09MAY24 / Albini

I used to find it weird when people would say “they went too young” about people who died in their sixties. No surprises, though, that as I sidle up on my own fifties, it’s starting to make more sense. And no surprises, then, that it was literally my first thought when I saw the news that Steve Albini had died of a heart attack at 61.

I’m not going to write a eulogy, here—not least because I know from experience that’s not the sort of writing I’m any good at, but also because I suspect it’s the sort of writing Albini would have found risible. If there were an afterlife, I’m sure that Albini would be currently sat in the waiting room, laughing his arse off and being incredibly scathing about all the people who are suddenly willing to praise him, now that he’s safely dead.

I decided a long time ago that I won’t have heroes any more, but I still have people I admire. Albini makes that list for a lifetime’s commitment to what he believed in, even when it made things difficult. Yes, he could be an asshole; yes, a lot of people hated his guts. But you know what? I too can be an asshole; a lot of people hate my guts, too! The difference being: I’ve spent most of my cowardly life trying to be liked, and still ended up in the same place.

The lesson here is not “be an asshole LOL”; the lesson here is “be true”.


The other lesson of Albini’s life is to treat your art like a job and your job like an art. As a True Nineties Teen, I’ve always been aware that Albini was an absolute machine of an engineer, but it wasn’t until I looked at the list today that I realised quite how many records he’d helped to make: dozens that I know and love, but four or five times as many that I’ve never listened to or even heard of.

For a guy who, discursively speaking, was all about getting in the way, in the studio his role was precisely the opposite. Thanks to that ethos, we have documents of the work of some amazing musicians—documents that, to a significant extent, helped to define what certain sorts of music are meant to sound like. That’s a respectable mark to leave on a world, if you ask me.


It would be nuts not to end a thing like this with a suggested song, even though anyone who cares about this news almost certainly also cares enough to want to pick their own memory. Nonetheless, I’m gonna go with the piece of his production that I’ve probably listened to most often:

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