Indie Folk Battery Burglary

I have to just fuck­ing do it — I’m going to start writ­ing about music in this space. There’s vir­tu­al­ly zero chance that I’ll shout over oth­er voic­es of music crit­i­cism as long as Bilge remains so poor­ly opti­mized for SEO, and Port­land, Ore­gon has been far too con­fus­ing to deprive myself the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work out any under­stand­ing of its youth cul­ture. It’s not a lack of tal­ent­ed musi­cians in the area — the oppo­site is true — but a severe drought of the kind of tragedy and trau­ma which ulti­mate­ly give acoustic Amer­i­can musi­cal expres­sion its whole shit. What I caught of the weekend’s inva­sion with San­ta Cruz musi­cians were all praise­wor­thy, tight and con­fi­dent per­form­ers who’d obvi­ous­ly invest­ed heav­i­ly in their equip­ment and their pres­ence here. Joe Kaplow arrived with a sort of bespoke mag­a­zine rack con­tain­ing 20 neat­ly-arranged effect ped­als, lead­ing me to won­der for a moment if I was about to wit­ness ban­jo pow­ervi­o­lence for the first time, but he explained that he sim­ply pre­ferred their avail­abil­i­ty, and wouldn’t use “more than a few at once,” and seemed almost gen­uine­ly per­turbed by my attempt to explain the spe­cif­ic indus­tri­al­ly-influ­enced involve­ment of audio hard­ware in hard­core punk and grind per­for­mance which I was refer­ring to with the term. (“Pow­ervi­o­lence” has appar­ent­ly become an ambigu­ous one around these parts, and I’m sure he was actu­al­ly just utter­ly unin­ter­est­ed.)

No more than two dozen guests made up their peak crowd of wit­ness­es, yet Joe and his band cer­tain­ly made good on shear effort expend­ed in lay­ing down a hearty, back-to-back recital for us at an unusu­al­ly pro­tract­ed rate, though appar­ent­ly either they, the Get­away Dogs, or The Cur­fews had insist­ed that a “cov­er charge” be col­lect­ed at the door of the house show. It’s not my busi­ness to to dwell on or attempt to inves­ti­gate an unsub­stan­ti­at­able rumor, but I under­stand this could have been a breach of house show eti­quette. What I do know is that one of the vis­it­ing musi­cians stole 4 flat AA bat­ter­ies out of my COOLPIX and appar­ent­ly attempt­ed to jack its ancient Com­pact Flash card, which is only hilar­i­ous because they didn’t suc­ceed. Regard­less, it should be said that Joe Kaplow’s song­writ­ing is more flat­tered by Indie mags than my own ears, though one still wish­es for a more sub­stan­tive top­ic than “I thought it’d be cool make a corn cob pipe, so I did.” Then again, much of what you’ll find at this URL reads a lot like “I thought it’d be inter­est­ing to make a Word­Press blog, so I did.” White peo­ple have tru­ly run out of shit to say, haven’t we?

The inspi­ra­tion that sparked ‘I Said’ moved me like a pup­pet. So much so that I had to pull over at the top of Alta­mont Pass, by the huge wind­mills, and write the song in the back of my van.

Joe Kaplow for Glide Mag­a­zine

Reflec­tion upon just about any­thing can have per­son­al mean­ing, but no amount of musi­cian­ship can mask a stark lack of con­text. I do won­der if Indie Folk should just return to the megachurch, where song­writ­ers like Joe and musi­cians of his crew’s sort are lit­er­al­ly hand­ed a gigan­tic audi­ence of trained experts at find­ing pro­found mean­ing where it prob­a­bly isn’t, along with great salaries, from what I hear. Oth­er­wise, all that tax­ing prepa­ra­tion and expen­di­ture will only lead to more for­get­table per­for­mances. Or per­haps I am sim­ply mis­guid­ed in my assump­tion that artists work exclu­sive­ly to com­mu­ni­cate some­thing last­ing to some­one. Every con­ver­sa­tion I’ve had with Port­landers about Port­land music has been pre­dom­i­nant­ly about what artists and their audi­ences wear and how they behave instead of what they’re try­ing to say. There’s noth­ing inher­ent­ly wrong with leav­ing things pet­ty, lyri­cal­ly and choos­ing to remain con­tent with estab­lished sounds, musi­cal­ly, as long as your work is adver­tised as enter­tain­ment, not per­for­mance.

Before I came North­west, my fiance had been expos­ing me to a vari­ety of its music, which I most­ly tol­er­at­ed polite­ly. Dozens of albums and EPs were played through once and for­got­ten for­ev­er, but when I arrived at a demo tape record­ed by her long time friend’s band, The Cig­a­rette Burns, I final­ly heard some­thing famil­iar, yet vital­ly com­pelling: pissed off punks hav­ing fun. That said, I should admit that I only attend­ed Saturday’s show because he was on the tick­et, and I’m still glad I did.

After what felt like hours of drowsy corn cob pipes, Christ­mas sweaters, and old sweet­hearts at fifty beats per minute (there were lit­er­al­ly two young men sleep­ing with­in 15 feet of the bands for the dura­tion,) Ricky sat him­self on a stool in the midst of Kaplow’s sprawl­ing gear load at 2:30AM with only his gui­tar and his voice. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I’d squan­dered the Nikon’s bat­ter­ies on Cal­i­for­ni­ans (the light­ing was not ide­al any­way,) so I thought I’d share his set on Periscope. Though Ricky had been patient­ly present and atten­tive for the entire night (unlike myself,) those who were left of the enter­tain­ers bolt­ed to the porch for a live­ly dis­cus­sion about uni­cy­cles and quinoa while Ricky told us about hate, jeal­ousy, and feel­ing like shit in a somber ele­gy. Any fur­ther adjec­tives may edge dan­ger­ous­ly close to a half-assed “con­cert review,” which I am not yet qual­i­fied for, but I will say that Ricky’s sin­cer­i­ty made him most engag­ing part of the night, and his frus­trat­ed, con­clu­sive nod to The Cig­a­rette Burns was the first real punk sounds I’ve yet heard in Port­land.

I real­ize shar­ing this small expe­ri­ence does lit­tle to grow the con­ver­sa­tion, but this isn’t a mag­a­zine, and I am des­per­ate for answers about the bizarre real­i­ty in which I find myself. When Ricky ded­i­cat­ed a song to Court­ney Love, one of the male musi­cians(?) yelled “Court­ney Love fuckin’ killed Kurt Cobain!” which was such an unbe­liev­ably cliche happening/decision that I’ll sure­ly spend the rest of my days in this city unsuc­cess­ful­ly attempt­ing to work it out, aloud. I can’t quite recall who it was last Fall that respond­ed to my frus­tra­tion by chal­leng­ing “what if there’s noth­ing to under­stand?” While this may be a rea­son­able con­clu­sion, I sus­pect it’s not one I could accept as long as I remain here with­out los­ing my mind. If Port­land is tru­ly the dimen­sion­less bas­tion of apa­thy and intel­lec­tu­al stag­nan­cy for young Amer­i­cans, I must blog my way out it as soon as pos­si­ble (for Pete’s sake, just give these kids some anti­de­pres­sants,) but I’d still like to believe the idea too oxy­moron­ic to actu­al­ly exist.