Monday, April 7, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

if I stay here, trouble will find me

I spent a few months with Dracey as part of my recent project documenting rappers from North Portland. The package is a multimedia piece that includes sound clips, photographs by Beth Nakamura and these short documentaries I made of each rapper. For the video on Dracey, we went back to the three-bedroom apartment he once shared with 13 other people. We also visited his old high school, where he recorded his first album in a utility closet.

Glenn Waco revisits the places that inform his music from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

To see the stories, check out Straight Outta St. Johns.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

all I learned was that gravity can be painful

Dequante McDowell talks about changes on Hell Street from Cabin 7 on Vimeo.

Nine hundred is small enough to sense a shift in population. When someone new touches down, the people of Delhi notice.

When we first got out of the car four years ago, two guys immediately pulled over. Rob and Talkhead wanted to know who we were.

The next year, I walked into a convenience center at the edge of town. A guy slid over just before the door closed.

"Where you from?"

"Oh, my whole family is from here," I said, chipper and trying to belong.

"No," he said, looking down at my boots, distressed by design, not work. "Where are you from?"

"Well, my mom grew up here. I grew up in West Monroe."

He shook his head.

"I live in Oregon," I finally said.

We've been stopped by cops twice -- once because they didn't recognize us and once because they remembered us from the year before.

And best of all, we've been stopped by people with stories to tell. Pam Sykes pulled her jeep over, mid-railroad tracks, to ask what we were doing in town. She hasn't been able to shake us since. And Dequante McDowell, the 19-year-old in today's video, flagged us down last April as we cruised Chatham Street.

Chatham isn't Hell Street anymore, he told us. It's What the Hell Street.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

to places we don't know

Sunny March days on the beat, following sisters Kiera Brinkley and Uriah Boyd around as they prepare for a dance duet:

You can read the story on Oregonlive.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

back down, down to the downtown, down to the lockdown

Aubree and I are headed back to Louisiana in a few weeks, so I'm putting together a few vignettes to hype up the trip. Here's one from last April. Chris, Erin and I met Archie Lee Harrell at his church on a rainy afternoon. Chris was still brainstorming score ideas, and he sat down and played one of his ideas.

Diary of a Misfit teaser: Chris Johnson works on developing the score from Cabin 7 on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat?

My big multimedia project about Portland rappers came out last week. It's a package of four stories and three videos I made, along with black and white photographs from Beth Nakamura. I feel really grateful to have had the time to work with these musicians on telling their stories. NPR Music and Longreads both linked to the project, and it looks like the boys have sold some records in its wake. I went on Oregon Public Broadcasting this week, too, to talk about the stories.

Check out the whole project, called "Straight Outta St. Johns," for the full effect, but in the meantime, here's one of the videos.

Egbe Vado: A loss threatens the rapper's dreams from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Egbevado Ananouko’s family left West Africa banking on the American dream and found minimum wage jobs instead. Like other St. Johns teenagers, Ananouko saw hip-hop as a path out of the neighborhood. Rap music’s tales of gold chains and suped-up cars gripped Ananouko. But unlike his peers, the wiry, thickly accented Ananouko built his music studio hoping to secure something more pedestrian: acceptance.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Important Matter of Small-Town Hair

The first thing she saw at Jitney Jungle was Mary Thompson’s bouffant, fresh from a foreign salon. The local barber didn’t do that kind of up-do. Louise kept her shock cropped in electric spokes, and every other mother on Chatham Street had a perm or a bob, nothing as wild as the high-rising twist Mary was now wearing. Just last month she had been no better than anyone else.

“Louise,” Mary called. “Oh, Louise, isn’t it splendid to run into each other here. Frank and I have been out of town all month. We were in Florida, and you’ll have to forgive my hair. I had to have it done on vacation. The style isn’t quite taking to this humidity. Frank says it’s the same there as it is here, but I say the whole world knows Louisiana is hotter than hell. And how is Troyce?”

“Oh, we’re fine,” Louise said. The last thing she was going to do was discuss her husband or Florida or the merits and drawbacks of humidity with this hairstyle. Not when she had business in town.

Mary said, “I heard about what the preacher did. Troyce must be so hurt.”

“He’s the same as always,” Louise said. “In fact, we are going on a trip ourselves. Troyce has said he will carry me to Oregon.”

Louise could push her buggy all the way to Oregon right this second, but the outline of Mary’s bouffant would still flicker before her. Some women have so little to worry about.

“Oregon,” Mary said. “Well, who would have guessed?”

“Troyce stopped there before Korea, said it’s the most beautiful place in the world,” Louise said. Though, now that she thought of it, Troyce might have said Washington.

“I don’t know about Oregon. We’re not so well traveled as that. But Florida has oranges. And it has the ocean and the most wonderful people. Everyone is just radiant. Even Frank had a shine there. It could really set Troyce right, too.”

Louise pushed her buggy back and forth, just a bit. Maybe he had said Washington. He said the place was green even in winter. That trees there never died. You could mow the lawn in broad daylight there, Troyce had said, and never break a sweat.

Mary said, “Well, I’m sure you have to get going. I bet you have a huge supper planned.”

“Actually,” Louise said. “I’m headed to town today. To the Montgomery Ward. My mother needs a new rug.”

“I was just telling Frank the right rug can really tie a house together. Of course Frank wants to hold out for carpet. His mother has had wall-to-wall since 1962.”

Louise looked at her watch.

“Well, don’t let me keep you. Do tell Troyce we’re sorry we haven’t been by the store. Of course we don’t agree with the pastor, but Frank says we have to listen to him anyhow. Word could get around, and then Frank might run out of business, too.”

Louise wondered if they made women this same way in Oregon. Troyce hadn’t mentioned the women. He hadn’t mentioned the women of Korea either, though more than one wife in town had lost their husband to a Korean. Troyce had come home, thank god, with not a word of a single woman. In Oregon, she bet, women knew the right time to shut up.

-- excerpted from my short story "A New Rug"

(title cribbed from a Rachel Kushner line)
(photo grabbed from historical documents)