we jam econo: the story of the minutemen
The film opens with grainy color footage of a very, very young d.boon, Mike Watt, and George Hurley sitting in a field, waiting to be interviewed. (The interview footage seems familiar and I’d bet that I saw some if not all of it on IRS Records’ “The Cutting Edge” in the MTV alternative rock ghetto one Sunday night in the 80’s.)
“Two-shot on Mike and d.boon.”
The story begins with Mike Watt telling the story of how he and d.boon met, that d.boom jumped out of a tree and fell on him.
An older, greyer, more grizzled Watt in 2003: “This is the tree, right here.”
If your heart doesn’t plummet at that very moment — at the contrast, at the fact that Watt remembers, at the constant subtext, that d.boon has not been on this planet for 20 years now, then this isn’t the film for you.
we jam econo is the story of the late, lamented Minutemen, West Coast punk rock pioneers out of San Pedro. Over the course of the almost two hours of footage (including over 53 interviews, covering everyone close to the band (including Watt’s mother), up to John Doe, Thurston Moore, Raymond Pettibone, Byron Coley, Greg Ginn, Keith Morris, Ian Mackaye, Richard Meltzer, Flea, and of course, Watt and George Hurley, you come away with an incredibly intricate, thorough understanding of this band and its history and, the impossible task, comprehending why this band was so important and meaningful to so very many people.
The latter is a task that is the most difficult, in my opinion. You’ve taken on the task of historian and archivist but in the burning need to capture all the details, sometimes it is hard if not impossible to retreat and find some perspective, and push through to be able to convey import to outsiders, to those who weren’t there, to those who were but didn’t have the entire picture. This is something that producer Keith Scherion and director Tim Irwin (childhood friends who discovered the band together) have excelled at; it makes the film more cerebral than flashy, but the Minutemen and the music they created also fit that description.
The film has a good balance of interview and live footage, and I especially appreciated their willingness to let a live clip play out in its entirety (then again, easy to do when few songs were more than 2 minutes; Watt’s incredulity when he realizes one song – the first song to go over 2 minutes – was actually 2 minutes and 30 seconds was priceless). Still, it’s tempting to cut live songs short, especially when the quality is 80’s camcorder and you have 53 interview subjects to try to cram into a short span of time.
But live is where the Minutemen came alive for me; West Coast punk rock, to me, was this inpenetrable wall of dark blackness that I could not relate to (with very few exceptions, such as X); Double Nickels On The Dime (the explanation of which I won’t spoil, as it’s one of the best moments of the film) changed that for me, but it wasn’t until I saw the Minutemen live for the first time, opening for R.E.M., that everything fell into place.
I saw a series of at least a dozen R.E.M. shows in the fall and winter of 1985 during which the Minutemen were the opening act, and watching d.boon perform his cannonball-cum-Townshend jumps around the stage every night was nothing short of joyous. So for me personally, it was heartbreaking in the extreme when the film ended with the band discussing the upcoming opening band slot (which was incredibly controversial at the time), and hearing Watt talk about how the last show of the tour, in Charlotte (which I can still close my eyes and remember) was the last time he ever played onstage with d.boon, who died in a car accident several weeks later.
You are left with the indelible sense that d.boon’s absence still affects those close to him on a daily basis; Watt most obviously (and heartbreakingly); Ian Mackaye holding up a note he’s clearly held onto all these years, alerting him to d.boon’s death.
we jam econo is a labor of love, a fitting tribute, a thoroughly professional and well-thought out piece of documentary filmmaking. If you weren’t there, it gives you the keys to the kingdom; if you were, it will fill in the holes and leave you smiling and bittersweet and just a little misty. It’s loud, it’s direct, and it does this band justice. Go see it if it’s playing anywhere near you — but if you can’t, there will be a DVD in the fall, which will also contain at least three live shows in their entirety.
[disclaimer: i have contributed to this project in the way of photographs and memorabilia, and appear in the end credits as a result.]
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