Albini is something of a legend in rock music circles, having producing records for bands like Nirvana, the Pixies, the Breeders, Jawbreaker, and many, many more. In fact, he's famously known for denying actual producer credit for most of the bands he's worked with — in fitting with his punk rock ethos, he thinks he's just there to place some microphones and tell the bands which amps to use, and doesn't think that he doesn't credit for shaping the song of their records.
But Albini also came up in the 70s/80s punk scene, which was as much about shock value as it was about embracing social outcasts. Case in point: he played in an infamous noise rock band called Rapeman. To this day, he still gets called out for some of the more offensive he said — things that, yeah, were meant to be offensive, even if they were meant in jest. As he got older, Albini realized: maybe some of those "jokes" were never really funny after all. They just seemed that way, in context, because he was shielded from the fallout as a straight white man:
The punk scene in Chicago had a very broad overlap with the gay underground in Chicago. So the queer underground and the punk underground weren't synonymous, but the re-contextualized diagram was a near circle.
In our circles, nothing was off limits. So, it took a while for me to appreciate that using abusive language in a joking fashion was still using abusive language. And it was genuinely shocking when I realized that there were people in the music underground who weren't playing when they were using language like that and who weren't kindred spirits. They were, in fact, awful, and only masquerading as intellectuals. That was one of many wake-up moments.
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.
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.
It's a really great and thoughtful interview — not so much an apology, per se, but an owning up to the unintended impacts of things you did when you were younger. I wish more people were capable of this sort of patient self-reflection.
Here's the originally Twitter thread that kicked the whole thing off:
Image: Mixwiththemasters / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)