This Band Could Be Your Life

Yesterday I contributed the 170th Imaginary Compilation Album over at The Vinyl Villain. I think it’s fair to say it is an idea which has caught on. After sending over ICAs for Big Audio Dynamite, Husker Du, ACR and Andrew Weatherall I decided it was time for San Pedro’s 80s punks Minutemen to have their time in the sun. You can read it and get the songs here. As always there are songs which had to be left out. This is one of them, the live version from their posthumous 1987 live album Ballot Result. Following D. Boon’s death Mike Watt and Hurley compiled the album from fans votes and contributions but the idea had started back in 1984 when they were bootlegged.

I Felt Like A Gringo (live)

The lyrics for this song show, along with the 10 short songs over at TVV, what a remarkable band they were. Over their frenetic, jerky post-punk funk we get one minute forty seconds of American awkwardness and cultural imperialism in the Reagan era.

‘Ton of white boy guilt, that’s my problem
Obstacle to joy- one reason to use some drugs

Slept on a Mexican beach, slept in trash
America trash
Too much can ruin a good time

I asked a Mexican who ran a bar for Americans
‘Who won’ I said, ‘the election?’
He laughed, I felt like a gringo
We paid for a song and they had some fun with us

Why can’t you buy a good time?
Why are there soldiers in the streets?
Why did I spend the 4th in somebody else’s country?’

There On The Beach, I Could See It In her Eyes

After writing about them at the weekend I’ve been thinking about Minutemen a bit this week, digging out some of the records and cds, thinking about an ICA for The Vinyl Villain and then it occurred to me that I could tie together two of this week’s posts quite neatly.

One of the Minutemen’s key songs is Corona (off Double Nickels on The Dime but more famous as the theme tune to Jackass. Let’s try to ignore tattooed MTV idiots stapling their arms and scrotums and focus on the song). D Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley all wrote lyrics for the songs. Inspired and turned on by punk rock they decided early on that they would write lyrics that meant something. D Boon wrote Corona after a trip to Mexico.

Mike Watt can explain the song better than I can- ‘Corona is very heartfelt. D. Boon wrote that one on a trip to Mexico. After all the drinking and the partying, the morning after, there’s a lady picking up bottles, to turn them in to get monies for her babies… it really touched him. Music was personal with us, it’s how we were together, and then the [punk] movement let us do it in front of people. The movement was so inclusive, and it seemed that if you wanted in, you had to bring something original – it was kind of a toll. And for D. Boon, I remember him telling people, “Okay, whatever we play, it sounds like the Minutemen”. And that’s what I hear in Corona.There’s a little Mexico in there, it’s got a little ‘thinking out loud’ – what D. Boon called our lyrics. Like, D. Boon’s thinking about what’s going on here: we’re having a party at the beach, and this lady, by using the empty Corona bottle – it’s not like D. Boon liked Corona beer! – no, she’s using that bottle to help. So there’s a real connection there. That’s why I really like Corona – it’s a strange mixture of things, but to me it’s the nice things about the Minutemen’.

There’s so much about this 2 minute 25 second song- the Mexican riff at the start followed by the trebly guitars and double time drumming, the fizz and buzz of the bass, D Boon’s punk poetics- he manages to say so much with so few words-

‘The people will survive
In their environment
The dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness of our south
The injustice of our greed
The practice we inherit
The dirt, scarcity and the emptiness of our south
There on the beach
I could see it in her eyes
I only had a Corona
Five cent deposit’

Corona

In 2003 Calexico put out their fourth album, Feats Of Wire, the one that brought all the pieces together with some career high points. One edition of the cd came with some bonus tracks, including a cover of Corona, a pretty logical song for them to cover. Calexico slow it down a bit and add some lovely mariachi horns

Track 32 (Corona)

While looking for a picture for this post I found this image of a pair of SST labelmates, pictured in front of a poster of Husker Du’s 1984 double album, D Boon (who died the following year when their tour van crashed) and Grant Hart (drummer of Husker Du, who died this year of cancer).

Should Words Serve The Truth?

In 1984 Minutemen, from San Pedro, released one of US punk’s set texts, Double Nickels On The Dime, a 45 song double album (out on SST in the same year as Husker Du’s double Zen Arcade). Minutemen came from the punk rock scene but Double Nickels… contains much more- country, jazz, spoken word stuff, funk. The songs are short, really short, so if you didn’t like one, no need to jump up and flip the needle on- another song will be coming along any second now.

Their lyrics weren’t standard punk stuff either…

‘A word war
Will set off the keg
“My words are war!”
Should a word have two meanings?
What the fuck for?
Should words serve the truth?

I stand for language
I speak the truth
I shout for history
I am the cesspool
For all the shit
To run down in’

Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?

By the time singer and guitarist D. Boon died in a van crash, out on tour, the band had put out four albums and eight e.p.s, criss-crossed the States, and converted thousands, one-by-one. Their story, beautifully told, is here…

As D. Boon sang in History Lesson Part II ‘our band could be your life’.

Do The Du

Slipping back to 1985 today after I came across this twenty five minute clip yesterday. Husker Du live at The Stone in San Francisco on March 1st. The film starts towards the end of the set with Diane, Hate Paper Doll and Divide And Conquer (both from then recent release Flip Your Wig) and into an encore of Eight Miles High and Makes No Sense At All. For the final song, a romp through Louie Louie, the Huskers are joined by members of all four support bands- SWA, Saccharine Trust, Minutemen and Meat Puppets. Seeing Husker Du, Minutemen and Meat Puppets on the same bill seems extraordinary now but was standard for the time.

What seems funny about this video now is that it was professionally filmed but is so shonky. The sound is pretty hit and miss, Bob Mould’s guitar inaudible in places against Greg Norton’s bass. Whether that’s the sound at the gig or just what the cameras are picking up is I don’t know.

The group also show how different things were in 1985. Touring without much in the way of label support- SST had never had any money- they more or less just booked some dates, got in a van and off they went. Minutemen’s creed famously was ‘we jam econo’, in other words they cut their costs as far as they could, packed and unpacked their own gear, slept in the van or on fans’ floors, touring as cheaply as possible. Touring connected with them fans and promoted records (which could be bought if SST had got them into the record shops in the town they were playing). These bands have not been anywhere near a stylist or a focus group, there’s no lightshow, no backdrop, no projections, no gap between band and audience- all the things that modern signed bands take for granted. Different times.

This is also a new discovery for me, an unreleased outtake from 1984’s New Day Rising album. Corruscating independent punk from Reagan’s America.

I Never Gave A Damn About The Meterman ‘Til I Was The Man That Had To Read The Meters, Man

As a follow up to yesterday’s Minutemen post- and since I reminded myself of them I’ve been playing their songs whenever I get the chance over the last couple of days, in among the other stuff- here’s the full audio recording in one handy zipfile of that November 1985 Acoustic Blowout! appearance (the forerunner to MTV’s Unplugged sessions I suppose).

Tracklist- The Meterman Corona, Themselves, The Red And The Black, Badges, I Felt Like A Gringo, Time, Green River, Lost, Ack Ack Ack, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, History Lesson Part II, Tour Spiel, Little Man With A Gun In His Hand

No work tomorrow so make the most of your Bank Holiday Sunday.

Minutemen Acoustic Blowout!

Our Band Could Be Your Life

I’d forgotten until recently how much I love The Minutemen-  three unlikely looking punkers from San Pedro, California who made several classic mid-80s indie-punk albums for SST. Although Minutemen are more of a band inspired by punk than sounding like punk. They were fired up by punk’s DIY attitude and sense of freedom and personal political responsibility but weren’t Sex Pistols copyists or three chord trickists. Instead they played very short, quite fast, agit-folk-punk with a bit of funk on the side. On their 1984 double lp Double Nickels On the Dime they released 43 songs, none much over two minutes long. This one tells their story and is just about perfect.

History Lesson Part II

From an earlier lp (Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat) comes this intricate beauty, loads of ascending and descending, criss-crossing guitar and basslines, working up to the one line chorus- ‘little man with a gun in his hand’. If you don’t like this, I’m not sure there is any hope for you.

Little Man With A Gun In His Hand

And from the magnificent documentary We Jam Econo, History Lesson Part II live, acoustic and stripped down, with some chat from Mike Watt in the van first. D Boon, singer and guitarist, died in a car accident in 1985. I don’t think Mike Watt has ever gotten over it.

>Five Cent Deposit

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Calexico’s 2003 album Feast Of Wire was some kind of career highpoint, featuring the very lovely Just Like Stevie Nicks… among other songs. The cd came with three extra songs, one of them being this one- Corona. It might not be the best thing they ever recorded but it’s a cover of a song by San Pedro post-punk-funk heroes Minutemen, so it can’t be all bad. It even just about survived becoming the theme tune to Jackass, that programme where grown men pushed each other over and laughed.