A Great Local Music Story Takes Off
For over a month I've been hinting at a great story from the Portland musical community. I was told to wait till September 20th to blog about it, so here goes: Several years ago, I met a woman named Lisa Molinaro. She was working in a coffee shop on Hawthorne. We struck up an employee/customer type acquaintance and went on to be friends. I thought she was beautiful and solid as a person. Then one day I picked up the Willamette Week and she was on the cover as part of the Best New Band in Portland. The group was called Talkdemonic, and it consisted of Lisa on viola, a percussionist/programmer, and a computer. I went to see them play at the futuristic - for me, anyway - club called Hallocene, and I was impressed. It was different and if you've been a musician for decades, different can be good. The band went on several national tours playing as far away as New York.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when she told me she had been asked to join a band called the Decemberists. The group sounds like it's on the rise. The Saturday in August when my trio played the Seattle Hempfest, the Decemberists had a big day here in Portland. For something like 8 hours they did a photo-shoot for Rolling Stone magazine. I have known a lot of musicians in my time. I have never known one who was serving espresso drinks one week and getting photographed by Rolling Stone the next. I certainly never knew one who was back working in the coffee shop telling me how the photo-shoot with RS Magazine had gone. This was exciting stuff - right out of the movie "Almost Famous". Thinking about it, I realized that I was witnessing one of the truly cool stories to happen in my memory in the local music scene, and I used to party with the Robert Cray band before he hit it big.
Another element that sort of set it off, was that all during these last months, the mainstream media was focused on Storm Large and it felt so typical. I appreciate what she did and everything - I even enjoyed reading about it, despite the record number of "Living Large" puns - but let's not get crazy. This was reality-show phoniness, and demeaning to boot. I hope it leads to something real for Storm, but a glorified audition with a manufactured band - it was not without an element of sleaziness. It wasn't exactly authentic like the way the Beatles or most bands I love met and formed a group. That's usually one of the best parts of the story. Are even the innocent beginning parts of rock and roll going to be turned into a corporate vehicle now? It was nice to see Storm on TV but it wasn't Living Large. These people looked like a musical version of "Real World" - a rock version of "Making the Band". Sorry, but I thought it was lame. Write your own tunes and perform as an act if you're going on TV. At least American Idol presents them as a finished product. Who needs an audition for a band that's really just a desperate, high-stakes karaoke night?
This story with Lisa is old school - working your way up to get a break. A few weeks after the Rolling Stone photo-shoot, Lisa quit the coffee shop. She doesn't work there anymore. This is the fabled story of American rock and roll, that ideally ends up on some national telecast where you play your heart out and wonder how you got there. "How did this happen? One minute I'm making espresso drinks on Hawthorne - the next I'm on national TV playing in a band?" I'm told the Decemberists will be performing on Conan O'Brien October 3rd. Portland should be proud.