Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It was Geno

Published in the Portland Phoenix

It was the cigarette smoke wafting in from the sidewalk, making Geno’s air still potent that night.

As most night owls know, Geno D’Alessandro was a legendary and pioneering club owner in Portland. His death February 10 was the reason for last week’s memorial, but, as expected, it was more of a celebration.
Geno’s was Geno’s. It was unlike anywhere else, and the memorial was, too: folks barely 21 and senior citizens; punk rockers cleaned up and others still — or again — in the outfits of misfits; musicians just beginning and long since moved on; solo acts representing whole bands and entire groups reunited years later.
It was the punks and horsemen wanting to pay tribute together, greeting Geno’s welcome still hearty that night. Musicians who had never met — and at least one who hadn’t picked up a guitar in years — got up on stage together to play one last song for the man who gave them their start, who gave them encouragement every step of the way, and who, even when a winter parking ban kept any attendees away, was known to give out-of-town bands at least “enough for cheeseburgers and gas money” to get to their next gig.
It was the mourners struck dumb, hearing Geno’s sound still strong that night. Punk songs from the likes of Bates Motel, which hadn’t graced the Geno’s stage in more than a decade, roared from the speakers. His own stories and stories about him; his own words and words about him. Originals composed in his honor; old favorites — among them Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year”; repurposed tributes — like Del Shannon’s “My Little Runaway”; lines scribbled on shreds of paper or printed formally from a computer; tales told, angst wrung out, honor paid.
It was the brave faces, seeing Geno’s look still bright that night. Smiles between strangers, hugs among old friends, the groomed and the rumpled, eyes bright and hands outstretched. In the eyes of a punk-country guitarist, of an impassioned ranter, of a two-man drum crew, of a bombed-out bassist, of old friends, family members, employees past and present, the same expression: happy curiosity. Glad they came, but with no idea what might really happen. And no concern, sure it would all be true, good, and beautiful.
It was stunned players looking through tears, finding Geno’s pool prowess still stiff that night. The light over the pool table shuddered more than once, reeling from hits more solid than the cue ball took. And balls that sank took longer to resurface, perhaps themselves slowing down to remember that the last time they rocketed into that corner pocket, it was at Geno’s hand, and that will not happen again.
It was to drown sorrow, sensing Geno’s thirst still unquenchable that night. The “no beer on stage” rule was too much for some, including a guy who “used to suck the beer out of the rug” of the Brown Street club, a memory drawing both laughs and grimaces from those who remember.
It was no dream, but Geno’s love still alive that night.