May 9, 2012 in City
Shawn Vestal: Musical friends celebrate Spokanatomy
The unicyclist and hula hoopers had arrived, along with the fire juggler.
Break dancers were on deck. The dudes in costume as Ernie, Bert and Elmo were milling about, headless.
“Anybody else want to do a line?” shouted Isamu Jordan.
Easy, there – this party wasn’t that rock ’n’ roll. Jordan was referring to lines of rap lyrics, while ringleading the production of a music video downtown.
The video was for the stream-of-consciousness hip-hop tribute to Spokane that Jordan and his band, Flying Spiders, have recorded. On Sunday afternoon, as the downtown Bloomsday crowds were trickling away, a small group of friends and band members assembled for the shoot at the corner of Spokane Falls and Howard, outside of Boo Radley’s.
“Natalie – you’re doing a line, right?” said Jordan, who’s known as Som.
“I’m what?” a young woman asks.
“Doing a line!”
The Flying Spiders are a not-quite-2-year-old Spokane band, an ensemble of 12 (or sometimes 13 or 14 or 11) musicians who move fluidly among musical genres, orbiting around rapper Jordan. Their second self-produced EP is about to, as the kids say, drop, and the video for “Break Ya Spine in Half” is being made to coincide with that release.
The song is a rapid-fire stream of Spokane touchstones, a stew of local names and references, pop culture and personal memories, some more obscure than others. Jordan sees it as classically hip-hop, in the way that rappers from Brooklyn to Compton use their neighborhoods and histories lyrically.
“We’re just being Spokane,” he said.
The song name-checks local celebrities from John Stockton to Craig T. Nelson to Jess Walter; mentions the river, the Fox Theater and Spokane Valley before incorporation; refers to the butterflies from Expo ’74, the death of Otto Zehm and Jess Roskelley’s ascent of Everest.
Jordan invited people to come and lip-synch lines from the song for the video. I stepped up to serve as the oldest, grayest and baldest presence in the video, as well as chief baby sitter and provider of unhealthy snacks for the kids.
The shoot itself was a casual, run-and-gun affair. Rajah Bose, a photographer who plays violin in the Spiders, shot the video. He and Som came up with the idea of having lots of different Spokane people participate.
“That’s kind of what the song is talking about,” Bose said. “The idea is to get Spokane on board with this band.”
The Spiders formed in summer 2010, arising in part from a round of layoffs here at The Spokesman-Review. Jordan lost his job as the local music writer; he’d worked at the S-R for years, going back to when he was a teenager. He still freelances music pieces for the paper. Bose and Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen, who now plays keyboards in the band, were also laid off. I’ve known all three of them, to different degrees, for a while, and it’s been great to see the band come together.
After the layoff, Bose and Jordan were scrambling for work but also wanted to pursue their musical interests more seriously; they and drummer Vinnie Nickoloff decided to make a leap, scheduling a show before they even had a lineup. They quickly became a regular fixture at Spokane shows, and they’ve performed in Portland. The whole thing is gathering steam one show, one video, one song at a time.
“It’s all based on relationships that all of us have built for a very long time – especially Som,” Nguyen said. “I don’t know if most of us expected it to be this way. Now we have our Spider lives and our Spider stage names and our Spider identities … I don’t know. We have our Spider selves.”
Mon Ra Muse is a 37-year-old Spokane man who grew up with Jordan and showed up Sunday to do a line. He picked a lyric about Mayor Jim Chase – the city’s first black mayor – because he won a Chase Youth Award as a teenager. He said the song has a lot of touchstones from his and Jordan’s childhoods.
“Growing up in Spokane in the late ’80s, early ’90s – you get a lot of that, especially the names,” Muse said.
As the afternoon went on, more people arrived for the shoot. Bose filmed images of people lip-synching while Jordan played segments of the song on his laptop over and over, helping people get the rhythm right. Soon it came time for “the circus.” The hula hoop dancers, the unicyclist, the fire juggler lined up against the Boo Radley’s wall, each doing their thing while Bose shot them.
The Sesame Street characters put on their heads – “Elmo!” shouted one of the kids. A couple of hard-weathered, long-bearded street guys watched from the sidelines. The song played and played.
“Spokane is a part of my anatomy,” Jordan rapped. “You can take me out, but you can’t take the town outta me.”