Go to the intersection of NE 12th and Holman, and you might spot a note scrawled in Sharpie on the community bulletin board.
“I will write a song about you for two dollars,” reads the missive, with an email address scribbled at the bottom.
That email belongs to Mike Long, who put up the card in 2017, when the Kelso-born musician returned to the Pacific Northwest from years of traveling around the country. (Briefly unemployed, he had a “painful” amount of time on his hands, he explains, and was in the market for a new creative outlet.) A few days later, Long got a response from a woman who provided a ton of random biographical facts, information on her work as a Chinese American filmmaker, and a link to a taped lecture she had given on psychic dreaming.
“It was just a shotgun of information,” says Long, “just totally strange.”
But as promised, he wrote this anonymous woman a song. And then, he wrote her friend a song. And then—as it does in Portland—minor, word-of-mouth fame ensued. Since 2016, Long (now an employee of the nonprofit Urban Gleaners) has written some 20 custom songs for random Portlanders, most of whom he’s never met and will never meet. Today, that notecard is still the only advertising Long has done for his business, which he recently dubbed Tiny Anthems. (While Long says he will still honor the original $2 price, he says he encourages people to give what they can, and donates a portion of the fee to local arts nonprofit Friends of Noise.) Once he accepts a commission, he asks the subject for a short biography and turns around a complex, multilayered, and personalized tune —about 15 hours of work.
“Most of my songs are silly and goofy. I break the fourth wall a lot. It’s kind of dumb, but at the same time there’s always a component of sincerity and majesty,” he says. “It reminds me of just how special it is to be a person and to be alive. There’s someone on the other side that’s going to receive this thing, who is ideally going to be pretty amped about it, and at the very worst kind of weirded out by it.” Long shrugs.
“But whatever. That’s on them.”