For the week of 12/10/2012…

“In My Mind” by Firehose

To follow up on Chris’s excellent introduction to the Minutemen earlier this week, I thought I’d post a little bit about their successor band, Firehose, with whom I am much more familiar.  The Minutemen were an important band in 1980s punk rock because, like several of the bands on the Black Flag-owned SST record label, they were pushing the boundaries of what it meant to play punk.  The Minutemen, Husker Du, and the Meat Puppets were all SST bands who decided that they didn’t want to be confined by the straitjacket standards of the hardcore punk scene, and in the mid-’80s began experimenting more with their music and going for something more melodic.  The death of lead singer and guitarist D. Boon in a 1985 car accident brought an end to the Minutemen, sadly, but opened the door for a new band called Firehose.

Ed Hawkins was an Ohio State student and big Minutemen fan who boldly traveled to California after Boon’s death to convince bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley to keep making music.  Thus was born a new trio based on the Watt-Hurley rhythm section tandem and fronted by Hawkins himself; this band was christened “Firehose” in reference to the line in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” which counsels avoidance of the riot police — “those who carry around a firehose.”  They too were signed to SST Records, which at this point was releasing music by bands that weren’t conforming to any punk template at all (notably Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden, the Screaming Trees, and Sonic Youth).  Firehose, these labelmates, and other bands like Jane’s Addiction and the Replacements were all, in the late ’80s underground, shaping what ’90s alternative rock would sound like as a genre with mainstream popularity.

Firehose’s music is related to punk, but it’s mostly a lot freer and jazzier than that.  “In My Mind,” a track from their 1989 third album Fromohio, is one of their most upbeat, poppy, pleasant-sounding tunes, which is why I thought it would be a good starting point.  It starts out with a classic Mike Watt bassline, and then Hawkins comes in with a kind of spicy guitar part that resembles calypso music.  George Hurley’s drumming is very jazzy and complex throughout, making good use of his cymbals.  All things considered, this might be the best song on the album.  Elsewhere on the Fromohio track-list, you can hear some seriously cool basslines and time signature switches if you check out “Whisperin’ When Hollerin’” and “What Gets Heard.”  While their fourth LP, Flyin’ the Flannel, is probably a better record overall, either one is adequate for getting a sense of what makes Firehose such a good band.  These guys never really try to hit you with a wall of sound, and consequently, you’re able to appreciate the interplay between the instruments and the chemistry of the players that much more.

Now that I’ve said my piece, it’s finally time for me to delve deeper into the Minutemen.  Enjoy the music…