Definition: Straight Edge (also written as "sXe") is a movement spawned within the hardcore scene in the '80s. Its followers have made a commitment to abstain from using drugs, alcohol and tobacco products.
"His thing was 'I don't need drugs, I'm not going to take them.' ” says Nelson. "A very unusual strength of will. A very tiny percentage of the population has anything like that kind of willpower and determination and self-control and resistance to peer pressure. It's a whole host of things which make him the pretty amazing person that he is.”
Even before MacKaye thought of a name for his brand of sobriety, the Teen ldles had had a song called "Milk and Coke," which pointedly championed their two favorite beverages. But by the time of Minor Threat, MacKaye had written a forty—six-second outburst called "Straight Edge."
"OK, fine, you take drugs, you drink, whatever,” MacKaye explained when asked about the song's title. "But obviously I have the edge on you because I’m sober, I’m in control of what I'm doing."
Alcohol was a major target of MacKaye's ire, and in a 1983 interview he got particularly vehement on the subject. "There’s nothing I hate more than hearing people use that shit as an excuse," he said. "Too many times it’s 'l'm sorry what happened last night, I was fucked up.’ Well, fuck that shit, man. I don't like getting hit by some drunk motherfucker just because he's drunk. I don't buy it. Can you imagine what drinking has done to people’s conscience, just in what they’ve done under the influence and allowed themselves to do under the influence and then when they sober up, realizing what they'd done? it's sad to me, it's sad."
Although Minor Threat's music came across with brutal force, it was carefully composed and precisely played, a compelling metaphor for the sober, righteous lifestyle advocated in the lyrics. It was also a compelling advertisement for it as well—you couldn’t play this incredible music if you were fucked up; you certainly didn't play it to get laid.
"Straight edge" soon became more than a song; it became a way of life among the Dischord crowd. In a very punk way, they made a virtue out of what they weren’t allowed to do: since they were underage, they were forced out of the clubs. So they simply declared it cool not to drink. Besides, teen drinking laws were practically set up in order to entrap kids; straight edge leapfrogged out of that dynamic. "Since we weren't allowed to legally drink," said Nathan Strejcek, "we said, 'Fine, we don't want to,' just to piss the lawmakers off. This is where we established a new place in modern society for ourselves... clear-minded thinking against the most evil of all, the adults!"
"What would punks be doing now?" said MacKaye in 1983. "Sitting around and getting fucked up and being rowdy. I don't want to be that. I want to beat that and I know that we can. The merchants of Georgetown want nothing more than to have punks smashing out windows, spray—painting the walls, drink in the streets and beat up people. And the reason we fuck them so good is we went to Georgetown and we’re honest as shit, we never steal, we go to the store, we pay our money, we're just totally nice, and best of all, we got our heads shaved and we're totally punk rockers and we're totally going against what they want."
Renouncing sex, drugs, and drink was renouncing the unattainable rock & roll myth, making music relevant for real people—you couldn't pursue the rock & roll lifestyle and then get up in the morning and go to school or work. But you could if you went to sober all-ages matinees. Ethics aside, straight edge was a way of rescuing rock music from being simply a vehicle for selling drinks. (The band didn't sell T-shirts and other merchandise for the same reason: the music was not a vehicle for generating revenue; it was an end in itself.)
MacKaye railed against alcohol as an emotional crutch. but he also felt it was symptomatic of a larger laziness and uncreativity, a function of a mindless consumer culture that stifled individual thinking. "The bar thing cripples people,” MacKaye 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 own resources.’ As opposed to going out and buying it."
Straight edge caught on throughout the hardcore community, but MacKaye has always steadfastly denied he wanted to start a movement. "I was trying to defend myself against the idea that l was a freak for not drinking," MacKaye says. "I'm not a freak, I didn’t feel like a freak. What I felt like was somebody who had made a choice in my life.” Free choice and independent thinking—flex your head!
—were the real point of straight edge.
"At least," MacKaye said, "it's not a bad
set of rules."
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