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I’d like to plug two Portland radio programs that play new “independent” music — the “alternative” station, 94.7, is somehow both dated and not representative of what people in Portland listened to back when KBBT existed. OPB’s weekend program “In House”, on Saturday and Sunday from 8 to 11 PM, showcases new US bands that, like most, do not achieve wide distribution of physical records; hearing the sounds from across the country is fascinating. For insight into the traditional Northwest scene, though, Brandon Lieberman’s venerable Drinking from Puddles on Wednesdays from 8 to 11 is probably the good deal: he’s moved on slightly from the days when Corin Tucker used to call him out for being “heterosexist”, but there’s still a lot to learn about the fabulous Northwestern ’90s and their sequels.

Although WordPress hasn’t “felt” like having YouTube embedding work for a while, just for fun we’ll revisit the Western suburban past with what was once very many people’s favorite band, the fundamental “pop-punk” band The Descendents. The Descendents were formed in 1978 as a trio, and intitially played a kind of hard-edged power-pop: then Milo Aukerman, a biochemistry student, joined as lead vocalist and the group assumed a fun, energetic form which was immensely appealing against the backdrop of the dark and ambiguous messages of LA punk at the time. The group recorded four albums, Milo Goes to College, I Don’t Want to Grow Up, Enjoy!, and ALL: after the last album, Milo (it is Milo) left to pursue a doctorate, which everyone knows he got. The rest of the group continued on in the same vein with a different lead singer, under the name All.

The Descendents were never my favorite band; to me the lyrics reflected a certain sense of white suburban privilege, including in the famous homophobia of their best-known song “I’m Not A Loser” and the Asian fixation of an insecure white man. [My secret LA punk identity is “Falling James”, although Leaving Trains records are apparently strictly verboten now.]  However, they were just what people wanted to hear, and presumably those people still want to hear them all the time: the band reformed and released two albums to date, Everything Sucks and Cool To Be You. And although really it is about the Western suburban experience, skateboards and all, I did even hear them being played at a Caravel ice cream shop in Franklin Township, New Jersey, in the mid-90s. Today we’ll have a few selections from a classic live show, the “Mississippi Nights Bootleg” recorded in St. Louis in 1987; if you’d like to see them right on the page, mention it to the good folks at Auttomatic.

I’m Not A Loser

My Dad Sucks

Kabuki Girl

Suburban Home

Catalina

I Don’t Want To Grow Up

Rockstar/No FB

Pervert

Wendy — that’s right, the Beach Boys one

(That Is, So I Can’t Ride It)

I leave Washington County, where I have lived “on and off” for twenty-two years, today; I’m a little bummed out, since I haven’t even gotten a chance to ride the Westside Express Service, the westside suburbs’ new commuter rail line. Running on short-line trackage originally built by the old Oregon Electric interurban company, the line uses DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) cars between Beaverton and Wilsonville from 6 to 10 in the morning and 4 to 8 in the evening; as with the Portland Streetcar, a valid Tri-Met fare will cover the ride.

There are three stops in between: at the Cascade Plaza “big-box” stores opposite Washington Square, the Tigard Transit Center, and downtown Tualatin. If service is eventually ramped-up (though getting people out of their motorcars and into the railcars manufactured by Tri-Met’s bankrupt supplier may be tricky), WES could very well provide an environmentally friendly “arterial” for Washington County — in lieu of the much-debated and often-shelved “Western Bypass” freeway from Wilsonville to Hillsboro.

[The portion of the MAX Green Line being built from Gateway to Clackamas Town Center along I-205 may do the same for the Eastside, but in my opinion the “viewsheds” are decidedly superior out here; as “Penn Central” riders once knew, rail only works if people care, and sometimes it’s too hard to.]

 (An Op-Ed Rejected by The Oregonian)

The A-section headline of the July 1st, 2009 Oregonian dealt with a
similarity between Portland — regarded as one of the nation’s finest
places to live — and Detroit, usually viewed as one of its most
blighted (and with some reason). The reason given is that Portland’s
unemployment rate has jumped more than even Detroit’s this year, as
the economy has tightened and the manufacturing sectors of both cities
slackened. Is this the only parallel, though? Unfortunately not, in my
opinion. Though one city is criss-crossed by ever-increasing rail
transit and another a slave to the automobile; though Detroit failed
to live up to George Clinton’s promise of a unified and integrated
metro area helmed by a majority-black city and we in the Portland area
still reap the blessings of wise leaders; though perhaps they should
be as unalike, in climate, geography, and destiny as the “chalk and
cheese” Britishers speak of there is an underlying similarity I
would like to point up.

In Detroit, “they” — the establishment — don’t like communists.
They’ve had their fill of them over the years, clogging up assembly
lines and rioting and writing little rags. In lefty-liberal Portland,
“we” don’t like communists — and it’s been that way for a long time.
A famous 1937 Supreme Court case, De Jonge vs. State of Oregon,
found unconstitutional Oregon’s interpretation of its “criminal
syndicalism” law (enacted to combat the Industrial Workers of the
World) as a ban on public meetings of the Communist Party, U.S.A.
However, as those of us who remember the revelations about Portland
Police’s “Red Squad”, who spied on radicals well into the ’70s, know
that opinion didn’t quite take: as in our neighbor to the north,
Washington state (with its explicit law against the CP still on the
books), unless you are appropriately critical — and “heeled” — you’d
better not strike too “red” a pose. After all, Marx himself is reputed
to have said late in life “Communism can never work. Only socialism
can work”, and he was not known to lack a sense of humor.

There’s a very basic problem with this, though, summed up by the great
Italian Communist Amadeo Bordiga’s slogan “Communism is the Material
Human Community”. Though the CPUSA is rightly moribund, the communists
among you — and perhaps you already know where to look — are part of
the very marrow of Oregon’s economic system. They’re not pot-smoking
hippies from private colleges, exactly: they might even strike you as
“squarer” than some of their counterparts. They work because they have
to, and they offer suggestions about how to make quality goods and
services available to your customers at low prices. “Bingers and
purgers”? They are motivated by a moral abhorrence of crimes against
humanity.

The greatest Michigander of all time, the onetime communist
sympathizer Walter Reuther, called wartime Detroit “The Arsenal of
Democracy” because it made the machines that beat the fascists.
Notwithstanding economic problems apparent or real, the Portland area
is now a special place in the United States: that’s why all those
fascinating people you see on the street come here. Shall it be an
“Arsenal of Democracy” for the challenges of the American twenty-first
century, with “peace, land, and bread” (literal bread) for working
people, or a “creative class” haven rotting from the top down?

In the City of Roses it is the best of times and it is the worst of times; while the New York Times is “subbing” for the hometown newspaper, things change every day — sometimes they change multiple times in one day. What has not changed is the city’s love for books; although opinion polls put Seattle ahead as “America’s most literate city”, I would defy anyone to find another city in the English-speaking world where as many people are reading books on the streets, riding public transportation, and in cafés. The largest bookstore in the US, the ILWU-organized Powell’s, has been famous nationally for a while now: perhaps a little too famous for those of us in the area, who used to rely on it for “rarities” that are now snapped up by out-of-staters online. And, unfortunately, the care and feeding of such an 800-pound-gorilla is not cheap — the many smaller independent bookstores that dotted the landscape are dwindling, and even the chains are showing signs of wear.

To cap it off Michael Powell’s daughter Emily Powell, who took control of the chain in 2006, has begun to make her mark. The indie-intellectuals of Portland once relied on Powell’s for “high-test” reading material — although in truth the books purveyed were not always “no-knock” — but the Powell’s of today stocks more belletristic material, of the sort that lines shelves in big cities all across the country. Some sections are still world-beating (since the demise of Schoenhof’s, Powell’s foreign language expert Sam Cannon is the man to know if you need to get something untranslated anywhere in the damn country); however, other sections show some decline. How to remedy the lack? I suggest a “high-low” strategy involving Portland’s most venerable bookstore, Cameron’s, and one of its newest, Daedalus.

Cameron’s Books & Magazines has advertised itself as “Portland’s Oldest Bookstore” for as long as I can remember; during my teenage years, I would duck in there to see what was appearing on the cover of magazines I didn’t read and to pick up any bargains — I once got a copy of Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy for about $4. The vast selection of magazines old and new, plus the bargains, continue today: if Cameron’s stocks it in their small location at the corner of 3rd and Oak downtown, they will charge you roughly 1/2 what Powell’s would for the same book. Their foreign-language selection, though quite mutable, is also interesting — cheap paperbacks and weighty tomes, in a variety of languages and “priced to sell”. NB: Cameron’s is actually run by a man named “Jeff”; no relation.

Daedalus Books, owned by a Mr. Breedlove, is Portland’s only true scholarly bookstore. It stocks some of the latest monographs on various topics, especially philosophy, and contains many classics of ancient and modern thought at attractive prices — I bought a copy of the first volume of Braudel’s The Mediterranean for a very reasonable price, though I have yet to read it. Once a hole in a rent-subsidized apartment building on the South Park Blocks, Daedalus currently occupies a very pleasant space at NW 21st and Flanders; it is easily reached using the 15 line from downtown and disembarking around the Coliseum Fred Meyer. If you are indisposed to make the trip, their full catalogue is available at their ABEbooks website.

Post-commitment readers may have noticed the blog is drifting into a sociological metier; given that social analysis is everybody’s game, this has had a certain cast of rationality to it. In this post I drift into slightly choppier waters, cultural criticism and the body, and although there’s a tint of Gesellschafttheorie (ha ha) to it, it may indeed not be to everyone’s taste. This year women’s clothing has become more revealing, and walking around the area it is evident to my research team that young women (18-24 demographic, roughly) have rather a lot to show of themselves. Although I won’t attempt to displace Unfogged as the premier destination for pornogenetic speculation on the Internet, I have a few “Lamarckian” observations to make.

Over the last decade or so, cosmetic medicine — for those that have insurance — has improved. I say “cosmetic”, but I mean a general attention to morphology rather than simply making sure the organs are checking out OK. Lichtenberg once wrote of the smallpox vaccine eliminating a visage from the world; looking at unblemished young faces makes pimply old people feel trapped in a time vortex, and apparently everybody works out these days to look sharp at their office job. There have been changes in diet: without making cheap jokes about food additives, though who really knows, let me suggest that it was probably secretly really OK for the socially acceptable caloric intake for girls to be adjusted upward. Finally, though I am loath to think of the “dimes” of my youth as akin to foot-binding, it’s hardly a new idea that the “smoke-filled rooms” some of us grew up in might put a crimp on physical development. (It remains to be seen whether the political skills we acquired there will put us in good stead in dealing with the larger and more agile.)

Now, since I eke out a modest living as a hate-filled misogynist creep, you might think dealing with these young women would be tough sledding. It is true that those initially wearing the new styles were under the impression that only attractive and well-dressed men would be looking at their decolletage, but by this point it’s on a par or easier than dealing with the previous generation of young Portland transplants, who though they dressed more modestly were hipper and better-educated than you and really saw no social role for men they had no economic or sexual tie to.What does this say? Something about men and women together, and something about less super structures.

This experiment in dress (though it understandably goes back and forth, to the point that female refuseniks have adopted the dress styles of the early 60s as protest) is a learning experience for society, establishing a new balance between the sexes. Look, and what happens? Nothing. What would happen? Who knows? Most probably, people will learn a new set of social skills for defusing a too-keen interest in the appropriate sex: look at Europe, where people see “the goods” right off the bat on the beaches — or refrain from going for sebaceous, spiritual or ethico-political reasons (before celebrating the “Continental” we should also consider Brazil, which numbers among its major exports gender-bending pornography but has a strict no-nudity policy on its beaches).

Of course this regime of biopower is not without its risks; coming off real social gains by women and minorities during the Bush years (as opposed to the ’90s, where we talked a good game) a lot of young men harbor reactively misogynist and sexist attitudes that make them unable to connect with their female peers. “The school of flesh” might teach understanding, but it might also teach that no response is as good as a yes. And looking beyond the facade, what is the cognitive motive force of this sea-change? The failure of the economy, which is going to continue for as long as we live. Clinton and Bush hollowed out the American manufacturing base, and even if every Oregonian got a degree in Advanced Hydroponics there won’t be the wages or security of the past.

Though they may be perfectly intelligent, these lovely young things are in it together with the mass of humanity; “the bourgeois virtues” celebrated and cultivated by a certain strain of feminism are not for them. What role, then, for the dirty old man? I certainly think it would be progressive for my generation to do better than previous ones (except, perhaps, the Greatest Generation) and accept that age is not just a number, that ultimately the youth must be allowed to live their own lives and take a certain priority in some matters. However, I also think one of the hardest lessons for an unassuming man of any age to learn is not about the brush-off, easily recoded in sexist language, but that sometimes the profoundly attractive want one to play a role in their lives — relative to differences, other commitments, and a fundamental attitude of respect. But perhaps the matter requires further consideration.

Compounding the commitment, the Portland area is unusually experiencing something like normal North American winter weather and consequently everything is all messed up. I walked uphill through the snow to tell you that there won’t be any featurettes this week: as regards approximations to contemporary relevance in art and music, you’re on your own. Otherwise, I guess I’ll leave this as an “open post” for people to write in requests for topics they want to see Mr. Rubard address; if there are no recommendations, I’m going to assume that my status as “blogger’s blogger” is secure and I should continue to write in the same inimitable style.

Traffic has calmed down since the big surge related to Mark Rothko (and due, apparently, to his being featured on an episode of Mad Men — not that I’ve seen any of those). However, those of you still following along longer than necessary to grab a JPEG may be interested in knowing that although I walk the streets with impunity and write mini-essays on hot new intellectuals I kind of understand, I am still committed. This is perhaps due not so much to my expansive delusional and behavioral problems, as it is due to a ‘quirk’ of Oregon state law and its interpretation by the various counties.

I live in Washington County, comprised of most of the western suburbs of Portland and farmland beyond the Urban Growth Boundary. As far as I can tell from visiting their website, Washington County mental health is about two things: 1) families and 2) locking up dysfunctional members of functional families for as long as possible. The Oregon civil commitment statutes, which are rather vague, aid in this second goal.

Under Oregon law, a civil commitment ordered by a judge lasts up to 180 days. According to Washington County employees, “up to” means “exactly”, which would seem to render the further proviso in the statute that a psychiatrist can terminate the commitment when the person under commitment has sufficiently recovered a bit moot. Perhaps it is in fact moot: perhaps psychiatric consensus has evolved to the point where anyone needing extended help taking their “meds” and working on not “decompensating” (although this latter turn of phrase appears not to involve compensating for other people’s inadequacies) ought to run a six-month course, being gradually stepped down in supervision and stepped up in the amount of money they are personally contributing for the treatment.

However, I doubt it very much. This seems like a brazen attempt to wrest a criminal-like punishment for bad behavior and general lack of “seaworthiness” out of the medicine-based civil status, which could always be changed but should not be enforced as though it already has been changed. Although I had a perfectly nice afternoon showing someone around the Belmont district, it would be even nicer if I was not effectively sidelined from life for half a year based on phun phacts about my “hearing voices” and trajectory through life, supplemented by a clearly defective interpretation of state law. But hey, at least I can’t have everything.

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WTG, Jeff Merkley.