Monday, January 23, 2017

I'd Love to Turn You On #171 - Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime

I chose to write about this album because I wish someone had turned me on to it when I first began exploring punk music. I was a freshman in high school in the fall of 1991 when Nirvana’s Nevermind busted open my expectations about music and set me on the course of discovering what else was out there. If I had found Double Nickels on the Dime by The Minutemen when I was fourteen, it would probably be one of my top five all-time favorite records. Instead, I came across this album the year I turned thirty and it prompted me to reassess what great music I had missed up until that point. When the Minutemen released Double Nickels on the Dime in 1984, they created a classic album in American independent music, a testament to a beautiful friendship, and a blueprint for how a few regular people can come together and make something extraordinary.

When I first went looking for punk music, I gravitated toward the two American punk bands that people around me talked about the most: Black Flag and Minor Threat. In each band’s music, I found elements that I liked, but neither one felt like something that really included someone like me. When I eventually heard Double Nickels on the Dime, I found myself in this album in a way I had never experienced with a punk band. When I listened to his album, I recognized core elements of myself that didn’t always seem at home in punk music like goofiness, thoughtfulness, weirdness, and idealism. Guitarist and singer D. Boon, bassist Mike Watt, and drummer George Hurley grew up in working class San Pedro, California and formed the Minutemen as an alternative to the bleak prospects of their hometown. All three band members were close and shared chemistry as musicians, but D. Boon and Mike Watt were lifelong friends whose bond informed nearly every meaningful aspect of the Minutemen’s existence. On “History Lesson, Pt. 2,” one of the best songs on Double Nickels on the Dime, D. Boon simply tells the story of two friends discovering punk music and learning how to do it for and by themselves. This album of more than forty songs documents a fiercely unique, independent band at the height of their powers taking on as much as they possibly could. Double Nickels on the Dime remains the Minutemen’s greatest achievement and its influence can be traced throughout a prominent branch of indie rock including one of 2016’s best albums, Human Performance by Parquet Courts.

When D. Boon died in 1985, the Minutemen ended, but the band’s legacy grew consistently over the following decades. In 2001, Minutemen figured prominently in Michael Azerrad’s indispensable book, Our Band Could Be Your Life. Azerrad featured Minutemen as the second profile in the book, derived the title from a lyric in “History Lesson, Pt. 2,” and dedicated the book, in part, to D. Boon. In 2005, Tim Irwin’s great documentary, We Jam Econo: The Story of The Minutemen, brought the band’s story to an even larger audience. The band’s music, especially Double Nickels on the Dime, became a touchstone for the expanding world of indie rock. Eclectic indie rock band Calexico established a rousing cover of “Corona” as part of their live shows before recording it for their 2004 EP, Convict Pool. In 2006, indie folk singer Bonnie “Prince” Billy and post-rock instrumentalists Tortoise released a covers album, The Brave and the Bold, and offered up a monolithic, but faithful rendition of “It’s Expected I’m Gone.” As I’ve learned, it’s never too late to get started with an album as essential as Double Nickels on the Dime, but for your sake I recommend that you start soon.

-         John Parsell

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