RIP Stompin’ Tom Connors

by Steve, March 7th, 2013


Stompin’ Tom Connors 1936-2013

Vancouver Observer blogger Alan O’Sullivan had this remembrance on his Twitter feed:

Portland’s “arts tax” smells fishy

by Steve, October 22nd, 2012

electionOn the ballot in Portland is measure 26-146, which supporters say would “restore arts education to Portland schools.” Hey, great idea (and full disclaimer, I don’t vote in Portland, but I’d probably vote for it if I did), but there are some significant questions to consider with this $35 head tax.

  • Why can’t Portland schools fund universal access to K-12 music education like Beaverton schools do (with the exact same funding per student from the state), and why should the city bail PPS out (again)?
  • Why does only a little over half of the money go to schools with the rest going to RACC’s friends?
  • Why a regressive (and possibly illegal) head tax to the city instead of an operating levy to the district?
  • Why does it spread equal resources to rich and poor schools instead of focusing on the schools that need it the most?

The answer to the first question is tightly linked to the last question. Portland Public Schools has for years shifted funding out of its poorest neighborhoods to its wealthiest neighborhoods. The result is wealthy, white students have largely maintained arts education while non-white, poverty-affected student have lost it. This is the direct result of attendance policies implemented over the years by the school board. They should be held to account for it.

The PPS school board should be ashamed that this flawed measure is even on the ballot. It shows their total lack of ability to run their district in an efficient and fair manner. Yes, the state does not provide enough funding, and that should be dealt with. But this is not the way to do it.

The Schnitz

by Steve, April 8th, 2012

The Schnitz

That’s Not It

by Steve, October 2nd, 2011


Nancy’s book is now available for Kindle, and soon for other e-readers and in hard copy.

Things I learned from the Billboard Music Awards

by Steve, May 23rd, 2011

  • Beyonce is friggin’ amazing. A show biz juggernaut at 29.
  • If you ain’t got much going on musically (Pitbull), hire some Vegas show girls to wiggle and strut.
  • If you got musical bona fides (Cee Lo Green), they gonna put you on a flying piano and flip you upside down while you sing a full version of an Al Green song and a truncated version of the censored version of your own smash hit. Ain’t that some shh…?
  • Brittney Spears is making a play to stay relevant, but I didn’t stay up long enough to see it. (From what I heard on the radio, she’s working hard to sound like Ke$ha.) DJ, turn it up…
  • Will.i.am thanked the thousands of software engineers and technicians who make it possible for him to perform and be a mega star. Cuz god knows the man can’t sing without auto-tune.
  • Fergie who?
  • Did I mention Beyonce is friggin’ AMAZING?

Also, did I mention my entire summer is being planned around pop culture events? Or that my tween daughter isn’t entirely comfortable with me becoming familiar with current pop music? Or that I can’t get Katy Perry’s weird Extraterrestrial out of my head? Take me, tay-tay-take me….

Enough… I gotta go listen to some vintage Nuyorican to cleanse my palate.

A visual ode to musical wood

by Steve, October 10th, 2010

The sympathetic vibration of wood has brought me great pleasure on this plane. Even though its first purpose is aural, there is great visual beauty in a finely purposed slab of wood. Herewith is a photo appreciation.

Do me a favor; if you’re interested in these photos, view full screen. (After you press the play button, click on the little four-arrows icon in the lower right corner.)

It ain’t you, babe

by Steve, August 30th, 2010

musicLet me start off by saying that both the best rock concert (Alpine Valley, mid 80s) I’ve ever seen and the worst (Portland Civic Auditorium, early 90s) were both put on by Bob Dylan. I told my wife I’d settle for “pretty good” this time around, when Dylan headlined a show featuring John (nee Cougar, nee Cougar Mellencamp) Mellencamp on the lawn at McMenamin’s Edgefield in Troutdale.

And it was pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. And also very entertaining in some unexpected ways.

First off, the crowd. Mostly a middle-aged, middle class white crowd, of course, with a smattering of aging hippies and dead heads. We arrived early to pick up our tickets at will call. No line at the box office 20 minutes before the gates opened, and, at first glance no line at the gates. At second glance, there was a line. A really massive line snaking all the way back and around the parking lot, so we got a good look at the ticket holders. I was having some flashbacks to shows I saw in the 80s and 90s, and wondering where the freaks were.

I started saying “Doses. Doses.” under my breath to see if anybody would look. Nope. No pungent herbal smoke wafting through the air, either. Hmmm…. what kind of show was this going to be?

The venue was mostly full by the time we got in, and we secured a spot by a tree toward the back. It’s not an ideal venue, just a lawn on a hillside with so-so sight lines. Still, it was pleasant enough, and they’ve got their logistical act together. Food and beverage service lines move quickly, and they have plenty of honey buckets (which, it turns out, is where people smoke out during concerts these days — who knew?).

The opening act kind of pissed me off. The Dough Rollers, a couple of young white kids trying to sound like old black guys playing country blues covers. The best I can say is that they were well-dressed. They seemed uncomfortable playing with a P.A. and in front of a crowd. I remarked to my wife that the singer’s got maybe a year left in his career before his voice is totally destroyed from doing the gravelly voice shtick. Of course, Portland loves white blues, and gave them a warm reception. I was trying to figure out how the hell they got on the bill. This morning I figured it out: lead singer Malcolm Ford is Harrison Ford’s son. Whatever. Malcolm, I love the old country blues, and I appreciate you want to share your love with the people. But you got kind of an Elvis thing going on, all stealing the black man’s music and shit. I hope you got something else up your sleeve for when your voice gives out.

Then came Mr. Mellencamp, the guy who did a pretty good (if that’s the kind of thing you like) white-trashy mimic of Michael Jackson in the 80s, and is now all “back to the roots” and junk. (I’ll give him grudging props for being a pretty good straight ahead rocker (if that’s the kind of thing you like). This is when the crowd got fun.
SSPX0060

People (gasp!) stood up when he started playing. We were in the kind of DMZ, where the top of the hill leveled out. We stayed sitting during John’s set, but the folks ahead of us were standing. The folks behind us were yelling and started throwing ice cubes. The tye-died lesbian couple ahead of us took a direct hit, and turned around to have words, explaining that they were only standing because the people in front of them were standing. I figured, given the age of the crowd, they’d all sit down after two songs, and that was mostly true, but there were some hold outs.

“Hey you! With the wine shirt! Sit down!” (To a young guy wearing a “powered by fine wine” t-shirt”.)

A different standing (kind of burly) guy turned around and shouted “You sit down!” His wife clapped her hand over his mouth.

“We are sitting down!” came the response.

John Mellencamp’s band was up there building a barn or something, and Wacky Mommy was standing in front of a tree to get a better look at him with the binoculars. “He’s aging well!” she said with a distinct trace of glee in her voice. My wife has a crush on John Mellencamp… who knew?

The standing and haranguing from behind continued. “Sit down!”

Wine shirt guy turned around and shouted “You stand up!” This is when the comic turned kind of tragic. Turns out the fenced off seating area we were sitting in front of wasn’t a VIP seating area, but a handicapped area (bad venue design).

“Some of us can’t stand up! We’re handicapped!”

I was worried the burly guy or wine guy were going to get into a wrestling match with wheel chair guy, but eventually most everybody sat down (to applause from the handicapped section). I decided to hit the head before intermission, which was when I discovered that “head” and porta-”pot” are the new concert smoking lounge, at least for the illicit stuff (not so much open passing of the pipe these days, though we did smell a few hits). Somebody left a burning joint in the effing urinal in the porta pot I picked. (“Couldn’t they have left it on a ledge or something?” asked Nancy when I told her.)

As I cried over the joint and pissed it into the holding tank, Mellencamp’s band was launching into “The walls came tumbling down,” and I was getting a better picture of “what kind of crowd”. Drunk, for the most part. I had to use my best hockey skating skills to avoid getting stumbled into by any number of blotto middle aged people on my way back to our blanket. When I got there, the tie-dyes in front of us were rocking hard, spilling beer, and making like they were going to throw it on the people ahead of them.

They didn’t make it three songs into Dylan’s set, which was a nice mix of old and new, before packing up their sodden blanket and heading for the gates.

Dylan played a lot of organ(!) and even some guitar solos early in the set. His current band features Charlie Sexton on lead guitar (another Wacky Mommy crush), who eventually got to stretch out with some tasty solos as the set progressed.

SSPX0058

More and more people were picking up their blankets and leaving midway through. “It’s a long way back to Beaverton,” said Nancy. “Yeah,” I said, chuckling smugly. “Hey, wait a minute,” I said, “It is a long way back to Beaverton… for us!”

Dylan’s singing in a deep gravel these days, but he’s still hitting the notes, and his band was on the money. I’m no rock critic, but let’s just say the “Just Like a Woman” brought tears to my woman’s eyes, and ending the two-song encore with “Like a Rolling Stone” could have been trite, but it worked. I smiled a bunch and stood up for his whole set (in front of the tree, careful not to block the view of the handicapped section). We drove back to Beaverton happy and sober.

Rudy Casoni belts one for the Republicans

by Steve, October 28th, 2008

Fellow Iowa boy Toby Huss nails it:

(Toby and I were both theatre students at the University of Iowa back in the mid eighties. He’s obviously managed to do something with his larnin’. As if that weren’t a tenuous enough connection, he played Cotton Hill on King of the Hill, a character whose diction bears a startling resemblance to my grandmother-in-law.)

Thank you, Paul Newman

by Steve, September 28th, 2008

Paul Newman had some great scenes in his unbelievable 53-year cinematic career. Here’s one from Slap Shot (1977) with Strother Martin (in a twist on their roles in Cool Hand Luke). I love the way he acted with his eyes (Not safe for work!).

Besides being a great actor, Newman protested the war in Vietnam, was proud to be on Richard Nixon’s enemy list, and helped save The Nation when it faced economic troubles (here’s John Nichols on Newman in The Nation yesterday), among other things. And he did his own skating in Slap Shot. What more could you want from a guy?

Like Wacky Mommy said about him and Joanne Woodward, “It’s not like they were out taking off their panties in public and having nervous breakdowns in their SUVs.” No, Newman was a class act.

Thank you, Paul Newman for showing the world how to do it right. I’m going to go watch Slap Shot right now.

Fritz v. Lewis: The City Club Debate

by Steve, September 20th, 2008

election08Amy Ruiz does a great job capturing the blow-by-blow on the Merc’s blog, so if you didn’t hear Friday’s city council debate, you might want to check that out before reading this.

I pointed out in a comment on Ruiz’s piece the one glaring factual error in the debate, Lewis’ claim that Jefferson High School is “1/4 full” and David Douglas is bursting at the seams because of the lack of affordable housing in inner Portland.

Gentrification and displacement of non-white communities is a serious problem in Portland, and I appreciate Lewis’ attention to this. But it has nothing to do with Jefferson’s (or Madison’s, Marshall’s or Roosevelt’s) under-enrollment.

These schools are under-enrolled because Portland Public Schools has allowed the majority of high school students in these clusters to transfer out while they have dramatically cut educational and extracurricular opportunities.

For example, out of 1,603 PPS high school students living in Jefferson’s attendance area last October, only 403 were enrolled there, along with an additional 142 from other neighborhoods. The balance of Jefferson’s student population attended other PPS neighborhood schools (437), Special Programs/Focus Options (423), with the rest in PPS Charter Schools, Special Services or Community Based Alternatives.

So Lewis is factually incorrect to blame Jefferson’s under-enrollment on the lack of affordable housing even though he is correct that affordable housing is a serious problem (something he and Fritz clearly agree on).

I can’t expect Lewis to be as well-versed in public schools policy and demographics as me, but he’s made this statement before, and it is just plain wrong.

Fritz, by contrast, spoke to the City Council when they met at Jefferson last January. She told them about the injustice of the inequity in opportunity between schools like Jefferson and Wilson, her neighborhood high school, demonstrating a clear understanding of a critical problem facing PPS.

On other issues, Lewis showed himself to be reasonably well-informed, though it’s almost an embarrassment to try to compare his 10 years of experience in the non-profit sector (and a couple years as a small business owner) to Fritz’s 20-year history as a community organizer, public citizen and advocate for equitable, transparent governance.

Lewis is wise to dwell on his business experience, since his public policy experience ends at the intern level. But it all started sounding like “Ethos yada yada started from zero yada yada Ethos yada revolving credit for small businesses yada yada yada Ethos yada started on my credit card yada yada yada make payroll yada yada staff of 75 yada yada yada Ethos…”

People are quick to defend Ethos, and I don’t want to beat up all the low-wage teachers and volunteers there who have brought music to the lives of kids that otherwise wouldn’t have much.

But there’s a certain charity mentality to it. I wrote about it in a comment on PPS Equity last July:

My complaint is with the misconception that Ethos solves the problem of PPS not funding music education in poor schools.

…Lewis perpetuates this myth, as in this quote (since removed) from the Ethos Web site: “When budget cuts threatened to destroy music education programs in Portland Public Schools, Charles stepped in and found a solution.”

It’s not a solution; it’s not even a band aid.

These organizations foster a charity mentality toward the least well-off among us, and … give political cover to policy makers who maintain a system that takes pretty good care of students in wealthy neighborhoods but not in others.

I am a to-the-death supporter of arts education in our schools. Which is why I point out that Ethos reaching a couple thousand students with some small amount of music education is no substitute for an integrated K12 music curriculum, taught by certified, union-represented teachers, for all 47,000 PPS students.

I don’t see any way Ethos is helping us get to that realistic goal (they’re doing it in Beaverton with the same level of state funding and even less federal and local funding). To the contrary, I think Ethos may work against this vision.

In the end, I was pleased that Lewis stayed positive and did not reveal his bombastic side, which was on display in the Willamette Week endorsement interview for the primary (and in his supporters’ comments on this blog and others). In that, besides going after John Branam about his salary as a PPS employee, Lewis seemed to cite his beef with PDC snubbing Ethos as a major reason for wanting to be on the City Council.

He seems to be maturing as a candidate, and I agree with him (as does Fritz, I believe) on several critical issues. But there’s little doubt who’s really the best prepared to lead, and to lead in the direction Portland needs to go.

Amanda Fritz has been significantly involved with the official planning of Portland’s future, and is uniquely qualified to bring citizen’s voices into City Hall and implement the Portland Plan. I stand by my primary endorsement and say “Fritz for City Council!”