Portland Anonymous: Fragment Five

One of the most important aspects of the Portland Anonymous Crew was names, and while most of our musicians chose flamboyant names for themselves, he chose the most obvious name of all, #N/A.  The hashtag was appropriately hipster for coming from Portland, and one can hardly get more anonymous than a name that comes up as a blank.  I didn’t ask him why he chose his name, but fortunately he explained it on one of the videos he did for us, and so it was interesting to see that he had so many reasons to choose the name he did.  I guess that’s one thing that makes him hard to understand, as one can expect to find one meaning but to find out that there were several different considerations going on at the same time, it was difficult to understand how much one missed from his performances when one only saw one name and didn’t see others.


People ask me about the #N/A thing all the time.  Why did you choose that name for yourself?  For one, N/A means not applicable, and I figured that was as good a name for someone who wanted to be anonymous as could happen.  On top of that, I spent much of my life during the day at work looking at Excel formulas, and when an excel formula doesn’t find something, the #N/A comes up, so it was a reference to my working life as well.  And finally, the N and A in the #N/A name are my personal initials, and so not only was I making the most anonymous name possible, but I was also giving a hint to my real identity.  Nicknames don’t come any more useful than that level of meanings.

I suppose it’s not too surprising that my choice of a name would have layered meanings.  One of the issues I have always had in communication is that I have tended to be deeply layered in the way I approached communication and that was less than ideal for many of the people I have dealt with who found one layer of potential meaning and assumed that to be the only one and not realizing that I was trying to communicate on several layers at once.  


As far as our musicians go, there was never any requirement for them to give their real names.  We set up all their royalties as musicians or songwriters so that the money went to each of their own personal music companies as small corporations with each person as a corporate sole.  To be sure, the IRS had to know who they really were, and no one was a tax dodger among our musicians, but we were totally uninterested in knowing who they were.  We all wanted to be able to answer when people asked that we didn’t know who they were and have it be the truth.  Once our musicians started getting nominated for awards, though, it became more of an issue because there are real names involved with that, so eventually we did find out who everyone’s name was and for the most part it was not very interesting, since none of them had been famous previously and so of course their real names were unknown.  When it comes to #N/A, he chose as the name of his company name Skunkworks music.  I figure that like most of the things he did it was a complicated reference.  His favorite animal was a skunk, which was odd enough, and skunkworks refers to a small research group that is looking for radical innovation, and that certainly applies to his approach to music, which was nothing if not radical.  If there were more reasons than that, I didn’t need to know, since I knew he was a person with complicated motives and I didn’t want to press him to reveal the workings of his mind.


I remember there was a lot of mystery about the identity of #N/A from the very beginning.  We heard his song on the radio long before we ever saw him in person, and when we would talk to radio stations and people at the label, he was described as being a plain and uninteresting person.  We would try to tail his car and he drove a plain and uninteresting vehicle to uninteresting places and he did mostly uninteresting things.  And it was the strangest thing.  We thought that being a celebrity was what he was interested in, when you could hear him all the time on the radio, and when he was being nominated for all kinds of awards, but he didn’t act famous at all, and didn’t seem to want a lot of attention or get a lot of attention.  No one asked for his interview, and only a few of us in the know would take photographs, and then when we would, there was no one to sell them to.  Who wants to see stories of a plain-looking but generally friendly person eat by himself at a restaurant–no secret lover there–or read a lot of books, or generally live among the most uninteresting lives ever?


I remember it was the strangest thing when his identity became known, because he would sometimes write for our magazine, and some the articles ended up being eerily prescient.  For example, one time he wrote for us an article about his own struggles with anxiety, and it ended up being one of the themes of his debut album.  Then one of our teens asked questions about secret identities, and he wrote an article about the struggle it was to be honest, and how often in life we all had secret identities, how we didn’t necessarily show all the aspects of our lives because we thought people would judge us or that they wouldn’t understand or that they would think badly of us.  And when we found out that this shy and intelligent person had been a deeply famous person trying to live an ordinary life, we were struck by the fact that he knew better than most people about how it was life dealing with a secret identity, and knowing how uncomfortable it was to be a famous celebrity with everyone’s attention on you.  You can see why he didn’t want that for himself.  I didn’t know him well, but he always struck me as someone who had to restrain himself a lot, and that he acted a lot more happy and sociable and friendly than he probably felt, and that he didn’t have too many people who understood the stress he was under.  I do know that once we knew he was the voice behind “Wouldn’t It Be Nice If She Was Older” it caused some difficulties among our staff, since he was the sort of person who made others feel uncomfortable with his intensity and his willingness to go where others were afraid to mentally, even if he was very timid when it came to doing this physically.


I remember when we recorded “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  Actually, he was the one who had the hook, and he sent us the demo track with the chorus and Beach Boys sample and explained the concept of the song to us.  We went along with it pretty easily enough.  Our producer had told us that we needed at least one pop-oriented tune that would get a lot of airplay and we wanted to do something edgy, and this was nothing if not edgy.  So the guys all laid down some rap verses for it and it ended up working out great.  The song tested well and became a radio smash and we recorded a music video for it at Vancouver Mall.  That was the strangest day, because he was dressed up like a pedobear and his job was to be affectionate, but nothing over the top, with a teen girl, and we found a beautiful teenager who was at the mall with her mom and screentested well, and she had some good chemistry with him, and he was super anxious and wouldn’t take off the suit during the day, even though we knew it had to be uncomfortable.  Finally, after we were done shooting, he went into the trailer and we asked him what was wrong and he said that he knew the girl and her mom and that they weren’t exactly close, and so he didn’t want them to know it was him in the costume, so he kept in character the whole time and would eat snacks in the trailer where no one could see him in between different scenes for the video.  When his debut album came out, I realized that he wasn’t pretending when he was being really anxious, and that we had seen the real him, the nervous and panicky sort of person who didn’t want attention and didn’t want to create a bad scene and was awkward often, and when things went bad later on and we wanted to be more tough for our sophomore album, I never forget that none of us was ever as real as he was.  He just laid it out on the line, being restrained in action, but totally in character and on point all the time.


Yeah, I was the model who was in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  I remember that was a fun day.  There was an advertisement that had gone out that a music video was going to be made in Vancouver and they were looking for teens who were able to get along with someone in a stuffed bear costume.  The guy in the costume seemed like a friendly enough guy and all that was going on were side hugs or slow dancing moves or things like that, nothing I haven’t done with others, and so my mom and I were okay with it.  I didn’t ever get to find out who it was, because he never took off his costume.  I think I would have liked to have known him in person.  He was a very kind and affectionate person.  I could tell it was a guy, but I don’t know how old he was.  I’ve talked to plenty of older people, so when I saw the music video and the sort of song it was, I was totally amused by the way it happened, and I was able to tell everyone who asked me that nothing inappropriate happened.  He didn’t seem that kind of person.  He didn’t try to touch me below the waist or cop a feel or anything like that.  He was professional, just shy, apparently.


Our station had some issues with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  It wasn’t the fact that the song was sampled from the Beach Boys,  that was something that happens all the time, and the sample was cleared and there was no controversy there.  But in the post #MeToo era it was a tough sell for people to listen to a song that seemed to glorify the awkwardness of relationships between men and underage girls.  It’s not like they had sampled Robert Miles’ “Children” or something like that.  The song itself referenced the question of age in its original sample, but the subject matter was a bit on the nose, even if it acknowledged that it was a problem.  Eventually, though, we realized it was an awkward joke and a sincere message song at the same time, and so it became a surprise hit for us.


I was quite surprised when I found myself being given credit as a co-writer of the song, but then he reminded me that we had worked on the song when we were much younger and he wanted to give me credit because he knew that if I had remembered the original setup of the piece that I could have sued for it and he wanted to make sure I got paid from the beginning for the song royalties, and I was glad for that.  He and my husband and I had been roommates for a while and it was good to know that he was keeping up with his reputation of being an honest and up front person.  As far as the song goes, I thought it was funny, but I think that all of his gangsta rap songs are funny and that in general he was someone who was surprisingly street without looking it at all, and he didn’t take himself too seriously at least.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Portland Anonymous: Fragment Five

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Portland Anonymous Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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