Reflections on our first three public editions, part 1: a bridge between the Lab and the Labletter Posted by Robert Kotchen December 11, 2010

Our 2009 edition—our first public edition—holds a certain charm, more for me than it will for others. For ten years, the Labletter had been a magazine printed and bound at a copy shop like OfficeMax or Kinkos. Those covers are all solid colors—a different color for each year—and until the magazines are opened, the fronts can't be distinguished from the backs, the tops from the bottoms. Now we had a magazine professionally printed, with a cover designed by Guy Hundere, a thin volume that would prove a hybrid between the eclectic nature of the work that had been presented in the first ten editions and the quality of work that would emerge in the next couple of editions. One of the highlights of that edition is the CD that accompanies the magazine of songs recorded at the Oregon Lab, and in particular, a song called "The Tide".

Most of the songs on the CD were recorded in the sharing ceremony, during a time when the Lab was at its most vibrant. The Lab would meet once a year for a week, and on the last night of the week we would all gather after dinner in a common room—often a group of eight to twelve people—and everybody would take turns presenting work—reading an excerpt from a manuscript in a process or a journal, presenting a short play or monologue, sharing or talking about photographs or paintings, playing music and singing songs. The sharing ceremonies of 1996 and 1997 were exciting. In both those years, everybody who participated in the Lab found something during the course of the week, had an experience of tapping into the work, the work getting better, and being moved in the process.

Eliot Houser has a gift conducive to that environment. Part of his gift is music and laughter that bring people together. And part of his gift is the ability to work with other people, to create the spark that allows them to find something they otherwise wouldn't have found and to allow what other people have to offer to move what he is doing. At the beginning of the week, he would let people know—people who are not musicians by trade—that if they wanted to write a song and had a clear idea of what the song would be about, he would work on the song with them. The results: a beautiful song with lyrics by Dan Robb

I have done my share of ramblin' round
Following my heart from town to town
I think I've made my peace with this old land
And I think I've learned something about being a man
And I believe I'll recommend, I believe I shall attend
That I stay right here with what I know's all right
And I'll keep on standing up for that light
–from "Standing Up For That Light"

a raucous song with lyrics and vocals by Brian Weir

We're parked side by side in our double-parked garage
My Volkswagen Bug's making your Beamer look large
The neighbors are worried, they're all in a tizz
Cause they've never seen license plates that read his and his
–from "Moving In"

a relatively (think Einstein) imaginative song with lyrics and vocals by Michael Heelan

In America
You can buy crackers
Shaped like fish
That taste like cheese
–from "Blackie Wants A Cheese Fish"

and a song that Eliot had written on (as he puts it) one of those Nashville winter days when it's drizzly and it's been overcast for two weeks and it makes you want to write something forlorn and heartbreaking. He worked on it after writing it, and it wasn't happening—so he thought it wasn't very good and he put it away. At the Lab he brought it out again and played it for Trace (Trace Turville), and he credited her with turning it into something beautiful and giving him confidence in his work. There was something about where we all were, individually and collectively, something a recording could never capture, in our response—deep and shared—to the first time Trace and Eliot performed "The Tide" in 1996.

Trace and Eliot performed "The Tide" again in 1997. The performance was less emotional and more even, and the recording quality is better.

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