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Tour Diary: Hellpets – March 2005: Eugene


March 4, 2005
Venue: The Campbell Club
City: Eugene, OR

While any band-related road trip is fun, but it’s always nice when you can aid a worthy cause. Our friends in the Portland band The Divided gave me a call the week before and asked if we could fill in at a benefit show for someone’s transexual surgery. It was an all-ages, house party just off the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. Apparently, every trans, queer and otherwise gender-bending denizen of Eugene was in attendance. Makes for quite a party.

From the backseat of the Hellpet truck: C. Baker guides us down the Belmont corridor in SE Portland en route to Interstate 5.

Apparently the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs of Albany had to take down their “meth up for safety” sign amid legal concerns.

It’s amazing how different the country feels once you’ve travelled an hour outside a major metropolitan area. Walking up to this rest stop, I kept getting the feeling that the locals were staring at me, presumably for my quasi-alternative, urban-chic appearance and/or style of dress. A few hours later at the party, wearing the exact same outfit, I would feel totally square. It’s all about context, I suppose. Brendon from The Divided had his own interesting rest area experience, though in his case, the locals were convinced he was a woman.

Always concerned about the nutritional requirements of his bandmates, C. Baker feeds me a peanut butter cookie.

The Campbell Club on Alder street in Eugene, OR. This was probably a sorority house at some point in the distant past. Currently, it’s a housing co-op with 27 residents sharing expenses, chores and bathrooms. Veggie and vegan cuisine is prepared nightly! Huge, all-ages house shows and parties occur here several times per month, I’m told. In the days after this particular show, I’ve spoken to several people who attended blow-out parties at this house while U of O students in the late 80′s.

The show was opened by Per Se, the brilliant songs of Ms. Anne Adams. Like most people of every gender, race, creed and nationality, I’m madly in love with Anne. As on so many nights, she deftly manuevered the crowd through the emotional complexities of her songs. The performance room had a massive hardwood floor, so hearing 70 people stomping and clapping the “We Will Rock You” beat in time with Anne’s song “Adelaide” was a thunderous experience.

A kitchen scene from the Campbell Club. This is where the deliciousness happens! It’s also closed to the public during parties and serves as an unofficial backstage/green room area. I prefer to, when at all possible, tune my guitar in the presence of men wearing dresses. It helps clear the mind of presuppositions. Androgyny was the order of the day and, with certain people, it was hard not to speculate on way or the other. This led the Countess to wonder: why do our brains insist on categorizing people by gender? Do we subconsiously treat people differently depending on what sex they are? Isn’t it completely irrelevant to 99% of human interactions? And also, why must it be a simple duality?

Next up was the house band, Lips of Twilight, who played a stripped-down form of free jazz improv. Teddy Bear Satan looks on with characteristic ferocity.

The dj kicks out some jams.

Inbetween bands, the crowd was treated to lip-sync performances by the drag king troupe Uber-gay Cabaret. The audience went absolutely crazy for it! After each number, I had to hold my ears against all the jubilant screaming. I wish this scene of acceptance and celebration could be repeated nightly in every American town.

And once the cabaret was finished, things quickly escalated into a dance party. People dance in Eugene. They even danced to us! It’s as if people in Eugene are still holding onto a sense of carefree joy and haven’t yet become self-conscious image cultivators, which seems to be a trend in Portland. It was refreshing. It reminded me of small college towns in the south where people are very enthusiastic and even grateful about the fact that you drove for hours to play music there.

As Brendon paused between songs to tune his guitar, he informed the crowd that “this is the part where you cat-call me and I talk shit”. Of course, that’s precisely what happened next. The Divided had the audience eating out of their hands! I’ve seen this band at nicer venues and with bigger sound systems, but never so much in control of the situation as at this show. By the end, they could have done anything and it would have been amazing. You look hot in those boots. Are you famous?

Our wonderful and accomodating hosts.

The residents of this house have put on many, many events…which was especially obvious by the efficiency and organization they displayed. Volunteers took shifts working various posts: the door, the merchandise booth, the entrance to the backstage/resident area. It was inspiring. Here, a volunteer working the door chats with some newly arrived party people.

With the exception of the house band, Lips of Twilight, all of tonight’s entertainment came down from Portland for this event, including a circus troupe who delighted the crowd with tribal music, fire spinning, snake dances and acrobatics. Fire good!

The spooky looking, turretted house next door!

Hanging out with 20-year-old idealists really takes me back. I won’t say exactly how far back it takes me. Almost everyone I met was incredibly thoughtful and aware, though there was one subset that piqued our curiosity…and apparently other people’s too.

The Countess and C Baker spent time on the old and weather worn couches on the co-op’s porch, consorting with participants from the annual environmental law conference. These forest activists, some of whom had taken names like “Gingko” and “Treeline”, burned with youthful idealism and the desire to be model citizens in a new, progressive nation. Two of the guys had just discovered feminism and were pondering its ins and outs. The Countess gave them helpful tips, such as if they need to comment on a woman’s body it is generally safer to mention parts that are often seen (i.e. hair, eyes) than those usually covered by clothing.

The activists were leaving that weekend to commence a forest takeover somewhere in California. When the Countess asked what methods they use to halt logging, Gingko glanced furtively around for narcs, then said he’d rather not talk about it. However, he had plenty to say about buffalo. He described the buffalo refuge in Yellowstone Park, one of the stops on his activism tour. Government officials are afraid that if the buffalo roam out of the park, local bovines will catch diseases that will be passed on to humans via roast and cutlet. So if buffalos cross the park’s borders, they will be shot. Gingko and his crew tried to protect the buffalo by keeping them within their allotted area. But Gingko thinks the buffalo should be allowed to multiply and spread across the country again.

“Just think!” he said enthusiastically, “If there were buffalo everywhere, nobody would have to have a job!” The Countess, who is not generally slow-witted, had to request elaboration on this point. Gingko explained that we could eat them and use their hides. When asked about housing, he sang the praises of sleeping with the wind on one’s face. Gingko’s needs are simpler than those of the Countess, who is vegetarian and prefers to live indoors.

As is often the case with progressive folk, their dogs were much in evidence: crawling across people’s laps, slobbering, clobbering faces with their tails. The Hellpets were treated to a long description of the love story of two dogs, brought together and torn apart repeatedly by their activist human consorts as they moved from one forest to another. Gingko repeatedly corrected the other narrator who had the audacity to say “pet” or “owner” when he meant “companion.”

Despite the good intentions of the environmental law crew, a sign at the entrance of the co-op banned conference participants from lodging there. One resident informed the Countess that last year people from the environmental law conference stole money and CDs from the house.

This the suite we stayed in at the Eugene Motor Lodge. Although we were invited to stay at the house, it looked like the party might drag on until dawn! Additionally, the mattresses that we would probably have been sleeping on were in use. Earlier in the evening, I had helped to duct-tape them over the living room windows.

Hellpets outside the Morning Glory Cafe in downtown Eugene.

Okay, enough of this rock’n'roll, environmentalist, sexual-minority house party nonsense. Let’s get to something truly interesting: breakfast!

Mmmm…the tofu scramble with vegan grain muffins and alfalfa looks delicious!

This may appear to be getting out of hand, but studies show that people surfing the internet like to read about what other people had for breakfast in Oregon college towns.

Blue Ribbon Winner: most amusing law firm name seen on the trip.

One of the many scenic moments to be savored along the I-5 corridor in the Willamette valley. We spent the drive listening to cdr of rare Rolling Stone tracks and reminiscing about the previous day, including the tale of the environmentalists. Chris predicted that Gingko will eventually be working for IBM.

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