The Inspiring Rock 'n' Roll Story of the Minutemen -- on Film

Charleston City Paper | November 22, 2005
In their own spazzy, unique way, seminal L.A. rock trio The Minutemen made their mark and added their own paragraph to the book of rock'n'roll. They demonstrated to those in the underground rock world (and beyond) that three average guys who worked and lived in a blue-collar port town could make records, achieve goals, express their views, and jam out on their own terms -- despite the rules of game. The band wrote and recorded over 140 songs in only five years. They opened for Black Flag, X, and R.E.M. They carried their friendly rivalry with labelmates Husker Du so far as to hurriedly record and release a double album, Double Nickels on the Dime, in an effort to one-up them. They hollered and sang about Reaganomics, World War III, U.S. imperialism, and the 40-hour work week. They regularly played "copy songs" by Roky Erikson, Creedence, Van Halen, and Blue Oyster Cult, executing them with enough speed and energy to please the hardcore audiences.

We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen was shot on mini digital video and released this spring. The full-length documentary film chronicles the history of guitarist Dennes Boon, bassist Mike Watt, and drummer George Hurley -- from their early days in the burgeoning punk scene as the Bright Orange Band and the Reactionaries to their reign as underground heroes. The film demonstrates the immediate impact the band had on the hardcore and indie rock scene of the 1980s and the long-lasting effects that still inspire players today.

This release is significant also for marking the 20th anniversary of Boon's tragic death, only three weeks after the band played with R.E.M. on the Fables tour across the South.

Told by "those who were there," We Jam Econo bounces from one rock veteran, SST Records staffer, and Watt family member to another, interspersed with great video footage of the band (much of it off of hand-held camcorders) on stage at various events (empty stadiums, crowded clubs, acoustic radio gigs, etc.) and archival interviews with the members of the band during their tenure.

As a youngster growing up in California, film director Tim Irwin was an avid skateboarder and film buff. Through the late '90s, he worked mostly on short films, independent TV and movie projects, and documentaries. Producer Keith Schieron, also a California native, worked for years in college and indie radio before relocating to Seattle, where he is the vice president of business development for a UK-based software company.

"The Minutemen records had no overdubs, no flowery stuff and [similarly] the movie is just meat and potatoes," Schieron told the Los Angeles City Beat earlier this year. "The story is told by the people we interviewed. We never desired to try and place the Minutemen at a certain place in history. Never wanted to compare them to other bands. Never wanted to try and box them in. We just laid the story down from start to finish."

Many of the musicians and artists interviewed for the documentary were right in the middle of the early '80s L.A. punk scene and the SST family. All of them express similar sentiments. The list includes Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band), Greg Ginn (Black Flag, SST Record exec) Milo Aukerman (Descendents), Colin Newman (Wire), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Joe Baiza (Saccharine Trust), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Ed Crawford (fIREHOSE), John Doe (X), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Richard Hell (The Voidoids, Television), Ian McKay (Fugazi, Minor Threat), and dozens more.

Some of the funniest and most surprising anecdotes focus on the intense relationship between Boon and Watt, as well as their "revolutionary" approach to stripping the sound and playing it with precision and raw energy.

As author and former SST Records staffer Joe Carducci puts it in his dense and brilliant Rock and the Pop Narcotic: "Mike Watt explained, they purged all their rock ephemera: solos, choruses, harmonies, fans. [It became} a goddamned three ring circus with a clown under each spotlight! Hurley hit everything but a simple 4/4 and syncopated his syncopations. Mike Watt turned up his treble and tried to nudge D. Boon out of the box for alleged crimes relating to guitar tyranny. But D. weighed about 20 stone and wasn't exactly unarmed; he had a guitar and Fender Twin with the treble on ten."

We Jam Econo is aimed at those already familiar with the Minutemen story, however. Uninitiated viewers watching Watt relate his stories while strolling through the parks and driving his Ford Econoline through the streets of San Pedro may feel lost right off the bat. Younger viewers more accustomed to the squeaky-clean, high-dollar "punk" of the recent MTV years may scoff at the lo-fi audio and cheapo quality of the shaky live footage. But certainly, the unrefined feel totally fits the personality and approach of a band determined to do it their own way.

Charleston City Paper

Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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