I probably spent an hour or so browsing the vinyl at Denver’s Twist & Shout Records, but despite all that time and the huge selection, every record I ended up buying came from one little subsection, the punk compilations. It was deep, and it was interesting. And one item that caught my eye was Iron Columns, a two-record comp in a gatefold jacket that included a high quality, glossy booklet attached to the inside spine. Even without knowing any of the bands this seemed intriguing, so I picked it up.
My vinyl backlog has been growing steadily, and I just got around to checking out Iron Columns a couple of weeks ago. The packaging is tremendous – this isn’t just a punk comp, it’s an anarcho-punk primer. The inside covers both consist of extensive text covering gender related issues and the first page of the booklet, which is a full 12″ by 12″, includes bios of important female anarchists and revolutionaries. The second page is a manifesto of sorts explaining the objective of Iron Columns, which is to shed light sexism and incarceration, two things that on the surface appear completely unrelated but are here tied together by the concept of how both isolate people from society and community. That’s followed by the most powerful piece of writing in the booklet, an essay by one of the driving forces behind Mind Control Records, “Char D”. It’s titled “Independence: A Cure For Male Domination” and it’s brutal honesty is both shocking and thought provoking. The last three pages are given over specifically to the struggles of prisoners, with information about the advocacy group Raze The Walls! and essays by prisoners Harold Thompson (♠) and Christopher Plummer (♣).
I wanted to know more about Iron Columns and the people behind it, so I did some Googling and ultimately tracked down Char D herself. She was nice enough to answer some questions, and the details she provides give us a better understanding of what Iron Columns represented (and arguably still represents).
Mind Control Records is known for its anarcho-punk releases. Anarchism is a widely misunderstood school of thought in the United States, and most Americans have no exposure to the depth of anarchist thought and theory. What drew you to anarchism at that time, and how did it contribute to you becoming associated with Mind Control?
If people understood anarchy, the “powers that be” would not exist. That’s why they try to make it about chaos and violence, or even predation. That way most people would reject it, and so the political royalty keep their thrones another day to wield power and make war for profit. The punk music scene itself was used to undermine the credibility of anarchists in general. The media tried to spin the anarchist movement as a bunch of reckless youths disrespecting all that is good. Otherwise, if the average person began to understand anarchism as it is meant to be, the ruling class would no longer rule. Mind Control Records was about using music to communicate perspectives and validate that there was true meaning and purpose behind the music and the art of fashion that had become synonymous with anarchism in the latter part of the 20th century.
By the time I was 12 or 13 I had an understanding of war and the political corruption surrounding it, although at the time, I didn’t know to what extent that complex truth was damaging the world and everyone in it. Since both major political parties seemed to be working together to perpetuate war and or civil unrest in pursuit of control, I couldn’t choose a side between Democrat and Republican. I had been part of an after school club in high school that had us each identify ourselves as being of a political party. Anarchist was not accepted since you can not vote for an Anarchist party, so I chose to identify as a Libertarian. Still to this day, that is the recognized political party I identify with the best since it is the closest to anarchism on the ballot. That doesn’t mean that I vote Libertarian though. I vote strategically without bias. I’m an anarchist, but am also a pragmatist. I’d vote for a pink gorilla if I thought it might make a change toward something I feel is important to me.
After graduation, I started getting into a lot of Anarchist British punk music when I had listened to records of friends while I was traveling. I became a big lover of bands like Flux of Pink Indians, Amibix, Rudimentary Peni, Poison Girls, Crass, Subhumans, etc. etc. and I really connected with the lyrics as well as the varied styles of sound within the musical genre. This is really where I found anarchism in the beginning. I was 18, when I was introduced to Jack by a close friend who was dating his roommate. He was already an anarchist before we met and knew a lot more about it than I did. Jack wasn’t much into British stuff, his main interests were Japanese bands like Gizm, but he was and is very knowledgeable about the history of anarchism He introduced me to Noam Chomsky and Emma Goldman, and many others who wrote about the topic of anarchy. We have very different taste in music, ironically, but the music was just an inspiring expression of ideals. So, as long as the messages were not against our fundamental ideals, I embraced whatever musical package it came in. The compilation was our masterpiece LP of varying sounds and styles within the punk scene from bands all over the world with the same basic ideals about human rights and anti-government sentiments in the lyrics. Jack had already produced the 1st Mind Control album before we met. He had just started the band Scorched Earth Policy and wanted to produce an LP. He and I had been dating for several months when I decided to invest in producing the LP. We talked about the possibility of a record label together beginning with the SEP LP, but he insisted that we use the Mind Control name and Logo since there was already some recognition from the 1st album, Antischizm /Subvert split. I reluctantly agreed to produce under the name Mind Control, and in retrospect, I’d have insisted on using a new name. Mind Control might have lasted longer if we had used a new name. But, that is another story. The point here is, I wanted to create a livelihood that was in alignment with my ideals and interests. It seemed to be the perfect venture for me at the time, so, that’s where it all began for me.
You wrote an incredibly powerful and personal essay that appears in the booklet accompanying Iron Columns. It’s called “Independence: A Cure For Male Domination”, and after reading it Iron Columns felt like more than just a punk comp and instead something with meaning. If there are two threads I perceive through the album art and booklet it’s emphasis on the female experience and the need to support people who are incarcerated. Is this a fair assessment? What were you seeing in society and the anarchist movement at the time that made these the two primary pillars for this album?
The album was dedicated to political prisoners because I was involved with Anarchist Black Cross at the time, writing letters to political prisoners. The name Iron Columns for the comp was Jack’s idea. It refers to cages and prisons. Actual cages as well as the metaphorical incarceration within a system that confines and controls us. I was writing articles for zines (such as Disturbing the Peace out of New Jersey) that mostly dealt with gender issues. It was what I was experiencing at the time from men in my own community that inspired these articles. As a woman, I wanted to make a statement about how being female in a male dominated world is in itself is a prison. I was experiencing a lot of blatant sexism within my own so called “anarchist” community, and even in my own home. That essay was actually edited without my knowledge or consent before it was printed. It originally pointed out the hypocrisy within my relationship with Jack concerning the label, as well as how the men treated women in the scene in general. At that time, Jack was still young and not always living up to his potential as a partner. He felt he had to dominate the label in spite of me being the one who invested the most money and worked the hardest dealing with distributers, keeping books and mailing orders out etc. I believe this had more to do with me being his girlfriend than it was about me being female, but to me, it felt the same. Jack does respect women and does treat them as equals, but at that time in his life, he was not capable of treating me, his girlfriend, as an equal. He and I went through a very rough time before and during the making of Iron Columns. We had broken up, but were still running the label together. I told him it would be the last Mind Control record for me, and it was. We both had a lot to learn about life, relationships and ourselves back then. We have both learned a lot over the last 20 plus years and are both better people for it. We are still friends to this day and always will be.
That essay was about exposing those who say they are all about equality for the genders, but then behave very differently in everyday life. Many of the girls in the scene were having issues about being taken seriously by the men in our community, but not many were speaking out about it. Most of the outspoken girls were focused on fighting against general male domination within society as a whole. It was more difficult to be heard by others in the scene when you questioned men who play in famous anarcho-punk bands and who’s public identities are based on espousing these “punk” principles such as egalitarianism between the genders. Many girls simply didn’t want to make waves within the only subculture that they could relate to for fear of being totally isolated. I went through that stage too. But, being true to yourself is more important than being accepted by others. That was my lesson. That is why I am no longer active with other anarchists. Just like politicians and preachers, there are fakers in the anarchist scene too. ATIFA, for example, is basically a psyop created by political powers to mimic the anarcho-punks, but to work toward their own paid for agendas. Anarchy is a personal choice and philosophy. I do not recommend joining ANY groups for any reason because there will always be those who will try to use those groups or coopt their style to trick people into feeding agendas that serve the elite and exploit the common people. Anarchy is about freedom within autonomy. It is a personal experience to embrace true anarchy and what it really means. It is not and never will be a political party because it is not a political entity. It is a philosophical entity that is embraced by those who have discovered that it is simply the natural way of life.
How did you go about deciding which bands would be included on Iron Columns? Were there any you contacted who chose not to participate?
Well, I picked half the bands and Jack picked the other half. Some of the bands are bands from Mind Control records so we put them on there, of course. I contacted some of the bands that I liked a lot directly to ask for a contribution (song). Others heard about it and sent us their DATs. We wanted people from all over the world with all types of punk styles. Some didn’t make the cut for various reasons. I do not remember if anyone chose not to participate, but I highly doubt it. Mind Control was probably the most successful and recognized Anarcho-punk label at that time, so it really wouldn’t make sense for any anarcho-punk band to refuse unless they couldn’t produce a DAT or something like that. There were many bands that we would have liked to have had on the comp and would have liked to be on the comp, but couldn’t participate because they were signed to other labels, so their music was not legally theirs to let us use. We couldn’t finance recording for all the bands on the comp, so if they didn’t already have a song recorded that wasn’t on a record already produced by a label that they had a contract with, they had nothing we could use. Other than that, I’m pretty sure that we got pretty much everyone we wanted, and then some, but I suppose it is possible I’m forgetting something. It was many years ago. I remeber all the bands that I personally talked to were stoked to be invited.
The booklet that accompanies Iron Columns is impressive. It appears that most, if not all, the contributing bands got a full 12” X 12” page on high gloss paper to share their message. Why did you feel the inclusion of this booklet, which must have significantly increased production costs, was so important for Iron Columns?
It definately increased the cost, which is why the record was so expensive when it was new. I was on the fence. I didn’t want the LP to be too expensive, but it was really important to me that the bands share their lyrics and art. Mind Control Records wasn’t just about music. It was “Agit-prop” for social revolution, as we used to say. The songs have meaning, but if you don’t know the words, you can’t know the meaning. To me, lyrics were equally if not more important than the music. Jack has always been a stickler for presentation, at least more so than I was back then. He convinced me that it would be better to go all out on nice booklets and charge a little extra, than to just put some cheap copies of lyrics in with it. His point was that there were so many bands on the LP that it would be worth it to people to pay a little extra for the nice presentation. I agreed. I decided that giving the lyrics and the art a spot light like we did with the beautiful booklet was actually making it more likely for people to take the movement and philosophies more seriously. I wanted people to think. I wanted people to feel it in their souls. I think the booklet does bring credibility to the music that might otherwise be overshadowed by the raucous music. After all, Mind Control LP’s were works of art meant to inspire change in our world. That is worth investing in. I’m glad to see it had the intended affect on you, if not the rest of the world.
What are you up to these days?
I am the mother of a 9 year old girl. We are about to go on a 6 week adventure in Europe together as I plan to start teaching her how to travel the world. I have spent the last year or so working on citizen journalism via social media, but I am working toward taking a break from the computer all together. It has been equally exciting and frustrating watching the political system get its ass kicked! I’ve honestly never been so enthralled with politics since the last election, and never before so optimistic. I am watching things unfold in such a remarkable way (exciting), and watching people lose their minds over propaganda media (frustrating). It has always been the same shit in a different pile before, so there was nothing to really to focus on in politics except anti-government efforts. Now that there has been a monkey wrench thrown into the system, the rats are scurrying! Some of them are trapped and some are dead or dying. I’m so excited to be living, and still fairly young in a time when the top pigs like Bush Sr., the Clintons and Obama are being exposed for the criminals they truly are. Like many people, I don’t love the fact that Trump is the monkey wrench we have all been waiting for, and we might have wished it to be someone we like better, but isn’t it hypocritical to say that a rich, white male isn’t entitled to or capable of being one of the ones to help bring down the 1% elite criminals, sparing the common people of perpetual warmongering and social abuses by the old governments of the world? We have to accept that the world right now is not quite ready for anarchy as most true anarchists intend it, but we can choose, even as anarchists to vote, and or speak out to share perspectives that can change the world we all live in to be more of what we want it to be like for our individual selves. I didn’t think I’d get to live to witness the destruction of big government, but based on my research and knowledge on the current state of world government affairs right now, we are winning a war against war. The media has been intentionally deceiving the masses for years. Most anarcho-punks know this, yet many people still side with DNC agendas because they don’t understand what is really going on. Soon there will be a new system in place that allows for people to govern themselves, and believe it or not, what is happening in politics right now is paving the path for that. It is very exciting and that is what I am focused on these days. Anarchy is about personal freedom. Everyone has to come to their own conclusions, so I am spending less time trying to convince people they have nothing to fear or cry about. I am experiencing my own personal anarchy in my own personal way without the need to convince the world of anything. The world will catch up some day.
A big “thank you” to Char D for taking the time to answer some questions. While I could certainly write my thoughts and observations, her recollections are way more interesting. Every record has a story, and in reality multiple stories, and it isn’t often we get a glimpse behind the curtain. Sure, we have the music; but there are people behind that music – performers, producers, and yes, even the people working at the labels. And in the DIY world those stories after often as interesting as the music itself.
Iron Columns has a lot of music on it – 39 songs by 28 different bands. And it’s a truly international affair as Char mentioned, including bands from the US, Canada, UK, Norway, Finland, Sweden, France, Italy, Poland, Japan… there are a lot of different viewpoints represented here. There’s also a lot of variety. There’s straight-ahead punk rock, hardcore, and grindcore, something for just about everyone on the punk spectrum. There’s even some stuff like Extinction of Mankind that comes awfully close to metal. Some highlights to me are “Bastards” by Obnoxious and “Remnants of War” by Extinction of Mankind. The sonic quality varies quite a bit – these songs were all sent along to Mind Control by the artists and many are very, very DIY, so it’s all over the board. Each band has their own page in the booklet where they share their lyrics and sometimes their visual art.
A quick check of Discogs shows quite a few copies in the $10 range (plus shipping), and given the amazing quality of the overall package I strongly recommend you pick one up for yourself.
(♠) Thompson was a Vietnam vet who was wounded and returned home as an anti-war activist. In 1978 his oldest son’s mother was murdered by Walter Douglas Crawley, who received a shortened sentence after turning jailhouse informant. Thompson took matters into his own hands and killed Crawley, earning himself a life sentence. A committed anarchist and prisoner rights advocate, he died in prison in 2008 at the age of 66.
(♣) Plummer was sent to prison for his part in a direct action arson of a house being used by Nazis/fascists. No one was harmed and Plummer was sentenced to 15 years, receiving his release in 2002 after serving eight.