DOUG FIR LOUNGE, JAN. 15-I'm dressed in black with one white ribbon tied around my arm and another one around my head. There are 14 others dressed in the same outfit, and we're all singing, incongruously, chaotically and repeatedly, the word "human." I'm here because Modernstate's Sam Schauer invited me to join this odd choir to sing a couple of songs about happiness and being human. It's all a little embarrassing.
I feel especially odd because, when I'm not singing, I'm interviewing Tommy Harrington, the guy behind the Wanteds, a one-man local pop band. And when Harrington's not being interviewed, he's intently watching the choir.
As part of the show, Schauer instructs everybody who masturbates to raise their hands above their heads. My own hands inch upward. This is awkward.
"In order to go up there, you have to be vulnerable," Harrington says a few minutes later, as I sit, comfortably now, behind the tape recorder. "And when you're vulnerable, you're actually much more able to connect with people."
Harrington is talking about his solo act, the Wanteds, and the differences between sharing the stage with bandmates and standing up there alone. And he's talking up a blue streak, which doesn't surprise me.
Before I scheduled this interview with Harrington, I knew him as the bartender at the Belmont Inn, where his album, Let Go Afterglow, enjoys a spot on the jukebox. After realizing that the guy on the cover of the album was also the one behind the bar, I paid up to play a couple of tracks. Every time the speakers rang with his own words, Harrington practically boiled over with excitement. "Drunk and choked and coked and mean/ And suddenly swinging at Jennine." But if these raw lyrics were drawn from his life, why wasn't he squirming?
At the Doug Fir, Harrington tells me he moved to Portland from Los Angeles in 1999 to escape a drug problem and a series of bad relationships with bands and girlfriends. But the move alone didn't fix anything, so the now-35-year-old became a recluse. He started to collect gear (the musical kind) and eventually started the Wanteds, a project that led to last year's Let Go Afterglow, a collection of melodic, painfully dark pop songs.
Harrington's new approach appears to be working. His album has climbed to number 102 on the College Music Journal Top 200, and he has received raves from Magnet and Alternative Music Press, among others. He's sober, in a healthy relationship, and he seems comfortable with vulnerability. I am not.
Minutes after my journalistic break, I'm back in front of the stage with the choir, singing "Raise Yr Hands If Yr Happy." Schauer directs the choir to rush the crowd, singing and hugging people. And as I wrap my arms around a complete stranger who now knows I masturbate, I start to feel vulnerable. And then I feel something else. Connection. (Mark Baumgarten)
The Wanteds play Thursday, Jan. 20, at Davey Jones Locker, 5925 SE Foster Road, 788-5161. 7 pm. Cover. All ages.