If I could see one band that isn’t around anymore do one song live, it would be FUGAZI doing “Suggestion.” It’s one of those songs that blew my mind wide openthe first time I heard it. I was in 7th grade, and read about it in a book on riot grrrl. It’s got that weird blend of funk and punk rock that’s always had a special place in my heart. It swings between a tight, bass-driven groove and an off the wall, burn-your-house-down chorus. But by far the most interesting thing about “Suggestion” is that it’s a song about sexual assault, written by a man, from the perspective of a woman.
There are two other times that I can think of this happening. They are “Rape Me” by NIRVANA and “She” by GREEN DAY. (Yeah, I am gonna write about them in MRR, you ice cream eating motherfucker.) As far as I know, there wasn’t much outrage when GREEN DAY did it in 1994. When NIRVANA did “Rape Me” in 1993, the controversy mostly came from places like MTV, or suspiciously defensive dudes who insisted that the song was actually about the media. But 1988’s “Suggestion” sparked a ton of outcry within the DIY punk rock community itself. Of course, the bros that wanted to get drunk and beat people up to Minor Threat hated it, but what else is new. What I find more interesting is that a large number of riot grrrls protested the song. People like Kathleen Hanna, who had been saying that sexism affects men for years, were against this song. So, is it okay for men to sing songs about rape from the point of view of women?
I think it is. That goes double for a song as well done as any of the one’s listed above, and triple for “Suggestion” because the of the way they performed it live. Ian MacKaye wrote it for his friend Amy Pickering, who played in FIRE PARTY, coined the phrase “Revolution Summer,” and was a victim of sexual assault. In some of the best live performances of“Suggestion” I’ve seen, she sings the first half of the song with FUGAZI. There’s indescribable power in the way she and the crowd and the band go off in unison. In a 1988 show at the Wilson Center, after Pickering leaves the stage, MacKaye goes on on the one of the rants he’s so (in)famous for. “You do not beat up people for being gay,” he declares. The crowd roars. “You do not beat up people for being black. You do not beat up people for being women. You do not beat up people… period! Usually this song is a song about rape, but tonight it’s a song about beating up gay men at the park.” And from there, the band launches into the second half of the song.
Really, that’s the thing that makes “Suggestion” such a powerful song. The moment it was written, it was a song about a girl who gets attacked by a man. But once you put art out there for the world to see and hear, it tends to take on a life of its own. “Suggestion” becomes a song about the experiences of the listener, about how 1 in 6 American women are rape victims, about what it takes for a man to prove he is a man. On any given night, it might be song about gay people or people of color getting beat up at the park, or at school, or on the highway. Ultimately, “Suggestion” is a song about breaking out of the role you’ve been assigned, whether it’s one of fear or of beating people up or of staying quiet. We are all guilty, but we’ve also all got the power and the responsibility to change the way we think and act.
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hit me up with your nerdy FUGAZI facts, or your art and music, or to tell me you think GREEN DAY are sell-out scum.