Like many pseudo-Portlanders reading this, I am not from here. I am one of the many transplants who made this rainy, wonderful city my own, whether it wanted me or not. And in the three and half years I've lived in Oregon, I've honestly never been totally sure I belonged here. I come from a place where soy milk vs. authentic dairy doesn't matter, where meat-eating is celebrated and where people are too busy to be overly sensitive or careful. I come from a place where you smoke freely in clubs that are so dingy your feet stick to the floor, where guys yelling "sweet, hot beef" (this is in reference to a sandwich) come off as charming instead of rude or disgusting. I come from Chicago, and—after recently returning to that immensely huge, chilly city for the first time since I moved here—it occurred to me that maybe I waited so long to go back because I was afraid I'd realize I belong there.
As someone who's had almost 30 jobs in 13 years of employment and who's moved 10 times in the past decade, I've got a track record of uncertainty and detachment—a sort of life-path ADD. Throughout my relatively young life, there has only been one constant: music. Whether helping my mother houseclean to Sam Cooke as a kid, performing Beatles covers at embarrassing teenage open mic nights, playing college rock and NPR jazz over radio frequencies in Central Illinois, selling overpriced albums to Michigan Avenue shoppers as a peon for Virgin Records or writing about local pop and indie-folk for WW and LocalCut.com, music is the only thing I've been able to stick with. Looking through an old photo album with my father during my trip back to the Midwest, I came across a survey I filled out in elementary school: Under favorite subject, my little-kid hand had scrawled "music," and under favorite food I had written "hot dogs."
Now I'm taking over as WW's music editor, a post that was recently forsaken by Mark Baumgarten in favor of returning to his home in Minneapolis. On my flight to Chicago, I pulled his final column out of my bag—which I had been saving for after I left town—and read all about how Mark felt he never gave himself entirely to Portland. I tried to figure out why the hell Portland has been able to hang onto me—someone chronically prone to leaving—for so long.
I think I figured it out: Music has always been a part of my life, but, in Portland, I am a part of music. As a writer for WW—a paper that's devoted its music section entirely to Portland—I know that the community in the local albums littering the top of my stereo includes me. When Colin Meloy sings about runaway lovers exploring Old Town and Waterfront Park, I know those kids; I've waited "On the Bus Mall" with them. When Laura Gibson tells tales of the "Country, Country," I know that, here, that peaceful place is not so far away. When M. Ward sings, "Every town is all the same/ When you've left your heart in the Portland rain," I know where he's coming from, literally.
Stepping off the plane from Chicago into the gates of PDX last Wednesday, I realized that I am home. Portland has made music my life, and, for me, that's something worth hanging around for.