Mike Watt

Mike Watt

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American Hardcore Review


Good
If punk took years to get its deserved kudos from the establishment -- though now enshrined as a marketable commodity, it was long shunned by shibboleths like MTV and Rolling Stone -- there's little telling how long hardcore will take to get even a fraction of the same recognition. The fact that a relatively small number of people reading this will even know the difference is just one sign of how far the long-moribund sub-genre has to go before even approaching mainstream recognition. In the meantime, Paul Rachman's encyclopedic and exhausting American Hardcore will serve as a decent chronicle of hardcore's sharp short years festering in the American underground.

Though punk was a reaction to the safe, staid, cash-register mentality of the '70s arena-sized music scene, it found itself all too quickly co-opted into the industry. Groups like the Sex Pistols disintegrated, The Clash morphed into an adventurous roots-rock, pseudo-ska outfit that started playing radio-friendly hits in arena gigs of their own, and The Ramones, well, they just stayed doing what they always did, never more or less popular than when they started. When the 1980s dawned, music seemed just as escapist as ever, only now many of the outfits were New Wave, punk's bastard offspring, retaining some of the adventurous musicality and edgy fashion sense but little if any of the antiestablishment anger. With a clenched-fist conservative like Reagan in charge, and a mainstream culture just as lobotomized as that of the previous decade, American punks realized there wasn't going to be another Clash coming around, and if they wanted more music of its raging ilk, they'd have to create it on their own. Enter hardcore.

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We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen Review


Excellent
The Minutemen, a trio from San Pedro, California, may not have been the best or most influential group to emerge from America's punk scene in the '80s. But no band worked harder to press the point that punk was a system of beliefs, not just a sound. While most hardcore bands at the time knocked out repetitive, machine-gun beats, drummer George Hurley played splattery, jazz-influenced rhythms; Mike Watt played bass like he'd wandered off George Clinton's Mothership; and guitarist-singer D. Boon rattled off tangled, politicized lyrics that scanned more like Beat poetry than anti-Reagan screeds. When Boon died in a van accident shortly before Christmas 1985, at the age of 27, it was like the scene severed a tendon -- a flexibility that once was there was permanently gone.

Tim Irwin's smart, funny, and affecting documentary about the band makes no great claims about the Minutemen's genius -- in fact, he leaves ample room for numerous scenesters at the time who scratched their heads at the group's look and sound. Instead he concentrates on the close friendship between Boon and Watt, childhood friends who put together a punk band not so much because they loved the Ramones or the Clash but because they loved the idea of creating their own culture out of whole cloth. They were comically naïve at first, thinking that basic stuff like tuning wasn't essential; some guitarists liked their strings "loose," they figured, while others preferred them "tight." But soon enough they'd invented a spiky, insistent sound that packed a surprising amount of movement into very brief tunes with provocative titles like "Little Man With a Gun in His Hand," "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," and "Jesus and Tequila." (Most listeners figured they were called the Minutemen because their songs often clocked in at under 60 seconds, though Watt debunks that notion in the film.)

Continue reading: We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen Review

Mike Watt

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