Fugazi: Keep Your Eyes Open

Fugazi: Keep Your Eyes Open

By Ashwin Bhandari

Sep 30, 2019 21:00

Whether Ian Mackaye likes it or not, Fugazi will always be known as one of the fathers of emo. The post-hardcore group were part of the wave that influenced the genre - with everything it subsequently became - back in the late 80s and 90s, not only influenced the likes of Deftones, Quicksand, Refused, and At The Drive In, but creating a revolution for social change in punk music.

‘Keep Your Eyes Open’ was originally published on the 3rd September 2007 – 20 years after Fugazi’s first-ever show – by author and photographer Glen E. Friedman. Having also extensively documented Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Black Flag in the 80s, Friedman was essentially the non-performing fifth member of Fugazi.

Not only was he religiously documenting the band’s work, he also lived with them at the Discord Records house in DC. As Mackaye puts it, “while most photographers were taking photos of Fugazi, Glen was making photos with us.”

The original edition of ‘Keep Your Eyes Open’ rapidly sold out, and was unavailable for many years – thankfully, a new second edition has now been published. This new and expanded edition features an additional interview with Mackaye and Friedman, and, much to the relief of Fugazi and photography fans, is far easier to get hold of. With almost 200 photos to gawk at, it’s an absolute treat for the senses.

The book begins with a youthful and frizzy-haired Mackaye outside the Discord Records house, followed by an insightful essay on Fugazi’s history by Ian F. Svenonius, ‘Fugazi and Rock n Roll’.

One of the biggest highlights of the essay is one that provides further context for Fugazi’s stance on pushing away punk conventions – such as only charging $5 per show, and turning down a ten million dollar record deal with Atlantic Records for 1993 album ‘In On The Kill Taker’. Not that it mattered – their live shows were consistently in demand, and they went on to sell three million records worldwide by the end of their career in 2002.

“If Fugazi set their door cost at $100, I reasoned,  people would dig it twenty times as much. Money spent on a concert ticket, is in fact, a ritual sacrifice that fans make willingly to spend on their idols, a hallowed ceremony enacted since pagan times. It fulfills humanity’s basic urges toward self-degradation and servility.”

On the band refusing to conform to the traits of conventional rock bands, the essay adds, “Fugazi behave like social workers, raising tens of thousands of dollars at benefit concerts for a variety of worthy causes like homeless shelters, free clinics and the like. They’ve also performed at protests, in the shadow of the white house, playing songs that deal directly with social and political concerns.”

There’s sometimes an idea that Fugazi’s anti moshing stance at shows, and the often serious nature of their songs, meant that they didn’t have fun.  There’s even an opera based upon their infamous stage banter called ‘It’s All True’ that has been endorsed by vocalist and guitarist Guy Picciotto.

Friedman’s photos hopefully showcase a different side to the band – one that isn’t shrouded by pretentiousness or misguided rules on what is and what isn’t punk rock. While they policed their own shows and never hired security, they made sure their audience members were being treated with respect. As a result, things rarely got out of hand.

It’s easy to assume they were all work and no play, constantly pushing political and social ideals to their followers – but there are definitely moments of levity captured on film here, even if it’s just slightly less serious band snaps before and after shows.

As for the pictures of Fugazi’s concerts? They’re sure to make anyone who was there at the time feel nostalgic and warm – and anyone who wasn’t, wish they’d been born in a different era. It’s hard not to feel your heart melt looking at these pages, maybe remembering shows you went to as a kid, or the songs you grew up with. If it were possible for pictures to trigger your senses, you would smell the stale sweat, feel the dry mouth from a lack of hydration, hear every line being belted out in full force.

Speaking to The Washington Paper in 2007, Friedman said; “I decided to focus on natural lighting so it would be more organic and less of a rock star thing, A flash can be so distracting. It’s also lighting somebody up in a special way, like bringing your studio with you.”

The shots of Guy Picciotto swinging off a basketball hoop at a 1988 show are well known, but Friedman’s photos feel more like warm family snaps than trying to capture the best shots for a magazine.

It’s unclear if Fugazi will ever reunite. All members claim to still be on good terms and practice in their DC homes, which gives us all hope. But think about it this way – even if they never return, Freidman has solidified and captured an era that we have no chance of experiencing again. All we can do is cherish these shots and be inspired to carry the ethos of Fugazi forward.

The second edition of ‘Keep Your Eyes Open’ was published on 1 July 2019 by Akashic Books, and is available in the UK on Amazon.