Perhaps the most precise definition of The Minutemen is given within the first twenty seconds of Double Nickels: the first sound is D. Boon’s car starting and the first lyric is “Serious as a heart attack.” No doubt, this is a group that was, in one sense, serious as a heart attack, both in the content of their lyrics and in the distinctive music which they produced—music steeped in a broad curiosity and playful disregard for the boundaries, more and more leaden at the time, which punk rock had built around itself. However, this is also a band that, as I said, began their most ambitious, 43 song, album with the sound of a motor being brought to life. If the Minutemen are serious about the music they make and the words that are a part of that music, they are equally serious about not taking themselves too seriously or being taken too seriously by anyone else. As they describe themselves in “History Lesson—Part II,” they are a couple of corn dogs who drove up to the Hollywood punk scene from (San) Pedro, got drunk and pogoed—and in the insouciance of Boon’s vocal stylings, among other places, one can always detect a touch of this Southern California slacker ennui. It is always refreshing to listen to the Minutemen, one of the few bands I know whose music so effortlessly expresses both an acute sense of humor and a distinctive, indissoluble social and historical consciousness.
Another disclosure of something quintessentially Minutemen is given in those first twenty seconds: the thumping of Mike Watt’s bass. Always conspicuous, always inventive, his steady and unpredictable bass playing is a major reason that it has been said of the Minutemen that though their songs may be short, hence the handle, they are jammed full of music. Songs like “Spillage,” “Theatre is the Life of You” and “It’s Expected, I’m Gone” are unimaginable in any shade but that given them by Watt’s funky verve. Similarly they are deeply colored by Boon’s distinctive guitar playing, which runs through a gamut of styles and sounds, from the blustery acoustic picking of “Cohesion” to the slaggish Beefheart meandering in “One Reporter’s Opinion,” and on to the persistent rhythm of tracks like “Viet Nam.”
The songs on Double Nickels function as sharp bursts of creativity, the creativity of separate individuals playing in the same room—examinations of the possible capacities of the, usually, sub two-minute pop song. In attitude they are very much a punk band, though one possessed of enough vision to see that it was more in staying with the punk ethos of individuality and rebelliousness to create music that is visceral beyond velocity. Often, for the Minutemen, this means producing a sound enigmatic in its immediacy, playfulness, and sometimes just plain weirdness. Not to mention funkiness. I mean, there are plenty of moments on Double Nickels that remind me of Booker T. & the MG’s, specifically the Barfly requiem of stale smoke, warm beer, and people who are drunk before noon on a regular basis, “Hip Hug-Her.” And two of the punks who did more to bring funkiness and punk rock together, Joe Strummer and Richard Hell, are name checked outright in “History Lesson—Part II,” as is John Doe, whose band the Minutemen no doubt pogoed to on many occasions, being hugely and unambiguously influenced as they did so.
I was drinking on the street in a California city, which will remain anonymous, when I met this guy who had drawn a Minutemen anchor on the front of a white t-shirt. We got to talking and we got to drinking, it was whiskey I think, and what we got to talking about were our favorite punk records and he, as he was at the time obsessed enough to fuse together a make-shift Minutemen shirt, of course named Double Nickels on the Dime and I was inclined to agree with him. If I have to say why, I will say this: there is and will not be any other band quite like The Minutemen. No band able to so successfully use the lyrics “I make sure my head is connected to my body/No hope, see, that’s what gives me guts/Big fucking shit/Right now man,” and no band who can wield such a critical influence while at the same time sounding like they are having an unbelievably fantastic time fucking around with their friends in a garage and drinking cheap beer that they picked up on sale at the neighborhood liquor store. And, in conclusion, one final quotation for you to mull over: “Out with philosophy. Is your life worth a painting? Is this girl vs. boy with different symbols? Being bored is power.”