Hear me wax poetic (or pathetic) about music, etc.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Flux Capacitor, anyone?

Today I found myself voicing an odd desire: to NOT have heard the classic Minutemen album, Double Nickles on the Dime. For those of you who don't know who the Minutemen are, and I doubt many reading this blog fall into that category, I would refer you here. This concept still sounds strange, even to me, and I've had all day to think about what I meant.

My first introduction to the Minutemen came, unsurprisingly, from my older brother Zack, the origin of much of my musical taste. He has that most wonderful of gift giving qualities, i.e. the knowledge that the best gift you can give someone is often something you would like to receive, yourself. Well, aside from the Christmas he gave me GI Joe soap, keeping the Snake Eyes it came with for himself. But I digress. For my 18th birthday, way back in the year 2000 (won't it be great when we're all fully grown), he gifted me with the fairly decent K-Tel anthology, Gimme Indie Rock, Vol. 1. In addition to introducing me to the Feelies, one of my favorite bands, and one I feel receives shockingly littel credit or enthusiasm, it contained the track which introduced me to the Minutemen.

A Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing was everything I didn't know I wanted to listen to. It was loud, it was sloppy, it was socially conscious, it was self deprecating. Most of all, it fucking rocked. It was clear that these guys knew what they were doing. It was clear that they were trying to do something. It was clear, hell explicitly stated in the lyrics, that they knew they weren't cool. And yet they were so fucking cool. It was a sonic distillation of everything I enjoy about the world I personally inhabit, and the friends who inhabit it with me. It also contained (or tried to contain) Mike Watt, who should be an inspiration to everyone who ever wanted to play bass guitar. Apparently, Watt knew so little about bass when he and D. Boon began their journey, that he simply took two strings off a 6 string electric, and tuned all of the strings real loose. And that guy can play like you wouldn't believe.

This general time period, starting around the summer previous, was when I learned that music mattered. That it was a force deserving of more than casual interest. That I would be compelled to devote substantial amounts of time and money to musical adventure. Needless to say, I bought the record graced by Political Song soon after.

Double Nickles was an even further revelation. I loved, and still love, nearly everything about it. From the opening ignition and driving bass of D's Car Jam, through the Meat Puppets-esque Jackass opening Corona, there is not a wasted minute. At around 75 minutes and 43 tracks, it's a blink and you'll miss it mash up of styles. Punk, funk, polka, countryish thrash, CCR covers, free jazz freakouts. Everything but the kitchen sink. And it ALL WORKS! How do you do that? Create an extremely long album with extremely short songs, covering a staggering array of styles, and still have it all come out as a whole which, if this is possible, is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the kind of record where you could take any one song, create an entire album based around its musical theme, and have greatness. Imagine, then, the multiplicity of musical worlds held in potential energy limbo within the grooves of that piece of vinyl. I could create an entire physics/musical studies dissertation synergising that record with this theory.

So, now I will force myself to rejoin the original thread of this post.

I've heard it. I've discovered its greatness. I can never again experience that original rush of adventure, of enlightenment, of joy at hearing something I didn't know existed, hadn't conceived of as possible. At least I can no longer get that same feeling from the Minutemen. Thank God or the devil that there are still people out there trying to do something. I'm still blown away every time I listen to that record. Today, when I listened to it for the first time in months, I was in a bad mood. I had worked night shift the night before, my wife and I had had a completely banal argument, and I was about to go into work for yet another graveyard. Then I turned on Double Nickles. Apparently, I soon developed a shit eating grin, because my wife asked if music was all I needed to be in a good mood. A lot of the time, it is.

The best of these sonically altered moods occur when I'm listening to greatness for the FIRST time. Alas, for the Minutemen, this can never be again. Another problem presented by my love affair with DNOTD is the fact that it is not their first, and widely regarded as their greatest record. The way I see it, the fact that I heard their opus first renders me nearly incapable of truly appreciating any of their other material. I will always be comparing anything by the Minutemen to Double Nickels. Much like I don't really care for Television's second, Adventure, because there is no way it could compare to Marquee Moon. It's not fair to the Minutemen, and it's not fair to me.

I almost wish that I could go back in time and listen to their records in a different order. That way, I would be able to listen to and enjoy their material from a fresh perspective. I wouldn't have the monolithic greatness of Double Nickles overshadowing the early works of The Punch Line or What Makes a Man Start Fires. My excitement and wonder could build with each progressing listen. I could follow the threads of musical thought as D. Boon and Mike Watt find their voices and their sound(s). I could, breathlessly, open the shrinkwrapped jewellcase of Double Nickles, expecting greatness from what I 've grown to see as a great band, and be totally unprepared anyway. I would have the entire catalog of the Minutemen laid out before me, able to appreciate each track within its proper context. Their crowning achievement would be seen as just that, as the icing on the cake, instead of the platonic ideal against which all others fall flat. In other words, I would be able to truly love the Minutemen, instead of fanatically loving Double Nickles on the Dime.

Ahh, such sweet sorrow.

1 comment:

John Cramer said...

Hey, there's always Alzheimers to cleanse the palette. lovely blog by the way. Doug from the Nonalginment Pact wrote a review of "We Jam Econo" for the Space City Rock website. I think he links to it on one of his NAP blogs. Doug is groovy.