If you missed the Minutemen on one of their here-today-gone-tomorrow tours in the Eighties, a filmmaking team is preparing to offer a second glance at the beloved Eighties indie rock ensemble with We Jam Econo, a feature documentary due next year.
In fact, director Tim Irwin and his partner Keith Schieron are among those who never caught the defiantly blue-collar Southern California trio -- singer/guitarist D. Boon, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley -- as they zigzagged the country between 1979 and 1985, when Boon was killed in a van accident in Arizona.
But the time seems right for a rediscovery of Minutemen (the name a reference to their short songs, rather than the Revolutionary War heroes), a politically minded group that wore its populism on its sleeve, but without the unrepentant, minimalist fury (and lack of humor) that fueled the fire of the hardcore bands that shared the Eighties rock underworld. In the eighteen years since Boon's death, the trio's odd brand of punk -- at times folky, jazzy and funky -- continues to be a hit with fringe cliques (namely skate culture): Its "Corona" provided the iconic guitar intro to MTV's Jackass and Watt remains one of the hardest-working men in the business, cramming shows into airtight itineraries with his latest ensemble, the Secondmen, as well as holding down the bottom end with Iggy Pop's resurrected Stooges.
Skate videos are actually how Irwin first came across the band, though it wasn't until after Boon's death. At Schieron's insistence, he got in touch with Watt and approached him about the possibility of making the film. Watt is actually heartened at the thought that the Minutemen's appeal has extended beyond the gaggle of devoted who followed the band during its short run.
"For D. Boon and the band to be in people's mind still, especially young people who didn't see us play, is pretty flattering," the gregarious Watt says. "It just shows you how open-minded people are. In the early Seventies, when I was a teenager, there was no way you would be talking about the middle Fifties. I remember we were watching the Woodstock movie and Sha Na Na comes on. It was like, 'What's this shit?!?'"
Watt and Boon were the best of friends, and nearly two decades on, Watt still smarts from Boon's death. "I think about him every day," he admits. "When I'm on my bike, I go by the apartment where we started the Minutemen. It's really intense in some ways, not too nostalgic or sentimental, but as you're going through your life, sometimes it's kind of hard to look back. It's why I'm resistant to listen to records and look at pictures."
But Watt was welcoming to the filmmakers, and on their first visit he loaded them into his van and took them on a tour of the Minutemen's home base of San Pedro, a gritty seaport town just south of Los Angeles. "The time we spent with Watt was pretty precious," Irwin says. "He took us to the park where he met D. Boon, he showed us the tree where D. Boon jumped and landed on his head. That's my favorite stuff. I think he has stayed away from a lot of it. The first time we went down there, he showed us D. Boon's guitar, which he still had in the case. He'd had it since the day he died, and he'd only opened it twice in the last twenty years." Adds Watt: "All my music history is here in Pedro. And it wasn't all just memories. Pedro is kind of a thermos bottle, things don't change."
Irwin and Schieron also found the Minutemen's community of friends, fans and family to be welcoming, offering up dozens of interviews and hours of live footage that will be woven into the film's arc, which will use the group's albums and seven-inch releases as its narrative drive. They are still scrounging for a few more pieces of Minutemen documentation -- a former tourmate apparently has more than thirty hours of taped conversations with Boon, and they're also hunting some clips from the TV show New Wave Theater (the filmmakers urge anybody with additional video footage to contact them through theminutemen.com) -- but they're hope to premiere the film next summer.
Watt suggested We Jam Econo's title. It was a D.I.Y. mantra he devised for the group's early days of loading, driving and unloading its own van, making its own music and doing so in its own way. "People have certain kinds of expectations of what a band should be like," he says. "I've had guys get weirded out because I load my own stuff or because we didn't fly to gigs. It don't matter what kind of expectations people might have, just do what it takes to get it done. If it's econo, that's fine. As a matter of fact, twenty-five years later, I do things the same way. I'd rather take risks with the music than the lifestyle. Jamming econo makes sense."
The filmmakers were able to coax Watt into watching some rough cuts of the footage that they'd assembled. "It was intense," he says. "D. Boon played with such fire in him. And none of us looked like your typical idea of a rock & roller. But we didn't really think punk was a style of music. We thought the style of music was up to each band. You wanted to find where the wall was by pushing against it, instead of someone telling you where to stand. Those kind of ideas don't get too old fashioned. They can live in any kind of time period. And there seems to be a sincerity in younger people, like Tim and Keith, being so interested in this. It'd be kinda neat for people who weren't around in those days, or those who missed us, to be turned onto this. Maybe they'll be inspired to try their own thing, since these three guys from Pedro did it."