Friday, October 3, 2008

Double Nickels on the Dime

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:


Phil said...

Man the Minutemen, I still love that band, even after I moved away from almost everything else I liked in High School. If anyone is so inclined to check it out, Ciccone Youth was a collaboration between Mike Watt and Sonic Youth, it was pretty good.

raz said...

never heard of the band but i just bought it on your recommendation and I love it.

thanks jeff.

Aaron M said...

Downloading now, sir. I like what I'm hearing so far.

awa64 said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Jeff.

I'm not sure I've heard these guys before--though for some reason, I suspect I've heard *of* them--but based on your recommendation and my love of classic punk rock, this is probably the best $5 I'll spend all year.

*looks at track listings*

40-something songs, only one much longer than two minutes? That's about as punk as you can get. Awesome.

Ian said...

It's only been two weeks and you're already writing reviews. Why did you ever leave? It was what you were born to do.

thechosen2nd said...

hey Jeff, I'd download if I had the cash, but I won't pirate it.

Something along the lines of the Talking Heads, there's this band Cake, and they have show in SF. I highly recommend that anyone around that area go to it. I don't know if there are tickets still available, but it's on the 10th.

Marie said...

Why, exactly, haven't you written more about music?

And on an off note, I was lurking on QT3 and saw your post about Space HoRSE (which indeed, not a good MULE clone). You, unawares of my creepy-ass self, said, "the new TV show with Harvey Keitel who goes back in time to the 70s..."

Stop. Drop the remote. DO NOT WATCH. Phone up Mr. Netflix or whatever the hell the kids are doing these days and watch the BBC's "Life on Mars", not the shitty US remake. It's such an incredible piece of work that you will stop being a little wigged out that some stranger commented on your blog about a throwaway comment you made on an internet forum. That I don't even have an account on or read regularly.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm kind of embarrassed to write this, but when I was younger I too was quite smitten with a rocker. This was in Vancouver in the late 1970's: the band was called Sweeny Todd and I thought its lead singer was the bees knees.

I bought the lead singer's first 'solo' album and even got him to autograph it for me: I asked his drummer where he lived, and it turned out that his home was near my home, so being a stupid young kid I rode over on my bike one day and simply knocked on his door.

And his name.

Why, Bryan Adams of course.

Yeah, yeah, I know - embarrassing. But oh well, at least I never listened to Duran Duran when I was growing up. Or Wham. Or Boy George.

(And by the way, try getting anywhere near Bryan Adams's home today - forget about it; big dogs would chew you up before you'd get anywhere near the front door.)

Tristessa said...

You speak the truth! Minutemen have a shrine in my CD player! This is the music of my drunken youth back in the 80's. If I didn't already have it, I'd be downloading it =)

Spod said...

I saw Mike Watt smash bass for the Stooges in Australia a bunch of years ago. Fucking legend!

Josh said...

Great stuff Jeff, love the Minutemen, by the way, I think you might have won a competition.

Oldest Poster on NeoGaf, check it out:


Jim From Aus said...

wow thx jeff just bought this yestaday great stuff thanks for the hookup its funny how some music is timeless from an olde fogie like yourself to a gen y'er.
keep up the goodwork and cant wait to see what you produce at the sims

Anonymous said...

You turned me on to the Amazon discount MP3 store in one of your last podcasts. I was actually there last night, checking out the deals. I'll probably grab the Minutemen now as well. Thanks Jeff.

Preacher5571 said...

Great post, Jeff! I've had Double Nickels on my list of CDs to buy for a long time (had a dubbed tape from high school in the 80s). Imagine my surprise when I saw it on the Amazon sale page on Friday morning! Also, picked up Van Halen's first album for $1.99 on Sunday!

Also, I'm w/ marie on the whole "Life On Mars" thing. Please watch the BBC version, it's ace.

enemy said...

Their documentary was recently on IFC, and it's probably on a few more times this month. Everyone should check it out if they get a chance, it's a great doc.

Josh Bennett said...

'12-23-85 Shed: This morning, Ms. Ginn woke me up. She came into the shed and said, "Henry, something terrible has happened. D. Boon has been killed!" I just sat there for about five minutes or so. I couldn't believe it. Apparently, he, his girlfriend and her sister were driving in his van in the early morning. Linda, D.'s girlfriend fell asleep at the wheel. She is okay, her sister is in critical condition. D. was thrown out of the van and killed. I spent most of the day thinking about him. I called a few people so they wouldn't have to hear it down the line.'

From Henry Rollins' book "Get In The Van: On The Road with Black Flag"

workin' on the edge, losin' my self-respect.

jsd124 said...

"Punk rock changed our lives"

D Boon was incredible

Do you listen to fIREHOSE?

Sam "QforQ" Houston said...

Bought the album on your recommendation Jeff. I'll be checking it out this week :)

Dan said...

Purchased. How does it feel to wield this power?

mario66 said...

will check it out thanks.

only experience i had was purchasing Mike Watt's Ball Hogg or Tugboat because of all the other artists that are on it like Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins etc. was a great album. I'll look forward to listening to the album you reccomended

Darius said...

This is my first exposure to the Minutemen and it makes me wonder why you never hear of them anymore?

kyle said...

Jeff, I have to thank you for introducing me to the minutemen on GFW/CGW radio. You were telling a story about how some punks didn't like the minutemen because Mike Watt was to funky a bass player. I heard "punk" and "funk" and knew i had to check it out. I've loved the band ever since.

Anonymous said...

Man, Jeff, you never fail to amaze me with your relentlessly good taste in absolutely everything. Good work.

Anonymous said...

Jeff please go check your 1up account I sent you a pm message begging for help since your travelling in 4 days

Anonymous said...

great write-up, brings back good times and music

defintely check out fIREHOSE all you youngins...

that was mike and george's band thru the late 80's all their albums are fantastic

Patrick said...

Damn, that's one hell of an impulse buy. I can dig it.

Patrick O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick O'Brien said...

Fantastic memories, Jeff. I remember seeing them open for R.E.M. not long before D. died, my only opportunity to catch them, but i had listened to them for years. DNOTD is still one of my top 10 favorite albums, it's so energetic, accomplished and consistent. So good.

Alan M said...

I agree with thechosen2nd's recommendation, Cake is badass. Great trumpet lines and beats catchy as hell. Huge fan of the blog jeff, even started my own (that I had been wanting to for awhile) after yours gave me a nudge. Glad things are going well!

Alan M said...

Oh! Forgot, my blog is at if you want to check it out.

The Deviot said...

The Minutemen are timeless. Thanks for the heads up about the offer!

I agree with Marie, I wouldn't mind seeing your take on some other bands/albums.

I've been playing a lot of The Fastbacks myself.

Gentry said...

Nice writeup Jeff. I'm only vaguely familiar with these guys and didn't know their story. Downloading them right now, thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

It was weird for me after reading and hearing you for years to find out you went to all those Minutemen shows in LA too. I went to nearly every show from What Makes a Man Start Fires? until the end. I must've spilled my beer on you at least a couple of times.

Mike Watt started to recognize us and came over a few times to hang out with us when he would see us at other people's gigs. He was very cool.

It must have been the death of D. Boon that drove us both to videogames.

Jesse Dylan said...

I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of them. I love their sound. Really funky. Lots of different influences at play. Thank you for introducing me to these guys.

Jeff, do you still play bass?

Dee said...

Did you ever check out fIREHOSE after D. Boon died? I thought they were pretty good.

Untitled Track (45) said...

Where's that confounded bridge?

Jeff Green said...

I did like fIREHOSE but was still a bit too traumatized about d Boon to fully appreciate them. It really wasn't until Watt went "solo" that I was fully back on board.

I still have my bass but haven't played in years and years. And even when I did play, I sucked. :)

Anonymous said...

As an old punk rock fan who's heard of these guys but never got around to listening to them, thanks for giving me a great excuse.

I only wish I could've been around The Bay Area and LA during this era. The Dead Kennedy's, The Germs, The Circle Jerks ... Most excellent hearing about your experiences.

--Donegal, from 1UP

Michael said...

Just bought it. sounds pretty awesome/different

haha i bet the sales of this album will be higher than amazon expected.....

Untitled Track (45) said...

Thunderbolts and Lightning-very very frightening me!

eric said...

Great post Jeff. I am totally jealous of you getting to see the Minutemen so many times. Those guys are the true soul of punk rock. How is it that those guys are so often overlooked?

Mattato of Eld said...

Dude, this album is great! Best five bucks I've spent in a long time.
Thanks, Jeff.

Patrick said...

This is a follow up, seeing as I have bought, downloaded, and listened to the track thoroughly.

Fuck yeah.

meinard said...

dammit jeff, now you got me reverting back to my old punk days.

John G.M. said...

Man, Jeff, your love of the Minutemen echoes my psychotic infatuation with Electric Six, who I've seen, like, ten times now (soon to be 11, maybe 12 if I go to both the Boston and the New York shows).

Liking what I've heard so far; they remind me a lot of Husker Du.

opivyskaguy said...

I would so grab it if the Amazon mp3 service was available to Canadians.

batgrl said...

Thanks for that. And a thanks for your writing - suddenly I miss the magazine (again!).

*raises Bic lighter for Boon*

Kyle S said...

Listening to that album right now Jeff. Thanks for posting about it.

On a side note, I remember when Greenspeak first started showing up in the back of CGW when I was in HS and it was always the first thing I read. Stopped getting the mag when I went off to college, no permanent mailing address and all, but it was great to start listening to the podcasts later. Glad to hear that life is going on well after CGW.

Mahalie said...

Minutemen is definitely good stuff. You should check out Jawbreaker and Fugazi if you haven't already.

riles said...


Being the Amazon addict you are, you've probably seen it the 33 1/3 edition of DNOTD. Maybe not as deep as the econo dvd but it's pretty cool all the same.

Check it:

...jeremy! said...

Thanks for the extra little nudge I needed to pick up the album. I was a late music bloomer and really came of age during the early 90s Seattle scene upon entering college. The Minutemen were constantly mentioned by all the Seattle bands of that era, but I just never got around to picking up any of their stuff. WOW is really all I gotta say. The album is nothing like I expected. Phenomenal stuff I wish I started listening to years ago. And now I finally understand the title of the book "Our Band Could Be Your Life" by Michael Azerrad, given to me to read years ago by my brother-in-law. I guess it's time I finally read it! Thanks again Jeff.

Anonymous said...

I remember you talking about them on the podcast a while back but thought it was just a passing comment. Didn't realize you liked them that much. I always thought you looked suited to them after seeing that picture of you with a your bass on 1up.

'We Jam encono' is a great documentary about them if anyone really enjoys their stuff (loads of Mike Watt on screen and other interviews). My favorite album is 'What Makes a Man Start Fires?'.

Jeff + a whole bunch of cool points

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