Thursday, July 16, 2015
THE MINUTEMEN, 1985
About five years ago, in the back room of a restaurant in Orlando, Florida, I had the privilege of witnessing a very interesting performance by a band of very bright young men who had just graduated from high school. The set, played by select members of a local outfit called Studebaker Hawk, consisted entirely of cover versions of songs by one of my very favorite '80s punk bands, the Minutemen. It was a very meticulously rehearsed and well-executed set, but while I enjoyed it, I couldn't help but feel a bit strange throughout, and for very, very good reason: I had actually seen the Minutemen themselves play live 25 years earlier, long before any of these cats were even born, and just two months before a major tragedy ended the band forever.
Anyway, after this Minutemen cover band played, one or more of its members (who have since become good friends of mine) happened to overhear me mention the fact that I had once seen the real Minutemen to someone in the audience. A week later I was hanging out at Will's Pub, my favorite live music venue in Orlando, when I suddenly found myself surrounded by the members of this Minutemen cover band. They ganged up on me like a street posse, staring at me hard, and I wondered immediately what the hell I'd done to inspire their alleged wrath. Finally, one of them spoke, in a voice ever so loud and stern: "YOU SAW THE MINUTEMEN???" I gasped and sheepishly replied, "Um... yes, as a matter of fact, I did." They then demanded that I tell them the whole story of that night from start to finish, refusing to let me go until I complied. It was an even stranger moment than seeing their tribute band play for sure. Fortunately I escaped unharmed!
The fact is that not only was I lucky enough to go to that show at Irving Plaza in NYC on October 26, 1985, but I also actually came face-to-face with D. Boon before the show. The Minutemen were recording select dates on the tour they were on at the time, with the intention of releasing a very special live album their fans would vote on the track listing for. Hanging out in the lobby before the show, I suddenly spotted D. passing out flyers, and I eagerly approached him for one. Without a word he handed one to me, in the midst of handing out a dozen more to other pie-eyed fans. It was a ballot listing every song they ever recorded, with instructions to "vote for your favorites" for inclusion on the live album. (I never did get around to sending mine in, but surely I would've voted for "Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!" if I had.)
When the band finally took the stage and opened with "Anxious Mo-Fo," the very first thing Mike Watt did was break a bass string. The very first thing! While he fixed it, D. did a nice job of filling the time by playing his lovely instrumental "Cohesion." When they finally started up again, they didn't stop for almost two solid hours. I'll never forget how D. moved up on that stage. I can tell you for sure that I have not seen a 250-pound man dance like he did as he played, before or since -- with his size, he looked positively gravity-defying.
They played every song you would have wanted to hear from them and then some, including songs from their forthcoming "Three-Way Tie For Last" album and a surprise cover version of "Prelude" by Tyrannosaurus Rex that had this lifelong Marc Bolan fan's jaw squarely on the floor. George Hurley did a great, and well-received, drum solo midway through the show -- how many punk bands have gotten away with that? The band's energy was relentless and even after almost two hours they didn't seem fazed by the crowd's call for encores. They ended with "History Lesson Part 2," and I recall how D. and Mike pressed their foreheads together in a show of brotherly love as they played the song's final crescendo. It was a beautiful and touching climax to one of the best shows I ever saw in my life.
I'm especially lucky I saw this one, for had I not taken that chance to see them when I did, I would have blown it forever: just two months later, D. Boon was killed in a freak accident on the way to visit his girlfriend's family for Christmas. On the day after Christmas, I was hanging out at the studios of world-famous radio station WFMU with my DJ friend Pat Duncan when a listener suddenly called in to ask if we had heard that D. had died. I went into an immediate, prolonged state of shock. The station aired a minute of silence in the main Minuteman's memory as I tried to wrap my mind around that grisly thought. What a sad, sad holiday that was.