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).
photo & text by nacrowe
during my undergraduate years at RUTGERS i wrote a senior thesis on film noir and a key feature of those films is a corrosive depiction of women as corrupters. often male protagonists impotently speak via voice-overs, attempting to frame a narrative that inevitably they were never able to control.
musician/artist/producer/fashion designer/actress/writer/badass KIM GORDON of SONIC YOUTH fame in her memoir GIRL IN A BAND (HARPER COLLINS, 2015) in a similar fashion attempts to make sense and contextualize the trauma of her recent divorce. in an inversion of the film noir cliche i outlined above, her painful retelling of their doomed relationship if anything doesn't reduce her ex-partner and ex-bandmate THURSTON MOORE to that of a lazy literary trope. it is my understanding that her presenting this information was meant to accurately describe the insight gained from such a painful ordeal that ultimately deprived her a partner and collaborator and place it within the proper context of her upbringing and fraught relationships with her brother and father. unlike those noir films, her compassionate insights into these men ultimately humanizes them, especially MOORE.
what i really appreciated this book was her honesty. no doubt knowing her public image as an icon for female empowerment, the vulnerability she displayed in explaining why she found herself in the familiar trap of suppressing her ego for the men in her life is a daring move. you really get the sense of struggle throughout her entire music/art career. you also get a well-rounded, first-hand look at the early 80s concurrent NO WAVE music scene and burgeoning NYC art scene surrounding street art. she comes across a someone curious and relentlessly fearless in taking advantage of what opportunities came her way. she doesnt not come across as an opportunist, rather as a passionate curator constantly searing for new ideas and inspirations.
i feel a kinship with that as someone who grew up around unfamiliar people in unfamiliar countries. her upbringing in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA by way of brief stints in HONG KONG and HAWAI'I gave her something of a THIRD CULTURE KID vibe. they say THIRD CULTURE KIDS (children that grow up in a country not their own) are qualitatively better able to navigate life's upheavals, having dealt with such stress during their impressionable formative years. if anything, her curiosity for art, music, design, and love only get stronger as the narrative evolves, almost in contrast to the arc of her personal life.
i'm a fan of her work, both in and out of SONIC YOUTH and recommend this book highly for anyone interested in her career as well as anyone interested in the NYC art and indie music scenes of 80s and 90s by a big player in both. well worth it.