The Unipiper's picks for a weirder tomorrow

Bryan Kidd became the Unipiper after combining two of his hobbies, unicycling and playing bagpipes. Now he has become a fixture in a city that embraces weird.

The Unipiper is a manifestation of my life's greatest passions, including music, popular culture, and a flair for the absurd. I consider myself very lucky to have found an audience that is genuinely excited to share these passiThe Unipiperons with me. Over the years as The Unipiper has become intertwined with the "Keep Portland Weird" movement, I have repeatedly found myself at the center of an idea that is far bigger than simply riding a unicycle while playing bagpipes. Suddenly I have become part of the unique cultural identity of the city in which I live. This has forced me to confront questions like, what drives me to be who I am, what is weird, and am I weird? It has been fun turning back to the source waters of my inspiration in search of answers. Here are my picks:

Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music

Haunting. Beautiful. Beyond classification. Music that is as foreign as it is familiar. The sounds on this collection are at once both revenants of a forgotten past and completely timeless. They come from a place famed rock critic Greil Marcus dubbed "the Old, Weird America," and they resonate deeply, as if awakening some shared history from a common cultural past life. Little is known about many of the artists appearing on the set, leaving our imaginations to fill in the blanks. Listening to this set for the first time after college was the kick in the pants that would send me on the road in search of the places where these sounds might still exist. Was it out there, on some back road or unmarked highway, just waiting to be discovered? This prospect intrigued me to the point where I left my home in Virginia and started driving. I don't know that I found that Old Weird America, but I did ultimately end up in Portland — which I suppose could be called the New Weird America. And I’ve been here ever since.

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, directed by Jon Foy

On the surface, this documentary profiles one man’s search for those responsible for mysterious tiles cropping up across the US. The end result is so much more -- the richest of character studies, a genuinely compelling mystery/thriller that borders on the supernatural, and an examination of the nature of obsession that is guaranteed to stick with you long after the credits roll. Even though the movie leaves many questions unanswered, it all wraps up with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. This film will either ignite the spark of your passion project or have you hanging it up under lock and key. Watching it, I found renewed confidence in my performances and a wealth of inspiration for new material. Your mileage may vary.

Pieces of Portland: An Inside Look at America's Weirdest City  by Marie Deatherage

Old Weird America is still alive, right here in Portland, and this book has the proof. Did you ever want to learn more about the city but didn’t know where to start? This book is your answer. Part travel guide, part history lesson, part love letter, part critical examination, not only does Pieces of Portland do an amazing job telling the stories — it holds your hand as you come to understand Portland. Everything that is most interesting about Portland is represented, from mysterious backyard caves and a fascination with toy ponies to nonprofit breweries and tiny houses. The story of Portland is far from over and ever since reading this I have been on a quest to connect with others that share my vision for a weirder tomorrow. The story told in Pieces of Portland has given me with a sense of pride and wonder for the city like I have never before known. It fills me with a sense of urgency to get out and become a larger part of that story. The praises of Portland are worth singing and this book helped me find my voice.


I'd be a lot more impressed by a book about Portland that was an honest depiction of the city, instead of a piece of Portlandia tourist propaganda. What about our city's established corruption in government and most glaringly in its police force? How about its long status as a haven for criminal refugees and sex trafficking? And, I'm talking about more than the sort of casual mentioning of it you'd expect from a White House press conference cover-up. You're not loving a city when all you love about it is its cosmetic veneer, not to the exclusion of its dark underbelly — one that is exceptional even by East Coast standards. Our liberals lambaste patriotic right wingers for being one-sided (and delusional) in their adoration of God and Country, yet here I am exposing myself to their ire by doing the very thing they recommend in my perception of and conversation about my city. Which is fine, because I don't have to suffer fools, with or without any grace. (I was born here, by the way; I'm not some ex-pat Californian gazing longingly back at the state I left behind like Lot's wife did Sodom.) Portland will never live up to even a fraction of its hype if we keep treating everything about it but its breweries, food carts, and attention-seeking eccentrics like the allegorical elephant in the living room. If the riches of a city are its citizens, then in the realms of honesty and accountability we're paupers even relative to Scranton, PA's residents.
Chill out, dude.
To the first commenter, regarding the second: I don't think you need to chill out, and I think it's sexist to call you "dude" when we don't know your gender. I read your post hoping for a recommendation for the type of book you describe. I worry that the absence of such a recommendation is a sign that you're not aware of such a book existing. Do you think there's a book that at least aims in the direction you describe?
As for other perspectives of Portland, there are some good titles including Portland Confidential: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Rose City and Dark Rose: Organized Crime and Corruption in Portland. For more reading, check out this list:
A while back my five-year-old grandson, who was visiting me in Portland, heard the Stars Wars theme played on a bagpipe. He was enthralled. We searched but could not find the source of the music. It must have been you, Unipiper. Thanks!
To the third commenter: Thank you for the nudge to become more familiar with at least some of the dark history of Portland. I have investigated the book list that you suggest, and have found another totally interesting way to learn even more: portland-shanghai-tunnels-tour/ I have lived in Portland for 40 years, but have never taken this tour, but now I am going to do so.

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