Sauntering about the patio outside of ripe's Family Supper space at the Gotham Bldg. Tavern Saturday night, Matt Wiggins looks calm, collected and freshly shaven, his sport coat unwrinkled, his cheeks filled with a warm color provided by plenty of food and drink. Inside, Strength frontman Bailey Winters poses and preens as his band holds him up with a pulsing pillar of disco rock. Outside, Wiggins is telling me about the Young Americans Project.
With the face of a ruddy young intern, the 22-year-old who's taking a semester off from Boston College does not look like he's been on the road for five weeks, but he has. Along with three friends (all recent Dartmouth grads), he started TYAP, a project that is taking these four guys—like the Kerouacs and Lomaxes before them—out on the American road to learn more about their generation. Basically, if you were born after 1980, they want to talk to you about your life, your friends and your country, and document it on their website. And tonight's party, a show featuring a smattering of local indie talent playing for a crowd of Portland's somewhat young and influential, is a fundraiser for the project.
"The most amazing thing has been the willingness of these people to talk," Wiggins says. "Nine-and-a-half out of ten people we approach are really excited to tell their story."
Now, maybe in the days when Alan Lomax was canvassing the country for folk musicians in the '30s and '40s, a response like that would have been amazing. Back then, people weren't quite used to documentation of their lives, their words plain, their photos tight-lipped. But this is before we all learned how to present, before the smile became the required uniform for the photograph.
Wiggins smiles and continues: "Yesterday in Eugene, we spent the day with this biracial, bisexual 20-year-old with AIDS," and suddenly I think I'm talking to the producer of Rent; or maybe the casting director for The Real World or The Apprentice; or maybe I'm reading a profile on MySpace.
The truth is, I couldn't care less about that bi-guy in Eugene. And, actually, the Young Americans Project in general seems like a waste. It shouldn't, but it does, because there is already too much documentation of this generation—more than any other generation ever. We are all performers waiting in the wings. Everyone has a story to tell and a promised stage, whether it's a blog, a youth-hungry reality series, an online profile, or four guys with cameras and a few questions.
Every 23-year-old I see on TV or peruse online seems paper-thin to me, their characters poorly developed, their plotlines dodgy at best and their honesty questionable. Performance, I find myself thinking while telling all of this to Wiggins, should be left to the performers. Performers like the guys in Strength, the singers in Portland Opera's Tosca (see review, page 46) and Colin Meloy, who, the night before at the Roseland Theater, led his band, the Decemberists, through a theatrical set of fictive tales that was being recorded for a live DVD.
Standing before a crowd filled with members of Wiggins' generation, Meloy sang, "I was meant for the stage/ I was meant for the curtains." And as a giant camera swooped down on the crowd, they all sang along.
Check out the Young Americans Project at www.tyap.com.
Check out the Young Americans Project at www.tyap.com .