Steve Albini, Anthony Bourdain, And Some Godfather Quotes

we are not communists, but we are builders and keepers of community

Steve Albini, Anthony Bourdain, And Some Godfather Quotes

I’m still processing the passing of Steve Albini. 

On a broader level, I’m still repackaging my understanding of people I admire for their “I know who I am, I know what I value, and I know who my people are, so the rest of you can f*** off” attitudes. 

My wife and I have been re-watching a lot of old Anthony Bourdain episodes lately, and I’m about at the point where I feel like I need to find Ian MacKaye and give him a hug just in case we ever lose him too because - there’s a shortage of these people left. 

And I’m feeling sentimental about it. 

The characters of character. The people I’ve grown up looking up to. Even when I don’t always agree with what they say. 

They’d hate me calling them respectable, let alone deeming them as role models. But I have to - because I respect the way they’ve rolled through life, in public, with integrity. They’re flawed like we’re all flawed, but they’ve stood for AND apologized for AND screamed about enough to have made an impact on me. 

Enough of an impact that it hurts extra when I remember they’re gone. 

Enough intro…

Albini shows up on Parts Unknown and takes Bourdain to Ricobene’s.

Ricobene’s is one of Chicago’s famously fantastic and completely unpretentious food spots.

Everything about it is a Bourdain spot. It’s all local comfort food. Which makes it feel perfectly obvious why Albini would pick it, out of all the possible options.

They both get breaded steak sandwiches.

You feel the respect across the table. 

Bourdain asks what I can only think of as an “I don’t know how I ended up a celebrity and I think you feel the same” type of question. 

He wants to know how Albini doesn’t live in New York or LA. He’s already a famous and important record producer. The subtext is how it’s just what everybody else in his shoes does. It doesn’t make sense. You’ve struggled, you’ve succeeded, and this is where you go because now more success is easy.  

Bourdain asks, “Are you some kind of a communist or something?!” 

Albini answers,  “The end game of capitalism is everything gets crappier and crappier, and people are more and more exploited, and I have a healthy suspicion of that.” 

OK, Steve. Remember the intro bit above where I said I don’t always agree? This is one of those things. We’re going to continue. But I need to break from this interview and bring in another quote. For nuance. For flavor. It’s another crumb of a comment dropped on another tablecloth between people who have “made it.” 

Bourdain’s question and Albini’s answer makes me think of The Godfather. The scene where the five families get together. It makes me think of when Don Barzini says,   

“If Don Corleone had all the judges and the politicians in New York, then he must share them, or let us others use them. He must let us draw the water from the well. Certainly he can present a bill for such services. After all, we are not Communists.”

Personally, even if Albini, Bourdain and I aren’t Barzini’s, I have a feeling we’re sympathetic to his, “We are not Communists” sentiment. 

I feel it because of what Albini tells Bourdain next. How he frames his argument with [it’s] “The social model, that I’m comfortable with, it suits my business practices.”

The social model includes building a family and taking care of a family. Not necessarily the other families. Expressions dictate actions, and community is what forms around people agreeing on enough of both. The balance of flavors. The balance of a mix. 

Your values define your family. Your boundaries define how you show up in your community. This is where Barzini and Albini probably diverge again, but that’s a different point altogether. 

Albini continues, “We’re all in the same game. We’re all trying to do the same thing, we’re just trying to make sure that things get better for everybody.”

Bourdain counters, wondering out loud, “Is that a Chicago attitude, do you think?”

They’re feeling out the language of kitchens and dive bar backrooms with shoddy stages and worse acoustics. It’s a punk thing. It’s as much in the art as in the attitude and they both know it. 

Albini says, “You’re not trying to extract the maximum, you’re trying to make sure that everything carries on.” 

Making sure it carries on is a scene thing. A family thing. A good community-building thing. A not scaled-to-city proportions for sake of scaling it that big thing. A we made our thing work right here with our people thing. 

Barzini’s communist statement isn’t the problem. His capitalistic tendencies are, or at least they’re getting in the way. He’s a man trying to get his people back on top. A man willing to risk community and family for profit and pride. An artist who made his way to the city and, after a brief setback, is determined to be bigger than ever.

Maybe Albini is way more Corleone than I ever realized. 

The expressions and actions that drive community to carry on. They show up in another scene. The one where Don Vito talks just to Michael and says, 

“I worked my whole life, I don’t apologize to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all of those big shots.” 


Albini, Bourdain, and the Corleone’s. Putting in the work. Playing with the system, and even within it when you have to. 

Albini did it for labels, studios, and stages, and Bourdain did it for kitchens, restauranteurs, and cable networks.

No apologies.  

Because Albini and Bourdain recognized that a system must always stay subservient to its art. 

The scene forms around the music. The scene forms around the food. Make with it what you will, but first, make it. 

In the same way one family is always superior to the other families in the most Godfather way I can muster - the art, the scene, and the people we care to keep belong on top. You have to put them there. You have to keep putting them there. 

It’s a code. It’s a set of rules. It’s the offer we can’t refuse. 

And if you do refuse, if you move to the city and leave your people behind, or if you get lazy and let others do the dirty work for you, then you will become a fool. You’ll be dancing on a string held by all of those big shots. 

In communism, everyone owns everything. In crappy capitalism, everything owns you. Finding a balance is a choice.

Bourdain was trying to figure out how Albini did it. How he was living with himself. How he was keeping his scene around him, despite all the dollars and distractions flying around, and how that family was keeping him sane. 

We know how the movies end. 

Life’s not easy. Making more art is a choice. And the freedom to make those choices matters as much as our intentions to not make it crappier and crappier, but to make it better and better, for our people, on our terms. 

We are not communists. But we are not crappy capitalists either. We are people with a choice.

We can choose to be the builders and keepers of our communities, who create individually and contribute communally, aiming to make things better and better.  

We can choose to believe in a collective growth that on occasion requires the freedom to create and defend our boundaries. 

We can choose not to be fools.

We can choose life - at least for as long as it chooses us.

I’m still working this one out in my head - but I had to get at least this much on a page. Watch these clips. Think about it too.