Steve Albini Takes Accountability for "Ignorant Perception" of Social Issues
"It's worth it to interrogate yourself and try to figure out why you're doing things the way you are"
Published Nov 09, 2021Last month, alt-rock icon and super-producer Steve Albini took to Twitter with a thread acknowledging his role in feeding "edgelord" culture, after being called a hypocrite for tweeting that Dave Chappelle was an "asshole" for his most recent bout of transphobia.
In the thread, the 60-year-old producer said that he "certainly [had] some 'splainin to do" in regards to his long-time habit of saying inflammatory, offensive shit and his musical output in the '80s, which includes his band Rapeman and a catalogue of songs that often tested boundaries of ethics and taste. In the mid-'80s, Albini was also part of a short-lived project whose name featured a racist slur, and whose solitary single contained a homophobic slur.
And now, in a new interview with MEL Magazine, Albini does some of that 'splainin, discussing his long road to accountability as a straight white man and the many regrets he's accumulated along the way. Albini has spoken about these things on and off in the past, but rarely as directly as this.
He spoke at length about Rapeman's name in particular, calling it "an inexcusable choice," and explaining its basis in what he calls "Japanese rape manga culture" and the comic Rapeman in particular:
Obviously, it's the product of decades of repression and misogyny being expressed through a different cultural tradition. But for us Americans, the manga just landed on our couch. But I'm not saying that by way of excusing that choice.
I admit that I was deaf to a lot of women's issues at the time, and that's on me. Within our circles, within the music scene, within the musical underground, a lot of cultural problems were deemed already solved — meaning, you didn't care if your friends were queer. Of course women had an equal place, an equal role to play in our circles. The music scene was broadly inclusive. So for us, we felt like those problems had been solved. And that was an ignorant perception.
He continued, saying:
That's the way a lot of straight white guys think of the world — they think that it requires an active hatred on your part to be prejudiced, bigoted or to be a participant in white supremacy. The notion is that if you're not actively doing something to oppress somebody, then you're not part of the problem. As opposed to quietly enjoying all of the privilege that's been bestowed on you by generations of this dominance.
That was the fundamental failure of my perception. It's been a process of enlightenment for me to realize and accept that my very status as a white guy in America is the product of institutional prejudices, that I've enjoyed the benefits of them, passively and actively. And I'm responsible for accepting my role in the patriarchy, and in white supremacy, and in the subjugation and abuse of minorities of all kinds.
He also talked about his infamous 2011 post on an Odd Future message board in which he recounted an experience he had with the group on a shuttle bus. In the post, he used the N-word when describing an exchange between a member and the bus driver. He describes the post as "[portraying his own] cultural ignorance," saying:
I wrote my account of the afternoon up quickly, without much consideration, and I can appreciate how somebody who's unfamiliar with me, with Odd Future and with the ideas being brought out in the subtext would be responding to seeing that word in print. And I appreciate that. That was incorrect.
At one point toward the end of the piece, Albini says he feels that:
Everyone is going to make some kind of peace with their legacy, or make peace with their creative output in their own way. Some people do it defensively, some people do it by just refusing to talk about that stuff and some people's defence is, "C'mon, these are just jokes, don't take it so seriously." I bristle at those kinds of defences because when you were putting this out there, you wanted me to take it seriously. You made it seem like it meant something to you.
The interview is long and wide-ranging, and you can read it here.
Whatever your opinion of this decades-in-the-making apology, at the very least it's an interesting inversion of the norm to see an older artist — especially one with a past as inexcusable as Albini's — attempt to develop with the times rather than fight tooth and nail against them.