Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Beep Beep...BANG!

I'm going to ramble a little today — yeah, right, like I don't ramble every day!

I've got a lot of questions recently about my background, so I thought I might suck it up and spill some early beans...Most people in America, and probably 95% of the media, think of "target shooting" as a bunch of guys standing on a line firing at round bullseye targets all in a line downrange. That's what I thought target shooting was. My father was a big-time hunter, but my mom was a bullseye shooter. Once a week, she'd get together with "the girls" and her .22 Colt Target Woodsman. Sometimes she'd come home with trophies. The assumption was that since I was a guy, I'd follow my father into the woods. I did, and it bored me to tears. Back in the 1950s & '60s, when I was growing up in Tennessee, the quacks hadn't yet discovered "Attention Deficit Disorder," so nobody doped me up with Ritalin (ironic, since my dad worked for the drug compapny that made Ritalin!) or forced me into therapy. Instead, they just figured I was a pain in the ass and left it at that.

So my friends and I scraped up money for ammo and spent time in the woods inventing games to play with real guns. I coulod run through the whole thing — the only "hippie" at Florida State University with a .38...shooting sessions in the Florida piney woods with my friend's first job and my first gun purchase — a Ruger Single Six, on layaway and paid out over six painful months. My first year freelancing and my first "big bore" handgun, a Colt New Service 7 1/2 -inch in .38-40, $75.00 and bought on layaway, a week at a time.

Smartest purchase I ever made...I was looking for a hook, a way to get into big time magazine journalism. I was writing little front-of-the-book shorts for Country Music Magazine, $25 a pop, and newspaper features for the Charlotte Observer for $50 each...not exactly what I had in mind. But I heard that a country music star, Hank Williams Jr., had fallen off a mountain in Montana, was severely injured, in seclusion at his home in Alabama and unable to support what should have been his breakthrough album. That sounded like a real story to me, so I conned the CM editors in New York City to get me an address; then I got in my car and drove to Alabama, with the car doubling as a handy motel room because I couldn't afford even a sleazy motel. When I showed up at Hank Jr.'s door, his friend, songwriter Merle Kilgore, told me Hank didn't want to see anyone. I said okay, I understood. But I knew that Hank was a gun guy, and I had this really cool old Colt .38-40 in the car with almost a full box of ammo, so maybe he'd like to help me shoot it all up. On such flimsy scrap careers are made...

New York City and joining a bullseye shooting league on Long Island...shooting "combat" for the first time at the underground range at 20 West 20th Street in South Manhattan, must have been around 1977...refusing to bribe a cop to get a NYC pistol permit...writing for Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and New Times, the bastions of liberal rock-and-roll journalism, while shooting bullseye on the office door at Country Music Magazine, where I had stumbled into the editorship by then, featured the inner liner of a Warren Zevon album, a lifesized photo of an S&W M-29 .44 Magnum, resting on a plate and the inevitable hand-lettered sign that said, "Go Away!" My own S&W .44 — $275; one year on layaway — was waiting for me in Tennessee in my father's guncase.

I bailed out of New York right about the time my friend and sometime running buddy Lester Bangs died of an OD..within a year, all of us flash "new journalists" had abandoned New York and scattered to the four corners, as if Lester's death might be catching. I went to Florida, and as soon as the moving van had finished dumping my stuff in my first house — $20,000 in a gang-controlled fading neighborhood — I went looking for a gun store. Eventually, I found one across the bay from Tampa in Pinellas County, a qwirky store people with the strangest cast of characters — Vienam vets, cops, wannabees, very strange women and people with lots and lots of machineguns. "What," one of the regulars asked me, "did I know about combat shooting?" It was 1979.

Hell, I said, I did that in New York. The next thing I knew I was standing on top of a camoflaged-painted two-story building in Clearwater wearing a rappelling harness and some ex-Ranger-type guy saying, "It's okay after you step off the edge."

And it was. Most of the other stuff has been published here and there...hammering out our own Southern brand of practical shooting based on snatches we read in the gun magazines. Eventually hooking up with the guys who would found the United States Practical Shooting Association — I helped draw up the beginnings of the bylaws for USPSA at a strip joint in Orlando during a break from the first Florida Invitational of the first really big practical matches. People present included Walt Rauch and Dave Arnold, who would be the two formal founders of USPSA, Jake Jatras, second only to Jeff Cooper and the editor of a new rag he was calling The Combat Shooters Report (he was also the only one who had a credit card with enough credit to rent a car, a huge boat of a Cadillac convertible...we were like Hunter Thompson, who I'd hung with in NYC, except better armed and better shots), Dave Cirillo, who would found the National Range officers Institute and Tom Campbell, then from S&W's research and development (Tom had the only 1 3/4-inch barreled .44 Mag revolver around back was a Big Whoopie to shoot).


Anonymous said...

Hey Mike;
Back then I had hair and it was not gray!


Michael Bane said...

We were handsome bastards, weren't we???


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