In a culture where people identify themselves by the way they make a living, there are few who made their living with their self. Actors, writers, artists and musicians have an uncanny ability to transcend the five-to-nine by laying their opinions and emotions on the line for our voyeurism. We call them entertainers, and we love to take a look at what makes them tick.
Ian MacKaye has had a vast legion of fans for two decades, since the days of Minor Threat. Thousands of interviews later, he granted this interview to Verbicide to discuss music, politics, lifestyle, and the phenomenon of being labeled. No stranger to being misquoted, Mr. MacKaye was eloquent and brutally honest. At times, I was taken aback by his frank nature, but I began to understand that this is a straight-forward man; he has never held back on stage, and he would not hold back on this written platform. He succeeded in the world of independent music because of that quality, and his willingness to indulge our need to examine his opinions with an open candor made for a memorable question and answer session. -Douglas Novielli
Douglas Novielli: Someone, possibly Joe Strummer, said that Fugazi is the only real punk band left. What do you think about that?
It’s nice of him. I take it as a compliment, but I can’t really think about that kind of stuff. I mean, if I step outside of what I’m what I’m doing, then I’m not doing anything…I’m just looking at it. I think that we come from a really pure kind of “punk world,” as a band. The four of us, we grew up with it, and it’s the only way we know how to do things — and it hasn’t occurred to us to do it any other way. It seems like there’s not many people who share that with us, particularly not at our level. There’s not a whole lot of other bands that are at the same place we are — which is actually kind of what keeps us engaged! It’s uncharted territory…we’re still doing things basically the same way as we did the first day we started. We manage ourselves, we book ourselves, we write all our own stuff, we just happen to put records out and know how to put records out…it’s all us.
Jackson Ellis: What are your feelings regarding the new album, The Argument, in comparison to other Fugazi recordings?
I don’t compare our records. I don’t even listen to our records. And that’s the truth! That’s a question I get asked all the time, like, “Well, how does this stack up against Repeater?”—
Jackson: We just want to get the obvious stuff out of the way!
Oh yeah, I mean, I don’t listen to our records — when we make them I, of course, listen to them over and over and over and over, but once they’re done, they’re done. I know they’re basically snapshots of what we were doing in that moment that we were at the studio, and we have hopefully committed to posterity some faithful rendition of these particular songs. However — from my point of view — I get to play the songs. I’ve heard those songs played hundreds of times, so I have a different relationship with that music than other people. People who aren’t in the band have a different version of the songs, and that’s great. If people like it, I’m pleased; if they don’t like it, I feel bad! But if they don’t like it, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not oxygen, it’s not blood…it’s not necessary. It’s just music.
I was happy with this record because I felt like we were able to deal with the studio — I mean, we struggled with the studio at the very beginning precisely because we’re such a live band, and we always do things “on the moment.” When you play live, as soon as you play a note, it’s played. There’s nothing you can do about it. As soon as you say something, it’s said, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But in the studio, you can redo it a million times, right? It’s a completely different environment, and I think that we really struggle with how to get a really immediate, urgent-sounding recording in a situation where it’s completely the opposite. It’s not urgent, it’s sterile. The only thing that really was putting real pressure on us was the cost.
Douglas: So would you say that being satisfied with a record is being satisfied that you brought as much of a live element to the studio as you could?
No. I would say that at one point that was a concern of ours. At some point we realized what really needs to happen is that we need to think in terms of how to approach the studio in a way to create something that is effective; something that moves people on some level. See, when you play live, you have volume, you have atmosphere, you have charisma, you have all these things working for you that you don’t have in recorded music. [Recording] is really an issue of, how do you create what is basically a sonic illusion? How do you make something in the studio that’s going to move people, and make them forget about the fact that you recorded it in a laboratory, basically? (laughter)
As a band we actually do record live; in other words, we don’t piece it together from separately recorded parts. All the tracks are played together.
Douglas: That’s interesting.
For me, it’s the imperfections, and the flaws, he speeding up and the speeding down, the hiccups, something’s out of tune — that, to me, is what makes music great, because it’s a reminder that it’s human beings that are behind the sound. That’s where it’s at for me.
Douglas: Here’s a quote from you from an interview in a 1996 issue of Search of Serenity: “I hope Fugazi…will know when things stink enough to stop.” If The Argument is any indication, things aren’t stinking yet, but you’ve been making music for 20 years now. Do you get the same charge out of it?
Yes. But now, I can’t really measure what the charge was before. I mean, you might think something’s really funny and you might laugh, but do you laugh as hard as you did ten years ago?
Douglas: That’s fair.
Yeah, you can’t tell. The band is really based on a friendship, a relationship between the four of us and as long as we feel engaged, challenged, and moved, then I think it’s something that we will continue to do. I think that if any of us were not feeling that, then we would stink. Therefore, the band would have to stop. But life gets continually louder and more challenging, in terms of the band, as we get older — I’m turning 40 in April, and Joe’s got a daughter now, Brendan’s got two sons — there’s a lot of stuff going on here that requires our attendance…we need to be home.
Douglas: A whole lot different than when you were 18, huh?
Yeah, it was a lot different than when I was 13!
Douglas: I personally have always loved the album artwork, as much as the music sometimes. Who handles that, the group?
Well, from “Killtaker” on, our friend Jem Cohen, who also directed [the film] Instrument, has always worked with us. We are always really involved with the artwork. We do it with Jem, so it’s always a collaboration.
Jackson: Is that a photo of DC on the cover of End Hits? I’ve never been there, so I wouldn’t know.
Jackson: Really? Who took that photo?
I don’t know, we took it from a postcard. (laughter)
Douglas: You were way off, Jackson.
Yeah, it’s Hong Kong from like the ’60s or ’70s. It’s a really old postcard.
Douglas: The music of Fugazi can be considered very post-modern, with moments that sound very unstructured, and lyrics which can be very personal and reflective. I was wondering if you might want to talk about the group’s artistic leanings; if you have to put a label somewhere or talk about an era…
No, I don’t think in terms of that, I don’t think about classification. Like, I don’t know what “post-modern” means at all. “Punk,” I don’t what the hell that means, do you? (laughter) I know that we can guess — kind of — certain elements of it, but ultimately, all this phraseology is kind of tribal.
In terms of us, I have no ideas about “artistic leanings.” I just know that we’re from Washington DC, we all grew up here, and we got involved with punk rock in the late ’70s and the early ’80s, and the Bad Brains were the greatest band in the world. We listen to such a massively wide spectrum of music. I don’t think anyone could even believe the kind of music we listen to. The one kind of music that we do not listen to is current, popular…
Jackson: “Pop music.”
The popular stuff, or whatever it is. Most bands that you would read about in most magazines I’ve never heard of, literally. This is the truth. Four or five years ago I wouldn’t have known an Oasis song if it came up and kicked me in the ass. I don’t listen to the radio. I don’t know — what are the popular bands now, for instance?
Jackson: Beats the hell out of me. Creed?
Ian: I have an idea of what they sound like, but I wouldn’t know one of their songs.
Douglas: I feel ridiculously out of touch, three years older than my sister and I have no idea what they’re listening to.
Jackson: Even the Warped Tour, sometimes—
That’s the thing, even on that level…I’ve heard The Strokes once at a record store…I don’t know, I just don’t pay attention. This morning, what did I listen to…I listened to a reissue of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded record. I’ve been listening to a lot of Fela Kuti, from Nigeria, and this Afro-Cuban guy named Irakere.
Douglas: Would you consider yourself an artist or an entertainer? What is your approach there?
I don’t really consider myself either one…I guess if I had to answer — these kinds of questions are the kinds of questions that I usually only answer if it’s a cop that’s asking! (laughter) I tend to think of musicians and artists in general as translators — people who hear things that other people are unable to hear. So, they try to reproduce the sound; they try to translate or interpret what it is that they’re hearing; what they find interesting. It’s the same way with visual artists and writers; it’s just translations.
I guess if I had to choose between “artist” and “entertainer,” I would imagine that I’d fall more into [the category of] artist rather than entertainer. If art means true expression, then I think that’s more where I’m coming from. Another thing I tend to really respond to is when it’s coming from a person who I feel doesn’t have a choice in the matter. What I mean is that it comes from a person who makes music because that’s what they do. It doesn’t make a difference if they get paid for it; it doesn’t make a difference if anyone likes it.
Jackson: I read an interview you did shortly before the release of the Instrument video, and you said something interesting, like “the underground and alternative communities always have to be lost in the turmoil of teenagers.” Do you still believe this, and do you feel that Fugazi’s music tries to target an older audience?
I don’t remember that quote, I’d have to know what the context is. “Turmoil of teenagers…” That doesn’t sound like something I’d say. How do you read that quote? Do you think that I’m saying it’s just a bunch of kids?
Jackson: I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps it ties into what you were saying before; maybe you’re saying you don’t really understand where kids are coming from some of the time?
What did I say that makes you think I don’t understand where kids are coming from?
Jackson: Well, I don’t necessarily mean “kids,” per se, but rather popular culture, which seems to be slowly merging with the underground.
Popular culture has always been going on! I’m just not interested in it. I mean, in the late ’70s, when I first got into punk rock, I was desperately trying to find something that was not part of the mainstream. That’s what drew me to punk rock. It was a free space; it was an area where people could challenge conventional thinking on all levels, modes, styles, philosophies, religions, everything. It was okay to do that. It was also a place where profit was not the number one agenda, so therefore people could present new ideas.
This is a real problem with the way the industry is trying to structure things right now. They’re trying to put their toll booth on every road to get paid. The problem is, if profit is always mandatory then no new ideas can ever be promoted, because new ideas are not profitable — because they’re new. Nobody will come see them because they don’t know they exist! You need to have a place where people are interested in the creation of things, and are willing to open their minds at least a little bit, so that people can present new ideas. Frankly, most of the really heavy cultural waves that have come through society are really the “aftershocks” of these kinds of ideas — ideas that were hatched in front of five or 10 people.
In regards to “lost teenagers,” I just don’t know what the context is. I don’t feel disparaging towards teenagers at all. There’s a saying, “when you’re a kid, you learn how to live; when you’re an adult, you learn how to die.” When people are learning how to live, they aren’t thinking about what they can lose, so they’re still embracing life in a really cool way. Every generation of kids inherits all this crap that came before them, and it’s nice to know that there are still kids who will hold it, look at it, smell it, poke at it, and say, “I don’t want this. Either I accept it, I’m going to redefine it, or I won’t accept it and I’ll build my own thing.” That’s cool.
Douglas: The independent music world, including the punk scene, seems to demand stagnation and labeling; there is the constant talk of who’s selling out, who’s keeping it real. Fugazi hasn’t been afraid to evolve despite that. Why do you think the “scene” as it were, is so resistant to change?
I think that’s an element, but I don’t think it goes across the board. When you’re a teenager, you’re leaving your family, and entering the larger context of life. It’s a really terrifying trip — not that it’s horrible, it’s just scary. Music is the soundtrack, it’s something kids can hang onto because it helps them get through stuff.
In terms of punk rock, it’s a great way to conjoin with other people who become an extended family, who help you figure out what happens next, or what family is to you. When you’re [in this situation] you try to take control. Part of this control that manifests is trying to be strict about behavior, and, unfortunately, it’s very often more about other people’s behavior more than your own. I don’t take it too seriously; if someone’s like that, I say, “whatever, good luck.” But there are plenty of people who are not thinking about control or trying to control others; they’re just thinking about ideas, community, and engaging on that level. For instance, with “straight edge,” and that sort of thing. Most of the talk about straight edge that really got out into the media was about violence.
Jackson: Such as the Salt Lake City gangs…
Right, that whole thing. The problem is that the kids who engaged in that kind of behavior, their issue was not about sobriety, it was about violence. The sobriety was just a line they could draw in the sand. They had a belly full of violence that they were trying to figure out what to do with, and this was a convenient way to get it out of their system: “Here’s a structure I’m giving you, and if you cross this line, then I will beat your ass.” The problem is that everyone kept talking about them as if it was about straight edge, but it was not about straight edge, it was about violence — they were gang members, they were thugs.
Douglas: I’m glad you can clear that up, because the question always seems to be “how does this lifestyle lead some people to be like this?”
It’s completely the opposite, they come into it like that. I’ve talked about this a lot over the years. I’m not a part of the straight edge movement. I don’t have anything to do that. I’m connected to it, of course, because I coined the phrase, but I’ve never thought about the movement, and I’ve never wanted to be a part of it, because it was about an individual’s right to choose his or her own life. The ideas of a movement reputes that right off the bat, because you start thinking about trying to encourage other people to do certain things. It’s a divining; it’s who’s on what side; it becomes “us versus them.” Movements, to me, are one step away from army, because there are agendas that go above humans. Within the so-called “movement,” most of the people — by far — are actually just good people trying to do the right thing, and they’re attracted to being a part of a larger group of people who think similarly.
I’ve always thought about it like this: if you go to a party, and there are 50 people, and 48 of them are having the most provocative, thoughtful conversation, but two of them get into a bloody brawl, in two weeks all you’re going to talk about is the brawl! Look at the news, that’s the nature of violence!
Jackson: And the nature of sensationalism.
That’s just the way it works, unfortunately. That’s what happened with straight edge. Forty-eight out of 50 people were actually just trying to just do a good thing. They were doing good things, and they’re still doing good things. I don’t have any sense of disrespect for those people at all. The only thing I want to encourage other people to do is to live their own lives and respect other people’s.
Jackson: To change subjects, something I’ve always wondered is do you do any writing outside of penning lyrics?
Well, I answer emails. (laughter) I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t done that much yet.
Jackson: Recently, as I flipped through one of today’s more prominent punk zines, I noted that either your name or Fugazi was mentioned in literally one-third of the interviews. Does the fact that your effect in the underground is as strong as ever make you feel proud, or do you ever just wish people would ignore you for a while? Or, do you try to stay “conscientiously oblivious” to it all?
I don’t think about it that much. It’s nice of them; I appreciate it. It’s a compliment. But I try to stay focused on what I’m doing. The thing is, music will kick your ass. It kicks mine, so I understand the power of it. I’m trying to be responsible for the music that I’m making. When I first got into punk rock, I remember really liking bands, and then I would meet them and I would be so disappointed.
Jackson: I had similar disappointments when I was a little kid; I’d meet major league baseball players at Fenway Park or at card shows who I idolized, yet some turned out to be such mean people.
Right, that’s something that really struck me. There were a couple of heroes I had who were really…kind of fucked. It really bummed me out, because I didn’t understand why they’d want to be that way! I decided I never wanted to be like that, no way. It didn’t make any sense to me. But [I came to realize] what they got trapped into was a different perception of how they were supposed to behave.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. People in the public eye are “stars”; they have this predilection of getting up to a high spot, like, say, on the top of a building, and then they pull up the ladder. They don’t want anyone to have an idea that they ever had to climb up there. They want people to think that they were dropped there by the hand of god. For me, there has been a transition. I celebrate the ladder. For me, the ladder is what’s important; it’s right there below everybody. Some people want to pull it up — they become unpleasant, and don’t want to give people respect. They talk down to people, and that’s it. It’s a weird habit, but it’s something that’s been repeated for so long that people think it’s normal — but there are a lot of things that people think are normal that are completely bizarre!
That goes across the board in society. People do things without thinking twice, because [ideas] have been hammered into our brains.
Douglas: I’ve been going to school in the DC area for four years now, and I’ve talked to a lot of bands, and have been to a lot of shows. I’ve been getting this feeling from people that, in the DC punk scene, anything that may not be approved of by Dischord should be ignored. How do you respond to the observation that making it in DC requires Dischord’s stamp of approval?
That has more to do with them than it has to do with me. To some degree, I am — or at least Dischord is — the establishment. We have been around longer many of the people in bands have been alive. So I understand that it’s sort of intimidating.
Douglas: Do you hear that a lot?
No, because they wouldn’t say it to me. But it’s absurd. The thing that we’ve tried to reinforce time and time again about Dischord is how we started, which was in 1980. We were in the band called The Teen Idles. The band broke up; we had six or seven hundred dollars to our name; we never split up the money. Every show we played we put the money we made into a cigar box. We decided, “well we could split the money up and have $150 each, or, we could put out a record.” That was it — no one else was gonna put our record out. We just put it out ourselves.
The reason we tell that story is because we’re trying to encourage people to understand that it’s not like we inherited fame. We were kids in a much more remote place than most kids are today. You have to remember, when I first got into a band, the idea that you wrote your own songs was unheard of! (laughter) That’s for real! Everyone was a cover band. Every high school band I ever saw maybe had one original, and it was always a blues song. It was always pretty wacked.
I remember when we first started playing in a punk band people were always shocked when we said “we write our own songs.” No one could believe we played our own songs. And no one can imagine what that’s like, and I’m telling you, the times…people feel like things are hopeless for them now, they have no idea… (laughter) People need to check what their hopes are. The first interview I ever did, the woman who interviewed us said, “so are you in the band for money or for girls?” It had never occurred to me that anyone would be in a band for either one of those reasons.
Jackson: Well, that’s why were doing this zine.
Yeah, exactly. (laughter) The reason I was in the band was to play music, and from the get-go I have been a tremendous success. I wanted to be in a band, so I learned to play bass, and that was a great success. We figured out how to play songs, like “Stepping Stone,” and that was a great success. And we wrote our own songs — we were very successful. And we did a show, and that was a great success, right down the line. For me, it’s always been a long series of successes; I’ve never thought of it in terms that there’s a goal I’m trying to get to. I arrive at the goal every day that I do something. That is the goal — today. My only advice for anybody in terms of music, or bands, or anything for that matter, is love what you’re doing. Just love it. If you don’t love it, don’t do it! If you love it, if you do it…if in a few years from now you decide to stop and you haven’t arrived at whatever level of success you expected, at least you would have spent your time doing something you loved! What’s wrong with that?
Jackson: I know that you will always prefer playing small shows, but if Lorne Michaels called you today and said, “Ian, I want Fugazi to appear on ‘Saturday Night Live’ next month,” would you go for it? I saw Nirvana play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on “SNL” when I was 11, and it opened a whole new world to me.
That’s cool, but no. I was on “Saturday Night Live,” actually, in 1981. This punk band called Fear played on there, and John Belushi made the arrangements — he had left the cast at that point, and Lorne Michaels was trying to get him to do a cameo. Belushi agreed to do the cameo if Lorne Michaels would book this band Fear to play Halloween night. Lorne agreed to put Fear on, so Belushi wanted to bring in some authentic “punk” dancers to dance during Fear’s set. So he spoke with this woman named Penelope Spheeris, a filmmaker from LA who’d made a film called, The Decline of Western Civilization, which was a documentary about the LA punk scene. She had shown that movie [in DC], and we had met. I guess she was struck by me, and she told Belushi, “well, you should call this guy Ian, ‘cause he’s cool and the kids from Washington are really cool, and they might be what you need.”
So one day, at eight in the morning, I got a call from Lorne Michaels’ office. I was dead asleep — at the time, I was driving a newspaper truck, and I would get home at six in the morning. Anyway, Lorne Michaels is on the phone saying, “this is Lorne Michaels, I want you to come up to New York and be on the show,” and I was like, “What? What is this?” (laughter) And he said, “hold on.” So Belushi gets on the phone, and says, “hey, this is John Belushi, here’s the deal — I got Fear on the show, and I really wanna get some cool punks to come up here to dance, and Penelope gave me your number.” So I said, “alright.”
About 15 or 20 of us DC kids went up to New York. It just so happened that this band called the Necros, who were good friends of ours from Detroit — along with a bunch of other Midwest punks — were there playing a show with the Misfits the night before. All of us were there — a bunch of DC kids, a bunch of Midwest kids, and some of our New York friends — and we went down to Rockefeller Center.
When they do “Saturday Night Live” they have a dress rehearsal, then they do the actual show. During the dress rehearsal, a camera got knocked over and something got broken — there was a big controversy about it, but Belushi said, “Look, these guys are going to be on the show,” so they let us stay. What was really weird about it is that when you see or play a gig, there is a trajectory of the show — an intensity that builds as you play.
In terms of a TV thing, it’s cold — you come out and the camera is turned on, and immediately you have to “jump in.” If you’re a punk band you immediately have to scream at the top of your lungs and flail about. It’s unnatural. You don’t warm up to it; you’re just suddenly “slammed” into it. It seemed completely artificial to me. And there were all these problems: fights broke out, and then there was a pumpkin that got smashed, and they cut off the show — they just went to a commercial. They were actually trying to arrest us. So anyway, I’ve been on that show! (laughter) And if they asked me to do it again, the answer would be “no.”
Jackson: Can you concede that, despite the numerous downfalls of being “owned” by a major label, there are possible advantages? I mean, there are bands with plenty of ingenuity and integrity like Sonic Youth or Rollins Band that have had or did have major label tenures in excess of 10 years.
I think you overstate my position. My position is not that I’m trying to put an end to the major labels; I don’t give a damn about them. I’m only interested in doing what I want to do without having to deal with them.
Jackson: Do you think the resistance is a matter of ethics, control, or do you just not want to deal with mainstream stardom?
You have to recognize that the major label industry is basically a profit-based operation. Their bottom line is the profit; they’re not really interested in art at all. Now if art is profitable, good. Your examples are interesting: Rollins is not on a major label anymore.
Jackson: Yeah, I know—
And Sonic Youth, those guys…they’re an enigma. And they’ve done well. They hooked up early on, they got Nirvana signed — they’re connected on a lot of different levels. Of course there are some great artists who are also involved with major labels, I don’t deny that. But frankly, in my mind, there is so much great music in the world that I’ll never be able to hear at all, and I’m not going to just waste my time and fill up what little space I have in my brain for music with music that is being engineered just to sell. That’s it. For the most part, most major label music is designed and created only to take over the market, to sell, sell, sell.
The problem with major labels is this, and here’s an analogy I’ve been thinking about recently: think about music before the turn of the century, before it was recorded. Music was just there. Of course there was sheet music, and there were people who performed it, but generally speaking, music just existed. It wasn’t a consumable, per se. Think about music as a river, full of healthy, delicious, life-giving water. It flowed, and everyone could come have a sip. It was all there. Well, one day, people figured out how to bottle the water and sell it. And it was convenient; it was easy; you get to take the bottle with you in your car and drink the water, and it was good — people were happy. The problem is that they didn’t leave it at that, because then the people who bottled the water started to poison the river. They wanted people to buy their water; they didn’t want people to drink for free! This is the way I look at the industry. The industry runs by the nature of expansionism — and don’t tell me that this industry is not expansionist, because you don’t have to look any further than the conglomerates that they operate under. There are five of them now in the world! They are constantly expanding, diversifying, trying to take over, constantly!
The cruelest strategy of the business world is to shut down anybody who would be perceived as competition. This is poisoning the river. They want people to buy their water, and nobody else’s. They don’t want the free water out there, they want it to be bought — from them. Fuck them!
So that’s my position on the major label industry. It doesn’t mean that everybody that everybody involved with the industry is evil — I don’t think they are. I think that a lot of them are just people who like music and that’s their gig.
Douglas: When you find yourself writing music that deals with politics — writing about something that is real life — do you find that it’s an organic, or a spiritual address?
How would you define “organic experience?”
Douglas: I mean, are you trying to send a message, or is it a spiritual, personal reflection?
Hmm…I don’t think in terms like this, but let me see if I can get it. When I write lyrics — whatever it’s about, whether political or anything else — I listen to the music, and I write what it makes me think about. When I start thinking about these things I kind of check the “inventory” of what I’ve been thinking about in general; what’s been affecting me. If some words come to my mind, then I start going with it. I would say it’s a very organic process, but I don’t really know. And if I knew how I wrote lyrics, I wouldn’t have so much trouble writing them. (laughter)
Douglas: I guess what I always get “stuck” on when it comes to music and politics is that politics are always so pragmatic; it’s about real life and it’s about real consequences. When you deal with it in art and music, you can talk about ideals and you can talk about “wouldn’t it be great if…?” I always wonder how a musician or a writer reconciles the real life consequences with what they’re saying.
I don’t delineate between politics and emotions; I don’t delineate between politics and human interaction. To me, it’s all the same thing. I think emotions are politics, they’re just played out in different fields. But it’s all the same thing…I usually don’t write songs that offer up answers, because most really perplexing things in the world don’t have simple answers, or don’t have answers at all — and if they do, they have more than one answer, which makes it even more complicated.
What I try to do a lot of times is I try to get people to look at situations. I try to express my thoughts about a situation, because usually I’m looking at things in a way that I think is different than the way most people look at it. I try to shift the source of light to look at the situation from a different perspective.
For instance, on the new record, there’s this song called “Cashout.” A lot of people immediately assumed that this is an anti-gentrification song. But if you read the song, it’s just saying, “this is what happens.” The issue I was thinking about, in terms of that song, is the fact that human beings — as far as I can tell — are actual entities. We exist. When people are being moved out of the places where they have lived their whole lives, because they actually do exist there is a physical being — they have to exist somewhere. Everyone needs to be somewhere, so where is everybody going to be if it’s too expensive to live anywhere? Where will people exist? That’s what I was trying to talk about.
Instead of thinking about gentrification in terms of, say, white people driving black people out of town, we should be thinking in terms of where everyone can be. We should be trying to make sure that there is a place for everyone, a place that’s reasonable. That seems fair enough to me.