The Minutemen - Arguing with the Fish

by Joe Carducci

(joe's piece in the upcoming book of watt's minutemen lyrics, "spiels of a minuteman")

   Rest in peace? The Minutemen?! They ate anxiety for breakfast and by lunch were farting peace of mind. Such rumble pie as would have split other bands/friends for life. There was so little peace around them that I suspect any rest they got was something more aggressive, like, say, oblivion. And it would take something more aggressive still to finally sunder them.

   When I think of the Minutemen I think of a band that laid everything out on the table. Whether they were alone in their practice pad, or on a local stage before an audience of friends, or on tour before an audience of strangers, if something crossed one of their minds -- especially something like George dropping a beat, D breaking a string, or Mike misfiring - said thought was said and often underlined, heaved onto the table like stinkin' week-old flounder. Strangers might wonder at all the pointing, yelling and laughing going on amongst the three of them as they played. It seemed there was some other show going on inside of the one they could hear -- the one the Minutemen called "the schtik."

   Now this "schtik" happened to be issued from what certainly was one of the most intense bands that have ever musically combusted. With just guitar, bass, and drums -- and further with D's trebly narrow sound, Mike's resoundingly physical counterpoint, and George's determination to play on 16ths and 32nds no matter the tempo - they chose to play a music that could be easily heard in its constituent parts (once you found your way into the physically demanding presentation) and so mistakes would be out on the table as well. Other bands' players might hide in the soft-focus wash of chording guitars and shadowing bass-lines, not the Minutemen.

   Once strangers acclimated to "the schtik" they became friends who reveled in their unique anti-glamour. The Minutemen were funnier in performance the better you knew them. Only then might you know that Boon, Watt, and Hurley were critiquing each other's playing, or were ranking on each other's stage moves -- Watt warning a leaping Boon against going through another stage, Boon reminding a stumbling Watt of the time his knee went out and ruined the show. I recall Mike trying to convince D that when he did his Townshend jumps he wasn't actually elevating his body, only kicking back his feet for a split second. D thought this was absurd, but in truth he really didn't want to think about what he looked like. In performance he was looking for some kind of exhausted high. D didn't dwell on how he looked and this made for one of the louder fashion statements of the punk era.

   D used to rap on about how anyone could do it, but that just wasn't true. Most people are afraid of other people, of themselves, and what those other people might think of them. And this goes double (at least) for performers. Cool is considered so important that people often become cold pursuing it. Well the Minutemen ran hot. They brought their practice-pad manners on stage out of a compulsive need to be true - they so hated what fear and its exploitation by show business had done to rock music.

   When they toured, usually just the three of them in a van, they'd be arguing about civil war history all through the south as the place names rolled by. The civil war was always their number one war with a bullet, but they'd tussle over the Big One, or even the War of 1812 if it happened to come up it did. Like most members of the southbay bands that ended up on SST they had gone to arena gigs all through high school and at odd times they'd start taking about the time they saw Gentle Giant open for ZZ Top at the Long Beach Sports Arena, or Uriah Heep headline over Mahavishnu at the L.A. Forum or some other such crazy bill. They didn't talk about The Ex or Gang of Four; they did talk about Wire and the Pop Group but not as much as they talked about the Who and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

   They were realists, constantly undercutting the threat of pretension with slang and scatological counterpoint. To recoup after the _Project: Mersh_ "stoop" Mike told me their next album might be called _No Mysteries_' (It wasn't.). But when I mentioned this to the Meat Puppets they visibly recoiled. They were desert mystics; the Minutemen were harbor empiricists. They were sentimental in their realism too - they loved those stinking fish because they were from San Pedro. They had a blue collar turf-consciousness and code of brotherhood that on the east coast causes problems musically. But in California these three so enjoyed taking their Pedro stench north to Hollywood and east to America that the evangelism of their open-hearted faith meant you were included too. Because of the intensity of their relationship inside the band, they enjoyed mixing it up with friends about art and politics or anything else. But it took just a whiff of true schtik to discomfit them. In other words they were quite often yelling at their friends, whilst speaking reservedly to the suits - ripped and pinned though those suits might be.

   They accommodated each other at the top of their lungs. They kept a running tally of each other's infractions but they graded on a curve. They paranoiacly tried to deduce who each other's song lyrics were written about and wrote misperceived responses to challenges never made and laughed as the fish piled high on the table and Pedro stench overpowered even Rolling Stone and MTV at the other end of the country. Their unpretentious approachability makes them the most unlikely of the legendary lost bands of the punk era. There's the revolution, D.

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this page created 6 aug 01