I started writing the stories in my new collection Shine of the Ever
over a decade ago. I was a student at Reed College, it was 2004, and I was falling in love with Portland for the very first time. Over the next 15 years, the Portland I knew changed dramatically. I wasn’t a newcomer to Oregon. It was the place I’d come every summer since I was born, the place my father’s family had called home since they came out in a covered wagon in 1842. As Portland transformed, so did I. The landscape in my fiction shifted, filling with programmers, microbreweries, and fanciful food. The people I knew grew up; most of them didn’t stay.
The 12 songs on this mixtape reflect my moods and memories while I was working on the book. I’ve also included songs from the years I’m writing about. Foreword Reviews
called the book “a compassionate ode to a Pixies-infused era,” and I hope it’s a record of the crossroads we come to at different times of life as well. Portland is often an unnamed character in the 13 stories in Shine of the Ever
. It’s always there. It sulks, sings, and spits. Portland is eloquent when the characters who populate it grope for words to describe their feelings, needs, and shifting identities.
"Velouria" by Pixies
Shine of the Ever
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takes its title from a song by Pixies: “We will wade in the shine of the ever / We will wade in the tides of the summer.” I loved how these lyrics describe the ephemeral “summer” of life. Nostalgia is a major theme in the book, and this track, from the 1990 Bossanova
album, perfectly marks the cultural moment.
"Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" by The Dandy Warhols
This song reminds me of Jeffrey Wonderful. It’s a satirical anthem, released on The Dandy Warhols’ 1997 Come Down
album. It describes life in Portland in the ’90s. Couch surfing, hauling amps to bar shows that don’t pay, sleeping around, making it through your dirtbag years: it’s all here. Of course, nothing is a cliché when you’re living it for the first time. The song is a perfect match for the title story in Shine of the Ever
, whose main character struggles to quit drinking and finally grow up. The Portland in “Last Junkie” doesn’t exist anymore, though some of its icons are still around. At least we have a rich record of all the jokes and beautiful nights and bullshit that we shared.
"I Give Up" by Quasi
Janet Weiss is hands-down my favorite drummer of all time. She’s a local legend who’s played with Sleater-Kinney, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Quasi, and her new group, Slang. Seeing her perform live is a spiritual experience. I love this song’s excellent, driving fills. Sam Coomes’s fatalistic lyrics are a perfect counterpoint to the wild-carnival melody: “They said, ‘Hold on to your dreams. It plays good on TV.’” It’s a great reminder that authenticity, like so many of the other values that make us human, is easy to commodify. If nobody sees you, do you even exist? Without straight people, are you even queer? These are some of the issues my characters grapple with.
"Say My Name" by Summer Cannibals
Portland has been immortalized as a punchline on Portlandia
. Mock the hipster culture all you want: its contributions to music culture are undeniable. Grunge, flannel, and garage rock remain huge here, and Summer Cannibals lives up to its legendary predecessors. The swingy, sassy tone of “Say My Name” reminds me a little bit of The Breeders. Although she’s not named, lead guitarist and frontwoman Jessica Boudreaux is the singer with “a voice like fighting tigers” in the first story in Shine of the Ever
. I’m sure she has magic powers, because every time I see this band live, I come away transformed.
"Summertime" by Girls
There’s a lovely live version of this song on YouTube
, but it’s almost impossible to find because the words “summertime” and “girls” are so common. But aren’t those also the best words, and some of the best things? I think so. Christopher Owens plays surf guitar on this song, which reminds me of the long drives we’d take out to Astoria when we needed a break from all the people we knew in town. Nostalgia is hard-baked into this piece, which has enough slide and Beach Boys and 1970s sounds to satisfy even me.
"Johnny" by Cry Babe
I love everything about Cry Babe. Their latest album was released on a periwinkle cassette tape. They’re queer, super talented, and audacious. “Johnny” is the perfect balance of hard-driving bass and sexy-loopy, femme vocals. Although Be Cool
came out at the beginning of 2019, it feels timeless. I’m glad that the riot grrl sound is still alive and growling at venues like Mississippi Studios and Doug Fir. Be Cool
kept me in the mood while I was writing.
"Harness Your Hopes" by Pavement
Music critics called Pavement the best band of the 1990s. They’re definitely in my top five. Lead singer Stephen Malkmus lives in Portland and is a low-key local legend. He’s played with Silver Jews, a Sonic Youth side project called Kim’s Bedroom, and The Jicks, among others; he is an electrifying performer. He looks like an ordinary man until he’s got a microphone in front of him and a guitar in his paw, and then, boom. That’s a very "Portland" quality, in my observation. You’re surrounded by ultra-talented artists and creators who don’t do anything to draw attention to how excellent they are. They’re just straight-up cool. This is my favorite Pavement song, a nonsense rhyme that offers more than one punch to the gut: “Show me a word that rhymes with ‘Pavement,’ and I won’t kill your parents and roast them on a spit.”
"To Destruction" by Dolorean
To me, Portland is more of a town than a city. (The New York Times
seems to treat it like one of the outer boroughs.) When I come home to Portland, I’m reminded every time of how many trees we have here. The three mountains, visible on a clear day, puncture our skyline. This place is still country, no matter what our cultural pretensions are. Dolorean’s alternative-infused ballads express a sense of territory with a soft touch. The Portland band’s four studio albums have the perfect sound for long, grey days in a town that won’t give up all of its stumps.
"Lilac Wine" by Jeff Buckley
When I was finishing my last year at Reed, my desk mate was a beautiful girl who wore masses of tuberose perfume. I could smell the Marc Jacobs on her before she even hung up her coat. The intoxicating fragrance stuck to me, my clothes, and my books. She liked Jeff Buckley, and by default, I did too, because I liked her. Jeff Buckley died a tragic death, disappearing like a stone into the Mississippi River just as his career was nearing its apex. His voice on “Lilac Wine” reminds me of that: the wild, pale boy slipping into dark waters forever, and the flower-flavored girl who faded into the years between 2006 and now. I only have to put on this track, and I smell her perfume again. She was an excellent writer. I hear she grows lavender now.
"Milkshake n’ Honey" by Sleater-Kinney
It’s hard to imagine Sleater-Kinney without Janet Weiss. She left the band in 2019, right before the release of their latest album, The Center Won’t Hold
. I revisited All Hands on the Bad One
as a balm for the break-up. The walking bass line in “Milkshake n’ Honey,” chanted background vocals, and melodic lead guitar are pure Sleater-Kinney goodness. The playful, sarcastic lyrics poke fun at the American fascination with Parisian romance: “Darling, come home. I can't take the apartment alone. You left your beret behind and your croissant is getting cold.”
"Kookaburra" by John Vanderslice
This is a haunting song about September 11: “White on white, like streamers of burning confetti,” John Vanderslice sings. “It made you, it made me. It gave us the terabyte, it gave us 117.” It goes without saying, but this is a day that changed America for people of my generation. I feel like it’s the day when a lot of us had to grow up, face the facts, and realize we weren’t invincible anymore. Shine of the Ever
takes place in a period that encompasses 9/11, and although the attack isn’t explicitly discussed, other disasters are. In “The Voice of Edith,” for example, the main character copes with the housing crisis, the bad economy, and the implicit risk of depending on other people for material security.
"Somebody That I Used to Know" by Elliott Smith
Can we even talk about Portland without mentioning Elliott Smith? No. I’m closing with this song because, like Elliott, Portland is just somebody that I used to know. I can’t pretend the city doesn’t have problems; that it doesn’t frustrate me, and that sometimes I think I’ll die if I have to stay here. On the other hand, like Elliott, it finds new ways to get under my skin. The song goes, “I can't stay this mad for long,” and sure enough, Portland still enchants me. I still take its side with people who misunderstand it, but I’ll talk shit about it all night with the folks who understand. My relationship with the city has remained complex, in the way that marriages are complex. Portland and I have history. It’s a city that’s outgrown itself, more than once. I hope I can say the same for myself, too.
÷ ÷ ÷
Claire Rudy Foster
is a queer, nonbinary single parent in recovery. Their short story collection, I've Never Done This Before
, was published to warm acclaim in 2016. With four Pushcart Prize nominations, Foster's writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The Rumpus, and many other journals. Their nonfiction work has reached millions of readers in The New York Times
, The Washington Post
, and Narratively
, among others. Foster lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Shine of the Ever
is their latest book.