Earlier this month Green Day sent a tidal wave of change through the offices of Lookout Records, the Berkeley-based indie that released the California punk trio’s first two albums. Citing nonpayment of back royalties, Green Day revoked Lookout’s license to sell the early records, causing the label to lay off much of its staff and halt the acquisition of new talent.
In We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, about another California punk trio, Mike Watt observes a smaller change rippling through his hometown of San Pedro, just south of L.A.: The music store where he and his bandmates used to buy records and guitars is now a Petco. The charm of Tim Irwin’s documentary, which charts via archival footage and talking-head reminiscences the arc of the band bassist Watt shared with guitarist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley in the early ’80s, is that emphasis on the personal—the idea that the Minutemen, with their open-minded musical appetite and their thoughtful political engagement, affected individuals, even if they didn’t achieve a Green Day–size stature.
In this age of VH1-sponsored hyperventilating over the Doobie Brothers’ legacy, it’s refreshing to see a doc in which the biggest boldfaced name is Flea, who gushes over Watt and Boon’s reluctance to tune their instruments. Hurley admits that the band took more time than they ever had to record
Double Nickels on the Dime, their 1984 masterpiece: “A week or two,” he figures. Watt explains that the trio’s name, often mistaken as a reference to the brevity of their songs, was actually meant to tweak right-wingers: minute—as in little—men. Near the end, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye displays the handwritten note Henry Rollins sent him notifying the East Coast of Boon’s death in a 1985 van accident. It’s tiny too.