what was happening because it was important to us. No one else cared. That's the punk aesthetic. You aren't waiting for a handout, you just go out and do your stuff. It was a real revolution in terms of what kids were doing for themselves."
MacKaye remembers early Fugazi shows at Memphis' Antenna Club well — including one show where the band was harassed by local "hardline" punks.
"The two places where I really crossed paths with [hardline guys] was Memphis and Orange County. Memphis was almost the epicenter of that," MacKaye says, bemusedly. "I remember one guy following us to the health food store, wanting to rat us out if we weren't eating the way we said we were." But MacKaye doesn't think he's been to Memphis in nearly a decade. While in town, Mac-Kaye says he hopes to pay his respects to a local label following in the Dischord tradition: Goner Records, whom MacKaye has had some contact with due to his affinity for Australian band Eddy Current Suppresion Ring, who are a Goner act stateside.
"I'm probably a one-man Eddy Current Supression Ring promotional operation," MacKaye says. "I've bought so many of their records to give to other people, and I went to see them in Philadelphia. I'm so glad [Goner] put those records out here."
MacKaye's appearance at the Brooks is being held in conjunction with the museum's ongoing "Who Shot Rock & Roll" photography exhibit, which runs through September 26th and includes two images of MacKaye, one with Minor Threat and one with Fugazi. MacKaye's Q&A session is 7 p.m., Thursday, September 16th. Tickets are $5.
Before MacKaye arrives, the Brooks will have a couple of special events connected to local music writer and filmmaker Robert Gordon. On Thursday, September 9th, at 7 p.m., the Brooks will screen Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story, a documentary co-written and co-directed by Gordon that originally aired on PBS in 2007. Then, on Sunday, September 12th, at 2 p.m., Gordon will be on hand to host the latest edition of the Brooks' ongoing Real to Reel series, in which local arts figures screen and talk about work that is important to them. Gordon says his Real to Reel presentation will include a series of excerpts from such sources as the Marx Brothers, Jean-Luc Godard's 1968 film Weekend, Memphian Lynne Sachs' film Sermons and Sacred Pictures, and a clip of Memphis blues singer Furry Lewis. Admission to both events is $8 or $6 for museum members.
For more information on all Brooks events, see brooksmuseum.org.