Being in a punk band during the 1980s did not automatically secure you a mega-buck record deal, constant MTV rotation and a spot on the Grammys. In fact, it was the complete opposite — a constant grind of tour/record/tour/record — while traveling in a cramped van and sleeping on floors.
Welcome to the Minutemen’s world from their birth in 1980 through singer/guitarist D. Boon’s tragic death in 1985, a tenure chronicled in the new documentary, “We Jam Econo — The Story of the Minutemen.”
The impetus for the film came when fans Tim Irwin (director) and Keith Schieron (producer) got in contact with ex-Minutemen bassist Mike Watt via his Web site. “They just wrote me an e-mail [and] started talking about it slowly,” Watt tells Billboard.com. “I was a little cautious. You wonder about people’s motivations for doing anything. But I just felt sincerity from them.”
Watt’s instincts proved correct, as Irwin and Schieron have put together quite a film. The pair tracked down previously unseen live performances and conducted interviews with band members Watt and drummer George Hurley, as well as Henry Rollins, X’s John Doe, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, among others. “They even talked to my ma, which was kind of trippy,” Watt says with a laugh.
Looking back at his Minutemen years for the movie, Watt experienced mixed feelings. “Well, kind of sad in some ways. I still live in the town, [San] Pedro, so I would take them to the tree that D. Boon jumped out of on me,” Watt says. “It was kind of intense for me. The idea was in my mind [that] you’ve got to show this, because this is what D. Boon would have liked too. I wasn’t really trying to say that we were more special than other folks, I was trying to show how accessible the whole thing was. Especially the punk movement in those days — you just went for it.”
“We Jam Econo” premieres Feb. 25 at San Pedro’s Warner Grand Theatre (for ticket info, and to view a trailer, go to TheMinutemen.com). After the screening, Watt, Hurley, Irwin and Schieron will participate in a Q&A session with the audience.
Eventually, the film will open in select U.S. cities and make its way to DVD as an extensive double-disc set. “I think they did 53 interviews, plus hours of me going off,” Watt admits. “So they’ve got a lot of resource, and I guess a movie theater is different than somebody in their house.”
Although this year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Minutemen’s dissolution, Boon still looms large in Watt’s life. “Well I have to admit, I think about him every day,” he says. “If anything was on my mind, I’d always ask, ‘Hey, what do you think, D. Boon?’ I did this for years — almost like thinking out loud. I wanted his input all the time. So I still do that. When something hits me, the first thing I think is, ‘Hey, what would D. Boon think?'”