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Dead Man's Party

Minutemen documentary celebrates the life of fallen punk icon


Keith Schieron's obsession with the Minutemen stems from his high school days in San Jose, Calif., in the late '80s. After finding an article about the group in his older brother's stack of fanzines, he rushed out and bought the 1981 album, The Punch Line. Racing to tell his friend, Tim Wilson, about his new favorite band, he found his buddy in the midst of watching a skateboard video that was blasting the Minutemen's tune "I Felt Like a Gringo." The stars were aligned.

"In high school, I could go to my local video store and rent a Dead Kennedy's video and a Black Flag video but nothing on the Minutemen," Schieron remembers. "This was clearly the greatest band ever, so why wasn't there anything made on them?"

Jokingly, Schieron and Wilson talked about making their own Minutemen film, but nothing materialized. "All we had were pictures of the group and wondered, 'What was this group like live? What did this big fat guy look like when he bounced around on stage?'" Schieron says. "We wanted to make the film mostly so we could see it."

Formed in California circa 1981, the Minutemen's angular anthems transcended the iconoclastic dirge of punk and hardcore contemporaries Black Flag, the Descendents and Hüsker Dü. Blending punk, funk, folk and free jazz, the group wielded staccato bass and drum rhythms, searing guitar chatter and cryptic political rambling via songs that rarely last longer than two minutes. Guitarist/vocalist D. Boon's plump stature, drummer George Hurley's skater bangs, and bassist Mike Watt's farm-boy sensibilities were the antithesis of fashion. Despite outward appearances, the group was poised for success, but Boon died in a car accident in 1985. The Minutemen's legacy was sealed in just five albums and a smattering of EPs.

Fast forward 10 years. Schieron and Wilson had grown apart, but a chance reunion revealed that Schieron still felt as passionately about the Minutemen's music as he did in high school. More importantly, Wilson had become a filmmaker whose resume encompassed skateboarding, BMX and surf filming, and editing on projects for ESPN, NBC and a few feature films.

Schieron wrote him a note that said, "The Story of the Minutemen, directed by Tim Wilson, you should do this!" Wilson replied, "Yes, we should do this."

"I said 'What do you mean we? You're the filmmaker!'" Schieron explains. "Tim was a filmmaker who liked the Minutemen, but I was obsessed with them. All of his work had been centered on the creative process and he needed someone to handle the business end."

Schieron became the title producer, Wilson became the director, and after getting Watt's blessings, they began filming in January 2003.

Their efforts resulted in We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, a 90-minute documentary that chronicles the group's history from beginning to end. The story is told through a stream of live footage and interviews, both recent and culled from archival rolls. The list of interviewees reads like a '80s punk A-list, including Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Greg Ginn and Henry Rollins of Black Flag, and several others.

The film is making its way across the country with screenings in venues like the Earl in Atlanta and the 40 Watt Club in Athens. Schieron and Wilson haven't acquired distribution as of yet, but a possible deal is in the works to release a double DVD version this fall.

"In many ways we've become the caretakers of the Minutemen's legacy," says Schieron. "That really is frightening to me because I love them so much and I don't want to mess it up. I take it very seriously and I don't want to press 2,000 copies and have them sitting around my apartment as I slowly send them out through mail order. When it comes to distro, we need to get the film to the audiences it deserves."


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