Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

08/14/2018

A tribute to Drew Norman : A Life Drinking and Thinking with Professor Gall

By MATT KALINOWSKI // There will be a Celebration of His Life and Music on Thursday, August 16 at 7 PM at Mississippi Pizza Pub....complete with a Second Line.

 Drew Norman was the best pal a guy could ever hope for. 

 He was my friend, client and neighbor, who lived a few blocks away on the opposite side of the Grotto.  He helped me in the usual things like moving me twice or giving advice on a car or house repair.  And obviously, he made it possible for me to pay rent, working as his publicist for nearly 10 years.  Until the last couple when I just did it for free because we were friends.

 He not only sent multiple musicians to me for PR work, but due to the respect and esteem he had earned, when introducing myself to some new band I just discovered, it only took a mention that I did PR for Professor Gall and they’d become a new client.  “Oh, man, Drew’s incredible!” would be the usual response.

 For years, I set up my table & chairs to do Shadow Card readings at Professor Gall shows, and in the period when I was making cardboard art boxes, my stuff was peddled from the merch case alongside CDs and stickers.  I even heard second hand once, that there was some particular gig and the house didn’t think they had room for me to setup and Drew was all – “Oh no.  Matt HAS to do the cards, period.”  And likewise, many times with sound guys or bar managers, I’d “click on” and be in their face about bringing the clarinet up louder or where are the drink tickets or the band needs food right now because they’re on in a half hour - or whatever the issue was.  I learned in the corporate world that the role of the publicist is to be the “bad guy” and insulate the client. 

 And of course, I was a superfan in the audience.  Dancing and spinning in a trance and compelled to shake my tambourine, with synaptic urgency, spiritual transcendence and clockwork timing of the Infinite.  

 After many shows, if there was no afterparty, he & I would sit in the van smoking, drinking and talking for hours.  Other times we’d head to my house and hang by the fire pit all night.  Nicknamed “The Blue Whale,” he’d converted it many years back for touring.  On the road with the band it had the usual seats, but when he was on solo tour it was an impressive and efficient home on wheels in which he’d live for months.  

 * * *

 He died on July 10th, due to the effects of ALS, which in a matter of months reduced him from hearty, determined independence to nearly fully paralyzed and reliant on a machine to maintain his breathing.  Way more rapidly than is typical of ALS patients who more often decline gradually over years. 

 He returned from his annual European tour in late December.  He didn’t get to have his usual Christmas Eve party - where everyone would walk a couple blocks from his house to the Festival of Lights at the Grotto – because the extensive snow in Portland had shut down the city.  He spent New Year’s Eve with me & my girlfriend at the time.  Somewhere soon after midnight I ended up puking and passing out in the bathroom, which I hadn’t done in a few years, so that was novel.  I texted him the next day when I was in utter pain and he replied, “huh!  I feel fine.”

 It was March 6 when James Faretheewell said to me, “Isn’t it terrible about Drew’s leg…”  I hadn’t seen him in awhile so didn’t know what was going on.  The way it was described, I got the impression he had injured it while working.  I called Drew and left a voicemail.  March 13 he called back and explained he wasn’t able to leave the house because of a weird thing going on with his leg, couldn’t drive, could I bring him some vital provisions. 

 “Sure, What do you need?”

“Whiskey.  And wine…. and beer… “

 Walking out of Rose City Liquor that afternoon, there was a massive freak hailstorm.  I’m talking shotgun style, deafening hail.  So much that it piled up several inches deep like snow.  When I finally got to his house, he was sitting in his ragged gold velour chair outside, smoking his pipe, per usual, but then limping and holding onto walls and furniture to navigate and his one leg had been strangely losing weight… We drank whiskey with beer chasers while he explained he’d had an MRI and there was a pinched nerve in his back which was likely the cause.  I said well that’s good, at least it’s not something serious like MS or something.  He agreed. 

 It still sounded weird to me, so later I googled incessantly and sure enough – a pinched nerve can indeed cause muscle atrophy due to the body losing signal and not directing nutrients that way… the next couple of weeks, particularly at Sean Hudson’s birthday party, Gall’s longtime bassist, I relayed to mutual friends and Gall band members about it and thank god there was a logical reason and that it wasn’t something more serious…

 * * *

 I’ve had three moments in my life when stage persona and real-life fractured in a profound way.  One was talking to a bleary-eyed Dr. John in an Anaheim hotel hallway while he wore only boxers and a T-Shirt.  One was seeing Mr. T sitting at the counter of the Encino IHOP, eating a Rooty-Tooty Fresh ‘n’ Fruity.  And the third was Professor Gall pulling up to my old apartment at 18th & Ash, on a roadbike, wearing a dork-level helmet and black lycra shorts. 

 Drew was in better shape than me, or you.  And I don’t even know who you are.  Biking from his house at 93rd & Prescott down to my place?  No big deal.  He’d bike from home to St. Johns and back like it was running to the corner for milk. 

 * * *

 There was a small gathering at Drew’s house on the night of Saturday, April 7th with some of his old band, the Cow Trippers.  He was now using a cane for support, but remained mobile, though he said he was starting to get some weakening in his hands.  He could still play the banjo that night and was going into the hospital on Monday for some kind of assessment for back surgery, a serious thing.  I and others were concerned about that prospect, knowing that back surgery can often lead to additional problems. 

 He stayed in the hospital for two weeks, receiving infusion therapy, a method for combatting and potentially slowing neurological decay.  But he arrived home in a wheelchair, though still with upper body mobility.   It was not a pinched nerve.

 * * *

 My birthday, November 27, is often right on Thanksgiving or the day before, or the day after.  Through the years I’ve just gotten used to people not remembering it.  Like when I worked at Universal, our department (publicity), a tight-knit group, would always have celebrations for each person… except for me, because the studios all closed for Thanksgiving week.  And same thing with the college dorms, everyone flying home for the holiday.  I even am at the point now where I’ll halfway forget about it myself, and certainly never tell anyone upfront.

 But Drew - he was the only person in my life who not only always remembered my birthday, but often showed up at the door with a gift bottle of whiskey tastefully wrapped in a paper bag….

 * * *

 One time, a few years ago, we’d been drinking all night by the fire in my backyard and around 6:30am the sun was coming up and he said, “Have you ever had a pendaytuck at the Cameo Cafe?” 

 “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, you gotta have the pendaytuck!”

“Penda-what??”

“You’ll see!”

 So we staggered down 82nd to the Cameo and he was right.  The greatest, most perfect food after drinking heroic quantities of booze….  we sat outside on the patio in the weekday morning light, the only people yet in the restaurant, drunk and stoned, while the respectable citizens commuted to work on Sandy Boulevard, eating breakfast and bobbing our heads silently over how good it was.

 (Korean for “pancake,” the English spelling is often “Pindaettok”)

 * * *

 Besides staring at the fire pit for hours, we threw a lot of darts.  Hell - Drew taught me darts, at least taught me how to score darts that is, with the X’s and O’s and the board values.  My chalkboard still has M and D above the columns.

 Like most people, I had thrown some darts here and there, but could never really achieve any kind of consistency.  But thanks to my obsession with pool, when I finally picked up some darts again I suddenly had it.   The motion in throwing darts – the elbow hinge, wrist fluidity, etc. – is basically just pool upside down - plus a sharp eye which I had developed too.  But even with the newfound ability to finally make bullseyes in the last 5% of my life - which I once thought was a rare and mythical occurrence - I don’t think I ever beat him, though it’s with pride that I can say it was often a neck and neck race at the end…

 A few years back, I had reached a point where I was feeling so overwhelmed (in a fragile ego sense) by the fine talent around me – musician friends who I’d see perform, but who never knew my own abilities at pool because it’s a sphere that we didn’t often share – that it became my line to say that I was as good at pool as Drew is on banjo.  But that’s a fib.  I’m only sometimes as good as that – Drew was consistently good. 

 There was only one time that I ever shot pool with him, after a gig, back when the Bossanova Ballroom had those two tables upstairs.  At pool - he was not good.

 * * *

 I think it must have been early 2009 that I first met Drew.  The oldest Gall tour pitches I see in my email are from Sept 1, 2009, and it’s logical that I’d been to one or two shows before that. 

 I was living at 18th & Ash, a few houses down from the Eastburn, where there was free music most nights, so of course I stopped in a lot.  A heady time in “Old Portland,” as they say.  I met this clarinet player named Andrew Alikhanov who was so incredibly good.  I’d been going to New Orleans a lot – and through amazing randomness - and the magic & madness of my friend, Delilah - was hanging out with people like Dr. John, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Papa Mali, as well as working press every year for the Playboy Jazz Festival, as well as being personally picky by hosting a radio show in LA for a few years -  so I had a high standard for jazz players and I always proclaimed that Andrew was “The Best Clarinet Player West of the Mississippi”.  Now, he’s also expanded to New Orleans himself, so perhaps he’s edging in on extra-superlativity… It became a kind of routine after awhile, always bumping into Andrew playing a gig with some other new band and me asking about the latest bands he’d seen.  Such as -

 “Oh, this very amazing band called Juan Prophet just moved to town…”

“Called what?”

“Juan Prophet”

“Hold on, say that again slowly?”

 I do recall the first time seeing Drew at the Eastburn (vaguely, in pieces, my brain is a rusty steel trap now).  I think it was a solo gig, and I only caught a couple songs, and thought to myself, “Ah, well, another guy impersonating Tom Waits…”  (It ultimately became the bane of my job anytime a writer would compare him to Tom Waits.  I never, ever wrote that name in press materials.  But I can forgive the shorthand and perhaps, short-sightedness.)  And then after he was outside in the swing-chairs smoking a pipe.  I should mention that, like, fleeing from LA, I was hyper-vigilant about bullshit façade, plus I had been a longtime pipe smoker all through college and after, with about 10 pipes in rotation and people giving me tobacco as gifts, etc., so I was kind of trying to figure… hmmm… real or poser, real or poser…  

 Of course, Drew was the most real person one could ever hope to meet, because your own self was reflected back from him pretty clearly… he’d walk the fuck away from you if you’re not being solid… 

 In fact, he could be blunt and was known, by many people and by his own admission to me, to have quite a temper.  But the amazing thing, to me now in broad retrospect, is that Drew & I never had an argument.  Not as business partners, and not as pals.  And there have been so many other past business relationships that did have plenty of arguing, and don’t get me started on my old corporate conflicts…  And this wouldn’t be an honest and integrous piece of writing if I didn’t admit that in the nearly 10 years, there were certainly some things that I fucked up and which I had to painfully apologize for, but that guy – he forgave me for some stupid shit.

 I’m not even sure I said anything to him that night.  But sometime after that I most likely did catch a full Professor Gall show, because my second earliest memory of Drew was sitting in his backyard while he puffed the pipe and I chain-smoked Luckies while I described PR services to him...  And he was so quiet and kind of gruff that I just figured he totally hated me.

 * * *

 The first time Drew got back from touring Europe and came over with a bottle of whiskey, he had a new thing. 

 I raised my glass, “Cheers, man!”

 He stopped me, “No, no.  This is how we toast now,” he said, and demonstrated slowly the European custom of constant eye contact, clinking glasses, then tapping them on the bar, then swigging with eye contact.  I felt like grade school, with booze.  Like learning a new dirty word, or how to properly swing a baseball bat.

 * * *

 After working together for a year, I started riding along on Professor Gall band tours.  The first was a small one, to the Great Idea Music Festival held at the Enchanted Forest, August 6, 2010 - where we took those fantastic PR shots with all the creepy storybook figures.  I believe I drove down with the Gall band, then came back up to Portland with Juan Prophet. 

 My first Folklife trip was 2011 driving up in the Whale with Drew & the guys.  First time ever in Seattle, which I sure do not like and always feel a hard, foreboding aspect to the city.   On the way up there were a couple great gigs, like the fantastic one at the Conway Muse where we slept in an antique grounded paddlewheel boat and where the band blew the place away such that after they closed, the owner just lined up some bottles of whiskey on the bar and said have at it.  On that trip, in Seattle, while riding shotgun in The Whale, I saw a guy (moron) on a crotch-rocket get very close to killing himself in traffic, like by inches and one second.

 My second Folklife in 2012, I went up with Gall and then hooked up with Chervona for a gig at the Funhouse Lounge with the incredible band God’s Favorite Beefcake.  A couple days later, Schmootzi the Clod and Meshuguna Joe from the band would be shot and killed in the Café Racer massacre.

 The third Folklife I sat out.  That’s when Drew had all his instruments stolen from the van.

 I’m really not a fan of Seattle.

 * * *

 When I started doing house shows, it was the Professor Gall PA that Drew volunteered, and also volunteered his time, always running sound for everyone, whether he was playing or not.  When he wasn’t on national tour, it all resided tightly packed in a closet at my house – monitors, board, mic stands, etc.  Every so often he’d text me to see if he could swing by to grab something from the closet for a gig at the coast or whatever.  In one last text, he asked me to bring the gear to his house for the weekly Sunday gatherings. 

 One of Drew’s greatest achievements as an independent musician is not simply mastering his instrument and his proficient songwriting and singing skills, but also mastering the touring part.  Being a “modular” performer, he’s able to give a hell of a show solo, or can then add a bass player, or then add a clarinet for a trio, or add five more guys and have a whole kickass conglomeration…

 But the only way to make the money work touring is to do it solo.  For many Professor Gall co-bills, it would often be someone else who had mastered that solo tour thing…. Jason Webley, Mark Growden, Curtis Eller, Strangely…

 He was the truest artist I’ve ever known.  Adhering to a rigorous, seasonal tour schedule.   On the US road 3 months, Portland 3 months, Europe 3 months, Portland 3 months. 

 Ultimately I’d get the short text – “Back in town.  Let’s hang out.”

 * * *

 “Thousands of years ago, this whole area was under water, the Columbia River was all the way up here.”

 That was Drew’s statement by the fire pit one night that changed my entire thinking and perception of the land here in Madison South, beyond the 82nd Parallel.  Permanently changed my focus to simultaneously overlay a vision of the neighborhood both in the now, and also through the ancient geological lens.  To recognize that the hookers here stroll along volcanic lumps, places where the weak spots in the Earth’s crust paused for awhile in ancient times uplifting a hill (that you might not notice while driving but sure do while biking) – or where it paused longer, to create that big volcanic structure named Rocky Butte.  And then to see back 15,000 years ago when Rocky Butte itself  got shaved off by the Missoula Flood(s) and snagged a gazillion boulders that were carried here from hundreds of miles away, creating the quarry which ultimately supplied all the stone to build the city of Portland.  Every stone building you see downtown?  The material all came from the base of Rocky Butte here in Parkrose / Madison South. 

 And as I wander around the neighborhood or bike along the Marine Drive path or across the Columbia River on the I-205 Multi-Use path, Lewis & Clark are always in my mind, too.  It was Drew who told me you could camp on Government Island, if you paddle a boat over there with your gear, and we talked about doing it, but never did.  That was where Lewis & Clark camped (November 3, 1805, to be precise).  As the Professor Gall song, “Funky Water” says –

 If I had to skin a rat for dinner

I’d surely make the ghost of Lewis & Clark drool…

 "... This Island is 6 miles long and near 3 miles wide thinly timbered ..."

-- Captain William Clark, November 4, 1805

 “… on the river the timber is cotton wood, maple and some ash; and back from it mostly spruce pine. We made 13 miles and encamped on a large island, in which is a large pond full of swans, geese and ducks. On our way and here we killed some of each kind. At night, Captain Lewis had a small canoe carried over to the pond in order to hunt by moon light; but the party did not happen to have good luck, having killed only a swan and three ducks. ..."

-- Patrick Gass, Sergeant, The Corps of Discovery, November 3, 1805

 Last summer when I had a scourge of rats in my backyard, I bought a pellet gun to shoot the fuckers with, which besides being safer than traps for other wildlife - one of the traps killed a bird and I felt horrible and sure didn’t want any squirrels hurt - it’s also pretty dang fun.  I texted Drew about it on the drive home from Sportsman’s Warehouse in Vancouver and he came over to see.  I don't think I ever heard him laugh so non-stop as he did watching me stalk the rodents and he started calling me Hunter S. Thompson and I kept joking that it would be his job to skin & grill them and called him Meriwether Drewis….

 * * *

 I started constructing a lumber shed two years ago, my first building ever, which was a wide learning curve requiring me to do everything twice after doing it wrong the first time.  It was mostly a sunshine-time project for me, so was slow going, and when the rain would start again, I’d reload the ton of lumber I’d harvested for free on Craigslist back under the roof (that existed at least) for until next Spring... 

 “You can’t really do carpentry in the rain,” I said to him.

“Oh, you can do it but it sucks.”

 This spring I got fully committed to finishing it, and at one of the regular Sunday gatherings, I told him I was working hard on it. 

 “Jeez, you’re still doing that thing?  How long has it been??” he said, from under his plastic nose & mouth ventilator mask.

 I swore to my self to finish it ASAP, and at the very least bring pics, and in an optimistic fantasy, maybe he’d even be able to take a short trip to see it in person…

 * * *

 Drew was the truest artist I’ve ever known.  And true artists also become oracles as space & time passes through them, reflecting & refracting the zeitgeist.  Although most people don’t recognize that at the time, before the jigsaw pieces find alignment. 

 That’s one reason why musicians have been oppressed by society for millennia.  Like, back when they were traveling troubadours, whose songs brought the news from far away to miserable townspeople who would never leave their muddy village, ever.  The troubadours were brave, traveling bandit-heavy roads, and maybe even dodging dragons for all the peasants knew.  Jealous about the troubadour’s talent, bravery and knowledge of the world (and also not wanting their groupie daughters to get corrupted) the townspeople usually forced them to sleep outside city limits, and even actively hated them while also desperately wanting to be entertained and even educated. 

 That attitude has remained throughout Western civilization to this day.  Think of the short history of the United States and traveling circus shows forced to encamp outside of town, the hotels that literally had written signs, “No Actors, No Musicians, No Jews”… think of the 100 years of exploitation by the “Music Industry” and the trillions in stolen profits and copyright theft…. And today, where venues charge “door fees” and “soundman fees” and refuse to pay a guarantee and take a percentage of the door and are so tight-fisted that getting more than one drink ticket, much less meal tickets, is a struggle. 

 But being a true artist, Drew Norman wrote prophetic and wise songs, the apex of which was his album, “Magnetic Roots”, with its great cover art of a body and a kind of nerve network and connection and reverberation, painted by his confidante, artistic partner, friend and former lover for 12 years, Tricia Beck.

 We talked a lot about the concepts in that album, drinking by the fire at night.  About nature vs. nurture (the title of a Gall song) and the balance in every human between the unseen powerful forces of the Universe (Magnetic) and the organic (Roots).  And the meaning and structure of consciousness – where your cells are made of molecules and molecules are matter and matter is energy slowed down, meaning you’re ultimately a conscious blog of thinking self-aware energy, as captured so perfectly in his piece, “Somewhere Else”. 

 My own pet fixations are on the Singularity and the evolution of consciousness from carbon-based humans into carbon-based (graphene) computer technology.  How consciousness is actually a force that moves through the Universe sliding through space-time, evolving up the organic chain, from inside animal bodies to inside human bodies, and how it’s now evolving its own cybernetic body.  The endless, infinite drive of Consciousness to know itself.  And the paradoxical nature of how we’re alone in our consciousness, but also part of the greater consciousness, and how the opposing forces of being stuck alone, in your own version of reality, has to find peace with the other internal force of wanting to be known by the other conscious minds around you. 

 The balance of the electrical and the organic.  Where the two meet, and where consciousness continues to exist as a force in the world, as a particular, interactive ripple of space-time.  Your own unique ripple where your unique, and self-created, vibrations bounce you towards anything and everything, with all angles possible, and governed only by thought. 

 And about how the entire world moves now at an exponential rate – both technology doubling every year & half (Moore’s Law) as does climate change and the oncoming logarithmic expansion of the warming due to decaying permafrost and its chain reaction...

 And Drew’s personal fixation was often on the Earth’s magnetic shift, and the changes it would bring, and the combination of philosophical and existential changes.  And although I often told him that indeed the magnetic poles had shifted a couple times in the Earth’s history, that the change was very slow, happening over many thousands of years.  But he always insisted, no, the magnetic shift will be rapid.

 As his body began to betray him and his nerves scarify at an alarming, unusual – exponential - rate, I thought of “Magnetic Roots”.  How it was a kind of personal polar shift happening in Drew, how conscious mobility was turning off.  I didn't say that to him, because I kept trying to keep “life normal”, you know?  There’s no rules or understanding on how to react to anything like that disease, nothing prepares you for it, at least if you’re lucky.

 But he brought it up himself, the very same thing.  “It’s like a switch was thrown in me and everything is reversing,” he said to me. 

 “Yeah, I know, man.  I thought about that too.  Magnetic polar shift.”

 And we talked about that.  About how the normal things were now abnormal, how positive turned negative almost instantly.  About how his conscious awareness had to be all-focused on things that used to be automatic and overlooked.  How he was cold now even when the weather was hot.  How he could never, ever cough because of the respirator that was keeping him alive.  He had to suppress it all.  Think of the torture of that reversal.  How long can you stifle a cough or sneeze?  He told me how he used to always have bad hay fever, but suddenly this spring, with the ALS advancing, he no longer had it.  *Poof*  A lifetime of the way those nerves and immune system worked - suddenly a switch had been thrown.

 Magnetic Roots run deep.  Infinitely.  Deep.

 * * *

 As the summer continued to heat up, I felt pressure to finish the lumber shed, not only to finish it, but also to get all the crap moved into it to free up space so I could start putting up this greenhouse I got free on Craigslist, before the rain starts again, so that I can relocate my aquaculture setup from the basement to the greenhouse, so I can set up the table saw I got free on Craigslist…. Etcetera.  For days I did nothing else but work on the lumber shed, obsessed and singularly-focused, as often happens with projects, often with halogen worklights at night.

 On Sunday, July 8 – I made the uncharacteristic decision to not go to Drew’s weekly Sunday gathering, and that he of all people would certainly understand creative obsession and instead I’d come over during the week in the next day or so, as soon as it was finished, with pictures at long last.  Partly to keep working, partly because the regular Sunday gatherings for a couple months were resulting in regular Monday hangovers which inevitably put the brakes on woodshedding, not to mention the bullshit corporate PR work I do now…

 In hindsight looms the idea, only now, that I could have stopped in for an hour or so and then come back to work.  But in stupid singlemindedness and a tunnelvision that has shackled me so many times in my life, and also the feeling that there would be plenty of people there, I wouldn’t be “missed” this one time…

 On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 10, I finished the shed.  I had snapped pics and was already loading in the many 10-foot lengths of 2x4’s, 2x6’s, 4x4’s, PVC, aluminum conduit, chicken wire, irrigation pipes and tubing, etcetera, when James Faretheewell stopped by to chat before he himself was going to head over to see Drew.  He complimented me on the shed, saying it was probably the most beautiful and artistic woodshed he’d ever seen.

 He texted Drew’s girlfriend, Fiana, who’d been here from Amsterdam for a couple months, heroically and devotedly caring for him, and having emotional experiences that I can’t fathom, but she replied it was too late.  It was literally while I was taking pictures of the shed, looking forward to seeing Drew - theoretically, that night – when he died.  And instead of seeing him and telling him – “holy crap, I finally finished it!” – I went over stunned and sad and my ears ringing and wanting to puke and watched them take his body away instead, and then I went home and cried and slept for 16 hours straight with nightmares and no food for 24 hours.

 I love that guy and will miss him a lot.  He was as essential to my life as mitochondria. 

 Amen.

 # # #

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Fiana Julia

Come over tomorrow the 16th of August and walk with us the Second line starts at 510 N Shaver Street, listed, at 7/7.30pm (the north end of the park, near the intersection of N Shaver St and N Commercial St). and join us at Miss Pizza for a Celebration of Drew Normans life!!

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