Keeping It Weird
Full disclosure Denman, you borrowed this slogan, depending on your politics, from either the city of Portland or Austin. But that’s OK, mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery. As Marty Smith wrote, “if it’s any consolation, Portland isn’t the only non-Austin city to adopt the “Keep ____ Weird” mantra … You know what they say: When one person copies you, it’s plagiarism; when 50 people copy you, it’s a movement.”
According to CultureMap Austin and other sources, it was a telephone call from an Austin Community College librarian to a local radio station that launched the iconic slogan. In 2000, Red Wassenich called KOOP’s one Saturday morning because he was listening to ”The Lounge Show.” The show, a weekly radio program, played offbeat music (Bing Crosby crooning ”Hey, Jude”) and Wassenich liked it so much he made a donation. ‘Whoever answered the telephone asked, “Why did you support the show?’ ” Wassenich recalled, “I don’t know. It helps keep Austin weird.”
With that, the mantra was born, and Austin’s international reputation for being weird was established. Soon Wassenich and his wife began printing bumper stickers that year with the proceeds going to dogs shelters. And Wassenich is no stranger to weirdness himself. He fancies black velvet depictions of Elvis and has a collection of smashed cutlery and teapots hanging in his kitchen. His wife, when they met, had a collection of melted objects in her apartment. Weird.
Wassenich believes that Austin reached its weirdness heyday in the 1970s but admits that at that time he was in his 20s and “everyone thinks that in their early 20s.” Despite the city’s growth and the constant debate about whether Austin is truly “weird,” the slogan — and shop local campaign — has remained for over two decades. But some worry that the Austin has lost some of its weirdness due to commercialization and unaffordability. As for Wassenich, he’s not worried, “It ain’t as funky as it used to be, but neither am I.”
A sample of some weird Austin attractions … the Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon; the Cathedral of Junk; the Museum of the Weird; Spamara, featuring cooking and eating Spam contests; and Goga Yoga, goats climbing on you while doing the Downward Facing Dog and other positions. Part petting zoo, part yoga class. Weird.
And Portland? As Alexia Wulff wrote, “Portland has been affectionately referred to as ‘weird’ for decades – perhaps because it has the most strip clubs per capita in the nation or the highest prevalence of man buns and mustaches.” No matter what it is, the city’s weirdness has been apparent for decades.
Unfortunately, the city has also gotten more expensive than it used to be for artistic types to continue their thing, but there are a lot of people still working hard keeping it weird. One of those people, who dresses up as Darth Vader in a kilt and plays flaming bagpipes while riding a unicycle, is Brian Kidd, “The Unipiper.”
To help preserve the identity of the city, Kidd also runs a nonprofit, called Weird Portland United. Its vision: “a Portland devoid of barriers where citizens feel free to take risks, find success through living to their full creative potential, and take pride in their unique way of doing things.”
And Denman? Are you really still keeping it weird? Let’s have a look. You really like your stickers on your vehicles (including the one we are talking about). Though I’m not sure whether they exist to make a statement about yourself or are simply hiding random dents and scratches. But is this actually weird? According to psychologist William Szlemko at Colorado State University, the quantity of stickers on a car is a predictor of road rage. The more stuff plastered on the outside of your ride, the more likely you are to jump out brandishing a curling iron. (Don’t worry, Cortes Islanders really like their car sticker clusters, as well.)
So, let’s have a dawdle on Denman. You don’t have a marina, or a pub at a marina like most other islands. Weird. Even Lasquiti has a marina pub. You advertise only one place to go swimming (Fillongley Park), yet you have two lakes, and a couple of beach accesses. Weird, but I totally get it. And it’s been seven years now and you still don’t know how to merge. Weird.
Maybe it’s the locals who are weird, but from what I can observe as an outsider, you Denman Islanders seem rather normal, really. So perhaps, you may consider a couple of suggestions for a new island sticker: “Keep Denman Mildly Unusual” or maybe, “Denman: Trying to Keep It Weird.”
But hey, Denman, if you do manage to discover, promote and nurture those dreamers, creators, and risk-takers that Keep Denman Weird, then on Hornby, we will be sporting a new sticker on our vehicles: “Hornby Island: Between a Rock and a Weird Place.”