Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Music Library: Mike Watt

If you read this blog, you surely know that Watt was so key to the whole DIY post-punk movement that words like "seminal" and "essential" fail to capture how important his music is.  One of the guiding figures behind The Minutemen and fIREHOSE, Watt is practically a secular saint. I may be guilty of engaging in hyperbole sometimes, but this is on the level: the guy makes amazing music, made a lot of amazing music possible, and still is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth dudes you could meet. There's not a lot of people you can say have given to the world far more than they will ever receive back, but Mike Watt is one of them, a guy whose whole life is a labor of love.

Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and BH or TB Outtakes (both 1995). Watt's first solo album is a who's-who of indie rock from the late 70s to the mid 90s.  His collaborators include members of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, that dog, Beastie Boys, plus Nels Cline, Spot, Evan Dando, Frank Black, Hank Rollins, Epic Soundtracks, Flea, Dave Pirner, Bernie Worrell, and Kathleen Hanna, who delivers a scathing and hilarious monologue via answering machine about why she won't be appearing on the album, which is even funnier because a) it is on the album and b) it winds up with an insistence that Watt return her Annie soundtrack.  It's an ass-whoopin' great album.  The outtakes include a cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Dominance and Submission."

Contemplating The Engine Room and Contemplating Live Bootleg (both 1997).  Watt's next trick was to record an intensely personal and touching rock opera with only two collaborators, Nels Cline and Stephen Hodges.  The narrative is autobiographical, comparing the life of Watt's father, a sailor, with the journeys Watt made as part of the Minutemen using a nautical theme.  The latter half of the album explicitly deals with Watt's grief over losing his dad and his best friend, Minutemen guitarist D. Boon.  This is a sublime album, as much a statement of purpose and philosophy as an expression of joy and sorrow. The trio mixes new melodies and riffage with elements of Minutemen songs and Cline's unique guitar freakouts, and the overall effect is, well, astounding.  The bootleg is marred only by bad sound.

The Secondman's Middle Stand (2004).  Watt nearly died in 2000 from an infected perineum.  His third solo album is a song cycle that compares his illness and recovery to Dante's Divine Comedy with an organist replacing the traditional guitar spot.  It's powerful material, but also the first Watt album that I rarely revisit, mainly because it's a little too alien to my ears and a little too intense for listening pleasure.  That said, when I do hear it, I never regret it.

Random songs: "Pushcart," "The First Cuss," "Walking The Cow," "Stomp," "Bass Bit For Bryce," "For E's Cousin's Baby's Baptism," "Like A Ghost On Fire," and "Little Blue Gene."  A handful of loose tracks here, including a Daniel Johnston cover and a Beefheart cover.  There's a new Watt solo album due to drop next month, and I almost held this post until I could hear it, but I've been dragging my feet too long.  I'm sure Watt himself wouldn't want me to hold my oh-so-important thoughts on Miles Davis back on his account.


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