Volume 41 Number 39

June 27 – July 3, 2007

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Nuggets of Water



One Year

A genuine lost classic from 1971 — full of feathery, jazz-inflected vocals and sublime melodies — from the dejected Zombies vocalist after he had resigned himself to life behind a desk at an insurance office. "She Loves the Way They Love Her" picks up precisely where Blunstone’s disassembled ensemble left off, with weaving boogie-woogie and an angelic chorus that dips its wings in soul’s waters. Utterly gorgeous string arrangements by Chris Gunning and occasionally Tony Visconti, plenty of production help from ex-bandmates Rod Argent and Chris White, and Blunstone’s limpid songwriting make One Year necessary listening for pop romantics. And the chamber elegy "Misty Roses," the up-on-the-downbeat "Caroline Goodbye," and the impressionistic "Smokey Day" — driven skyward by intertwined vocals from the three ex-Zombies — are bound to besot those who swoon over Odessey and Oracle, Nick Drake, and other assorted instances of beauty and sadness. (Kimberly Chun)


The Time Has Come

Mythologized among British folk vocalists like Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, depicted as something of an enfant sauvage of the ’60s folk scene in Joe Boyd’s memoir White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, and valorized by indies like PG Six and Isobel Campbell, Anne Briggs put down so little recorded music that it’s hardly any wonder she’s nearly disappeared into the dirt and mists of remote Scotland, where she’s said to be currently sequestered. But this, her last, exquisite album (1971), embellished with little more than and acoustic guitar and the occasional bouzouki, shows what the fuss was about, as Briggs wraps her pure, unpretentious pipes round the original title track — also recorded by her partner in music and lifestyle, Bert Jansch, as well as Alan Price and Pentangle — and "Wishing Well," her dark take, cowritten with Jansch, on the seduced and abandoned leitmotif of "Blackwater Side." Traditional English folk songs rarely get as mesmerizing as her ghostly version of "Standing on the Shore." (Chun)


Seize the Time

Polemical music has the potential to either go down in the songbooks and history tomes as an artifact linked forever with a critical place and time or fail miserably, stumbling over its grandiose ambitions (e.g., the many anti–George W. Bush CDs of recent vintage filed in ye olde circular file). The music on the powerful Seize the Time hasn’t yet taken its place next to "This Land Is Your Land," but it does offer an invaluable snapshot from the front lines of the black power movement. Elaine Brown’s robust delivery of odes penned for fallen Black Panther brethren, the party’s national anthem, and entreaties to continue the struggle finds handsome, tempered accompaniment at the hands of jazz pianist Horace Tapscott. A moving, amazingly graceful document. (Chun)


Music for Michelangelo Antonioni

Nino Rota’s ornate Federico Fellini tunes have gotten the deluxe reissue treatment, Goblin’s spook sounds have been revived as often as Suspiria‘s Elaina Marcos, and Ennio Morricone sections in record stores are rightfully enormous. Even Pino Donaggio’s scores have had worthy second lives. But until now Giovanni Fusco’s subtler work for a director who avoided music whenever possible, Michelangelo Antonioni, has been easiest to find on DVD. Dominated by the flute flights from 1959’s L’Avventura, this collection closes with Fusco’s casino rockabilly and protoambient contributions to 1964’s Red Desert. A pioneering work in terms of its blurring of diegetic and nondiegetic sound, that film is also the great prototype for Todd Haynes’s Safe, in which malaise-ridden Antonioni muse Monica Vitti utters the great line "My hair hurts." (Johnny Ray Huston)


Gilberto Gil

A letter of exile from London in the wake of months of unjust imprisonment imposed by the Brazilian government, this English-language recording possesses a warmth and sensitivity one wouldn’t expect from someone who’d been through Gil’s trials. But Gil rarely made a show of his anger, usually expressing it through pointed spoken or written words or musical metaphor. A sublime example here of the last is the cover of Blind Faith’s "Can’t Find My Way Home," on which the Tropicalista leader’s voice is pure, refreshing, and vibrant while singing words of solitude and alienation. Elsewhere, his pop folk makes time for Volkswagen blues, shampoo chats, mushroom trips, and existential thoughts about Kodak moments. (Huston)


Fred Neil

A lightly sparkling hoot, "Everybody’s Talkin’ " — made famous by Harry Nilsson when Fred Neil refused to rerecord it for Midnight Cowboy — may be the biggest commercial hit on this album, but the first track, "The Dolphins," is the real, pulsating heart of this wonderful disc. The narcotic serenade to those lucky enough to escape into the wild yonder was memorably nicked for the last season of The Sopranos and encapsulates this Piscean songwriter’s lifelong identification with the sea creatures. The flighty Neil needed to be gentled into the studio by producer Nik Venet and harbored among friendly foils to produce this remarkably organic, mostly live recording, which brought out the best blues-folk writing from the rarely bottled artist. (Chun)



Aside from her femme fatalism with the Velvet Underground, Nico might be best known musically for the one-of-a-kind Teutonic Californian frisson of her pairing with Jackson Browne on 1967’s Chelsea Girl. But the VU’s John Cale was her right-hand man for most of her career, right on through to the practically postmortem version of "My Funny Valentine" on 1985’s Camera Obscura. This 1970 collaboration includes the layered psychedelia of the title track (on which spoken interludes add extra layers in a manner many indie rockers have imitated), the ballad "Afraid" (addressed narcissistically to herself or forebodingly to her son, Ari?), and of course the one and only "Janitor of Lunacy," which mopped the floors for generations of goths to come. Two tracks here were featured in La Cicatrice Intérieure, a film by Philippe Garrel. (Huston)



Sauntering the line between camp and cool with winking menace, the Shane star takes his opportunity to coin a few memorable countryisms in the absurdist, Marty Robbins–esque "The Meanest Guy That Ever Lived." "I ruled like a king and they / All did my thing / ‘Cause the foot was in the other / Shoe, shoe, shoe / ‘Cause the foot was in the other shoe," Palance sing-snarls, laying into those "shoe"s like a deranged Shangri-la with rabies. Aided and abetted by lush production from ex–Hank Williams bassist and Nashville publishing czar Buddy Killen, Palance gets to really sink his actorly teeth into the juicy, who’s-sorry-now melodrama of Dottie West’s "Hannah." (Chun)


The Soft Machine

Volume Two

Albums so wide and deep they threaten to engulf you with their sheer twists, teetering turns, and utter invention. Drummer Robert Wyatt’s frisky fills gets equal time alongside organist Michael Ratledge and bassist Kevin Ayres on the high-chair-rattling "Joy of a Toy" and the toy-piano-tricked-out "So Boot If at All" on the raw-edged eponymous debut, which must have sounded like a tripindicular aural telegram from the outer edges of the universe when it rolled forth in late 1968. Thanks to the departure of Ayres and the arrival of onetime roadie Hugh Hopper, Volume Two gets off the pop leash and takes an exhilarating yet elegant romp through the wide-open fields of fusion. (Chun)

Black planet


Heralded as one of the most important reissues of this year, the two-disc Music of Idris Ackamoor on the Em label shines a light on Ackamoor’s long-neglected Bay Area contributions to free jazz. But Water’s appreciation of local improvisation predates Em’s work: in 2003, the imprint put out CD versions of Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening, a pair of standout 1969 recordings by San Jose’s Gale and his Noble Gale musicians and singers. Both might be described as sprawling if their vast reach weren’t so dramatically composed. On Ghetto Music, which includes a track called "Fulton Street," 16 people come together to form one ebbing, flowing, raging, soul-stirring musical entity.

As Gale whipped up gale-force storms on the West Coast, on the East Coast the lovably hulking Sonny Sharrock performed an even more extraordinary feat in giving birth to Black Woman, a recording so radically fierce that the world still hasn’t caught up with it — though Water has done its part by reissuing it. The duets between Sharrock’s guitar and his wife Linda’s voice have to be heard to be believed. She’s as octave-hopping wild as Yoko Ono with melodicism and Yma Sumac without the kitsch, and he’s the Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson whom no one knows about, patenting a skronk that’s never been bettered. Sharrock once lived across the street from Sun Ra, yet he and his wife discovered their own feminist black planet. The US space program reached the moon in 1969, but in my mind, the Sharrocks’ trip was — and is — greater. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Hot, sexy, and dead?


› kimberly@sfbg.com

What is Water?

The best reissue independent in the country? A label fueled by Cat Power and other wistful girls strumming plaintive guitars? Perhaps the ’60s and ’70s reissue imprint — along with Runt, its Oakland distribution parent company, and its associated sister labels — got to where it is because owner Filippo Salvadori had the foresight to put out the first LP, 1995’s Dear Sir, by the ageless, Karl Lagerfeld–anointed troubadour Cat Power, née Chan Marshall, foreshadowing Water’s releases by femme folkies such as Judee Sill and "Windy" songwriter Ruthann Friedman, once lost but now passionately hailed by fans like Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, respectively.

Or maybe the Runt-Water phenomenon all started with a simple scenario familiar to music fans of a certain age when, back in the plastic age before cable, the Web, IM, MySpace, text messages, and the lot, as Pat Thomas — longtime Runt staffer and Mushroom drummer and onetime respected San Francisco folk label Heyday owner, a "detective and general errand boy" who’d track down artwork, master tapes, and families that own publishing rights — puts it, "The only thing to do was smoke a joint and listen to an album. So you really got into your albums. That was your entertainment."

And that was the reason why Thomas and the rest of Salvadori’s small staff would later lovingly dust off and rerelease those precious artifacts from the lazy days of endless summer, multiuse gym socks, wood-grain stereo consoles, and just three channels on the boob tube, unearthing and restoring previously unheard gems along the way. As monolithic major labels tighten their catalogs and slap together cookie-cutter reissues with cut-rate art, it’s come down to indies like Seattle’s Light in the Attic and Coxsackie, New York’s Sundazed, and Runt (named after Salvadori’s favorite Todd Rundgren LP) and its imprints Water, 4 Men with Beards, Plain, and DBK Works to dig into swelling back catalogs and curate with the care that makes true music geeks and retro hipsters want to snag everything they issue. Those Water releases range, dizzyingly, from Terry Reid, the man who would have been Led Zeppelin’s lead vocalist had he been more career minded, to a recent series of majestic Milton Nascimento ’70s releases to Sonny Sharrock’s screaming early endeavors and the Flaming Lips’ Restless albums on pink, blue, and clear vinyl.

"There’s not one fucking record on there that isn’t interesting," says Patrick Roques, who has worked for Water as well as Blue Note. "Everything on the catalog, you want to have. It reminds me of Factory, growing up: anything you saw with that label, you wanted to buy it. All that music that came out on Water is important."

And in the recent years of industry downturn, the music has gotten lost while major labels have largely focused on reissuing albums digitally — sans the careful packaging and new liner notes that Runt takes pains to deliver — rather than physically. "The way the market is going for all labels and with fewer places to sell physical CDs, we can’t put out as many as we used to," says Mason Williams, A&R director at Rhino/Warner Bros., which made its name as an independent reissuer, continues to put out handsome reissues, and now works with Runt, among other indies. "More and more smaller labels have started in the last few years and are working with other labels to reissue deep catalog stuff."

"When I was a teenager [in the ’70s]," Thomas continues, "I could go to JC Penney and Sears and buy any album by the Stones or the Beatles or the Who from the classic rock back catalog. Now if you go Target or Wal-Mart, you’re only going to get ‘Best of’s. Even multimillion-selling bands — you can get the best of Led Zep, but you can’t get Led Zeppelin IV. This is forcing labels to tighten up their catalog because places like that aren’t ordering it." The closure of Tower, one of the biggest stockers of back-catalog albums, didn’t help. "Eventually, it’s going to reach a point that legendary items aren’t going to be available on CD."

That’s where Runt comes in. The latest Elliott Smith collection of tasty, previously unreleased scraps wafts through Runt’s spacious brick loft and warehouse as Salvadori burns me a copy of Water’s latest release, Judee Sill’s Live in London: The BBC Recordings 1972–1973, beneath a Dr. Seuss–like shadow man painted by staffer Nat Russell, who fronts Birds of America and runs Isota Records, which is also distributed by Runt. Life is beautiful, as the Roberto Benigni film title goes, on this sun-dappled day a few rolling blocks from the Parkway, and the man from Arezzo, the same small town the Italian dark comedy was set in, is talking about 4 Men with Beards’ upcoming vinyl releases of iconic albums by the Flying Burrito Brothers, Tim Buckley, John Cale, the Velvet Underground, Nico, the Replacements, and, as chance would have it, Smith — all with pricier gatefold packaging, if the LPs originally had it, and careful remastering at Fantasy. That sense of dedication reached its height with the release of Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box on immaculately canned vinyl. "It was really crazy, but we really did it," Salvadori says, peering through thick black-rimmed spectacles as he picks up an original Metal Box, purchased off eBay and now significantly diminished in resale value thanks to the characters scrawled on its silver surface at the Chinese factory that duplicated it. The Runt crew procured the music rights from Warner Bros. before being told that the packaging permissions were owned by EMI/Virgin, which, it turned out, only had OK in the UK. Eventually John Lydon himself delivered the approval.

That journey — tracing a slab of decades-old wax on its manifold trajectories, to its multiple owners — is only one of many Salvadori has made. After his initial Cat Power success, he moved to Berkeley to study English in the mid-’90s. The touch-and-go world of struggling indies brought him back to Europe to distribute friends’ labels. Then, around 2001, Salvadori and his fellow collector-geek pal Thomas decided to take their major-label contacts and get into the reissue business themselves, beginning with such offbeat releases as the Holy Modal Rounders’ The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders and the Zodiac’s Cosmic Sounds. Licensing albums from labels like Rhino/Warner Bros. seemed mutually beneficial, Salvadori recalls: "For us it’s fine if we move a few thousand. Sometimes we get lucky and move more than several thousand, but for them it probably wouldn’t be worth it."

Water also seems to be sparking revivals in the music of Sill and Reid, who remain the label’s biggest sellers, as well as Ruthann Friedman, who began recording with Banhart and in early July had her first Bay Area show in aeons. Think of Runt, Water, and its offshoots as the logical extensions of your older sibling’s mysterious yet well-loved record collection, guiding you toward what you must listen to next, be it a cry from Albert Ayler, a Cluster and Brian Eno collabo, or a forgotten solo disc by Neu’s Michael Rother. Still, Salvadori hopes to someday get back to his roots, despite the costs and risks associated with nonreissues, i.e., newer artists, with … say, have you heard the Moore Brothers, on Plain? "We didn’t get too much luck yet, but I always hope the next record is going to be the one," he says. "They’re so good! So hopefully people are going to eventually say, ‘Hey, this is good.’ I always hope …" *



With Bart Davenport

July 13, call for time and price

Starry Plough

3101 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 841-2082


Politics Blog: nuts



When she comes


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Turns out I have an aptitude for accidental deletion. My most recent masterpiece entailed the loss of three weeks’ worth of all-day, every-day home recordings, 11 songs and about 10 gigs of GarageBand files: gone and unbacked-up. In fact, to illustrate my flair for spectacular failures, it was in the act of attempting to back up the files that I deleted the whole folder.

In other words, I’ve spent the last month neglecting my friends, missing deadlines, and annoying the bejesus out of Weirdo-the-Cat for nothing. When I finished hyperventiutf8g, I went outside and sat with Houdini.

Yep, that’s the one, my last-left chicken I was telling you about, the escape artist and egg eater I meant to have for dinner months ago.

I’ll be traveling for most of July and August, and then again in the fall, so there’s no restocking my flock until probably next year. In the meantime, I can’t even give Houdini away, in good conscience, on account of her antiestablishment ways. And it’s not like she’s gonna taste any good, either.

She’s an ugly fuck, half plucked already from entanglements with fences, flower gardeners, and realism in general. Dusty, ragged, balding, thorn-stuck, and stinking, she is all the way out of this world.

Other day, to give you an example, I saw Houdini in the coop, pecking hay, and I safetied her up for the night. I closed the chicken door, locked the people door, checked the egg-get hatch. Everything was secure, I swear, and in the morning when I went to let her out, she was already there — out — standing on a log, looking at me like, "What?"

"I love you," I said. And I opened up her coop so she could go in and get water.

Still don’t know how she did it, and neither do any of the skunks, weasels, foxes, possums, and bobcats who scratch and circle and knock every night, looking for a chink in the armor, a breech of security, a chicken-farmerly slip.

So this time I was sitting on the log with her, head in hands, warm, woodsy evening. Right behind us the smoker was smoking, barely — my dinner long ready. In light of what had just happened indoors, however, appetite was out of the question.

"You do realize," I said to Houdini, "that you are dead."

She looked up at me in that quizzical, twist-necked, tilt-headed, one-eyed way that chickens have. "And you?" she said.

"I’m going away," I said.

She looked at me like, "Ah, ‘going away,’ as they say."

"I mean it," I said. "I may be dead, but you are dead dead." I sang "The Midnight Train," "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "The Lonesome Valley," and "Oh Death" but stopped short of "St. Louis Blues," because that’s always the last little ditty I sing to my chickens, when the water’s aboil and the ax is sharpened. Believe me, if you’re a chicken, you shudder to hear the Chicken Farmer sing, "I hate to see … that evening sun go down."

I did "go away" (as they say), next morning. But it was only a practice run up to Oregon. Garden party, and a backyard barbecue for mostly kids. Sad and distracted the whole time, I became probably the first person ever to burst into tears during "Coming ‘Round the Mountain." And it wasn’t even the "kill the old red rooster" verse that got me, "when she comes."

It was the one about having to record all those bass lines and uke parts, steel drum, harmonies, and tissue-comb harmonica solos all over again, and you don’t even have no friends left to back-pat you ’cause you blew them all off all month, "when she comes."

At least that’s what I thought he was singing. My brother does make up stuff. (Runs in the fambly.)

On the way back home to Houdini we hit Granzella’s to cheer up a bit. This is that famous Italian joint with the long wooden porch in Williams, up in olive country, off I-5. It’s a restaurant, deli, and sports bar, and I don’t care how hot and humbled and beaten you are from the air-conditionerless road, if you can’t get cheered up in a triangle like that, then Jack, you dead.

Pesto pizza with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and fresh tomatoes. And they got muffuletta spread at the salad bar! Where you camping this Fourth of July? If it’s up north, check out my new favorite restaurant. *


Daily, 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

451 Sixth St., Williams

(530) 473-5583

Full bar


Wheelchair accessible

Icky parts


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I don’t like the amount of vaginal discharge I produce. It isn’t really abnormal, and it doesn’t smell, but I just don’t like seeing it in my underwear. I use the Nuvaring, which can change a woman’s discharge, but I don’t think that’s it. Is there a way to limit this stuff? The vagina’s a mucus membrane, and I’ve heard that dairy increases mucus; should I drink less milk?


Not a Drip

Dear Drippy:

Definitely, but only ’cause milk is gross. Personal taste aside, though, not only do I promise that milk is not mucus forming, I found a real, peer-reviewed journal article called "Milk Consumption Does Not Lead to Mucus Production or Occurrence of Asthma" to prove it to you. (I wasn’t even thinking about asthma, but while we’re at it, milk is apparently not asthma producing either. Good to know.)

There are many things one does do not wish to see in one’s underwear, many of which do not bear mentioning and none of which can be willed away by the power of positive thinking. I suggest not looking.



Dear Andrea:

You mentioned guys who wear "manties" as opposed to something more manly like boxer shorts [5/9/07]. I’m well aware that women generally find boxer shorts sexier than manties or briefs. My problem is, I’m susceptible to jock itch, (tinea cruris), and find that boxers don’t wick moisture away efficiently, which leaves me vulnerable. Therefore, I (gulp) usually wear briefs or manties (and yes, I use talc as well). What I wonder is, do women ever get jock itch? Even more to the point, could it be considered an STD? If a man has a moderate to severe case, it looks like you’ve got leprosy down there, and it seems like the interested party would want to know what the hell is going on. I’ve never heard a woman complain about jock itch or catching it from her partner.


Itchy Pants

Dear Pants:

Women certainly do get something similar — no doubt you’ve known at least one woman who not only feels comfortable discussing her yeast infections in public but also seems utterly uninterested in shutting up about them. One thing I can say for men — OK, I can say many things for men, but not now, I’m busy — is that they rarely bring up their crotch rot (actually ringworm, which is actually fungus) in mixed company. Yay, men.

Women can and do get all manner of "feminine" itchies but are generally less susceptible to jock itch and athlete’s foot (just lucky, I guess). It can happen, though, and ringworm is transmissible skin to skin as well as by "fomite" (shared towels and the like). Isn’t it funny, then, that it’s never classified as an STD, STC, or STI? Just another handy illustration of how the entire concept of sexually transmitted disease is socially constructed and has little biological validity, I guess. But that is another lecture, as is the one where I implore you to tell your partners what’s going on down there and not force them to politely pretend they didn’t see anything.

What I really wanted to say here is that not even you, Itchy McCrotchrot, need wear "manties" in the sleezy-shiny-skimpy bikini banana-sling way that I define them. I’m not entirely sure you ought to be wearing tighty-whities either. They may be more comfortable by virtue of being more absorbent, but are you sure absorbency is really what you’re looking for in an underpant? If I were you, I’d hike myself down to REI or some other place specializing in outfitting you for the sort of activities that require fancy moisture-wicking underwear and buy some. They even make boxers, callooh, callay!



Dear Andrea:

You might have suggested to Itchy that Scratchy [5/9/07] grow a beard. It’s natural, and many women and men find it most exciting to have a beard between their thighs.


Hairy Krishna

Dear Hairy:

Rilly? Have you spoken to many of them personally?

There is, of course, a niche market for beards. My biggish, beardedish husband and I dragged my family of origin to the Russian River, a very, very gay resort area, last summer, at the same time the Bears (oh, look it up) were having their annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Hootenanny or whatever, which led to many hijinks and much hilarity and confused my father thoroughly.

There are women who specifically dig beards as well, but most either dig the guy who wears the beard, agree that a particular beard looks nice on a particular guy, or love the man but hate the beard. Few love the beard more than the man — let’s put it that way — and "it’s natural" is not altogether persuasive, considering the many things that are natural but don’t look nice stuck to your face. Thanks for the suggestion, though!



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

Double trouble


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Rosie O’Donnell, in a recent New York Times article about the TV star’s video blog, has been outed as a woman of many personalities. The piece notes the shades of O’Donnell’s various public talk-show personae, from closeted lesbian girl next door to outspoken View-er, and surveys her current makeup-free webcam self. Yet O’Donnell is simply following what legions of the less famous do via MySpace pages and YouTube postings: compose and experiment with low-budget media selves.

Artists, along with actors, have, in theory, a slight advantage in exploring this territory. They must consider the formal constraints of presentation in a gallery, yet plenty have managed quite well by dressing up as new incarnations drawn from their imaginations or obsessively charting personal information. In exhibition spaces, this stuff either hits a universal note or collapses under the weight of vanity.

The current exhibits by Alice Shaw at Gallery 16 and Kelli Connell at Stephen Wirtz Gallery walk that taut psychological tightrope and thankfully keep their balance. Both artists work with photography, a medium conducive to entertainment and realism. Both shows are seductive, witty, and disturbing as they extend dialogues put forth by artists such as Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, and Nikki S. Lee, who in different eras effectively confounded ideas of fixed identity by taking on different roles in their photographic projects.

Shaw immediately suggests schizophrenia by titling her solo exhibition "Group Show." It includes three bodies of work, all by Shaw and all addressing the notion of reflected or fractured selves. One of her identities is a photographer, and the first series involves appropriating works by 19th-century photographers Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, and E.J. Bellocq, whose images of prepubescent girls and New Orleans prostitutes, respectively, employed a nascent medium to indulge visual preoccupations. Using lenticular printing — the plastic layering that creates the postcard illusion of a winking Jesus — Shaw fuses works by each artist to reveal nearly identical poses and create a compact narrative of ripening sexuality. First you see a young girl standing in a nightie; with a slight shift in view, you see a more mature woman doing the same. The juxtapositions of the photographers’ works also recall tales of twins separated at birth who unknowingly go down parallel paths.

The second series follows a previous body of work in which Shaw sought out mirror selves. She developed her own character by photographing herself with a male grocery store clerk, friends, dates, her dad (artist Richard Shaw), and even Matt Gonzalez. The results are collected in a Gallery 16–published book, People Who Look Like Me (2006). For this show, she sought the opposite of herself, a self-described "small, white, middle-aged woman": a leggy young African American tranny named Ryhanna. The pair, in separate shots, strike similar boudoir poses in a sparsely furnished Victorian, subtly mirroring the Dodgson-Bellocq images hanging across the gallery. The two models appear in various states of undress, makeup, and sauciness, though both play on their mixture of male and female traits. The artist sometimes seems most confident posing in a wife beater, while Ryhanna appears equally self-assured showing off lace panties and her penis. Shaw’s artistic demeanor is deadpan, so there’s a comic appeal to these images. Both seem to ham it up for the lens, which also effectively channels discomfiting racial overtones and the way a different personality arises when we stand before the camera.

Connell doesn’t pose for her large, glossy photographs in "Double Life," but the pictures immediately suggest an intimate form of role playing. In each of her photographs, there are two figures seen in the midst of psychologically and sexually charged moments. They are enmeshed in a serious discussion, poised for a kiss or a fuck, or lighting sparklers on a grassy field. As in Sherman’s work, all quickly conjure narratives. Are they a happy couple or about to break up? Straight or gay? Eventually you realize that all the figures are the same woman, a friend who has been the artist’s exclusive model for the past few years.

As the 33-year-old Connell is part of a generation that has few qualms about Photoshop magic, her work is less about seamless digital manipulation than about hefty psychosocial concerns in contemporary life. Connell has said her pictures are an "honest representation of the duality or multiplicity of the self." She does this by literalizing the myth of Narcissus, a tale that involves longing, incest, and the curse of delusion. The convincing reality of the pictures also heats up dialogues about homosexuality, cloning, and, ultimately, the highly constructed nature of identity. Without ever needing to appear on TV. *


Through July 12, free

Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; and by appointment

Gallery 16

501 Third St., SF

(415) 626-7495



Through July 14, free

Tues.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Stephen Wirtz Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 433-6879


Turning the tides


› amanda@sfbg.com

On June 19 the Board of Supervisors cast its final ayes in favor of San Francisco’s new plan for public power, Community Choice Aggregation, which allows the city to own or purchase as much as 51 percent of the electricity for its residents and businesses from renewable sources. The plan’s goal is to meet or beat the rates of the city’s current provider, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which draws 13 percent of its power from renewable sources. CCA has become the popular choice for public power fans, who have long pushed the city to get a divorce from PG&E’s monopoly.

But across town the same day, it looked as if Mayor Gavin Newsom was renewing nuptial vows with the $12 billion utility. In front of the charming backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, Newsom announced a partnership between the city and PG&E to look into tidal power. He promised "the most comprehensive study yet undertaken to assess the possibilities for harnessing the tides in San Francisco Bay."

PG&E committed as much as $1.5 million, which will bolster $146,000 from the city and a $200,000 grant from the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.

The news conference had public-power advocates wondering about Newsom’s real commitment to renewable, locally owned power. "I’ve asked all the members of the Board of Supervisors," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told the Guardian. "That press conference — nobody knew it was taking place." He said a mayoral aide later apologized that his office hadn’t been informed, but he added, "I don’t think it was a mistake that it occurred on the same day as the vote for CCA."

The Mayor’s Office said the scheduling was purely coincidental and had been on the books for at least three weeks, but it did not issue a news release about the news conference, and no media advisory was sent to us.

Parties involved in the deal say it will bring more money to researching a shaky, untested technology — even if it means that the power any project generates could be controlled by PG&E. "We’re always going to have that issue of ownership later, and I’d rather get the research data into the public domain," said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment (SFE).

Blumenfeld insisted that the deal would give the public direct oversight of all research, including work done by the private utility. The memorandum of understanding between San Francisco, PG&E, and Golden Gate Energy, which holds the permit license for tidal energy in the bay, makes it clear that all information will be shared by all parties and open to public scrutiny.

Newsom made a similar announcement in September 2006, when he called for the creation of a Tidal Power Advisory Group and allocated $150,000 for a feasibility study through the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the SFE. But that program hasn’t gone far — and the little that has happened is secret.

A review of the agendas and minutes of SFPUC and SFE commission meetings shows only scant and passing mention of tidal power. The Tidal Power Advisory Group eventually came to fruition as one of five subcommittees of the Clean Tech Advisory Council, a 16-member board of local "green" business executives, entrepreneurs, and environmental experts that was formed at the call of the mayor in November 2005. Chaired by William K. Reilly, an Environmental Protection Agency administrator under George H.W. Bush, the council neither announces meetings or agendas nor makes public its minutes.

A special subcommittee devoted to tidal and wave energy has worked closely with the SFPUC to advance a feasibility study. The contract for that study went without bid to URS Corp. and will continue in conjunction with the new PG&E partnership.

URS, an international engineering, design, and construction firm based in San Francisco and formerly run by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, has a long history with the city. The tidal power study was not subject to competitive bids and was awarded to URS because the company had undertaken significant computer models of the entire Bay Area for a past proposal to fill in part of the waterway to extend runways at San Francisco International Airport, Blumenfeld said. That plan was shot down, but the environmental impact report it spawned contains information relevant to studying tidal power.

Additionally, URS has an as-needed work agreement with San Francisco, Blumenfeld said, "and everything moves glacially" in regard to contracting with the city.

The kind of tidal power being considered — called "in-stream" and analogous to a wind farm of water-pushed turbines — is such a new technology that there is only one deployment in the world that’s generating more than one megawatt of energy. One megawatt is enough to power about 1,000 average homes. The Electric Power Research Institute released a study in 2006 concluding that the Golden Gate has the potential to generate 237 megawatts but suggesting that only 15 percent of that — about 35 megawatts — would be available without negative environmental impact.

"I think that number’s made up, personally," said Mike Hoover, a partner at Golden Gate Energy. "We know the energy that’s coming in and out of the bay is more than that."

URS, which has conducted no other tidal power studies in the United States, may support those findings, but the outlook at this point doesn’t bode well. "It appears EPRI used optimistic assumptions on water velocities," the SFPUC’s Power Enterprise director, Barbara Hale, wrote to officials in the Mayor’s Office and at the SFPUC and the SFE. "Our feasibility study estimates around 10 MW extractable power, peak, and five MW on average with a commercial plant." Additionally, Hale wrote, the cost per kilowatt-hour could be closer to 20 cents than the 5.5 cents the EPRI predicted.

Hale told us it’s difficult to say how much power would make dropping a pilot project into the bay feasible, and the best-case scenario has a pilot project four or five years away. An actual grid connection of any significance would be several years in the future.

Then there’s the huge issue of who would own the power. San Francisco Bay is considered a public trust — and under any reasonable policy scenario, the power generated by its tides should belong to the public.

After hearing about the mayor’s handshake with PG&E, Mirkarimi introduced legislation at the June 19 board meeting that would require any power harnessed in the bay to be publicly owned. He said tidal technology is still at an "embryonic stage," but the memorandum of understanding "that was unilaterally devised by the mayor and the PUC at the exclusion of the Board of Supervisors demonstrates an early intention to give the new technology to the profiteers, and that alarms me."*

Smoke and mirrors


› news@sfbg.com

Compassion and Care Center employee and longtime medical marijuana activist Wayne Justmann proudly displays a framed "keep up the good work" letter from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco) in the second-story medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco.

"Patients can sit and relax and get away from the problems of the world," Justmann told the Guardian in describing this half pharmacy, half community center, which features AIDS information brochures, a DSL Internet connection, the makings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and marijuana priced at $18 for an eighth of an ounce.

The CCC, which has been open both legally and illegally since 1992, is one of the numerous medical cannabis dispensaries that are having a hard time getting through the city’s onerous approval process. Under guidelines that the Board of Supervisors approved and the mayor signed in November 2005, all of the dispensaries have until July 1 to get the required permits, but none have successfully done so.

The supervisors recently voted to hold off enforcement for the dispensaries that have already applied for permits, which 26 of the 31 or so clubs had done at press time. Pending legislation by Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier would set a new deadline of Jan. 1, 2008, while also effecting procedural changes that could make it difficult for many facilities to ever get permits. She is proposing more stringent disability access requirements and wants to give the Mayor’s Office more control over which clubs must abide by them.

Justmann and many others in the medical marijuana community interviewed by us see the pending legislation as a mixed bag. It would remove the police inspection from an approval process that now requires clubs to deal with six city departments, easing some concerns of proprietors in this quasi-legal business. Yet the legislation would also require all clubs to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act’s standards for new construction, which could prove logistically difficult and prohibitively expensive for most dispensaries, which are in older buildings. For example, the CCC would need to build an elevator in the aging building where it rents space.

Alioto-Pier told us the amendment — which will be heard by the Planning Commission on July 12 and the board thereafter — is necessary to place medical cannabis dispensaries on par with other medical facilities. "Specifically because they are medical, the board felt it’s important for MCDs to be accessible," she told us. "It’s what I think should have been across the city."

Under the amendment, dispensaries would have to ensure that their bathrooms, hallways, and front doors were wide enough for wheelchair access and that they had limited use–limited access elevators, which would disqualify vertical or inclined platform lifts. While dispensaries like ACT UP’s could aim to spend "tens of thousands of dollars" to meet the standards, co-owner Andrea Lindsay told us, others wouldn’t be able to comply, such as those that couldn’t afford the expense or whose landlords wouldn’t allow extensive remodeling jobs.

The CCC is accessible only by stairs and does not have the money or permission to do the work that the amendment would require. "Still, we provide the necessary services to the patient," Justmann said. He also cited the financial gamble in spending large sums on a business that — unlike other health care facilities — always stands the risk of being shut down by the federal government.

Stephanie (whom we agreed to identify only by her first name), an HIV-positive patient of the CCC for the past three years, told us the new accessibility standards could make affordable marijuana less accessible. "The places that will be able to be kept open will be price gougers," she said. "I won’t be able to afford it."

Some MCDs unable to meet the new standards could apply to the Mayor’s Office on Disability for waivers, giving Mayor Gavin Newsom — who has publicly said there should be fewer MCDs in town — more authority over medical marijuana. That arrangement would be a change from the procedure for other projects, which must submit waiver requests to the Access Appeals Commission, which is part of the Department of Building Inspection.

Kris Hermes of Oakland’s Americans for Safe Access expressed his skepticism about the switch. "The main concern of the people is that the MOD will have the ultimate discretion," he told us. But Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who sponsored the Medical Cannabis Act in 2005, seems to be supporting the Alioto-Pier legislation. "It’s important that the MCDs are consistent with other health care facilities and businesses," he told us. "We want to do everything in our power to make this not so cost prohibitive."

No dispensaries have acquired a permit yet, although five now have "provisional permits." Many MCDs in the waiting line cite red tape and already stringent requirements as barring them from recognition as official businesses. Clubs must pay $6,691 for a permit and cannot generate "excessive profit" when in business.

"I don’t know what we need to do next," said Lindsay, who paid ACT UP’s fees six months ago. "The city’s new to the process. We’re new to the process. It’s frustrating on both sides."

For Kevin Reed, owner of the Green Cross Dispensary, meeting the new standards would be a hard task to accomplish in the next six months. As he told us, "You’d pretty much have to knock down a building and rebuild it."*

A clear housing choice in the Mission


OPINION On April 19 the San Francisco Planning Department approved a market-rate condo development with a 24-hour Walgreens store at the northwest corner of César Chávez and Mission. The project features 60 expensive ownership units and 67 residential parking spaces. To support the Walgreens, the developer is also including 24 customer parking spaces, 12 spaces for employees, and one car-share space.

The development as proposed is not in compliance with the city’s General Plan, the recent Eastern Neighborhoods planning requirements, or the January Board of Supervisors resolution calling for 64 percent of all new housing to be available at below-market rates — and there’s an alternative that offers true low-income family housing and community space. If the supervisors are serious about preserving affordable housing, they’ll reject this ill-conceived plan.

The developer, Seven Hills Properties, told the Planning Commission that families would be able to afford these simple, unadorned condos through the first-time home buyers services offered by the Down Payment Assistance Loan Program in the Mayor’s Office of Housing. The truth is that the developer is offering only nine below-market units affordable to working- and middle-class families. All of the other units will be priced at close to $550,000 for a studio and as much as $700,000 for a three-bedroom unit.

Think about those prices. A person or family making as much as $63,850 a year could qualify for the down-payment assistance. Such a person or family would have to come up with a $27,500 share of the down payment and would be paying about $3,000 a month for a mortgage — 55 percent of their income.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Back in December 2006, Seven Hills told the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition that it would be interested in selling the development rights at the site to MAC if MAC could come up with a development proposal. MAC then worked with us at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, and together we created a viable offer — which Seven Hills dismissed as unrealistic.

Our proposal was to develop between 60 and 70 units of affordable housing, with community-service space below. Across the street, in 2001, the BHNC opened its Bernal Gateway development, 55 affordable family units with on-site community services that subsequently won two highly coveted national awards, with a financing strategy similar to the one we suggested for the Seven Hills property.

MAC has appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to hear its appeal July 17. This is a neighborhood issue that has citywide implications.

The arguments couldn’t be more clear or compelling: The project doesn’t comply with the Planning Department’s own guidelines. It brings pricey housing and a chain store to a neighborhood that needs neither. And there’s a credible alternative that ought to be given a chance. *

Joseph Smooke

Joseph Smooke is the executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. If you are interested in this issue, please contact Jane Martin, BHNC community organizer, at jmartin@bhnc.org.

Web Site of the Week



If all the ice on Greenland melted, which is not an entirely whacked-out scenario, global sea levels would rise seven meters. Starting in Santa Barbara, New York, and Washington, DC, folks are painting a light blue line to inform the world where our new coast would be.

Green City: Tapping the tides


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Turning the tides that flow through the Golden Gate into a source of clean, renewable energy was contemplated long before Mayor Gavin Newsom partnered up with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to announce the latest study (see "Turning the Tides," page 11), even before Matt Gonzalez proposed the idea in his 2003 race against Newsom. Tidal power is an old concept now getting a new push, thanks to the climate change threat and the unique dynamics of San Francisco.

An independent study by the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute was conducted last year to assess the feasibility of tidal energy in North America and concluded that the Golden Gate is "the second largest tidal in stream energy resource" on the continent. A combination of the Golden Gate’s powerful currents and its proximity to existing power infrastructure makes San Francisco the most promising site for a tidal energy pilot project in the lower 48 states.

However, the EPRI’s analysis revealed the Golden Gate’s tidal power potential to be far less than the 1,000 megawatts first mentioned by Gonzalez, which would have more than covered the city’s annual energy needs. The EPRI estimates that the 440 billion gallons of water in the Golden Gate’s tidal stream hold a total of 237 megawatts of energy. The study also suggests that a tidal program in San Francisco could only safely extract 35 megawatts of that available energy without negatively affecting the surrounding environment.

At 35 megawatts, tidal power would meet roughly 4 percent of the city’s energy demands. Internal San Francisco Public Utilities Commission documents obtained by the Guardian revealed that SFPUC officials lack confidence in those numbers and place the estimate at only 1 percent of the city’s energy needs.

Regardless of the potential output, the major challenge is still establishing the proper technology to safely harness the power of the tides.

Tidal power, much like hydropower, harnesses the energy of water currents to create electricity. In the case of tidal power, the force of the ocean currents generated by the rise and fall of the tides spins turbines placed underwater.

La Rance Tidal Power Plant in France, operating since 1966, is the oldest such system in the world. It generates 240 megawatts of power a day, which is enough to cover 90 percent of Brittany’s demand. At 3.7 cents per kilowatt hour, the electricity generated by La Rance is among the most affordable in France, which relies heavily on nuclear power.

However, La Rance — like Canada’s Annapolis Royal Generating Station, built in 1984 — is essentially a hydroelectric dam that spans a river, capturing and releasing the tides, so it’s not a viable design for San Francisco. A tidal power project at the Golden Gate would have to be largely submerged to leave vital shipping lanes unobstructed. So far, there is no existing tidal power program similar to the one being proposed for San Francisco. There are many tidal technology projects under development around the world that use partial and completely submerged systems that could be compatible with the Golden Gate. None has a model that’s seen commercial use, except Verdant Power, which has a single test turbine submersed in New York City’s East River that powers a nearby parking garage and supermarket.

The EPRI study evaluated eight possible turbine designs for San Francisco. Among these designs, the maximum output per turbine is two megawatts. The installation and maintenance of a project using several of these turbines would not only be inherently expensive but also require the heavy lifting of barges, cranes, drills, and derricks as well as ongoing activity that likely would affect what went on above and below the surface of the sea.

Many of these turbine designs involve spinning blades, which can threaten marine life. The tides are also essential for transportation and the distribution of silt. A pilot project would address these challenges, perhaps demonstrating whether the planet’s natural flows can offer another key to slowing its warming trend.*

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.

No PG&E tidal deal


EDITORIAL On June 19, just as public power advocates in San Francisco were celebrating victory on the passage of Community Choice Aggregation, Mayor Gavin Newsom held a press conference at the privatized Presidio to announce that the city is forming an alliance with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to study tidal power.

Amazing. PG&E has been cheating the city out of cheap public power for more than 80 years now. The $12 billion utility is fighting the city in court over rights to sell power to customers in public buildings. Its energy mix is barely 15 percent renewable and includes one of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear power plants. And Newsom still wants to give his faith — and the city’s energy future — to PG&E.

It’s a terrible idea. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has offered legislation that would mandate that any publicly funded tidal power be owned entirely by the city, and the supervisors should pass that measure quickly to block this sellout deal. And Newsom — who absolutely must sign the CCA ordinance — needs to get a clue: San Francisco should never, ever do any business with PG&E. *

PS Call the mayor’s office at (415) 554-6131 and tell Newsom to give PG&E the boot.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

My father died June 15, in Philadelphia. He was 82. He hated doctors (who kept telling him to quit smoking and drinking) and hospitals (which he alternately described as prisons and torture chambers, depending on how charitable he felt that day). When he realized that the emphysema had gotten the best of him and his days were numbered, he made it clear that all he wanted was to stay at home, so I and my siblings took time off, and for several weeks we helped my mother take care of him, keeping him as comfortable as we could until his lungs finally gave out and he stopped breathing. I gave the eulogy at his memorial service.

So I’m about tapped out on the emotional stuff, and I’ve said all I have to say about what a wonderful guy he was. But along the way I learned a couple of things that are worth thinking about.

Home hospice care has come a long way. When my friend Paulo died of AIDS in 1995, you had to be in a hospital to get easy access to drugs like morphine and Haldol, and if you were at home and woke up in horrible pain in the middle of the night, your friends had to take you to the emergency room and wait until a doctor could find time to give you a shot. The hospice program we had was awesome; the nurses gave us big jars of medicine, taught us how to administer the doses to relieve my dad’s pain, and told us that we shouldn’t worry if he asked for a cigarette (it was a bit late for lifestyle changes).

The insurance providing us with all of that top-rate care, and the remarkable social services that went along with it, came through a government program called Medicare. It has an overhead rate of about 3 percent, which makes it about five times as efficient as most private insurers. It’s not perfect — all health insurance in the United States is a bureaucratic nightmare, and even this coverage required intervention on the part of my family to keep things on the right track. But it’s available to seniors who don’t have much money, and it works.

While my dad was dying, I read some of the early reviews of Michael Moore’s Sicko in the East Coast media. I think my favorite was in the New York Post, which accused Moore of demanding that everyone in the United States get their health care from Fidel Castro. The critical reviews played up the fact that Moore fairly gushes about medical care in countries like Canada and France (along with Cuba) while people who live in such places with government-run health care systems complain about long waits for nonemergency treatment.

Perhaps so. I can’t argue the facts one way or another. I could argue that a system covering everyone at the cost of a bit of waiting for all is better than one that dumps all of the waiting, getting sicker, and dying on the poor and uninsured. But I will also argue that Moore is right (see Cheryl Eddy’s piece on page 64). This is the richest country in world history. We can have a public health system that works. We just need to get the private insurers the hell out of it.*

Fix Newsom’s bad budget


EDITORIAL Annual budgets can seem wonky and impenetrable, but they’re perhaps the most important statements of a city’s values and priorities. That’s why it’s critically important for the Board of Supervisors to make significant changes to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed $6 billion spending plan, which is out of step with what San Francisco should be about.

Ideally, this month’s budget hearings would be informed by an honest and open discussion of what Newsom proposed in his June 1 budget, how it affects residents and Newsom’s political interests, and where the board might want to make some changes.

Unfortunately, both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner have failed to offer a substantial analysis of the budget; instead, they’ve focused on sensational headlines about whether the mayor has used cocaine, personality conflicts between Newsom and Sup. Chris Daly (including a pair of over-the-top hit pieces on Daly in the June 23 Chron), and misleading spin coming from Newsom’s office and reelection campaign.

But there’s plenty of good budget analysis out there, thanks to the work of city agencies such as the Controller’s Office and the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Analyst Office, nonprofits like the People’s Budget Coalition, smart citizens like Marc Salomon, and reporting by the Guardian‘s Sarah Phelan ("The Budget’s Opening Battle," 6/20/07) and Chris Albon ("Newsom Cuts Poverty Programs," 6/20/07).

What that analysis shows is that the mayor’s much-ballyhooed "back-to-basics" budget — which prioritizes public safety, cityscape improvements, home ownership programs, and pet projects such as Project Homeless Connect — would make unconscionable cuts to essential social services and affordable housing programs, rely way too much on gimmicks and private capital to address public needs, and offer almost nothing that is innovative or befitting a progressive city at a crucial point in history.

Some specific examples and recommendations:

Newsom’s 4 percent cut in the Department of Public Health budget — which his appointed Health Commission took the unusual step of refusing to implement because the fat has already been trimmed away in previous budgets — is unacceptable. It would slash substance abuse treatment, homeless and HIV/AIDs services, and other programs that would simply be unavailable if the city didn’t fund them. The board should fully restore that funding and even consider providing seed money for innovative new programs that would help lift people out of poverty. Only after the city fully meets the needs of its most vulnerable citizens should it consider cosmetic fixes like expanded street cleaning.

• The budget should strike a balance on cityscape improvements that is lacking now. Contrary to the alternative budget proposed by Daly, which would have cut the $6.6 million that Newsom proposed for street improvements, we agree with the SF Bicycle Coalition that many streets are dangerous and in need of repair. It’s a public health and safety issue when cars and bikes need to swerve around potholes. But the $2.9 million in sidewalk improvements could probably be scaled back to just deal with accessibility issues rather than cosmetic concerns. And we don’t agree with Newsom’s plan to add 100 blocks and $2.1 million to the Corridors street-cleaning program, which already wastes far too much money, water, chemicals, and other resources.

As we mentioned last week ("More Cops Aren’t Enough," 6/20/07), the police budget doesn’t need the extra $33 million that Newsom is proposing, at least not until he’s willing to facilitate a public discussion about the San Francisco Police Department’s mission and lack of accountability. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi (a progressive who is strong on public safety and even clashed with Daly over the issue) was right to recently challenge the terrible contract that Newsom negotiated with the cops, which gives them a 25 percent pay increase and asks almost nothing in return.

Newsom’s housing budget would move about $50 million from renter and affordable-housing programs into initiatives promoting home ownership, which is just not a realistic option for most residents and represents a shift in city priorities that serves developers more than citizens. Some of that change is specific to a couple of big owner-occupied yet fairly affordable projects in the pipeline for next year, but the budget also does little to address the fact that we are steadily losing ground in meeting the goal in the General Plan’s Housing Element of making 62 percent of new housing affordable to most residents, when we should be expanding these programs by at least the $28 million that the board approved but Newsom rejected. Similarly, the board should keep pushing the Housing Authority to apply for federal Hope VI funds to make needed improvements to the public housing projects rather than supporting Newsom’s Hope SF, which purports to magically turn a $5 million expenditure into $700 million in housing — as long as we accept the devil’s bargain of 700 to 900 market-rate condos along with the public housing units.

Finally, there are lots of little items in Newsom’s budget that could be cut to find funding for more important city priorities. Don’t give him $1.1 million to hassle the homeless in Golden Gate Park or $700,000 for his New York–style community court in the Tenderloin.

The bottom line is that a progressive city should not be pandering to the cops, punishing the poor, and polishing up its streets when so many of its citizens are struggling just to find shelter and make it to the next month. Newsom has forgotten about the ideals that the Democratic Party once embraced, but it’s not too late for the Board of Supervisors to correct that mistake. *



› news@sfbg.com

Shortly before midnight on April 21, 2001, Jason Grant Garza walked into the psychiatric wing of San Francisco General’s emergency room and said he was having a mental health crisis. A staffer there refused to admit him. When Garza insisted on seeing a doctor, he wound up strip-searched and thrown into jail. Now, after six years of legal wrangling and bureaucratic buck-passing, SF General has officially conceded that Garza was denied proper service. But Garza says he is still waiting for the help he needs and the justice he demands.

As I sat across from Garza on a recent afternoon, it wasn’t hard to imagine a busy hospital worker or government official blowing him off rather than dealing with his frenetic energy. Diagnosed with a so-called "adjustment disorder," Garza was intense, to say the least. Running his hands through his wiry, gray-streaked hair and leaning over the table as he spoke, the 47-year-old Panhandle-area resident railed against "the system" for well over an hour. At one point, he likened his suffering to that of "a starving kid in Africa … [except] the starving kid in Africa still has hope. I have none of that."

Garza’s ire and his penchant for hyperbole might be exasperating at times, but his behavior also seems to bolster his main contention — that he needs help with his mental health, help that he claims a flawed public health care apparatus has failed to provide. He says his attempts to receive care and support have only exacerbated his condition, increasing his isolation and his sense of persecution. "I’m dead right," he said repeatedly. "And yet I’ve gotten nothing for it."

Garza declined to recount specific details of his story or be photographed. Instead, he referred the Guardian to a 2003 deposition he gave to deputy city attorney Scott Burrell. According to the deposition, his ordeal began shortly after his lover and "soulmate" killed himself in January 2001. That April, Garza became despondent over his loss and called a suicide hotline. The phone counselor directed him to visit SF General’s Psychiatric Emergency Services.

Garza took a cab to SF General and told PES charge nurse Paul Lewis that he was "wigging out" and badly needed to see a doctor. According to Garza’s deposition and other court documents obtained by the Guardian, Lewis asked him if he was suicidal. Garza is quoted in his deposition as responding, "If I was crossing the street and fell, I don’t know if I’d get up." Lewis determined that this answer meant Garza was not suicidal and thus not in need of emergency care. He asked Garza to leave. When Garza refused, the hospital’s institutional police escorted him out.

Garza did eventually get into the hospital that night, but not in the way he was hoping. After he was ejected from the premises, he stole back into the main lobby and called city police to help him receive treatment. But hospital cops returned instead and stuck him in a holding room. Sheriff’s deputies arrived four hours later, early in the morning of April 22. They arrested Garza for trespassing and possession of marijuana, even though he had a prescription for medical cannabis in his wallet.

At the city jail, Garza finally got someone to acknowledge that he was experiencing a psychiatric emergency. He says he told jail staffers that he "didn’t care if he lived or if he died," and as a result, he was stripped of his clothes and placed naked in a cell for his own safety. "That nurse [at the jail] classified me as an emergency," Garza told us. "So one says I’m in an emergency, and the other [at SF General] says I’m not…. At what point am I going to get any help?"

To recap: When Garza voluntarily tried to find care, he was told he was not sufficiently distressed. Only when he was arrested and thrown into jail for demanding help was he declared a danger to himself. His "treatment" consisted of a strip search and a jail cell.

But that’s only the beginning of the insanity.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act was passed in 1986 to prevent hospitals from triaging out, or dumping, difficult or impoverished emergency room patients like Garza, a former business owner, cabdriver, and bookkeeper who has been on Social Security disability since 1995. EMTALA mandates that any patient who goes to an ER must be given an "appropriate medical screening examination." After he got out of jail, Garza sued the city, SF General, Lewis, and other city employees, contending they violated his rights under the act. He could not afford a lawyer, so he represented himself.

In one of the strangest twists of this twisted tale, Garza finally made it into the inner sanctum of SF General’s PES as a result of his suit against the city. But as with his night in jail, the circumstances of his psychiatric care were not what he was expecting.

While Garza was giving a deposition at the City Attorney’s Office in March 2003, his behavior prompted staffers to call in the authorities. According to an official report of the incident, Garza made suicidal remarks like "I have no desire to live." He also allegedly said that he "needed/wanted bullets and a gun." These statements are not present in the 168-page deposition. Garza did acknowledge to the Guardian that he became upset that day, especially when questioned about his experiences at SF General and the suicide of his lover, but he claimed that deputy city attorney Burrell "set him up" and that the calls to the mobile crisis unit and police were part of "an attempt at witness intimidation." Whatever the reason for the calls, Garza was detained for a 5150, a procedure under which subjects are involuntarily committed for up to 72 hours. The City Attorney’s Office had no comment on the issue.

Amazingly, police took Garza to the same PES department at SF General where the saga began. This time, though, he made it past the lobby and received a medical screening exam, marked by a report and other SF General paperwork. The mere fact of this report’s existence, Garza claims, proves that he did not receive proper care when he went to the hospital voluntarily in 2001. Deputy city attorney Burrell informed Garza by letter that the only record the hospital could produce from his 2001 visit was a triage report filled out by Lewis, the nurse. EMTALA does not permit triage of a patient without a subsequent medical screening examination.

However, in pretrial motions, the city argued that Lewis treated Garza like any other would-be patient and thus complied with the law: "EMTALA requires hospitals to provide a screening examination that is comparable to that offered to other patients with similar symptoms." In other words, Garza’s treatment may have been poor, but so was everyone else’s, so he had no case, the city contended. Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton agreed and tossed out the suit.

Perhaps the strongest proof of Garza’s "adjustment disorder" and need for psychiatric care, ironically, is the fact that he continued to press his case even after his lawsuit was tossed out, taking on a health care system that could make anyone feel unhinged. For the past six years, he says, he has badgered "10 to 15" local, state, and federal agencies, as well as government officials like Sup. Bevan Dufty and aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco). In the process, he has compiled an encyclopedic collection of letters, petitions, records, and even audiotapes of phone conversations.

"There isn’t a single agency that’s in charge of anything," Garza said of his dealings with the health care bureaucracy. "You’re parsed. You’re sliced and diced and parsed as a medical patient … and it’s designed to fail."

Not surprisingly, Garza’s efforts to find accountability have irked some officials and members of the bureaucratic corps. When he requested a copy of his arrest report from the Sheriff’s Department, he received a mocking denial letter signed "R.N. Ratched," a reference to the asylum nurse in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As the Guardian reported in 2002, Sheriff’s Department legal counsel Jim Harrigan eventually confessed to penning the letter, but only after Garza raised a fuss before the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

At Garza’s urging, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) asked the California Department of Health Services to investigate his treatment at SF General. In a letter dated Nov. 13, 2006, CMS official Steven Chickering informed Garza that the DHS "found no violation of statue [sic] or regulations." Chickering concluded his letter to Garza by warning him to back off. "Your frequent communications have become disruptive, distracting, and nonproductive. Therefore I have instructed CMS Regional Office staff not to accept telephone calls from you in this matter."

Despite his setbacks with the CMS and other agencies, Garza pressed on. He contacted the Office of Inspector General at the federal Department of Health and Human Services and asked it for help. OIG spokesperson Donald White declined to discuss specific details of Garza’s case, but he did tell the Guardian that "Mr. Garza came to [the OIG] directly, and we contacted CMS, and they conducted another investigation."

That second investigation found an EMTALA violation after all.

On April 19, Garza’s relentless — some might say quixotic or even crazy — pursuit of what he calls the truth finally produced some results. Nearly six years to the day after his 2001 visit to SF General’s PES, hospital officials inked a settlement agreement with the OIG in which SF General conceded that Garza had not been examined properly, a violation of section 1867(e)(1) of EMTALA. Section 6 of the settlement states plainly that the hospital "did not provide [Garza] with an appropriate medical screening examination on April 22, 2001."

The hospital agreed to pay a fine of $5,000. But Garza, as White told us, "is not a party to the settlement." In other words, he got nothing.

"That’s the way EMTALA works," White said, meaning that hospitals found in violation of the law pay restitution to the government, not to the victim. "We took the steps required under the law."

Reached by phone, Iman Nazeeri-Simmons, SF General’s director of administrative operations, acknowledged that hospital officials signed the settlement agreement but noted that in the course of the investigation leading up to it, "the state did give us a very thorough EMTALA survey and came out with no problems."

"It has been made clear to Mr. Garza that he is more than welcome to come back and access services here," she added.

Garza denied that he had received any follow-up calls from SF General offering services, and he balked at the idea of returning there: "That’s like sending someone back to the priest that molested them." He told us he would like to pursue further legal action against the hospital and the city but still has not found a lawyer. After the settlement was signed, he claimed, he asked officials at the OIG "where I could go now for legal and medical help, and they told me, ‘That’s not our jurisdiction.’ "

"So even though I’m dead right, I’m still without help because everybody’s pointing fingers … as opposed to getting me the help I need, because they don’t care, they’re unaccountable," Garza said. "Ten different agencies told me I was wrong, and now [with the settlement] I’m right?"

He threw up his hands. "Does that make sense to you?" *

Budget blowback


› sarah@sfbg.com

People’s Budget Coalition member Esther Morales says she’s angry that the media obsessed over Sup. Chris Daly’s June 19 comments about whether Mayor Gavin Newsom has honestly addressed allegations that he’s used cocaine yet ignored hours of testimony that hundreds of San Franciscans gave at the very same meeting, a state-mandated hearing on the impact of Newsom’s proposed spending cuts on the city’s neediest populations, including those with drug and alcohol problems.

"There’s been so much press about that hearing, but it’s all been about what’s happening between Sup. Chris Daly and the mayor," Morales said, accurately observing that there has been no coverage by the mainstream media of the addicts who waited for hours that night but only got to talk for two minutes each about how they would have died had it not been for the substance abuse programs that Newsom plans to cut.

Nor has much been written about the folks who pleaded for Buster’s Place, the city’s only all-night homeless shelter, which was to close at the end of June unless the Board of Supervisors saved it from Newsom’s $1.6 million cut. Nor has much mention been made of the organizers from the city’s four single-room occupancy hotel collaboratives that showed up at City Hall a few days earlier to decry Newsom’s proposed $233,000 cut in their combined budgets.

As David Ho of the Chinatown Community Development Center told the Guardian, "These are programs for the poor and for public health, and they are always on the chopping block. The mayor talks about the need to preserve working-class families in the city, and here we are being left out of the budget."

Muna Landers of the Coalition on Homelessness said SRO hotel rooms were originally meant to be single dwellings, but now more than 450 families — 85 percent of whom are immigrants — live in such rooms without bathrooms or kitchens. "When one family moves out, three families move in," Landers said.

Meanwhile, in light of Newsom’s proposal to restore only 50 percent of a $9 million federal cut in San Francisco’s HIV/AIDS programs, San Francisco AIDS Housing Alliance director Brian Basinger accused the mayor of "playing bullshit games."

As Morales told us this week, "What’s really behind these fights between Chris and the mayor is the fact that Chris spearheaded the board’s $28 million affordable-housing supplement…. Without Daly’s footwork the $28 million supplemental would not have passed by an 8–3 majority, and the mayor only refused to sign it because it was Chris’s measure."

Morales works with 60 community-based groups as the organizer of the Family Budget Committee, one of seven committees of the People’s Budget Coalition, which unveiled its annual report June 21 on the steps of City Hall. The group values services for those struggling to get by.

"But this mayor’s budget is a law-and-order, streets-and-potholes, increasingly right-wing conservative budget that is not reflective of what San Francisco is about, and it will drive even more families out of town," Morales told us.

Months ago the Family Budget Committee met with the mayor’s staff to ask for a $30 million package of services, part of the People’s Budget Coalition’s $78 million request from the mayor’s record $6.1 billion budget.

"The mayor’s staff talked to us about how dismal the budget year looked, how the firefighters’, the police[‘s], and the nurses’ contracts are up for negotiations, and so they didn’t know how much money they would end up with," Morales recalled.

So the Family Budget Committee whittled down its needs, first to $20 million, then $10 million, and sent those priorities to the Mayor’s Office for consideration. Ultimately, it said, the mayor found just $1.5 million for its priorities, so it turned its attention to the Board of Supervisors.

Since board president Aaron Peskin removed Daly as chair of the Budget and Finance Committee on June 15 and took the reins himself, the body has restored $4 million in HIV/AIDS funding, and much more is on the way. Peskin told us that he intends to significantly change the mayor’s budget, promising more so-called add backs than the board has ever approved.

"It’s all about priorities," Peskin told us. He said Daly "never intended to actually cut" any of the mayor’s top-priority projects when he introduced his motion to slash $37 million from Newsom’s funding plans. It was simply a negotiating tactic that "backfired majorly" when the targeted constituencies rallied against Daly.

Yet board progressives haven’t been derailed by Daly’s actions, as many pundits predicted. At the same meeting at which Daly mentioned cocaine while making a point about substance abuse program cuts, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi led a challenge of Newsom’s proposed San Francisco Police Department contract on the grounds that it would grant cops a 25 percent pay increase but give the city little in return. And there are still eight supervisors who supported Daly’s affordable-housing plan.

Peskin told us, "I’m hopeful that by the end of the week you’ll be able to write that Peskin took the baton that Newsom handed him, and while it may not have been as pretty as we might have liked, I’m hopeful that after reversing cuts to health care and [making the additions requested by] the Family Budget Committee, we’ll even be able to dump money back into low-income, affordable, family, and rental housing." *

Night on Earth


Gus van Sant’s films are as thick as the Oregon sky. Swept with dreamy remove and elliptical narration, his work strikes me as being the cinematic equivalent of shoegaze music (sorry, Sofia). Now that the writer-director seems to have given up middlebrow commercial filmmaking (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester) to return to the art house (Elephant, Last Days), it feels like the right time for a revival of his shoestring 16mm debut, Mala Noche. Originally released in 1985, the understated story of a scraggly Portland liquor store clerk infatuated with a Mexican street youth is based on poet Walt Curtis’s novella of the same name, with the author’s beat-tinged style re-created in actor Tim Streeter’s affecting, wise voice-over.

Novellas may be easier to adapt than poems, but it’s still important that van Sant is working from a poet’s material, as he possesses a penchant for pure lyricism that puts him in league with Terrance Malick. Mala Noche has the woozy, restless rhythm of hanging around, playing hard to get. A couple of voice-overs on white privilege aside, van Sant’s rendering doesn’t feel like it’s about anything in particular — not inconsequential, considering its chronicling of a gay, biracial love triangle (Streeter’s Walt loves Johnny but ends up sleeping with his friend Roberto). Instead of identity politics, we get longing, laughter, working-class blues, weather. There are dramatic elements here, to be sure — disappearances, lockouts, even death — but they float by, washed out in wistfulness. The narration inevitably sags in places, though John J. Campbell’s low-key black-and-white cinematography is frequently stunning, imbuing van Sant’s handheld close-ups with surprising depth (reason enough for the new print from Janus Films). With a crooked smile and a purring voice, Streeter’s character is every bit the likable asshole, and the object of his desire (Doug Cooeyate) is magnetic. It’s easy enough to see Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho coming, though one doesn’t necessarily want to leave this Mala Noche.

No scrubs


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Michael Moore is a divisive character, but he’s not the most controversial man in the United States. The first image in Sicko, the director’s first doc since 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11, is of George W. Bush. But the liar in chief is only one of Moore’s targets this time around. In Sicko he goes after America’s entire health care system, examining how even folks who have health insurance are routinely screwed over by corporations that care more about profits than lives. Of course, he does it in typical Moore fashion, with big gestures, occasionally overwrought voice-overs, and a snarky humor that balance out what’s otherwise a gloomy tale.

There’s so much dejection here — babies dying because hospitals won’t treat them, Ground Zero volunteers being denied care, the exposure of corrupt insurance-company tactics, and worse — that comic relief is essential, Moore explained during a recent whirlwind visit to San Francisco. He’d just come from Sacramento, where the film was screened for enthusiastic members of the California Nurses Association.

"I’ll bet you that there are as many laughs in this film as some of my other films, but it doesn’t feel that way because there are so many sad moments," he said. "But you need that. The humor helps lead you from the despair to the justifiable anger."

Gimmicks like a Star Wars crawl to illustrate the hundreds of diseases insurance companies won’t cover lighten Sicko‘s tone, as do scenes in which Moore puts on his gee-whiz persona and travels to other countries (Canada, England, France) where emergency treatment comes quick and free and prescription drugs practically grow on trees. In France, he discovers, the government supplies nannies to do chores for new mothers — although I’m too cynical to totally accept that perk as the truth, especially since the mother interviewed is white and middle-class. Or is it my disgust with America’s shortcomings that clouds my judgment?

Disgust is what Moore is after, because it’s the kind of strong emotion that might actually motivate action. "I have to hold out some kind of hope that [change] is possible," he said. "[In Sicko, an American woman living in France] says, ‘The reason things work here is because the government is afraid of the people. In America the people are afraid of the government.’ So I’m hoping that people will stop being so afraid and apathetic and get involved."

One of Sicko‘s unlikely targets is former universal-health-care advocate Hillary Clinton — now among Washington’s top recipients of health-care-industry donations. In the film, the senator (and aspiring prez) is praised, then slammed, for her stance on the issue.

"I’ve always liked her. I had a chapter in my first book called ‘My Forbidden Love for Hillary.’ I always thought that she got a raw deal on the health thing that she tried to do. I could see instantly, as soon as she was in the White House, men were very threatened by her. There were whole Web sites devoted to her — hateful, hateful stuff," Moore said. "I have kind of a broken heart because of her votes on the war. And it was really sad, the discovery that she [later became] the second-largest recipient of health-care-industry money."

Moore, who said he’d lost 30 pounds in the past three months ("One way to fight the man!"), has high hopes for Sicko‘s long-range impact. "The whole system needs to be upended. If the American people actually listen to what I’m saying here, that we need to start rethinking everything in terms of how we treat each other and how we structure our society, a whole lot of other things are gonna get fixed, and we’re gonna be a better people. And I think the rest of the world is gonna feel a hell of a lot safer with a change of attitude."

Of course, Sicko wouldn’t be a Michael Moore movie without at least one moment that stays true to his prankster instincts. His controversial visit to Cuba has been well-documented elsewhere, so I won’t go into the details here. But I will say he was pretty delighted to ask, "Have you ever seen anyone sail into Guantánamo Bay?"*


Opens Fri/29 in Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com

I love Lucio


› johnny@sfbg.com

"I was sad when he died and sad to have never been able to meet him and tell him how much he had done for me," Amedeo Pace of Blonde Redhead writes in the liner notes for Water’s reissue of Amore e Non Amore, a 1971 album by Lucio Battisti. Pace then closes his brief yet poignant tribute — one that describes growing up in a household unified by a love of Battisti’s music — with a simple but effective declaration: "Amore e Non Amore is one of the greatest albums."

The fact that one of Blonde Redhead’s twins acknowledges Battisti as a font of new and familiar ideas should intrigue English-speaking listeners who’ve never heard Battisti’s music. But there’s also an elliptical quality to Pace’s plaintive wish that he had met the man behind Amore, an album that shifts from propulsive beat rock to soundtrack-ready flamenco flourishes and sweeping string arrangements in its first two songs, setting the tone and rhythm for a richly seesawing display of vocal and instrumental tracks.

With Amore, Battisti established himself as an Italian corollary to Scott Walker, a singer with a brighter if just as seductively handsome tenor voice who, not content with mere stardom, was ready to chart the outer limits of popular music. Just as the late ’60s — the era of Scott through Scott 4 (all Fontana) — saw Walker move from the mainstream pleasures of Burt Bacharach to the ribald, poetic, and pun-laden chansons of Jacques Brel as well as his own imaginative landscapes, so Amore and 1972’s Umanamente Uomo: Il Sogno (also recently reissued by Water) saw Battisti use his position as a favorite voice of his nation to take its people to musical places they may not have expected to discover. In Battisti’s case, those were deeply emotional places; it was no accident that the album he’d completed before Amore was Emozioni (Ricordi), a 1970 collection that boasts a title track as gorgeous and reflective as the enigmatic, sunlit silhouette cover photo of the bushy-haired man behind its music.

As the years went on, Battisti, much like Walker, retired from public life, becoming even more of an enigma. He died in 1998, 14 years after the release of his final album, Hegel (Alex, 1994) — a title so blatantly philosophical, so nonpop, that the avant-leaning Walker of today, draped in references to Pier Paolo Pasolini, again comes to mind. It’s here that Pace’s sadness that he’d "never been able to meet" Battisti becomes something more than personal; many Italians wish they could have known the man whose recordings they found so moving on an elemental level.

"After E Già [BMG, 1982], Lucio disappeared from view," Stefano Isidoro Bianchi of the Italian magazine Blow Up wrote when I e-mailed him to ask about the Battisti enigma. "After the early ’70s, he didn’t appear on TV — the one exception was a German TV show in 1978 — and never gave interviews. And after 1982, he really became invisible: no interviews, no TV, no pictures. We knew he lived in London for some time, and then for the rest of his life in a county called Brianzia, in Lombardia (north of Italy). The further he vanished, the more he was loved because of his songs. He was a presence on the Italian music scene. We knew that when Lucio was back with another album, it was a strike. And it was."

In the wake of his heyday, Battisti truly struck, according to Bianchi, in 1974 with Anima Latina (BMG) — which, though it was unreleased in the US, he rates as highly as Amore — and with E Già and 1986’s Don Giovanni (BMG), which included lyrics by surrealist poet Pasquale Panella. But Water has chosen wisely in selecting Amore and Umanamente to rerelease. "These albums are unique in the way they combine string-heavy European crooner pop with prog rock grooves and psychedelic guitar," notes Michael Saltzman, who penned the liner notes for the label’s Umanamente reissue. When I ask Saltzman to name a favorite period in Battisti’s career, he chooses Amore and Umanamente as peak examples of the stylistic cross-pollination that was occurring on other continents — via Tropicália, perhaps most notably — during the late- and initial post-Beatles years. Indeed, they are "comunque bella," to quote the chorus of one of Umanamente‘s hymnlike highlights, only in the sense that Battisti adds dissonant elements to counterbalance the abundant beauty of his voice and compositions.

Perhaps at my suggestion, Bianchi isn’t averse to likening the deep artistic connection that Battisti had with his Amore and Umanamente lyricist, Mogol, to one that existed between a certain American troubadour and his wordsmith: "Mogol was the inner voice of Lucio like Larry Beckett was the inner voice of Tim Buckley," Bianchi observes. But in the end, he’s insistent — apologetically so — that "no one but the Italians can understand" the "magic" of Battisti in full bloom: "In the early ’70s, Battisti released his best albums, and the way he approached something we can call progressive was peculiarly Italian and peculiarly Battisti-like. If you know the other Italian progressive bands, you know that Battisti wasn’t part of the scene. He was a great musician because he changed the face of Italian pop music."

To which I say, "Pace, Pace," or "Pace, pace." The most musical of all languages might float through Battisti’s songs, but their space — shadowy, sacred, alternately melancholic and frenzied — is open to anyone who listens, Italian, American, Italian American, and otherwise.

After all, the glorious anthemic harmony at the close of Umanamente‘s "… E Penso a Te" speaks the universal language of pop, repeating variations of "la-la" until shivers shoot up the spine and tears form at the corners of one’s eyes.*

For an e-mail Q&A with Amedeo Pace about Lucio Battisti, see the Noise blog at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.

Dream girl


› kimberly@sfbg.com

"I used to joke sometimes that I’m Judee’s last boyfriend," concedes Patrick Roques, producer of Dreams Come True, Water’s two-disc 2005 compendium of Judee Sill’s unreleased 1974 third album and demos. "I don’t mean to sound egotistic or anything, but I loved this woman like I’d love a girlfriend or wife."

Sill has that effect on listeners. Over the past few years, the onetime hooker, junkie, armed robber, bisexual reform-school girl, and all-around archetypal bad apple has realized the revelation visited on her while incarcerated in the Sybil Brand women’s prison: her music has been etched into the consciousnesses of passionate followers around the world who know her as a singer-songwriter of uncommon musical and metaphysical power. Even 27 years after her death from a cocaine overdose, it seems like Sill still hasn’t quite passed. Water has done its part to keep her musical reveries alive with the landmark Dreams Come True, mixed by Jim O’Rourke and including Roques’s obsessively researched, invaluable 68-page booklet and a 12-minute QuickTime movie of rare performance footage; reissues of her two Asylum studio albums, Judee Sill (1971) and Heart Food (1973); and the newly released Live in London: The BBC Recordings 1972–1973, an impeccably recorded document of Sill performing solo on acoustic guitar and piano, chatting with the audience and an interviewer, and in the process revealing snatches of a nervy yet nervous urban cowgirl in her blue-collar SoCal drawl.

For too long, before her rediscovery in recent years by a generation falling back in love with the folk songs of their parents’ youth, Sill was simply the lost girl from an age of singer-songwriters, a victim of her lack of stateside commercial success — though she’s been covered by artists ranging from the Turtles to the Hollies, Warren Zevon to Bonnie "Prince" Billy — and her will to transcend the bounds of the earth and everyday troubles, growing up in her father’s rough Oakland bar and later sexually abused by her stepfather. Clues to map out her art — or potential escape routes, which included a brief stay in Mill Valley’s Strawberry Canyon — were found in the sacred texts and music of Rosicrucianism and other forms of Christian mysticism, her studies of Pythagoras’s music of the spheres and occult modes like numerology, or simply the moment’s drug of choice, whether it be a daily tab of acid or the $150-a-day heroin habit that led her into prostitution and eventually check forgery.

Her decision in prison to devote her creative efforts to songwriting led her to truly reach for the sublime, in the form of songs that still touch listeners’ cores. Always-immaculate intonation, a deft sense of harmony, and elegantly composed songs informed by AM radio, folk, R&B, blues, gospel, and classical music were framed by Sill’s own arrangements, leading competition like Joni Mitchell to stop by and check out the Heart Food sessions. "I defy anyone who’s a high school dropout ex-junkie reform-school person to do that," Roques declares. "This woman was brilliant and plugged in — she had the energy, and it flowed through her." If you want to know and love Sill, she is, remarkably, still available — her spirit can be found all over her music.

So why didn’t Sill become a household name like Asylum labelmate Jackson Browne? "Judee didn’t get along with [Asylum head] David Geffen, and David Geffen isn’t someone you give shit to," Roques says. After recording two moderately successful LPs, "she was in debt to him, and Jackson Browne came along, and he was just easier to deal with, I think, from a corporate perspective. Browne hung out in the close inner circle and had hits. She didn’t hang out with the Asylum record crowd too much. She hung out a little with Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, and she had a lot of strange friends that she had had for a long time in LA."

One of Sill’s exes and old pals, musician Tommy Peltier witnessed the disconnect between the worlds Sill ran in and remembers accompanying her to a Warner Bros. Christmas party right after her debut came out. "We went in my beat-up old car to the Beverly Hills Hotel, and that was first time I saw her cringe," recalls Peltier, who first met Sill onstage at a 1968 jam session ("It was love at first song"). "Here she was the new starlet — there were all these Rollses and limos, and then this clunker drives up, and the new starlet comes out! That was the only time I saw her really uncomfortable, but she just went in there and took over the room."

But as difficult or out of her element as Sill could be, she was within her rights to complain about her handling when she went from opening for kindred souls like Crosby, Stills, and Nash to fronting rock bands. "If you listen to the BBC sessions, she talks about lower chakras and people who just want to boogie, and it’s true," Roques explains. "The rock crowd just wanted to drink wine and take mescaline and get fucked up and party, and there’s Judee singing ‘Jesus Was a Cross Maker’ and making references to esoteric literature. People who went out for a Friday night didn’t want to hear that, just like they didn’t want to hear Charles Mingus. Americans just want to partay — that’s cool — but that’s why she did better in England."

It’s no surprise, then, that Sill obsessives like O’Rourke and Roques still feel protective of her, careful about sharing their love for the dark lady of a sunlit Topanga Canyon whose revelations were forged on the grittily glamorous, sadly battered streets of Los Angeles and who, ironically, seems a perfect fit for yet another turn through Hollywood. "She was out there on the edge," Roques says, "and though I don’t think she ever talked about women’s lib, she was a very ballsy chick and knew what the fuck she wanted and just went and did it. And she evolved into a fantastic person — there’s no one like her" — although, apparently, listeners keep looking. "I search for tapes and talk to musicians endlessly," he continues. "And if you go on these sites, you’ll see everyone wants to find the next Judee Sill — and none of them can even touch Judee Sill." *

Something in the Water


Franco Battiato’s 1972 album Fetus, reissued by Water, is the kind of recording that transcends a record-store genre category such as Italian prog rock. For starters, the keyboard freak-out at the close of the title number is something today’s army of Kraftwerk drones should covet.

Beginning with the sound of a heartbeat and moving through transmissions from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin about purple rocks on the moon, Fetus repeatedly journeys from micro to macro and back again with ease. The spiraling keys of "Meccanica" could spook Goblin — or for that matter Alan Sorrienti, whose cronelike cackles and cries on another Water reissue, 1972’s Aria, presage Devendra Banhart’s running for the hobbit hills. And a ceaselessly splendid song such as "Energia" could teach Os Mutantes a lesson in mutation: it keeps moving from bambini babble to folk passages and gleaming synth vistas until it’s formed an exhilarating circular pattern — all in four and a half minutes.

Marvelous in form while Battiato’s lyrics marvel at the wonder and horror of life, Fetus has eight compositions. But they contain countless rich passages that flow into one another so seamlessly that the whole thing only seems to have one beginning and a single end that arrives too soon, after a truly epic half hour. One year later, with Pollution (also reissued by Water), Battiato brought the world the loveliest song ever recorded about plankton and a 20-second audio version of Y2K that proved to be more frightening and interesting than the real thing. But he still might have been at his best in Fetus form. (Huston)

The hot rock


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It’s strange taking on a profile of a band so steeped in a musical language with which you were once not just fluent but even obsessed. I would have adored New York City rockers Battles when I was 19, their power-through-precision métier appealing to my penchant for all things prog and post, the words "ex-Helmet drummer" (that would be the band’s John Stanier) acting as foolproof elixir. But if I’m not so easily impressed by intensity and general hugeness these days, that only makes my response to the evident dynamism on Mirrored (Warp) seem all the more incontestable.

Not that anyone ever doubted Battles’ credentials: in the school of rock, these guys are definitely PhDs. Beyond Stanier’s heavy days with Helmet, Ian Williams’s guitar tapping was a cornerstone of Don Caballero’s pioneering math rock. Guitarist Dave Konopka put in time with Lynx. Multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton still gets tied to his dad — avant-garde jazz colossus Anthony Braxton — though it’s worth noting he’s done lots of compelling work on his own, including 2002’s History That Has No Effect (JMZ).

There’s plenty of firepower here, though Mirrored doesn’t sound like the work of a typical, ego-fueled supergroup. Reflecting on the ensemble’s beginnings in 2003, Williams relates, "It was about starting from scratch rather than having it be the guy from Helmet doing what he’s supposed to do and the guy from Don Cab doing what he’s supposed to do and so on." Battles’ music is certainly cohesive, to the point of being migraine inducing. Williams is on the road between shows in Charlotte, NC, and Atlanta when we talk, and he sounds a bit mystified that some people still view Battles as a side project. "The reality is this band has taken up all of our time these past few years."

Part of this lingering getting-to-know-you talk clearly has to do with the group’s measured ascent: Battles took four years to release their first album, after all. While Williams says that part of why Mirrored took so long is simply a matter of the logistics of England’s Warp Records repackaging the band’s 2004 EPs — EP C (Monitor) and EP B (Dim Mak) — it’s clear that there were designs to build from the ground up. "One thing about the EPs was that they originally came out in the States on three separate small indie labels, and it took people a while to find out about it, and that was a conscious thing … just to have it be more word-of-mouth," Williams explains. "Another purpose of taking our time was in wanting to find our own sound, our own reason for being a band."

That sound — fractal, propulsive, profoundly stimulated — is mapped out in Mirrored‘s opening minutes. A tightly wound snare part rides the rails of muted guitar runs before "Race: In" blooms into a giant, Tortoise-size crescendo. The quartet then doubles back on the core rhythmic elements, which are projected through a half-dozen modes during the song’s five prismatic minutes. The video for the full-length’s glam-inflected single, "Atlas," offers a spot-on visual approximation: the band members play in a mirrored cube, their bobbing, duplicated forms angling in on one another as their respective parts interlock in so many different combinations.

"I guess it is a tension between enjoying far-out music that can sound inaccessible … but at the same time not thinking it should be unnecessarily difficult," Williams says of Battles’ strategy. "I think our approach is that there’s no reason it shouldn’t hit you on a primal level … even though you can take it in a thinking way too." I think it’s safe to say plenty of people are, none more than the 19-year-olds surely losing their minds to Battles and Mirrored this very minute.*


With Ponytail

Mon/2, 8 p.m., $15


333 11th St., SF

(415) 255-0333


The fundamentals of Fucked Up


You needn’t be too wary of the dialogue surrounding Fucked Up, Toronto’s jewel of esoteric hardcore punk. The members’ beliefs and their names are hidden, but they’re not out to brainwash anybody. And they’re certainly not hiding anything in the songwriting department: the melodies are blistering and as uninhibited as the band, which has a knack for subverting punk conventions.

"For hardcore bands especially, politics are often made out to be black-and-white," rhythm guitarist 10,000 Marbles says on the phone from Toronto. Critics and listeners have puzzled aplenty over this pseudonyms-only band in their attempts to pin down Fucked Up’s political allegiances. Before releasing its debut, Hidden World, on Jade Tree last year, the band had spent the prior five years releasing 17 vinyl singles with artwork and lyrics that cited magick, anarchism, the Spanish Civil War, and André Gide. These may look to be the makings of a bizarre cult agenda, but Fucked Up’s "culture of confusion" and conflicting political ideas — the most bizarre instance coming in the form of a photo of a Hitler Youth rally on the cover of its 2004 split single with Haymaker on Deep Six Records — are more about kick-starting independent thought than advancing any specific, concrete ideas.

"We originally wore the anarchist tag pretty proudly," rhythm guitarist Gulag says, also calling from Toronto. "But now we’re more interested in leapfrogging cultures and ideas. It’s a more fulfilling way to live, if a little unprincipled." As amorphous as the members’ personal beliefs may be, Fucked Up doesn’t express any disdain for punk as a sound: Mustard Gas’s bass lines and vocalist Pink Eyes’s deep growl-howl are quite reverent toward the ghosts of hardcore past, and surprisingly enough, the band’s new 12-inch, Year of the Pig, marks its first waltz with rhetorical clarity and straight-ahead activism. The A-side title track examines the ongoing problem of violence toward women through the lens of prostitution, which is legal in Canada. It’s the culture of repression and guilt surrounding these subjects that has inspired the unusually pointed song, 10,000 Marbles says: "It’s taboo issues like sex work that people like us have a responsibility to talk about."

"Year of the Pig" is pretty daring stylistically and structurally, but to Fucked Up’s great credit, it’s also fantastic. Eighteen minutes long and starting as something of a twee shuffle before shifting into organ-backed operatic bellows from Pink Eyes, the song deftly delves into pummeling, psychedelic kraut rock riffage the likes of which might make Earthless or Major Stars jealous. Fucked Up’s sheer disregard of genre pigeonholes is especially evident in its recent doings. "We’re trying to bring in the electronic crowd now," Gulag says. "We just recorded a cover of [French dance duo] Justice’s ‘Stress.’ "

Venturing into Daft Punk–related territory: there’s a first for hardcore! It’s this staunch avoidance of cliché and political boundaries that very nearly makes Fucked Up punk for the Reading Is Fundamental set. More than anything else, the imperative is to ignore convention and get informed, which isn’t a fucked-up MO at all.


Sat/30, 8 p.m., $7

924 Gilman, Berk.

(510) 525-9926


Also July 4, 9 p.m., $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923