‘Just a Minor Threat’: Unseen photos of seminal DC punk band on display in new book

The first time photographer Glen E. Friedman met Ian MacKaye, at CBGB in New York City on the day after Christmas, 1981, he’d never heard of Minor Threat.

Within the next months and years, Friedman captured some of the most iconic photographs of Minor Threat — perhaps the most influential punk rock band to come out of Washington, D.C. — including an image that has sparked Internet memes.

Now, Friedman’s new book, “Just a Minor Threat,” published by Akashic Books, is scheduled for an Oct. 3 release and is available on pre-order.

In 1981, Friedman, who was known for his skateboarding photos, met Ian and his younger brother Alec at CBGB on Dec. 26, 1981. Alec’s band, The Faith, was opening for Bad Brains.

Friedman and the MacKayes stayed in touch as Ian’s band, Minor Threat, was gaining popularity after the release of its first 7-inch release.

“The first time I ever made photos of them was July 3, 1982, at a show in Los Angeles,” Friedman said. “I think it was their first time playing in L.A.”

MacKaye was flanked by guitarist Lyle Preslar and bassist Brian Baker, with Dischord Records co-founder Jeff Nelson on drums. Friedman said the D.C. band made itself at home, 2,688 miles away, at The Barn at Alpine Village in Torrance, California.

“It was as if they had done it a thousand times before,” marveled Friedman. “It was a very powerful show, and people were singing along, as they always seem to do with Minor Threat songs.”

Friedman described Minor Threat’s live shows he photographed as exhilarating, with audience members interacting with band members.

One of Friedman’s most well-known images — shown on the book’s cover — captures MacKaye with exuberant fans all around him. The photo first appeared in Friedman’s zine, “My Rules,” shortly after it was taken.

“It’s one of my favorite images I’ve ever made. Ian is yelling into the microphone, pretty much rushing right toward me, it feels like,” Friedman said. “And there’s a kid actually in the air, upside down behind him. He must have just jumped over Ian to get in that position as I made the photo.”

Friedman was at CBGB in New York City as Minor Threat performed as a five-piece band, with Steve Hansgen on bass, as Brian Baker moved to guitar.

The lineup, which was featured on the band’s “Out of Step” album, blended athleticism and energy with powerful musicianship.

“The incredible thing was their precision — they were tight, and had incredible melodies and choruses,” Friedman said.

The book also includes photos from Los Angeles in April 1983, when Minor Threat was between shows.

So how is it possible that photos of one of D.C.’s most revered hardcore punk bands have never been seen before?

“You have to remember, back when we made these photos in 1982, 1983, no one really cared to publish photos of Minor Threat,” Friedman said. “There was very little interest, except from fanzines. It wasn’t like big rock magazines cared, because they didn’t.”

Glen E. Friedman photographed Minor Threat in 1982, 1983

At the time, Friedman’s photos often appeared in Skateboarder magazine and Thrasher magazine, and those are the most widely-published photos.

Long before the internet, digital downloads and streaming, Friedman’s photos were seen in close conjunction with the music: “On the record covers, of course, and the record sleeves — that’s where you have some of the most well-known photos.”

Friedman explained how his most well-known photo, showing the band sitting on the porch of Dischord House in north Arlington, came to be. The photo has been appropriated in memes, and was included in an episode of “The Simpsons.”

“I just wanted to get a good group shot of the band,” Friedman said. “And I was very intrigued by the whole group house situation.”

Glen E. Friedman describes his most well-known image of Minor Threat

Ironically, even though Friedman captured the band in a fascinating portrait, nobody saw the photo for a while.

“It was a great shot of the band with the frontman in the front, but the band was about to break up, so it didn’t get used,” Friedman laughed.

A few years later, the image was used when Minor Threat’s final three songs were released as “Salad Days.”

While MacKaye has sworn Minor Threat will never reunite, Friedman is glad he was able to memorialize the moment in D.C.’s musical and cultural history with his photographs.

“You didn’t know then that it was going to last forever,” Friedman said. “But it has, I think to everyone’s surprise. That was never the goal when people were making it, you were just making everything for the moment.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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