Henry Rollins: The Texas Paradox
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
I am in San Antonio, Texas. I have been in the state for several days, shooting the next season of 10 Things You Don't Know About for the H2 network. There is a lot to like about Texas. I don't think there is a state in the Union as much as its own sovereign entity. If Texas were to somehow secede from the United States and go back to its pre-1845 annexation status, I wonder if many Texans would even notice!
I think a lot of people from here see themselves as Texan definitely, and American technically, like the small box you check at the bottom of the form to get online. The state flag is everywhere. I'll bet if you took a vote right now, a lot of Texans would be more than happy to leave America and never look back.
Last night, I spent several hours at a weekly rodeo held about half an hour from the Alamo, which is only a few blocks from where I am sitting now. Lots of jeans, cowboy hats and boots. Tall, strong men and lean, clear-eyed women ate barbecue at long tables and socialized. Their healthy offspring of all ages were everywhere. I was unable not to be quite taken with all of it. There were moments when I expected to hear a director yell, "Cut! Moving on."
It was a great Saturday night. Perfect temperature, lots of laughter, the larger-than-life rodeo announcer's voice booming over the PA system as people hooted and hollered. I could not help but respect it all for being so impeccably Texan.
With a camera crew, I interviewed several of the rodeo-goers about interesting moments in Texas history, of which there are many. As I have found in doing a lot of this kind of thing, some know quite a bit and others seem to have been hatched the day before and can't bring much to the conversation. When I laid some historical high notes about their state on them, some seemed a bit surprised. It made me wonder what the Texas Board of Education is leaving out of their books.
Today, I walked around near the Alamo, where on March 6, 1836, Santa Anna's soldiers, who greatly outnumbered the Texans behind the compound's walls, killed or captured all those inside. Several days later, in April, the Battle of San Jacinto would swing the pendulum the other way: The Mexican army would be smashed, General Santa Anna would be captured and Texas would be born. Approximately 151 years later, The Butthole Surfers would release their Locust Abortion Technician album, giving people all over the world another reason to like Texas.
In any case, at the Alamo today, the weather was hot, humid and oppressive. The fast-food outlets and restaurants thickened the air with the smell of meat and grease. Tourists mixed with locals as the sun hammered away. It's a tough but nonthreatening neighborhood, very much like parts of our fair city. In spite of the heat and ambient stench, people were very friendly to me. They wished me a good time in San Antonio and good luck with the show.
It's true, there is a lot to like about Texas. A ton of great musicians and bands come from here. Besides the aforementioned Surfers, notables include Lightnin' Hopkins, Roky Erickson, Buddy Holly, the Big Boys, Janis, Waylon, Stevie Ray, Ornette - the list goes on and on.
Austin is one of the funnest places in America. It holds the annual South by Southwest music conference, which is a critical event for understanding where music and the entertainment industry is going.
By all outward appearances, Texans should be a pretty free-thinking, born-to-lead bunch, right?
This is where Texas becomes hard to understand. Born out of revolution and stubborn determination, the state is home to the Johnson Space Center and is the state of President Lyndon Johnson, who signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It's also a death-by-execution record breaker. Texas seems hell-bent on making it all but impossible for a woman to get an abortion; Roe v. Wade is but a minor nuisance for Texas. Remember Wendy Davis and her 12-hour filibuster? She ultimately lost.
On the Fox News website last month, under the headline "U.S. appeals court upholds new Texas abortion rules," there is a photo of a woman taken at a demonstration outside a clinic in Haltom City, Texas. She is holding a sign that says "Texas is pro god, pro family, pro life" and, in extra large letters, "pro guns." I wonder if she has any Butthole Surfer albums.
I am in the "if you are against abortion, then don't have one" camp, because it allows everyone to get what they want and need.
Neither side will come over to the other's, nor do I think they have to, especially since both can have it their way.
Texas state government overwhelmingly does not agree.
Also, voting restrictions and rules have become quite onerous in Texas. What is Texas so afraid of? It's not voter fraud - it's voters.
I find this not all that impressive, not very American. I hope it's not "Texan" but, sadly, it just might be.
It is all of the above that I have been trying to untangle for the last several days as I interview incredibly intelligent teachers, historians and scientists. I cannot figure out if Texas is running toward the past or just hunkering down and becoming more Texafied.
I find myself strangely without opinion about all this. I consider Texas a different country that conveniently allows me to use American currency when I am visiting.
You might disagree with how some things are done in Texas. I guarantee you there are millions of incredibly friendly people here who will smile, shake your hand and cheerfully inform you they absolutely do not care what you think. Texas forever - or for as long as they want.
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