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Cool city


Kurt Hochenauer November 15th, 2007

When city officials recently dedicated a Bricktown alley in honor of The Flaming Lips, they did more than just honor a local rock band that has become world famous.   They also sent this clear ...

When city officials recently dedicated a Bricktown alley in honor of The Flaming Lips, they did more than just honor a local rock band that has become world famous.

 

They also sent this clear and long overdue message to the city's artistic and creative community: We want you here.

 

Just a few years ago, the city and some of its residents were fighting over street pole banners that celebrated gay pride. These days, local rock star Wayne Coyne is publicly and casually using the "f-word" at an official dedication ceremony honoring his psychedelic alternative rock band, which has been based in Oklahoma City since the Eighties. The band has won three Grammy Awards.

 

And, don't forget the recent Ghouls Gone Wild parade, sponsored by Oklahoma Gazette and featuring Coyne and the Lips as grand marshal.

 

Is Oklahoma City shedding its image of provincialism? Do the city's creative types at last feel comfortable and appreciated here? Is it all a dream?

 

These are larger questions without absolute answers. What is clear, though, is that Coyne, lead singer for the Lips, has emerged as Oklahoma City's coolest ambassador. It may or may not be a role he wants, though he seems comfortable enough with it. His message is that musicians and artists, outside of the country music framework, can be based in the Oklahoma City area and become successful. No one has to move to New York or Los Angeles to make it.

 

For some, this may seem anti-climatic. But consider this: Oklahoma City needs its creative community desperately if it wants to grow and improve its overall quality of life. Music and art, for some, may be just a backdrop to life, but even as a backdrop, they enrich people's day-to-day realities in tangible ways. A world without music and art always will be a bleak, depressed place.

 

On a less romantic note, author Richard Florida penned a book published in 2002 titled "The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life." Essentially, the book argues for the economic importance of creative people in cities. The book received discussion among Oklahoma City leaders, who have made efforts to cultivate this so-called creative class.

 

Coyne's musical vision and continued ties to Oklahoma City and the current municipal government philosophy are having a deep impact on the city's cultural life. It's an exciting time for Oklahoma City.

 

Yet, in times of great cultural change, there is often a backlash among those who resist it. Recently, the state received a typical dose of negative national publicity for its new draconian anti-illegal immigration laws that are spreading fear throughout the local Hispanic community. It also received negative national publicity when a few dozen legislators refused to accept special centennial editions of the Quran.

 

This Okie schizophrenia may seem confusing, but keep in mind major cultural change always stirs emotions and creates drama. Yet those who cling to old stereotypes and biases always get left behind eventually.

 

Now, when does the new NBA team get here?

 

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the progressive blog Okie Funk: Notes From the Outback, www.okiefunk.com.

 
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