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Tuesday, June 30, 2009
MJ: another Portland connection
I knew that Will Vinton Studios produced the video for Michael Jackson's "Speed Demon." What I didn't realize at the age of eight when it first debuted was that all of the blue screen footage was shot around Portland.
Click on the "play" button and you'll see the King of Pop's Claymation Doppelganger zooming across the Fremont Bridge and over the Willamette. The video also includes shots of a random Portland neighborhood, the Bus Mall, the downtown skyline and the Hawthorne.
More snapshots from Last Thursday
I'd been meaning to go over there for years. I had no idea that Last Thursday drew such a huge crowd to NE Alberta. Thousands of people, tons of artists and plenty of street performers. I was expecting a few blocks of booths and maybe a fire-breather or two and that's it.
I've heard from various people that it was all "so much better back in the Clown House days" but I was still pretty impressed. The monthly event has a Oregon Country Fair vibe but with DJs wearing spinning hubcap masks instead of semi-nude tiger people parades. Good times.
Labels: Last Thursday
Friday, June 26, 2009
Michael Jackson, RIP
Where were you when you heard the King of Pop had died? I was at my office walking someone through the system settings on a Mac. A coworker announced the news and I let out a loud "NO SHIT?" before I could think twice. Thankfully, no one in management was within earshot.
I headed over to Last Thursday after work. As I was driving, every radio station in Portland was either talking about or playing Michael Jackson's music. Alberta Street was lined with tributes. A street artist drew the picture above and had it sitting out on his card table alongside his other stuff for sale. Someone had already printed up t-shirts and was selling them on a corner. On nearly every block, you could hear a track from Thriller wafting out of a living room window or a sidewalk boom box. One guy was break-dancing in the street to "Beat It." A group of people were jiggling-around to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" a few blocks down.
Yesterday morning, about eight hours before everyone heard the news, I was sitting in the Noah's Bagels in Hillsdale. "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" was playing on the speakers overhead and I thought that it was a rather random song for a bagel shop music mix. I started thinking about when Michael Jackson began creeping back into popular culture, despite over a decade of allegations about sexual abuse and other sordid weirdness. It's as if, at some point, maybe around 2005, perhaps further back than that, everybody just decided to ignore all of it and begin listening to his music again.
Tracks from Thriller started creeping back into commercials. There was the YouTube video of that prison in the Philippines where all of the prisoners were dancing to the title track. It was no longer odd to walk into a bar and hear songs from Off the Wall playing in the background.
You've got to wonder what would have happened to Michael Jackson if he hadn't, let me be blunt here, gone completely insane right around 1987. How many more great albums did he have in him? Could he have better navigated the changing musical landscape in the '90s if he hadn't been too busy indulging his darkest desires in the back corners of his own twisted Xanadu? Would his music have still been relevant at the turn-of-the-century? He had the potential to be a pop cultural and philanthropic juggernaut/zeitgeist, the likes of which the world had never seen before.
For a few years there, in the mid-'80s, he came close to that. The dude had the potential to become president....of the entire universe.
I don't have any out-of-the-ordinary Michael Jackson anecdotes (that one is great) to share here. Like a lot of people my age, Thriller was one of the first records I purchased when I was a kid. I spent a good amount of time in grade school imitating the Moonwalk. I'll never forget the time when I stood in a line snaking around a downtown department store in Seattle with my parents. We waited three hours to buy tickets for a Michael Jackson concert at the Tacoma Dome. A few days prior to the show, he canceled due to illness. He never rescheduled.
Despite it all, I was pulling for him. I wanted to see a Michael Jackson comeback. One final burst of triumph before he completely succumbed to the weight of fame, madness, time, plastic surgeries and all the rest. Could he have actually pulled off those 50 concerts in the UK? We'll never know.
Somewhere in the first act of Rent a character named Maureen resorts to performance art to protest the eviction of her friends from their East Village home. She's overly-earnest, unintentionally hilarious and desperate for approval, so much so that the character actually kicks down the fourth-wall of the Broadway musical to encourage the audience to join in.
Sure enough, hundreds of people in the crowd at the Keller on Tuesday night joined in, defiantly "moo-ing" along with Maureen. If you've been looking for a metaphor for Rent and its 15-year theatrical legacy, I can't think of a better one.
I get it, honestly, I do. Rent was daring when it debuted on Broadway in the mid-90s. It force-fed topics like AIDS, gentrification, class warfare, drug abuse, gay rights, "selling-out" and survivor's guilt down the throats of an audience more accustomed to watching people in cat costumes prance around. Its themes aside, this thing just isn't very good.
You know you're in for trouble when a night at the theater involves having to read a flow-chart about the characters in the program. There's so much going on at any one moment during Rent that it's almost impossible to keep up with all the love-triangles, art projects, self-destruction and choreographed dance moves on display. The plot is simple enough. A group of artists living rent free in New York find themselves at odds with a former friend who is about to sell their building out from under them. Still, twenty minutes in, amidst the chaos and all the performers singing over one another I stopped caring about who was lighting who's "candle," how many minutes there are in a year and who was on the brink of dying that my brain turned off.
The second half is a mad-dash to the curtain call, frantically blasting through a year in the lives of its characters. Rent promptly drowns itself in exposition before finally collapsing at the two hour mark. It ends with an anti-climatic whimper when it should have resorted to a bang in order to drive its message of tolerance and carpe-diem home to all of the gray-hairs who have sat through the musical over the years. You would think that a play based on an opera would explode into tragedy-overload at the conclusion. Nope, not here.
Still, for all of the high-school drama kids in the Keller that night and for all of the people that stood outside waiting for $20 rush tickets, Rent is a supreme cultural milestone. While I sat in the audience trying to not to think of the cold-blooded parody in Team America, a teenage girl next to me was dancing in her seat and singing along to the lyrics. Eh, could have been worse. At least she wasn't sitting at home obsessing over Twilight.
Rent closed on Broadway last year. I wonder if it's destined to become another West Side Story that will continue to be performed in high schools and theaters around the world for years to come or if it's destined to sputter out and become a forgotten '90s artifact. Based on the crowd's response, I don't think the musical is going anywhere anytime soon.
Monday, June 22, 2009
A whole new taste sensation?
Check out what's currently on the menu at Le Pigeon on East Burnside:
Eat your heart out, Voodoo Doughnut.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Aaron Breniman is the first, and hopefully not last, person I know who has opened a bar and grill. His place is called The Verdict and it's located across the street from the Clackamas County Courthouse in Oregon City.
Naturally, given its proximity to a hotbed of jurisprudence, The Verdict has a legal theme. Old Oregon case books line the walls and the menu is littered with terms from Pre-Law 101. "Happy Hour" is instead an "Abatement Period" and the appetizers are listed under "Opening Statements." I recommend the chicken wings.
There's also a gigantic gavel over The Verdict's snazzy island bar, which I think looks sharp when rendered in black and white.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Back Fence PDX
Let's say you're given eight minutes to go up on stage at the Mission Theater in front of hundreds of people to pour your heart out or to reveal a secret. What would you come up with? Would you go through with it? Especially when you have to work with a theme like "Caught Red Handed"? This was the task presented to eight performers at last night's Back Fence PDX, the bimonthly storytelling event/occasional swimsuit fashion show hosted by local writers Melissa Lion and B. Frayn Masters.
It was practically standing room only by the time I got inside the Mission. I opted to take a seat in one of the theater's dark balcony annexes with a group of people who spent the first five minutes of the show accidentally spilling beer on one another. They were awfully polite about the whole thing and managed to deal with the spills in hushed voices, as to not distract from Portland playwright Pema Teeter's story about a summer romance gone wrong and then right again fifteen years later.
Despite the related theme, the stories covered a wide range of topics. Illustrator Nicole J. Georges offered up an anecdote about the time her "separatist lesbian" ex-girlfriend decided she was going to kill one of her former lovers at a Stumptown Coffee art show. Eric Schniewind, a geologist told the audience about his attempts to make amends with a former teacher thirty years after he flooded his house with a garden hose. The owner of St. Cupcake, Jami Curl, revealed a sad story about her mother's bout with cancer.
But the most bizarre and perhaps most memorable tale of the night was presented by "Viva Las Vegas," a dancer at Old Town's infamous Magic Garden. She broke out a story about the time she came home in the middle of the night to discover her boyfriend "dead" in an upstairs bedroom and a mysterious buzzing sound coming from a location that I'll leave up to your imagination.
Back Fence PDX celebrated its one year anniversary last night. It's obviously come a long way since its first show in a venue much smaller than the Mission. It's a great event but I do have one complaint. Each performer is given eight minutes to present their tale but last night that limit wasn't enforced. I can't blame the hostesses for not wanting to cut off a story like Rael Dornfest's recollection of his years spent in segregated South Africa. Still, not enforcing the time limit completely defeats the purpose of having one and drains a lot of the drama from the event. Watching Dornfest rapidly wrap up his tender tale with a "and then we fled to Mississippi with a bunch of Krugerrands hidden in a tool box" would have been cruel but, hey, those are the rules, right?
Eh, maybe they should can the time limit when Back Fence PDX starts up again this fall. Or maybe I'm wrong and just bitter because I didn't win a Powell's gift certificate for knowing that the phrase "red-handed" was supposedly first printed in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Dang blast it!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I get the feeling this one isn't going to make it into Bartlett's
This was on the chalkboard at the Goose Hollow Coffee House last week.
Ok, who decided to put the creepy dummy in the bathroom at Rimsky's?
Inside an unassuming old house at the corner of SE 12th and Stark there's a coffeehouse like no other in Portland.
Ok, no other besides Pied Cow over on Belmont. Work with me here.
Inside this house tarot cards hang from the ceiling. Coffee is served in mugs shaped like chickens. Guitarists play Eastern European ballads.
And there is something fairly terrifying in the bathroom on the second floor.
Head up those stairs on some idle weeknight and past the doors with tiny signs that advise you to keep walking. Open the last door on the left, flick on the lights and get ready a surprise.
Or not, since I just ruined it for you.
I knew this dummy was up there and I still wasn't quite ready for it. Am I'm playing this up too much? Maybe. Then again, I think I might have a repressed fear of dummies. Especially dummies that sit in dimly-lit coffeehouse bathrooms designed to look like the bottoms of lakes and glare wickedly at anyone who dares attempt to use the toilet.
So what you're looking at here is the decor in the bathroom at the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. The dock mock-up hanging from the ceiling is definitely a nice touch. So is the friendly lake specter that just wants to make sure that you wipe properly.
A colleague was surprised that I'd never heard of the place, the creepy set-up in the lavatory or the rotating table in the dining room. I headed over to Rimsky's all by my lonesome on the night of a recent thunderstorm, which somehow gave the interior even more of a Tim Burton-y vibe. I took a seat in the corner. Supposedly, the staff have a reputation for acting a bit odd. Shortly after I arrived, a waiter came over to my table and asked if I knew what I wanted. When I said I didn't, he muttered, "That's all right, I don't either" with a dejected sigh before walking back into the kitchen.
Rimky's was packed that night. Everyone in the place acted like they'd been there a million times, completely oblivious to the "casually threatening atmosphere." If the small crowd hadn't been in such an upbeat mood, I would have expected a seance to break out at any second.
The check for my Mexican Mocha also came with this cartoon of a neurotic cat. Neat.
Rimsky's typically opens at 7 PM. I wonder how much mystique it would lose if it was open during proper daylight hours. Oh, and as for the origins of the coffeehouse's name, I'm not ashamed to admit that I had to look it up on Wikipedia.
Maybe it's time for me to brush up on my knowledge of 19th-century Russian composers....
Monday, June 15, 2009
I'll be back soon with more of the same. Until then, please enjoy this random photo from the Ash Street Saloon.
Why is '80s fashion creeping back into Portland? I see mohawks and leather jackets all over the place and it seems like every teenager in town is going for the late-80s metalhead look.
God help us if somebody decides to resurrect grunge.
Monday, June 08, 2009
And castles made of stone, fade into the West Hills, eventually
I drove past this sad scene about a week ago and immediately assumed that there had to be a good story behind it. After all, who would tear down a perfectly good medieval bachelor pad in the West Hills?
Somebody who wants the property but isn't interested in investing tons of cash in a doomed housing project, naturally. A recent article in The Oregonian offers this rundown:
It's called Canterbury Castle, the iconic West Hills home that includes a moat, a drawbridge and a turret. But given its troubled history, the place probably should be renamed the "Canterbury Curse."
A moat? A drawbridge? It's sad to see Canterbury Castle coming down but, in this economy, it makes sense that any local eccentric, mad scientist, wicked witch or playboy vampire crazy enough to buy it could never afford to keep the place up.
But Canterbury is still only one of at least two castles that can be found up there. There's an even stranger story behind Mt. Gleall Castle, which overlooks Portland State University. Here's what KATU had to say about this one in an article published last October:
Portland industrialist Charles Henry Piggott was a man of many interesting beliefs. He believed doctors should be paid only if their patients were well, that lazy people should be ground up into fertilizer and that bathing more than once a month could be fatal. But his lasting, and strangest, impression upon Portland is his Mt. Gleall Castle, which sits on Buckingham Avenue in the West Hills, overlooking Portland State University.
Woah. I wonder who owns Piggott's old pad these days.
Friday, June 05, 2009
Speaking of the Hipster Menace....
...the latest Cat and Girl comic shines a different light on the situation.
"Everyone's seen a hipster but nobody is one." Yup, that nails it. I don't think anyone I've ever met wears that label like a badge.
(thanks for passing this along, Sho)
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
"Did I just watch a 3-minute allegory for Portland in the last few years?"
That's how a friend of mine described this video.
Zoobombing as public art
Last Friday, the Zoobombers' "New Pyle" was unveiled at the corner of SW 10th and Oak. According to the Oregonian, the city is recognizing it as an officially sanctioned work of public art.
And like every work of art, this one's got its critics. This sticker can found on the side of the pyle's base.
The Starlight Parade before starlight
I was walking around NW on Saturday evening a few hours before the Starlight Parade began. All of the floats were sitting along a few cordoned off blocks, most of them unoccupied. Now what stopped me from hijacking one of them and driving it down Broadway in a deviant act of rebellion against a nefarious college dean ala Animal House? Among other reasons, the small army of sheepdogs that were lounging on a corner waiting in the shade and killing time until the parade started. They looked mean. Oh, and I guess there were security guards milling about too.
Anyway, here's a few iPhone photos of the floats....
...and this row of vendor carts parked in front of the US Bank on SW Broadway practically screamed "please, screw with us."
Labels: Rose Festival