(This originally appeared in Dig BMX issue #61.)
Somewhere in the Washington, DC area, in 1986, the band Fugazi was formed. Consisting of veteran players in the DC hardcore scene, including Brendan Canty, Joe Lally, Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, Fugazi took their name from a book of interviews conducted with soldiers in Vietnam. The meaning of the word, a soldier’s slang term for “fu*ked up situation,” reflected the politicized world view of guitarist/vocalist Ian Mackaye. The band played their first show on September 3, 1987. Mackaye described their final song of the set as being about “What the heck we could do if we did,” and launched into ‘Waiting Room.’ Twenty years later, even with Fugazi as a band in the past tense, they’ve heeded their own advice to “Not sit idly by.”
From Fugazi’s beginning, the band’s methods were counterintuitive to the commercial process of forming a band. In fact, Fugazi operated completely independent of the commercial music industry, forgoing profit-minded motives in favor of an autonomous musical entity that could inspire change across a broad spectrum of anything that came into contact with Fugazi (including record companies, music publications, concert venues, and yes, even the fans.) Fugazi booked its own worldwide tours, produced, recorded and manufactured their entire catalog of music, including seven studio albums, one soundtrack, three EPs and 30 concert CDs produced from Fugazi’s own soundboard recordings (through Mackaye’s own Dischord Records), maintained a ticket price that averaged $5 and rarely hit $8, and never marketed or licensed its name or likeness for posters, t-shirts, pins or other merchandise items. The band, the music, and the movement it created, for lack of a better word, was a revolution. One that hasn’t lost its grasp on the world since Fugazi went on indefinite hiatus in 2002.
Revolutions can be mysterious though. And as a group of four musicians, Fugazi remained largely mystifying for the better part of twenty years. Their records often featured only one or two group snapshots of the band, and the live show rarely, if ever, beckoned the members of Fugazi to step outside of the entity known as Fugazi. Affixed to these already confounding circumstances was Fugazi’s general aversion to publicity, including interviews. The end result, outside of the few fans that undertook painstakingly etymological approaches to Fugazi’s music and lyrics, was that fans of Fugazi rarely, if ever, were offered true candid portraits of the members of Fugazi as people. Keep Your Eyes Open, a new photographic documentation of Fugazi by iconic photographer Glen E. Friedman, smashes that perception, personifying and growing alongside each member of Fugazi throughout their 20-year history.
Friedman, best known for his work with some of the most incendiary musical outfits, including Black Flag, Ice-T, The Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, Bad Brains, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC and Public Enemy, as well as the Dogtown skateboarding movement (as seen in the movie Dogtown and Z Boys), witnessed Fugazi towards the beginning of their career, and vowed to photograph the band as often as possible. His impetus was simple: “I loved this band… so much that they changed photography for me.”
The 112-page, hardcover book presents an unparalleled look at Friedman’s photographic documentation of Fugazi’s members in almost 200 color and black and white images captured onstage and off between 1986 and Fugazi’s last U.S. concert in 2002. Friedman isn’t necessarily documenting Fugazi though. Anyone that has encountered Fugazi live can document the band through photo. It takes something else to step inside the band and outwardly reflect the candid mystery that kept so many of us fans wondering what made Fugazi tick. Friedman possesses whatever that is. And finally, on the twentieth anniversary of Fugazi’s first live performance (September 3, 2007), he is sharing his collection of Fugazi photography with the world.
To Friedman, the members of Fugazi were not just friends. And the energy they created was not just music. It was a new challenge, one that pushed Friedman away from commercialized artificial lighting. In the words of Friedman, “Flash photography distracts attention from where it should be focused at a show – on the band. Composing images that technically mirrored the organic, democratic, charged and generous ethos of Fugazi in an aesthetically sensible and symmetric style became my goal.” Accordingly, the goal was pursued, and accordingly, the goal was reached. Friedman’s live shots mirror the intensity, emotion and utter grit that encapsulated Fugazi’s music. But there’s more.
Though Keep Your Eyes Open is full of Fugazi in the live element, there are also pages upon pages of Fugazi the band, standing around with their photographer friend, taking snapshots. And personally, this is where the mystery of Fugazi is erased. Yes, Fugazi for myself was mythic. But at the end of the day, they were also people. And Friedman’s ability to bring out their human-ness, their vulnerabilities and their playfulness is the last great piece of the puzzle for me. Between photos of bassist Joe Lally on his laptop, group shots alluding to the sense that a joke had just been made off-camera, and the book’s inherent ability to gracefully grow alongside the members of Fugazi as they age from passionate youth into passionate middle age, the humanity of Fugazi as people, and not a band, is ultimately delivered. And that is the greatest gift that Keep Your Eyes Open has awarded the band and the mystery that once was Fugazi.
‘Keep Your Eyes Open, The Fugazi Photographs of Glen E. Friedman’ is available online through Dischord Records.