Living in the USA

Booker on Bosnia, Washburn on Kmart

Guitarist Danny Ott, who seems a stoic Viking of a guy when he's onstage with Booker or Chris Gaffney, said, "It wrecked me, seeing that. I went back to the base, crawled into my bunk and lost it, crying. It was the worst thing I've ever seen. And when the kids graduate from bridge-lying, their parents have them mob you, begging. You just want to hug every one of them, but when you do, more come out of the woodwork."

"I don't see why our government isn't trying to help them," Booker said.

"It's against the Prime Directive," Nordell suggested before saying that people there had told him what they saw was a way of life practiced by the local Gypsies for centuries, much as other folks there had practiced whacking one another out for centuries.

The band said troops there told them that, homesick though they were, they felt they were serving a purpose in keeping the aforesaid whacking from resuming. The week the band was there, troops had interceded to keep violence from escalating after a Muslim child had been killed at a school.

The soldiers made an appreciative audience, though the band members got the impression they would have liked Lynyrd Skynyrd songs better.

"It's funny," Brandin said. "Americans seem to be the only ones who don't get their own roots music. We did a couple of shows where there were U.N. troops from other countries—Germany, France, Holland, Sweden—and they were the ones who really went for the music."

In America, the thing that makes us nuts may be the thing that saves us. In Europe, for better or worse, people are surrounded by tradition. It's in the stonework, in the inflections of language, in the large and small rituals that make up the day. The late Joseph Campbell argued that humanity's rituals and myths are the incubators that make us complete, as other, more instinctive creatures are at birth. In Europe, citizens are practically smothered by ritual and history, which at once reminds them of the greatness of which humanity is capable while choking fresh invention.

They regard America with a bemused wariness, I've found, much as one might regard a precocious infant staggering around with a handgun. We are virtually rootless, to the degree that most kids don't even know who Chuck Berry is, much less the stuff of myth and ritual. Everything is cleared away for the next novelty, the next big-mouthed bass with a song in his heart. Who are we? We wake up every day on a stage with no script, with nowhere to go but the future.

* This was a sale price. The sale is over. There is no reason to go to Kmart.

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