Today, we continue our Sonic Reducer series! In the series, Punknews writers compress a band, genre, theme, or time period into a playlist that would fit on a single CD. Along with the playlist, you'll get either an overview of the topic, such as a band introduction, or a story about how the music in the playlist moved or changed the writer. This series is intended to be educational, giving you the listener an overview of a certain scene, but it's also intended to be rockin'.
This Tuesday will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of D. Boon of Minutemen. To pay tribute to the band and D. Boon himself, Punknews' Johnathon Gallienne wrote an in-depth piece on their music. Check it out below.
When D. Boon fell out of a tree at thirteen years old and landed next to a young Mike Watt neither of them could have anticipated it would be the precursor to one of the greatest legacies in the history of punk rock. D. Boon's mother had already been teaching him guitar at this point, and Mike Watt would soon learn the bass guitar at her suggestion. While the two would be in numerous bands during their formative years, it wasn't until they started The Reactionaries with drummer, George Hurley, that the eventual lineup for The Minutemen would fall into place.
While the band's name was a mocking referfence to the name citizen mililtias turned border patrol would give themselves, it also spoke to the brevity of much of their early material. Their first EP, Paranoid Time released in 1980, found the band had already developed a largely unique voice that they would maintain throughout their career. While many of their peers were happily trading technical precision and a distinct musical voice for raw emotion and blindng speed the songs on this release showed The Minutemen were a band that wasn't willing to make that trade off. Mainly, because they didn't have to. â€œJoe McCarthy's Ghostâ€ clocks in at just under one minute, and over a Mike Watt basline that would become part of their signature sounnd, D. Boon did more asking questions of the listener than many would poking at the anger the coming Reagan era would bring to the American punk rock scene.
The band's first full album woud be 1981's The Punch Line which would feature eighteen songs spanning all of fifteen minutes. While many punk bands, in the classic hardcore era and more recent, will often expand songs to three minutes in order to write more comprehensive songs, that is to say with a defined intro, middle section, and outro this wasn't a requirement for this band. Tacks like the â€œWarfareâ€, which featured Mike Watt on lead vocals, found the band able to incoroporate the basic elements of pop songs, sans chorus, into a song lasting all of fifty-seven seconds. Throughout the album, the band would also made their influences known incorporating elements of rock, funk, and to a lesser extent jazz and the frantic blues of Captain Beefheart.
There would be a noticeable difference in The Minutemen's songs by the time they released their next album, What Makes a Man Start Fires? in early 1983. While previously the band's songs, with few exceptions, had all been at or under a minute there were a handful of songs that would surpass the two minute mark on this release. With the expanding song lengths, the band would also grow their overall sound. Classic tracks like, â€œBob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs,â€ would retain much of the band's signature sound al lyrical style. However the band was beginning to expand their sound well beyond the confines of what many of their peers would be doing. Nowhere was this progression clearer than on the track â€œEast Wind/Faithâ€ which in addition to featuring Sacharine Trust's Joe Baiza providing additional guitar also has drummer George Hurley incorporating percussion intruments, aside from his drumset into his repetoire. The intro, which is Hurley playing oil drums is the first sign of just how important the rhythm section of this band as a whole would be,. It showed Hurley expanding his skills beyond a more than capable drummer, to someone who had not only an understanding of the role drums played in jazz but also how to use percussion intruments as more than just tools in keeping a band together. This would prove fundamental to the bands continued growth.
The band's fourth EP, Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat, would be evidence of this growth. Further incorporating elements not common to the hardcore punk scene in 1983, Richard Allen Krieger aka Crane would play both trumpet and recorder on â€œThe Productâ€ and â€œDreams Are Free, Motherfucker!â€ respectively. â€œDreams Are Free…â€, which was i starts off sounding like an outtake from a free jazz album. The band improvised this track, starting out on a jazz groove before Crane cuts in over them on the recorder before the song closes with a fury of guitar noise that wouldn't have been out of place on a record by future SST label mates Sonic Youth. Elsewhere the band would surpass the three minute mark on the track â€œLittle Man With a Gun in His Handâ€ with existential lyrics penned by Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski.
Double Nickles on the Dime would be released in 1984, the title coming from trucker slang for fifty-five miles per hour, it also made a mockery of the Sammy Hagar song â€œI Can't Drive Fifty-Fiveâ€ passing for a protest song in Reagan's America. While the album is considered by many to be their masterpiece, it's divergence from hardcore punk was not out of the ordinary by '84. Husker Du would release their sprawling and musically ambitious album Zen Arcade, The Replacements would being to truly slow things down with Let It Be, and Black Flag would begin to incorporate elements of heavy metal into their sound with My War. In a year that found many bands ready to shed their hardcore roots, perhaps no band did so more readily than The Minutemen. I purchased Double Nickles on the Dime at some point between 2002 and 2004. It was an album I enjoy from the get go. As I've grown older and my taste in music has grown to include multiple genres of music, it may be one of the few punk albums I now appreciate for its pure artistic endeavor. One contributing factor to these, for me at least, was the decision to use Ethan James as a producer instead of SST's house producer Spot whose somewhat muddied production style lent itself well to many SST releases, but would have done this album a true disservice. Throughout this album, George Hurley and Mike Watt show themselves to be one of the most capable rythym sections in rock music at the time. While there are a number of straight forward rock songs on the album, the real triumph of this album is it leans heavily on jazz music. The rhythyms found on tracks like â€œTheater is the Life of You,â€ â€œOne Reporter's Opinion,â€ and â€œGod Bows to Mathâ€ wouldn't have been out of place on Miles Davis' albums from a decade earlier. As previously stated, there are no shortage of straight on rock tracks though as tracks such as â€œShit from an Old Notebookâ€ and â€œThis Ain't No Picnicâ€ would reveal. The other element that makes this album great, is the band's sense of humor, pointing both at them and the world around them â€œPolitical Song for Michael Jackson to Singâ€ and â€œDo You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truthâ€ respectively. It was a trait that escaped many of their contemporaries far too often. It likely also adds to this album holding up better over time, as the band uses this intelligent sense of humor to take aim at the same targets their contemporaries did without having to attack Reagan or the politics of the nation in a manner so direct it limited them to a specific era. The album also no shortage of experimental tracks from the instrumental â€œCohesionâ€ to â€œTake Five, Dâ€ which features Mike Watt on vocals and George Hurley showing his chops as a percussionist. This album would produce the band's most well known song, albeit over a decade later, with â€œCoronaâ€ which served as the theme to MTV's â€œJackassâ€. The album's highlight though, was the very not punk rock guitar strumming of â€œHistory Lesson Part IIâ€ with it's spoken vocals. While bands have tried to sum punk rock as a musical genre, ideology, and lifestyle since the late seventies; perhaps nobody did it better than when D. Boon said, â€œOur band could be your life.â€
The next year, 1985, would find the band releasing two more albums. The first, an EP, called Project: Merch found the band embracing many of the elements of mainstream rock at the time, while also poking fun at it. The cover art making this much obvious, as it featured a trio of businessmen one of whom is saying, â€œI've got it! We'll have them write hit songs!â€ While the release wouldn't yield a commecial breakthrough, it did feature the great (and sadly still all too relevant) â€œKing of the Hill,â€ a cover of Steppenwolf's â€œHey Lawdy Mammaâ€ in an era where classic rock was still a bit taboo in punk circles, and the longest and most traditional rock song the band would ever make in the form of â€œMore Spielâ€
Tragically, the band would come to an end shortly after the release of 3-Way Tie (For Last) later that year. On December 22, 1985 D. Boon was involved in a car accident on Interstate 10 in the Arizona desert, he would not survive. Although the album featured a large number of covers, it was certainly a worthy swan song for the band under the circumstances. It found the band adopting a more traditional rock sound and also found D. Boon writing some of his most directly political lyrics to date. Album opener â€œPrice of Paradiseâ€ pulls very few punches in addressing American foreign policy, tackling the Vietnam War, which by this point had become a frequent topic in the bands songs. Elsewhere Boon would address the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan on â€œBig Stickâ€ and the dichotomy of the American political spectrum on â€œSpoken Word Piece.â€ A huge part of this album though are covers, as half of its ten tracks were written by other bands. While some work better than others, perhaps the two best are the Blue Oyster Cult track â€œThe Red and the Blackâ€ if for no other reason than it really lets Boon Watt show off their chops in a manner they hadn't before and The Urinals cover â€œAck Ack Ackâ€ if for no other reason than it showed the band could still play rapid fire punk rock with the best of them.
In the thirty years since D. Boon's death both Mike Watt and George Hurley have remained activie in music. They would form fIREHOSE shortly after D. Boon's death with ed fROMOHIO on vocals and they've come together to play sets of Minutemen songs without a third member a number of times over the years. Perhaps playing into their jazz sensibilities more than the other groups though is the band Unknown Instuctors which also features members of Sacchrine Trust and Pere Ubu. Seperately, it is suffice to say Mike Watt has had the more visible career playing (most notably) with The Stooges and in his own bands such as The Secondmen, The Missingmen, Dos, Ciccone Youth, and numerous solo records. One can't help but wonder what would have happen had D. Boon lived though. Surely The Minutemen would have continued on, perhaps signing to a major label or taking their music to another large indie label when SST would collapse financially in the early 90's. Whatever the band's fate would have been, on December 22nd of this year do yourself a favor. Take an hour, put your favorite Minutemen album on and just listen. I'll leave you with The Minutemen's Acoustic Blowout an almost 30 minute public access special.