When the Kids Were United

Glenn E. Friedman’s Just a Minor Threat

Glenn E. Friedman has knocked it out of the park once again with Just a Minor Threat, a 148-page photo book focused on DC punk pioneers Minor Threat.

Glenn E. Friedman

Just a Minor Threat is a welcome addition to Friedman’s music photography collections. It’s been well worth the wait for one about the most influential hardcore band in punk history.

Coming as it does, hot on the heels of What I See, Friedman’s journey into the world of Black Flag (Akashic, 2022), Just a Minor Threat solidifies his place as a chronicler of late 20th-century American underground music and countercultures.

Glenn E. Friedman’s books have covered the worlds of skateboarding, hardcore punk, hip hop, and protest art in its various forms.

Featuring over 140 photos inside a coffee-table-sized book, Just a Minor Threat shows Friedman capturing the legendary Washington DC band on film as he first came to know them, something that the book details occurred about midway through its career.

Minor Threat began in late 1980, and Friedman started shooting them in the summer of 1982. The band would play its last show a little over a year after that, but once Friedman began shooting them, he couldn’t stop.

In the process, the photographer built an extraordinary visual archive, on full display here, of the foundational DIY hardcore band working at the peak of its creative powers.

This journey takes us from Minor Threat’s early four-member formation, led by the charismatic and drill-sergeant-esque Ian MacKaye, through their peak as a five-piece, and finally back to their original lineup as internal conflicts took their toll.

In the writing accompanying Just A Minor Threat’s black and white photos, Friedman explains that he had seen Minor Threat even earlier than his photos indicate, in 1981, but hadn’t been fortunate enough to start shooting them then.

Friedman writes of having first heard Minor Threat well before that, at the behest of Boise, Idaho-based artist Brian “Pushead” Schroeder, who would go on to design album art for the likes of Metallica and Blink 182’s Travis Barker.

Friedman gave the band a listen: “Truth be told, I didn’t get it when I heard the first 7″ from Minor Threat,” he confesses in the introduction. “But half a year later, I heard their second 7-inch extended player (‘In My Eyes’) and it knocked me out….I was now a Minor Threat fan, on my way to becoming an ambassador and propagandist.”

The fan dynamic worked both ways in Friedman’s case, as many in Minor Threat (like frontman Ian MacKaye) were involved in the skateboarding scene, which Friedman was busily documenting to growing renown through the pages of magazines like Thrasher, a punk favourite.

With Glenn E. Friedman’s photography already well-known to punks in DC, his transition to documentarian of the US capital’s best band seemed natural.

One of the chief pleasures of reading Just a Minor Threat has been discovering things about the band I did not know, especially in the text that accompanies the rare photos and outtakes, many of which have never officially appeared in print anywhere else before now.

Of course, aside from his many photographs of Minor Threat live, Friedman took what is probably the band’s single best-known photo – certainly the band’s most iconic group shot – featuring the four bandmates sitting on the front porch of Dischord House in Arlington, Virginia, in August of 1983.

In classical black and white, we see Ian MacKaye sitting on the steps in the foreground, all bulging knees and worn sneakers, looking with calm confidence into Friedman’s slightly fish-eyed lens, his cleanshaven head resembling a bullet.

Behind MacKaye, to the right, is Minor Threat drummer and Dischord label co-founder Jeff Nelson, sitting in a chair with a skateboard leaning against the wall beside him.

Bespectacled bassist Brian Baker has made a seat of an empty, overturned wooden crate of Pepsi to MacKaye’s left, his mop of white hair looking like it’s been recently bleached.

And in the back, guitarist Lyle Preslar (a lawyer since 2008) strikes a casual pose, the most misleadingly conventional looking of them all, cross-legged in a second chair on the porch.

Glenn E. Friedman later remarked in getting this shot, “I was trying basically for punk rock to mimic American Gothic. That’s what inspired me: this family of punk rock, this house, and this band that practised in the basement there. That’s what I was going for.”

This beguiling and even wryly unassuming portrait of what could be an ordinary suburban garage band contrasts brilliantly with the overwhelming ferocity of the Minor Threat’s live shows, vocal style, lyrics, and music. It is one of the jewels in Friedman’s photographic crown.

The photo was used as the cover for Minor Threat’s posthumous release, the Salad Days EP. The image has also appeared on many unauthorised and bootlegged t-shirts and stickers—all countless reprints from which neither Friedman nor Minor Threat has seen a dime.

Unbeknownst to casual fans, the Salad Days photo was taken as the band was beginning its break up. The relatively placid nature of the photograph belies the fact that the group was, at that time, locked in a death spiral of internal feuding.

Another set of photos in the book stands out, too. Shot in December 1982 in New York, the band are bundled up in scarves and overcoats and looks as if they could be a young postpunk act on the shadowy streets of Manchester, hoping for a gig at the Hacienda.

Lyle Preslar looks a bit like Ian Curtis in one photo, front and centre, in a trench coat as though he were the vocalist, while MacKaye hangs out in the rear, breaking the picture’s bleak spell by mugging for the camera.

The rest of the band have a sullen and mysterious air about them. It’s a downright Joy Division-like presentation of the band. Anton Corbijn could very well have shot it.

Still, Friedman’s photos are his own. They capture a bunch of fresh-faced teens causing a ruckus, innocently unaware of the influence that they would have on subsequent generations of artists.

Many punk bands sing of youth, but few are young themselves. Even fewer are both young and musically proficient enough to capture youth’s unbridled exuberance, chaos, and anger like Minor Threat did.

That includes Glenn E. Friedman, who knew exactly when to focus on the band and document it at its prime.

That’s what great photojournalism is all about and why Just a Minor Threat will be as influential a collection as its subject matter.

Photograph courtesy of Jean Lim. All rights reserved.