As Minor Threat sang, “I’m a person just like you, but I’ve got better things to do, than sit around and smoke dope, because I know that I can cope.
When Ian MacKaye wrote the song “Straight Edge” in 1981, he had no idea that it would launch an international movement. The frontman for the band Minor Threat saw the blistering 46-second track as a mere rejection of the debaucherous drug-fueled lifestyle led by punk rockers at the time. But its searing lyrics, such as “I’m a person just like you, but I’ve got better things to do, than sit around and smoke dope, because I know that I can cope,” inspired thousands of punks to start clean living.
Punk rock had been around for nearly a decade when “Straight Edge” dropped. The rock genre that emerged from the 70s underground was defined by its departure from the mainstream and often carried political and anti-establishment messages. Along with sped-up Chuck Berry riffs and streetwise poetry, the punk rock rebellion also came with plenty of drug and alcohol use. For MacKaye, being a punk rocker who didn’t get high was a revolutionary act.
The term “straight edge” was eventually adopted by a subculture within the hardcore scene whose members pledged to abstain from drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. Over the past four decades, the movement has taken many different forms, from violent militant groups to religious Hare Krishnas, and now a new generation of substance-free teens are keeping it alive by “claiming edge.”