photo manipulation by nacrowe
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).
last christmas was the perfect time to take stock and celebrate the omnipresent hellscape that is the current TRUMPOCALPYSE we are all living through by playing nothing but 1980s HARDCORE.
at the time i was revisiting the subject by reading two books on the subject: Lexicon Devil (2002, Feral House) by Brendan Muller and American Hardcore: A Tribal History (2001, Feral House) by Stephen Blush. both are oral histories of the scene. the second publication was the impetus for an excellent 2006 documentary on the subject also titled American Hardcore (Sony Pictures). while we are on the subject, i would also recommend the 2014 documentary Salad Days (New Rose Films) on the 1980s D.C. punk scene as well as the SOCIAL DISTORTION documentary Another State of Mind (Time Bomb, 1984) and, of course, PENELOPE SPHEERIS' classic The Decline of Western Civilization (Spheeris Films, 1981). and now i'm just gonna push my luck by also recommending two books by JOHN DOE of X, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press, 2016) and the recently published sequel More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press, 2019).
the immediacy of the music is the draw for me. there is a no-bullshit, take-it-or-leave-it aesthetic to 80s hardcore. it is what it is. if you want musicianship, go listen to RUSH or your parent's stuff. if you want a soundtrack to brutality, you are in the right place. politically i don't understand how this music or something in the spirit of it doesn't exist today. as bad as RONALD REAGAN was, he's nothing compared to our current RAPIST-IN-CHIEF.