Dallas' Punk Scene Led Frank Turrentine to a Life of DIY Agriculture
Bands like the Nervebreakers stay close to Frank Turrentine's heart
This was supposed to be the year Frank Turrentine planted rice and sorghum on his land. His garden was set to be twice as big as before, but it’s not going to happen. The May showers came and made a river of his driveway on his property out in Milsap, just west of Fort Worth. The waters flooded his office, where he usually works making calls and sending press releases selling industrial-grade soap.
At first glance, Turrentine looks like your average country bumpkin, but there’s more to him than that. In the early days of the punk rock scene in Dallas, he was a city kid and a punk, a well-known member of the local DIY community. Today he lives off the land, often posting photos and videos of his garden online for his friends and family to see, a passion that stems equally from a deep love for nature and a hardcore ethos.
“My dream out here was to be able to feed myself year-round and be free of this technological web that I can neither control nor comprehend, nor, at some point possibly, afford,” he says. “I’ve never been a material success and I’ve never wanted to feel vulnerable or depend on this system.”
Turrentine was a suburban punk. He’s also queer. Growing up in Irving, he considered himself “the world’s first hippie.” Weirdos weren’t socially accepted there. As a kid, he would lie on the floor of his room in the dark, listening to Black Sabbath.
He never had any bands of his own, but he plays piano. He’s quite good and he’s thankful that his parents paid for his lessons growing up. After a piano audition, he transferred from his Irving high school to Booker T. Washington, where he felt more comfortable being himself.
At 16, Turrentine got his first job at Tejas Petroleum, next to Metamorphosis, a record shop on Allen Street in Uptown. His job duties included burning Canadian tar sands and samples from oil fields in Brazil. In his downtime, he’d drink and go to punk shows, which he and his friends called “new wave” shows back then.
“I was just a really lonely queer kid, trying to get laid and looking for a place that I could drink without getting harassed,” says Turrentine. “Nobody really messed with me and no one questioned me. I wasn’t one of the cool kids, you know? I didn’t have to explain myself and everyone was just doing what they wanted, and that was what I really liked about it.”
He frequented Hot Klub, where he witnessed seminal Dallas punks such as Bobby Soxx and the Telefones play. Soxx was a local punk rock figurehead who fronted the bands Teenage Queers and Stickmen With Rayguns, known for their existentialist grit. Turrentine remembers Soxx as an obnoxious drunk, “a unique little snowflake” whom he nev-ertheless enjoyed. Turrentine also hung out with the Nervebreakers at their practice space. The band’s singer, Barry Kooda, is his hero to this day.
But his inclusion in the punk community didn’t make his life as a young gay man any easier. Into adulthood, Turrentine saw some incredibly dark times, living “with an endless parade of human debris,” as he puts it. He’s been arrested nine times and used drugs, mostly speed and cocaine, but got into more trouble with alcohol than anything. He’s still in recovery. During the late ’80s, he lived at a bar on Fitzhugh Avenue called the 8th Day, known as a magnet for prostitution.
“That’s the place where love was sold from orange neon lights. It was an ugly place,” he says. “I saw so much despair.”
During the HIV/AIDS epidemic he lost about 200 close friends. “I can’t believe I never got HIV,” he says. “I took so many risks. Serious risks.”
At the height of the epidemic, he became one of the first “condom guerillas,” he says. He and a friend would pass out free condom packets to local bars and bath houses to prevent the virus from spreading.
Eventually, he moved out to his father’s farm, where he spent years driving around with a pint of whiskey and a pistol under the seat of his ’63 Chevy pick up. “I don’t recognize that guy anymore,” he says.
But in ’99, Turrentine met a man from Wisconsin who changed his life for the better. He played in a band and turned Turrentine back onto the world of punk rock, DIY culture. Turrentine became vegan and moved to Minneapolis to start a new life. The ’90s wave of DIY punk rock became his salvation. To this day, he’s an avid record collector.
“I love doomy, sludgy, slow, ponderous stuff like Nuthbrush, Corrupted and Burning Witch,” he says. “I eat that shit up.”
After moving back to Texas in 2006, briefly living in Oak Cliff, he became a regular at Dallas shows. But eventually he returned to the farm to take care of his father, who passed away in 2013. Despite their political differences — “Dad was a little bit to the right of brother John Birch,” Turrentine says — the two remained close, even planting trees together each year. Since his passing, Turrentine continues to take care of his father’s land and animals and often visits his mother in Irving.
Now that the flood has receded, he’s resumed his routine. Each day, he goes out to the trailer to tend to the animals. A dog, a hundred some odd chickens, seven geese, two ducks and a bunch of guinea fowl run loose on his property.
Instead of sustainable agriculture, Turrentine prefers to use the term “regenerative agriculture,” an aspect of permaculture. It’s not just about gardening, landscaping and design, he says. It’s about social justice, caring for the earth and its people, and sharing the surplus. To him, the punk rock, DIY ethos is intertwined with permaculture. Living in a country where consumerism is king, he’s proud to give back to the earth, and it gives him a Zen-like sense of peace.
Turrentine says he’s still an old hippie. But he’s also a die-hard punk rocker and, above all, a survivor. His aim is to continue nursing the land near the Brazos River, where he’ll always feel at home. “The only place where I found any redemption was digging in the dirt and growing things and being in the river with my dog,” he says.
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