It’s June 16th, known to some as Bloomsday, the day in which James Joyce’s epic Ulysses takes place. Because the Minutemen used that date to name an instrumental track on their masterpiece double-album Double Nickels on the Dime in 1984 (listen to the whole thing here), the date has earned an additional meaning to many of their fans, including yours truly.
If I could write a book about why the Minutemen encapsulated everything that was essential about punk rock and great and rock n’ roll, I would. Maybe I still will some day. A spate of literature does exist about the band, including a 33 1/3 Book about Double Nickels by my friend Mike Fournier as well as a particularly landmark section of Michael Azerrad’s volume Our Band Could Be Your Life (aptly enough, named after a line in the Minutemen song “History Lesson (Part II)”).
The trio were at once irreverent and smarter than any of their contemporaries, at once shambolic musicians yet still a tighter unit than any of their counterparts that played by the rules. The Minutemen made it very clear that no song, no story, no band could be as important as the one that you create, and while D. Boon died almost three decades ago, Mike Watt still tours relentlessly and lives his message every day. Their politics were no joke and neither were their working-class backgrounds (the term “double-nickels on the dime” came from trucker lingo).
The trio’s working-class legend are what brings me to their sonic geography. There are few places on Earth, if any, where the Minutemen could have come from other than San Pedro, CA. For anyone who hasn’t been there, it is a beautiful slice of land suspended over the Pacific Ocean, a hinterland of Los Angeles without feeling at all like the city proper. Like the city to it’s north, it elicits passionate reactions one way or the other: a heavenly village draped over a hill, or a boring burnt-out former-Navy town. My perspective on Pedro (pronounced Pee-Droh) is overwhelmingly the latter. When I lived in Long Beach, I would regularly escape across the Bay to relax and do some writing, and I told anyone visiting the West Coast that it was my favorite place in California and impressed upon them how important it was to visit at some point. The Korean Friendship Bell, the Sunken City, William’s Book Store (R.I.P.), and so many more wonderful landmarks tie the beautiful town together. That the greatest band to ever record and tour came from Pedro is not a big surprise, considering how unique and staunchly working-class the city was, and in many ways, remains.
Here’s to the three corndogs who blazed a trail out of Pedro and spread the good word of jamming econo.
“There should be a rock band on every block, because it can happen.”