DENTON – What makes Denton weird is worth money. And that’s a problem.
Jazz proponent Harvey Pekar joined NX35‘s “Bringin’ the Weird” discussion that was originally supposed to feature only Art&Seek’s Paul Slavens and Brave Combo’s Jeffery Barnes. The Friday afternoon talk thus grew into a full-on panel discussion that covered everything from the gentrification of artsy neighborhoods (what’s happened to Deep Ellum and what Slavens and others are afraid could happen to Denton) to the societal value of obsessive-compulsive artists (the panel’s view: they’re critical, but they’ve gotta eat).
But the presentation at times devolved into a cultural browbeating supplied by Mr. Pekar’s wife, who sat in front argiung the finer points of the East Coast arts-garret lifestyle and criticizing Slavens’ choice of words.
She’s weird, see. All of the panelists are. It’s these kinds of minds that invent the alternative that sometimes becomes the mainstream. And now that Denton is attracting out-of-state (and, in some cases, out-of-country) attention for its music scene and heavily artistic atmosphere, the fear is that ‘the man’ might suck the weirdness right outta town.
“In Denton, there are three or four opportunities to see music every night, and it’s all with walking distance,” Slavens said. “That’s key: people, artists, can live within the scene. Not so in Dallas, now that Deep Ellum is dead.”
Despite his wife’s attempts to make this talk about Pekar, he didn’t contribute much to the panel – his big day is tomorrow, and our own Jerome Weeks will be around to blog on that. What ended up as the central theme of the discussion was how to nurture the weird (defined here as artistic types, specifically musicians) and preserve it without succumbing to gentrification and the resulting homogenization.
“The biggest threat to wierdos is being able to make a living while being weird,” Slavens said. “We have the same number of freaks in Denton as there are in the whole of greater Dallas. It’s valuable for artists to catch the germ in Denton and get that freak-out experience.”
For the first time, Denton’s civic leaders appear intent on helping to retain the city’s freakiness; its allowing NX35 to use the Denton Civic Center as its staging area and for panels such as these is a sign of that. But Slavens – and pretty much every one of the 30 that attended the talk – still worries about what money and development could do.
“If there isn’t two Texases, then there’s definitely two Dentons: The weird Denton and the Denton of the civic center, which is, for the first time, trying to understand us. It’s the new third Denton that scares me.”