Volume 42 Number 25

March 19 – March 25, 2008

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The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (03/24/08)


For a breakdown of the positions that relevant politicians are taking on the war in Iraq, visit the slate.com link below. 36 U.S. soldiers were killed this month, which means at least one U.S. soldier was killed for every day that passed. Click here to view.

Casualties in Iraq

U.S. military:

4 U.S. Soldiers were killed in a bomb blast on Sunday bringing the American soldier death toll to 4,000, according to CNN.

The New York Times created a web page called Faces of the Dead, where you can view specific information about all of the U.S. Soldiers who have died in Iraq.

4,276: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03

Source: http://www.icasualties.org/

145 : Died of self-inflicted wounds, according to http://www.icasualties.org/

For the Department of Defense reports go to: http://www.defenselink.mil/

For a more detailed list of U.S. Military killed in the War in Iraq go to: www.cnn.com

To view a breakdown of U.S. military casualties by state of residence, click here.

Iraqi civilians:

82,394 – 89,914: Killed since 1/03

Source: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

For a list of recent events that have resulted in Iraqi casualties, visit :

For first hand accounts of the grave situation in Iraq, visit some of these blogs:

Iraq Military:

30,000?: Killed since 2003

Source: http://www.infoshout.com


127 journalists have been killed since the start of the war in March, according to CPJ.


2.2 million: Iraqis displaced internally

2 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states

Incessant violence across much of Iraq’s central and southern regions has forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes every month, presenting the international community with a humanitarian crisis even larger than the upheaval aid agencies had planned for during the 2003 war, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimates.

U.S. Military Wounded:

132,199: Wounded from 3/19/03 to 3/01/08

Source: http://www.icasualties.org/

The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (03/24/08): So far, $505 billion for the U.S., $63 billion for California and $1 billion for San Francisco.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Here is a running total of the cost of the Iraq War to the U.S. taxpayer, provided by the National Priorities Project located in Northampton, Massachusetts. The number is based on Congressional appropriations. Niko Matsakis of Boston, MA and Elias Vlanton of Takoma Park, MD originally created the count in 2003 on costofwar.com. After maintaining it on their own for the first year, they gave it to the National Priorities Project to contribute to their ongoing educational efforts.

To bring the cost of the war home, please note that California has already lost $63 billion and San Francisco has lost $1 billion to the Bush war and his mistakes. In San Francisco alone, the funds used for the war in Iraq could have been used to provide 3,144,442 homes with renewable electricity, 726,370 people with health care, or 31,528 public safety. For a further breakdown of the cost of the war to your community, see the NPP website aptly titled “turning data into action.”

For more information on what the war is costing the United States visit the American Service Friends Committee website here.

Blown coverage


Most major media outlets are cautious about the war in Iraq these days. Other than times like, say, the fifth anniversary, they don’t cover the war every day, and when they do, they usually provide some sense of the war’s enormous costs, as well as its unpopularity both here and abroad.

But that wasn’t always the case. When George W. Bush beat the drums of war five years ago, most news organizations did little to question the president’s rhetoric. Some even played an active role in selling his case to the public.

“Although some raised doubts, none of the major newspapers were completely against the war,” Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor and Publisher magazine, told the Guardian. According to a 2003 survey by Mitchell’s publication, about 24 percent of newspapers questioned Bush’s arguments prior to the invasion, while the rest supported or were impartial to them.

“Very few disagreed with Bush’s language when he used terms like axis of evil and evildoers,” said David Domke, associate professor of communication at the University of Washington. Domke analyzed 320 editorial pages of the country’s top 10 newspapers between Sept. 11 and the beginning of the Iraq War. He found very little scrutiny or questioning of the administration’s case.

Another 2003 study, this one published in the Newspaper Research Journal, examined coverage by The New York Times and Washington Post between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7, 2001. The study concluded that most editorials in the influential papers simply reiterated White House opinions. This passive acceptance of administration spin did not just influence public opinion, the Journal argued. It also set the tone for news coverage across the country.

Broadcast media mimicked the pro-war bent of the country’s major newspapers. “Overwhelmingly, the expert sources [on television] were pro-war, even [on] PBS,” said Isabel Macdonald, communications director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

In the weeks following Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations, FAIR found that 75 percent of the 393 sources who appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS nightly news were current or former military officials. Only one speaker, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) denounced the invasion.

Since the invasion five years ago, the public’s approval of the Iraq War has gone from about 70 percent to 35 percent. Recent editorials reflect this drastic shift. A July 2007 study by Politico.com found that newspaper opinion pieces are now much more critical of the war. The New York Times called for a troop withdrawal on July 8, 2007. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which twice endorsed Bush, called for a withdrawal several months before the Times. Another traditionally conservative daily, the Dallas Morning News, also asked for troop reductions.

Once the war started going badly, “a lot of military elite jumped ship,” Robert McChesney of the media reform organization Free Press told the Guardian. “Reporters have changed their stance because their sources have given them a different point of view.”

The alternative press, on the other hand, was consistently against the war from the start, and alternative weeklies provided some of the most significant coverage of the antiwar movement. The Guardian editorialized against the war, did cover stories against the war and pushed the agenda on a regular basis – and we weren’t alone.

We emailed editors of papers belonging to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies to get a sense of how many were out in front against the invasion, and the results were impressive. All over the country, in big cities and small towns, alt-weeklies were filling the role that the daily papers and TV stations didn’t.

Among the papers that published articles critical of Bush’s war plans and that reported favorably on the protests: Tucson Weekly. Athens (Ohio) News. Boulder Weekly. Long Island Press. North Coast Journal. Monterey Coast Weekly. Random Lengths (San Pedro). Memphis Flyer. Boston Phoenix. ArtVoice (Buffalo). Rochester City Newspaper. Colorado Springs Independent.

“We came out against it immediately,” wrote Bradley Zeve, publisher of the Coast Weekly. “And we sent a report to Iraq.”

Said Robbie Woliver, editor in chief of Long Island Press: “We were on this from the start and even had some amazing ongoing coverage by a reporter who was non-embedded. Back then that was pretty rare.”

Paemla White at Boulder Weekly noted that her paper “wrote a mondo article covering every single antiwar event in the week prior to shock and awe in an effort to prove conclusively that there was opposition.”

Ken Neill, publisher of the Memphis Flyer, reminded us that his paper was “ahem, outspoken in our editorials and in coverage of marches, etc.” That’s something of an understatement – Neill and his publication were among the most vociferous opponents of the war in the country.

In fact, most of the alts were writing about the war well ahead of the invasion: “Don’t forget that we gave the anti-war perspective BEFORE the war started,” said James Allen, publisher of Random Lengths.

The Village Voice and the L.A. Weekly both had strong antiwar articles in 2003. But they’re now part of the same chain that owns the SF Weekly, and the chain (now called Village Voice Media) doesn’t allow editorials in its publications. In fact, the Weekly made fun of the antiwar protesters (including the Guardian staff).

But overall, if you wanted to find out the other side of the war story, the alternative weeklies were offering it.

Where’s Otto?



ISBN REAL Graphic novels, obviously, aren’t just movies with a lot of missing frames. In the hands of artists like David B. or Craig Thompson, the elastic potential of their subjects, and of the panels that hold them, is realized in a manner entirely at odds with the medium of film.

From the perspective of screenwriters, however — particularly ones beaten repeatedly over the head with the knotty stick of the studio system — that’s nothing that can’t be worked out over a cup of coffee. More and more frustrated writers and directors are reviving their dead film and television projects in the form of comics and graphic novels, either as a last, affordable option or as a way of seeing an original vision make it through the production process intact. Joss Whedon could follow his and not the WB’s muse with the illustrated-only eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and certainly no one was knocking down Richard Kelly’s door to film the six-part prequel to Southland Tales.

Alex Cox, writer and director of the 1984 cult classic Repo Man, also has seen the light. His sequel to that film, Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday (Gestalt Publishing, 164 pages, $19.95), is finally coming out, after more than a decade in the drawer, as a graphic novel. The script, written for the screen in the mid-1990s, was presented unsuccessfully to Universal and then later was the source material for an unfinished independent venture. So Cox posted the screenplay on his Web site, as well as dozens of others he has written or cowritten, with the open offer of a yearlong license to anyone interested in making a film.

Comics artist Chris Bones responded with a graphic novel proposal. The finished version, with artistic contributions by Justin Randall, is a richly drawn and smartly assembled festival of scuzz.

Waldo, as one might expect, answers the questions Repo Man raised with equivocation and deferment, and adds a couple of revelations that are quite cool if I understand them right.

You’ll recall that Repo Man left our hero, Otto, as he was shooting off into space in a glowing green 1964 Chevy Malibu. What we are kinda informed of right off the bat in the sequel is that Otto, now calling himself Waldo (presumably in a legal sidestep), has come back from a 10-year stint on Mars, maybe, though he thinks he’s only been gone for the night. Expecting to find his numskull parents where he left them on the couch, he shows up at their door only to discover he owes rent to a couple of bachelors (one "confirmed") now living there in meticulously rendered squalor.

Waldo more or less shrugs off his situation and proceeds to hop from one doomed job to the next, each of them overseen by the same mysterious man, though under different names. All the while, he abuses the trusting nature of the Russian Shopping Network and makes several attempts to use free tickets to Hawaii he earned by sitting through a real estate pitch. (I’m still not sure what was glowing in the Malibu’s trunk in Cox’s movie.)

Of course, there are more aliens and whatnot, but the strangest thing is Otto-now-Waldo’s change in temperament. The edgy, snotty Emilio Estevez of Repo Man is nowhere in sight. Waldo is a gentle, courteous kind of punk who says things like, "I’ll just redouble my efforts … buy a printer, get these job applications out, find another job ASAP." Waldo must have learned the word "redouble" in space, where he also picked up a considered cheeriness that could have been mistaken for maturity if it weren’t so apparent that Cox is up to something.

It helps to know that Cox is not one to shy away from the polemical, particularly at the expense of economic imperialism. The introduction to X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker (Soft Skull Press, 304 pages, $17.95), an upcoming book about his experiences as a filmmaker, is only a few angry pen strokes shy of a screed, and his 1987 film Walker lampooned — not very elegantly, really — the 19th-century American mercenary William Walker’s overthrow of the Nicaraguan government. Amongst Cox’s movies, Three Businessmen, a 1998 love child of the gospel according to Luke and Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), presents the closest echoes of Waldo. Its characters share Waldo’s aimless, profligate compliance with the dictates of modern capitalism.

And that’s really what Waldo’s Hawaiian Adventure is about, probably.

Would you finance that movie?

“Cariño: Economy of the Heart”


PREVIEW There is something to be said for staying put. For one thing, you become part of a community. Anne Bluethenthal may have grown up in Greensboro, N.C. — not the easiest place when she was a kid if you were shy and Jewish — but she has been living and working in the Mission for more than 20 years. In one of her earliest pieces in San Francisco, Fish Can Sing, she paid tribute to Milly, the girl who walked away when the other kids threw stones at her. When Bluethenthal posits that the personal is political, she knows whereof she speaks. All the work she creates with Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers comes out of a deep womanly awareness of what it means to be a partner, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a female. Her collaborators, her dancers, the people who inspire her are (mostly) women — some gay, some not. Increasingly she has embraced and been embraced by women artists from non-Western cultures. Who has not embraced her are the foundations. She doesn’t fit their criteria. She is not edgy; she is not avant-garde; she is not political (in the most commonly understood way). She is outside the latest trend. Her voice is soft; her voice is quiet. But she won’t go away despite the reality that putting together shows is a constant uphill struggle. She manages because enough people believe in her work; people like Laura Elaine Ellis and Frances Sedayo, who have danced with her for years. Is Bluethenthal a "bleeding heart liberal"? You bet she is, and in Cariño: Economy of the Heart, you can count on an outpouring. "Cariño" is a term of endearment used between friends, family, and lovers. It fits.
Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers March 21-23 and March 27–29, 8 p.m. March 23, 6 p.m. Project Artaud Theatre, 450 Florida, SF. $25 (March 27, pay what you can). 1-800-838-3006, 706-9535, www.abdproductions.org, www.brownpapertickets.com.

Jewish Music Festival


PREVIEW Few genre-themed music festivals enjoy as much freedom in programming as Berkeley’s Jewish Music Festival, now in its 23rd year. For who’s to say what the criteria are? Jewish music expresses joy and pathos, success and failure, the thrill of adventure and the solace of tradition, assimilation, ostracism, whimsy, and gravity, as much as music — and only music — can. And so goes the festival, staking out its territory with challenging and alluring forays all over the Jewish cultural map.

Klezmatics frontman Frank London opens the proceedings with "A Night in the Old Marketplace," a newly commissioned song cycle based on a Yiddish play penned in 1907 by I.L. Peretz. Of course, if Berkeley is the birthplace of slow food, you might call "The Ark: Cyclical Rituals," the most ambitious program of the festival, "fast music." In the space of a week, nine notable performers, including London and influential Bay Area composers John Schott and Jewlia Eisenberg, will board a creative Noah’s Ark, devising a collaborative debut on themes of ritual and tradition.

Two more sure bets: violinist Kaila Flexer and oud player Gari Hegedus of the acoustic ensemble Teslim play Middle Eastern and Sephardic traditional music with understated mastery of melody and ornamentation. And, straight out of the promised land of New York City, the punk-rock klezmer band Golem expands the limits of the shtetl songbook with show-stopping stage presence and a remarkable grasp of Yiddishkeit.

JEWISH MUSIC FESTIVAL Fri/22–Sun/30. (510) 848-0237, visit www.jewishmusicfestival.org for specific times and locations.



PREVIEW He’s originally from France, currently living in East London, and his debut is out on a Swedish label — and his productions are just as cosmopolitan. Simbad, né Stanislas Renouf, may just be coming up on the underground dance radar with productions ranging from majestic house with Robert Owens to heavy broken beats with Steelo, but he has been doing his best to ignore genres and focus on "quality booty music" for almost a decade.

The just-released Supersonic Revelation for Stockholm’s Raw Fusion Records does a solid job of capturing Simbad’s various moods. The multi-instrumentalist has almost as many styles as he does nom de tunes and imprints where they’ve found a home: Mowgly for Freerange, Loose Ensemble for Foundation, and, together with long-time partner Fred McQuinn, Twitch, Heal, and Marathon Men for Earth Project, Key Recordings, and Chillifunk, respectively. In addition to the nuanced electronica and deep house tendencies explored on the 2005 Marathon Men album, Blessings (Chillifunk), Simbad’s solo effort includes a heavy dose of soul, as on the title track with Abdul Shyllon, with its quavering, pitch-bent synth line, easygoing hand claps, and multitracked vocals verging on doowop. Woe to the music store clerk who has to chose a genre for shelving this wide-ranging collection: just like his favorite type of party, Simbad’s productions are truly many-hued. "I love it when the crowd is mixed actually. That’s where it’s the best!" the DJ explained via e-mail, just after praising Japan for its outstanding clubs with their somewhat homogenous crowds. "Our Je Ne Sais Quoi party in London, the legendary Raw Fusion party in Stockholm, Turntables on the Hudson in NYC," he raves. "All nations represented and all booties mixed together equals the best vibes. Just bring your smile down and be open — your ass will follow!"


Fri/21, 10 p.m., $15. Pink, 2925 16th St., SF. (415) 431-8889, www.pinksf.com

The Duchess Of Langeais


REVIEW Acclaimed director Jacques Rivette is still at the top of his game with his latest film, adapted from an Honoré de Balzac novella. The Duchess of Langeais is an opulent period drama that doesn’t feel like one — its story is fresh and alive, and has contemporary resonance. Guillaume Depardieu (Gerard’s son) gives a winning performance as the handsome general Armand de Montriveau. Humiliated when he’s refused by the Duchess (played flawlessly by Jeanne Balibar), it is only when seeking his revenge that he awakens her love. Photographed by William Lubtchansky, Duchess easily has to be one of the most beautiful pictures so far this year. With the richest art direction and wardrobe the genre has to offer, Rivette’s new wave sensibility shines through. Existential wit and love à la de Sade bring to life Paris of the 1820s, a juicy setting riddled with hypocrisy and vanity. Duchess evokes two films from 1975: Françoise Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Bombarded as we are with blockbuster-style films that are about as personal as a box of cereal, the release of this film is notable. Told almost exclusively in cool blues, Rivette holds up the mirror to our Bonaparte-esque swollen faces, revealing decadence-gone-awry results that wouldn’t be out of place in the 21st century.

THE DUCHESS OF LANGEAIS Opens Fri/21 in Bay Area theaters.

Velvet Cantina


GOOD SEATS, LAME EATS Our reservation was late, the table was still dirty when we sat down, utensils never showed until after our food, the margarita was more Rita than tequila, and the chile rellenos were not. But the electric sex glow of crimson velvet and soft candle lighting, our cozy round booth, and the vivacious Mission crowd begging for more sour-mix-satiated margaritas all made the Velvet Cantina enduring, if not enjoyable. Besides, any bad mixed drink can be fixed with a double shot splashed with the aforementioned overly-sweet concoctions.

So I was forced to eat my friend’s carne asada — which was divine — because my chicken mole was so sweet it tasted more like chicken morsel, and we mixed our own libations tableside. I guess participating in the process is part of the fun — isn’t that why fondue is the phenomenon it is? — but this was something else. I most definitely won’t go back for the grub, but I won’t hold the bartender’s heavy pour against the indiscriminate agaves nectar. The red walls were more scrumptious than the food, and while many palates might want to boycott most of the cuisine, the asada and nachos are enough to keep you sane.

Plus, booze is still booze, from whatever bar you choose. The vibrations from the excessively loud music had me strapping on my party shoes before our second round, and from our window side booth, I eventually found myself loving this place. Then again, tequila has that effect on me.

VELVET CANTINA Mon.–Thurs., 5–10:30p.m., bar open until midnight; Fri.–Sat., 5–11 p.m., bar until 2 a.m.; Sun. 5–10:30pm., bar until midnight. 3349 23rd St., SF. (415) 648-4142, www.velvetcantina.com

Ace invader


GUITAR HERO Here’s a star-spangled way to start a conversation: "Hi, Ace Frehley calling!" The 51-year-old Frehley, a.k.a. KISS’s guitar-slinging "Space Ace," telephoned me from his Westchester, N.Y. studio to discuss his current tour — which kicked off Feb. 20, the day after I spoke with him — and his still untitled new album, his first solo effort since 1989’s Trouble Walkin’ (Megaforce).

SFBG What’s the new album like?

ACE FREHLEY Everyone I talk to about my solo records almost unanimously cites the first [1978 Casablanca release Ace Frehley] as their favorite. I’ve been kind of studying all the different elements that are on that record, and trying to remember the mindset I was in. I’ve been pulling out old lyrics that I haven’t looked at in years. Some of the tracks on the record are gonna be from 10, 15 years ago, and some are as recent as two or three weeks ago. Sometimes when I get an idea, the lyrics come to me so quickly, it’s like someone’s beaming them into my head. Like there’s an alien ship up in the sky beaming me lyrics, and I can’t even write ’em as fast as I’m getting ’em. Other days, it’s like pulling hen’s teeth.

SFBG What can fans expect from your live show?

AF Some good rock and roll! My guitar will be blowing up, my light-up guitar will be on tour with me for "New York Groove," and maybe we’ll pull out some other surprises.

SFBG What are you most looking forward to with this tour?

AF Probably just getting out there and seeing my fans. It’s been way too long. And doing it clean and sober — it’s nice to wake up in the hotel and remember what I did the night before, or a week before.

SFBG What have you been listening to lately?

AF I don’t really have time. People ask me about television shows — I never watch TV. If I’m not in the studio, if it’s a nice day I’m on my Harley-Davidson. Usually when I’m in the car, to be honest, a lot of the time I don’t even listen to music. I like the quiet because it allows me to think. Sometimes I’ll just be driving and I’ll have to pull over, because I get a great idea and I have to write it down. Really the only other stuff I do, when I’m not in the studio — I like to paint, I like to do graphics on the computer. Maybe by the end of the year I can put together some type of art show, let the world in on some of my graphic art. I’d actually like to do an animation and put a score to it.

SFBG You’re known for being a huge science fiction fan. What are some of your favorite sci-fi films?

AF [Thoughtful pause.] Forbidden Planet [1956] is one. The Thing — I like both versions [1951 and 1982]. Kurt Russell is great in the newer version. Another great one is Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1956]. In black and white. I’ll never forget the look on Kevin McCarthy’s face when he realized his girlfriend had turned. That fear. The way the seed pods opened up and the bodies came out with the foam — I know it was just laundry detergent, but it looked great.

SFBG What draws you to science fiction as a genre?

AF Probably because I believe in extraterrestrials. The more we study the universe, the more we realize how minuscule our planet is in the scope of things. It’s completely absurd to believe that we’re the only intelligent life in the universe — our galaxy alone is immense. And there are millions of galaxies.

SFBG If you had the chance to travel in outer space, would you?

AF In a heartbeat! You wouldn’t have to ask me twice. (Cheryl Eddy)


Fri/21, 9 pm, $28.50

Grand Ballroom, Regency Center

1290 Sutter, SF

www.goldenvoice.com, www.ticketmaster.com

Hot fusion


If you’ve done any traveling at all, you know about Peruvian dance and music. You will have seen the small groups of black-caped musicians (occasionally accompanied by dancers) playing pan pipes anywhere from Tokyo to New York City, Copenhagen to Atlanta. But there is another aspect of this country’s culture, one that originated halfway around the world. Early in their sixteenth century conquests, Peru’s Spanish colonial powers imported slaves from Africa to work the silver mines. But with the abolition of slavery in 1854, the thriving Afro-Peruvian culture gradually started melting away. By the mid-twentieth century it was composed of fading memories, dances half-remembered, and musical instruments in disrepair. One was the cajon, today known from flamenco dancing; a wooden box Afro-Peruvians used for percussion instead of the forbidden drum. One man, Ronaldo Campos, realized what a tragedy the loss of these cultural traditions would be. In 1969 he founded Perú Negro (now run by his son), and with the help of ethnologists they began to save and revitalize Peru’s African heritage. If you have seen the Bay Area’s El Tunante perform Peru’s national dance, the zamacueca (now often called the marinera), at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, you’ll have had a taste of how European, Indian, and African cultures have mixed in Peru. Perú Negro’s one-night-only concert presents a collection of dances, including the percussive zapateos; the popular zamacueca, which is danced with handkerchiefs; the landó, originally from Angola but entering Peru by way of Brazil; and the toro mato, which mocks the stiff-boned formality of the European minuet. Thematically, the dances both lament and celebrate the slaves’ daily working and living conditions. In addition to the guitar, you may also hear quijadas, or jaw bones, and cajitas, small box drums worn around the neck. (Rita Felciano)


Thurs/20, 8 p.m., $22–$42

Zellerbach Hall

UC Berkeley, Lower Sproul Plaza (near Bancroft at Telegraph), Berk.

(510) 642-9988


Taking flight


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Even for a company as committed to keeping on the move as ODC/Dance, debuting five world premieres in two programs is pushing the envelope of what is creatively possible — not only for in-house choreographers Brenda Way and KT Nelson, but also for the performers who have to learn the stuff.

ODC’s dancers are up to the challenge. They are fast; they are athletic; and they luxuriate in their own physicality. They are gorgeous as individuals and as an ensemble. Daniel Santos speeds up a turn as if he’s being unspooled. In one second, Anne Zivolich curls up on the floor, seemingly to take a nap; in the next, she pounces into a partner’s arms. Private Freeman’s barrel turn impresses, but he’s riveting even doing something as simple as leading a snaking line of walkers. ODC’s resident poet, however, is Andrea Flores, who has a lush physicality and impeccable lines. There’s a hidden reserve about her that keeps you wondering whether she knows something you don’t.

The March 13 gala opening of "ODC/Dance Downtown" presented two of Way’s three premieres: Origins of Flight and Unintended Consequences: A Meditation, as well as Nelson’s 1998 Walk before Talk. Since Nelson has become a major company voice, it would have been good to have one of her premieres included on opening night. "Downtown"’s other premieres include Nelson’s A Walk in the Woods and Hunting and Gathering, and Way’s Life Is a House.

Set to an oddly collaged selection of music by baroque composers Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and Schmelzer’s student Heinrich Biber, the high-energy Flight was an expansive, fairly inviting exploration of one of dance’s fundamental units, the duet. It reveled in the richness of the body’s expressive capability and, by implication, in the myriad ways we relate to each other. But Flight could have used some restraint. Some of the gestural decorations looked overdone, like too much lace on a frock coat.

Way started out with a basic man-woman duo (Flores and Santos) in side-by-side, front-facing unisons, adding decorative flourishes of pointing fingers and shaking shoulders. The dancing was often front-oriented with one couple downstage and three other pairs in the background. Despite Flight‘s cheerleader-ish optimism, the piece’s quiet moments were its most telling. Dancers leaned against each other back-to-back, undertook odd little walks to a plucked-string sound, and best of all, a hand caressed a calf just because it was there.

Unintended Consequences: A Meditation was dedicated to Laurie Anderson and co-commissioned by the Equal Justice Society. Of the work, Way has said, "it shines a critical light on the current state of political affairs and our inadvertent complicity in them." But she is not given to rants. Her political message, if there is one, insinuated itself into our awareness the way Zivolich, with her spiky little skirt (designed by Way), disrupted order by seduction. Anderson’s best-known piece, United States (1981), is tough competition for Way’s intermittently captivating choreography. Consequences‘ most interesting part was the nonchalance with which dancers switched from the dancerly to the pedestrian. Men engaged a partner intimately and then just dropped them without missing a beat. Once the "O Superman" section started, the dance became ever more dreamlike. People froze, their eyes covered; they danced with phantom partners. No wonder you choked for a moment when Corey Brady, who initially had silently emerged from between two futuristic pillars of light (design by Alexander V. Nichols), in the end simply dropped.

Walk before Talk is one of Nelson’s Diablo Ballet commissions. Now 10 years old, the work’s fleet-footed pairing and embrace of a skippy spaciousness, as well as the center section’s more languid lingering, have stood up well. ODC’s dancers did it proud. Yayoi Kambara, ODC’s newest "mom," flew through its musical strains with the exhilaration of a spirit ready to shoot into fresh territory.


Through March 30, check Web site for schedule


Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF

(415) 978-ARTS, www.odcdance.org

A small beef


WITHOUT RESERVATIONS In my years of traversing the Divisadero Summit, that land of cloud-minders at the very crest of Pacific Heights, I have sometimes wondered who actually lives in all the pretty houses. Well, Danielle Steele, of course, and her bevy of automobiles, which she seems to collect the way Imelda Marcos once collected shoes. But I don’t quite know which palace is hers, nor am I sure which belongs to the writer Robert Mailer Anderson and his Oracle heiress wife. Maybe I’m on the wrong street altogether. But I can tell you that the Japanese Consulate is up there, at the corner of Divis and Vallejo, in a beautiful Italianate mansion, and I know this because I was there a few days ago for a high-end cookout that filled the terrace with charcoal perfume and the large foyer with the faintly briny scent of a whole sea bream on display.

The point of the cookout was to remind the local food cognoscenti that Japan, like Europe, has its venerated, slow food-style traditions, and while sea bream makes lovely sushi, no Japanese foodstuff is more venerated than wagyu, the famous, and famously expensive, beef. Slabs of raw wagyu — the real stuff, not the US-produced knockoff kind — were on display beside the reddish sea bream, but they gave off no odor; the beefy smells were coming from the charcoal grills outside, where slivers of the meat were being barbecued while the hungry mob waited.

But you could have your wagyu raw, too, if you preferred: arranged atop a little rice ball as a form of beef sushi. Either way, you tasted the intense fattiness of the meat. "Marbling" — strata of fat within the muscle itself — is the term often used to describe this effect, but wagyu seems to be beyond marbled. The muscle and fat aren’t easily distinguishable. Naturally, small portions are in order, since wagyu is to ordinary beef what cognac is to wine. It’s concentrated and potent, and a tiny amount is plenty. You don’t eat wagyu, you savor it.

In America, where beef is king and is generally scarfed in large quantities, selling this proposition could be tricky, but the subtle culinary wisdoms of Japan do advise us that slow versus fast food is just one axis of a multipolar conflict. Instead of big food, how about … small food?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

South by Cynic


By Kimberly Chun

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Date night, March 15, the closing Saturday eve of the South by Southwest music conference, and I swear, the biggest thrill around is my offroadin’ pedicab ride on my way to the Diesel:U:Music bash atop Mount San Jacinto, through the remains of the Mess with Texas 2 music-comedy day-party in Waterloo Park. How sad is that?

"I do yoga, so that helps," explains my "driver" Liam (his name changed to protect the innocent). The spines of his spindly, highly waxed mohawk shiver like excited mushrooms beneath a forager’s greedy digits and his wire-rimmed spectacles gently mist as he steps up and pedals hard, climbing the park’s slopes as the Texas Capitol shines reprovingly above. "Hopefully it’s not all blocked off — this is my favorite shortcut."

Some shortcut: we career down too-tight paved paths, nearly get decked by a hat vendor stand, then head off onto the grass and through the woods, plunk down a curb — with minimal lady-passenger spillage — and then get back on a path and through a parking structure and finally, somehow, we’re on San Jac. Saint Jack ‘n’ Coke be praised. Liam glances back, mildly beatific: "Wanna smoke a bowl?"

Hey, I’ve only downed a few gratis cans of Lone Stars and a tall sweet tea ‘n’ vodka so far tonight — and with only a giveaway energy bar to absorb it all. Welcome to Austin, Texas, and SXSW, the now unfailingly polite, organizationally fine-tuned, and increasingly disappointing group-grope-n-grip for the increasingly somber, not-so-extravagantly partying music biz. Sure, the numbers are there — the fest appears to be doing well, with more than 123,000 attendees and 1,500 showcased acts, while pouring more than $77 million in expenditures into Austin coffers, according to 2007 stats — and the nontoiling gawkers and stalkers still filled the streets for what has become the nation’s fave musical spring break. But how to quantify the new wave of malaise? Roughly parse the leavings in the tea cup: where were the conference heavies when Dolly Parton bowed out due to health issues, as did, ahem, the Lemonheads? Was 60-ish ex-Oakland R&B elder Darondo’s much-talked-of Ubiquity appearance the best of the fest — or was it Yeasayer or Vampire Weekend? Does Ice Cube really wanna forsake Friday for the rap game? Can all the Euro and overseas showcases sub for the dampened-down US major label presence due to layoffs and cutbacks? At the troubled heart of 2008’s decentralized music biz, few could be heard whooping it up or mourning over at the fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who as the state’s attorney general oversaw the uncovering of $50 million in unpaid royalties to musicians and served subpoenas against labels while investigating payola. Is it true, as so many I spoke to at SXSW have said, that "everything I’ve seen that I’ve liked, I’ve already seen before"? My, South By, how lame you were this year. (Can this trend bottom out? See Sonic Reducer’s 2007’s judgment: "But for a three-time SXSWhiner like myself … the fest generally underwhelmed this year," and 2006’s description of "the ground-level, vaguely dissatisfied vibe at this year’s fest — one studded with sentiments ranging from "there’s too many people here" to "everyone I’ve talked to is complaining about working too hard and not having any fun.")

Sure, there were plenty of free shows and oodles of guest-list jockeying, but when the most talked-about soirees were Perez Hilton’s hush-hush hoedown, Rachael Ray’s bid for day-party indie cred ("There better be good food!" one warily groaned), and natch, the Playboy after-hours warehouse rave — complete with more empties and Porta-Johns than you can shake a Hefty bag at — you can just toss the teacup and throw up your multi-wristbanded hands. The truth: do these brands, celebs, or marketing pipe dreams have anything to do with music? The sonic sustenance of SXSW has become secondary to product placement, relegated to background noise amid a recession-jittered hard sell. No surprise that my extremely random sampling of music lovers were uniformly disgruntled. They weren’t hearing the sounds that made it worth braving the yeehawing and puking hordes, risking podiatric agony for five whole nights.

Sure, there were revelatory moments: the grinning electro-diva Santogold, the crowd-entrancing the Whip, and teased blonde soulstress Duffy (dimpled Kate Bosworth-like everygirl to Amy Winehouse’s trouble-lady) were fab, as were Sightings and Evangelista. Lou Reed cracked mordantly wise even while hawking his new concert doc recreating Berlin (RCA, 1973), shades of Neil Young and Heart of Gold two years ago. SXSW organizers oughta take a cue from the packed "Vinyl Revival" panel, the teeming unofficial shows off the beaten Sixth Street path, where Monotonix raised the roof — and drum kit — at the Typewriter Museum, and where experi-punks screeched under sunny skies at Ms. Bea’s at shindigs hosted by Brooklyn party-starter Todd P, who was given his own official showcases this year. You can already make out signs of the next-gen underground filtering into Moby’s Girl Talk–like Playboy finale and folkie Liam Finn’s noise climax on DirectTV. Is the life-support-via-corporate-sponsorship worth the tourist buck, South By? Next time bring the focus back to the truly smokin’ sounds.

Also glad I saw: Black Moth Super Rainbow (spewing glitter and piñata), Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong (let the nouveau-mod boy-band revolution begin), Ra Ra Riot (kids love Arcade Fire!), High on Fire and Motorhead, Blitzen Trapper with Adam Stephens on harmonica, Justice and Moby’s DJ sets, Torche, High Places, Half Japanese (with a wiggly David Fair and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan on sax), Deer Tick, Scary Mansions, Inca Ore and Grouper, a musically unimaginative but enthusiastic Carbon/Silicon, Goat the Head, Lightspeed Champion, Sons and Daughters, the Kills, "Body of War," Yacht, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Smalltown Supersounders Lindstrom and Kim Hiorthoy, Naked Raygun, the Dicks, the Ting Tings, Paper Rad, Samara Lubelski, and Black Helicopter.

Regret I missed: the Rascals, the Wombats, Barbara Mason, Jaymay, Bun B, the Bo-Keys, Game Rebellion, These New Puritans, Robyn, Pete Rock, Ruby Suns, Napalm Death, the Touch Alliance, Snowglobe, Kayo Dot, Ola Podrida, Bowerbirds, Dark Meat, White Rabbits, White Rainbow, El-P, Herman Dune, Holy Ghost!, Digitalism, Arp, Juiceboxxx, Supagroup, Daryl Hall, Meneguar, Black Ghosts, the Mirrors, Van Morrison, 17 Hippies, Afrobots, Working for a Nuclear Free City, Boyz Noize, Peggy Sue and the Pirates, Death Sentence: Panda!, Christian Kiefer, Megafaun, Salvador Santana Band, Psychic Ills, Devin the Dude, Passenger, the Morning Benders, the Tennessee Three, the Switches, Sera Cahoone, Little Freddie King, A-Trak, Kid Sister, the Clipse, Headlights, Los Llamarada, Pissed Jeans, Rob G, Wale, Dax Riggs, Neon Neon, These Are Powers, WILDILDLIFE, Clockcleaner, Look See Proof, the Cynics, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band, Rahdunes, Stars Like Fleas, and Cheveu.

Pigeon vs. Fuck: Pidgeon, the Pigeon Detectives, Pigeon John, and Woodpigeon go up against Fuck Buttons, Holy Fuck, and Fucked Up, umpired by CunninLynguists.


Wed/19, 9 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

Dark days, indeed


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It used to be that staying up late was a real form of rebellion. An easy test of parental authority for kids, the act takes on an almost anti-capitalist character for young adults. After all, so-called nightlife doesn’t even begin until the 9-to-5 business day has locked its doors. Yet Capital has caught on, and it’s hard not to see the slippery transition from Happy Hour to late-night diner as just another set of cogs on the gear. Still, New York City has held true to its insomniac reputation, issuing the challenge to antisocial misfits to stay up later than a city that never sleeps. Which is why we must thank Religious Knives for giving us a look at what may be the last hour for the lost, wild, and wicked: dawn. Their new album, It’s After Dark (Troubleman), seethes with the deep fear of bleary-eyed wanderers, psychotic with sleep dep’, staring straight into the morning sun.

Religious Knives might almost be considered a sobering up — or hanging over — of guitar player Mike Bernstein and key coaxer Maya Miller’s previous band, Double Leopards. While Religious Knives originally transmitted some of the sonic wall of murk that its earlier incarnation was renowned for, the addition of Mouthus drummer Nate Nelson plunges the band headlong into its current rock sound. Nelson’s drumming has always suggested an equatorial influence, but with the dense shit-storm haze of his other project removed, his brilliant, if grooveless, polyrhythms are finally allowed to cut through. Though the signature Big Apple, bad-vibes drone still rears its head on much of Religious Knives’ diverse discography, the outfit’s atonal crooning, their scrapes and bangs of questionable origin, and their flea-market-Casio runs have all the makings of a neoclassic punk band.

On It’s After Dark, Religious Knives hovers between two sonic paradigms: there’s a classic leather-jacket dirge-punk that culls from Joy Division, Suicide, and even the Cramps, in addition to a basement-apartment dub sound that suggests a production credit split between Lee Perry and some suburban teen hooked on Wolf Eyes. These divergent tendencies are most apparent on the full-length’s first two tracks, but by the time a Bad Seeds-esque "The Sun" rolls around, one senses a whole genre being invented. In many ways the merging of the dark dub of yore and noise music of today is no stranger than the similar convergence that brought us dubstep.

If vibe has much to do with why people listen to music today, then people may enjoy a band that sounds as New York City as Jean Michel Basquiat wandering the Lower East Side ruins. The dense creep of Religious Knives makes at least a few parts of Brooklyn seem satisfyingly seedy.


Wed/19, 9:30 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF


Just like Honeydrips


› johnny@sfbg.com

Word on the streets and between the cuddlecore sheets has it that the best lovesick songs of this young year can be found on the Honeydrips’ Here Comes the Future (Sincerely Yours). As winter gives way to spring, I’ll admit I’m sometimes turning to Mikael Carlsson’s tender tunes for that special bruised but hopeful feeling. The 10 tracks of tears this Göteborg, Sweden, troubadour has assembled push all the right sentimental buttons. They also touch some meta-referential ones: from its anonymously pretty one-off girl vocal to its invocation of a rock standard from the past, the Honeydrips’ "(Lack of) Love Will Tear Us Apart" is an introductory single in the vein of Saint Etienne’s bright orange-red puzzle piece of a debut 45, which translated the rural folk whine of Neil Young’s "Only Love Will Break Your Heart" into synth pop.

The Honeydrips’ album might be titled Here Comes the Future, but Carlsson repeatedly laces his melodies with lyrics that nod to the past. "I Wouldn’t Know What To Do" not only invokes Morrissey’s romantic twist on Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes in order to stake a claim for the clumsy and shy, it pairs it with a jingle-jangle, strum-along guitar sound that ambles just a little bit faster than the one Johnny Marr created for Morrissey’s lyrical trip to the YWCA.

Since both men specialize in Smiths-flavored Swedish it makes sense that Carlsson’s virgin visit to United States’ stages is as an opening act for Jens Lekman. One of the peaks of Lekman’s most recent album Night Falls over Kortedala (Secretly Canadian) is "Shirin," in which Lekman turns a haircut from a girl who has fled Iraq for Sweden into four minutes of pop-symphonic poignance. For half a year now, I’ve wondered why — with only one or two blog exceptions — the heaps of rave reviews for Night Falls over Kortedala have failed to link Lekman’s first-person lyrical address to a person cutting his hair with the one in Morrissey’s "Hairdresser on Fire."

Lekman’s "Shirin" is a sequel that might improve on its inspiration, right down to the political complications that he adds to original scenarist Morrissey’s exploration of the strangely intimate bond between hairstylist and client. In "Hairdresser on Fire," Morrissey milks the lines "There was a client/He made you nervous/And when he said, "I’m going to sue you"/I really felt for you" for their full humor and pathos. Lekman’s corollary in "Shirin" is the concluding couplet "What if it reaches the government / That you have a beauty salon in your own apartment?," a genuine worry that a falsetto harmony somewhat futilely tries to kiss away with the promise, "I won’t tell anyone."

Lekman is peerless at marrying music-hall melody to lyrical melancholy. While Carlsson’s rock-inflected, ultravivid scenes have biff-bang-pow impact, they haven’t reached the same swoon-worthy level of storytelling mastery. To be sure, even Lekman traffics in heart-on-sleeve proclamations best indulged in through headphones, rather than shared blushingly in stereo with sure-to-mock strangers. Put your headphones on so I can whisper this to you: not only is Lekman’s "Rocky Dennis’ Farewell Song" perhaps better than the unique movie — Peter Bogandovich’s 1985 Mask — that inspired it, it’s the closest anyone has come to the Motown and Philadelphia International majesty of Holland-Dozier-Holland, and the first part of the best pop mini-suite since the underrated British group Prefab Sprout’s ditties for Jesse James.

The Morrissey, Saint Etienne, and Prefab Sprout songs I’m citing all date from 1988 or 1990, which shows that what comes around goes around in terms of nostalgia-drenched indie pop trends. Lekman and newer Swedish groups such as the Honeydrips and their fellow current critic’s faves and Sincerely Yours label mates the Tough Alliance owe varying degrees of overt debt to music from that particular era, when anorak-clad innocence cautiously rubbed up against bell-bottomed rave psychedelia to the oft-sampled beat of James Brown’s signature "Funky Drummer."

No matter which way they tip their B-boy hats, the Tough Alliance look more like a Cute Alliance. Still, their particular sonic revision of the cusp years of the twentieth century’s final decades is the one with a little swagger and some sneers. (It also has the least emotional variety.) In comparison, Carlsson begins Here Comes the Future with "The Strangest Dream (Pt 1 & 2)," where his paralysis upon running into a friend’s rapist is only the first instance of impotence countered by some golden guitar chords fit for a heroic leading man. When he hesitates and runs away at the end of the song, that same heroic guitar motif nips mockingly at his heels.

A harsher variant of that electric guitar motif flares forth on Here Comes the Future‘s next song, "Trying Something New," where the lyric nudges the listener that it knows about a secret place for love, much like Petula Clark once did, albeit less boisterously. It’s followed by yet another fresh expansion of the same guitar sound — an effect a bit like a new level of petals appearing on an unpruned flower — in "Fall from a Height," where Carlsson calls upon some well-placed snippets of sampled movie dialogue to add tinges of childhood existential crisis and teen angst (the latter element taken from Rebel Without a Cause, no less).

When Carlsson reaches Here Comes the Future‘s title track, it’s no surprise that it’s as much about resisting the lure of memory as it is about facing the unavoidable. A bell-clear melody similar to the kind that Amy Linton used to write and record for the Aisler’s Set answers him each time he claims that he wouldn’t turn back time if he could. The same push-pull between nostalgia and fantasy is taken to extremes two songs later in the album’s finale, as Carlsson’s closing sentiments are washed away by waves of synth pop. Ending the album as he began it, with a dream, he imagines a day centuries from now, but unsurprisingly, it’s a past-obsessed corner of that day, in which some archaeologist discovers the last remaining trace of his life. Even less surprisingly, that last remaining trace is a romantic one. What would love be, anyway, without the promise of eternity? *


Sat/22, 9 pm; $18

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus, SF

(415) 474-0365



Sun/23, 9 p.m.; $12–$14

Bottom of the Hill

1333 17th Street, SF

(415) 621-4455


Alone again, or


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

In memoriam: Ike Turner, Buddy Miles, Teo Macero, and Arthur Lee

"Music won’t have no race, only space…." — an eternal lyric sung by that titanic philosopher Marvin Gaye, echoing many other dusky voices, from that of pioneer Afronaut Estevanico the Black, whose exploits across the sixteenth century, proto–American West supersede words, to the United Kingdom’s newest alt-country composer Lightspeed Champion. This sensibility is at the core of the Afro-Baroque aesthetic currently being revived as Arthurian legend — King Arthur Lee, that is. From punk-haired black girls in East New York City digging his hybrid soul on the subway through their iPods, to the foremost articulators of the genre’s lush, neoclassical Afropean clash — his Los Angelean heir Stew and the Houston-born boy-king Devonte Hynes, aka Lightspeed Champion — the Arthurly is wrecked no mo’. And it’s way past prime time for the original Love man to be honored on the black-hand side.


The lure of fair Europa held sway over Arthur Lee’s next-gen singer-songwriter from Crenshaw-Adams in South Central Los Angeles: Stew. No more "California Dreamin’" or uneasy rock for this brer who eschewed his colored cloister for liberation abroad. Only Stew’s Negro Problem followed him to Western Europe and then to Gotham, where he’s brought it to the Great White Way in the format of Passing Strange (2007). What makes this choreo-poem Afro-Baroque is that at this play’s core it’s a conjure of sacrifice — lush and hybridized sonic bleeding for those Negro chillun who are nominally free but not weightless enough to swing a ride on ancient Kemet’s Ark of a Million Years.

Akin to Lightspeed Champion, Stew is the product of a God-fearing background and is prone to vanguard aesthetic allusions in parallel to his younger counterpart’s preoccupations with a blend of meditation, country, gospel, punk, Rocky Horror, French minimalist composer Alain Goraguer, and my friend Galt MacDermot’s Afro-fusionist musical score for Hair. The elder art-punk Stew can go head-to-head with the Afro-punk whippersnapper over Arthurly’s thorny crown, and nothing goes over so well during Passing Strange as the first act sequence when two costars, Daniel Breaker’s Youth and Eisa Davis’s Mother, enact their tense separation in homage to European avant-garde cinema.

Yass y’all, Passing Strange, which was incubated at the Berkeley Repertory Theater and Sundance Institute, is a bona fide masterpiece, yet not without flaw. On the structural tip, even with the move from downtown to midtown requiring a tightening up of the boho flow, the second "abroad" act still lacks a satisfying resolution and includes less of Stew’s meta-Pentecostal exhortations and fourth wall–smashing. And some aspects of the play are problematic, mostly on the score of gender politricks. On Broadway, Davis’s embodiment of her Mother role seems whittled down somehow — but I ain’t gon’ get into the thick of what goes on between black men and they mamas. Then there’s the grumbling from my historian sibling and others about the play’s valorizing of the second act’s European muses above the sacred black feminine. The title is derived from Shakespeare’s Othello, and after almost two decades of experience observing America’s black rock scene, it has struck me repeatedly the degree to which many black male rockers feel they can only truly rock by acquiring a baby mama who resembles Joni Mitchell circa 1970 or, nowadays, Feist. This, even when these black Atlantic boys believe Monika Danneman murdered their beloved Saint Jimi!

Still, Stew’s genius doesn’t make me want to put the hoodoo on him or Passing Strange. Rather, when he exhorts freedom from the podium with Arthur’s Little Red Book, Stew makes me wanna holler in Little Richard’s whoo-hoo! and reach back to my Baptist pastor granddaddy’s church in Georgia for my pious MLK Jr. hand fan with the wavy popsicle stick handle.

To wit: I have seen Passing Strange several times since being taken to see it for my birthday last spring at the Public Theatre (Mayday! Mayday!). While I applaud its leap to Broadway as a lifelong supporter of black difference and arts, my obsession with it is purely personal. Aside from Stevie Wonder at a distance, whose mother died a month before mine in 2006, no one feels my pain nor comes as close to articuutf8g the loss as Stew’s play. A mid-Atlantic chile from the opposite coast, I, like Stew, come from a restrictive Christian background — A.M.E. partisans on the maternal side and preaching as virtual family biniss on the paternal — that would condemn and cast me out for my atheism. Like me at an Allmans concert, Passing Strange is a spook in the Broadway buttermilk, probing the deep history of rock ‘n’ roll incubation and conservatism in the black church.

Although Stew’s a decade older than I, I also spent my youth in the ’70s plotting how to dance my way out of the constrictions of the black bourgeoisie horrorshow. And I loved punk and other subcultural provocations for the anarchic possibilities they presented in terms of society and style. Above all, I, too, long mistook songs for love — until now, when I’m in the grips of a hurt that music ultimately cannot heal. But while I appreciate my education abroad, I differ from Stew on the Europa-as-Utopia tip. Nothing breeds contempt like familiarity.


Stew’s alter-ego, Youth, comments that, "America can’t deal with freaky Negroes!" So there’s always been black in the Union Jack, leastways when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll — from Brian Jones’s ace boon Jimi Hendrix through to today’s new eccentric Lightspeed Champion. The UK has been perennially more hospitable to creative Africans who would be free, despite Ruth Owen of Mama Shamone’s faintly damning radio doc of last year, which took the pulse of the black rock orbit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lightspeed Champion reminds me less of this ‘n’ that name-checked Britpopper than Modesto’s recently retired armchair critic of freeway flight and exurban strip-mall anomie: Granddaddy’s Jason Lytle. Perhaps this cracked Americana element stole into the proceedings since Hynes recorded his solo debut in Omaha amongst the cabal of Bright Eyes’ Saddle Creek-dippers, but it seems such wry "from inside the scene looking out" songs as "Everyone I Know Is Listening to Crunk" suggest the subjectivity of a disaffected young man looking for a room of his own far from the urban, madding crowd of druggies, chavs, and black authenticity dealers that surround its narrator. Like Lytle’s renovation of country and western — with an emphasis on restoring the western part of the early twentieth century modern genre from the perspective of what happens when America’s run out of room for expansion — Lightspeed Champion’s brand of high lonesome is borne out of England’s dreaming during the insular nation’s nightmarish era of being "overrun" by immigrants, urban blight, and various forms of terrorism.

It is rather fascinating that Texas-born Hynes should have escaped parochial black American life due to his itinerant parents’ lifestyle only to seek out Omaha-as-omphalos for requisite head space to craft his new opus, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge (Domino). Why? Precisely because it’s his attaining maturity in England that permitted Hynes to become the swooning, anxious, vulnerable almost to the point of fey version of black manhood that pervades his finely wrought songs. His brand of Afro iconoclasm — which got him signed as a Test Icicle at 19 and now gets him fêted for sepia twang in his early 20s — would have encountered far more roadblocks on American shores where young black males are required to be consistently hard and never punks (catch the final season of The Wire). Plus ça change, eh, Josephine et Jimmy? Of course, Hynes’s will-to-flight was telegraphed from childhood when he penned a comic about a superhero from Planet Voltarz whose power derived from wielding mathematical equations. The superhero’s moniker? Lightspeed Champion, whose power in maturity will likely rest on "touring until I die."

When he performed at that East Village hip cloister Mercury Lounge before a small fawning audience sporting about — a record — six Negroes, the fur-helmeted Champion in David Ruffin’s black glasses, a self-willed superhero and Urkel-in-Little Richard’s hairpiece, seemed to be signaling that the secret power propelling him out of the dystopic urban milieu he described was not merely blowing up in America but striving to refine a hyperliterate and well-enunciated language to get his Romantic apologias across. And don’t let the widescreen alt-country symphony "Galaxy of the Lost" fool you — our Devonte’s still black enough for ya, with his disc being inspired by a lot of hip-hop and by closing his debut with an ode to his Mama: "No Surprise (For Wendela)." If Falling Off the Lavender Bridge does the biniss projected, this postmodern Professor Longhair is on his way. Watch his space.

Despite the decades of separation, Stew and his fellow black Atlantic jumper Lightspeed Champion are both still seeking newer sonic horizons, even as that campaigning purveyor of "Them Changes," B-rack Obama, is traveling electric miles to paint the White House black.

Deja vu, times two


TAKE ONE With his short film Night and Fog (1955), Alain Resnais introduced the world to his idiosyncratic and esoteric filmmaking, while offering an initial glance at his obsessions with memory, time, and space. He would further elaborate on this trio of fixations in his extraordinary debut feature, Hiroshima mon Amour (1959). But his second feature, Last Year in Marienbad (1961), is where Resnais truly allowed himself to grapple with these issues, as well as with cinematic form.

Because of its enigmatic plot, mysterious characters, and various peculiarities, Marienbad has inspired a wide variety of discussions about the nature of time and memory, and about the divisions and links between reality and fantasy. Although such explorations are totally valid, the most striking — and perhaps somewhat neglected — of Marienbad‘s many wonderfully bizarre features is its treatment of space.

Resnais’ choice and use of locations is very imposing. Marienbad‘s two protagonists — including Delphine Seyrig in only her second feature role — encounter each other at a hotel, and try to figure out whether they had met and fallen in love at that same place a year ago. The hotel is actually composed from the interiors and exteriors of various grandiose chateaux in Germany. Impressive scales, strictly geometric gardens, and an exhaustive array of rooms immediately give the impression of a sumptuous maze in which one can get trapped and become lost.

Employing repetitive long pans and dolly shots throughout most of the film, Resnais painstakingly observes the hotel’s interiors, emphasizing their excessive ornamentation. Endless corridors give way to doorways that yield yet more hallways and living rooms. All of them are decorated to perfection; all of them feel terribly empty, cold, still, and asphyxiating. These images are juxtaposed with shots that similarly observe the hotel’s occupants. Clad in their flamboyant Coco Chanel dresses, members of the bourgeoisie are shown aimlessly wondering around the hotel, engaging in commonplace activities and conversations.

By complimenting this visual pattern with eerie organ music, Resnais achieves a striking effect. As film professor and writer Laura Rascaroli puts it: “The [film recalls] one of the main features of baroque architecture, the use of a superabundance of details and decorative elements as a means of filling up the void and repressing the fear of nothingness, of oblivion, of death.”

Few filmmakers manage to treat space as more than mere background. Michelangelo Antonioni is one obvious example. In Marienbad, Resnais moves beyond an exploration of the creative possibilities that a film’s space has to offer. He goes so far as to use space to actually produce meaning. That idea, perhaps more than anything else, is what this ageless masterpiece is all about. (Maria Komodore)

TAKE TWO To begin, a word for Sylvette Baudrot, “script girl” for Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s arch postmodernist plaything, Last Year at Marienbad (1961). Film critics are often guilty of underplaying contributions by screenwriters and cinematographers, but script girls? You’d better believe it with a film as rigorously mathematical as Marienbad. Resnais and Robbe-Grillet’s creation defies continuity, but it rests heavily on bridges and echoes, its staging directions endowed with interlocking, psychic value — all impossible, one assumes, without Baudrot’s attentive supervision. Resnais goofily nods to his obsessive predecessor Alfred Hitchcock when he places a cardboard cutout of the master of suspense in an early shot. But Baudrot provides the direct link: she was the script supervisor on Hitchcock’s 1955 Riviera dalliance, To Catch a Thief.

Credentials aside, Last Year at Marienbad is an elegant whirlpool, all the more notable for being made amid the fuck-all bluster of the early French new wave. At a sodden grand hotel, “X” (Giorgio Albertazzi) implores “A” (Delphine Seyrig) that they met the previous year and agreed to reconvene away from the watchful eye of A’s husband “M” (Sacha Pitoëff). Some of the aspects surrounding these characters seem hopelessly musty, encrusted by decades of swollen undergraduate debate. There is the flattening score, and the famous strategy game that M always wins. Try not to giggle at those scenes in which a character’s bulging eyes conjure so many Universal B-movies — indeed, Pitoëff seems to have been cast for his gaunt shape, evocative as it is of Karloffs and Lugosis past.

And yet, Marienbad‘s distancing front-line of attack remains a radical proposition: erotic obsession defanged of the eros, and further soused in sounds and images that seem, if not deceitful, then at least unverifiable. At the center of this opaque sphere is Seyrig who, as A, has the unenviable task of making something of being more than a marionette. The film is most symphonic — and terrifying — in those moments when Resnais’ camera movements collude with Albertazzi’s direct address, simultaneously conjecturing and ensnaring the imagined A.

Marienbad‘s chilly core endures despite the extent to which its formalist shock tactics have been assimilated into mainstream productions. In stretching cinematic space-time like so much chewing gum, the film provides a direct link between Louis Feuillade’s shape-shifting serials (1913’s Fantômas, 1915’s Les Vampires), Stanley Kubrick’s gliding horror (1980’s The Shining, in particular) and latter-day brainteasers like Memento (2000), Being John Malkovich and The Matrix (both 1999). If this is Resnais’ unexpected lineage, Seyrig’s A keeps a different company. She’s still lost in Marienbad‘s hall-of-mirrors (the last line, like a curse: “Losing your way in the still night, alone with me”). But while there, she might catch a reflection of some kindred spirits: Kim Novak, of course, but also Rita Hayworth, Laura Dern, and least suspecting of them all, Rose in Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart (1936). (Max Goldberg)


Through March 27

Opens Fri/21; $7–$9.50

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120





› paulr@sfbg.com

When Carlos Altamirano opened his first restaurant, Mochica, on a drab block of Harrison Street in SoMa more than four years ago, I thought: well, Peruvian, that’s interesting, but how good could it be if he had to put it there? Then I went and found out how good it could be: way good, extraordinary, probably the best Peruvian food in the city. Few pleasures are as exquisite as that of finding one’s expectations exceeded.

And yet, in unlooked-for success, danger can lurk, too. If your first restaurant turns out to be marvelous, people will expect your other restaurants to be marvelous, maybe even more marvelous. The word, from two summers ago, that Altamirano would be taking over the original Moki’s space in Bernal Heights to open a Mochica sibling wasn’t surprising, but it did lead me to suppose that the new place would be at least as good as the older one and, at the same time, wonder if and how it could be. Would it be disappointing if Piqueo’s, the new restaurant, were only as good as Mochica, not better?

One way out of this gilded conundrum might be to serve a slightly different sort of food at each locale. Altamirano describes the menu at Piqueo’s as "contemporary" Peruvian cuisine — "traditional" Peruvian, "with a California twist." (Mochica, incidentally, serves "fusion Peruvian cuisine," according to the Web site.) The description is fair enough in that vague, diplomats-having-frank-discussions way, but it does not begin to capture the wonder of the sauces, which, in their variety, sophistication, and vividness, are so good we actually requested glasses to drink them from, once we’d run out of sopping and soaking material. If you associate sauces with a certain sort of snooty French cooking, you will find revelation at Piqueo’s.

The menu card itself is an unwieldy artifact. It’s oversized — it could pass as a modestly shrunken reproduction of the Declaration of Independence — and like that worthy document it’s filled with text, in small, difficult-to-read lettering. One evening we had to whip out our Peepers (those wallet-size magnifying glasses, so no, it’s not what you think) to be able to read the menu. Rarely do you see so many choices except at Chinese restaurants, and when a kitchen must turn out such a broad range of dishes, you wonder if it isn’t trying to spread too little butter over too much bread.

But you don’t get bread at Piqueo’s: You get little dishes of crispy, spicy chickpeas, tossed with scallion mince and some mild white vinegar. They’re no good for sauce reclamation, but they are addictive. You empty the dish and another soon appears, and by the time you’ve emptied that, you are presented with a platter of seviche, maybe the mixto version ($17), an embarrassment of peeled shrimp, sea scallops, mussels, yam chunks, kernels of Peruvian corn, and a few slivers of fresh ginger bathing in a glow-in-the-dark sauce of lime juice and two kinds of chili pepper, rocoto and aji limo. The sauce was almost like a distillate of V-8 juice, and when the seafood was gone, we poured the remnant into a cordial glass and made a small toast to the next course.

After such puckering heat, a bit of aromatic sweetness is indicated. How about a salad of quinoa ($9) — the grain of the Inca — perfumed with mint? I was expecting something like couscous, but the salad was a real salad: a bowlful of mixed greens, with the cooked quinoa scattered like cheese crumblings over the lettuces and a lively but well-mannered supporting cast of halved black olives, red bell pepper julienne, and more Peruvian corn kernels tossed into the mix. Vinaigrette: lush and balsamicky, a hint of caramel sweetness.

As familiar as Peruvian corn (a.k.a. cancha) may have become in recent years, at least to those who haunt Peruvian restaurants, its appearances have remained confined (in my experience) to off-the-cob bit parts. But Piqueo’s offers cancha steamed on skewered cobs ($9) in a fabulous, turmeric-yellow aji sauce. The corn itself was a little bland (though it doesn’t stick in your teeth the way the ordinary kind can), but the sauce was so good that we pleaded for, and were brought, a plate of toasted baguette rounds to clean it up with.

Bread recurred (in a kind of late-inning rally) as part of a fried-smelt sandwich ($9) enlivened by sprigs of fresh cilantro. Smelt is a fresh-water fish not often seen in restaurants around here — I associate it with the Great Lakes and early-spring fishing expeditions by night along Chicago’s lakefront — but there is a variety native to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, so it’s not necessarily an exotic delicacy.

Also not exotic delicacies, but delicious all the same, are calamari tubes ($19), closed off at one end like pastry piping bags, filled with chorizo, and grilled. The tubes (which look like elongated dreidels) are plated with broad, flat white beans, a jumble of watercress, and yet another wondrous sauce, this one called chupe.

If there is a slight letdown, it has to do with the dessert menu. Many of the usual suspects can be found here, from alfajores (the little cookies) to suspiro to passion-fruit mousse. After some squabbling ("Gentlemen, draw your Peepers"), we settled on the chocolate cake ($10) with ice cream. The ice cream, made with lucuña, a tropical fruit native to Peru, was a pretty orange-pink color but disappointingly granular, which suggested it had melted and been refrozen. The cake, on the other hand, a disk held within a rim of crushed nuts, was outstanding: a mousse cake, smooth and dense as night. No sauce needed.


Daily, 5:30–10:30 p.m.

830 Cortland, SF

(415) 282-8812


Beer and wine


Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Shitloads of Money


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Stirring constantly … I’m a troublemaker. For complicated reasons, my old pals, um, Ronnie "Zack" Pottery and his wife, Mrs. "Zack" Pottery, were running from the law. Understand that these are two of the sweetest, law-abidingest people you will ever meet. They live very cleanly, simply, and musically in subrural, um, Idaho, pay taxes, stay sober, write, work, and record at home, go to the doctor, and consume more tea than anyone I know. Their idea of a wild time is to stay up late (as in, like, 11 p.m.) and render jazz standards on melodica and banjo. Sometimes they throw in a little slide whistle, or toy piano … the sick, twisted deviants! Their closest friends, I swear, are nuns.

Everybody sing: The hills are alive with the sound of music. No. It’s Idaho, but it ain’t like that. And I’m not sure I quite know what I mean, but I have a gut feeling it might be funny, in an over-my-own-head kind of way, so let’s stay with it. Just in case.

Everybody sing again: The hills are alive with the sound of music.

Sorry. The reason I’m stalling is because I want so very badly to explain why my two most clean-living friends ever, anywhere, were fugitives from (in)justice for a week. It’s so exciting and ridiculous. Surely it will make great copy. And yet, I have to be careful, don’t I?

Suffice it to say, as vaguely as possible, that people with shitloads of money can do basically whatever they want to people without squat, or very little, at any rate — like maybe some musical instruments and herbal tea. Everybody knows this, right?

But it’s even more twisted than that. Woohoo!

To make a long story short, as Ronnie "Zack" himself is fond of saying, someone with shitloads of money takes someone else with shitloads of money to court over, say, shitloads of money, or custody of kids, or it could be anything, really. The point is that clever, ruthless lawyers with shitloads of money start playing shitloads-of-money hardball with each other over shitloads of money, and the next thing you know, nun-hugging, starving-artistical innocents with a fear of flying are about to be subpoenaed to appear in a courtroom many states away to testify against a third person with shitloads of money who is not even materially involved in the case of Shitloads of Money vs. Shitloads of Money.

So let’s say that this third person with shitloads of money would prefer not to see Shitloads of Money winning shitloads of money off of Shitloads of Money, if only because in the process his own good name, Shitloads of Money, stands to be destroyed and he may, for example, lose the respect of loved ones who may or may not already have lost respect for him years ago. In any case, it’s too much to risk for someone with shitloads of money, so he generously suggests to said nun huggers that they must certainly be under stress and could use a vacation.

Oh, it’s so convoluted and other-worldly. It’s enough to boggle a little chicken farmer’s tiny brain. Which is partly my fault, because as soon as I saw Mr. and Mrs. "Zack" Pottery in their his-and-hers false mustaches at a discreet little hotel in My Hometown, California, I asked them please not to tell me too much about what was going on, so that I might write about it more accurately.

As a result, you probably know more about this case right now than I do. All I know is that Shitloads of Money vs. Shitloads of Money + Shitloads of Money – False Mustache–Sporting Nun Huggers = Fun for Chicken Farmers.

Breakfast was on them. Lunch was on them. Dinner was on them. Gas was on them. And as it gradually dawned on me that "on them" likely didn’t really mean on them so much as on them, I started suggesting fancier and fancier places. Places that chicken farmers and musicians don’t generally get to eat at.

And in this way, in my own imagination at least — which counts! — I had the small satisfaction of sticking it to Shitloads of Money.


My new favorite restaurant is the Willow Wood Market up here in Graton. It’s the kind of place where I would never be able to afford to go, myself. It ain’t cheap eats: in other words, you’ll spend $15-$25 on a dinner entrée. But on special occasions, like your birthday or surprise out-of-town visitors wearing false mustaches and picking up checks…. It serves pretty basic, unpretentious, comfortable, and great food like risotto with scallops, rock shrimp with polenta, and grilled flat iron steak.


9020 Graton Road, Graton

(707) 823-0233

Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Beer and wine




› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

This is my third serious boyfriend. I think I’m his second. He’s into fairly hard-core masochism. Not like smack-me-around-a-little-Master masochism, which I’d cheerfully go along with, but shit like choking and knives and fire and no safewords. He’s also tried to convince me to fuck him without lube or preparation, which doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. He says that he’s played like this before, but never to the extent that he wants to. I’m wondering how rough can I get without actually hurting him? Any suggestions for good books or Web sites?


Gentle Ben

Dear Ben:

Your boyfriend is into "edgeplay," and/or possibly "RACK," (risk-aware consensual kink) the recently named alternative to the long-used and unnecessarily apologetic-sounding "safe, sane, and consensual" label for S-M activity. There’s a little essay which explains the distinction between SSC and RACK here: www.leathernroses.com/generalbdsm/medlinssc.htm. But for those who aren’t online right now, the idea behind risk-awareness is that you acknowledge that what you’re doing is potentially dangerous (rather than pretending that knowledge and precautions can render any activity completely "safe") and agree to accept that before continuing. It doesn’t mean that you have to do dangerous stuff, or that you do your dangerous stuff less safely — far from it. Truly "risk aware" kinksters, after all, are presumably also aware of things like proper technique, good gear, and common sense.

As for how far you can take it, well, that surely depends on which "it" you’re talking about. There are a lot of things on your list with a wide variety of potential risks. Knives and fire, for instance, can both be managed with little risk of real harm, assuming you know what you’re doing. You can take a class on knifeplay, for one thing; and for another, a very sharp, very clean knife applied lightly to a nice expanse of muscle like the upper arm, thigh, or the ever-popular buttock just isn’t that dangerous. Fire, in the form of dripped candle wax, singed arm hair, or flaming swathes of alcohol, can give a similar big-bang-for-small-danger buck, again provided you know what you’re doing. Of course, the most experienced, dedicated, total freakazoid sadist I know did kind of set his girlfriend on fire with flaming hand-sanitizer once, and in front of an audience at that — but even they emerged more embarrassed than crispy. For tips and tricks, it’s probably best to learn from an experienced player or take a class, but failing that, Greenery Press‘s Toybag series is probably your best resource.

The no-prep, no lube business is potentially problematic, but I can see how lots of people — really, really experienced people — could actually handle that. Find out if he’s one of them. Of course, you could always cheat and put the lube on you and never tell him. He can’t see back there, you know.

You may have noticed that I didn’t include choking in my "not as scary as it sounds" list, and for good reason. Personally, I think choking/breathplay is precisely as scary as it sounds, and I’m generally anti. Unlike practices which might cause a nasty infection or an unsightly scar, breathplay can make you dead in very short order, and completely unpredictably. Jay Wiseman, the emergency medical technician and kink educator who’s studied and written about this the most, comes down firmly against it in his well-known article, "The Medical Realities of Breath Control Play.&quot The other authority on such subjects, the much-published Charles Moser, MD, is somewhat more equivocal: when I talked to him about it, he basically said, "It can kill you. I won’t tell you not to do it, though. Oh, but it can absolutely kill you, and you’d never see it coming. People have a right to do it, though…." He might have kept on like this — "Kill you! Right to! Kill You! Right to!" — until I slapped him, Chinatown-style, but we don’t have that sort of relationship. If you and the b-friend are negotiating this stuff, and you’d better be or I’m coming over there and kicking your ass myself, I suggest you agree to oh, I dunno, carve "I LUV BRITNEY" on his chest and flog him through the streets with a flaming medieval flail, but you should refuse, categorically, to choke or black him out. Just say no.

As for playing without a safeword: fine, whatever. You know and he knows that if he were really in trouble he’d manage to communicate this to you, and you would stop what you were doing. No big deal. There’s one more thing we haven’t covered about consensuality though, and it’s a big one for you, the presumptive top: Do you even want to do this? You get to say no too, you know. Call out your own "safeword" if you have to.



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.

Unchain my art


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world, with more than 1.8 million people currently behind bars. But perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the largest state on the so-called left coast is the most prison-happy: California spends the most money in the nation on corrections while ranking 43rd in funding education.

This according to "Golden Rules: A Guide to the California Prison System," a booklet designed by Kelly Beile and Emily Wright, which presents startling statistics on the industry and economics behind this state’s prison system as part of "The Prison Project," Intersection for the Arts’s continuing multidisciplinary exploration into California’s criminal justice system. The book was produced in conjunction with an exhibition of work by an array of artists directly affected by the correctional facilities in our state.

With so little money being put into education for California’s unoffending citizens, it’s not surprising that next to nothing is spent on rehabilitation programs for prisoners. Thankfully, through private funding and grants, programs such as San Quentin’s Arts in Corrections and the William James Foundation’s Prison Arts Project exist to offer a creative outlet to inmates.

Arts in Corrections student Ronnie Goodman uses acrylic on canvas board to record daily life as a prisoner at San Quentin. In Under the Bullet Holes Shat (2007), Goodman captures the undifferentiated backs of inmates exiting the prison yard as beams of light stream through bullet holes in the tented tarp roof. One figure — perhaps the artist — hangs back from the crowd, a solitary man without a face.

The solitary man is a recurring subject in the show. In the work of Robert Stansbury, who died on San Quentin’s death row in 1991, the male subject appears alone with nature, walking on a beach or cooking his meat over a campfire. Stansbury was entirely self-taught, since programs such as Arts-in-Corrections are only available to "mainline" prisoners, not those on death row.

Another self-taught artist, on San Quentin’s Death Row since 1983, William Noguera recreates images from his dreams and memories in painstaking detail with ink on paper. Photo-realistic renderings of a couple embracing, a billowing curtain, a cross, a shadow, and a cityscape are overlapped and collaged together, creating networks of narratives. Each piece takes Noguera approximately 100 hours to complete, and the artist mixes his own blood into the ink with the belief that he might free a bit of himself from his four-by-10-foot cell with every composition.

Artist Mabel Negrete is not incarcerated, but her brother is, and their collaborative installation You and Me describes the relationship between inmates and their loved ones on the outside. Negrete compares a day in her own life, as she lives in freedom, and a day in the life of her brother, as he lives inside prison walls. On the wall of the gallery, Negrete transcribes a letter from her brother — in distraught hatch marks — and, next to it, her own letter in carefree cursive. On the floor, Negrete renders with masking tape the actual space of her brother’s shared cell, with two beds, a desk, and a toilet/sink, next to the equivalent space of her apartment bathroom.

"The Prison Project" also includes works by at-risk boys and girls through preventive youth education programs such as the Imagine Bus Project and City Studio. Noticeably underrepresented in the exhibition is work by adult women prisoners, especially since "Golden Rules" tell us that the incarceration of women in California has gone up exponentially in the last two decades (mostly for nonviolent offenses) due to mandatory sentencing laws.

Amid the troubling information provided by "Golden Rules" and the haunting art on view, a lighter moment seems necessary — and it arrives in the form of Larry Machado’s motorcycle sculpture Bone Shaker (1981-82). Assembled from the bones of dead rodents found on the prison yard, Bone Shaker is a straightforward, unsentimental symbol of freedom.


Through March 29

Tues., by appt.; Wed.–Sat., noon–5 p.m.

Intersection for the Arts

446 Valencia, SF

(415) 626-2787

Ribbons and signs


› sarah@sfbg.com

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was take my son to the airport the day he deployed to Iraq.

We set off at dawn, the hour that most dates with the Army begin, exhausted after a sleepless night in which my son packed his gear, put on his military fatigues and assumed what my daughter calls his "soldier’s face," an expressionless, unnaturally calm look.

The sun rose, Led Zeppelin began to sing, Dancing days are here again / As the summer evenings grow / I got my flower / I got my power / I got my woman who knows on my car radio — and I began to wonder how I could be helping my son in joining Bush’s surge.

Isn’t this kind of dysfunctional? I thought, wondering if my son’s militaristic tendencies were the universe’s way of jokingly paying me back for a lifetime of peacenik activities.

I know he says he wants to go, but he is young and innocent and doesn’t know what he is getting into, I thought, glancing at my son, who had always shown an interest in war since he was a small child, and was already looking like some kind of psycho-killer, thanks to a pair of black-rimmed, ballistic glasses he insisted on wearing on the plane.

And now he was reminiscing about the time he almost melted a machine gun barrel.

"I let off 300 rounds out of a machine gun without a break," he explained, his newly shaved head as fuzzy as a chick. "By the time I was done, the barrel was glowing orange and red at the tip. They were blanks, but they still create that much heat."

For a moment I wanted to turn and drive in the opposite direction. But I knew that there was nothing I could do to stop my son from going on his mission, the modern day version of the medieval knight’s quest.

It wasn’t until after we’d hugged and he’d disappeared into airport security that I broke down and cried.

When I got home, I took out the yellow ribbon magnet I got at the Camp Roberts PX store. I bought it last summer, when I attended the California National Guard farewell ceremony. And now I wrote on it, in black marker, "Til they all come home."

Then I stuck the magnet on my car, between the "Prune the Shrub" and the "Yes to Coexistence, No to Violence" bumper stickers. I’d finally come out as a military mom.

A few weeks later, I was filling up my car, when the guy behind me at the gas station commented on my bumper sticker collection.

"Don’t you think that sometimes there has to be violence for there to be coexistence?" said this guy, who looked younger than me, but older than my son.

"Last weekend 14 US soldiers were killed by roadside bombs," I said, my voice suddenly on the edge of tears. "What good does that do anybody?"

"Nobody," the guy agreed, evidently attuned to my distress. "What’s your son’s name? I’ll pray for him."


These days, I pray for my son all the time, and all the people who are in Iraq, too. I pray in elevators and bathrooms and coffee stores. I pray when I’m driving across the Bay Bridge toward San Francisco and the towers on the bridge’s western span loom like archangels.

"Protect him, protect them all," I say to the towers, the angels, and anyone else who might be listening.

Until my son enlisted, I had no idea of the daily nightmare that military families endure. The pain they feel when they read the paper or see the news and hear that some soldiers have been killed, and wonder if folks in uniform will show up at the door with bad news.

And until I went to the National Guard’s farewell ceremony last summer, I had no idea what the 800 guardsmen, who were deploying with my son, were like. Then I saw them marching in formation toward me across a dusty parade field under the anxious gaze of their families. A shiver went up my spine.

They were so young, these soldiers — boys, most of them, just like my son. And they were so representative of the racial demographics of California, so many colors and ethnicities gathered there that day. And most of them didn’t seem to be rolling in money.

But they were precious treasure in the eyes of their wives and children, siblings and parents, who all would really rather not see them leave. And they continue to be a mighty rare resource in these days of no military draft, a body of soldiers who should be only be deployed when all other avenues have been exhausted.

Most of us are disconnected from these soldiers, their families and this war. We see images of burning tanks, charred buildings, and stunned Iraqis on the television. But there is no smell of burning flesh. No fear that the person walking toward us is a bomb, about to go off.

And without the draft, most Americans aren’t worrying that Iraq will devour their children. It’s a dangerous disconnect that could allow this war to drag on for decades — its burden to fall on the backs of the same soldiers and their families, over and over again.

Watching these young men prepare to deploy, I felt sick, remembering that when Bush first tried to make his case for the invasion, I naively believed this war could be averted. All it would take, so I thought, was people listing the many reasons why a preemptive invasion was illegal and how it would have long-term counterproductive repercussions for Iraq.

I also remembered how I began to grow desperate in December 2002, when Bush continued to talk about assassination, regime change, and first-strike nuclear attacks, despite the fact that inspectors found no evidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and despite the fact that millions were marching against an invasion.

I helped organize and participate in a naked peace sign on a beach in Santa Cruz County, along with my friend and fellow peacenik Jane Sullivan.

I know that getting naked to stop the invasion sounds terribly lame in retrospect. As Jay Leno joked at the time, "Good idea. Wrong president." But it wasn’t likely to trigger any nuclear build-ups, either.

At the time, my son was 16 and wasn’t talking about joining the military. That happened in his first year at college. It was January 2006, and I was hopeful that since the war was becoming increasingly unpopular, the Democrats would be able to take control of Congress and force Bush to bring the troops home, before my son could be deployed.

My son’s recruiters apparently had no such illusions

"Run away, boy! They’ll send you to Iraq!" they said, when my son showed up to enlist.

"I couldn’t expect you to understand," he said, the day he broke the news of his enlistment, adding that he believed his ensuing experience would be "like a crucible."

Crucible is certainly an accurate metaphor describing my odyssey as a newborn military mom. As I wrote in my diary in Spring 2007, when my son got his deployment orders and came home on leave for a week, "Since last week, I have learned the difference between the cavalry, the field artillery and the infantry. I have helped my son draw up a living will and power of attorney documents. We have had conversations about death, maiming, and vegetative conditions."

We also had plenty of sweet and funny times, the way people do when they don’t know how much time they have left together. Like the day we took a road trip to Mount Tam. We laughed ourselves silly when the person in the passenger seat of the car ahead of us turned out to be a giant poodle. After we climbed to the top of the mountain and looked out at stunning views of the Bay and ocean, my son said, "If everyone could go into space and see the planet Earth from a distance, they’d probably become very spiritual."

Then he skipped down the path with a hop and jump, like a leprechaun on vacation.

The next morning we delivered him to the National Guard Armory in Walnut Creek (at dawn, of course,) so he could hurry up and wait until he and his fellow soldiers were bussed away to Paso Robles for three months of predeployment training.

The streets were deserted, except for a TV crew filming families like ours saying goodbye. This was the biggest deployment of the local Guard in a long time, and it was making prime time news. I didn’t feel much like talking, and afterwards, my daughter and I caught BART to San Francisco. The first stop was Lafayette. When we looked out the window, we saw a hillside covered with white crosses, one for each US soldier who has died in Iraq, so far.

It was May 9, 2007. The sign said 3,367.

"Unspeakable pain, grief, and discombobulation," was all I wrote in my diary that night.


By June 5, 2007, I noted that the number of US casualties had risen to 3,495.

Today, it’s creeping toward 4,000 soldiers, and no one even knows for sure how many thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed, or displaced by this war.

During the months my son has been gone, I have reached out to the other military moms and wives I know in the Bay Area. To them, I offer my profound thanks. They alone understand what it’s like to go weeks without hearing anything, then learn nothing of what is going on when you do get to speak with your soldier by phone.

When I told Kim Mack, whose 23-year-old son Bobby just returned from a yearlong tour in Iraq, that my son hopes to be home by the end of April, she said, "People don’t understand what it does to the family. I know what you are going through."

Mack is executive director for Sacramento for Obama and supports his candidacy in large part because she believes he’s the only Democratic front runner who is serious about withdrawing combat troops from Iraq as soon as possible.

Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq on April 4, 2004, observes that none of the presidential front-runners are talking about a complete troop withdrawal.

"I cannot bring my son back to life, but your story is what keeps me motivated to get the troops out of Iraq and start the reconciliation process with the people of Iraq," Sheehan said.

So, here I sit, tortured by unspeakable worries as the fifth anniversary of the invasion approaches. Does the trail mix in my son’s care packages soothe his nerves or fuel random acts of violence? Will he and his buddies get the care they need when they come home? Will we be out of Iraq by 2009? When will the Iraqis get their country back?

I don’t know, but I’ll keep pushing until I have answers, and all the troops are home, and the black marker pen is completely worn off from my yellow ribbon magnet.

Hooker science


TECHSPLOITATION The outrage over former New York governor Eliot Spitzer hiring an A-list hooker makes me feel like throwing a gigantic, crippling pile of superheavy biology and economics books at everyone in the United States and possibly the world. Are we still so Victorian in our thinking that we think it’s bad for somebody to pay large amounts of money for a few hours of skin-time with a professional? Have we not learned enough at this point about psychology and neuroscience to understand that a roll in the sheets is just a fun, chemical fizz for our brains and that it means nothing about ethics and morality?

The sad fact is that we have learned all that stuff, and yet most people still believe paying money for sex is the equivalent of killing babies on the moral report card. And yet nobody bothers to ask why, or to investigate past the sensational headlines. As far as I’m concerned, the one unethical thing Spitzer did was to hire a sex worker after prosecuting several prostitution rings. That’s hypocritical of him, and undermines my faith in him as a politician.

But let’s say Spitzer hadn’t prosecuted so-called sex crimes before, and all he was doing was hiring a lady for some sex. Here is what I don’t get: why is this bad? On the scale of things politicians can do – from sending huge numbers of young people to be killed in other countries to cutting programs aimed at helping foster kids get lunch money – hiring a sex worker is peanuts. It’s a personal choice! It’s not like Spitzer was issuing a statewide policy of mandatory hookers for everybody.

What really boggles the mind is the way so-called liberal media like National Public Radio and the New York Times have been attacking Spitzer’s morals as much as the conservative Fox News types have. In some cases, they’ve attacked him more. The reasons given are always the same: sex work is abusive to women (male prostitutes don’t exist?), and being paid for sex is inherently degrading.

Let’s look inside one of those heavy economics books that I just beat you with and examine these assumptions for a minute, OK? Every possible kind of human act has been commodified and turned into a job under capitalism. That means people are legally paid to clean up one another’s poop, paid to wash one another’s naked bodies, paid to fry food all day, paid to work in toxic mines, paid to clean toilets, paid to wash and dress dead naked bodies, and paid to clean the brains off walls in crime scenes. My point is, you can earn money doing every possible degrading or disgusting thing on earth.

And yet, most people don’t think it’s immoral to wipe somebody else’s bum or to fry food all day, even though both jobs could truthfully be described as inherently degrading. They say, "Gee that’s a tough job." And then they pay the people who do those jobs minimum wage.

The sex worker Spitzer visited, on the other hand, was paid handsomely for her tough job. The New York Times, in its mission to invade this woman’s privacy (though in what one must suppose is a nonexploitative way), reported that she was a midrange worker at her agency who pulled in between $1000–$2000 per job. She wasn’t working for minimum wage; she wasn’t forced to inhale toxic fumes that would destroy her chances of having a nonmutant baby. She was being paid a middle-class salary to have sex. Sure, it might be an icky job, in the same way cleaning up barf in a hospital can be icky. But was she being economically exploited? Probably a hell of a lot less than the janitor in the hospital mopping up vomit cleaning up after you.

Sure, there are hookers who are exploited and who have miserable lives. There are people who are exploited and miserable in a lot of jobs. But the misery is circumstantial: not all hookers are exploited, just as not all hospital workers are exploited. It’s basic labor economics, people.

Audacia Ray, former sex worker and editor of the sex worker magazine $pread, has pointed out that the public doesn’t even seem to understand what exploitation really means. The woman who did sex work for Spitzer has had her picture and personal history splattered all over the media in an incredibly insulting way. Nobody seems to realize she’s being degraded far more now than she ever was when Spitzer was her client. And she’s not getting any retirement savings out of it, either.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who
once hired a prostitute for a few hundred bucks and had a pretty good time.

A deadly Clinton legacy


OPINION In her autobiography Living History (Simon and Schuster, 2003), Sen. Hillary Clinton portrays herself as an advocate for children, a defender of women and human rights. In fact, the Clintons have a long history of sacrificing the rights — and even the lives — of children for political expediency. It is time to set the record straight.

On Sept. 6, 2006, a Senate bill — a simple amendment to ban the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas — presented Sen. Clinton with a timely opportunity to protect the lives of children throughout the world.

The cluster bomb is one of the most hated and heinous weapons of modern warfare, and its primary victims are children.

Sen. Barack Obama voted for the amendment to ban cluster bombs. Clinton, however, voted with the Republicans to kill the humanitarian bill.

It’s hard to believe that Clinton was unaware of the humanitarian crisis when she voted to continue the use of cluster bombs in cities and populated areas. A United Nations weapons commission called cluster bombs "weapons of indiscriminate effect." For years the international press reported the horrific consequences of cluster bombs on civilians. On April 10, 2003, for example, Asia Times described the carnage in Baghdad hospitals: "The absolute majority of patients are women and children, victims of shrapnel, and most of all, fragments of cluster bombs."

Even after wars subside, after treaties are signed, and after belligerents return home, cluster bombs wreak havoc on civilian life. Up to 20 percent of the bomblets fail to detonate on impact, only to become landmines that later detonate on playgrounds and farmlands.

Children are drawn to cluster bomb canisters, the deadly duds that look like beer cans or toys before they explode.

Because Clinton is now taking credit for accomplishments during the White House years, when she was a partner in power, we should also look closely at Bill Clinton administration’s policy regarding landmines. The United States is the leading manufacturer of landmines. For families across the rest of the globe, landmines are buried terror. More than 100 million mines are deployed in more than 60 countries worldwide — 9 million in Angola, 10 million in Cambodia. About 20,000 M14 antipersonnel mines are buried in the mountain areas of Yong-do, South Korea. According to UN estimates, 26,000 people, mostly civilians in developing countries, are killed or mutilated by landmines every year.

The worldwide movement to ban landmines burgeoned during the Clinton years. In Dec. 1997, 137 nations more than two-thirds of the world’s countries — signed the Ottawa treaty, an agreement to ban the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines. How did President Clinton respond?

Clinton flat-out refused to become party to the Ottawa convention. As he put it, "I could not sign in good conscience the treaty banning landmines."

In "good conscience"?!

Landmines are not good for children, Hillary.

Paul Rockwell

Paul Rockwell (rockyspad@hotmail.com) is a national columnist living in the Bay Area.