11 May 2011

Tom Miller : Stoney Burns Was Dallas' Underground Iconoclast

Remembering Stoney Burns:
Dallas' underground iconoclast

He lived up to his image: longish brillo hair, loads of dope, young cuties by his side, and a great appetite for outrage and graphic explosion.
By Tom Miller / The Rag Blog / May 11, 2011

[Texas underground press pioneer and counterculture icon Stoney Burns died of a heart attack, April 28, 2011, in Dallas.]

In the late 1960s and into the ‘70s I lived in Tucson, but spent a great deal of time traveling the Southwest writing for different underground newspapers. This included Austin’s Rag, Space City! (Houston), Seers Catalog (Albuquerque), and a paper in Denver whose name I don’t recall.

Occasionally this slipped over into the South, where I spent a week or so with both the Kudzu (Jackson, Miss.) and Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta), and north to D.C. where I put in time at the Washington Free Press and Quicksilver Times.

The anti-war movement and the culture it flowered were my main topics, but learning from one paper and passing on information to the next was as important as helping write and edit.

I helped start a paper in Tucson, Mad Funk, which lasted three issues (if you count a one-page broadside call-to-action as an issue). In Phoenix an alternative paper was starting, New Times, and there too I helped out. Yet no paper was as colorful and wildly anarchic as Dallas Notes, later The Iconoclast, run by Stoney Burns.

I called him one day out of the blue, introduced myself, and was invited to the Notes house on -- was it McKinney? Live Oak? Lots of Dallas hippies, young runaways, excellent marijuana, the obligatory mattresses on the floor, and a kitchen where, when the cockroaches weren’t having dinner, we did.

It was summer 1969, and I had just visited Melissa, a small Texas town about 40 miles away whose café jukebox carried virulently racist songs. They were so proud of the tunes that they allowed me to tape record one. Stoney loved to run original pieces about stupid Texans, and my piece, “Ruralism, Racism, and Rhythm,” ran in the July 2, 1969 issue of Dallas Notes.

(I was so struck by how uptight and viciously right-wing Dallas was, I wrote a piece about the city for Hard Times, a terrific muckraking broadside published in Washington, D.C. by the late Andrew Kopkind and James Ridgeway.)

Stoney was a piece of work. He lived up to his image: longish brillo hair, loads of dope, young cuties by his side, and a great appetite for outrage and graphic explosion. He took his role as editor/founder seriously, and you could always count on him to do precise pica counts late into the night making sure his provocative headlines fit above cartoons mocking the local police and City Councilmen, promoting SNCC and La Raza.

At a certain hour of the night he’d grab some cash from a shoebox and we’d head out for late-night grub.

Writer and editor: Tom Miller, left, at underground press conference in Boulder, Colorado, summer of 1973. Photo from Underground Press Archive 1. Right, Stoney Burns in the Iconoclast office, 1972. Photo from University of Texas Press.

Once I flew in to Love Field and, as usual, the first thing I did was to genuflect before the metal statue of the Texas Ranger with the legend: “ONE RIOT, ONE RANGER.” By the time I got to the Notes house Dallas police had already visited and left. Two typewriters were broken on the front yard, having been tossed out of second-floor windows by police.

Middle class Dallas was losing its kids, giving themselves up by the dozen every Sunday at Lee Park. That police in plain clothes and uniform trailed Stoney everywhere amused him. Given the entertainment side of Notes, then Iconoclast, Stoney had warm relations with nightclub and movie theater owners, and often took me along as he dropped in one, then another, then another.

Stoney was gracious enough to reprint pieces I published elsewhere, including a parody I wrote for The Realist about a waterbed that leaked and shocked its owner to death, and another about J. Edgar Hoover’s secret hang-ups.

In all I’d estimate Stoney printed some dozen pieces of mine, and as often as I could, I’d try to pass through Dallas to help with layout and distribution for those and a subsequent issue or two. He was always hospitable, and agog at what was going on elsewhere in the country.

Among the creative contributors to Stoney’s papers was the late illustrator Charles Oldham, known better as Charlie O, who worked on layout and design. One issue I was in had two major front-page headlines: “Youth Community Hit by Massive Dope Raids,” and “Test Your Orgasm.”

The paper also had a running full-page cartoon series about God, called “The Man -- The Continuing Story of God.” What sticks out in my mind even today is that in each strip some hippie would offer God a toke, and the good Lord invariably accepted.

By 1972 Stoney had enough credibility that his newspaper challenged FM rock station KRLD to a game of “revolutionary beísbol.”

At some point Stoney tired of being jailed, harassed, calling the ACLU, and getting out again, and soon started a music mag, named for Buddy Holly. Buddy seemed to do well for him -- I contributed one piece -- but I was more and more tied to writing books and less and less floating through the Southwest.

In 1984, however, I was working on a book that included a factory in Garland, a Dallas suburb. Stoney met me at DFW, we went out for a meal, and at a bar, some weather-beaten once attractive blonde became part of our party.

Just as Stoney was dropping me off at my hotel, and the woman sidled up to me, Dallas police showed up from out of nowhere and cuffed his hands behind his back. As Stoney was being hauled off, he shouted out the name and phone number of his lawyer.

It was the last I ever saw him. The crime he was busted for? Inoperative turn signal. And the blonde? She was a hooker Stoney had hired as a welcoming present for me. What a guy.

[Tom Miller’s most recent book is Revenge of the Saguaro: Offbeat Travels Through America’s Southwest. His web site is www.tommillerbooks.com. Read more articles by Tom Miller on The Rag Blog.]

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