I have only two framed photographs hanging on my office wall. One is an anonymous conductor waving his baton with his back to the camera (it came with the room when I moved in). The other is an 8x10 glossy of Mike Watt from his 1997 tour. I look at it every day I work. He's bespectacled, smiling, and wearing one of his favorite frayed flannel work shirts.
Whenever I get in a rut or slightly off track, catching a glimpse of Watt's mug on the wall usually fires the inspiration. "What would Watt do at this moment?" I ask myself. The answer is he'd get on with it. He'd buckle down and make some cool, creative shit happen, one way or the other.
I've been a dedicated fan of Watt's music, attitude, and work ethic since one of my first experiences with the California-based art-punk trio Minutemen. I first heard them in 1985. They were featured on a three-minute profile on the old IRS Records' Cutting Edge (one of the "alternative" shows of MTV's early years). Watt was on bass alongside singer/guitarist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley. They showed snippets from a live show and let the band speak for a bit.
"When punk rock started, it was all weird, free things — and we wanted to be our own weird thing," Watt said during the segment. "And we never wrote our own songs until punk rock. When we heard these other lame dudes writing songs, it was like, 'Aw, man, we can do this.'"
A month after catching the Cutting Edge, I saw the Minutemen open for R.E.M. at the Township Auditorium in Columbia. Watt and the guys were stellar, blazing through a quick opening set with hardly any pauses between songs. I never knew when some tunes started and others began. They were incredibly tight. They loaded their own gear off the stage right after the final tune.
While I was more excited to catch R.E.M. in concert for the first time, I returned home from the show more psyched about the Minutemen.
The band's sense of independence, self-motivation, and diligence resonated as loudly and effectively as their oddball rock songs. They were genuinely disciplined, expressive, and self-supportive. They jammed econo (as they put it, in conversation and in song lyrics). They had a revolutionary approach to rock, stripping the sound down to the barest arrangements and playing with precision and raw energy. I dug it.
Watt's work with the Minutemen came to a sudden stop shortly after a tragic van accident took Boon's life a few weeks after that Columbia show. Watt stepped away from music for a while to grieve, but he got on with his career with fIREHOSE and solo projects in the mid '90s. The wild ideas never ran dry. He persevered.
In recent years, Watt collaborated with various punk and indie players and jammed on tour with the Stooges. Watt and his new combo the Missingmen return this week for a gig at the Pour House in support of his third "punk rock opera," Hyphenated-Man. The lineup features one of Watt's longtime collaborators, guitarist Tom Watson (ex-Slovenly, Toxic Shock), and Paul Morales on drums.
To me, it's all part of the nonstop, non-pretendo, totally inspiring Watt continuum. It'll be a blast and an honor to share the bill with them when my band the Fairy God Muthas opens that night. Maybe I'll bring that 8x10 for an autograph.