Nick Schroeder

Nick Schroeder

Risk, Bravery, Desire: Derek Jackson's 'Ladyboy' at Border Patrol

Ladyboy is a solo exhibition featuring new works by Derek Jackson.

It's the second exhibition at the new Border Patrol gallery, a studio of three modestly sized rooms in the State Theatre building, whose curator-proprietors (Elizabeth Spavento and Jared Haug) describe its mission as exploring the notions of government agency and the intersections of contemporary art and corporate aesthetics.

Put another way, it's a converted office space on the third floor of an old and stodgy building, and it contains one of the most directly confrontational, ecstatic, and liberatory shows I've seen in Portland in a while.

I want to talk about trans and gender narratives that aren’t featured in the mainstream. I want to talk about cross dressing. I want it to be about genitals, just for one day. And sex work. And faces. Beautiful faces. And gender expression that isn’t about craft or identity, that isn’t an end but a means.

Growing up near Houston, Texas, Jackson has been making art in Portland since moving here in 2003. In my first time writing about him, for an exhibition called “Honey Cling To Me," a show of paintings of male friends’ bodies — specifically bears — that he rendered in fantastical visual vocabulary at Two Point Gallery in 2010, Jackson rendered his subjects on “large fabric canvases dripping with ecstatic paint.” But those subjects were only mostly naked, depicted wearing loin cloths or towels, or their genitals otherwise obscured by painterly fantasia.

In Ladyboy, the stakes are higher. (Yes, that’s a phallic pun.)

These are the stories we aren’t supposed to hear or tell. They subvert our fight to not be murdered just for being who we are. I feel honored to be an artist and to hold these stories. I feel compelled to make them beautiful, to embellish and seduce. To convince you that this is ok. Then I remember, it’s not about pleasing the audience or being ok. It’s about Ladyboy.

Ladyboy is the latest in an ongoing series of Jackson's fascinations with bodies and types, most of them male-identified. Although this one’s different, as it’s noticeably, unapologetically suffused with desire. Adorning the front room of Border Patrol are several paintings of relished bodies of individuals Jackson has graced with some gender-transcendent flourish. Many of them are pictured belly-up and supine, holding healthy, tumescent cocks in the foreground which seem to split the frame into two hemispheres. Their bodies are in positions that seem to emphasize both their taut musculature and vulnerability, as if seen through the lens of a webcam. They're crude, maybe, but they're not exactly vulgar.   

I'm going to draw and paint the fuck out of this painting with an urgent need to engage in pleasure and expression without persecution. I don’t care if it’s the same painting over and over. I don’t care if I’m good at drawing hands. I don’t care if it’s a simple expression of a couple of ideas. I need to do this.

One of the most prominent elements of Ladyboy is indeed its repetition. Jackson draws and paints these images over and over, again and again, with in different colorations and patterns and swells. On different surfaces and mediums. Even different bodies in the same formation. Directly on the white gallery wall. Unlike the earlier series, where he's endeavored to capture the quiet spiritual wisdom of bears, the indeterminate fierceness of "faery cunts," and the taboo and "exploitable" society of twinks, desire is a primary fuel for this work. He speaks about it to me in the same way he seems to paint — with equal parts respect, hunger, and care, and with no time for the tired gesticulations of shame or the social rituals of furtively dancing around the subject. This is about what it is about.

And it reminds me that Jackson's is, to borrow another artist's description of Derek once said to me in a private conversation, an incredibly "anti-Yankee" way to make art, meaning that it has little regard for the ministrations of temperance and privacy that many of us in New England perform. They meant it as a compliment. (And yes, he is good at drawing hands.)

I'm reflecting the desire to dress, to cross dress, as a way to get to a different place. To be different than I was before, than we were, before. Maybe drugs or alcohol makes it easy for you to go there. Maybe it’s a place you return to on occasion or every day. But this isn’t just about totems either. I'm finding humanity and strength in the simple play with things I love. I am handling materials like lumber and sheetrock — stereotypically thought of as masculine — in a way that subverts their intended use, regardless of validation or whether any house was built. Am I holding up a roof caving under the weight of expectations around respectability? Does this show do anything to make it safer for anyone? I so desperately want it to. This world is not safe. I would be kidding you if I believed a painting could change that. But this isn’t about the world. This is about Ladyboy.

In a darkened room softlit by lush purple LEDs in the back of the gallery hang several small woodboards (each of them roughly 12" by 18" inches). Upon them, Jackson has affixed a photographic cutout image of a naked man — "dadbods," he affectionately calls them — each of them femmed up with long, flowing hair Jackson's drawn in the empty space surrounding their figures. The images are gathered from the internet, he tells me, which is supported by their blank, poached-in-space poses and slightly vacantly desirous stares. This back room, Jackson explains, is a tribute to those in pornography who perform on the business end of glory holes, a practice in which, he explains, one man who's generally of a lower status remains largely concealed, "exalting" another from a superlative class, like a fireman or an engineer. This room is in tribute to the one doing the exalting.

This is about life in the shadows and on the fringe. This is about your brother, father, coworker or friend. This is about being a tech geek during the week and letting down your long black hair as an androgynous goth lord on the weekends. This is about transforming pain into a flawless ability to serve contour for days. This is about a big load from daddy all over your face because you’ve been a good girl. This is about violence and beauty living side by side in the perfume of sex for sale. Ladyboy is here and she’s dressed for you.

And it strikes me that, in the present-day art milieu of Portland, Derek is one of the only artists consistently making risky work. We love our digestible art up here, our dappled landscapes and old master paintings whose only permissible expression of sex is some obscure symbolic reference one only picks up if they look through the imperious peephole of the male gaze. Jackson's other full-time project, the music/dance hybrid performance poetry of Hi Tiger, is similarly unabashedly body-positive and intimate. I bring that up here because it's revelatory to witness Derek's work, to read the way he describes it (his exhibit description is included in full in the italicized text here) and at once feel the twin sensations that this work is risky, and this work is positive. Positive in the sense of its goodness and its bravery.

It's a bravery so powerful that I have to say it guides me here, where as a straight cis white man who writes about art and culture, I'm acutely aware of the risks in attempting to "critique" such a show for the broader public, as well as the limitations in the language available to me in describing this exhibition (along with the deficiencies we at this paper and all of Maine media carry in covering the work of marginalized and oppressed artists literally all the time). And while audiences for this sort of thing tend to be self-selecting, it's with a great deal of admiration and awe that I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the work Jackson's doing, here or elsewhere. Even if it's only to take down that inner Yankee a peg.

"Ladyboy," works by Derek Jackson | Through May 12 | Border Patrol, 142 High St., Ste. 309, Portland | border-patrol.net

An earlier version of this review misstated the gallery that showed Jackson's "Honey Cling To Me" exhibition in 2010.  



  • Published in Art

Down the Path with a Flashlight: An Interview with Chad Clark of Beauty Pill

In 2015, the D.C. artist and musician Chad Clark released his band Beauty Pill's new album, Describes Things As They Are, a full 11 years after the group's previous release.

 

In that time, Clark was writing for NPR, composing musical scores for theater projects and art museum exhibitions, and recovering from surgery to fix a heart condition that nearly took his life. It was that event in particular that infuses Clark's sprawling and gorgeously complex album (the first five lyrics to which are "I want more life, fucker"), an album that's gathered significant and, to Clark, unexpected praise from beyond the circles of indie-rock.

 

Clark and company tour through Portland in support of the incomparable Arto Lindsay, the guitarist and composer who grew up in Brazil's tropicalia movement before joining the New York no-wave scene in the '70s and '80s, most notably playing in the band DNA. Our conversation picks up as Clark explains the uniqueness of the Portland show, the only one on their East Coast tour where Lindsay plays without a band.

 


 

Chad Clark: ...it's kind of amazing. When Arto plays solo, he plays his like, noise guitar, which is this almost atonal guitar, and he sings beautifully over it. He sings melodically and beautifully and seductively over this skronky, fucked-up noise guitar. I think it’s a really cool show, and some poeple love it and some people hate it. And I’m looking forward to even being near him, because I think he’s amazing, and totally inspiring.

 

Nick Schroeder: What kind of relationship did you have with Arto before this tour?

 

I’ve still never met him, actually. I had a Skype interview with him about a week ago for a piece for NPR, and he was really cool. He was in his kitchen and I was in my living room, and we did a video Skype. It was the first time I ever really talked to him in person, we’ve emailed back and forth. It’s the first time I had a -- I want to say face-to-face, although it’s technology. And I was a little nervous, because, you know, he could be a dick. There are a lot of really amazing people who aren’t very nice. Miles Davis and Picasso weren’t very nice. So I was prepared that he might have a different personality, but he was funny and charming and warm and I immediately felt like I was going to enjoy spending time with him.

 

beautypill album

 

Without getting you to call out anybody, have you met anyone you've looked up to who’s turned out to be a dick?

 

You know what, I’ve met a few of my heroes, and so far, they’ve been cool. I can’t say that I’ve had that really disappointing, sour experience where you meet someone you admire and learn that they’re a jerk. I’ve collaborated on a technical level in the studio with Marc Ribot and Bob Mould, and these are people that I’ve respected from afar, and they were pretty cool people. And I recently met Kristen Hersh [of Throwing Muses], who I’ve been a fan of for a long time, and she was also super cool. I haven’t had the nightmare experience of meeting the brilliant person who’s a jerk. And Arto seems to bear that out.

 

What is your life like doing Beauty Pill now compared to what it was when you started the band 15 years ago?

 

Well, Beauty Pill was kind of an imaginary band back then. We hadn’t really played shows; we were making songs and recording them when we started, and a lot of what we did was making up theories about the kind of music we wanted to make. Beauty Pill today is a pretty different thing. I would say the biggest change for Beauty Pill is that a couple years ago, when we put out this current record, the way that people talked to and about the band shifted. People started to talk a lot more about the music. When we were on [D.C. punk label] Dischord (Records), I think there were a lot of cultural issues around Dischord and the fact that we were making music that seemed pretty apart from what Dischord was known for. If you look at the reviews of this last record, they’re all about the songs and the sound and the actual content of the music, and that was really exciting and refreshing. It was our first record outside of Dischord, and it’s been encouraging.

 

I feel like people are more willing to embrace music that is hard to place in a genre. In the past, people were like, "I don’t know what to call this music," and that was a pejorative thing. Maybe it’s because of the internet and the way people relate to consuming music, but I don’t think that people are so intent on categorization, and that’s pretty cool. The record we put out got a lot of media response. And you know, I’m an artist; I’m just trying to move forward what I’m doing. I don’t integrate criticism, positive or negative, into what I’m doing. But it is encouraging just to feel like this is registering and people are responding. That was a very positive thing.

 

A lot of the narrative around that, at least from what I’ve read, seems linked to what the journey was for you, personally, in releasing that record. Do you find that now that you’re on the other side of it, both the album and the scare, do you wish that the album were taken on its own merit? Are you comfortable with it being bound up with that time of your life?

 

I still feel like people respond to it at a musical level. There’s a few different takes on the band and our situation and that album. One is Whoa, this dude almost died! Another one is the fact that we recorded it in public as part of a museum exhibit. And (the third) is that, technically speaking, there are no white people in my band. [So there is a] race and political comment people are hearing in the music and the lyrics and in seeing the diversity of the band in general, especially what’s happening now, politically.

 

I mean, I understand that it’s 2017 and people like stories. I get that, and I’m happy with however people discover it. But here’s the thing: I really thought that [Describes Things As They Are] was going to be an obscure record. It’s packed with sound. The entire record is saturated with sound, and some of it’s pretty challenging. I really thought it was an esoteric record that may find a small audience. I certainly didn’t think it was a big hit type of thing, so I’ve been really encouraged by people not being turned off by the complexity or the density of the music.

 

For me as an artist, it’s been encouraging to learn that you can try shit and people can feel that it’s authentic and that it comes from a genuine place. That’s the most encouraging thing for me. I don’t know that I ever expect to repeat that feeling of being in synch with the culture. You know, D’Angelo put out Black Messiah, and there’s Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Basically, people started to embrace ambitious, sprawling, challenging music at a commercial or more popular level. And I feel like we benefited from that. I feel like D’Angelo made my life easier.

 

When did Beauty Pill stop feeling to you like a D.C. band in the Dischord sense? I’m sure there was some of that genre confusion back in the Smart Went Crazy days, too.

 

Really going back to the Cigarette Girl record, we were interested in making widescreen, kaleidoscopic, textured music that had detail. Coming from the D.C. punk scene, which values confrontation and clamor and aggression, we wanted to make more detailed and more feminine music. And we were interested in using technology, too, which has increased over time. I think sometimes the outside world sees the D.C. punk scene as more monochromatic than the people within see it.

 

But it’s not something I’m doing on purpose. I’m just following artistic impulses and seeing where they go. I don’t have an agenda, like, how do I be different? Also, certainly, playing with Arto and my attraction to working with him and being near him, is that he is his own genre. There is no Beatles to his Stones or Stones to his Beatles. He has no peers; there are no others in his terrain. He’s just out there in the wilderness on his own. I wanna be clear, I’m not comparing myself to him. That guy’s a genius. But I certainly look up to him as someone who has an aesthetic that is internally generated and doesn’t necessarily relate to any other kind of scene. My dad says to approach every situation like a student, and I think that’s really good advice in general, but I’m certainly taking that approach to touring with Arto. I’m going in very humbly and I hope to learn, because I think he’s a master. And I hope to kind of osmotically absorb whatever the fuck he’s about.

 

Several years ago you were commissioned to score some music for live theater projects. Has that been a comfortable fit for you? Do you have a history with theater personally?

 

I want to do more of it. I found it incredibly cool and exciting and I definitely want to do more with it. There’s a couple of theater groups that I want to collaborate with here. One of them is Taffety Punk [with whom Beauty Pill composed music for the play suicide.chat.room in 2010] and the other, which I haven’t worked with yet, is Woolly Mammoth. It’s really interesting from a rock ‘n’ roll point of view. Working in theater, they have these production meetings which are incredibly disciplined and precise. They take notes and they send you the notes the day after, and it’s really focused and organized, and very adult. And despite comparison to rock ‘n’ roll where people show up and jam and it’s very improvisational and formless in a way, theater is the opposite. It’s very structured in a really cool way. It’s all about creativity, but it’s done in a much more structured and formal way, and that was exciting to be part of because I had to step up and be part of that world. I would love to do more film scoring and theater scoring. It suits my sensibilities musically and so it feels kind of natural to me, and I definitely want to do more of it.

 

What have you been reading since the election?

 

I went back to reading Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which I hadn’t really ever finished.

 

That’s the baseball one, right?

 

Yeah. It’s amazing. In a way, his writing is a sort of constant demonstration of his writing acumen. He’s kind of always showing off what he can do with words, how he can mess with your mind. He’s incredibly skilled. So it’s very dense in that way. But I really think that it’s just the way his brain works.

 

Well, I’m glad you guys are coming back to Maine. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting show. Are you a musician yourself?

 

I was a musician when I was younger, but I actually am a theater worker. I’m an actor and director in town, so a lot of what you said is pretty resonant. I appreciate how structured things need to be in order for actors and improvisors and participants to feel free to play. There really needs to be a situation where all of those muscles are flexing at once.

 

Yeah, it’s amazing. A couple weeks ago, I officially hit on Woolly Mammoth. I was like, Hey, my band’s pretty popular, pretty good. I do these theater scores. If you wanna collaborate, let us know. I’m not used to pitching things to people, but I definitely want to do more of that. It’s a pretty amazing world.

 

I haven’t lived in New York in ten years, but it seems like rock venues or punk venues or whatever, they’re harder to come by. And it’s harder to evolve if you’re a used-to-be-punk musician or experimental artist in any form. It’s just hard to see a path for growth that isn’t like, well, okay, I’ve wrapped that up, so now I’m going to go work in advertising or something.

 

Right.

 

It’s hard to find a way to keep pushing through that. And I think theater is it. Although it does take a little bit of rebranding sometimes. The word “theater” can be a little vulgar in people’s minds, but I’ve seen a lot of my friends and other people I’ve looked up to find a place for themselves in that world, creatively, as they age in their forties and fifties.

 


That’s another thing about Arto. He’s 64 years old. He’s up there on a stage playing noise guitar and singing over it and he’s 64. That, to me, opens this door. I mean, I wanna be a lifer. I don’t want to ever stop. And anybody who is down the path and has a flashlight, I’m fucking following that person. We’re playing shows at museums in the fall, and in terms of being an adult in my forties, which I am, I’m excited about that as a way of going forward, beyond indie-rock.

 

And I think that that’s a lot harder for people than it was, say, 20 years ago.

 

Yeah. It’s hard to get people to buy your recordings, to pay money for the music that you make. For example, I like Spoon. I was going to buy their new album, and then someone was like, well, you can just stream it. And I was like, yeah, I can just stream it, that’s true. And I don’t have a lot of money so it’s appealing to me to be like, well, I can stream it and see how I feel about it. And I’m a musician. This is what I do for a living! And that was my take on it: It’s convenient and it’s free. The sound isn’t that great, but it’ll do until I can get the record.

 

Everyone is facing that. Our band, we made the double-vinyl of the record, and we’re really proud of it. There’s a lot of photos in there and the graphic layout we took great care to put together. And it sells for $28. And that’s a serious amount of money for someone to dole out, and I get that. It’s weird time to be a creative person in general, and a musician in specific. That’s one [good] thing with theater: you can’t just download it.

 

Arto Lindsay + Beauty Pill + Greg Jamie | $18 | 8 pm | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland | www.onelongfellowsquare.com |

  • Published in Music

8 Days A Week: High Concepts, Holy Noise, and a Huge Best Of Party

THURSDAY 20

 

GIVE LOVE | It's 4/20, which is of course the day we celebrate the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which enabled the POTUS to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to white supremacist groups like the KKK. Great work! (The POTUS at that time was the magnanimous Ulysses S. Grant, who was actually born Hiram Ulysses Grant but was so embarrassed by his initials -- 'HUG' -- that he initiated a change. Not slinging shit at Ulysses here, but imagine being so embarrassed by a hug!) It's also the opening salvos of summer, which means that the themes and actions that arise in these times will be revisited throughout the next six months, like a coda of a great novel. A fine trove of possible plots will present themselves at Bunker Brewing Company today, where from the mid-afternoon (shortly after the hour of 4 pm, let's say), a group of capable and studied reggae DJs will begin to set the mood, and carry it until the very late hours. Hit the "Exxxxxtra Long Libbytown Getdown" at this brewery to feel these vibes, with sets by DJs Hi Duke, RTS, Red I, and Will Power.

| FREE | 4:20 pm | Bunker Brewing Company, 17 Westfield St., Portland | http://bunkerbrewingco.com/

 wolf eyes press2 1024x576

The Detroit-based Wolf Eyes. 

CASUAL NOISE | 'Tis a strange, paradoxical condition to play in the most popular noise act in the world. But alas, the Detroit-based Wolf Eyes have made a case for it in the 20 years since they first splattered onto a demo cassette. A casual glance at Discogs (the indispensable website) tells us that the project has been good for 289 distinct releases in that time (a figure that includes compilation appearances, but still nutty). This humble writer can't claim to have heard more than 1 percent of those, tops, but can attest that the still-decent number he has heard registers a different note of glorious unlistenability and admirable dedication to creating a world that doesn't otherwise exist unless brought violently into being. It's good work. Their new long-player, Undertow, is far from the harshest thing they've ever done. Indeed, it's almost meditative at times. But showgoers should still expect the harsh thrall of the void to encompass them tonight, as original founder Nate Young and the rest return to SPACE tonight after a 10-year gap. With the complex post-rock group Wei Zhongle (Mainers) and Lingua Ignota, from Providence.

| $10 adv, $12 day of | 8:30 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/

  

 

FRIDAY 21

 

WORDS THAT MOVE | April, of course, is National Poetry Month. But that hasn't stopped people everywhere from reading novels, essays, memoirs, lists, tweets, religious texts, horoscopes, signage, sexts, cocktail menus, you name it! It's in the spirit of this brave cultural defiance that we welcome tonight's release-party for Nat Baldwin, the fiction writer and musician whose new and first collection of short stories, The Red Barn (Calamari Press), has received praise for being visceral and meaty, blistered by the conveyance of abstract horror. The Red Barn receives a singular, possibly spectacular, treatment at SPACE Gallery tonight, accompanied by a retinue of artists and musicians (the likes of Kafari, Lisa/Liza, Rare Storms, and more). Proceeds benefiting 350 Maine and the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP).

| FREE | 7 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/

 

GOING DARK | The way I see it, there are two types of music in this world. There's the kind that brings people together, and there's the kind that people listen to when there's no one else around. It's the latter that makes for some odd showcases, because those showcases inevitably bring those folks together, the already-delicate balance falls apart, and the world wobbles on its axis. Tonight's affair at Geno's is the week's ripest example of this, bringing Portland's Cuse Me, a group that takes noise, free jazz, drone, and thrash elements, to play with the gorgeous and restrained minimalist synthwave of Cedar Cowart's Black Mica, which sounds like early Jean-Michel Jarre filtered through a moody, post-punk gate. Joining them way off are the Icelanders ROHT, whose music restores the d-beat to isolationist noise. (It's like it never left!) All of these make Peru's Hopeless Losers sound relatively by-the-book, but it's good to have something to wash the tough bits down. As if handling more were possible, a screening of David Cronenberg's 1983 cult hit Videodrome opens the night at 7. Fun night, particularly if you hate most types of fun.

| $7 | 7 pm | Geno's Rock Club, 625 Congress St., Portland | https://www.facebook.com/events/1702487960042398/

 

thingstocome film

A film still from "Things to Come." 

CHANGE IS INEVITABLE | On the surface, this season bids us welcome to warm and thickening air, to 4/20 thrillz, to budding tulips and the too-early temptations of nightswims. But beneath all that is the inarguable truism that April is a time of upheaval and sweeping fundamental change. This may manifest in several ways. Perhaps it's time to throw that old weird Ottoman away? Time to draft a cover letter to the human resources department at Staples? To think critically about whether you nailed last year's holiday presents for your family or if, humbly, there's room for improvement there? We often need help with initiating and processing change, and while shame can be a popular currency, it's not going to help much here. Friends, lovers, and family can help with changes like these, but also select cultural events and products like film, which has long been a preferred medium for empathy and reflection. Tonight's, at the Portland Museum of Art, is an example of that. The German film Things to Come, by Mia Hansen-Løve, tells the story of middle-aged Nathalie as she juggles life and career after receiving an out-of-nowhere bombshell that her husband of 25 years has decided to leave her. A bit of a downer, surely, but as Rumi once put it in this remarkably chill quote, "the wound is the place where the light enters you." Screening tonight at 6:30 and Saturday and Sunday at 2. | $8 | 6:30 pm | Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq., Portland | https://www.portlandmuseum.org/

 

SATURDAY 22

 

TOMORROW'S IDEAS | It's a huge night for Kesho Wazo, the multi-dimensional youth-led arts group launched by a cluster of students and King Fellows last summer. Given the full capacities of SPACE Gallery tonight to conduct and present their ambitious, exuberant suite of productions and art forms (many of which are still finding form), the young collective plan to share film, fashion line, and a participatory ideational process. Strong suggestion you pop in.

| $10 | 8:30 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | www.space538.org

 

DIRTY TALK | In a Trump era, it's with considerable chagrin that we attempt to observe Earth Day. Historically a day nearly 200 countries worldwide set aside to advance climate literacy and build solidarity around sustainability issues, climate justice, and reducing pollution, Earth Day 2017 kind of feels like it's arriving with a fair amount of dissonance. What can we do now? What's an Earth Day look like with an executive branch so openly hostile to climate issues? It's hard to say, and you're forgiven to feel some cynicism about the intentions of the businesspeople who've infiltrated the government. On the other hand, there's still reason for hope. America is a jacuzzi of waves, jets and currents conducted at the local level, and there's always room for you in that tub. This evening, an interesting and art-integrated Earth Day action happens out at Thomas Knight Park in South Portland, where the artist and MECA student Ellanor Milkowski Dahlgren mounts a thesis project titled Seeds of Resilience, where there'll be fire, music-making, a geo-cache scavenger hunt, and a cadre of speakers on sustainability in Portland. Free, but with plenty of items for sale.

| FREE | 5-8 pm | Thomas Knight Park, South Portland

FALLING FORWARD | "Rapping is the only way out," speaks AFRiCAN DUNDADA in his new track, "Hold Me Down." And I'm inclined to believe him (don't know many ways out, honestly.) Originally from South Sudan, the Portland artist speaks. In his early twenties and performing benefit concerts for the ACLU of Maine, South Sudan Care, Mayo Street Arts youth programs and Action Against Hunger, we're interested in what else he's got to say. He headlines a hip-hop show also featuring Portland artists Mr. LumemoDequhn Lobutua, and the Acholi Traditional Dancers, rescheduled from April 1, when it was wiped out by the last snowstorm of the year. | $15 | 7 p.m. | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland | www.mayostreetarts.org 

SUNDAY 23

 

SLOW CHANGE | The first step to good thinking about today's Slut Walk is not to stress about the name. Say you're a dude. You might think to yourself, Yo, I've been told all my life it's wrong to call women (or anyone) sluts, and yet whaaaaat's this? That's what they're calling themselves? What chicanery! Double-standard much?! How treasonous to basic logic! And so on, unhelpfully. (A lot of dudes, broheims, etc. love to trip up equity-seeking efforts with insignificant little logical and rhetorical arguments.) In reality, words contain definitions that are constantly in flux. They're beholden to irony, social movements, political ideas, skillful rhetoric, etc. The term "slut" is here deployed in a massive, necessary, and frankly well designed rally against the very real ideology of rape culture, the awareness and opposition to which Portland activists have joined many other cities across the continent in solidarity. Some backstory: After a sexual assault case in Toronto in 2011, a police officer said that "women should avoid dressing like sluts" if they want to prevent sexual violence. (The details of the case don't matter.) Toronto responded with a Slut Walk, the original, to demonstrate how shitty and oppressive this sort of thinking is (not to mention how kneejerk and widespread in the minds of American men), especially when it's espoused by a member of law enforcement. Activists in Portland have picked up on the effort, and strides have also reportedly been made to involve black/queer/trans people at the organizational level, making this event intersectional as well as vital.

| noon | Monument Sq., Portland | https://www.facebook.com/events/433327873679485/

 

GET CYC'D | One of the many highlights of the Vernal Equinox is the simple pleasure of deleting the Uber app from your phone. As warm wind fills our city once again, we recall the empowering and graceful act of riding a bicycle, along with the commensurate feelings of leg fitness and the realization that the city is really pretty traversible when it's not studded with ice. (For our friends and neighbors who aren't physically able to use bicycles, we support them and our METRO system to get them where they need to go.) Well, friends! Today brings a crucial step in making these reality your own, as the Bicycle Coalition of Maine hosts its annual Great Maine Bike Swap in the USM Sullivan Gym. If you'll permit me a brief moment of self-reflection, I'll share an anecdote. I purchased a Univega road bike from a nice older man at this event in 2009 for $70, and rode it everywhere throughout the warm months every year since until it was stolen from the hallway of my apartment building this past winter. (Let me know if you have any leads.) Possibly the best purchase I've ever made in Portland. The Bike Swap has road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, recumbents, kids' bikes, and maybe even a tandem or two. Basically, if you can find a machine that hits the sweet spot between functionality, durability, and general unattractiveness (to dissuade bike theft, which is truly the assouls' work), then you'll have struck gold here.

| $5 | 10 am-1 pm | USM Sullivan Recreational and Fitness Complex, 66 Falmouth St., Portland | http://maineswap.com/

 

MONDAY 24

WHAT WAS THE MALE? | One question that's persisted over time (epochs, really) is how to be a man. No one's got it down to a science (and yes, this includes Justin Trudeau, liberals!). But a lot of folks sure are getting an idea of how not to be, and to that we can tip our hats to the morass of negative models in the world, in this era and prior. But the good news is, people are being encouraged to ask openly more than ever. Masculinity Studies programs and academic journals are cropping up at universities all over the world, and an increasing number of outreach programs geared toward youth are doing the same. Maine Boys to Men, an organization that tries to help young men steer their vessels through these murky waters (no small feat these days), co-produces a screening of The Mask You Live In, a documentary about male stereotypes and their intersections with race, class, and circumstance. A terrific "double-ticket" with Sunday's Slut Walk. Co-produced by USM's Women and Gender Studies program, which does incredible work on all sides of this coin. With a post-screening TBA with area folks with solid perspectives on the topic.

| FREE | 6 pm | University of Southern Maine, 96 Falmouth St., Portland | http://www.maineboystomen.org/

 

TUESDAY 25

 

BORN POP | Takes some digging around these days to follow young pop starlets before they break. For example, there haven't been a lot of occasions the work of Joanna "JoJo" Levesque would have seeped into the frame of my cultural consumption without careful effort. But maybe that's what we're doing here. Tonight brings a show from the 26-year-old pop vocalist from Foxborough, Massachusetts, who was discovered after performing on a show called America's Most Talented Kids in 2003 (which I missed — my first mistake). Her music has been used to sell products by HeartSoul Clothing and Clearasil, and raise money for charities benefiting victims of the 2004 Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. And there's also evidence that she's been screwed over by various contracts and obligations to record labels and promotional agents, which has to be a frustrating life indeed. Pop in on this icon of the modern age for a glimpse of how our world really works.

| $22 adv, $25 day of | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | http://www.statetheatreportland.com/

 

WEDNESDAY 26

 

BEST NIGHT | Tonight, of course, is the Annual Best of Portland Award Ceremony for this very paper, the Portland Phoenix, an event that's been anticipated by thousands and a springtime staple since 2000. This year, a crisp 100 categories were vetted and voted across four heaping quadrants: Arts, City Life, Shopping, and Food & Drink. Voting for these things has always been an imperfect science, but as someone who's been involved for seven years, I can attest that this is the only year ballot-stuffing wasn't possible (or encouraged, as in the past its been a systemic quirk too expensive to fix). Will that mean upsets? Come hang at the Portland House of Music during happy hour tonight, where the winners of each category will be revealed, and live music and good food and grub will abound. With live music from Sorcha Cribben-Merrill and the Maine Marimba Ensemble, plus DJs.

| FREE | 8 pm | Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland | https://www.portlandhouseofmusic.com/

 

LIGHTS IN THE DARK | "Arto Lindsay is a genre all his own" is how Chad Clark, singer of the D.C. art-pop band Beauty Pill, described his 64-year-old tour-mate to me on the phone this week. The former New York no-wave art punk (meaning Lindsay) has pushed his way through the muck to find an incredible career as an uncompromising musician. Is that even possible for young people today? We'll see. Lindsay's played with Laurie Anderson, Animal Collective, and Caetano Veloso, and collaborated with artists the likes of Matthew Barney, Rikrit Tiravanija, and Vito Acconci. Plus, he's thrown carnivals in Brazil? (Take notes on this life, I'm trying to say.) He tours up and down the East Coast with his band this spring. But! The only stop along his tour he plays solo is here in Portland, where, Clark assures, his set is both completely singular and incredibly beautiful. Along with the invigorating and brilliant Beauty Pill, steered by NPR contributor and fascinating human Clark (read my interview with him on page TK), this show is not to be missed.

| $18 adv, $22 day of | 8 pm | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland | https://onelongfellowsquare.com/

 

THURSDAY 27

 

LEMON SQUEEZERS | Next Thursday, some of us can look forward to the first of a full season of concerts at Aura and their roster of Live Nation artists. On the 27th, the Zeppelin cover act Get the Led Out show us that the secret sauce in classic rock's most compelling quartet isn't so secret after all. (To be fair, their sauce uses six people to make.)

| $15 | 8 pm | Aura, 121 State St., Portland | http://auramaine.com

Resistance is Hands-On: An Interview with GET READY WEEKLY

One of the more visible and inspired collaborations to emerge after the election, the Portland-based art duo Erin Johnson and Marieke Van Der Steenhoven began collaborating as GET READY WEEKLY with the intention of using art and social practice for advancing racial, social environmental and economic justice for artists and non-artists alike, hosting workshops where participants made protest signs and keeping a public calendar of resistance efforts around city and state.

As we approach Trump’s 100 day mark, they’re still at it and evolving. Still a "platform for and calendar of visual resistance production," GET READY WEEKLY is designed to be participatory, community-driven and -dependent. Their workshops are designed as spaces for the development and synthesis of local resistance thought as much as they are for art production, and they’ve deepened connections with other art and activist coalitions throughout the state.

As artists and thinkers, the two cover a lot of ground — Johnson with her knack for designing work that explores human relationships, connections, and historical narratives using sound, video, and relational practices; and Van Der Steenhoven, a choreographer and educator who works with rare books and archives. (The two also share a connection at Bowdoin College, where Johnson is a visiting Assistant Professor in the Visual Arts department and Van Der Steenhoven works as the education and outreach librarian in the college's George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives.)

With their residency at SPACE Gallery kicked off with an April 10 "Tax March Color Guard" workshop (in preparation of the "Release Your Taxes Rally" in Portland April 15) with the League of Women Doers (LOWD), we asked GET READY WEEKLY about their post-election resistance model, how it jells with Maine's existing network of political artists, and future plans.

 

How would you describe your political activity since the election?

GRW came out of a desire to get together in a collective atmosphere to make images and objects that actively resist Trump’s agenda. Our first gathering, a banner-making workshop a week before the inauguration, was really about bringing people together to make something and banners from that event went to Women’s Marches in Portland, Augusta, Brunswick, and D.C. People have come to our workshops from throughout Maine.

These workshops are open to all, those who identify as artists and those who don’t. And bringing people together to make art seems important, for its political and resistance purpose but also as a way to be together in trying times. Our hope is that over sewing a banner, folks are having conversations that get them involved with an organizing effort that they might not have already known about, learning about all of the things that are going on in Maine and getting tapped in.

 

Are there particular working models of protest art groups elsewhere in the country that you're informed by? 

 

Erin Johnson: When Trump was elected, the first thing that I thought about was ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power). In an article titled "Lessons for Fighting a Demagogue, From the People Who Survived a Plague: How the AIDS movement has given birth to the Trump resistance" (published in Slate in December 2016), Michelle Goldberg states, “ACT UP, however, offers lessons for moving forward in the face of powerlessness, grief, and horror. When ACT UP formed in March 1987, the AIDS epidemic was six years old and had killed 40,000 people, yet President Ronald Reagan hadn’t given a single speech about it .... ACT UP was able to change policy because it was relentless, and at once radical and highly pragmatic. It chose its targets carefully and stayed on them consistently.” The artwork, street theater, and design they employed was essential to their organizing, and their strategies give me a lot of hope.

 

Marieke Van Der Steenhoven: Similarly, ACT UP has always been a powerful protest touchstone for me. In grad school I helped digitize the work of Annette Dragon, a Maine photographer, who was active in the queer community in the '90s. Dragon’s photographs of ACT UP/PORTLAND protests the people and their posters, banners, and props illustrate the vibrant activism that has been happening in our community for a long time.

 

The Beehive Design Collective [in Machias] is another source of inspiration for me in thinking about the ways that creating imagery can actively bring people together and graphics can exist as living, interactive art and protest.

 

Erin Johnson: Currently, Halt Action Group, We Make America, and 100 Days Action have been important touchstones for GET READY WEEKLY’s work. All of these groups get people together to make things and in doing so make tangible and visible opposition or goals, create space for thinking about what they’re arguing for, and provide tools for folks to be with their beliefs in material ways.

 

Marieke Van Der Steenhoven: I’d add to that 350.org and their “artivism” arm. I’m also really excited by the work of the W.I.T.C.H. movement. I love the power of anonymity they use, but also I’m really excited by the performative aspect. And am thrilled that the LOWD color guard has introduced, albeit a bit different in aesthetics, a performative element to our workshops and to protests at large!

 

What criteria do you use in choosing a partnership or alliance?

 

GRW's partners for our residency at SPACE include: ACLU of Maine, Artist Rapid Response TeamPortland Global Shapers Hub, League of Women Doers, Maine Conservation Voters350 MaineMaine Resists!Pickwick Independent PressSuit Up Maine, and we are always looking for more!

 

We view this residency as an opportunity to bring a myriad of people and organizations together in one physical place. We’ve reached out to a wide variety of activist organizations in the Greater Portland area, inviting them to partner with us in whatever capacity makes the most sense for them. 

Our partnerships are based on conversations we’ve had with people, both face-to-face and virtually, and have been evolving continually! Much as we’re using the gallery at SPACE to begin to build a living archive (something that expands and contracts, something that isn’t static), we’re very much hoping to grow our partnerships. We conceive of GRW as a platform for coalition building and we really want to help amplify the voices that are already out there making noise!

 

It was particularly important for us to work with ARRT! because we admire their long legacy of arts activism and the impact they have had on Maine’s art ecology.

 

How interested are you in aesthetics or styles of protest art? Does that interest show up in the workshops you're hosting?

 

We’re definitely interested in the history of protest art and how people who have led workshops as part of GET READY WEEKLY are looking to the past to create for the future. For example, [Portland] artist Christopher Patch has been organizing puppet-making workshops in preparation for two upcoming marches and has been looking at Bread and Puppet, the historic “parade of horribles,” and more. Throughout the workshops, we’re looking to the aesthetics of contemporary political engagement of Tahrir Square, Occupy Oakland, and Reclaim UC.

What are the long-term goals of GRW?

GRW was never intended to last past the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. We will continue the connections and coalitions that have been built through this process in future arts and activism work!

GET READY WEEKLY residency | Through May 1 | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | Workshop times April 17, April 24, & May 1 5:30-7 p.m. | https://getreadyweekly.wordpress.com/

 

 

  • Published in Art

UNLOADED: The ICA Group Show Hits a Difficult Mark

In the U.S., there are 86 gun deaths a day. So visitors to the Maine College of Art's ICA are informed at the outset of UNLOADED, a traveling exhibition of works from national artists on the theme of guns in America. Guest-curated by Susanne Slavick, an artist, curator, and professor at Carnegie Mellon, the show consists of 26 artists (including a piece by a six-woman collective) across a spectrum of media and concepts illustrating America's complicated obsession with firearms.

We get photography from the Heartlands (Nina Berman), cuddly pillow versions of firearm forms (Natalie Baxter), and weird phallic movie gifs in a show that covers a good amount of terrain both geographic and philosophical. And though its well anchored in Slavick's broad research into gun deaths in all the corners of America, the show manages to have some fun without going fully didactic or clamping down on an ideological position.

Yes, the art is here is critical, and the artists have clearly taken a position. But nothing would illustrate the cultural divide between Americas than a high-concept gallery art show that explicitly shames gun owners, so most artists wisely work accessibly.

Duesing dog05

James Duesing - Dog, 2014; HD video loop derived from a GIF. 

Not all gun owners, for example, are big fans of nuance. And so James Duesing's Dog, an animated gif of a grinning, crudely drawn hot dog-shaped figure endlessly spinning a phallic gun between its legs, gets the job done there. Slightly more clever are Baxter's pillows, looking like large, droopy Fraggles mounted on the wall. But equally simple is Renee Stout's "Baby's First Gun" (1998), a diminutive firearm assemblage in a tiny ornate box of soft, feminine tones. Likewise the very effective "A City Without Guns," Jennifer Nagle Myers's collection of found wooden sticks with angles naturally resembling the shape of firearms, which beautifully (and with barely a hint of ideology) reminds us how easily kids stumble upon gun fantasies in their youth.

 

Stout Babys First Gun

Renee Stout - Baby’s First Gun, 1998; mixed Media; 2.5 x 6 x 4.75 inches closed, 1.75 x 6 x 9.75 inches open.

For dealing in such heavy and politicized matter, the show handles humor well. Dadpranks is a collective of six women whose primary medium is a shared Tumblr blog called Echinacea Plus, Cold Defense. Their inclusion here, a photo of a custom-made Cabela's coffee mug with its handle a replicate of a pistol's grip, is one of the show's most brilliant and effective pieces. As told to us by Dadpranks (Lauren Goshinski, Kate Hansen, Isla Hansen, Elina Malkin, Nina Sarnelle, and Laura A. Warman), "living in a home with guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170 percent and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460 percent." As they work in the realm of everyday objects and the nostalgic, traditionally unchallenged domain they inhabit, the Dadpranks version of a forest green Cabela's mug – itself an object that conjures masculinity – would seem like a gun rights advocate's ideal holiday gift. At least until, the artists point out, the realization that the gesture of lifting it to one's lips to sip from it is the same gesture required to hold a revolver to one's own cheek. 

Chin Cross for the Unforgiven SPACE 

Mel Chin - Cross for the Unforgiven: 10th Anniversary Multiple, 2012; 1 of 2; AK-47 assault rifles (cut and welded); 54 x 54 x 3 inches 

Mel Chin's harrowing "Cross for the Unforgiven" is a symbol of eight AK-47s assault rifles welded into a large symmetrical form, which the Houston-raised artist sees as a symbol akin to a Maltese Cross. Their barrels joined together in perfect right angles, Chin notes that his treatment of the guns have rendered them inoperable, lending a quiet, gravelike solemnity to the otherwise foreboding piece. And Pittsburgh's Devan Shimoyama's entry (titled "You will have to sing. Paper won't hold the wound I leave," oil, glitter, and colored pencil on canvas) is richly affecting, a hybrid narrative/portrait painting the artist describes as a response "to the vulnerability of black male bodies: specifically, his own and those of Eric Garner and Michael Brown."

Some works are purely documentarian. In her entries, Pittsburgh-based artist Vanessa German shines some light on Love Front Porch, a model art effort she's taken up at her abode in Homewood, Pennsylvania, a neighborhood recently described on the Rachel Maddow Show as "one of America's most violent neighborhoods." German's images, including the mixed-media sculpture "Unwhipped," render into form both the culture of survival and the makerspace she and others keep as one of the art-based safe havens in her neighborhood. In a different America, Nina Berman's Homeland series documents how gun ownership is woven into the cultural fabric of white rural neighborhoods at the earliest youth. Her image Human Target Practice, All America Day, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA (2006) finds a uniform-clad Marine crouching to help a pre-adolescent boy hoist an assault rifle, with onlookers in the distance. Context aside, the moment Berman captures between the two is tender, familial and intimate. Another shot, from the Come and Take It Rally at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas (from 2013), Berman finds gun rights advocates in full cosplay, decked in masks, flags, and Captain America leotards with gaudy semiautomatics draped over their torsos.

Other works struggle to convey their idea within the gallery setting. Don Porcella's "Guns," a set of colored pipe cleaners formed into a shape and packaged into a child-ready baggie like candy, is clever but forgettable. Joshua Bienko's hyper-referential mash-up nods at Picasso's Guernica, an advertisement for the 2010 rom-com action film Killers starring Ashton Kutcher, and the foppish German art dealer David Zwirner, but doesn't yield much beyond an insider's wink.

This show won't convert many folks – though it is interesting to wonder how many fine art gallery-going NRA supporters hang out in Portland these days. But it's a fine use of the space and a return to the bold, daring exhibitions that make the ICA space one of the most challenging spaces to see art in Portland.

"UNLOADED," mixed media group exhibition | Through April 14 | Reception April 7 5-8 pm | ICA at MECA, 522 Congress St., Portland | www.meca.edu

  • Published in Art

8 Days A Week: Hot Religious Fetishes, Hot Dog Parties, and Hot Drag Shows

THURSDAY 6

 

TWINKLIN' | Were this 1992, the multi-instrumentalist Ahmad Hassan Muhammad would be pumping out records on Nonesuch or ESP-Disk or some other independent jazz label of mighty caliber, but in the oversaturated music landscape of 2017, the Bowdoin graduate and upper echelon Portland musician showcases his incredible fusion compositions at spots like Blue. Lucky us. Under the name Kafari, the jazz pianist and member of hip-hop fusion group Jaw Gems plays with tenor saxophonist and drummer Henry Redman tonight. If you haven't figured it out by now, all genre-based musical tastes will evolve toward jazz anyway (along with classical music, house music, Rihanna and Drake). May as well figure it out. The duo play at 9 pm, preceded by a set by local intergenerational Klezmer quintet the Casco Bay Tummlers| one-drink-minimum | 7 p.m. | Blue, 650A Congress St., Portland | http://portcityblue.com/ |

 

GERMAN JAZZ BLAST | Elsewhere jazzwise, the German team known as the Alliage Quintet -- four saxophones and a piano -- are a fine pull for those looking for an adventurous night on the Maine coast. Their "Dancing Paris" themed set includes works from Poulenc, Gershwin, Shostakovich, Satie, and more, and they swing through the lovely Boothbay Harbor Opera House tonight.| $22 adv, $27 day of | 7:30 p.m. | Boothbay Harbor Opera House, 86 Townsend Ave., Boothbay Harbor | http://boothbayoperahouse.com/ |

 

FRIDAY 7

INNER LIMITS | You may be running out of time to claim ignorance about the composer Robert Stillman. A Maine-born dude now living in the United Kingdom, Stillman's music has traveled from a wistful, flickering sort of post-Fahey archaic future Americana-folk to a mournful, ecstatic type of parlor jazz, to be heard on last year's gorgeous and resplendent Rainbow, a touching and tender album that invokes Alice Coltrane as part of Stillman's process of memorializing the loss of his daughter, Ruthie. Tonight, he plays saxophone as part of a one-time-only improvisational quartet, also featuring Eliot Krimsky of the electro-pop act Glass Ghost and the Brattleboro-based brothers Kurt and Chris Weisman. Emergent, bathe-able music forms with much wider appeal than genre-Orthodox folks might imagine. With Maine's foremost oud practitioner Tom Kovacevic opening up. | FREE | 9 p.m. | SPACE Gallery, 538 Alder St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/ |

 

STAND ON YOUR PALMS | To a friend earlier this week, I remarked aloud that Studio 408 was "killing it lately." After a moment's embarrassment at using such a 2011 phrase, I reflected internally on run that the South Portland dance studio has had since opening in August of last year. They run exploratory dance classes for kids and adults, contact improv-y sessions for more adventurous folks, and a fairly-steady calendar of guest artists and performers, from the musique concrete artist id m theft able, performance artist Chani Bockwinkel, Portland trio Hi Tiger, and more. Tonight, they host the performer Mersiha Mesihovic, a New York City-based professional dancer who escaped the Bosnian War for Sweden in the 1990s. Mesihovic performs with her work-in-progress piece, which she's titled BOSNIANBORN *SHE IS A REFUGEE STAR* - which, she writes, explores notions "of identity, the diasporic experience, and the struggle for self-determination" in the immigrant experience within America today. Recommended. | By donation | 8 p.m. | Studio 408, 408 Broadway, South Portland | http://www.studio408portland.com/|

 

LIKE TWO FLAMINGOES IN A FRUIT FIGHT | Do you love Tandem's biscuits and breakfast sandwiches and cookies enough to trust how they'd handle a hot dog? You don't even need to answer, my fine dude! One giant yes wafts through the West End air tonight as chief baker Briana Holt and co. kick off Hot Dog Night, a party with Hawaiian dogs, spicy cauliflower salad, beer cocktails, banana pudding, and more. To stamp it with additional weirdness, they screen a classic baseball game on a large projector screen, rumored to be heavy on Cuban pitcher and Red Sox Hall of Famer Luis Tiant.| FREE | 6-9 p.m. | Tandem Coffee + Bakery, 742 Congress St., Portland |

 

IT GOES HEY-HO | Hailing from Western Maine having met at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, the group GoldenOak have positioned themselves as rising actors in the roots revival folk scene. Young and chill, the quartet play fiddle, guitar, banjo, bass, accordion, and the occasional trumpet. They play with Norway's folk revival act Bold Riley. Stompy! | $15 adv, $20 day of | 8 p.m. | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland | www.onelongfellowsquare.com |

 

 

SATURDAY 8

 

SPRING STREET IS BURNING | 17 years strong, the institution the USM Royal Majesty Drag Show is still gaining — in support, in joy, in expressiveness, and in defiance of oppressive and boring-ass patriarchal norms. The largest community drag show returns this weekend, and you should join the party, however you are.| $10, $5 | 7:30 p.m. | Holiday Inn By the Bay, 88 Spring St., Portland | http://usm.maine.edu/diversity/usmdragshowentryform |

 

SUNDAY 9

 

GOOD LOOKING OUT | You could spend this morning dropping $22 on a glamorized, full-service plate of eggs-and-items at your local brunch spot, or you could learn how to more ably and responsibly participate in direct political action. The activist groups SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and Portland CONFRONT join forces today, opening the toolbox and hammering out the principles of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience in this "intro" workshop. If you're really up for it, you could brunch before you attend, but maybe skip the mimosa. | FREE | 2-5 p.m. | Intercultural Community Center, 36 Patrick Dr., Westbrook |

 

MONDAY 10

 

FOR THE LIVING | Brooklyn's Bassoon, a sludge-metal group featuring members of the complicated Atlanta-based noise trio Harvey Milk, come caroming through Portland tonight -- at Geno's, of course -- where they meet up with our own eminent post-rock doom unit All Night, comprised of current and former members of Ocean, Cushing, Lynx and North Atlantic. Locals Lousy open this Monday night showcase of matured compositional metal, patient and measured but nonetheless ecstatically loud. | $7 | 8 p.m. | Geno's Rock Club, 625 Congress St., Portland |

 

SLIP INTO SOMETHING | Early April is a time of the year marked for its awareness of bodies. You may discover increased flexibility in your shoulder girdle, for example, or discover a mole on your thigh, heretofore flat, has suddenly gone convex. If these seem like pedestrian pleasures, you might benefit from seeing local troupe Voules-Vouz Burlesque explore themes of "religious naughtiness" in their progressive burlesque and cabaret show "The Original Sin" tonight at the Portland House of Music. (If you can't make it, or want a double-dose of them, head to Liquid Riot Thursday, where they do up a variety show called "The Spice of Life.") | $10, $12 day of | 8 p.m. | Portland House of Music and Events St., 25 Temple St., Portland | www.portlandhouseofmusic.com |

 

 

TUESDAY 10

RALLY ROUND | In Governor LePage's emboldened quest to squelch as much state support and privatize as many government functions as possible, his most recent budget included $65m in cuts to state anti-poverty programs, including affordable housing programs. Citing homeless shelters like Preble Street at or near capacity, the Portland advocacy group Homeless Voices for Justice plan a rally at the State House in Augusta today. | Noon | Maine State House, 210 State St., Augusta |

 

ONE WOMAN'S WORK | It was a full, full life lived by Maya Angelou, the author, poet and civil rights activist whose biopic screens at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, this week. Through HBO-style interviews and old footage, directors Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules stitch together the full range of people that Angelou became, covering her process as a writer, her recovery from childhood trauma and abuse, and her work as a fry cook, sex worker, actor, director, and journalist. Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise screens four times in the arbitrary weeklong spread we cover in this section, including tonight. | $11, $9 seniors | 7 p.m. | The Music Hall, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth, NH | http://www.themusichall.org |

 

WEDNESDAY 12

LEAVE IT TO NAT GEO | It's no less a source than Katie Couric behind Gender Revolution, an odd and, as some have argued, problematically mainstream documentary about the movement for rights, justice, and visibility for gender non-conforming, transgender, intersex, and non-binary folks in America. In a film screening produced by USM's Women and Gender Studies program, continuing their fantastic work in LGBTQ advocacy, the film centers around the nationally recognized story of transgender Virginia teen Gavin Grimm, whose case against the Gloucester County School Board over his bathroom use has reached the Supreme Court. Over the course of a documentary intended to raise awareness, empathy, and understanding about an intensely marginalized and at-risk group, transgender teens, this National Geographic-produced film suffers some from its approach, clearly directed at a straight cis audience in a way that might register anywhere from clunky to downright offensive to those who identify differently. On a related note, Couric herself was castigated after a 2014 interview with transgender model Carmen Carrera and actress Laverne Cox, during which awkwardlyrdly focused her line of inquiry on surgery and genitalia and was publicly called out (or in, perhaps) by Cox. (Couric has since apologized.) Seen another way, there's a ton of people out there who lack the vocabulary on this issue who now have an opportunity to learn from watching Couric grapple with (and be held accountable for) this stuff publicly, and it's hard to argue that that sets the movement backward. With a post-film discussion by a panel, the names of whom are TBA at press time. | FREE | 6 p.m. | University of Southern Maine, Luther Bonney Hall, Portland |

THURSDAY 13

EVOLVED AGGRESSION | One of next week's major splashes is the record-release show from Falls of Rauros, one of Maine's best-kept secrets and a hidden gem in the national black metal scene. Expect a review in these pages of Vigilence Perennial, their gorgeously atmospheric and fierce fourth album, and attend their show (they rarely make appearances) at SPACE Gallery tonight. They're joined by the doom-folk collective Ada, black metal act (and Falls' drummer side project) Obsidian Tongue, and Forêt Endormie| 8:30 p.m. | $8 adv, $10 day of | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | www.space538.org |

8 Days A Week: Drone Artists, Anti-Trump Roadshows, and Donnie Darko

THURSDAY 30

THIS CHARMING MAN | When I was an undergrad student in New York and performing stand-up comedy, I had a mediocre joke near the top of my routine about the weird names people call their grandparents. It wasn't the world's best joke, but it got the ball rolling, because for the punchline I'd bellow the words mamou and papou at the audience in various tongues, and it loosened everyone up. Now get this! While this week researching Sebastian Maniscalco, the far-more-successful-than-me Italian-American comedian playing the Merrill Auditorium tonight, I watched a clip of him performing the exact same joke. Of course, he plays the ending differently, because his rubbery, muscular body is more adept at physical comedy than the doughy, sleep-deprived 22-year-old unit I was operating at the time. But the experience was nonetheless uncanny. Of course, I never had anything funny to say about Chipotle, Prince, or foibles in American airports, and that's why it's Maniscalco playing the Merrill tonight. The dude's a pop comic who likes to play low, but he's lively and energetic, and his story (he was a former waiter at a comedy club in a hotel) is a good one. | $49.75-69.75 | 7 p.m. | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland | http://www.porttix.com |

 

OBJECT CARE | The window of time known as spring cleaning is coming near, and that is a blessing (disguised, on occasion, as an irritation). But before you celebrate, tossing half of your possessions into the cold memorylessness of the highway, you might pop into the Resilience Hub tonight. The Bayside permaculture group hosts an experimental hangout tonight they're calling the "Spring Repair Cafe," where folks help repair their neighbors damaged goods, possibly swapping out some here and there. Along with the Maine Tool Library, the event encourages folks to bring in broken and dull tools, frayed electrical cords, hole-y sweaters, and more. | FREE | 6 p.m. | Resilience Hub, 222 Anderson St., Portland | resiliencehub.org |

 

FRIDAY 31

REMOUNT | A few months ago, the Portland pop group Leverett added an extra T at the end of their name. A minor move in the grand scheme of things (the group, led by Jesse Gertz, have been at it since their sparkling little EP, Beak, in 2013), but it seemed to indicate a grand re-opening of the band, who plan to release a new album, Wires & Tubes, later this summer. See if those songs shine for you while vibing along to gems still aglow from their first two albums, Infinity and Action at a Distance, tonight at Bayside Bowl, where they play with Million Dollar Lounge and Midwestern Medicine, the latter featuring members of Whale Oil. | FREE | 9 p.m. | Bayside Bowl, 58 Alder St., Portland | www.baysidebowl.com |

 

SATURDAY 1

BASIC DEMOCRACY | Gotta rise up for this one. At 10 am this morning, a protest converges on Portland's City Hall in opposition to Trump's selection of Neil Gorsuch. Framed as a "People's Filibuster" of a Supreme Court appointment that, if you believe in anything resembling democracy, should have been Merrick Garland's. | FREE | 10 a.m. | Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St., Portland |

 

KEEP MOVING | Since the painter, singer, and performance artist Derek Jackson founded Hi Tiger years ago, the group has functioned nimbly. Sometimes they're a street performance group, sometimes a beautiful dance-pop band. Their presence can herald a hot house party or a fiercely political display, making the energies of desire and love visible within frames that seldom permit them. Tonight, we don't know how they're going to show up, but the present iteration - with Jackson's voice and lyrics anchoring catwalk-style physicality from dancers Nicole Antonette and Amandaconda. They finish up a residency at Studio 408, which hosts improvisational dance and other kinetic arts, and should be in top form for it. With DJs Lima and Innox.| $5 | 8 p.m. | Studio 408, 408 Broadway, South Portland | www.studio408portland.com |

 

FALLING FORWARD | "Rapping is the only way out," speaks AFRiCAN DUNDADA, the Portland artist originally from South Sudan, in his new track "Hold Me Down." In his early twenties, and performing benefit concerts for the ACLU of Maine, South Sudan Care, Mayo Street Arts youth programs and Action Against Hunger, we're interested in what else he's got to say. He headlines a hip-hop show also featuring Portland artists Mr. Lumemo, Dequhn Lobutua, and the Acholi Traditional Dancers. Recommended. | $15 | 7 p.m. | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland | www.mayostreetarts.org |

 

MONDAY 3

DRONE RIGHTS | Drone artist Ben Chasny has kept his guitar project Six Organs of Admittance alive for nearly 20 years, coursing through wistful acoustic folk, disarming noise-squall, and psyched out comet trails. His new album, a comparatively gentler affair titled Burning the Threshold, expands further on the Hexadic system, Chasny's originally constructed methodology of guitar composition. He plays with the central Maine artist Asa Irons, whose woodsy folk songs have enough heft to haunt you for years. | $10-12 | 8 p.m. | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org |

 

WEDNESDAY 5

 

BIG QUESTIONS | A few weeks ago, this paper featured the first in a series of dialogues about the role of police in the city. Titled "Policing, Protection, Community, and Trust in the 21st Century." At the first session, a panel tackled the question of what makes a criminal, which in this era of a widening and increasingly privatized carceral state, is a thorny question indeed. Tonight, they ask "What Makes a Police Officer?", focusing on what citizens want from their police force, and inquiring about the steps and accountability measures that secure their training. Produced by the Maine Humanities Council and facilitated by Samaa Abdurraqib from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, tonight's panel includes Sarah Walton, Executive Director of PE+ACE (Police Education & Active Civic Engagement) and Jamie Rooney, former Maine Assistant Attorney General and co-author of the Maine Law Enforcement Officer's Manual. Hopefully a member of the PPD will show up this time. | FREE | 6:30-8 p.m. | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | www.space538.org |

 

THE RIGHT THINGS | Some mornings this past winter, it's been difficult not to stay under the covers submerged in dread, slapping that snoozer five or six times and browsing Facebook/Insties on the phone until the eyes feel like quahogs. It's unavoidable! But perhaps today's the day to commit to that morning walk instead. Then at night, you'll be psychically prepared to attend the #Earth2Trump Roadshow of Resistance at the State Theatre. Because frankly, there's no better place to be. A roster of electrifying performances and speakers headline this roving protest, including Lakota elder Cheryl Angel, hip-hop artist Lyla June, and more. No matter what color your activism's been glowing lately, there'll be plenty of opportunities to shine it here, where there'll be letter-writing stations, buying prints supporting the Lakota Peoples Law Act, listening to activists strategize the #NODAPL fight, or, you know, just showing up where you can and leaving the social media war alone. | FREE | 7-9:30 p.m. | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | www.statetheatreportland.com |

 

THURSDAY 6

CULT FILMS | Next week, a screening of the cult film Donnie Darko marks the re-opening of SPACE Gallery, which has gone dark for spring cleaning the last few weeks. The debut film by then-26-year-old Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko's weird sci-fi vibe and light nostalgic sorcery struck deep chords with disaffected young viewers in the early Bush era, introducing the citizens of the world to Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, reminding them of the brilliance of Drew Barrymore, and stretching their appreciation for Patrick Swayze. If you missed it in the theaters when it first came out, during the weeks after 9/11, you can make up for that here.  | 7:30 p.m. | Nickelodeon Cinemas, 1 Temple St., Portland | patriotcinemas.com |

High & Inside: An Improbable Baseball Chat — Opening Day Edition

With major league baseball's opening day approaching this weekend and the Red Sox appearing once again like the team to beat (which surely they will be), we talked with Portland baseball guru and rogue hurler Brendan Evans about Sox nostalgia and the club's true chances.

Nick Schroeder: So, Brendan, who are the first three Sox to get cut/flub out of their jobs?

Brendan Evans: Carlos Quentin, Blake Swihart, David Price.

Seems hard to believe a team wouldn't give up a #4 starter for a steamy package of a frankensteined Quentin and worst-contract-of-all-time Rusney Castillo.

How much of Rusney's contract would the Sox have to eat though?

For Rusney alone, the Sox would have to take on at least $45m of dead Roc Nation assets. Or John Henry himself would have to make beats for three Jay-Z tracks and a Fat Joe single. I'd say the Sox are in a good position this year. But the reality is that May 1 will arrive and Joe Kelly will be the closer, Kyle Kendrick is the #4 starter, and a man named Steve Selsky will be playing third base.

I did draft Selsky in a fantasy league. Just in case they need Brock Holt at first because of Hanley's "shoulder issue." Maybe the second round was a bit high, but Selsky can rake. Man, Kyle Kendrick ... you think a Kendrick/Buchholz trade is out of the question? Has that ship sailed?

I take comfort that we won the prospect wars against the Yankees and Phil Hughes, I don't think anyone will miss Buchholz, no.

On the plus side, your 2017 AL MVP Sandy León had two home runs in one inning today. I think that's sustainable. What would León's BABIP need to be at the All-Star break before you see a teenager walking around the Maine Mall in a León jersey? .600?

There's a non-zero chance Sandy León is a missing Molina brother. But even Jose Molina and his .233 career batting average learned to lay off that low and inside curve.

Yeah, once the league realizes León can't hit a curveball the Sox are screwed. Maybe we should keep that out of the paper.

If Swihart had the yips this spring, and Kimbrel and his 6+ walks-per-nine will officially be diagnosed with the yips by June, who's next?

Hmm. Can a DH get the yips?

What's the everyman version of the yips?

I always get toothpaste on the top of the faucet. 37 years of irregularly brushing my teeth and I should be able to spit straight by now. But really, if you have the yips and no one notices, is it really the yips?

The important question is who's going to win the coveted Mayor's Cup, the trophy awarded to the winningest team in that greatest rivalry in sports — Red Sox/Twins spring training matchups. As of this moment, the Sox are 3-2 against the Twins and 1-0 against team USA, who obviously suck.

Yes, of course. Honoring the long history of MLB "mayors," defined as men who played for both the Boston and Minnesota. Viola's Cup; Mientkiewicz's Cup; Pat Mahomes's Cup...

Yeah! Jeff Reardon's Cup! His is a tragic tale, he was fought robbing a bank because the teller recognized him. Moral of the story: don't rob banks if you're the most famous person in town. Tom Brunansky, too, was a bicoastal star.

Didn't Gaetti sign a minor league contract with the Sox in the '90s before realizing he was no Tim Naehring and retiring?

Why can't we just turn back the clock to those halcyon days of early ’90s baseball, when I had the back of every player's Upper Deck card memorized. Earlier today, while looking at the rankings of the 1,357 players who could make a MLB roster, only got as far as number 32 before I'd never heard of a guy: Seung Hwan Oh, relief pitcher for the Cardinals. It's kind of like the first time I didn't recognize the star and the musical guest on SNL (probably 2006 or so...) Out of touch.

Oh, you don't know Oh?

No! If it happens in Saint Louis I do my best to ignore it completely. 

Did you ever read Faithful by Stephen King? I believe he refers to Albert Pujols as a "mysterious bat-wielding wizard who's rumored to play baseball in Missouri."

Yeah, that's off-base.

The WBC was something, huh? How is it that team Netherlands could put together an infield with Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, Didi Gregorius and Xander Bogaerts all jockeying for shortstop, but the best outfielder they could dredge up was Kalian Sams, 30-year-old journeyman from the Quebec Capitales of the Can-Am league? What's up with the Dutch?

That's an unexplored question! Is Andruw Jones a Hall of Famer in your book?

If I liked the Braves more he would be. He was basically Ken Griffey Jr. but twice as good and one one-millionth as famous. Plus I'm pretty sure he also had back-to-back jacks with his dad, Chipper Jones, but no one talks about that.

If Black Flag were a baseball team, who are you pitching on opening day? You're giving the ball to Dez, right? I know you are!

Kira's the nimble catcher. Chuck Dukowski is basically Knoblauch. Keith Morris is the free-swinging center fielder. Chuck Biscuits is a #2 lefty, a Bruce Hurst type. Bill Stevenson is a switch-hitting high OBP third baseman. Henry is obviously Canseco. And yeah, Dez is the ace of the worst team in the league. The Wily Peralta.

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, at least that's what my horoscope said. 


You're right, no one up here remembers those amazing Braves teams. And I thought it was regional, except Andruw played out his career as a bit player on the Yanks like a poor man's Ruben Sierra. Except whoops, the dude was Trout-level good for five years.

You mean the glove-of-Jim-Edmonds-and-the-bat-of-Jose-Canseco-level good.
Trout level good can't really be applied to anyone at this point.

Okay, let's wrap this. Who's your 2017 Sox MVP, and what date's the last meaningful game?

Well, 'Mr. East-Coast Trout' Mookie Betts is my Sox MVP and baseball's #1 two-sport star. And the Orioles superstar Robert Andino once again sinks the Sox with a walk off single against newly re-acquired Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning of game 162, as those who forget history are condemned to always order the wrong thing at Pom's instead of just sticking to the drunken noodles. If that doesn't happen, Sox in six.

Brendan Evans is the owner of Strange Maine.

  • Published in Sports

Foam Castles' Dark and Fluttery 'Bird Death'

Over the decade since Tyler Jackson began writing and recording as Foam Castles, his weird-ass songs and structures have evolved into something definitively his.

Of course, the 10 songs and 29 minutes of Bird Death, Jackson’s eighth full-length album, have a lineage too. A Bob Pollard vibe is inarguable; thinner traces of Robyn Hitchcock show up. Portland’s sadly dead Metal Feathers made a dent. This album’s “Inside After the Gold Rush” betrays less Neil Young gratitude than an interest in obscure, inter-referential humor — but y’know, sure. Him too. All of it.

But the most interesting element remains form and structure, not timbre or genre. As far as I can tell, Foam Castles is a meaningless term, some nice sounds strung together. There’s a sort of beachy connotation — and that’s sonically accurate — but they mean little in the world beyond the connection formed within Jackson’s brain, like two alien nodes forcibly tethered against a vast cognitive current.

This is how Jackson writes songs. Lyrics, guitar lines, structures, and harmonies are bound to one another like contorted limbs, bent to angles that make sense to the dude alone. “Infinity Episode” aborts an opening verse about “tea and whiskey” before colliding with an anxiously chill chorus of la-la-las.

As a result, Foam Castles songs offer sweet moments in songs the listener is never sure will return. Album standouts “Lyra” and “Days of Stone” offer the least guarded highs, the latter featuring the most revisitable hook on the album, but they’re still oddly assembled tracks. “The Water Moccasin Dies/Horse Divorce” are two decent ideas smooshed together for no reason, as if there’s no reason for anything.  “Rhododendrons” opens all pay-attention-to-me, its shimmering guitar and straight-shot vocals seeming to promise a hit single. But it never lifts us any higher, and when the guitar solo hits at 1:15, carrying us to the end of the song, it somehow feels like a letdown. I don’t think this is any sort of failure on Jackson’s part. I think it’s true-to-life. Doubtful he thinks of it in the same terms, but he’s been squiring awesome song parts down dark alleys and into strange beds for years now. It’s part of the glory, it’s how he writes. 

music foamcastles

Stringing these ideas together, sometimes against their own will or logic, would seem to have its own reward. While they don’t always make the most immediately listenable pop songs, Jackson’s music seems resolutely honest in a way most artists spend their lives trying to find. His songs feel like they’re almost literally making meaning from scratch, sculpting discrete fragments, memories, and feelings into odd but memorable forms. If nothing else, the dude will probably stave off Alzheimer’s awhile. On the other hand, it’s also I suppose a thoroughly postmodern style of writing, with all the obscurity, loneliness, mystery, sexiness, and meaninglessness that entails.

If this style wasn’t a conscious formula before, it’s certainly become that now. As a songwriter, Jackson plays again and again with the unfinished narrative, tweaking it, aborting it, running out on it, introducing it to another idea equally beautiful. But I don’t think that’s a cleverness; that’s how the world is, I think Jackson sees, and I think I agree with him. I think he’s just reporting it.

After 10 years, Jackson plans to park the Foam Castles vehicle for awhile and focus on other projects and styles. Bird Death, pleasant and lovely as it is, does seem to carry that weight.

“Rock for Devine,” medical benefit with Foam Castles + An Anderson + Johnny Cremains + North Atlantic | March 25, 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | portlandempire.com 

The New Sound of Portland? Prism Analog opens Vintage Recording Studio in Bayside

American life is contradictory. It’s cheaper to consume music more than any time in history, and technology has given listeners access to a truly limitless amount of recordings. Yet vinyl record sales have increased for the ninth consecutive year. It’s as if — just spitballing here — something about the mass digitization and availability of cultural commodities leaves some people with a diminished sense of meaning and connection.


According to Nick Johnson, the engineer set to launch Portland’s first non-profit studio devoted to analog recording in lower East Bayside, it’s all about getting back to tangible, authentic living.
In a landscape bursting with cultural phenomena and distraction — plus the inescapable presence of the Internet — Johnson believes the return to analog is in lockstep with slow-process trends in the food world and elsewhere. He points to the surge of local brew and coffee, plentiful resources in East Bayside, which upstart breweries Rising Tide, Lone Pine and Urban Farm Fermentory call home and which coffee shops Tandem and Coffee By Design roast their beans.


“I very much want to transport people back to a different way of doing things,” says Johnson, the 42-year-old recording engineer at the center of Prism Analog. “Just as much as a different sound.”
Prism Analog is set to begin production this spring, at a facility Johnson and friends have been building within Zero Station, the art gallery and framing studio in the neighborhood. At Prism, artists record directly to tape, a sound and process many find warmer, richer, and more resonant than digital recording, for artist and listener both. Using a range of vintage recording devices (and their own equipment), musicians record straight to tape in a single take, a process intended to get closer to a band’s authentic sound.

feat PrismAnalogfounderNickJohnson PhotobyWayneTreadwell

 

Photo by Wayne Treadwell. 


Johnson moved to Portland from New York City in 2007. As he tells The Phoenix, some of his favorite records are recorded in analog, and the difference is easily recognizable. He cites “Coming Home” by Leon Bridges, Daptone recording artists like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, “My World” by Lee Fields. “But really, every album before the mid-’90s was [recorded] to tape, so there are so many.”
The aim is for Prism to be truly rooted in community, an intention Johnson hopes to reflect in the grand opening fundraising party and open mic on Saturday, March 25, at nearby Urban Farm Fermentory. Johnson believes Prism’s foundational connection to Zero Station, a trusted bunker for off-kilter art events, will help advance the goal. He’s received plenty of community help — over 30 musicians, he says — since the end of 2016, volunteering time and resources to build and install the massive and antique recording equipment studio inside Zero Station.


“I believe in Nick and his studio,” says local musician Will Wysowski. “And after helping him build it, I feel like a part of it.”


Wysowski met Johnson a few years back when he purchased a turntable from him. “He showed me his speaker setup, including some electronic components that he had personally worked on, and I was very impressed with his knowledge. The process of analog recording will be new to me. I like analog because of the warmth of tone. Most of my favorite music was recorded in this style, and I’m certainly wanting my influences to be heard in my recordings.”


Prism Analog and Zero Station are natural fits. Johnson established a working relationship with Keith Fitzgerald, who took out a lease on the lower East Bayside space in 2002, when he moved to town 10 years ago. (“I’m his Mac guy,” Johnson says.) And the spacious room fits the precise environmental needs for Johnson’s operation. “It’s a natural live room with great reverb and a good feeling to it,” he says.
One of the oldest tenants to lease space in the area, Fitzgerald is ambivalent about the narratives Bayside’s storied “resurgence,” seeming to acknowledge that efforts like Prism are often seen as complicit in the gentrification of cities. He sees it as yet another example of age-old urban renewal tied to the whims of the so-called creative economy. “We all know the formula,” he told The Phoenix. “The artists come in, fix up a place that’s decrepit, and then everyone else follows and the rents go up.”


“The area resides exactly at sea level,” says Fitzgerald. “That’s where everything collects. We are literally on the site where everything toxic was dumped.”


But despite encouraging cultural signs and plenty of help from the community, Johnson’s ambitious undertaking represents a risk.


Prism was funded in part by a fortuitous discovery at Johnson’s old apartment at Deering Center, where he unearthed a trove of vintage beer cans underneath the floor, a bundle he sold for $15k in start-up funds. According to Johnson, Prism’s tape machine took up half of that money. Enlisting a similarly analog-obsessed friend, he flew to Los Angeles to pick it up. The unit weighed about 900 pounds. They rented a minivan and drove it back across the country, an anxious task considering the delicate condition of the machine. When they returned home, Johnson soon discovered a certain part wasn’t working, so he shipped it to a specialist in Boston, where it sat for a few weeks before being sent back to Los Angeles where the piece was finally repaired — for $700.


“I’ve sacrificed a lot of time and mental bandwidth, as well as the opportunity cost of a $15,000 investment into something profitable,” he says.


Johnson operated a recording studio at the college he worked in the 1990s in Minnesota, which is where he first developed a love for tape. Over time, he developed a knack for repairing vintage electronic recording equipment (he also refurbished PixelVision cameras for clients around the world).


But while he expects to turn Prism into a fully functional Portland business and employ a set of engineers, Johnson’s ultimate goal is to build community.


“For the 60-year-old Army electrical engineer who helps [me] out evenings, for the 13-year-old Vermont-based YouTube guitar sensation who convinced his dad to drive him to Portland so he could visit because he’s in love with analog, and for everyone in between. I do this because of the great vibes from the community who find something in this idea to be excited about.”

“Even Electric Lady” — the mythic New York recording studio built by Jimi Hendrix — “contacted me saying ‘feel free to get in touch with our electrician since we use the same type of machine…’”
As for the sound booth itself, Johnson says; “It’s been tough moving stuff around. Both the mixing board and console will be wedged in there, leaving very little room.”


But that’s part of the intimacy of recording straight to tape. Jenny Lou Drew, whose band Trouble Girl will be performing at the March 25 benefit, is among those who’ve been drawn back to vinyl lately. “It’s more organic,” she says. “It’s almost like having someone in the room.”


Drew doesn’t rule out recording at Prism herself someday, either with the band or her solo musical project, Raggedy. But the cost might be prohibitive. “It’s a very live process, so it would be expensive. We have a home studio; coming up with an excuse to forego that and go record analog is kinda hard to do. But we’d love to.”


If anything, Prism Analog will model for Portland musicians a careful, hands-on approach to recording. If he’s successful — basically, if he stays afloat — it could add another layer of richness and distinction, perhaps even a signature sound, to the city’s vibrant music scene. In a city where food and coffee drives the decisions, building a little culture around sound would be welcome.


This story features additional reporting by Joe Harrington.


“Prism Analog Fundraising Party,” with performances by El Grande + John Hughes Radio + Lyokha + Troubled Girl + Chris Nucci | March 25, 8 pm | Urban Farm Fermentory, 200 Anderson St., Portland | prismanalog.com

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