New Web-Based Project And a Day in Dallas Will Prove That Even Now, Terry Southern Lives!
Well, OK, in case you're still not clear: He's Alvarado-born, Oak Cliff-raised, SMU-educated writer who bridged the gap between the Beat 1950s and the Beatles 1960s -- the author of masterpiece novels (The Magic Christian and Blue Movie, among 'em), a scriptwriter of no small legend (Dr. Strangelove, Barbarella and Easy Rider, no matter what Dennis Hopper said, etc.) and the gonzo scribbler without whom there'd have been no Hunter S. Thompson. Terry's not on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for nothing. Now that we're clear.
Come May 1, you'll hear this all over again: I'm moderating a Q&A with Terry's boy Nile at the Texas Theatre, in between a Strangelove screening and a few minutes of Nile's doc-in-progress about his old man Dad Strangelove, which Nile was in town shooting way back last April. May 1 would have been Terry's 87th birthday, had he not died in October 1995. Filmmaker Kirby Warnock (Border Bandits, Return to Giant) put the whole thing together. L.A.-based painter Matt Aston will debut his portrait of Terry in the lobby, and Warnock tells Unfair Park today he even got council member Delia Jasso on board with having the city of Dallas proclaim it Terry Southern Day, fingers crossed. Maybe Mayor Dwaine can give Terry's ghost the key to the city.
"I don't know if the proclamation's a shoe-in, but I am thrilled that's what's happening," says Nile, who maintains this rich website in his dad's honor in an attempt to reach the audience that has no idea who Terry Southern was. "There's a time and a place for everything, and it has to do with someone like Kirby having the idea and then others following suit. It takes all kinds of people to make something happen. Frankly, Dallas wasn't ready for Terry in this way prior to now, because some efforts were made, but I find Alvarado and Dallas open to celebrating their long-lost wayward son now."
And now may indeed be Terry's time: One of the most intriguing announcements to come out of Austin during South by Southwest so far has to do with Terry. On Saturday, during the interactive portion of the multimedia fest, University of Colorado at Boulder's Boulder Digital Works and Terry's son Nile introduced something called the Red Dirt Collective -- so named for the Texas-set short story "Red Dirt Marijuana" that ranks among the most autobiographical tales in his estimable canon.
Nile says he got involved after being contacted by Boulder Digital Works' executive director, David Slayden, an old friend who's well-versed in Nile's efforts to keep alive his father's literary legacy -- no small task given the mess in which Nile found his dad's estate 16 years back.
But ... what the hell is it, anyhow? Besides a "transmedia project ... inviting the user community to collect and display original works of writing, film and art created in the spirit of Southern," as USA Today describes it. (There's a video trailer below, explaining further, in which you can see Nile.)
"It's something guys our age don't cotton to that quickly," he says, laughing. "But it has to do with tweeting and crowd-sourcing and the new ways young people build community. They decided to take Terry Southern as a test-case project in something called transmedia storytelling. There's a definition of that out there somewhere -- I don't know if I'm a reliable source -- but it has to do with generating communities of interest around a subject or a product or a brand and having them cross-pollinate through different media. It sounds crass, but it's a way to get young people engaged with Terry Southern's work. None of these 25 students in digital studies had ever heard of Terry Southern. Not one. But they're a very creative lot, and they do know all about twittering." And, again, he laughs.
"It's an experiment. It's the first step toward building more active engagement with Terry's work on the Internet, and when his books come out in e-book form -- which will be soon, I hope -- we'll have a better understanding of how to connect with a younger audience. This was a spontaneous impulse on my part to jump into this situation. I guess that's my modus operandi. Call me an opportunist, but anyone who says, 'Let's try this with Terry Southern's work, let's do this,' I kinda go for it. That's my first impulse.
"People who manage literary estates don't do that. They're very cautious, but I'd like to be done with this work for a while and let it carry its own weight. It does take some special handling. It requires some treatment other authors don't need because Terry's work is so hard to classify. It's material that is sometimes scandalous or heavy-duty or maybe even anachronistic. It's all good, though. I often say if I were Raymond Chandler or John Steinbeck' son I wouldn't feel the same compulsion to put the work out there because it's already out there, but Terry's work isn't -- and it's still full of surprises."