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The Sound of Where You Are

Portland's local alternative station has one standout show. It's called "The Bottom Forty." It airs Sunday nights and is hosted by Greg Glover. Tonight, on a drizzly evening, I was driving downtown, when I tuned into the show during the middle of a live track. At first I wasn't sure who the band was. After a few more seconds I was able to recognize the voice; it belonged to Bob Mould. I didn't even know the song. The chorus was catchy as is the case with most of Mould's work, but not saccharine. Nor are his songs infectious; they are too full of ache to spin incessantly like little tornadoes in your head. Rather, the songs seize on a moment and wrestle it to the ground; they are intimate and memorable emotional battles, fought and not always won. Mould's songs catch me off guard; they are shadowy tunes that flirt with but don't always find the light of day.

Bob Mould, Sugar, and Husker Du were (or still are) all associated with Minneapolis first and foremost, but only because that was their provenance. Tonight, though, they felt home in the Northwest. Partially because that is where this listener was tuning in, but also because I could hear in Mould's strained voice that of Kurt Cobain's, and the way Cobain's words cracked open as they sang out.

Great music transcends the spot on the map from which it springs forth. But music also captures the nuances and sensibilities of people's lives in a specific place or even becomes a reflection of the city or State itself. Our local bands might be the best example of who we are right now or of who we want to become, or maybe not at all. They might live in Portland and sound like they're from Manchester. So, it's not just the bands who reside in our cities and towns, or who transplant themselves there, that make up the noises that represent our topography or our internal and external landscapes. After all, the chainsaw distortion of Husker Du's guitar sounds conjure the felling of trees as much as Soundgarden embodies our half lit winter months or The Thermals bring to mind a restless frontier.

What musical sounds, what bands, what songs, exemplify the places you inhabit?

For me, in addition to the grittiness of Husker Du, I might also include the crepuscular beauty of Nick Drake and the agitated defiance of The Stiff Little Fingers. Yet I would have to say it is The Wipers, who are from the Northwest (and Portland in particular), who might possess the sound I most closely associate with where I live. Their songs both stab at and harness an unpredictable darkness, one that they are always trying to keep at bay.

The sonic or lyrical exploration and insinuation of place is one reason that music speaks to me. Either it transports me to distant shores, or reminds me of all the reasons why I stay.

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