X-Ray Visions

By John Chandler May 19, 2009 Published in the August 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

WHETHER THEY’RE TETHERING tiny horses to the curbs or defacing billboards extolling the virtues of beef, madcap creative types have long been a presence in Portland’s artsy underbelly. But none of them have anything on the denizens of the X-Ray Café, the now-defunct social hub where musicians, performance artists, dancers, and lunatics once held court on a nightly basis. Though the club at SW Second Avenue and W Burnside Street closed 14 years ago, its anarchic spirit is celebrated in the newly re-edited documentary X-Ray Visions (Microcosm Publishing). Directed by Ben Ellis (who, along with Tres Shannon, operated the café during its run from 1990 to 1994), the film revives a place that was, for a while, the epicenter of the city’s fringe arts scene. Anyone interested in the humble beginnings of our indie-rock milieu will appreciate the footage of seminal acts like the New Bad Things, Hazel, and Roger Nusic. But it’s the indefatigable Shannon and Ellis who steal the show, serving as garrulous guides on this journey back to a free-wheeling era when everything from belly dancing to bare-bottom spanking was given equal stage time. Though the staff tried everything from providing free Spanish lessons to handcuffing themselves to the premises to stave off the club’s inevitable demise, in the end, it proved to be a glorious fool’s errand. Now the X-Ray lives on as a cherished piece of local folklore.

Filed under