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Anything for a Weird Life

Steve Albini 1962-2024

Rules be: No past, only present. No cheating; if it doesn’t happen that day, I won’t write about it. No explanations; if it doesn’t make sense to anybody else, too bad.”

from Why Rudolph’s Nose is Red: Steve Albini’s December Diary,”
Forced Exposure #10, 1986

The Internet corner I hang out in is flooded, rightly, with tributes and memories and photos of Steve Albini.

To contribute to the pile is perhaps not the best decision. I can’t avoid the guy right now! If you are tuned into my wavelength, the same is probably true for you.

But here goes…

When I owe a debt to an influence, I feel I must pay it.

Is it because of that time I was driving around in the early 1990s with a friend who said You like the Pixies, huh? Have you heard THIS?” and Bone Machine” came bashing into my life, rewiring my ears via Surfer Rosa as to what an album could sound like, all thanks to how it was recorded.

Is it because of the initial puzzlement over Big Black’s The Rich Man’s 8-Track Tape CD compilation, my first foray into commentary over format? Does the band want me to feel bad for buying this? You could not consume the music on that CD, however great, without feeling like you were missing out on something by not hearing it on vinyl.

Sure, all of the above (and more) is true in terms of impactful and influential moments involving Albini and folks in his orbit in my formative years.

But I think the main debt I owe is to his writing. He was sharp and good and unafraid whenever he had an opportunity and place to publish. 1993’s The Problem with Music” essay was not only revelatory to me but the best possible way to dissuade me from dropping out of college and pursuing being in a band full-time. No disrespect to any one who has done that, but, to a working class kid, the odds were not good then in terms of making it. I like to think my willingness in this column to stand against the streaming status quo begins with that essay. And, of course, he was not only correct about the problem with music, but each day the news about the problem gets worse.

But the other big debt I owe is a model of how to evolve over time. Steve Albini’s most offensive and outrageous statements are making the rounds right now along with the eulogies and tributes. In recent years, he assessed his past and changed his ways. His apologies over things he said and wrote seemed thoughtful and sincere. My thirty years of involvement in underground culture is built on the same idea; each week I write this column, I know it is worth it if it is true to the moment in which I write it. No perfect, not too-carefully polished, but ever forward. You can learn and grow and change, or you can decide things were better back then and it was a different time” and people have lost their sense of humor” as an excuse and slink off into that comfortable cave of lost dreams, dwelling among the other deposed edgelords.

Or you can keep going, keep moving, keep changing but still living by a code, alive and aware and present, in this here 2020s underground..

Thank you, Steve, for giving me a model of how to do that.

Tim Kabara

IG: @kim_tabara

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