lo-cal [loh-kuhl]

Pronunciation['loh-kuhl] adjective

1. pertaining to or characterized by place or position in space; spatial. 2. pertaining to, characteristic of, or restricted to a particular place or particular places: a local custom. 3. pertaining to a city, town, or small district rather than an entire state or country: local transportation. 4.stopping at most or all stations: a local train. 5.pertaining to or affecting a particular part or particular parts, as of a physical system or organism: a local disease. 6.Medicine/Medical. (of anesthesia or an anesthetic) affecting only a particular part or area of the body, without concomitant loss of consciousness, as distinguished from general anesthesia.
n. 7.  a local train, bus, etc. 8.  a newspaper item of local interest. 9.  a local branch of a union, fraternity, etc. 10.  a local anesthetic. 11.  Often, locals. a.  a local person or resident: primarily of interest to locals.1

"Local" is a word that can be used many ways, but in the end always refers to the geographical proximity of one or more subjects of a sentence. In terms of the music community, "local" is often an enshrined term. Often it's brandished as a weapon. Well, you may notice in the many definitions of "local" above, nowhere does it indicate that "local" is a synonym for "good." Now, before you burn me at the stake for my beliefs, let me state that I believe Portland has had through its alternative music history a very high ratio of quality purveyors. But simply because someone's poop ends up in the same treatment plant as mine, whether it's been for a year or a couple decades, does not mean that their music output should be held in high regard and beyond question.

And despite the fact that in my various music-related appointments over the years I have championed and assisted scores of "local" artists and bands, I am often vilified for not bolstering certain musicians or groups thereof who happen to now have a 503 area code, regardless of my opinion. "You're not going to play (Local Band XYZ)!?! Don't you support the scene?!?"

"Support the scene"...well then...if by that it's implied that I should buy and program my musical preferences based on location alone, despite my perceived merit of the work, then should we also have personal relationships only with those in our vicinity, and preferably only our own family? Maybe hiring processes for jobs should be given out to the applicant whose address is closest to the place of business despite the other candidates' experience or expertise? By not playing the Rose City XYZs I am not condoning infantile murder!

Let me add that the term "support the scene" has an entirely different context in 2007 than it did in 1977, or even 1987. When the "support the scene" credo originated, it did so out of sheer necessity. The very survival of punk, indie, and alternative bands of those earlier eras was dependent upon being able to develop and maintain a local fan base. The punk and other records released in Bumfuck, Nebraska, Anytown, Texas, or Portland, Oregon, were for the most part only going to be distributed in that area. Maybe a few lucky bands could get a national independent distributor to carry their wares, but getting paid for them would be another story. So it was usually best to stick to a distributor in your area if you ever expected to see any return. The artists, bands, venues, indie stores, zines, and the ilk all literally depended on each other.

But while some aspects of that mutually beneficial arrangement remain today, it's no longer the matter of life and death that it once was. Today's musicians can form a band on day one, and on day two create a MySpace page that can be listened to and viewed by millions and millions of users. On day three they might even get a national or international record deal before ever playing out! OK, that may take a few more weeks or months ... but it has happened. Example: Panic at the Disco. Now we have reality TV shows in the vein of American Idol that can let vocalists bypass "paying dues" altogether. Unless you count waiting in line. Music made by today's wannabe rockers can be posted and downloaded on the Internet the same day of its inception, by anybody, anywhere, with a computer. There's no longer a need to build a solid local fan base before being given a chance to be heard outside of your region. Sure, it's nice ... it helps ... but it's not absolutely necessary anymore. So the term "support the scene" does not hold weight as it once did. It's a dulled knife. Sure, it's still good to butter your bread, but you're not really going to try to stab me with that, are you?

Today Portland isn't considered the career dead end it was in its punk infancy–in fact it's become something of a launching pad for not-yet-established musicians, as well as the destination du jour for performers who've already arrived (e.g., Steve Malkmus of Pavement and Adam Sherburne of Consolidated). Instead of the era of exodus, it's the era of influx. Not only are most of Portland's musicians relatively new to town (if you've lived here five to eight years or so, the local press considers you a "longtime resident"), but the lion's share of writers and editors for the weeklies and daily papers, the record store clerks, etc., are also folks with little history in the area.

There are both good and bad points to this. Many of the artists and people associated with this convergence are welcome and fine additions to "the scene." After all, just having lived a long time in Portland (or not having done so) doesn't make a person good or bad, and the same is true of their work. Some of the incoming (like the Gossip, Mirah, Scout Niblett, the since relocated Kristin Hersh, etc.) were already among my favorites before they moved here, so I was jazzed for the extra opportunities to see them afforded by their arrival. And even artists/bands who I might not personally be as keen on can often be fine neighbors and citizens. You can probably smell a "but" coming, and it ain't the one right behind you!

But ... I do detect a measure of attitude among some of the transplanted. Longtime Portlanders who don't happen to be from an established Portland "cool" institution (like Smegma, Dead Moon, Voodoo Doughnuts, Sleater-Quasi, or Jackie-O Motherfucker to name a few) are often looked down upon somewhat by the newly arrived hip music and party crowd as archaic losers. [2] But the fact is, it's many of these "townies" who planted the seeds for the musical Eden of which these migrants are so readily partaking (apples and all!). They're the people who went to see bands, were in them, brought them to town, wrote articles, read them, supported independent businesses, bought records, bought bagels and lattes (I can remember when both were near impossible to find in PDX) when all these ventures were struggling to find a home here in a place that lacked the amenities of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and all the other cities that Portland bands of that earlier age felt they had to move to if they wanted any sort of success. And back in the hometowns of all the musicians who've come to be part of the "Portland scene" are real music leaders. People who are seeing bands, playing in them, bringing them to town, writing articles, reading them, supporting independent businesses, buying records, bagels, and lattes and paving the way so that city's struggling "scene" will be the Portland, Oregon, of tomorrow.

So it's not that all Portland bands, artists, or people of any era were good merely by virtue of being "local." To me, the young band with an original vision and creative spirit that's currently residing in Bumfuck, Nebraska, or Anytown, Texas, is much more in the spirit of DIY Portland, much more what so many people seem to mean when they use the term "local," than the scores of conformist indie rock followers that have landed here in hopes of branding themselves "from Portland" and therefore, cool. (Many of whom will change their location and/or musical direction to coincide with the winds of fad-dom and move on to the next media-crowned hip sound and place once their goals here are not fully realized.)

As for me, at this point the only precinct that matters to me musically is the area between my left ear and my right, and I'll confess that even that territory isn't always 100% good. And that's as "local" as it fucking gets.

[1]Maybe there needs to just be one definition chosen, or none at all! This seems like overkill.

[2]Ok, but how to prove something like this? is it just a feeling the author's getting?