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The inspiration and heartbreak of the Minutemen story comes through in We Jam Econo

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey has us thinking about other “inside the band” documentaries.

We Jam Econo: The Story Of The Minutemen
The dominant image in Tim Irwin’s documentary We Jam Econo: The Story Of The Minutemen is of the legendary punk trio onstage in the early ’80s, before lead guitarist/singer D. Boon died in a van crash. The Minutemen were one of the most exciting live acts of their era, with a memorable three-pronged attack: Boon strangling his guitar and bellowing, Mike Watt popping his bass and puffing, and hunky Sean Penn look-alike George Hurley tapping away at his drum kit like it was a typewriter. We Jam Econo also leans heavily on the iconic image of Watt behind the wheel of a van—just as he is on the cover of the band’s classic 1984 album Double Nickels On The Dime—as the bassist spiels about how the Minutemen were born outside the proper Los Angeles punk scene, and developed an ethos based on openheartedness, working-class politics, and artistic adventure, rather than any codified notion of cool. Boon, Watt, and Hurley were self-taught, and gravitated to punk because it let ordinary people like them take the stage, even if they were more into jazz, funk, and Credence Clearwater Revival than thrash.

We Jam Econo catches a lot of what made the Minutemen great, from Boon’s jagged riffs to Watt’s laser-focused aesthetic vision. But unlike so many other behind-the-scenes rock-docs, it’s haunted not by band conflict, but by the massive loss to music and the culture at large when Boon was killed. Not five minutes into We Jam Econo, the heart-on-his-sleeve Watt is already choking up, as he shows Irwin around the San Pedro, California park where he met his best friend and musical partner. As Watt describes how the two 13-year-olds bonded over George Carlin and history textbooks, he looks visibly distraught. Nearly 20 years after Boon died in a highway wreck, Watt still feels the loss. The cold comfort that We Jam Econo offers is the notion that genius is fleeting, and the best anyone can hope for is that someone will record it before it fades. 

Availability: We Jam Econo is available on Netflix Watch Instantly; the Plexifilm DVD is out-of-print, but can be found at various online retailers.