What does it mean to Keep Portland Weird?

Getting back to some emerging-music think-tankery for tonight’s salon…

Our monthly Muse:forward event champions stuff that doesn’t fit into established genres. We’re not alone – there are many venue owners/bookers, impresarios and scene-makers in town who seem to just get it, and that venerable bumper-sticker mantra “Keep Portland Weird” still applies here, despite corporate TV’s attempt to co-opt its diversity for profit and cynical, passive amusement.

Weirdness is a natural part of being human. A person is existentially the strangest mash-up of transcendent consciousness and awkward animal. Anything imaginable is our natural, terrible, playful domain. This is what being human’s about, and what IMO art is about, if one can say it (like life) is “about” anything.

The impersonal is the domain of the institution. Set something up with a creed, a program, a hierarchy. The institution naturally normalizes, classifies, suppresses the weird so that some agenda can be met. “Normal” is the oxygen of the institution, it’s what allows it to predict and control and expand and maximize its interests.

So on this basis I think “Keep Portland Weird” isn’t about the surface, the idiosyncratic style or trend. It’s about making room for the individual to be natural, to be oneself, to be weird, to explore without being corralled by normalizing institutions. What I’m attempting with the monthly Muse:forward event isn’t to curate a preferred weird style, but to provide a forum that resists agenda and groupthink and gives anyone who wants to try something (mainly with music) a protected space to be themselves. And I think that’s not new in Portland; if we have a weird cultural ethos it’s because many have worked, and still work, to foster this kind of individuality that lets us remind ourselves we aren’t just consumers or taxpayers or subjects or TV audience.

Looking forward to discussion, tonight at the salon, and in comments!

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