7. POOR OLD LU, SIN

There were two institutions in mid-90s Portland that kept me semi-enthusiastic about not losing my religion.  The first was called Skate Church, and it was, uh, a church for skating.  Every Tuesday night, a carload of Mountain Dew-fuled teenage friends and I would arrive to shred our, er, "butts" off in the recreation room of Greater Portland Bible Church, which was converted into an pentecostal plywood playground by a group of sanctified skaters.  The only hitch was that you had to stay for a 30 minute sermon between shred sessions.  No problem there.  We were all used to spending every Sunday morning sitting on hard pews listening to far more stale messages with nary a vert ramp in sight.  

 

The second place was called The Push, and its moniker was less descriptive.  The Push was an all-ages Christian rock club (let me know if there's such thing as a 21+ Christian rock club) located in the basement of a church in Southeast Portland.  I was there at least once a weekend; it didn't matter who was playing.  I figured other Christian artists besides Stryper, Amy Grant, and U2 (fittingly, The Push was named after a line in "Zoo Station", where Bono stated the fact that he too was ready for the little venue) had to exist out there somewhere, but I had little motivation to seek them out.  I figured I had already achieved immoral musical perfection with my Alice In Chains and Spin Doctors CD's.  When I first started hitting the godly alt-rock scene in late 1994, all of the bands were foreign to me.  

 

The Push was known to drip sweat off the ceilings when the club was at capacity; a frequent occurrence due to the amount of Tooth & Nail bands traveling up to Seattle and back.  Ah, Tooth & Nail.  All I wanted in life from 1994-1996 was for my band to be on that heavenly record label's roster.  They had a Christian doppelganger for every prominent secular band at the time, and the Christian Supply book/record store I frequented proudly displayed this fact on a "Recommended If You Like" cheat sheet next to their CD aisle (yes; aisle, singular).  It looked kind of like this: 

 

MXPX - R.I.Y.L. NOFX, Green Day, Rancid

Starflyer 59 - R.I.Y.L. My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, Hum

Danielson Familie - R.I.Y.L. Beck, Ween, Daniel Johnston 

Poor Old Lu - R.I.Y.L. Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Bede - R.I.Y.L. Live, Pearl Jam, The Beatles

 

I ate this handy little photocopied comparison guide up.  Not only was I saving my own soul from raging hellfire, I was consolidating and streamlining my own CD collection as a result.  I could get the same testosterone-laden growled vocal fix from one record by the Tooth & Nail band "Sometime Sunday" as I could from an entire catalogue of Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgardens, or Pearl Jams, without all the excessive demonic baggage.  Best of all, there was a pawn shop right down the street from the Christian Supply.  Heck, I could unload all of my pre-righteous Columbia House purchases at the former, and stock up at the latter!  

 

And I should probably also confess that I never really saw that last one on the list, outside of my own sick fantasies.  "Bede" was my first band.  Our name was taken from a first-century monk called The Venerable Bede, and was chosen by our bassist Justin Harris, with whom I still happen to be bandmates.  It was pronounced "bead", contrary to most peoples' insistence to call us "bidet" (and now with Menomena we get the occasional "man-enema" pronunciation, a cruel cosmic consistency if I ever heard one).  I remain entirely embarrassed of that era.  

 

I was the singer and lyricist, which is a huge deal in a Christian band.  A good phrase or chorus doesn't just give your fans (of which we had approximately 14 at our peak; mostly blood relatives or reluctant girlfriends) something catchy to hum to themselves, you just might be saving them from eternal damnation.  And try to save them, I did.  An early masterpiece was a number I liked to call "Blue Light Temple".  It was a rocking little ditty that oh-so-subtley compared a sinner's body ("the body" being the temple of Christ, duh) to the sale section at K-Mart.  The only thing about it (as with most of our other songs) that wasn't directly stolen from Pearl Jam were the words, which would have been a vast improvement had I decided to lift those from Eddie as well.  Rough stuff. 

 

So I'd go to the Push every weekend, seeing band after band, taking mental notes.  I was immediately drawn to a quartet from Seattle called Poor Old Lu.  I think the name was a reference to the Chronicles of Narnia, which was A-OK with me.  C.S. Lewis was a total Christian, you know?  And this was a decade before the decidedly average movie (and subsequent SNL hip hop classic).  The band was amazing.  Scott, the singer, was absolutely spellbinding to watch onstage.  He didn't just rock out mindlessly up there.  He actually had moves!  I wanted to have moves!  Alas, the only thing I was moving were my bowels, approximately 37 times in that tortuous hour before each performance.

 

The rest of the band was riveting up there too.  Aaron and Jesse were siblings and played their guitars and drums - respectively - like they were oblivious to the fact that every arm, leg, and finger movement was being silently analyzed and worshipped by the cluster of awkwardly silent virgin male teenagers crowding in front of them.  Justin referred to Nick, the bassist, as "the limp noodle" because of his loose, wiggly stage presence.  I believe this was somehow meant as a compliment, but the rationale escapes me now.  We loved that band.

  

After a few months of nervous spectating, Bede got an important call from The Push.  Poor Old Lu was scheduled to play that weekend but had to cancel at the last minute.  Could we play in their place?  Of course!  The next best thing to sharing a bill with your favorite band was to fill in for your favorite band, right?  We said yes.   

 

I don't remember much about the show, other than the fact that I was probably out of my mind on a psychedelic mixture of sleeplessness, fear, and bottled water.  I do remember afterwards though, when an unfamiliar guy came up to me and introduced himself.  He said he drove all the way there to see Poor Old Lu and was planning to leave in disappointment when the promoter (a hulking, tattooed, pierced, gentle giant of a man called Mikee) basically strong-armed him into staying to see us instead.  His name was Brent Knopf, and I was immediately convinced he was romantically interested in me.  I was such a homophobe.  Regardless, I said yes to meeting him for tea the next week.  

 

Brent and I kept in touch over the next five years as he traveled Europe, wrote feminist musicals, invented instruments, and graduated from an Ivy League school.  Not to be outdone, I lived with my dad, played in Bede (we were finally evolving from Christianized Pearl Jam ripoffs to Christianized Radiohead ripoffs), and held down a minimum-wage job at a beauty supply warehouse in the suburbs.  When Brent finally moved back to Portland in 2000, Justin and I needed no convincing to drop everything and start a new band together.  Thank you, Poor Old Lu.