Archive for Portland

The Dark City

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , on May 1, 2019 by Magadh

Dark CityI am riding, alone, in the dark city. The city is vast. Sometimes I see it in daylight, but it is dark in the sense that film noir is about atmosphere. It comprises fragments of all the cities that I have ever inhabited: Portland, Seattle, Boston, New York, Berlin. Or, perhaps, it is more correct to say that they are manifestations of a place that only exists in totality elsewhere. I don’t know where I’m going. Or I do know where I’m going, but the topography has changed in unexpected ways, and somehow my errands become knit together with other stories that don’t conform to the linear structures of the workaday world. Most compellingly, I can glimpse at a distance the outlines of people I know, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, some of whom have sloughed off this mortal coil entirely. But I can’t find them, and once again the tides and momentum of the dark city carry me on to other avenues.

I dream like most people. Or at least I think I do. I’ve had the standard dreams that you hear discussed: showing up unprepared on test day, falling, getting chased and not being able to run, dreams of desire and satisfaction, dreams of fear and terror. When I was working on my PhD and had occasion to make a deep dive into the literature on the Holocaust, I began to have (and still occasionally have) dreams of pursuit by Nazi goons or mass executions. I think these must be, in some sense, normal. The trauma of surplus horror needs to be discharged somehow, and the sleeping brain causes it to coalesce in order to dissipate its force.

I have been told that it is possible to retroactively affect your dreams. More than one person has told me that, after waking, it is possible to think through the dream, employing this is or that strategy that would have resolved the problem. Freddy Krueger chasing you through the night? Just wake up and imagine yourself armed with an M-32 grenade launcher and see how threatening he looks once you’ve vaporized everything but his little finger knives. I don’t know how this is supposed to help in the case of showing up for the test completely unprepared. Maybe I should get up and read a book. In any case, I’ve never actually been able to make this work. The existential aura of the dreamscape remains until the fragments of the dream have disintegrated like ashes in the wind.

dc4

I’m riding alone in the dark city, in a part of town that looks like a cross between Belltown in Seattle and the far south end of downtown Portland. The streets are mostly empty and the streetlights illuminate the streets in the sort of harsh glare that makes everything look kind of yellow. I know that I am working, and this I have jobs on. Far ahead of me, I see Henry Hellbender, OG from the Portland punk scene of the early 80s, long time bike messenger, my friend from years ago in my courier days. Henry died several years ago, in his sleep, from a problem with his meds or something like that. I’ve felt his absence ever since. Like an amputated limb that keeps aching.

And now I can see him, as I so often did, spinning along smoothly on an Eddy Merckx road frame. And I know that I can catch him, because Henry never moved that fast, probably because he never wanted to seem like he gave a fuck. Just a few hard spins and I will be up to him, and we can meet again on the dark streets, and I can tell him that I miss him, and thank him for all the things I learned from him. But I can never quite close the gap. There is traffic in the way, or I see somewhere that seems like my destination, and when I look up again he has darted off down a side street and is gone again. In the dark city, resolution is always tantalizingly close, but always out of reach.

I dream, as people often do, of times long gone. I think that these dreams are like the revenants in old ghost stories, desperately trying to work out the residuum of unfinished temporal business. One of the most common settings for my dreams is the campus of Reed College, where I spend my days as an undergrad, or its environs. I have the normal range of failure dreams (today is the last day of class for a course that I haven’t managed to attend all year), but more often I dream about the series of decrepit houses that I lived in during that time. And, as usual, I dream of people that I haven’t seen since then, many of whom I will never see again, and I’m still looking for a way to reply to something they said that showed how much smarter than me they were (and probably are).

I dreamed of a town that could have been Walla Walla, Washington, where I grew up. I saw people I knew there, but as adults, going here and there. But all the time the dream centered on a cave that looked like a crack in the bank of a fallow wheat field that I knew we had all hung out in back in the long, long ago. Something terrible had happened there, but I couldn’t remember what, and I was drawn to it an repelled by it in equal measure. In the end, there was no resolution. Just long drives down empty roads on the outskirts of the dark city, where its suburban reaches give way to a vast emptiness.

I am riding alone it the dark city, in a part of town that starts out like inner southeast Portland, but then turns into the Rixdorf section of Berlin, a place where I never road a bike in my life (although I lived there). It’s raining and as the scenery shifts to Berlin I notice that the streets are cobbled, so I need to mind my p’s and q’s to keep from going over. It is twilight and the lights and neon signs from businesses along the way wash the shining streets in color. I realize that I have just passed Big Frank, sitting astride his bike on a street corner, as I so often saw him when we were messengers.

Frank, wearing the Vietnamese peasant’s broad-brimmed hat that he often wore (never a helmet). Frank, who was half in the bag a lot of the time. Who showed up at my apartment one time with a half rack of Rainier and a bottle of Vikings and who, after how down two pills and four beers in half an hour I had to tell that if he was intent on suicide he would really be doing me a solid by croaking somewhere else. In all the time that I can remember, he never got so much as a skinned knee, which was weird because every bike messenger falls occasionally. And then he sobered up and became an actor, and tripped on some stairs at a workshop in Columbus and died. And I thought, “How fragile is the flame,” for all the reasons just mentioned.

I see Frank on the corner, sitting on his top tube, legs akimbo, watching the cars go by. Square jaw, dreadlocks, ebony skin, and a smile that could be kind of threatening, at least until you got to know him. I want to talk to him, about Marx, or Heidegger, or the Bulls, or Shakespeare, or any of the hundred things that used to chase our friends away. But I can’t stop, because braking on wet cobbles is a recipe for a fall. So I decide to go around the block, But by the time I come back around I’m somewhere else and Frank has disappeared into the twilight.

dc5The dark city is not in all my dreams. But there are dreams when I know I’m there, when I know I’m in a twilight landscape that is both familiar and deeply uncanny. From all my visits there, I cannot escape the suspicion that perhaps I have things backwards. Perhaps it is the dark city that is true, and that all the landscapes and environments that I inhabit in waking life are but fragments of the totality that contains and combines them all. Perhaps the living and the dead, the waking and the dreaming are simultaneously there and elsewhere, or are only there and flash in and out of the daylight world. Somewhere, in some corner of the dream time, my true self is spinning, trying to make that one last delivery before the offices close, or my ride breaks, or the lights go out.

PDX Compilation Volume 2: Black Water Records

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2012 by Magadh

V/A PDX Compilation Volume 2 Black Water Records

Mags and I have both spent significant time in the Rose City down the years. Portland has always been something of a focal point for the American crust and peace punk scenes. Black Water Records’ PDX Compilation Volume 2 certainly affirms that the current crop are keeping the spirit alive.

The second installment of the series is a uniformly solid affair featuring Arctic Flowers, Moral Hex, Bellicose Minds and Funeral Parade. Arctic Flowers’ Reveries was an instant classic, blazing through its first 2 pressings in no  time at all. Their contribution, “Crusaders + Banshees” starts off the A-side and confirms why Reveries was so acclaimed. The track is an amalgam of peace punk with, perhaps, a bit of Weirdos and Avengers thrown in for good measure.

Moral Hex finish off the A-side with “Mortality”. The tracks gloomy intro gives way to a surging Joy  Division bass line and some angular guitar work.  Tanya’s vocals invoke memories Siouxsie or perhaps Rubella Ballet and the result is a delicious serving of death rock influenced peace punk.

Bellicose Minds kick off the B-side with my favorite track of the compilation “Tension Building”.  A martial drum beat is coupled with an early Cure bass line. The surging rhythm section are welded to angular guitar work and the result is a dark punk gem. Funeral Parade cap off the the affair with “For You” also found on their 2010 demo of the same name. This is pure dark punk invoking memories of giants like The Dark, early TSOL, and just a hint of Revelations era Killing Joke.

Black Water Records get things right with the 2nd volume of their PDX series. I’ll be looking forward to volume 3 and encourage readers to explore the 4 excellent bands featured on the comp.

– Captain of Games