Craig Ibarra - A Wailing Of A Town [Book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Craig Ibarra

A Wailing Of A Town [Book] (2015)


It would be understandable if the reason a large majority of the people buying this book were doing so due to the fact that San Pedro was the home of the Minutemen, a trio that created a sound which defied normal confines even within the expansive early days of punk rock. However, despite at least one quarter of the 344 pages focussing heavily on the trio of D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley, there is so much more to be found throughout this oral history. In spite of the variety contained between the covers, the front features a picture of Dennes (D.) Boon, Minutemen guitarist, vocalist and a man whose life was cruelly lost in a car accident in December 1985. It could also be argued that without him, San Pedro might just have been another part of Los Angeles with little to make it stand out.

I don’t consider myself to be a simple man but when reading a book about particular band, artist, scene or sub-genre I prefer to have the story told to me in bite sized chunks, ones which need not be read in any particular order. I also like pictures. Hell, I love pictures because these can often say more than any number of words can and/or they can allow more context to be gained from visualising whatever is being discussed. This book gives me all that, with chapters (55 of them) that allow for a chronological path if desired but doesn’t force that issue. In some ways it also acts as a reference book, with a detailed index to provide the reader with easy access to bands, records, labels and anything else included between the front and back cover. Each Minutemen release is given space to allow the reader to understand how the songs might have been written, how and where they were recorded as well as more information about the art included too. Likewise, with New Alliance Records, the label Boon, Watt and Mike Tamburovich (three quarters of The Reactionaries, a pre-Minutemen quartet that also included George Hurley) formed and eventually sold to SST Records, there is detail provided on those records that gives further insight to those not fully in the know.

Although the Minutemen are clearly the honeypot used to lure people to pick up this book, there is myriad of dots to be connected within the San Pedro area and in some cases beyond to actually provide some flesh to the bones of a scene which stood, somewhat defiantly, separate to that in Hollywood and those in other areas of Los Angeles. Thus many of those dots decided to eschew some of the more dogmatic approaches to punk found in those areas with many avoiding any particular uniform as seemed to be popular in the more glamorous Hollywood. What comes across in the book is that in San Pedro, for some time at least, the kids wanted to be different to those around them, so much so, that there were many bands popping up none of which were similar to anything that had gone before.

Unsurprisingly there are two chunks of the book specifically based around the Minutemen although because of the nature of the oral history, mention of the band and its members frequently crop up, along with their own input garnered from a variety of sources over the intervening years. It wouldn’t be too much to say that the existence of D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley provide the skeleton of the book onto which much flesh is added by all the other contributors. However, the involvement of those that were also part of the scene in San Pedro is as important as that trio were, as without an audience and a host of other likeminded souls starting their own bands there would have been very little to write about.

The other pleasing aspect is the focus on the individuals making up the various incarnations of Saccharine Trust, a band I didn’t really connect with San Pedro until I had seen the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo. As such the involvement of primarily Jack Brewer and Joe Baiza adds much to my knowledge of that band too. Not to be outdone and despite not being a Pedro band, there are numerous mentions of Black Flag, a group that played a huge part in the success achieved by Boon, Watt and Hurley by having the Minutemen play with them many times.

I enjoyed this book more than many that focus on a specific part of the world we call punk rock, primarily because so much of it was new to me and it lead me to want to find out more about so many aspects of what was being discussed. Therefore, one has to be grateful for the internet which has subsequently led me to Water Under The Bridge Records where I have acquired music from Mood of Defiance and Peer Group as well as for providing me with somewhere to get hold of The Reactionaries’ 1979 album when funds allow. Plus I am also grateful that I have kept most of the Flipside fanzines I accumulated over the years and to which I can now revisit with a better understanding of the San Pedro bands mentioned.

The only downside to the whole reading experience was one which is unavoidable in the telling of this tale – that being the death of D. Boon on 22nd December 1985. It’s like knowing the ending of a novel before you start and the fact that the index lists the final chapter as “D. Boon’s Passing”, ensures that there is no escaping the denouement which left so many shattered. I have to admit that this is the first book ever to have brought a tear to my eye as soon as I finished it. Having read the words of Boon throughout the book (garnered from a host of interviews including those included in We Jam Econo) it was like losing the man once again but this time from a position of being close to him. That’s what A Wailing of a Town does in that it connects the reader to the huge cast that takes part in it so the tragic loss of one of the main leads is a massive jolt.

I can’t be alone in wondering what would have happened to the Minutemen had Boon not died that day. There were the plans for a triple album with fans choosing live tracks for inclusion, something that could have outdone my favourite work by the band, Double Nickels On The Dime. He comes across as a man driven to create and seeing how that ethic is still alive and well in Mike Watt thirty years on, there is no reason to believe that Boon would not have been the same. It’s a sobering end to a thoroughly enjoyable book and this is enhanced by the list of 24 people who are named at the end of the book under the heading ‘Rest In Peace’, all of whom have passed away in the intervening years having played some part in the story.

One of the most poignant pieces within the book is the final contribution which came from Gary Jacobelly, former guitarist and singer in Peer Group and the person responsible for the prologue entitled ‘Punk Rock’:

‘D. Boon touched and moved a lot of people. He got them into working and trying to make the world a better place, believing that we can make a better world for everyone. I think he would want no better a legacy.’

The book contains a wealth of interesting facts and these are some of the ones that stick in my mind:

• Greg Ginn and Raymond Pettibon’s father, Regis, taught some of the young punks at the L.A. Harbor College
• The involvement of dance teacher Jimmy Mack who was a keen supporter of what the youth were trying to achieve as punk rock began to take hold in San Pedro
• A club called Dancing Waters actually had a working fountain behind the bands as they played
• News reporting standards were as weak then as they are now (witnessed by the inclusion of a one sided article in the L.A. Weekly about a riot that happened at show featuring Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., Minutemen, Youth Brigade, D.I., Sin 34 in June 1983, pointing the fingers at the punks without acknowledging the violent involvement of the police)
• There were some fantastic bills back then for shows – for an example see above!
• Mike Watt has a fantastic use of language some of it of his own design i.e. his own shorthand approach to words