A week ago last Monday evening, two coincidental days before the premiere of National Geographic’s Inside Straight Edge documentary, Ian MacKaye was at the front of a small classroom in the basement of Tufts’s Jackson Gym explaining that “Straight Edge” — a 46-second song he wrote nearly 30 years ago that inadvertently inspired a movement — was “deeply misunderstood.” MacKaye, perhaps as well-known for his bands Minor Threat and Fugazi as for his role as a DIY punk archetype and mouthpiece, was the surprise guest at Mike Fournier’s History of Punk Rock class — sorta like Darwin showing up at your Biology 101 lecture.
Fournier, who has been teaching the history of punk at Tufts since 2006 and will launch a course called Critic’s Choice: Punk Rock and Underground Music at Emerson in May, had opened the class with a lesson on Fugazi’s spiritual forebears, Crass. The 46-year-old MacKaye, dressed in a black hoodie and cargo pants, with a black knit hat perched atop his bald dome, sat at a desk near the back of the room, blending in with the 25 or so students scribbling notes on Steve Ignorant, Dial House, and Penis Envy.
Following a clip from the 1979 teen-rebellion cult classic Over the Edge, MacKaye took to the front of the room and opened the floor to questions: “Don’t be fucking shy, please.” Over the course of two hours, he rambled on about the inspiration for his Minor Threat singing style (Janis Joplin), Newbury Comics (“a legendary store”), his “singular favorite musician” (Jimi Hendrix), skateboarding and listening to Ted Nugent (“radical”) with childhood chum Henry Rollins, the world of major labels (“a pit of fucking snakes”), and Nina Simone (“so punk it’s mind-blowing”). Toward the end of the class, he gave a seemingly impromptu summation of punk rock: “For me, punk is the new idea, always the new idea, forever the new idea. That’s why punk can never die. Because as long as there are people, there will be new ideas flying in the face of convention.” Pencils down.
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