This is a post about the long-defunct otherworldly genius of a band known as The Minutemen. Old-school (or simply old) punk rock music fans will know who they are, or at least they should, because they were so far ahead of the game of everyone else at the time that they don't sound even remotely dated, over 20 years after their demise due to the sad, untimely death of lead singer and guitarist D. Boon. I could post about them all day every day, and what they did for my life, my feeling of self, but the particular reason I mention them today is that Amazon, in its ongoing awesome cheap MP3 deals, is offering their 43(!)-song masterpiece, Double Nickels on the Dime, for a mere $5. Folks, if you have any interest whatsoever in punk/indie/alternative rock and don't own this yet, just click the link there and spend the 5 measly dollars. Don't argue. Just do it. Because that is gonna be the best 5 dollars you've spent in a long time. (The full price is $18.98.)
A young Mike Watt, sitting behind the wheel of his VW, on the cover of one of the greatest albums of all time.
The Minutemen emerged in the punk rock scene in Los Angeles in the early 80s along with bands like X, Black Flag, Fear, and so on, but they were so different from all those bands that they were practically outcasts amongst outcasts ("we were fucking corndogs," they sang in their autobiographical song "History Lesson Part II"). I say practically because, in truth, they were such amazing musicians, and such genuinely nice guys, that there was simply no denying them. They were about as un rock star looking as you could possibly imagine: one flannel-shirt wearing dweeby dude (Watt), one very heavy set dude (D Boon), and one surfer dude (George Hurley, and okay, he kinda had the rock star good lookin' thing going for him), who drove up from San Pedro to check out the then-burgeoning LA punk scene and became an unlikely and profoundly unique sucess story within that scene.
Whatever you think "punk rock" is--The Minutemen didn't really play it. What they did play was some kind of unholy blast of funky, jazzy, spasmatic post-rock, informed by Mike Watt's thunderous bass playing (only Les Claypool of Primus combines the same level of technical prowess and creative genius) and Hurley's perfect percussive accompaniement, which meshed so beautifully with Watt's bass that it was hard to separate the two. And on top of that was D. Boon's thin, reedy, guitar, attacking the spaces in between with an aggressive funkiness.
So they didn't look like punk rockers, and they sure as heck didn't sound like punk rockers. But they fit in with that scene because what that scene was REALLY about was rejecting the then-status quo in rock music, which by that point had become bloated and sissified and corporatized and desperately in need of new blood. And to young, alienated LA kids in LA, who couldn't really find much meaning, in, say, Toto's "Hold the Line," the punk rock scene provided relief. And to young, alienated, DORKY kids, in LA, The Minutemen provided validation, and identity. There was no way that I was going to be a safety-pin wearing punk dood. I didn't want to wear any uniform at all. And I would have felt stupid doing it. But when The Minutemen came on stage, three totally unimpressive looking "corndogs" who looked like the cleanup crew, or maybe the sound guys, and blew everyone else out of the water, with D Boon bouncing his gigantic body around the stage in pure, confident, unselfconscious glee---well, that's when Young Jeff Green knew he had found his band. (Or one of them anyway---but the one that mattered to me most in the early 80s, along with another band of dweebs, Talking Heads.)
One of the only music videos The Minutemen ever made--featuring Ronald Reagan!--for the song "This Aint No Picnic" off Double Nickels on the Dime.
My friends and I saw The Minutemen countless times---virtually every chance we could. We saw them at all the old LA places now, I would presume, long gone: The Whisky, The Starwood, The Music Machine, The Roxy (I think that one's still there), Madame Wongs. For me, every time, it would take me to that near- cathartic/religious place that happens (for many of us) with all the best music, music that reaches for the heart and head and strives to make something of that moment in time for everyone in the room.
I personally spoke to D. Boon once before he died. It was his birthday, which we found out during the show in Santa Monica. After the show, my friend Bob and I walked into a a crappy food joint across the street from the club, where we saw the band sitting. We walked up to them and just said, "Happy birthday, D Boon"---with that kind of mortified shyness you get around celebrities. And what I remember, in that moment after putting ourselves out there in that dorky way, was his big, goofy smile. He was actually happy we had come up and said that. "Hey, thanks man!" he said to us, and we walked away, not really having anything else to say. But that's what I remember: That their "we're just like you" attitude ("our band could be your life" is another line from "History Lesson Part II") was exactly the same offstage as on. They were amazed that they were doing what they loved and that people were digging it. They loved that we loved them. And they let their fans be part of it--never putting up that wall.
I heard about D Boon's car crash and death while listening to KROQ in my own car on December 22, 1985. I remember yelling "NO!" and banging my hands on the steering wheel and then pulling over to the side of the road and putting my head in my hands. He was so fucking young. The band was just hitting its stride. Mike Watt, his best friend in the world, has spent the subsequent 20+ years going through a very public grieving process that has only made fans like me feel closer to him, even if we don't really know him. I've bought every record he's made since--every record is dedicated to D Boon. As is this blog post.
This one's for you, D.
Now go blow that 5 dollars.
Edit: For more photos and history and all around good stuff, check out Mike Watt's Hoot Page, and the outstanding recent documentary on the band, now on DVD, We Jam Econo. Here's the trailer, and a small glimpse of what this band was about: