Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Portland from North Carolina, With Love

I’ve spent the weekend wondering how, as a guy in North Carolina, a guy who’s been spending more time listening to Billy Joel than the Oneida lately, I’m going to post on a blog about Portland Indie music.

Which is to say, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last few days thinking about Portland (a city I’ve been falling in love with over the last several years, and one to which I’ve lost some good friends) and thinking about what- precisely- “indie” music is (and let’s face it: you’re not truly a music dork unless this conversation exhausts you before it’s even begun).

And, in the digging, some info about Portland has surfaced. First of all, the city rests atop the Boring Lava Field. I’m sorry, maybe this is old hat for you locals, but please tell me that every high school in the city had at least one band named Boring Lava Field.

But, more importantly, both The Kingsmen and Beverly Cleary are from Portland (you know this already, just bear with me here).

Now, “Louie, Louie” is almost impossible to really listen to anymore due to the crushing weight of the cliché it’s become. But at one time it was a joyous slice of essential garage rock. When The Kingsmen recorded it for Jerden records (a tiny indie label before the term implied cardigan sweaters) they had to borrow a couple of bucks from one of the guys in the room to pay for it.
The lyrics are famously incoherent because the lead singer was so short that he had to stand on tip-toe to be picked up by the ceiling-suspended mike PLUS he was suffering the pain of newly installed braces on his teeth. The single never went anywhere until it was played on some DJ’s “Worst of the Week” segment. The FBI was convinced it was obscene. The piano player went on to produce Fun House for The Stooges.

Beverly Cleary may have been too old to appreciate the magnificent dumbness of “Louie, Louie” when it came out and she was actually born in McMinnville.

She moved to Portland around the time she was five. She was a big reader but didn’t do so hot in school. Apparently she didn’t get along with her first grade teacher and she also suffered from some illnesses due to moving from the countryside to the big city. Cleary spent a lot of time in libraries trying to find, with little luck, books about kids like her. Eventually she realized that if she was going to see those books, she was going to have to write them. And she did.

And it’s hard not see The Kingsmen and Beverly Cleary as the component parts of Indie’s DNA. Cleary’s lonely bookishness and blossomed self empowerment is one strand. The other strand is The Kingsmen’s shout, barely paid for and emitted through bleeding gums.

The two strands twine in a glorious double helix rising directly from The Boring Lava Field.


Cary said...

I like this.

Anonymous said...

Well done sir.

Amber Dawn said...

You are a total dork.
I mean that as the highest possible praise.
actually last show we played my bandmates and I were discussing our not so secret love of billy joel.
And also I felt like an idiot because I grew up 30 miles outside of portland, read the Ramona books all the time as a kid, and not until a friend in highschool told me did I realize that they were set in portland. Now i live like, 15 blocks from klickitat street. go figure.

Eriq Nelson said...

I think you're right on the money there, much of Richmond's awesomeness comes from daring stupid ideas that evidently pan out some how. I mean, we're famous for having Gwar for fucks sake. That's about as absurd as it gets. It seems to me that art is what happens when you stop caring and do it. I just wrote about that abandon actually: http://thetempleoftheforbiddenbeat.blogspot.com/2009/02/art-sucks.html

Jess Gulbranson said...

Hey there's nothing wrong with being from Virginia and moving to Portland! I bought my first bass in Richmond. Saw my first real concert there too. (It was AC/DC, if you want to know. Amy Grant does not count, I went against my will.) Brockie and GWAR are pretty awesome for a bunch of UVA kids, but don't forget about Stewart Copeland.

Ste. Goldie said...

Demon Denim - you don't know me but I do "raise the roof".

That is what I am doing right now.

Bands For a Deserted ITunes said...

Demon Denim has the cure for those daily blues