Cosmic cowboys, armadillos and outlaws: the cultural politics of Texan identity in the 1970s

Mellard, Jason Dean
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This dissertation investigates the figure of “the Texan” during the 1970s across local, regional, and national contexts to unpack how the “national” discourse of Texanness by turns furthered and foreclosed visions of a more inclusive American polity in the late twentieth century. The project began in oral history work surrounding the cultural politics of Austin’s progressive country music scene in the decade, but quickly expanded to encompass the larger transformations roiling the state and the nation in the 1970s. As civil rights and feminist movements redefined hegemonic notions of the representative Texan, icons of Anglo-Texan masculinity—the cowboy, the oilman, the wheeler-dealer—came in for a dizzying round of celebration and critique, satire and ritual performance. Such Seventies performances of “the Texan” as took place in Austin’s “cosmic cowboy” subculture provided an imaginative space to refigure Anglo-Texan identity in ways that responded to and internalized the decade’s identity politics. From the death of Lyndon Johnson to Willie Nelson’s picnics, from the United Farm Workers’ marches on Austin to the spectacle of Texas Chic on the streets of New York City, Texas mattered in these years not simply as a place, but as a repository of longstanding American myths and symbols at a historical moment in which that mythology was being deeply contested. This dissertation maps the messy ground of the 1970s in Texas along several paths. It begins some years prior with the Centennial Exposition of 1936 and the regionalism of J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedichek before proceeding to the challenges to their vision of “the Texan” on the part of the African American civil rights, Chicano, and women’s movements. The dissertation’s central chapters then address the melding of countercultural forms and the state’s traditional Anglo-Texan iconography and music in spaces like Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters. Popular music, art, film, journalism, and literature evoke this attempted revisioning of Anglo-Texan masculinity in dialogue with the decade’s identity politics.