Alternage Retrospective: Minor Threat

- Alternage

by Jesse Hudgins

Growing up straight edge, there was always a weird aura to it. I never treated anyone terribly if they didn’t want to be, but at times, I felt alienated and like I didn’t fully fit in among others. College was when it hit me that there were other people like me, and the record First Two Seven Inches by Minor Threat is where I started to feel okay with it.

Minor Threat is a band based out of Washington D.C. founded by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson in 1980. Starting as Teen Idles, MacKaye and Nelson wrote music in high school, gaining a large audience in the process. After the disbanding of Teen Idles, the two gathered the money they made in the band to form Dischord Records, which went on to release Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Jawbox, Fugazi, and S.O.A. The two didn’t waste time forming a new group, as they soon recruited guitarist Lyle Preslar and bassist Brian Baker.

First Two Seven Inches is a compilation of music from Minor Threat’s 1981 EPs Minor Threat and In My Eyes. Speaking on the Minor Threat side of the record, it caught fire through the song “Straight Edge.” In the song, lead singer Ian MacKaye describes the lifestyle he lives in which he doesn’t consume drugs or alcohol and how he feels he’s better for it. Lines like, “Always gonna keep in touch; Never want to use a crutch,” are what MacKaye used to inform the listeners of the alternative lifestyle and how his life feels because of it. While the song could come off as preachy to avoid drugs and alcohol, MacKaye has said, “I’m not saying, ‘Don’t go to bars.’ I’m not saying, ‘Don’t drink alcohol.’ I’m merely saying, ‘Try to find a little more entertainment from your resources.’ As opposed to going out and buying it.”

The rest of the Minor Threat side of the record tackles themes like anger toward others, not using physical violence, and how we shouldn’t rush to grow up. Personal favorite songs of mine are the tracks “Screaming at a Wall” and “Minor Threat.”

I especially like “Screaming at a Wall” as the lyrics center on not using physical violence and having to deal with people who have built up walls in their lives and choose to ignore everyone. It’s a harsh song that gives a peaceful message. “Minor Threat” is about how people are too eager to grow up and move on with their lives and just don’t enjoy it.

The In My Eyes side of the record drills home the straight edge themes present on Minor Threat. The track “In My Eyes” is a good example, with lyrics like, “Don’t smoke/Don’t drink/Don’t f***/At least I can f***ing think/I can’t keep up/Can’t keep up/Can’t keep up/I’m out of step with the world.”

This isn’t the only track to feature the theme of straight edge as “Out of Step” tackles it from the perspective of feeling alienated from being a part of the straight edge lifestyle. In My Eyes did receive controversy from the track “Guilty of Being White,” which is about MacKaye’s childhood in Washington D.C. during a time of racial tensions. MacKaye has denied intentions of the song being racially charged, saying, “It didn’t occur to me at the time I wrote it that anybody outside of my twenty or thirty friends who I was singing to would ever have to actually ponder the lyrics or even consider them.” MacKaye has since disowned the song many a time stating he was misguided when recording the track.

The impact this record had on the punk community is vast. Through Minor Threat, the straight edge movement began and promoted a clean lifestyle and safe spaces, which at the time weren’t prominent in the hardcore scene. Eventually, the movement grew to promote ideas like living life to fullest, self-care, being the best person you can be, and being productive with your life. There have been attempts to offshoot the scene into something of hate, which later became a sub scene called Hate Edge. At its core, though, the straight edge movement has been a sub movement of hardcore that promotes positive lifestyles while not attacking others in the process.

As a band, Minor Threat’s legacy is still felt today. Each member went on to remain in the punk scene for many years, and many notable bands have said they were inspired by Minor Threat. Even bands who aren’t considered straight edge, or even punk at all, have covered the music of Minor Threat, like Slayer, Pennywise, and Beastie Boys. After the band broke up, they stayed active and continue to give back to the music world.

MacKaye still upholds Dischord Records and has been in groups such as Fugazi, Coriky, and The Evens. Drummer Jeff Nelson also runs Dischord Records with MacKaye and has played in other groups like Feedbag and Three. Guitarist Brian Baker joined up with Bad Religion in 1994 while also playing with groups like Samhain and touring with Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies. Finally, guitarist Lyle Preslar has worked with Caroline Records, Elektra Records, and Sire Records.

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