Friday, May 18, 2018
Dischord 5 - Minor Threat - 'In My Eyes' & a 3-week break from the blog
Recorded - Aug. 1981
Released - Dec. 1981
Ian MacKaye - vocals
Lyle Preslar - guitar
Brian Baker - bass
Jeff Nelson - drums
In My Eyes
Out Of Step
Guilty Of Being White
I really want to take a moment, before the blog goes on hiatus for a few weeks, to thank anyone who has been reading this, following it, commenting on it, etc. It takes a little while for these types of projects to gain some steam, but the response so far has been really great. I've enjoyed doing this, I've gotten one out per week, which has been my goal, and I have every intention to keep going.
However, I am off to pursue my own musical endeavors. I will be hitting the road and going cross-country for the next few weeks, which will make doing this blog totally impossible. I will use the last part of this entry to do some self-promotion and list tour dates. If you live anywhere near where I'll be playing, it would be great to meet you, talk Dischord and whatever else, have a few drinks, etc. After the main post, I'll post all those details. For anyone else, I plan on being back in action over here sometime during the week of June 10th.
I think for any of us who discovered Minor Threat a bit after the fact, our experience with the first two Minor Threat EPs, the 'Filler' 7" which we covered back a couple of posts ago (Dischord 3) and the record we're discussing now, were as a collection, either on the self-titled compilation (Dischord 12) or the complete discography (Dischord 40). For me, it was the cassette version of Dischord 12 which came out in 1987 (or, as I call it, "Punk rock year 2"), that first introduced me to the early Minor Threat EPs.
It's not that I didn't know that 'Filler' and 'In My Eyes' were two separate releases, I just never experienced them as separate entities. So talking about these releases as the separate records that they actually are is almost like separating Siamese twins.
'In My Eyes' was recorded two months after the release of 'Filler' and released in December of that year (1981). The record was also a split release with Limp Records, a label from Rockville, Maryland, who apparently ceased to exist shortly after this release. While Dischord did most of the legwork and production, Limp helped with some of the financials. Unlike other split releases, Dischord did not use the usual fractions in the catalog number.
Like all the records we've covered so far, the record is over in mere minutes, in this case four songs in under 8 minutes. While this is still very much the same band that released the 'Filler' 7" a few months earlier, it's hard not to compare this to the Teen Idles 7", recorded only 11 months earlier, and not be completely blown away by the progress that MacKaye and Nelson had made musically.
The three original songs on this record are all hardcore classics, which have been played millions of times over P.A. systems in between bands at shows and have been covered endlessly.
There was a straight-edge band from Boston who took the name "In My Eyes", who were active in the late '90s and released a couple of records on Revelation. The song itself was covered by Rage Against the Machine.
"Guilty of Being White", a song that was already controversial to begin with, was covered notoriously by Slayer for their 'Undisputed Attitude' covers/punk LP, where they altered a key lyric from "Guilty of Being White" to "Guilty of Being RIGHT". Slayer thought it was funny. Ian MacKaye was mortified.
The relatively epic "In My Eyes" launches the record, and begins with a 30-second intro started by a descending Brian Baker bass line. Rather than just start the song immediately, a tension is built, there is a brief calm (and if you listen closely, you can hear some direction going on in the background), before the verse kicks into full gear, musically punctuated by Jeff Nelson's tom rolls. There is clearly an advancement of songwriting skills compared to earlier works.
There is also more creativity in the lyrics. While the general theme of advising against abusive substances remains in place (the target seems to be cigarettes, at least in the first verse), rather than a sermon, the lyrics almost act as a conversation. The type of conversation a friend might have when trying to sell a hard truth to another: "You tell me you like the taste / You just need an excuse / You tell me it calms your nerves / You just think it looks cool".
The second verse goes deeper, and gets into the psychology of people who use their self-loathing in an attempt to bring their world, even their own friends, down with them: "You tell me that nothing matters / You're just fucking scared / You tell me that I'm better / You just hate yourself / You tell me that you like her / You just wish you did / You tell me that I make no difference / At least I'm fuckin' trying / What the fuck have you done?"
It's a powerful lyric, punctuated by a question that has become iconic and has felt like it has rippled through the ages. More than a question - it's a challenge.
The lyrics overall expose the hypocrisy of what people will say or do to justify behavior that they must know is self-defeating. MacKaye wastes no words in calling it out.
"Out of Step" is a return to more primitive roots. No fancy songwriting, no lyrical innovations. Just a straight-forward, ready to chant anthem: "Don't smoke / don't drink / don't fuck / At least I can fucking think." This is not the last time we'll hear Minor Threat record this song.
"Guilty of Being White" is the Minor Threat song that has been met with the most controversy. The surface level perception not helped by the Slayer cover. Fundamentally, the song is about not being judged, or perhaps more concretely, not being convicted, for crimes and atrocities that may have been committed by one's ancestors. Where I think the controversy lies is that MacKaye, who is only singing from his own experiences, happens to be as a 19-year-old white male, a demographic that probably won't garnish too much sympathy from anyone who is complaining about being persecuted because of that. But the point is valid, and can certainly be generalized beyond white youth. Had MacKaye widened his scope, the song probably wouldn't have generated that controversy, and the song probably wouldn't have been half as famous. "Oh, I'm sorry / For something that I didn't do / Lynched somebody / But I don't know who / You blame me for slavery / A hundred years before I was born / Guilty of Being White".
The record ends with a cover of the Monkees' "Steppin' Stone". Minor Threat wouldn't be the only punk band to think to cover the song. The Sex Pistols did it a few years earlier. The song sounds like it was recorded off a transistor radio, and the song, already pretty punk rock for its age, gets a hardcore treatment come chorus time. It's a cool cover, not essential.
After the release of 'In Your Eyes', Minor Threat would take a hiatus for a few months. Lyle Preslar went off to college, and during his absence, some music was made by the others.
In February 1982, Brian Baker would record with Government Issue, playing guitar on the 'Make An Effort' EP. It would be (I think) the only G.I. record Baker played on during his brief tenure.
MacKaye and Nelson would continue their musical journey with a one-off band and record recorded in November 1981, but not actually released for another 10 years. We'll hit that at Dischord 50.
Minor Threat would reconvene, with a bit of a line-up change, and would go on to release, in my opinion, one of the high watermarks in all of hardcore. But we'll get to that shortly.
BANDCAMP - MINOR THREAT - 'IN MY EYES' (Tracks 11-14)
HITTING THE ROAD:
As I mentioned in the preamble, this is the last post for a few weeks. I will be hitting the road starting this coming Monday.
My band, Two Man Advantage, will be playing at Punk Rock Bowling this year. Specifically, the club show on Saturday, May 26th at Fremont Country Club with Subhumans, The Unseen and Bishop's Green.
After PBR is over, we'll be doing a 5-date west coast swing:
Tuesday, May 29th - Time Out Lounge, Tempe, AZ
Wednesday, May 30th - Navajo Live, San Diego, CA
Thursday, May 31st - Characters, Pomona, CA
Friday, June 1st - The Union, Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, June 2nd - Bender's Bar, San Francisco, CA
On the way out west, and on the way back home, a spinoff of Two Man Advantage, Robbieitis, which I'm doing with two of my Two Man Advantage bandmates (playing stuff that is entirely different than what we normally do - which has been fun and refreshing) will also be playing some gigs:
Tuesday, May 22nd - The Fremont, Des Moines, IA
Sunday, June 3rd - Silver Dollar Club, Elko, NV
Monday, June 4th - Back Alley Pub, Great Falls, MT
Tuesday, June 5th - food truck festival at the Gateway Mall Parking Lot, Bismarck, ND
Wednesday, June 6th - Palmer's Bar, Minneapolis, MN
Thursday, June 7th - Moe's Tavern, Chicago, IL
Maybe I'll see some of you on the road.
If not - I'll be back with the next post the week after I get back.