“We Jam Econo” D Boon and the Minutemen
February 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
While laid up sick this week, I finally got to see “We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen,” about the iconic punk band, the Minutemen. The Minutemen came to an untimely end on 22 December 1985 when frontman and guitarist, D Boon, was killed in a car accident just outside Tucson, Arizona, as he and his girlfriend made their way to visit her family for Christmas. The other two members of the Minutemen, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley, were devastated, of course. To this day, everything Watt produces is dedicated to D boon’s memory.
I first got into the Minutemen a few years later, around 1990 or so when I got my hands on fIREHOSE’s 1989 album, fROMOHIO. This was the band that Watt and Hurley formed in the aftermath of D. Boon’s death with Ed Crawford. I was drawn to the mixture of Crawford’s jazzy guitar, combined with Watt’s amazing bass sounds. But, what attracted me the most was Hurley’s drumming. I honestly don’t think there’s another drummer I’ve ever heard that touched Hurley, except for maybe Jimmy Chamberlin in the Smashing Pumpkins. But as I obsessed about fIREHOSE, I was directed towards the Minutemen by one of the guys who worked at the old Track Records on Seymour Street in downtown Vancouver.
The Minutemen blew my mind. D. Boon’s was already legendary. Vancouver had been central to the development of North American punk in the late 70s, and the city’s biggest band, DOA, had shared several bills with the Minutemen down in California. Track Records even had a Minutemen poster on the wall. I quickly became obsessed with the Minutemen’s 1984 double album, Double Nickels on the Dime. I loved Watt’s explanation of how this title came about; it was a response to Sammy Hagar’s complaint that he couldn’t drive 55. Apparently ‘double nickels” means 55mph, the speed limit in those days.
Every time I listen to the Minutemen these days, I just get incredibly sad. D Boon has been dead for longer than he was alive by this point, he was 27 when he died 28 years ago. Watt has aged, he still makes incredible music. But, simply put, and as trite as it sounds, D Boon never got a chance to age. His music always had a sneer in it, but what I loved most was always his political bent. He was a good working class boy (as were Hurley and Watt), and the politics of the working classes pervade his music. I was always drawn to this as a working class kid myself. In fact, this is what drew me to punk in the first place, it was a working-class movement. D Boon sang about how the working classes got screwed, his music reflected his own values of hard work, something instilled in him by his mother, who had died young herself, in 1978. More than that, D Boon was articulate, he didn’t look like a dumb punk trying to find big words when he spoke, he sounded like a smart working class dude. I liked that most about him. Too many other working class punks sounded like stupid mooks when they spoke (I’m looking at you, Hank Rollins).
But the Minutemen weren’t just anger. Their music was smart, a mixture of punk, funk and jazz, anchored by the incredible skill of Hurley. This jazz and funk influence (especially through Watt’s bass) added a level of fun and bounce to the music that other punks lacked. And Watt and D Boon were also just as influenced by The Who and Credence as anything else. These influences made them probably the most musically and technically proficient punk band of the era. They also mellowed as they got older, as both D Boon and Watt grew into their talent. This is what makes Double Nickel so sad for me (to say nothing of Three Way Tie (For Last), their last album, which came out a week or two before D Boon died). The Minutemen were evolving away from punk, they still sounded so unlike anything else out there. They weren’t becoming a basic rock band, they were far too smart for that.
Watt carries this spirit on in everything he does. His bass guitar was instrumental to the Minutemen’s sound. This is precisely what makes it all so sad, I always imagine what Watt would sound like if he and D Boon and George Hurley were still making music together. The Rolling Stone review of Three Way Tie (For Last) prophecies that “You can bet that in ten years there’ll be groups who sound like the Minutemen — maybe they’ll even cover their songs.” In 1996, no one sounded like the Minutemen. In 2006, no one sounded like the Minutemen. And in 2016, no one will sound like the Minutemen. They were a unique, one of a kind band.
This last clip comes from an interview the Minutemen did in the early fall 1985, just a few months before D Boon checked out.