Via NTY in 2005!
Lock and Load
By SARAH VOWELLJULY 23, 2005
I have a name for it: 1775 disease. The United States of America wasn't born of the pretty words from Jefferson's pen in the declaration signed on July 4, 1776. It was born of anonymous gunfire at Lexington on April 19, 1775. And ever since, we have carried our violent nativity within us like a virus, a virus that lies dormant from time to time only to break out again and again.
We celebrate the Minutemen of 1775. And I'm not saying we shouldn't. I do love a good "Listen, my children, and you shall hear" legend. In fact, my mushy nationalistic heart skipped a beat when an old Minuteman statue, caked in alien goop, made a cameo in Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds."
All I'm saying is that there is an inherent pitfall in revering the volunteer militiamen of Lexington and Concord, our beloved raggedy, gun-toting amateurs who defied the powers-that-were. As when today's raggedy, gun-toting amateurs defy the powers-that-be in their honor and someone gets hurt. Timothy McVeigh, for example. Ten years ago, he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City -- on April 19.
And now -- someone alert the C.D.C. -- 1775 disease is breaking out in at least 18 states, thanks to the Minuteman Project. What started back in April as a nutty experiment involving armed citizen volunteers patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border to thwart illegal immigration is spreading to non-border states as well. This week Tennessee got its own Minutemen.
No serious person thinks random guys with guns stalking Niagara Falls or the Rio Grande are going to make the country safer. On the contrary, in addition to all of our other national security worries, Americans now have to fret for the safety of these clowns, who have been condemned by President Bush as "vigilantes." Because, odds are, the only people they'll end up shooting will be one another.
And I say that not only as a namby-pamby liberal writing for the most uppity newspaper in the world, but also as the daughter of a gunsmith, a man who was so persnickety about the very real danger of firearms' tendency to just go off that he practically made my sister and me don hunter orange just to play with squirt guns.
It's worth remembering that no one knows who fired that "shot heard round the world" at Lexington. What probably happened was that one man got nervous and accidentally pulled the trigger on his musket. (Longfellow meant to put that at the end of "Paul Revere's Ride," but he couldn't find a decent rhyme for "uh-oh.")
The wonderful spirit of the old Minutemen -- their amateurish gumption, their do-it-yourself defiance -- can occasionally be ominous when inspiring latter-day gunmen, but glorious with regard to art. The police have way too many half-cocked rule-breakers to deal with; pop music, though, can never have enough.
"We Jam Econo," Tim Irwin's lovable documentary about the lovable 80's punk band called the Minutemen is making the rounds of film festivals and revival houses this summer. It's nice to revisit the hullabaloo of their songs. And watching the bassist, Mike Watt, driving his van around his California hometown, San Pedro, and pointing at Minutemen landmarks is like listening to a fascinating Concord park ranger lead a tour across North Bridge. "We were minute men," Watt says. That's my-NOOT men -- a little homemade band, not the slick Redcoats of arena rock.
Watt and the guitarist, D.Boon, are two men Sam Adams could have had a beer with. Their idealism, their humor and decency, is spellbinding. Their friend Nels Cline points out that Boon used so much treble in his guitar as "a political decision" -- to distinguish his sound from Watt's bass, like two "sovereign states." Egalitarian timbre!
Then there's the story of their album "Double Nickels on the Dime," a jab at Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55." Watt recalls, "We said, 'Well, we'll drive 55 and be crazy with the music instead of crazy with the cars."'
The best part of the film, and the most heartbreaking, is when Watt walks around the park where he met Boon, a childhood friend who died in a car accident in 1985. "I was quite smitten with him," Watt remembers. "He was playing army and he fell out of a tree on me."
As he stares at the very tree, it occurs to me that playing army when you're 13 is fine. Grown men playing army on the Mexican border? No, thanks.