The jobs that pay money. The jobs that pay out in other ways. The jobs that make art possible, and the ones threatening to take over everything. We’re checking them all out for this week’s “State of Wonder,” as we talk to artists about the work they do for love, for money, or some mix of the two.
Heavy Metals with Mark Vehrencamp — 0:05
Man of all bands Mark Vehrencamp is hardworking to an extreme. He plays in over a dozen bands, in styles ranging from symphonic to Second Line. In addition to playing music most nights of the week, he maintains a day job as a locomotive engineer with Union Pacific railroad. The story of how he came to balance two seemingly disparate worlds goes back almost 40 years. You’ll need a spreadsheet to stay on top of his dozens of monthly gigs, but find the Vancouver Symphony schedule here, and his schedule with Mary Flower and the BBQ Boys here. Also, don’t miss sketch artist Rita Sabler’s beautiful biographical study capturing Mark’s life and work.
On the Road with Jodi Darby — 4:20
When Jodi Darby was in her early 20s, she was stuck. Pursuing her writing while working a day job as a baker, she said, she wasn’t finding the focus she needed. So Darby and a childhood friend took jobs as long-haul truckers, launching an odyssey that would take them across the country, and set the table for the creative work of their adult lives. Darby’s zine chronicling this time in her life, “Our Lady of Near Death Experiences,” sold out, but is being reprinted. Look for the film Darby made with Erin Yanki and Julie Perrini, “Arresting Power: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon,” at PICA Jan. 10.
Fast Cash, Faster Company: Drummer Ben Tyler — 20:40
It sounded so simple. A quick gig with a $100 payout, at a time when drummer Ben Tyler (of Small Skies and other bands) was new to town and desperate for income. It turned out the show’s location was a North Portland sex club, and Tyler was in for more than he bargained. He offers an object lesson in gigs gone sideways.
Alicia Jo Rabins on Delving Deeper — 31:00
When Alicia Jo Rabins was approaching her bat mitzvah, her tutor was a well-meaning guy who gave her Torah chants to memorize on her Walkman. It wasn’t until years later she actually found her own gateway into Jewish texts and tradition, and a meaningful door to her own spirituality. Today, in addition to writing poetry and music, she helps kids get ready for their own coming-of-age rites with a more personalized approach. We visited the backyard hut where she works as a Jewish educator — a calling as informative for her own faith and art practice as for the kids she tutors. Rabin’s new poetry collection is titled “Fruit Geode.” More information can be found on her website. Listen for her on “Think Out Loud” Dec. 13.
Making It: Amy Miller — 39:40
Comedian Amy Miller shared a story recently about a fellow comedian’s question: When did she realize she’d made it? For a lot of artists, it would be hard to know whether to laugh or cry while answering that question. Miller wrote a short, poignant essay talking about the ongoing struggle to maintain her career, her own misgivings, and the realities of an elusive and grand exterior of success. We miss Miller dearly. She lived in Portland for four years, scaling the ranks in the comedy clubs. She moved on to Los Angeles in 2016. But if you liked what you heard, don’t miss her one-night return to Portland, accompanied by another of our favorite Portland ex-pats, Caitlin Weierhaeuser, Dec. 15.
Ro Tam on Finding a Place to Pour her Creativity — 45:40
Ro Tam always thought she’d be a musician. But in her teens she came to the conclusion that photography was a better place to put her creative ambitions. Flash forward a few more years, and suddenly Tam is the owner of one of Portland’s top-rated coffee bars: Either/Or. Like so many of us, Tam had to find a Plan B, when aspirations give way to reality. We love her story for her ingenuity in centering a design sensibility while curating a beautiful experience for coffee customers. Stop in and see what she made.