History Lesson, Pt. 2

Album: Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
  • Minutemen formed part of the influential California Punk movement that emerged in the late 1970s. This song is about that scene and the different subcultures within it, including the Hardcore scene, which compromised of bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies. Mike Watt of Minutemen told us that he wanted to pay tribute to the multifaceted Punk movement: "You've got to understand, Punk in the US in those days was this tiny scene. But we were so involved in it, it seemed important. So this was a history lesson. The meaning is like, I'm going to tell the story of this band and show you guys that we're not elitist over you, but I never really heard the meaning of the song described to me like I wrote it. It means something different to other people."

    Watt told us that he was specifically addressing the younger punks in this song: "Nowadays, when people talk about the old days, I don't say scene. I say movement. Because I really believed it was. I don't believe the Minutemen would have even existed without that movement. So, in 'History Lesson Pt. II' I was commenting on this thing where even though Minutemen was kind of from a different world from these young hardcore people, we weren't old men yet. So I was trying to say, the way I looked at the aesthetics of this punk scene, there's not a lot of difference between us, except some stylistic things, which is natural, because we've all got different kinds of expression. I was actually talking to those younger guys, the younger punk guys in a way, saying we don't look down on you."
  • In our interview with Mike Watt, he described this as a "true friendship song," inspired by his relationship with Minutemen guitarist and vocalist, D. Boon: "It did come out of my friendship with D. Boon. I was trying to use the example of how I got into music, which was to be with my friend. I wasn't even a musician. I just wanted to be with my friend. One way was by playing music. I had D. Boon sing the words, so he changed them around to 'Me and Mike Watt,' cause otherwise it would have sounded stupid." In 1985, Minutemen disbanded after Boon died in a car crash in the Arizona desert. He was 27 years old. Boon's death had a profound impact on Watt, who told us: "I couldn't even listen to Minutemen for a long time after that. I didn't listen to Minutemen until I was asked to help make that documentary, because it would make me sad whenever I'd hear it."
  • This song is a sequel to the track, "History Lesson," which features on Minutemen's 1981 debut studio album, Punch Line. Watt explained to us: "'History Lesson' is a nightmare song. It's about human slaughtering over power and money. I was thinking, well, maybe there's another kind of history, too, about this crazy scene."
  • Mike Watt routinely wrote songs on bass, but he wrote this song on guitar. He told us the instrumentation was influenced by The Velvet Underground: "We had just played in Europe with Black Flag for our first tour over there and we were listening to a lot of Velvet Underground. There was a song of theirs called 'Here She Comes Now' that influenced the music part."
  • The lyrics name check Bob Dylan, The Clash's Joe Strummer, Blue Öyster Cult's Eric Bloom, X's John Doe and punk innovator, Richard Hell.
  • The opening lyric, "Our band could be your life," later formed part of the title for Michael Azerrad's 2001 landmark book, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, which chronicles the careers of 13 influential punk bands who paved the way for the grunge movement of the 1990s. Watt told us: "I thought it was good that Michael was writing a book about that period. I mean, up to that time they went from Sex Pistols to Nirvana and they didn't talk about anything in between and here's Black Flag, who built that whole circuit we still tour on."
  • An acoustic performance of this song closes the 2005 documentary, We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, which Watt told us introduced the band to a whole new generation of music lovers: "The documentary, We Jam Econo, came out in 2005 and that revived a whole bunch of interest in us. The guys who made it were too young to even see us. So this documentary's kind of the story of them finding out about us by talking to people who were there."
  • Brooklyn indie band, The Hold Steady, covered this song live, though front man, Craig Finn, changed the lyrics from "Me and Mike Watt" to "Me and Tad Kubler" - Kubler being The Hold Steady's lead guitarist.
  • Double Nickels on the Dime is a double album, spanning 45 songs, which blend a myriad of genres and tackle a variety of themes, including the Vientam War and racism. Watt told us that Hüsker Dü's double album, Zen Arcade, inspired Minutemen to write a similarly long LP: "We had an album done and ready to go. They didn't have a title for it yet, but the Hüskers came to town and recorded Zen Arcade. And we go, 'Wow, they made a double album, we should do that, too.'" Watt said that he considers Double Nickels on the Dime to be "the best album" that he has ever played on. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at #411 on their "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list.

    The album title was a response to the Sammy Hagar song, "I Can't Drive 55," which protested against the federally imposed speed limit of 55 miles per hour on all US highways. Watt said Minutemen thought Hagar's complaints were absurd: "We couldn't really have a concept as much, except this idea that Sammy Hagar couldn't drive 55 miles an hour. You know, that stupid thing. 'We'll drive the speed limit and we'll try to play crazy music.'" "Double nickels" means 55 miles per hour in trucker lingo, while "the Dime" refers to Interstate 10 - the highway on which Boon later died.


Be the first to comment...

Little RichardFact or Fiction

Was Long Tall Sally a transvestite? Did he really set his piano on fire? See if you know the real stories about one of Rock's greatest innovators.

Wedding Bell BluesSong Writing

When a song describes a wedding, it's rarely something to celebrate - with one big exception.

Fire On The StageSong Writing

When you have a song called "Fire," it's tempting to set one - these guys did.

Michael W. SmithSongwriter Interviews

Smith breaks down some of his worship tracks as well as his mainstream hits, including "I Will Be Here For You" and "A Place In This World."

Tommy JamesSongwriter Interviews

"Mony Mony." "Crimson and Clover." "Draggin' The Line." The hits kept coming for Tommy James, and in a plot line fit for a movie, his record company was controlled by the mafia.

John WaiteSongwriter Interviews

"Missing You" was a spontaneous outpouring of emotion triggered by a phone call. John tells that story and explains what MTV meant to his career.