Thursday, December 22, 2011

He Jammed Econo - D. Boon 4/1/58 - 12/22/85

Just posted up a couple of clips on the Facebook Page, in remembrance of two musical giants we lost on this day.  The Clash's Joe Strummer passed away on December 22, 2002; I wrote about the anniversary of his passing in one of my earliest posts here.  But many years before that, on December 22, 1985, D. Boon of The Minutemen lost his life in a car accident at the far-too-young age of 27 (yes, he's a member of the 27 Club).

Remembering D. Boon, my mind immediately goes back to the night of December 4-5, 1985.  I was finishing up the first semester of my Freshman year at University of Richmond, and was discovering what great town Richmond, VA, was for seeing bands.  Although R.E.M. had not yet broken through to their mainstream popularity, they were already huge college radio idols - especially south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Word had come to town that R.E.M. would be coming to Richmond, playing live at The Mosque (now The Landmark Theater).  My circle of friends were eager to see them; I might have been the only one in our group who was even more psyched to see the opening band: The Minutemen.

The Minutemen came out of San Pedro, CA. The trio of D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley had been together for about five years, playing a unique amalgam of punk, jazz, and folk that seemed at times, to borrow from one of their album titles, to buzz and howl. At other times, their music soared, rolled in on lazy waves, and landed harmlessly at your feet. D. Boon sang, hollered, whispered, recited poetry; Mike Watt thumped a bass like no one else; George Hurley pounded out the most intricate rat-a-tat-tat-boom.  They were amazing, but they were a band out of place at times: too progressive and intricate for the harder-core-than-thou crowd who wanted only fasterandlouder, too abrasive and political for the hairspray kids.  But Michael Stipe and the rest of R.E.M. heard them, loved them, and took them on tour with them. And they were coming to Richmond!

The Mosque was theater seating, and tickets were to go on sale the day of the show, so about half a dozen or so of us got the bright idea that we would camp out the night before so we could be first in line and get the best seats in the house.  So on an early December night, there we were, wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags like hobos on the sidewalk in front of The Mosque, feeling not quite safe enough to fall asleep but becoming more and more exhausted as the night wore on.  Odd folks roam those city streets at the wee hours, we learned; yet to them we were the oddities putting ourselves on display.  I know I nodded off once or twice throughout the night, but mostly we stayed up swapping stories, cracking each other up, sharing a few beers and the joy of knowing that forgoing our soft warm mattresses for the cold hard sidewalk would be worth it for the front-and-center tickets our night would earn us the next day.

As dawn broke, we began to wonder why no one else had thought to camp out...or why no one was even lining up for the ticket office to open. Ha! We thought we had outsmarted them all!  I can only imagine what went through the box office person's mind when they opened that morning to find six shivering, exhausted, unshowered bodies wrapped in sleeping bags and waiting with money clenched in our fists.  We asked for the best tickets available, and in that completely disinterested, unemphatic voice that can only come from a jaded ticket booth attendant we were told the horrible truth: "Ain't no best tickets. All General Admission."

We had camped out for General Admission tickets.

The show turned out to earn a place in infamy.  In her contribution to the liner notes of the excellent Rhino Records 4-disc boxed set Left Of The Dial, Karen Schoemer talks about being at that same show, and describes the sad scene:
...the crowd, collegiate and beery, booed [The Minutemen]. Now, I had no idea at the time what The Minutemen were about, except that their songs were short, but I remember looking at the crowd and thinking, 'This isn't cool. If we wanted to act like a bunch of close-minded morons, couldn't we just attend a Rod Stewart show?'
My  memory is that, despite the crowd, both bands played fantastic sets, although in my mind's eye I see The Minutemen looking out of place with their minimal gear on the fairly large Mosque stage.  Still, they were electrifying, and I am so glad I had the chance to see them, even if it meant being so foolish as to spend a night on a city sidewalk.

Seventeen days after that show, on December 22, D. Boon was killed. RIP, D.

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