Minutemen's 10 best songs, according to bassist Mike Watt
Bassist Mike Watt picks the ultimate Minutemen playlist
Mike Watt is a busy man. Currently touring and recording with a number of musical projects, including experimental post-punk trio Il Sogno Del Marinaio, his past work includes punk band fIREHOSE, collaborations with Sonic Youth and Thurston Moore and joining The Stooges in 2003. But he first cut his teeth with seminal hardcore punk band Minutemen. “It's strange,” he reflects. “I've never looked at the arc of my own music. But I actually wrote most the [Minutemen] songs, looking back – but not the good ones! [singer/guitarist] D. Boon and [drummer] Georgie wrote the good ones.” He pauses. “And of course, a lot of my favourites are the D. Boon ones.”
Below, he picks the Minutemen songs that mean the most to him.
Mike: "Corona is very heartfelt. D. Boon wrote that one on a trip to Mexico. After all the drinking and the partying, the morning after, there's a lady picking up bottles, to turn them in to get monies for her babies. D. Boon, it really touched him. I know it's used as the theme song for Jackass, but it really don't have things much to do with that. That's trippy about that, it's surreal, the connection. People will come up to me and they call it 'The Jackass Song' – but this was a way Boon could help his daddy after he got killed. His daddy had emphysema, and from the show, the monies went to his pop. So when I hear him sing that song, when I hear that – he plays those motifs, that kind of mariachi – I mean, it's just everything for me. Music was personal with us, it's how we were together, and then the [punk] movement let us do it in front of people. The movement was so inclusive, and it seemed that if you wanted in, you had to bring something original – it was kind of a toll. And for D. Boon, I remember him telling people, “Okay, whatever we play, it sounds like the Minutemen”. And that's what I hear in Corona. There's a little Mexico in there, it's got a little 'thinking out loud' – what D. Boon called our lyrics. Like, D. Boon's thinking about what's going on here: we're having a party at the beach, and this lady, by using the empty Corona bottle – it's not like D. Boon liked Corona beer! – no, she's using that bottle to help. So there's a real connection there. That's why I really like Corona – it's a strange mixture of things, but to me it's the nice things about the Minutemen."
This Ain't No Picnic
"You don't know it in the lyrics, but where this song came from – I know the story [laughs]. Boon was working at [his father's] parts counter, and his daddy put in radios at the dealer shop, and he's there at the counter, and he's listening to soul music. There's a guy there who has a... difference of opinion, 'I don't want to hear that... kind of music', he uses that word. So D. Boon couldn't do anything – he's the low man on the totem pole, so he has to turn it off. But he writes a song, This Ain't No Picnic, and it's about work, but he actually never brings that subject up in the song. But I know, I was there. We even made a video, because MTV came on, and we made a decision – we thought, 'Oh, the new telephone pole is MTV', so we spent $400 to make this video, because we thought it would relate to other working people, because we were kids working, and there was something about that. And also, you've got to remember too, we were boys in the 60s. There's civil rights, there's the war, young people are taking things into their hands and trying to change. By the 70s, that's over. And we're like, 'WHAT?! It's not our turn?!' So working, it's this big influence that even pushed us into the punk movement."
"The third one is The Anchor – the first time we played over two minutes. It's a song about a dream, it's trippy. I wrote the music to The Anchor, but Georgie – he never gave me a title, he always gave me words. And he would write these at work, on the laze, so semi-conscious. And they'd be surreal, written in early morning too, where he's half awake and on a lake, and with the lake and stuff, he writes a song about a dream. Because you can express yourself about different things – concrete things like D. Boon did, Georgie – dreams. Songs are about transmitting all kinds of information."
Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing
"I wrote a song, maybe the best one I wrote for Minutemen that I like – Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing. I actually wrote the song for Michael Jackson to sing. I thought if he sang this song, everyone would know what the Minutemen was about. So I sent it to the management, and I never got a word back. But that was like, balls out, I totally had a reason for this song – it's not just for D. Boon to sing and George to put drums on. This is – Michael Jackson, will you sing this song? And I look back at young Mike Watt and it's like, 'Wow, you had a little nerve there!'"
"Georgie wrote the words to this one I ended up calling Anxious Mo-Fo. Although I wrote the music, it's Georgie's words [that] inspired me. 'Serious as a heart attack!' it's like Georgie was commenting on our own band. Georgie could do that, he could put himself out, be kind of objective a little bit, where me and D. Boon were just too much in it, too subjective, to see the forest for the trees. Georgie had that talent. That's why the Minutemen, after Georgie stops writing songs, after Double Nickels On The Dime, the band changes. The last two records, Project Mersh and 3-Way Tie (For Last), are really, in my opinion, lamer records. We peaked with Double Nickels. I think we were gonna come back – we had this plan for a triple record, where half of it was gonna be live, to fight the bootleggers – D. Boon worked in a political thing where people would vote, put a ballot in, vote for your favourite song and we'll play 'em live for you. So I think we were gonna have a comeback, but we were definitely on a downhill thing when Georgie stopped writing words for us."
"This guy called [Ethan] James – who ended up recording Double Nickels – put out a compilation. He says, “you give me your song, and I'll let you record one song for free”. What we do is put three songs together, so we got three songs out of it [laughs]. And there's a song on there called Self-Referenced, that I wrote, and it's just trippy the dynamic – the thing about getting louder. It's where I figure out getting soft – getting soft is actually louder than getting loud. If you bring it right down it's called decrescendo, it's been around for a few hundred years [laughs], but for me for a while it was new. And D. Boon liked it – how do you get louder if you're already loud? But if you bring it down, it sucks the thing out of the room – it's a real dynamic thing. Of course it's coming from gigs, it's not really a studio thing, it's from playing in front of people. So I thought here I made kind of a musical progress, this thing of dynamics. I like it because it was important in my journey."
"I read something about these hangings in Turkey, by the government, a left-wing guy and a right-wing guy at the same time. And I gave D. Boon the words and D. Boon – 'I'm not going to play guitar' – he would just dance and sing this song. So on the record, you're going to hear just bass and drums. By the way, I heard about this movement in the 90s, 'Basses and Drums'. I went up to West Hollywood, the Viper Room, to see, and it was just two guys with sweaters playing machines – it was not a bass player and drummer, it was a form of fast dance music [drum'n'bass]. [Laughing] Mike Watt gets fooled again! But Fanatics is such a trippy song 'cause D. Boon decides 'I'm not gonna play guitar' – this whole thing about the [band] hierarchy, D. Boon was really in charge of it. That was the political thing about the Minutemen – the lyrics he was was thinking out loud, and the way the band was structured – he didn't want the guitar dominating. So he dances and sings the song – which is a very serious song, it's literally talking about reading from the newspaper. So it's like... what the fuck?!"
History Lesson (Parts I and II)
"D. Boon wrote a song called History Lesson – history is us just being idiots to each other, in the name of whatever. Well, I make a response to that – and the hardcore scene in the same way. In those days, five years was a big gap, so people like TSOL happen, and the people are writing into Flipside Fanzine like – 'No! That's art-rock! The real punk is this!' So I take both subjects – D. Boon and History Lesson I, and I wrote a response using Velvet Underground Here She Comes Now – I'm not a big guitar man, okay, the strings are too little, I can't hold it – but it's called History Lesson Part II, and I talk about me and D. Boon making a band. And then I'm Joe Strummer, and Richard Hell, and John Doe, because I'm play-acting – I'm doing Cosplay! And it's not about you being better than someone else just because they write different songs or wear some different kinds of make up, or 'he's a jock' – I remember seeing TSOL, and these big strong guys, like – 'why are you in the scene?! You're not a misfit!' Yeah – there's different ways to be a misfit. There's not one way of looking like a vampire in Hollywood, or corndogs in Pedro; there's all kinds of ways of not fitting in. I know this sounds simple, but it's profound when you're younger and you have paradigms and stereotypes shoved on you. So I wrote History Lesson Part II in response to History Lesson Part I, those songs go together, though they're not on the same records."
Cohesion & June 16th
"The big joke? We make a double album because the Hüskers do. We had one album done, they came into town with Zen Arcade, and we were like, 'Fuck! We should do that!' but we had no concept to unify them, so we made up stuff. One of 'em was, 'Sammy Hagar can't drive 55', so we said 'Oh, well we'll drive 55, because he makes safe music, but we'll make crazy music' – double nickels on the dime means driving 55... Nobody ever got the joke! Another one – like Ummagumma, the Pink Floyd record, where they each have a quarter of a side, we all have a solo song. Boon's song for that record is called Cohesion – he plays by himself, Spanish guitar, it's actually a kind of a Flamenco song, and I love it – but the band's not on there! I love that song in the context of the Minutemen, it's like – 'What?!' But this is what it's like if [D. Boon] doesn't have his band – I know what he's trying to say. D. Boon was a very deep guy. The thing about Double Nickels On The Dime, and all my songs – I'd just finished reading Ulysses by James Joyce, which happens on June 16, that book's all one day. And so [June 16th]'s an instrumental on that record, but it's also Raymond Pettibon [SST Records artist responsible for Black Flag's bars logo]'s birthday – June 16. So I really like that song – there's no words, we're using notes to talk, and that's my version of Cohesion."
You Need The Glory
"Minutemen are kinda existential for me. The songs tell stories to me, it's weird for one of them to be higher than others. They all got fuckin' stories – it's like taking one colour out of a rainbow. But... Double Nickels On The Dime – it had 45 songs. How do you put 45 songs in order?! Well, in those days, it was vinyl, so I gave each dude a side, and I thought, 'we each pick 'em', sort of like we're doing now. So we drew straws, Georgie got first pick. Remember the joke, with Ummagumma, everyone had a solo song? He picks his solo song [to go first]! It's whistling, playing oil cans – it's so bizarre. It's sort of on the level of Cohesion and June 16th, it's like not using lyrics to talk."