Almost a year ago, a group of Dallas gun owners decided their favorite hardware needed a little sunlight and fresh air. So these mouth-breathing locals started taking semi-automatic weapons on play dates to chain restaurants like Chili's and Chipotle, causing a wave of confusion to pass over Awesome Blossom-stuffed faces and lots of coverage on network and cable news shows.
It was a movement just waiting to be skewered. And Barry Kooda was the man for the job.
Kooda, whose real name is Barry Huebner, is a 62-year-old musician and songwriter best known for his work with the proto-punk band the Nervebreakers. With the rise of the "open carry" movement, he saw a target in desperate need of a healthy injection of humor, humility and basic common sense.
After reading "one too many" stories about people bringing dangerous weapons into public places, Kooda gathered up his weapons of choice, his guitars, and posed with them on his porch to announce his own "open carry guitar" movement on his Facebook page. That picture sparked a surge of viral support, a few "unfriendings" and a huge rally that he recently announced will return to the Continental Avenue Bridge over the Trinity River on Sunday, May 3.
Kooda's viral success was something of an accident. In that first photo he dons a face mask, sunglasses and a baseball cap with a neck shield, a medical necessity because he was taking medicine for Hepatitis C that prohibited him from being in direct contact with sunlight. That outfit defined an heroic alter-ego for Kooda and became the symbol of the open carry guitar movement. Just like Cyclops' laser-blocking eye shield or Rogue's skin-tight gloves, Kooda's gear signified a pseudo-superhero with a satiric wit and an innate talent for stirring up trouble and dressing down an army of ignorance and iron-fisted stupidity.
"It made an image in people's minds and provoked a thought in them like, 'Oooh, this is mysterious. Let's get behind this,'" Kooda says. "People started posting pictures and getting ready for the rally, and one guy even had a bandana and a mask on, doing what I did. It was just an accidental necessity."
Kooda insists he didn't intend to make himself the icon of the Open Guitar Rally, which in its first year attracted a huge crowd of guitar-clutching followers who walked back and forth from one end of the Continental Avenue Bridge to the other, strumming strings the whole way. He just became a canvas that the crowd could use to paint and project their own ideas for the movement.
"I've always said I'm an instigator, not an organizer," Kooda says.
Barry's penchant for instigation goes back to high school. The unrelenting horror of the Vietnam War was impossible to escape, Kooda says, and he jumped into the political fray by reading Stoney Burns' underground newspapers and joining in protests on and off the Irving High School campus, even though he was just "a dumb kid."
That "dumb kid" grew up pretty quickly one afternoon when he met a Vietnam veteran during a protest at Lee Park. "He said, 'Man, you don't know what the hell you're talking about. You've never been there,'" Kooda remembers. "I was just some punk kid. He was one of the guys who got spit on when he showed up at the airport. I was like, 'Dude, you're right.'"
So Kooda quit school in 1971 and joined the Army in hopes of getting stationed in Vietnam. But he showed an abnormally high aptitude for mechanical reasoning and ended up in Korea, where he got "free access to the badassest weapons you could have."
"If there was something to shoot, I'd go shoot it," he says. "It's fun. You never make the correlation. Most people didn't think that when you blow up stuff, it's not just stuff. It was just stuff to us and we never considered the fact that we would be going to war and would actually be doing harm to other humans. That was the case. We were just shooting the target."
The University of Texas shootings carried out by gunman Charles Whitman in 1966 and the Tylenol poisonings of 1982 seemed to widen the divide between the hopeful and the cynical, Kooda says. He brought those harsh realizations to his music and found that punk rock struck the perfect balance by demanding to be heard and understood without actually throwing a punch or firing a shot.
"No one is listening to you," Kooda explains. "You have opinions, you have problems and no one is listening to you. So you pretty much had to get a bullhorn and yell into their face, 'DO YOU HEAR ME?'" For the former war-protester, at the time almost 30, punk rock was the outlet he'd always been waiting for. "It was all-inclusive, like the guitar rally. [The rally] brought in people who had overlapping viewpoints, not the same viewpoints. Punk rock was the same way."
Kooda said the Open Carry Guitar Rally and movement were never intended to be a statement for total gun control or even taking away those guns. His intention was purely to make fun of the open carry movement as an ideal. Plus, as a fifth-generation Texan, guns were as big a part of his childhood as snipe hunts and riding in pickups without seat belts. But open carry supporters seem to be losing self-awareness along with their grasp on reality, and Kooda wants to raise that awareness. The movement seems to be gaining steam on Facebook after the Texas Senate passed an open carry bill that will surely be signed into law once it reaches the governor's desk.
"Gun sense is what put me into this thing as well," Kooda says. "Sensible gun ownership is completely different now from what it was then. I had my first .22 when I was 11. You knew how to handle them. You knew what the dangers were, and you knew what was morally and ethically correct and you didn't ever think about carrying your long rifle through a coffee shop, which there weren't any. It's flabbergasting. That's just not sensible."
He doesn't need the costume that became the iconic image from the first rally anymore -- he's been given a clean bill of health -- but he'll don it again in May. It's become his uniform for the job. "It's not necessary for me personally, but it's the stage costume," he says. "If you're going to be KISS, you've got to dress like KISS."
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Just like comic book superheroes, the mask and sunglasses also help him to conceal his true weaknesses: crippling shyness and a bewildering sense of humility.
"The biggest problem I have is I can never understand why anybody cares a damn about anything I have to say," he admits. "I don't understand it. I'm flabbergasted. You want to hear me? I'm so insecure with that. I can't really turn into this big fathead like Kanye and enjoy it. I would love to have that persona. I'm flattered that anybody cares about anything I do."
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