What the hell is that?

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On a recent bike ride home from work I had a look at, well, what it was I wasn’t sure. I thought about it and realized I had seen it before but in all my huffing and puffing getting up the hill I had not given it much thought. It’s bright and colorful. It doesn’t blend into the background still I had to consider what purpose it served and what it was doing on the far side of N. Weidler St, a one-way street. Then I had to ponder my next question: What the hell is that?

Now that line is from an old Steve Martin bit. Let me pause for anyone who may not know who Steve Martin is. If you grew up in the 70’s you knew him. You may have bought his comedy albums, saw him on Saturday Night Live or in his movie The Jerk. If you are figuring out who he is now you’d think he was some old guy. He’s had gray hair since he was about 14 so he’s been distinguished looking forever. Ultimately I just like co-opting his comedy because it’s funny but I make sure to give him credit.

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But, yeah, wow, I saw this building, sculpture, thing, and couldn’t figure it out. What the hell is that? I don’t mean it in a negative way. It looks cool but sticks out with its jarring colors and patterns in an otherwise drab section of town.

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After looking it over on my bike, I saw no information indicating what this object could be. It was up to me to use my imagination. I demand a bronze plaque with the title of this art construction or at least the name of the artist or designer. These people deserve recognition.

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What the hell is that?

My mind wandered and then I came up with multiple descriptors. I’m sure anyone could come up with better ones but I thought: psychedelic igloo. Not half bad but actually really terrible. Eskimos never seemed interested in the frivolity of psychedelia, especially its genesis in the ’60s from what I can tell. It never would have help them survive their harsh environment.

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The contraption also appears circus tent-like, yeah psychedelic circus tent, insect-esque under a kaleidoscope-microscope and the art of it all is a possible nod to Gaudi. It is awe-inspiring in it’s creativity and it made me appreciate my efforts to take a closer look. It could also be a beautiful outdoor chapel for any number of New Age religions. I had a great time looking it over, basking in the form, shape and color of it. Soon enough it made more sense.

What the hell is that?

Answer:

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It’s a streetcar station!

Here’s some Vine footage that brings it on home:

https://vine.co/u/1244124186864508928

See Bill Murray and Steve Martin try to figure out what it is:

 

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Digging Trench Digger

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I met Jeff Dodge at a party my sister-in-law was throwing in her back yard years ago. I overheard him talking to someone about cameras. He was talking camera. Throwing out brand names with letters and numbers. I was new to Portland and I hadn’t talked much camera with anyone. It wasn’t just cameras we talked about. Jeff is interested in just about everything, history, recording music and film making. He started Trench Digger Productions as a way to catalog, organize and explore his interests including his short film series he’s named Darge Dinner Theater.

Soon after meeting Dodge, I got the call to assist on his feature length film, Jeff Steele: Children of the Doomed.  He was shooting in the wilds of eastern Oregon. My mind was blown by the chance to spend time in the high desert area of Malheur County. The Pillars of Rome and Leslie Glutch were two of the surreal locations where we shot.

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Being on a set and seeing what people had to do to complete a movie was an education in itself and getting the chance to visit the wide expanses and empty landscapes of the eastern part of the state has been one of the highlights of my Oregon experience.

Now I’m completely biased about everything I have to say about Trench Digger. I had the opportunity to work on Dodge’s latest production KXLN Nebraska. I ran camera, acted and even got a writer’s credit. KXLN Nebraska has an improvisational element to it. It’s also rooted in the characterization of Mitch Humbucker by Mike “Woodman” Johnson who worked for years as a radio DJ. Mitch Humbucker might seem like something of a Howard Stern clone.  With the movie set in 1982, Mitch would have had no way of stealing the then, mostly, unknown Howard Stern’s act. In Nebraska we find a bored, frustrated and shaggy headed DJ slogging through his AM radio shift with nothing better to do but badger his show guests. Jeff Dodge plays a version of himself as a world-weary touring musician trying to cope with Humbucker’s venomous onslaught.

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Jeff Dodge as Jeff Dodge in KXLN Nebraska. (Video still.)

Jeff Dodge remains a hero to me. He’s a guy with an active mind that never stops. It’s like there’s a shark in his brain that has to keep moving. It’s inspirational to see ideas that seem to explode out his head. I’ll be watching Trench Digger to find out about his upcoming projects. I may find myself participating in them. Why wouldn’t I? Jeff has always been generous and willing to help me with equipment loans, work opportunities and tales of Dodge family history and stories about his work as a sound man.

Every year, around this time, we celebrate the guy’s birthday. He throws the party.

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This blog’s author as the bossy intern in KXLN Nebraska. (Video still.)

Watch KXLN Nebraska:

Got time to watch a full length feature? Here’s the link:

Read all about the goings-ons of Trench Digger Productions and learn some history:

http://www.trenchdigger.us

Wildlife of Killingsworth

How wild are things going to get on a street that runs through the campus of a community college? There’s a pho place we like and I’m in awe of the Florida Room with the cryptic messages they leave on their marquee and that one bar, Ducketts Public House, looks like a place for an intense experience. We’re talking a completely different kind of wildlife. It may just be a coincidence and not a homage to any real animals that roam up and down Killingsworth St. because I have never seen any. I noticed a theme of sorts on Killingsworth that has to be more accidental than planned. It first became apparent with  Elk Cleaners & Laundry.

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The business is named for animals that haven’t roamed this part of town for hundreds of years, if they ever did, and has a mural advertising what is now a defunct dry cleaners and laundry operation featuring the portrait of an Elk trophy head.  More evidence of demise is the obscured phone number at the bottom of the sign. I’m glad to see the mural/signage remains.

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On the same block, a mature buck deer graces the sign of the Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern. The sign is a beautiful thing, majestic in it’s animal choice, portraiture and woodsy feel from the background design. How the deer works with the bar known to be a Packer fan hang out, I’m not sure, but it fits in well with the remains of the Elk Cleaners a few steps away.  It does prove that a handsome animal will improve any sign.

My favorite wildlife sighting, and the last one on this tour, remains up the road around 42nd Ave.

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It’s a cement deer with wide antlers and a beat up face that I’ve always appreciated for it’s folk art and outsider art appearance. My assumption had been that the fountain design was made from white shells, but it’s only rocks that look like shells from a distance.

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All the times I drove past the deer’s habitat, I never realized he was posing next to a fountain until I got close enough to take his picture. Sadly it was not operational at the time of my visit.

So there you have many a wildlife tribute on the not so wild street of Killingsworth. Then again it’s not such a dull street. It did have a Minus 5 album named after it.

North Portland Carver’s Camp

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In a quiet neighborhood a block away from the bustle of the Interstate Fred Meyer lies something usually found in rural areas of the state. On a gravel pipestem driveway with scraps of trees as a border stand various log sculptures in an array of configurations and stages of completion. A carver’s camp of little know origin has sprung up at the intersection of N. Bryant St. and N. Montana Ave.

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A few passes by the site never revealed the carvings creator or whether they’re for sale. A conversation about chainsaws may have been the result of meeting the North Portland carver or perhaps a deeper understanding for the talent and inspiration behind the creation of this art from fireplace logs. The Portland Orbit’s crack investigation team seems more interested in doing crack than investigating something. A knock on the door of the house connected to the driveway may have provided a clue to the identity of the carver but the no trespassing signs may have proved too intimidating to follow this line of questioning.

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No matter the welcome sign hung across a particular wood sprite made it easy to spend time looking over the folksy, outdoorsy and crafty sculptures.

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This is the kind of thing lovingly made fun of by the Pemco Insurance Company in their insightful profiles of people of the Northwest advertising campaign.

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Update: July 22, 2015

As of the last couple of times I’ve ridden by the Carver’s Camp, I’ve noticed it’s been completely dismantled. There is no evidence that it existed. Only a sign that says something about slowing down for children is left. I’ve seen no logs or carvings. I throw this out to let anyone that might want to visit know. The only evidence of the wood carving in the area is a small bear sculpture in front of a house down the street from the camp on Montana Ave.

Center of the Known Creative Universe

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If abducted by aliens and told to take them to the creative hub or nerve center of Portland, I’d head over to the corner of N. Albina Ave and N. Sumner St. (Sorry W&K.) On one side of the street you have Mississippi Records, the other Cherry Sprout Produce. It’s like a lightning bolt hit smack in this area and supercharged it with a heavy dose of ability to channel creative expression. You’ll find it in the ideas about creativity and self-expression and attitude that’s amplified within the walls of Mississippi Records with an art museum, the Portland Museum of Modern Art, in the basement. Last time we visited the record store and art museum we headed over to Cherry Sprout Produce across the street. Sure it’s a grocery store but it has a whole different approach. That day was sunny, there was art on the walls and it felt good to be buying food in that atmosphere. The store’s sound system was playing better music than I heard at Mississippi Records. It sounded fresh, yet vintage–psychedelic garage rock with guitar solos leaping out of the speakers.

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The telephone pole in this section of town marks the spot where creative energy seems to flow the highest. Yes, right into the street. It had multiple colorful discs on it. I worshipped the crazy colors and decorations. I think this would make the aliens smile too. It took me a while to realize I was looking at repurposed records which makes sense since Mississippi Records sells vinyl.

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Insane, weird, impressive culture radiates out of these two establishments. I’m surprised the powers that be haven’t seeded the clouds in an attempt to wash it all away. If the aliens said take me to your leader I’d try to track down Eric Isaacson, Mississippi Record’s head honcho. He’d probably think that was too weird for him but look at this upcoming film from the screening series he’s organized at the Hollywood Theatre. It’s a movie called The Secret Life of Plants about psychobotany followed up by a slide show (winningly old school!) about the concept of “Ecstatic Truth.” This is happening Thursday, April 23 at 7:30pm so get a move on it. Expect to see the front row full of beaming aliens. It’s so unassuming, yet mind blowing. Pardon me, I have to go write my Alien Abduction novel now.

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It’s all happening here.

In Praise of Coffee Art

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Hanging off a telephone pole next to a coffee shack is my favorite kind of art. It’s paint on wood, more specifically, a giant coffee cup that draws people in to pull up to the drive through coffee cart. It wasn’t until I was doing a bit of photo manipulation that I noticed the head of whip cream frothing on top of the coffee. I couldn’t tell you if it’s a latte gone crazy or a macchiato or some other newfangled coffee drink but with a few tweaks with the photo software the coffee cup painting took on a sheen and a glimmer beneath it’s weathered exterior that made it look even more beautiful. It’s as if it was hung too high on a telephone pole for me to truly appreciate it. I was marveling over the foam waves and the saucer circles and the glint of sunshine bursting in the middle of the mug and around the rim of the handle. It’s folk art that’s too classy to be going under appreciated in it’s parking lot environment.

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The coffee cart is surrounded by an auto parts store, a hot dog restaurant and I think, another auto parts store. It’s all part of the giant parking area for the Portland Meadows horse racing complex. I’m not enough of a coffee snob to tell you whether the coffee I had there once was good or not. If you are a coffee snob you may not think this is your type of place unless you’re craving a cup of coffee and a hot dog on your way to place a trifecta bet at the track. I want to say that this is the type of place that puts a chocolate covered coffee bean on the plastic lid of your coffee cup–I love that, but then again I’m not certain that’s the case.

The one thing I am certain about is that the sign is a stunner and admiring a photo of it has to be the next best thing to seeing it in person.

The Finster Show!

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There is still time to catch the Finster show at the Portland Museum of Modern Art located in the basement of Mississippi Records at 5202 N. Albina Ave. Portland, OR 97217. I would advise you to stop reading now and go directly to see this art, don’t make any excuses or procrastinate. I have not made it over to the show myself but it’s not to be missed. We’re talking about the Reverend Howard Finster, the eccentric, southern preacher who started cranking out primitive folk art late in his life and didn’t stop until his death in 2001.

I’m biased because I like this art so much. It’s colorful, sometimes crude, but always detailed in a energetic way with stick figure angels and smiling clouds. Sometimes there’s a message to the work that’s glaringly obvious because it’s written on the painting whether it’s a biblical verse or another kind of platitude. This is a show made up of work collected by area residents. As a college student in Virginia during the 80’s it would have been difficult for me not to have come in contact with the art of Howard Finster either through album covers which used his art or by having a chance to see an amazing show in nearby Roanoke, VA. I saw more of his art on display in the folk collection of the National Gallery and his pieces were included in other folk art shows that came to the Washington DC area where I lived and there was always a painting or two of his in the shows at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Finster’s art will be in town until March 14 so there is still time to see it. The thought of having a collection of Finster’s work on display in Portland amazes me. There’s nothing like those paintings. I was always captivated by that wild southern spirit of Howard Finster. He was all kinds of charming, yet mysterious, which had me wondering where his creativity was coming from and how it had been inspired. I could never forget the video of him as he told the story of how he got paint on his finger and when he looked at it there was a face that told him to paint sacred art. Paradise Gardens, his home compound seemed like a mythical place with folk art cut outs sprouting out of the yard like mushrooms. I was glad to be able to visit in 1998 and tour the grounds and years later happy to hear about the major restoration that has since taken place. Get to the show. You’ve waited too long already.

Show info: http://portlandmuseumofmodernart.com/Howard-Finster-Jan-2015

Here’s a tour of Finster’s Paradise Gardens from 1998:

Here’s info on a film about the restoration of Paradise Gardens. Hopefully it will make it out to Portland:

http://www.finsterfilm.com

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Here’s some additional memories inspired by Finster. He’s not the type of southerner I would have encountered as a kid living in the Atlanta area in the early to mid 70’s but his portrait of Jimmy Carter I saw while reviewing footage of Paradise Gardens had me flashing back to the good old days. I must have been impressed with Carter because my big brother, Jack, went on a school field trip to the Atlanta state capital and saw then Governor, Jimmy Carter, hard at work at his desk and then soon after he became president. We moved to Washington D.C. two years later and went to Carter’s inaugural parade. In a lawyer’s office, looking down on Pennsylvania Avenue, we saw Jimmy take to the streets with Rosalyn in her teal coat and a then 9 year old Amy Carter skipping around.

Jimmy was too nice a guy to be president for long. I mean the dude isn’t getting much respect from me as I’m using his first name. He used to get on TV and tell us to turn our thermostat down and wear sweaters to conserve energy. Carter was the first president to put solar panels on the White House so I guess he was on to something. Jimmy Carter jumped ahead of the other notable Georgians I remember from my childhood like Lester Maddox, not a hero, but an oddball who ran a strange newspaper advertisement for what I recall was a restaurant. I later adapted the ad for a book report. “Lester Maddox says read Stuart Little.” And there was James Oglethorpe who probably was more of a hero type. I immortalized him in a diorama for a school.

Jimmy Carter Says Yes! Have a listen:

Outsider Art Among Us

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Political message laden sculpture surround a house on a quiet street. I remembered the location well enough to be able to return to take pictures on a sunny day. There are many things to appreciate about the found object and industrial parts of the sculptures and their anti-corporate themes. The ex-president’s heads floating on the giant mobile and the humorous depiction of Obama riding on a drone, like a nod to Dr. Strangelove, is the exact kind of folk art environment that brings me joy. My eye immediately gravitated to the Richard Nixon’s head on the mobile because years ago I had written lyrics to a song called “Dick Nixon’s Head” and there it was free floating in the sky, easily one of our top five creepiest Presidents, immortalized in the front yard of a North Portland home. Walk on by to see it up close and personal. It’s on North Sumner St between Interstate and Greeley, but closer to Interstate.

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Dick Nixon’s Head (far right)

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Here’s the link to a “parlor rock” version of the song “Dick Nixon’s Head.” Parlor Rock was a way of recording songs on the spot with improvised or hastily written music parts.

Dick Nixon’s Head was recorded sometime in the 90’s by The Yahoo Skin Band with Mr. Fondle on vocals, guitar and effects, Sal Amoniac on bass and George Willard on the other vocals and guitar. Many thanks to Greg K. for sending the mp3.

Lonnie Holley

My attempt at taking a picture of Lonnie Holley using my iPhone resulted in this image:

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Sunshine was making it difficult to see through the view finder.  With everything I was learning about this unorthodox artist/musician, this picture seemed to make more and more sense considering Holley’s catch phrase “Thumbs up for mother universe.”

After seeing his art show at the Portland Museum of Modern Art  at 5202 N Albina Ave, Portland, OR 97217, which runs through September 27, and watching his performance in the park across the street from Mississippi Records on Saturday, August 9th, I had a big bang fit of inspiration and decided it was time to get my act in gear and become a web blogger.

More information on Lonnie can be found at the link below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/magazine/lonnie-holley-the-insiders-outsider.html?_r=1