25th Anniversary of the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime featuring Richard Hell, Mike Watt, Bass Player from Handjob, and More
Bowery Poetry Club
Saturday, July 25
“What is punk?!” squeals the mysterious Bass Player from Hand Job, as if reposing some remarkably stupid question. Anyone without an answer would have been out of place at the Bowery Poetry Club on Saturday, where erstwhile Minutemen bassist Mike Watt hosted the 25th anniversary celebration of his deceased band’s crowning achievement, the double-album Double Nickels on the Dime. The show’s brief allotted time was split evenly between cover bands, tributes from age-tamed icons (i.e. Richard Hell), and geeky, long-winded narratives covering the etymology of the title (it’s a riff on Sammy Hagar’s speed-limit-exceeding rebellion in “I Can’t Drive 55”) and how the young band simplified the formidable task of sequencing forty-four songs across two records. Michael Fournier, author of the 33 1/3 series’ mini-book on the album, reported that each of the musicians had been assigned a side to fill with his favorite songs–which explains why the second disc opens with a drum solo, and why the d-side is such crap.
In between the inevitable jabs at Pink Floyd and bloated arena rock, one particularly telling piece of trivia surfaced: being the only member of the band who could hold down a job, Mike Watt footed all of Double Nickels‘ eleven hundred dollars in studio fees himself. And now, it seems, he’s left as the sole caretaker of the group’s legacy. The show climaxed with Watt, alone on stage, alternately pounding out Minutemen songs on his bass and commentating on lyrics on his side of the album, citing everything from the beating of a washing machine to James Joyce’s Ulysses as an influence. His soliloquies were flush with the sincere and occasionally imprudent candidness that swells at a lifetime’s extremities: “[The lyrics] didn’t always mean something, sometimes I just put words together because I wanted to hear D. Boon say them. He was generous to me like that.”
Watt would have us believe that singer/guitarist Boon, who was killed in a sudden, tragic car crash in 1985, nonetheless swelled with a deep affection for his friends, family, and fans as his final years approached, and that the outpouring of material for Double Nickels can only indicate as much. It’s pretty convincing–not that Boon somehow suffered premonitions of his death, but that the record can only be explained as a labor of love. At a time when American punk was leaning towards the militant hardcore of Black Flag and Minor Threat, the Minutemen were composing groovy examinations of the world around them, evoking the woman collecting bottles on the beach for the five-cent deposit, begging a higher power (see: “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing”) to combat the virulent capitalist greed and parasitism indoctrinated in America’s youth. This band’s answer to the Bass Player’s question may not be what Johnny Rotten had in mind, but it resounds anyway: “Punk is love.”