Friday, July 28, 2006

I had a nearly mystical experience today in which I went to Kinko's and EVERY person working there knew what they were doing. Usually, there's one person who clearly knows what they're doing and a bunch of idiots whose motions and actions seem to be dictated by the original Nintendo's enemy motion engine, but today every employee on shift was a master. It was a true meeting of the minds.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Portland Music and The OLCC

Without making this post any longer than it already is with an explanatory introduction...well, no, with that. This was a comment I just posted to Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams' blog in response to an article about music and the economy of music in Portland. The question was:

What is the future of the music industry in this town?
Who are the leaders?
What are the roadblocks?
Is there are distinct Portland sound that’s coalescing?
And finally – are we gonna make sure Storm wins this thing or what?

A short primer:
Willy Week and The Mercury are the local alternative weekly papers.
PDX Pop Now! is a free, all-ages, 3-day festival of Portland music I co-founded and co-run.
The OLCC is the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the state apparatus for, well, liquor control. At least they names themselves well. Incidentally, the organization's former head was recently arrested for drunk driving.

Now the post.


I caught wind of this thread on Blogtown and was excited to pop on over and say a few words about what Portland really needs to create a fully thriving music community, based on my observations as a musician in a band, and as one of the organizers of PDX Pop Now! Also, to back up for a moment, I want to congratulate the Mercury and Willy Week for launching sites dedicated to local music, as well as for dedicating the time and energy that is required to sustain them. This is a hole that has needed filling for quite a while in town, and it is gratifying to see people take a stab at it. Also, City Hall with Quasi and the Minders is pretty darn cool, if I do say so myself. Thanks, guys!

The biggest barrier standing between Portland today and a totally healthy musical community is the OLCC, or at least its current policies. I'm sure the organization must do some good, but I frankly can't figure out what it is. And this is coming from someone who drinks only rarely. Allow me to explain. I'll do it briefly in the next paragraph, and then allow myself the indulgence of some personal reflection and polemic.

Briefly - The OLCC makes it fiscally impossible for all-ages clubs to be successful. Venues have to choose between staying in business and letting kids in to shows. People under 21 are an absolutely essential part of a healthy and functioning music community and economy. Only when kids, teenagers and college students are allowed into all shows, and without being physically barred from the rest of the audience, will Portland's music communities, cultures and businesses really take off. More people will come to shows. More music-related businesses will make more money providing goods and services to more people. This seems obvious, but Oregon's vestigial blue laws and the entrenched economic self-interest of the OLCC bureaucracy keep this from happening. Let's be reasonable and allow venues to admit patrons of all ages, alcohol on the premises or no.

PDX Pop Now! was founded in the wake of a soul-searching discussion on the pdx-pop listserv. The gist of the conversation is worth remembering:
1) We have great bands in Portland.
2) Many of them get more attention and generate better attendance nationally than here at home.
3) We see the same faces night after night at concerts all over town. These are the faces of fellow musicians supporting each other, which is a key element to a sustainable community, but not enough. We need fans, the merely curious and, well, non-musicians, too.
4) Portland's artistic community - to be fair, like all artistic communities - can be fractious and petty at times, letting territorialism get in the way of collegiality and building something bigger.
5) Some of the hubs of the community - yes, venues, promoters, t-shirt makers, sticker makers, music retailers etc. play a key role here too - had closed recently making things seem even more in shambles than usual.
5) We should and can do something about this.

Portland is really the only place I can imagine something like this happening, because the event is predicated on a few facts. Portland is small enough to make the logistics possible. To some extent, everybody knows everybody, or at least half of everybody, who in turn know the other half, and that made getting the word out and generating a sense of comfort with the festival and compilation easier. Portland is also big enough to have enough going on creatively to populate an annual event, in terms of musicians, in perpetuity and with a high level of quality, broadly speaking. Lastly, let's remember that this is a navel-gazing town - and I mean that in a mostly good, non-musical way. We like things that are local. We are proudly provincial in many ways. Local businesses put their money where our mouths were and really stepped up to finance the whole thing. We do have a great creative community on the services end - CD duplicators, retailers, web services, mastering engineers, studios, labels etc.

Those of us who went on to from the core group that put on the first PDX Pop Now! festival were working with a good deal of good will from the community, resurrecting and developing the idea of a local music festival that had been previously manifested in things like AIMFest (admittedly before my time, but I believe the stories). We wanted to facilitate an event that removed the usual obstacles that keep people from shows; make it free, all-ages, and try to include people from as many musical sub-cultures as possible. We are still working towards really achieving the last goal, but I think we have improved.

The key effect that we hope this ethic of attendance-road-block-removal is getting people out to shows that don't ordinarily come to them. Having a large number of bands play at one time, in one place, for free frees the casually interested from having to way costs and benefits, it frees them from having to decide which of a thousand shows played by bands they've never or barely heard of to go to on any given night, and - here's what I've been moving towards, and where I start to get negative - KIDS CAN COME. AND TEENAGERS. AND COLLEGE STUDENTS.

We do an unconscionably bad job in this city of making concert attendance viable for people under the age of 21. This goes equally for 9 year-olds that parents might want to bring to an at the Doug Fir as it does for 19 year-old college students who, in an alternate, sane reality, would be the heart of a concert-going community. It's no accident that "college radio" has long been the bastion of the kind of DIY music that makes up the heart of a successful local music scene. How odd then that we make it impossible for college-age people to fully participate in our musical culture.

I grew up in LA. With a few exceptions, I could go to any club to see and concert I wanted. The venues with alcohol simply did or didn't stamp your hand, and that was it. It wasn't an issue. As a teenager I never tried to get alcohol illegally at a show. That was beside the point. I didn't care. I was there to listen to MUSIC.

I remember very clearly the first time I went to a venue that served alcohol and allowed people under 21, but segregated them in the bizarre, physical fashion we do here in Oregon. It was as a college student in Connecticut, another state with illogical vestiges of blue laws. I saw Sunny Day Real Estate at a venue in which a floor-to-ceiling chain-link fence, running, literally up to and through the stage, separated me from those in the audience over 21. The few places in Oregon that have been blessed by the OLCC to serve alcohol and host all-ages events don't barricade in quite so dramatic a fashion, but a physical barrier in the middle of the audience is not exactly a winning metaphor for community.

Kids - and, again, I mean that broadly, from elementary schoolers to college students - make a local musical community fiscally viable. They go to shows. They buy CDs. They also add a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and, as performers, creative content. On the other hand, they don't buy alcohol and, unfortunately, that has spelled the doom of many an all-ages club here in Portland. Music venues should not have to choose between serving kids music and serving adults alcohol. The logic of survival dictates that venue owners will make the latter choice. This decision, fait au compli, allows clubs to remain in businesses, but ironically eliminates the possibility of a truly inclusive, vibrant, musical community that makes having the venues to begin with worthwhile. This is classic shooting-yourself-in-the-foot.

The handful of all-ages venues in Portland, in my experience, don't often bring all-ages attendees. I applaud them for flying the all-ages flag, as someone has to keep that torch lit, but there's not a whole lot they can do about this. The concert-going culture of Portland has cut kids out. One or two welcoming venues are not enough to make kids feel invested in local music and local culture, generally. This is why they don't show up the few places they can, I believe. If kids could open up a weekly and go to any show they saw, on a whim, they would. Not every day, but they would. I did. You probably did, too.

We are too stingy, collectively, to properly fund after-school programs, as the recent SUN cutbacks prove. Wouldn't the corresponding, fiscally conservative response, then, be to pass on to the private sector the expense of keeping kids out of trouble by providing them with activities and events in which they are interested? Allow venues to let kids into their shows. I guarantee that this will generate revenue for a broad array of businesses, from the venues, to the bands, to the promoters, to the duplicators, to the engineers and on and on. Plus, it's the reasonable thing to do.

Underage music fans should be able to see every show that happens in this town. They ought to be able to do it without being cordoned off by a fence. And, yes, they ought to be able to PLAY these venues too. Let's invite them into our musical community. It is rightfully theirs as much as ours.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I was in Orlanod this past weekend for my brother's 8th birthday. It was a landmark event, culminating in him and me staying up until 5am playing Lego Star Wars on Gamecube. 2nd graders don't usually (ever) stay up that late. It felt like indoctrinating him into a secret cult.

His most memorable quote of the night:

"It's good having a birthday once in a while."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Devil on Ice

There's a player on the Slovakian Olympic Hockey Team whose jersey reads: Satan. I really like watching him skate around.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Heddatron - My Friends' Parallel Successes

As I mentioned on the At Dusk blog a few days ago, my friend Alex has been having quite a year as the enfant terrible of the New York theater world, with coverage of his theater group, Les Freres Corbusier, in 2 New York Times slide shows, and a whole bunch of other couldn't-ask-for-better-press this year. His new project - put on and written by a bunch of my former theater brethren at Yale - is called Heddatron and is, through various framing devices, a play in which a woman is abducted and forced to act Ibsen's Hedda Gabler ad infinitum with a bunch of robots who are, literally, actors in the production. The run starts this coming week. If you are in New York, you should definitely give it a whirl. These guys are good at what they do.

This artistic triumph, along with classmate-of-our's Jake Gyllenhaal's Oscar nod, are giving me that much more drive to finish our record this week. You guys remember my "It's my time!" exclamation-snap from senior year? Yeah, that again. It's cool/scary to have enough time have elapsed since college to see friends' labors begin to bear publicly recognized fruit. 2006-The year of the dusk, yo. Either that, or total global annihilation.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Not music, nor Portland, granted, but certainly cultural and all in the family. My friend Alex has been having a bunch of success in the past few years doing weirdly revisionist and absurdist theater pieces about intellectuals. The press fiesta continues with this Wired piece about his latest - written/produced by some other folks from my former East Coast life. It's called Heddatron and, as I understand it, involves a bunch of robots kidnapping a housewife and forcing her to act Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" ad infinitum. Many roles in the play are played, apparently, by robots. If you're in New York, you should see it. I would.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Awesome State of the Union

2 Reasons why America is still cool from tonight's State of the Union:

  1. Human/Animal Hybrids

  2. Tim Kaine's Left Eyebrow

So cool.