Mike Watt- Spiels of a Minuteman
Reviewed by Yalio on or about Feb 02, 2003
"Spiels of a Minuteman" is a compilation of Mike Watt lyrics and tour journal entries from the Minutemen's 1983 European tour with Black Flag, published by a couple of Quebecois fellows. I just about broke down into tears of joy when I got this book in the mail. How could I not? A gorgeous silkscreened cover (with built-in bookmarks), typewritten English on one side of the page, French on the other, with Raymond Pettibon drawings strewn throughout— it's easily the most aesthetically pleasing book I've ever owned. The introduction part written by Watt is probably the most engrossing portion of the book. He describes at some length the origins and philosophies of the Minutemen and their approach to playing music. I guess I've heard some of this before, but it's always pretty surprising, because it would be natural to assume, based on their recorded output, that they came from a jazz influence or background. But as Watt explains here, their musical views were shaped by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blue Oyster Cult. That and the fact that Watt and D. Boon were largely ignorant of the typical roles of guitar and bass in rock music accounts for a lot of why their approach is so unusual. Watt describes how they had no concept of tuning; they thought it was a matter of preference— whether you liked your strings loose or tight. Growing up in San Pedro when cover bands were as adventurous as it got, they had no concept of writing their own songs until they went to see the Germs and Wire and realized that anyone can do it, not just trained musicians. And although Watt and D. Boon identified strongly with the philosophy of punk rock, they really felt like outsiders in that scene also, and strived to push their art beyond the doctrinaire punk rock ideology of the day. Naturally, it took audiences a while to come around to appreciate the Minutemen's highly atypical style, as it also did for most of the SST roster of the day: Meat Puppets, Saccharine Trust, Sonic Youth... The lyrics section was kind of a bust. It is very intriguing to take such a glance into the complex and wondrous mind of Mike Watt, but I could just as easily read the lyric sheet on the records. The interesting part is reading Watt's explanation of his approach to lyric writing, i.e. jotting down passing thoughts on whatever happened to be handy. He purports to have been inspired by James Joyce and his friend Raymond Pettibon, both of which are apparent in the abstract and expressionist nature of some of the later songs. For instance, he claims to have written the line "Big fucking shit. Right now, man." (from "#1 Hit Song" off of Double Nickels) just to see what it would sound like to have D. Boon sing it. Watt's journals from the '83 tour were great reading, but far too brief. Anyone who's read his journals from more recent tours knows that Mike Watt is not a man of few words. But these '83 journals are the words of a young man in a weird faraway place where most everybody hates or doesn't care about his band. They were lucky to have an audience that didn't pelt them with loogies or beer mugs, and even luckier to secure a place to stay for the night. Also included is a little piece by writer and former SST part-owner Joe Carducci called "Arguing With the Fish" in which he describes what it was like to be on tour with the Minutemen. Purportedly, the arguments between Watt and D. Boon were legion and encompassed anything from the Civil War to literature and music. In fact, according to Henry Rollins (in "Get in the Van"), it became something of a time-passing diversion on tour to try to goad Boon and Watt into one of their epic political arguments. This book is a little short on content, but the quality and the pure beauty of the package make this essential reading for Mike Watt and anybody interested in punk rock historical perspective.