THE FIRST TIME I saw the words "Keep Portland Weird" I was somewhere around 12 years old and I was buying a Kool and the Gang tape from the old Music Millennium on NW 23rd. I remember seeing the motto—which we totally fucking rolled Austin's pockets for, BTW—and identifying with it. Well, maybe not identifying with it... but wanting to identify with it. I was young and lame and Portland was not only telling you it was weird, but it was cool with it. I wanted to be that confident. I wanted to be weird and interesting and so stoked on my own eccentricities that, if you didn't get on board, YOU were the problem, not me. I mean, I was fucking 12 years old so it wasn't that elegant of a thought. It was probably more like, "Portland is weird, huh? That's better than whatever I've got going on"—but the spirit is the same.
The 24 Hour Church of Elvis shut its doors/alcove for the final time a couple of weeks ago—another shred of identity chipping off the cold concrete wall, driving Portland further away from an organic, unique particularity and into the bleak inevitability of manufactured quirk.
That's what you're supposed to think, anyway.
Every time one of these O.G. Portland institutions morphs into pure nostalgia the city suffers a minor existential crisis. If you needed a short-hand explanation for why Portland is weird, the 24 Hour Church of Elvis was a pretty common example. Now it's gone, but I can't tell if we should be upset. It was a charming monument, but I can't fight the feeling that the 24 Hour Church of Elvis was the Fidel Castro of Portland oddity, holding on long after its era had passed.
Now when I think about the words "Keep Portland Weird," I become afraid that we've been damned by the commandment. You know how sometimes you'll meet parents who make their kids wear Wu-Tang Clan onesies and insist that their kid's favorite band is New Order and you become generally concerned about that child's ability to rebel and create their own identity? There's a chance our entire fucking city is that kid right now.
Can we keep getting weirder and still be doing shit that we still actually believe in? I mean, the last night the 24 Church of Elvis was open, the only thing subversive about it was that it wasn't generating money in a heavily commercial part of town. I don't know what the goal of the Church of Elvis was, I don't know if it had a goal, but if it had anything to do with making this a weirder place, it fucking won. It did its job. It's sad that it's gone, but this city is not a museum. We can't be a sect of monks obsessively dedicated to some dying god of authenticity. You know what, if we're the children of hip parents... then we are. And there isn't a thing we can do to change it—there is only one thing to do, and that is to forge on, be honest, and create honesty. Burn your Wu-Tang onesie and Keep Portland Weird.