"Old Portland" might seem just about meaningless these days—a nebulous term interchangeably applied to a wide swath of unrecoverable pasts, each one coinciding with homegrown adolescence or a transplant's first extended visit. All the same, whenever folks mention PDX's glory days, they're not talking about the '70s. Nobody was moving to this rotten hub of a dying state back then—and, as Rose City Vice: Portland in the '70s: Dirty Cops and Dirty Robbers (Feral House, 104 pages, $12.95) makes painfully clear, Portlanders used to grow up quick.
Riddled with hardboiled purple prose by former Oregonian columnist Phil Stanford, this vintage exposé strings together an addled orgy of corrupt cops, coked-up officials and colorful gangsters for lurid evocations of our town's ugliest decade—but this time-swept rogue's gallery feels awkwardly stranded between the rollicking and the real.
Portland Confidential, Stanford's first volume, breathed a shambling wonderment into darkened tales of none-too-rigorously-annotated city lore—as if an aged gent of threadbare tailoring trumped barroom reveries by sketching an intricate cocktail napkin map of where all the bodies are actually buried. Thrilling, yes, but not necessarily worth repeating. Visit the well often enough, and even the wiliest dive-bar sage will run out of A-material and start piecing together half-formed anecdotes and overselling the punchlines of middling yarns.
This latest collection suffers from diminishing returns. The narratives aren't strong enough nor the subjects sufficiently well-known to accommodate a pulp-scrapbook aesthetic, and hurtling bulletin after disconnected bulletin can't help but emphasize the strain. Moreover, even if echoing the quick 'n dirty style of bygone scandal mags' fluff verisimilitude, the scattershot approach to storytelling disables any hint of momentum and tragically misfires whenever actual news (then-Mayor Neil Goldschmidt's police-indulged rape of his 13-year-old babysitter) enters its sights.
Cramming 30+ chapters into less than 100 pages, municipal corruption buffs should find Rose City Vice essential bathroom reading, and it's the obvious festival gift for all Royal Rosarians-in-waiting. But newcomers eager to dive deep into authentic accounts of the city's seamier past might come away disappointed.
That era of Portland, by Stanford's telling, appears not just trashy but mean and crass and unbearably provincial. His overview of the local porn boom teases cinematic details (zebra-striped wallpaper and translucent uniforms for the downtown Hilton's fifth floor 'lotion studio') yet provides no context before hurtling into a less-than-compelling profile of an industry-adjacent mob associate as an apparent excuse for limp capper: a forgotten hoodlum arguing our City of Roses was instead the City of Sin, which would seem labored even if the rest of the world didn't believe those nicknames the property of Pasadena and Las Vegas.
Rose City Vice maintains its civic branding to a fault, and it's a shame Stanford didn't embrace the town's other moniker. Puddletown has far more regional kick, after all, and we'll just assume the author retains some fondness for those shallow, stagnant spills noticed only when reflecting neon glare.
GO: Phil Stanford will appear at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., powells.com, on Thursday, June 8. 7:30 pm. Free.
Note: The original text of this story did not adequately portray Neil Goldschmidt's long-term sexual abuse of his babysitter. WW apologizes for the error in editorial judgement.