MOVIE STAR “You can tell that it’s cheap by the smell of the fabric!” Veda Pierce says, wrinkling her nose when her mother, Mildred, gives her a dress.
You can tell 1945’s Mildred Pierce is a classic film by the depth of its shadows. And you can tell that Ann Blyth — however Veda-rific and villainous — is the kind of class act Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, the no-nonsense type who doesn’t have an unkind word to say about anyone. Particularly when you ask about Joan Crawford.
“I can only speak from my own experience,” Blyth says. “She was terrific to work with and very kind to me. I was seriously injured shortly after finishing Mildred Pierce — I fractured my back. After eight or nine months, one of the first things I could do was swim, and she invited me to her pool.” Uh-oh — her pool? According to Blyth, it’s best to erase that I-will-always-beat-you Mommie Dearest swim scene from your head: “I think many people realize there were exaggerations [in the movie].”
So on to brighter subjects — such as the fact that Blyth, a grandmother and expert knitter who is still happily married after 53 years, never let the movies mess up her life. That’s an achievement, considering her formidable career, one built from a keep-it-simple approach to acting. “You listen to the person you’re playing opposite,” she says. “Then your own intuitive sense comes into play.”
In addition to Mildred Pierce’s Michael Curtiz, Blyth also worked with directors Raoul Walsh (“pretty freewheeling”) and Douglas Sirk (“a very introspective person”). Her talent as a songbird is on display in movies shared with “very special friend” and “delight” Donald O’Connor, and she held her own opposite leading men as varied as “dear” Farley Granger and Robert Mitchum, who had “shoulders that went on forever” but also “was very playful.”
Blyth’s own bright presence made a definite impression on Howard Hughes, who gave her a swimming pool and a Cadillac after a single conversation. Still, this week at least, all roads lead back to Veda. According to Blyth, her romantic scenes with fellow Mildred Pierce villain Zachary Scott were a pleasure because he exemplified the Norma Desmond line “We had faces!” Eve Arden? “She could say something wicked and not hurt anyone’s feelings.”
So how exactly did Blyth get that special twinkle in her eye? “You mean that devil look?” she asks with a laugh. “Working with Mike Curtiz helped…. Every scene to me was special, from the very beginning when [Veda] seems to be a spoiled brat, until the end, when she’s developed into a truly evil person. Thank goodness I don’t know anyone like that!”
Yes, Mildred Pierce contains noir corners that Todd Haynes and Sonic Youth would die for — and it has Joan. But even Joan would have one less classic in her filmography if it wasn’t for Blyth. As the woman herself says, without her performance “[Mildred Pierce] would just be about opening up a very successful drive-in.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
With Ann Blyth
Fri/21, gala and screening 7 p.m., reception 10:30 p.m.
429 Castro, SF
MOVIE STAR “You can tell that it’s cheap by the smell of the fabric!” Veda Pierce says, wrinkling her nose when her mother, Mildred, gives her a dress.
Anarchy in Spain
Join AK Press for a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, including a screening of Durruti, a short 1936 documentary made by the CNT trade union and talks by Lawrence Jarach, of Anarchy magazine, and Barry Pateman, editor of Chomsky on Anarchism, on different aspects of the revolution. (Deborah Giattina)
AK Press Warehouse
674-A 23rd St., Oakl.
(510) 208-1700, www.akpress.org
“How to Impeach a President”
The first administration in history to admit to an impeachable offense – warrentless surveillance by the National Security Agency – seems to be unconcerned that most Americans do not want the man in the White House to stay there. Constitution Summer, the youth-<\h>oriented group behind Berkeley’s recent ballot initiative calling for impeachment, and Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who called bullshit once before by releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, are giving them a reason to be concerned. Film screenings and teach-ins on the big “I” are happening in cities around the nation. (K. Tighe)
Grand Lake Theater
3200 Grand, Oakl.
$10 donation requested,
no one turned away
“What is the international camp language? It’s beating.” In an instant, a guide at the former concentration camp just outside of Mauthausen, Austria, transforms a group of high schoolers from giggly to terrified. From the looks of the parking lot, Mauthausen is like any other historical attraction. Sightseers roll up in enormous motor coaches, clutching digital cameras loaded only with fun-time Euro-vacation shots — until now.
There’s no narration in KZ, Rex Bloomfield’s layered doc about the Mauthausen camp’s post–World War II transformation into an exceedingly unsettling tourist destination. (KZ is short for the German word Konzentrationslager, or concentration camp.) The film is largely composed of interviews with visitors, guides (“I’ve been taking antidepressants for years,” one remarks woefully), and Mauthausen residents — many too young to remember the camp’s horrors and some too old to realize that Hitler Youth nostalgia isn’t something most folks would want caught on tape. The disconnect between town and camp, past and present, can be breathtaking. “McDonald’s” and “Mauthausen” are painted on the same billboard; a young couple shrug off the fact that their comfy home once belonged to an SS officer; and the local tavern features lederhosen, suds, and a folkie strummer whose sunny lyrics praise “the cider tavern up by the KZ.”
Though Bloomfield doesn’t shape his film with archival footage, talking-head academics, or voice-overs, the way KZ is edited makes it pretty clear he’s just as stunned as we are by the juxtapositions his film uncovers. An elderly Mauthausener remarks that during the war she wasn’t sure what was going on in the camp, just that it was “nothing good”; moments later the camera cuts to a group nervously shuffling into the KZ’s gas chamber, where they hear incredibly graphic descriptions of deaths that happened where they now stand.
For its San Francisco Jewish Film Festival engagement, KZ screens with the short The Holocaust Tourist: Whatever Happened to Never Again?, which examines the off-kilter rebirth of Jewish culture (think faux-Hebrew signage and “Jewish-style” restaurants that serve pork) in Krakow, Poland, owing to the popularity of Schindler’s List. What visitors to Mauthausen or Krakow (the closest big city to Auschwitz) actually get out of their experiences is unclear; some seem deeply moved, while others are simply checking off another stop on, say, their “Highlights of Poland” itinerary. As both films point out, being a tourist is perhaps all most people can — or should — be in places where such evil still lingers.
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, Israel, folks with zero interest in confronting horror head-on can’t avoid it when a suicide bomber targets their hangout, a laid-back watering hole called Mike’s Place. Amazingly, filming for the documentary Blues by the Beach — intended as a feel-good look at “real life in Israel” beyond headline-grabbing violence — had begun before the April 2003 attack. After the project’s primary catalyst, American producer Jack Baxter, was seriously injured in the blast, Joshua Faudem (an Israeli American with a filmmaking background who happened to be a Mike’s Place bartender) carried on with help from his then-girlfriend, Pavla Fleischer, also a filmmaker.
Despite this stunning chain of coincidences, Blues by the Beach unfortunately suffers from lack of focus, shifting from Baxter’s search for a doc subject to Mike’s Place to Faudem’s failing relationship with Fleischer. Though the filmmakers’ post-traumatic stress is well earned, it can get tedious. Far more inspiring is the resilience of Mike’s Place itself. Visit the bar’s Web site (www. mikesplacebars.com) for a striking illustration of how recent tragedy offers just as much opportunity for off-the-wall juxtaposition as anything left over from World War II: a page memorializing the victims of the bombing and another page proudly displaying pics from the bar’s annual “Pimp-n-Ho” costume bash. SFBG
JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
July 20–Aug. 7
See Film listings for showtimes
The Greek deities might throw lightning bolts and issue stormy protests, but when I first saw Erase Errata in November 2001, they seemed less a fledgling local all-girl band than scruffy goddesses sprung full grown from the temple of … Mark E. Smith. The year-and-a-half-old foursome opened for the newly reenergized, near-surfabilly Fall and they were staggering — seeming grrrlish prodigies who picked up the sharp, jagged tools discarded by Smith with a confidence that seemed Olympian (as in Washington State and Zeus’s heavenly homestead). On their way to All Tomorrow’s Parties in LA, vocalist–trumpet player Jenny Hoyston, guitarist Sara Jaffe, bassist Ellie Erickson, and drummer Bianca Sparta were poised to speak in primal feminist riddles while constructing their own dissonant wing to the Fall’s aural complex, one comprising driving, weirdo time signatures; raw, textural guitar; and atonal washes.
It was not the type of performance you might expect from Hoyston, 32, who grew up stranded in a singular God’s country in the “dry,” extremely Christian, and very un–rock ’n’ roll town of Freeport, Texas, where she was once more likely to be Bible thumping instead of guitar thrumming. “I was a born-again Christian, Republican. I was engaged,” says Hoyston today, gazing out on the concrete beer garden of el Rio where she regularly does sound and books shows. “I thought my life had to be this one way.”
So what turned her toward the path of big-daddy demon rock?
“Uh, LSD,” she says drily.
Actually it was the empty feeling that engulfed her despite all the church-related activities she threw herself into — that and the life-changing spectacle of SF dyke punk unit Tribe 8 playing her college town of Lansing, Mich. “I was just really impressed by how free those crazy people seemed. It just seemed really beautiful,” she explains. “And I didn’t necessarily come out here to meet them and hang out with them. Straight-up punk is not really my kind of music. But I think they are just so powerful. They came to town and made all the queers feel like they were going to go to this place, maybe even with their boyfriend and hold their hands and not get beat up. I wanted to get that empowered.”
There are still more than a few remnants of that sweet, shy Texas back-roads girl that Hoyston once was: She speaks gently and looks completely nondescript in her black T-shirt and specs, padding around el Rio as the petal-soft air of an SF summer afternoon burns into the deep velvet pelt of night. Some might mistake her watchful awkwardness for holier- or hipper-than-thou aloofness. But here at her dive, waiting for Tank Attack and Fox Pause to materialize for the first Wednesday show she books, she’s in her element, playing Bee Gees tracks and disco hits between the bands, running the PA, and busying herself by distributing flyers for an upcoming Pam Grier movie night.
“I’m excited about tonight’s show because it’s not a big heavy-drinking crowd,” Hoyston offers sincerely.
Erase Errata’s vocalist and now guitarist is far from an archetypal star, even as her band has become more than a little well-known in indie, underground, and experimental music circles. The seniors in a small smart class of all-female groups in the Bay Area — including conceptual metal-noise supergroup T.I.T.S. and experimental noise Midwestern transplants 16 Bitch Pileup — they share with those bands an embrace of threatening, cacophonous sonics and edge-rockin’, artful yet intuitive tendencies that inevitably meet the approval of those persnickety noise boys, an approach Hoyston is now fully conscious of.
“I think had our music been slightly less confrontational, we would have been dismissed a lot quicker,” she says. “I think people thought we had cred because we were being hard, y’know.”
Weasel Walter — who first lived in Hoyston’s former Club Hott warehouse in Oakland upon moving from Chicago — can validate that perspective. His band, Flying Luttenbachers, played nightly with Erase Errata, Lightning Bolt, Locust, and Arab on Radar as part of the Oops! Tour in 2002. “Every night I got to watch them play intense, energetic versions of songs from their entire catalog and also began to understand what a complex organism the band was, musically and personally,” he e-mails. “Bianca and Ellie are a fantastic rhythm section, and Jenny is an LSD poetess and standup comedienne without peer!”
Erase Errata’s new, third album, Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars), is the latest sign of untrammeled spirit and uncontainable life in the band — and in the all-woman band form. Hoyston may personally favor a more low-key version of nightlife — not so with her art and lyrics.
Now a threesome after the departure of Jaffe in 2004 for grad school and a temporary stint by A Tension’s Archie McKay on token-male vocals, the band has become both more directly melodic and more pointedly politicized. The echoing, droning, rotating police copter blades of the title track demonstrate that they are far from detached from their boundary-testing inclinations, but otherwise — while other bands of their turn-of-the-century generation have quieted down, folked up, or simply folded — Erase Errata wind up for an energizing, wake-up kick in the ball sac with Nightlife, aimed at those who claim that the underground has been far too escapist, evasive, or simply mute when it comes to polemics and art punk.
Borrowing American Indian powwow rhythms (“Take You”) and sandblasted rockabilly beats (“Rider”), along with their more archetypal ragged textures (“Dust”), the band skates between the urgency of midperiod Sleater-Kinney and the honking dissonance of DNA, as Hoyston coos, “While you’re too broke to not commit a crime/ Your federal government knows that this is true/ More prisons/ More people have to die” on “Another Genius Idea from Our Government.” The group lets its anger and outrage drive the songs — allowing a Gang of Four–style frenetic punk funk to propel “Tax Dollar” (“American bastard, murderous bitch/ Traitor to humans/ So rebel! Get on the run”) — but not consume them. They stop to study the world around them — be it the well-armed paranoid desert rats of “Rider” (which finds Hoyston turning the phrase “Where everybody has a gun/ Everybody has a knife” into a wildly western horror show of a hook) or the street-level violence that bleeds into the gender wars on “He Wants What’s Mine” (“Hey Beautiful!/ Take it into the night, I’ll walk beside you and steal/ Your life like a carving knife”).
Hoyston attributes the tone of the album to her move from Oakland to San Francisco. “In general, I started to notice things around my city that kind of woke me up to national situations, when I think I’d been a little bit dormant on that front as well. So I got really inspired,” she says. “I think At Crystal Palace [Troubleman, 2003] isn’t as political a record as Other Animals  was. I think it was more us being artistic and more me lyrically just existing in a purely artistic realm and not really thinking about, well, yeah, I am political. I have feelings and I can express them in art and they can actually reach a wide audience. I think I just rerealized the power of the tool of having a voice.”
The band never had any intention of making their music a career: In fact, Erase Errata began as an outright joke played on Hoyston’s Club Hott housemate Luis Illades of Pansy Division. Hoyston moved to the Bay Area in the late ’90s, where she began working in the Guardian’s accounting department; formed California Lightning with her best friend, Bianca Sparta; and met Ellie Erickson (who was in Nebraska all-girl teen band XY and also later worked at the Guardian) and through her, Sara Jaffe.
“When Sara and I met each other, it was, like, ‘OK, are we going to go out or are we going to start a band together? Why don’t we do something more long-term and start a band together?’” recalls Hoyston. “You know when you meet somebody and you have so much in common with them and they’re actually queer? It’s a really powerful thing.”
Even now, the once painfully timid Hoyston marvels, “I seriously can’t believe I’m a front person for a band. It was seriously a joke that I was going to sing for this band because I considered myself an accomplished guitar player — not a front person, by any means. I think front people are really pretty or cute or sexy and all the kind of things that I don’t see myself as. We were just making up songs and people would hear and say, ‘Omigod, what was that? Will you guys play with us?’”
That dirty word for this noncareerist group — momentum — came into play, and Erase Errata discovered themselves on tour with Sonic Youth and Numbers, as, Hoyston says, she challenged herself “with, like, can I get in front of all these people and act like a fool and try to sing weird and sing good and get confident and maybe even feel aggressive, the way my bandmates were challenging each other with instruments? It’s something that eventually kind of came easier and easier over time. And now I can sit down and talk to you.”
The key to Nightlife’s success lies, perhaps, in the fact that the band is still pushing itself, musically and artistically. “I think it’s women’s music,” ponders Hoyston. “There’s still something odd about some of the music we’re making. It’s still atonal at times, some parts might be a little awkward, some parts might go on too long. Here and there, things are like that intentionally. We still try to keep things a little bit difficult for ourselves to pull off live. So I think it’s made for people who might appreciate an interesting take on pop punk, maybe.”
Pop punk! Nightlife is still not exactly Vans Warped Tour material, though one punk godfather might approve. Sort of, according to Hoyston, who conjures her most memorable encounter with Fall guy Mark E. Smith: “I was a smoker back then, and Mark E. Smith walked right up to me and took my cigarette right out of my hand as I was putting it up to my lips and smoked it all the way down to the filter and then flicked it at me and said, ‘See ya, kid.’ In a really mean, mean, mean way! Then he went out onstage and did the encore. And I was just, like, ‘He stole my cigarette! That’s great!’ Because he’s like an … icon to me.
“I don’t like him necessarily. I don’t think he’s a nice person…. He’s a real jerk in general. But I love the Fall.”
The gods can be merciless — and forgiving — though Hoyston would be the first to debunk any of that vaporous junk. Amid Erase Errata’s achievements and her own multiple solo incarnations such as Paradise Island, it’s clear she’s no goddess. She’s simply very human and just trying to stay active. “I’m just really into demystifying things for myself,” she says. “I mean, if I wanted to be mystified, I’d still be in church.” SFBG
Guardian Best of the Bay party
Aug. 2, 9 p.m.
60 Sixth St., SF
CD release party with T.I.T.S.
Aug. 4, 7 p.m.
3158 Mission, SF
NOISE: Sonic on Sonic – Vice Cooler’s best 24th B-day ever and Sonic Youth Kim and Thurston’s drop-by
Whoa, did Vice Cooler of XBXRX, KIT, and Hawnay Troof have an awesome birthday or what at 21 Grand in Oakland July 15? The topper came around midnight: Mirror/Dash, Sonic Youth twosome Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s seldom-performed experimental side project.
Moore and Gordon arrived after finishing up their opening set for Pearl Jam at the Bill Graham Civic, sans entourage; set up and plugged in their own gear; and then played a short set of textural fragments with Kim Gordon on drums and then guitar. It was rad to see Gordon and Moore performing together outside of an SY context – a first for me. I dug the piece that featured Gordon playing a propulsive rhythm guitar.
I also like the way hundreds of people suddenly materialized when the SYers appeared (despite the sketchy sign at the door stating “Sonic Youth are NOT playing” – oh yeah, OK, technically, no). I guess folks got busy texting their pals when Vice, performing as Hawnay Troof, announced that Mirror/Dash was coming up soon.
After a few songs, Moore and Gordon warmly wished a happy birthday to Cooler, grinning from ear to ear up front after helping with setup. Is it too much to see them as Cooler’s spiritual parental units? Troof-ully, they seem to adore Vice. To drive the point home further, Moore jumped into the audience and tackled the birthday boy. Someone was in a hugging mood…
And on a complete side note, can we all agree that Gordon is probably the hottest (and coolest) 50-something lady in rock, resembling a downtown Charlotte Rampling? Madonna and her aerodynamic thighs have nothin’ on her. She also pulled a nice kid-like, twirly dance off at the previous night’s Fillmore performance.
Get Hustle didn’t make the bash, and Friends Forever canceled due to the girl drummer’s back injury. I missed Sharon Cheslow’s improv set with Magik Marker’s Elisa Ambrogio, as well as Always. But I did catch the spunky Dinky Bits. Cute costumes, guys.
Harry Merry was a maniac, playing a fairly long set of his looney, loveable bizarro tunes. This number was about a bus driver who refused to obey.
The Vice, in his Hawnay Troof guise, got on stage, rocked the mic, and worked the crowd up to a lather.
Cooler continued sweating his heart out, as Thurston Moore peered over the top of heads from the sidelines. A cornucopia of local bands also represented in the audience, including sundry peeps from Comets on Fire, Erase Errata, Xiu Xiu, So So Many White White Tigers, Curtains, and Death Sentence! Panda.
At the end of Hawnay Troof’s set, three lovely ladies jumped on stage and led a “Happy Birthday” singalong. Awww, shucks.
Oh, well, my camera sighed and died before Quintron and Miss Pussycat got into the music, but let it be said, they were busy busting out some manic jams when I made my way out of the sweaty, steamy 21 Grand. Outside, venue honcho and bartender Sarah told me she ran out of booze and beer and that the worst drink she resorted to serving was a gin and coke in someone’s used beer bottle. Yum. Better luck with the beverages next year – but just try to top this party.
The greatest irony of Proposition A’s failure last month seemed to be what took place just a few short weeks after the June 6 election.
Prop. A would have budgeted $30 million over the next three years to fund violence prevention services for at-risk populations, such as anxious teens looking for a break from order during the warm summer months. It was a clear response to the city’s headline-grabbing homicide rate, which has continued its stubborn ascent this year, making life politically difficult for Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and the Police Department.
But with the mayor and the cops in opposition, the measure lost by less than a single percentage point. And just two weeks later, 22-year-old Andrew Ele — known among his friends as DJ Domino — was shot and killed at a bus stop near 24th Street and Folsom. Ele was a regular teen-outreach volunteer at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a San Francisco nonprofit that helped run the Prop. A campaign with Sup. Chris Daly.
On June 20, as Ele waited for a bus with his brother André, a gunman walked to the middle of 24th Street and fired several shots at each of them before escaping in a waiting white Mazda MPV, the Police Department told the Guardian. André survived with non-life-threatening injuries, but Andrew was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The police still don’t know who killed Andrew, but as we’ve reported previously, the department hasn’t had the best luck with recent homicide investigations. As of January 2006 police had made arrests in fewer than 20 percent of the homicide cases that were opened the previous year, and the district attorney’s office has managed to file charges in only a fraction of those cases.
BACK TO THE BUDGET
The day after the election, the San Francisco Chronicle framed Prop. A’s failure as a big political win for Newsom rather than what it really was: an enormous letdown for groups such as Coleman Advocates that are offering something other than increased law enforcement. The $30 million may not have immediately improved DJ Domino’s chances of remaining alive, but neither did $18 million the city paid police overtime last year prevent a Mission bus stop from being filled with bullet holes.
The issue of violence prevention is still alive, though, and it surfaced again during the recent budget negotiations.
The press release accompanying the mayor’s late-May budget proposal for the next fiscal year boasts that Newsom set aside $2.7 million for violence prevention and intervention, which he combines with $7 million the board supplemented for the current fiscal year. Featured more prominently in the press release is his bid for 250 new cops — and yet more money to pay them overtime.
However, the board’s budget committee, chaired by Daly, found $4 million more for violence prevention, including $1 million to save the Trauma Recovery Center, which assists victims of violent crime and was close to shutting down in November for lack of funds. Not to be outdone, the mayor unveiled “SF Safe Summer 2006” last week, just as the Guardian was putting together this story, which includes an expansion of the Community Response Network, a Police Department program.
The budgetary give-and-take reflects the city’s growing frustration over a homicide rate that has at times resulted in tense Police Commission meetings. Last month a meeting at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center — held the day after Prop. A failed — was commandeered by Western Addition and Bayview–Hunters Point residents angry over a perceived failure by the city to respond to chronic gang and street violence. (Police Chief Heather Fong and Sup. Sophie Maxwell were literally shouted down at the meeting.)
The campaign for Prop. A forced the city to address its ongoing philosophical divide on how to face off against violence. More cops or more outreach? More patrols or more job training? More overtime or more murals?
“Their approach is suppression,” Coleman Advocates youth coordinator José Luis said of law enforcement. “They get rats; they send in informants. They don’t want to use prevention.”
Luis knew Ele for eight years and said the latter used to help provide security at drug- and alcohol-free hip-hop shows that cops in the Mission eventually stopped.
“[Ele] on countless occasions jumped into a brawl and stuck his neck out to stop it,” Luis said of the events.
Ele, who often performed at clubs in the city with the DJ troupe Urban Royalties, had big plans for his life. He was going to record an album at CELLspace in the Mission once construction of a recording studio was completed there. Then he’d planned to teach young people how to spin and record hip-hop themselves.
THE OTHER APPROACH
CELLspace is a 10,000 square foot warehouse on Bryant Street that has for the last several years served mostly as an outpost for industrial artists. Locals know it best for the acrylic bombs that cover its exterior honoring fallen graf heads and Mexican revolutionaries. The building hosted dance parties for teens in the ’90s, but they were eventually shut down by the city.
By 2003, however, CELLspace had recharged its outreach efforts, slowly building an administrative staff, acquiring grant money, and implementing new after-school programs. Staffers are working with ex–gang members and specifically targeting recent Latino immigrants, who are often recruited by gangs.
“Those of us who sort of grew up in street culture, we have more experience with what could work now,” said CELLspace’s 25-year-old executive director, Zoe Garvin, who was born and raised in the Mission.
The place is brimming with ideas. There’s talk of outfitting a low-rider car with a biofuel engine and solar-powered hydraulic suspension. Staffers are building low-rider bikes and collaborating with other Mission-based groups to teach kids screen printing and break dancing. They even have a class for skaters, but the ramps that quietly appeared a couple of months ago at the Mission Flea Market, across Florida Street on the west side of the warehouse, will soon have to make way for a moderate-income housing complex, Garvin said.
CELLspace, she said, would have applied for Prop. A funding, but is looking elsewhere now. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in early July passed over their $600,000 grant application, which would have funded a street outreach and case management program for 18- to 24-year-olds.
“I think we’ve done a really good job creating a sanctuary in here,” she said. “You have to be careful how you do it. You can’t just hire anyone.”
While the city eventually found money for community-based organizations through the budget process, it’s doubtful the debate over how to take on street violence issues will cease.
“Something like Prop. A,” Luis of Coleman Advocates says, “was long overdue.” SFBG
CULT MOVIE It’s finally here. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Fox Home Entertainment), a top contender in my sordid little mind for the greatest movie ever made (next time you see me in a bar and have two or three hours to kill, I can give you the complete list) has arrived in splendid, special-edition DVD form. Has Hollywood ever been so satirically skewered? Has a single film ever crammed in so many genres — musical, comedy, melodrama, youth-gone-wild, slasher? Has the Bentley vs. Rolls sex question ever been so definitively answered?
From its opening, mind-blowing tease to its hilariously somber coda, Russ Meyer’s brilliantly colored, brilliantly bizarre 1970 classic (scripted by Roger Ebert, it was Meyer’s first major-studio release) stands well enough on its own. But in this two-disc package you also get commentaries (one by Ebert, one by cast members); a giddy making-of doc; featurettes spotlighting the film’s rockin’ tunes, groovy dialogue, and more; and screen tests featuring future Carrie Nation members Cynthia Meyers (Casey) and Marcia McBroom (Pet).
But it gets better, superwoman. This week, pry your sweaty claws off your BVD DVD and look on up at Peaches Christ, who’ll be hosting a reunion of stars McBroom, Erica Gavin (Roxanne), and John La Zar (Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell). Midnight Mass unspools two nights of gentle people and mayonnaise on the big screen, and the cast — currently on a mini–promo tour that also includes stops in Austin, Los Angeles, and Phoenix — will descend on Amoeba with Peaches for a DVD signing.
“This is gonna be so much fun for me,” La Zar enthuses over the phone from LA. “San Francisco is my hometown — I was raised in the Richmond District, 36th Avenue right off Fulton. This will be the first time I’ve worked in San Francisco since [I performed with] American Conservatory Theater in 1967.”
Cast as the Phil Spector–ish, flowery-tongued Z-Man after he was spotted by 20th Century Fox scouts doing a play in Hawaii (“They needed a young man who could do kind of a weird classical thing”), La Zar isn’t surprised BVD has enthralled a new generation of fans. “It’s a youth film, isn’t it — there’s still a rebelliousness to it.”
La Zar reveals he wasn’t initially fond of the film’s most memorable line — “This is my happening, and it freaks me out!” — later aped in the Ghost World comic and by Austin Powers, among others. “I thought the line sucked, but Russ Meyer shamed me into it. He said, ‘You’re an actor, aren’t you?’ And lo and behold, that’s what I’m most famous for in the film!”
Prior to BVD, Hollywood native Gavin starred in Meyer’s 1968 smash, Vixen! “I was much smaller than most of his women, but he figured maybe women could relate to me better,” Gavin says, speaking from her SoCal home about the famously breast-obsessed director, whom she recalls with great fondness. “He was a big teddy bear — tough on the outside and mushy on the inside.”
Gavin, who’s thrilled that BVD is receiving such grand DVD treatment, remembers how excited Meyer was while making the film. “The budget was huge for him. He was like a babe in toyland — he had all these resources at his fingertips.”
The film has endured, she thinks, because of its humor. “It’s almost like, no matter what generation, it’s so silly — almost like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Spinal Tap. It’s not a comment on today, or life as it is. It’s really life as it isn’t. It’s cuckoo!” (Cheryl Eddy)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls reunion show
With Erica Gavin, John La Zar, and Marcia McBroom
Fri/7–Sat/8, 11:59 p.m.
3010 Geary, SF
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS DVD SIGNING
Sat/8, 2 p.m.
1855 Haight, SF
“My basic photography lesson is this: You frame the perfect composition, exactly like you want it, and then you step forward,” says Larry Clark. “What that does is screw things up a little bit, so they’ll become more real, more like the way you see.”
We’re at a restaurant South of Market, and the man behind the monographs Tulsa and Teenage Lust and the films Kids, Bully, and the new Wassup Rockers is talking when he should be eating. I’m glad, because he has a lot to say. On the car ride to Zuppa, he reminisced about a brief late-1960s spell in San Francisco after an Army stint in Vietnam — once here, Clark’s time included a few Janis Joplin encounters. Once we’ve sat down at the table, when I mention the ties between Wassup Rockers and the underrated 1968 Burt Lancaster vehicle The Swimmer, Clark agrees that Lancaster’s performance is “extremely brave” and then serves up a real whopper: A film publicist once told him that Lancaster had a love affair with Luchino Visconti during the filming of 1963’s The Leopard, and that Lancaster was left an emotional wreck when Visconti dumped him.
Well, when in Rome …
It’s an interesting, clichéd truism to apply to Clark’s work, which doesn’t fit the tired modern sense of gay by any stretch of the imagination but is certainly appreciative of male as well as female allure. In the silly and energetic Wassup Rockers, his distinctive eye rolls with a band of Guatemalan and Salvadoran skateboarders as they travel through Beverly Hills, a gated community that starts to seem more and more like a prison. Wassup is often like a 21st-century version of a Bowery Boys comedy, with Clark (in his words) “riffing off of white people” and “riffing off of pop culture.” Before one of the title characters shares a bubble bath with Janice Dickinson, he and a friend — whose jeans and bulge would make Peter Berlin envious — have a tender tête-à-tête with some Hilton types. “Paris and Nicky were too old for me [when the film started shooting],” Clark jokes.
Born in Oklahoma but sporting a huggable Brooklynese accent and looking surprisingly healthy and sweet (if worn) at 63, Clark is still very much a child at heart, the nonsnarky and better-dressed real-life answer to Strangers With Candy’s former smack user and permanent high schooler Jerri Blank. Wassup Rockers is his third collaboration with cinematographer Steve Gainer, who picked up tricks of the trade working under Roger Corman in the 1990s. The link is an apt one because Clark is still working with genre in the Corman teensploitation or celebration-of-youth-culture sense.
Does Clark think his one-step-forward approach to camerawork dates back to the early 1970s and the speed-shooting and baby-death days of Tulsa? “It was a little more formal then,” he says, adding that he was more influenced by Robert Frank imitators — and by “the best,” Walker Evans — than by Frank, whom he knew little about when he made the book. “Tulsa is really about rooms. We’re in very small rooms, and we’re very close.”
Going back to those rooms means going down with Janis again; as the fellow Clark enthusiast with me observantly notes, a Joplin poster appears on the wall of one of those dark spaces. “The first time I met her it was early in the morning and we were walking across that big park in Haight Ashbury,” Clark recalls. “She was with someone from Big Brother [and the Holding Company] and I was with someone who knew him. I remember she was smoking a cigarette and she was holding it like this” — he imitates a loose gesture — “and her fingers were all yellow, and she said, ‘I really like these Pall Malls because you smoke them right down to the end like a junkie.’”
Clark hasn’t gone right down to the end like a junkie, though Tulsa certainly pictures exactly that type of fate with a void-gazing ferocity that no television episode of Intervention will match. It’s crazy, really, how many ways mass media — fashion and advertising and “indie” film in particular — have both copped and watered down or misinterpreted Clark’s aesthetics (a bit similar to what’s happened with John Waters, though perhaps even more subtly pervasive). The producers of MTV’s Laguna Beach and The Hills, original offender Calvin Klein, and now American Apparel owe him a mint’s worth of royalties for their third-rate rip-offs. At least the latter recently threw a huge party for the cast members of Wassup Rockers and their families, complete with live performances by the band featured in the movie.
If Clark is still thriving in art and life today, some credit should be given to his girlfriend, Tiffany Limos, whose candid criticism of Clark’s past movies doubtless informed his approach to Wassup Rockers. Limos is too young to be responsible for the genius choice of soundtracking Clark’s recent mammoth Manhattan gallery show, “Punk Picasso,” with Nancy Wilson’s But Beautiful, but she did tell him to place a hilarious video installation of her beyond-hyper bichon frise near the show’s end, an element that is echoed in a funny dog-attack scene within Wassup Rockers.
“That video is like the real Larry Clark,” Clark says with a laugh. “Tiff was coming home, and when she would leave I would always tell her that I could not say her name while she was gone because the dog would go crazy. I thought, ‘I’m going to show Tiffany what happens when I say her name.’ But when I made the video, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would use it. It’s funny because I’m talking to this dog like it’s a human being. Sammy runs into the street and I scold him — ‘You’re going to get killed!’ — just like I was talking to a kid.”
Limos also got her friend the fashion designer Jeremy Scott cast in Wassup Rockers as a lascivious gay photographer who looks like Perry Farrell and has a mansion full of horrendous steroidy physique shots (actual work by Tom Bianchi). “Tiffany would bring these photos of Jeremy home,” says Clark. “We had this private joke about him that if you pointed a camera at him he would always do something incredible. Then we would see photos of him at parties in magazines, and true to form, he would always be making some flamboyant pose.”
As the interview winds down, the man who began with a photography tip says he now prefers making films. Then Clark makes a final distinction. “I was never really a photographer,” he says. “I was an artist and a storyteller [when I started out with Tulsa], and I was using photography because that’s what I had.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
1572 California, SF
2230 Shattuck, Berk.
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
TEEN FLICKS In the late ’70s and early ’80s a funny thing happened at the movies: Suddenly aware of a whole pocket-moneyed demographic betwixt Disney and the R rating, major studios began targeting a median audience, aged 15. (Ultimately they’d even get their very own designation, PG-13.) An explosion of post-Meatballs teen comedies soon replaced sex farce fucking and wanking with peeping and pranking. Even "nicer" films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the John Hughes–Molly Ringwald trilogy viewed adolescence as a self-contained world, not the way station to adulthood American Graffiti proposed just a few years earlier.
With the anthemic whining of Pink Floyd’s The Wall as personal soundtrack, kids who’d missed the big party of the ’60s grasped rebellion as attitude, sans social consciousness. Jonathan Kaplan’s Over the Edge (1979) and Adrian Lyne’s Foxes (1980) were fairly realistic portraits of aimless teenage escape from broken institutions (family, school). Exploring the same themes but leaving realism behind, the movies in Jesse Ficks’s Midnites for Maniacs’ "Latch-Key Kids Quadruple Feature" offer archetypal youth-persecution scenarios gone baroque via pop-fantasy tropes and bottomless (if depthless) directorial extravagance. To a generation just learning to want its MTV, albeit with a vengeance, such edgy glamour felt all the more "real" for being surreal.
Following his prior S.E. Hinton adaptation, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 Rumble Fish replaced saturated-color swoon with a B&W faux-beatnik poesy derived equally from American International Pictures, Maya Deren, and Dal??. Its mannerisms are too indulgent to defend, too dazzling to deny — what other movie could stockpile so many desperate debtors to James Dean (Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Nicolas Cage) and get away with it?
But Rumble Fish is acoustic haiku compared to the florid power balladry of director Walter Hill’s two most delirious action comix. Discarded by Paramount as an exploitation movie and belatedly acclaimed by critics, 1979’s gang warfare phantasmagoria The Warriors was so flagrantly exciting — Bic-waving 60-year-old Pauline Kael called it "visual rock" — that actual gang fights broke out in theaters, causing at least one death and much moral outrage. Its titular protagonists (derived, by way of a 1965 novel, from ancient Greek military history!) are scrappy underdogs fighting through rival gang turfs across a hallucinatory NYC. KISS Army–meets–Marvel Comics pillow hump? Blood-churning metaphor for life itself? Whatever: The Warriors remains trash-treasure gold.
Hill went even more nuts with "rock & roll fable" Streets of Fire, a neon-hued rainbow of ’50s juvenile delinquent nostalgia, new wave futurism, and pure 1983 mainstream cheese. Note the Pat Benatar postures struck by music superstar Ellen Aim (Diane Lane, in her bad "bad girl" period) before she’s abducted by freakazoid fan/rapist Willem Dafoe, necessitating rescue by laconic ex Michael Pare. "It’s so much better going nowhere fast," she wails in the quintessentially flamboyant opening set piece. Exactly! Streets of Fire is a stupid, gorgeous, guilty pleasure.
Simple guilt motivates the evening’s opening anomaly. Cipher in the Snow is a somber 21-minute lesson produced in 1973 by Brigham Young University in which a teenage boy exits a school bus to enigmatically expire in the wintry drifts. Why? As various authorities puzzle out later, nobody bothered to love him. Shown even in non-Mormon classrooms for several years, Cipher left a lasting impression on many because it explicitly amplified what many 15-year-olds think: No one cares about me, but if I just died, they’d be soooo sorry. (Dennis Harvey)
LATCH-KEY KIDS QUADRUPLE FEATURE
Cypher in the Snow, 7 p.m.; Rumble Fish, 7:45 p.m.; The Warriors, 9:45 p.m.; Streets of Fire, 11:59 p.m.
429 Castro, SF
Campo Santo is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, a significant milestone for any small theater company. But this one really does have something to celebrate. The past decade has been an intense, vibrant, unconventionally structured experiment in multicultural communal theater that’s not your typical "community theater," but an ambitious undertaking that takes seriously both its own immediate community and the various communities making up society at large. Along the way, it’s consistently produced by far some of the most exciting and risk-taking productions around. And with more than 30 world premieres to its credit as the resident company at Intersection for the Arts (San Francisco’s premier multidisciplinary alternative arts organization), it’s fair to say Campo Santo’s output has been nothing short of awesome.
But Campo Santo + Intersection is more than the sum of its production history, as anyone who goes to a performance knows. Not just situated in the Mission District but very much a part of it — it’s a place, a space, an environment, a neighborhood, and to many, precisely the hallowed ground the company’s name implies. With a loose and flexible network of individuals and groups capable of supporting and elaborating on each other’s artistic and social work — as well as an atypically astute and diverse audience — Campo Santo and Intersection’s personnel, setting, and semipublic work process all contribute to making it a conspicuously unique site on the theatrical landscape.
There’s probably no more ready proof of that, or the success of its formula, than the willingness of so many nationally prominent playwrights to repeatedly collaborate with Campo Santo on new work — a list that includes Naomi Iizuka, John Steppling, Greg Sarris, Jessica Hagedorn, Erin Cressida Wilson, Philip Kan Gotanda, and Octavio Sol??s. It’s even famously coaxed the first stage works out of well-established writers and poets like Jimmy Santiago Baca, Dave Eggers, and Denis Johnson.
The series of events marking Campo Santo’s 10th anniversary — from workshops, open discussions, and staged rereadings of past productions with the playwrights to a major blowout planned for June 3 — comes as a rare opportunity for company and audience to reflect on a decade of feverish, often brilliant work that has always looked restlessly ahead, as if to the next fix.
The retrospective has been something of a revelation to the company’s members and associates, judging by the rapt discussion that followed a rehearsal last week for the Denis Johnson program.
Words like simple, basic, naked — these recur repeatedly in any discussion of the theater with company member and Intersection program director Sean San Jose, who founded Campo Santo in 1996 with fellow actors Margo Hall, Luis Saguar, and Michael Torres. The occasion was a production of Octavio Sol??s’s Santos y Santos, a major dramatic success when Thick Description premiered it at Theater Artaud in 1993. San Jose, with Saguar and Torres (who had both been in the original production), staged a new version. Sol??s, who has since worked repeatedly with the company — most recently on 2005’s world premiere of The Ballad of Pancho and Lucy, a modern folkloric joyride set in the bars of the Mission District — remembers that first production as a portent of things to come.
"I found the production totally different but equally exciting to the one Tony Kelly had directed at Theater Artaud," he told me. "It was such a pressure cooker situation — I didn’t think it would ever work in a small space like New Langton Arts. But it was stirring. I knew this company had a future. I saw it as very hungry and focused — intense, brooding, and always on. Never a second wasted."
The decision to stage Santos at New Langton came out of another experience with bare bones performance. "These guys read the play in a youth correctional facility," explains Deborah Cullinan, who at the time had just been hired as Intersection’s new executive director — financial straits having temporarily shuttered the arts organization — and was tasked with reviving it. (The rise of Campo Santo and the resurgence of Intersection are intimately tied together, as it turns out.) "They were just reading it for these youth and the water pipe broke in the auditorium, so they got stuck in one of the living quarters, this tiny space. But Luis, Sean, and Michael will all tell you that’s when they understood that the words could drive something forward, because the boys were riveted."
The full production impressed Cullinan, and after their next one — an equally successful staging of a very different play, Erin Cressida Wilson’s Hurricane — she was convinced this was the sort of broad-ranging company Intersection wanted on board. In turn, Intersection gave Campo Santo crucial support, not least the Valencia Street space, to continue doing the kind of theater it had been groping toward.
The key to the company, Sol??s explains, is that "each actor is a dramaturge. They know what the play needs. They start to intuit it. It’s just part of their aesthetic now."
"It’s very much a playwright’s theater," notes Philip Kan Gotanda, whose A Fist of Roses was a thorough surprise last year, an exploration of male domestic violence whose highly original and unusually collaborative nature did as much credit to the veteran playwright as to the small company. "You just don’t find it that often — especially if you’re interested, as I’m interested, in writing pieces that are a little off the beaten path, both in form and content."
"They’re a writer’s theater in that they do exclusively new work, and find the playwrights that appeal to them," Sol??s agrees. At the same time, however, he believes Campo Santo is a strong actor’s theater. "There’s a reason why they’re drawn to Erin Cressida Wilson or Naomi Iizuka. There’s a real reason why they’re drawn to Denis [Johnson]. And Denis now, as I do and I’m sure the other writers are doing — we’re writing to suit the company. They have a great core of talent. They really know how to stretch and take chances. They do very dangerous acting."
Remarkably, 10 years along, Campo Santo continues to convey that sense of immediacy, a sense of raw intensity, risk, and daring, while always matching it with exceptional skill and a youthful, street-smart confidence.
Sol??s puts the formula succinctly: "They like passion. They like works about passion. And passion also in that religious sense." SFBG
Campo Santo 10th anniversary
Gala, Sat/3, 7 p.m.
Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St, SF. $25
Real Women, Rock ’n’ Roll, and Karaoke:
The Work of Campo Santo and Jessica Hagedorn, June 9, 7:30 p.m.
Finale: Finding the Future, June 10, 7:30 p.m.
Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia, SF. $9–$20
In the early days, the mayor tried to sound like a practical, hands-on executive who was ready to run San Francisco.
Mayor Gavin Newsom used his inaugural address on Jan. 8, 2004, to emphasize that he was a uniter, not a divider — and that he wanted to get things done.
"I say it’s time to start working together to find common purpose and common ground," he proclaimed. "Because I want to make this administration about solutions."
It’s a mantra he’s returned to again and again in his rhetoric on a wide range of issues, claiming a "commonsense" approach while casting "ideology" as an evil to be overcome and as the main motive driving the left-leaning majority of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
"Because it’s easy to be against something," Newsom said on that sunny winter day. "It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to stop…. What’s hard is to hear that maybe to come together, we need to leave behind old ideas and long-held grudges. But that’s exactly what we need to do."
But if that’s the standard, Newsom has spent the past 17 months taking the easy way.
It’s been a marked change from his first-year lovefest, when he tried to legalize same-sex marriage, reach out to Bayview–Hunters Point residents, and force big hotels to end their lockout of workers.
A Guardian review of the most significant City Hall initiatives during 2005 and 2006 — as well as interviews with more than a dozen policy experts and public interest advocates — shows that Newsom has been an obstructionist who has proposed few "solutions" to the city’s problems, and followed through on even fewer.
The Board of Supervisors, in sharp contrast, has been taking the policy lead. The majority on the district-elected board in the past year has moved a generally progressive agenda designed to preserve rental units, prevent evictions, strengthen development standards, promote car-free spaces, increase affordable housing, maintain social services, and protect city workers.
Yet many of those efforts have been blocked or significantly weakened by Newsom and his closest allies on the board: Fiona Ma, Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Bevan Dufty. And on efforts to get tough with big business or prevent Muni service cuts and fare hikes, Newsom was able to peel off enough moderate supervisors to stop the progressives — led by Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, and Ross Mirkarimi — at the board level.
But one thing that Newsom has proved himself unable to do in the past year is prevent progressive leaders — particularly Daly, against whom Newsom has a "long-held grudge" that has on a few recent occasions led to unsavory political tactics and alliances — from setting the public agenda for the city.
Balance of power
The Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors are the two poles of power at City Hall — and generally the system gives a strong advantage to the mayor, who has far more resources at his disposal, a higher media profile, and the ability to act swiftly and decisively.
Yet over the past year, the three most progressive supervisors — along with their liberal-to-moderate colleagues Gerardo Sandoval, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Sophie Maxwell — have initiated the most significant new city policies, dealing with housing, poverty, health care, alternative transportation, violence prevention, and campaign finance reform.
Most political observers and City Hall insiders mark the moment when the board majority took control of the city agenda as last summer, a point when Newsom’s honeymoon ended, progressives filled the leadership void on growth issues, problems like tenants evictions and the murder rate peaked, and Newsom was increasingly giving signs that he wasn’t focused on running the city.
"Gay marriage gave the mayor his edge and gave him cover for a long time," said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer and tenants rights activist. "About a year ago that started to wear off, and his armor started to be shed."
Daly was the one supervisor who had been aggressively criticizing Newsom during that honeymoon period. To some, Daly seemed isolated and easy to dismiss — at least until August 2005, when Daly negotiated a high-profile deal with the developers of the Rincon Hill towers that extracted more low-income housing and community-benefits money than the city had ever seen from a commercial project.
The Newsom administration watched the negotiations from the sidelines. The mayor signed off on the deal, but within a couple months turned into a critic and said he regretted supporting it. Even downtown stalwarts like the public policy think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association noted the shift in power.
"I think we saw a different cut on the issue than we’ve seen before," SPUR executive director Gabriel Metcalf told us. "Chris Daly is not a NIMBY. I see Chris Daly as one of the supervisors most able to deal with physical change, and he’s not afraid of urbanism…. And he’s been granted by the rest of the board a lot of leadership in the area of land use."
SPUR and Metcalf were critical of aspects of the Daly deal, such as where the money would go. But after the deal, Newsom and his minions, like press secretary Peter Ragone, had a harder time demonizing Daly and the board (although they never stopped trying).
Around that same time, hundreds of evictions were galvanizing the community of renters — which makes up around two-thirds of city residents. Newsom tried to find some compromise on the issue, joining Peskin to convene a task force composed of tenants activists, developers, and real estate professionals, hoping that the group could find a way to prevent evictions while expanding home ownership opportunities.
"The mayor views the striking of balance between competing interests as an important approach to governing," Ragone told the Guardian after we explained the array of policy disputes this story would cover.
The task force predictably fell apart after six meetings. "The mayor was trying to find a comfortable way to get out of the issue," said Mecca, a member of the task force. But with some issues, there simply is no comfortable solution; someone’s going to be unhappy with the outcome. "When that failed," Mecca said, "there was nowhere for him to go anymore."
The San Francisco Tenants Union and its allies decided it was time to push legislation that would protect tenants, organizing an effective campaign that finally forced Newsom into a reactionary mode. The mayor wound up siding overtly with downtown interests for the first time in his mayoral tenure — and in the process, he solidified the progressive board majority.
Housing quickly became the issue that defines differences between Newsom and the board.
"The Newsom agenda has been one of gentrification," said San Francisco Tenants Union director Ted Gullicksen. The mayor and his board allies have actively opposed placing limitations on the high number of evictions (at least until the most recent condo conversion measure, which Dufty and Newsom supported, a victory tenants activists attribute to their organizing efforts), while at the same time encouraging development patterns that "bring in more high-end condominiums and saturate the market with that," Gullicksen explained.
He pointed out that those two approaches coalesce into a doubly damaging policy on the issue of converting apartments into condominiums, which usually displace low-income San Franciscans, turn an affordable rental unit into an expensive condominium, and fill the spot with a higher-income owner.
"So you really get a two-on-one transformation of the city," Gullicksen said.
Newsom’s allies don’t agree, noting that in a city where renters outnumber homeowners two to one, some loss of rental housing is acceptable. "Rather than achieve their stated goals of protecting tenants, the real result is a barrier to home ownership," Elsbernd told us, explaining his vote against all four recent tenant-protection measures.
On the development front, Gullicksen said Newsom has actively pushed policies to develop housing that’s unaffordable to most San Franciscans — as he did with his failed Workforce Housing Initiative and some of his area plans — while maintaining an overabundance of faith in free-market forces.
"He’s very much let the market have what the market wants, which is high-end luxury housing," Gullicksen said.
As a result, Mecca said, "I think we in the tenant movement have been effective at making TICs a class issue."
Affordable housing activists say there is a marked difference between Newsom and the board majority on housing.
"The Board of Supervisors is engaged in an active pursuit of land-use policy that attempts to preserve as much affordable housing, as much rental housing, as much neighborhood-serving businesses as possible," longtime housing activist Calvin Welch told us. "And the mayor is totally and completely lining up with downtown business interests."
Welch said Newsom has shown where he stands in the appointments he makes — such as that of Republican planning commissioner Michael Antonini, and his nomination of Ted Dienstfrey to run Treasure Island, which the Rules Committee recently rejected — and by the policies he supports.
Welch called Daly’s Rincon deal "precedent setting and significant." It was so significant that downtown noticed and started pushing back.
Board power really coalesced last fall. In addition to the housing and tenant issues, Ammiano brought forward a plan that would force businesses to pay for health insurance plans for their employees. That galvanized downtown and forced Newsom to finally make good on his promise to offer his own plan to deal with the uninsured — but the mayor offered only broad policy goals, and the plan itself is still being developed.
It was in this climate that many of Newsom’s big-business supporters, including Don Fisher — the Republican founder of the Gap who regularly bankrolls conservative political causes in San Francisco — demanded and received a meeting with Newsom. The December sit-down was attended by a who’s who of downtown developers and power brokers.
"That was a result of them losing their ass on Rincon Hill," Welch said of the meeting.
The upshot — according to public records and Guardian interviews with attendees — was that Newsom agreed to oppose an ordinance designed to limit how much parking could be built along with the 10,000 housing units slated for downtown. The mayor instead would support a developer-written alternative carried by Alioto-Pier.
The measure downtown opposed was originally sponsored by Daly before being taken over by Peskin. It had the strong support of Newsom’s own planning director, Dean Macris, and was approved by the Planning Commission on a 6–1 vote (only Newsom’s Republican appointee, Antonini, was opposed).
The process that led to the board’s 7–4 approval of the measure was politically crass and embarrassing for the Mayor’s Office (see “Joining the Battle,” 2/8/06), but he kept his promise and vetoed the measure. The votes of his four allies were enough to sustain the veto.
Newsom tried to save face in the ugly saga by pledging to support a nearly identical version of the measure, but with just a couple more giveaways to developers: allowing them to build more parking garages and permitting more driveways with their projects.
Political observers say the incident weakened Newsom instead of strengthening him.
"They can’t orchestrate a move. They are only acting by vetoes, and you can’t run the city by vetoes," Welch said. "He never puts anything on the line, and that’s why the board has become so emboldened."
The Newsom administration doesn’t seem to grasp how housing issues — or symbolic issues like creating car-free spaces or being wary of land schemes like the Bayview–Hunters Point redevelopment plan — shape perceptions of other issues. As Welch said, "All politics in San Francisco center around land use."
N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, said the Newsom administration has done a very good job of maintaining budgetary support for programs dealing with children, youth, and their families. But advocates have relied on the leadership of progressive supervisors like Daly to push affordable housing initiatives like the $20 million budget supplemental the board initiated and approved in April.
"Our primary concern is that low- and moderate-income families are being pushed out of San Francisco," Lee told us. "We’re redefining what it means to be pro-kid and pro-family in San Francisco."
Indeed, that’s a very different approach from the so-called pro-family agenda being pushed by SFSOS and some of Newsom’s other conservative allies, who argue that keeping taxes low while keeping the streets and parks safe and clean is what families really want. But Lee worries more about ensuring that families have reasonably priced shelter.
So she and other affordable housing advocates will be watching closely this summer as the board and Newsom deal with Daly’s proposal to substantially increase the percentage of affordable housing developers must build under the city’s inclusionary-housing policy. Newsom’s downtown allies are expected to strongly oppose the plan.
Even on Newsom’s signature issue, the board has made inroads.
"In general, on the homeless issue, the supervisor who has shown the most strong and consistent leadership has been Chris Daly," said Coalition on Homelessness director Juan Prada.
Prada credits the mayor with focusing attention on the homeless issue, although he is critical of the ongoing harassment of the homeless by the Police Department and the so-called Homeward Bound program that gives homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.
"This administration has a genuine interest in homeless issues, which the previous one didn’t have, but they’re banking too much on the Care Not Cash approach," Prada said.
Other Newsom initiatives to satisfy his downtown base of support have also fallen flat.
Robert Haaland of the city employee labor union SEIU Local 790 said Newsom has tried to reform the civil service system and privatize some city services, but has been stopped by labor and the board.
"They were trying to push a privatization agenda, and we pushed back," Haaland said, noting that Supervisor Ma’s alliance with Newsom on that issue was the reason SEIU 790 endorsed Janet Reilly over Ma in the District 12 Assembly race.
The turning point on the issue came last year, when the Newsom administration sought to privatize the security guards at the Asian Art Museum as a cost-saving measure. The effort was soundly defeated in the board’s Budget Committee.
"That was a key vote, and they lost, so I don’t think they’ll be coming back with that again," Haaland said, noting that labor has managed to win over Dufty, giving the board a veto-proof majority on privatization issues.
Who’s in charge?
Even many Newsom allies will privately grumble that Newsom isn’t engaged enough with the day-to-day politics of the city. Again and again, Newsom has seemed content to watch from the sidelines, as he did with Supervisor Mirkarimi’s proposal to create a public financing program for mayoral candidates.
"The board was out front on that, while the mayor stayed out of it until the very end," said Steven Hill, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, who was involved with the measure. And when the administration finally did weigh in, after the board had approved the plan on a veto-proof 9–2 vote, Newsom said the measure didn’t go far enough. He called for public financing for all citywide offices — but never followed up with an actual proposal.
The same has been true on police reform and violence prevention measures. Newsom promised to create a task force to look into police misconduct, to hold a blue-ribbon summit on violence prevention, and to implement a community policing system with grassroots input — and none of that has come to pass.
Then, when Daly took the lead in creating a community-based task force to develop violence prevention programs with an allocation of $10 million a year for three years — Measure A on the June ballot — Newsom and his board allies opposed the effort, arguing the money would be better spent on more cops (see “Ballot-Box Alliance,” page 19).
"He’s had bad counsel on this issue of violence all the way through," said Sharen Hewitt, who runs the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response project. "He has not done damn near enough from his position, and neither has the board."
Hewitt worries that current city policies, particularly on housing, are leading to class polarization that could make the problems of violence worse. And while Newsom’s political allies tend to widen the class divide, she can’t bring herself to condemn the mayor: "I think he’s a nice guy and a lot smarter than people have given him credit for."
Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board and serves as executive director of Transportation for a Livable City (which is in the process of changing its name to Livable City), said Newsom generally hasn’t put much action behind his rhetorical support for the environment and transit-first policies.
"Everyone says they’re pro-environment," he said.
In particular, Radulovich was frustrated by Newsom’s vetoes of the downtown parking and Healthy Saturdays measures and two renter-protection measures. The four measures indicated very different agendas pursued by Newsom and the board majority.
In general, Radulovich often finds his smart-growth priorities opposed by Newsom’s allies. "The moneyed interests usually line up against livable city, good planning policies," he said. On the board, Radulovich said it’s no surprise that the three supervisors from the wealthiest parts of town — Ma, Elsbernd, and Alioto-Pier — generally vote against initiatives he supports.
"Dufty is the oddity because he represents a pretty progressive, urbane district," Radulovich said, "but he tends to vote like he’s from a more conservative district."
The recent lawsuit by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Committee of Jobs — urging more aggressive use of a voter-approved requirement that board legislation undergo a detailed economic analysis — shows that downtown is spoiling for a fight (see “Downtown’s ‘Hail Mary’ Lawsuit,” page 9). So politics in City Hall is likely to heat up.
"There is a real absence of vision and leadership in the city right now, particularly on the question of who will be able to afford to live in San Francisco 20 years from now," Mirkarimi said. "There is a disparity between Newsom hitting the right notes in what the press and public want to hear and between the policy considerations that will put those positions into effect."
But Newsom’s allies say they plan to stand firm against the ongoing effort by progressives to set the agenda.
"I think I am voting my constituency," Elsbernd said. "I’m voting District Seven and voicing a perspective of a large part of the city that the progressive majority doesn’t represent."
Newsom flack Ragone doesn’t accept most of the narratives that are laid out by activists, from last year’s flip in the balance of power to the influence of downtown and Newsom’s wealthy benefactors on his decision to veto four measures this year.
"Governing a city like San Francisco is complex. There are many areas of nuance in governing this city," Ragone said. "Everyone knows Gavin Newsom defies traditional labels. That’s not part of a broad political strategy, but just how he governs."
Yet the majority of the board seems unafraid to declare where they stand on the most divisive issues facing the city.
"The board has — really, since the 2000 election — has been pushing a progressive set of policies as it related to housing, just-taxation policies, and an array of social service provisions," Peskin said. "All come with some level of controversy, because none are free." SFBG
"I must have been bit by a spider when I was very young," Country Teasers vocalist Ben Wallers drones on "Spiderman in the Flesh," the opening track to the band’s new album, The Empire Strikes Back (In the Red). "Because now I’m grown-up I spend five days a week going up the fucking wall." This wall makes a reprise midway through the tune, as the music ratchets up from a sleepy, two-step waltz to the fascist grandeur of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with a lyrical nod toward "In the Flesh" from that psycho–depresso–nervous breakdown rock opera: "Are there any queers in the theater tonight? Get ’em up against the wall!"
And thus, halfway through the first track, with a borrowed lyric — "jacked from the sonic matrix," as Sonic Youth would say — from a prog rock magnum opus, the Teasers arrive at the type of lowbrow social satire they’ve turned into high art. Well, high lowbrow art. They take a frail, empty stereotype and strap a rocket pack to its back. Of course it’s not going to survive, but it’s hilarious to see it zoom about the cosmos, flailing.
Take my personal favorite Teasers tune, "Black Change," from 1996’s epic Satan Is Real Again, or Feeling Good about Bad Thoughts (Crypt). In it, the narrator undergoes a transformation akin to John Howard Griffin’s in Black Like Me, "a black change operation." The results? "My dick went long, my hair went fuzzy … I traded in my white friends for pretty white ladies. My new black body drove them crazy." Ten years later, he’s got to go back to the surgeon to have the procedure reversed: "Too much trouble, from those envious white men…. My wife won’t touch me…. ‘Once you go black,’ she says, ‘you never go back.’"
In its hyperbole, "Black Change" is the quintessential Country Teasers song. It’s satire that’s offensive if you do get the joke. It’s up there with Jonathan Swift’s essay "A Modest Proposal," which suggested that the Irish eat their children to prevent the latter "from being a burden to their parents or country." Up there with Lou Reed’s "I Wanna Be Black,” a song that exposes racism, white guilt, and the white co-opting of black cultural idioms, but does so with lines like "I wanna be like Malcolm X, and cast a hex over President Kennedy’s tomb. And have a big prick, too." A song that makes Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher look like the teatime for pussies that it is. Either you get the satire and are loose enough to laugh at the stereotypes that are still imbedded in our culture, or you start getting that itchy feeling up under your collar, afraid that your good liberal friends — the "clean white citizens" in "Black Change" — might hear what you’re listening to, and shamefacedly pull the disc from the deck.
Like moralistic ’80s punks Crass, the Country Teasers make their statement, but they use humor to do it, as opposed to histrionic art-house punk screech. They too go for the jugular: They find your comfort zone and blissfully stomp all over it. Besides "Black Change," they’ve got songs called "Young Mums up for Sex," "Man v Cock," and "Country Fag." More recently, The Empire Strikes Back is likewise true to its title, dipping into geopolitical analysis vis-à-vis whether the world is currently more like the Death Star or Mos Eisley spaceport. Mix these lyrical fixations with the lo-fi schmaltz of Smog and all the early Drag City bands, the "we’ve got a fuzzbox and we’re not quite sure how to use it" of early Pussy Galore, and the straight-ahead rhythmic sensibilities of vintage Johnny Cash, and, well, to this humble music writer, what you get is fuckin’ genius.
Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying they’re genius. Einstein was genius. Mozart, Walt Whitman, Jonas Salk, what have you. Fuckin’ genius is the guy who decided to package beef jerky and that dyed-orange cheese right next to each other in the same package. Just how do they get the cheese to be crumbly and greasy at the same time?
The Teasers gestalt reads like the opening line of a joke: OK, so a noise band, a drunk Scottish football team, and a boy named Sue walk into a bar … And when they walk into the Hemlock on Friday, May 26, all the way from Scotland, the land that invented whiskey, it’ll be much the same.
If you come expecting a noise band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting a country band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting stand-up comedy or social satire, you’re screwed. And if you come expecting a punk band, you’re screwed. Then again, the Country Teasers are noisy like vintage Honeymoon Killers; twangy in that same crooked-teeth, British Isles way that Billy Childish can be said to be twangy; bitingly satirical like mclusky; and definitely the punkest thing to come out of Scotland since the Rezillos. SFBG
Country Teasers with E-Zee Tiger and 16 Bitch Pileup
Fri/26, 9:30 p.m.
1131 Polk, SF
Love ballads, boyish harmonies, and a single acoustic guitar — four albums along, with numerous side projects such as Sandycoates bringing up the rear, the Moore Brothers obviously have a sweet streak that’s miles wide and filled with melodies as creamy as custard pie and as dreamy as those steamy, leisurely days of teenage summer.
But even dark thoughts dog nice guys, diligent students, and upstanding Joes like Greg and Thom Moore, holding court on a sunny day at a corner table, next to a picture of Jack London, in Mama Buzz’s concrete backyard. Behold the smiling, prone girl lying in the snow on the cover of their beautiful new album, Murdered by the Moore Brothers (Plain). Cock an ear toward the dulcet numbers within, eerie narratives populated with drowned pals ("Old Friend of Mine"), spiteful lovers ("Fresh Thoughts of You"), cemetery lovers ("Bury Me under the Kissing Teens"), and "good deaths" ("Pham"). Even idle bird-watching has a soft veneer of creepy claustrophobia ("The Auditorium Birds"), counterpointing the Moores’ delectable vocals.
What did we do to deserve this? "Lyrically, it is probably the darkest Moore Brothers record," Thom, 32, confesses. "But it also seemed like a nice idea coming out after Now Is the Time for Love, a more holding-hands record. This could be too, but it’s a little more sinister."
"Like holding a severed hand," Greg, 35, chuckles.
Additionally, Thom says, "We’ve got gothic roots." He goes on to describe his first concert as a 12-year-old, accompanying Greg to the Cure’s 1986 Standing on the Beach stop at the LA Forum. The young brothers watched, horrified, as a man in a cowboy hat, standing on a chair, committed suicide by stabbing himself with a huge dagger as an enormous crowd encircled him. "It really scarred me for life!" Thom says. "I thought, I’m never gong to see another concert again unless it’s the Dream Academy!"
So when Thom found himself thumbing through a book of folk songs, looking for numbers for his next side project, Chicken on a Raft, and he came across one titled "Murdered by a Brother," he knew it would be perfect for the Moore Brothers’ next release. "It’s so mean! It’s awful," he says, smiling. They decided to go with it, although their mother — and Girl George, their "punk rock mother," in charge of the Starry Plough open mic — hated it. The former "is afraid someone will murder us," Thom explains. "She said, ‘What if someone sees the album and wants to murder you or wants to implicate you in a murder?!’"
What if? Family bands — and particularly brother bands like the Moore Brothers’ faves the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees, and the Everly Brothers — have always hit a powerful, resonant chord in our pop imaginations, touching off daydreams of thick-as-thieves musical togetherness and nightmares of creepy, smothering … togetherness. After all, the pair does at times finish each other’s sentences, and as Thom offers, their mother can’t tell the two apart on the phone. No wonder rumor in local music circles has it that not only do the Moore Brothers share a house (where, in fact, until recently, songwriting legend Biff Rose couch-surfed), but also a room, an idea that strikes them as natural and practical, although the siblings really haven’t shared a bedroom since they were kids. Back then, though, that closeness played as important a role in their musical development as the obligatory piano lessons. Greg says: "I’d hear all his records, and he’d hear all my records."
"Even back then, we were forced to take turns," Thom continues. "So nowadays we take turns with the set list and album song order — pretty much everything." That sense of fair play extends to their track on the largely acoustic new Kill Rock Stars comp, The Sound the Hare Heard, which was decided with a flip of a coin.
Still, the close living arrangements eases the Moore Brothers’ existence in more ways than one: Songwriters since youth (Thom started writing songs at 10 with Jon B, who later collaborated with Babyface), the pair never needs to rehearse, and they dispense with chitchat during long drives on tour, instead sharing a friendly silence as a CD plays.
And, of course, they’ll always be there for each other. "Things come and go in cycles," Thom says. "The good thing about us is that we’re planning to do it forever.
"We still have hopes for being hip in our 50s." SFBG>
With Rose Melberg, the Harbours, and the Lonelyhearts
Tues/16, 9 p.m.
155 Fell, SF
"Oooh, I do detect/ I can’t go on/ Without you," the latest lesbionic Chaka Khannabe, Leela James, rasps in the spooky reedit of "My Joy" that’s dominated dance floors worldwide for about five months now. The mix is by NYC’s deep house genie Quentin Harris, whose last smash crack-up, of Jill Scott’s "Not Like Crazy," whistled lonely through the graveyard on the grounds of soul’s asylum. "My Joy (Quentin Harris Shelter vocal)" is a classic melancholic spine-tingler. A Hammond B3 swirls toward climax, the bass skips a heartbeat, strings of life collide, and the woeful diva’s voice is drawn and quartered, pulled in four directions, wailing "My mind! My mind!" despite an uplift in the chorus: "No, no, no, ain’t no way/ You gon’ take away/ My joy, my peace, my strength." In the end, James dumps her psycho lover and moves on — but we’re all left shaken to the bone.
Whatever happened to house? It devolved into circuit, all shrieking modulations and lame-ass breaks, the pale lingua franca of gays worldwide. It rode the elevator down to easy listening lounge, the wallpaper tube-topped bimbos spilled appletinis on. It got all lush and gospel, overeagerly fronting its blues-black roots. It stripped off its base and went seriously loony, fattening up Fat Boy Slim’s paycheck and Paul Van Dyke’s portfolio.
Poor little house, kicked to the curb with its shoelace untied, crying foul in its white-label milk. What’s an unabashed househed freak who loves working it out gonna do?
Go to Fag Fridays at the Endup, for one. Despite all the lip service to a house revival and a titilutf8g resurgence of underground queer clubs dedicated to old-school jacking, the national house scene’s been whittled down to a mere trifecta of well-respected bastions — Shelter in NYC, Deep in LA, and our very own Fag, which gathers all the varied arms of house back into one long, sweaty embrace. I’m not saying Fag’s the only happening house gig in town, far from it, but it’s the only weekly joint where you’re guaranteed to hear slices like "My Joy" — and not feel obliged to wonder if you look a mess while you lose your shit over it. No matter what you do, you will never, ever be the messiest-looking freak up in there.
Fag was started by grassroots impresarios David Peterson and Jose Mineros a decade ago, when queer was still a dirty word and sex columnist Dan Savage was getting hate mail from homosexuals because he allowed readers to address him as "Hey Faggot." The golden age of local fun houses Klubstitute and Product had just petered out, folks were still dying left and right of AIDS, and gay men were heckling me on the street because I sported — gasp! — baggy pants and a wallet chain. Homo-hop was unheard of, gay youth was a derogatory term, and Manhunt hadn’t been invented. People who did drugs had to actually leave the house to get laid! For the group of streetwise queer kids of color who clustered around Peterson and Mineros and had roots in House Nation, Fag was heaven — a clubhouse, a get-down, and, for some of us, a home.
Now, 10 years later, Fag’s still going strong, featuring not only some of the best known SF DJs as regulars (David Harness, Pete Avila, Neon Leon, Rolo) but pulling in the globally acclaimed as well (Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries, Angel Moraes, Honey Dijon). The upcoming anniversary celebration kicks off with singer Dajae, she of back-in-the-day "Brighter Days" and "U Got Me Up" fame. Sure, Fag’s now become a kind of institution, associated by some with shirtless boys, GHB casualties, shit-faced queens, and on one occasion, raids for Versace’s killer. But it’s hung in there, proving that house isn’t dead. It’s alive. It’s joyful. It’s kicking.
It’s also relevant. I went there last month to hear Quentin Harris himself on deck, and he did this thing all night where he kept a little fuzz box of white noise going on behind the mix, which — to my overanalytical mind, at least (metaphors! metaphors!) — was a perfect representation of the global mess outside we were all hopping around to escape. Groovy, cute, and smart? Hey, Quentin, wanna date?
10th anniversary with Dajae
May 12, 10 p.m.–6 a.m.
401 Sixth St., SF
Guardian intern Jonathan Knapp checked out Coachella last week and lived to tell the tale:
Jose Luis Pardo of Los Amigos Invisibles
holds forth Sunday at Coachella.
Photo: Mirissa Neff.
As someone who has lost his once-vigorous passion for indie rock and large music festivals, I approached my trip to Coachella with caution and confusion. Why the hell was I driving 500 miles to spend two days in the brutally hot desert sun to see a bunch of bands that I had, at best, an intermittent interest in? All right, my girlfriend really wanted me to, and our companion — a good friend and a guitarist from local post-hardcore outfit And a Few to Break — was the perfect guide: He’d been before and has been largely responsible for turning me on to the little new music that excites me.
It’s not as if I now hate indie rock — I’ve just become preoccupied with the music of the past. I’d much rather, for instance, discover nearly forgotten gems like O.V. Wright’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” and Wanda Jackson’s “Fujiyama Mama” than be the first to herald the Bloc Party or Clap Your Hands. There were definitely some newer bands at Coachella that had already easily won me over — Animal Collective, TV on the Radio — and some holdovers from my indie rock youth: Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power. Additionally, Madonna was playing; though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the height of my Drag City- and Merge-fuelled ecstasy, this was unquestionably exciting.
To a relatively recent East Coast transplant, Coachella’s setting is nothing short of alien. Set aside the heat (which is consuming and oppressive) and what remains is a beautiful, if stark and bleak, atmosphere: palm trees, miles of flat, bush-littered sand, and — when the Los Angeles smog recedes — snow-capped mountains. This year’s fest brought a mostly predictable mix of inappropriately black-clad SF/LA hipsters, shirtless/bikini-topped OC trust-funders/frat types, Arizona college hippies, and — given that this was Tool’s first show in five years — metalheadz. Though people-watching is certainly fruitful and entertaining, Coachella does not provide as much craziness as one might expect — but it certainly does exist.
The festival, held over Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 30, on the incongruously green and groomed Empire Polo Fields, is a whirlwind of simultaneous activity and overstimulation. If you’re really only there to see one act (like Depeche Mode), it’s no problem. But for those whose interests are a bit more catholic, the prospect of navigating five separate stages that feature virtually nonstop, and eclectic, music from noon till midnight is daunting.
Do you choose Kanye West or My Morning Jacket? Wolf Parade or Jamie Lidell? In my case, both these choices proved easy, if not fully satisfying. For the former: With tickets on Kanye’s late-2005 tour being at least $45, the relatively reasonable one-day Coachella pass of $85 (about $190 for both days, including service charges) makes it
the best opportunity to see him.
West’s set was entertaining, if not transcendent. Mindful of the temperature (he played a still-blistering 6 p.m. slot), West substituted the angel-winged getup he’s favored recently for a white Miles Davis T-shirt and jeans. Backed by live drums, turntables, backup singers, and a string section, he offered a respectable but awkward approximation of his increasingly ornate recordings (no Jon Brion in sight). The highlight: West inexplicably announced his DJ would play a few of his biggest influences, moving from Al Green and Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson to a-ha’s “Take on Me,” dancing around the stage with a goofiness that, though obviously calculated, seemed charmingly unselfconscious.
Following West on the main stage, Sigur Ros created one of the festival’s moments of impossible beauty, bringing their ethereal noise to day one’s lofty sunset slot (7:00-7:50 p.m.). Admittedly, I’ve been a bit hesitant to embrace the beloved Icelandic group. Though I’ve enjoyed much of their work, I’ve been turned off by what I’ve interpreted as delusions of grandeur: a made-up language (there’s already one Magma), bullshit declarations of “creating a new type of music,” and the hushed reverence with which they’re frequently discussed. However, I can’t think of a better band to accompany a desert dusk, or a better setting for the band — apart from a glacier, perhaps. Backed by a mini-string section, they played a set that, at that time and in that place, was astonishing. My gratitude goes to the man and woman who danced behind the netting just immediately off stage right: Their undulating silhouettes would have brought me to tears, had dehydration and hours of standing not already beaten them to it.
My other day one highlight was Animal Collective, a band whose aesthetic of psych-pop, tribalism, and general weirdness was perfectly suited to the surreal setting. Though I’ve adored many of their recordings (they’re one of the few current bands that I’m genuinely excited to watch evolve), I’d heard that their propensity for wandering and wanking can be their downfall live. I found that they kept this mostly in check, grounding their less accessible and more abrasive experimentations with hypnotic rhythms and a convincing feeling that this was, in fact, going somewhere. Much of the crowd didn’t seem to know what to make of it. Too bad: To my ears, few artists approach their inventiveness, live or recorded.
That day I also caught some of Deerhoof (appropriately erratic, with some fantastic moments), Cat Power (as expected, the Memphis Rhythm Band has given her a new sense of confidence and composure, and they sound fucking great), Wolfmother (energetic, but dull), White Rose Movement (I’ll stick to my Pulp records, thank you), the New Amsterdams (nothing new about them), and the Walkmen (solid).
After returning to the grounds Sunday (we fortunately camped at the much-less-populated Salton Sea, about 20 minutes away), we immediately went to catch Mates of State (adorable and infectious), who closed with a decent version of Nico’s “Time of the Season,” and Ted Leo, who was reliably engaging. To try to get close for Wolf Parade, we headed to the medium-sized tent (there were three) and watched Metric. I’d been intrigued by their Broken Social Scene connections, but their set of dancey agit-pop left me cold and bored (my companions disagreed).
I separated from my friends to stand in the back for Wolf Parade, so I could head to the main stage for Sleater-Kinney. After starting late, Wolf Parade apologized for technical issues (“Everything’s fucked”) and began a set that, from my perch hundreds of feet away, sounded slight and thin. Disappointed, I left after three songs. I’ve been told that the experience up-front, however, was quite different, and among the best of the festival.
I fell in love with the women of Sleater-Kinney about a decade ago when I was 16. I’ve tried to see them a number of times over the years, but something always fell through: sold-out, unbreakable engagements, etc. I usually don’t think about them, except when they release a new album and, maybe once or twice a year, when I put on Call the Doctor or Dig Me Out — briefly reminding myself why they once meant so much to me.
Clearly, this has been a huge mistake: Focusing mostly on songs from the past couple albums, the trio played a fierce, powerful set that all the years of hearing about their live show hadn’t prepared me for. At a festival that celebrated scenes that I’ve mostly abandoned, this became my essential moment. Mses. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss reminded me not only why I loved them, but why I loved going to shows in the first place — for the sheer raw, sweaty energy. These women deserve to fill stadiums.
After watching a bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who impressed me more than I expected, I headed to the dance tent, joining an apparent majority of festivalgoers in an attempt to see Madonna. Unable to get anywhere near the stage, we settled for a spot outside it, where our view was of a large screen and, when we were lucky enough to be able to peek through the massive throng at a distant stage.
Several minutes before the set (which unsurprisingly started late), a line of people carrying parasols and decked out in lingerie bondage gear made their way through the crowd on stilts. Managing the seemingly impossible feat of reaching the front of the stage, they were easily the festival’s smartest and most inventive attendees.
When Madonna finally took the stage, all hell broke loose — an appropriate response, perhaps, but not one that the performance itself warranted. Predictable and short, Madonna’s set started with the superb “Hung Up,” then moved on to “Ray of Light” and four more songs, most of them newer material. Most surprising was her guitar playing (or at least the appearance of it) and the rock-like arrangements of all the tunes. She occasionally provoked the audience (“Don’t throw water on my stage, motherfuckers,” “Do you want me to take my pants off?”), but nothing here was shocking. That said, the woman looks fantastic and commands a stage in a way that few could. After six songs, she left abruptly. It was anticlimactic, yet still somehow thrilling. It was, after all, fucking Madonna.
Immediately after, we ran into Andy Dick, who stood talking to a pair of starstruck 13-year-old girls. Far more behaved than the blogs have reported he later would be, Dick seemed as amused with the girls as they were with him. Though he claimed to have to go meet his “girlfriend,” he talked to them for several minutes: “Oh, I love Madonna too. Hey — how are you even here? Aren’t people, like, drinking? Where are your parents?”
After catching a fantastic, fun set from the Go! Team (who had Mike Watt guesting on bass), we attempted to see Tool. Unable to get anywhere close to the stage (this seemed by far to be the most crowded show, though Madonna was close), we sat down, expecting to watch the band on the giant screens on either side of the stage. While the band played, however, their videos (you know: internal organs and jittery, alien-looking people doing painful things) were projected on the screens. Bored and wary of the inevitable hours of traffic that we’d hit if we stayed for the set, we bid Coachella adieu.
Acts I wished I had caught, but couldn’t for various reasons: Lady Sovereign, Jamie Lidell, Gnarls Barkley, Seu Jorge, My Morning Jacket, Phoenix, Mogwai, Depeche Mode, Coldcut, and TV on the Radio. Biggest regret (by far): missing Daft Punk. Word of their closing Saturday night set hovered all day Sunday, discussed in whispered, but rhapsodic tones.
I left the festival exhausted, anxious to return to San Francisco, and — most importantly — reminded why I devoted so many years to indie rock. Will I stop seeking out New Orleans R&B, rockabilly, and Southern soul? No, but that doesn’t mean I have to ignore this wave of postpunk, does it? That said, I’ll take Gang of Four, Wire, and Pere Ubu over Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand any day.
But, right now, I just want to listen to Sleater-Kinney.
458 Brannan, SF
What if we saved our precious natural resources by not transporting our food and clothes halfway around the world? What if Oakland had its own BART-accessible skate park? And what if everyone there were riding skateboards made from stuff that wasn’t gnarly on the planet?
The proprietors of Comet Skateboards, founders Jason Salfi and Jonathan Reese and co-owner Don Shaffer, want to make all of these grand ideas realities. They’re already doing so with their stylishly designed skateboards, with many decks sporting artwork by Oakland youths. Manufactured by Glissade Snow Board Company, a solar-powered facility in SoMa, the boards are made from sustainably grown bamboo or maple and will be glued together with a soy-based resin.
By "merging sustainability ethos with pop culture," as Salfi explains, "[Comet] can help push things over the edge" in terms of influencing youth to think more about the environment.
But their eco-consciousness doesn’t just end with the manufacturing of their boards. The entrepreneurship would also like to foster other small businesses in the Bay Area while saving the planet at the same time.
For the past two years, Shaffer has been busy working toward his vision of living economies. He started the San Francisco office of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which connects local agriculture with local business to encourage people to sell Bay Area–made goods locally. The organization, which has chapters in Philadelphia and Victoria, British Columbia, also supports the principle that when businesses stay small and local, they better serve the community, labor, and the environment.
As for that skate park, the company is planning the Hood Games block party for May 13 at 15th and Franklin Streets in downtown Oakland, all to help fund the park on Jefferson Square.
While Shaffer works with BALLE, Salfi involves himself with Earth Alliance Institute, which gets youth involved in solving global environmental problems. Looks like Comet Skateboards will have many successors in the next generation. (Deborah Giattina)
3318 22nd St., SF
(888) 554-4321, www.fabric8.com
Hoping to spread San Francisco style — in all its bounty of shapes, sounds, and colors — across the land, Olivia Ongpin and Antony Quintal founded Fabric8 10 years ago. They started selling locally made, youth-oriented clothing, jewelry, and other handicrafts on the company’s Web site.
When they recently had the chance to open up a brick-and-mortar storefront, they leapt at the opportunity to showcase a diverse selection of today’s young Bay Area artists and designers. Found-object dioramas by Swiss-born, Bay Area–bred DJ-artist Romanowski, small paintings priced for the collector on a budget, and mix CDs by homeboys Tom Thump and UFO reflect an eclectic SF-based flavor in the Mission District shop’s kooky-kitsch homage to the quaint. (Think indoor suburban backyard, complete with illuminated sky-blue ceiling, wall-to-wall SYNLawn, and a treasure trove of tiki-themed paraphernalia.)
A background in supporting the underground art scene drove the pair to get into retail. Ongpin, a San Francisco native with roots in nonprofit food distribution and jazz writing, and Quintal, a computer engineer and designer, first made a name for themselves hosting hip, club-inspired trunk shows and DJ-driven events. It was through these activities that the two met well-known Bay Area artists such as Sirron Norris, Brian Barneclo, Ursula Young, and Nomzee, who have all contributed to a mural of familiar San Francisco landmarks stained into the store’s woodwork.
Aside from offering local art at very affordable prices, the store also ventures into more retail-oriented fare. One highlight is the brainchild of local boy Manuel "Gonz One" Gonzalez, maker of the aMonster plush toy. These handmade, furry creatures come with built-in speakers and an interior pouch for an iPod or CD player — a very cute way for music freaks to amplify their tunes. Chiquita Banana walkie-talkies, old Nike belt buckles, a Mr. T Chia Pet, and a set of Lucite napkin rings with built in salt and pepper shakers are also for sale, much of it stuffed like bric-a-brac into the store’s dresser drawer–like display system. "Museum store meets Sanford and Son," is how the owners describe their particular aesthetic combination of creative sprawl and cuddly nostalgia. (Sidra Durst)
Should I worry that my husband, who says he is straight because he just isn’t attracted to guys, might be subconsciously or secretly gay? I’m concerned because he really likes anal sex. I think it is disgusting and painful and my first experience with it was rape, and I don’t get why he likes it, let alone how he can enjoy it when it causes me such discomfort. I’ve agreed to do it periodically, in return for him giving up a vehicle that I think is dangerous, but I’m concerned about it.
Yes, yes, it’s normal. It’s not gay if he does it with you, especially since he isn’t even attracted to guys, and (as a Hispanophone friend puts it) "bla, bla, y bla." Do a search and you’ll find me explaining this approximately monthly for the last eight years. My concern is not that your husband is a buttmonkey, but that you are willing to put up with something you find painful and humiliating just so he won’t … what? Ride a motorcycle? Unless he made it himself from a cheap Albanian kit, put it together with only half the bolts called for while drunk, and rides it blindfolded, I’d say you’re getting the raw end of the deal.
I’m a wanker. I call help lines and try to get the people who answer them to have phone sex with me. It works best with youth lines, but some crisis lines will do it too. I know this is wrong, but I can’t afford phone sex. Do you know of any phone sex lines that are free? I heard San Francisco Sex Information will do it but they hang up on me. What are some good numbers to call?
OK, that’s pretty funny. If you’re sincere, asking me this question would seem to imply that you expect me to give you the numbers of nonprofit do-gooding agencies like the ones I work often work with, but with slightly less well-trained volunteers? I’ll get right on that.
Actually, I wouldn’t even be answering this except that it gives me a perfect opportunity to run the sort of public-service announcement that I usually eschew, but this one — "phone volunteers, beware" — is near and dear to me. So thanks for writing, asshole.
Phone-wanking is a fairly common behavior or compulsion (which one is more accurate depends on whether the wanker "could stop anytime" or truly feels like he cannot help himself) and has little in common with the dreary-seeming but harmless practice of paying people to talk dirty with you. Your basic phone-wanker is more like the old-fashioned "What are you wearing?"–<\d>type of late-night, random-dialing heavy breather. Your help-line wanker, on the contrary, is looking to score some nonconsensual jollies off of some well-meaning volunteer at suicide prevention or various youth talk lines, as you mentioned your wankerself. Now think about that: It "works best with youth lines"? Because why? Because the youthful staffers don’t have the years of practice and built-up emotional callus it takes to understand just how creepy and devious adults can be? Because it’s easy to snatch kids’ emotional candy? If you really do do this, and you hadn’t quite thought of your behavior in quite those terms, I suggest you start now.
There may have been a time when pay-by-the-minute phone sex was the only option for those looking for a truly alienated sexual encounter with a professional orgasm-faker, but in these days of chat rooms, fora, IM, etc., anyone with a little creativity and determination should be able to scare up some long-distance action. Consensually, I mean. Sure, you wouldn’t want to ask most of these phantom partners why hot teenage girls like themselves would find themselves alone, horny, and available to chat with a loser like yourself on a Saturday night, but really, we can’t afford to be too picky here. Unless your motivation really is the sort of half-evil, half-pathetic phone-rape we were talking about above, anyone with an Internet connection and a good line of patter should suffice. In the meantime — hey, wanker, leave those kids alone.
(Fun fact: According to the 1990 Census, Wanker is the 53,492nd most common surname in the United States.)
SONIC REDUCER I love the fact that whenever you leave this country, you immediately come to the discomfiting realization that … you’re such a damaged by-product of capitalist America. Case in point: Last week I gazed upon the beauteous, barren, and treeless expanses of Iceland, miles and miles of rock, scrubby grass, and mirrorlike pools of ice. Iceland in the spring is the chill, brown-white-and-blue equivalent of the Southwestern desert, austere yet fragile in the face of certain global warming, and barely containing an undercurrent of volcanic energy reminiscent of Hawaii’s Big Island. So why do I look at these moonscapes and wonder where all the people are and why there aren’t any houses, strip malls, or ski resorts out here? Why do I look at untrammeled land and see real estate?
Reykjavik: I’m here on a press trip with other media field operatives from BPM, OK!, Nylon, and Vapors, studying the club culture, seeing the sights, taking in gutfuls of fresh, fishy air by the wharf, gazing at snowcapped mountains, and perusing menus in shock. I just couldn’t help blurting a culturally insensitive, "Omigod, that’s My Little Pony!" when I saw the roast Icelandic foal with a tian of mushrooms, caramelized apples, and calvados sauce on the bill of traditional Icelandic restaurant Laekjarbrekka.
Likewise, the Icelanders probably can’t help turning those cute puffins and herb-fed lambs into meaty main courses to warm them through those long, dark winters. The real, long-haired, sweet-faced Icelandic horses turned out to be more engaging and curious than I’d ever imagined, strolling up to our group out in the wilds near Thingvellir to examine the hipsters (and hip-hoppsters) and be ooohed over. "They’re more like dogs than horses!" our Icelandair rep, Michael Raucheisen, exclaimed.
After a scrumptious Asian fusion meal at the elegant, cream-colored, deco Apotek (started with kangaroo tartare and finished off with a mistakenly ordered $125 bottle of Gallo cab; travel tip number one: Reykjavik is not the spot to sample California vino), our wild bunch was more into checking out a local strip club than settling in with a good book like Dustin Long’s charming Agatha Christie parody, Icelander (McSweeney’s), or the catalog for the National Museum of Iceland’s current photo exhibit of fishing village life in the southeast, "Raetur Runtsins" ("Roots of the Runtur"). We were more likely to price the local, ahem, pharmaceutical offerings ("$175 for a gram of coke is not cheap!" was one assessment) at the city’s nightclubs than shop for runic love charms or grandmotherly woolens.
One reason for the aforementioned vast, unpopulated expanses: There are only 300,000 people in the entire country — albeit well educated, well employed, relatively youthful, and wired. (Is it any wonder this isle has the highest concentration of broadband users in the world?) Most of the youth culture was happening in the capital, where about a third of the population lives it up, sucks down Brennivin and macerated strawberry mojitos, dances with compact little hand motions that resemble a funky elfin hand jive. I must confess that, watching Deep Dish’s Ali "Dubfire" Shirazinia skillfully work Iceland native Björk into his house mix at NASA, I’ve rarely seen more hot, seemingly straight men dancing, en masse, on the floor, on the mezzanine, in the booths, every damn where. Where did they get the energy — from a geothermal pipeline or those mischievous sprites called Julelads?
As we piled into the van to steep at the sulfur-scented but soul-soothing Blue Lagoon and study the brand-spankin’ Icelandic Idol Snorri Snorrason (I kid you not) serenading the soakers lagoonside with Jack Johnson–like tunes, I could only sit and plot my next visit — possible when Icelandair resumes its summer flights from SF in May? It’ll be too late to catch late April’s new Rite of Spring alt-jazz and folk music festival, but not for October’s Iceland Airwaves music fest (Oct. 18 through 22, www.icelandairwaves.com), where big tickets like the Flaming Lips have filled the city’s venues alongside Icelanders such as Sigur R??s. I’ll have to catch these new Icelandic rock artists:
Ampop, My Delusions (Dennis)
This trio was getting the royal hype in Reykjavik — posters were plastered everywhere. How nice to find that their jaunty yet dramatic English-language orchestral psych-rock traverses the dreamier side of Coldplay and Doves.
Mammut, Mammut (Smekkleysa)
Polished though quirky, this bass-driven, all-lady post-punk fivesome takes a bite of the Sugarcubes, Siouxsie Sioux, and the Raincoats, with plenty of all-Icelandic lyrical histrionics.
Storsveit Nix Noltes, Orkideur Havai (12 Tonar; to be released on Bubblecore)
Last glimpsed at South by Southwest’s Paw Tracks/Fat Cat showcase, these Animal Collective tourmates draw inspiration for their instrumentals from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and the Balkans.
Mugison, Mugimama — Is This Monkey Music? (12 Tonar)
The Mark Linkous of Icelandic rock digs into the raw stuff on this acclaimed full-length. He also recently scored Baltasar Kormakur’s film A Little Trip to Heaven, reinterpreting the Tom Waits track of the same name.
For the real folkways, check out Raddir/Voices: Recordings of Folk Songs from the Archives of the Arni Magnusson Institute in Iceland (Smekkleysa/Arni Magnusson Institute), which includes a great booklet on the music, collected between 1903 and 1973 and revolving around Icelandic sagas and cautionary fables of monsters, ogres, and child-snatching ravens. SFBG
CH-CH-CHECK IT OUT
Anthony Hamilton, Heather Headley, and Van Hunt
Hamilton killed, from all reports, at SXSW, and we all know how good that Hunt album is. Wed/19 and Mon/24, 7:30 p.m., Paramount, 2025 Broadway, Oakl. $39–$67.75. www.ticketmaster.com
M’s and the Deathray Davies
Chicago cock-rockers meet quirk poppers. Wed/19, 8 p.m., Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. $8. (415) 861-2011
The chairs are pushed back when this band of Tuaregs, the indigenous people from Eastern Mali, break out the guitars. Wed/19, 8 and 10 p.m. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl. $14–$20. (510) 238-9200
The gritty girlfriend that might be the next Mary adds a late show. Fri/21, 11:30 p.m., The Grand, 1300 Van Ness, SF. $32.50. (415) 864-0815
The ensemble premieres a collaboration with Walter Kitundu, takes on a Sigur R??s number, and teams with Matmos on "For Terry Riley." Fri/21–Sat/22, 8 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. $18–$35. (415) 978-ARTS
Saddle Creek’s electro-folk-pop sweetheart steps out from Azure Ray. Sat/22, 9 p.m., Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $10. (415) 861-5016 SFBG
A new community-based research report on Pacific Islanders — Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians, Fijians, and other Polynesians — reveals disproportionately high dropout, arrest, and depression rates among the population in Oakland.
In the 2000 to 2001 school year, for example, 47 Pacific Islander ninth graders were enrolled in the Oakland Unified School District. By the 2003 to 2004 school year, when those students would have been seniors, only 14 Pacific Islanders were enrolled in the 12th grade.
Pacific Islander youths also have the second-highest arrest rate in Alameda County and the highest arrest rate — about 9 in 100 Pacific Islanders each year — in San Francisco County, according to the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center.
Often grouped under the larger Asian and Pacific Islander category, Pacific Islanders’ experiences are overshadowed by larger groups like Chinese and Japanese Americans.
"We’re invisible," Penina Ava Taesali, a researcher of the report, told the Guardian. "All we have is anecdotal data on issues. In every segment of the government — city, county, state, and federal — there’s no data."
Taesali, who is the artistic director of Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership, said that when she first began working for AYPAL eight years ago, she expected to see a program for Pacific Islander youths — and was surprised to see none. She helped create the youth program Pacific Islander Kie Association (PIKA) in 2001.
She is among those now trying to figure out why this relatively small cultural group is having such disproportionate problems — and how they might be solved.
The first wave of immigration from the Pacific Islands came after World War II. During the war many Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, Tonga, and Samoa, were occupied by US troops. Previous to that, many Pacific Islands were colonized by Europeans.
After the United States loosened its immigration policies in 1965, more and more Pacific Islanders moved to the US, as well as to New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. First men, then women, moved abroad for better jobs to send remittance back to the islands. Between 1980 and 1990, the US population of Tongans rose 58 percent.
When the 2000 US census was released, many were also surprised to learn that there are more Pacific Islanders living in California than in Hawaii: 116,961 compared with 113,539. The Bay Area — including Oakland, San Francisco, and San Mateo — is home to 36,317 Pacific Islanders.
Now a new generation of Pacific Islander Americans is growing up and learning to navigate family, school, and church — but many are feeling alienated from all three social structures.
"A lot of times, within Pacific Islander families, the children are very much seen but not heard," Venus Mesui, a community liaison at Life Academy and Media Academy high schools in Oakland, said. "They’re not really able to express themselves at school or at home. Depression comes along with that, because they don’t have the know-how to express themselves in a positive manner. They don’t have a space, or they don’t feel safe, to voice their opinions."
The report also revealed that several youths who were interviewed said domestic violence and corporal punishment occurred within their families.
Pelenatita "Tita" Olosoni, 18, told us she wished more parents would visit the schools to see what’s really going on.
"Parents think school out here is easier than back on the islands," Olosoni said. "It would be helpful if they took time off from work to see what kids are going through every day."
According to Mesui, parents need to be trained in how to support their children, particularly if they attend underperforming schools.
"I know all of the parents want their kids to succeed, but unfortunately, older siblings are asked to take care of the younger ones, and this doesn’t prepare them with good habits that will make them successful in school," Mesui, who is Hawaiian, said.
Olosoni said she and other Pacific Islander students have had to stay home and miss weeks of school to take care of their younger siblings and cousins.
Christopher Pulu, a 15-year-old freshman at Oakland High whose father is a landscaper, said, "That’s what the majority of our fathers do." Most Pacific Islanders in the US are laborers, and 32 percent live below the national poverty level, according to 2000 US census data.
"They always need an extra hand," Olosoni told us. "So the boys will drop school and see it as an easy way to make money and work with their dads."
"Big-boned and heavy-handed"
Like many minority groups, Pacific Islanders suffer from stereotypes. The prevalent minority myth that all Asians (though most Pacific Islanders do not consider themselves Asian) do well in school actually hurts groups like Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, and Hmong, according to Andrew Barlow, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley and Diablo Valley College.
"Most people say we’re big-boned and heavy-handed," Olosoni said. "When Tongans get in trouble, the whole Tongan crew gets in trouble."
Olosoni remembers the day she, her sister, and three friends were called into the principal’s office after a lunchtime fight at Castlemont High School in East Oakland. The security guard called another guard on his walkie-talkie and said, "Gather all the Tongans in the office," Olosoni recalls.
"I was like, ‘No, they didn’t go there,’" she told us. "It was just the five of us involved in the fight, but they called in all the Tongans." After the fight, the five Polynesian girls were given a one-week suspension.
Because Pacific Islander youths only make up 1.2 percent of a district’s population, they are usually a small but visible group within each school. While security guards may not be able to call "all Latinos" to the office, for example, they can do so with a smaller population like Tongans, Barlow said. He said that being so easily targeted increases solidarity within the community but may also lead to insularity and even more stereotyping.
"When people are denied opportunities and when they’re treated unequally, the way they’re going to deal with that is increasing reliance on their community and increasing ethnic solidarity," he said.
Barlow, who teaches courses on race and ethnicity, told us stereotypes are just a part of the problem. Larger systemic issues such as the economy, access to jobs, and educational role models are just as crucial.
"Tongans are already coming into American society with a lot of problems caused by colonialism," Barlow says. "If you don’t have access to a very wealthy school district, if you don’t know people who have access to good jobs, if you don’t have a high degree of education, then you’re in trouble."
A New Generation
Pulu said he hopes to be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. He has received at least a 3.5 grade point average every semester and attends church regularly.
At the beginning of the school year, his multicultural education teacher asked him to go to the front of the class and point out Tonga on a world map.
"It doesn’t stand out," Pulu said. He is energetic and enthusiastic and doesn’t mind educating others about his culture. "Most people think it’s a part of Hawaii."
Mesui said Pacific Islanders have come a long way. Though the report focuses on a lot of struggles, Mesui said that she has personally seen increasing numbers of Pacific Islanders graduate from high school and go on to college, including her three children.
She believes schools should address the issue of youths who don’t have support at home.
"When they’re not in school, they’re doing something else," Mesui said. "The majority of the arrests are due to them not going to school and getting in trouble on the streets. And I think it falls on the school — we’re not doing something to keep them here."
Olosoni said she knows of 3 Tongan youths in the last school year who were kicked out of Castlemont — out of about 15 Pacific Islander students in the school — for cutting class.
"It comes from the lack of them getting help from people of their own kind to help them understand things better," Olosoni said. She is now attending adult school and working on her GED.
Over the years Taesali has pushed for more programming in the community. PIKA now has about 40 youths who meet every Tuesday afternoon at an Oakland high school.
"If we got more Pacific Islander staff and teachers, there would be immediate results," Taesali said. "I have no doubt about it."
Taesali sees Pacific Islander students engaged when they learn about their own culture.
"Every time we’ve done workshops on Pacific Islander history and culture, [the students] just don’t want to leave," she said. "They are so happy to be learning about their culture." SFBG
The first time I heard Daniel Johnston’s music, I’d ordered a tape from K Records, having little idea what to expect. What arrived in the mail was something very different from Let’s Kiss and Let’s Together and other happy home- and handmade cassettes distributed by the label. Yip/Jump Music presented a more tortured brand of raw expression.
Over the years Johnston has played solo and with bands, and recorded for a major label as well as several indies. He’s inspired an excellent tribute album (Dead Dog’s Eyeball, on Bar None) by Kathy McCarty, and now, Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a winner of the 2005 Director’s Award at the Sundance Film Festival. As Feuerzeig’s movie begins a local run at the Lumiere Theatre, producer Henry S. Rosenthal – who some may also know as the drummer of Crime — agreed to talk about it.
Bay Guardian: The Devil and Daniel Johnston begins with some uncanny self-recorded footage of Johnston from 1985, in which he introduces himself as “the ghost” of Daniel Johnston and refers to “the other world.” How did you and [director] Jeff Feuerzeig get that footage?
Henry S. Rosenthal: Part of Daniel’s mania is his obsession with self-documentation, and as you can tell from his early Super-8 films he’s funny and creative. He loves comic books — that’s his world. As for the footage, it’s as if Daniel was creating this voluminous archive knowing that someday someone would put it all together. Clearly that task is beyond him, but creating the source material is something he’s devoted much of his life to. Was he doing it consciously? Certainly — but it’s part and parcel with his illness.
Daniel has a sense of posterity that is uncanny. He recorded all of his phone conversations with Radio Shack equipment. All of that was there for us to go through.
We didn’t understand the magnitude of the archive until we went to the house and found Hefty bags filled with hundreds of tapes. He’s kept a cassette recorder going for every second he was awake for 15 years.
BG: I was surprised at the wealth of early footage of Johnston – his home movies are a hoot. Did Feuerzeig do anything to treat or restore that footage? Also, is Johnston still as interested in self-documentation today as he was while growing up?
HR: All of the texture that you see in the early films — the snowflakes as we call them – stems from mold eating the films. When we found the films they were in a shoebox in a closet being eaten by mold. We sent them to the same restoration facility that Martin Scorsese sends things to. We transferred them twice over two years, and when we went back to watch the footage, the snowflakes or mold had advanced considerably. Those films will eventually be consumed. The fact we could preserve [some of] them means they’ll exist in the future.
Daniel no longer walks around with a cassette recorder. That was part of his manic phase, and he isn’t theoretically having manic phases anymore — he is under the influence of psychotropic medication. Now he puts that manic energy into his music and his art.
BG: His devotion to recording is very Warhol-like.
HR: It reminds me of Warhol’s filing system with the boxes. Warhol just kept those empty cardboard boxes that he’d put anything in. Then they’d be taped up, numbered, and sent to storage. Later, they found so many important documents mixed in with his junk mail. I can’t say it’s effective, but it’s good for posterity. At least you know things are chronological.
BG: Feuerzeig’s rock docs – both this and Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King – allow the parents of the “rock stars” to have their say. Is that something you like about his approach? Obviously in Johnston’s case it’s necessary to have his mom in the film since she plays such a major role in his early recordings.
HR: The Mabel of the movie is a mellowed Mabel. She’s not the Mabel of Daniel’s youth. She’s also not the Mabel of today because she’s unfortunately deteriorated considerably. She’s blind and has had hip replacements and has trouble walking. She’s in frail condition.
The parents are great. Both Jeff and I like old people. There aren’t enough old people on the screen in general. In Jeff’s films, the parents play a key role in the lives of the artists. Jad and David [Fair, of Half Japanese] lived at home during their early creative years. There’s that great scene in The Band That Would Be King where the parents talk about Half Japanese’s first record negotiations at the family home, and about Jad going downstairs and getting Coke – the drink, not the drug.
These people lived at home and the parents are a big part of the story. In Daniel’s case, they’re an even bigger part in terms of decisions they’ve made for him.
Different people view [Daniel’s parents in the movie] differently. We showed the film to an audience of psychologists, and many saw the parents as heroic for choosing not to institutionalize Daniel. Many others saw them as making a big mistake.
BG: The movie talks about aspects of Johnston’s art, such as the eyeball imagery that dominates his drawings. I’m wondering about his early identification with Joe Louis and also the recurrent references to Casper the Friendly Ghost in his lyrics. Has he said much about any of that?
HR: Casper’s always occupied a central role in Daniel’s life. You may recall the sequence [in the film] where Daniel is sent to Texas to live with his brother and he turns his brother’s weight bench into a recording studio. Sitting right next to that “recording studio” was a Casper glass. In one of Daniel’s audio letters he talked about how lonely he was in Texas and that his only friend in the world was his Casper glass.
We found an identical glass on eBay; [Daniel] helped us art direct many of the recreations in the film.
I liked Casper as a kid, but I never thought about it until Daniel asked — “How did Casper die?”
BG: Can you tell me a bit about the decision to not have Johnston interviewed in the movie? It seems as if others talk about him, but he rarely directly addresses the viewer.
HR: We filmed hours and hours of interviews with Daniel, and the sad fact is this: Daniel is not able to host his own film. He’s sick and he can’t tell these stories. He doesn’t remember them, and when he does, he doesn’t tell them right. You can’t draw Daniel out. He says what he wants to say when he wants to say it. He can’t host the movie like R. Crumb hosts Crumb.
When journalists travel all the way to Texas to interview Daniel, they are shocked and frustrated to discover that he’s a mental patient. People want to believe that it’s an act, or that he’s putting people on.
If we had relied on Daniel’s interviews to drive the film, there would be no film. It wasn’t until we unearthed the archive that we realized that Daniel narrated the film, but in real time, as it happened. We don’t have to have Daniel reminisce – [because of his self-documentation] we can be there during his manic phases and see him babbling to Gibby Haynes, or swimming in the creek while talking about baptizing people.
BG: How and when did you become a Daniel Johnston fan? Do you have a favorite song or album? I know you’ve referred to this movie as a 6-year labor of sorts, so could you also give me a bit of background in terms of its creation?
HR: I think I came to Daniel through Half Japanese, whom I met through my friendship with Bruce Conner. Bruce was on Jad [Fair]’s mailing list. Jad would send Bruce packages of records — when you get something from Jad, it’s mail art. Then Bruce had a party in the late ‘70s and brought them [Half Japanese] out and I met them.
My favorite album of Daniel’s is the Jad Fair-Daniel collaboration, which has been reissued under the name It’s Spooky [originally on 50 Skidillion Watts records; now available on Jagjaguwar]. It just doesn’t get better.
Jeff and I met in Berlin [at the Berlin Film Festival] in 1993, when he was there with his film about Half Japanese. I felt like he had made that film just for me. I knew I was the only person in the room who knew who the band was. Everyone was convinced this was Spinal Tap. We talked about our love of Daniel and how there should be a Daniel Johnston film. It seemed impossible. He [Daniel] was dormant at the time. It wasn’t until 2000 that he began emerging again. That’s when we seized the moment.
BG: You are producing Bruce Conner’s sole feature-length film, a years-in-the-making documentary about the Soul Stirrers. Can you tell me a bit about that movie, and about your other involvements with Bruce via the film and his Mabuhay Gardens photos of your band Crime?
HR: We met during the punk rock years and became friends then. Bruce asked me if I could produce a reunion concert of the original Soul Stirrers. I knew nothing about filmmaking at that time. We decided the event was so important it should be documented. We looked for people to film, and that’s kind of how I got tricked into being a movie producer. Twenty years later, that movie is still the albatross around my neck. We are making slow progress on it, believe it or not. It’s not dormant and it’ll emerge one day.
It’s priceless archive footage that we’ve shot, because all of our protagonists are dead.
Bruce definitely got me started in this profession – though I hesitate to call it that, I don’t know what it is – and as I sharpen my skills with other filmmakers on other projects we’ve continued to collaborate.
BG: Do you see any links between Devil and Daniel Johnston and documentaries such as Tarnation and Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt?
HR: The movies that most often get mentioned in relation to ours are Capturing the Friedmans and Crumb. Those are either stylistic or content pairings that people are making. There’s validity to all of them.
Tarnation I enjoyed, though I didn’t think it was a great film. It bogged down, but it was interesting. The high point of the movie for me was the early footage where he [Jonathan Caouette] was impersonating his mother — that’s what stands out in my mind. When Tarnation came out, we were done with this film, so Tarnation exerted no influence. We were curious to track it because it relied heavily on a person’s obsessive self-documentation. But I think that the materials are handled with a completely different sensibility.
Crumb deals with an artist who you could say has interesting personality disorders. I’m not going to say Crumb is mentally ill — he’s nowhere near where Daniel is. But like Devil and Daniel Johnston, Crumb is a monograph about an artist.
Capturing the Friedmans will forever remain the most astounding archive of found footage ever stumbled across.
BG: A review of Devil and Daniel Johnston in Film Comment claims the movie makes a virtue of Johnston’s “self-defeating” eccentricity, and asserts that the movie fuels “mad genius” myths while ignoring Johnston’s influences. What do you think of that kind of criticism?
HR: I completely disagree. Daniel’s influences are discussed throughout the film. They’re all over the walls of his garage – comic books, Marilyn, the Beatles, he’s a sponge of pop culture and everything else. He has art books devoted to da Vinci and Van Gogh. He sucks from everything and it gets spewed out through his filter. He doesn’t assign value to things – to him, everything’s the greatest. He has the biggest collection of Beatles bootlegs I’ve ever seen. To Daniel, Ringo’s solo albums are as great as Sgt. Pepper’s. Wings albums are as great as Beatles albums.
He listens to Journey, Rush – whatever garbage, he processes it. And yet when you engage Daniel on a topic when he’s conversant and catch him in a lucid moment you can have the most erudite discussion. He can critique every panel Jack Kirby ever drew.
There’s that shot [in the film] when you’re in a basement and seeing his work materials, and you’re seeing Warhol’s Marilyns. I wonder how many other teenagers in Westchester at the time were cutting out Warhols – probably none. Daniel’s always been plugged in and sought out the most interesting things going on.
BG: What does Daniel think of the movie?
HR: You can imagine what this movie would mean to a narcissist of Daniel’s proportion. Of course, he likes the film — but he’s very funny. He told Jeff when he saw it that he liked the colors.
We did take the time to shoot 16mm film and we took hours to light and compose shots.
The aesthetic of the film is a huge part of it. If we had this movie with a camcorder it wouldn’t have given the subject the weight it deserved. That’s why this movie cost a million dollars.
Asia Argento’s The Heart Is Deceitful above All Things is the preposterous story, once widely imagined to be true, of the childhood of Jeremiah “JT” LeRoy, as he bounces between the custody of his foster parents, his prostitute mother, and his sadistic, fundamentalist grandparents. Now that we’ve been divested of the cherished illusion that JT was a homeless, HIV-positive child prostitute, we are free to watch Heart not as poignant and painfully honest autobiography but as what the story always has been: a punk-inflected fantasy about “white trash.” We can finally concede that the character of JT’s mother Sarah, as played by Argento herself, bears no resemblance to anyone you might actually meet at a West Virginia truck stop, but only to the fictive characters on which she’d always been based, characters in other films played by the likes of Laura Dern, Juliette Lewis, and Reese Witherspoon.
Although Jimmy Bennett, who plays the seven-year-old JT, is a fine little actor, bringing an appropriate confusion and blankness to the role, he has the unhappy task of acting alongside Heart’s director, who seems always to have wandered in from a radically different movie. While we’re accustomed to suspending our disbelief in the face of, say, white trash child-beaters with Hollywood abs, or country-and-western truck drivers with Hollywood tattoos, it is impossible to watch Argento without remembering that we are watching Argento. With that amazing face, she could be a Pasolini character, or the type of dame traditionally played by Anna Magnani, an Italian immigrant stuck in a bad American marriage. In her attempt to channel Courtney Love, she also seems to be approaching, but never quite arriving at, the outrageous camp of early John Waters. She’d play well next to Edith Massey or Divine, certainly. The primary pleasure of this film is watching the obvious relish Argento takes in doing endless varieties of white trash drag.
By the middle of the film, however, when we’ve tired of guessing what floozy outfit she will show up in next, it would be nice to have some sense of the troubled tenderness of this mother-child bond. There is little narrative tension in the film, which treats much of Jeremiah’s childhood like a punk rock acid flashback, a technique that doesn’t serve to create the mental landscape of the boy himself. The film relies on Sonic Youth instead of its actors to create its emotional tone. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s anger and dread are appropriately apocalyptic but don’t fill in the blankness of the older JT, played by twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse. Beyond casting twins to play a fragmented child, Argento has one other inspired conceit: hiring herself as the young Jeremiah for the scene in which he seduces his mother’s boyfriend. This technique both conveys the complex identity issues that form the only interesting context for the film and saves the story from veering into the realm of kiddie porn, where it always seems poised to go.
Argento is not the first director to send her white trash protagonists adrift in a hallucinogenic fun house. Thankfully less ambitious than Oliver Stone in her attempts at social commentary and less silly and deep than David Lynch in her attempts to create an American gothic landscape as dreamworld underbelly, she also has considerably less sense of forward drive. Watching children get abused (and waiting for the next scene of abuse) is a narrative pleasure only for sadists and is illuminating only if we discover a trajectory, no matter how deluded the causality. In Marnie, Tippi Hedren’s childhood encounters with her mother’s promiscuity contribute to her adult career as a kleptomaniac. In Sybil the abuse is the answer to the mystery of what dark secrets lie at the heart of the fragmented personality and its missing chunks of time. The message that child abuse isn’t necessarily interesting or meaningful is probably a valuable one, but as a concept it can’t carry the film any more than the brief cameos by Peter Fonda as the evil fundamentalist grandpa, Marilyn Manson as one of Sarah’s polymorphously perverse boyfriends, or the surprise appearance of the convicted shoplifter movie star who once claimed the earliest JT sighting ever
THIS WINTER MAY kill Pokey. The HIV-positive 22-year-old lives in a tent in a city park. It’s not the best place for a man with a weakened immune system to dwell — especially not during the rainy season.
“I’ve basically given up,” says Pokey quietly, standing in the gutter of Haight Street near Stanyan.
About a year ago he had a little more hope. He had been clean and sober for six months and had graduated from a live-in drug program run by Walden House. He thought he had beaten his heroin addiction, and he began looking for an apartment. He’s lived on the streets since he was 12.
“I started looking the last three weeks I was [at Walden House],” Pokey says. Social workers and friends helped him look. “I tried day in and day out to get a place and a job. I couldn’t take it. I flipped out. From there I went all the way back down.” He is once again wrestling with heroin.
In his two years in San Francisco, Pokey estimates, he’s looked at between 30 and 40 apartments, with no success. Subsisting on $299 to $490 a month, depending on the whims of Supplemental Security Income administrators, he can’t even afford a room in a residential hotel. The smallest go for $400 to $500 a month, and there aren’t even many of those left; in the past five years the city has lost about 1,000 hotel rooms, most to demolition and renovation.
“How can I use my money on a hotel room when I’m not gonna have any money to eat?” Pokey says. “I’m supposed to eat three times a day, when I take my medicine.”
Less than 10 years ago, in 1989, the city put the number of people homeless on any given night at 6,000. Now that figure is estimated at between 11,000 and 14,000. Over the past decade homeless deaths have climbed from 16 in 1987 to 153 in 1996. A 1996 study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty ranked San Francisco one of the five worst cities in which to be homeless; the report blamed harassing police practices.
About 3,000 shelter beds are available to San Francisco’s homeless population, including 600 in a giant warehouse on Mission Rock Road in China Basin. The Mission Rock shelter, which clients have dubbed “Prison Rock,” was opened last year in the wake of Mayor Willie Brown’s campaign to kick the homeless out of Golden Gate Park. The shelters are full or over-capacity nearly every night of the year.
“The city does nothing for families. It stands by as the affordable housing stock is destroyed,” says Sandra Stewart, project director of Families Rights and Dignity. Stewart, a mother of three who was once homeless, advocates for poor and homeless families. She says she’s seen a “mass exodus” of low-income families from San Francisco.
“Mabel Teng went on about this being the ‘year of the child’ — well, not for homeless children,” Stewart says. She’s angry that the city vetoed a $75,000 eviction-prevention program for families in a year when it had a $100 million budget surplus. According to Stewart, five years ago families could get emergency shelter on demand. Today the city’s 130 family-shelter beds are full, and the wait list stands at around 100 families. The average family on the list consists of a single parent and two children.
In the nation’s toughest housing market, the help offered by welfare programs isn’t much help at all. As of September 1997, 12,475 San Francisco families received subsidies from CalWORKS, the federally funded welfare program for families; a similar number of adults get General Assistance from the county. A family of three receives $565 a month from CalWORKS; G.A. recipients, including workfare workers, get $279 to $345. In the Bay Area $565 is barely enough to pay for a motel room — with almost nothing left for food and other necessities.
Many of those on the streets are there for want of an affordable apartment. Staffers at Youth Industry, a nonprofit that trains and employs homeless and formerly homeless young people, say that the lack of housing is the hardest problem to solve. The agency provides paid internships to 24 teens and twentysomethings, many of whom put in 40 hours a week only to sleep on the streets. According to Youth Industry managers, “very few” of the young interns have permanent housing.
“More and more of our youth are very — how do I say this? — high functioning,” says Vida Merwin, a youth service coordinator with the nonprofit. “They don’t have drug problems. They can hold a job — they’re proving it here. They have academic aspirations. But they’re forced to rely on [social] services.”
Youth Industry intern Jamie Allsup, 22, has spent most of the last three years on the streets of San Francisco. During his first three months on the job he slept in front of the Youth Industry office, using the arrival of his coworkers as an alarm clock. Since then Allsup has spent half his $800 monthly income on a residential hotel room, sharing a bathroom with 40 other residents. At the end of the month, after he’s paid his shelter, food, and old hospital bills, Allsup has $15 left — not much to put toward a deposit on an apartment. Since the hotel has no cooking facilities, he wastes money eating out every meal. As a single-room-occupancy tenant, Allsup has few guarantees that he’ll retain his room from one month to the next.
Cheeto, a mohawked 21-year-old, works at Pedal Revolution, the Youth Industry bike shop. He’s getting paid to learn to repair cycles, enthusiastically working six days a week and bedding down in parks and parking lots at night. Cheeto refuses to stay in hotels; he’s hoping to save money for an apartment in another city — maybe Oakland. Figures provided by the Department of Human Services show that the vast majority of those who get off the streets do so by leaving San Francisco.
Even in a cheaper market, Cheeto is going to have problems. He has no rental history or landlord references. He jokes about his credit record: “They could go down the street and ask everyone I know if I pay back the money I borrow.
“I don’t have any delusions about living in San Francisco unless I’m living like I am now,” he says. “This place is a playground for the rich.”