Monday, December 7, 2009


One of my first few blog posts was about renewing my love of classic rock and music in general through the acquisition of an iPod (see “Deep Cuts,” 10/28/09). About two weeks after that posting, I suddenly started receiving a subscription to Spin magazine. I can only assume Spin must have some software program that seeks out bloggerians who are talking about the music scene to trawl for new subscribers. Little do they know how hip I am not.

But here’s the funny thing: the December issue of Spin includes this article called “33 Rock Myths, Legends and Lies Debunked.” You know the ones: Ozzy Ozbourne bit the head off a bat, Nirvana killed heavy metal, Rod Stewart swallowed a whole lotta you-know-what -- and all that gossipy rot. But there’s this one short article about the punk rock band Fugazi, famously revered for never selling out and for charging only $5 for concert tickets. The myth Spin was debunking was that the members of Fugazi, though admirable in so many ways because they stayed true to the spirit of punk, were actually big jerks. Spin magazine says the public got that all wrong; they weren't jerks, they were misunderstood. They were actually “the most fun-lovin’ band of the 90s.”

Huh, I thought, how odd. And here I believed I had nothing to contribute to discussions of the rock scene, but it seems I do after all. Let me share with you a little anecdote that illustrates the point that Fugazi was not mean. At least lead singer Ian MacKaye was not mean. The reason I know this is because he used to be my neighbor, which was something I found out just before our elderly-lesbian-diabetic-chain-smoking neighbor died.

So here’s the story: we moved into our house in 1997 and our neighbor across the street, Virginia – the aforementioned elderly-lesbian-diabetic-chain-smoker – immediately endeared herself to us by calling the cops on us for parking backwards in the street while we were unpacking our car, literally the first day we moved in. To make a long story short, my husband, being the good guy he is, had no hard feelings -- unlike me -- and one day offered to help carry Virginia's groceries in from her car. After that we became friends. At least we were as good a friend as one can be with someone who is housebound and drinking herself to death. But she would knock on the window and wave at us sometimes, and one time when my husband and I were both at work, she shooed away a vagrant who had decided our back porch looked like a nice place to take a load off and drink some malt liquor. No doubt he bought the malt liquor at the 7-11 on the corner, about twenty yards up the hill.

The 7-11 figures prominently in this story, which is why I mention it. For many years I noticed this grungy office on the lower level of the equally grungy commercial space on the corner, which also housed the 7-11. It looked like the kind of place where young men were wasting vast quantities of their youth avoiding responsibility (which I in no way condemn). Whole walls of the place were filled with CDs. There were a few desks and a phone or two. The UPS man stopped daily for pick-ups, and there was always a steady stream of hipsters going back and forth between this basement office and the house across the street, which was your average-looking group house complete with a couch on the front porch. Occasionally I’d see one of the guys who lived there skateboarding around the neighborhood.

One day I was finally moved to ask another neighbor, Judy – who lived directly next to the “hipster house” as I called it -- “Hey, I've always wondered what the heck goes on over there in that office in the basement of the 7-11. What’s the connection with that office and the hipster house?” Judy told me that the people who worked there, they sold CDs. I said, “Like used CDs or something?” No, she says, they sell their own CDs. “Oh,” I snorted derisively, “What, they’re like a band or something?” Yeah, a band, she said. She couldn’t think of the name right off the top of her head. “It’s kind of weird name,” she told me. “Let me think. Oh, yeah… Fugazi.”

Fugazi. Seriously? Well, don’t that beat all.

Fast forward about a year, sometime after Virginia, the elderly-diabetic-lesbian-chain-smoker’s death, and I happened to speak to Mr. MacKaye about a matter relating to the fact that 7-11 totally sucks to have as a neighbor because people just loved buying Bud King Cans and then sauntering around the corner to party and piss behind the building, which happened to be about fifteen yards from both our houses. So in the course of our conversation Mr. MacKaye -- I won’t call him Ian because I wouldn’t presume to be more than a neighborly acquaintance -- told me some funny stories about the neighborhood, like that the people who had previously owned our house were two middle-aged queens who used to sunbathe in the front yard in matching banana hammocks. He also told me this tale about Virginia, the elderly-diabetic-lesbian-chain-smoker. Seems when he and his housemates moved into their house several years before we moved into ours, Virginia took an instant dislike to them much as she had done with us. When she found out they were a rock band, well, that made things even worse, and any time they had a party – which was quite often -- she called the cops on them. Even when they were having, you know, a really quiet punk rock party. This really irked several members of his household/band, and they began playing their music even louder during party time and then one night, a couple of the guys erected the band’s stage lights on the front porch and aimed them at Virginia’s house. (Note for future reference: do NOT get in a pissing match with a punk rock band because you will lose.)

Well, apparently the idea of blasting this old woman with stage lights made Mr. MacKaye realize that things had gone a bit too far. He couldn’t in good conscience act like this toward this poor old lady, even if she was calling the cops on them routinely for no good reason (she had told the cops they were doing drugs, which if you know Fugazi's rep, ain't so), and he was moved to extend an olive branch to her. He apologized for their behavior, and thereafter, a truce was observed, and a cordial if unlikely relationship sprang up between them.

When Virginia died, it was one of those typically grim deaths of the old and lonely. First a trip to the nursing home that gets extended and then, suddenly, people were cleaning out her nicotine-soaked house. We didn’t even know she had passed away until a few weeks after the fact, when I was invited in to take whatever I might like. Seems she had no one who wanted any of her things. I found out later that the only people in attendance at Virginia’s funeral were two neighbors, including Judy, who had sort of looked after her over the years… and Fugazi.

So Spin magazine, you got it right. Fugazi were indeed nice guys or at least Ian MacKaye was a nice guy. It’s just weird that that article should appear in that particular issue of Spin that I got for free after writing about rock music even though I am not hip. Seems like there’s a song about that phenomenon. Synchronicity or something.