One of the ways you can get better acquainted with Portland in 2018 is by enjoying the many faces of the city revealed in print, on screen, and in music. The Rose City is renowned for its vibrant creative community and leaves its mark on a wide range of culture. Here are a few suggestions to whet your appreciation for PDX without getting your feet wet – or breaking the bank.
Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter (Harcourt, 1966)
This picaresque tale will suit those who like a hearty serving of grit with their Fair Trade artisan coffee. Carpenter’s 1966 novel captures a rough and tumble town having its way with Jack Levitt, an orphaned teenager bouncing between Portland’s fleabag hotels and seedy pool halls. A friendship, a failed heist, and ruthless fortune lead to a violent, doomed gasp at redemption.
Glaciers by Alexis Smith (Tin House, 2012)
A novel about a young woman called Isabel who repairs damaged books for a living and daydreams about vintage dresses could only be set in Portland. Taking place in a single day, a la Mrs Dalloway, it is a brief but winning evocation of that stage where life is still this slippery, fluid thing that happens and any day, any moment, might be the one that gives it a solid shape.
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow (Algonquin, 2010)
This debut novel explores being mixed race in a city that, historically, fought to be as white as possible. It is the story of Rachel, whose mother was Danish and whose father was a black American soldier. When Rachel, who has dark skin and blue eyes, goes to live with her black grandmother in Portland she has to forge her identity in a place that wants to categorize her as either black or white.
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
This Gus Van Sant classic is an essential Portland film. It skips through the city, depicting the northwest, northeast, southeast, and a long-gone Greyhound bus station as it follows the fortunes of a group of damaged yet improbably good-looking junkies.
Zero Effect (1997)
A tongue-in-cheek tale of blackmail, murder and sleuthing, this Portland-based film stars Bill Pullman as eponymous detective Daryl Zero. It will take you from Portland International Airport, all over downtown, back and forth across the city’s bridges, and to a number of marginal hotels.
Funny or tragic, depending on your point of view, this documentary about the Dandy Warhols’ rivalry with the Brian Jonestown Massacre is a double dose of Portland weirdness. The strife between the polished indie-lite Warhols and the unhinged but authentic Jonestown Massacre is an apt analogy for the city’s awkward efforts to be both commercial and daring.
Live Through This – Hole
Courtney deserves more than to live in Kurt’s shadow, which only lengthened after his death. This 1994 album proves that Love, who grew up in Portland and formed her first bands in the city, is a vivid talent in her own right.
Trails of the Lonely (Parts 1 and 3) – The Lost Brothers
The Losties are an Anglo-Irish duo but their 2008 debut is pure PDX. Recorded in Portland with M. Ward producer Mike Coykendall at the controls it is soaked in the misty atmosphere of Oregon in autumn. Among its stand-out tracks is the homage to its origin, “City of the Rose.”
The Hazards of Love and What Terrible World, What a Beautiful World – The Decemberists
Their ultra-twee vibe isn’t for everyone but there is no denying The Decemberists are a musical evocation of Portland. Start with the gorgeous 2009 effort, The Hazards of Love and pick up the thread with 2014’s What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World which shares an aural palette with REM’s Automatic for the People.
In closing we’ll offer up one more Portland-inspired bit of creativity: Portlandia. Oh, you’ve heard of that one? The Emmy Award-winning IFC series, now in its eighth (and final) season, is nationally renowned as a parody of – and homage to – the Rose City. It will be missed.
Want to learn more about having more fun in Portland for less money? Check out our new website, Portland Living on the Cheap.