Monday, September 14, 2015

A paper, a city and a few of its people 20 years later

Okay, so this is Charlotte. We live in one of the fastest growing metros in the country. Millennials are tripping all over each other to move here and take advantage of what our city has to offer. Our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods such as Plaza-Midwood, NoDa and SouthEnd have become evening destinations. Twenty years ago, who would have known?

Prior to 1995, Charlotte wanted to be a major city. It had dreams and ambitions. It had landed the NBA a few years earlier. The NFL was on the way. Banks were getting bigger and building towers. The thought was, if New York, or Boston, or Atlanta, heck if even Raleigh could do certain things, why not us? Unfortunately, there was still a certain small town insularity that still lingered over Charlotte and reared its ugly head when anyone tried to “rock the boat.” The safe, clean-cut, “family-friendly,” pressed shirt, lights out by 10:00 at night persona was the social norm here. Anyone who deviated from that was frowned upon. Sure, there were a couple rock clubs or galleries here or there and an occasional punk show would come through every now and then, but having a unified scene or district was very difficult due to the spread-out locations of places and small number of enthusiasts at the time. Things were beginning to change as Charlotte got bigger though. Also, as more companies came to town, and more people moved here from other places, they brought their culture and ideas with them.

At the same time, a few of us who had just graduated from college and with our own Generation X tendencies had a few opinions we wanted to get out there. Since social media was not invented yet and the World Wide Web was a year or two from breaking into the mainstream, publishing a newspaper seemed like a good idea. After spending a year gathering a core group of people, learning how to gather resources to assemble a paper and find someone to print the thing, Tangents was born in September, 1995.

The first issue was the mix of a literary magazine, alternative press, and a fanzine.  It had some fiction and poetry, reviews of local music, an article about the upcoming phenomenon called the internet and a few pictures of some carefully covered naked people just to add some spice. Five thousand copies were distributed all over Charlotte, and our content caused enough controversy to have some companies kindly (and not so kindly) ask us not to our paper off at their places anymore. Mission accomplished.

For the next three years, Tangents tried to push the envelope, covering topics in depth such as drug addiction, sadomasochism, teen pregnancy, censorship, homosexuality and other items from a Charlotte perspective that some locals would have rather kept under the rug. In addition, we interviewed musicians such as a member of Marilyn Manson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Moe Tucker; and covered general interest subjects such as ghost stories, Charlotte Hornets foibles and local theatre. We weren’t afraid to make fun of a local county commissioner or state legislator every now and then if we thought the moment called for it.

Meanwhile, as Tangents evolved, so did Charlotte.  As the Carolina Panthers began playing downtown, people began realizing how much fun going back to the city could actually be. More bars and restaurants began opening on Tryon and College Streets, and people actually kept coming back, even on off nights. On a formally derelict mill village off North Davidson Street, artists had begun opening galleries and hosting monthly crawls on various Fridays. Those events became more frequent and some bars and clubs opened next door, creating the NoDa district we have today. Similar things happened in Plaza-Midwood and SouthEnd while Dilworth and Elizabeth matured in their own right.

The old conservative, provincial Charlotte was still rearing its ugly head every now and then. Angels in America, a play with strong gay themes and brief nudity, was presented by the Charlotte Rep in 1996. While well received in other cities, various religious leaders decided to cause a ruckus about it being performed here and tried to get it banned. After an injunction by a local judge let the show go on, multiple sell-outs followed, but a conservative County Commission cut funding for the Arts and Science Council in retaliation a year later. This caused national embarrassment for the city for years to come. There was still always the little bout of hysteria that would occur is a certain rock or rap band would come through town (i.e. GWAR, Marilyn Manson anybody) or god forbid a local club host an all-night rave dance party. Ooooooh … How would this affect the children? But the shows went on, the sky didn’t fall, and the city moved forward.

Tangents folded after three years in 1998. As Charlotte grew, so did many of its publishers. Lewd continued on to a successful career in journalism and layout at more mainstream publications. Daniel Coston takes pictures of bands and has had his work featured in Rolling Stone, Spin, and many albums and CD’s. He has also published a few books. I went on to a TV career doing broadcast operations for the likes of ESPN and FOX Sports. We have all bought houses, married, started families of our own, just like everyone else. I won’t say we’ve mellowed, but we’ve left it to the millennials and the next generation to make their mark on the city to do as they see fit.

Charlotte has continued to mature over the past few years. There are more entertainment choices here today than any time I can remember. The community seems a lot more tolerant of different things today than any time I can remember too. Is there still room for improvement? Yes. While we are much more gay-friendly as a community than we were 20 years ago, we still do not have an ordinance protecting people from discrimination. We are also listed as one of the most difficult cities for one to rise out of poverty if you live here. This is something worth working on. We also have a state legislature that is very rural and biased against cities in general which doesn’t help our cause in general. There is also the question of how gentrification affects Charlotte’s in-town neighborhoods. Will all the new high-rise apartments and houses displace and price out the people who rebuilt and made these places cool to begin with? Will we become sanitized again?

The remaining question is, will Charlotte ever catch up with the likes of New York, or Boston or Atlanta? Probably not, they will always be many steps ahead of us and that is OK. But look at how far we have come.

— Dann Dunn

No comments:

Post a Comment