Volume 41 Number 18

January 31 – February 6, 2007

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More than the affair


OK: Let’s all stop and take a deep breath.

Gavin Newsom did something almost unbelievably, incalculably stupid. He’s in a lot of political and possibly legal trouble. But in the end, it was just an affair – yes, an affair with a subordinate, which is a real problem, but nobody’s dead, he hasn’t started a war, the city isn’t about to collapse and the world will keep turning. It’s silly to talk about Newsom resigning over this, the same was it was silly for the Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton over an Oval Office blow job.

Besides, there’s a much bigger problem here.


For months, long before this tawdry story made the front pages, it’s been clear that the mayor of San Francisco wasn’t focused on the job. For whatever reason (and there may be many reasons) Newsom has been checked out for quite some time now. As we reported Jan 10, he never does public events that haven’t been carefully scripted. His relations with the Board of Supervisors are damaged beyond repair. He’s offering absolutely nothing in the way of leadership on the murder epidemic, the housing crisis, Muni’s meltdown, or much of anything else. He’s had plenty of time for glamour and glitz, for movie stars, rides on the Google corporate jet and the glitterati at Davos – but not much energy for the gritty reality on the streets of his city.

He is, we noted in our cover story, “the imperious press release mayor, smiling for the cameras, quick with his sound bites and utterly unwilling to engage in any public discussion whose outcome isn’t determined in advance.”

And whether we like it or not, this latest “lapse in judgment” – and Newsom’s embarrassing failure to deal with it properly – is only going to make things worse.

To be blunt, for a lot of reasons that have little to do with this week’s tabloid sensation, we don’t see how Gavin Newsom can effectively run San Francisco for another four years. This latest mess isn’t a scandal as much as it’s a symptom of Newsom’s shaky grip on the frighteningly tricky world of high-stakes politics. He’s acting like a dizzy kid at a rock-star party who doesn’t have the maturity to handle what’s coming at him. Even his close allies have warned us that the wheels are coming off his administration. It’s not even clear that he wants to be mayor.

For the good of the city (and the causes he claims to care about) he’d be better off announcing now that he isn’t going to run for re-election.

That wouldn’t be the end of his political career – plenty of people (John Burton comes to mind) have taken some time off from politics to deal with their personal lives, and come back much stronger. It might be the best thing Newsom could do for himself.


If Newsom stays in the race, he will quickly (and for perhaps all the wrong reasons) be seen as deeply politically vulnerable. And when a local politician is looking bloodied, the sharks start to circle. The potential for a feeding frenzy – with half a dozen or more politicians who suddenly see City Hall Room 200 beckoning starting to jockey for support and stab each other in the back – is all too real. That’s a bad way for progressives to proceed.

Running for mayor is serious business, and if there’s going to be a strong candidate challenging Newsom on the issues, the left needs to think about who it ought to be. Who has the experience and skills to take on the campaign? Who can appeal to a wide enough group of voters to win? Who as the sort of record and platform that progressives can support and unite around?

Those discussions need to start soon. But they need to be deliberate and thoughtful. Newsom’s political (and yes, personal) failures have given progressives an opening. There’s a chance to elect a mayor who really represents San Francisco values, in deeds as well as words. Let’s take it seriously.

Doin’ the ‘Dance


Sundance has become a spectator business event, like the weekly box office returns. This year turned out to be a surprise bull market when the same buyers who went in saying there was little of apparent commercial appeal on the program wound up spending tens of millions in an acquisitions frenzy. I didn’t get to see Son of Rambow, an ’80s nostalgia piece about action movie–obsessed kids that earned a cool $8 million distribution deal. But that movie at least sounds like real fun. Predictably, most of the features that scored dealwise were on the safe, earnest, kinda bland side, such as Adrienne Shelly’s posthumously completed Waitress, the Australian dramedy Clubland, and the John Cusack–as–Iraq War widower vehicle Grace Is Gone.

Other big-noise titles expired on arrival, including several exploring (or is that exploiting?) the de rigueur shocking subject of our moment, child abuse. Noses were held around Hounddog (the Dakota Fanning–rape film) and An American Crime (Catherine Keener as a monster foster mom), though child abduction drama Trade won some appreciation. Such controversial flicks were often more exciting in advance hype than onscreen, though conversely several bad-taste movies proved more than edible. Many thumbs went up for vagina dentata black comedy Teeth, and my own at least were hoisted for all-star, Commandments-inspired The Ten (in which Winona Ryder enjoys vigorous pleasuring with a ventriloquist’s dummy), from the good folks of comedy troupe the State. Not to mention (in a different realm entirely) Robinson Devor’s Zoo, an extraordinarily poetic and nonjudgmental documentary-dramatization mix about something you might expect those adjectives couldn’t apply to: the 2005 death of a Seattle man whose colon was perforated by an Arabian stallion’s member.

Zoo was a startling exception to a problem that’s become common among the kind of indie cinema Sundance programs — stuff that, since it’s often funded by HBO or PBS or whatever (or is simply produced with the expectation of a small- rather than big-screen career), tends to look, act, and smell like TV. There’s nothing wrong with that, since good fiction stories can be told and compelling documentaries crafted without the need for great visual panache. Still, the lack of aesthetic excitement, the sheer broadcasty-ness (abetted by so much HD photography) increasingly makes anything that feels like a real film seem refreshing. Examples most often surfaced among more experimental features (yes, they still get programmed at Sundance — you just don’t hear about them), such as Zoo and the ecstatically intimate soccer documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Sundance proved again this year that it’s the premier showcase for movies starring people who can single-handedly make viewing worthwhile. Parker Posey, Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, and Samantha Morton had two entries each. Steve Buscemi, god bless him, had three (including one he cowrote, directed, and starred in). Plus, there were opportunities to see actors like Ryan Reynolds (The Nines), Queen Latifah (Life Support), and Anna Faris (Smiley Face) get the generous roles you knew they were capable of filling. At times at Sundance the US film world almost seems like a repertory company of versatile, brilliant professionals — one that sometimes lets A-list Hollywood guest stars take part, in which context they tend to flounder (i.e., Lindsay Lohan in the achingly dull Jared Leto is Mark David Chapman drama Chapter 27; first-time director Anthony Hopkins’s embarrassing, surreal egofest, Slipstream). They may not get the big breaks, but the cool kids in class can always make the popular ones look insipid. (Dennis Harvey)

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’s Sundance picks (so far)


Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, Canada). Easily the best film at Sundance, this moving portrait of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs shakes your views on the progress of humanity to the point of speechlessness. While the photos show how humans have drastically altered the earth through their obstructions — ranging from massive recycling landfills to factory lines with thousands of workers creating millions of tiny plastic objects — Baichwal’s film brings these conflicts to life in a complete, breathtaking manner. The opening shot (filmed by infamous Canadian director Peter Mettler) evokes Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend and is one of the most powerful sequences I have ever witnessed.

Snow Angels (David Gordon Green, US). In a film that’s purposefully more mainstream than his recent masterpieces, Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls) brings his never-ending compassion to stories about a struggling divorced couple and their young child and two high school teenagers whose awkwardly sincere attempts at first love are just about the closest thing to the real thing. Hopefully, he’ll consider condensing the ending sequence; it screams while the rest of the film simply soothes.

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. (David Brothers and Crispin Glover, US). After viewing Glover’s embarrassingly transparent and ultimately boring debut, What Is It?, I was pretty damn skeptical of the second in his It trilogy. Surprise, surprise — he’s made perhaps one of the most progressive films for physically disabled people to date. Lead actor Steven C. Stewart also scripted the film; the late disabled-rights activist, in a wheelchair most of his life due to cerebral palsy, plays a man whose fantasy is to make love with the long-haired beauties in his nursing home. The film is definitely flawed, and its mixed messages drew uncomfortable laughter from audience members. But though It Is Fine! could be viewed as a Make-a-Wish Foundation film, it genuinely confronts issues untouched by most filmmakers.

Enemies of Happiness (Anja Al-Erhayem and Eva Mulvad, Denmark). With an immediacy similar to that of My Country, My Country, this sensitive documentary about Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in 35 years follows 27-year-old candidate Malalai Joya, who speaks out for women’s rights and democracy. It’s a real-life Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to inspire even the most jaded.

And one from Slamdance:

Cold Prey (Roar Uthaug, Norway). How about a group of five Norwegian snowboarders who get stranded up in the mountains, where someone starts hunting them down one by one? OK, so the film doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s fun, terrifying, and part of the new wave of mean-spirited stalker films that thrive on the slaughter of privileged white people. Also, it stars two of the hottest ladies you ever did see. *

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks teaches film history at the Academy of Art University and programs "Midnites for Maniacs" at the Castro Theatre.



Feb. 5


Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

After photos of American soldiers humiliating and torturing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib went public in April 2004, producer-director Rory Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, wondered how a group of individuals could be capable of torture. Through exclusive interviews with military insiders, eyewitnesses, perpetrators, and Iraqis who were tortured, the Kennedy’s HBO documentary Ghosts of Abu Ghraib examines the scandal that exposed the true nature of the Iraq War and altered America’s identity as a bastion of human rights. (Elaine Santore)

6 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. screening, free
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center
Marina at Laguna, SF
1-888-745-7425 (RSVP to reserve seats)



Well, now that it’s officially cool to be a dork, you too can unleash your inner art nerd in time for V-Day at Center for the Book’s annual Valentine-a-Thon. Drop in between noon and 4 p.m. and join Gail Rieke, an internationally recognized collage and assemblage artist, for an afternoon of card crafting. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Noon–4 p.m.
Center for the Book
300 De Haro, SF
(415) 565-0545, www.sfcb.org



Feb. 4


Trinity Irish Dance Company

Remember when Irish dancing had its pop culture zeitgeist, circa Riverdance? The costumes and hair may be excessively theatrical, but the fleet feet of the Trinity Irish Dance Company — a self-declared “lethal powerhouse of speed and sound” — just might inspire you to put down that shillelagh stick o’ derision and embrace this athletic style of performance once again. (Cheryl Eddy)

3 p.m., $20–$45
Marin Center
10 Ave. of the Flags, San Rafael
(415) 421-TIXS


“100 Women/Good Guys to Know”

Through happenstance I visited Andrew McKinley’s “100 Women/Good Guys to Know” at Adobe Books with one of the show’s subjects. What’s most striking about the photo is probably her expression: open and friendly. This lack of guardedness is one quality of most of McKinley’s female subjects. Enclosed in simple white frames and organized into five rows of 16 and one row of 15, those pieces make up 95 of the show’s more than 100 photos. Any photographer would feel blessed to come up with a few rolls as vibrant and candid as these portraits. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Through Sun/4.
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Adobe Books
3166 16th St., SF
(415) 864-3936



Feb. 3


Tin Hat

At first I was going to use the most sprawling hyphenate ever coined in music journalism history to describe the curious riddles composed by Bay Area legends Tin Hat (formerly Tin Hat Trio), but how about this instead: Charles Mingus, Philip Glass, and Astor Piazzolla do lunch in a Paris café and score the soundtrack for a supernatural western. Blurring genre boundaries with envy-inducing ease, the group mixes the improvisational spirit of jazz and the concert hall elegance of a chamber ensemble with folk traditions from far and wide. (Todd Lavoie)

8:15 p.m., $20
Noe Valley Ministry
1021 Sanchez, SF
(415) 454-5238



Loop pedals, those clunky gizmos that allow a single player to assume the scope of a full band, are often enablers of self-indulgence, but Minneapolis’s Dosh (first name Martin) is one of the few who seem capable of layering their own riffs and percussive hits and coming out with something inspired. A drummer first and foremost, Dosh builds his compositions on complex syncopated rhythms, with other instrumentation shading the sinewy beats with softer hues. (Max Goldberg)

With Thee More Shallows
and Kyoto Beat Orchestra
10 p.m., $10
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455



Feb. 2


“Arts of Pacific Asia Show”

The “Arts of Pacific Asia Show” sells art and accessories from 85 of the top international galleries at a range of prices. Guests get the opportunity to touch the art and ask questions from experts in the field. The show’s featured exhibit, “Cambodian Ikat Revealed — an Exploration,” displays exclusive Cambodian ikat weavings, which are silk embroideries with narratives. (Elaine Santore)

Through Sun/4
11 a.m., $15
Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center
99 Marina, SF
(415) 441-3400


Bobby Friction

If rubbing oppositional objects fosters friction, then sparks are sure to fly when famed UK DJ Bobby Friction hits the Bay Area with an eclectic set, mixing and scratching everything from electronica to bhangra, Desi beats to Bollywood, as part of the Project Ahimsa British Invasion tour. A foremost DJ in British Asian music, Friction rose from late ’90s club DJ to BBC Radio 1 broadcaster and successful album producer with the recent chart toppers Friction and Friction 2 (both on Sony India). All proceeds benefit Project Ahimsa. (Joshua Rotter)

9 p.m., $30 donation
111 Minna Gallery
111 Minna, SF
(415) 974-1719



Feb. 1


“Is Heaven Any Sweeter”

Thanks to Paul Mullins’s skill with ink and acrylics, images of sad dogs become something more than kitsch, something akin to a free-floating vision from a dream. The SF artist digs into his Appalachian roots in the new show “Is Heaven Any Sweeter,” and the occasional canine is mixed in with his memories of mountain boys. (Johnny Ray Huston)

5:30–7:30 p.m. reception, free
Through March 17
Heather Marx Gallery
77 Geary, second floor, SF
(415) 627-9111


Jesus Roast

Speaking of assassination, isn’t there a famous historical figure who’s already endured a very public humiliation once before? Is it possible that he’s come again — as he promised — in order to sit through an evening of jabs, jibes, and tribute courtesy of Comedy Noir? Well, Jesus H. Christ, if isn’t the son of God himself (a.k.a. Kurt Weitzmann) and a panel of equally prestigious roasters, including Satan (Nick Leonard), Mary Magdalene (Candy Churilla), Red Buttons (Howard Stone), and Muhammad (Will Franken). (Nicole Gluckstern)

8 p.m., $10
Comedy Station
244 Taylor, SF



Jan. 31


Save Darfur Tour

Songs have been influenced by it, MTV campaigned for it, and Angelina Jolie has done everything short of another adoption to publicize it. “Save Darfur” may have become a popular catchphrase, but very few actually understand the current conflict in this region of western Sudan, which has already taken 400,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million. The Save Darfur Tour hopes to not only spotlight this grave calamity through performances by underground hip-hop artists the Visionaries and members of the Arsonists but also demand action that is long overdue. (Joshua Rotter)

With Alexipharmic, Visionaries, Grayskul, Sleep, Freestyle, and Sweatshop Union
9 p.m., $10 donation
Elbo Room
647 Valencia, SF
(415) 552-7788


Paco de Lucía

Though guitarist Paco de Lucía is best known as a flamenco player, the 1980 live album Friday Night in San Francisco (Sony), the first of several collaborations with Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin, helped establish his reputation as a genre-bending virtuoso whose facility with modern jazz is equaled by his nuanced interpretations of the musical traditions of Moorish Spain. (Nathan Baker)

Also Thurs/1
8 p.m., $24–$48
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley
Lower Sproul (near Bancroft and Telegraph), Berk.
(510) 642-9988

Pillow talk


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The cold air these last weeks has played foul-weather friend to a couple chilling stage stories about serial child killers — one of them is even called Frozen. Both were recently toasts of Broadway too, though only one includes scary little apple men (not to mention the titular figure of a giant fellow made of soft cushions). This latter would be The Pillowman, of course, by Irish wunderkind Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore), which makes its local debut at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in a very strong, utterly engaging production directed by Les Waters.

The theme of child murders aside, the two plays (which opened on consecutive nights) couldn’t be further apart. In fact, that very theme is a source of dispute and humor in McDonagh’s hilarious, eerie, and strictly macabre comedy set in a gritty police station–cum–torture chamber in an unnamed totalitarian country (the fine set, a simple but highly atmospheric take on old-world contemporary, is by Antje Ellermann, with sharply complimentary lighting by Russell H. Champa). Here a prolific but largely unrecognized writer named Katurian Katurian Katurian (Erik Lochtefeld) — a stubbornly emphatic name that’s like an engine that won’t turn over and maybe a bit sinister too, like the clang of a railway car with no windows — has been hauled in for some very rough questioning following a string of child murders whose gory details mimic the content of several of his generally ghastly stories.

Katurian and older brother Michal (Matthew Maher) — whose mental disability keeps him squarely in the role of Katurian’s charge and whom the police keep initially in a separate room down the hall for some questioning at the hands of a bulldog cop named Ariel (Andy Murray) — find themselves in a ghastly little story of their own, threatened with impending execution should the interrogation, led by the somewhat wry Inspector Tupolski (Tony Amendola), not go in their favor. But then, their backstory is, we learn, already quite ghastly, making the writer’s ghoulish tales seem all the more meaningful as a necessary escape from childhood horrors and the inevitable vehicle of the Katurian brothers’ worming segue into adulthood.

The Pillowman, however, ultimately has nothing to do with the kind of social, psychological, moral, and forensic themes brought up by Frozen playwright Bryony Lavery in her secularizing examination of sin and forgiveness. (Frozen runs through Feb. 11 at the Marin Theatre Company; see stage listings for information and the review). Instead, it has everything to do with the art, the incandescent allure, even the vital necessity of simply telling stories for their own sake. As such, its primary purpose is to grip the audience by the story-hungry throat, a feat it manages expertly and with a dreamlike complexity, merging one story into another.

Life and art come hopelessly entangled here, though just which is imitating which is hard to say. After the wily Tupolski (played by Amendola with wonderful humor and nuance like a Stalinist version of Barney Miller) synopsizes one of Katurian’s bleak parablelike tales, for instance, a self-satisfied Katurian savors it by absently applying the term "somethingesque" to its construction. Sure enough, our own Mr. K’s story is strikingly Kafkaesque, and so is the predicament such tales have landed him in.

These ironies and nuances come over without the least bit of pretension, however. They’re just part of the grimly comic nightmare director Waters and his cast unfold with unflinching panache. As Katurian, Lochtefeld (last seen at the Berkeley Rep in another memorable turn as a tortured writer, in The Glass Menagerie) delivers a cannily offbeat, charismatic performance, convincingly mixing bottomless artistic pride with obsequiousness before authority, sibling angst, and a gently subversive humor. Maher’s deft turn as Michal, meanwhile, is an equally riveting combination of utter ingenuousness and playful mischief.

If storytelling seems to be a double-edged sword and maybe even a sword of Damocles, its "spirit" (to borrow from Katurian’s exquisite final line) emerges immaculate in the end as a kind of joyful seduction by the master storyteller, the playwright himself, whose intoxicating yarns remain a boon for all concerned. *


Extended through March 11, $45–$61

See Web site for dates and times

Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage

2025 Addison, Berk.

(510) 647-2949



Tiki wiki


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What exactly does exotica mean to a little brown girl from a tropical island? How does tiki translate to someone who once identified those fierce masks by name, as Lono, Kane, or Ku? To most, exotica tuneage boils down to Martin Denny and Esquivel; tikis, to that last retro revival that surfed in alongside early ’90s alternative culture. But for this wahine from cosmo Honolulu, exotica meant Quadrophenia mods and Italian scooters zipping around a freezing little island on the other side of the globe — and tikis were simply a fact of life, like those special guest appearances by Pele on street corners. Tiki was all around — it was more radically exotic to sport leather motorcycle jackets under the hot Hawaiian sun.

So Bay Area tiki culture’s latest return — in the form of Alameda’s Forbidden Island and Oakland’s Kona Club — is both surreal and heartwarmingly familiar, a roughed-out, kitschy-koo Hawaiian fusion. I always associated the tiki cult of the ’50s and ’60s with World War II vets nostalgic for humahumunookienookie high times, filtered through mediocre Chinese grub and juicy beverages that even a teetotalin’ mom could easily get toasted on. Here it’s all about vintage peeps, ex-locals, and hearty-drinking pirates in search of novel booty. And the Bay Area is the ideal spot for an ersatz islander experience, what with Oakland being the home of the first Trader Vic’s, Alameda’s Otto von Stroheim continuing to roll out the Tiki News zine, San Francisco’s ReSearch spurring an exotica rediscovery with its Incredibly Strange Music volumes, and the area providing ground zero for the San Francisco Bay Area Tiki Weekend.

The aforementioned gathering is thrown by Forbidden Island co-owner Martin Cate, and the loving care he and fellow big kahunas Michael and Emmanuel Thanos (who also own the Conga Lounge in Oakland) lavished on the nine-month-old lounge is obvious. On this frigid, drizzly Saturday night there’s something vaguely subversive about retreating to a tiki-strewn fantasy island when it’s colder than a sea lion’s tittie outside. Forbidden Island is a fruity-drink lover’s fever dream, boasting fresh-squeezed juices and stealth quantities of silver rum that sneak up and slam you in the puss. Cocktail umbrellas spear dollars to the cork ceiling over an early ’60s back bar, bamboo-sheltered booths, and a dramatically lit Polynesian god overseeing the grizzled locals, water cooler refugees, and fresh- and Fog Cutter–faced collegians, downing spicy grog and Scorpions by the bowl. As I suck down a delish Banana Mamacow of coconut, cream, and rum, my bud Dr. B points out the bodacious, bare-chested native maid in the black velvet masterwork by the bar: "If I had that in my room when I was a teenager, I’d never have left the house." My only disappointment: nary a note of bird whistles, a bongo beat, nor a wisp of exotica in earshot, though the jukebox is said to be crammed with the stuff. Where’s the mai tai moment for the mind’s ear?

Next up on the relative newbie list is the year-old Kona Club on a silent stretch of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, just a stagger or so away from Trader Vic’s founder Victor Bergeron’s final resting spot at Mountain View Cemetery. Love the tapa cloth–covered walls decorated with ukuleles and old wooden surfboards; the smell of dried lauhala; and the unduutf8g hips of the life-size hula-girl robot. And I’m told the smoke-spewing volcano behind the bar is da bomb. As the Pixies blast over the sound system and Dr. B fetches more Macadamia Nut Chi Chis, I sprawl over a corner table — the sizable crowd appears to be simultaneously more hipster and fratty. Maybe it’s the quiet village of Piedmont that binds us together — the burbies outside are tucked in early while we belly up in our mini-wacky-wiki-Waikiki inside the onetime British brew pub King’s X. Who doesn’t want to recapture some mongrel carefree vacation sensation — in a silly-shack adult Disneyland of thatched straw?

I get rummy and restless, and a clutch of drinkers nearby watches raptly as I manage to make barfly magic and balance a saltshaker on its tip, bolstered only by a teeny mound of grains, for 20 minutes until a barmaid stomps by in a huff and it falls. "Now that’s amazing," the bouncer gathering glasses around me says. The tiki gods are smiling.

GOOD TIMES, OLD TIMEY You can’t toss the tikis out with the tepid bathwater, and you can’t count out bluegrass and old-time music with hoedowns like the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival around. Affiliated with the Northern California Bluegrass Society, the completely volunteer-run, nonprofit eighth annual shindig runs from Feb. 1 to 10; showcases up-and-coming locals such as the Earl Brothers, Circle R Boys, Squirrelly Stringband, the Deciders, Jimbo Trout and the Fishpeople, the Crooked Jades’ Jeff Kazor and Lisa Berman, and the Wronglers (with Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival founder Warren Hellman); and closes with a square dance at the Swedish American Hall. This year’s fest also shines a light on a slew of Portland, Ore., combos, summing up a West Coast scene that’s younger than those in other parts, publicity volunteer Elizabeth Smith tells me. "I think that there’s an interest in roots music that’s pervasive in the Bay Area," she explains. "If you go back and look at the hippie scene in San Francisco and the fact that folks in the Dead were involved in bluegrass, you can see an evolution over time." Old times don’t have to mean bad times. *


Tues.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–midnight; Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 3–10 p.m.

1305 Lincoln, Alameda

(510) 749-0332



Daily, noon–2 a.m.

4401 Piedmont, Oakl.

(510) 654-7100


Feb. 1–10

See Web site for info



Behold, a pale port


While sipping my way through a barrel tasting last week, I came across something of a novelty: a California chardonnay port. White port isn’t that unusual, of course; the Portuguese have been making fortified wines from white grapes and from red fermented off-skin for a long time. Still, when most of us think of port, we think of a ruby-colored, almost syrupy elixir, a few sips of which makes a lovely after-dinner drink and, with its sweetness, a good substitute for dessert.

The maker of the chardonnay port is VJB Vineyards, in Kenwood. The winery belongs to that class of ultra-chic, ultra-small-production enterprises that sell most of their wine through their tasting rooms and, in some cases, through subscription lists or Web sites (www.vjbcellars.com). VJB’s chardonnay port, Baci de Famiglia, is produced in rather minute quantities; just 200 cases of the 2005 vintage are available. Given this scarcity, the price — $28 for an elegantly slim 375-milliliter bottle — is surprisingly nonstratospheric.

The port is a pale honey-straw color, like a richer pinot grigio. It is lighter and less syrupy than its red cousins (you are supposed to serve it well-chilled) and perhaps slightly less sweet; most red California ports are distinguishable by their pronounced fruitiness and sweetness. I have never tasted Portuguese white port, but I have tasted ice wines from both Austria and Canada — wines made from very-late-harvest white grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine before being crushed — and I would say they are the nearest relations of VJB’s chardonnay port, both in color and in restrained sweetness. Certainly, many of the great white dessert wines, even those from France, such as Sauternes, tend to be noticeably sweeter and weightier on the tongue. For a chardonnay wine produced in California, the port is noticeably nonoaky, and the bouquet does carry a hint of apples — a natural and attractive characteristic of chardonnay, though one too often muted or lost altogether in the making of the heavier white wines we cannot seem to wean ourselves from.

The port, I was told, would make a beautiful match with a blue cheese from the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. (www.pointreyescheese.com), samples of which were just steps away. A novelty pairing? No, a natural one.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

On the Download — Ridin’ the wi-fi


ON THE DOWNLOAD Don’t doubt it: southern hospitality is real, and it’s especially so in the rap game now that Lil Wayne and Chamillionaire have released free downloadable mixtapes of their latest rhymes on their Web sites. As mixtapes so often incorporate other rappers’ beats without written permission, the circuit, despite its hype and promotional benefits, has become a sizable source of controversy in the recording industry following the Jan. 16 arrests of DJ Drama and Don Cannon in Atlanta. In a Jan. 21 Reuters-Billboard article, Young Jeezy, a rapper who’s collaborated with Drama and other mixtape DJs, is quoted as saying he was "getting booked for shows in Detroit, D.C., places [he’d] never been" because of his mixtapes, which have each sold thousands. According to the same article, the Recording Industry Association of America is behind these arrests, apparently intending to target "illegal CDs" by way of "anti-piracy activity" — problematic designations at a time when artists and major labels monetarily support their proliferation. Luckily, legalities aren’t trapping Chamillionaire’s and Wayne’s new tapes, which both showcase major steps forward in their talent.

Chamillionaire, hailing from Houston and best known for megahit "Ridin’," posted Mixtape Messiah Pt. 2 on his relaunched site for free download on Christmas Eve. It’s a bitchin’ present, to be sure. This guy’s mixes are anticipated for a reason: his flow’s got such a malleable step that even the simplest rhymes smack of brilliance, plus the man can sing his own choruses. No Akon necessary! (It is, however, a terrific bonus that he appears on "Ridin’ Overseas.") Despite the title, Chamillionaire is disarmingly charming in his sentiments throughout — he comes across as a genuinely nice guy, pledging an end to dis tracks on the skit following his take on Nas’s "Hip Hop Is Dead," a remix that’s considerably more thrilling than what Nas himself committed to record.

As if topping Nas on his own beat wasn’t enough, "Roll Call Reloaded" shows Koopa convincingly imitating several friends, including Lil’ Flip, Slim Thug, and Bun B and Pimp-C of UGK. The gee-whiz factor doesn’t stop there: "I Run It" would be single material if it weren’t all about the biz, and "Get Ya Umbrellas Out" lays down a swaggering, believable promise of continued greatness over an AZ beat: "I’m about to bring the rain so they know how the thunder sound / Get ya umbrellas out."

Umbrellas are also advised as Lil Wayne continues to "make it rain on them" with his own playfully warped flow on Lil Weezyana the Mixtape Vol. 1. Credited to Lil Wayne and Young Money, it’s mixed by Raj Smoove and features MCs from the Young Money label, Wayne’s own imprint alongside Cash Money. The other MCs — including Curren$y and a secret weapon known only as Elle — don’t quite shine like Wayne, who blazes over Jay-Z’s "Show Me What You Got" in a way that leaves one feeling pretty uneasy about Jigga’s supposedly tight rein over the scene. Wayne’s rhymes are always intriguing, including such clever quips as "In the game, I’m manning up like Eli" and "Coupe blue like the do on Marge."

Smoove’s beats constantly switch up their style, allowing Wayne to exhibit his ability to kill just about any beat: "Secretary" employs a scratch-based hip-hop track, while "Vans" is finger snaps and an 808 behind a whispering Weezy. There are more serious moments, as on "Amen" and "I Like Dat," and the sincerity on these tracks is as compelling as the surreal wordplay elsewhere. This tape, alongside last year’s Dedication 2 (Gangsta Grillz) with the aforementioned DJ Drama, shows how dramatically far Wayne’s skill has come since his days in the Hot Boyz — you may not have guessed it from "Go DJ," but this guy is now spittin’ with the best. *



Drama mama


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Relationships can suck sometimes. You know, the drama — the toxic chewing at the meat of a romance on the verge of imploding. Your nerves may feel destroyed after going a dozen rounds in an all-night bender over some questionable glance or wry crack, but love’s hang-ups do make for the best songs.

Take it from Des Ark’s Aimée Argote: she has no qualms about expressing herself and is no stranger to confronting her demons through song. A listen to the melancholic lyrics that escape from the Durham, N.C., native’s raspy voice on her band’s recent split EP with Ben Davis and the Jetts, Battle of the Beards (Lovitt), makes that much evident, in the lyrics of drug addiction, sexual freedom, and most prominently, unsparing heartache.

On the acoustic "The Subtleties of Chores and Unlocked Doors," Argote confesses distressingly, "We can get naked together, take dirty naps, whatever / But so long as we suffer apart from one another / You can hold my hand but you can never hold my heart." Throughout the recording the vocalist’s spirit sounds broken as she tells tales of tortured love, a theme that seems to haunt her but never really shatters her self-esteem.

During a recent phone interview, however, Argote’s cheery voice suggested anything but a bout with the blues. "Music is the way I process things that make me sad, and all of those feelings are so hard to articulate," she said. "I feel really inarticulate as a person in conversation form but much more articulate through music. I see it as an opportunity to explain the things that are making me insane, so they usually come out as bummers."

But not all of Argote’s songs sound as if she’s down on her luck. Though her new songs are hushed ballads augmented with acoustic guitar, piano, and symphonic textures courtesy of University of North Carolina orchestra members, Des Ark’s history stretches beyond that. The project began as a trio in 2001 but by the following year shrunk to a two-piece: Argote and drummer Tim Herzog. The pair’s music was a mix of angular riffs roaring from Marshall cabinets and hard-as-nails drum brio. Argote’s vocals ranged from primal wailing to throat-wrenching howling, and together the duo sound reminiscent of PJ Harvey fronting Unwound. Known for in-your-face live shows, Des Ark ditched the stage for floor performances to ensure an engaging experience for band and crowd.

"It’s weird when an audience feels connected to a band but you feel completely disconnected from the audience," Argote said. "I felt it was important to break down the performer and paying customer boundary because it really bothered me and makes music inaccessible."

Videographer Charles Cardello — who released Des Ark’s sole full-length, Loose Lips Sink Ships (2005) on his label, Bifocal Media — sees the connection. "There are not too many performers out there who can simultaneously scare the shit out of you, turn you on, induce fits of hysterics, confuse your musical sensibilities, and rock you to your foundation," he wrote in an e-mail. Argote "could probably just stand there without a guitar and wail for a few minutes, and you’d get the aforementioned effect."

Unfortunately, Herzog’s time in Des Ark was short-lived, and the band’s dynamic soon changed. In September 2005 the duo played their last show together, right before Herzog departed for Washington, DC, to become a bike messenger. Argote disclosed that though the split was amicable, she was really sad when he left.

"When Tim moved away, it was like ‘Well, there goes the one drummer I wanted to play with,’ " she explained. "There’s a lot of phenomenal drummers, but in terms of the type of music I wanted to play, I thought we made a good pair."

After considering a move to DC herself, Argote decided to remain in Durham because "it’s homegrown and not affected by the labels and popularity contests." She also contemplated whether Des Ark’s erstwhile aggressive sound was compensating for qualities lacking in the music. "I think becoming a quiet musician changed the way I perceived space," the vocalist said. "In our culture that’s a way people tend to become oppressed, and I struggle with it a lot. When you walk into a club with a six-foot-something guy and you’re in a loud band, it’s a lot different than walking into a club when you’re a five-foot girl with a banjo."

Argote views Des Ark’s current sound as a natural progression — the EP’s music possesses a certain repose, but the energy remains. Nonetheless, she said that — although she has a small collection of quiet songs she wants to record for her next album — she’d like to throw a rocker or two in.

"It’s not like I sit at home and write rockers, ’cause I also like writing quiet ones as well," she said. "When I’m at home and all I have is my piece-of-shit, busted-up, acoustic thing, I pretty much write busted, piece-of-shit acoustic songs as opposed to loud ones." *


With the New Trust and Polar Bears

Fri/2, 10 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455



Of Montreal exposed


By Michael Harkin

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

As all English majors know, beginning a sentence with a prepositional phrase can be problematic. Of Montreal — the Athens, Ga., band headed by songwriter Kevin Barnes — proves an exception to this rule, and if it’s a beginning you need, look to Barnes, because it’s starting to look like his finesse in penning clever pop records is boundless. With the new Of Montreal full-length, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl), Barnes takes nary a stray step on the path to pop bliss, assembling a coherent, front-to-back compelling listen the likes of which someone like Robert Pollard rarely realizes these days.

In a recent e-mail interview, Barnes spelled out the difficult circumstances surrounding its recording: the result is a few shades darker than the ecstatic, candy-colored dance pop on Of Montreal’s last two albums, Satanic Panic in the Attic and The Sunlandic Twins (both Polyvinyl, 2004 and 2005). The emotional depth and refined craft at work render Hissing the group’s most rewarding effort yet.

The disc’s tone isn’t foreign territory for Of Montreal. Barnes points out that "I’ve made records like Hissing before," and anybody would want to dance to the greater part of it, but sitting down to listen illuminates something obvious: the dude who wrote this was unquestionably down. The recording was born of a tumultuous year for Barnes. "I was going through this heavy chemical depression, and I was desperately trying to keep my sanity," he writes. No kidding — one new track, "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal," a 12-minute swirl of anxious uncertainty, sets some serious melancholy right at the CD’s center. Elsewhere, as on the first single, "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse," cheery arrangements get paired with lyrics of the desperate sort: "Chemicals don’t flatten my mind / Chemicals don’t mess me up this time / Know you bait me way more than you should / And it’s just like you to hurt me when I’m feeling good." According to Barnes, writing this record allowed him "a way of constructively facing" his problems. It’s a good time for him to be on the upswing: riding the popularity of its last two albums, his band is the most successful it’s been since its start in 1997.

As a group once associated with the fabled Elephant 6 collective, Of Montreal dwelled for some time in a sugary subcategory of the American underground: Beach Boys– and Kinks-influenced pop that Barnes speculates may have been "a bit too anachronistic" for most attuned to indie rock. It was 2004’s Satanic Panic that changed things. As to why he thinks this happened, Barnes gives some pretty precise speculation: "I was slowly getting into more dancey and electronic stuff, like Manitoba, Four Tet, RJD2, and Prefuse 73, and I wanted to create something that combined my ’60s and ’70s influences with a slightly more progressive and modern feel." More modern indeed: songs such as "So Begins Our Alabee" and "Disconnect the Dots" have graced many a college student’s stereo. "Labyrinthian Pomp" on Hissing reveals the depth of the stylistic change — the track is informed by the Jamaican dub and ’70s soul Barnes found himself listening to while writing and recording. It seems apt that Barnes, as he mentions in a piece he wrote for Pitchfork, has been listening to departed disco progenitor Arthur Russell. In a sense, the two have similar strengths: like the late Russell, Barnes is capable of producing infectious dance-floor fillers and has shown himself brilliant at pinning down difficult, crippling emotions in a sweet, meticulously arranged pop context.

San Francisco plays host to Of Montreal for three nights this tour because, Barnes writes, when the band plays the city, it "really feels like it’s a communal experience and that we’re not just animals at the zoo." Animals they ain’t. An Of Montreal show is no joke. It’s a giddily passionate spectacle of the sort one rarely encounters — as if the book-reading, scarf-wearing kids suddenly turned into flamboyant musicians throwing a light switch–flickering disco party for the neighborhood, and it’s suddenly everyone’s birthday! Glitter, feather boas, and synchronized bustings of moves abound, and as the costumes change onstage, the band somehow continues to play. Its live brilliance will surely hit new highs this time, aided by the royalty check from last year’s Outback Steakhouse commercial that had an adaptation of the ensemble’s "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)."

What’s in store, exactly? "I don’t want to give anything away," Barnes writes, "but I will say it is going to be an event." If Of Montreal’s past appearances and the new, neighborhood theater–esque video for "Heimdalsgate" are any indication, it’s gonna be a goddamn show, man. *


Thurs/1, 9:30 p.m., sold out

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

Also Fri/2–Sat/3, 9 p.m., $16

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750


Abandoned planet


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Read Kimberly Chun’s interview with Werner Herzog here.

I thought for sure the next Werner Herzog movie I’d be writing about would be Rescue Dawn, a harrowing POW drama (and a remake of his 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly) due out in late March. But here’s a nugget of très Herzogian weirdness to tide you over: The Wild Blue Yonder, which first screened locally in conjunction with the director’s 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival appearance. Is there any other filmmaker so prolific and creatively diverse working today? Find me one, and I’ll tie on a bandana, retreat to the woods, and name foxes after myself. "Everything that has to do with movies, I love," Herzog imparted on that fateful day at the Castro Theatre amid a discussion that also included a reference to WrestleMania (which he brought up multiple times).

That tacky influence isn’t evident in Yonder, dubbed "a science fiction fantasy" onscreen. The pseudodoc plays like 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with What the Bleep Do We Know? (not to imply that it sucks as emphatically as the latter, but there are certain similarities). Unlike many experimental works, it has a narrative throughline, with Brad Dourif as an agitated refugee from another galaxy. Seems the "alien founding fathers" traveled to Earth when their home planet — a watery wonderworld with communicative wildlife — started dying. As it turns out, attempts to colonize Earth were less than successful. "We aliens all suck," Dourif’s unnamed pioneer laments, pacing in front of what was to be the alien version of Washington, DC (really some abandoned buildings huddled in a forgotten rural wasteland). "We’re failures!" Meanwhile, human astronauts strike out on their own exploratory mission, ironically earmarking Dourif’s homeland as a possible annex for our civilization.

The notions of a ruined planet and a population desperate to survive play both ways, of course — no matter who the native or the alien is. Herzog’s theme of environmental preservation is further underlined by the remarkable footage he uses to illustrate the abandoned planet, taken beneath ice caps in the Antarctic Ocean. This strange environment could be outer space, and indeed it offers a dreamier take on interstellar travel than the actual NASA footage Herzog uses, of shuttle astronauts in polo shirts and tube socks going about their zero-gravity business.

As Dourif’s voice-over grows more mournful and confrontational, a handful of real-life mathematicians step in for talking-head duty, explaining, among other things, the positive aspects of chaos, the concept of interplanetary superhighways, and theories about colonizing space. One PhD imagines the best way to help humans acclimate to outer limits would be to build a giant shopping mall in space — effectively obliterating anything resembling a fresh start for a population that has nearly ruined itself through overconsumption. Thing is, he’s probably right.

At the SFIFF, Herzog explained that he’s "too Bavarian" to make the Robert Johnson doc that’s been on his mind. But he’s not one to shy away from daring music choices; The Wild Blue Yonder‘s eerie, otherworldly mise-en-scène is heightened tenfold by Ernst Reijsiger’s haunting avant-garde score. If aliens ever do make it to Earth — if they’re not already here, that is — and they’re in the market for a documentarian, they need only see Yonder to know Herzog has the necessary cosmonautical chops. *


Sun/4–Tues/6, $5–$8.50

See Rep Clock for showtimes

Red Vic Movie House

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994



Grizzly spawn


First off, an embarrassing disclaimer: I’m not a Werner Herzog groupie — I just want him to be my grandpa. I’d like him to take me on long rambles over misty mountaintops, through the ice, snow, and sand; teach me about his ecstatic yet jeopardy-strewn path; and push me to jump into cacti, dance with chickens, and come out with poetry on the other side. And yet, as all good UFO films go, I suspect I’m not alone. Even if my cinematic family wish were fulfilled, I’d probably still be clamoring for my visionary gramps’s attention alongside all the other wannabe spiritual offspring — considering the rapturous reception of his 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, and the many reverent audience members hanging on Herzog’s every utterance last year at the San Francisco International Film Festival screening of his 52nd directorial effort, The Wild Blue Yonder. I spoke to the 64-year-old Bavarian filmmaker (né W.H. Stipetic), who has lived in the Bay Area but is now based in Los Angeles, the day after his April 26 onstage interview — he hasn’t agreed to my little adoption fantasy yet, but green ants can dream, can’t they? (Kimberly Chun)

SFBG The music in The Wild Blue Yonder is so amazing. What came first, the soundtrack or the beautiful underwater footage by Henry Kaiser?

WERNER HERZOG In this case the music was created first to establish a rhythm, to establish a climate, to establish a mood, and to establish, also strangely enough, a vision — because listening to this music in particular led to a very clear vision.

Of course, there was a complicated story on how I entered into the project. It started out with some sort of a documentary about the space probe Galileo and the scientists, and I followed up with the space probe the Mars Rover, and I got very curious, and I witnessed it at Mission Control at Pasadena, and that was very fascinating, but I always felt there was more in it. I started to dig deeper into it, and I discovered footage that astronauts shot in 1989 on 16mm celluloid, and these astronauts actually deployed Galileo, and all of a sudden the entire documentary about Galileo was discarded, and I went straight for the visions and for the science fiction movie, which emerged very clearly, very rapidly.

SFBG What was it about the footage that drew you?

WH Well, we’ve seen quite a bit of footage sometimes on evening news on television, sometimes in special programs by Discovery or National Geographic, and you see astronauts in space, but you never see anything like what they filmed back on that mission — with such vision and beauty and such a strange intensity. And of course, neither Discovery nor National Geographic has the patience in their films to look at a shot that goes uncut and uninterrupted for two minutes, 40 seconds, which is an endless time on air. They show snippets of 15 seconds maximum, and that’s about it. The beauty only evolves when the take rolls on and on and you’re moving from the cargo bay into the command module and drifting by the weirdest sort of things.

People ask me, "Is this a science fiction film?" And I say, "Yes, it is. But do not expect a science fiction film like Star Trek — this is a science fiction fantasy. It’s more like a poem. Expect a poem or expect a space oratorio."

SFBG Where did you first hear music for the film?

WH I had not heard it. I created it. My idea was to put Sardinian singers together with a cello player from Holland [Ernst Reijseger] and add a singer from Senegal [Mola Sylla] who sings in his native language, Wolof. So no one has ever heard this music, and no one would have believed the combination of these three elements would work.

SFBG You talk about long shots being unheard of on TV. But in a lot of ways you’ve created a music video, though MTV might be considered the polar opposite of what you do. Or do you have an affinity for MTV?

WH I think MTV would love the film. Truly, they would love it. [Pauses] Er, I may be wrong. But I could imagine that the people who watch MTV would love the film.

SFBG At the [2006 SFIFF event] you mentioned liking a film about people in Mexico on spring break. Is that the Real World feature, The Real Cancun?

WH Yes, and I liked the film because it was so focused. There was no pretentiousness at all. The only question was who would get laid first. You see so many pretentious films and phony films, and I don’t like that.

SFBG Do you like reality TV?

WH No, but I do watch it. The poet must not avert his eyes. You have to see what is moving the hearts of people around you. You have to understand what’s going on. You have to understand the real world around you — and also the imaginary world around you. The collective dreams. The collective paranoia.

SFBG All of which is involved in getting laid, I suppose.

WH Oh no, when I spoke of collective paranoia I had in mind the fact that three million Americans claim that they had encountered aliens and 400,000 women have allegedly claimed to have been abducted and gang-raped by aliens. My question is, why are 90 percent of them over 300 pounds? The real question is more interesting, though: Why have we never heard of any report of an alien abduction and gang rape in Ethiopia? Why is that? And so now I’m opening the doors wide to your answers. [Chuckles]

SFBG One might believe, watching The Wild Blue Yonder, that you’re willing to entertain the idea that aliens exist.

WH No, I’m fascinated by it because it points to some very strange paranoia that is only possible in our kind of civilization. This is why it never happens in Ethiopia and Bangladesh. To understand our civilization, we have to understand collective paranoia, collective dreams, a world out there that’s completely artificial in both reality and in our collective perception of reality.

SFBG At the event many people brought up a recent New Yorker story on the shoot for Rescue Dawn [which will be released this spring]. Did you agree with that piece’s perspective on the contentiousness of your own film crew and how they fought you?

WH No, no, it always happens that you sometimes have to deal with adversity here and there. In this case, strangely, much of the crew had never worked with me, and there were more the kind of film school types, and of course, there was some sort of opposition. But it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I’ve always done the kind of film that I really wanted to do and that I’m capable of doing.

What was really bad, for example, was the set of Stroszek, because that was a team that had worked with me for more than a decade. They all hated the film! And they thought it was ridiculous and that I should stop doing this. It happens.

SFBG Perhaps it’s that collective paranoia …

WH No, you just have to ignore it and do your work and deliver. And [Stroszek] is one of my finest films. They all, at the end, understood it was right what I did. And when Rescue Dawn is completed — it has such a physical life in it and such intensity — they will all understand. *

For more of Herzog’s interview, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.


Les goofballs


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO How many calories in a Quaalude? Who’s the secretary of the interior? The sexy nurse’s tits pop out of her too-snug latex uniform, a lewd sneer twisting her face, and my mind begins to wander gloriously — up past the ass-licking performance artiste, his cheesy beret slipping sideways as he rapidly splashes acrylic down a huge vertical canvas; over the heads of the middle-aged guys dressed as pirates, ecstatically frugging to a bebop reverb saxophone solo; quick left at the grope-a-clown booth; and through the ceiling of DNA Lounge, into a nighttime of odd ruminations. This is probably dangerous. As leapfrogging fire twirlers quickly suck the oxygen from the club, I realize that I’d simply die if my last, strangulated thought was: wow, the more we upload exotic animals onto digital film, the more they seem to disappear from the earth.

Ladies and gentleman, a bohemian rhapsody.

Appropriate, since me and Hunky Beau are at Bohemian Carnival, the breathtaking, burner-inflected monthly hosted by Boenobo the Klown, ringmaster of local audio headtrippers Gooferman, and Mike Gaines, director of the erotically acrobatic Vau de Vire Society. You want trapezes? They’ll give you trapezes.

Through a series of regular off-the-wall club nights, DNA Lounge has transformed itself into a weekend costume party — goth kids in Doom-era gamer kilts one night, mashup sluts in Santa suits another — and Bohemian Carnival hews to that theme: it looks like Costumes on Haight exploded in here. I’ve never been a fan of store-bought transgression — I’m allergic to polymer pink bobs and rainbow boas, or rainboas. Still, hey, it’s probably really hard for straight people to get freaky and still look cool, so go for it! At least it’s not a bunch of prissy gays in $400 jeans or North Beach guys in swirly shirts with moulding mud-stained collars. Thank goddess for cheap dyna.

The whole vaudeville-circus club thing — a stunning contortionist here, a bearded lady go-go dancer there, bared cleavage everywhere — has blown up big-time. One might even posit that its moment has passed as an underground trend (the $15 cover charge at DNA could be evidence of this if the night weren’t such an expensive-looking spectacle), but since it all sprang from two of our native mainstays, Burning Man and burlesque, it’s not tanking any time soon in San Francisco — and I’m glad for that, ’cause it’s kind of freakin’ fascinating.

Sure, as the carefully staged bacchanal spins before me and the day-job techies get wild, there are the usual thoughts to fixate on: How Burning Man drops the spirituality and focuses on the crudely sexual when translated into a night club. How stereotypes of gender and race — if not necessarily class — collapse and re-form in a swirl of burlesquing desire. How people with amazing muscular tricks can finally find an appreciative audience. How flammable my dress was…. But there are some surprises here too. Imagine my shocked tingle when, on entering, I was greeted by an extended slam-poetic freestyle from MC Jamie De Wolf, hooted on from the sidelines by a crew of suburban-looking gangsters. Has hip-hop — albeit white hip-hop (an upcoming Bohemian Carnival features heartthrob beat-boxer Kid Beyond) — finally entered the Burning Man vocabulary? And a bubbly house set by DJ Smoove brought quite a bit more soul to the dance floor than I ever thought possible at such events. Nice.

Another surprise: more Las Vegas connections on the 11th Street corridor. While uppity clubs like Loft 11 unabashedly pimp Vegas show–style rock nights, Bohemian Carnival’s concept sprang from the legendary 2005 Vegoose Festival, where Boenobo and Gaines hosted VdV’s Twisted Cabaret for 80,000 people. Vegas, hip-hop, house — I guess I should have known. Burning Man’s prime notion is to filter the far-flung fabulosities of pop culture through X-ray goofy glasses; clubs like Bohemian Carnival reduce them to a steamy spot of light. Well, goof on, say I. *


Third Sat., 9 p.m.–4 a.m., $15

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF







En plein air


› paulr@sfbg.com

If every neighborhood needs a neighborhood bistro, then every neighborhood bistro needs a neighborhood. And is there a neighborhood in the city more charmingly neighborhoody than Cole Valley, the little hamlet tucked in a cleft of the hills near UCSF and fitted out with every romantic accoutrement, from a railway station (Muni’s N-Judah line stops at Cole and Carl after emerging from a mysterious tunnel) to a sunlit boulangerie with well-worn floorboards? The neighborhood’s village center is, like that of neighboring Noe Valley, replete with amenities, including a hardware store and a plethora of interesting restaurants (from a hamburger stand to a sushi bar), but a certain serenity has survived; there are fewer baby strollers and fewer speeding SUVs careering around corners with frenzied drivers shrieking into cell phones than over the hill. While 24th Street, over the last decade, has acquired a Marina patina, or mania, Cole Valley remains one of the most Parisian of the city’s enclaves, a village and city at once.

And it has one of the most Parisian of the city’s many neighborhood French bistros: Zazie, which opened in 1992 and changed hands two years ago, with no apparent drop in atmospherics or quality of food. My overwhelming impression of the restaurant a decade ago was one of narrowness, as if I might stretch out my arms and touch the walls on either side ("the restaurant equivalent of a galley kitchen" was my long-ago phrase). Of course it isn’t really that narrow; snug is more like it, but then, the tendency of memory is to exaggerate. The dining room, with its pair of window alcoves, accommodates about 20 tables of varying sizes, while in the back, past the bar, is a door that opens onto a secret garden, raised and enclosed. The enclosure is softened by bougainvillea and hundreds of little white lights, like stars, while a forest of gas heaters keeps the winter chill at bay even in the evening. If there is one respect in which it’s clearly better to be a French bistro here than in Paris, it has to do with the feasibility of dining under the heavens in January.

Our winters might be milder than those of northern France, but even mild winter weather has its chilly edge, and if you’re eating outdoors, you’re going to want some reinforcement beyond what the heaters can provide. As luck would have it, Zazie’s menu is full of discreetly muscular treats, including a first-rate French onion soup ($6), made with a deeply tasty beef stock sweetened by the slow cooking of the onions and capped by a pad of melted Gruyère cheese, and a chicken liver pâté spread on toasted levain and notable for its whipped-butter consistency.

The pâté appeared, for us, as the first act of a three-course, $19.50 prix fixe. You have your choice from among several — though not all — of the menu’s starters, main courses, and desserts; the permissible terrain is marked off with little asterisks. In a bow to the small-plate-tapas-sharing vogue, the restaurant also offers a $16 starter-sampler platter whose constituents you choose from an approved group. Since I was in the company of a beet lover, we went for the full-scale salade betterave ($8), a gorgeous still-life bundling of red and gold beet coins, avocado wedges, fennel shavings, and mixed greens, the whole thing lightly showered with a vinaigrette of white balsamic and flecks of gorgonzola. Although beets are beautiful to look at, like glistening jewels, I will never love their slightly geutf8ous texture, and the grace of this salad was the presence of everything besides the beets themselves.

Not all the food is French, though most of it is, and the non-Gallic stuff can show a French touch. There is a Zazie burger, as well as a not-tiny crock of macaroni and cheese ($4, and a deal) in which the presence of béchamel (un-American, in a good way) was revealed by a whiff of nutmeg. As for the Provençal fish soup (a prix fixe player), it could easily have been called a stew by virtue of its potato-thickened, slightly spicy red-pepper broth and would have sufficed as a light main course even without the chunks of snapper filet and handful of mussels. Additional spiciness appeared in the form of a trio of toasts smeared with rouille. We were warned against eating the toasts straight out — "Too spicy!" said the comely server — so I was naturally obliged to eat one straight out. I found some heat, nothing unmanageable. The other two toasts were dropped off at the pool as per instructions.

The joy of the prix fixe does ebb down the home stretch. For dessert we were asked to choose between some kind of fruit crumble and a chocolat pot de crème, and since we are confessed chocoholics, this was no choice at all, though we did manage to agonize about it for a few minutes. The pot de crème turned out to be fine in an unremarkable way: a rich, smooth chocolate pudding topped by a generous dollop of whipped cream and served in a handsome crock of white porcelain. As someone who has reached that point in life where the ideal dessert is a taste or two (often of someone else’s), not a massive portion to be consumed solo, I can’t say I was disappointed.

Zazie’s many other graces include knowledgeable, friendly, well-timed table service that seamlessly extends to the garden — always a serious test — and a brisk but sophisticated wine list that features some by-the-glass possibilities you seldom see, including a Quincy and a white Graves, the Bordeaux blend of sauvignon and semillon. The prices for these wines are more than reasonable, as are the restaurant’s prices generally — a welcome bit of proof that superior food and service at a fair price is not yet a paradox, at least not in some neighborhoods.


Mon.–Thurs., 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

941 Cole, SF

(415) 564-5332


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Missed connections


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS My new favorite songwriter is my old friend NFC, which BTW stands for "new friend Catherine," not National Football Conference. Of course, I sometimes call her Ms. Conference or National or Nat just to confuse matters. And to confuse matters further, I’m rooting for her in the Super Bowl.

So while these people are going, "Go, Colts!" and those ones are going, "Yay, Bears!" I’ll be sandwiched between them on the sofa, with my fingers crossed and my knees all a-rattle, going, Catherine, Catherine, Catherine, come on, Catherine!

Probably under my breath — in case anyone still wants to invite me to their Super Bowl party.

Confession: I’ve been neglecting my old friends in order to meet new people. And the more new people I meet, the more I love my old friends. I can’t decide whether this makes me a people person or a misanthrope, so let’s just stick with chicken farmer for now.

NFC, my new favorite songwriter, only has three songs. For as long as I’ve known her, she has had the same three songs, and we sit in her heater room with coffee and guitars and a cat named Juicy Toots, rewriting and rewriting them. She rewrites. I close my eyes and concentrate on having an opinion. This one used to be a folk song. Now it’s the blues. That one has a slightly different melody. The other has a new, improved bridge, retrofitted to withstand earthquakes and open mic jitters.

By the time she dies, NFC will have either the three most exquisitely perfect musical compositions ever written or a very bad headache. My money, as usual, is on both. But that’s not what I wanted to tease her about.

I wanted to tease her about a certain evening we spent together recently. It was the coldest Thursday on record. Ever. Anywhere. Many of my dearest, warmest, longstandingest loved ones were gathering out at Gaspare’s to break pizza in honor of our prodigal pal One-Cents. I chose instead to accompany NFC to a house concert in Oakland. Where I wouldn’t know anyone.

Which is how I like it, my top priority in life these days being my unreasonable, hopeless, quixotic quest for romance, the kind with nudity in it. And that just ain’t going to happen between me and my friends, I’m afeard. (And they’re relieved.)

So: new people, I’m thinking. Girls! Boys! Boths! Couples with a sense of adventure! Single people with a sense of humor! Sensitive artists with a sense of worthlessness! House concert! Yay!!!

Come to find over preshow dinner at Manzanita that our hostess, NFC’s friend, is 80 and that everyone else at the party will be senior citizens, except us.

"Oh," I said. I love old people. "What about the bands?" I asked.

"Only one. My friend’s son," NFC said. "He’s visiting from Nashville."

Mind you, this news is broken to me at Manzanita, which is an organic vegan macrobiotic joint, two big cities and a cold, cold bay away from Gaspare’s, where all my other friends in the world are just then deciding what all to put on all their extralarge pizzas. Sausage, I’m thinking.


"Yum. Aren’t these whole grains and unseasoned greens delicious?" my new favorite songwriter asks, sprinkling a shaker of almost tasteless toasted brown things all over her plate, in lieu of salt and pepper.

I’m thinking: olives, pepperoni. Salad with salad dressing on it. "Yes! Delicious!" I say. And I really do clean my plate and enjoy it. And feel pretty good, kind of.

I love my friend NFC, and I love old folks and country music. But it turns out Ms. Conference had the wrong night. The house concert wasn’t until Saturday. I probably could have gotten across town, over the bridge, and across town again to the Richmond in time for a glass of wine and some crust, except that NFC’s friend invited us in anyway, bless her heart, and her son, bless his, played a whole set of his new country originals, by way of rehearsal.

We sat on the couch with cookies and water and watched and listened with big, big smiles on our faces, and I wouldn’t trade this cracked, cold Thursday for any Thursday in the world. *


Lunch: daily, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner: daily, 5:30–9 p.m.

4001 Linden, Oakl.

(510) 985-8386.

Takeout and catering available

No alcohol



Wheelchair accessible


Newer skin


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

Who would have thought that the column with the letter from the guy who was contemputf8g gluing his dick shut to spare his wife contact with his precome would have garnered so much attention?

Mainly, I got suggestions for changing the flavor of semen (nobody but me seemed to notice that it was not semen but Cowper’s gland fluid that was bugging them), most involving pineapple juice. This subject has been covered and covered but suffice it to say that some people get good results with pineapple juice or parsley or figs wrapped in prosciutto or whatever the experts are suggesting these days, and others diligently down the stuff and remain pretty gamy. The last time I wrote about this I made fun of Yum-Cum or whatever, that powdered stuff that was hawked all over the Web a few years ago; I heard back from some indignant executive for Yum-Cum who wanted to send me a sample, but my lab partner wasn’t having any of that.

Precome is pretty near flavorless, and if someone’s were actively raunchy, I’d be sending that dude straight to urology. I assumed that the wife was just an unusually delicate flower, a princess and the pee hole, if you will, but when body fluids are a little too piquant, I recommend starting with lots of water and fewer bitter alkaloids such as nicotine and caffeine before making any dire dietary changes. Ingesting lots of fresh, sweet fruits and vegetables is rather nice, though; so by all means, eat up if the spirit moves you.

After the pineapple juice people, the next guy suggested a thumb cot, which is pretty much the same suggestion as a condom rolled down to cover only the head, except nobody seems to carry (or make?) thumb cots. Finger cots, sure. The only thumb cots I could find were wool-lined, and that just cannot be good. I did find a rather startling product, though: Finger Gloves. They are eight to ten times thicker than a finger cot, so are probably not ideal for our purposes, but they "snugly conform," and the Web site, www.fingergloves.com, is strangely alluring — rather beautifully designed and given to eccentric but persuasive pronouncements of product virtue: "Can be utilized during virtually any circumstance. A contingency where rigid inflexible tools awkwardly struggle." I’m not at all sure to what sexual purpose Finger Gloves might properly be put, but I urge someone to figure it out.

And then there was this guy, whose letter I present chopped to bits, as it was about eleventy billion paragraphs long.

You missed one suggestion that’s perfect for this guy, and it’s a big miss — from Mantak Chia’s book Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy, "External Locking: the Three Fingers Method."

A man can press an area near the perineum right before the point of ejaculation. [Complicated instructions, etc.] He still has wonderful orgasms, except this external pressure blocks the semen from shooting out the penis and into his wife’s mouth. It gets reabsorbed into the body (and doesn’t leave a man in that worn-out, must-sleep post-come state, either). I did this for a few months, and it was amazing — come without the mess.

You can get to the point where you can do it with your internal musculature, but that takes a lot of training. There are more amazing benefits to it, but one of those will be keeping his foul-tasting semen from his wife’s mouth. I’m sorry, but it sounds like you’re not empathizing with how much a layer of latex decreases the sensitivity of a penis. He wanted uncovered penis solutions, not creative condom usage.

Anyway, he should practice it solo before giving it a try with the partner.

You must know about Chia’s The Multiorgasmic Man. I’ll assume you have ignored his earlier works because their Taoist approach brought you horrid visions of new age, aikido-practicing, vibing, oversensitive, and completely unfuckable men.

Yep, right on the money there, chum. I’m not opposed to Taoist-tantric-shamanistic-kabbalistic-woohooistic ways of knowing, as long as I don’t have to practice them myself. I do know people who have learned some pretty advanced tricks (sorry, I do think of them as tricks, like eating light bulbs or squirting water out your eye) that way. I do believe this writer when he claims to have successfully cultivated a habit of retrograde ejaculation, the only remaining question is, why bother? All the theories about the benefits of conserving precious bodily fluids kind of fall apart when you realize that the body is saving exactly nothing — no calories, no nutrients, no effort — by depositing semen into the bladder instead of into a wad of dirty laundry. It’s a little less messy is all. The other "amazing benefits" are ineffable as well as unquantifiable and unfalsifiable, being more in your head than in your pants. But hey, you go. It still won’t help our guy, though, since it wasn’t semen. It was precome, and I dare you to stop precome by humming at it and poking yourself in the perineum.



Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.

Bias on eBay


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Complain about eBay all you like — and I’m sure you have — but the gigantic online auction site has done a few things right. The company has proven that you can create a community where strangers exchange large sums of money and most of the time nobody gets burned. It’s all because of eBay’s reputation system, the software that allows sellers and buyers to give each other feedback ratings. Nobody does business on eBay without a tail of data following behind them, packed with information about what the community thinks of their trustworthiness. Oh how I wish that people in real life had such easily accessed tails.

The cool part of having these reputation tails is that anyone can study them and look for patterns. Often, what eBay researchers find reveals more about life offline than it does about how to make the winning bid for the rare Star Trek Voyager Captain Janeway–as–evolved slug dolls.

University of Maryland researcher Chrysanthos Dellarocas recently told me how eBay reputations may be falsely inflated because people are unwilling to say mean things. He and his colleague Chuck A. Wood wrote a paper on what they call the "sound of silence" in online feedback. That silence is made by all the people who don’t add their opinions to the reputation tails. That absence of feedback, Dellarocas argues, allows certain people to garner better reputations than they should. Dellarocas says he detected a strong reporting bias in reputations on eBay and speculates that people who leave feedback are statistically more likely to be positive in their comments. Those who remain silent are likely to have squelched an urge to make a negative comment — either because they fear retribution in the form of negative scores added to their own reputation rating or because it’s simply less socially acceptable to make negative comments.

To fix this problem, Dellarocas is consulting on a start-up called TheGorb, which is all about allowing people to leave feedback anonymously. The site will let users create reputation tails for professionals such as doctors and lawyers and have the option to leave anonymous comments. Dellarocas is hoping that anonymity will solve the silence vulnerability and allow people to be more candid about the service they’ve gotten. With access to more honest reputation rankings, the people who use TheGoob have a better chance of finding a genuinely good doctor.

Meanwhile, two University of Michigan researchers, Paul Resnick and Tapan Khopkar, have just done some interesting experiments measuring the difference between the ways Indian and American citizens interact with eBay. Apparently, Indians are far less likely than people from the United States to trust sellers. The reputation ratings on eBay India reflect this. Sellers get far more negative feedback. A ranking of 93 percent positive, which would be a death knell on the US eBay, is considered a worthy score on eBay India. Khopkar also found that Indians are more willing than people from the US to buy from sellers they don’t trust. "Indians were willing to send money even if they believed there was only an 80 percent chance that they’d actually get the item they bought," Khopkar says.

In controlled experiments with recent Indian emigrants and US nationals using an eBay-like system, Resnick and Khopkar found that 74 percent of people from the US were trusting enough to buy from strangers, while only 56 percent of Indians were. Khopkar speculates that this difference could be traced to the fact that India is a much more community-oriented culture than the US. Perhaps cultural influences make Indians less likely to trust strangers online because those strangers are perceived as being outside one’s trusted community. In the US, where individualism is intensely valued, there may be more willingness to give cash to unknown people.

In light of Dellarocas’s research, however, it’s also possible to argue that Indians are just more honest than Americans in their feedback. Perhaps if people in the US didn’t silence their criticisms, eBay US would look more like eBay India. Most reputations tails on eBay US show 99 percent good feedback, which seems far too cheery to be realistic. And possibly these unrealistic reputation tails are leading to unwise levels of trust in US consumers. EBay India may be less nicey-nice, but it sounds like its consumers are more willing to give balanced feedback. Frankly, I’d rather live in a world of slightly less trust than one where critics silence themselves. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who has never bought anything on eBay but has purchased countless books from strangers on alibris.com.

Where’s the beef on LGBT issues?


OPINION Common wisdom says that Mayor Gavin Newsom has forever endeared himself to the LGBT community by issuing marriage licenses to queer couples shortly after coming into office in 2004. Even though a state court later declared those licenses invalid (the city is appealing), Newsom’s popularity among queers doesn’t appear to have diminished. This is despite the fact that the Newsom administration has actually done little in terms of some of the major issues facing the community.

Let’s take a look at a few of those issues:

Housing for people with AIDS. A couple months after the "winter of love" at City Hall, Newsom appointed Jeff Sheehy as AIDS czar. An AIDS activist and former hate-crime-victim advocate in the District Attorney’s Office, Sheehy was supposed to help the mayor formulate AIDS policies. But it was a volunteer position, and the major concern of people with AIDS — affordable housing — was never addressed. Two years later Sheehy resigned the post. Meanwhile, the city’s affordable housing crisis still leaves many low-income people with AIDS desperately scrambling for a place to live after they are evicted by real estate speculators looking for a quick buck in the tenancy-in-common market. The situation is so bad that the AIDS Housing Alliance dubbed the Castro "the AIDS eviction capital of the world."

Liaison to the LGBT community. Apparently, former mayor Joe Alioto initiated this position in 1973. Newsom’s appointment was not a community activist but someone who worked in advertising. Founder of Gays for Gavin in the 2003 mayoral election campaign, James "Jimmer" Cassiol served for almost two years before he too resigned. His major duty seemed to be representing the mayor at LGBT functions.

Homelessness among queer youth. While Newsom is quick to tout his Care Not Cash and Operation Homeless Connect programs as solutions to one of the city’s most enduring and heartbreaking problems, he failed to mention youth in general and queer youth in particular in his recent state of homelessness address. To date, only a handful of queer youth have received city-sponsored housing — in a hotel on Market Street, which Castro supervisor Bevan Dufty secured. More hotel rooms are supposedly on the way.

Affordable housing for seniors. A proposed Market-Octavia Openhouse project for queer seniors won’t actually provide housing for those who need it the most: people with incomes below 50 percent of the area median income. The Newsom administration has done little to alleviate the lack of affordable housing for seniors, especially queer ones.

As the old woman in the ’70s commercials used to ask, where’s the beef? When it comes to queer issues, there is none. There’s certainly a lot of talk, many public appearances by the mayor and his representatives at queer functions, and the general promotion by Newsom and his staff of the idea that in San Francisco the LGBT community matters.

But if you’re poor, a senior, or homeless, it’s a different story altogether. *

Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, southern Italian, working-class queer performer, writer, and activist whose work can be seen at www.avicollimecca.com.

Between the sheets


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

The changes are already well on their way. Dozens of layoffs have occurred. Offices are being consolidated. Fewer reporters are writing stories, which appear in several local newspapers under the single corporate byline "MediaNews Staff."

A few more details have since leaked out: the Hearst Corp., which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, has talked about joint advertising sales with its supposed competitor, Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group, which owns almost all the other big dailies in the Bay Area.

Some sources predict Hearst may share printing facilities with Singleton. The two might ultimately divide the entire Bay Area into isolated markets and avoid one another’s turf. The Singleton papers could even scrap their Sunday editions, leaving that market entirely to Hearst.

Nobody outside the corporate suites of the nation’s top newspaper barons knows exactly what’s true and what’s speculation right now. But it’s clear there’s a move afoot to end all daily newspaper competition in the region — and the public hasn’t been privy to any of it.

That may be about to change.

An order by Federal Judge Susan Illston handed down Jan. 24 has opened up key company records that will likely further confirm how Hearst, Singleton, and some of the nation’s biggest media players are conspiring to turn the Bay Area into a homogenized news market.

The records — which will likely be released shortly after the Guardian‘s press deadline — are part of a lawsuit filed by local real estate investor Clint Reilly, who wants to block the deal that allowed Singleton to control the Contra Costa Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent Journal, and the San Mateo County Times, along with a bunch of other smaller papers.

There have been hints that some of the documents filed as part of that suit portray a plan by Hearst and Singleton to form some sort of alliance. But since almost everything in the case has been filed under court seal, it’s hard to tell exactly what the truth is.

The Guardian, along with the East Bay nonprofit Media Alliance, intervened in the case in December, asking Illston to open documents in the suit. The publishers, who had initially insisted nearly every scrap of paper was some sort of protected trade secret, quickly backed down, agreeing to release much of the information. And last week Illston ordered them to release some of the rest.

In the end, Jim Wheaton of the First Amendment Project, who represents the Guardian and Media Alliance, says 90 percent of the key material in the suit will be made public.

The documents that are set for public release still need to be refiled, a process that’s under way. They’ll be posted at www.sfbg.com the moment they’re available.

Already, the news coverage of this case has demonstrated how bad journalism would be if the Bay Area had no daily competition.

When Illston released her decision, two headlines appeared on the Chronicle‘s Web site, www.sfgate.com. One, from the Associated Press, announced, "MediaNews, Hearst Lawsuit Documents Remain Sealed." The Chronicle‘s own staff reported, "Some MediaNews Data Released — Judge Says Other Documents in Reilly Suit to Stay Sealed."

The conclusion of both stories was the same: the Guardian and Media Alliance had essentially lost. Very little material would be unsealed.

And despite the different perspectives in the headlines, neither story got it right.

"MediaNews Group and Hearst were asked by Media Alliance and the Guardian before they intervened to unseal everything. They declined to unseal anything," Wheaton said. "But as soon as Media Alliance and the Guardian moved to intervene and unseal, MediaNews and Hearst surrendered on almost all the sealed documents. They fought only to keep some parts of five exhibits and one brief sealed, which comprised 19 separate excerpts [of which six were duplicates, leaving only 13 distinct items]."

And all but a few pages of those documents will now be released to the public. They will almost certainly offer a broader picture of the relationship between the Bay Area’s top media bedfellows.

Wheaton has asked both the Chron and the AP for a correction. Mark Rochester, assistant bureau chief for the AP in San Francisco, told Wheaton by e-mail that a clarification would not be "useful to member news organizations." We’re waiting to hear from the Chron. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Dean Singleton is slated to take over as chair of the AP this spring.

Illston also agreed to allow the Guardian and Media Alliance to remain as interveners, or parties to the suit, giving the two organizations the right to challenge any future secrecy.

For example, the interveners might seek to unseal the depositions Reilly attorney Joe Alioto took of top executives at the companies last week.

Hearst and MediaNews have claimed they need to protect some records to avoid giving competitors access to proprietary financial information. But the chains are hardly normal competitors.

Singleton reached a secret agreement with Hearst in 1995 to shutter the Houston Post and sell its assets to Hearst for $120 million, for instance. The deal gave Hearst’s Houston Chronicle significant control over the southern Texas metropolis and its sizable suburbs before the two companies continued their westward expansion hand in hand.

In a downright hilarious side note, attorneys for the Chronicle managed to convince a Santa Clara County superior court judge in January to open confidential court documents in a shareholder suit filed against Silicon Valley–based Mercury Interactive, one of the first companies rocked by allegations that it had improperly backdated stock options for some of its top executives.

Chronicle attorney Karl Olson at the time righteously denounced attempts by attorneys for Mercury and its former executives, three of whom were fired during the height of the backdating firestorm, to seal court records detailing one of the more lurid executive-enrichment scandals to hit Wall Street in recent years (see "Off the Record," 1/10/2007).

Calls to seven people up and down MediaNews and Hearst, from attorneys to executives, weren’t returned. We’ve even tried to reach CoCo Times executive editor Kevin Keane on his cell phone, but he wouldn’t comment for us despite complaints he’d made about the East Bay Express not giving him a chance to respond to similar stories. *