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June 22nd, 2005 MARK BAUMGARTEN | Music Stories
 

COSMIC DANCE

Remembering Orion Satushek and the Spooky Dance Band.

     
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Orion Satushek was fond of cats, plants and vinyl records. He loved fixing recording equipment, taking an almost perverse pleasure in salvaging ancient tube amps and reel-to-reel recorders that others discarded as junk. He wrote hypnotic, dark pop songs on his keyboard. He was tall, dark and handsome, the most dreamy-looking guy in the world, and he spoke with a warmth that all but muted that dreaminess. He was like every kid who moves to Portland to follow a dream of making music and paying cheap rent. And he was special, a genius even.

This is how Caroline Buchalter remembers him, anyway. But to everyone who didn't know the aspiring musician, Satushek was just another victim of an everyday kind of tragedy. Two years ago the 27-year-old's name appeared in the local newspapers after he and his friend Angela Leazenby were struck and killed by a drunk driver while riding their bikes on Southeast Belmont Street.

At the time, Buchalter was Satushek's bandmate in the Spooky Dance Band. She was also a close friend who was riding behind him when a van swiped her and hit her friends. She was traumatized and doesn't remember seeing the actual accident, but sitting at My Father's Place last Sunday, she manages to sketch out the scene on a pad in great detail, her head resting on her hand as her curly brown locks fall over her large, brown, dry eyes. The 25-year-old viola player has relayed these cold, hard facts so often in the past two years that she sounds like a witness talking to a police officer.

But when she talks about Satushek and the haunting dance-punk band he, she and Jason Sands started five years ago in a converted shack in Bellingham, Wash., her mood changes. Her eyes widen and she starts gesturing excitedly with her hands, at one point spilling a glass of water onto a copy of Scary Reality/Nightmare Fantasy: A Retrospective, the double-album of the Spooky Dance Band's recordings she has spent the past year working to compile.

"Orion loved vinyl, so I knew it had to be on vinyl," she says about the album, which will be available at Sunday's memorial show at Berbati's. "When I started to realize how many songs we recorded, I knew it had to be a double album. The dream just kept getting bigger and bigger."

Collected together, these 15 songs reveal Satushek's unique pop mind, his songs managing to be haunting, melodic and, as the band's name promises, dance-friendly all at once. Buchalter hopes the album will reveal that, for a short while, Portland may indeed have had a genius in its midst, while serving as a memorial not to the tragic figure who died but to the dreamy techie whose music lives on.

"The Spooky Dance Band was a dark but hopeful band," Buchalter says. "Then this really dark, fucked-up thing happened, but I know there is something really beautiful in there, and I'm just clawing away, trying to find it."


Buchalter and Sands' new band Trauma le Tron plays the Orion Satushek Memorial with Six Foot Sloth, Ginggang and Larry Yes Saturday, June 25, at Berbati's Pan. 9:30 pm. $5. 21+.

A Critical Mass memorial ride for Satushek, Leazenby and other accident victims leaves at 6 pm Friday, June 24, from the North Park Blocks.

 
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