THE DEATH OF TEXAS CHIC IN MEMORIAM

MONA TRIED. Lord knows, she tried her level best to mold me into an urban cowboy.

She tried teaching me to two-step. But I didn’t have the rhythms that seem to come naturally to ropers and gun-slingers. I kept trying to disco. I kept trying to do the bop.

She tried bribing me with gifts, in the vain hope that new clothes would transform her citified man into at least a semblance, if not an embodiment, of Marlboro Country. She gave me everything I needed, too: anteater boots: a helluva hat with an ostrich feather and a rattlesnake-skin hatband; bootcut jeans and pearl-buttoned Western shirts from Shepler’s and Cutter Bill’s; a leather belt with “B.W.P.” hand-tooled across the back; and a “Long Live Longnecks” buckle so big it covered my navel even when I didn’t hitch up my pants. But duded up, I simply felt like the quintessential midnight plowboy. I felt cosmically absurd.

Mona tried demands: that I take her to Gilley’s; that 1 take her to Billy Bob’s. I took her, grudgingly, to each. I remember once, when I was trying to conquer the Cotton-Eyed Joe, a hand punched my shoulder, and I stopped to face a grinning roughneck best described as big, rangy, a little drunk and somewhat more than semi-tough.

“Hey, ace,” he said over the fiddles and the shouts. “What you call that dance you’re doing? The Farmer’s Stomp?”

I realize now that I was being challenged to manly fisticuffs, perhaps even to a parking-lot duel with pearl-handled .45s. Much to the oilboy’s surprise, however, 1 just let him cut in. I gave him Mona for the rest of the dance. And that, I’m sure, is when I started losing her. To any welder, any trucker, any programmer-cowboy who could waltz her across Texas two Tony Lama steps at a time.

“B.W.,” she complained one night after I refused to go with her to see Urban Cowboy a second time, “I’ll be dead and gone before you learn how to be a real Texan.”

That got me riled. “I was born in Waco, in Central Texas,” I pointedly reminded her. “’I went to the-The-University of Texas. I’ve lived here almost all of my life. I even like to watch the Cowboys and the Oilers on TV. How much more Texan do I have to be?”

Considerable more, I reckon. Last November, Mona finally gave me up for a hard-riding securities analyst who, as she put it in our final, let’s-just-be-friends phone call, “drives a big. black GMC pickup.”

Poor Mona. She’s finally gotten to live her longed-for dream. But what’s she gonna do now that Texas Chic is as dead as a truck-squashed armadillo?

Hell, / tried. I tried warning her that it wouldn’t last, that Texas Chic someday would go to hula-hoop heaven, to pet-rock paradise. She even knew, and didn’t care, that Texas Chic was rooted far deeper in fast-buck capitalism than in social reality. “B.W.,” she would say, “just shut up your talking and take me to a rodeo.”

What could I expect from a hardscrabble woman from Dallas, Austin and Houston – by way of Norfolk, Virginia?

If she couldn’t be a native Texan, she was going to, by God, transfuse Shiner beer, Tolbert’s chili and jalapenos into her blood and become a perfect adopted daughter of the republic.

I never told her how much I really knew about Texas Chic. I never told her about one short sabbatical to New York not long before we met, how 1 briefly moved there hoping to research and write a book titled The Texas Chic Chronicles. I had planned it in the vein of Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. In those days, the late Seventies, you had to go to the Big Apple to write about Texas Chic. That’s where it mostly was happening. It wasn’t yet being exported in crates to its “native” state.

True, Preston Jones’ Texas Trilogy were on their way to a short run on Broadway. Jack Heifner’s play about Texas cheerleaders was doing well off-Broadway. And Larry L. King was cranking out tongue-in-chic articles about the Lone Star State from Manhattan, and trying to get on Broadway with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. But these were New York happenings, not something you could dance to in a Dallas or Houston or San Antonio cow palace.

The Lone Star Cafe had just opened near Greenwich Village. An expatriate’s newspaper called The New York Texan was drawing a few hundred readers. And Judi Buie, formerly of Dallas, was operating a thriving boutique called “Texas” on East 60th Street, selling cowboy boots and other Western paraphernalia to “fashion-conscious and publicity-conscious” New Yorkers and Midwesterners in the city to check the latest fad.

Ex-Texans were in power at several major publications, and the phrases “cowboy chic,” “Western chic,” “kicker chic” and “Texas Chic” suddenly began appearing weekly and monthly in magazines, newspapers and trendsetting fashion journals.’ Soon, almost every big periodical in the Lone Star State also was hyping the glories of Texas Chic -and boasting of the natural wonders and sociological virtues that were creating it here and giving it to the rest of the world.

“Country disco” music may have had a few genuine roots in the progressive country and “redneck rock” sounds that began pouring out of Austin in 1970. But the origins of Texas Chic’s gallingly phony clothes are pure, Parisian prairie league. The French, in the early Seventies, briefly went crazy over cowboy stuff – anything Western. And American fashion moguls, as they are wont to do when threads go galloping through the avenues of Paris, took notice.

All the deeper secrets I learned in New York about Texas Chic, however, would not fill a book. They would not fill more than a few sentences of a magazine article. It was a fad mostly without redeeming substance. But there is one footnote, Billy Clyde, that will throw you off your mechanical bull, for sure: The first Americans to adopt the designer-macho look soon to be known as Texas Chic were – tah, dah! – Manhattan’s gays. Then, fashion models began showing up wearing pointy-toed cowboy boots in magazine spreads highlighting everything from evening dresses to chino pants to gold lame jockstraps.

At the height of Texas Chic’s yahoo insanity, wealthy Texans sometimes would fly to Manhattan to be custom-fitted for “cowboy” boots costing $1,000, $2,000 or more per pair. The foot patterns then were mailed to Texas, where the boots were cut and assembled. Finally, the finished boots would be shipped to New York, and the wealthy Texans would board their planes and fly up there again to proudly put them on -and pay.

The rest is history -and schlock -that should be left uncompiled.

Perhaps the one good thing that can be said for Texas Chic is that it briefly eased some of the universal stigma of being an Aggie or of being from such burgs as Groesbeck, Throckmorton, Daingerfield and Wichita Falls. Even before John Kennedy got shot in Dallas, and LBJ, as commander-in-chief, went all the way to Vietnam and home again to the ranch, being Texan was instant pariah anywhere east of Texarkana, west of El Paso or north of Texline, guaranteed to keep you out of the trend mainstream.

Texas Chic did spawn a movie, of course, starring John Travolta as “Bud,” in the best little dance-and-duds flick since The Slime that Ate Roller Disco. But the fad already was terminal when Hollywood hooked it up to that one, final, hype-pumping life-support machine. Any time Hollywood wakes up and makes a movie about a fad, you can figure that it’s already comatose.

The clearest signal that the end was nigh came last summer, when Mickey Gilley tried to throw himself a Willie Nelson-style Fourth-of-July-picnic in Pasadena, TC’s smelly world capital. Though good citizens warned darkly of “drinks, drugs and animal sex” by crowds of up to 20,000, only 10 souls showed up for opening day, and the mob scene peaked at 1,000.

At last report, Texas Chic was still alivein Singapore -and threatening to invadethe People’s Republic of China. Mona, ifyou still love me, meet me at Mao Bob’s…

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