an original moment
in time, man!

written by

Charles Plymell

in the winter of 2007/8

   From the jump, even their name is ambiguous. Fine. In heavy scholarship ambiguity is a key to lasting art. Was the name denotative of small, short, revolutionary, or what? In physics a minute is often used in the span of time to bring scale...and the minutemen? Bacon, Goethe, and Emerson, or whoever said, "Art is long, Life is short, Judgement difficult, Opportunity transient." Could the answer be found in San Pedro High School? From the moment D. Boon jumped out of a tree in front of Mike Watt, the opportunity for kids on the block came true. Like all lasting art, it happened in what Sheldrake postulated as Morphic Resonance: In the universe a time for unrelated things comes together seemingly unbeknownst to each. We saw it in the 50's with Jackson Pollack, Crick and Watson, chaos theory, atomic fusion, Stravinsky, Kandinsky, and on and on. Most groups or performers evolve from roots. Wild Jerry Lee had kids off their feet and shaking from spirituals and gospel as did Elvis, Little Richard, Ray Charles and all kids. Their influences and originators (e.g. Lightnin Hopkins) sparked embers in race music to rhythm and blues, to rock'n roll. The early stuff lay latent in working class houses in Liverpool to be cool and whip back around to ignite again. All music is spirit interwoven, languishing in memories to take the stage again: Woody Guthrie to Dylan, traditional folk music of the 20's and 30's to the same tunes with new words in the poetry of a Chuck Berry, of all blues with each variation and a style. It happened in jazz with big historical happenings along the way. Norman Granz once assembled them all, with influential inventors who were so different as to offend the traditions; for example, Louis Armstrong was offended by Bebop, something very odd and different, hence his satirical Whiffenpoof song. It happened in country too, inventors like Jimmy Rogers, the singing brakeman and the Honk-Tonk men, Hank Williams and George Jones drifted to Buck Owens, Bennies, Bakersfield, the driver wheel of the 219 keeping the beat while tossing seeds forever sown by the Minutemen or Lee Ranaldo. Offshoots in the field of bluegrass grew: Bill Monroe, and eddies of Arnold whorls emerged in the greater flow.

   Chili Peppers, Minutemen, R.E.M. In the "old" days says Mike, the famous Punk bands of the day weren't accessible and the kids were kept in their place. So they made their own; that's why all new art emerges, gesturing out the window of the econo as his lectern "...nowadays you're only kept in your place by your mind." "Make it New," Ezra Pound. As Byron Coley reminded us, the music of the Minutemen was hard to classify. He could slip them in anywhere. That's also a sign of originality...defying labels, and in a recursive language analogy that would delight philosophers, Byron likened the beat to a noun with no adjectives or adverbs. Mike Watt's signature line, percussionistic, impressionistic, like an ancient music in Japanese Kabuki theater, minimalistic, morphed into the art of today, his bass lines identifying, while Hurley's drumming is "with", Grant Hart gestures, the central core of the musical sphere they are spinning.

   In the brilliant we jam.... their paranoid chants, blowing out the songs, all screaming together excited the Alabama wildman, Thurston Moore. Famous groups of the day, like Chili Peppers, Black Fag, Kennedys, and many more poets and artists all pay tribute to The Minutemen. And if you want a mini-lecture bouncing in the air like the old sing-along-ball, try "Definitions" by Mike Watt. Materialism: six points of view. 50 thousand words, 50 thousand translations...Idealism. Get it? Got it! Good. The ancient jazz man retort. The kids from the street took on the attributes of the outlaws even in a broader literary context. Michel C. Ford adamantly warns them about the pitfalls of a government rewarding the frauds in the academic workshops and literary cliques who sit on panels and reward their friends with substantial public funds to maintain their own audience while destroying poetry in the process. Those who criticize the system of cronyism are forever blacklisted. I understand his point and have "friends" who send me their books listing credit of state and federal "awards" totaling tens of thousands of dollars. The United Gulag of Amerikan Arts. They usually inscribe them to me as "first teacher" or other pufferies and then ask for endorsements. I throw them in trash. While fetish poetry readings in art orgs/ academic workshops and fillers for The New Yorker and Poetry Magazine numb audiences who patronize each other with cheese and wine. New music had to relentlessly earn its pay while poetry hid in academe and arts scams.

   The Minutemen earned their praise and stage from other famous groups who also saw the fusion of original lyrics and poetry. It was at a poetry reading performance that Grant Hart introduced me to Mike Watt, and then Grant made sure I received we jam econo in the spirit in which worthwhile art is slipped from crafty imitations and commercial trot. I was hooked by the video and viewed it with my kids during the holidays, 07-08. I had missed some groups in the 80's. Not being a musician, I couldn't detect many direct influences of the Minutemen but could identify their time, their ethos, their moment of opportunity. I can easily identify with the working class, those who are willing to stand up and make a change, take risks, "make it new," the words of Ezra Pound's poetry were read to me by the fellow hipster of the '50's, Robert Branaman, who coined the expression, "lounge lizard" for high school drop outs who went from bar in their modified zoots, duck tails haircuts and Benzedrine. Even Pound's classic two line poem, "In The Metro," Often cited as the classic example of Imagism could very well apply to the songs of the Minutemen. They called us punks, rebels, non-conformists, goofs, petty criminals. It was the poses in Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One that eventually became the rebellious street kid's skateboard, their ethos (or bathos depending on who's calling whom a poser), the language of social awareness ironically emerging as a shout from the stage, comically from three posers... to the point of almost ritualistic behavior...the spitting and medieval taunting to the bellicose band and the spit, an interesting byproduct of the performance in extreme. The bodies would start bumping and jumping and spitting when the music began and stopped when the music stopped. It was strong ritualistic affinity that exceeded the behavior of boppers to Jerry Lee, pounced somewhere between the Lindy hop and rope a dope, left its mark of phenomenal performances on the decade.

   For eighteen year olds in the beginning of the 80's music and even skateboarding was a better choice than getting in trouble. And there was lots of trouble. It was a strange decade. We moved to the D.C., area to find jobs. We saw the company town change from the peach pickers from Georgia to the ruthless moneyed legions of blue blazers and khakis and cowboy hats from California money rancheros, ruthless and greedy. Chevy Blazers with bumper stickers "Neutralize Mondale." I think it was the time schools in California were on the decline, worse than today. In D.C. we would go to "chili parties" of the upscale shakers and movers of the day-names of companies so recognizable that it would be shocking to mention. The town was writhing in hypocrisy. At some of the parties I would see the young money lions motion to guide me away from the lines of coke being sniffed, guided by such polite Republicans to other rooms from the smell of pot. They assumed I was too old to approve of such things. It was in this milieu that we raised our kids in Silver Spring, Md.

   Herbert Huncke, the Grandfather of the Beats came to visit. We read with Taylor Meade in a bar in Baltimore and in D.C. Ray Bremser and I read at the 9:30 Club, a very happening punk place. It is there that I was standing smoking next to a big guy who wasn't necessarily hostile but had an attitude and looked down at my shoes oddly stepping on my toe and twisting his foot like putting out a butt. He was punk and punks were performing that night, and his shoes were very odd-like slippers. Was this D. Boon? In the video I saw his shoes, completely out of character, especially for a punk who floated when he bounced. If it were he, it wouldn't be the first time shoes played a part in song. Someone wouldn't get off Lightnin' Hopkin's toe and he worked the incident into a song he was singing that became a title. Carl Perkins heard someone in the crowd yell to a dance partner, better not step on my blue suede shoes, and Perkins wrote it down on the spot. I had a pair of blue suedes in that era, but I think I was wearing wingtips outside the 9:30 Club that night of an historical mirage of truth.

   Certainly the "charlatanism" of D. Boon was preferable to the stupidity of teachers. (I thought of some friends in S.F. who named their group, The Charlatans.) D. Boon, by his impressionistic song phrases, much like the cut-up method of Burroughs, was creating works that would have been the envy of French Dada. Ack, Ack, Ack , their only cover by L.A. band called Urinals reminds one of comix, German Futurism in WW1 posters, and incredible didacticdada all at once. "Absolute Truth/with its Absolute Faults," spontaneous phrases thrown on the canvas of history. The imagism in their lines at once both impressionistic and expressionistic on stage, bits of Jackson Pollack's kinetic energy from Dada to cut-up, free association, Surrealism, twisted together in bits and pieces of message. In the 50's, Annie Ross would have said she was crazy on the double-decker bus because there was no driver on top, and her scat would take us to the farmer's market to buy string beans, green beans, lima beans all kinds of beans in the bong of her time. The messages of The Minutemen were more deeply imbedded: "Little Man With a Gun in Your Hand" could have been the theme song for the William Reich movement in psychology in this country. Deeper meanings are abundant in the hidden symbolisms that compelled an audience who sensed something was happening even if they had to spit at it. I would have to examine the lyrics to find out what exactly the "propaganda songs" of Dylan were. Maybe when he was singing to the Black cotton pickers? And McCarthy was enough to be paranoid about. I remember cruising Main St. in my '52 Chevy listening to the hearings not knowing quite what it was about until the documentaries decades later. The Minutemen were Futurists, Punk Rimbaud "avant garage" symbolists. Absolute Truth with its Absolute Faults was very profound from whoever said it during a time when California education was sliding to the bottom. I recall a saying from the revolushun in the 60's "We are the future and can't be stopped." To use the old Sinatra cliche, they did it their way.

   I have listened to all kinds of music for many years. I began singing the Hank Williams radio theme song when I was out in a Kansas fields over seventy years ago. I could see both my mother and father in the distance plowing while I sat in the International truck singing as loud as I could to the coyotes, rattlesnakes and prairie dogs: "I'm just a happy rovin' cowboy/ herding the dark clouds out of the sky/ deep in the heavens blue." Recently, I went to a Hank III concert in Rochester with my family where he pressed the pedal to the heavy metal. I could have told him he looked exactly like his Grandfather, the genius performer in the 50's and that his song "Blue Devil" is up there with his Grandpappy's best. I also predicted long ago that a song by George Jones would be an all-time great and it was honored on PBS not long ago. I listened to traditional music in the 40's. In the 70's when I gave a poetry reading in Boston, the young organizer was eager to play me his latest find: Willie Nelson's "Blue eyes Crying..." I said yeah, my mother used to sing that to me. He looked puzzled. I like Willie and he was right to bring back the traditional songs. I have the Roy Acuff version my mother listened to. I cruised L.A. in my '52 Chevy up and down Central where Norman Granz put all the big jazz names together; Oscar Peterson, Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Rich, all of them and in Kansas City they played with the locals, Charley Parker and Jay McShann. I remember driving my '49 Pontiac from K.C. to Joplin. Mo listening, on a race station out of Arkansas, to Hank Ballard and the Midnighter's "Work With Me Annie". I saw Fats Domino across the tracks play his Cajun songs I can't find anymore. Chuck Willis was on the jukebox at Mrs. Dunbar's barbeque. A dollar cover would get you in to hear Sonny Rollins. Ike Turner played music for a company selling Westinghouse appliances. Elvis came to town. He would have been my age today. I drove to work building the dam on the Columbia River in a '49 Merc like James Dean drove in "Rebel" listening to Johnny Ace sing "Clock on the Wall."

   In the sixties a guy runs in where I'm printing Robert Crumb's first Zap. Hey, I'm managing a new band with a funny name: Pink Floyd. Someone called from City Lights Bookstore and said we had two complimentary tickets at the Fillmore to see Janis Joplin and Big Brother and we were too stoned to walk five blocks. That was the pad where Ginsberg and Cassady lived with me. Ginsberg heard me playing Schubert's String Quartet that Branaman played on smack one time and I heard the most beautiful passages in music. I put on Blowing in the Wind and asked Ginsberg if he ever heard this kid's songs. No. He looked at the cover: Bob Dylan. Hmm. No. He hadn't. Branaman was in Wichita jail with me in the 50's getting nose inhalers from the guard. Years later, he appeared as the artist in the opening of the Doors movie on Venice Beach hawking his paintings. So I listened to Motown, Sly, then Disco. The Hot Chocolates while moving down to Baltimore. Do you believe in Miracles? My daughter bought Cindy Lauper, early Springsteen. We also lived near Ashbury Park for a while. I like his poetry about him and his buddy building a hot rod straight out of scratch behind the 7-11 store. I listened. I listened through the decades. I listened driving crosscountry. I listened moving to new places. I listened.

   The 80's came and went. Now my kids watch we jam econo with me today after seventy-two years of my riding and listening. I got hooked on the video. We talked about "Corona" a beautiful song with a little mariachi in it and almost long enough to establish sentimentality. We talked about Hurley in connection with Krupa who first busted out with his six-minute classic solo, Sing Sing Sing that pissed off Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall. Jeff Palmer the B3 man lives around the corner down James Carr's dark end of the street. He has a photo of himself as a kid with Krupa standing behind him with his hands on his shoulders. We sit and smoke and listen to the B3, and all those he played with: Jay McShann, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff. The B3 is the church he say. He could always play in Black clubs, as he pulls out an old lp of James Brown, forgotten great two sides instrumental B3 only.

   My son and I laugh about the interview at Bard and the unanswerable questions of the "hip" student or professor filming the interview. It reminds me of Paul Bley who came by telling how he brought Parker to NYC for the first time. A lot of first times with Paul, scanning the index of his book, Stopping Time: Baker, Coleman, Coltrane, Eckstine, Ellington, Giuffre. Flipping to the 'P's, Parker, Peterson, Powell...onto Rollins. There's a story for each. Then I ask, hey Paul, why do you commute to Europe for gigs, surely there are colleges around. I mean Giuffre's at Bard and Julliard. He could get you gigs. Ahhh, he says. Jazz went to Europe. I go every year to the same gigs in great cities. It's like going home. The guy knows me. He has the bread in his hands, the substance, everything taken care of. Here at colleges I have to meet a new person each year who is over the activities, go jogging with him, throw frisbies, and wait for my bread. And the audience? They may be there or not. In Europe, they are always there. Then I think of seeing Bo Diddley in the 50's across the tracks playing the Mogen David circuit. A dollar at the door. Then I saw him at the Avalon in the '60s when the psychedelic scene had crowded the club with strobe lights and stoned Hippies. It was near where we live, so we went. A handful of Hippies who didn't know what to expect. He said and here I am now, playing for you. Mercy, mercy. When some of the new arrivals from NYC come over, they always talk about NYC real estate and never go outside when they come to the country. I put on my Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic set and show them the cover expectantly. Haven't you heard of these musicians? They missed out.

   Back to watching we jam econo. I read somewhere about it that anyone who listens to music would want to hear this. My son says these were the groups I tried to get you to listen to in the 80's when he was a kid. Oh yeah, I said: must have been the ones I was jumping around to while driving and you kids ducked down in the car in order not to be embarrassed! I wasn't going to be upstaged. We watched the brilliant video of "King of the Hill" that can only be a California romp way ahead of its time and the videos and reality shows of today. There has always been an implied difference between east coast and west coast tastes. Someone just happened to have picked up on the famous romp, King of the Hill and put it in the L.A. Times Arts Weekend section bumping Madonna and Springsteen. Ahhh the headlights were on! Coincidentally, Mike had just emailed me about the weekend page in the New York Times the timid wasps upstate must have their coffee and bagels with. It was about Bukowski and a terrible put down of the man and his work based on his ugliness. I received lots of emails concerning the article. It was bathos. Blew away anything anyone would call literary discourse... embarrassing. It was a shameless attempt for the writer to draw attention to himself by tying himself to Bukowski's shoestrings. I had seen this happen before and advised everyone that the writer was desperate for attention and not to acknowledge him or he will stick like glue. The only thing right for him would be Bukowski's right hook. When Grant Hart introduced me to Mike Watt the train was running again. I'd been waiting at the station for a while but always listening. Sometimes the artist fades, sometimes the audience fades. Sometimes the phonies see their opening and try to take over. Rimbaud said: while public funds evaporate in feasts of fraternity, a bell of rosy fire rings in the clouds. Sometimes real and great talent gets tromped and commercial shit takes over and dictates tastes. What's happenin' man, nathan shakin.' Grant sent me we jam econo. My son came home for the holidays, and my daughter put it on the TV. My son said hey, these are one of the groups I was trying to get you to listen to in the 80's. Oh yeah, those old boxes of cassettes that were in your bedroom? Hey let's see that video again. We jam econo? Hooked! Kids came through. Made it new.

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this page created 17 jan 08