It can be a daunting task to intimate stories alone on a stage, but Dallas-based radio personality/poet/adventurer Rawlins Gilliland is not alone. Standing in the Kessler Theater among an eclectic demographic (all ages, walks, and circles), I can sense there is something elemental at work here – something archetypal – a unifying principle in the man in the suit.
The crowd knows Rawlins from various arenas, and given the stories he tells, I will not speculate on the crazy circumstances that have likely flung this group together. I, myself, know him through my Godmother who worked with him during his Neiman Marcus years. For awhile, due to some egregious blunder of facts, my family feared he was dead. They could not have been more misinformed.
Accompanied by the tunes of the Matt Tolentino Quartet, Rawlins calls what he’s doing “time-travel,” and from the first lightning fueled imagery of the prelude, I can tell this is going somewhere good.
In many ways, this is an unplugged live radio experience, showcasing well-chosen stories from the “improbable life and times” of the host, rich with extended similes and a striking honesty. There are a lot of laughs: stowaway mishaps, odd intersections with history, geyser-charged orgies, and even a brief stint as a turkish pimp.
There are darker stories too involving murder and loss but infused with a levity of perspective that elevate them beyond mere somber bearings. This is purity in storytelling: anecdote with heart that never asks sympathy, memory with purpose that never invokes nostalgia. What emerges is Life, the bizarre thing, fully lived. An adage from Rawlins’ mother reflects this theme: “Never become an aging version of your former self.”
Like a great Werner Herzog film or Tim Burtons’ Big Fish, the meaning is in the act of telling as much as in the substance of the prose. Embellishment melds with detail, fact melds with fantasy. Rawlins contends his outlandish stories are “all true.” I think Herzog might call it the “Ecstatic Truth,” that undeniable place that transcends fact.
That is why I stop here and will not divulge or attempt to summarize any additional specifics of the evening.
It’s something you have to witness to believe.