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Best Quiet Bassist at Kesey Square

Karen Dalyea. Photo by Todd Cooper.
Karen Dalyea. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Heads swivel almost all the way around when people first see the rainbow-colored rock god shredding quietly at Kesey Square. Paunchy office workers on their way to the Broadway Starbucks don’t seem to be able to process what their eyes are taking in. 

They don’t get it. And so maybe they chalk the strange vision up to Eugene quirk.

Nonetheless, Karen Dalyea is doing something very important.

Bass guitar slung around her neck and headphones blasting ’60s rock hits, Dalyea lugs her heavy backpack all the way from her west Eugene apartment to the middle of town nearly every day, weather permitting, and sometimes not.

Wedged in one of the pockets of her straining rucksack is a live mini wireless Roland guitar amplifier.

What powers that thing?

“I have no fucking idea,” she says.

Her musical influences include Elvis Presley — “I thought he was a lesbian when I was a little girl,” Dalyea says — and The Beatles; “I always loved Ringo, but at 16 I couldn’t identify any stronger with John Lennon,” she adds.

For three months following Lennon’s assassination in December 1980, the shaggy pop music icon visited Dalyea in dreams. Every night the two of them sat peacefully across from one another at a long table somewhere deep in her mind, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking about art till sunrise.

Poet, painter, freedom fighter and musician, Dalyea moved here from L.A. 12 years ago, “just to get away.”

When she arrived in Eugene, Dalyea looked around and said to herself: “This is gonna be just like L.A. in 30 years.”

Sellouts call it good after covering their Toyota Priuses in bumper stickers that read “Keep Eugene Weird.” Dalyea, however, takes the fight to the streets.

Dalyea, who calls herself “h2o UFO,” trucks along, oblivious to the heft of her luggage, because she’s on a mission of grave personal significance. Eugene needs Dalyea now more than ever to keep it real and protect it from those who wish to buy it up cheap and sell it away for parts.

She may be tilting at windmills or she may be the only thing preventing Eugene’s own personal Ragnarök. Nobody knows.

She says the cops don’t hassle her much, but the Red Caps give her a hard time about the noise, which, frankly, is barely audible on a busy day in downtown Eugene.

Hey, Red Caps, leave Karen Dalyea alone!