When Portland Almost Killed Beatlemania

I caught the exhibit about The Beatles at the Oregon Historical Society. The displays weren’t specific to the Beatles’ visit to Portland on August 22, 1965  when they performed two shows to a combined attendance of 20,000 fans. There were relics from the concert but the collection, organized by the Grammy Museum and Fab Four Exhibits, included items from the full spectrum of the Beatle years. Through November 12, people can pour over artifacts, admire replicas of the band’s gear, look over oddball Beatle merchandise items, play drums with Ringo or even sing and record a personal version of Yellow Submarine.

Press kit photo by David Falconer

The band’s performances in Portland must have impacted those who attended, the excitement, the memories. The Beatles, in Portland. Imagine that. Their tours came with baggage. Every show factored into their decision to stop touring. Screams of excitement muffled their ability to hear their instruments. There was more fun backstage jamming, smoking and drinking Wink soda before being trotted out to face 10,000 adoring and screaming Portlanders in a boxy arena. It’s amazing to think facing a crowd like that could get old.

Press kit photo by David Falconer

On tour the band was shuttled by plane and limo in a whirlwind. On the way to Portland the airplane lost an engine. The incident shook up John Lennon but this didn’t merit a mention in Philip Norman definitive Beatle biography Shout, although I swear I read about it somewhere. I also had it in my head that the band landed in Troutdale. I just liked the idea of the Beatles in Troutdale. My memory was proven wrong by a photo of Ringo and Paul waving to fans from a limo at the Portland airport. Their concert rider at the museum called for two seven-passenger limousines, “preferably with air-conditioning” to pick them up. The hoopla  netted them 50,000 dollars for their performances and possibly proceeds from the gate on top of that. Tickets, at four, five and six dollars, seemed like a hefty price for the time. How much that equals in today’s money is beyond me.**

Ringo’s suit jacket.

Tiny details from the exhibit revealed more about the band’s personalities. There were things you would never absorb from a book. I saw John Lennon’s loopy handwriting, the use of his elbow to play keyboards in a show photo and a suit that Ringo had made to wear on the cover of the Abbey Road album. George liked it so much he ordered one. In a concert projected on one wall, I watched Paul graciously invite Ringo to sing “With a Little Help From My Friends.” I’m not sure why Ringo is all over the exhibit. He must have been the one Beatle wiling and able to participate. His deadpanned intro to the Yellow Submarine booth was hilarious.

The most significant thing I learned about the Beatles’ Portland shows was that Allen Ginsberg was in the audience for the evening performance and he wrote a poem about it. Now a Beatles concert for the band was just another show. For the city and those who attended it’s historical. Not many concerts have poems written about them. Ginsberg has already received props for hanging out with Dylan and recording and performing with The Clash, his poem offers a sense of the essence of a Beatles show.

PORTLAND COLISEUM
by Allen Ginsberg

A brown piano in diamond
white spotlight
Leviathan auditorium
iron run wired
hanging organs, vox
black battery
A single whistling sound of ten thousand children’s
larynxes asinging
pierce the ears
and following up the belly
bliss the moment arrived

Apparition, four brown English
jacket christhair boys
Goofed Ringo battling bright
white drums
Silent George hair patient
Soul horse
Short black-skulled Paul
with the guitar
Lennon the Captain, his mouth
a triangular smile,
all jump together to End
some tearful memory song
ancient-two years,
The million children
the thousand words
bounce in their seats, bash
each other’s sides, press
legs together nervous
Scream again & claphand
become one Animal
in the New World Auditorium
—hands waving myriad
snakes of thought
screetch beyond hearing

while a line of police with
folded arms stands
Sentry to contain the red
sweatered ecstasy
that rises upward to the
wired roof.
— August 27, 1965

Now I’m going to attempt something rare in this blog, or any other: poetry analysis. If you absorb the poem you get images of that cavernous “New World Auditorium” filled with screaming beings while the Beatles jump as the complete a song. That must have been their stage move at the time. I got a kick out of his descriptions of the band. George, so sick of being labeled the quiet Beatle probably kept his mouth shut about it. Paul being painted “black-skulled” is something he’ll never live down. “Screech beyond hearing” seems likely what the Beatles heard but they were Portland kids, sweaters and all, and that could have made all the difference.

**From a story in the Oregonian I learned 6 dollars I s equal to 47 dollars in today’s money.

P.S. The museum is free to residents of Multnomah County and the exhibit is worth checking out for a few minutes if you find yourself downtown. It’s fun to have a look but the mock teenager bedroom decked out in Beatle paraphernalia is a bit of a stretch.

For the Beatlemaniacs:
https://www.beatlesbible.com/1965/08/22/live-memorial-coliseum-portland-oregon/

www.bobbonis.com

Bob’s website doesn’t appear to work well but it’s an archive of photos from the Portland show.

The Author: New kicks, old road.

 

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Taking Me to the River: The Portlandia Mermaid Parade

mermaid mass

The Mermaid mob!

What makes someone consider the mermaid life? Dressing like a Mermaid? Participating in a Mermaid parade? These questions had been in my head since last year. After missing the 2018 parade, I needed answers. The event, in it’s fourth year, had me incorrectly assuming it had sprung from a skit on the show Portlandia until I read the website:

The name ‘Portlandia’ is in honor of the river goddess sculpture created by Raymond Kaskey, currently located above the entrance of the Portland Building located in downtown PDX.

Okay, so there’s always been a bit of confusion between the statue and the TV show.

mermaid parade

Processionality.

Getting there was a challenge. It can be when you travel by bike or bus. The bike option had us stopping at a repair shop with a mechanical issue. I thought we might miss the Saturday, July 27th parade entirely. I misjudged how long it would take to get there. As we got closer I realized I had no idea where the parade was. Such festivities that included floats and Mermaids in kiddie pools would have involve street closures but I didn’t know the streets. Despite my worrying, we intercepted the hard-to-miss parade cutting through the Tom McCall Waterfront Park with no floats or kiddie pools in sight just people pushing Mermaids in hand carts and wheelchairs.

make way for mermaids

Make way for mermaids.

The event has a Portland vibe, a definite local bucket list item. The Mermaid theme, not exclusive to the area but it does play up Portland traditions of homemade creativity in style and design. Seeing the parade in real life helped me interpret its mystery.

mermaid push

When push comes to cart.

Pictures don’t do it justice. This force, a nautical battalion cruising dry land had me searching for a descriptor. What’s a group of mermaids called? A herd? A gaggle? A crush–if you got in their way. A school? A pod? The internet couldn’t settle it so I decided on a mass for the alliteration but I think mob works better. It was a conglomeration of people celebrating mermaids and moseying towards Poet’s beach, an urban oasis of sand under the Marquam bridge. The Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” blared from a boombox in a theme of Mermaid unification.

mermaid canyon

I know the alley.

The procession continued through the SW Harborside retail canyon of what seemed like mostly ice cream stores anchored by a McCormick and Schmidt’s steakhouse. A table of mermaids had given up and gone to lunch. The group remained an amazing spectacle for the unsuspecting as they moved in a methodic, disciplined school of fish fashion.

mermaid wave

Greetings earthlings.

No one could resist the colorful costumes. My wife, Ronna, told me I should have let her know the parade was formal. Which begs the question about what to wear to a mermaid parade. Anything with scales, I suppose. Mermaid fabric pants were in order.

jelly fish man

Under the jelly.

On Poet’s Beach a Mermaid’s tail flapped in the sand. I saw smiles and countless photo ops with plenty of chances for photo bombing–if that’s even a thing these days. My surroundings felt like a Fellini movie set, extras in shimmering costumes pursuing the unusual. I heard Ronna in her bathing suit say, “I have to work on my mermaid game. This is awful.” A t-shirt read, “I Can’t Run I’m a Mermaid” reminding me of my obvious and poorly constructed joke that mermaids can’t parade in a literal sense.

photo session

Summer’s pose.

“Can a mermaid’s tail get wet?” a little girl asked her mom about the tail she was dragging behind her as she headed to the river. Impending rain had me anticipating an uncomfortable ride home but I was comforted by the realization that Mermaids drip dry. I couldn’t help imagining a future Trump tweet threatening to deport Mermaids back to the sea.

dog mermaid

Merdog and friends.

This Mermaid parade and gathering could be described using words that start with the letter “F” like fun, freeing, frivolous, fancy and family. It’s a communal, inclusive celebration of anything mermaid related. Sharks, pirates and jellyfish umbrellas weren’t excluded. Kid’s fascination with mermaids has to be part of the reason for this necessary spectacle.  Out of the ordinary is inspiring. On the beach Aretha Franklin could be heard singing about freedom. People were freed to express themselves. Reasons for Mermaid gatherings were adding up. This celebration felt good; a great way to spend a summer’s day. Mermaid good cheer is something to commemorate on an annual basis.

mermaid rocks

Rocking out.

You never get over the Hans Christian Andersen effect of seeing a Mermaid on a rock. The paraders spread out over Poet’s Beach socializing while kids swam. Mermaids seemed wary of the water. Who could blame this threat to their costumes, extensive make up, face paint and wigs. Who wants a wet wig? I began to feel pasty on the beach in need of sunshine. The  parade became a day at the beach. I took comfort  knowing a shirtless burly man, who arrived fashionably late with two kids in tow, was not a sea creature.

 

mermaid throne

Una holds court.

Una had me starstruck. I feel like the Mermaid scene revolves around her as their de facto leader, but I may be mistaken. She seemed otherworldly, exotic, graceful and dignified—like a real mermaid. She had scales on her face, flowers in her hair and a multi-colored costume. After the parade and Poet’s Beach gathering some of the celebrants headed back to the Harborside retail area. I was a few tables away from Una. I discovered that Mermaids like ice cream. She was an amiable celebrity, happy to chat with passersby enchanted by her costume. I made too much of the notion of being in the presence of a Mermaid Queen. Queens make people nervous. I’ll get the whole story  someday. I have no doubt her grace would be willing to answer a few questions from the Portland Orbit.