Artsy fartsy punks

As for who's responsible for capping the punk movement, Watt isn't afraid to start pointing fingers. "Why do people let Spin magazine run our scene? Bob Guccione, Jr.? I never saw that guy in the pit! Rolling Stone used to hate us -- not anymore. If you read their pages now, they invented punk. That culture is what Contemplating the Engine Room came out of," he concludes excitedly, referring to his most recent album, released last year.

For Contemplating Watt dispensed with the guest stars of ball-hog and returned to a tight trio with experimental jazz guitarist Nels Cline and Tom Waits's drummer Steve Hodges. The sound is anything but sparse, however, moving from Spanish flamenco to the kind of twists and turns not seen since Frank Zappa's sprawling ensembles. The subject matter is equally large, being nothing less than Watt's own autobiography told in the form of a rock opera à la Quadrophenia. Although Watt jokingly begs for it not to be labeled a concept record -- "it sounds too '70s, like Dark Side of the Moon" -- he sets up a day in the life of three sailors in the engine room of a boat as a metaphor for his own travels with the Minutemen, driving cross-country in a van to new ports of call. The songs are heavy with symbolism, taking in everything from his old days within the punk milieu to his childhood years.

The inspiration for Watt to bare himself came after spending the better part of 1997 touring major venues as the bassist for Perry Farrell's post-Jane's Addiction project, Porno for Pyros. "When I was onstage some nights with Perry, I would look around and just try to figure out how I got here," he says. "What happened to me, my whole life?" At tour's end he returned to San Pedro and began musing. "I wrote the whole record while riding a bicycle and playing the bass in my mind. This guy was moving last year and he sold me a ten-speed for five bucks. I live in the harbor by the cliffs and docks, so it was perfect for just riding around. In fact on the song 'Pedro Bound,' if you follow the lyrics, that's my daily route: turn left here, now turn right."

Perhaps most movingly, this song cycle lets Watt finally say goodbye to both d. boon and his own father, who passed away from cancer in 1992 after spending two decades working in the engine room of a nuclear submarine. "My father never really understood my music," explains Watt. "I think he finally figured out I was a sailor too, traveling around. When he ran from his farm town to join the navy, that was the Minutemen saying 'fuck you' to arena-rock. I just saw so many parallels I could make a little world out of."

As Contemplating closes to the sound of waves lapping and seagulls cawing, Watt quietly sings to the "man overboard": "The unforgiving sea tore you from me ... /All alone and pulling shore duty/Seems there's always more duty/Maybe that's the beauty. So is this "duty," the endless touring (for his current road trip, 52 small club dates in 55 van-driven days), a way for Watt to stay sane?

He answers carefully. "This is what I've learned about the world: You're gonna lose people. People are going to die. Your pop. Your guy. If you've got work, well, the sun's going to come up and you've got something to do. Something to say. Something to prove. Something to put your whole shoulder into. For all the sadness, I'm very lucky.... I can never be the Minutemen, but I'll always be a Minuteman."

Mike Watt's new trio (featuring drummer Vince Meghrouni and ex-Slovenly guitarist Tom Watson) performs at 9:00 p.m Wednesday, November 3, at Fort Lauderdale's FuBar. Tickets cost nine dollars. For more information call 954-776-0660.

Halloween at the Beach's Alliance Cinema: Friday, October 29, the theater hosts two free screenings of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho (featuring a killer Bernard Herrmann soundtrack) at 8:00 p.m. and midnight. Seating is limited: Free tickets can be obtained at the Alliance's Lincoln Road box office now. On Sunday, October 31, at 1:00 p.m. and midnight, the Alliance's Cinema Vortex repertory series goes old school -- really old school, as in 1919, for that year's pioneering silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The special attraction is a live experimental electronic score performed by Needle (a.k.a. Ed Bobb -- does this guy ever sleep?) and Io (a.k.a. David Font, see "Music"). Tickets cost six dollars.

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett_sokol@miaminewtimes.com

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