By Martin Wong I’ve known Josh Mills for years now, through his work with the band and our mutual friends Dengue Fever, his music and comedy PR company, and our shared love of L.A. Kings hockey. But nowadays whenever his name comes up, the first thing that pops into my mind is his Gun Lovers Unite project. Making use of their shared love of music and comedy and fueled by tragic friendships, Josh and his pal Mac Montandon have spearheaded a fundraising concert and awareness campaign benefiting gun sense. The inaugural event takes place next Tuesday at The Echoplex, with a stellar lineup of bands (Mike Watt & the Second Men, Jenny Lewis, The Everyday Visuals) and comedians (Neil Hamburger, Tim Heidecker, Sarah Silverman) to raise money for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety.
I had so many questions about the event–the whys and the hows–and Josh was kind enough to provide answers.
I think it’s cool that you’re applying your experience and wide net of friends for the cause of gun control. Can you tell me how it happened?
Wow. Okay, well, to go back to the beginning I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting to be called into my appointment almost two years ago and I got the CNN breaking news on my phone about Sandy Hook. Because doctors do keep you waiting for a long time, I kept looking at my phone and seeing more info and more terrible and tragic news about how many children lost their lives in this tragedy. It made me physically ill. I really did think I was going to throw up. And then I just got incredibly sad. As a father, I simply had no comprehension of what those parents were experiencing or what lay in store for them over the next few days or weeks or months or even years. I made a promise to myself to do something at that point and had an Eldridge Cleaver moment of ‘If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
About every six months after, I would have “you are still part of the problem” moments because I wasn’t doing anything. I felt guilty, frankly. So, finally, about four months ago, I really had enough and made something happen. I didn’t know what form it would take or even if it would be successful or not, but it was more troublesome and fearful to me that I would do nothing at all–and that made me take action.
Tell me about the partnership and division of labor between you and Mac. Different areas of expertise? Good cop, bad cop? Geography?
Maccabee is someone I have known since I graduated college. Along with his cousin Aaron Ruby and his childhood friend Jeremy Kasten (whom I went to college with) we had a sort-of lost summer in 1992, post college. They had this apartment in the Fairfax district that was ground zero for all things fun: girls, endless conversations about the excitement of the upcoming Ben Stiller Show, seeing Nirvana at the Roxy two weeks before Nevermind came out because we loved the single “Bleach,” insane trips to Mexico where we spent a night on the beach over the 4th of July when there were so many fireworks going off it felt like North Vietnam (to paraphrase Broadway Danny Rose). It was just endless fun.
Toward the end of summer, Mac’s brother Asher came to live with them and we were now having even more fun with another partner in hijinks! One night, I went for coffee with Aaron and Asher but went home early because I was depressed about some girl I was dating and went to bed. I got a frantic call around midnight that Asher had been shot and was in the hospital. It was an attempted robbery and the shooter literally took Asher’s life for no reason at all. He shot and ran; there was no robbery. He took nothing and everything with one shot. Asher died before he got to the hospital. Within a short time, I went to two funerals–one in L.A. and one in Northern California. Asher was so popular and so well liked, they had to have a second memorial service for his friends who could not make it to Los Angeles. I only knew Asher for a short while but the guy was funny and smart and liked the same things I did, so we got along really well. Seeing his parents at the funeral crushed me. I just could not imagine the depth of their pain.
Needless to say, our chapter of fun and laughter ended that night. We never recovered after hearing from the emergency room doctor that Asher was dead and there was nothing he could have done to save him. Frankly, it changed all our lives. Mac and Aaron moved away. I think even being around Los Angeles was difficult for them and I rarely saw them after that. We sort of lost touch, and everyone knew why. There were no hard feelings; we all understood it but it was unspoken. It was just so tragic for them–less so for me, of course, but no less horrific. It made me mad, too, because I really felt like I lost some great friends who were still here. Mac wrote about this period for Gawker.
I finally reached out to Mac earlier this year–a full two decades after he left Los Angeles about trying to find Asher’s killer–and that led us to founding the event Fun Lovers Unite.