PhD student Sam Murray has been studying the independent music scene in Portland, Oregon. Here he tells us how his public engagement work in the city has led to some unexpected outcomes…
“An interesting aspect of a PhD is the impact it can have on the field of study; this can vary from having a new approach to how people think about a subject to something more bizarre and unexpected. Recently I have encountered the latter.
“I am currently studying a PhD examining the use of popular music as a resource within the city of Portland, Oregon, with a focus on policy-making. As part of my research I developed a range of public engagement events in partnership with Portland non-profit Know Your City, a group dedicated to educating Portlanders about their own city and the stories it holds.
“The main event we developed together was the ‘Sing a Song of Portland’ sing-a-long walking tour. The walking tour takes in the musical sites based on and around West Burnside Street in Portland. At each stop off point attendees learn about the history of the location and its place in Portland musical history, and then learn about a related current issue faced in the music scene. Then attendees join an ephemeral choir and sing a song from Portland’s rich musical history led by a tour guide troubadour. One of the selected songs holds such a special significance to the city that it transformed into a bizarre and wonderful event.
“If there are two things that I would never have expected to be research impacts of my PhD, a world record and a donut would certainly be them. Sure enough they became the unintended impact of this tour through the immortal song ‘Louie Louie’.
“‘Louie Louie’ was written by Richard Berry but the most famous version of the song was recorded in Portland by local band The Kingsmen. The song became a hit with the youth counterculture and even ended up on the President’s desk as the CIA expressed concern at its apparent vulgar nature and ability to instil vagrancy in the youth of America. Nothing makes for an entertaining read more than the CIA report into the song, which takes the time to listen to the song at varying speeds and then misinterpret the lyrics into something more imaginatively lewd than the original.
The song was also recorded in Portland by Paul Revere & The Raiders, ingraining the song in the city’s musical history. Know Your City decided to celebrate both this and their 6th birthday by holding a world record attempt of the most people singing the song outside Portland City Hall.
“They were accompanied by members of The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & The Raiders as well as a senior citizens marching band and musicians from the Rock n Roll Camp for Girls, with proceedings lead by the Portland legend Tre Shannon founder of Voodoo Donuts and past owner of the X-Ray Café an important venue in Portland’s musical history. Naturally this is where the donut comes into play as to celebrate the occasion Tre Shannon and the folks at Voodoo Donuts launched the ‘Bluie Louie’ donut.
“Due to working on the exciting Creative Cardiff mapping project at Cardiff University I wasn’t able to attend, and despite my best attempts customs and excise wouldn’t let a ‘Bluie Louie’ cross the pond to enter my stomach! Although I was able to see a video of the event courtesy of local newspaper The Oregonian which can be found through this link:
Public engagement continues to be one of the most exciting aspects of my PhD research and the more events unfold, the more exciting it becomes. This tour has developed from a one-off event, to a further programme funded by the University’s Community Engagement team to a regular weekly fixture in Portland over the course of nearly two years and hopefully will continue to leave a legacy of my PhD research in the city.”