For nearly two decades, Minutemen were one of music’s best-kept secrets. A punk band who did everything except play straight-forward punk, the San Pedro power trio made up of guitarist-singer D. Boon, bassist Mike Watt, and drummer George Hurley almost single-handedly broadened the scope of what could be considered “punk”. That included playing jazz, soft rock, funk, bossa nova, R&B, blues, and especially bare-bones experimental music that couldn’t fit into any specific genre tag.
The Minutemen were beloved by critics and amassed a small but devoted fanbase who recognised their drive to allow anything and everything into the world of punk. Finding a home on the legendary independent label SST, Minutemen formed a strong bond – and occasional rivalry – with the likes of Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur, Jr. While those bands were finding their muse through noise and speed, Minutemen were swing dancing and building up their own mythos through self-referential songs and a prodigious output of material.
The crowning jewel in their discography remains 1984’s Double Nickels on the Dime. An expressed kickback at the rebellious nature of traditional punk, Minutemen decided to go against everything that the genre held dear. A sprawling double album that brought Van Halen and Steely Dan covers to the table, Double Nickels on the Dime also showed Minutemen at their most playful and exploratory. Tracks like ‘World History – Part II’ and ‘Nature Without Man’ couldn’t have been further from the kind of sounds that their peers were making, and yet the Minutemen brought the same ferocious energy and DIY Econo jamming that remained essential for them to keep their credibility in the punk world.
Included on the second vinyl side of the album was a song called ‘Corona’. Inspired by a Fourth of July trip the members took across the Mexican border (the same trip that earlier caused Watt to write ‘I Felt Like a Gringo’), Boon saw the desperation of poor citizens who were collecting the band’s empty beer bottles and cashing them in at recycling plants for any cents they could scrounge together. Disgusted by his own relative security, Boon wrote a song not only inspired by the locals he encountered but also by the native sounds of Mexican music, which Boon then turned into a kind of punk rock polka.
Starting off with an instantly recognisable guitar riff, ‘Corona’ is two minutes and 30 seconds of kickback against the destructive nature of the United States and its people. Holding up Mexican citizens as resilient and proud, especially when compared to the injustice and greed of their northern neighbours, Boon distils all the complexities of cross-country relations into a ferocious country-tinged hoedown.
‘Corona’ is meant to hold the idiocy and ignorance of America up to a more critical lens. In that way, it’s appropriate that ‘Corona’ is easily Minutemen’s most popular track, thanks to its prominent cultural place as the theme song to the Jackass series. However, the song is stripped of all its lyrics when it kicks off the episodes or films in the Jackass series, meaning Boon’s categorical analysis of the stupidity of America is lost. Thankfully, a bunch of guys getting hit in the balls seems to get the message across just fine.
For the legions of faithful who continue to gawk and gasp at the endless antics of the Jackass series, comparatively few have followed the trail of that catchy polka theme song back to the expansive world of the Minutemen. But thanks to its prominent placement in the series, there have almost certainly been at least a few fans who have been exposed to one of punk’s most forward-thinking bands through Jackass.
Sadly, Boon wouldn’t live to see his legacy in pop culture secured: a little over a year after the release of Double Nickels on the Dime, Boon died in a van accident at the age of 27. Even if most viewers wouldn’t know the name “Minutemen”, they know the wild guitar work of D. Boon as he became permanently tied to America’s foremost fiends of dangerous stunts and gross-out humour, both appropriately and all-too ironically.