can be the bane
of any leftist movement
, and the punk rock
scene (whatever that may mean) is not immune to it. "Lefter than thou", or , in this case "straighter than thou
", tends to destroy any progress that supposed progressives can actually make.
As a public service for the Orthodox Straight Edge folk out there, I present to you a sampling of things Ian MacKaye, the man who first gave voice to the concept, has said about it:
As an ancilliary note, notice how often Ian is answering the same questions. Journalists: do your research!
Monkey Magnet, March, '96
MM: Let me ask you about straight edge. Whats your personal view of what it means to be straight edge?
Ian: Well, first off, the song "Straight Edge," it was just a song. It wasn't really about being straight edge. When I wrote the song, I was in high school and I was straight and I was being made fun of perpetually by all my friends, because virtually everybody I knew, with the exception of a few tight friends, was just a stoner. They were just dope kids, that was the '70s and everyone was like that. I was just ridiculed for being straight, and it just enraged me to the point where I'd just say, "Fuck You!" You know, this is my life and if I don't want to fuckin' get stoned, then that's my business. So I wrote a song about that right to decide what you want to do with your own life and that people have to respect that. So it's ironic to me that, years later, there's this movement that in some ways is extremely fundamental, where it's not about the right for people to decide to do with their own lives. It has more to do with the evils of alcohol or drugs or whatever, which was really not at all what my intention was. If you read the lyrics, I think youll find it's all about personal decision.
MM: I'm aware of that. At the same time, there's been this whole movement in which people kind of..
Ian: Yeah, but as you know, I play no role in that movement. I wrote the song. I coined the phrase, but I never was a part of it. I was never down with any of it. On the Out of Step record, I say, "This is not a set of rules." It's like, for me, every interview I've ever done, it's like, "Nope, it's not a movement. It's not about that." And I just stepped off of it, because I'm not into militancy. It just sounds too military, and I'm not down with that.
MM: We interviewed Heckle, this band from New Jersey and they were ripping on the straight edge scene there, saying that people were doing it just to conform. Have you seen much of that?
Ian: I think there's far too much attention being paid to all of this. As silly as kids might be for being straight, I'd also say the guys in Heckle are pretty silly for spending the time making fun of kids who are straight. I mean, who cares? Growing up is like a fucking difficult, scary-as-shit time. People are just trying to get a leg up, something to hang onto while they try and figure out what's going on. Some kids get into dope, some kids don't. Some kids ride bikes, some read books; who gives a fuck? Who cares? They're just trying to get through. If anything, I'm glad I wasn't singing a song about being a junkie or whatever, because I feel like a lot more kids can come back from being straight than can come back from being a junkie. It's just a fact. I don't know why people are so concerned with what other people do with their lives, including people who make fun of straight edge kids or straight edge kids who make fun of other people. Who gives a fuck? Live your own damn life and respect other peoples right to do the same.
1996 (source as yet unidentified)
SOS: What do you have to say about the rumors about you not being straight edge anymore, are they true? There's been a lot of stuff going around, we didn't want to believe it but... Or do you even care about the movement anymore?
Ian: I wrote a song called "Straight Edge" in 1980. From the very beginning, I said I was never interested in the movement aspect of it, because I always felt like the song was a celebration of personal choice. Individuals decide how they want to live. It wasn't about forming a group of people or a big gang to have a movement, because a movement has a sense that it demands involvement, recruitment, or whatever. For me, it's more like a concert of individuals and many people who shared ideas who had tolerance or respected other people's choices in their own lives. When I wrote the song, I was going to a high school where virtually everybody got stoned. I personally did not, and I was made to feel like an idiot about it. So I wrote a song about my choice not to. This is 1979, 1980. But from the very beginning, I made it clear that I was not interested in the movement aspect. The way I look at it is, individuals make choices, and we have to let them. They're the ones that have to live their own lives. So we have to respect that, and they have to respect my choice as well. Since then, there's been many, many people who have gotten involved in straight edge at the movement level. The majority are totally cool, well-minded people who are just dealing with a tough bunch of years. Teenage years are fucking hardcore. Not that it gets a whole lot easier, but that particular time is real tough. I've known a lot of people who have done great, constructive things with straight edge, and they've used it to propel themselves through a tough time in their lives. And I think that's really, really important. There's also some people I know who have made it a militant thing, who have used it as an excuse to get violent on people and beat people up. I'm totally in opposition to people using that idea to inflict damage on people. I think that's totally ridiculous. That aspect of the movement is disgusting. But, the other aspect is cool. People are doing things, playing in bands, looking out for each other, and that's fine. I don't have any regrets about that. But I've never been a part of any of that.
As far as the rumors are concerned, since the very beginning, when I wrote that song, even before I wrote that song, people made jokes about seeing Ian doing this, that or another thing. I'm so used to people telling me that they saw me do this or they heard me do that or whatever. At this point, I'm 34 years old, and it's a little weird being repeatedly asked about my personal life by people all over the world. Particularly since I don't tout what I do and don't do. I certainly don't go around telling people what to do with their lives. So it's a little odd, a little weird to be constantly asked about that. Sort of like being stopped every few blocks to see if your underwear is clean. Having said that, on the other hand, I don't mind also saying that I understand why people do it, and I don't have a problem telling people it was never a joke for me, it never was something that I was fooling around about. So, I don't think people have much to worry about. It wasn't and idea I created to sell records or make my band cool or make me cool. It was an actual element of my life, and it continues to be exactly that. It's something that I will take to my grave, and I will never get involved in things that are a complete waste of time.
April '97- (source hazy)
PSF: How did the idea of 'straight edge' come about?
Ian: It was just the title of a song that i wrote. I guess I coined the phrase but certainly never intended to start a movement.
PSF: Do you still follow this?
Ian: I am still straight, but have never really been involved with the 'straight edge movement'.
Unpop: It's no secret that kids consider you a role model, either as the leader of their favorite band, or as a spokesman for Straight Edge, etc. Do you enjoy that or is it something that you've just accepted?
Ian: I've accepted it. Maybe people see me as inspirational or maybe some see me as being really stupid for not taking my piece of the pie. But I'm not too concerned about it. I just go about my work and I don't think about what other people think of me. Obviously I want to be liked but if they end up hating me then I don't give a fuck! The only thing that really discourages me is when people use my name or anything that is affiliated with me as some kind of justification for violence.
Unpop: You've had that problem?
Ian: When I was Minor Threat I wrote the song, Straight Edge, which coined that phrase. That is something that people have used as a rationale for an intense amount of ugliness on occasion. For a lot of extremist people who are angry at the world, this is their way to vent it.
Apologies on vagueness of some sources. Remember, we're dealing with punk rock kids' websites here; not often big on accreditation.