By Craig Phillips
"There should be a band on every block, 'cuz it can happen." - D. Boon
A new film by Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron seeks to school the world about the power of the seminal punk band The Minutemen, whose creative force was at its very peak when brought to a tragic halt. Lead singer/guitarist D. Boon was killed in a van accident just three days before Christmas 1985 as the band was touring with REM. Consider We Jam Econo [web site] a sorely overdue eulogy of sorts, with an excess of musicians, artists and cultural trackers testifying to The Minutemen's legacy. And front and center of course are D. Boon's former bandmates, drummer George Hurley and, most prominently, bassist Mike Watt, seen revisiting many of their old haunts, obviously still grieving over the loss of Boon and still touched by having known him.
But what makes the film, which itself jams econo but gets the job done, a must for punk rock archivists and music fans everywhere is an abundance of footage of The Minutemen in action. Songs are captured in their entirety - not a surprise, given their proclivity for one-to-three minute songs - and the medley of performances is a treat for those many of us who unlucky enough to have missed them live.
I spoke with Tim Irwin by phone; Irwin's based out of Salt Lake City, while his friend and filmmaking partner Keith is in Seattle. But their hearts, it would seem, lie somewhere near San Pedro, California, circa 1983.
Craig Phillips: What's the origin of the film's title?
Tim Irwin: Mike Watt actually suggested it. We were struggling with a few different ideas for titles and ran them by Watt, and he said, well why not "We Jam Econo." And of course that made so much sense, as the term itself was almost a code of ethics that The Minutemen lived by. They ran a tight ship, because if they didn't, if things got too sloppy, they wouldn't have been able to do what they did. They kept things cheap so they could survive and do what they loved. And that was an approach we took with the film, too.
CP: It's sort of like an early "DIY" type phrase...
TI: Very much so, before that term was in vogue.
CP: Were you and Keith fans of The Minutemen originally or did you run across them later?
TI: No, we were too young - in '85 I was about 12 years old, and didn't discover them until about 1988. In fact, we both discovered them the same week but in different ways. I was a skateboarder and had bought this video called "Streets on Fire," a Santa Cruz video, and the very first song on it was [The Minutemen's] "Paranoid Chant." And there were a handful of other Minutemen songs on there, plus some firehose [Watt's other band] tunes. I got all excited and looked at the credits to find out who it was. I went out and bought "Post-Mersh volume 3." The same week, Keith, my partner, was digging through his brother's old Spin magazines, and found some article describing them as (I'm paraphrasing), "If the standard three minute pop song is a sentence, then The Minutemen's songs are an exclamation point." That really intrigued him, so he went out and bought some of their records, too. We both had video production class together in high school and came to class one day, with me saying "I saw this skate video with this awesome music" and he was like, "I just went out and bought those records!"
So that's how we discovered them and were of course really bummed to find out they weren't around any more. We started going to firehose shows - at least they were still around.
CP:What made you compelled to actually put together a film about them?
TI: It started back in high school, too, with those video production and radio production classes. We always talked about how nobody had done a documentary about The Minutemen. Then we lost contact for ten years or so after high school. When we did meet up again, Keith was real surprised to find out that I'd been doing documentaries and sports films (BMX and skateboarding). And he'd been doing a lot of college radio and other music related stuff. The company I'd been working for was just about to go under, so it seemed like a good time to do a film.
CP: Was this the first time you'd actually directed a feature film?
TI: I'd co-directed a film before. And this was really both Keith and I directing and producing together, so it was a similar role feel to other films I'd done in the past.
CP: How did you go about getting concert footage for the film? I imagined it being hard to come by good Minutemen footage.
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