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Monday, February 07, 2011

Minutemen & Autochthonous DIY Culture

MOVIE REVIEW

WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN
d. Tim Irwin
p. 2005

     I must confess that while I have found direct inspiration in the DIY culture of early us punk/post-punk/alternative culture that inspiration has been more in terms of business model than music. 924 Gilman streeet directly inspired me in high school, but I was never a huge Lookout Records Fan.  In college, Dischord provided the economic template for all my future music related activity, but the only Dischord record I have in my Itunes is one Fugazi disc and a compilation. Minutemen are in that same category:  I find their largely autochthonous contribution to DIY culture to be directly inspiring, but I don't really listen to the music.  Other then the now ubiquitous Corona, which I hear whenever I see anything related to Jackass.

   I held out on We Jam Econo until last night, when I allowed myself to be drawn into the world of Minutemen.  The story of Minutemen begins in San Pedro, where else? And for the purposes of this movie, San Pedro is literally all you see in that half of the film consists of Mike Watt driving his van around San Pedro and pointing out different places that are important to the history of the Minutemen.  The other half of the film is interviews with people like Ian MacKaye, Thurston Moore and Henry Rollins and some very interesting live performance footage.  The Minutemen were one of those bands who benefited indirectly through personal tragedy.  D. Boon tragically died in a car accident, and the output of the Minutemen directly entered the Canon thereafter.  That's in spite of the fact that even a cursory review of their discography reveals a definite peak and artistic decline BEFORE Boon died (See for example, their Project: Mersh EP released in 1985.

   One aspect that clearly stands out from the Minutemen story is how that band and it's members stood for TRUTH, INTEGRITY & AUTHENTICITY. In fact, it's fair to say that Ian MacKaye's Dischord label must have been directly inspired by the Minutemen's unusual contribution to the early 80s punk scene in the United States.  The Minutemen are perhaps the originator of DIY musical culture in the sense that it was defined until the advent of the mp3:  Locally based, anti-big business, fiercely independent.  It is possible to separate this cultural contribution from the musical contribution.  D Boon's and Mike Watt's San Pedro is a kind of cultural archetype for artists looking to inspire their own change through music.

  Musically, Minutemen were interesting:  First, they had wide ranging musical influence.  To take one of their better known songs, Corona the listener can hear the influence of Western Country music- something pointed out by Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo. Second, they could play their instruments.  That in itself was eye opening to artists like Ian MacKaye at the time.  Third, they had an engaging live show.  Dean Boon, as is totally clear from this documentary, was an engaging front man who projected exciting energy on stage. Mike Watt and George Hurley also added technical virtuosity and their own charisma to the mix.

 It's important to understand that even while they were still a band, Minutemen did not exist in some idealized punk rock fairy tale.  Their post-Double Nickels on the Dime output shows a hyper awareness of the pressures of music industry business conventions, bringing them out of the universe they had created and back down to earth.

 Perhaps that is the ultimate lesson to be extracted from We Jam Econo:  If you are so fortunate as to succeed in creating your own place in the universe by recording music: Stay in that universe- never come back down.

  

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