For some odd reason, I started listening to Fugazi again last week. I hadn’t made a concerted effort to not listen to them; it had just been a while. The first two albums (13 Songs and Repeater) were integral components of my adolescence, but the rest of the catalog didn’t really leave the same influential impression on me. Not that I wasn’t still a huge fan of them; just that as I grew out of my teens, I was exploring a lot of other music, soaking it all in and maybe slightly feeling like Fugazi was the old friend I had outgrown by the time End Hits or The Argument was released.
Maybe I needed that old friend last week, I’m not exactly sure. But I imported the 1993 album In On The Kill Taker, and decided to give it another go. It’s still a pretty amazing record, start to finish, some 16 years later. Not only that, I realized that as deep, ambiguous and enigmatic as Fugazi sometimes tried to make their lyrics, they’re somewhat easier to understand with a whole lot of hindsight in there.
For instance, did you know there’s a Fugazi song about Magic Johnson? Seems like an odd fit, but check out the song 23 Beats Off and tell me it’s not somewhat related to two very distinct basketball players. It’s actually a pretty humanizing song for the band. At least for me, I never really pictured Ian MacKaye sitting down, reading about Magic Johnson being infected with HIV, and deciding to pen a 6-minute song about the social implications of the announcement. I guess I just never really thought of Fugazi and basketball in the same scenario. But here’s the gist, as far as I can tell: Magic Johnson’s # is 32, and he goes out, sleeps around, receives accolades for his playing and eventually gets infected with HIV. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Michael Jordan, who’s # is the inverse of Magic’s (#23). And as the title of the song implicates, 23 doesn’t go out, sleep around or get infected with HIV. Instead, 23 beats off. I could be wrong. If you care to challenge, read the lyrics and get back to me. I’m open for other interpretations.
But there’s a lot more to In On The Kill Taker than just my basketball-infused interpretations. And this is where it gets really good. There’s another version of the album, demoed by Steve Albini, floating around on the Internet. One of my biggest gripes with Fugazi was the no-frills approach to the production and recording process. Not that I ever wanted to hear a Brian Eno produced Fugazi album, but Albini is different. I don’t know the techniques he uses, but I know an Albini record when I hear it, and at least for myself, his crisp approach to the drum sound and somewhat more muddled and corrosive guitar sound really portrays Fugazi in a different light. One that lends itself to a new interpretation of the songs he recorded. I guess the most complimentary description I can give to the Albini-recorded In On The Kill Taker is that it captures the band’s true dismay with the world around them much more efficiently than any DC-recorded Fugazi records. But that’s just me.
I need to end this. So here goes. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been wanting to listen to Fugazi again this past week. And part of me thinks it’s because Fugazi as a band and entity could not happen in today’s current musical climate. But a bigger part of me thinks that it’s because Fugazi as a band and entity needs to happen in today’s current musical climate. But then again, maybe I’m just a closeted basketball fan that likes the squeal of a Gibson SG guitar from time to time. I recognize that name…