Volume 40 Number 30

Apr. 26 – May 2, 2006

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Pombo on the issues


To say that Richard Pombo is an environmental skeptic is putting it mildly. Asked if Pombo accepted the worldwide scientific consensus that global warming is a fact, his spokesperson, Wayne Johnson, shilly-shallied. “What I have heard him say is the jury is still out,” Johnson cautiously ventured. “For those absolutely convinced, I would not put him in that category.”
Pombo entered Congress determined to “reform” the Engendered Species Act and other tree-hugging depredations on the rights of private property owners, and while he concentrated on that law, he has put his stamp on a host of other issues, from gay rights to gun control.  

Before he ran for Congress, Pombo co-wrote a book entitled This Land is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property. Part of his book declared that he become active politically after a skirmish with the East Bay Regional Park district about the creation of a public right of way through his property. He later switched his story to say his family’s property values were hurt when family land was designated a San Joaquin Kit Fox critical habitat. Both claims were without merit.

Pombo says the ESA, which is widely regarded as one of the more successful pieces of environmental legislation ever, is a failure. Pombo’s “reforms,” however, recently ran into a brick wall in the Senate. If passed, they would have removed the concept of critical habitat from the ESA – meaning a species would be protected, but its home territory would not. The legislation called for a two-year recovery plan, but the recovery plan would have been voluntary rather than mandatory.

While this approach has resonated with many voters in the 11th district who agree that the ESA goes too far, it has local and national environmentalists screaming. It’s also upset his opponent, Pete McCloskey, who was involved in writing the original law.

Pombo has hit a number of other environmental high points during his tenure. Among them was his idea to allow ham radio operators to erect antennas on the Farallones Islands. He wants to lift the ban on off shore oil drilling. He has read a pro-whaling resolution into the Congressional Record. He has proposed selling off 15 sites within the national parks as a way of raising money for energy development (a proposal that advances Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s Presidio privatization to a new level). He was one of the original sponsors of the legislation to allow drilling on Alaska’s north slope. And last but not least, wants to put a freeway over Mt. Hamilton in San Joaquin County.

Pombo also voted twice to protect MTBE manufacturers from being sued for environmental damage. MTBE helps engines burn cleaner, but has also been found to contaminate water supplies in California, necessitating huge clean-up costs. Why would Pombo vote to indemnify such manufacturers? Well, several of the companies are based on Tom Delay’s district in Texas.

But the 11th district representative has taken interesting stands on all sort of other issues, from civil rights to drugs to gun control to gay rights. Because there are so many, a short list of his congressional voting record will suffice.

Pombo has opposed stem-cell research, supports banning “partial birth” abortion, and has a 0% rating from NARAL the pro-choice group. He voted for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against allowing gay adoption in Washington D.C.

He has voted in favor making the PATRIOT Act permanent, and supports a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning and desecration. He supports more prisons, the death penalty and more cops. Pombo wants to prohibit medical marijuana and HIV-prevention needle exchange. He sponsored legislation that would require universities to allow military recruiters on campus, but he opposed a bill that would have boosted veteran-affairs spending by $53 million. He opposes gun control and opposes product-misuse lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

In 2003 Pombo got a 97 percent approval rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He also got an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and a 92 percent rating from the Christian Coalition in 2003.
For a more in depth appreciation of Richard Pombo’s politics, check out On The Issues at www. ontheissues.org/CA/Richard-Pombo.htm, which gives him a 70% hard right conservative rating.

Research Assistance by Erica Holt

King of Shadows


TRIBUTE Days of Our Lives had Patch and Kayla; Passions had Precious, Timmy, and Zombie Charity (don’t ask). But Dark Shadows had werewolves, time travel, ghosts, a vampire protagonist (Jonathan Frid), and plots that revolved around such curious objects as the severed hand of one Count Petofi (much sought after for its mystical powers). Dark Shadows — the original version of which ran from 1966 to 1971; it also spawned multiple films and revivals — was clearly a singular sensation, and much of the credit goes to its beloved creator-producer, Dan Curtis.

Curtis, who passed away March 27 at the age of 78, was also noted for his many 1970s TV films. Most contained gothic elements, includingThe Night Stalker and the Karen Black tastic Trilogy of Terror, plus versions of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula (the latter two starring Jack Palance). On the big screen he directed Black in the haunted-house tale Burnt Offerings; he also helmed the anthology tale Dead of Night, written by frequent collaborator Richard Matheson.

These days, The Montel Williams Show tapes in Dark Shadows’ old New York City studio (not among Dark Shadows’ horrors, as far as I can tell, are unexpected paternity test results). But the soap’s cult lives on, much like lovelorn vamp Barnabas Collins, with multiple DVD collections from MPI Home Video (www.mpihomevideo.com) — endearing flubs from the show’s live tapings intact. For more information on Curtis, visit the frighteningly complete www.collinwood.net, operated by European fanzine Dark Shadows Journal. (Cheryl Eddy)

Kill-er dude

Kill the Moonlight


PRESS PLAY It coulda been Slacker, and instead, true to "Loser" form, it got lost. That was the fate of Steve Hanft’s 1994 "underground classic" feature Kill the Moonlight.

Kill has a rep for being rarely seen but, weirdly, widely disseminated — due to the fact that its title character, would-be race car driver, fish hatchery feeder, and toxic waste cleaner Chance, provided the direct inspiration for Beck’s first Gen X–Rosetta stone single, "Loser." Samples from the movie ("I’m a driver/ I’m a winner/ Things are gonna change/ I can feel it," drones the never-say-die, ultimately unkillable Chance) popped up in the sleeper pop hit itself, and clips of the movie surfaced in the song’s video, directed by Hanft (who also played with Beck in a band called Liquor Cabinet).

Alterna-strippers, Kiss revivalism, and bitchin’ Camaros — how much more ’90s can you get? With the release of this DVD — which includes a bonus soundtrack CD of music by Beck, the Raunch Hands, and Go to Blazes — you can finally bask in the low-budget, occasionally funny, often stiff, yet extremely atmospheric lo-fi glory of this 76-minute feature, which Hanft seems to have spun off with his bigger-budget 2001 feature,Southlander, starring a goofy musician named Chance and, well, Beck. (Kimberly Chun)

Devil times four


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Campo Santo’s Haze slips comfortably into the 10th anniversary season of a company that’s built its rep (repertoire and reputation) on close collaborations with leading American fiction writers. This lean, shrewd, and forceful staging of stories by Junot Diaz, Dave Eggers, Denis Johnson, and Vendela Vida turns a literary buffet into a raw and atmospheric performance piece. Call it tragicomic episodes loitering at the brink on the vaporous edges of an otherwise solid sense of self or just a rambling confession addressed, "Dear Satan …"

In Vida’s What Happens When These Things Happen (the first chapter of her novel And Now You Can Go), the narrator (Catherine Castellanos) recounts the day her 21-year-old self was accosted by a man with a gun in New York’s Riverside Park. Eggers’s piece, Climbing to the Window, Pretending to Dance, takes a hilarious road trip to Bakersfield with the slightly unhinged Fish (Danny Wolohan), who is obligated to visit his pathetic cousin (Donald E. Lacy Jr.), a veritable suicide manqué, hospitalized after yet another bungled attempt on his own life. Then Lacy gets into the driver’s seat for Diaz’s high-spirited tale, The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, playing a guilty two-timer intent on salvaging his deteriorating relationship with the perfect girl, Magdalena (Luera), by taking her on a vacation to the Dominican Republic, his (and the author’s) home country, where he may have to settle for an uncomfortable moment of enlightenment in some sacred cave.

The carefully arranged stories flow smoothly into one another. Words are passed like batons between storyteller-protagonists, while a few mysterious lines from that letter to Lucifer wend their way through the evening in lonely and darkly comical reverie before finally roosting in the Starlight Recovery Center, temporary home to manic letter-writer Mark Cassandra (Wolohan) in Johnson’s Starlight on Idaho. Despite another devilishly sharp and boisterous performance by Wolohan, this thematic pulse actually loses some strength by the end, ironically, in Johnson’s funny and beautifully written but more episodic narrative, along with some of the focus and cohesion of the play as a whole.

Still, Haze‘s blend of text and mise-en-scène succeeds throughout in fresh and winning ways (perhaps nowhere as effectively as in Vida’s opening story). Director Sean San José, who concentrates more on tone than on the baroque inventiveness of a Word for Wordstyle approach to the verbatim staging of literature, garners bold and enjoyable performances from his four actors and skillfully manages the spaces, onstage and between the words, left open for the play of imagination. To this end, Joshua McDermott’s spare stage comes partially illuminated by shifting centers of light pitched onto the floor out of large four-sided shades overhead. When not actively participating in a scene, members of the ensemble often slump in half-shadow against the exposed brick at either side. Meanwhile, Victor Cartagena’s video installation loops a few select images on a screen at the back or projects them onto the walls left and right, and David Molina’s delicate soundscape adds still another moody dimension in which to roam.

Small Tragedy: Now and then

Tragedy seemed like such a simple, straightforward thing to the ancient Greeks. Why is it so hard for us to grasp? All that emphasis on hubris, pity, and terror, nobody seems to know exactly what they’re really talking about. So why bother? Aurora Theatre inaugurates its new Global Age Project an initiative centered on work exploring life in the 21st century and beyond with the West Coast premiere of Small Tragedy, by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Dying Gaul), a play that slyly approaches the horrors of the war-torn modern age through the seemingly incongruous fumblings of a comically amateur production of Oedipus Rex.

It’s a great beginning to a lively backstage comedy that steadily becomes an engrossing reflection on tragedy in a time of ethnic cleansing. But one gets the sense, somewhere after the second act’s startling turn of events, that the playwright may have been less certain how to end his work. Moreover, the second act raises the dramatic ante considerably, but its refocusing on two of the six characters also leaves it a bit thinner by comparison. If not a perfect play, however, Small Tragedy especially as fueled by director Kent Nicholson’s fine and thoroughly enjoyable cast is a sharp and intriguing one. SFBG


Through Sat/29

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.

Intersection for the Arts

446 Valencia, SF


(415) 626-3311



Through May 14

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.

Aurora Theatre

2081 Addison, Berk


(510) 843-4822


Tragic replay



› cheryl@sfbg.com

Filmed for the most part outside London, and shot by Brit Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), United 93 is nonetheless a wholly American tale one that still reverberates with enough unsettling intensity that it’s questionable whether or not audiences will want to see it on the big screen. In 50 years, perhaps, United 93 won’t sting so much; it’ll be easier to view it in the context of other Hollywood docudramas mined from national tragedies (and, fortunately, United 93 is directed with far better taste and skill than, say, Pearl Harbor; we’ll see how Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center fares when it opens later in ’06).

As you’d expect, a palpable sense of inevitability haunts United 93‘s every frame. As the minutes of Sept. 11 tick by, we don’t really get to know the film’s characters as individuals. Instead, United 93 switches between the doomed flight’s crew and passengers (all of whom, including the four jumpy hijackers, are represented by actors chosen for their physical resemblance to the actual people) and the increasingly frantic folks on the ground (several air traffic controllers and military types play themselves). Greengrass’s trademark handheld camera is well suited to capturing chaos; one of his few overtly cinematic concessions is the film’s score, which floats in occasionally to heighten tension that’s already running into the red.

Though it focuses on the horror, and heroism, wrought by Sept. 11, United 93 also highlights the day’s ill-managed official response. Without pointing fingers at anyone in particular (except the prez, who’s mentioned as being unreachable, and the MIA veep), the initial disbelief, waves of conflicting information, and general confusion are made achingly clear: Even after WTC-bound American Airlines flight 11 becomes a confirmed hijack, flight 93 idles on the tarmac, eagerly awaiting takeoff. SFBG


Opens Fri/28

Select Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com for showtimes.


San Francisco International Film Festival: Week two



*Art School Confidential (Terry Zwigoff, USA, 2005). Pulpy with a deep noirish cast, this second collabo between Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff and cartoonist Daniel Clowes jumps off the artist’s scathingly on-target Eightball strip of the same name, taking aim at misbegotten would-be genius Jerome (Max Minghella), on campus with a serial killer on the loose, and painting Clowes’s comic exposé even blacker. Jerome’s hilarious and progressively unsettling trajectory through the art school con is studded with such delicious characters as condescending, failed-artist instructor John Malkovich, haughty art history teacher Anjelica Huston, wiseacre friend Joel David Moore, and graduate burnout/washout "guru" Jim Broadbent. 6:30 p.m., Kabuki (Kimberly Chun)

*The Wild Blue Yonder (Werner Herzog, Germany/England/France, 2005). Herzog’s latest dispatch from the reaches of inner and outer space orbits around found footage from NASA, mesmerizing underwater-camera work by Bay Area Grizzly Man player Henry Kaiser, and supposed space oddity Brad Dourif, furrowing his brow with all his might and telling tales of aquatic constellations elsewhere and environmental devastation on his adopted planet Earth. This elegiac, doomsaying and at times pixieish riff on Herzogian themes of hell- and heaven-bent exploration, vision quests, survival, and a certain rootlessness finds the auteur delving further into his Grizzly technique of piecing together a compelling narrative from whatever he can find in his cupboard. 7:30 p.m., Castro (as part of "An Evening with Werner Herzog") (Chun)


See You in Space (J??zsef Pacskovsky, Hungary, 2005). Hungarian writer-director Pacskovsky’s latest is another whimsical contraption of crisscrossing multiple story lines that sigh and shrug over the human condition. An astronaut stuck in orbit grows desperate as (back on Earth) his wife leaves him for a suave magician; a macrobiologist stalks, woos, and wins a virginal African refugee; a young hairdresser edges toward romance with an elderly client; a criminal psychologist finds herself attracted to a jailed murder suspect. Sprawling cross the globe, these alternately sardonic, fantastical, and silly threads are united by a sense that obsessive love is as unavoidable as it is inevitably disappointing. 4 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 8:45 p.m., and May 4, 5:45 p.m., Kabuki (Dennis Harvey)

*The Shutka Book of Records (Aleksandar Manic, Czech Republic, 2005). A Roma town in Macedonia stuffed with self-proclaimed champions is the setting for this weirdly joyful film, which is far too bizarre to be anything but a doc. Here’s some of what you’ll see: the "most powerful dervish in the world"; Mondo Caneish interludes (one word: circumcisions!); a woman known as "The Terminator" whose stock-in-trade is exorcising evil genies; break-dancers and boxers; exceedingly competitive Turkish music fanatics; and a young butcher named Elvis. My head was about to explode after I saw this film … but in a good way. 1:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/30, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki (Cheryl Eddy)

The Sun (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Italy/France/Switzerland, 2005). Third in a planned quartet of features about figureheads of 20th-century totalitarianism earlier ones focused on Hitler and Lenin; the fourth is yet to be announced this latest by Sokurov (Mother and Son, Russian Ark) focuses on Emperor Hirohito (Issey Ogata) at World War II’s end. The first half is as claustrophobic and tedious as the emperor’s underground bunker. Things get more interesting when he emerges to meet with the occupying forces’ General MacArthur (Robert Dawson) and sheds his age-old status as a living god a move that lets the Japanese people off the hook while allowing a bookish, mild-mannered monarch to finally live like a human being. This is a fascinating situation as well as a key historic and cultural moment. But The Sun is heavy going; seldom has a subject generated so little of Sokurov’s trademark metaphysical poetry, despite some striking moments. 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/29, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; and May 3, 7 p.m., PFA (Harvey)


Executive Koala (Minoru Kawasaki, Japan, 2005). It all starts so promisingly: An overworked koala, who is a celebrated executive in a pickle company, spends his time away from the office in bed with his doting human girlfriend. When she turns up dead, the cops come after him, causing our marsupial hero to question his assumed gentleness and his past. But this ridiculous Japanese comedy fails to build upon its initial setup; once the novelty of a guy in a koala suit wears off, so does the enjoyment. 10:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki (Jonathan L. Knapp)


*The Descent (Neil Marshall, England, 2005). What’s worse than being trapped underground? How about being trapped underground with creepy cave dwellers creepy, hungry cave dwellers? And maybe, just maybe, losing your mind at the same time? Believe the hype: British import The Descent is the scariest movie since The Blair Witch Project, thanks to a killer premise, flawless pacing and casting, and Dog Soldiers writer-director Neil Marshall’s unconcealed love for the horror genre. 11:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/1, 4 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

*Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (Stanley Nelson, USA, 2006). Nearly 30 years after the deaths of more than 900 people in the Guyanese jungle, Nelson’s deeply affecting documentary replays Jim Jones’s final, twisted address: "We didn’t commit suicide we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." That speech sets in motion what the doc tabs "the largest mass ‘suicide’ in modern history." Using a remarkable cache of vintage footage, as well as candid interviews with Peoples Temple survivors, relatives, and other eyewitnesses, Nelson examines the massacre with a journalist’s eye. Why the tragedy happened may never be explained, but seldom before has the how of Jonestown been so clearly delineated. 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/30, 7 p.m., Intersection for the Arts; Mon/1, 7 p.m., PFA; and Tues/2, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

*Wide Awake (Alan Berliner, USA, 2005). Documentary filmmaker Berliner (Nobody’s Business, The Sweetest Sound) takes his celebrated self-scrutiny to dizzying heights in this portrait of the artist as an insomniac. The subject is specific, but it’s readily apparent how sleeplessness touches Berliner’s life and work. As his trademark virtuosic montage editing flashes by (like many heralded avant-garde filmmakers before him, Berliner meticulously constructs scenes and meaning from the detritus of film history), we realize the extent to which artistry can be tied to neurosis a message unusual in its candor and transparency. 5:45 p.m., PFA. Also Sun/30, 4:15 p.m., Aquarius; and Tues/2, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki (Max Goldberg)


Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, USA, 2005). Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is both an inspiring, idealistic teacher of history and a long-suffering addict of crack and cocaine in this challenging character study. Aside from a laughable reliance on stroking his scruff to convey existential angst, Gosling is largely up to the task of playing the bipolar lead, but the swaying narration of his character’s downward spiral feels shapeless. Still, the scenes in which Dan and a knowing student (Shareeka Epps) guardedly discuss immobility, race, and life in Brooklyn avoid the histrionics that mar typical teacher films, making Half Nelson a powerful, if overly ambitious first feature for writer-director Fleck and writer-producer Anna Boden. 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 9 p.m., Kabuki (Goldberg)


*Backstage (Emmanuelle Bercot, France, 2005). Emmanuelle Seigner convincingly plays and sings as sexily imperious Euro-pop goddess Lauren in this headlong remix of All about Eve, Persona, and the psycho-stalker genre. She commands hysterical worship from her fans, few being more hysterical than suburban teenager Lucie (Isild Le Besco). Improbably, the latter manages to insinuate herself into the spoiled, neurotic, rather awful pop princess’s inner circle as new confidante, servant, and toy. But if Lauren is a mess, Lucie might well turn out to be the much sicker puppy. Nasty fun, smartly directed. 7 p.m., Kabuki (also with Zoom! party at Roe, 9:30 p.m.) (Harvey) SFBG

Love is blond



"I don’t want to be compared to Blondie all the time, but I can absolutely see why people do it," the Sounds’ Maja Ivarsson says.

Calling from a tour stop in Albuquerque, the charismatic Swede readily acknowledges that as the blond vocalist of an infectious, synth-driven band that’s heavily influenced by ’80s music, she’ll never escape the shadow of Debbie Harry. Unlike most of today’s retro revivalists, however, who are so desperate not to appear derivative that they barely admit to even their most obvious influences Interpol and the Killers, you’re fooling no one Ivarsson doesn’t mind the comparison. In fact, she takes it as a compliment.

"The Blondie thing is flattering because it’s a great band," she continues. "At the same time, I can see why people want to be their own band. But I think it’s kind of silly to get upset about it, because every band that you’ve been listening to since you were a kid has been compared to something before that. It’s the way it works."

Of course, the Sounds aren’t the second coming of Blondie they’re even better. On 2003’s Living in America (Scratchie/New Line), the Swedish new wave sensations sound like they spent years deconstructing their favorite early-’80s hits, cribbing notes from Missing Persons, Kim Wilde, and, yes, Blondie, to create a danceable pop-rock album so outlandishly catchy it sounds less like a band’s debut than a collection of greatest hits. If that seems too good to be true and really, songs like "Mine for Life" and "Dance with Me" kind of are it helps to remember they hail from the country with probably the most hit-makers per capita in pop history, including ABBA, A-ha, Ace of Base, and Max Martin.

"We’ve been brought up with great, great melodies and songwriting," Ivarsson says. "We’re just suckers for hit music, even music like that Kelly Clarkson song, ‘Since U Been Gone’ it has a great hook! Maybe it’s not your favorite artist, but if you took that hook and added your shit to it, you could build a great pop song out of it."

Surprisingly, they weren’t always so smitten with such accessible songwriting. Formed in 1998 while still in high school, the Sounds started out playing six-minute rock epics that Ivarsson describes as "dark and weird and very arrrgh." When those songs failed to find them a fan base, however, they decided to shift direction and try their hands at new wave. "We were just like, ‘Oh, dude, this is the way we’re going to sound!’" she recalls. "It was so much more fun. It was cheesy, but it was good cheese!"

They weren’t the only ones who thought so. In 2002, after the Sounds signed a major-label deal with Warner Sweden, Living in America went putf8um and earned them a Swedish Grammy before getting released stateside a year later on James Iha’s Scratchie Records. Tours with the Strokes and Foo Fighters, as well as a stint on the 2004 Vans Warped Tour, ensued, along with massive word of mouth surrounding the band’s glamtastic, adrenalin-spiking live show. Unfortunately, the Sounds’ success here still fell far short of what they have back home.

That may change with the recent release of Dying to Say This to You (Scratchie/New Line). Helmed by Jeff Saltzman, who produced the Killers’ Hot Fuss (Island), and mixed by Paul Q. Kolderie (Radiohead, Hole), the Sounds’ second album is an even better blitzkrieg of retro wrist-pumping anthems glitter-punk riffs! Euro-disco keyboard lines! Ivarsson’s tough-gal taunts! that’s so relentlessly catchy it practically dares America not to listen. And while many people who’ve tired of the ’80s revival will do just that, it’s their loss: Stadium-ready stompers such as "Queen of Apology" and dance floor confections like "Tony the Beat" prove that sharp hooks even when rooted in Reagan-era nostalgia never go out of style.

Why should it matter, then, that we’ve heard all this before? The Sounds may not be today’s most innovative rock band, but they’re one of the most efficient when it comes to creating exuberant, unabashedly poppy rock. So it’s best to follow Ivarsson’s lead and shrug off the fact that her band will probably always be seen as Blondie wannabes. They’re not, of course, but nor are they overly concerned with anyone else’s notions of originality, authenticity, and indie credibility. Rather, quite refreshingly, the Sounds simply want to show as many people a good time as possible.

"We don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of if you’re a great pop band pop means popular, and it’s a pretty good sign if you’re popular," Ivarsson says, laughing. "In the beginning, only hip bands and elite people knew about us, and they were like, ‘This is my band.’ Of course, they don’t like us anymore, but that’s OK. As long as the people like us, then we’re happy. We just want to get you down."<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>

The Sounds

With Morningwood and Action Action

Mon/1, 7:30 p.m.


333 11th St., SF


(415) 522-0333

Ruling party


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

J-Stalin knows how to make an entrance.

The first time we meet, in November 2004 at the Mekanix’s recording studio in East Oakland, he enters nonchalantly, sporting an embroidered eye mask as though it were everyday wear. He walks up to me and shakes my hand. "I’m J-Stalin. I write and record two songs a day," he says with boyish pride.

I had a hard time retaining the notion the rapper wasn’t a boy, for though he’d recently turned 21, his five-foot frame and preternatural baby face gave the impression of a raspy-voiced, blunt-puffing, Henny-swilling 14-year-old.

Yet he already had a storied past. A teen crack dealer, or "d-boy," from West Oakland’s Cypress Village, Stalin was busted at age 17, spending the next 11 months on parole with weekends in juvenile hall. During this period, to both stave off boredom and possibly escape the multigenerational cycle of dope-dealing in his family, the young Jovan Smith began writing raps, finding out about the other Stalin in 11th-grade history class, and soaking up game at the Grill in Emeryville, where family friend DJ Daryl had a recording studio.

After letting him watch for a year, Daryl put Stalin on a track the result so impressed Daryl’s frequent collaborator, Bay Area legend Richie Rich, he immediately commissioned a hook. Stalin would end up on three cuts on Rich’s Nixon Pryor Roundtree (Ten-Six, 2002) and on two as a member of the Replacement Killers, a group that included Rich and Crestside Vallejo’s PSD. Several more songs from this period had just surfaced on Rich’s 2004 compilation, Snatches, Grabs, and Takes (Ten-Six), though Stalin had since defected to the Mekanix’s production company, Zoo Entertainment. By the time we met, the highly productive crew had recorded most of Stalin’s upcoming debut, On Behalf of Tha Streets.

He’s next

During the next 18 months, J-Stalin would generate no small amount of buzz, thanks in part to high-profile guest shots on projects like the Jacka’s The Jack Artist (Artist, 2005) and the Delinquents’ Have Money Have Heart (Dank or Die, 2005). Three advance tracks from On Behalf "Party Jumpin’," featuring Jacka; a clean version of "Fuck You"; and an homage to the classic drum machine, "My 808" have accumulated spins on KMEL, while the video for "My 808" has more than 20,000 plays on Youtube.com. Too $hort says he’s "next," E-40’s dubbed him "the future," and major labels like Capitol and Universal are checking him hard.

To crown these achievements, Stalin’s copped a coveted spot hosting an upcoming project for the Bay Area’s mix-tape kings, DJ Devro and Impereal, alias the Demolition Men (see sidebar). Named after Stalin’s penchant for calling the DJs at 7 a.m., ready to lay verses, The Early Morning Shift is a potent fusion of mix tape beats and Mekanix originals, laced with Stalin’s melodic raps and distinctively raw, R&Bstyle vocals. Taking advantage of the industry’s current structure, whereby you can drop a mix tape or two without compromising your "debut" album marketability, The Early Morning Shift will be most listeners’ first chance to hear the prolific J-Stalin at length, in the company of stars like Keak, F.A.B., and the Team, as well as Stalin’s Cypress Village crew, Livewire. Having generated some 60 tracks in the scant two weeks devoted to recording the disc, Stalin has literally given the Demolition Men more than they can handle: Talk of a "part two" is already in the air, though the DJs are still rushing to finish the first for an early-May release.

The Early Morning Shift comes at a pivotal time in J-Stalin’s career. At the very least, the mix tape will warm up the Bay for On Behalf, which Zoo Entertainment plans to release independently in the next few months. With everywhere from Rolling Stone to USA Today catching on to the Bay’s hyphy/thizz culture, and major labels lurking in the wings, it’s probably only a matter of time before Stalin gets a deal. But the rapper is adamant on signing only as part of the Mekanix’s Zoo.

"We don’t want an artist deal," he says. "If they give us a label deal, it’ll work, because I ain’t fittin’ to sign no artist deal."

If this sounds a tad dictatorial in the mouth of so young a playa, consider that Stalin left a famous rapper’s camp to work with a then-unknown production duo, a decision fraught with risk. But Stalin’s instincts regarding his own artistic strengths are sound. He thrives on quantity, and the Mekanix’s intense productivity suits Stalin’s seemingly endless supply of rhymes and hooks. The duo’s ominous, minor-key soundscapes provide perfect vehicles for the rapper’s exuberant tales of West Oakland street hustle and melancholy, often poignant reflections on d-boy life.

"I used to listen to their beats," Stalin recalls, "and be like, ‘Damn, them niggas got heat!’ Plus they ain’t no haters. I mean, I’m a leader; I ain’t no follower. They allow me to still be me and fuck with them at the same time."

A few months ago I had a chance to watch this process in action, dropping by the studio as Dot and Tweed were putting the finishing touches on a hot new beat, one in tune with current hyphy trends yet retaining the dark urgency characteristic of the Mekanix sound.

"Let me get on it," Stalin says, as he usually does when he hears something he likes.

Sometimes Dot says yes, sometimes no, depending on their plans for a particular session. With a beat this fresh and radio-ready, one they could easily sell, Dot is noncommittal: "What you got for it?"

Without a pause Stalin breaks into a melody, accompanied by an impromptu dance: "That’s my name / Don’t wear it out, wear it out, wear it out …" Simple, catchy, the phrase totally works, and in less time than it takes to tell, he’s in the booth laying down what promises to be the main single from On Behalf: "That’s My Name."

Sitting behind the mixing board, Dot shoots me a smile, as if to say, "See why we work with this guy?"

On the Go Movement

With The Early Morning Shift about to drop, and On Behalf on the way, the only thing Stalin needs is his own catchword, à la hyphy or thizz. Enter the Go movement. Among recent innovations in Bay Area hip-hop slang is a certain use of the word go to indicate a kind of dynamic state of being, widely attributed to Stalin.

"I ain’t sayin’ I made it up, but somebody from West Oakland did," Stalin says. "Even before there was hella songs talkin’ about Go and shit, that shit came from ecstasy pills. We used to say, ‘Goddamn, you motherfuckers go.’ And then you refer to a female like, ‘She go.’ I swear it used to just be me and my niggas in the hood. I started fuckin’ with the Mekanix and sayin’ it at they place. Then, before I knew it, everybody was talking about Go."

Like thizz, Go quickly expanded beyond its drug-related origins, partly because it epitomizes so well the fast-paced environment of rappers’ lifestyles. Among the early cosigners of the Go movement is the Team, whose album World Premiere (Moedoe) dropped at the beginning of April. Not only did the group release a between-album mix tape and DVD called Go Music (Siccness.net, 2005), but Team member Kaz Kyzah has hooked up with Stalin and the Mekanix for a side project called the Go Boyz. First previewed on Go Music, on a track also featuring Mistah F.A.B., the Go Boyz have already recorded their self-titled debut, and Zoo is in talks with Moedoe about an eventual corelease.

"Where I’m from, we don’t say, ‘Go stupid.’ ‘Go dumb.’ We just go," Kaz Kyzah says, explaining the term’s appeal.

"Really, it’s a way of life for us," he continues. "Me, Stalin, Dot, and Tweed, we’d be up all night just goin’. Every song was recorded at like four in the morning. Listening to some of the stuff now, you can feel it in the music."

Getting in early

Since I began this piece, Stalin, it seems, has gotten even bigger, as word of The Early Morning Shift and the Go Boyz has spread through the scene. People are suddenly lining up to work with him, and he’s already committed to new projects with DJ Fresh, Beeda Weeda, the Gorilla Pits, and J-Nash, an R&B singer featured on Mistah F.A.B.’s upcoming Yellow Bus Driver. In a late-breaking development, E-40 confirms he intends to sign the Stalin/Beeda Weeda duo project to Sick Wid It Records.

During our interview, Stalin and I run by DJ Fresh’s studio so J can lay a rhyme for an upcoming installment of Fresh’s mix tape series, The Tonite Show. Another rapper, watching Stalin pull a verse out of thin air four bars at a time, is clearly awed: "He’s amazing. I mean, he’s on the records I buy."

Stalin takes it all in stride, though; aside from when I’ve watched him perform live, this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone react to him like he was a star. I get the feeling, however, it’s far from the last. SFBG


Fri/28, 10 p.m. doors

Club Rawhide

280 Seventh St., SF


(415) 621-1197


Bring on the Demolition Men

The Demolition Men, Impereal and DJ Devro, definitely didn’t earn their reputation as the Bay Area’s mix-tape kings by staying at home. As DJs the duo has performed together and separately at clubs all over the world, from China and Japan to South America and Europe. Native Spanish speakers — Impereal hails from the Colombian community in Queens, NY, while Devro is Southern California Creole — the pair also hosts Demolition Men Radio, broadcast Thursdays from 6 to 7 p.m. on Azul 1063, a hip-hop station in Colombia’s Medell??n. Yet if you live in the Bay, you’re most liable to see them on the street, selling mix tapes out of their backpacks.

"We’re like a walking promotional retail machine," Impereal jokes. "If you don’t buy a mix tape, you going home with a flyer."

Such determination, coupled with the DJs’ high output (more than 30 releases since late 2003, including three volumes each of R&B and reggaeton) and elaborate graphics, has finally kick-started the Bay’s once lackadaisical mix tape scene.

An integral component of hip-hop in New York and the South, enabling new talents to be heard alongside vets and vets to issue bulletins with an immediacy unavailable to corporate labels, DJ-assembled mix tapes at their best are the ultimate in no-holds-barred hip-hop. Considered "promotional material" and usually printed in limited quantities, the discs are generally unencumbered by legal requirements like sample clearance.

Until recently, however, mix tapes weren’t much of a factor here. While the Demolition Men are quick to pay homage to their local predecessors — like Mad Idiot, DJ Natural, and DJ Supreme — Natural acknowledges the mix tape scene was a bit dead before the Demolition Men began shaking it up.

"Out here DJs were concentrating on clubs," Natural says. "Then they started putting stuff out constantly." Now there’s sufficient trade in mix tapes for Natural to move his formerly virtual business, Urban Era, to brick-and-mortar digs at 5088 Mission, making it the Bay’s only all–mix tape music store. Yet even with increased competition, he notes, the Demolition Men still routinely sell out.

In addition to their up-tempo release schedule, the success of the Demolition Men’s mixes might be attributed to the conceptual coherence they bring to their projects. While they do put together general mixes featuring more mainstream fare — such as the Out the Trunk series, which boasts exclusives from Ludacris — the duo’s hottest projects tend to tap into the Bay’s reservoir of talent. Aside from their multifaceted Best of the Bay series, the Demolition Men have released mix tapes hosted by Bay Area artists like Balance, Cellski, El Dorado Red, and the Team.

Currently the Demolition Men’s most successful disc has been their most ambitious: Animal Planet, not so much a mix tape as music cinema, starring the Mob Figaz’ Husalah and Jacka. A mighty 34 tracks — featuring production by Rob Lo, Traxamillion, and the Mekanix, and appearances by F.A.B., Keak, and Pretty Black — Animal Planet is an incredible collection of almost entirely exclusive, original material, seriously blurring the boundary between mix tape and album. Its success has encouraged bold undertakings, like The Early Morning Shift with J-Stalin and Block Tested, Hood Approved, a mix tape/DVD starring Fillmore rapper Big Rich. "I guess we’re taking the mix tape to the next level," Devro says. (Caples)

Demolition Men DJ

Thurs/27 and the last Thursday of every month, 9 p.m. doors


81 W. Santa Clara, San Jose


(408) 298-1112


Occult classic


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Harry Smith is a folk hero. Smith’s masterwork, the definitive, meticulously edited Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), was the bible of the ’60s folk movement that spawned Dylan, Baez, Fahey, and others. To discover it is to stumble into a forgotten, marginalized world, a portal to as Greil Marcus put it in his book about Dylan’s Basement Tapes "a weird but clearly recognizable America."

Compiled from scratchy 78s of the late ’20s and early ’30s and split into three two-LP volumes Ballads, Social Music, and Songs the collection seamlessly mixes country with blues, Cajun dances with fiery sermons. Tales of murder, suicide, plagues, and bizarre hallucinations wander alongside familiar characters from American mythology: Casey Jones, Stackalee (a.k.a. Stagger Lee), and US presidents and their assassins. These figures regularly appear in American stories and songs from the Anthology and elsewhere becoming recognizable but, like all great folk heroes, constantly evolving and remaining a mystery.

And so it is with Smith. A grand self-mythologizer, Smith told contradictory stories about his life: Born in 1923, in Portland, Ore., to an occult-obsessed teacher and a salmon fishery worker, he claimed his mother was the Russian princess Anastasia and his father, Aleister Crowley, a British writer, painter, and famed Satanist. Smith dabbled in many different art forms. In addition to editing the Anthology, he recorded Native American tribal rituals, the first Fugs album, and many of Allen Ginsberg’s recordings. He was also a prolific filmmaker, painter, writer, and all-around eccentric.

Smith’s friends Ginsberg, Jonas Mekas, and Robert Frank among them tell stories about a mad trickster genius on amphetamines with an encyclopedic knowledge of old music and art, fascinated by alchemy and anthropology, constantly begging for money, always experimenting with some new project. As a filmmaker, he worked solely in the abstract. His early films from the ’40s and ’50s (released in 1957 as Early Abstractions) are protopsychedelic: Colorful, hand-painted geometric shapes bounce and morph into one another.

His great cinematic statement, however, is 1962’s Heaven and Earth Magic. An hour-long exercise in black-and-white animation, it appropriately comes with a disputed history. Mekas claims the initial print was in color and projected with a special apparatus that Smith designed and then destroyed, tossing it out the window onto the streets of Manhattan.

Whatever the reality, what survives is strange, unique, and frequently wonderful. White cutouts from old catalogs, advertisements, and religious texts float and pirouette through the all-black frame. A loose story emerges of a Victorian lady who loses a watermelon, visits the dentist, and travels to and from heaven. Its mystical and historical imagery is impossible to fully grasp without years of study or, perhaps, Smith’s brain.

It’s clearly the work of a man who saw the world differently than most of us do both because he could and because he wanted to. Smith died in 1991, shortly after accepting a Grammy for Anthology. This screening of Heaven and Earth Magic complete with a live score by local avant-pop outfit Deerhoof should demonstrate what Smith himself surely knew: He was an American original, an artist difficult to categorize and impossible to ignore. SFBG

Heaven and Earth Magic

(Harry Smith, USA, 1962)

April 27, 9:45 p.m., Castro



Film School Benefits

Local artists band together for the SF rockers, who recovered their stolen Econoline but lost their gear. Nuke Infusion, Cheetah Speed, and Henry Miller Sextet perform Wed/26, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8 sliding scale. (415) 621-4455. Lovemakers, Oranger, and Boyskout play Fri/28, 10 p.m., Bottom of the Hill. $15 sliding scale. www.filmschoolmusic.com.

Amadou and Mariam

You have to be, er, deaf to be immune to the sight-free duo’s vocal charms. Local mixologist Cheb i Sabbah opens. Fri/28, 9 p.m. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. $25. (415) 474-0365.

Pirate Cat Radio 87.9 FM 10-Year Anniversary

Yar — Insaints, Mr. T Experience, and others get on board. Fri/28, 8 p.m., Annie’s Social Club, 917 Folsom, SF. $6–$20. (415) 974-1585.

A Mighty Ruckus

Check the chrome on custom cars and clear the (ear) wax with Fabulous Disaster, Black Furies, Fleshies, Grannies, Teenage Harlets, and others. Sat/29, 2 p.m., Bay Area Motor Club, 1598 Custer, SF. Free. (415) 756-6409.

Half-Handed Cloud

The Oakland church-sitters loop you in with Halos and Lassos (Asthmatic Kitty). Tues/2, 9:30 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $5. (415) 923-0923. SFBG

ABCs and Rubies


SONIC REDUCER A passionate music fan friend recently laid some curious medicine on me as we were hunkered down at Doc’s Clock, watching our inexplicably enraged lady bartender toss one of our half-full beverages: My friend’s musician ex had already written off his barely released singer-songwriter-ish album, because according to his veteran estimate, "people are only interested in bands these days."

Maybe that’s why Vancouver‘s indie-esque artist and sometime New Pornographer Dan Bejar rocks under the name Destroyer. Still, it’s hard to scan the music news these days and avoid single, solitary monikers like Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young, both breaking from their associations with bands and recording protest songs old and new. Bejar’s fellow Canadian Young just last week offered up the quickie, choir-backed Living with War, which includes a song titled "Let’s Impeach the President" and streams for free at www.neilyoung.com starting April 28 (leading one to wonder if the Peninsula’s Shakey is responding to the calls at his onstage SXSW interview for a new "Ohio"?). Perhaps in an instantly downloadable, superniched, and highly fragmented aural landscape, there remains a certain heroic power in creating and performing in the first person, under your own name, while reaching for a collective imagination, some elusive third person.

Chatting on the phone, over the border, Bejar might not easily parse as a part of the aforementioned crew, though he musically cross-references urban rock ’n’ rollers, stardusted glitter kids, and louche lounge cats, explicitly tweaking those "West Coast maximalists, exploring the blues, ignoring the news" on "Priest’s Knees," off his new full-length, Destroyer’s Rubies (Merge). Some might even venture that the late-night, loose lips and goosed hips, full-blown rock of the album, his sixth, marks it as his most indulgent to date.

And Bejar, 33 and a Libra, will readily fess up to his share of indulgences, in lieu of collecting juicy tour adventures. On tour he says, "I tend to go and then kind of hide backstage, get up onstage, try and play, get off, and continue to hide backstage.

"I’m not super into rock clubs," Bejar continues. "I just don’t feel a need to make a home of them."

Just back from the first part of his US journeys ("We played 12 or 14 of 16 dates. That’s hardly any. I think most bands would think that’s psychotic"), Bejar does feel quite at home in Vancouver and will reluctantly theorize about Canadian music. "I think there’s a certain outsider perspective that people might say comes with Canadian songwriters, like the states would never be able to produce a Leonard Cohen or a Joni Mitchell or a Neil Young just kind of idiosyncratic characters." But then he brakes and reverses. "But I don’t know if I believe that."

Bejar could be talking about his own amiable, idiosyncratic self. Most of his sentences end with a little, upward, questioning lilt, giving his responses a way-relaxed, studiedly casual, postgrad quality, clad as they are in contradictions, at times inspiring detailed analysis, but more often triggering mild arguments and arriving at good-humored dead ends. In other words, the man can talk complete paragraphs or monosyllables. Rubies‘ last track, "Sick Priest Learns to Last Forever," for example, has been kicking around for five years. "It’s kind of like the first song I tried doing, to break out a certain mold of Destroyer songs that I had unconsciously set up in the late ’90s," Bejar explains. "It was a style of song where the language was mostly based on political or economic rhetoric and social expression and the occasional personal aside. ‘Sick Priest’ is kind of an exercise in a more free-flowing, imagistic song, which I was dead against back in my younger days, and I’ve since completely embraced that style of writing."

Maybe it’s the sax, I venture. To these rust-belt-weaned ears, the new album sounds like urban East Coast rock of the ’70s à la not only Bowie but Springsteen and, say, the J. Geils Band.

"Wow, Peter Wolf," he sighs. "That’s cool. That’s funny. I mean, I kind of have a soft spot for, uh, that kind of sounding band, though I don’t have a soft spot for the songs that those people wrote. I like the ’70s bar-rock feel, especially the laid-back afternoon variety."

Yeah, like when you’re sitting at the bar, drinking cheap beer, watching the sun shoot through a vinyl padded door.


Bejar can go for that scenario: Despite the fact that he will be playing All Tomorrow’s Parties in England shortly after his SF date, you get the impression he can take or leave Destroyer and even the New Pornographers. (Since he moved away to his father’s homeland of Spain a few years ago, he says, "My involvement is pretty minimal. I don’t go to practices. I don’t tour.") Who knows, when he gets some time off after ATP and the Pitchfork music festival in Chicago, he might even take his own "bad advice," the kind that’s ingrained in Destroyer songs’ "little pep talks," and fall back on a career shelving books at the public library. "Something part-time, maybe, that doesn’t involve too much dealing with the public," he ponders playfully. "I’m good at alphabetizing stuff." SFBG


May 8, 9:30 p.m.

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF


(415) 861-5016


Follow the Money


It’s an old, old adage, but that doesn’t make it any less true: follow the money. And in Rep. Richard Pombo’s case, that money leads to some very interesting places, such as Abramoff, oil and Indians.

According to the nonpartisan Open Secrets website, which monitors campaign contributions, Pombo received some $10,000 from the Keep Our Majority PAC, which is supported by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The former Capitol Hill power broker and convicted felon is also one of the six top donors to Pombo’s RICH Political Action Committee. And Pombo has received more than $500,000 in donations from Indian tribes, members and lobbyists, despite the fact that there are no Indian tribes in the 11th congressional district. Two of the tribes linked to Abramoff, the Saginaw Chippewa and the Mississippi Choctaw, have given Pombo more than $10,000.

Pombo is such a popular fellow with Washington D.C. lobbyists that he made a very special cut. In late 2005, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a liberal D.C. watchdog, named Pombo as one of the 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress: “Pombo’s ethics violations include: misuse of the franking privilege, accepting campaign contributions in return for legislative assistance, keeping family members on his campaign payroll, and misusing official resources,” the group said.

Pombo spokesman Wayne Johnson, not surprisingly, disagrees both with CREW and those alleging that such donations are an indicator of any impropriety. He asserts there was a lot of “sloppy reporting” that in the original Abramoff stories that made a lot of unsubstantiated allegations. “There are Congress members who had a relationship with Jack and Richard was not one of ‘em,” he stated. “Abramoff gave Pombo $7,000 over a number of years and that was returned as soon as Abramoff was exposed.” As far as the Indian tribes go, Johnson says they supported Pombo because he helped the tribes get federal recognition, not because of any connection with Abramoff.

But Abramoff and Indian tribes are not the only people who directly or indirectly gave Pombo scads of cash. The two largest industrial contributors to Pombo are the agricultural and real estate sectors—which makes sense given that those are the dominant industries in his area. But his third largest source of campaign funds is the oil and gas industry, which has given him $178,788 since 1989. Pombo is chair of the house Committee on Resources, which oversees those industries. Chevron Texaco alone gave him $21,500. 

There are plenty of reasons for the oil giant to like Pombo. He opposed a Chinese bid to purchase Unocal — Chevron also wanted to buy Unocal – and has tried to lift the moratorium on oil drilling off the coast of California.

Early this year, investigative reporters with the Los Angeles Times uncovered two cases of what looks suspiciously like back scratching between Pombo and the extractive industries. In 1999, Pombo and Rep John Doolittle (R-Roseville) linked up to put the kibosh on a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation investigation of Charles Hurwitz, of Maxxam lumber clear-cutting infamy, over his involvement in a collapsed Texas savings and loan company. According to the Times the legislators, both known as “protégés of [Tom] Delay” subpoenaed documents from the confidential FDIC investigation of Hurwitz and promptly published them in the Congressional Record, styming the government’s case. Hurwitz subsequently gave Pombo $1,000 and Doolittle $5,000.

Another LA Times article noted that in late 2005, just three months before Pombo inserted language into a budget bill—without debate or hearings—that would have opened public lands, including national forests, to mining operations, Washington lobbyist Duane Gibson organized a $1,000 a plate fundraiser for Pombo. Gibson is a former aide to Pombo’s House Resource Committee and is now under scrutiny in the Abramoff scandal. While the total dollar amount raised that night is unknown, the paper revealed several mining companies made donations to Pombo. Gibson, who also personally contributed $1,000, also represented some of those companies.  

In 2004, Pombo wrote a letter to then Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton urging her to suspend environmental regulations that the wind-power industry opposed. He neglected to mention that his parents own a wind farm on the Altamont Pass, nor did he mention his own stake in his parent’s ranch. Although wind-farm regulation does fall under his committee, it would have been less unseemly had he acknowledged his potential conflict of interest.

In other family matters, Pombo got into hot water for trying to bill the taxpayers almost $5,000 for a two-week family RV vacation by saying it was government related business because he visited several national parks.

Pombo, like many representatives Democrat and Republican, believes in keeping it in the family. He has paid out $357,325 to his wife and brother for bookkeeping, fundraising, consulting and other services to his political activities.

Rep. George Miller (D-Vallejo/Concord) has twice written Pombo with requests that he investigate allegations of sweatshop conditions, prostitution and gambling on the Marianas Islands. No such investigation has been initiated, but readers might remember that Abramoff lobbied extensively to oppose the implementation of U.S. labor and immigration regulations in the Marianas, which are U.S. trust territories. According to Time magazine, Pombo received $8,050 from Northern Mariana islanders following a visit to the islands.

For further fun facts, check out www.opensecrets.org for who gives Pombo what money or Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) www.citizensforethics.org.

Research assistance by Erin Podlipnik


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Saluting small business


> bruce@sfbg.com

  Back in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a flat land of tall corn and homestead farms way out in northwest Iowa, my grandfather and father ran a small, family owned drug store for more than seven decades. Their slogan, known throughout the territory, was "Brugmann’s Drugs: Where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since l902."

   The town was then and still is about 2,800 in population, and we were miles away from the nearest cities of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. The merchants, and the farmers and townsfolk who patronized them, had to go it pretty much alone and depend on each other for economic sustenance.  The two Brugmann families bought shoes at Jensen’s and Hornseth’s shoe stores, purchased clothes that often didn’t quite fit at Bernstein’s department store, bought our groceries from Bob Bendinger and Tony Sieparda’s grocery stores, ate meals out at Jay’s and the Grill Café, banked at the Rock Rapids State Bank and later the Lyon County bank,  went to endless church suppers in town and in the country to support the local churches, hired Jim Wells to do our taxes, used both Doc Wubbena and Doc Cook, the town’s two doctors, and had our teeth done by Doc Lee and Doc Fisch.

   My dad, as the town pharmacist, would often get called at night, sometimes twice, to go down to the store and fill a prescription for one of the doctors tending a patient who needed emergency help. My wife’s father, who owned a lumberyard in Bennet, Nebraska, and later a hardware store in Le Mars, Iowa, followed the same routine. As did her grandfathers, one who founded banks in small towns in Nebraska and Kansas, another who ran a grocery store in Topeka, Kansas.

   I asked my grandfather and my dad why they went out of their way to do all these things in town and why I always got pulled along as Con Brugmann’s boy. "We want to keep our money working in town," they would reply. "That helps the store and that helps the town." I also asked why they put regular ads in the local Lyon County Reporter, run by Paul Smith as the fourth generation of the pioneering Smith family, when everybody already knew what the store offered in merchandise and service. "That’s the price of having a good local paper in town,” my dad would say.

   Significantly, Brugmann’s Drugs and our old store building have been transformed into the B and L café, a friendly oasis featuring yummy homemade pies and soups and a unique setting full of antique furniture. It is owned and operated by Beth and Lawrence Lupkes, a husband and wife team who work long and hard to keep the café going from dawn till dusk seven days a week. Their key to economic sustenance: they keep their “day” jobs, Beth as a dispatcher for the county’s emergency services, Lawrence as a rural mail carrier and mayor. Lawrence’s sister is the main cook and they press family members into service.

   When my wife Jean Dibble and I founded the Guardian in l966, we quickly found that the cooperative small business way of life that worked in little towns in Iowa and Nebraska and Kansas worked the same way in San Francisco with its tradition of neighborhoods and communities. Small business, we found, was not only the leading job generator and a key piece of the city’s urban fabric. Small business was critical to building sustainable local economies in San Francisco and most other cities. Jean and I like to think that the Brugmann and Dibble families have been continuously making small business contributions to our communities since l902.

   A long list of studies shows that small businesses keep more money circuutf8g in the local economy than big chains. The chain money is wired out of town every night—and chains are more likely to buy from other chains, in bulk, and thus rarely patronize other local businesses. So very little of the dollar you spend at a chain store stays in the community, which means its impact on the local economy is negligible. Money that stays in town creates more jobs, more business activity, a more stable economy and a larger tax base. Thankfully, no Wal-Mart came to the Rock Rapids area, but Wal-Mart came to several other Iowa communities with disastrous consequences to the downtowns and local tax bases of three towns and seven counties. Many other studies showed similar consequences in many other areas of the country.  (The Hometown Advantage, Big Box Economic Impact Studies from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. http://www.newrules.org/retail/econimpact)

    When academics and policy makers around the country are increasingly discussing ways that cities can be more self-reliant, work more with local resources and thus be both environmentally and economically stronger, they are talking about the value of small, locally owned, independent businesses.

    Economies are all subject to business cycles. If a city’s economy is dominated by a monocrop and or a few big companies, the entire economy suffers when they take a hit. Rock Rapids is tied to the farms and the weather.  Detroit’s fate is tied to the auto industry. If Microsoft and Boeing have blips, the impact is felt across Seattle. But a community with many different local businesses in many different niches is much more able to survive and even prosper in tough times.  After the l906 earthquake, it was the entrepreneurs and small businesses that lifted the city from the ashes. After the dot-com bust, it was again the small businesses and the entrepreneurs who are helping cushion the blow and leading the recovery.

    The bottom line is that the big chains see a community like San Francisco as a place to extract money from as quickly as possible, much like the strip miners in the Sierra. Small businesses see the city as a place to invest human capital to build real community—to join merchant groups, get involved in local politics, hire local kids, patronize other businesses, work to invigorate their neighborhoods, spread the gospel of shopping local. (See the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants’ Alliance at http://www.sfloma.org/whylocal.com)

    Jean and I and the Guardian staff are happy to salute the small business community with our second annual Small Business Awards. Our congratulations to the winners, all working in their own way to transform San Francisco into a sustainable local economy. And our congratulations to the thousands of small business people in San Francisco, and the merchant groups behind them, who daily struggle valiantly against daunting odds to keep their businesses going, their neighborhoods vibrant, and San Francisco an incomparably great city.

     This year, we give special recognition to Arthur Jackson, who for almost four decades helped thousands of people get jobs in small, independent, locally owned businesses through his employment agency, Jackson Personnel Agency. He died on April l0 at     age 58 after a courageous fight against a series of illnesses including a kidney transplant.  He lived his favorite quote: “Putting people to work is a passion for me, because the paycheck fully empowers our community.” Arthur, as we all called him, won our diversity in small business award last year and his name will live on at the Guardian in the form of our annual Arthur Jackson diversity in small business award.