I was a pretty goofy kid growing up. My father, stepfather and mother were wits in their own right, so making people laugh became second nature. During high school and college, I learned to dampen my enthusiasm for getting a laugh and instead concentrated on trying to untangle life’s dilemmas. Then I had my brain injury, when I was 28, and my scrambled gray matter re-adopted the practice of using silliness as a tool to solve problems. It’s not so much that I now have access to brilliantly twisted insights as it’s that my inhibitions — my concern about the potential consequences of such flippant buffoonery — have been totally neutered.
I write down my “insights” in an ever-present notebook. A few years ago, my friend Andy Jones suggested I go to a comedy open-mic night and let my jokes fly. We went to Brian Boru, the Irish bar on Center Street, where I remembered that, despite my pretensions of humility, I really do adore the limelight. Going to Brian Boru’s Tuesday night open-mics became a regular part of my agenda and remained so until the winter snows forced me into social hibernation.
Last month, I returned to Brian Boru and allowed myself to get re-bitten by the comedy bug. Because I’m such a tongue-twisted muckle-mouth, I’m sure some of my pretentious volley of verbal perversions evoked more puzzlement than laughter, but enough of them got through and I was rewarded with plenty of chuckles. Sadly, I was informed later in the month that Brian Boru is no longer hosting a weekly open-mic, so I guess I’ll have to look around for a new venue that both welcomes my sobriety and is actually wheelchair-accessible. Portland could be the home base for my Brain-Damaged Comedy Tour!
I also went to Slab last month to see their Thursday night patio band, Party Time Excellent. Some folks look down on cover bands as populist drivel, but I see cover bands as an important part of the musical continuum. Whether your love is music, literature, science or sports, all great work is built upon the structures that preceded it. That’s just how progress is made, so artists putting away their composition notebooks and playing with the canon is both OK and a necessary part of artists discovering what they have to tell the world. Referencing the past shows an appreciation for the gifts you’ve received and an understanding that you will pass your achievements on to the next contestant.
Party Time Excellent covers songs from the ’70s through the ’90s, with a special emphasis on my weakness: ’80s music. The band is a five-person hit team: guitarist John Nels Blanchette; Kyle Gervais playing bass and using his soft calculus of manic magnetism to act as the unofficial Master of Ceremonies; Kris Rodgers on keys; Jamie Colpoys on back-up keys, tambourine and ancillary instruments; and Mike Chasse giving hell to the drums. The night I went, trumpeter Emma Stanley, guitarist Owen Conforte (both of The Fogcutters) and singer Holly Nunan cameo’d with the band to add an extra nudge of excellence. Food-wise, I was tempted by the menu’s delicious pizzas, but opted instead for the seasonal treat of a ridiculously good tomato-pesto-and-mozzarella sandwich.
On a mid-month Saturday, I went to Port City Music Hall to see local vocalist Sean Slaughter’s fourth annual Queen cover night. Because I am a plucky anarchist I wore my “Fuck Trump” hat, and when the girl at the ticket box saw the hat she was so impressed with my wheel-chaired sassiness that she gave me a ticket for free. SCORE! Sean led the charge as frontman, with Portland guitar icon John Edwards on lead, Michael Solak on rhythm guitar, Mike Maurice dancing the keys, and the rhythm section of Eldemur Krimm (bassist Jason Marshall and drummer Stefen Samuels). The trio of Renée Coolbrith, JanaeSound, and Nunan (she’s everywhere!) provided backing vocals and some sensational solos, as did guest vocalist Sophie Patenaude.
For the first set, Sean walked out wearing a Flash Gordon t-shirt from the 1980 movie that Queen wrote the soundtrack for, and a pair of shiny candy-red rocker pants that taxed the eyes of all who saw them. Throughout the night I kept getting compliments for both my provocative hat and my seductive neck-beard, which gave me the briefest taste of what it must be like to actually be popular. Sean’s mania was refreshingly untamed and left me giddy with appreciation. Feeding the belly is important, but don’t neglect to feed your heart, mind and society. #IMPEACHTHEBUM