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.

 

Walk Without Words

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)”.

Walking thru the park one day

One
Hundred
Concrete years
In a body of water
Two women walking
One in turquoise taupe
The other in peach mauve
Briskly yelling into cell phones
Their voices trailing off like crows
Squirrelly trees stiffen tall tail stillness

Writing is hard work, the experts tell us
If a day is lost to writing the reason
Is probably you did not want
To write, after all
You probably
Wanted
A park
Bench
To sit
Still.

Juice and Joy

“What is all this juice and all this joy?” Gerard Manley Hopkins asks of Spring. And no sooner does he sing the push and fuss, the ballyhoo, of a sea sky blue slurred song of fresh thrushes than he announces the sound of a melancholy note, a bell of vespers, the turning of the promise of spring, spring’s quick morning suddenly fallen, the promise of its baby blue sky now overcast, what was in the seed of his poem from the beginning, “a strain.”

Is spring for the earth painful? It might be, born in a bed of industrial pollution, which even in Hopkins’s time was already something to brood over, and in spring he’s already grieving.

Not for Hopkins will spring last, and every spring grieves for its unwinding even as it unwinds in juice and joy. It’s the climate change of the “Sea of Faith” again that seems to sully his spring. To his coy mistress he does not even bother calling. He doesn’t want to make the sun run; he wants to see it stand still.

And Hopkins twists Herrick’s argument’s ear, and Herrick’s sin of staying becomes for Hopkins a sin of leaving. Where in Herrick, Corinna is told,

And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying,

in Hopkins, the children are told:

Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Hopkins does not seem to sing to the virgins. Somehow, he’s unable to seize his day. Hopkins disliked cages: “This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.” In Hopkins, spring is not sustainable, but this abstract thought becomes itself a cage. And age is a cage.

So it was of Hopkins and his springs and falls I thought as I walked past this Flowering Japanese Crabapple tree the other day. And I remembered a line from Hopkins’s poem, “God’s Grandeur”: “And for all this, nature is never spent.”

041220141136 Flowering Japanese Crabapple 1

At least, I think it’s a Flowering Japanese Crabapple. Hopkins would probably know. He despaired, among the many things he seems to have despaired over, of the toil and wear and tear already evident upon nature of the effects of urbanization and industrialization. Yet here I saw these lovely blooms persisting, in the middle of the city, surrounded by construction. For the tree, as you can now see in the pic below, is a caged skylark. But it’s been there awhile, wedged into a corner of a parking lot up against an old brick apartment house, but it continues to sing to me, and will sing to you, too, and to anyone who cares to take a walk in spring. Alas, as Hopkins and the carpe diem poets remind us, spring won’t last, so get it while you can, while the juice still runs freely and the joy escapes confinement.

But, no, wait, why go under such a stricture and structure? That seed grows into a tree of melancholy. Why not simply go? Not put out, but go out. Ah, now there’s some juice and joy to go by.

041320141137 Crabapple road construction

 

Thoreau’s Bicycle

Fall falls. Footfalls squish and squash through redorangeyellow leaves, their green energy sucked back into roots, an understandable hoarding for the winter.

The casual bicyclist dismounts for the season, buries the bike in the basement, perhaps intending to walk through the winter.

We have come to rely on the automobile to our detriment: for cars require a massive infrastructure, costly to build and maintain, that blights the landscape and harms the environment; cars are fuel-hogging inefficient, noisy and polluting, difficult to recycle; car use subtracts from walking opportunities. Even in parking lots we search for the space nearest the entrance, though that distance might be our only walk of the day.

While Thoreau probably knew of the bicycle, he didn’t ride one. If Thoreau wanted or needed to get somewhere, he walked.

In his essay simply titled “Walking,” Thoreau says he wants “to make an extreme statement.” What does an “extreme statement” sound like? “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends,” Thoreau says, “and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.” At that pace, few of us would ever be ready or able to go for a walk.

Maybe it’s an argument of definition: what’s a walk? “But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called…but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day,” Thoreau says. He tells us, in Walden, he often walked four miles a day, and would walk eight miles to say hello to a tree (“Former Inhabitants” chapter, para. 17).

“I am a good horse to travel but not from choice a roadster,” Thoreau says in “Walking.” I stopped walking when I got my first roadster, a 1956 Chevy. Cars are cool. Who isn’t intoxicated by the odor of a new car’s interior? Today’s cars, souped up with on-board, high-tech falderal, make my old ’56 Chevy seem a bicycle by comparison. To answer Thoreau’s extreme statement about going for a walk, to walk with Thoreau, we would add our cars to his list of things we must be ready to leave and never see again. It’s an argument of revolution.

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