We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen
THE MOVIE From getting together in 1979 until a freak van accident killed guitarist D. Boon in 1985 at a criminally young 27, the Minutemen doggedly pursued one of the most idiosyncratic sounds in rock history. Their songs were short and fast, like hardcore, but that’s where the similarities ended. Drummer George Hurley played jazz polyrhythms in double time, and with his blond quiff and tanned muscles, he looked like a surfer slumming in the off-season. Boon and bassist Mike Watt, on the other hand, looked like they had just gotten off the night shift at Texaco. Boon’s guitar was jerky, ultratrebly, and still managed to carry the melody. Watt’s bass drew from funk because he couldn’t hear the bass parts in rock songs. The band’s lyrics, written and sung by both Boon and Watt, were like fortune-cookies epigrams clipped from socialist newspapers. One song was Watt reading a list of repairs from his landlord; another was called “Shit From an Old Notebook” and it was just that.
We Jam Econo—a sweet, lo-fi documentary named for the Watt’s private slang for do-it-yourself—tells the band’s story through new interviews with family, friends, and the surviving Minutemen, spliced with archival live footage and interviews. Much like the music, this is unadorned stuff. Watt drives around the band’s hometown of San Pedro, Calif., or sits in his house, looking at records like they’re photos of old friends. Celebrities and schoolyard chums alike are filmed in straight-ahead POVs and with absolutely zilch in the way of special effects. Millionaires like Flea and punk lifers like Ian MacKaye are equally awed when talking about the band’s music.
The Minutemen were the product of two men who shared a bond that transcended friendship, a bond that’s even transcended Boon’s death. At one point, revisiting the old neighborhood, Watt wistfully sighs, “I was quite smitten with him.” They also fought like siblings; the cover of their Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat EP featured a scratchy drawing of the two screaming furiously at each other. But even as the interviewees recall the voluminous arguments and hundreds of near-miss breakups, they’re quick to underscore the tenderness that drove the relationship.
Watt and Boon were working-class kids who never abandoned their roots even as punk expanded their horizons. Both men’s parents encouraged them to play music to keep them off the streets; at one point Watt laments a group of Black Flag fans destroying a local youth center. Later, Watt says that Boon thought shows should start earlier so that working people could attend them, before almost spitting in frustration that people aren’t making their own art on every corner in America. The Minutemen thought art should be constructive not destructive, local not impersonal, an open system not a closed circuit. Like all great punk documentaries, We Jam Econo makes you want to take these ideals and run with them.
THE DISCS Jam-packed like the band’s albums at two discs, the first is padded out with 19 deleted scenes (the highlight: D. Boon introducing Hüsker Dü’s Greg Norton to cilantro) and three music videos that are object lessons in creative thrift. It also features an uncut 1985 video interview at Bard College used in the documentary; it’s as tough to get through in one sitting as you would expect an unedited student film to be. The second disc is the real prize: 62 songs from three live performances. Despite his bulk, Boon is a riot of movement, bouncing as if he was under less gravity than the rest of us. Watching, you might find yourself thinking, Goddamn, this is the greatest band of all time. You’ll get no argument here.