The shiver was palpable, and ran from my seat like blue electric fire up my back, and an orange warmth shot through my fingers. Our jet had just cleared the clouds on the way down, on descent in to Portland, Oregon. I saw acres of pines sprawling out below, could almost smell them, even through the plane’s porthole window. It was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest.
They will tell you that Love At First Sight does not exist. That the girl you glimpsed across the room, the way she tossed her hair, that funny way her mouth crinkled, that way she seemed to be both aware and unaware of you at the same time, they will tell you your response to this is not Love, that it is simply infatuation, or some ancient encoding in your DNA engendering a response over which you have no control, or worse they will tell it’s just some mirage. In that moment, though, I said a low ‘hallelujah’ under my breath with all the fervor of a tent revival acolyte.
It would be over 5 years until I would be able to manifest the promise of that moment, to see the “Portland City Limits” sign on my drive on I-84 West in my blue Honda Civic with my beagle in the back seat and say to myself “I live here now.” In that moment, that pine-scented bolt-from-the-blue don’t-make-me-go-back-to-Ohio-ever moment, though… That was when I knew.
Naomi Hooley is a beautiful soul currently incarnated in the body of a musician, born in Alaska and living in Portland, Oregon. You’d do well not to mistake her gentle nature for weakness. Between breaking away from a repressive religious environment that complicated a bad marriage, to a stint working in the hard scrabble world of the Alaska legislature, there’s a flash behind her eyes that tells you she’s come to this place as a deliberate choice.
We talked about the moment she knew she had to come to Portland. It started when she brought her band down from Alaska to record with Rob Stroup in Portland at 8-Ball Studio.
NAOMI: “We had 10 days straight to record the album. We worked really hard, this was like 12 or 13 songs, that’s breakneck, to make a whole album in 10 days. We came and worked our butts off and got to know Rob.
…And the process of recording really lays you bare. You can hide a lot on stage, you can make a lot of mistakes, there’s a lot of noise and a lot of energy and crowds to kinda cover it up. When you are bare bones listening back to your voice with nothing, it becomes very apparent where your weaknesses are. I found that exhilarating, because I had not been challenged very much in my life in Alaska being a musician. It was easy in Alaska to get picked for solos in choir, it was easy to stand out, or jump in a band and play and not have to work real hard at it. To have to see somewhere where I had work to do was… exciting.
The other band members didn’t take that quite as well. It was embarrassing to have to do 14 takes in front of everyone else.”
At this point in her life, she’d been struggling with how to make a career of music. She also admits that her band mates didn’t share her idea that music was the ticket out of Alaska. But sometimes, you have a moment. You might come out of the clouds to miles of green trees, or you just might get… clear. In a moment.
NAOMI: “I had this moment where I remember (the band and I were) walking downtown, and I was walking behind the rest of the band members, I had this moment where I felt like the water drained out of my ears, like after swimming. I had that moment where my hearing got really (acute), I could hear my own footsteps, my own heartbeat, I could hear everything around me. I felt like I woke up, I never had an experience like that before, I can’t explain it any other way. I felt like I’d been asleep all my life.
I saw a girl round the corner in front of the band that looked a lot like me. And I just had this moment with myself and the universe, like ‘Where the fuck have you been? Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you doing the only thing you know how to do? Why aren’t you one of these young people saying, I’m doing what it takes. I’ve got 3 different jobs, why isn’t that you?’ I can’t explain that moment very well, but it was the most powerful thing, and it’s what made me get in the car and leave everything I knew behind, because of that solid moment where my own heart said to my head ‘What the fuck are you doing? And when’s it going to be, is it going to be 10 years from now, when you’re 40? When’s the right time?’
I remember I couldn’t sleep that whole night, thinking that this is where I’m supposed to be, I could be one of these people here, I could wear my old vintage clothes and drive my old car here, and girls would hang out with me and not tell me my car stunk and was ugly. I bet I could make friends here, I bet I could find somewhere to play music. If I tried hard enough I could meet other musicians and make friends and have a band, I just felt the possibility of it being real.
This totally shook things open in the universe somehow and started tearing everything else around me that didn’t go with that plan completely to shreds.”
Naomi subsequently moved to Portland and is playing music now, sometimes by herself, sometimes in her band Moody Little Sister. More of her ‘Shaking Things Open in the Universe and Tearing Her Whole Previous Life to Shreds’ story is coming in Part II.