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.