dedicated to his close friend since childhood, kindred spirit and deceased former bandmate D. BOON, WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN (ROCKET FUEL FILMS, 2005) is an intimate documentary largely narrated by MIKE WATT about his former band, the highly idiosyncratic and influential 1980s HARDCORE band THE MINUTEMEN.
hailing from SAN PEDRO just as the SOUTH BAY was taking over the LOS ANGELES music scene with a more volatile and aggressive wave of PUNK ROCK that included the likes of BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS and THE DESCENDENTS, THE MINUTEMEN represented the conceptual and artistic vanguard of the scene. their lyrics were opaque and their sound kinetic yet off-kilter, skittish and dare i say it, funky. in a scene where subtlety was not the norm, both sonically and in terms of lyrical content, THE MINUTEMEN effectively expanded the out realms of the genre in the same way HUSKER DU had done in their respective scene at the time.
the core of the band existed before HARDCORE emerged, but in that scene they saw a freedom and artistic opportunity. D. BOON was an accomplished visual artist and had a way with lyrics where he could evoke images with a minimum amount of words. this efficiency likewise found its way to his guitar playing, which borrowed from various genres and transcended the extreme buzzsaw tempos of his label-mate and fellow scene participants, BLACK FLAG. in essence they had a chemistry that came from years of camaraderie and basically exemplified the DIY ethos of PUNK ROCK. they were completely self-made and unique.
can't say the same for the construction of the documentary itself. it drags a bit and has a very uneven pacing throughout. it could use another edit, which is unfortunate as the band definitely deserves better. but where it lacks in professional sheen it makes up for in content. its rough appearance may even make the film a better conduit for information as it provides a sense of intimacy, especially with regards to its interview footage.
this film includes archival live performances and then-recent interviews with the likes of peers such as IAN MCKAYE (MINOR THREAT), JELLO BIAFRA (DEAD KENNEDYS), MILO AUKERMAN (THE DESCENDENTS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), J MASCIS (DINOSAUR JR), MIKE MILLS (R.E.M.), DEZ CADENA, CHUCK DUKOWSKI & HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), KURT KIRKWOOD (MEAT PUPPETS), JOHN DOE (X), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS / FEAR), THURSTON MOORE & LEE RANALDO (SONIC YOUTH), ROBERT HOLZMAN (SACCHARINE TRUST), RICHARD HELL (TELEVISION / THE VOIDOIDS) and COLIN NEWMAN (WIRE) among many others.
worth checking out only if you are a deep fan of the genre or the artist, but may be less interesting for those not familiar or eager to explore either. there are other documentaries that are arguably a better introduction to the scene in general like AMERICAN HARDCORE (AHC PRODUCTIONS, 2006) or PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005).
with the resurgence in interest in vinyl records that has been going on for the past two decades in the wake of streaming, the mp3 and the obliteration of the compact disc as viable format, HARDCORE icon and vinyl aficionado HENRY ROLLINS has been teaming up with online retailer THE SOUND OF VINYL and UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP's promotions and outreach website UDISCOVER MUSIC to create a series of videos about his love of vinyl and those artist that create it.
ROLLINS' curating efforts over the past few years on this accord have included tutorials, artist recommendations and interviews with artists, directors and independent label owners. basically everything a novice would like to know about starting a collection and where to start, but were afraid to ask. ROLLINS at his age is over the industry, so he comes off as a no-bullshit, straightforward guide with no pretensions. and thank god for that since lord knows that elitism is what drives people away from record stores.
i enjoy watching these and my hope is that both companies expand such with other noteworthy curators. my suggestions: CHUCK D, BRIAN ENO, GEORGE CLINTON, DAVID BYRNE, AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, RICHARD DAVID JAMES, NEIL YOUNG, Q-TIP, CORNELIUS and JOHNNY MARR. one can only dream.
below are ROLLINS' record recommendations. in the future i'll post further articles highlighting some of his interviews. this is still very much a current and developing endeavor.
as its pragmatic title entails, SALAD DAYS (NEW ROSE FILMS, 2014) is a comprehensive look back at the evolution and enduring cultural legacy of the WASHINGTON D.C. HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. utilizing interviews from both from members of countless participating bands as well as (interesting choice) scenesters of the period, you really get the sense about how an idea sparks a scene which sparks a movement and the implications of such. what blows my mind is that everything discussed was accomplished for the most part by a bunch of kids in their teens and early 20s. makes me wonder what ive accomplished.
at the essence of this whole scene is a strong DIY ethic. in the aftermath of the PUNK explosion of the late 1970s, there was a small group of like-minded teenagers in D.C. who listened to THE CRAMPS, IGGY POP and THE RAMONES and fought off redneck suburban kids attempting to beat them to a pulp for dressing different. this confrontational day-to-day existence manifested itself in a small scene of kids who picked up instruments and started bands. these bands developed to the point that a local record shop, in a very HIGH FIDELITY (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 2000) moment, helped them learn to record at a nearby studio with a producer and manufacture vinyl records. enter DISCHORD RECORDS.
at the hear to the scene is DISCHORD, which was essentially an excuse for IAN MCKAYE and JEFF NELSON to self-release and EP by their band THE TEEN IDLES. eventually the also released records by their friends and D.C. bands they thought people should hear. DISCHORD through MCKAYE's next band MINOR THREAT become well known and helps draw attention to the label's roster, which some complain sucks the oxygen out of non-DISCHORD affiliated INDIE and PUNK groups from the area. some of those bands even start their own labels like TEEN BEAT RECORDS and SIMPLE MACHINES.
as the scene gets bigger in the mid-80s through the increasing notoriety of the DISCHORD roster of bands (GOVERNMENT ISSUE, VOID, FAITH, S.O.A., etc), things begin to change. kids show up from the suburbs and shows become decidedly more violent. original bands grapple with the fact that these newcomers do not share their values. things get increasingly desperate as racist SKINHEADS and destitute DRUNK PUNK show up and reek havoc. all this while, again, most of the bands involved are barely in their 20s.
the scene begins to change as bands mature and get more introspective lyrically and experimental sonically. a new generation "emotional hardcore" bands become prominent like EMBRACE and RITES OF SPRING and which result in effectively challenging their audiences expectations. things also get more splintered as some bands get political as exemplified by the local outreach group POSITIVE FORCE who put on numerous shows as well as musical protests of the SOUTH AFRICAN embassy for its then-APARTHEID government. this came to be known as REVOLUTION SUMMER.
for some this new explicitly political focus through benefit shows and protests was pedantic at best and HIPPIE-ish at worst. it splintered the bands much as the STRAIGHT EDGE movement had done years before. STRAIGHT EDGE was a MINOR THREAT song about not needing intoxicants to have a good time, in fact not doing so gave them the "straight edge." people took MCKAYE's personal affirmation as dogma, as followers tend to do, and it created confusion amongst the scene about how people could act at shows. was drinking now bad?
through all the variations and misinterpretations of this scene, it seems the biggest impact was their intense DIY ethic and sense of community. in the end the idea of creating a scene from nothing showcases how empowering an idea such as PUNK ROCK can be. the democratizing of instruments to all levels of musician's most have been exhilarating when PUNK ROCK first came about.
my only grief is that the empowerment of the still relative dearth of prominent modern PUNK or INDIE bands that express the perspectives of minorities and those of the LGBTQIA community. watching this documentary cognizant of what came in its wake, it still feels like PUNK ROCK is a white boys club pissing on one another. the industry has changed but the players have not, no matter how woke they.
hopefully this next generation will take the cue from PUNK ROCK and empower themselves to advocate structural change moving forward. they'll have to do it themselves.
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.
photo & text by nacrowe
it has been said that the lasting cultural impact of 1980s HARDCORE was the touring circuit they networked one city at a time. this circuit of VFW halls, LIONS CLUBS and basements across the nation was the common proving ground for INDIE bands of that same era and underground ALTERNATIVE bands of the 90s. this self-published printing (now long out of print) of his tour journal finds BLACK FLAG frontman HENRY ROLLINS in GET IN THE VAN ( 2.13.61, 1995) giving the reader a first-hand account of the hardship and endurance it took to get out the message.
in ROLLINS we see a guy that knows his place. he appreciates his good fortune in being asked to join his favorite band at a moment when they sought to reshuffle roles within the band. one theme carried on throughout journal is this theme of isolation and alienation from the straight world he so passionately wished to escape from. the longer he is on the road, the more severe that estrangement becomes, for his former peers (exception being friend IAN MCKAYE) can't appreciate his position. they see a rock star on tour where his actual reality is sleeping in vans, moving equipment, fighting skinheads, fighting concert promoters, lack of food, lack of sleep and lack of money. on top of that they are blazing through under-appreciated markets that don't have a frame of reference for their version of PUNK ROCK quite yet. they are very much the pioneers that got scalped to borrow horrible offensive and culturally antiquated turn of phrase.
ROLLINS attitude throughout is one of defiance. he talks about hating his audience, his bandmates and the straight world in general. his misanthropy seems rooted in a deep-seated internal fortitude to bear any burden, carry any cross for his band. what seems interesting in retrospect is how much he has transitioned since the myopia of his early 20s, when much of these entries were written. he is the very embodiment now of adventurousness, traveling tirelessly and choosing to use any of his various platforms (spoken-word albums, documentaries, podcasts, tv shows) to promote the understanding of culture across borders and inclusivity. it is basically the opposite trajectory of MORRISSEY, once the embodiment of transgressive gender politics and now just a sad mouthpiece for the extreme-right in ENGLAND (sighhh). as someone who traveled a lot growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, i definite sympathize with his misanthropy and retreat into himself when confounded with radical change and senseless violence during what amounts to his formative years. its comforting to know he transcended such self-destructive ideations.
one of my favorite aspects of this book is the friction between AMERICAN HARDCORE bands and their BRITISH counterparts. at the time it had only been a handful of years, but the chasm culturally between these two cousins was pretty wide and ROLLINS spares no quarter in taking on what he considered shitty bands that couldn't play their instruments. i take this as a grain of salt given the fact BLACK FLAG were the tip of the spear for a new more potent wave of PUNK ROCK and for them there was a definite "us vs. the world" mentality, but it is interesting nonetheless on purely sociological grounds.
the journal is a bit hard to get through and is quite repetitive but at its most potent you get a real sense of the absurdity of touring life, fan adoration and the unique hardships of being a trailblazer. true, ROLLINS was the 4th singer of BLACK FLAG, but none of the others toured like his version of the band, which makes them the de facto committed to popular memory.