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October 25th, 2006 MARK BAUMGARTEN | Riff City
 

Unpacking Three Years

WW music editor Mark Baumgarten says farewell to Portland.

     
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IMAGE: LUKAS KETNER
This column—my last for this newspaper—is being written on a laptop owned by Willamette Week. It was lent to me by my employer for my tenure as the music editor of the largest alternative weekly in the greatest music town in the country. In less than a week I will return this computer to the paper, shake editor Mark Zusman's hand, jump into a rented car and head east to Minneapolis. There I will greet a new office, a new computer and a new job as the lead editor of a monthly magazine called Metro.

For now, though, I am sitting at my home desk, listening to records and trying to figure out how to tell you why I'm leaving when everything seems so good. The Portland music scene is booming, the music keeps getting better and WW has been covering and uncovering this town's talent left and right as the most locally focused paper in the nation, due, in no small part, to my editorial vision (insert back pat here). So why leave?

The seed to that answer is in my arrival here. In the summer of 2003, I was worn from publishing a then-recently deceased monthly music magazine in Minneapolis called Lost Cause. I had two choices: stay in Minneapolis, take a job doing technical writing for NordicTrack and wait for the right gig, or try to get a job out of town. The WW job was open, and there was no question. I applied for it, got it and, within a week, was walking into an empty Portland apartment with a suitcase full of CDs.

Then something strange happened. I started to get weird. Not Portland weird, either. Hypocritical asshole weird. I'd spout off about the importance of community and then never return calls. I would go on about friendship and then no-show for a birthday party. I would confide in people about how hard it is to be a stranger in a city full of strangers and then forget their name. I would preach what I had practiced in Minneapolis and not follow through in Portland. This continued up until right now, when I will proclaim a love of Portland, and then leave it. In other words, it's not you, it's me.

The truth is that I want to love Portland, but I can't, because it just isn't my city—I never let it be. And so, I have pushed it away, resigning myself to the role of tourist in this drizzled town, embracing a policy of fatalism and escapism...and doing it all with a pretty damn fine soundtrack that every true Portlander is lucky to have at his or her fingertips.

But playing on my stereo right now isn't a Portland band. It's another resilient Minnesota native, the Hold Steady's Craig Finn. He is singing about chasing a girl around the Crystal Court, the upscale shopping mall housed in the massive IDS Tower that looms over downtown Minneapolis. My mind wanders to a winter afternoon spent high, with my friend Tim, exploring the endless maze created by the elevated passageways that connect the IDS to every other building in downtown Minneapolis. The skyways. Now echoes of the Replacements' "Skyway" enter my mind, followed by memories of standing outside Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater one night. My friend Dan and I are handing out the first issue of Lost Cause as a Paul Westerberg concert lets out. During the show, we are told, the former Replacements lead singer kicked over a table and a lamp and almost toppled off the stage. We bite our lips and head to the CC Club for a pitcher of Grain Belt Premium.

My memory ends there—though it could go on all night—and I am once again in my apartment, surrounded by white walls, a broken television and a suitcase filled with my CD collection. My best friend—and Willamette Week's next music editor—Amy McCullough will pick me up in a few minutes to head to the Hold Steady show at Lola's Room, and while I haven't even started to pack for my 1,500-mile move, I'm not worried. I never really unpacked in the first place.


For Mark B.'s favorite moments from his three years at WW and drunken scenes from his going-away party, go to localcut.com.
 
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