Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cody Reuwsaat 1979 - 2008

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Yesterday I was saddened to learn that one of Portland’s strangest artists died of smoke inhalation in a house fire.

Although I hardly knew Cody Reuwsaat, I’m honored to have a spent an afternoon with him a little over a year ago. I went out to his Southwest Portland home where he worked and where he breathed his last on Monday night to interview him for a little story for WW.

I only needed a few quotes, so normally it would have been a quick trip. But Cody was so engaging—and guarded—that I stayed for hours.

He started by giving me a tour of his workshop. He didn’t say much and let me ask the questions. “What’s this?” A mold to make a latex human form. “Are those human hearts?” They’re my best seller. Cody made horror art for haunted houses, movies and television.

We wound up sitting around and talking for a really long time. More than one tape. He told me about Hong Kong and a lot of stuff I knew wouldn’t end up in the piece. I was interested. We were just hanging out.

But the best part was the photo shoot. Cody really opened up when I asked him to scare me. It was spitting rain and we went into the bushes behind his place. I dug up the notes from the interview and this passage seems indicative of Cody’s approach to being scary and, perhaps, to life in general.

“A lot of haunted house actors think it’s really cool to go after kids and make them scream and cry and. ‘Oh! I’m a cool haunted house actor!’ But you don’t have to do that. Kids are gonna be scared just being in there. As an actor, my challenge is to go after the six-foot-four, 225-pound guy. If I can scare him, I know everybody else is already scared.”


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From the little I knew of him, Cody seemed kind, clever, gentile, yet as intense as he wanted to be. He was incredibly creative and gifted. I never saw Cody again after that afternoon last February, but I’d hear of his activities through the grapevine form time to time and always expected to hear any minute that he was working on the next major zombie flick or doing costumes for Marilyn Manson.

He was worthy of great success, which makes his untimely death seem all the more absurd. There are quite a few comments on his MySpace page to the effect of, “This can’t be true.”

Cody was also a ZooBomBer and from looking at the zoobomb.net forums, it looks like there’s going to be a memorial ride tonight.

Photos: Cody putting on makeup in the mirror, and Cody in a demon mask he made. By me.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Best of '08: Final Brainstains Show

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Since I sort of inexplicably loathe year-end lists and don’t take them even the slightest bit seriously, I’ve decided to just be a cocky bastard start naming the best of 2008 as it happens. And so we have it. Ladies and Gentlemen, the best Portland house show of 2008 goes to…the final Brainstains!

Now, the title of final Brainstains show (as it was billed on the flier, etc) is somewhat misleading. It seems to imply that, like so many house show houses, Brainstains was being sold or condoed or the neighbors had complained the fun to a standstill. However, this was simply the last show for John Brainerd, the brains of Brainstains, if you will, who’s moving away and taking the name with him. I’m told the house will continue to host shows under new leadership.

So the environment was total celebration. It was a joyous sendoff with nothing to mourn. And the joy was in full effect all day. Bands started at 3 pm, a strategy that’s usually pointless because most people figure they can only handle a few bands and the last few are probably the best few so why not show up at 10 and call it good? But when I arrived at 6, the house was packed for Big Black Cloud, who was nice to see sober and upstairs.

Then my band Dagger of the Mind played upstairs too and it was OK and we were glad to be asked. But I had more fun watching just about every band after.

As soon as we cleared out our gear, a 5-piece hip hop crew called Teflon took over the living room and I mean took it the fuck over. These guys had so much presence they easily owned the space. I was well-impressed with the accuracy of their dual-vocal verses delivered perfectly in synch and accompanied by yelled back up vocals from the rest of the crew since there were only two mics. The members of the crew took turns slamming hard alcohol and smoking which just made them look so laid back and cool.

It made sense that they owned to crowd so easily because afterward I asked one of them if they play around town a lot and he said yeah, so I asked him if they played Berbati’s since that seemed like a good fit. He had never heard of it. “You know the Roseland?” he said. Guess these guys are big time. Shows what I know.

When, as per usual, JonnyX and the Groadies announced they had one song left about eight minutes in, the crowd started chanting, “One more set! One more set!” So they actually played another whole set. People crowd surfed in the living room. I’ve seen JX:ATG at least 6 times and they usually bulldoze the audience and scram, but the crowd had so much energy this time that it was almost like they were afraid to stop. Afraid people might just break something (they set up in front of the glass doors in the living room to protect them, a thoughtful bunch they are, if brutal).

So at the end of an unprecedented 25 minutes of music, they started unplugging things. Again came the chant of “One more set!” Crouched in front of his wall of wires, keyboardist/programmer Professor Romagna shouted, “We already played 3 sets!”

Then I almost left. I mean, I’d been there for 5 hours and how much better could it get? But Ian Kashani convinced me to stick around for ShitFit, a new band fronted by Dave Dischord. I pushed past people in the basement to the front row, but about a minute in to the very Nirvana-influenced set, the front row moved 6 meters forward. The band was pushed back against the wall by the crowd’s enthusiasm. The sensation that this is really, really fun but something or someone is going to get broken reminded me of the first two dozen or so times I saw Plan R.

OK, it’s really time to go now. My knees hurt. I’m losing my voice. I was fucked up and now I’m sober again. I still can’t get a read on the cute girl I just met so forget about it for now. Maybe another time. You’re too tired to charm anyway. OK I’ll stay for one song by the Taxpayers.

As I walked in I recognized the band from a conversation I heard them having earlier. “I was thinking we’d set up in a circle with the crowd around us,” a smaller one said to a bigger one. “That’s a terrible idea. It’ll never work. It’ll sound horrible.” Big guy shot him down and I sympathized with little guy because I thought that would be cool too, but I also thought, “pwned,” and thought about how meek the little guy seemed.

Not so with a mic in front of him. This guy was a downright hero. Between This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb-style folk punk songs, he made a corny speech about how “we made this house…” and I totally bought it. By now it was one in the morning and most of the kids had left, but the Taxpayers succeeded in making a mostly over-21 crowd go completely ape shit non-stop for like an hour. That ain’t easy to do.

So it was a great fucking day. But why the show of the year? Because this smashing success was pulled off by bands who, for the most part, I had never heard of and who aren’t really heavyweights in the house show scene. Just when you think the house show scene is tanking and it’s always the same bands playing, a 14-band bill comes out of nowhere and makes JX:ATG play for 25 minutes.

Photo: Teflon's Jake Loc playing Brainstains sometime before last Saturday.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Turkrainian Wedding

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Last fall englishbaby.com sent me to Turkey to make a video and it was released yesterday in honor of Valentine's Day. My goofy laugh appears no fewer than two times.


Check out the page where the video lives for comments from Chinese girls who want to marry me. If you link or embed this video on your blog, I can link you from the English, baby! blog. With 600,000 members, it could prove to be a pretty useful link...

Below is the extras video in which my fortune is told by a rabbit.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter Warriors

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Last Thursday's Oregonian had a piece I wrote on winter bike commuters. The photo above is of Ron Forrester who simply rides to work in spandex no matter what the weather. I think I'm going to adopt his system since I mostly started taking Tri-Met this year after my rain pants wore out.

The story also alludes to a blog by Chris Stockner on the subject of winter bike commuting at ecometro.com.

This piece was accompanied by a box about the Worst Day of the Year ride. The ride was last Sunday (though I didn't go), and, as usual, it was especially nice and warm. Fooey.

Photo by Michael Lloyd/The Oregonian.

Monday, February 4, 2008

An Oral History of Pony

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When you think dive bars, you think longevity. The older the better, right? The 50+ years behind it had a lot to do with everything that made my favorite Portland dive, the Paragon, great.

But the best dive I’ve ever been to existed for a mere five months—from June to November of 2007. It was something of an experiment—almost like an interactive set for a movie about Max’s Kansas City. Dubbed Pony, it was the least plastic place on Seattle’s Capital Hill for a shining moment. The bar was set up in a building slated for condoification. Everyone knew its expiration date would come quicker than the ones printed on the condoms in their pockets.

I spent three consecutive nights at Pony two weeks before it closed. Nothing compared to the first night when I walked in just after one as a show was winding down. I hardly said anything to anyone but merely marveled. The room was filled with young people ranging in weirdness from topless she-male to punk-ish gay hipster, but it was real, dangerous and fun. It was what kids like me who don’t grow up in big cities are promised by books and movies await us in the real night lives of the world. It was what, if the economic crash doesn't get here first, will cease to exist in the Pacific Northwest in the next five years.

Seattle Sound gave me the honor of being Pony’s unofficial historian. I compiled an oral history of the club for the year-end issue, which came out last month. Below are some of the best outtakes. (Read the article first if you want to know who these people are.)

Marcus on the difference between Pony and the various queer nights he has produced.
It was nice to not constantly be hustling DJ equipment, records, props, amplifiers, chicken costumes. Just keep it upstairs. There are very few people who would want to rent a space out for five months and put any degree of energy into it. It’s really not that crazy seeming to me or a lot of my friends because we’re accustomed to putting considerably large amounts of energy into one-night events. To actually be able to decorate a space and have a party go for six months instead of one night? That sounds like luxury. That sounds like forever.

…and on what’s happening to the neighborhood
The professionals who have come in and bought all these hideous condos are mostly 9-5ers so they don’t want any noise in the neighborhood even tough they supposedly moved here in the first place because there’s night life and it’s hip and cool. Well, life makes noise. So condos are going up and the residents move in and then immediately start calling the police about businesses that existed for years before the condo ever got there.

…and on why babies are the harbingers of the death of Capital Hill…
You definitely see an insane amount of baby strollers here now which I think is a really weird. I don’t think I had noticed how few children I had seen for like 10 years. I guess I don’t really notice because I don’t really care about children and then, bam! All of a sudden the line to get coffee in the morning is 3 times longer than it used to be because every other person has this SUV-sized baby carriage. And people have this sense of entitlement like everybody else is supposed to change their routine. People are like, “But don’t you see? We have a BABY!” I think there’s a time and place for that sort of thing and I don’t think this neighborhood is necessarily it.

Victoria explains what Pony was all about in anecdote form.
We get noise complaints from this lady who lives in one of the condos across the street all the time and it’s like, “Turn it up!”

There was some homeless guy who was trying to come in and I wasn’t gonna let him in. “What kind of bar is this anyway?” “Well, it’s a dirty, gay, punk bar.” And he’s like, “Why’d you have to say all those bad things about it?” “Well it is all those things! And that’s not necessarily bad, you know?”

Marcus relates the history of the pyramid of Crisco behind the bar.
The [enormous stack of] Crisco [behind the bar] came out of an idea that I had when I was completely wasted one night. I didn’t think anybody else was really taking me seriously when I suggested that, but then, lo and behold, it was actually funnier sober. Some of my fondest memories I’ll ever have of this place were that first week.

Samuel says Pony wasn’t perfect.
All these people [here at Pony] fit into the art fag, neo-bear gay retroism thing and that’s just sort of what I fell into. I used to go to Pho Bang when I was a kid. I used to watch Marcus perform [in drag].

In this town there aren’t a lot of young guys who are hip and into 70s porn and being slutty. I can legitimately say that I am one of the sleaziest young, hip guys. I have a lot of sex.

[Pony] had to be very deliberate. It wasn’t freeform. There was a vision of what would happen if there was gay porn all over the walls and you made it really divey and cheap and had a glory hole in the bathroom. I think that people expected this to be really sleazy and have sex in the bathrooms, but it only ended up half way there because it became campy. A lot of straight people would hang out in here because it was like, “Look at how ridiculously gay this is!” It was like people were going on a field trip.

The younger gays act like they like R Place and the other bars but I don’t think they really do. I think that’s just what’s there. [Pony] is definitely who the people who hang out there are. This is who Marcus is and this bar is basically Club Marcus.

But it gets straight people into this joke-full idea of being gay. I think it’s been sexual identity lubricant.

Sex in the bathroom! By Victoria.
One of our other fag hag friends has been doin’ it with guys in the bathrooms. It’s like, “Hey, tell Kelly to stop fucking guys in the bathroom!” But when it’s two gay guys, we’re like, “Oh it’s so cute. Can we videotape?

Can we expect to see a Pony II, Marcus?
I never really plan that far ahead. Things are getting torn down at such an alarming rate now, it’s hard to predict what will be appropriate real estate for any bar, but especially a bar like this. Every time you turn around, there’s another notice of proposed land action sign. So I think finding another space that isn’t going to get torn down in a year or six months is a pretty daunting task.

And finally, literally everyone I asked at Pony said their favorite night at the club was when the Chromatics and Glass Candy played last August.

Victoria: It was just so hot in here but [Glass Candy] is the perfect music to listen to with beads of sweat, you know? We were dancing and jumping on the booths and stuff. They even said that it was like their favorite show they ever played.

Marcus: It was this really awesome, hazy, dark dance party. Everybody getting really wasted and letting loose, but there was definitely a real dark quality about it.

Seth: Downstairs here gets very, very warm especially when there’s a lot of people down there and that night it was so hot. But no one really cared because the music was so good. Me and a row of people all stood on this bench here with our shirts off just jumping up and down with our eyes closed. It was a euphoric.

Photo by Ron Henry.