I am the Pat Buchanan of the Portland music scene. Or so I have recently been called on the local PDX-Pop music listserv. But, I'm OK with that. In the unfettered and faceless world of electronic communication, people cozy up to extremes. I'm just as guilty, the off-the-cuff music-geek comment that gained me the comparison to one of America's greatest bigots serving as a great example of reactionary e-politics that, while absurd, holds a grain of truth.
It all started two weeks ago when a story appeared online and in newspapers across the country with the title "Portland Becomes City for Indie Musicians."
The story, written for the Associated Press by Terrence Petty, identifies this town as "a hub for the indie rock scene."
The article, which also quotes me talking about the large number of bands that received votes in WW's annual Best New Band Poll, struck a nerve with the PDX-Pop contingent, a group of Portland musicians and fans that helped birth the annual PDX Pop Now! music festival and have eaten up gigabytes of server space across this city arguing about everything from exorbitant concert prices to what it means to be an independent artist.
To this group of well-meaning local music folk, that article meant a few different things. 1. The Portland music scene is getting some much-deserved respect. 2. Square society is onto us. 3. Portland, thanks to bands like the Shins, the Decemberists and Sleater-Kinney, has been labeled the capital of "Indie Rock" the same way that Seattle was labeled "Grunge" last decade.
That last one is the one that smarts. Most modern-music fans are very familiar with the story of Seattle and how the music industry descended on, and ravaged, the music scene, turning something unique into a national marketable fashion statement while killing the local music scene. Naturally, those who love Portland music don't want that to happen. Or so I thought.
"We have everything we need here," I wrote to the listeserv. "Talent, labels, ideas, clubs, ambition and beer. Let's lock the gates and have a party." Of course, I failed to mention my isolationist view applies only to industry jackals. Those gates should still be open to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of musicians who see this town as a beacon of sustainable independent music.
The listserv quickly divided into two camps: those who believe Portland should embrace the attention and support any band willing to ride the wave to national renown, and those who believe the city should batten the hatches and guard against the volleys of the music-biz world outside of this city's borders. In the two weeks since the article came out, the listserv has harbored more than 80 posts. Sure, to Joe Q. Public, the strong reaction to the article might seem excessive, but it is a valid argument (even if this kind of bickering has taken place in this city time and again since Hazel, Sprinkler and Pond were pegged as the next big thing in the post-Seattle '90s).
Basically, in the world of political extremes, it's the globalists vs. isolationists. The Thomas Friedmans vs. the Pat Buchanans. And, if we must choose sides, I must (cringe) be with the Buchanans.
So, who's with me?