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D. Boon in the Present Tense

Photo by Dirk Vandenberg

If D. Boon had lived long enough to see the release of D. Boon & Friends, it probably never would have existed. Not that there is any reason to reject this record. It’s just that his friends would have had little reason to look back through their old jam tapes and collect the better moments if D. Boon had been alive and making music these past 18 years.

Death makes the details of a life precious. D. Boon, front man of the electrifying San Pedro post-punk band the Minutemen, died in a van accident on December 22, 1985, at age 27, and as one of the brief pieces on DB&F is titled, “That’s All There Is” — snippets of rehearsal tapes and party jams.

It’s an oddly coherent record, considering that these are mainly tiny bits of unfinished songs and freeform explorations. Producers (and Boon cronies) Richard Derrick and “Crane” edited the fragments so that they flow into one long, involving jam session featuring a Minutemen show where Derrick substituted for George Hurley on drums, a Boon solo gig, and a set Boon performed with some other friends under the band name Hammerdown — all topped off with a moody Boon 4-track guitar excursion.

With background noise of what sound like really good parties and the chatter of musicians who were evidently enjoying one another, the CD creates the illusion of a keg party in your house, with D. Boon and his friends jamming for their amusement and yours.

This, needless to say, is a powerfully good feeling. I played the record over and over. The impression that D. Boon was casually alive and working on new songs in my house stayed with me for the rest of that day, a happiness edged with heartache.

These tapes are not some rediscovered last session — D. Boon was jamming with Derrick and Crane from November ’84 through June ’85, during the Minutemen’s Project: Mersh period — and they are not evidence of a new direction that was thwarted by his death. The last Minutemen record, 1985’s 3-Way Tie (for Last), shows Boon stretching into longer, more conventionally formed songs. On D. Boon & Friends, though, his playing is vintage Minutemen. He cycles exuberantly through licks, too possessed by the flow of new ideas to slow down and develop any one of them. Several tracks could have been early Minutemen songs if Boon had just sung some shit from an old notebook over the top.

Why are these old shoebox tapes seeing the light of day so many years down the road? Derrick — who was D. Boon’s roommate as well as friend — first had the idea in 1998, but only recently scraped together the seed money. The delay turned out to be a blessing, because in the intervening years he mastered digital editing software. With patience and skill, he cut and tweaked a bunch of loose tapes into a surprisingly listenable record.

The spirit of Derrick’s effort might have arisen from the last visit he paid to D. Boon’s grave in Rancho Palos Verdes’ Green Hills Memorial Park. “I suddenly thought, What on Earth am I doing here?” he remembers. “This has nothing to do with cherishing his memory.” D. Boon & Friends has everything to do with that. In addition to the music, it contains liner notes by Mike Watt and others, five striking photographs by Dirk Vanden- berg, and a priceless sketched self-portrait Boon did for Derrick on the front of a Christmas card. “This is a celebration of D. Boon,” Derrick says. “It is meant to bring him back in the present tense.”

D. BOON & FRIENDS | (Box-o-Plenty)