Friday, November 14, 2014

Model to Buy a Model to Try

For this month's band, we get one more dip into 80s punk. The Minutemen were different from the bands of the era I've been writing about, because I didn't really listen to them in the 80s. Part of the reasons for that is that D Boon died almost exactly at the point I started chasing down contemporary underground music. So while I discovered and followed the Replacements and Husker Du, and discovered the Surfers and Meat Puppets (through concerts as much as anything else), I didn't dig into the Minutemen. I did buy a couple fIREHOSE records - liked them, without quite being blown away by them. The Minutemen were one of the bands I didn't quite get, even if they were right up my alley. (Sonic Youth is in that category; you might say The Bad Seeds as well, though that was different - I'll get to that eventually; Sonic Youth and Nick Cave will surely get their month on this blog eventually. Like the Minutemen, they both became serious favorites later - maybe for different reasons, though.)

I got to the Minutemen in the late 90s. I stopped listening to rock for the first half of the 90s (becoming a jazz fanatic). I came back, through Pere Ubu and Richard Thompson, (and Sonny Shamrock and John McLaughlin)in the mid 90s. And somewhere in here, I decided that my lack Minutemen records was a hole that needed to be filled - I bought one, and realized what I had missed. I bought the rest. They were, for a while, close to my favorite band. They benefitted a lot from technology - they were an absolutely ideal CD band. I am not sure how they would have fared if I picked up on them in the 00s, after the iPod became the main way I listened to music. I'll come back to this, but the fact is that their style - the short, sharp songs - have a fantastic cumulative effect, that seems a bit less impressive split up into single tracks. Technology did a lot of shape what I listened to though the years - there were bands I picked up from the radio; bands I listen to on LPs, some I listened to on tapes. Concerts made a huge impact on me in the 80s; magazines and fanzines in the 80s, magazines and the internet in the 90s and beyond; and so on. Truth is, I'm not sure if they would have made the same impression in the 80s if I had heard them - I saw almost everyone I liked live - without seeing them play, would I have been as enthusiastic then> The questions we ask...

But I listened to them wen I was listening to CDs, all the way through - and they were perfect for that, and it was perfect for them. Listening to them at length, their strengths are accentuated. Their songs are almost fragments - and the accumulation of them builds a mosaic of music. Their records become long form pieces, made up of those carefully crafted fragments. They were such a great sounding band. The bass/guitar interplay, George Hurley's fast, wonderful drumming, their ability to write riffs, and Boon's solos - efficient, and increasingly proficient, packing an amazing amount into very tight structures, while maintaining a sense of expansiveness - he is one of my favorite guitar players, hands down... They were fantastic.

They shaped me a good deal, as well. They prepared me to rediscover (since these bands I had heard and liked in real time) bands like Gang of Four, PIL, Wire; they helped cement the idea that post-punk was, in fact, a better musical form than punk ever was. (Though that idea was inevitable given my Pere Ubu obsession, I suppose.) They were a great band, and if push comes to shove, I would have to say they probably were the best American punk band of the 80s. The Mats and Husker Du hit me hard when I heard them; but from a distance - the Minutemen were the most consistent of the bunch, the most revolutionary, the most interesting.

Though it is kind of hard to come up with a top ten songs. For the reasons just named - they are better in the aggregate. Albums are a different matter - double Nickels on the Dime and What Makes a Man Start Fires especially have to rank in the top - what? 5? - of the 80s... But choosing songs - the individual songs are all good - but there are so many of them, and they are so short, fragmentary - they are sometimes hard to distinguish. Their records circle through a host of ideas and images and lines, and the songs start to feel like pieces of one bigger song. Maybe. Still - there are riffs, lines, solos, that do a little more - things like those pauses at the beginning of Sell or Be Sold, or D's solo - that stuff, I can't get enough of. These days, anyway, when they come up on the iPod, I am inclined to listen to every song that comes up three times...

1. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs
2. Sell of Be Sold
3. Little Man with a Gun in his Hand
4. Glory of Man
5. The Anchor
6. Corona
7. Search
8. This Ain't No Picnic
9. Lost
10. Paranoid Chant

Video - here's King of the Hill: which might have been the first video I ever posted not his blog - was it? Yes - I think it was - the first one I embedded, at any rate. The version I posted, 8 1/2 years ago is gone, but I am pretty sure it was King of the Hill.

Here's another video - This Ain't No Picnic:

Glory of Man, plus an interview:

Three live songs, including Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda songs:

Sell or Be Sold:

And a full concert, 1985:

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