People who have encountered the bizarre Stumptown Coffee commercial airing during Portland Trail Blazers broadcasts are left with several lingering questions.
Who is that palooka who gets his ankles broken and coffee poured over his limp body by Blazers backup guard Shabazz Napier? Who directed this dry-ice fever dream? And who wrote the jingle, which repeats the phrase "Shabazz is the man" in a droning chorus that refuses to exit your brain?
The answer to all three questions is Tim Wenzel.
Wenzel is not a hired hand from a Pearl District advertising firm. For six years, he worked as a barista at Stumptown's Southeast Belmont Street cafe. About a year ago, he began making local ads for the coffee company.
His videos, sometimes shot on 8mm, feel like found footage from a 1980s local-access station. But all of them—the one where Wenzel goes fishing for cold brew, another where a bug-eyed vagrant emerges from a leaf pile to play hacky-sack—feature earworm songs, composed by Wenzel.
But this one is unusually catchy—enough to get remarked upon, at length and with great ethusiasm, by Yahoo Sports. ("I don't know if the Academy is still accepting nominations, but this deserves to sweep the Oscars.")
Wenzel, who is now Stumptown's "in-house creative," says he composed the tune in his usual manner.
"I usually just shack up in my bedroom and sit on the floor with my keyboard," Wenzel says. I usually just come up with a song and then come up with a video around it. I liked that [Shabazz] song. I wrote a few."
It gets weirder. Wenzel, it turns out, is already a familiar figure in Portland music circles: He's the guitarist for White Glove, a hook-happy, keyboard-heavy, change-resenting garage rock trio.
The band is best known for its anti-gentrification anthems: "Division Street," a tongue-in-cheek screed against condos, yuppies and brunch, and "Fred and Carrie," a not particularly tongue-in-cheek broadside against yuppies, Carrie Brownstein, and Fred Armisen. (In the music video, Wenzel played Fred.)
Once you make the connection, there's no mistaking it: the "Shabazz is the man" jingle is a first cousin to the chorus of "Division Street" lamenting the outbreak of "places to eat, places to eat, nooooooooooo."
Perhaps this aesthetic is inconsistent with making commercials about coffee to drink. Wenzel doesn't mind.
"Sellout or not, whatever," he says. "Stumptown lets me do what I want to do. I've been told that some that some of the ridiculous songs I write will stick in people's heads. It actually works now. Put to it to some use."
Plus, his folks get to see him get schooled by Shabazz.
"My parents are going to be pretty stoked," he says. "They live out in John Day. They're like, 'What the heck? This is insane.'"