The Minutemen are one of those bands that I've heard about since high school but have never really heard much of their music until now. Talked up in books like Henry Rollins' Get In the Van and Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life (which got its title from a Minutemen song), I did not fully understand the importance of the band until I watched We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (here's the trailer).
In some aspects, the Minutemen were rightfully classified as a punk band. They were on SST, the home of Black Flag and the Descendents. They played most of their shows with punk bands in their day. Yet putting them in the same sentence with just punk bands is a little unfair. Instead of aping the sound of Minor Threat, the Ramones, the Clash or the Sex Pistols, or dressing up like a crusty punk with a mohawk and combat boots, the Minutemen came from the idea of punk rock, not its stereotype.
The Minutemen were inspired by fast punk rock, but they weren't afraid to let influences like jazz and blues be a part of their sound too. This was something that too many punk bands didn't understand. Being punk rock isn't about dressing a part or being a carbon copy of a popular band; the idea is to be yourself. However, the idea of being yourself is a general idea too. Some people think that being themselves is to copy and follow. But then there are some that really look inside themselves and just are who they are even if they're not hip or cool. The latter was what Mike Watt, Dennes "D." Boon and George Hurley were drawn to in the '70s.
Even though the story of Minutemen is twenty or so years old, their story is as relevant today as it was in their day. I hear about way too many punk bands that narrow themselves with strict boundaries, while a band that never narrowed its scope is still an inspiring story. I can understand why punk and hardcore bands wanted little or nothing to do with major label machination in the '70s and '80s, but seeing a number of bands just welcome such has always made me scratch my head. To use a line from a certain film, "It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them!" too many punk bands joined the Dark Side thinking they could do bigger and better things by becoming rock stars. I'm not talking which label they're on, who they tour with or what they say in the press, if a band bends over backwards to be accepted, this is the making a scar on their history.
The deal is, despite the fact that I already knew the basics of the Minutemen's story, I realized so much more with watching We Jam Econo. Sure, there are the praises from fans, friends and family, but they aren't blowing a bunch of smoke up the band's ass. These people really mean what they say and if you need proof, just watch the numerous live performances and old interviews in the film. Since Mike Watt is essentially the film's narrator, he explains the story in simple English without pandering or pretension.
Make no mistake, the Minutemen were proud to be where they came from: San Pedro, California. They didn't hide their origin and they didn't hide what they were into. Sure, from time to time, they did things that were funny and most of their songs were really short, but they weren't some jokey novelty band. They were definitely a band that you could mirror your own life around whether you played music or not. Instead of pretending to be from some place that you're not, you can be proud of where you come from, warts and all. As much as that idea may sound like preaching to the choir to some, I don't think others realize this or even fathom this. Maybe that's why the story of the Minutemen still resonates today.