Want to know how this started? Here’s the beginning.
Friends from outside North Texas are always surprised to discover that Dallas has a very deep and very thorough gonzo streak. “You’re talking about Austin, right?”, some ask. Others, whose sole experience with Dallas comes from the 1980s sitcom of the same name (and trust me, that show was a sitcom), scoff “Dallas is a cultural wasteland!” While Dallas can take credit for being the home of so many forms of cultural homogenization (I once lived a literal rock’s throw from the headquarters of Brinker, the restaurant conglomerate behind Chili’s), it’s not all McMansions, bad bleach jobs, and worse cocaine. Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life either lived in Dallas or came from Dallas, and that was partly due to understanding the phrase attributed to the writer Richard Wright of “Put down your bucket where you are.”
The simple truth is that Dallas’s odd history was always either wallpapered or coopted by proud gatekeepers, so we learned to keep our candles under a bushel basket. Until very recently, VERY recently, any news coverage, either paper or broadcast, on nonconformist events was either spiked or shoved into a template of “Hey, look at the freaks!” The co-option was deadlier: get an enclave of like-minded Nightbreed situated in town, and first the area was swamped by drunken SMU brats wanting a nice slumming session on the weekend, and then the properties were bought up and gentrified all out of recognition. We didn’t have the money or the clout to fight it, so we just always kept at least one bag packed at all times in preparation for the notice that we’d have 30 days to move out before that great record shop or that wonderful band venue was razed and turned into fratbro condos.
And here’s the funny part. As opposed to Austin and Portland, whose reputations as iconoclast havens were dependent upon a constant inflow of people declaring just a little too loudly “I’m expressing my individuality,” Dallas oddballs just waited. We didn’t get a flood of hipsters and attention addicts because the people they were trying to impress didn’t care, and they rapidly flounced off to Brooklyn or Seattle. Instead, Dallas attracted and retained a crowd that wanted to get things done instead of talking endlessly about what they were going to do one of these days when the stars were right and they no longer had to wait for their inheritance. Bit by bit, so many people who really liked the good things about Dallas worked on little bits and chunks, to where we have places like the Kessler and the Texas Theater and Panoptikon and the Oak Cliff Halloween Parade and bike paths that actually go somewhere. Dallas isn’t perfect, but as someone who will celebrate a full 40 years here in December, it’s not the place in which I grew up, and we all salute the places and events that were wilonskyed and then assimilated to death back in the day that helped make this happen.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows in Dallas might have done as well as they are now if they’d started in 1995, or 1985. However, now we have a large enough crowd willing to put our bucket down where we are that its success is so much sweeter.
To be continued…