By typical music industry standards, Minor Threat shouldn’t matter.
The band only existed for about three years, it never had a video on MTV, and its complete recorded works equal less than an hour’s worth of music. But 40 years later, Minor Threat’s influence and impact are still felt around the world. It could be argued that the four (sometimes five) members of the band were simply at the right place at the right time—the fledging American Hardcore scene of the early '80s—to catch lightning in a bottle, but the truth is that Minor Threat remains relevant because it created its own time. From recording and releasing music independently to shouting lyrics that raged against the status quo, these early punks from Washington, D.C., created a sonic and cultural blueprint worthy of eternal respect.
Out this Tuesday on the perennially impressive Akashic Books, Just a Minor Threat by famed photographer Glen E. Friedman documents and celebrates this fact through 140-plus black-and-white images he took of the band from the summer of 1982 to mere days before its last-ever show the following year. A flip through the book’s pages make a clear distinction between performers who strive to strike a pretty onstage pose and those who are on stage because they have no other choice. Every image showcases a band that played as if the very lives of its members depended on it. “Intense” may be too convenient a word here, but what the fuck would you use to describe Minor Threat at its zenith?
In addition to stunning photographs, Just a Minor Threat boasts essays by a host of underground figures who offer personal perspectives on the band’s incendiary and influential run. Former Rites of Spring singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto, who spent roughly 15 years in Fugazi with Minor Threat singer Ian MacKaye, describes the band’s seriousness in developing its signature sound:
They weren’t clowning around and cracking each other up. They were working. They were creating art.”
Always smarter than the average bear, the cheekily verbose Ian F. Svenonius (Nation of Ulysses/The Make-Up/Weird War) offers the kind of highbrow examination of Just a Minor Threat’s subject that you’d typically find in a college sociology textbook. (I’ve been a professional writer for nearly 30 years … I had to look up the word “fecund.”) Other essayists include Jello Biafra, The Mob’s Jamie Shanahan, Ian MacKaye’s brother, Alec (singer of fellow early D.C. Hardcore band The Faith), and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha.
Unlike virtually all its contemporaries, Minor Threat has never reconvened for a big-money reunion tour despite numerous offers to do so. The band’s firm commitment to preserving the integrity of its history by leaving it in the past is increasingly rare and quite beautiful. There’s no need to sully things with arena gigs that merely generate Live Nation service fees and appeal to middle-aged nostalgia. We still have the band’s records, and now we have this book. Frankly, we already have all the Minor Threat we need in 2023. Alec MacKaye puts it best:
Sometimes, when people are looking at pictures from this era, they say, ‘I wish I had a time machine!’ The thing is, you don’t need to invent a time machine when you have pictures like these—because they are proper portals. Look into them and you are there.