Sunday, October 3, 2010

What do the Minutemen mean to me? The Minutemen mean everything to me.

Everyone (well, every music freak, anyway) has That Band. You know, the one for whom your loyalty will never die. A lot of bands mean a hell of a lot to me, but one stands above the fray as the one I would bring back tomorrow, if only I could: The Minutemen.

I'm not going to give you a history lesson (part one or two). You can learn all about 'em here, because Allmusic Guide's Stephen Erlewine and Mark Deming have waxed poetic about them, and particularly about their stone-cold masterpiece Double Nickels on the Dime, better than I ever could. But I want to tell you just a little, in my own bumbling way, about what the Minutemen mean to me.

Personalities loom large in any great rock band, but the Minutemen -- maybe because they were a trio -- wore their personalities on their sleeves a little more than the rest and made a statement from Day One that they were not going to play the music game like everyone else. They were going to take the D.I.Y. attitude of punk and, instead of turning punk into a uniform, make it into an ethos for doing whatever the hell you wanted to do with your art. So Mike Watt turned the bass into not just a rhythm instrument, but an expressive, nearly conversational, driving force behind every song. Over top of the rumble and twists and turns of Watt rode D. Boon's guitar, sometimes twanging, ala "Corona" (you know, the Jackass theme, jackass), more often spraying shards of perfectly aimed shrapnel at perfectly timed moments, but never, ever doing what all those other guitar players did. And then there was George. Fuckin' a drummer I used to just dismiss the notion of him as an "influence" and instead viewed him as simply way funkier/jazzier than I could ever be -- sort of a punk version of some unattainable god -- but many years later, I can play like that, but it's still chasing the dragon, so to speak. In other words, I can do that stuff but I learn a little more every damn day I listen to the man. His powerful, jarring, solid, funky propulsive drumming is at the core of what made this band so special. And I listen a lot. Some weeks -- and this one is already looking like one -- each day I find the 100-some Minutemen songs I have on my iPod, hit shuffle and let the good times roll.

And good times they are. I used to say that a Minutemen gig (or later the same applied to fIREHOSE) was like a sporting event. It all was teamwork and brotherhood up there through sweat and hard work. Three dudes, giving their all every night. They knew that the average guy wasn't going to get to do what they were doing. Yet they also knew those same kind of average guys were in the crowd there to see three of their own who had somehow risen above the shit to do something great. So they always put out, just like they would have wanted when they were just "fucking corndogs," to borrow a lyric, going to punk shows "to drink, and pogo." And they never lost that sense of wonder -- a sort of "Damn, we are getting paid to do this? We'd do it for free!" attitude. I saw 'em 25 years ago in October 1985, and I never (ever) drive by that (former) warehouse on the 300 block of Brown Street in Philadelphia where that all-ages show was held and don't think (or usually say), "I saw the Minutemen in there." That was a bombed-out dilapidated part of town back then. Now, it's a lot more gentrified. The warehouse is something else. Apartments, maybe? Offices? But to me, it's the place where I saw Mike, D. and George jam econo.

And I try to pass on the respect. My oldest son just turned 20, and, although I've done my best to school him in music, he's charted his own path (like he should), sometimes appalling the old man with his taste (like he should), but not always. I remember when I gave an old car of mine to him a while back. I told him he could remove any of the stickers I had on there, except the one that has a pic of D. Boon on it. It says, in clearest terms, why I loved this band: "Punk is whatever we made it to be." Honestly, I was (sort of) joking, but Kevin turned to me and said, "Dad, are you nuts. I would never take a D. Boon sticker off a car. That's D. Boon!"

Well, hell yeah.

VIDEO LINK: Minutemen--"Joe McCarthy's Ghost"


  1. I do believe I'm going to acquire me some Minutemen forthwith.

  2. I had no idea you didn't already have some. Start with Double Nickels on the Dime. It is, no lie, the best album ever made. But it's dense as hell and it's one of those records that just keeps on revealing a little more each time you listen. I know people who have put it on for the first time and wondered what the hell I was talking about. Five listens later, they were hooked.

    If you want to really go for the Cadillac/luxury version, get the vinyl. It has 3 more songs than the CD because of the time limitations of CDs. One of those is their brilliant 45-second take on "Ain't Talkin' About Love" by Van Halen.