Doldrum Shake Ups: Sign Additions

Municipal signs lack something. The design aims to present information and educate the public so it needs to be eye catching but not fancy. These signs have no fear of boring anyone. I’ve mentioned in this blog that I read everything, except the fine print and the manual. I’ve been rewarded with discovering signs sporting interjections of added art by unknown artists and unsung heroes giving a bit of personality to these morbidly mundane municipal messages.

Fat Cat Walking

Some signs not only spell out their message but illustrate it as well. That’s where the fun of this downtown Portland sign begins. This is not a stretch of sidewalk for loitering. Don’t stand around or you’re liable to get trampled by a diverse horde. You might be strolled, rolled, tripped over, poked by a cane or suffer a giant cigar poke to the eye. Wait a minute, that cigar wasn’t part of the original design. How fantastic is it that someone decided this sign needed improvement? Not only did the culprit risk getting walked over when decorating the sign, they actually nailed it. If you can imagine the figure minus the cigar and top hat, the man is joining this procession in full Fat Cat stride. Admire the coolness, the back lean, hand in pocket bravado adjusting his pace as not to crowd the cane bearing slow walker in front of him. What Fat Cat should be without a giant cigar and top hat? Keep puffing along Fat Cat, if you weren’t so relaxed and cool, I’d expect to see you in the front of the line.

Walking the Dog

While the Stick Figure Guy has been the butt of many jokes in his time I’ve never had a problem with him. This floating head, handless, footless, jumper wearing dude has always represented a person doing what the sign communicates his figurative needs to be. In this case the man is trying to cross the street. The sign includes a shout out to dog walkers on SW Capitol Hwy. As a dog walker myself, I welcomed the acknowledgement of the dog walking chore. Of course dogs need to cross streets too. Why were they forgotten in the first place? Our unknown artist missed an opportunity to draw the dog in stick style although why would anyone, there’s no stick breed. Dog walking in this case is challenging when you consider that Stick Guy has nary a hand and not much of a wrist to hang a leash on.

Danger Boy

This sign on Interstate Ave. reveals another dramatic development in the life of a Stick Figure Guy. A bolt of electricity strikes deep into his inky insides from a broken wire as Danger Boy looks on. The additional drawing offers an example to Stick Man on how it’s really done. To avoid danger simple choose to sit far away from wires. With his big eyes, Danger Boy remains wide eyed, mouthlessly silent and alert in the face of all treacherous situations. He’s doing double duty filling up a serious hole of white space in a sign that suffers from a poor design.

Where the Streets Have No Name

Outside a bus stop on Barbur Blvd in SW you’ll find a street sign addition that seems to call out mournfully the absence of something, well, absence. It’s true, as the sign feels the need to say, after those gaudy iron pipes there’s no more sidewalk. How would that not be obvious to anyone who might encounter it? After a few steps and a look around someone might try consider where the sidewalk went but the sign has additional information that’s let them know the exact point where the sidewalk ends. Equally important as questions go, who felt the need to add letters as if the original message on the sign wasn’t interesting enough? Someone out there was inspired to add the necessary flare supplement the sign’s plain design. It now takes on a kind of existential quality. Thankfully the effort was made so a few bored commuters, some daring pedestrians and an urban explorer or two might have an opportunity to be shaken out of their doldrums.

6/7/17 Weeks later I was embarrassed to find out via the Hidden Portland for the Curious Facebook group that this is a reference to a Shel Silverstein book. I work in an elementary school so I know I’ve seen those books around but I was more of a Tom Lehrer fan.

I got a synchronous tip from Cupcake Macfarlane about the work of the Billboard Liberation Front.  Check it out!

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The Louie Files: Louie Louie Sculpture

I never would have known there was a “Louie Louie” sculpture in town if I had not been tipped off by Will Simmons. Will enjoys his fame as a blogger for the Pittsburgh Orbit and I was lucky to have him as a guest columnist. Earlier this month, he wrote about the greatest moment in rock history and had been looking for photos for the post. If you haven’t read it already it was about the 60’s Portland band the Kingsmen recording “Louie Louie.” I ran the post on April 6 in honor of the 54th anniversary of the making of that record.

A closer look.

You have to make some considerations when you’re attempting to illustrate a song. It’s challenging. Artist Tim Bavington illustrated the song’s sound waves in a sculptural form  that hangs in the lobby of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal uilding at 1220 SW 3rd Avenue in Portland. You pretty much have to have synesthesia to make an image of music and yet Tim Bavington’s sculpture takes the notes and chords from the song “Louie Louie” and does that. My research revealed that the sculpture replicates the Kingsmen’s version of the song but unless you’re a sound engineer with a keen eye, as opposed to your average federal worker, how would you know?

The Louie Files: Louie, Louie Sculpture 3

I made my way downtown on a Tuesday afternoon during my spring break. With a sneaking suspicion that a federal building meant security, I emptied my pockets of various odds and ends before leaving the house. I was getting worked up knowing I was going to have to explain my mission. When I arrived I told the guard about my blog related photography assignment. I wondered if I sounded professional, or crazy. He remained unfazed, as if this were an everyday occurrence. I was instructed to only take pictures of the sculpture and not the security apparatus I was passing through. Taking off my shoes only proved to be a minor annoyance. It was getting me closer to the sculpture. I discovered the plate in my arm from this summer’s bike accident didn’t set off the metal detector.

The guitar solo is the yellow part.

After collecting my belongings, one of the other guards told me, what sounded like a rumor, that the art was hung upside down. I was flabbergasted. Art hung upside down? I asked why no one ever returned to hang it right. She explained that she had worked in building construction and thought the art work cost more to hang than to make. Rearranging it would be cost prohibitive. She seemed like a good source of information so I asked how the art work ended up in a Portland federal building. Her explanation was cryptic. She told me she had lived in Portland for a long time and wacky things happen here. Days later I had to wonder if I had not fallen victim to the greatest joke about abstract art of all–the old nobody knows which side is up joke.

The Louie Files: Louie, Louie Sculpture

Feds in there somewhere.

The Federal Building itself is a work of art. Ironwork up the entire building had me wondering how this obscures people’s views from the windows but it sure looks cool. Inside the lobby, the “Louie Louie” sculpture is given a great amount of space, the whole lobby, minus the security apparatus, to be noticed and admired. The large windows on the ground floor allow light to be reflected back on the surface of the art work. I found this distracting because it doesn’t allow the color of the sculpture to be seen as well but it adds a dimension to the piece. It’s always going to look different. That sentiment was summed up in the title plaque that describes how artist Tim Bavington:

“assigned colors to spectrographic images of the music, and the resulting color combinations correspond to the song’s changing chords. Viewed from different angles and in shifting light throughout the day, the forms appear fluid and ever-changing.”

Seating for seven.

Another detail I appreciated was how the art reflected off the shiny floor, mirrored in swirls of color. I laughed to think about how there was seating arranged far from the art work with enough space between to take the whole thing in or not look at the sculpture at all. I had to wonder if people considered the artist’s methods, design and subject matter and if the art ever started discussions about the song itself.

Detail

The song has taken on a bit of a new life for me as I started this series of blog posts related to it. I never quite caught on to the “Louie Louie” resurgence in the ’80’s but after reading about the “Louie Louie” marathons at California college radio stations it now makes sense. I finally got around to visiting the building where the song was recorded. Next year I hope to write about the plaque being returned to one of its walls. I heard it had been stolen but was told when I visited the site that it was taken off for renovation work.

IMG_4979

The Louie, Louie Building sponsored by FedEx.

Mostly I like the idea of a bunch of guys bombing into a recording studio and being bum rushed into churning out a quick take of a song that became legendary. One Facebook responder didn’t think the guitar solo was raunchy enough and while that’s something to consider, the song was recorded in a way that created a delicate balance, anything done even in the slightest different way, another take or an overdub (if that technology even existed then), might have thrown off the whole recording. As Simmons described in his greatest rock moment post, the Kingsmen created a recording full of “magical quirks,” a phrase that relates to the possibilities that can still be found in Portland. Somehow it all seems subversive in a subtle way that a sculpture would be installed 50 years after an Indiana Governor alerted the F.B.I. and started a rock and roll witch hunt of sorts over the song’s perceived explicit nature. I’ll take quirks anywhere I can find them even if it means taking my shoes off.

Next week’s topic will be Sign Additions. You’ll have to tune in to see what this is about. The following week we’ll be running the last of this year’s Louie Files series. We’re thinking it will be a first hand account of the Seaside riots.   

For sculpture information see:

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2013/07/the_kingsmens_infamously_innoc.html

Many thanks to Louielouie.net for their “greatest moment” write up:

http://www.louielouie.net/blog/?p=8424

The Louie Files: Finding Pypo

There’s plenty to do at the Oregon coast, even during a rainy weekend. There’s bad cable television, waves to look at and listen to and rain showers to dodge when the time seems right for a walk on the beach. But I was on assignment. No, I hadn’t gone to Seaside, Oregon for the sole purpose of hunting down the remains of an old teen club but since I was in the area, the exact area, I knew I could make it part of my agenda. I was really in Seaside because my wife, Ronna, was attending a conference at the Convention Center. My real assignment was to monitor the dog and keep him from barking and waking everyone up at the hotel.

When Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit was preparing a post for this blog to celebrate the anniversary of the Kingsmen’s recording of “Louie Louie,” I read the story about the origins of the song and kept hearing about the Pypo Club in Seaside. I was in the right place to snap a few photos of the place that played a part in the song’s history. By now, hopefully, you’ve read Simmons’ “Louie Louie,” post. The Pypo Club was integral to the Kingsmen’s association with the song. It was at the club where the band kept seeing kids get up and dance to Rockin’ Robin Roberts’ version of “Louie Louie” every time it came on the jukebox. This inspired the band to perform it themselves. Obsessives like me find this moment of inspiration historical. It led to the Kingsmen recording “Louie Louie.” Historical events mean building preservation and plaques. I knew the club was on Broadway so after walking to the Convention Center the night we arrived I found the street which is the town’s main drag and headed towards the ocean. I expected to see the Pypo Club looking familiar like the old photo I’d seen but the darkness kept it hidden. That was okay since I had the next day to find it.

The Club keeps you young.

The following morning I did more research. I read the obituary of the man, Gil Tolan, who co-founded the club in 1961. The Pypo Club got a brief, one sentence mention. The gentleman had a full life so the obituary explored his many other accomplishments. Then I discovered that the first Pypo Club was torn down. This club had figured so prominently in rock history and yet I could find few specifics about it. Some Facebook mentions seemed concerned with casual reminiscences. Somewhere a comment explained the building’s demise.

A commenter tells the tale.

With all the development that had gone on in the last 50 years it made sense that a teen club would be inconsequencial. Right there at the point where the Pypo Club would have faced the ocean was a concrete bunker complete with a roundabout for auto traffic with a statue of Lewis and Clark in the middle. Underneath this were the public bathrooms. Additional research revealed the club had moved to a second location in a building that became an electrical business. That too was torn down to make room for a parking lot. I never determined when that happened. I was sitting in a hotel room like I’d been bowled over by a rouge wave. I had nothing to photograph. There was no way to capture the Pypo Club aspects of the “Louie Louie” story.

Possible Pypo Club site now bathrooms.

I thought I needed to go to the electrical business named Borland’s. They had moved into the second Pypo Club on A Street. That business then moved to G St. I’m not sure if I had a specific address other than the street name but I was thinking that the town was small enough that if I drove up and down G Street I’d see it. I imagined a back office with photos of old buildings and stories about rock and roll legends but I never saw the business. Surely the internet would have told me if the business was still around and if they had weekend hours, but I missed the part where the business was actually located in Gearhart. I regrouped because I knew I had spared someone, and myself, some awkward and over-caffeinated blubbering about being a blogger hot on the trail of a rock club who’s name I couldn’t even pronounce.

History is made here.

I remembered seeing a sign for a historical museum in the area and I headed back to find it. Walking in and seeing the sign for the 3 dollar entrance fee had me telling the man at the desk in the entrance way, “I don’t have any money but I’m trying to find information about the Pypo Club.” I still wasn’t sure how to pronounce it so I said it both ways, “Pee-po” and “Pie-po” to be safe. I explained that it was an old rock club where the Kingsmen and Paul Revere and the Raiders played. He said he hadn’t heard of it. I think I babbled a bit about what I knew about the buildings being torn down. I mentioned the ’62 riots which were associated with the Pypo Club. He seemed to know about that. Then he disappeared into the back and brought out an old phone book. I would have preferred he bring out an old timer they had stashed in the backroom with exstensive knowledge of the town’s early rock years. After going back a couple of times, he found a phone listing in the 1963 book. He had spent a few minutes looking the club up under the letter U. The photo I showed him had “Under 21 Club” on the awning.

The Louie Files: Finding Pypo 5

There’s that number, again!

I’ll admit it was a bit confusing but I realized Seaside had more history going on than what happened at the Pypo Club and there was a whole museum devoted to it. The volunteer was younger than me but I was still mystyfied. I mean the Kingsmen, “Louie Louie,” the germ of an idea had happened in Seaside. Why wasn’t it a bigger deal? Why didn’t everyone know? I took a photo of the listing in the old phone book, evidence that the place existed. I left wracking my brain about what else I could photograph, but forgot to take a picture of the museum. I made my way back to A Street and took pictures of the empty lots across from the Dairy Queen the man at the museum told me about.

Not in the area of the second Pypo Club.

The next morning I realized I could go back to the old address of the original club, 1 N. Broadway. Here’s where I remain confused. Either I saw the club listed at this address or wanted to think that the address still existed even though the club is long gone. Right there in the phone book it’s listed as 1 Broadway. The thing I got excited about was that with it’s black stripes the awning looked similar to the one in the old Pypo Club. Due to some early morning chaos, my first picture was crooked. When I went to take the picture the dog growled at a man who approached the store then turned away, while out front a woman was having her car towed which wasn’t going to make a nice wide shot. As I was packing up to check out of the hotel, I made plans for more photos. I needed the histroy museum and business at what I thought was the old address or at least a better awning shot. I was in need for a witness to this history but was in no mood to hang out at the local eatery, the Pig’n Pancake restaurant and badger random senior citizens with questions.

That old, familiar awning.

There I was scrambling around, carrying bags in the pouring rain, loading the dog in the car, going back to the room for the last load and dealing with a key card that stopped working. The museum was easy. It was all about waiting for the flag to unfurl just right, but even that ended up getting cropped from the photo. Getting back up Broadway at noon proved tougher than I realized. It’s a small area but traffic congestion combined with the longest red light I’d ever experienced was making me late. I still needed to pick my wife up from her conference. I drove past the market somehow related to the Pypo Club snapping photos and realizing that driving while photographing was probably just as dangerous as driving while texting as I then began to navigate the turn around. I took a deep breath slogged for another block back through traffic and realized that I, at least, had a few more options of photos to tell the story of the Pypo Club a place that’s gone but who’s spirit emanates from the sun, rain, wind blown sand and ocean spray of the resort town of Seaside, OR.

Next time: A visit to the “Louie, Louie” sculpture located in a Portland federal building.

The Louie Files: The Greatest Moment in Rock-and-Roll

exterior of two-story brick building painted black, downtown Portland, OR

Hallowed ground. The former Northwestern Recorders, Burnside and 13th Ave, where “Louie Louie” was recorded.

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist this week is Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit. His love of the the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie” has inspired a slew of forthcoming posts to celebrate the 54th anniversary of  the recording. He’s won me over as I realize Will isn’t spewing hyperbole.

 

It is the greatest moment in rock-and-roll. I can say that definitively–I know them all.

Oh, sure–there’s Jackie Brenston and pre-spousal abuse Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88”, the so-called “first rock-and-roll song”. Elvis, whose famous croon and gyrating mid-section is right up there with the crazed abandon of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Chuck Berry is a one-man honors course on the past, present, and future of the genre.

The Beatles launched a million shrill screams and sent inspired amateurs from all over into guitar shops. Their across-the-pond mates The Kinks, The Who, and the Rolling Stones all launched impressive salvos at this hallowed target.

Somebody’s going to argue for Robert Johnson selling his soul down on Highway 61, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s rock-and-roll gospel, Dylan “going electric”, Janis Joplin’s impassioned ball-and-chain wails, Hendrix on his knees and out of his mind at Monterrey. “Rock and Roll, parts 1 & 2”, Mike Leander’s Frankenstein studio creation for Gary Glitter, was famously called “a castration op where you throw away the patient and keep the balls”. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” set some kind of high-water mark, but it’s not this one.

We could go on and on–heck, we haven’t even gotten to punk rock!–but what’s the point? No, “Louie Louie”–The Kingsmen’s definitive “Louie Louie”–recorded on this day in 1963, alone holds that title. And it happened right here….er, right there…in Portland.

Tim Bavington's sculpture "Louie, Louie" (detail), Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building downtown

Tim Bavington’s glass and acrylic sculpture “Louie, Louie” (detail), Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building downtown

Kids today. One thing they’ll never know is the absolute moment of greatest excitement in life. I’m talking about the brief seconds immediately following the record player’s discordant crunch–like a car crash heard from blocks away–as the needle makes contact with spinning black plastic. From that instant until the music kicks in–possibly nanoseconds, a blink of an eye, really–there is nothing except the amplified scratching of dust on empty grooves and a heightened anticipation that something incredible is about to happen.

When the needle drops on “Louie Louie” it has every molecule of this electricity behind it. The organ pick-up on the V chord and one run-through of the progression is just enough warning for rockers to rise from their seats and the timid to dive for cover.

Lynn Easton is a sonic terrorist wanted for crimes ranging from flagrant tempo irregularity to rampant contraption kit abuse. But then as now, there are no normal circumstances and Easton’s all-fills-all-the-time, no-crash-cymbal-left-alive approach to drumming is exactly what you want destroying rhythm in the scorched earth ground war that is rock-and-roll.

What takes “Louie” over the top, though, are the loose, drunk-sounding, shout-sung vocals of young Jack Ely. It’s just one of the song’s many magical quirks that the record was done in a single take, recorded live in the studio using just three room microphones, by a band that only just added the song to their repertoire. When Ely sings through his teenage orthodontal work, craning to be heard over the live band din, he’s working from only a passing familiarity with both the new lyrics and arrangement.

It all adds up to one of the great vocal performances in rock history. No one would possibly practice singing a song the way Ely delivers it. Likely–had the band been granted more studio time, budget, a producer–they might have rethought the spontaneity of this first, perfect take. Fortunately for all of us, they never got that chance.

"The Kingsmen on Campus" album cover with five band members in cardigan sweaters at the top of a brick staircase

If the cardigan’s a-rockin’… big Kingsmen on campus (1965)

By all accounts, Ely, Easton, and the gang were pretty square. From the band’s Wikipedia entry, “The Kingsmen began their collective career playing at fashion shows, Red Cross events, and supermarket promotions, generally avoiding rock songs on their setlist.” The group only fell into trash rock ass backwards after hearing the popularity of an already-recorded version of “Louie Louie” while playing at the very un-rock-and-roll venue of a yacht club on the coast.

There are plenty of wilder early rock records that pre-date “Louie’s” moment of glorious infamy, but none that got anywhere near the exposure The Kingsmen received. Coming at the tail end of the brief window between Elvis leaving the building and The Beatles “yeah-yeah-yeah”-ing arrival, “Louie” is the great exclamation point that ushers both popular and underground rock music into the 1960s. When the record peaked at #2, in December, 1963, the Billboard’s Top 40 chart contained such ’50s hangovers as Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton, and Al Martino, “Be True to Your School” and “Wives and Lovers”*. The top spot was held by The Singing Nun’s folky “Dominique”, sung en Française.

Seaside, Oregon phone book entry for the PYPO CLUB at 1 Broadway

An old-school phone listing is all that’s left of Seaside, Oregon’s Pypo Club, where The Kingsmen first heard “Louie Louie”.

The Kingsmen went on to record a series of albums in the mid-1960s full of decent, but forgettable R&B standards, dance-craze-of-the-week retreads, and unfortunate novelty tunes. It didn’t help matters that shortly after “Louie’s” success, Easton staged a bloodless coup to unseat Ely as lead singer and frontman. In one fell swoop, the band lost both of their greatest assets–the untrained voice and the unhinged beat.

promotional photograph of Jack Ely and the Kingsmen with band members smiling in jackets and ties

Jack Ely’s post-sacking, hack lineup of The Kingsmen, c. 1964 [photo courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society]

None of these things mattered to me. As a high school student in the 1980s, I bought used-bin copies of all their records and played them incessantly. My peers were listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cure while I was spinning The Kingsmen’s B-grade takes on Allen Toussaint and Rufus Thomas songs.

Looking back, I recognize how mediocre the Kingsmen’s second- or third-hand, safe-for-middle-America versions are in comparison to the real thing. But those albums served as a great gateway to finding out about much more interesting music–both in the New Orleans/Memphis R&B records they copied and the mid-’60s garage rock they became synonymous with.

The Kingsmen will never be remembered for the catalog produced by ‘60s rock peers The Pretty Things or The Troggs, The Chocolate Watch Band or The Sonics, The Standells or The Easy Beats. But they did one magical, perfect thing–right there at Burnside and 13th. It changed this blogger’s young life and he is forever in their debt. Me gotta go. Aye-yi-yi-yi-yi.

Hyperbolically yours,
Will Simmons
Pittsburgh

man holding a copy of "The Best of 'Louie, Louie'" vinyl album

The author, one needle-drop from ecstasy


Further reading: Dave Marsh’s 1993 book Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock’n’Roll Song (Hyperion) is a totally great read for anyone with even a passing interest in the song, Northwest rock history, or just a goofy, wild true tale. It’s amazing to me that Multnomah County Library only has one (print) copy in the system considering how much of the book could be considered “local history”, but hey–it’s available! (as of this writing)


* In fairness, the Dec. 14 Billboard Top 40 also contains some pretty good stuff–“Walking the Dog”, early Motown records, “Sugar Shack”, etc.

Next week in the second installment of the Louie Files, we’ll explore an attempt to find the rock club in Seaside, OR that inspired the Kinsmen to record Louie, Louie.