Where nothing gets done

So okay, Portland has a lot of problems these days. What to do about them? For some folks, the answer is to deny that they exist.

The kids at the Merc came out with a self-described manifesto last week. It declares that (a) Portland is just fine, and (b) if it isn't, it's all the fault of the rich people and the cops. "Say something nice about Portland," they cheer. "Just like they did in Detroit, Michigan."

I am not making that up. The new standard for livability in Portland is Detroit. When you're trying to make bank on a Stick-It-to-The-Man narrative, I guess, no stretch is too far.

Meanwhile, geezer rocker John Mellencamp has hit a nerve with some locals with his new song about homelessness, "The Eyes of Portland." How dare he! That is not Portland Polite at all. 

An "entertainment" writer at the hapless O decided to attack on artistic grounds:
I get the strong feeling that you’ve never actually spoken to a person living on the street, which is where I would start if I were going to write a song ostensibly about their perspective.

Instead of speaking to a human, Mellencamp falls back on some of the most boring cliches available.

“Some are mentally ill, some are higher than kites,” he sings. “Selling their bodies as day turns to night.”

Really? “Higher than kites?” If I were teaching a middle school poetry class, I would circle this and say, “Can you think about what this means and come up with something more concrete?”

Over at the comical Portland Monthly, whose readership of recent California transplants must have dried up to nothing by now ("50 Best Places to Step in Bum Doo"), their big criticism is that the music video for Mellencamp's song doesn't actually show Portland. The street scenes were filmed elsewhere.

In reality, you’re looking at LA and New York City: a man pushes a grocery cart in the shadow of Pershing Square and Grand Central Station, and later appears in Brooklyn near the Williamsburg Bridge. And on it goes for four and a half minutes of black-and-white despair, plus a couple quick shots of a child’s hand waving a miniature American flag (ah, patriotism—we get it). 

Are we getting just a wee bit defensive here, people? Portland is the perfect poster child for the mess on America's streets. John Mellencamp may be an old, tired guy with not much voice left and not a lot of time to fool around with fancy metaphors. But what he's saying about our city is completely true, whether you like hearing about it or not.

As I saw through the eyes of Portland one day
There were so many homeless, they'd all gone astray
They slept on the corners during the day
As not to be harmed when the sun went away

There were old ones and young ones, white ones and black
They were all shapes and sizes, with rags on their backs
So many people mixed up in this stew
With no place to go and nothing to do

All of thesе homeless, wherе do they come from?
In this land of plenty where nothing gets done
To help those who are empty and unable to run
Your tears and prayers won't help the homeless

Some are mentally ill, some are higher than kites
Selling their bodies as day turns to night
Where are their loved ones, does anyone care?
To be lost and alone in the middle of nowhere

Don't shoot the messenger, Portland. Wake up and smell the fentanyl.


  1. It’s never acceptable to tell a mother that her daughter isn’t attractive.

  2. Well as a looonnngggg time Portlander I was perfectly fine with living in the middle of nowhere and the days when we use to say 'feel welcome to visit just don't stay'.

    1. I miss the days when the big threat was the influx of house-rich yuppies from California. Now it's drug addicts from anywhere and everywhere.

  3. I always liked Cougar better than Boss just because his metaphors were so much more simpler (thus actually rock & roll and not opera)....

    And there's winners and there's losers
    But they ain't no big deal
    'Cause the simple man pays for the thrills, the bills,
    the pills that kill

    Ah but ain't that America for you and me
    Ain't that America somethin' to see baby
    Ain't that America home of the free, yeah
    Little pink houses for you and me

    1. Gonna die in this small town
      That's prob'ly where they'll bury me

    2. And he never stooped to doing obvious dreck like “Mary Janes Last Dance.”

    3. "Whenever We Wanted" was a great album that nobody ever acknowledged.

  4. Great column Jack

  5. Even David Sedaris slams the Portland vibe and its houseless population a bit in his new book “Happy Go Lucky” — in “Themes and Variations” he writes about looking for a beggar to give $50 to as part of a “pass on your good fortune” thing —
    “But suddenly I didn’t see any, isn’t that always the way? When you just want to be left alone, they’re everywhere and super aggressive. Portland, Oregon’s are the worst. They’re all tattooed there and are stretched out on the sidewalk. Eighteen, twenty years old, with pierced noses and ears with so many holes in them that you could likely tear off the outer rims the way you’d separate a stamp from a sheet. “Asshole” they spit as you walk by with your eyes averted. “Go fuck yourself.”
    I’d have welcomed a tough young Portland beggar in Milwaukee, but everyone I passed looked, if not well-off, at least middle-class. . . .”


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