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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

September 21, 2006
Rating: 9.5/10

"The question is: What is to be done where you're at, and, how're you gonna do it?"

That is just one of the memorable quotes from Mike Watt, from the new Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo. The comprehensive history of one of the best bands in rock history draws a timeline beginning at Watt and bandleader D. Boon befriending each other in high school and abruptly ending with Boon's tragic, untimely death in 1985. What took place in-between the bookend events were remarkable moments of punk rock, self-motivation, creativity, energy, and uniqueness. As the Watt quote alludes to, the Minutemen were of their own time and place. What he is too modest to boldly say is that nothing like them will ever happen again.

Part of what made the Minutemen so great was that Watt, Boon, and George Hurley were an unlikely trio. Hurley was a muscular and artistic but edgy drummer who had some wild hairstyles (e.g. the infamous Flock of Seagulls look). Watt was a wiry, flannel-sporting, leg-twitching, exceptional bass player. D. Boon was overweight but nimble, thrift store-dressed, and a deceivingly accomplished guitar player.

We Jam Econo puts together all that a rock and roll historian and avid Minutemen fan could hope to see and spreads it over two DVDs. The first disc is a documentary that recounts the brief story of the band, a roughly 90-minute video peppered with praise-laden interviews from some underground rock legends (Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Richard Hell), underground personalities (Brother Dale and Richard Meltzer), and family and friends. The second disc is bonus material of three live performances at The Starwood in Los Angeles in 1980, 9:30 Club in Washington, DC in 1984, and as an acoustic jam in Hollywood in 1985.

The two-disc package should be considered requisite viewing for any punk or rock and roll fans. Throughout the narration there are nostalgic memories being recounted by musicians Rollins, Flea, MacKaye, Jello Biafra, members of Black Flag, John Doe of X, members of Wilco, J Mascis, and Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets. Even these individuals - some of whom were considered the Minutemen's contemporaries - sound giddy to even talk about the effect that the San Pedro, California, trio had on them and the surrounding scene.

There are two key qualities that make this a DVD worth watching. The first is that there are live performances which show the band's unique stage presence and underrated talent. The group is quick, energetic, powerful, and tight - a pairing of musical characteristics that is incredibly tough to find an equilibrium for. Amazingly enough though, the viewer sees that the Minutemen weren't immediately appreciated by the California punk rock youth. During one scene Watt and Boon are yelled at and spit on during the middle of their live set, but the band forges ahead undaunted and plays the next song even harder (you can see half of Boon's guitar strings left broken, dangling in the wake).

The other main draw of the video is the deceivingly profound story-telling and historical recounting that Mike Watt offers. While he talks about the band's history, potent politics, and the greater California punk scene that they were part of, he simultaneously drives a van around his hometown, acting as a tour guide, showing the recreational hall where Minutemen played their first show, and injecting some warm humor about how life has changed. His perspective is half punk rock/half Buddah: a wildchild, revolutionary mindset portrayed in an intelligent, patient manner. Also greatly insightful is a full-band interview from the early 1980s when all three members tell the reasons for their political views and musical motivations.

The DVD delivers a message that the Minutemen were unique, at times different from even the punk rock scene that they were associated with. When Watt poses the thought, "What is to be done where you're at, and, how're you gonna do it?," it is not only a credo that the band lived by and challenged itself with, but it is a further extension of D.I.Y. to those that are watching. This is the sign of a legendary band-having a lasting effect even after they are long gone. And in this, every artist and group should strive to be more like the Minutemen.

SEE ALSO: www.theminutemen.com
SEE ALSO: www.plexifilm.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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