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David Rees

David Rees

Posted: December 23, 2005 12:28 AM

What Would D. Boon Do?


D. Boon, who played guitar and sang in the Minutemen, a California political punk trio, died twenty years ago tonight.

Since his untimely death, a hagiographic aura has enveloped D. Boon and the Minutemen. Indeed, D. Boon is widely considered a patron saint of American punk rock.

But how great were the Minutemen, really? I've been thinking about that question a lot recently. Here is my answer:

-The Minutemen were--are--the greatest punk band of all time.

So there you go.

But there's more:

-The Minutemen's awesome, inexhaustible 1984 masterpiece, "Double Nickels on the Dime," is the greatest rock album of all time.

-D. Boon's opening guitar lick on that album's "Two Beads At The End" is, simply, the most "God-DAMN, no he DIDN'T" punk rock guitar moment of all time.

-D. Boon's guitar solo on "'99," from the album "What Makes A Man Start Fires," is the greatest guitar solo of all time.

-Bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley were the tightest, baddest, most in-the-pocket-and-out-of-bounds punk rock rhythm section of all time. Their performance on "What Makes A Man Start Fires," which careens from as-fast-and-furious-as-Paris-Hilton's-panties-dropping to as-buckled-down-and-funky-as-Darth-Vader-buttfucking-a-purple-Rolex, is the most convincing proof of this of all time.

-The first time I heard the Minutemen--on a Saturday afternoon in 8th grade, when my friend lowered the stylus onto "Shit From An Old Notebook," and the song somersaulted out of his RadioShack speakers in an ecstasy of spasmodic guitar and drum fills--is the greatest "first time someone heard a band and their life changed for all time" of all time.

-That song's jarring first line: "Let the products sell themselves / fuck advertising, commercial psychology / psychological methods to sell should be destroyed," is the greatest first line of a song of all time.

-The band's political lyrics, printed on album covers without line breaks or capital letters, like James Frey channeling Noam Chomsky, are the greatest political lyrics of all time:

"I saw some military hardware today they changed the color olive drab to yellow/brown/gray the color of our dead the color of our glory"

-The band's other lyrics, many of which were combined with brief, angular melodies to create remarkably accurate approximations of what Western intellectual thought actually sounds like, are the greatest other lyrics of all time:

"starting with the affirmation of man I work myself backwards using cynicism (the time monitor, the space measurer)"

-The Minutemen's cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son"--which is itself one of the greatest political songs of all time, but which is not quite as good as the Minutemen's version, because Mike Watt's bass line sounds so goddamn funk-ass amazing coming out of the stereo that you want to crap your pants and run around gurgling like Lewis Black--is the greatest cover of all time.

-The photograph accompanying Spin magazine's posthumous 1986 tribute to Boon--a grainy gig photo in which Boon and Watt play acoustic guitars accompanied by Hurley on bongos in what looks like a church basement located 500 miles below the earth's surface and 10,000 miles away from Top 40 radio; an image which totally confounded my expectations of what "punk rock musicians" and "punk rock concerts" looked like; and which I taped to my locker at Culbreth Junior High so I could feel connected to this mysterious new American culture that lay beyond the Maginot Line of Bon Jovi and Jefferson Starship--is the greatest photograph of a punk band of all time.

-The Minutemen's catalytic philosophy--that "punk is whatever we make it to be," that any group of kids could pick up instruments and make artistic, innovative, impossible music without worrying about cliques, categories, or condemnation; even working-class kids from San Pedro like Boon and Watt--is the greatest band philosophy of all time.

-The 1,200 songs my friends and I recorded in my parents' basement after becoming fans of D. Boon and the Minutemen, and the happy memories of those years, are, for me, the most compelling argument for the power of the aforementioned philosophy of all time.

-That my career as a political cartoonist literally began the night I asked myself "What would D. Boon do?" before clumsily trying to make the comic-strip equivalent of a Minutemen song--which therefore means I owe D. Boon my livelihood--is, for me, as a childhood worshipper of D. Boon, the greatest fact of all time.

-That D. Boon's bassist and best friend, Mike Watt, still plays bass, writes music, and tours the country in a Ford Econoline van; and that Mike Watt ends his gigs with the exhortation to "start your own band, paint your own picture, write your own book"--twenty years after his friend's death broke his heart--and that Mike Watt continues to champion this D.I.Y. punk philosophy while many other punks have burnt out, grown soft, or given up; and that Mike Watt (I imagine) perseveres in part to honor his brilliant friend's brief life and the possibilities bequeathed to future musicians, artists, activists, punks and outsiders--is one of the greatest American success stories of all time.

"Our band could be your life."

D. Boon is dead. Long live D. Boon.

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LINKS:
-Mike Watt's web site
-Recent documentary about the Minutemen
-Good book about the 1980s punk/indie rock scene
-Essential reading