Volume 41 Number 40

July 4 – July 10, 2007

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Tune in, turn on, “Psych-Out”


CULT FILM Some movies define a generation. Some distort a generation. Very special ones manage both. Welcome to the genius of Psych-Out, a 1968 American International Pictures epic (produced by none other than squeaky-clean American Bandstand icon Dick Clark) that remains perhaps the all-time high-water mark in cinematic hippiesploitation.

Oh, Psych-Out, Psych-Out, Psych-Out! How many times have I loved your psychedelic excesses since that fateful first viewing in the 1980s at Boston’s annual Schlock-around-the-Clock marathon? Not even my housemate’s desperate need to exchange MDA-driven warm fuzzies in the lobby could tear me from such enchantment. (She did succeed in wrangling me away that night from such additional gems as The Thing with Two Heads. A small resentment lingers.)

Psych-Out, which plays as part of the Red Vic’s commemoration of the Summer of Love’s 40th anniversary, is the least heralded of an unofficial AIP trilogy from that year, alongside The Trip (Peter Fonda drops lysergic under the tutelage of ever-levelheaded Bruce Dern) and Wild in the Streets (the US voting age is lowered to 14, resulting in Shelley Winters being sent to a concentration camp for too-old people). Those films were actual hits. Psych-Out ran through the drive-in mill and was quickly forgotten.

Stupid humans!! How could they resist a film advertised thus: "These are the PLEASURE LOVERS! They’ll ask for a dime with hungry eyes. But they’ll give you love — for NOTHING! Have you ever TASTED FEAR or SMELLED MADNESS? LISTEN to the sound of PURPLE!" Nearly 30 Susan Strasberg plays Jenny, an underage runaway searching for her brother (Dern as "the Seeker," a sort of Crazy Acid Jesus). Escaping their abusive mother — glimpsed in one genuinely disturbing flashback — the mute Audrey Hepburn–goes–mod gamine arrives in San Francisco, center of the known counterculture universe, where she’s taken in by the hipsters who constitute rock group Mumblin’ Jim: a ponytailed Jack Nicholson, barely bothering to finger-mime rip-off Hendrix riffs as guitarist Stoney; jive-talking drummer Elwood (Max Julien); keyboardist Ben (biker-flick staple Adam Roarke); bassist Wesley (Tommy Flanders); and Wesley’s shareable wife, Lynn (Linda Gaye Scott), who can’t hit a tambourine on tempo to save her life. Then there’s Dean Stockwell as Dave, the serenely weird ex-bandmate turned fountain of guru wisdom. He lives in a rooftop cardboard box.

All help Jenny look for that elusive messianic bro, at least when not introducing her to the joys of thrift shop fashion montages and Golden Gate Park Be-Ins (at which garage greats the Seeds play). Befitting this turbulent generation, distracting crises occur. Some are peacenik-versus-redneck stuff requiring hippies to kick local junkyard greaser ass. Others are drug related, as when future bad director Henry Jaglom hallucinates that his limbs need cutting off. This occasions the immortal line "C’mon man! Warren’s freaking out at the gallery!"

Psych-Out has everything: kaleidoscope visuals, STP dosing, horror-movie hallucinations, and dialogue like "It’s all one big plastic hassle." The Strawberry Alarm Clock contribute not just their signature "Incense and Peppermints" but also a theme ("The Pretty Song from Psych-Out") whose lyrics and melody encapsulate the entire plotline with a dreamy be-there-or-be-square vibe and the song "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow," which soundtracks a particularly senseless sequence involving the soft-focus stringing of beads around a communal household. More bent yet is the scene in which Nicholson and Julien sit in a van, their nutty bloodshot eyes suggesting major real-world fry-dom.

Psych-Out was largely filmed in the Haight-Ashbury of fall 1967, lending some aspects an authenticity that concurrent Hollywood hippiesploitation flicks lacked. Yet locals reportedly greeted the crew with such hostility that they had to hire Hells Angels as guards. The end-product melodramatic hash must have induced much derisive stoner laughter among subsequent longhaired viewers.

Director Richard Rush had an odd, thwarted career that peaked with one genuinely admired film (1980’s The Stunt Man), then after a long layoff crashed fatally against the 1994 erotic thriller absurdity Color of Night (Bruce Willis as a psychiatrist stalked by a transsexual patient). On the other hand, the richly colorful Psych-Out‘s Hungarian émigré cinematographer, Laszlo Kovacs, went on to shoot all of Peter Bogdanovich’s, Bob Rafelson’s, and Dennis Hopper’s major films — plus Shampoo, Ghostbusters, and less prestigious but popular recent vehicles for Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts.

Psych-Out is a camp classic that nonetheless makes you desperately wish you were there then. It’s a "bad" movie, yet wonderful in ways that aren’t silly or dated at all. Its freak flag is on.


Fri/6–Sat/7, 7:15 and 9:25 p.m. (also Sat/7, 2 and 4:15 p.m.), $5–$8.50

Red Vic

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994


What comes around


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

PREVIEW Until stumbling on The Wishing Bone Cycle some years back, I hadn’t wondered why owls die with wings outspread or how a man wearing antlers on his head can be tricked into thinking that real moose are after him. Yet Howard Norman’s eye-opening transcription-translations of Swampy Cree narrative poems are so arresting that I still find new questions in my life just to bring them to the stories. The tales invariably answer with bigger inquiries of their own. In the transformations they detail, animals — moose, lynx, frogs, bears — are adept shape-shifters, this being their key to survival, while humans change forms clumsily, afraid to be themselves.

When Theatre of Yugen presents The Cycle Plays in a daylong, one-time-only performance on 7/7/07, those present for the free event will be entranced by the resonant questing onstage. Our minds might even grow new antlers and roots at the same time. The Cycle Plays, connected to The Wishing Bone Cycle only in my head, was written by the hugely imaginative local playwright Erik Ehn, dean of theater at the California Institute of the Arts and an artistic associate with Yugen.

The Cycle Plays‘ five plays and opening dance have been in collaborative development for more than two years. They are an offering on a large scale, channeling the smaller, focused gestures of cleansing and growing closer that make up the company’s rich repertoire of movement. "Like many of Erik’s ideas, we just couldn’t bear to see a world without it," explained Lluis Valls, one of the three co–<\d>artistic directors who received the torch from founder Yuriko Doi in 2001.

A ritual dance play created with Doi, 10,000, opens the cycle. It features Doi, who is now in her 60s, alongside two of the company’s founding members, Brenda Wong Aoki and Helen Morgenrath. Based around a pulsating triangulation of three older women, it is an adaptation of the traditional Okina opening form. The plays that follow, interspersed with performances by guest comedy artists, represent the five traditional categories of Noh plays: Deity, Warrior, Woman, Madness, and Demon. They include Winterland, in which two teenage girls venture to see the Sex Pistols at the title club in San Francisco, and Long Day’s Journey into Night, a refiguring of Eugene O’Neill’s intense masterpiece. The company describes its Long Day’s Journey as "a ghost within a ghost within a variation of O’Neill’s fourth act."

Theatre of Yugen thrives on discipline and openness. Founded in 1978, the devoted troupe combines classical Japanese forms such as Noh theater and Kyogen comedy with cross-genre soundscapes and a willingness to reach into the heart of stories. Penetrating the psychology at the root of human actions, actors play ghosts and demons who are the embodiment of destructive attachments. The resulting unrest of the haunted characters stems from their not knowing whether they or the illusions are meant to disappear.

Lead composers and musicians Allen Whitman and Suki O’Kane help manifest this sense of being on the edge of great loss. Joined by the Yugen Orchestra on common and obscure instruments, they make music that is by turns postmodern and incantatory and harmonizes well with co–<\d>artistic director Jubilith Moore’s stunning performance in Winterland. Moore plays a leper, a beekeeper, and a milkman, all the ghosts of John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten), who appears to the overwhelmed girls as they try to reach the concert that turned out to be the Sex Pistols’ final show. Who hasn’t had a night like that in San Francisco? And who doesn’t replay it endlessly, searching for the point of no return?<\!s>*


Sat/7, first sitting 9 a.m., free (reservations are full; call to be put on waiting list)

Project Artaud Theater

450 Florida, SF

(415) 621-7978


“Bella” epic



As you walk into the theater to see Anna Bella Eema, you’ll meet the play’s three women seated on high stools in the midst of a found-object concert. They make sounds by swinging their arms, chomping their teeth, slurping through a straw, and rattling a hodgepodge of objects within arm’s reach. This prelude to Lisa D’Amour’s beautifully written, intermissionless play reminds us that the most basic instrument is the air we breathe.

Soon the lights dim around the dilapidated, debris-filled stage, and the women begin to form words with that air, singing to us in a round a story about a girl made from mud, Anna Bella Eema. Fittingly, her name sounds like an incantation, as D’Amour’s exquisite, dreamlike verse draws you deeply under its spell for the next 90 minutes. The characters spin from their song the tale of how this creature (Julie Kurtz) came to be.

Without leaving their perches, Irene (Cassie Beck) and Anna Bella (Danielle Levin) take turns telling the story, explaining that they are a mother and a daughter living in a trailer park soon to be razed to make room for an interstate, and Irene — who looks on the outside with disdain — won’t budge. Insulated from the world by an overbearing mother who thinks she’s part wolf, Anna Bella develops a powerful imagination. Through the character’s ensuing journey into alternate universes, D’Amour entangles Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein with a Gaia origin story, creating a distinctly feminine mythology that has a strong connection to the body, the breath, and all the fluids of the earth. The stage’s three inhabitants execute this complex work with perfect elocution and graceful movements to provide nothing short of a wonderfully engaging and magical experience.

Rarely is an experimental work so completely accessible. Such daring is what perpetuates the vitality of live theater, and we are lucky to have an extraordinary company like Crowded Fire to produce and perform works like this.


Extended through July 15

Mon. and Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; $10–$20

Ashby Stage

1901 Ashby, Berk.

(415) 439-2456




› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Knowing felines the way I don’t, I’d venture that most pussies squander a life or three every time they step out the door and off life’s balcony railing in search of their next fleshy plaything. But San Francisco vocalist Mark Osegueda of Death Angel is giving all those fur balls a run for their Meow Mix: the self-described "pretty resilient cat" — who quit the music game and moved to New York City after Death Angel’s fateful 1990 tour-bus crash in Arizona — was in the studio June 24 with his other, punk rock project, the All Time Highs, laying down scratch vocals at Fantasy Recording Studios in Berkeley when he got a hit by a bit more than a scratch.

"Holding a scream for a long time, you get a head rush because of the lack of oxygen. You almost feel really woozy, but usually my adrenalin is going so much onstage that I’m OK," the affable Osegueda, 38, tells me from Sun Valley, Idaho. "Instead I was standing in a little isolation booth in the studio, I had a head rush, and I passed out and fell forward, and a mic stand caught my eye."

The micless pole tore into Osegueda’s eyeball. "I was really, really fortunate that it didn’t hit the center of the eye — it hit the white area of the eye and took out a big chunk of it," he says. "So I’m dealing with pain and discomfort instead of vision problems, which is nice because, had it hit the center of the eye, we’d be having a different kind of conversation now!"

When he came to, Osegueda grabbed his eye out of panic, knowing he had done something "pretty severe and pretty wrong." Delirious and separated from his bandmates, who were continuing to play through the song elsewhere in the studio, Osegueda confesses that he was tempted to just take a nice little nap right where he fell, before he stopped himself, thinking he might have suffered a concussion.

Leaping up, he ran to the bathroom to splash water on his eye, worrying all the while about the All Time Highs’ show that night at Merchant’s Bar at Jack London Square ("I didn’t want people bumping into my face!") and unable to make out exactly how wounded he was. Once the rest of the group took a look at Osegueda’s peeper, they immediately took him to the hospital, where he had the bizarre experience of attempting to explain his gouge: "So I’m holding this high note, right … ?"

On the phone from the land of the spud, Osegueda is in shockingly high spirits for a guy who has experienced such trauma to his eye (if I were in his boots, I’d never look at mic stands quite the same way again). But the vocalist says the eyeball, while still really red, is getting "way better already" as he recuperates among his bandmates in Death Angel — the group he’s been in, on and off, since age 15 — with pen and paper in hand, writing lyrics for the band’s next Nuclear Blast long player and letting the healing continue.

Moreover, the entire experience is nowhere near as horrific as Death Angel’s 1990 bus crash, which derailed the career of a band set to become Bay Area thrash’s next Metallica. "To this day, that bus accident was one of the most traumatic days of my life," remembers the singer, who injured his foot — though he was nowhere near as badly hurt as drummer Andy Galeon, who had to undergo major reconstructive surgery for a year.

Galeon, thankfully, "now looks wonderful and plays like a workhorse!" says Osegueda, who plans to make like the aforementioned beast and hurl himself back into the thick of the two-year-old All Time Highs with a show at Annie’s Social Club on July 6. "The best description of us is AC/DC meets Minor Threat," he says gleefully. "Onstage we’re madness, flying and bumping into each other."

One ATH MySpace pal hailed Osegueda with "Heal well, ya knucklehead," but I’ll keep it simple with a "Watch out for low-flying projectiles — at all times."

SWEET HOME CHARLESTON Or rather, Mount Pleasant. Band of Horses vocalist-guitarist Ben Bridwell, 29, has relocated from Seattle to that town along with his bandmates, also South Carolina natives. The former Carissa’s Wierd member decided to make the move amid writing his upcoming, untitled Sub Pop album. "Definitely two fighting little forces there, happiness and sadness," he says, attempting to describe the recording, to which he still feels far too close. "I’m not trying to say I’m a tortured artist or depressed kinda dude," Bridwell adds. "Being affected by the Seattle weather had some effect, and relationships falling apart and falling in love again or being around my family."

But did he have any hesitation about getting close to the land still living down Hootie and the Blowfish? "I’ve heard about it since the day I was born!" Bridwell says of South Carolina’s rep. "You mean for starting the Civil War and continuing to fly the [Confederate] flag over the state Capitol? There’s definitely some stigma attached to my home state, but every place has some good people and bad people and ignorant people. I love South Carolina. I love my beautiful house, though of course I don’t really get to hang out in it. But I can walk to my dad’s house, have some beers, and stumble home." Schweet, indeed. *


With Bimbo Toolshed and Seize the Night

Fri/6, 9 p.m., $8

Annie’s Social Club

917 Folsom, SF

(415) 974-1585



With A Decent Animal and Stardeath and White Dwarfs

Thurs/5, 8 p.m., $20 (sold out)

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750


Midnight movie memories


CHRISTIAN BRUNO In the mid-’60s the Presidio hosted Underground Cinema 12, a package of late-night movies that might incorporate a little [George] Kuchar, a little Busby Berkeley, and a lot of porn posing as art. It was a traveling package of films that was curated by Mike Getz out of LA, but the Presidio put its own SF (which usually meant gay) stamp on things.

KAREN LARSEN Gosh, I remember going to see the Cockettes at the Palace in North Beach in the ’60s. And I remember going to a theater in Chinatown that was 99 cents and showed midnight movies.

MICHAEL WIESE (from "25 Great Reasons to Stay Up Late," by Jennifer M. Wood in MovieMaker): "[In 1968 Steven Arnold and I] were able to book the Palace Theater. At the premiere [of Arnold and Wiese’s Messages, Messages], 2,000 people showed up for a 20-minute, black-and-white film with no dialogue…. That was the real genesis of midnight movies."

MIDNIGHT MOVIES, by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum (Da Capo): "Despite, or perhaps because of, the film’s antihippie gibes, the city in which [Multiple Maniacs] enjoyed its greatest success was SF. Throughout the first half of 1971, it was the weekend midnight feature at the Palace, a movie house whose main attraction was the stage show performed by the Cockettes…. Divine was invited out for an appearance that April, and [John] Waters conducted a special live show. Introduced as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world,’ Divine sashayed out on the Palace stage in Multiple Maniacs costume, pushing a shopping cart filled with dead mackerels. In between ‘glamour fits,’ she heaved the fish into the audience, strobe-lit by the continual detonation of flash bulbs."

PETER MOORE We [the Roxie Cinema] were approached by Ben Barenholtz with Eraserhead in 1977 and showed it for years. Early in the run we brought David Lynch out, and I remember having lunch in a Tenderloin diner that completely charmed David. We also showed Pink Flamingos, The Honeymoon Killers, and Thundercrack! (of course). And we showed Forbidden Zone, but that was a case of trying too hard for cultness.

ROXIE CINEMA CALENDAR, APRIL 1977 "Midnite Friday: Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack! Midnite Saturday: Divine in Mondo Trasho."

ANITA MONGA Curt McDowell, the talented and charming underground (as we called them in those days) filmmaker, was a student of George Kuchar at the [SF] Art Institute, then his lover and collaborator on many films, including the infamous midnight favorite Thundercrack! Curt’s films were moving, confessional, ribald, and often absurd, with brilliant sound and picture, art direction, and original music on the teeniest of threadbare budgets. He was inventive to the bone.

MIDNIGHT MOVIES "At the Strand in SF — where the performance group Double Feature would mime virtually the entire [Rocky Horror Picture Show] — pickaxes were brandished in the audience when Frank took after Eddie with one."

MARCUS HU I remember going with a bunch of high school classmates to the Strand Theatre in 1979 and seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and being completely mesmerized by the religious experience of being in a packed theater that was singing and performing in sync with the silver screen. It must have made an indelible mark on me, as I went to work for Mike Thomas, who ran the theater, and that pretty much defined my life!

MARC HUESTIS [Huestis’s Whatever Happened to Susan Jane premiered at midnight on Feb. 13, 1982, at the Castro Theatre to a wild, sold-out house replete with the crème de la crème of San Francisco’s ’80s new wave scene. Mel Novikoff, president of the Surf Theatre chain, gave Huestis a good deal on a fourwall as the fledgling director pushed popcorn at one of his theaters. However, legend says he was heard running out of Susan Jane screaming,] "They’ll go see this garbage, but they won’t come see the Truffaut at the Clay!"

ROXIE CINEMA CALENDAR, AUG.–<\D>SEPT. 1982 "Saturday at midnight! Basket Case!"

SUSAN GERHARD I remember screenings of Todd Haynes’s amazing Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story at the Castro right when I first moved to SF, around 1988.

MIDNIGHT MOVIES "[Otto Preminger’s] Skidoo … has slowly but surely been gaining a second life as a midnight feature — particularly in the SF Bay area, where the movie is set."

ROXIE CINEMA CALENDAR, JULY–<\D>AUG., 1990 "Saturday midnights … Frank Henenlotter’s latest and possibly greatest grim sex and gore comedy, Frankenhooker!"

WILL "THE THRILL" VIHARO Thrillville began as a midnight series called the Midnight Lounge in April 1997 before switching to prime time — 9:15 p.m. — on Thursdays in January 1999. Around the same time the Werepad shared its vast film library with the public weekly — not at midnight, but they were definitely midnight movies.

PEACHES CHRIST The first Midnight Mass, featuring Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, took place on May 30, 1998.

JESSE HAWTHORNE FICKS Midnites for Maniacs began at the Four Star on Aug. 2, 2003. The slumber party all-night triple feature — with free cereal at 4 a.m. — featured Revenge of the Cheerleaders, Pinball Summer, and Joysticks. The first Midnites for Maniacs event at the Castro took place on Jan. 27, 2006; it was a disco roller-skating triple feature: Roller Boogie, Xanadu, and Skatetown, USA. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Porn in pairs


› paulr@sfbg.com

Although my subscription to Annals of Wine Pornography has lapsed, I still glean the occasional fetishistic detail from other press outlets — in particular, obsessive accounts of how this vintage of that winemaker’s reserve pinot noir pairs brilliantly with a particular kind of sheep’s milk cheese, left at room temperature for an hour, then smeared over some kind of heirloom fig that’s been grilled, cut side up, over a medium applewood fire for six to eight minutes while the grill chef recites poetry.

This sort of elaborately specific pairing reminds me of the day in high school chemistry when our teacher tossed a bit of sodium into a large tank of water and smiled in satisfaction as the metal hissed and sputtered like some kind of mutant fireworks display, then vanished. We are talking about show business, really, the producing of a briefly miraculous effect by some unexpected combination of ingredients. It is fun for a moment — and I’ve enjoyed a few of these moments over the years — but when the show ends, you’re still hungry, you still want to eat, and you still want somebody to eat with and talk to.

The reality — I hope and believe — is that food and wine are not consumed in some kind of one-dimensional universe, with attention focused on the flavors at hand and nowhere else, as in some kind of science experiment. Food and wine are agents of sociability, and the greatest pleasure they bring is the connection to other people. Wine, for me, is mostly an aperitif, and the best glass is almost always the first glass — the one you sip when you first sit down with someone at a table or step into a party and start talking to someone you haven’t seen in a while.

As it happens, I find the so-called food-friendly wines, many of them from Europe, to make lovely aperitifs too. They are solid but discreet; you enjoy them without being distracted by them, and they will go with the food too, when it finally appears.

A friend who sojourns in Italy noted recently that the Italian paisanos of his acquaintance make a red wine and a white wine — both good and both enjoyed with every meal, although "they don’t even know what the varieties of the grapes are." Could it be that they don’t need to?

Late Night Picture Show


Midnight Mass, held at the Bridge Theatre, may be the sparkling, dressed-to-the-nines jewel in Landmark Theatres’ cult-movie crown. But with a newly invigorated programming focus, the Clay’s Late Night Picture Show (and its aimed-more-at-college-kids Berkeley equivalent, the Shattuck’s Midnight Special) is also holding it down for folks who’re willing to sacrifice their sleep in the name of offbeat cinema. Curated by the self-dubbed Late Night Picture Show Films Committee (among its members: Clay manager Chris Hatfield; Peaches Christ’s alter ego, Joshua Grannell; and Late Night host Sam Sharkey), the series’ spring 2007 edition featured after-hours classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) as well as more esoteric choices, including a two-night run of Cannibal Holocaust (1980). For the upcoming fall season, the committee hopes to book Suspiria (1977) and (fingers crossed!) both the original and the remake of The Wizard of Gore (1970; 2007).

"In its mission statement, the Late Night Picture Show is more oriented towards classic cult films and more high-brow fare," Sharkey says. "We did Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle [1995–2002] — films that we feel are important but don’t necessarily get shown at midnight screenings."

While the programming definitely reflects a sense of fun (1985’s Re-Animator, 1973’s Enter the Dragon), the Late Night Picture Show offers a different filmgoing experience than Midnight Mass’s signature antics. "Our original intentions were to screen interesting films that we find have more critical merit and could also appeal to that midnight crowd," Sharkey explains. "Additionally, instead of having a full preshow, we’ve had special guests and people that talk before the films. Like last fall, when we did Phantom of the Paradise [1974], we had Paul Williams in person, who wrote the music. We did The Monster Squad [1987], and we had all the kids from the cast appear. Barry Gifford, the author of the Wild at Heart book [Grove Press], was there when we did a weekend [of David Lynch films]. I was proud of that stuff that we were able to do with that, as far as getting important guests." (Cheryl Eddy)


The new midnight


"Nine p.m. is the new midnight," declares Will "the Thrill" Viharo, programmer and host of Thrillville, the East Bay’s giant cocktail shaker of B-movie bliss. Turns out Thrillville’s earliest incarnation was as the Midnight Lounge, which Viharo first oversaw in April 1997, just a few months after Oakland’s Parkway Speakeasy Theater opened. After a particularly scorching Elvis tribute event, Viharo decided his gig, eventually dubbed Thrillville, was ready for prime time. Viharo’s delightfully sleazy tastes ("A lot of old AIP stuff — Amazing Colossal Man, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein [both 1957] — mixed in with ’60s drug movies like The Trip [1967] and blaxploitation like Shaft [1971]. I really stuck to stuff that I loved") earned him a loyal following. He’s now the programmer and publicist for Speakeasy Theaters and hosts monthly Thrillvilles at the Parkway and the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater — both of which offer menus of beer and pizza — as well as the occasional road show.

Though he’s a devoted film fan ("My life’s a B movie. People like what they can relate to"), Viharo, whose events feature his wife, Monica Tiki Goddess, and any number of special guests, sees Thrillville as much more than just a screening. "I realized I needed to turn it into a showcase. That’s why I call it a cult-movie cabaret. I’m incorporating elements of the TV horror hosts of the ’70s but also the old midnight ghost shows from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. And also burlesque. The irony there is that burlesque houses back in the ’30s and ’40s actually gave way to grindhouses. And Thrillville is a combination of both — we’re basically bringing them back together."

Coming up at Thrillville: ever-popular tributes to the King (Viva Las Vegas, 1964) and William Shatner (Incubus, 1965), a spooky "Zombie-Rama" double bill, and, hopefully, the ultrarare Bare Knuckles (1977), which stars the fez-topped MC’s father, Robert Viharo. If all goes well, Quentin Tarantino will loan his print of what the Thrill proudly calls "the ultimate sleazy ’70s grindhouse flick." (Cheryl Eddy)

For more B-goodness, visit www.thrillville.net.

Midnight Specialists: Midnight Mass


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The funniest line in movie history didn’t pass from the lips of Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934), or Alvy Singer in Annie Hall (1977). That honor belongs to Taffy Davenport (Mink Stole) of Female Trouble (1974), who responds to the advances of her dentally challenged stepfather thusly: "I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!" Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, who will die for your sin of omission?

The savior of midnight movies in San Francisco, Peaches Christ, that’s who. If she can fit it into her busy schedule, of course.

Joshua Grannell, the surprisingly subdued and clean-cut gentleman behind the character of Midnight Mass’s holy hostess, says so during coffee talk about the author of that historical piece of dialogue, John Waters, and the massive undertaking that is the Mass’s special 10th-anniversary season at the Bridge Theatre. Mink Stole and Tura Satana will kick off the summer program on Friday, July 13, with Waters’s equally quotable Desperate Living (1977; "Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother I hate you!"), while Waters will introduce Female Trouble the following evening. Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, will be on stage for both nights of Midnight Mass’s closing weekend.

Grannell was particularly keen on landing Waters, the only one of the four cult deities appearing this summer who has never done Midnight Mass before, because the director unknowingly played a role in the genesis of the show.

Back when Grannell and his friend Michael Brenchley were film students at Penn State, they brought Waters to campus to do a monologue performance. "John told us about the Cockettes," Grannell remembers. "He encouraged us to move to San Francisco and told us how much fun Divine and Mink had here."

The pair took his advice, arriving in 1996 in the city, where they would eventually become infamous as Peaches Christ and her silent sidekick, Martiny. One decade later, when Amoeba Records asked Peaches to introduce Waters at a promotional appearance for his CD A Date with John Waters (New Line Records), Grannell seized the opportunity to remind the trash auteur who he had been in college and who he’d become. Waters was aware of Peaches through Stole, who has appeared at Midnight Mass four times. "He kind of screamed and went, ‘Oh, I know Peaches!’" Grannell says. The rest is scheduling history.

When Grannell moved to San Francisco, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) had just left the Kabuki, and there was no midnight show in town. Peaches Christ, a character originally known as Peaches Nevada in Grannell’s senior-thesis film project, Jizzmopper: A Love Story, had already been appearing at the Stud’s Trannyshack for a year when Grannell pitched the Midnight Mass idea to Landmark Theatres, owners of the Bridge. (Grannell used to be general manager of the Bridge and is now paid by Landmark just to be Peaches.) At the time, he was told that midnight movies didn’t work in San Francisco.

Though Midnight Mass’s focus has always been on movies, it serves up a unique form of live spectacle. "Peaches is literally 20 people," Grannell says to me more than once, as much to emphasize the scale of the productions as to give due credit to people such as the show’s amazing costume designer, Tria Connell. During the summer of 1998, the debut season of Midnight Mass offered such entertainment as audience makeovers (for the first of many Female Trouble screenings), a Sal Mineo–inspired wet Speedo contest (in conjunction with the incredible Who Killed Teddy Bear? [1965]), and a ladies-in-prison parody sketch (for Jack Hill’s The Big Doll House [1971]).

"Landmark said, ‘We’ll give you one season, one summer, and we’ll reevaluate,’" Grannell says. It didn’t take an abacus to see that the church of Christ was turning away as many people as were filling the seats. The first Midnight Mass humbly featured a Satana look-alike contest in celebration of the buxom spine snapper of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Ten years later, Satana herself regularly appears at Midnight Mass. The still-star-struck Grannell recently attended her birthday barbecue in Los Angeles, where he was surrounded by enough Meyer actresses to leave the ground of a decent-size backyard completely untouched by the sun. On his way back to SF, he was invited to stop by Peterson’s house, where she cooked him a spooky vegetarian dinner. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would know these women," he says. "It’s just so surreal for me."

Peterson and Satana seem pretty jazzed about their relationship with Grannell and Peaches too. Both icons make a point of noting the intense — sometimes alarming — devotion of Midnight Mass audiences. "There was one little guy who just cried the whole time," Peterson says, recalling a meet and greet after her appearance last year. "He stood there in front of me and just cried and cried and cried. I don’t know if he was crying because he loved me or [because] I was making him miserable."

Peterson spins some funny tales, including one about almost running over a bicycling Waters in Provincetown, Mass. But when it comes to Midnight Mass, Satana might earn bragging rights. Between pleasantly digressive reminiscences about her days as "the numero uno tassel twirler" in gentlemen’s clubs around the country (including a four-month stint at North Beach’s Condor Club, where she worked with exotic-dancing foremother Carol Doda before "the problem with the guy caught in the piano"), she told me about a fan at her first Mass who refused to be inconvenienced by a heart attack. "He wouldn’t let the paramedics take him away until he got my autograph," she insists.

Grannell has his own ER anecdote, of course. It was the summer of 2004. Peaches was showing Mommie Dearest (1981) and offering mother-versus-daughter mud wrestling as an aperitif. "Martiny and I were Chastity versus Cher," Grannell remembers. "We did this whole ridiculous buildup where I was singing Cher songs and she was out there with an acoustic guitar doing, like, Tracy Chapman and 4 Non Blondes." While fighting in the mud — an improvised cocktail of soft drink syrup, water, and popcorn — Brenchley dislocated his shoulder. He left the stage and was taken to the closest hospital. After declaring himself the winner and quickly introducing the movie to a crowd that wasn’t any the wiser, Grannell went to visit his injured sidekick, looking like a streetwalker who’d just taken part in a hog-chasing contest. He braced himself for the treatment he would get at the admitting window. "I walked in, and two male nurses came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Christ, she’s going to be fine,’<\!s>" Grannell says. "They knew exactly who Peaches Christ was and even how she might come to be covered in slop. They treated me like royalty."

That type of reception is indicative of Peaches’s breakout popularity. Midnight Mass has traveled to Seattle three times since 2005 and went to New York in 2006. (Grannell says there’s even a nightclub in Ireland that bears Peaches’s name.) The de Young Museum is hosting "A Decade of Peaches Christ" in September. And a new television show, Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass, produced by Landmark-owning Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, is also set to air in August on the HDNet Movie Channel. Peaches will introduce her favorite movies, which will be shown uninterrupted in high definition, with footage from the live shows.

As for Midnight Mass, the upcoming season includes a screening of Xanadu (1980) that will feature drag queen Roller Derby and a sing-along (as if that wouldn’t happen anyway), a 10th-anniversary presentation of Showgirls (the 1995 movie Peterson admits to loathing and walking out of with friend Ann Magnuson), and Coffy (1973, a soon-to-be personal favorite of anyone who sees it).

The last thing I ask Grannell is the despised but inevitable question put to all movie mavens. I actually wait until a couple of weeks after our initial interview before finally deciding to e-mail him about it. "Oh god! I really don’t think I have just one favorite movie," he responds. "But my favorite John Waters movie is Female Trouble. My favorite slasher is Freddy Krueger. My favorite ’80s comedy is Pee Wee’s Big Adventure [1985]. My favorite actress is Joan Crawford and my favorite movie of hers is Strait-Jacket [1964]. I could go on and on…. Do you want me to?"<\!s>*


Desperate Living (1977), with Mink Stole and Tura Satana in person

July 13, midnight, $12

Female Trouble (1974), with John Waters in person

July 14, midnight, sold out

Midnight Specialists: Midnites For Maniacs


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Ask Jesse Hawthorne Ficks what his favorite movie is, and he won’t hesitate: it’s Ski School. Ficks, who programs and hosts the Castro Theatre’s monthly Midnites for Maniacs triple feature, interprets "favorite" literally: the 1991 raunch-com might not surface on any highbrow top-10 lists, but it’s likely no scholar loves Citizen Kane (1941) as much as Ficks loves Ski School.

"I’ve always been upset with people who talk about guilty pleasures," Ficks explained when I paid him a visit at the Ninth Street Film Center. As the Frameline31 box office manager, he was overseeing ticket sales from a room decorated with posters from past Maniacs selections The Legend of Billie Jean (1985) and Joysticks (1983). "There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. If you love something, you should genuinely love it. You can have some of that campiness — ‘Oh my god, Nicolas Cage’s acting in The Wicker Man [2006] is so bad, it’s hilarious’ — but you’re not cooler than the films that you’re watching. You’re actually in love with the movies that you’re watching. And you can maybe laugh at the movie, but ultimately there should be no mean-spiritedness in it."

Anyone who’s checked out a Midnites for Maniacs event knows the depths of Ficks’s cinemania. But even if you’ve never seen the gleeful host in action (typically he’ll toss out trivia questions and reward winners with prizes like out-of-print soundtracks, sometimes in cassette form), you need only peruse a list of Midnites past to get a sense of his passion — the "Aerobicize Triple Feature" (Staying Alive [1983], Flashdance [1983], and Heavenly Bodies [1984]); a 3-D night that included the third Jaws and Friday the 13th films as well as the Molly Ringwald sci-fi nugget Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983); tributes to latchkey kids, punk girls, Dolly Parton, and the underage Jodie Foster; and May’s "Vertically Challenged Monsters" night, which I can safely say will be the only time in recorded history that Gremlins (1984), Howard the Duck (1986), and Troll 2 (presented in rare 35mm prints) share a bill at the Castro. Or anyplace.

Troll 2, a horror comedy that was barely released in 1990, is a prime example of Ficks’s programming technique. He doesn’t pluck flicks from obscurity to amuse snarky audiences; he’s hoping to entertain on a more meaningful level. "I was really concerned that people were going to come out purely to destroy the film as opposed to embracing it for all of its faults," he said. "No one can define that style of acting in Troll 2. It’s not even bad acting. It’s a different style. But I think it had more to do with people being embarrassed of loving something and being so guilty. Their film professors don’t let them love Top Gun [1986]. Midnites for Maniacs is not just [about watching] films that we forgot, but also embracing them and loving them and rooting for them. Not beating up on them."

Ficks’s personal tastes expand beyond underdog obscurities. When he’s not overseeing box offices on the local festival circuit, he teaches film history at the Academy of Art College ("We have a nice exploitation chapter that’s not in the [text]book"). He grew up obsessed with Freddy Krueger in Salt Lake City, where he started coprogramming a midnight series at 16. He also exploited the serendipity of geography to soak up as much Park City as he could. "I grew up at [the] Sundance [Film Festival]. I went to Slacker [1991], and that totally changed my life," he said. "I worked at Sundance from 1994 through 2002. Every year, wherever I was, I’d go back to Sundance and work in different areas of the festival."

A self-taught cinephile, Ficks dropped a film history course at Portland State University after a professor misidentified The Untouchables (1987) as a Martin Scorsese film. After graduation he moved to San Francisco and began working at the 4 Star Movie Theatre, where he learned to be a projectionist and launched Midnites for Maniacs in 2002. At first the series chiefly drew from owner Frank Lee’s impressive stash of martial arts films — until a certain masterwork known as The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987) came along.

"I had been looking for 35mm prints at the time, and I ran into this Garbage Pail Kids print," Ficks remembered. "Frank let me play it, but he had no clue what it was. This very first screening of Garbage Pail Kids, we had 250 people — and the theater only holds 198. It blew his mind! Garbage Pail did so well that he just started giving me free rein."

Ficks’s cardinal rule for his screenings — which actually start early in the evening, with the final film unspooling at midnight — is that every film must be shown on 35mm. "You can have a billion ideas of ‘I think we should do summer camp movies.’ But the director of Sleepaway Camp [1983] cannot be found, and he has the only print. So until I can track him down, there’s no way to screen Sleepaway Camp. I know that you could screen it on video or DVD, but I think it makes it part of the challenge and the excitement that everyone’s coming out to see an antique. You’re part of the history."

Midnites for Maniacs made its Castro debut in January 2006, when a packed house cheered Ficks’s triple bill of roller-skating movies: Roller Boogie (1979), Xanadu (1980), and Skatetown, USA (1979). "It was unbelievable, and I was thinking, ‘Maybe only in San Francisco.’ "

Ficks sees the city as big enough — and full of enough diverse film fans — to support all of its various midnight gatherings. He has only praise for Midnight Mass’s Peaches Christ, though on occasion their events have fallen on the same night.

"Peaches is amazing at her performances," he said. "You can get caught up with a reenactment of the swimming pool [scene] in Showgirls [1995]. And it’s unbelievable." He views San Francisco as "a true midnight culture. There are so many films in San Francisco at midnight. I think it’s totally reinventing the culture."

And, for the record, what is it about Ski School that makes it this ultimate film fan’s ultimate favorite? Talking about the movie — which he’ll probably never get to show at Midnites, since it’s only available on video — makes Ficks reflective. "I think I’m always interested in that movie you were obsessed with as a kid. We’re the video generation. We have access to so many more films than anyone else before us. We create these weird personal theaters in our house, with these videos we can rewind and watch over and over again. So Ski School, and movies like it, I go to those movies when times are rough. They’re just like a record, or like a song. And it’s an hour-and-a-half song."

Ficks — who said he’s only walked out of one film in his life, As Good as It Gets (1997), for being "so middle of the road it didn’t matter if I watched it or not" — is determined to carry his Ski School philosophy over to his film series.

"I think when people come out to Midnites for Maniacs, it’s way more important that they have a personal relationship with the movie. It really doesn’t matter what I think about the movie — it’s most important that someone’s coming to a film, [maybe even a film] that they’ve never heard of, and they’re finding something really special." *


"SUMMER CAMPy Triple Feature": Little Darlings (1980), Meatballs (1979), and Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1976)

July 20, 7:30 p.m., 9:45 p.m., midnight, $10 (all three)

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF


Ball of fire


SINGULAR SIREN Sam Fuller, known for being one of the toughest mugs in Hollywood, wrote of casting Barbara Stanwyck as the matriarchal sexpot in his whacked-out 1957 western Forty Guns, "She was ready to do whatever you needed, even if it meant falling off her horse and being dragged along the ground." That Stanwyck was already 50 when she commanded this attention gives a sense of her fearsome robustness, something that held movie audiences in thrall for the better part of three decades.

A question inevitably surfaces in watching the greatest hits that dot the centennial celebration running through July at the Castro Theatre and the Pacific Film Archive: was there ever another American film actress who projected such a fully formed and coherent persona? In lesser films and masterpieces alike, Stanwyck is some kind of singularity: plot, direction, and supporting players all bend to her arching eyebrows. Her tragic Brooklyn childhood — mother dead in a freak accident when Stanwyck was four, father gone soon thereafter — may account for some of the intuition she brought to her roles, but in the end there’s no simple accounting for the bewitching blend of worldliness and sincerity that can only be called Stanwyckian.

She didn’t have the polished beauty of many of her peers, though I’ve always thought Stanwyck’s face anticipated Hollywood’s move from soft-focus cinematography (the dream visions of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich) to the angular crispness of the noir image (Stanwyck’s lead in 1944’s Double Indemnity being one of the defining femmes fatales, and terribly fun at that). More important, Stanwyck is the actress who best embodies the gift of talking pictures. The earliest film in the series, 1931’s Night Nurse, was made only four years after the first "talkie," The Jazz Singer, brought sound to screen, and already the Stanwyck heroine is cracking wise. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis essentially played as the silent stars had (with their faces, in close-up), but trying to imagine a Stanwyck performance without the sound — the hurried talk, sharp laugh, and many sighs indicating some combination of amusement, sorrow, and yearning — is a fool’s errand.

Stanwyck used the increased range offered by this new technology to decode her complicated women. The exemplar here is The Lady Eve, the 1941 Preston Sturges screwball comedy that features Stanwyck’s most virtuosic performance. It won’t come as any surprise that her character, Jean Harrington, is a whip-smart dame, but the way she balances the put-on with pathos is astonishing. Stanwyck’s trick was in playing the part — of the comedian, femme fatale, melodrama mother — with infectious relish while letting the audience in on the act and revealing its vulnerabilities. Despite the role’s many faces, we never lose sight of the center: a woman who knows the rules of the game all too well. As for women, Stanwyck’s character here reflects, "the best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad." There’s a lifetime of regret and resolve in that pause. It’s nothing that academic theories of subjectivity or identification can touch — we simply want to be with her as much as we can. (Max Goldberg)

THESPIAN EXTRAORDINARE In A Superficial Estimation (Hanuman), a small book that’s also one of the greatest ever on the subject of film, the poet John Wieners writes about his godmother, Barbara Stanwyck. Other chapters detail Wieners’s bond with his sister, Elizabeth Taylor, and with friends and relatives such as Dorothy Lamour and Lana Turner; as part of such an awesome imagined family tree, Stanwyck’s godmother role is apt. It’s hard to think of another actress both independent (remote from repressive traditional maternal bonds) and strong enough to oversee one and all.

Within the more traditional realms of canonical film criticism, Stanwyck has inspired a broad range of responses. When reviewing Silkwood for the New Yorker in 1984, Pauline Kael wrote that if Stanwyck stole and ate a sandwich, "we’d register that her appetite made her break the rules," whereas with Meryl Streep, "we just observe how accomplished she is." Kael’s zeal for Stanwyck’s vigor extended to vehicles ranging from 1935’s Annie Oakley to 1937’s Stella Dallas, a rare instance in which she endorsed melodrama, a genre she loathed. "Remarkable modernism," "miraculously natural," and "hard realism" were three of the patented double-descriptive terms the slang-loving Kael applied to an "amazing vernacular actress" whose "unsentimental strength," in her eyes, found a match in director William Wellman and worked to effectively counter Frank Capra’s cornier tendencies.

Interestingly, the feisty Kael’s male predecessors and peers weren’t always so enamored of the powerful Stanwyck. In a review of 1941’s Meet John Doe, the critic Otis Ferguson asserted that "Barbara Stanwyck has always needed managing," an observation that has more than a tinge of prefeminist chauvinism to it, even if he’s suggesting that he’d like her more if she turned her performances down a notch. The great James Agee was warmer in his appreciation of Stanwyck’s talent, though he once wrote a dual review of two 1944 films that weirdly favored the supposed "Vassar girl on a picket line" charms of flinty Joan Fontaine in some trifle called Frenchman’s Creek to Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. Time has proved that it’s Stanwyck’s performance, not Fontaine’s, that causes a "freezing rage of excitations."

However great, Stanwyck’s wigged, campy, anklet-baring performance in that film isn’t far from — just a bit better-honed than — the type of work Joan Bennett did with Fritz Lang (nor is it as wildly inventive as what Gloria Grahame came up with when paired with Lang or Nicholas Ray). But Stanwyck was much more than a femme fatale; she was a no-nonsense personality — except when nonsense was fun, of course. She was peerlessly versatile. Not only did she repeatedly work with auteurs as widely varied as Capra, Night Nurse‘s Wellman, Double Indemnity’s Wilder, and melodrama master Douglas Sirk, she frequently put her imprint on their style. Her movies with Sirk are a great example of this — no moping Jane Wyman or narcissistic Turner, Stanwyck brings across the full force of the title of 1953’s All I Desire, even if it’s one of the director’s second-tier, black-and-white efforts.

In that movie and even more in 1952’s underrated and ahead-of-its-time Clash by Night, an adultery tale in which Stanwyck and the equally superb Robert Ryan strain against the shackles of ’50s conservatism, in the process revealing some emotional spaces rarely seen at the time, Stanwyck proves that she doesn’t need an auteur, or an auteur in peak form, to make a movie great (and I mean "make a movie great," not "make a great movie"). I don’t know if any actress has made my heart hurt the way Stanwyck does in Stella Dallas when she overhears an unflattering conversation on a train (that same vehicle where, in 1933’s Baby Face, she dealt with a different type of indignity on the way to climbing skyscrapers). We remember Stella Dallas’s monstrous polka-dot attire and Phyllis Dietrichson’s anklet, but many of Stanwyck’s transitional pictures are rewarding rather than campy. It makes the worst kind of sense that the Academy Awards were shamefully slow in recognizing Stanwyck’s talent. When it came to legends like her and Alfred Hitchcock, it could be counted on to be blind until almost the very end. (Johnny Ray Huston)


July 6–31, $4–$8

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-1124


Also July 17–18, $6–$9

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


Free William


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

William Hooker is feeling good right about now. The voice of the 61-year-old composer, drummer, and seasoned kingpin of the free-jazz world doesn’t betray an inkling of wear and tear. His utterance is eloquent in delivery and animated in expression and possesses a rather youthful quality coated in optimism. During a phone call from his Hell’s Kitchen apartment, Hooker lightheartedly raps about his enduring tenacity in hammering out art as an artistic director, musician, and poet and touches on life in New York City: his love for the theaters in his neighborhood, his hand in codeveloping the nonprofit Rhythm in the Kitchen Festival, and even the friend who gave him a rare copy of a silent film by Oscar Micheaux. As Hooker stresses frequently during the conversation, "It’s a good thing."

But the one thing that surfaced often throughout our discussion was the New Yorker’s impending trek to the Bay Area for a one-off performance. Hooker reveals that he hopes his visit to San Francisco will grow into an opportunity to return and build on this experience with more West Coast shows the next time around.

"This is going to be the start of the first time I perform annually in the Bay. Basically I’m trying to see what’s on the horizon right now because I don’t know what’s happening in the Bay, to tell you the truth," he says with a laugh. "I don’t think there is any difference in the quality of musicianship, but I do think there is a difference in the attitude of musicianship. Here it’s a little bit edgier. It could be because of the way Manhattan is, but I’m looking forward to having that free feeling for a change and just letting this opportunity grow."

Skimming through Hooker’s bulky résumé, one finds that the musician’s lifelong pursuits have been about nothing less than self-growth. Born and raised in New Britain, Conn., Hooker got off to an early start as a drummer for the Flames, a rock ‘n’ roll group that backed up singers and bands such as Dionne Warwick, Freddie Cannon, and the Isley Brothers. At college he studied 20th-century composers and independently researched the Blue Note Records catalog while performing in ensembles that played straight-ahead jazz, or "tunes," as Hooker referred to the music. He says his late-’60s move to the Bay Area was what really shaped his musical perceptions, a discovery that allowed him to hone his skills as a free-jazz musician.

"California opened me up to a different kind of approach to life," Hooker says. "Out of that came a desire to want to extend forms more. There was a lot more exploring of different cultures and playing with different sorts of people. You know, using a lot of drummers instead of me just being the one."

After relocating to the East Coast, Hooker finally established his home base in NYC in the mid-’70s, when he was involved in the loft scene with cats such as David S. Ware, Cecil McBee, David Murray, and Billy "Bang" Walker. He continued to perform in a number of jazz ensembles throughout the ’80s before mingling with lower-Manhattan noise rockers like Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Christian Marclay, and Elliot Sharp during the ’90s.

"The combination of jazz with noise … I must say, the time was culturally right for me and many of the free-jazz and rock people to come together," Hooker says. "I think that time has passed. There’s another thing going on now. And for people that like to go back to it, I like to remind myself that that happened already. Artistically I’m not in that place anymore."

Hooker may have moved on from the free-rock aesthetic, but his limits have been boundless for some time now, especially when it comes to experimentation. Playing in support of his new album, Dharma (KMBjazz), a duet recording with reedist Sabir Mateen, and his forthcoming Season’s Fire (Important), a trio full-length rounded out by Bill Horist and Eyvind Kang, Hooker acknowledges that he’s just trying to connect with listeners who are on "a certain level as far as free jazz goes." He believes he’s found two of those people in reed player Oluyemi Thomas and bassist Damon Smith, who are in his Bliss Trio.

"I’m looking forward to what’s going to happen when we play at the Hemlock, because both of these musicians are very good," Hooker says. "There’s no doubt about that."*


With Weasel Walter Group

Thurs/5, 9:30 p.m., $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


Toolin’ around the Bay


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Nothing’s ever straightforward for Bay Area hip-hop. After the hyphy-fueled buzz of the past three years, the road to major-label glory remains beset by difficulties. The unexpected delay of Mistah FAB’s Atlantic project, the loss of the Federation’s lead single for their Warner/Reprise album due to sample-clearance issues, the lack of a firm date for Clyde Carson’s Capitol disc — all have fostered a certain amount of frustration as the Bay waits for a new artist to shine on the national level alongside Too $hort and E-40.

While Bay Area acts try to jump into the majors, however, a major-label act has suddenly jumped into the Bay, as crunk pioneer Pastor Troy has released his new album, Tool Muziq, through local powerhouse SMC Recordings. Departing from Universal after three albums followed by a flurry of underground releases over the past two years, the Atlanta resident has chosen the independent route despite the interest of imprints like Interscope and Cash Money in his continued viability as a hitmaker.

"It’s a fool," Troy says by phone. "I like to say what I want to say without worrying if it’s going to be cut off by the bosses. On an independent label, you’re really at your own discretion."

Well, almost. While SMC allows Troy the creative freedom he lacked on his heavily A&R–<\d>ed Universal full-lengths, the rapper narrowly averted a showdown with several retail chains that threatened not to carry the album under its original title, Saddam Hussein.

"I came up with the name because I felt like I’m comin’ back into the game," Troy explains. "I keep that military edge to my music. And Saddam, everything he was going through, as much controversy as his name was sparking at the time — I was, like, ‘I’m gonna call my album Saddam Hussein!’ He’d just been executed and everything."

I confess I’ve always been a fan of rappers using the names of dictators notable for their defiance of the United States. In gangsta rap, names like Noreaga and our own J-Stalin are a positive advance in political consciousness compared to the glorification of Italian American mobsters. While Troy insists the title wasn’t politically motivated, the threat of retail censorship raises First Amendment issues not unlike those faced by Paris when he was forced to conceal the provocative cover of Sonic Jihad (2003) — portraying a jet on a collision course with the White House — under a plain black sleeve.

"It’s no big deal," Troy says. "We just switched the title before we ran into a brick wall." Despite the brouhaha, however, "Saddam," produced by Young Jeezy hitmaker Shawty Redd, remains the lead single. "Who am I?" Troy screams over the intro. "I’m the motherfuckin’ president! And I … will live!" The recentness of Saddam’s execution, combined with the Pastor’s army-of-one style of crunk, lends an undeniable potency to this invocation. Yet it’s also hilarious — Saddam as Skeletor — and essentially devoid of political content: like many raps, "Saddam" is primarily about its rapper, though it’s amusing to imagine Saddam shouting, "I don’t want your bitch, nigga!" as Troy does here. But instead of a rock opera devoted to the late Sunni strongman, Tool Muziq is an extraordinarily well-rounded hip-hop album, and Troy’s ability to flow over a wide variety of tracks — from the gangsta R&B of "Wanting You" to the conscious-thug, letter-from-jail-themed "Hey Mama" — demonstrates a technical virtuosity well beyond that of your average crunk MC.

"Everybody knows crunk is my specialty," Troy says. "But you just can’t crunk ’em to death. You got to give them good listening. I had a 50-year-old woman tell me she’s waiting on the album to drop. Goodness gracious! I gotta cater to a lot of people."

The addition of Pastor Troy to SMC’s roster is an unexpected but welcome event for Bay Area hip-hop, insofar as he lends a national profile to the local label’s increasing reputation. Evolving out of RT Entertainment, which helped Moedoe move 36,000 units of Keak Da Sneak’s Copium (2003), and then Sumday Entertainment, responsible for Messy Marv’s 28,000-selling Disobayish (2004), SMC concentrates on Bay Area acts, even as it looks strategically to other regions. In 2005 the label dropped its first official releases, Block Movement, by B-Legit, and Speaking Tongues, a solo album by Bizzy Bone of Los Angeles’ Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, which sold 40,000 copies. SMC’s connection to Troy goes back to last year, when it served as third-party distributor for his 40,000-seller Stay Tru (845 Ent.). The rapper was so pleased with the label’s performance, he decided to cut to the chase for Tool Muziq.

"We’re going to keep having a relationship together," Troy confirms, as he and SMC are working out the details for a new release by Troy’s group D.S.G.B. "They needed a guy like Pastor Troy to shake it up for real."

And while Troy has no intention of leaving the Dirty South, his new connection to the Bay offers the tantalizing prospect of further collaboration between the regions’ related genres.

"Hyphy and crunk — it’s the same kind of music to me," Troy says. "I’m sure SMC will have me get down with Messy Marv. I want to go out there and go dumb!"


Kabul City


› paulr@sfbg.com

War, although unfortunate in almost every way, can pay some ex post facto dividends in foodland. (Emphasis on post.) Would we have the Slanted Door today if misguided policies founded on ignorance and false premises a half century ago had not led us into Vietnam? War creates refugees, and if the war is an imperial one, the refugees allied with the imperial power tend to seek refuge in the home territory of that empire — homeland is the homey term we use today — often bringing with them little besides culinary knowledge. Of course, the moral equation here is absurd; who would not vote to give up the Slanted Door, and all the rest of the excellent Vietnamese restaurants that have opened here in the past generation, if by doing so we could undo the Vietnam War? But we can’t. The most we can do is look for some sort of redemption in food we might well never have heard of, let alone tried, but for the warmongering of fools in positions of power.

Fisherman’s Wharf — I speak of the neighborhood, not the pier proper — is a curious place for an Afghan restaurant, but that is where we find Kabul City, which opened in May across the street from a large open space at Beach and Taylor that should be a public square but is instead a parking lot filled with Hummers. The area is the Vatican City of local tourism; it is in but not of the city and so different from it, physically and metaphysically, as to constitute nearly a separate jurisdiction. The restaurant’s windows do afford an appealing view, from an unusual, backside angle, of Russian Hill. Better to keep one’s gaze fixed there than on the spectacle nearer at hand, with its general sense and look of cheerful vulgarity. Would these rushing tourists, I wondered, be interested in Afghan food? Afghanistan has been an unhappy place for a long time, and a great deal of travel has to do with escape from reality.

As for the locals: experience suggests that they — or we — go to considerable pains to avoid the neighborhood. Yet Kabul City is worth braving the knickknack shops and Hummers for. The restaurant’s food is distinctive, well prepared, and fairly priced, and the setting (at least once you’re safely inside) is neither grubby nor overwrought. It’s far too early to say whether Afghan cooking will find the same vogue Vietnamese cuisine has attained in this country, but it’s not too early to say that if Kabul City is a glimpse of tomorrow, tomorrow isn’t looking hopeless. (I should also note here that for the moment, Kabul City is also the only Afghan restaurant in town, since the Helmand, on Broadway at the foot of Telegraph Hill, remains closed after a February landslide. The Bay Area’s biggest Afghan community, meanwhile, is in Fremont.)

Although much of Afghan cuisine, as presented by Kabul City, turns on familiar Middle Eastern cues, there are also dishes you aren’t as likely to have seen before. In the former category are kabobs — grilled meat in various guises. Tekka kabob ($12.99; $6.99 at lunch) consists of charbroiled lamb chunks served with salad and basmati rice, while shami kabob (same prices) looks like a pair of skinless, seasoned-ground-beef sausages. The rice is good, but the Afghan flat bread (called naan but baked in square rather than round loaves) is better, especially when dipped in the accompanying yogurt-cucumber sauce.

Yogurt, in fact, is put to all sorts of clever uses. It turns up pureed with cilantro as a sauce for pakowra ($4.99), deep-fried, peppery slices of potato that look like the soles of pink bedroom slippers. It is folded into badinjon burani ($4.99 as a starter), a baba ghanoush–<\d>like mash of panfried eggplant. And it appears mixed with garlic and mint as a topping for kadu burani ($7.99), chunks of panfried pumpkin. The squash here really did seem to be pumpkin, so points for complete disclosure, but the dish would have been better — less stringy, more intensely tasty — if another orange-flesh squash, like butternut, had been used.

One of the most striking preparations on the menu is mantu ($12.99), a plateful of steamed dough pillows stuffed with seasoned ground beef and onions and presented under a blanket of yogurt sauce flecked with green peas and diced carrots. The pillows reminded me of ravioli, of course, but also — because of the their pleated tops — of shu mai, the little Chinese dumplings that so often figure in dim sum services. Afghanistan shares a border with China, so the similarity probably isn’t coincidental. It’s also landlocked, which goes some way toward explaining the lack of seafood on the menu.

The restaurant’s owner, Syed Ahmadi, presides over the front of the house with mystical grace. In theory he could have plenty to do, since Kabul City isn’t small. An entire corner of the space, in fact, is given over to a slightly elevated platform laid with beautiful rugs and pillows and set with low tables you recline rather than sit at. The Last Supper was enjoyed in this fashion, as was the infamous banquet in Kandahar in October 2001 presided over by Osama bin Laden and captured on video for a still-stunned world. Afghanistan was a battlefield then and still is today, but tomorrow, as Scarlett O’Hara once told us from the midst of our own traumatic war, is another day.*


Daily, 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

380 Beach, SF

(415) 359-1400


Beer and wine


Pleasant noise level

Wheelchair accessible

To get to the other side


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Florentina Morales Espanola, 88, is going to pray for me every day for the rest of her life. She showed me where she goes to church and told me the name of it, but I forgot. She has 63 grandchildren in the Philippines.

I came down for the weekend with Mr. and Mrs. Mountain, and we did everything on "Indian time," which means you get there when you get there, according to Sam. And sometimes not even then, according to me. You take the scenic route, the coast, the trees … places where time turns into time. Sidewalks.

Missed the trans march completely, threw down our blanket anyway in Dolores Park, and sat there being bumpkins in our straw hats and ponchos for about 10 minutes, then went to eat hamburgers.

Mountain V’s new favorite restaurant is BurgerMeister, at Church and Market. Mine too. The bacon cheeseburger was so good I forgot to even put ketchup on it until it was almost gone. And the garlic fries were so generously garlicked I could have gotten a to-go container and made spaghetti for a week.

Late and alone for the big parade, I cruised the banks of the bedlam for beautiful people. Which was like trying to find hay in a haystack.

You know how every now and then, against all odds (like lack of sleep and garlic breath), your radar is just … on? I didn’t know where I was going. I willy-nillied my way toward Market and practically straight into the arms of Florentina Morales Espanola. She was standing about four feet high, staring into the backs of, say, 10,000 people. On the other side of the street there were 10,000 more.

I have no idea what I’m talking about, mathwise. But I’m pretty small too, so I looked at my new favorite person and smiled. She was wearing a pink wrap and a colorful scarf.

"I can’t see anything," she said. Tiny voice. Accent. She looked more like a feather than a bird, and I fantasized about hoisting her onto my shoulders, wearing her like jewelry. Instead, I offered to clear a path to the front row.

"I’m just waiting," she said, "to cross the street."

This information floored me. Just waiting. To cross the street. "I’m a chicken farmer," I said. "Where is it you’re trying to get to?"

Her son’s house. Minna and Natoma.

"You’re not here for the parade?" I said. "You have to go around. You have to go down to Van Ness and cross over there."

She looked at me like I was crazy. "Too far. I’ll wait," she said.

I looked at her like she was crazy. "Do you know how long that will be?" I asked. She didn’t. "Hours," I said. "What’s your name?"

"Florentina Morales Espanola."

I had to bend down and lean close to understand all this, and I took her hand. I took both of her hands and looked into her eyes. "My name is Dani," I said. "I’m a chicken farmer. My specialty is why, not how. But if you wait here, Florentina, I’ll go see if there’s any way we can get to the other side. OK?"

"I don’t hate anyone," she said. "All people are good."

"I get that," I said. "You have a beautiful name. Me, I love everyone."

"OK," she said. "Me too. Thank you for helping me, Dani. I was praying. God pushed you to me."

The first sober person I found was a BART cop, who said the only way was to go down into BART and up the other side. The escalators were not working. By the time we got down and over and up, I knew about Florentina’s grandchildren. I knew she lived alone. I knew how old she was, and she laughed when I said, "Eighty-eight? You don’t look a day over 87!" We had told each other, "I love you," several times, and on Seventh Street between Market and Mission, we hugged and kissed and hugged good-bye, and that was when she promised to pray for me. I said I’d pray for her too, and I was totally lying!

Back in BART, I wrote her name in my journal and cried a little, then went and found my mountains and told them, and now I’ve told you too so that, God be damned, Tom, Dick, and Harriet now know about the miracle of Florentina Morales Espanola. So maybe that’s like a prayer. Or maybe I’m just bragging about helping an old lady cross a street.

Or maybe it’s just another thing that happened to happen while I was kinda paying attention. *


Daily, 11 a.m.–midnight

138 Church, SF

(415) 437-2874

Takeout available

Beer and wine

Credit cards not accepted


Wheelchair accessible

Up there


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea,

I’m a muff-diving dyke, sort of. The first few times with my new girlfriend, I enjoyed her taste. However, most recently she tasted much different — and, frankly, worse. I almost blurted out that she might have a yeast infection (luckily I caught myself before completely ruining the mood). Curious, the other day I tasted myself, and I had a similar terribly pungent, unappealing taste. I know my body well enough to know I don’t have a yeast infection! So now I’m wondering, is it related to menstrual cycles? Previous physical activity? Sharing of bacteria and yeast?


Wannabe Diver

Dear Muffy:

Could be any of those, with yeast less likely since it doesn’t like sour things itself. Of course, I could be misinterpreting "terribly pungent" to mean terribly sour, or maybe you meant … OK, stop me there. See, this is why even proper medical personnel are discouraged from attempting to diagnose things in absentia — you don’t want them to do it wrong, and frankly, you don’t want me doing it at all.

The pH of the vagina does change over the course of the menstrual cycle, getting higher (more neutral) at ovulation, when the vagina welcomes sperm whether or not its owner thinks that’s a good idea (and whether or not there are any sperm present or expected, like, ever), and more acidic at either cycle end, when any sperm that wandered by would be doomed anyway, so we might as get it over with. The thing about menstrual cycles, though, is that they’re cyclic, so whatever she tastes like on, say, day twenty, she’d have tasted that way last month too. I’m not diagnosing, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you had a mild, mutual bacterial infection, but you’ll never know unless you get it checked out. You could sneak off discreetly and get fixed up, of course, but that’s not going to help her any, so, much as you might like to gloss this over in the interest of romance and mood maintenance, I’m afraid I can’t let you off that easily. You’re going to have to do the "Hey honey, I couldn’t help but notice …" thing, but hey, so what? It’s all in a day’s relationship work, is it not? And you are in one of those, are you not?

I ask because I couldn’t help noticing something myself, and unlike you I am not loathe to bring up uncomfortable truths, no matter how conversation-stopping. So hey, dudette, how come you could recognize your girlfriend in a blind taste test, while she wouldn’t know you from, you should pardon the expression, Adam? Is this lack of reciprocity part of some larger plan, or is she being kind of a piglet about this? And if it’s the latter, well, don’t you have more to talk about than who tastes nasty all of a sudden?



Dear Andrea:

My gyno prescribed estrogen cream (Estrace) to combat chronic yeast infections apparently brought on by vaginal dryness he says may be associated with my long-term use of the pill. He said it wouldn’t have any effect on my male sex partner, but then he also said an IUD was more effective than tubal ligation, so I don’t know whether to believe him. The Rx insert says nothing; the Mayo clinic suggests that estrogen cream could have an effect on my partner, and also that it is harmful to condoms (which we use in addition to the BCPs because I really don’t want kids). Plus, you know, there was that House episode a few weeks ago where a guy ‘s hormone cream seeped through his skin and made his kids sick.


Bad Medicine

Dear Med:

Wow, really, there was nothing in the insert? Because while I couldn’t turn up anything superspecific, there is no question that the Estrace people themselves say to "avoid exposing your male sexual partner … by not having sexual intercourse right after using these medicines. Your male partner might absorb the medicine through his penis if it comes in contact with the medicine." Unless you’re both some kind of demented, round-the-clock, insatiable sex monkeys, it really shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out the time of day that you’re least likely to find yourself suddenly and spontaneously exposing your partner to conjugated estrogens, and apply the cream then. As for oral ingestion, dunno, but it should be equally avoidable. Apply in the morning, get head at night, or vice versa.

The creams are indeed harmful to condoms, just by virtue of being greasy, and I’m appalled that your doctor wouldn’t mention that, or any of this, really. He isn’t really wrong about the IUD, incidentally, but he’s very wrong not to mention sex when prescribing something you put up your lady parts. He may be wrong about more than that — any chance you could see somebody else? As for the doc on TV, well, I adore the show for the quips and the sexy crip, but you could get better medical information from This Old House or maybe Animal House. Estrace has a 1-800 line, you know.



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.

Never mind the steampunk


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION If someone were to hold a knife to your throat and ask what the aesthetic sensibilities of the computer age are, you’d probably babble something about the iPod and its curvy, candy-colored precursor, the iMac. You’d think of the typical PC laptop, dumb and square and black, and you’d wonder whether this question about aesthetics was actually a trick. Because there are no computer age aesthetics.

Of course I’m exaggerating. There are a million interesting designs for consumer electronics and computers, but most don’t call attention to themselves. Computer aesthetics say "I am functional" — even the iPod Shuffle’s, whose colorful clip-on version kids attach to the gold chains around their necks as techno-bling.

But your Gateway computer, with its stalwart rectangular tower, is not the last word in how technology can look. Think of the crazy dial phones from the 1920s, with their curlicues and shiny brass and polished wood handsets. Or recall early radios, with their curving wooden exteriors meant to look like fancy furniture. And if you really want to see some seriously decorated machines, just check out pictures of devices from the 19th century, when everything from radiators to dynamos was covered in filigree and iron flowers and stamped, embossed shiny crap. For the record, I fucking love embossed shiny crap.

I think the search for an over-the-top tech aesthetic is driving the current craze for steampunk, a design and fashion style that combines Victorian sensibilities with contemporary gizmos. The ideal steampunk device would probably be a coal-powered cyborg, such as the creatures found in the novels of British fantasist China Miéville. In the real world, one of the most popular steampunk tinkerers is Jake von Slatt, who recently rebuilt his desktop computer as a vision in brass, marble, and old typewriter parts. He even offers a step-by-step guide to making your own functioning steampunk computer on his Web site, the Steampunk Workshop. Whenever von Slatt produces a new creation — a telegraph sounder that taps out RSS feeds, for example — pictures of it are always wildly popular on social news site Digg and elsewhere on the Web. Geeks who might not know what the word aesthetic means are instinctively drawn to the way von Slatt has made artifice from functionality. I expect to see cheap, knockoff steampunk computers for sale any day now.

As steampunkish critic John Brownlee has pointed out in several articles on the topic, steampunk designers tend to reverse-engineer ordinary electronics — say, a computer keyboard — and enhance them with parts that look antique. The idea is not just to create machines whose beauty goes beyond functionality. It’s also, Brownlee contends, to recall an era when amateurs could contribute meaningfully to the development of science and technology. We live in a time when no single human being can fully comprehend the Windows operating system. No wonder we’re nostalgic for the days when beachcombers could be naturalists and tinkerers could invent the telephone.

I think the popularity of steampunk also expresses our collective yearning for an era when information technology was in its infancy and could have gone anywhere. In 1880 we hadn’t yet laid the cables for a telephone network, and computer programming was just an idea in Ada Lovelace’s head. Nineteenth-century technology was often operated by factory laborers, and it meant backbreaking work and the ruination of healthy bodies. Information technology, to the 19th-century mind, would be something that set us free from brutal assembly lines.

One hundred years later, I wish it were so. Information technology has its own brutal assembly lines, mind-numbing data work that cripples our fingers with repetitive strain injuries and mangles our backs with the hunched postures required to work at a computer all day long. Seen from this perspective, steampunk is an aesthetic that tells the truth about us. We are no better off than our Victorian ancestors, bumbling into the future with crude technologies whose implications we barely understand. But let’s make our devices pretty, at least. Let’s remember the days when the machines that now cage us promised liberation. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd whose flat is full of servers and anaglypta.

Citizen planning


› sarah@sfbg.com

The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan has become a high-stakes battleground involving anxious developers stalled by a temporary building moratorium, progressives who want more affordable housing, concerns about dwindling light-industrial spaces and an exodus of African American residents, environmental justice, and a list of other issues that are central to this sprawling section of the city.

But the folks in the neighborhood known as Western SoMa are just happy that they’re no longer a part of that mess. Instead, they’re excitedly experimenting with a new approach to planning using an innovative and largely untested grassroots model.

Five years ago, when the city Planning Department first announced its intention to rezone the Eastern Neighborhoods, a group of disenchanted SoMa residents decided that they wanted to secede from that process and develop an independent, more comprehensive, community-based plan.

"A lot of us were offended by the Planning Department’s top-down, autocratic process," Jim Meko, who later became chair of the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force, told the Guardian. "It was a bad process for everybody, but it was particularly bad for SoMa because the neighborhood had already been rezoned in the 1990s."

Meko survived three major demographic shifts within three decades: the AIDS epidemic that decimated SoMa’s gay community, the live-work loft zoning loopholes that gutted the artistic community, and the dot-com crash that displaced many techies. He feared that the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan would impose a "one-size-fits-all mode that treated all of SoMa like postindustrial wasteland."

So Meko set his sights on pressuring the Planning Commission to split his neighborhood from the rest of the Eastern Neighborhoods, which include the Mission District, Eastern SoMa, Showplace Square, Potrero Hill, and the Central Waterfront. Western SoMa is bordered by Mission and Bryant, 13th and Fourth streets, and Harrison and Townsend.

That dream became a reality in February 2004, and that November the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force formed, with a stated objective to "recommend zoning changes that will preserve the heart and soul of their neighborhood, while planning for the realities of 21st-century growth."

Since beginning its work in 2005, the 22-member task force has met as often as five times a month and has created a values statement; a set of planning principles; committees focusing on business and land use, transportation, and arts and entertainment; and a committee that integrates a variety of issues.

Its June 28 town hall meeting was the first time the task force threw the doors open to the community at large, although the occasion happened to come on the heels of a high-profile budget battle between Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Chris Daly, whose district includes SoMa and who helped set up the task force.

Within five minutes of Meko’s kicking off the meeting, a small but vocal group of attendees began to heckle him midspeech. Perhaps they were there to confront Daly, who had been slated to attend but was out of town. Whatever the reason, while accusing Meko of "having an agenda" and "using the bully pulpit" to present his own views, this faction was anxious to know how many task force members are property owners and which particular group of them would be dealing with crime, the fight against which Newsom has made a top budget priority.

For one wobbly, tension-filled moment, it felt as if this first crack at a citizen planning forum might crumble. But then another participant saved the day by requesting a simple but basic meeting ground rule: no personal attacks.

From that moment, the mood in the room lightened. Pretty soon the rest of the 150 residents who had gathered in the multipurpose room of Bessie Carmichael School on Seventh Street to share their thoughts on Western SoMa were talking about what they liked and what could improve. Even the hecklers quieted down and seemed to meld into the discussion.

As Planning Commissioner Christina Olague put it at the meeting, "This is possibly one of the most exciting things going on in planning. No one understands the heart and soul of a neighborhood like the people who live there. We hope this is a model other neighborhoods will adopt, because a neighborhood plan without the involvement of neighbors who live and breath a community is chaos — just a bunch of buildings zoned in a language no one can read or feel."

But while residents were happy to create lists of neighborhood needs — more parks, bike lanes, affordable housing, child care facilities, and trees; wider sidewalks; and fewer homeless people — they were less keen on the idea of increasing building heights. One proposed means of financing improvements would be to increase allowable heights from 40 to 65 feet in some places.

Some locals complained about partygoers who urinate in the streets and play music loudly in cars instead of going home when the clubs close. But a youthful resident politely pointed out that "it may not be possible to stop young people from being young."

In the face of requests from senior citizens for more dinner theater and fewer nightclubs in SoMa, task force member and nightclub owner Terrance Allen observed that it’s probably only possible to "nudge existing conditions."

Recalling the battle that broke out between residents and partygoers after city planners decided to put affordable housing next to the wildly popular nightclub 1015 Folsom, Allen said, "You don’t want to start a war by putting subsidized housing next to the city’s biggest nightclub." Or as Meko put it, "We don’t want to set up conflicts by putting family housing across from the Stud."

By evening’s end, the consensus was that the meeting was a success. "We have much more in common than we have apart. That’s the whole key," said Marc Salomon, who sits on the task force’s transportation committee. As Meko told the Guardian the next day, "Wasn’t it a fantastic experience? It was the closest thing to a cocktail party without a bartender."

Meko said the task force is eager to complete its work and is shooting for having a draft plan ready by the next town hall meeting, on Oct. 24.

"But we need to do more community outreach," he added, noting that there weren’t many Filipinos at the first meeting even though they have a large presence in Western SoMa. "We’re looking at what SoMa could be like in 20 years. The other Eastern Neighborhoods are watching, and they are envious." *

The truth about housing money


OPINION Just as in war, in 2007 San Francisco budget politics, truth is the first casualty.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the assertions by Gavin Newsom’s campaign minions that the mayor’s current budget proposal contains a $217.5 million city investment in affordable housing.

The purpose of these claims is to imply that Newsom has voluntarily allocated local tax dollars for this critical need — and that no more should be spent on affordable housing, especially some $10 million for lower-income rental housing production for families with children proposed by Supervisor Chris Daly and the Board of Supervisors.

The facts tell a different story.

First, the impression that this $217.5 million is all local tax money the mayor has voluntarily invested in affordable housing is false. Some $20 million is federal and state money that can be spent only on affordable housing. Another $25 million comes from local sources and also must be used for affordable housing. And $48 million comes from tax-increment funds mandated by a 2005 supervisors policy to go solely toward affordable-housing development.

So about 40 percent ($93 million) of the affordable-housing funding that the Mayor’s Office talks about was money that by law had to go to affordable housing. It wasn’t Newsom’s choice.

Nearly a third of the mayor’s budget for creating affordable housing — some $60 million — is in fact allocated to fund his Care Not Cash program, which was supposed to pay for itself. Indeed, more than twice as much money, $31 million, is earmarked to pay for privately owned, leased residential hotel rooms for temporary housing of the homeless (not producing one new affordable home) as is budgeted for the production of new, permanently affordable lower-income family rental housing ($15 million). The fact is, the 2007–08 Newsom budget cuts $24 million in funds earmarked for new affordable-housing production for families and seniors.

What is most distressing about the half-truths and nontruths in the affordable-housing budget battle of recent days is that the unity between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors — crucial to the expansion of affordable-housing opportunities for San Franciscans and which has characterized the city since the George Moscone administration (some 25,000 permanently affordable homes have been produced in the past 20 years, a figure unmatched in any other mayor American city) — has been placed in peril for short-term political advantage.

But cooler heads have prevailed inside and outside City Hall. Sometimes it is better to shut up and do what needs doing and let the credit fall where it may.

Which is why, when the dust settled last week, no one shouted about the $10 million that was quietly added back into the budget for permanently affordable family-housing production.

But we should all be clear: if we want San Francisco to be as economically diverse as we all claim, then we have only just begun to find the funds needed for more affordable housing. While it may or may not be true that you can never be too rich or too thin, it is most certainly true that San Francisco never allocates enough for affordable housing. *

Calvin Welch is an affordable-housing advocate who lives in San Francisco.

Web Site of the Week



"Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Once upon a time, on a July 4 long ago, a group of American malcontents and revolutionaries set a high standard for what a government must safeguard. At a moment when we seem to have forgotten those ideals, it’s a fine time to peruse this comprehensive Web site.

Green City: People versus death monsters


› steve@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Pedaling or walking along a Panhandle pathway is the essence of green, a simple act of sustainable living and connection to a natural area within an urban core. It’s a calming, transformative activity — at least until you get to Masonic Avenue and the telling words painted on the path: "Death Monsters Ahead."

The death monsters, a.k.a. automobiles, that bisect this three-quarter-mile-long green runway into Golden Gate Park would be jarring even if traffic engineers had made that intersection the best it could be. Instead, it’s closer to the opposite — dangerous, illogical, and frustrating for all who must navigate it, a testament to what happens when the primary intersection-design criterion is moving cars rapidly.

After getting word of a rash of bicycle- and pedestrian-versus-car accidents at the Masonic-Fell intersection in recent months, Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reinitiated (two years ago, it was the same story) a voluntary crossing-guard program on Saturdays and weekday evenings and lobbied City Hall to finally do something.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi took up the cause, announcing at the June 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, "I find it simply unacceptable that the city has ignored the problem to the point where a volunteer program has become imperative. Traffic safety is a baseline city responsibility."

Mirkarimi is asking the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has responded to years of complaints about this dangerous intersection with only minor and ineffective tinkering, to finally make a substantial change. He and the activists want a dedicated signal phase for pedestrians and bikes and a dedicated left-turn lane for cars coming off Fell.

It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to see what’s wrong with this intersection. Cars trying to turn left onto Fell from busy Masonic regularly get stranded by a red light and are stuck blocking the crosswalk. Even more dangerous is when bikers and walkers cross on their green light only to find cars — which also have a green light — turning left from Fell Street, cutting across their path.

The problem is vividly illustrated with too much regularity. I can still picture the female bicyclist who flipped through the air and crumpled to the ground a few feet from me after getting hit hard by a motorist. It was almost three years ago, but it remains a vivid, cautionary memory.

I was riding my bicycle west on the Panhandle trail, even with the motorist. Our eyes locked, his anxious and darting, and I knew he might try to cut me off, so I slowed. Sure enough, the driver made a quick left in front of me and hit the bicyclist coming from the opposite direction, who assumed that the green light and legal right-of-way meant she could continue to pedal from one section of parkland to the next. Instead, she joined a long list of Fell-Masonic casualties, to which attorney Peter Borkon was added May 19, a few days shy of his 36th birthday.

Borkon was on his road bike, training for the AIDS Life Cycle ride, when he cautiously approached the intersection, slowed, and unclipped from his pedals. When the light turned green, he clipped in, crossed into the intersection, and then, he says, "I was run over by a Chevy Suburban."

He was hit so hard that he broke his nose and gashed his face on the car, an injury that resulted in 15 stitches, and was thrown 10 feet. The fact that he was wearing a helmet might have saved his life, but he nevertheless went into shock, spent a day in the hospital, and is still waiting for the neurological damage to his face to heal.

How dangerous in that intersection? When I asked the MTA for accident statistics, a response to the criticisms, and a plan of action, public information officers Maggie Lynch and Kristen Holland first stonewalled me for two days and then said it would take two weeks to provide an answer.

Maybe Mirkarimi will spark a change, or maybe the MTA will just keep doing what it’s always done: plod along at a bureaucratic pace with tools ill suited to an evolving world that must do more to facilitate walking and bicycling as safe, attractive transportation options, even if that means delaying the death monsters.*

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

The golf club


› news@sfbg.com

For the better part of a century, San Francisco’s public golf courses have offered players relatively inexpensive rates, belying the view of some that this is an elitist sport incompatible with progressive civic governance. But since a botched revamp of the Harding Park course several years ago, golf operations have landed in the rough, siphoning large sums from city coffers every year. Now Mayor Gavin Newsom and his Recreation and Park Department claim that private businesses would do a better and cheaper job of running three of the city’s most valuable links.

Sup. Jake McGoldrick and other privatization opponents say outsourcing control of the Harding, Fleming, and Lincoln courses would inevitably lead to less access for the general public and higher costs. "A lot of folks don’t realize that the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the St. Francis Yacht Club are public assets that are now run as private membership clubs, elitist things," McGoldrick told the Guardian. "That’s certainly the way this could go."

McGoldrick has called for the formation of a Golf Course Task Force to explore nonprivatization solutions, including converting some of the courses into parks or open space, as the Neighborhood Parks Council has urged. On July 10 the Board of Supervisors will decide between McGoldrick’s plan and Rec and Park’s "hybrid management" resolution, which would award leases of 20 to 30 years for the courses. Political handicappers say the vote could go either way.

In addition to their concerns about prices and accessibility at privately run links, McGoldrick and others have serious reservations about who will run the courses if the mayor’s plan succeeds. No one we spoke with could name potential bidders with any certainty, but if the past is prologue, the choice is likely to involve political cronyism.

Golf advocate Sandy Tatum engineered the deal that turned Harding Park over to the management of Kemper Sports, which has been accused of overspending public funds and turning the course into a huge drain on the city treasury. Kemper also rents space to Tatum’s First Tee program. More recently, another nonprofit started by Tatum and former city attorney Louise Renne initiated and funded a study for Rec and Park that recommended more privatization by turning over courses to entities such as theirs.

The SF Weekly, which has run stories critical of the city’s golf privatization scheme, revealed a 1990s deal that privatized a city-owned course near Burlingame and, in what it deemed a corrupt selection process, handed control of the course to former Willie Brown staffer Tom Isaak.

In 2004, Tom Hsieh, one of Newsom’s key campaign consultants, submitted the sole bid for control of Gleneagles Golf Course in McLaren Park. Neither Hsieh nor his business partner, real estate investor Craig Lipton, had ever run a golf course before winning the contract for Gleneagles. But what really raised eyebrows around City Hall were the terms of the deal. Any lease of more than 10 years would have needed approval by the Board of Supervisors, so Hsieh and Lipton were given a nine-year contract.

"That was a very obvious and blatant end run around the contract requirements of the Board of Supervisors," McGoldrick told us. Hsieh, he went on to say, "is one of the mayor’s good buddies, and he got himself a nice contract out there."

Rec and Park spokesperson Rose Dennis defended the lease agreement with Hsieh, telling us, "At the end of the day, he legally got the concession. It wasn’t like it was put down to a nine[-year contract] to screw anybody. That would suggest a level of sophistication that Rec and Park just doesn’t have."

Reached for comment, Hsieh bristled at the suggestion that he landed the contract because of his ties to the mayor, writing in an e-mail that the mere suggestion was "a scurrilous attack motivated by politics." Hsieh did not answer our repeated requests for information about wage levels at the Gleneagles course and the number of groundskeepers employed there. McGoldrick and sources in the industry assert that one of the main ways private managers would make money from the other courses would be to reduce labor costs.

Sup. Sean Elsbernd, one of the privatization plan’s strongest backers, conceded that some past golf contracts have been "questionable," specifically in the case of Hsieh’s deal. But he said the supervisors would oversee the leasing process this time to avoid cronyism and the kind of spending excesses allegedly committed by Kemper Sports. They would also mandate that new managers continue to employ union employees.

Unlike the city, Elsbernd argued, private businesses could invest large sums of money in rehabilitating the courses, especially Lincoln. "When it gets that kind of [cash] infusion," Elsbernd said, the course "is going to see a turnaround in revenue so that you can actually justify charging higher fees."

That is exactly the kind of scenario privatization foes fear: more exclusive golf courses on public land that raise greens fees beyond ordinary people’s means. "These courses are untapped gold mines," said golf instructor, former pro, and activist Justin Hetsler, who has formed a nonprofit group, Golf San Francisco, to lobby against the mayor’s plan. "But every penny spent at the courses should go back into them, not into someone’s pocket as profit." As for capital improvements, Hetsler, who also works as an accountant, argued, "The courses’ future revenue streams can secure credit for improvements. That does not require privatization."

For McGoldrick, this debate is about far more than golf courses. "I don’t even play golf," he told us. The push to outsource control of the links, he said, reflects a larger philosophical battle about what to do with publicly owned resources. "The mayor is a pro-privatization kind of guy. That’s his MO…. We’re seeing this happen all over the place, not just San Francisco. But for me, it’s just painful to watch city assets [be] given away. It really kicks me in the gut." *

The ethics of Ethics


Part one in a Guardian series

› amanda@sfbg.com

Back in 2002, Carolyn Knee did what many other citizens of San Francisco were doing — she volunteered her time and energy campaigning for a ballot measure she hoped would pass.

Five years later the retiree living on a fixed income has found herself threatened with $26,700 in fines levied by the Ethics Commission enforcement staff, who turned up several alleged violations of campaign finance laws during a random audit of San Franciscans for Affordable Clean Energy, the committee for which Knee was a volunteer treasurer.

At a June 11 probable cause hearing before the Ethics Commission, investigator Richard Mo itemized several infractions, including failure to report $19,761 in contributions on time, in addition to another $9,500 that came in right before the election but wasn’t reported until afterward; failing to notify two organizations that they were major donors who needed to file as such (one of which was the Guardian); not providing all the required information about two donors; and disparities between bank account statements and campaign finance reports.

Mo alleged Knee had "cooked the books," saying she "takes no responsibility" and "claims she was ignorant of the law, passes the blame on to her personal accountant. She cites her inexperience as a treasurer when in fact she served as treasurer for one prior committee."

It sounds like a litany of campaign crime, with Knee as the linchpin, but she maintains that none of it was intentional and that many of the reporting mistakes were made by her accountant, Renita Lloyd-Smith of the Simon Group, a company she’d hired to handle the complicated ledger of campaign finance reports. "Perhaps I was wrong in placing confidence in someone I had to hire because I didn’t know the rules," Knee told the Ethics Commission. "It was all in good faith. It was all done in love of my city. But I’ll never do it again."

Those words have a dual meaning: Knee hopes never to make another financial mistake, and she’ll never again take on the risk of steering the financial helm of a grassroots campaign.

Ethics Commission hearings such as this are usually held in closed session, but this one was opened at Knee’s insistence because she suspected she’s not the only one who’s had difficulties handling campaign finance laws or negotiating fair settlements. It was the first publicly aired probable cause hearing in the commission’s 13-year history, and both commissioners and attendees walked away with questions after issues of perceived bias and a lack of timeliness in the investigation were raised, as well as the possibility that the fines being threatened are inflated and arbitrary.

"There’s only one department in the city and county of San Francisco with no oversight — Ethics," Joe Lynn told the Guardian. Lynn is a former Ethics commissioner and staffer who still watchdogs the agency and has been openly critical of the laxness he perceives there.

His question is one of many about the commission: How does the staff conduct its investigations? Should smaller campaigns staffed with volunteers be handled differently than larger, more professionally managed operations? If resources are tight, should Ethics be more focused on going after the big guys? If the commission had more resources, would the public benefit from both a greater understanding of campaign laws and a more open, honest, and just government?

SFACE raised a little more than $100,000 during the 2002 election season (including about $29,000 from the Guardian and editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann), but the measure it supported — Proposition D, which would have allowed the city to set up its own public power system and break ties with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — failed.

PG&E spent more than $2 million defeating Prop. D, $800,000 of it in the final days of the race, which campaign attorney James Sutton, the treasurer of the utility’s front group, San Franciscans Against the Blank Check, didn’t report until nearly a month after election day, a violation of campaign finance laws. That act likely scored SFACE’s opponents the win.

The Ethics Commission staff launched an investigation, and in 2004, Sutton’s old law firm was fined $100,000 — the largest amount ever levied by the city for breaking election laws. The state Fair Political Practices Commission also slapped Sutton with $140,000 in fines for vioutf8g the Political Reform Act (see "Repeat Offender," 10/27/04).

At Knee’s recent hearing, Lynn, who was once a finance officer for the Ethics Commission, pointed out she was being fined 14 times what Sutton was fined, and if the same formula had been applied, his fine would have been nearly $1.5 million. "You can’t change the standards arbitrarily," Lynn cautioned the five commissioners. "You need to establish standards for these fines, and you need to keep them across the board."

According to the governing law, which mirrors state mandates at the FPPC, commissioners may levy a fine of up to $5,000 or three times the amount of the violation, whichever is greater. Knee’s fine could be as much as $230,000, and Sutton’s could have been $2.4 million — about the same amount that it costs to run the Ethics office for a year.

The Ethics Commission has never imposed the maximum fine, and executive director John St. Croix doesn’t like to draw comparisons between campaigns. "They’re like snowflakes, very different," he said.

A review of the past three years of enforcement history, posted on the commission’s Web site, bears out this truth and shows fines ranging from a sliver to as much as half of the contested amount. In many cases, fines are dismissed completely for financial hardship reasons. The commission does not abide by a formula, fearing that would handicap it during negotiations, but a number of considerations are weighed, including the experience of the campaign treasurer, the appearance of intent, the overall outcome of the election, and a willingness to make right.

Eric Friedman, spokesperson for New York City’s Campaign Finance Board, considered by many good-government activists to be the national gold standard for ethics groups, said its members use similar tactics for settlements, but "the structure that they follow is precedent. They’ve seen pretty much everything at this point." New York’s board is about five years older than San Francisco’s and audits all campaigns.

According to investigator Mo, the $26,700 in fines pointed at Knee was an "opening salvo" designed to inspire negotiations, which have not been smooth. Knee and her pro bono lawyer, David Waggoner, initially offered $500 to settle. Ethics continued to press for more, but Knee didn’t flinch. "I don’t think I should have to pay anything," she said, pointing out that Oliver Luby, the commission’s current fines officer, recommended a complete waiver of all fines. St. Croix said Luby doesn’t work in the enforcement division and doesn’t know all the facts of the case. The current settlement offer from Ethics is $267, which Knee is willing to accept if the commissioners agree.

It’s unclear how often such hardball is played. "Frankly, we took that settlement because that’s what they were willing to pay," St. Croix said of the Sutton case. So too with a $17,000 fine imposed on Andrew Lee for a variety of campaign finance violations (see "Enforcing Equity," 5/2/07). St. Croix said that was what Lee was willing to pay on the spot.

"I’m not sure we could set a standard," said Commissioner Eileen Hansen, who thought both the Lee and the PG&E fines were too low and said if that’s the bar, it should be raised. She pointed out that the law does provide guidance, but read literally, it could mean exorbitant fines for the same slipup echoed through a whole season of paperwork. "I think it’s a good thing to have the law," she said, but "some should pay the maximum amount and some should pay less."

"I’m happy to pay $250 to get it out of the way," Knee said. "This has taken so much of my time and energy." When asked about her audit experience, she replied, "I would never do this again. It totally discourages grassroots" campaigns.

A legal assistant for 25 years, Knee was not a professional accountant but did have experience doing some bookkeeping. "The IRS is like kindergarten compared to the Ethics Commission," she said.

David Looman, a professional treasurer who’s currently managing about 10 campaign accounts and undergoing three audits by the Ethics Commission, agrees that the potential liability is a huge risk. "Twenty years ago when I started in politics in this town, nobody paid for a treasurer. Nobody had a lawyer. Nowadays you’d be crazy not to do both," he said.

The audits in Looman’s cases involve small grassroots campaigns similar to the one Knee oversaw. "There’s no good business principle for why these people should be audited," Looman said. "The fewer resources you have to employ, the more intelligent your decisions should be for how to employ them. Here they are auditing my $12,000 committee when there are clear miscreants running around."

Part of the Ethics Commission’s charter calls for mandatory audits of all publicly financed campaigns, and St. Croix said the agency does as many random audits as resources allow. Last year, he recalled, more than a dozen were completed. With full financial backing, St. Croix said, he would audit all campaigns. He said, "It’s funny. People know they’re going to get audited and they still try to get away with stuff."<\!s>*

Next: what does the Ethics Commission need to rein in the most frequent and flagrant violators?