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NX35: Pekar helps Art&Seek’s Slavens bring the weird


by Mike Daniel 13 Mar 2009

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 […]

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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.”

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  • I think the bulk of this ‘weirdness’ is a facade. Where is there any talk about the current blandness of rock? Where is there a single person speaking about anything outside of rock or rebelling against rock?

    Denton is turning mainstream, that’s why its’ getting mainstream attention!

    Paul Slavens, in spite of all his good work, refuses to talk about those who oppose the gentrification and disneyfication of rock. He refuses to talk about or feature the new post-bands music.

    There are two clear sides – the safe conservative established rock, and the rebellion against it.

    The biggest threat to innovation in the arts is blandness trying to coop innovation with a false facade of trendiness.

    • Sam M. Thanks for your thoughts. Here’s my point, all bands are rock. That is what the new music is rebelling against. It is hard for most here in Dallas to think outside the band. No band is doing anything new if they are in a band. All musicians that are opposing bands are doing something new. I say no band is rebelling or they wouldn’t be in a band like everyone else has been for 60 years.
      Being like everyone else means you don’t stand out in anyway.

      Paul, you say, “I m not really into telling anyone what kind of music they should create, under any circumstances.” Not so. You are saying what music they should not hear under any circumstances every week in your selections. That refusal to even talk about post-band music underlies a boycott of what is really new and not just another band clone. And it is a refusal to let music listeners decide for themselves.
      You decide before the show begins for them that they will only hear what is safe, non controversial, and conservative..
      I suppose we can create any music we like, its just that your listeners won’t hear it if it isn’t safe and disneyfied.

      • Paul Slavens

        if anyone should care to fact check the veracity of any of these statements and opinions you can listen to my radio show
        90.1@Night sundays 8-10 pm on KERA 90.1 FM

        or

        check out Mr. Hendricks “zine”
        http://musea.us/

        by all means, decide for yourself

  • aaron lee

    Tom we don’t always agree, but you hit that out of the ballpark.

  • Paul Slavens

    I didnt realize I was refusing to do anything.
    The move toward safeness and “conservatism” in all art is a natural and eternal trend. Things start out “avantgarde” then end up as pop culture as people accept it and integrate elements of it into their lives. It cant be stopped but it may be dealt with in other ways so that the original germs of creativity are not wiped out by the growth.
    Too bad you werent actually there to witness the panel you are writing about. It was all about resisting blandness in art, the cooping of innovation and as Harvey Pekar said several times, keeping it fresh.
    I guess I may not be on board with your post-band idea. Im not really into telling anyone what kind of music they should create, under any circumstances.

    The City of Denton is making definite attempts to integrate, understand and foster the underground art scene. There are dedicated people who work hard to get the community to recognize the art scene and the artists to work on the community. I am the music coordinator for the Ultra Extra Arts Mixer later this month. It is put on by the Greater Denton Arts Council and is a perfect example of the city trying to create events that bring us all together.

    That being said, I have my trepidations about government getting involved in art, I am not wholly against it, I just urge caution.

  • Andy Cooper

    Paul – I was there for part of the panel discussion. I think your summary of the event has been quite accurate. I think you did a very fine job moderating the discussion, and fielding the questions and comments by Harvey’s wife.

    Somewhere – there is a wonderful solution to the problem of playing music in Denton without going down the path of the dark side like Deep Ellum. Thanks for being such a central figure in wanting to do something positive for Denton. You are appreciated.