Uploaded to Aural Innovations: April 2004
They say that the magic is in the hole. It lingers momentarily as it contemplates its options and decides just where its loyalties lie. It takes a breather. Gets its bearings. And then it does the inevitable. It discharges like a gun - in a flash - it's gone. Leaving behind the gritty material that had held it in check - the empty flesh. The vacant empty smiles. And that solitary empty hole that had offered it momentary sanctuary. That had offered it its ultimate freedom.
I was in a nightclub called Berbati's Pan. And I wasn't alone. A dark figure was standing by the last booth at the Ankeny Street window. His right arm was raised in a high-five salute.
"Hey, I haven't seen you in ages!"
I squinted and searched the darkness while I tried to ID his voice.
"Been giving my eyes a rest."
"Dames. What else?"
His smile came into focus. "I hear you," he slurred like a punch-drunk boxer. It was Ashland John. He had a soft spot for showgirls. A real sucker for the skirts. Especially if they were standing on a stage - warbling a sirens song. The stage served as their pedestal. And once they graced it - he was their clay pigeon.
"You know, you can go blind chasing the skirts, sunshine."
"Are you sure?"
"Crash course in Reality 101."
John rubbed the ginger stubble on his chin. "How's that, again?"
"Niki did a number on me."
Yeah, Niki had done a number on me, but good. That Alaskan Ale she'd brought to me at the Ohm nightclub on the summer solstice had been spiked with a potent dose of her hard love. No, it wasn't Madam X that had blinded me with that celestial box of hers. It was Niki and her well timed Mickey that had delivered the coupe de ville.
When you stop to think about it, the really dangerous dames - are the dames that you've taken for granted. Hell hath no furry like a cocktail waitress scorned!
When I asked Niki why she's done it. She just smiled sweetly and said, "I like to keep my tipping customers on their toes." Then she blew me a kiss, turned on her heels, and never looked back - the butterfly tattoo over her ass fluttering a mean flight of the Valkyries - as she strutted off.
Yeah, Niki was all business. Deadly business.
John paled, made the sign of Victoria's Secret, and led me to his table. A pitcher of dark liquid sat on top of it next to an empty glass.
"Whatcha drinking, Terminator Stout?"
"Na, soda. I don't like drinking alcohol."
I grinned, "Smart. It don't mix too well with chemicals."
John gave me a vacant stare from cloud cuckooland. Then he shifted into a new topic.
"Storm's doing cruises now."
When John shifted gears - he tended to jump several cogs at a time. It was never a smooth transition. He frequently ended up in hyperspace making an illegal u-turn without signalling. His mind was slightly fogged and addled from all the years of recreational abuse. His minds' eye had developed glaucoma.
"Yeah, I hear she's doing gigs on the Portland Spirit every other Friday night."
"I've never been on a cruise. I'd like to go on a cruise. It sounds like fun." He made a sour face.
"But I'd probably get sea sick."
"It's a river cruise. Not an ocean voyage."
"Bet I'd get sick anyway."
"You might get lucky."
"I don't know," he frowned, "Where do they go?"
I shrugged. "Somewhere on the Willamette, I suppose. How far can you get in only an hour or two? Part way o the Columbia River and back? Part way to the Oregon City rapids? Your guess is as good as mine."
John fell silent as his remaining cognitive neurones sputtered and fired. Some of them actually firing at the same time. I tried to take advantage of his heightened awareness.
"So what's the latest on this Voodoo joint next door?"
"Uh-hu." I searched his vacant expression. "You working there?"
I took a wild guess. "You live in this building, don't ya?"
He nodded. "Upstairs. Ah, how'd you know?"
"Spotted the chariot chained up outside."
"That Ben-Hur U-haul ya drag 'round behind yer bicycle."
He gave me a steady blank Cape cod stare of his. That odd look that suggests he's tripped offline. Gone fishin'.
"Ya know, that contraption with all the girlie posters plastered all over--"
"It's a rickshaw, George. I made it myself."
"You're quite resourceful." I narrowed my eyes. "Bet you've seen lots of things. Heard lots of things. Interesting things."
He nodded. "Yeah, lots of bands. It gets too noisy to sleep. So I stay up." He licked his lips. "I really would like to go on a cruise."
I peeled a fin from my pocket and laid it on the table.
"What do you know about Voodoo Doughnuts?"
"I wonder where they go?"
"The doughnuts or the customers?"
"No, the cruise ships. Tell me more about cruise ships, George."
I sighed and added another fin to the pile.
"Memory any better now?"
"How about icebergs? Aren't they dangerous?"
"Only if you hit them."
"Why would you want to do that?"
I swirled my drink. "Crushed ice. It's big business."
"Uh-hu. They smuggle 'em in from Alaska. But it's easier to fence the bergs if you break 'em down first."
"Who's breaking them down, George."
I squinted, "The Bürgermeisters."
"Uh-hu. They supply the labour camps. The Russian supply the ice. The Yanks supply--"
"You got it, sunshine. After WWII the cold war was all the rage. The Jerries turned in their old uniforms. Bullet-belts and all. Donned a new set of threads. And became soda jerks. Blended right in with all of the rest of 'em. Howard Johnson... Baskin-Robbins... Ben and Jerries. Looked like something right outta one of those Edward Hopper paintings of mid-century American diners. The ones depicting the loneliness late at night in a large city and--"
"Ah, how much is Storm's cruise?"
John licked his lips and stared intently at the two fins sitting side by side on the table. Double Lemola.
"I sure would like to go on that cruise, George."
I peeled another fin from my pocket and laid it next to the others. They were all sitting in a row. Just like ducks in a shooting gallery.
"I never could turn down money."
"Okay, there's the dough. Now, fill me in on this voodoo... that they do... so well!"
Ashland John started to sing. And it didn't sound very pretty. I sent him next door to bring back a random sample for me to analyze at my leisure. And asked him to lift a copy of the items listed in their menu.
When John returned, I scoured the list and whistled. The voodoo in question was a virtual who's who list of over-the-counter prescription drugs. They had names like Nyquil. And Pepto-Bismol. Many of them just paraded around under fanciful monikers that told little of their potential toxic effects. Cryptic names like Arnold Palmer. The Bachelorette Special. Big Pink. Dirt. Snowball Surprise. Tex-ass. and their lethal namesake - the Voodoo Doughnut.
I shuddered trying to imagine what effect these potent doughnuts would have on the unsuspecting digestive systems of the local men in blue. The last thing we needed here in Portland was a swarm of hopped-up coppers with itchy trigger fingers, vibrating truncheons, and randy cans of pepper spray.
It was a recipe for disaster even without the Raveonettes thrown in to the mix as wild cards.
Kittens for Christian were a trio of hooligans dressed all in black. They had short dark hair and plenty of attitude to match. They were loud, feisty, and unrelenting in their assault on our eardrums. They sounded like a punk band.
I loaded my Canon with a high speed Noir clip.
John gaped, "Are you going to shoot them?"
"Somebody ought to," I holstered my Canon, "but it ain't gonna be me."
"Who you going shoot, George?"
"Band from Denmark. Press's been pretty sweet on 'em. Everyone's been heepin' the praise mighty high. Interesting thing, too. They got a blonde dame on the bass. Name's Sharin Foo. She's six-foot tall in her stocking feet." I grimaced. "But my guess is - she's wearing shoes!"
"Ah, what's the difference?"
"A couple of heels."
"Means standing on an orange crate for close-ups."
John blinked again.
"Could be dangerous. Especially if someone comes along real sudden like, slaps her ass and kicks the orange crake out from under ya - yer hung!"
John cocked his head and thought. "Are you going to finish that doughnut?"
I drew my lips back from my teeth and snarled, "Waddaya think, sunshine?"
He didn't. He just shrugged, licked his lips, and trembled as the horrors took hold. His eyes darted back and forth searching for stealth spiders and slithering snakes. But couldn't find any.
I glanced at the stage with distaste. The lead singer of Kittens for Christians was staggering around the stage. He knocked over the mic stand totally oblivious to its presence next to him. His voice sounded strung out as he sang along to the high-octane onslaught they were blasting outta the monitors. I couldn't make heads or tails outta their act.
I thrust my trigger finger in a stabbing gesture toward the stage.
"Six, two and even, sunshine - that kat's whacked-out!"
John was acting self-conscious. He edged away from my doughnut crumbs. Licked his lips, his finger tips, and just nodded absently.
"They keep up like that, they'll end up opening for The Obelisks of Fondue."
John made the small mouth and whispered, "Fondue?"
"Group of Euro chefs. Fancy themselves as intellectual avant garde performance artists. Music's a bit cheesy, but the catering is topnotch."
John cocked his head. "Do they feed you on cruises?"
"It would be very uncivilized to starve your clientele, now wouldn't it, sunshine."
"So there is food?"
I smiled. "There's a buffet."
"Is it included?"
I shook my head. "The buffet is extra."
"I might get hungry."
"I need more scratch."
I laughed, "Funny how addictive it can be - once you get your hands on it. Lemmys can be quite toxic. I sometimes have to launder mine. You never can tell just where they've been or who's been tempering with 'em."
He licked his lips and gave this some thought. John wasn't finished singing. Not just yet. His memory was making a miraculous recovery. And he was more than willing to share his thoughts and spill a few more beans. For a price!
While we both haggled over the finer details of the exchange rate, a band called Stellastarr* came out and started arranging their equipment on the stage.
Stella Star was the name of a lady. A lady that looked totally awesome. Just like a scantily clad Caroline Munro wearing little more than a leather bikini. She came hot on the heals of Star Wars like a gutsy, hard-boiled, starcrashing Barbarella. A real galactic Bond Girl. She was the stuff that dreams were made of.
The band picked up their guitars and started migrating toward the mic stands. They were gazing off at the mixing desk - waiting for a signal. I left John's table and drew my canon from its holster.
Stellastarr* was a quartet. Three average looking Joes and a far from average looking Jane. The Jane in question was a blonde bass player with a thin black choker wrapped around her pretty throat. She wasn't wearing a leather bikini but the text on the front of her t-shirt summed things up nicely.
"I'M HIS, BECAUSE HE DESERVES THE BEST."
Yeah, some guys have all the luck. But who was he? Was he was a follow band member? A roadie? Certainly not some lucky stiff back home. Who would be daft enough to let this dish outta their sight? Maybe she was wearing a GPS tracking anklet as a ball-and-chain. And maybe... just maybe... he'd hired a private dick to keep an eye on her.
As I tried these thoughts on for size, another question surfaced - was she just window dressing and eye candy for the guys and dolls in the audience? Or was there more to this bass totin' bombshell than meets the eye. Only time and a few tunes would tell. One thing was certain - I'd be keeping close tabs on her fingers and her figure.
Stellastarr* launched into the first song of their set. It sounded slick. And it sounded real swell. They had it all down pat. Music. lyrics. Energy. Vocals. Backing vocals. Hooks and looks. Yeah, They'd really done a crackerjack job putting together their act. I was hard pressed to find fault in any of it.
My focus quickly shifted from their curves to their angles. The lead singer had a uniquely distinctive voice. A voice that added something special to the music. Urgency and feeling. And he had a way of moving that demanded your attention - yeah, he had stage presence.
Their music sounded retro. It reminded me of something from the arena rock days of the '80s. I couldn't quite place the band or the singer that they conjured up in my mind. And it haunted me. It haunted me something fierce. It was something so familiar I could taste it. But I couldn't quite pin a name to it.
I raised my Canon, aimed, and squeezed off a couple quick shots. I wanted to catch the lead singer in action. I wanted to see just how good of a subject he really was. And I wanted to be able to positively ID him.
I holstered my Canon and walked over to the merchandise stall. I passed a couple of crisp Lemmys across the table. Smiled, and slipped their self-titled Stellastarr* CD into the pocket of my trench coat. I'd start a file on 'em and deal with 'em later. After I'd dug into their past.
Their first EP was titled "Whip It On". The artwork looked like something out of an old movie house. Like a poster of some long forgotten '60s beatnik film. Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo were some quirky characters you'd expect Jack Kerouak to run into on the road. They looked like a couple of delinquents that had taken refuge in a twenty-first century Danish cinema and somehow managed to exit out a back alley that mysteriously emptied out into the mid-twentieth century American dream. A dream located somewhere out on Route 66.
The dream was retro. It was tinged in punk-pop, beat era musings ala Allan Ginsberg, and chased with a dose of surf - thrown in for good measure. Yeah, that first EP of theirs was the cat's meow. It was recorded in glorious B-flat Minor. Had six killer tracks of catchy, energetic, punkish songs that grabbed ya by the lapels and slapped yer face. They certainly got yer attention. They had all the music press sitting up like tamed circus lions-- purring. And that's where I entered into the picture.
I removed my Canon from its holster and gave Ashland John a final farewell salute. "Don't wait up for me, This is where I get off!"
His hand slid over the table. Over the doughnut crumbs.
I scowled, "Oh, so it's like that, is it?"
His fingers dithered.
"Alright, help yourself. And enjoy that cruise while yer at it, sunshine." I winked, "I just might check up on you."
His eyes popped like a calico Moor receiving a hand job from Princess Grace. Hollywood and royalty always were strange bedfellows. Generally, it ended up as a screwball comedy at its best. Or a ridiculous tabloid headline at its worst.
I chuckled as I left John to stew. I had other fish to fry.
The Raveonettes walked out onto the left side of the stage from behind a black curtain at the back of the stage. A banner with the words "The Raveonettes" was strung along the top of the curtain.
They took up their positions. The drummer was at the back sitting at his drum kit. The lead guitarist over on the left-hand side of the stage. Sune Rose Wagner with his guitar at the mic stand at the centre of the stage. And Sharin Foo with her bass over on the right-hand side of the stage near the bar.
I heard a foreign tongue speaking to the mixman at the back of the room. The air had a strange odour to it. I glanced around wondering if I was imagining it.
Sharin Foo was searching the stage with her eyes. She stepped over to the edge and gazed out over the audience and said, "Something smells like it's burning."
Nobody reacted. She shrugged and shifted her attention to her equipment. The odour quickly dissipated and vanished. Her equipment didn't.
I worked my way to the front of the stage - dead centre. There was a set list on the floor by Sharin's feet. It was facing the band. So the words written on it were upside down as far as I was concerned.
I removed a notepad from my trench coat and started to jot down the songs listed as I figured them out. This would take some time. The songs were short brief catch phrase to jog the memory and the list was rather long. Due no doubt to the fact that most of the Raveonettes songs are all short and sweet. Only a few minutes long.
When I glanced up from the list, I caught Sharin eyeing my notepad and Canon. I'd been spotted, identified, and tagged as a not so casual observer.
I nodded, grimaced, and slid my notepad back into my trench coat. We locked eyes and just stared. Sizing each other up and down. The stage added an extra couple of feet to her height. So I was at a slight disadvantage. She was like a Danish Snow White dressed in black looking down on a sea of dwarves.
The Raveonettes launched into "Do You Believe Her". Once Sharin unleased that catchy bass hook - I knew that she was one hot tomato. The riff reminded me of Lemmy for some reason.
The lighting was not what I had expected. There was barely any light shining on the front of the band. It was supplied by red and blue cans mounted on the ceiling at the back of the stage. For natural light photography this was going to pose problems.
I shifted my position lower to the floor and tried to spot Sharin between my Canon and one of the lights behind her. I wanted to get her hair backlit and hope I had enough light from the front to capture her features.
"Evil LA Girl" flowed into "Veronica Fever" as I moved around the front of the stage trying to see what I could do about the lighting. I noticed that the last blue can was aimed at Sharin's left hemisphere. The side facing the bar. This would be my best bet. I'd just concentrate on getting a few good shots of Sharin Foo Since the lighting just wasn't going to provide much of a chance to capture the rest of the Raveonettes. I only hoped she didn't mind all the attention I was going to pay her tonight.
The chap next to me had an instamatic with a flash. I smiled, "Here, take my spot... this isn't working for me. You might as well take advantage of it."
His eyes lit up, "THANKS!"
"No Problem, you got the flash. You should have this spot."
I inched my way over to Sharin's side and commenced to make a character study of her. She didn't seem to mind. But gave me the wary eye from time to time when I got a little too close for comfort.
Some fans from Seattle had followed the Raveonettes down to Portland. They were crowding the front of the stage. Singing along with the band. Hopping up and down. And pressing forward during the hard 'n heavy punkish sounding songs.
I had managed to jot down an impressive list of songs: Do You Believe Her / Evil LA Girl / Veronica Fever / Let's Rave On / Chain Gang of Love / Little Animal / That Great Love Sound / Noisy Summer / Love Can Destroy Everything / My Tornado / Wanna Dance / The Love Gang / Attack of the Ghost Riders....
This was as far as I got. A bubbly, bouncy hep-kitten launched toward the set list and snatched it as a souvenir. Just like that - it was gone for good!
I gazed to my left and raised my eyebrow. A cute long-haired Brunette, about five-foot-four, was closing in on me. She was standing on her tip-toes, squirming from side to side, trying to make out what kind of Canon I had.
Miss Curious asked me about the photos and told me she had a Canon just like mine at home. She smiled, "I think you should get some nice photos. I've been watching you."
I changed the lens to a 28mm wide angle lens.
"That's reassuring to hear. Thanks for the encouragement."
I suppose most guys would offer her a photo and ask her for her phone number. But I'm not most guys. I just gave her a wolfish grin and went back to work. I was putting the move on Sharin with the wide angle lens. I got in real close. Right up close to the neck of her bass. I only had a duck a few times to avoid having her bash in my noodle as she attacked the strings and swung the bass wildly.
There were strobes going off on the stage. So I tried to shoot a few shots of that. It's always a bit of luck if you get anything that works out during a blitz. Sure its a gamble. But ya never know, you just might get lucky. Might as well give it a shot.
"Cops On Our Tail" was one of the last songs they played during the encore. This is the song with the "FUCK YOU" chorus. It's one of my favourite songs from the "Whip It On" EP.
Sune Rose Wagner moved over to the Mic stand by Sharin. They harmonized "Fuck You" over and over while I moved in for a shot of the two of them. The wide angle lens transformed the neck of Sharin's bass into a long shaft piercing the viewfinder. I was hoping I would end up with a cool distortion photo. The image reminded me of the cover of THE TIME OF THE HAWKLORDS by Michael Butterworth and Michael Moorcock.
I had exhausted my Noir clip so I removed it and holstered my Canon. Lingered momentarily before making a move toward the street. I exchanging friendly nods with the brunette that had been watching me with interest during the Raveonettes set.
I walked out the side exit onto Ankeny. Maybe I would run into her again at some other show in the future when I was less engaged in my work. When I has plenty of time to kill. Maybe I was passing up and opportunity.
I'd take a gamble and let the gods roll the dice for me. Perhaps, I should have asked her to blow on the bones for good luck. That would have been the smart, safe thing to do. But who's been playing it safe since this government's been in office? Besides, it's nice to know exactly who you're dealing with before you let down your guard. Especially when you're dealing with dames.
I continued on into the Pearl District. It was an uneventful journey. But for some unexplained reason - I felt like I was being watched.
I located my car and climbed in. Fired up the engine and headed east to Broadway. Turned right and headed south to Burnside. Turned left and drove across the Burnside Bridge into east Portland. I maintained a steady course till I got to Sandy Boulevard.
When I came to the KATU building, I angled off to the right down Glisan Street into the Lauralhurst District until I came to the Coe Circle roundabout at Northeast 39th Avenue.
I stopped, drew out my cigarette case and planted a lucky Chesterfield in the corner of my mouth. The rearview mirror reflected a dull cherry rendering of my tired expression. As I inhaled on life - the tip of the stubby hot cylinder impersonated a red dwarf star in the throws of death.
I stared straight ahead at the gilded bronze statue in front of me, blew a column of smoke out the window into the night air, and plunged the lighter back into its round silver socket next to the ash tray.
Joan of Arc was mounted majestically upon a spirited steed with her right hand thrust up toward the heavens. She towered above the manicured hedge and surrounding landscaped foliage of the small park marooned on that desolate traffic island. Rising like a brilliant golden phoenix from a choked sea of rustling dark-green sargasso scales. Her right hand was clenched in a tight fist - squeezing a large black hole.
Where once a piked banner was held aloft trailing rippling golden-yellow ribbons - there was only a gaping hole clasped in her defiant fingers. She was heading south toward North California. Toward the Cascadian-American border. Armed with a fistful of nothing. Nothing but space itself. And her own stubborn determination to succeed at any cost.
Yeah, the magic is in the hole. And that magic is change. It all boils down to a few simple questions. How do you choose to perceive it? And how do you fill the emptiness?
A pair of small headlights appeared - off in the distance - in my rearview mirror. It wouldn't be Mr. Joe Ordinary tailing me at this hour of the night. Most likely it was one of the creatures of the night. A vandal. A drunk. Or worse yet - a cop!
I flicked the lip-burner out the window. Then I gunned the engine of my puddle jumper, jerked the wheel, and swung counterclockwise around the rotary. The high hedge would provide momentary cover.
I figured I might as well make tracks before the Burgundians finally returned with a smelter to totally pick Joan clean. Besides, if it did turn out to be the coppers hazing the citizenry, I didn't feel like being submitted to one of their free eye exams. Ordered to walk a straight line around a traffic circle. Or have a flask of whisky poured down my throat and over my clothes just so I'd smell REAL nice for the desk sergeant.
I veered off heading toward the East Counties. Heading toward where the sun also rises. And the night owls set. Toward Gresham and the road to Damascus.
My taillights blazed behind me. Lighting up the park as if flames were licking the gold-leaf surfaces of the Maid of Orléans. Illuminating and reflecting. Igniting the Martyr's pyre.
Joan winked in my rearview mirror. Then Quickly vanished into the darkness that swallows up all things in due time. Left behind by the low buzzing hum of tyre tracks. Tracks that turn the dark asphalt beneath the wheels of a corrupt society. A society that paves a path of betrayal through the mean streets of the Ashcroft Jungle.