Remembering D. Boon and the Minutemen
It’s always the right day to listen to the Minutemen, but especially this week, since it was 25 years ago today that the band’s singer and guitarist D. Boon was killed in a van crash in Arizona. He was just 27. The Minutemen, one of the all-time great American punk bands, hailed from the blue-collar port town of San Pedro, California — Boon, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley. As D. Boon sang in the band’s most famous song, “History Lesson Part 2,” “Our band could be your life.”
Boon and Watt had been best friends from childhood, and their shaggy, down-to-earth demeanor always came across in the corndog humor and political rage of their music. So their greatest records — What Makes a Man Start Fires?, Buzz or Howl Under The Influence of Heat, Double Nickels On The Dime — haven’t dated a bit. They came out of the hardcore scene, bashing out rants and spiels that jumped right to the point. But they were also unabashed about rampaging through their versions of classic rock standards like Steely Dan’s “Dr. Wu,” Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” or Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”
Boon was an amazingly inventive guitar player — he was #89 on Rolling Stone‘s 2003 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists — mixing up the scratchy style of punk with elements of folk and funk. As David Fricke wrote in his prescient 1984 review of Double Nickels on the Dime, “The telegraphic stutter and almost scientific angularity of singer-guitarist D. Boon’s chordings and breakneck solos heighten the jazzier tangents he dares to take.” Despite the band’s tragic end, Watt continues to make music — he’s the bassist for the Stooges — and the Minutemen have kept influencing adventurous young bands ever since.
The Minutemen’s story is told in Michael Azerrad’s classic indie-rock history Our Band Could Be Your Life, and in the 2004 documentary We Jam Econo. But the real story is all there in the music. Their 1983 album What Makes a Man Start Fires? is the sentimental fave — 18 songs in barely under 27 minutes, all of them funny, from the punk fury of “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs” to the hectic funk of “Sell or Be Sold.” But their most acclaimed music is Double Nickels, the 45-song double album from 1984, with the elemental day-job rage of “This Ain’t No Picnic.” Songs like this show why D. Boon will never be forgotten.