The Secondman's Middle Stand
By: Eric Greenwood
Whether you agree with his outspoken politics or not, it's hard to begrudge much about anyone as affable as Mike Watt. As the bassist of one of America's most revered punk bands from the early '80s, The Minutemen, Watt will carry the weight of being a legend to his grave. That grave almost came way too early when an abscess in his perineum burst in 2000, causing him such debilitating sickness that he did little but vomit and teeter on the brink of death for months.
After clawing his way back to health, Watt decided to put his hellish journey to music. The result is a self-proclaimed punk rock opera called The Second Man's Middle Stand. The album loosely follows Dante's The Divine Comedy with three distinct sections: sickness (Inferno), treatment (Purgatory), and the return to health (Paradise). It's slightly pretentious and a bit of a stretch, but Watt's always been as much an idealist as he is a romantic. And his optimistic, unsophisticated originality sways even in the face of better taste.
Musically, The Second Man's Middle Stand is thunderous and rollicking and even a little hokey with prog-tinged diversions led by an overbearing Hammond organ. It's punk only in the sense that Mike Watt says it is because there sure aren't any guitars to be found. The music ebbs and flows like carnival sounds as Watt exorcises his demons with a weary and weathered yowl. Watt's sincerity is so genuine; it's hard to dismiss some of his open-faced honesty as anything other than true grit.
Lyrically, Watt never minces words and he sure as hell doesn't gloss over the pain of his sickness, as songs like "Puked To High Heaven" and "Burstedman" will attest. It's kind of strange how often he refers to himself in the third person, but it comes across as a means of survival. He literally had to cheer himself along to stay strong. And when he finally regains his health his joy in his bass playing is impossible to stifle.
Mike Watt loves to make music. It might not be as easy on the ears as it is to flow from his fingers, but the man has a quirky charm that defies categorization.