Division Alt Guitar & Junior Brown

Junior Brown

Junior Brown at Aladdin Theater Pic from Balcony

Junior Brown plays an inventive, alternative guitar: method, form, and style. Brown is a rockabilly virtuoso, as in jazz guitar, Joe Pass was expert, where skill matures into virtue.

Junior plays a custom designed and built two-neck guitar that he plays behind a stand rather than hanging from a strap around his shoulder. The setup looks like a piece of railway wheelhouse. The top of the instrument is a six string, Fender style neck that’s affixed to a body that melds below into an encased eight string lap steel slide guitar. He doesn’t exactly play both necks at once, though there may be some looping going on, but the two neck setup allows him to quickly switch back and forth from one neck to the other – seamlessly, is the word.

And he switches necks while singing a couple of octaves below Hank Williams and half hidden under a Tom Mix style ten gallon cowboy hat. If Brown simply sat in a chair and played, he’d be something like classical masters Segovia or Julian Bream, but Junior Brown is a showman.

Saturday night, at the aged Aladdin Theater in Portland, Junior was backed by a stand up bass, a drummer playing only a snare and a single cymbal, and an acoustic rhythm guitar. The instruments were miked through large vintage Fender amps and mixed through the Aladdin’s speaker system. The instruments were clear and not too loud, but Junior’s voice sometimes had that muffled loudness button on sound from a mike set too loud, but that could have been where we were sitting in the small hall, about six rows back eye to eye up from the stage left big speakers.

I’m working on a reverse bucket list. That’s a list of things I’ve done but don’t ever want to do again. High on the list is attending an arena big concert. And small venues should play like, well, small venues, which means turn off the loud button. Other things on my reverse bucket list include working a jackhammer, climbing up on the roof to scrape off the moss, and worrying about how my academic colleagues might judge my writing.

We arrived at the Aladdin as the doors were opening, double lines divided north and south of the alcove entrance beneath the marquee. We had just disembarked from Line 4, the SE Division St bus, having walked a mile or so south to pick it up and another 1/3 of a mile across the old train tracks and the new Orange Line Max tracks, past the dozen or so level grade crossing bars, along the new custom walkway through safety gates and fencing, following the pedestrian pavement guides, where SE 11th and SE 12th merge into Milwaukee Avenue, and crossing big Powell Boulevard, where traffic gears up or down for the Ross Island Bridge across the Willamette River. A kind of new dividing line now emerges in one’s understanding of the changing cityscape, signaled as the difference between old bridges like the Ross Island Bridge and new bridges like Tilicum Crossing, the 135 million dollar “Bridge of the People.” There’s no less friendly pedestrian crossing than the Ross Island (indeed, it’s not that friendly to cars and trucks crossing), while the Tilicum accommodates only pedestrians, bicycles, buses, trolleys, and light rail – no cars, no trucks. The Tilicum is like a giant sailboat compared to a tugboat Ross Island.

Division Street’s Line 4 is much slower than Belmont’s Line 15, people on and off at nearly every stop, the traffic on Division as slow as a mournful church pipe organ. If you want to see a neighborhood in transition, from vintage and standard to gentrified and cantilevered apartment-ed, from dive bar drinking dens to posh diva dressed restaurants where mayonnaise is called aioli, and where even the food carts serve amuse-bouche appetizers, and all a kid needs to feel amused is an outside bench and a tall-boy PBA, check out SE Division between 52nd and 11th.

Kory Quinn with full band opened the show ahead of Junior Brown. We were somewhat divided on our first hearing of Quinn, his songs, banter with crowd, and sound. I thought the band was tight, listening to one another, the songs well written and orchestrated, but the overall system sound mix did seem a little full at times, the lyrics difficult to catch hold of in the loud medley of sound, some subtleties overwhelmed. That may say more about my old ears than about the young band. But if you like standing on the rails, a train of country hill delta musicians coming down the track all rattling away at once at full speed and volume, this is your band. Sorry I didn’t get nor can I find all the musicians’ names, but we heard an excellent harmonica player, good harmonized vocals, great lead guitar work from Michael Howard, solid bass and drum foundation, plus pedal steel. Kory Quinn’s band was mulit-task-talent party on.

But speaking of party on, back on the bus back on Division Street, the last weekend of 2016 spring was in full bloom. Folks hopping on and off the bus, standing in line to get a beer, an ice cream, a meal, hang out, listen to some local live music. There were possibly more people in line for the new Salt & Straw ice cream scoop shop as we found waiting to get in to see Junior Brown at the Aladdin. LA Larchmont district here in Portland via SE Division Street. Not quite, of course, but hyperbole is close friends with curiosity. And what’s curious about SE Division Street these days is where it might be going, and what it might continue to divide.

Junior Brown puts on a show, and while he might mimic sounds and styles, he does not lampoon, though he is open to satire. Late in his show, he played a haunting and halting blues piece after which he named Albert King as his inspiration. And he played the surf medley and some “Apache,” though Junior’s version of “Apache” sounded not so much like the Joe Pass versions. Junior finger and flat picks at once, slides with a metal tube, winds his strings up and down for effect, coming back in tune every time. He fidgeted with one of the amps a bit, not sure why, gave the vocals over to rhythm guitarist Tanya Rae Brown, highlighted his snare-drummer and bassist, came back to a standing ovation for a lengthy encore of songs.

There was no encore on SE Division as we headed back east on Line 4 after the concert. Everything seemed closed, places all shut down, the sidewalks clear. We had thought of jumping off somewhere to get a late bite to eat. We walked into the Woodsman Tavern, but were turned away by a benevolent waitress who explained the kitchen was closed but suggested we try the Landmark Saloon up the road a piece. We walked into the Saloon to a full tilt bluegrass band. But what’s remarkable about Landmark Saloon is the open patio space with food cart, where folks were just hanging out at the picnic tables, in front of a tall-boy PBR, a sweet smelling outdoor fire keeping a group around a small pit warm and friendly. But alas, we were still a bit late for food from the cart. He was still open, but the list of things he was out of was longer than what he had left to still serve up. We enjoyed the patio for a few more indecisive moments, then continued walking east to North Bar.

I’m not sure why North Bar is named North Bar since it’s in South Tabor in Southeast Portland. Well, it’s north of Larchmont, anyway. And a good place for a brew, but probably not a late bite, so we headed north up 50th to Hawthorne, rounded the corner, and ducked into the Sapphire Hotel, where we feasted on late night salmon cakes and beer and talked about Junior Brown and Kory Quinn and SE Division and Line 4 and wished one another a happy father’s day as we realized we’d crossed the night divide.

We left the Sapphire and continued north thinking we’d get a lift on Line 15 up the hill. Didn’t happen. Walked all the way, crashing well after midnight, thinking of what an epic post the evening gig down and up Division to the Aladdin and Junior Brown might make.

 

SE Portland Triathlon Photo Essay

For the first leg of my triathlon event yesterday, I boarded Line 15 and rode down to the river, disembarking at the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge. I sat in the last seat of the bus, in the left corner, with this week’s New Yorker fiction issue. I had read on the bus stop the Langston Hughes story, written around 1960 but only recently discovered. More about that in a subsequent post.

On the bus, an ad caught my attention, a woman in a red dress, orange hair, the copy: “Be More Brilliant.” The ad was up front, behind the driver’s seat, and I was too far away to read the smaller print. Note though that the imperative doesn’t suggest you are not brilliant. If you are not brilliant at all, you can’t be more brilliant. But why be “more brilliant”? Don’t I attract enough moths already? I thought of the two books I recently put out. Maybe my writing should be more brilliant. I took some pics from the bus of the south side of Belmont.

The afternoon was still overcast, and I felt a few drops of rain as I began the second leg of my triathlon, walking down the ramp from the bridge to the Eastbank Esplanade, a more brilliant name for the shared sidewalk with bike path that runs along the industrial, east side of the Willamette River.

I walked south along the river, a little under a mile, to Susan’s work, where I started the third leg of my triathlon, a short drive to Em’s place to visit the girls.

I didn’t get any pics while driving, driving a car these days multi-tasking enough as it is. The few pics I’d taken of the south side of Belmont, from the bus, came out blurry, not too brilliant. I tried to get a few murals, and a couple of the old buildings, the ones the developers, none too brilliantly some have been arguing, are in a hurry to tear down. We passed a typical east side tavern. I realized I have my shutter delay set too long. I had to anticipate where the bus would be when the shutter finally clicked. At the river I saw the lean-to boat setup again, and tried to get a contrast pic of the east side boat in the foreground with the west side yachts in the background. I paused at the OMSI sign to repeat Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ a few times, feeling even less brilliant as I moved on. I never tire of the sign of Theory, and took yet another pic of it. The blue building was brilliant in the soft afternoon overcast light.

At Em’s, I snapped a pic of her copies of “Penina’s Letters” and “Coconut Oil,” sitting on the shelf next to her cookbooks, and I wondered if my covers were brilliant enough, or brilliant at all. I think so. But to some, brilliant might suggest shiny, and I went with a matte finish.

In Em’s yard, I took some pics of a flowering tree and a tricycle rained in rose petals. It’s almost dragonfly season here, and I thought how nature always seems sufficiently brilliant, yet also always seems to be becoming more brilliant. Nature is superlative, while we can only ever be comparative, until we remember that we are also part of nature, where we are most brilliant.

Teeda, Sped, Flotsam, and Twist

Mr. Teeda with tart taste
hairy-scarfy lips late but at last
arises to seize downtown bus amid
yawns and snort, sneeze and nicks
himself hie shavely in tortello
braggadocio hurry-scurry.
“Out-a-my-way, out-a-my-way,”
Teeda cocoons the mod you
low
muddle of his noggin.

Meantime, Mr. Sped, cold splash
asleep in red tide road dust,
implacable rouge shore,
weird civic bird waggles past,
rubber fins folding dreamily,
tail swerving to and fro, football
public service posters advertising
Hollywood endings posted to fuzzy
windows frozen shut with rust.

Salt shakers fill the upright oak seats,
and time passes so terribly slowly,
magazines, cigarettes, styrofoam cups
of coffee and newspapers near boiling point,
Mr. Sped grows wonky waiting,
hoity-toity, charged with C of C,
expectant umbrellas aloft as Line 15
stretches in cap and scarf
amid coughs, and heaves, and spews.

“All one needs is the fare,” Mr. Flotsam claims.
“The rest depends on the robes
and suits of one’s
sword swallowed piers.”
“Brobdingnagian egos these
competitive solicitor types,” Mr. Twist explains.
“Half a man most of them, don’t feel
whole without an opponent in their ring
to tort down their ecomanic day,” Teeda says.

The firm still self-identifies
with vocational pigeonholes,
so when the toilet stops up,
they call in a travel agent.
In the boardroom, near the whiteboard,
Teeda polishes his burgundy wingtips
with the hands-off electronic
machine, rubs cream in his hair,
hears the snake’s whir.

My Blood Red Moon

Blood Red MoonA couple of out-of-town visitors from Vineland crashed here last night, the night of the celebrated Blood Red Moon. We ate dinner at the Bagdad on Hawthorne, walked around the blocks, checked out the absurdly named “Goodwill on Hawthorne” (gentrified thrift shop), and headed up to Mt Tabor to view the moon.

A month or so ago, I watched Ang Lee’s film “Taking Woodstock.” When we got up to Mt Tabor, the film came back to me. The crowds up in the park reminded me of the famous concert scenes: lines of cars, people walking, bicycles, strollers, guitars hanging from shoulders, something celebratory in the air – the moon, though not yet; as it happened, someone exaggerated how early the first views over the Cascades would open, and some people had apparently waited a couple of hours for the show to start. But what the hey; it was a free concert.

We drove up from the west, past the cinder cone, around the upper swings, and over to the east side road that up rises from 69th. We might have been in line at Woodstock. The road was moon-jammed. The east-side picnic area looked like the media corral at Cape Canaveral. There were tripods with exotic if not phallic telephoto lenses. People were spread out on blankets, enjoying a bottle of wine, coffee from a thermos, bread and cheese and apples and grapes, on lawn chairs and beach chairs, reading, talking, watching, people sitting on the picnic benches and on top the tables, people crowded along the paths, clustered together in spots where the views of the Cascades open up through the near tree tunnels, no shortage of dogs, tail gates open, everyone gazing east, anticipating the moon on the clear evening, a touch of fall mist rising off the distant mountain range. In short, it was a party.

By now, you probably have seen a picture of last night’s Blood Red Moon, if you didn’t take your own, so I won’t bother posting the one I took (instead, I’ve included my photo of the moon marble on a blood red bell). Never before has the moon been snapped by so many cell phones on a given evening, and it won’t happen again, I heard, until 2033. Everyone I talked to had calculated how old they will then be, a math problem I did not want to contemplate.

Back down on 69th, the Line 15 bus was unable to make the turn east from Belmont, was stuck fast diagonally between lines of an overflow of questionably parked cars, and traffic was being diverted. A tow truck arrived with red lights flashing. The night was darkening, the Blood Red Moon rising, gradually turning white, everyone in the streets, watching, Woodstock wonky-like. I’m thinking tonight I might walk back up into the park and see if there is still a moon.

Optotype

Line 15 currently detours across the Hawthorne Bridge due to a temporary weight restriction on the Morrison Bridge, which is under repair. I hopped off the bus at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge, passed the Salmon Street Springs Fountain, and walked south along the Willamette to the eye clinic, just over a mile upriver. I saw some strange markings on the sidewalk, as if math really is fun. A gaggle of signs befouled the views, whispering orders, dangers, and cautions. I noticed there were no warning signs near the mooring bollards, and wondered how many people walking along ogling the view have tripped over them. Rarely do I have to yield to slower traffic.

Just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, I noticed an interesting, kind of improvised, lean-to-dock moored just off the west bank between the bridge and the park beach, downriver from the yacht harbor. The boat and dock set-up reminded me of Anais Nin’s “Houseboat,” and of Penelope Fitzgerald’s “Offshore.” And the usual gaggle of geese casually befouled the park beach area. I don’t mind the geese, though the city has been taking precautions to minimize the goose poop problem. But I was wearing the new Fila walking shoes Susan recently scored for me, and I wasn’t sure the goose path was how I wanted to break them in. Portland is called the City of Roses. You would think the roses wouldn’t mind the geese.

Modern accommodations for travel, appurtenances for getting around – what a mess! Just north of the Ross Island Bridge, workers were just about finished dismantling the Project Pabst Festival. It was a little early to be thinking of a cold PBR Tall Boy. I walked along “River Place,” above the small harbor, and passed by the “River Walk Cafe,” enjoying the cliches, and at the corner of Meade and Moody thought, how about “Mead Place,” or the “Moody Walk Cafe”?

A rowing crew rounded the pilings of the Marquam Bridge (a concrete brouhaha that spans and expands the definition of bridge), the submarine moored behind them on the east bank, below OMSI and the Portland Opera. The Pabst Horse trotted off on a trailer. The Portland Aerial Tram (constructed at a cost of $57 million), juxtaposed with the old Ross Island Bridge, reminded me of the 20th Century: “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”.

Two Hep Cats and the Cool Comma

Punctuation Marks on Beach Trip Holiday

Scamble: I met a comma at the bus stop this morning. … Did you hear what I said? I said, I met a comma, at the bus stop, this morning.

Cramble: Be wary of commas. They’ll be on you like fleas.

-Did you know the apostrophe is the feminine form of comma?

-Band of punctuation pirates, the lot of them. Some witch of an exclamation point once hexed me into a pair of parentheses.

-Yes, life is hard enough without being labeled a parenthetical expression.

-Imagine impossible to break away from the vice grip of your parents.

-The bus stop comma seemed a cool enough little fellow.

-What was he up to?

-Just pausing, to say hello.

-I once dated an apostrophe, a beach volleyball aficionado, as I recall.

-Cool comma wasn’t going to the end of the line, Line 15, though, where the periods have apparently gentrified the neighborhood, the so-called Pearl District.

-No more comma splices. A few fragments, still.

-What’s the point of periods, anyway? We never really stop we get up and go again. He got off at the very next stop, the cool comma did.

-Why I prefer the express bus no all of that stop and go busyness biz.

Punctuation implies patience.

Abaft the Blues Fest

Red-orange earworms admonish taptoo! fashion,
now clear the drum is an old, beat suitcase
rigged with foot pedal, and, too, there they are,
tin bells on his curled toes, as literal as pencil lead,
as calloused as an oak pew hymnal.

Lavender fresh, she sang at Hop’s Hootenanny,
sipped mint juleps from a food cart pulled
by a calico cat in zither shade by a stream
under an old willow, but the bell pull string broke
under the weight of his monolog cartogram.

On top of it, academic aristocracy whizzed
by dressed in pressed berets and scholarly drafts –
what difference they followed the leader or not?
Collectors yodeled passwords, unlocking a juke joint,
and raspberry chords popped up oily fishes.

No need now to call placid plumber, three blue
hydrangeas wilting in bath humid heat,
down by the river, down by the wash,
down by the singing and the top posh posts
written with plush plumes of lacks and noods.

Safe sound spillway falls, noise overflows,
ears carp and loud lips cop bad press,
but dolce glissando this urgently close still
makes some sense, and at the first aid tent
they polish their moonstone eyes.

Paste fast food milk turns cast iron sour,
and butter curdles her chlorine-yellow hair
as they stuff bitter newspapers with trust,
dogpaddling thru pull duck old cobwebs,
but empty, golden juke boxes near finish him.

On Line 15 on the way back home, the night
quietly spinning, the river sparkling crinkly
as the bus crosses the Hawthorne Bridge,
a lone accordion pulls and lulls images only
understood asleep or listening to music.