Double Nickels on the Dime




Upon first listen, Double Nickels on the Dime might not strike you as anything particularly special.  There are a whopping 43 tunes on this double-album, but most of them clock in under the 2 minute mark and don't really sound like fully realized songs, but rather just an extensive collection of seemingly incohesive, tossed-off jazz-punk jams.  It sounds like 3 guys who got together in their garage and just spontaneously jammed out whatever came to mind, and essentially, that's what Double Nickels on the Dime is.  But after repeated listens, you start to realize that is actually the inherit beauty of this album, the fact that while most of these jams sound so deceptively basic and tossed-off, in actuality they are quite brilliant when fully absorbed as a whole.

The band's motto back in the day was "We Jam Econo", which was a testament to their every-man punk-rock attitude.  The pure unpretentiousness of this album is only one of the many impressive qualities found here.  While most other bands of the era worked painstakingly to produce something incredibly polished/sterile (like the radio-friendly "rock" of the day) or super epic/technical (looking at you Metallica...I love you, but, looking at you) the Minutemen took an entirely different approach to their music. Economical, experimental, loose, and legitimately unrefined, The Minutemen cooked up something truly original on Double Nickels on the Dime, something so purely unique that it stands to this day as a landmark and a bit of an abnormality in the history of punk-rock.  Mike Watt's bass playing on this album is legendary, not because of how fast or ruthless it was, but on the contrary, how funky and creative it was.  His bass is absolutely popping on most of these tunes, displaying some serious jazz-influenced chops that give these jams an extra snap-crackle-and-pop energy to them.  Simply one of the most impressive bass guitar performances on an album I have ever heard.  Complimenting Watt's stellar bass playing was the incredibly tight and punchy drumming of George Hurley.  Listening to the chemistry between these guys is really a joy on this album, and again, their creativity and interplay is really impressive.

But the star of the show here is without a doubt the late great D. Boon on vocals/guitar.  Simply put, this dude was a fucking badass guitar player and borderline lyrical genius.  His guitar playing was certainly not flashy, but man did he play with a whole lot of unpretentious heart and soul.  It's subtle and raw, but his style is deceptively complex on this album, as he channels some experimental jazz influences into this delivery here.  The band's generally sun-baked, laid-back style is such a drastic break from the hardcore punk-rock mold that they originated from, which was certainly an admirable and ballsy move on their part.  Although the jazzy rhythms/jams are most notable, there are many other different styles at play here, like everything from spoken-word, to acoustic, the blues, polka, and as mentioned prior: the funk.  

But what's perhaps most impressive are Boon's thoughtful lyrics that took a hard and intelligent look at American society under the Reagan administration.  Whether it's his musings on Vietman, social inequality, the manipulative nature of capitalism, etc, Boon's lyrics are deceptively insightful, given they are delivered in his patented tossed-off, casual, and generally free-form manner.  These musings are filtered through an existentialist lens, which makes them all the more profound from my prospective.  A few choice cuts:

"Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?" - "Should a word have two meanings? What the fuck for? Should words speak the truth? I stand for language. I speak the truth. I shout for history. I am the cesspool. For all the shit. To run down in" 

"Shit From An Old Notebook" - "Let the products sell themselves! Fuck advertising, commercial psychology! Psychological methods to sell should be destroyed!"

"Maybe Partying Will Help" - "As I look over this beautiful land, I can't help but realize that I am alone. Why am I able to waste my energy? To notice life being so beautiful? What of the people who don't have what I ain't got? Are they victims of my leisure? To fail is to be a victim, To be a victim of my choice. Maybe partying will help."

And with other song titles like "Nature Without Man", "God Bows to Math", "My Heart and the Real World", etc, you can tell that D. Boon was contemplating on some pretty profound shit when recording this album.  His intelligence is more than evident throughout this album, and although there are a few half-baked and self-depreciating moments to be found here as well, that only serves to compliment the prevailing down-to-earth vibe that characterizes his delivery. His style is so unpretentious and deceptively tossed-off, that it's initially easy to overlook the depth of the lyrics he puts forth here.

But again, that completely pure, laid-back, free-form vibe is what makes Double Nickels on the Dime such a special album.  These guys were pure artists evolving music here, but it seems like they had zero ambitions to do anything special.  And that's what makes the album so special: the fact they could make something so brilliant sound so natural, loose, and real.

D. Boon would unfortunately die in a tragic car accident a year after releasing this ridiculously unique album, leaving Mike Watt and George Hurley to pick of the pieces.  They would go onto form fIREHOSE, a band that certainly had it's moments, but never came close to producing anything as compelling as Double Nickels on the Dime.  The loss of D. Boon seems like a footnote in rock history, likely because the Minutemen were a purely underground band, but a closer examination of his guitar playing and lyrics shows this loss to be a deeply profound one to the music world.  Who knows what this band would have gone on to create?  They certainly influenced a whole host of experimental alternative and punk-rock bands that came after them (Sublime certainly comes to mind), so the impression they left on music has been more than cemented.  It look a while, but most critics now look at this album as a classic.  For me, it's probably my favorite "punk-rock" album of all-time, although merely calling this record "punk-rock" simply doesn't do it justice.  It's actually kind of an anti-punk-rock record, considering the experimental and varied nature of the music.  Which, come to think of it, is the very essence of punk-rock: breaking the mold and doing something raw and pure.  Given that, it's no wonder why it's my personal favorite album from that genre, and a bonafied classic not just in punk-rock, but in all of rock history period.

"History Lesson Part 2" - "Our band could be your life. Real names'd be proof. Me and Mike Watt played for years. Punk rock changed our lives. 
We learned punk rock in Hollywood. Drove up from Pedro. We were fucking corndogs. We'd go drink and pogo.
Mr. narrator, this is Bob Dylan to me. My story could be his songs. I'm his soldier child.
Our band is scientist rock. But I was E. Bloom and Richard Hell,  Joe Strummer, and John Doe.
Me and Mike Watt, playing guitar"

R.I.P. D. Boon


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