You get what you deserve

I find myself on the brink of graduating from PSU, and with that I must offer an explanation – maybe you all will understand me better after reading this, but likely not.

Sunday night one of my current favorite bands played, but unfortunately the venue was less than ideal. In fact, I can’t think of a worse place for m퀌_m to play than Dante’s.

As a friend put it, “This place is full of jackasses.”

That’s right, jackasses by the score. Up and down, left and right, it was awful, and no better were the indie kids who seemed intent only on watching “the twins” perform.

The band was brilliant, but the sound was something else altogether. The soundman at Dante’s is the most grossly overpaid man in Portland.

I say that not because I know how much he makes – I just can’t believe he has the job in the first place. He has no idea how to deal with anything more than a vocals-guitar-bass-drums lineup. In this case, the vocals were too loud and the electronics too soft (probably because he’s biased against them).

Basically, the whole damn thing was too quiet. It was like a party with the band playing in the background. But the fact is, if these guys played at a party there would be silence; everyone would listen respectfully. Instead what we were offered was a meat market with a brilliant band called m퀌_m hanging like choice beef in a well-lit corner, and the crowd talking over them the whole time.

In the end the most entertaining thing about the show was the hoochie mama who thought I was gay. As I followed my friends out of the bar I hear a woman say dismissively, “Gay,” as if she were checking me out and came to that conclusion.

Now, I’ve been assumed to be gay by some gay boys, and in that case I consider it a compliment. When a hoochie mama thinks I’m gay though, I have to laugh.

They’re so hung up on themselves and the way they look that if I’m not checking out the cleavage they have going on they assume me to be gay. I know it’s hard when a man is not obsessed with the way you look, but please – it’s like when a meathead gets rebuffed by a woman and all he can say is “Dyke!”

I personally don’t mind hoochie mamas, in fact I’m related to a couple, but the thing is, not everybody wants to check out your body all of the time, and if somebody doesn’t look your way it doesn’t mean they’re gay. But like I said, usually I take it as a compliment.

When a straight man is accused of being gay, it often means he has nice shoes. (For a while I received much ribbing from a friend regarding my “gay” shoes, and yes, I took it as a compliment, even though, as a rock & roller, he didn’t mean it as such.) The point is, there’s no room for hoochie mamas at a m퀌_m show (are you reading, Mr. Promoter Sir?)

One thing that comes to mind while we’re on the subject of “gay” shoes is the Miami Vice picture disc I recently sold on ebay. It was very beautiful. On the A-side (Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City”) we had Crockett and Tubbs brandishing automatic weapons while a fiery Miami sunset burned in the background. On the B-side (Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme”) mug shots of Glen Frey and Jan Hammer were superimposed on a turquoise background.

Needless to say, it was a prized possession. I’d been carrying the thing around for 10 years, just waiting for the right time to unload it. Well, the ’80s revival must be on its way out because it only fetched $18. But that’s OK, I got it for free. And if you can think of two worse songs on one 12″ single let me know, because that was one awful record.

Did I just say “Glen Frey” and “awful record” in successive paragraphs? Don’t the terms go hand-in-hand?

Frey was of course drummer and vocalist of one of the most overrated, overplayed, and just plain worst bands of all time: The Eagles. Can you think of a lamer, tamer, sappier tune than “Hotel California”?

I live next to a tavern frequented by 40-plus-year-old folks of the populist variety, meaning they love drugs and they love drink but they all probably voted for Bush.

They love “Hotel California,” and I’ve even heard incredulously intoned statements such as, “This is the live version!” I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything but the live version. Does a studio version of “Hotel California” even exist?

Yes they love the Eagles next door, but not as much as they love old J.C.M. That’s right, John Cougar Mellencamp, purveyor of hits like “Jack and Diane.” But that’s one they never plug the jukebox for – they seem to go for tunes like “Pink Houses.” You know the lyric … well, I can’t remember it now, but that’s OK, cause it’s bad. I guess it’s as they say: the public gets what it deserves.

And maybe that’s the point I’m winding to here. That we get what we pay for. Somebody in the Midwest went ape-shit over that Miami Vice picture disc. A recording of two very bad songs that accompanied a very bad TV show. A TV show that influenced the way people thought, talked and dressed in the ’80s.

My question here is, was this some sort of ’80s hipster? Or was it somebody who never stopped watching?

My friend who liberally (or is that illiberally?) throws the term “gay” around frequently offers up the following H.L. Mencken quote: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” How true.

But then again, bright lights are out there.

M퀌_m may be from Iceland, but they sell enough records here to tour the continent. And while the Miami Vice picture disc garnered 18 bucks on ebay, by far my biggest surprise moneymaker was the first issue of “The Imp.”

The fact that a kid in New York is willing to pay 41 bucks for an astute 30-page essay about the underground comic artist Dan Clowes is very heartening – plus, I paid only $3.95 for it just three years ago. I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of my second copy anytime soon – and not because of its monetary value, but because it’s brilliant.

The Vanguard A&C desk receives more mail than any office on campus. Week after week, month after month, the promo items keep coming in. Everybody from Warner Bros. and Dreamworks to the Portland Children’s Theater and your local self-promoting artist seeks coverage in the Vanguard.

When I edited this section the challenge was in finding a good balance – between the national and the local, the independent and the incorporated, the institutional and the university-unaffiliated.

It was hard to remain unbiased. I basically didn’t want to cover anything coming from the major labels or studios. Not necessarily because I thought it sucked, but because I saw the kind of money they threw around in the name of promotion. It just seemed like they had an unfair advantage.

I really wanted to cover more campus events, but all-too-often I didn’t get advanced notice, and when I did, I only heard about it once. Sometimes I’d get promo material at the beginning of the term for something that didn’t take place for another two months. What happens to this stuff? Well, it gets buried under the piles of crap from Warner Bros., Dreamworks, Fox, etc.

Furthermore, the majors not only spend a gazillion bucks sending out promo materials, they pay people to pump it on the phone as well. Every week it was somebody different.

Usually the call was from New York or L.A: “Hi Gavin! This is Philip Johnson from Hott Promotion calling to tell you about a great new singer-songwriter who’s coming to Portland next month!” Once that artist has come and gone there’s another one ready to step into her place. The commodification of the artist is about the only sure thing in the major label music and movie businesses.

In the end, it became easiest to let the writers find their own stories. This made for decent variety; but more importantly, it allowed for coverage of those without huge marketing and promotion budgets.

Of course, we rankled some feathers by “ignoring” the PSU Opera, but hey, it was an honest oversight.

So as I ride off into the future, I must emphasize a couple of things. Dante’s is no good, Warner Bros. is evil and PSU has a lot of entertainment options going for it – but just like everything else that’s worth your time, you have to find it.

So don’t be lazy. Remember: you get what you pay for, you get what you deserve (thank god I got into the m퀌_m show for free).