The Best Minutemen Songs

Middlemarch. The Changing Light on Sandover. Get Up On It. When I’m seventy, I’ll be divining their mysteries. Even if D. Boon hadn’t died in a car accident in 1985, The Minutemen suggest plumbless depths. Marrying the terseness of Wire to an adoration of classic rock produced musical haiku whose undulating bass riffs and shouted hooks ultimately owed nothing to no one. I can’t even say I’m a devotee; I’m still figuring out how to listen to them, and it’s a thrill. To realize slop and precision is some kind of feat, hence their CCR and Steely Dan covers (adducing the precision side) and “Bob Dylan Wrote Political Songs” (adducing their sloppy-visionary side)

The most amiable of double albums, Double Nickels on the Dime is also among the deepest. I’ve owned it for fifteen years yet I look at the track listing and couldn’t hum a bar of certain songs — and that’s fine. I look at the list below and have trouble recalling certain riffs too. Boon’s furtive tone is, of all people’s, like Dionne Warwick: he’s sharing a conversation which listeners may or may not be able to follow, babbling and crooning as required, wondering if you know the way to San Jose because he wrote the directions down on a scrap of cig pack paper he lost. George Hurley can be as spare as Robert Gotobed or insert a roll as unexpectedly as Keith Moon. Negotiating between Mike Watt’s stentorian bass runs and Boon’s chikka-chikka riffs defined the Minutemen’s tension — see “Mutiny in Jonestown.”

I titled this post after a lyric in “The Price of Paradise”; awed by CCR’s “Don’t Look Now,” they wrote their own distillation of what they’d learned about American life under a frightening president, in their case Ronald Reagan, i.e. life is cheap and, to quote the song, you die without dreams. Hi! It’s 2017. 3-Way Tie (For Last), its host album, has a tune called “The Red and the Black,” named after Stendhal’s classic novel about political intrigue in post-Napoleonic France. Imagine if Boon had lived long enough to read about Iran-Contra.

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