If the punk rock attitude is all about anarchy, freedom, and not living by other people's rules, then why is punk rock music the exact opposite? That's a question the Minutemen's Mike Watt has been asking for nearly three decades. Punk was already several years old by the time the Minutemen emerged from the scruffy Los Angeles-area harbor town of San Pedro. It was the dawn of the '80s. The Sex Pistols were long gone; hardcore was all the rage. So when the Minutemen started mixing funk and jazz into their sped-up political punk, slam-dancing and applause wasn't the only response the band got there was also quite a lot of spit. That was many mosh pits ago, but on the newly released DVD, We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, the story is retold in a series of interviews with everyone from Henry Rollins and Flea to Watt's mother. And there's loads of live footage two discs' worth, actually.
"People would say, 'How can you call this punk?'" Watt says in the film, during a 2003 interview. "[They'd say] 'You don't sound punk. You don't look punk.' That would always strike us as such narrow-minded shit."
Fortunately, that tunnel vision was mostly limited to boneheads in the audience. The people who actually mattered other bands, label owners, and real punks could see past such stereotypes. Black Flag guitarist and SST Records owner Greg Ginn was one such person. In 1981, Ginn released the Minutemen's first EP, Paranoid Time; a full-length soon followed (The Punchline), as did several more releases on SST. Led by Watt (on bass) and guitarist D. Boon (both shared vocal duties), the Minutemen were as influenced by Captain Beefheart and John Coltrane as the Ramones and Sex Pistols. Lyrically, they mixed the topical and the comical, taking a stand without losing their cool in songs like "Maybe Partying Will Help" and "Do You Want New-Wave or Do You Want the Truth?"
By 1985, the Minutemen were starting to garner interest outside of the punk underground. The band's opening slot for R.E.M. might have signaled a brighter future than being gobbed on by angry Black Flag fans. But on December 22, Boon was killed in a car accident. The band was over. The Minutemen weren't the most popular band to come out of Southern California in the early '80s, but their influence on punk rock is still felt today. In a market flooded with Morrissey clones and girl-chasing emo bands, the choice between new-wave and truth is a very real thing. And We Jam Econo is proof that people do want the truth. Jason Budjinski
Two days before the start of Rainer Maria's recent tour, singer/bassist Caithlin De Marrais was at home in Brooklyn, enjoying what would be her last days there for several weeks. The band's latest, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, is yet another evolutionary climb for the band, shedding whatever remained of its emo-laden past for a softer, more melodic sound. De Marrais is still scratching her head about that ol' emo tag, though.
Outtakes: How do you feel when critics call Rainer Maria an "emo band"?
CDM: It's hard for me to see it, because when we started as a band, I didn't know what that term meant. I read a review recently where someone had written, "How could they not have known? Of course they were a part of that scene." But really, honestly, I was a college student, and for me, the scene we were in was a Midwest scene with Promise Ring and Joan of Arc. I was like, this is fun. This is music.
More recently, Rainer Maria recorded Catastrophe Keeps Us Together without financial backing from a label. How did that impact the album, that uncertainty?
Well, the funny thing is, it didn't feel as much like an uncertainty as kind of returning to our roots almost. For us, in a lot of ways, it felt like our first album [1997's Past Worn Scratching], because it was a very similar situation to how we made the first album. Going into the studio, the producer, Malcolm Burns [Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris], was so into music that he agreed to a leap of faith. He was very patient about receiving payment. It was a leap of faith on both sides, I think.
So how exactly does catastrophe keep us together?
It's so funny, because that question's never been asked so bluntly. People leap to the conclusion that it keeps Rainer Maria together as a band, but that's not it. [The song "Catastrophe"] has been sitting with us for almost two years, and back then, when we wrote it, it meant something very specific. The Onion had this funny article a year or two after September 11 about how, after a huge tragedy, people will get married and have babies and things like that. I was relating the song back to that, because I can only think of it in a funny way like that.
There's been a quiet explosion of female-led rock bands recently, led by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but including the Sounds and Rainer Maria among others. Have you noticed the trend at all?
It's awesome. I have a lot more fun on tour, to be honest. I just don't see them on the covers of magazines. I guess the ideal point is when you get to the day and someone's in a band and who they are, whether female, male, whatever race they are, you notice it, maybe it adds to the experience, but at the same time, it doesn't pigeonhole them. Cole Haddon
The Format, Rainer Maria, Anathallo, and Street to Nowhere perform Wednesday, July 26, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $13 to $15. Call 954-564-1074, or visit www.cultureroom.net.
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When I was 12 years old, I developed a strange phobia a fear of dentists. Hygienists I could handle. But dentists? I'd rather shoot Novocain into my own eyeball. It had nothing to do with pain or discomfort. I just couldn't stand my dentist, Dr. Phish. He was obnoxious, always bragging about the cost of his equipment and how his gear was so much better than other dentists in the neighborhood. It never occurred to Dr. Phish that his patients might not care about the make and model of his drill or that he can twirl around a tongue depresser like a drum stick. And I certainly didn't want to hear recordings of his horrid jam band, which he played on the office sound system. His songs, if you could call them that, were six-minute riffs peppered with improvised blues solos to put it bluntly, musical masturbation. But poor Dr. Phish was forced into an early retirement after he went blind a few years ago. I knew Dr. Phish was losing his sight, but it wasn't until I saw him at the recent Les Claypool show at Revolution that I understood why: Musical masturbation causes blindness.
Go ahead. Laugh. Call me a quack. I know it's not hard science, but I've seen enough examples of this to know it's more than an old wives' tale. How else can you explain the crew of skinheads slamming to Claypool's funky jams? Do you think they actually read the flier and thought it was a hardcore show? Right. And that's where things get ugly fans who bask in those hourlong jam sessions are as likely to go blind as the guys who make the noise. It's like one, big, audio circle jerk.
Forgive me if I wasn't gushing in my lab coat at Claypool's technical prowess or how fancy his custom-made bass is. When I have a patient under the knife, there's no time for me to dick around with fancy techniques or worry about "losing the groove"; it's the patient I can't afford to lose. And when I see some wank-tastic musicians blowing their wads with over-extended jams, it's the song that's lost. If I showed up for surgery and spent the first ten minutes twirling my scalpel like Tommy Lee, the only place I'd be able to practice medicine is in a circus. But at least I'd have my eyesight. Doc Le Roc