Twenty years ago

by Steve, March 1st, 2009

Just before I moved to Oregon from the broad American prairie, I was playing bass in a band called Totem Soul. We earned enough money playing in college bars to pay for three days in a professional recording studio (this was before the age of serious DIY recording, so it was a big deal), and recorded an LP’s worth of material.

Here’s Lear’s Shadow, by one of our three singer song-writers, Jay Harden:

Then we took the rest of our money, loaded all our gear into the back of my 1963 Chevy Stepvan (a.k.a. “the pig”), and headed west. The Chevy made it, but the band didn’t last. We worked a little in Eugene and Portland, then broke up a few months later, frustrated by the lack of venues for our peculiar sound and the intricacies of running a four-piece band with three frontmen. Our LP was never pressed, and the recordings sat in the can for nearly two decades before POD Web publishing made it generally available.

So, why the sappy nostalgia? Because I just figured out how to embed audio on my blog.

And after two decades in Oregon, it seems like an interesting time to look back. Portland looked a lot different in 1989. I was “creative class” when that meant a struggling musician could rent a room for $150 bucks in a big shared house in inner Southeast, bike commuting meant riding a one-speed to part-time, low-wage employment at a natural food store, and livability meant you could sleep in your van down by the Sunflower recycling yard when you were between houses.

The Pearl was a derelict rail yard (the title sequence of Drugstore Cowboy, released that year, was filmed there), MAX ran only from Gresham to downtown, and there was a temporary ice rink on Pioneer Court House Square between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Old town was awash in cheap heroin and prostitutes, and timber was still the dominant industry in Oregon. TriMet was still running buses built in the 70s, and the night club scene was dominated by white blues.

Northwest 23rd Ave. was already long gone by then, but Hawthorne was still lined with junk shops and dive bars, and the Bagdad Theater was a second-run house, with a porn screen in back. Who remembers the Ol’ Milwauke or the Tu-Be?

Okay, enough of that shit. Fast forward twenty years. It’s been quite a ride.