funny, music, Portland, true 1 Comment »

A few months ago, I had a funny conversation with a friend of a friend, whose very unusual first name began with an M.  When my friend introduced me to M, I said, “Oh, you must know [GhostBand singer].  I think she might have been in the same school program as both of you were.  Were you at the Goodfoot?”

“Nope,” M replied.  “Never been there before.”

“That’s weird,” I said, “maybe I’m wrong about the school program, but I met another friend of hers—maybe from college?—and there are two of you with the same name.”

“I don’t think so,” she said.  “If there was another one of us, I’d know about it.”

“Yeah.  It’s an unusual enough name that I wouldn’t forget it.  But she exists.”

“I doubt it,” she said.  This is starting to get weird.

“Okay.”  I said.  Resistance was useless.  Fast forward a few minutes into the conversation, and the little group of us was talking about food and restaurants; a favorite subject here in Portland.  I mentioned one and gave it a good recommendation.

“Oh, I love that place,” M said.  “Too bad it closed down.”

“Really, when?  I was just there.”

“A few months ago, or a year, maybe.”

“No, it’s still open.  I ate there a couple weeks ago.”

“No, it’s totally closed.”


I get no pleasure from arguing, and only resort to it if the subject is really something worth fighting about.  Things like people I’ve met, or restaurants that aren’t closed, those aren’t even arguments, they’re wastes of time that could be better spent in a good conversation.  I had a similarly funny and surreal one with my stepmom this past weekend.  The subject of music came up, and she had a question.

“Who’s the guy from Hoquiam [tiny town on the coast of Washington state] who died?  The musician?”

“Kurt Cobain?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“He was from Aberdeen, though.”

“No, he was from Hoquiam.”

“I don’t know if he was born in Aberdeen or not, but he grew up and went to school there.  I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries and stuff about him.”

“Yeah, that’s Hoquiam.  There’s a bridge there, and a memorial.”

“But that’s all in Aberdeen.  I’ve been to that bridge.”

“It’s Hoquiam.”


Well, here it is, the bridge over the Wishkah river.  I didn’t make this video, but it’s a simple and touching tribute.  And it’s in Aberdeen.


And since we happen to be on the subject of Nirvana and documentaries, I can’t recommend this one, “About a Son,” highly enough.  It’s told exclusively through audio interviews, and filmed in a very compelling way, and it walks you through Kurt’s entire life story.  You never see him speak, but his voice narrates the entire thing.  It’s candid and haunting, and I think you’ll agree. 



Portland, sad 1 Comment »

Wanted to contact you to let you know we’ve gone with another candidate for the [job title] position.  I really appreciate you taking the time to come in and interview and you were a top candidate (out of 300 resumes and 12 interviewees).  If you don’t mind I’ll keep your resume on hand and if anything opens up in the future I’ll certainly contact you.  Otherwise, wish you good success in the future and hope 2013 is a great year for you.

Thanks again and best wishes,



funny, Portland, true No Comments »

checker:  Hey, were you in here earlier tonight?

me:  Nope.

checker:  Hunh. . .’cause there’s someone who looks just like you.

me:  I’ve heard that before, actually.

checker:  You have a doppul—what’s that word?

me:  Doppelganger.

checker:  Oh, yeah. . .’doppelganger.’  He looks exactly like you, but he was wearing a blue shirt.

me (wearing a multi-colored striped shirt):  Crazy!  But yeah, I’ve heard that I have at least one in town.  My main doppelganger is from Massachusetts, though.

checker:  (long, awkward pause) Well, Mr. [my last name], you saved six dollars and forty-nine cents.

me:  Excellent.

checker:  Have a good evening.

me:  Thanks, you too.


a strange evening

beautiful, music, Portland, sad, true No Comments »

I don’t like to jam.  There, I said it.

Musicians are supposed to enjoy jamming, it seems, but I usually prefer to work on songs with structure and create ‘perfect’ parts for them.  I do love to improvise, however, and I always jump at the opportunity to do so, especially with other musicians who can also improvise well.  I don’t know how to explain the difference between a Jam and an Improvisation, but a jam always seems so much more lame somehow.  It also implies that an actual song will come from it, as opposed to an improvisation, which exists as its own separate entity and then disappears into the ether.

The perfect opportunity came when a guitarist friend of mine used to host a weekly Not-Jam at his place.  It was all a group of professionals from various bands, and whoever wasn’t gigging that night had an open-ended invitation to come down and play.  There were two drum sets, a bunch of guitars, amps, keyboards, saxophones, percussion instruments, a full PA system, and everything.  The idea was to bring your instrument and your drink (or whatever) of choice, and everyone would grab whatever they felt like playing, and we’d all see what happened.  It was very Zen, and I miss those nights.  I’ve considered starting my own improvisational group of acoustic instruments.  I’ll play cello or accordion, and invite other string players and brass players, and anyone else who plays an acoustic instrument.

About five years ago, I was really trying hard to make a living at recording, despite the fact that I just getting started, and wasn’t quite up to that task yet, but that’s neither here nor there.  I try to carefully pick and choose the people I work with, since you end up spending a good deal of time with people when you’re in the studio with them, and I have to really like them and their music in order to want to spend that much time with it.  I would hate to slog through day after day with a black metal band, for example.  Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with black metal—you have to be an amazing musician to play it—it’s just not my thing, and I’d prefer to focus on My Thing.

So anyway, five years ago.  A songwriter friend hooked me up with a friend of his who I’ll call G, not because he’s a gangsta, but because that’s his first initial.  I didn’t find his songs particularly compelling, but I decided to work with him as a favor to my friend.  Plus, I needed the money.  G was (and still is) a guy of a certain age, whose songs were more classic blues-rock than I gravitate towards.  He also has a sort of ‘Earth Mother’ folky side to him that doesn’t quite jive with me, either, but he seemed to like what I did to his songs in pre-production, so we decided to work together a bit.

I told him that my usual way of working was (and still is) to record him doing his thing, and then I usually play most or all of the other instruments around what he had done.  I told him that I play drums and bass and all kinds of other things, and he wanted to hear me do that so he could assess my skills.  Fair enough.  He also had a weekly jam session with his friends, and he invited me to join them at his friend’s beautiful house near Mount Tabor.  They had all the instruments already, so I wouldn’t need to bring anything if I didn’t want to.  It was an offer too good to refuse, so I took him up on it.  I also brought my accordion and five-string Tobias bass, just in case.  I put them in the trunk of my forty-shades-of-purple BMW 2002 and drove over there.

It was quite different from the improvised music night that I’d been attending at my friend’s place, in that A) these guys were amateurs rather than professionals, and B) I suspect that they used their jam session nights as excuses to escape from their families and regular lives, rather than to express themselves musically.  I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I strongly got.   It was also different in that everybody else sat around and got high before we started playing.  I don’t smoke, myself, and I’ve found that when some people are blissed out, they occasionally overestimate their playing abilities.  That started out as one of those nights.

There were five musicians in the band, on guitar, bass, drums, piano, and organ, so whenever there was an instrument that wasn’t being played, I’d jump on it.  Usually that meant piano, but at G’s request, I played the drums a little bit, too, and played the bass a little bit.  Each song would start as a cacophony and then sort of find its way into a key.  We eventually hit our stride, played extremely well, and actually managed to create some beautifully dynamic pieces of improvised music.  After four or five songs, we all felt compelled to slap high-fives and have a group hug, which was interesting and a bit funny.

At that point, we’d been playing for a couple of hours, so we put our instruments down and walked into the kitchen to eat some food and refill our glasses.  We talked about how great playing together felt, and how amazing it was when songs spontaneously come together, almost as a form of emergence.  Suddenly, the pianist got very quiet and told us that he had a confession to make.  He had recently (maybe the week before) been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and he was gradually losing the use of his hands.  As a jazz pianist, this was particularly devastating, as I’m sure you can imagine.  This gave the evening an entirely new focus and gravitas, and Pianist told us how he would hear something in his head and attempt to play it, but his fingers were simply unable to comply.  He made a request that during our next song we go ‘all out’, in order that he could test the limits of his playing and manual dexterity.

I played my bass, and each of the other guys assumed their various roles, with the bassist switching between tambourine and percussion.  The pianist started the song as an atonal jazz ballad, and we all followed suit.  After a few minutes of atonality, my mind started to wander.  The good thing about playing bass is that you can really use it to lead and set the tone for the entire rest of the band, forcing them all to change structure if need be.  They kinda have to follow you if you’re going a certain direction.  I gradually morphed it in a very tonal, almost classical direction, and that, combined with the jazz piano, became really beautiful.  It was as if we all were creating a simultaneous homage to Pianist by weaving a colorful musical tapestry for him.  The song climaxed and wound down with a simple scale in B major, which gave everything a depth, and a certain positive overtone.  It was transcendent.

By then, it was ten o’clock, so we packed up all of the instruments and went our separate ways.  We seemed to be walking on eggshells.  What do you say when someone drops a bombshell like that?  ‘I’m sorry’ seems insulting, or anti-climactic, or insufficient at the very least.  Plus, it was the first (and last) time I ever saw any of those guys, so I was really at a loss.  I’m sure I stammered something tactful like, “Um, nice to meet you guys.  Good luck with the Parkinson’s—?”

As I was backing my ancient BMW out of the driveway, it slipped out of reverse gear, like it did occasionally.  It made a huge, metallic CLUNK sound which stopped the car in the middle of the street.  It sounded and felt as if I’d backed into something in the road, so I got out and looked behind me.  I saw nothing, so I got back in and drove home, albeit a bit nervously.  That was one of the most fun and also one of the strangest nights of music that I’ve ever experienced.

I haven’t done any improvisational nights lately, but I still think of that one.   I hope that Pianist is okay, and still playing.  I just looked up G, and he’s still out there playing.  And his music still doesn’t really do much for me.  He decided to record his album at his house, and spend the money to buy microphones and all that for himself.  I certainly can’t fault him for that, since that’s how I got started, but I do think that he’s the kind of person who could benefit from some editing and some outside influences.

And now I need to grab the cello, pack up the car and head over to tonight’s gig, but I’m glad to have been able to finally tell this story.  I really do hope that Pianist is okay, and that his Parkinson’s is under control.  I also want the best for G, and I hope that his career is going well.  I’ll keep tabs on him from a distance.  Who knows; maybe he’s doing the same for me.


funny, pictures, Portland, sad, true 1 Comment »

When I was in high school, my brother and I were lucky enough to get to see Monty Python’s Graham Chapman in a very rare live performance.  It was 1986, and he appeared at the Masonic Temple (now the new wing of the Art Museum) here in Portland.  We begged our dad to let us go, and he somewhat reluctantly agreed.  I think he knew how obsessed we were with Monty Python, and that this was quite probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see even one of them in person.

I still have my ticket stub floating around here somewhere.  It always turns up when I’m not looking for it, but it disappears again on the rare occasions that I need it.  I realize that this entry would be slightly more compelling if I could provide photographic proof, but for now, you’ll just have to take my word that I still have it.

That night at the dinner table, Dad gave us his equivalent of a warning.  “Now, British comedy tends to be a bit. . .blue, so they may say things that you guys aren’t used to hearing, and make some crude jokes.”

“Yeah, Dad, we know what to expect.  We’ve watched Monty Python for years, and they’re definitely not ‘blue’ or whatever.”

“Is there an opening act?”


The present-day version of me will now step in and tell you that there was indeed an opening act, but we’d never heard of them, either before or since.  They were quite terrible.  In fact, I can remember only one line of their boring sketch comedy routines:   someone yelling, in a mock-drunken stupor, “Start the fuckin’ car!”  Oh, the hilarity.

“Well,” Dad continued, “I’m sure you guys will be fine, but don’t be too surprised if blah blah blue blah blah—”  I don’t even remember the rest of what he said, actually.  I was much too excited to finish dinner and get downtown.

Dad drove us to the Masonic Temple and dropped us off by the door.  We waited in line, everyone buzzing with excitement, until the doors finally opened and the line of people was let in.  It was the first live comedy show we’d ever seen, and we expected to see Graham peeking out from behind a curtain or, if we were really lucky, sitting on one of the metal folding chairs in the audience somewhere.  We kept glancing around the room, hoping for a sighting.  The opening act came out and did their thing, and like I said, they were terrible.  The audience dutifully clapped, and some people even laughed a bit, but we thought it seemed like a mistake to have an opening act for a colossus like Graham Chapman.  Anyone coming between us and him was an unwelcome distraction.

After what seemed like forty-five minutes (because it probably was) of torturous comedy, Graham came out on stage.  He received a thunderous standing ovation before he settled into his part of the show.  It wasn’t a comedy performance, as such.  He mostly told stories, some of which were funny and some of which were not.  He talked about his new Dangerous Sports Club, which involved lots of skydiving and things, and warranted a longish slide show.  (I think Douglas Adams was in the DSC as well; I seem to recall him being in a picture or two in the slide show.)  Graham talked quite a bit about Monty Python, obviously, and told us a great story about how during the final season of Flying Circus, the censors started to suspect that one of the members was homosexual.  One of them was, of course, and it was Graham, although he was still publicly in the closet at the time.  But when the Pythons kept getting letters from the BBC saying You Guys Really Need To Do Something About This Homosexual Problem, it all came down at the exact same time that John Cleese decided to leave the group.  The remaining members took the funny opportunity to write to the BBC:  “Thank you for bringing this to our attention.  We have discovered the offending member, and he has since been sacked.”

My favorite moment of the show, however, was during the question-and-answer session near the end of the evening.  Most of the questions were the usual variety of softballs like, “Do you miss being in Monty Python?” or “How hard is it to get into comedy?”, but one guy stood up and asked, “What’s a jindiggot?

“A what?”

“A jindiggot.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re referring to.”

“But you said it.”

“Er, I don’t. . .think I did.”  Graham was gamely trying to answer the guy, but by this time, everyone was looking at each other in a what-in-the-world-is-this-guy-talking-about way.  We all turned and looked at him as he started to really get nervous.

“Yeah, you did.  It was in The Holy Grail. . .the scene with the French guy yelling insults at King Arthur from the top of the castle.  You said, ‘You and all your silly English jindiggots.’ ”

At that point, everyone realized what he was talking about, and we all burst into peals of laughter.  The French knight couldn’t pronounce the word ‘knights’, so it sounded like ‘ken-NIG-ots.”  This guy had misheard the line and wondered for years what a ‘jindiggot’ was.  Now Graham was performing in HIS town, and answering HIS question, which must have seemed like the most amazing opportunity in history.

“Um,” Graham said diplomatically, “there seems to be a slight misunderstanding.”  The audience was howling by now, as Graham had to good-naturedly explain the joke that everyone else in the world knew so well.  Furthermore, it was John Cleese who had spoken the line, not Graham.  Graham was King Arthur, standing at the base of the castle and the opposite end of the conversation, being taunted by Cleese’s French knight.  As the audience continued to laugh, the guy realized his mistakes and slunk low in his seat, presumably praying for a quick (and hopefully invisible) death.  That was definitely the highlight of the night, and no one had any further questions, so Graham took the opportunity to wrap up the show.  He thanked us and walked off to another thunderous standing ovation, after which he came bounding across the stage like a rabbit, with his fingers raised next to his head like rabbit ears.

I don’t think anyone knew yet that Graham had cancer.  When he died three years later, there were rumors of AIDS, but they proved to be unfounded.  The world was stunned; he wasn’t even fifty years old.  The other Pythons are all still alive and presumably well, but I’m pretty sure they’ve never been to Portland.  It was a huge honor to have been able to see him here, and I certainly won’t forget it.

R.I.P., Graham.  Happy Monty Python Day.