Carlindustries statement on the Clackamas Town Center shooting spree

In the wake of the shooting at Clackamas Town Center here in Portland today think all of our hopes and prayers are with the NRA, and the terrible criticism they’ll have to endure  — again — for keeping assault weapons available to hockey mask-wearing citizens who choose to exercise their 2nd amendment rights in shopping malls. I just pray that we all remember that this is no time to talk about gun control, especially since the next mass shooting is probably just days away. Nothing to see here. Keep shopping.

BRUCE to Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame – but first, a benefit for Sandy-battered Brooklyn

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played in Portland the other night, and I got to take my family to the soundcheck, which was a show unto itself. Starting with an attempt to master Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Hungry,” (“What other bands are from Portland?” Bruce called out over the p.a.) the front line players stood in a circle near Weinberg’s drums. At one point they debated taking on “Louie, Louie,” (another Revere song, though the Kingsmen, who recorded the tune a few days after the Raiders had the hit), but then rejected both of them. More songs, and when the crowd waiting outside started to roar Bruce called out through the microphone — “I can hear you, but I can’t see you! Where are you?” Which only incited more roars, of course. “You sound like a great crowd!” Even more roars. Even from halfway down the floor you could see his eyes sparkling.

Meanwhile. The BRUCE publicity junket moves to Cleveland on Tuesday, December 4, where the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame will host an onstage interview, conducted by Dr. Lauren Onkey, vice president for the hall’s education and public programs. Tickets are free but limited, and all facts and info can be found right here on the Hall of Fame’s website. I’m super-psyched about this one, so if you’re in the area come on out and say hi.

But first, in Portland, Ore. I’m doing a non-BRUCE reading set in my former home borough of Brooklyn, NY for. . .

Sunday, December 2:  Defiance: A Benefit to Restore Red Hook, Brooklyn at Disjecta (8371 N Interstate) at 5 pm. It’ll be a huge honor to read along with Karen Karbo, Nancy Rommelmann, Jon Raymond and Courtenay Hameister, and take in musical sets by my good pal Casey Neill and Tim DuRoche & the Kin Trio, who will surely become good pals, too. But wait, there’s more: a raffle for airplane tix to and from NYC, gift certificates to fine local restaurants & pubs; cool prizes (including a signed ‘BRUCE,’ which comes with my hand-picked, very unofficial soundtrack CD) a silent auction and more, more, more.

So that’s that, and there’s more to come so stay tuned.

BRUCE comes alive in Portland! And also MORE free audio!

Hey, Portland!

I’ll be reading, providing q’s to a’s and signing actual copies from/about/of BRUCE tonight, Friday Nov 9,  at Powell’s on Burnside at 7:30 pm.

You should come! And definitely get a copy of something signed, because I’m bringing my absolutely unique, one-of-a-kind, custom-made Tillie stamp with me. Maybe if you ask the Tillie stamp a question, it will answer. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened, right?

It will be fun. Of a sort.

MEANWHILE — here’s more free fun: Another 10-minute preview from the BRUCE audiobook, as read by Bobby Cannavale. Here, the story picks up in mid-1972, somewhere down the Jersey Shore. . . .

Jay Cunningham: Portrait of the artist as a victim of his own perfectionism

Cunningham opens the door to his studio. But will he let his paintings out into the world? MOTOYA NAKAMURA – Oregonian staff

In Jay Cunningham’s paintings, the things that don’t fit matter the most.

It’s the shiny gold key in the hand of the monkey who smiles cryptically as he unlocks a wooden door. It’s the golden crown on the table next to the man watching his toddler play with a toy dinosaur.

And it’s the detached expression of the young man peering away from the mother bird feeding her two babies in a vine-tangled tree.

That’s the picture that gets to Jay Cunningham’s mother, Sharon Vanderzanden, since she knows that the young man in the foreground is her son. The birds represent her family back when her two boys were navigating what Jay calls “the crucible” of their childhood.

Crucibles can do the darndest things. When he was young, the Milwaukie-reared Cunningham retreated into his room, where he projected himself into the wide-open world of crayons and paper. Brushes, canvas and pigment came later, then art school. Then a shockingly fast rise to the upper ranks of Portland’s most prevalent artists.

By 1993, the average price of the 26-year-old painter’s work had climbed more than 800 percent beyond what Cunningham’s gallery charged at his first show in 1990. Then came the private commissions and repeated pleas from a prominent gallery just itching to help Cunningham break into Seattle’s larger, more lucrative market.

“He seemed to be going so good,” recalls J.D. Perkin, a Portland sculptor and longtime friend. “I had no idea why he backed off.”

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. After an exhibit in 1996, Cunningham’s work slowed to a trickle. He managed another gallery show in 1999, but that was it. No matter the acclaim, the successful exhibitions and endless opportunities ahead, Cunningham closed his studio door and abandoned his art career.

Life went on. He worked a job. He bought a house and got married. So many responsibilities, so many things to do. Art, he insists, remains his highest priority. But where is it?

“I’ve had to make my peace with it,” Cunningham says. “But I can’t — or won’t — compromise with art. And not doing it at all is a better alternative than doing it wrong.”

Still, at age 43, Cunningham is determined to make 2011 the year of his return.

He’s working on an illustrated book. He is a finalist in an upcoming art-themed TV series. He even has some paintings nearly ready to show.

But the key word is “nearly.” Because Cunningham needs every blade of grass to be just so. Every button and flyaway hair must have a specific look and meaning.

“It’s an impossible standard,” he says.

Once again, something in this picture doesn’t fit. And until Cunningham resolves that disconnect, his renewed career, and his life, hang in the balance.

If you remember his work, Cunningham’s house will seem familiar.

Something about the golden light from the wood stove, the curious antiques placed on the shelves. Then there’s the hypnotic shimmer of the Fred Meyer tabletop Christmas tree he and his wife, artist and illustrator Carolyn Garcia, have used for 15 years.

It’s warm in here, and welcoming. And maybe just a bit off-kilter. “Jay’s houses always look like his paintings,” one longtime friend says.

Follow the bantam-built Cunningham out the back door to his hand-built studio. Here the light is clear and bright, the flat-storage drawers locked tight. The only surface that seems even remotely disordered is the bare white easel, whose borders teem with hand-written affirmations and criticisms. The biggest letters read: YOU’RE NOT CRAZY — YOU’RE LAZY.

Back by his wood stove, Cunningham fiddles with the embers while shrugging off the glories of his past. He’s far more engaged when probing the quandaries in his life. Dragged back to his celebrated past, he blushes and shrugs.

“I didn’t think people gave a damn anymore,” he says. “It’s shocking to hear you talk like that.”

The facts speak for themselves. After graduating from Rex Putnam High School in 1985, Cunningham followed a whim to the illustration/design program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. His studies focused largely on applying art skills to advertising and other professional pursuits. But somewhere along the line Cunningham’s eye strayed to the ethereal universe of fine arts and to Balthus, Carravaggio and Max Beckman, whose paintings resided somewhere in the gray area between realism and surrealism.

For a shy young man whose bottled-up feelings craved release, the prospect of speaking through intricately painted, yet cryptic images was intoxicating.

Cunningham’s senior thesis won the grand prize for illustration/design students just before he graduated in 1989. And when Victoria Frey, owner of Quartersaw Gallery — then a central hub in the Pearl District’s art scene — saw it, she was “blown away” by the young artist’s work.

“He had his own language and vision. … I liked how allegorical it was (and how) he hinted at the story, but he doesn’t lay it all out. He allows you to interpret it for yourself.”

Frey launched Cunningham’s professional career at Quartersaw at an August 1990 exhibit that drew crowds and sold exceptionally well. The artist worked feverishly for the next few years, crafting paintings that one critic described as “marvels of detail and opulent color.” Cunningham’s prices rocketed to nearly 10 times what they had once been. Still, his shows sold out within days.

MOTOYA NAKAMURA – Oregonian staff

A Seattle gallery wooed him at length, while extra-determined collectors took their checkbooks straight to Frey, hoping to set up private commissions with Cunningham.

“I kept telling (customers) that Jay works slowly,” Frey says. “And putting pressure on him wouldn’t work because he was always second-guessing his work.”

It’s a conundrum most artists can only dream about: the point where the demand for finished work is so piercing that your own success becomes a creative stumbling block.

“You’re asking yourself a lot of questions about your motivation for doing what you’re doing,” says Perkin. “Are you repeating yourself? Are you still experimenting? Are you still excited by your work?”

And then there’s the content of the work itself, and the knowledge that thousands of eyes, not all of them sympathetic, will be parsing, and judging, your deepest feelings.

“Jay’s work had a lot of dark ideas in it,” says Frey. “Often, artists are afraid of that. Like, ‘What am I revealing about myself, and what will people think of it?'”

“I was never afraid of the (artistic) process,” Cunningham says. “I was more afraid of the demands of being the sole proprietor of a small business.”

Which becomes particularly complicated when you have, as Cunningham says, “a self-imposed, unobtainable standard for (yourself). It’s probably a character flaw when you take it to extremes.”

Or maybe it’s the toll of finding your greatest inspiration in the heart of your most unsettling memories.

Most days you can find Cunningham where he’s worked since the mid-’90s, tending the shelves of Multnomah County Central Library.

Most of his work takes place in the fluorescent warren of shelves and offices beyond the public eye, where a legion of staffers tend the current of books flooding in and out.

It’s a good gig, complete with job security and health benefits. But it’s also profoundly uncreative. To be a foot soldier in Dewey’s Decimal System is to be a slave to a codex: a cog in a rigidly constructed system of classifications.

And maybe that sense of order is precisely what Cunningham craves.

“My dad was an alcoholic, so I swore I wasn’t going to let alcohol affect my children like it had affected me,” says Cunningham’s father, Michael. “But I ended up doing it anyway.”

These days Michael speaks with the perspective afforded by 26 years of sobriety. It’s much more difficult for him, or any of the Cunninghams, to describe the years when Jay and older brother Jeff tossed in an alcoholic sea of marital discord, drunken rages and violence.

Jeff found distraction in the rough-and-tumble distractions of cars, beer and rock ‘n’ roll. But the smaller, more sensitive Jay withdrew into silence and isolation. He got occasional relief in the afternoons he spent with his grandparents. Particularly when Pops Cunningham, an amateur portraitist, took out his paints and gave his grandson some pointers.

“He asked me to draw monsters for him,” Cunningham recalls. “I drew them with scales and big teeth.

Years later, Cunningham traced the scarier visions of his youth in more realistic ways. “Behemoth” portrays his father leaning heavily on the family’s kitchen table.

“So sad, cold and unhappy,” says his mother, long since divorced from Michael. “I had to leave the gallery when I saw it. I still can’t forget it.”

Another painting shows both parents in the same kitchen, Michael smoking grimly while Sharon stands unhappily, grasping a box of vegetables.

“It’s so dreary I knew it could only be an image from his childhood,” she says.

Cunningham’s own domestic life has been far more serene. In his early 20s, he settled down with Carolyn, a PNCA classmate he didn’t meet until they both worked at Art Media in the early ’90s. They bought a cozy old bungalow in 1995 and married in 1999.

Now the couple lives in unison, working side-by-side at the library, then riding the bus home to fix supper and maybe retreat into their respective studios for a few hours of work. They’ve had their disagreements, particularly when it came to having a child. Cunningham couldn’t imagine taking on yet another distraction from his painting, which Garcia eventually accepted, unhappily.

Cunningham was always the peacemaker in his family. He refuses to acknowledge, let alone initiate, conflict.

“When he gets mad he gets bizarrely calm,” Carolyn says. “He says all these angry things in the most polite way. I call him the Angry Butler.”

But what does an angry butler do when he’s locked in a conflict with himself?

The offers never stopped. The pleas for private commissions. The invitations to show at galleries in Portland, Seattle and beyond.

“And he’d never call any of them back,” Carolyn says. “It drove me crazy.”

Still, when Cunningham found the time and desire to visit his studio, he painted obsessively. Ceaselessly. Beyond all reason, perhaps. Carolyn describes paintings he worked on for years, forever revising, forever repainting, until the original work didn’t even exist anymore.

“I’d think they were fantastic,” she says. “And he’d say, ‘It’s not done.'”

Cunningham swears he’s changing his ways. He’s midway through a heavily illustrated book of poems exploring the power of money. He shows off a few deeply imagined, intricately detailed illustrations. Later, he hands a visitor a small folio to take home. This seems like an important step.

“I’ve made my peace with it,” Cunningham says. “But I still feel like whatever I do next has to be a beautiful, beautiful thing. So I’ll be forgiven for being gone for so long.”

Carolyn interrupts: “You mean you’ll forgive yourself.”

“Yes,” he nods. “So I’ll forgive myself.”

The glow of the fire fills his face, and Cunningham is silent.

Bad Religion slams through town

Slam dancers caromed and smashed across the floor. A fist fight broke out near the left corner of the stage. Another guy dove off the balcony onto the heads of the crowd below.

All inspired by Bad Religion, a 30-year-old hardcore band whose lead vocalist/co-founder Greg Graffin, who stalked the stage dressed in a a black polo shirt, black trousers and what appeared to be soft brown leather shoes.

“The spirit of resistance, you gotta hold your grip,” Graffin snarled, the sweat already dripping down his vast, balding forehead. “Lest the state of your resolve/Makes you quickly devolve/Into a fundamentalist, yeah!”

The song, “The Resist Stance,” comes from Bad Religion’s 15th and most recent album, “The Dissent of Man.” And if it seems to be a stretch coming from a 45-year-old entertainment entrepreneur, it’s even less expected from a man whose quarter-century of academic study has earned him a PhD (zoology) and a day job at U.C.L.A., where he lectures on evolution and the ongoing conflict between science and faith.

“A pall on truth and reason/It feels like hunting season!” Now Graffin is belting out “The New Dark Ages,” his strong voice in perfect synch with the slam-bang of his Bad Religion bandmates, whose 30 years of experience (three out of the four original members performed on Monday) have knit them into a tight, powerful unit as capable of dense vocal harmonies as they are pile-driving rock ‘n’ roll. They kept it up for 90 minutes, playing a wide array of favorites and new songs that both kept the sell-out crowd in battle mode while also revealing the depth and clarity of the group’s philosophy: A withering contempt for social structures of all sorts.

“The whole world is insane,” Graffin hollered in “Los Angeles is Burning.” “How could hell be any worse?”

The songs also revealed the philosophical bonds between Graffin’s punk rock songs and his academic pursuits as a student and interpreter of the fundamentals of existence and — to his mind — the strict religious dogmas intended not to inspire but to shut down genuine thought.

All of which Graffin explores in “Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God,” which weaves Graffin’s personal recollections with the results of his studies in evolutionary biology.

“I’ve always had a problem with authority,” he announces at the start of the book (from which Graffin will read at a presentation at the Bagdad Theater on SE Hawthorne Blvd. on Tuesday night at 6 pm). Far more trusting of direct experience and scientific proof, Graffin goes at his subject with a slam-dancer’s wild enthusiasm — launching himself at his topic, colliding against it and using the resulting tumult as an energy source to gain a better perspective.

And so Graffin’s increasingly middle-aged appearance (he looks a bit like a thinner, less morally encumbered Tony Soprano) did nothing to diminish the visceral/intellectual crunch of Bad Religion’s performance. For if he got into music as a teenager with an eye toward smashing the governing paradigm of ’70s pop music, he’s still at it.

Change is both good and, according to Darwin’s own evolutionary theory, inevitable. Graffin was particularly delighted to note the changes in the audience: “Look at all the lady slam-dancers!” he said, between songs.

Did Graffin see the number of old-time fans standing alongside their kids? One 12-year-old wore a weathered Bad Religion t-shirt and a pair of noise-dampening headphones. And as the security guards muscled a weathered slam-dancer down the stairs behind him, the kid bopped to the music with shining eyes. He had a lifetime of parardigms in front of him, all of them poised for some good, evolutionary destruction.