BONUS TRACK: I met Ian MacKaye (San Francisco, 2006, New Orleans, 2007).
I love Ian MacKaye to this day. To the untrained eye, the former Minor Threat and Fugazi frontman may give off a vaguely Henry Rollins macho vibe from some angles, but Ian’s Dischord Records label has put out some of America’s best music, and he’s championed some extremely healthy cultural and economic ideals. And though overly opinionated, Ian is always right about everything. Everything. I’ve never disagreed with him. Whether or not I live my life the way he prescribes, I feel Ian MacKaye is simply never wrong.
In the years after Katrina though, my partner and I got particularly sick of attending famous bands’ shows and hearing them rant about Katrina, and how we the victims should react to our city’s flooding. As I mentioned to Chuck D when we he and I met in 2009, I found it obnoxious the way rockstars would only rant about New Orleans’s struggles at concerts in New Orleans, where it would do the least good. You know those bands weren’t traveling around the country preaching to fans everywhere about poor, struggling New Orleans. My partner and I even walked out of a post-Katrina Flaming Lips show after Wayne Coyne wouldn’t stop prescribing tasks and solutions to the audience— to us, the people going through the terrible thing that he was not going through. At that historical moment, we attended concerts to forget about Katrina, not to have some outsider tell us how to process it. Wayne went on and on and ON and on with Katrina prescriptions, until we had to leave the show. And I never listened to Flaming Lips the same way again.
This posed a conundrum though when Ian MacKaye came to New Orleans just after Flaming Lips. I didn’t care to hear even Ian’s outsider opinion on the Katrina situation that I faced each day. On the other hand, Ian MacKaye is always right.
I went out to his show that night trying to escape the Katrina hellscape for a couple hours. Ian Mackaye and his drummer wife Amy Farina performed as The Evens, in an all-ages guerrilla warehouse space, with vegan food booths, and no alcohol anywhere. Though antsy that I couldn’t hold a beer can, I stood in the center of the very young sweaty crowd, beaming happy just to participate in a vibrant cultural event in soggy post-Katrina New Orleans.
I’d met Ian MacKaye not long before, at a talk in San Fransisco, a fundraiser for a feminist charity, where you could ask the punk legend any stupid question you always wanted to ask him, and he promised not to get too mad — though he is pretty eloquent and practiced at making people look dumb, so I did not ask him if he’d ever smoked weed (really the only question I can’t google an answer to). I simply shook his hand and said hello on the way out. Ian Mackaye is, to me, the white Chuck D. A supreme mind. An historic figure of Washington DC proportions. Shaking his hand was enough.
Still I ain’t need his opinion about Katrina on that night The Evens played. Their duo sounded like acoustic Fugazi, meaning it was fairly killer. Not until 2/3 of the way into the show did Ian pause between songs and begin, “I told myself I wasn’t going to say anything about Hurricane Katrina…”
I swelled with pride: Yes, Ian! Good instinct!
Yet he continued, “I feel though, that I do have to say just one thing…”
I do not recall the one thing he said. The room went dead silent as everyone soaked in his wisdom. I am sure he made a good, salient point, and I should have trusted him, and listened. However, I only recall feeling triggered, and my head went swimming, and I tried to laugh it all off while also trying to not seem to the punk kids around me like a cackling old lunatic.
Ian finished his Katrina thought. He paused. Then he began again, “I also wanted to add, that in regards to this Katrina situation…”
“YOU SAID ONE THING!” I shouted in the silent room. I couldn’t help it. I hate hecklers but.
Ian MacKaye and his wife both looked right at me and I had to laugh again. “Well this is another aspect of the same point!” Ian defended himself, slightly chapped, before making another Katrina statement that I could not hear, my head swimming. I felt embarrassed, but also like, Wow, I did the thing I so wanted to do...
Wayne Coyne deserved it more. And I should have listened to what Ian MacKaye had to say. It was just a very emotional time.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.