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October 21st, 2013 saw the broadcast of “Portland Noir,” Oregon Experience‘s latest episode on OPB (click the video above to see the entire show). The Resident Historian was invited to participate in the program – a huge honor indeed, and an enjoyable process to boot! Part of why it was so enjoyable was how different of an experience it was than what we are typically used to when it comes to “making the history.”
Kami, the producer of the program, had come on my Seedy, Seamy, Sinful Portland walking tour. She was the one furiously scribbling notes as we walked along a drippy Old Town Spring day – stepping over junkies sprawled across thresholds as we talked of crimps, Really Long Bars, and gambling at The Lotus Cardroom. In addition, Kami had listened to our Shanghaied in Portland! podcasts, and was indeed well versed in the information we presented. In May, she contacted me and said the she would like to film me in the OPB studio, answering some questions about all the naughty shit in Portland’s past (my words – not Kami’s), as well as filming a “mock tour” of the relevant parts of the Seedy Tour that concerned Shanghaiing, Erickson’s Saloon, Whores and the like. Sounded like a good time to me, and right up our alley to boot!
The studio portion of the production was just kind of weird for me. Beyond cable access and live TV News studios, I had never been on a real soundstage before, so it was just a brand new experience. It felt awkward and, well, staged. But there was a GREAT silhouette backdrop of the Portland marquee from the Schnitz, and the feel of the set seemed to be in line with the theme of the show. Kami had sent me two pages of an outline of what she would like me to be prepared to chat about. For example:
“SAILORS – who were they, what were their lives like, what was it like for them at port? What were crimps? What is blood money? Briefly – how did the system work? Who were some of the most notorious Crimps? What rights did the sailor have?” That sort of thing.
I sat there for an hour, talking about the topics featured in the program, but as regular attendees of our events, and listeners to our podcasts know… I tend to swear. A lot. Especially when I get excited about a topic, as I am want to do with Seedy shit in Old Town. I pity the poor OPB editor who had to wade through my testimony of Olden Days, looking for segments absent a “fuck” or a “goddammit.” I owe you a beer, dude.
The filmed “tour” was a ton of fun! I sent out an invite to about 30 or so regular Ass Kickers from our events and such, asking them if they would like to come on a free tour, subjected, of course, to the expected “walk this way now, please” and “can we do that one more time?” It was a lovely May afternoon, and I was quite pleased that even with the expected demands of the film crew, I could still conduct a Seedy Tour that still gave a pretty true facsimile of the original, unchoreographed tour. It was a challenge, but I think it was a good example of a “not-staged tour.”
Fast forward about 4 months. The program reaped a good amount of press before it was screened. Allison Hallett of the Portland Mercury wrote about the October 11th premiere screening at The Mission Theater. And before the OPB Television premiere, Kristi Turnquist of The Big O listed “Portland Noir” as one of the TV Picks of the Week.And rightfully so! Kami and the rest of the OPB team made a fun documentary that really presents the the theme of the program quite well!
The screening at The Mission was a fucking blast! We saved about three rows in the balcony for Ass Kickers to be seated in, and even more were spread throughout the theater. We had a decidedly naughty time – and I am SO appreciative to everyone who came out for the screening! The Mission was packed, so packed in fact that they had to close the doors and turn folks away. From a personal stand point, it was REALLY weird to see 20 foot high DougZilla pontificating about Bunco Kelly and Stuart Holbrook and Loggers Who Had Just Become Sailors. It was frankly uncomfortable. I honestly had NO idea what the final production was going to look like, nor any sense of what words that I spoke had be chosen for the final episode. As a total Event Control Freak, it was beyond nerve wracking to be sitting in that little theater chair as the program played out before me.
In Hallett’s post, she described the OPB production as more “buttoned up” than our usual KAORHST productions. This is absolutely true. Which brings us back to the whole “Public Historian” thing. At Kick Ass Oregon History, Andy and I absolutely view ourselves as “Guerrilla Historians.” We want to bring The Public good, real history – The Straight Shit – without all the trappings normally associated with “Academic History.” We don”t need the academy, the hallowed halls, the stuffy, staid talking head presentations in the lobby of some museum. We feel those associations are not necessary to enjoy these stories of our State. We also don’t need permission. And besides the rigid creed of the historian to be accurate when presenting the past, we don’t really follow rules very well. We want our history to be a bit like an Old Town drug deal; a sense of urgency and contraband. Something in demand. We want to spay paint a building wall with “Some History Happened Here!!!” with a QR code interpreting said event. We want to tell historical tales to bars filled with drunken enthusiasts of an engaging, but true story. I don’t mean to sound like a goddamned hippie here, but we want to bring History For The People, maaaannnn…
So how does this foray into “buttoned up” history mesh with our current mode of “making the history?” To be perfectly honest, I was a little frightened of how my Television Historian Persona would compare with my KAORHST Resident Historian-ness. But I have to say, I think the blending of those two personas worked well. If you had never heard of KAORHST and watched “Portland Noir,” you would have no idea of the true ribaldness that could be. But I think Ass Kickers watching the program will still be able to see the Resident Historian under all those “buttoned up” trappings (I even chose a tie for the studio setting I did NOT buy at Ross or Goodwill!).
It was a HUGE milestone for Kick Ass Oregon History to be invited to participate in an Oregon Experience program. While it is not an entirely exclusive club, nonetheless, to be interviewed an “an expert” by OPB was a great honor, and I again want to thank Kami and everyone at OPB. While many great Oregon historians have been featured in the series, many other worthy historians have not. Being seated for the program denotes a certain level of seriousness, commitment and devotion to the craft of presenting Oregon History. Much like writing a book… Hmmmm….