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Diary of a Billsticker – Seattle and Portland, USA

10 November 2009

I’m writing this on the eve of Guy Fawkes’s night and yet I did this poster run a month back in early October. I flew to Seattle and the shuttle bus driver became lost getting me to a Holiday Inn. That’s strange. She also managed to incur the wrath (held back, breathing changed) of several other passengers as she went past their stops. That’s weird. Why would a person do that? I felt incredibly diplomatic as a Kiwi and we always feel the need to patch things up. I did. That’s laborious.

What do we know about Seattle? Well, it’s very easy to tell that it’s a superlative gig town. There are thousands of posters on the lamp-posts for local bands and DJ’s. Mostly these are coloured A3 photocopies. As I was putting up NZ poetry posters (mainly Nicholas Thomas, Pablo Nova, Janet Frame), a cop went past and waved and smiled. I enjoyed that. There was some kind of action in Seattle to ban postering a few years back and this action failed. Good. There is a need for expression, more so now. I think the local poster company in Seattle is called Poster Giant and it looks to me like they do a good job of handling many campaigns simultaneously. That’s required. They obviously maintain the sites.

What do we know about America? Well, just this last weekend I was in Chicago postering. As I left Chicago I noted that the main local newspaper (The Tribune) was in bankruptcy. I was now flying to Philadelphia where the local newspaper there (The Inquirer) is also in serious difficulty. It feels to me like many people in America are now expressing themselves (and their music, theatres, businesses, issues) through alternative ways and this includes posters and fliers. The old reliable stalwarts. The corporate style media has obviously failed. This corporate type of media mainly became about share prices and ignored people. In business, when you cut costs, you also run the risk of cutting your own throat. Of course, the internet features in all of this, but I think the main reason the newspapers are in the ditch is because long ago they lost contact with the population. Mr Hugh Bris came around and arrogance then ruled. Television in America is strange too, everyone has such perfect teeth. Yet there are many good journalists out of work. That’s sad.

There’s something about Seattle and Portland both being highly creative cities. Portland especially is very bohemian and reminds me of Dunedin and also of Cuba Street in Wellington. I had a great time postering in Portland.

Microsoft is centred somewhere around Seattle. Nike is centred somewhere near Portland (in Beaverton). The greatest Rock guitarist of all time, James Marshall Hendrix, was born in Seattle. That says it all. Portland has the greatest bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books and my very favourite author, Thomas Pynchon, worked for Boeing in Seattle for two years in the early 1960s. This was whilst he worked on his breakthrough novel ‘V’. I’ll bet you’ve read it and understood it. Try ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’.

But it was in Seattle where Kurt Cobain came through the ranks and changed music at a time when it was dangerously boring. When music is dangerously boring it is also bad for people. Life becomes inhibiting. Here’s what Jim Carroll (who died about a month back) said in a poem about Kurt Cobain:

“And instead you were swamp crawling
Down, deeper
Until you tasted the Earth’s own blood
And chatted with the buzzing-eyed insects that
heroin breeds”
– Fragments for Kurt Cobain – Jim Carroll

And I’ll finish there. Wouldn’t you?

Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson