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