There’s a whole lot of genuinely horrible shit going on in the world right now. The wife and I spent large swathes of the weekend staring incredulously at reports on television from Paris (and, yes, elsewhere like Beirut and Kenya). I’ve already gotten into a bunch a conversations about same on Facebook. Anything I might have to say on the subject from this point forward can be handily summed up on the last post. Check that out if you care. This post is about something else.
There were several, specific records during my college years that made indelible impressions on me. One of those records was the 1987’s 12” single of “I Will Refuse” by Pailhead.
The quintessence of incongruity, Pailhead was essentially the combination of Ministry — then in the process of morphing from comparatively slick synth-pop into something much darker and way harder — and Ian MacKaye, the former lead singer of Minor Threat and Embrace, Dischord Records mainstay and quasi-reluctant patron saint of all things Straight Edge. Knowing what my fellow music geeks and I did of both factions, it made absolutely zero sense to us that these two seemingly diametrically opposed entities would ever make music together, much less stand to be in the same room together.
But record they did, the initial fruits of that union being “I Will Refuse,” a pummeling vehicle of unrelenting, mechanized rhythms at hardcore velocity, with Ian MacKaye’s inimitably splenetic vocals driving the endeavor forward.
Later tracks would surface from the collaboration, eventually culled onto a collection (out of print?) dubbed Trait. If you’re a fan of this stuff, you’d do well to seek it out.
From there, Ian formed Fugazi, while Al Jourgensen gradually steered Ministry in a pointedly harder direction, arguably inventing "industrial metal" along the way, before — to my mind — succumbing to creative stasis. Maybe it was all the drugs? Who knows.
In any case, the unlikely pairing of MacKaye and Jourgensen had remained an enigma to me for decades. I don’t recall Al speaking with any great amount of depth about Pailhead in his meandering, drug-heavy autobiography. But my co-hort Drew sent me an incredible link to a conversation between Ian MacKaye and iconoclastic Chicago recording engineer, Big Black/Rapeman/Shellac-founder and endearing curmudgeon Steve Albini. In the course of their candid chat, Ian ruminates at some length about the origins of the Pailhead project. Once again, if you care about this stuff, it is well worth your time.
Meanwhile, this is “I Will Refuse."