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February 6th, 2001 John Graham | Music Stories
 

POLIS ENVY

The pilot for a new singer-songwriter TV show fails to give Portland the props we so obviously deserve.

     
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First, a dutiful reporting of sad news: In the late days of January, the Portland hip-hop community lost one of its most visible and longstanding talents--George "Young" Randall, who linked up with partner-in-rhyme Ray Ray to form Jus Family's streetwise hip-hop duo G-Ism. His friends, family and widespread crew of collaborators will all miss him. Anyone wishing to write a memoriam for Young Randall is invited to do so. Please send submissions to: Willamette Week, Attn: Music Desk, 822 SW 10th Ave., 97205.

To balance the tragic loss of Young Randall, however, there was also some news of a possible gain: Recently I received a colorfully labeled videotape marked The Originals Tour, containing the 24-minute-long pilot episode of a TV series that hopes to travel the nation, showcasing the songwriterly smarts of unplugged-and-undiscovered talents across the country.

Why send it to some Stumptown rock-crit chump instead of a powerful mucketymuck at HBO, VH1 or PBS? Simple: The Originals Tour is hosted by none other than local blonde chanteuse McKinley and the pilot was filmed in the sprawling megalopolis known as Portland, Oregon. Live songwriters-in-the-round footage shot at Ohm frames this first episode, with interview snippets interspersed throughout. Musical testimony from the likes of Lael Alderman, Nicole Campbell, Dave Rummans, Bill Wadham and Little Sue (with a mysteriously AWOL Geoff Byrd credited at the end but not appearing) assumes various shapes of lustrous McLachlanesque pop, humble country-tinged ballads and cafe-cool acoustic indie-folk.

At last, I thought, some national asskissing for the perpetual P-town underdogs. Fame! Fortune! MTV! I even entertained a brief fantasy that The Originals Tour pilot might be Portland's very own Austin City Limits--screw that Texas hipster burg, it was time for some payback.

But alack! 'Twas not to be.

Obviously, there's a precipitous dropoff in the name-recognition department between City Limits and Originals--millions of CD shoppers (especially Texans) who could recognize Reba at the mall don't know Lael Alderman from Louis Armstrong. But that's not the problem. Originals, after all, is intended to expose unknown troubadours. What drains the pilot episode of its potential is that it doesn't expose much beyond inept editing choices: The performers pluck and croon through a verse of their respective tunes, only to be interrupted by aw-shucks interview segments--thus chopping their songs off painfully at the knees. Just as the melodic hooks begin to bite into the viewer's subconscious--zap--jump shift to Campbell chatting in Dead Aunt Thelma's recording studio, Wadhams fondling a guitar in Portland Music, Rummans slipping into silk shirts at Retread Threads. Gimme gimme shock treatment, but this is ridiculous.

Now, I've sat through such cinematic winners as Dancing with Danger, Foxfire, and that ne plus ultra of the ninjas-vs.-comedians oeuvre--the Andrew Dice Clay-Teri Hatcher romantic dramedy Brainsmasher... A Love Story--simply because they were set in the Rose City. And it's a trip to watch these familiar faces beam out of the TV like glowing electric stars. (PoMo shades of A Clockwork Orange: "It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.") But The Originals Tour blitzes too quickly through the town's acoustic underground to give the performers, or Portland as a whole, much more than a cursory peck on the cheek. We--and our musicians--deserve better.

Adding timely insult to this city's musical injury, the Not-Quite-Austin-City-Limits pilot rubs fresh salt on the wounds of the recent PDX-TX split. It was always frustrating that SXSW was a monstrous, multimillion-dollar orgy of international press, blue-ribbon bands and barbecue-and-beer keg parties, while NXNW routinely got short shrift. Now this?

Christ. That's it, the proverbial final straw from the Lone Star state. Besides ACL and some annual alt-rock clusterfuck, what has Austin got? Reality Bites, lame presidents and herds of frat-cattle in baseball hats? We got fresh air, fine microbrews and, uh, Andrew Dice Clay flicks. So here's my suggestion: someone (say, MTV) should get their gear up here and start shooting scenes of our lovable mods scooting their Vespas to work at the record shop. Or hipsters digging through bins in search of elusive thrift-store scores. Or dykes hitting the cafe on a vegan date in vintage threads. It'll be hot, baby, hot.

What? MTV already did that? And it was called Austin Stories?

Boy, load the Tec-9 and fetch the keys. This original's going on a tour of his own. Next stop: Texas.

 
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