Volume 42 Number 27

Endorsement: Barry Hermanson


Let’s not fool ourselves: Jackie Speier, the former state senator from San Mateo County, will be replacing the late Tom Lantos in Congress. The odds are pretty good that she’ll emerge with enough votes in the special election April 8 to take the seat immediately, and she’s bound to win the Democratic primary in June and get elected to a full term in November.

And that’s not a terrible thing. Speier’s an experienced legislator, was a solid advocate for consumers and for privacy rights in Sacramento, and is already better on the war than Lantos was. Speier told us that she favors immediate troop withdrawal, and that she would was unlikely to vote for any more appropriations for the war unless the money was earmarked for drawdown and withdrawal activities.

But on a lot of issues, she’s something of a disappointment to progressives in the district. She talks about single-payer health care, but wants to keep the private insurance companies in the picture and she talked a lot to us about forcing consumers to limit medical expenses to contain costs. She wasn’t willing to commit to seeking to overturn the privatization of the Presidio and she supports Don Fisher’s plans to build a private museum there. Although she wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire, she was very, very shaky about raising taxes on the very rich (even capital gains taxes). When we asked her what she would do about preventing the financial-services mess that created the home mortgage crisis, she only said she would be “more willing to support an increased regulatory environment than not.”

In other words, she’s promising to be a mainstream Democrat who’s unwilling to push the edge on a lot of issues that people in her district care about.

So, if only as a protest vote (and to remind Speier that she has to be accountable to the progressives) we’re backing Green Party candidate Barry Hermanson.

Hermanson, who for years ran a small business in town, talks openly not just about ending the war but about dramatically cutting defense spending, which, he points out, sucks up more than 60 percent of the entire federal discretionary budget. He’s for government-run single payer, for tighter regulation of the financial sector and for a massive public investment in infrastructure and green technology.

Michelle McMurry, who is running as a Democrat, is a physician, a smart and articulate person with a thoughtful approach to health care. We’d love to see her stay active in politics, but she needs a bit more seasoning before she’s ready for Congress.

So we’ll go with Hermanson in the April 8 special election.

SEIU skullduggery



As an internal power struggle wracks the giant Service Employees International Union, emails obtained by the Guardian suggest that SEIU officials may have violated union rules by working to influence an important San Francisco delegate election last month.

Delegates selected by Local 1021, based in SF, will attend the union’s international convention in June and will vote on a series of democratic reforms put forward by dissident labor leader Sal Rosselli. In recent weeks, Rosselli has clashed publicly with SEIU’s international president Andy Stern over Stern’s increasing consolidation of the 1.9 million-member labor organization.

And the emails appear to show a concerted effort by Stern’s senior staff and local loyalists to ensure that the dissidents don’t dominate the convention delegation.

Referring to themselves in the emails as the “Salsa Team,” SEIU staffers discussed strategy and coordinated campaign activity for the delegate election with high-ranking union officials like Damita Davis-Howard, the president of Local 1021, and Josie Mooney, a special assistant to Stern, the emails show.

Critics charge that these activities violated Local 1021’s Election Rules and Procedures – specifically Rule 18, which states, “While in the performance of their duties, union staff shall remain uninvolved and neutral in relation to candidate endorsements and all election activities.”

While Rule 18 does not specifically spell out when union staff can advocate for candidates, other than proscribing such activities “while in performance of their duties,” the emails in our possession are date and time stamped and several of them were sent during business hours.

Furthermore, the Guardian has obtained an internal memo from Local 1021 official Patti Tamura in which she warned union staffers that the phrase “‘performance of their duties’ goes beyond [Monday through Friday] and 9-5p.”

One Local 1021 official who asked not to be identified told us that Tamura’s memo appeared to be a clear message that staff should stay completely out of the election. “They made it perfectly clear to the lower staff that your employment doesn’t stop [after hours], you’re still staff. That means, you don’t get involved. But now it turns out they themselves were doing it. That’s a double standard … it’s certainly not right.”

The messages between Salsa Team members show them actively working to recruit potential delegates sympathetic to Stern’s vision for the SEIU and to aid Davis-Howard in her bid to represent the union at the June convention. One missive, dated February 18, which appears to come from the personal email account of Local 1021 employee Jano Oscherwitz and was sent to what appear to be the personal accounts of Tamura and Mooney, requests that a “message for Damita” be drafted.

According to the time stamp on the message, Oscherwitz sent it at 12:03 PM. Feb. 18 was a Monday. [Update: February 18th was the President’s Day holiday. However an email stamped 4:26 PM on the following day, Tuesday the 19th, shows Salsa Team members continuing to confer about Davis-Howard’s campaigning, as well as the recruitment of potential delegates.]

A forwarded email stamped 3:18 PM on that same day, from Oscherwitz to what appear to be personal email accounts for Tamura, fellow 1021 staffer Gilda Valdez, and “Damita” includes a “Draft Message” with bulleted talking points, apparently for Davis-Howard to use as she “Collect[s] Signatures on Commitment Cards.”

“Commitment cards” refers to pledges from union members to support certain delegates.

At the convention, scheduled for June 1 through 4 in Puerto Rico, delegates will weigh in on a series of reforms backed by Roselli, chief of the United Health Care Workers West. These reforms include eliminating the current delegate system for electing union leaders, giving local unions more authority in bargaining for their own contracts, and granting locals more say in proposed mergers.

Stern opposes Rosselli’s reforms. A March 5 Salsa Team message includes an attached document with several talking points critical of Rosselli. In the body of the email, SEIU staffer Gilda Valdez advises Davis-Howard, Mooney, 1021 chief of staff Marion Steeg, and others to “Memorize the points in talking to folks.” Valdez goes on to say in the email that she “will be calling … about your assignments.”

Reached for comment, Davis-Howard confirmed that the AOL email account listed as “Damita” was hers. But she claimed no knowledge of the Salsa Team or the messages sent to her. “If you’re saying those emails went to my home computer, who knows if I ever even got them?”

Despite her unwillingness to acknowledge whether she had received the messages, Davis-Howard bristled at the suggestion that the Salsa Team’s activities violated union rules. “Are you trying to tell me that I can never campaign? Does it [Rule 18] say that I have to be neutral and uninvolved 24 hours a day?”

Calls to Mooney, Oscherwitz, Valdez, and Tamura were not returned.

But some union members think there’s a serious problem here. In a written statement, Roxanne Sanchez, who was the president of the San Francisco local before it was merged with other Northern California locals to create 1021, accused Davis-Howard and the Salsa Team of “rigging the outcome” of the delegate election.

“This type of breach in ethical conduct – at such a high level – threatens the foundation of trust and confidence in our Union and in President Damita Davis-Howard’s ability to hold fair elections,” she said.

Sanchez informed us by phone that a formal complaint will be filed with the union’s election committee by Friday.

Metal mania!


Signs of metal’s resurgence are everywhere, from the vitality of Bay Area bands like High on Fire and Saviours to the reemergence of Metallica, reissuing their early LPs on vinyl (and doing their first in-store appearance in almost a decade on April 15 at Rasputin Music in Mountain View). The latest movement is fueled by the revival of first-wave local thrash combos Exodus and Testament, along with Death Angel and Forbidden. And hot on their heels are a new generation in the form of Hatchet; underground stalwarts such as Walken; comers like Animosity and Floating Goat; and hard-rocking women like Leila Rauf of Saros. (Kimberly Chun)

>>The return of the kings
Bay Area thrash is on the comeback as Exodus and Testament rouse new fans with new recordings
By Ben Richardson

>>Rock of ages, for all ages
A youthful Hatchet picks up the thrash where the older bands left off
By Cheryl Eddy

>>Just keep Walken
Multiple maniacs won’t deter these metal vets
By Duncan Scott Davidson

>>Metal maidens
Women represent, thrash-wise, and metal purveyor Shaxul Records throws open its dark doors
By Kimberly Chun

>>See you in the darkness
Metal for ravenous headbangers: Floating Goat, Black Cobra, and more
By Ben Richardson

>Throw them horns!
Metal hands: A gestural glossary
By G.W. Schulz

>>Color me heavy, Junior
The Heavy Metal Fun Time Activity Book
By Todd Lavoie

>>High time for Hightower
San Francisco skate-metal-punk contenders step up
By Kimberly Chun

>>The family that headbangs together …
A selective metal timeline from 1980 to 2008 (PDF)

This is you driving on drugs


Endless Ocean: Dive, Discover, Dream

(Nintendo Wii)

GAMER I thought I was looking for some new, nonmayhem-oriented games, and someone recommended Endless Ocean. I read the box and said, "Hmmm. A game where you swim around and look at pretty fish. Yeah. I could do that."

Endless Ocean is a game about scuba diving: you play a young marine biologist tasked with helping to catalog the inhabitants of an imaginary coral reef. Your job is to explore the underwater landscape, to collect artifacts, and to observe as many new and different types of fish as you can, all while listening to a calming synthpop soundtrack. In other words, Endless Ocean is Valium on a disc — which has both good and bad implications.

First off, I’d really like to commend Arika for developing a game that obviously wasn’t destined to sell a gazillion copies. Although it involves the latest in a trilogy, it really brings something unique to the console game repertoire: the ability to delve into environments for their own sake, at your own pace. I stared captivated at the screen, late into the night, using my Wiimote to swim under coral and to follow fish, trying to get as close to the fish as I could in order to see the details of their bodies. Endless Ocean has one of the most user-friendly swimming controls of any game I’ve played. Usually swimming in a console game is an unholy pain. It’s still a bit awkward with Endless Ocean, but oddly enough, it lends realism to the game: steering yourself in an environment that is denser than normal with a giant tank on your back is awkward.

Endless Ocean‘s greatest failure is that it’s not realistic enough. I wished many times while playing the game that my Wii was a PS3 with a Wiimote so I could swim easily and have the detailed fish. I wanted to see their fins and scales. But the Wii just doesn’t support the high-resolution graphics that would allow this. They do a lot with what they have, but it isn’t enough.

Part of the game mechanic is that you gather information about the fish by "befriending them." In the language of videogames and toddlers, this means "poking them." The fish just keep swimming their scripted loops: they don’t care and they’re not real fish. I even used my underwater pen to tag the reef near one with an anarchy sign. Not even a dirty look.

Fish are not the astrophysicists of the animal kingdom. It can’t be hard to write fish artificial intelligence. They should at least swim off when you try to poke them. I feel that with an actionless game like this, the enjoyment needs to come either from being able to admire the environment like artwork or from being able to interact with it. The aim to create realism with all the detail that this implies is just unrealistic on the Wii, and the world’s responses to your overtures are dull rather than compelling.

Tumbleweed noir


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

In a humble Southwestern bar tended by a chatty waitress (Lorraine Olsen), three pairs of customers on the edge of nowhere discuss the past and future with a certain growing desperation. Coronado, though the title of the play, isn’t exactly the setting. It’s one of the up-and-coming towns in the area, referred to in passing as not a bad place to be — something to aspire to, maybe. In other words, Coronado is the goal, the ideal, or the bit of luck perennially nearby — a mock-up El Dorado just off the interstate.

This one, at least, comes from a writer who knows what he’s doing. Dennis Lehane’s reputation as a novelist of the hard-boiled genre, including sordid redemption tales like 2002’s Mystic River (HarperTorch), makes the subject matter of his first play a promising enterprise. In SF Playhouse’s able if uneven West Coast premiere (the play debuted in New York in 2005), Coronado unfolds intriguingly, in gritty but witty dialogue heady with a whiff of destiny or doom. If the past plays constant companion to the three couples warming the Naugahyde booths and barstools in Lehane’s barroom noir, it’s worked so cunningly into the plot and mise-en-scène that it starts to take on the unmistakable air of fate.

By the end of the first act, you begin to get some idea of what these people have in common, besides proximity to Coronado. Finding out is half the fun. For Gina (Kate Del Castillo) and Will (Will Springhorn Jr.), the couple in the booth stage right (and officemates turned adulterers), the hyperbole of cooing love talk gives way to a deadpan decision to do away with her husband, who’s also his boss (invigoratingly played with good ‘ol boy verve by Phillip K. Torretto). Meanwhile, in the booth opposite, a psychiatrist (Louis Parnell) and his fidgety, chain-smoking, drink-slugging patient (Stacy Ross) discuss their own illicit affair in less than professional, rather threatening terms. And upstage by the bar, recently released convict Bobby (Chad Deverman) has a cool one with his old man (Bill English), a desperate character with a killer’s grin who’d seriously like to know where Bobby stashed the plump diamond they heisted together before Bobby took two bullets to the head and landed in the pen.

With less rigor and poetical imagination than Denis Johnson but more compassion and insight than, say, the Coen brothers, Lehane’s noir crime mystery weaves from these strands a psychological and existential tale that begins to read, with effortless dark humor, like a modern-day frontier exegesis. But as the barroom and its endless country vista transforms in the second act to a barren field haunted with evil deeds and irrevocable acts (the moody sets skillfully realized by Bill English), the drama meanders despite the coming together of various narrative threads over the weighty specificity of a single plot of earth.

Lehane’s Southwestern setting doesn’t offer the same familiarity and depth of scene that come with his New England–based thrillers, which may contribute to the waywardness here. Director Susi Damilano keeps the pace lively and the performances from her strong cast focused throughout, but one can’t help feeling that the heaviness is a bit forced, the thematic seriousness kind of lightweight.

Still, Damilano’s cast helps make the going worthwhile. Del Castillo and Springhorn deliver admirably complex, intense performances. English takes on the part of Bobby’s father with infectious glee, a wild-eyed ferocity glinting just behind the expansive machismo of his bar-side manner. He and Deaverman share some of the play’s more tense, tripwire moments.

At the same time, Bobby’s worried reiterations concerning his psychopathic father — in flashbacks with girlfriend Gwen (a vivacious Rebecca Schweitzer) that set up for us the bungled heist as well as the blood-quenched well of emotional turmoil between father and son — seem overdone. The Bobby and Gwen story, meanwhile, barely compels. More moving is the resolution achieved between patient and shrink, as Ross and Parnell transition gracefully from fearfully menacing one another to divulging secrets and vulnerabilities and, finally, offering each other small but meaningful gestures of support.

Like a tipsy raconteur, Lehane’s morality tale starts to lean heavily on the bar by the end, with a graveside breakdown that is too predictable and sentimental to really grab us. Then again, the denouement back in the old barroom itself (by now grown quite familiar if not familial) has a certain low-key classical appeal.


Through April 26

Wed–Sat, 8 p.m. (also Sat, 3 p.m.), $20–$38

SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter, SF

(415) 677-9596, www.ticketweb.com

Metal maidens


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER How are we driving — in terms of womanly representation in the Bay Area metal scene? The verdict: we’re pretty bitchin’, but we could do better.

Anyone who’s gotten an eyeful of hoary ole hair-band imagery, courtesy of Headbanger’s Balls of yore, is all-too-familiar with the form’s sexism — excused by such critics as Chuck Klosterman and Robert Walser in Fargo Rock City (Scribner, 2001) and Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Wesleyan, 1993), respectively, with claims that it’s beside the point to even critique the genre and that the music was simply "shaped by patriarchy." Nonetheless, when I wondered where all the girl groups had gone, following the demise of Sleater-Kinney, Destiny’s Child, and le Tigre (see "Band of Sisters, 07/18/06), I might have found solace in the fact that the Bay Area’s headbanging underground is fairly bangin’ for ladies: women can be found onstage in heavy bands ranging from Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra, and Totimoshi to Bottom, Embers, and Laudanum.

The New Jersey–raised Leila Rauf is in a position to know as the guitarist-vocalist of the four-year-old Saros: female metal musicians are still "rare," she said, "having lived in other cities where that was the case. I think a lot of it has to do with the political climate in the Bay Area. Maybe there’s more women just not participating in traditional gender roles and you find women doing lots of things that women normally don’t do in more conservative parts of the country — being in a metal band being one of them."

Her San Francisco group is just completing their new untitled album, which they’re in the midst of mixing with producer Billy Anderson (High on Fire, the Melvins, Neurosis). Over the phone on her way to meet her Amber Asylum/Frozen in Amber bandmate Kris Force, Rauf described the recording as "still metal, but there’s more going on — a lot more singing, a lot more harmonic, and a lot more acoustic." It’s part of the evolution she and cowriter-guitarist Ben Aguilar have undergone since their five-track release, Five Pointed Tongue (Hungry Eye, 2006). "We’re just getting bored playing the same thing, loud all the time, technical all the time. We’re trying to get more negative space into the songs."

Still, even an accomplished, intelligent figure such as Rauf — who was working on a PhD in speech pathology at Purdue when she dropped out to pursue her muse — has had to wash out the nasty taste of Neanderthal behavior, even in the relatively forward-thinking Bay metal scene. In a later e-mail she recalled multiple instances of violent passes at San Francisco metal shows, including an time when "a really big dude grabbed me and tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. Eww." All of which pales next to other moments of intense sexism, she added: "I have been denied band auditions before — later finding out that it was due to my gender — but being told to my face it was because they didn’t think I had the chops. I even read an ad on Craigslist recently for a metal band looking for members that made it a point to exclude women. To believe this is happening in 2008 … "

One is loathe to think that the local metal resurgence is linked to a kindred revival in gender stereotypes. Are they still so charged, now that the music and its imagery seems to have moved toward less-biased turf? While there are still bastions of all-boy metal exclusivity — thrash, Rauf noted, is one of them, which parallels the general absence of women in chart-topping hard rock — area players should be quietly (or loudly) proud of its estrogen-friendly underground. It will only make for more unique work — and a new generation of girls who aren’t afraid to kick out the jams. *


With Graycion and Embers

April 19, 9 p.m., $8

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF



With Black Cobra and Mendozza

April 24, 9 p.m., $7

Annie’s Social Club

917 Folsom, SF

(415) 974-1585



Something wicked heavy — and ambitious — this way comes with the opening of the Shaxul Records storefront at 1816 Haight. Scheduled to throw open its dark doors on April 1, the shop takes over the narrow, shoebox-like spot across the street from Amoeba Music, where Reverb Records once purveyed dance 12-inches — after much delay, said co-owner Stone Shaxul, a.k.a. DJ Shaxul of Rampage Radio on KUSF 90.3 FM. There are reasons why this will likely be the only metal store in the Bay, he wrote in an e-mail, citing the high cost of San Francisco retail space and the Haight in particular as prohibitive to most metalheads as he madly prepped the operation, which carries vinyl, CDs, and 7-inches focusing on Bay Area underground metal scene and the label’s releases (including the vinyl version of Above the Ashes by lost ’80s local thrash unit Ulysses Siren), as well as T-shirts, books, patches, and other "blasphemous goods."

"We want Shaxul Records to be a place where real metalheads can come and be proud and where new metalheads can learn what the real stuff is about. We also want to give all the metalheads from around the world who visit a place to go that acknowledges our great metal tradition when they visit," Shaxul offered. Does he have any misgivings considering the struggles of music retail? "Not many people," he philosophized, "get a chance to live their dream."

The water cure


The recently launched campaign against bottled water in restaurants — Food and Water Watch’s "Take Back the Tap" program (www.takebackthetap.org) — makes a number of sensible points, most of which have to do with the drastic wastefulness of bottled water. Bottled water has to be bottled, typically in plastic vessels (whose manufacture uses 17.6 million barrels of oil a year in the United States alone, according to FWW); those bottles then have to be shipped — more fossil fuel used, who knows how much? — and disposed of once they’re empty. Recycling is a noble ideal, but FWW says 86 percent of our plastic water bottles end up in landfills. Many of the rest can be found in urban gutters, along with the dead leaves.

But this is only part of the story. Of course bottled water is a socioeconomic affectation in this country; it’s an aping of a European practice that isn’t completely irrational in the old country, where there is a long tradition of waterborne illness and where many large cities still take their municipal water supplies from heavily used rivers. If you’ve ever drunk a glass of tap in Berlin, you know it’s not Evian.

These exigencies don’t apply here. But we’ve certainly been told, through relentless advertising, that bottled water is chic and somehow more healthful. Bottled water can be branded, and branding is a powerful instrument of class identity, whereas tap water is a public resource, practically free, and didn’t Ronald Reagan convince us a generation ago that if it was public it was probably bad? Even if municipal water doesn’t give you cholera, it won’t confer social standing on you either, not the way a bottle of Voss will.

Tap water in this basic sense is part of the commonweal, the public square, which free-market evangelists have spent several decades trying to cut up and sell off to private interests. Doubtless there are those who would charge us for breathing if they could figure out how. This is why choosing tap over bottled in a public setting is a statement of political as well as environmental awareness. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to drink it anymore!

Suggestion to restaurants: don’t even tell patrons you have bottled water, if you do. Treat it like tobacco: legal but neither preferred nor promoted. Maybe those who insist on bottled water should be obliged to join the smokers outside.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Listening deeply to future’s past


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

With this month’s release of Quaristice (Warp), Manchester electro pioneers Autechre have proven once again why they remain the most vital experimental force of the Warp generation invoking, in their dance-floor songscapes, a considerable 50-year palimpsest of hermetic sounds, from classical avant-garde to fin de millénaire techno. Nearly two decades into their careers, musical partners Sean Booth and Rob Brown still generate, synthesize, and surpass cutting-edge diapasons, matched by a timeless — and dare I say archetypally English — craftsmanship. By turns baroque and warm, then granular and cold, Autechre’s sonic creations continue to defy and frustrate the ramifying narratives of critics and hipster musos, who often label the mysterious duo with vague descriptors like "architectonic."

"There’s plenty of bad grandiosity — like Jean Michel Jarre," Booth says, laughing on the phone from Manchester. "People used to say our music sounded Wagnerian, weirdly enough. Of course, there are other European composers I prefer."

While the sutured beats and acid loops of past classic recordings like 1995’s Tri Repetae (Warp) and 1999’s EP7 (Warp) are based in the futurist ’80s hip-hop of Mantronix and Afrika Bambaataa, Autechre’s dissonant tones and eerie melodies are also a product of the same decade’s underground cinema. "Soundtrack music was my sideways introduction to classical electronic music," recalls Booth. "I really love John Carpenter, more than I even like Kraftwerk, which is a lot." In the age of glammy mainstream new wave, during which Yamaha keyboards were built and played like guitars and Trevor Horne–style production was all brass and filigree, sci-fi and horror provided an inroad to the sounds of future’s past — and its composers. Booth goes on to praise Tod Dockstader and Roland Kayn, among others.

In Booth’s studied references to musical obscurants, whose accompanying concepts of cybernetics and generative synthesis are usually reserved for the Uni computer lab set, the self-taught Northerner is not engaging in the familiar game of highbrow name-checking that has pervaded certain pockets of electronic culture since the early ’90s — and that indirectly birthed the dubious title Intelligent Dance Music. Rather, he is trying to articulate his deep passion for a kind of music that is nearly indescribable in everyday language and always alludes and evades more than it expresses.

Call it deep listening, call it microtonal, but don’t call it IDM. "I kind of looked at the computer [when we began] as a means to an end," Booth explains. "Like how far could you take music using this machine and still create reasonably interesting music? [Karlheinz] Stockhausen was all over this. He was even blurring the line between what a tone is and what a succession of events is. And that’s a major turning point in 20th century music. I think by the time we got to those ideas, it was about reapplication."

Of course, for all of its new possibilities, techno culture has its obvious downside, Booth contends, mostly as a result of market saturation. "I think that if people are overequipped, they can find it harder to make decisions, because they’ve got more things to choose from," he explains, referring both to the music industry and cultural spheres. He points to the phenomena of MySpace as comparable to the glut of plug-ins and processors that have become the norm for music producers. "But it’s all fixation in a way, because it’s not like if you buy a synth, then everything is going to change."

The progression of drum ‘n’ bass and dub techno met such a fate, being outstripped from within by idle bandwagoners who capitalized on the mechanics but not the soul of the genres’ originators: Dillinja, Ed Rush, and Jeff Mills, or the highly influential Basic Channel label. "Unfortunately, there are loads of idiots waiting in the wings to capitalize on that originality," Booth laments. "I think the whole electronic scene is really conservative now, and safe. In the early days when Xenakis and Cage and Stockhausen were first discovering these sounds, it was absolutely terrifying."

Autechre has always tried to maintain a certain minimalist craftsmanship in response, according to Booth. And it is apparent in Quaristice that they have put as much emphasis on flow, narrative, and rhythm as bricolage, creating a sophisticated "live" feel throughout. While some punters might say Autechre has now returned to the safety of its roots after mining the difficult territory of computer processing and software algorithms, Booth is quick to point out that most of the gear they have used of late is identical to what they used before. "It’s just much more reactive," he says. "I’m making decisions based on what Rob just did and vice versa. In a way it’s more rewarding than spending six months programming something that’s very elaborate and complex in a different way."

And if there is one descriptor we might use to encapsulate Booth and Brown, it would never be "safe." In their tireless soundtracking of a subterranean past and underground future, Autechre continues along an innovative path of music with as much heart as hardware.


With Massonix and Rob Hall

Sat/5, 9 p.m. doors, $18


444 Jessie, SF


Metal Mania: Just keep Walken


› duncan@sfbg.com

How would you feel? Your band has been together since 1999, struggling through lineup changes, two US tours, hundreds of shows, an album and two EPs, without so much as a write-up in the local weekly. Finally, after dropping your most recent CD last year — an untitled, self-released disc of skull-crushing riffs — you get a review in the bible of modern metal, Metal Maniacs, and the photo that runs with it is of another band.

In the case of the San Francisco four-piece Walken, it was a photo of a three-piece party-rock outfit from Sioux City, Iowa, whose MySpace "sounds like" reads: "Rush meets Metallica meets Blink 182 meets Nickelback meets Matchbox 20 meets Live meets Red Hot Chili Peppers." With all due respect to Neil Peart and pre-Load era Metallica — seriously?

"They’re total dicks," Shane Bergman, 25, vocalist and bassist for the Original Walken — otherwise known as Vintage Walken or Walken Classic — says during an interview at the Western Addition Victorian he shares with roommate and guitar player Sean Kohler, 27. It’s the crack of noon and the guys are posted up on the couch, drinking coffee, and eating toast and jam in their finest sweatpants. "I’d written the guy a long time ago," he continues. "’Hey, this isn’t cool. We’ve had this name for seven or eight years. We’ve actually put out stuff and toured the US. It’s not cool.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t really matter — we’re in different states.’ I just let it slide. And then I pick up that" — he points to the magazine — "and I’m, like, ‘Well, now it’s gone too far.’ You look through and see a picture of those tools … "

There have been more Walkens, including a band from Melbourne that played weddings and broke up in 2004. The reason for the popularity, most likely, is Christopher Walken’s 2000 "more cowbell" skit on Saturday Night Live. While this settles the name game with pretenders enamored with the sketch, it raises the question: if not for "more cowbell," then why "Walken"?

Like the actor, dancer, and celebrity beer-can-chicken chef, Walken is hard to pin down. When walking in on Walken’s live set and hearing the crushing, dual-guitar assault "Bitch Wizard," from their untitled, self-released 2007 EP, all pummeling drums and clean backing vocals contrasting with deathly, oven-throat howls, it’s difficult to characterize the group — which includes guitarist Max Doyle, 26, and drummer Zack Farwell, 29 — as anything but metal. Perhaps "fuckin’ metal" might be more apt. But it hasn’t always been so clear-cut. "Our Unstoppable record, it was just a weird record," Kohler says of the self-released 2004 full-length. "We thought we were being all revolutionary having these funny rock songs, with funk songs and blues songs … "

"And math rock," Bergman interjects. Unstoppable was Walken’s version, to steal a phrase from Lou Reed, of ‘growing up in public.’"

"Most people sit in their garage when they’re coming up with their sound, but we were actually out there playing it, trying to figure it out in front of people," Bergman says. The band’s music has coalesced into a pointed metal attack. It couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time. While the bottom has fallen out of the housing market, and spending $3 trillion bucks on blowing up Iraqis has wreaked havoc on the economy, stock in metal is clearly on the rise.

"That’s one thing that’s changed about metal," Kohler says. "All of the sudden it’s getting cool again. You can be big and be in a metal band, with Mastodon and High on Fire and bands like that." I’m sworn to (semi-)secrecy, but there’s something on the horizon for Walken, something that Kohler demanded I euphemistically term a "great opportunity," which will put the days of touring cross-country with Hightower on their own dime, playing a couple dozen shows, and coming home dog-dick broke, behind them.

But are the vanguard of 21st-century metal warriors and their burgeoning audience really anything new? While it’s no doubt refreshing to see metal — true metal, not the Hollywood hair-farmer crap that lined record company coffers in a pre-Nirvana world — crawl out from the underground, it seems that it’s still largely aimed at the dudes in black hoodies. Which leads us to simultaneously discuss two major concerns about the future of heavy music: is anything really new, truly revolutionary, or is it all just a remix of old ideas? And just what will it take to woo a crop of hot new metal women away from the evils of floppy-haired emo boys in so-called chick pants?

Thankfully, Kohler’s got some insight: "Everything that’s new is just a reinvention of something else. The only way that I really believe that there can be a new beginning is after most of the human population is annihilated. And then it starts over, just as creative expression is part of life. It slowly becomes a community thing. It starts organically, that’s the point."

"So basically, you blow up the world, and more chicks will come to metal shows," Bergman quips.

Walken is already well into writing a new full-length, but I’ve got to advise them: scrap those songs and work on the concept album. Imagine this: the year is the year is 3052. Global warming and perpetual war have taken their toll. The ice caps have melted and a tribe of mutant metal warrior women of Amazonian stature have arisen from the rubble, repurposing military technology found in underground bunkers into hybrid instrument-weapons, with which they can both rock out and kill you. They rock you to death. Everything metal is new again.


With Hightower, Three Weeks Clean, and Soulbroker

May 1, 9 p.m., $8

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Metal Mania: Rock of ages, for all ages


› cheryl@sfbg.com

It was June 2007, and the Friday night crowd at Thee Parkside was primed for brutality. When headliners Hatchet took the stage, two of my senses immediately spiked: my hearing, which seemed not long for the world, and my sight, which couldn’t believe that such aggressive thrash was emanating from what appeared to be a quintet of teenagers.

Well, not quite. As of March 2008, the median age of the North Bay band was 20.2, with vocalist Marcus Kirchen, 23, and lead guitarist Julz Ramos, 22, bringing up the average. Guitarist Sterling Bailey and drummer Alex Perez are both 19, and bassist Dan Voight is 18. Granted, Death Angel drummer Andy Galeon was 14 when The Ultra-Violence (Enigma) was released in 1987. Nonetheless, by ’87, not even half of Hatchet were born.

Raised in the post–Headbanger’s Ball era, its members forged their own paths to a place that local metalheads can both recognize and appreciate. "Hatchet is breathing new life into a scene that has been pretty dead for a long time," Shaxul, owner of San Francisco’s Shaxul Records, told me over e-mail. "They pay homage to ’80s thrash metal and they do a great job. I think they are about as relevant as a band can get in what you would call the ‘Bay Area thrash metal underground.’ Especially since they are the ones carrying it right now!"

Kicking back around a table at Thee Parkside one recent afternoon, Ramos — Hatchet’s main songwriter, though Kirchen pens most of the lyrics and all members contribute to the overall process — recalled getting Metallica’s Black Album (Elektra, 1991) at age 10 or 11, and discovering Master of Puppets (Elektra, 1986) soon after. Possessing a similar story, the 11-year-old Kirchen also checked into Metallica kindred like Exodus and Testament.

Growing up in the Internet age has its advantages: Bailey and Kirchen joined Hatchet after answering Craigslist ads, and the band hooked up with their label, Metal Blade, via MySpace.

One day the group logged on to read a message beginning, "’Hello from Metal Blade,’" Ramos said. "We were scratching our heads — ‘Is this a joke?’ That was the label that I always [wanted] to be on, because they are strictly metal. They’re not gonna try and change anything, or steer you in another direction."

Hatchet’s album, Awaiting Evil, was recorded in Petaluma and is tentatively due out May 31, with a tour in the works for later this year. Thematically, the disc addresses dark topics: what Ramos described as "a post-apocalyptic world future." Musically, Kirchen promised, "it’s gonna crush."

Staunch fans of the original Bay Area thrash bands, Hatchet is proud to be part of the scene’s legacy — but they don’t see themselves as imitating what came before. "Even though a lot of [our music] is reminiscent of [earlier bands], it really takes from that and stems into new directions," Kirchen explained. "I think it helps that we’re coming along about 20 years down the line, because there’s so much that’s happened in metal since then.

"When I listen to bands like Exodus or Vio-lence, I hear such a difference — it’s all thrash, but it’s different," he added. "If you were to put Hatchet into that, you couldn’t say ‘Hatchet sounds like Exodus’ or ‘Hatchet sounds like Testament.’ You’d say ‘Hatchet sounds like Hatchet.’" While their sound does owe a certain debt to the thundering riffs and drumbeats of bands like Exodus and Testament — as well as Slayer, Metallica, and even Iron Maiden — Hatchet’s enthusiasm is a large part of their appeal. It’s music made by metal fans, for metal fans, with the stage barely keeping the two groups apart.

"When you think of Hatchet, you think Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986). At the shows, we thrash together. We bring that vibe where everybody’s included," Kirchen said. And my experiences seeing them live bear this out, particularly at a January Fat City show that included a rambunctious pit of Hatchet-aged fans.

"That’s really key in developing this young crowd," continued Kirchen, "that feeling of all these kids coming together to be a part of something. We really throw away the rock-star vibe. I think that separates us from a lot of the older bands who’ve been playing for a long time, and they have the thing built up to, ‘We’re untouchable.’ We don’t want to be like that. We want to be down-to-earth."


April 25, 7 p.m., check Web site for price

Balazo Gallery

2183 Mission, SF

Metal Mania: See you in the darkness


While Oakland’s metal elders continue to thrash despite the odds, a new generation of bands is poised to augment the Bay’s already fearsome reputation. San Francisco’s Animosity was founded in a summer school classroom, where 14-year-old Leo Miller found the accomplices he needed to start gigging with his local hardcore heroes. Although Miller lists NorCal skull-crackers like Hoods and Sworn Vengeance as inspirations, Animosity’s goals were clear: "If you listen to our first demos, as pathetic as they were — we were 14 — we were trying to play extreme metal, from the beginning."

Their fall 2007 album, Animal (Black Market Activities), is a maelstrom of frantic leads, limber blast-beats, and guttural roars, produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. "We didn’t want to make an overproduced, studio death-metal record," explains Miller. "The trend nowadays is to have everything doctored, triggered, and quantized." The band begins a North American headlining run on April 7.

Likeminded Oakland death metallers All Shall Perish have raised eyebrows with their chunky syncopation and eerie guitar parts, working alongside Animosity to establish the Bay Area as a flashpoint for metal’s most extreme permutations. The group is currently in the studio smelting a follow-up to 2006’s The Price of Existence (Nuclear Blast), and the lockstep interplay between drummer Matt Kuykendall and guitarists Ben Orum and Chris Storey is sure to yield thunderous breakdowns and furious shredding, with singer Hernan "Eddie" Hermida glass-gargling over the top. Expect the album in late 2008.

The region’s extreme contingent might pile on the beats per minute, but there’s also a groovier game in town. If you think that San Francisco’s stoner story starts and ends with High on Fire, prepare to be blown away by Floating Goat. Drawing on the best of Pentagram, Sabbath, C.O.C., and a host of others, the outfit’s surging, sinuous riffs are infectiously heavy. Vocalist Chris Corona’s soulful singing and dive-bombing hammer-ons soar above the fray, while bassist Ian Petitpren and drummer Aaron Barrett comprise the rest of an extremely powerful trio. The band is currently unsigned, plying 2006’s self-released album The Vultures Arrive on the Northwest touring circuit.

Even more thunderous than the swung hum of Floating Goat are the volume-addicted San Francisco duo Black Cobra. Eschewing the classic rock roots of stoner metal in favor of tectonic doom and clattering thrash, Los Angeles expats Jason Landrian and Rafael Martinez make a racket that defies their paucity in numbers. Buried deep within the sludgy, swirling fuzz are hoarse shouts and gloomy guitar dirges, anchored by Landrian’s two titanic tom-toms. The duo is currently touring Europe with Austin riff-minstrels the Sword and Oakland hesher-darlings Saviours, and return to play Annie’s Social Club on April 24.

This untapped vein of younger metal is only just now being disinterred. Although the death of the Pound has made venues harder to come by, these rough new ingots continue to forge themselves in the fires of relentless touring, building a reputation that might one day be compared to that of the Bay’s thrash greats, one riff at a time. Call your friendly neighborhood concert booker and request the best in San Francisco metal by name.


With Super Giant and HDR

May 27, 8 p.m., call for price


1600 17th St., SF

(415) 503-0393


Metal Mania: The return of the kings


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It’s a Sunday night in late February, and the facade of Slim’s is shrouded by the shadow of a monstrous black tour bus. Inside, middle-aged bikers rub shoulders with teenagers in skin-tight jeans and garish print hoodies. At the bar, tattooed hipsters vie for position against glowering heshers and balding suburban fathers in polo shirts. As New Orleans black metal band Goatwhore kicks into a crescendo, the masses teem, pumping their fists and offering devil-horn salutes. Song finished, vocalist Ben Falgoust gulps for air before raising the mic to his mouth: "Are you guys ready for Exodus!?"

The multitude roars. They are ready for Exodus; ready to rock out to a band that formed in San Francisco 28 years ago, before many of them were even born. They are ready to help write a new chapter in the bloodstained tome of American metal and ready to crank their iPods to 11. After the winter of the ’90s, when the genre hibernated through grunge, boy bands and rap-rock, metal is back in bearlike force, packing halls across the nation and charting albums with astounding frequency. (Most recently Lamb of God’s Sacrament (Epic) hit number eight on the Billboard charts in September 2007, and the Bay Area’s Machine Head reached no. 54 with The Blackening [Roadrunner] last April.)

While it’s true that some of this success is due to the work of our nation’s talented young headbangers, it is the reinvigoration of the genre’s veteran warriors that makes the renaissance so momentous. Almost three decades ago, the Bay Area witnessed the birth pangs of thrash metal: a frantic mixture of hardcore punk and the burgeoning new wave of British Heavy Metal that would come to define heavy music in America for much of the ’80s. This generation of thrashers produced Metallica, who need no introduction, but it also produced a pair of massively influential bands that never quite garnered the spotlight they deserved: Exodus and Testament.

After years of strife, drug addiction, illness, and disregard, these two titans are both back on the road, promoting brand new albums to brand new fans with the same fury they mustered in their youth. As Exodus guitarist Gary Holt puts it over the phone while taking a well-earned respite from the road: "We’re proving that the founding fathers still know how to do it better than anyone else."

Rob Flynn — guitarist for the vintage Oakland thrash band Vio-lence and current frontman for local groove-metal crowd-pleasers Machine Head, who were recently nominated for a Grammy — has witnessed the thrash revival from both sides of the stage. Speaking by phone from his tour bus, he lauds the two bands’ success: "Exodus and Testament are appealing to an entirely new generation of kids, as they should." This appeal is the result of a national hunger for musical authenticity that both outfits are eager to sate. Similarities between Reagan- and George W. Bush-era politics have fueled a new wave of thrash polemics, and the bands’ undiminished ability to slay from onstage has won them a new legion of supporters.


Exodus was the first of the two bands to coalesce. Holt joined forces with childhood friend Tom Hunting on drums and Kirk Hammet on guitar; Hammet would play on the band’s early demos before leaving in 1983 to join Metallica. In 1985, the group released Bonded by Blood (Torrid), an incendiary full-length filled with breakneck tempos and anthemic, shout-along choruses, eminently deserving of its place on the short list of best metal albums.

Testament got off to a slower start, forming in 1983 under the name Legacy, which had to be scuttled after a jazz combo of the same name complained. Joined in 1986 by a man-mountain of a singer named Chuck Billy, the group released their debut, The Legacy in 1987 on Megaforce Records. While they retained the pummeling tempos that defined the thrash idiom, they drew heavily on the progressive leanings of lead guitar player Alex Skolnick, a prodigy who joined the band when he was just 16. Their third album, Practice What You Preach (Megaforce) was extremely well-received, with the title track garnering video plays on MTV throughout 1989.

When interviewed by phone, Billy is quick to point to two catalysts for the music’s early success. The first was its combative nature, which pitted ascetic thrashers against their mortal enemies, the so-called posers. Groups sought out ever more extreme tempos and tunings in order to alienate the hair-sprayed acolytes of glam metal, whose temple was located on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip. Beyond distinguishing themselves from their gussied-up foils in Mötley Crüe, bands strove to out-do each other: "It was all friendly competition, the desire to be bigger and do better," explains Billy.

Flynn sums up the impact of Testament and Exodus memorably: "If it wasn’t for those bands, there wouldn’t be a Machine Head. When I was a kid, Exodus was my favorite band of all time. Bonded by Blood was like my life. I once punched some kid in the face for saying that Gary Holt sucked."

In addition to Vio-lence, local outfits like Death Angel and Forbidden released classic albums during this period, taking advantage of a record industry shopping spree that was triggered by the success of the Big Four — Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer — during the years 1988 to 1990. This success had its consequences as the towering reputation of those four groups began to overshadow the lesser-known acts that had helped pioneer the thrash idiom. The slight sticks with Holt to this day: "We were one of the first thrash metal bands ever, and it certainly sucks when you hear people referring to the ‘Big Four’ and you’re left out, considered by some to be a ‘second-tier’ band."


For Exodus and Testament, things would get much worse before getting better. As the airwaves clogged with one metal band after another, the genre’s countercultural status began to erode. Diagnosing the problem, Holt recalls the beginning of the music’s slow implosion: "I’ve always thought metal needed a common enemy. It became a parody of itself." On Jan. 11, 1992, Nirvana’s Nevermind (DGC) hit No. 1 on the Billboard’s album sales chart, neatly coinciding with Capitol Records’s decision to drop Exodus from its lineup, and ushering in a long winter for metal in America. Exodus broke up. Testament sustained itself by touring in Europe, where, as Billy explains, "they didn’t have that grunge thing, so it’s been all metal, all the way." Faced with uninterested record executives and a fan base that was buying flannel, thrash retreated into the underground.

Financial struggles were soon compounded by medical woes. In 1999, Testament guitarist James Murphy was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although he made a full recovery, Murphy was forced to rely on a number of local fundraisers to afford treatment. In 2001, lightning struck twice, and Billy developed a rare form of cancer known as germ cell seminoma, which also necessitated extensive and expensive treatment. In August 2001, San Francisco’s dormant thrash community banded together for "Thrash of the Titans," a benefit concert to raise money for Billy and Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner, another metal god battling cancer (Schuldiner passed away in December of that year). The concert showcased reunions by Exodus, Death Angel, and Legacy, the pre-Billy incarnation of Testament.

As the metal community united around its stricken heroes, old grudges were put aside, and the two bands began making tentative comeback plans. The reinvigoration of Exodus was tragically put on hold in 2002 when original vocalist Paul Baloff suffered a stroke while riding his bike and lapsed into a coma, eventually being taken off life support at his family’s request. While Holt was pained by the loss of his old friend and bandmate, he was determined to soldier on: "I felt like I still have something to prove, even if I don’t. I still keep a chip on my shoulder."

Billy recovered fully in 2003, and Testament was offered a slot at a metal festival in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Reenlisting the participation of Skolnick, who had left the band to pursue his interest in jazz, Testament rediscovered the pleasures of touring for new audiences and found itself poised to regain some of its past glory. As Billy explains, "The whole music business is all about timing. The reunion show that brought people together again enabled people to put their problems aside, to do it for the music. The reason those bands weren’t touring was that the climate of metal wasn’t right.

"I think the bands like Shadows Fall, Trivium, and Chimaira — all these bands making names for themselves by bringing back our style of music — its perfect for a band like us," he continues.

By the time this article is published, Testament will have played two sold-out shows at the Independent, a triumphant homecoming in a city eager to acknowledge its extensive thrash history. On April 29, they will release their first album of new material in nine years, The Formation of Damnation, on Nuclear Blast, a label that is also the new home of Exodus, who released The Atrocity Exhibition … Exhibit A in October 2007.

Billy describes the Testament release as a return to form, with more traditional thrash elements replacing the midtempo brutality that defined their ’90s material. "We hadn’t written a record that had lead guitar sections," he says. "We have Alex Skolnick back in the band — it was feeling good, like it used to. I wanted to sing more, not do death metal vocals. I wanted it to be heavy, but have catchy melodies." The few tracks that Nuclear Blast has divulged to journalists confirm his analysis: they include scorching Skolnick shred and singing that is at times almost hooky.

The Atrocity Exhibition is a more modern-sounding recording, appropriating the blast beats and Byzantine song structures of death metal and continuing the trend established by the act’s two other recent releases, 2004’s Tempo of the Damned and 2005’s Shovelheaded Kill Machine (both Nuclear Blast). This evolution has its detractors, much to Holt’s frustration. "Some people want me to write Bonded by Blood over and over again," he says, "But I can’t." Despite the protestations of the purists, Exodus’s recent material is invariably successful at adapting the techniques and innovations of a new generation of metal without compromising the group’s essential sound.

Both bands will continue to tour voraciously throughout the spring and summer, eager to win over new fans with their daunting chops and undimmed energy. According to Holt, their hard work on the road is already paying off. "It’s a change for us to look out in the audience and see kids that are 17 or 18 years old," he says. "In the last five years we’ve been beating ourselves to death on tour and we’ve acquired a new audience. The old guys all have mortgages and their wives won’t let them go to shows anymore." This time around, even the subprime lending crisis is unlikely to deter Exodus and Testament. Far from being nostalgia acts, the two bands have relied on their competitive natures to keep their music on the bleeding edge of metal, refusing to sacrifice even a lone beat-per-minute to old age. Buoyed by fans both old and new and revered by a rapidly expanding metal world eager to give them their due, the new order is bonded by the blood of the past — but looking toward the future.

Speed Reading



By Rónán McDonald


160 pages


Rónán McDonald notes that upon hearing his book’s Roland Barthes–inspired title, people assume he is celebrating the death of so-called (and often self-deemed) experts. The Death of the Critic‘s jacket image mordantly plays off this assumption — one might think the contents were a fictive, rather than nonfiction, whodunit. Those who look beneath the red-and-black color scheme will discover McDonald has penned a passionate four-chapter eulogy for a practice that he believes can be reborn. His reference points are United Kingdom–centric, and in this newspaper critic’s opinion, he could go beyond name-dropping certain populist writers with vernacular voices to engage with their ideas as seriously as he does those of scholars. But in a pair of core chapters — about critical value, and science and sensibility — McDonald’s phrasing and historical erudition are as sharp as the bloody knife on the cover. (Johnny Ray Huston)


By the staff of the New York Post


191 pages


Probably the greatest headline ever written (outside of The Onion) is the title of this book, a collection of New York Post zingers that prove no news is above mockery ("Al-Qa-ught: Cops catch five London bombers") and that a good pun never gets old ("NO KWAN DO: Michelle threatens to quit Games"). The cover artwork, reproduced with full-page treatments for notable efforts, is worth mentioning, such as the "755: Bonds breaks home-run record" cover, which illustrated the feat by spelling out "755" with syringes. Divided into chapters by subject (politics, celebrities, mafia, etc.) Headless Body is well worth reading through in one sitting before stashing in the john for future, random-page chuckles. (Cheryl Eddy)

Outlaw representation


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

I love Dick and I cannot lie. I am of course referring to my Chocolate City homeboy Richard Bruce Nugent — who was never called "Dick," but was outfitted with "Paul Arbian" and other choice names by his friend, rival, and fellow Harlem/Negro Renaissance leader Wallace Thurman. Nugent, who died impoverished but grand in 1987, has been one of my abiding heroes since childhood. But with the rediscovery and publication of Gentleman Jigger (Da Capo Press, 332 pages, $18), in which Nugent names and reclaims his uptown good and hard times from speakeasies to sidewalks, the youngest Harlem Renaissance genius truly ceases to be a cipher.

I first read about Nugent at age 10, in David Levering Lewis’s epic study When Harlem Was in Vogue (Penguin, 1989). A provocative iconoclast and bon vivant, Nugent — who’d had the nerve to live past 27 and even be a vital raconteur during his sunset-and-threadbare years — enjoyed a meteoric ascent into the flux of my prepubescent consciousness. My Nuge was clearly brilliant, and a proto–rock star due to the mere rumor of his gay lit landmark from 1926, the short story "Smoke, Lilies and Jade." Though raised sheltered in Washington, DC’s Adams-Morgan black bohemia of the 1980s, I inchoately got that the Harlem Renaissance was the official coming out of black queer radical subculture — a coming out linked to Nugent’s historic meet-cute with Langston Hughes at one of DC salon hostess Georgia Douglas Johnson’s "Saturday nighters."

Having followed a trajectory similar to Nugent’s leap from DC to NYC, I still find him inspiring. His Gentleman Jigger reads eerily, stunningly, as if it were written about a black blogospheric bohemia that continues to wrestle with the ish Hughes laid out in his famed 1926 essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." Although Nugent appears to have been scooped (possibly ripped off) in defining le tout fashionable Harlem by his prematurely dead and duskier podnuh Thurman, he almost lived to witness the emergence of such latter-day inheritors of his vision as poet Essex Hemphill and cultural critic Ernest Hardy.

Editor Thomas Wirth, who maintains a Nugent Web site and worked on Duke University Press’s 2002 Nugent collection Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance, has done us all a great service by unearthing and recolutf8g Nugent’s masterful roman á clef. It’s an intriguing, nudge-winky funhouse that holds a mirror to the New Negritude milieu circa 1927 while presenting a flipside to the Niggerati Manor events captured in Thurman’s 1932 Infants of the Spring (Northeastern). With its wit, passion, racial skullduggery, fearless self-analysis, and an arch framing of uptown/downtown creative types fit to rival Ann Douglass’s nonfiction ’20s Manhattan history Terrible Honesty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Gentleman Jigger pulls off the shroud of dilettante-ism that obscured Nugent for decades. Twentieth-century sexual revolt was not always about a Revue Négre pickaninny and her bananas — or a notorious Englishman’s liver lips. It was also the province of dangerous minds with a will to political or social activism.

In Gentleman Jigger, at a soiree held by Serge Von Vertner, Nugent’s alter-ego Stuart Brennen holds forth: "Oh, I always sprawl," he declaims. "Sprawling is a Negro art. Else you might never know I was one. Appearances are so deceitful, and that would never do. So I merely flaunt a trademark."

If that ain’t a postmortem fit for the post-Basquiat, post-Gnarls, Black Renaissance 3.0 era, then I don’t know what is.






As with any highly anticipated release from a pop siren, there’s sure to be predictable praise from diehard fans: think of all the Janet devotees who’ve supported her multiple failed attempts to relaunch as an pop icon, instead of a wardrobe-malfunctioning pariah. Also to be expected are the rip-to-shreds haters who will use any sign of weakness as bait. For miniature Aussie pop goddess Kylie Minogue, her 10th effort, X, was receiving equal amounts of love and hate many moons before its repeatedly pushed-back release date. Thanks to the cyberpirates of the techno-age, Minogue’s aural goodies were offered up for all of the online world to hear — even before the official tracklist was determined.

Leakage aside, opinion didn’t deter this überpop-tart from bringing a fiercer, more sexed-up version of her already adorable self to the dozen tracks on the uneven but thoroughly enjoyable X. Highlights include the vampy swagger of opener "2 Hearts" and the frenetic disco-meets-electro jam "In My Arms," written and produced by Scottish electro prodigy Calvin Harris and laced with his signature warped, underwater synths and pert handclap percussion. In its weaker moments, X sounds like a mashup of modern pop heavies. The robotic chant of "Speakerphone" recalls a made-for-TV version of Daft Punk’s "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" and "Nu-di-ty" is a Britney-esque banger, with jolts of ripping bass and nasally vocal "whoops" that would have fit perfectly into the guiltily pleasurable Blackout (2007). Back in her skyscraping stilettos, Kylie proves with X that her kitten-with-a-whip dance anthems still titillate. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)


Mountain Battles


Eighteen years after debuting with the alluringly odd Pod (4AD), and 15 since careening full force into the mainstream for a few months with the bubble-bass alterna-anthem "Cannonball," the Breeders return with Mountain Battles, their fourth album in nearly two decades. While hardly prolific, the Kim Deal–led enterprise has been successful in concocting fetchingly askew garage-pop, and their latest presents the band in marvelously fevered, fearless form, covering a considerable amount of stylistic and emotional territory over the course of 35 minutes.

Deal’s exuberantly woozy vocals remain as cough syrup–thick as ever, and the microphone give-and-take with sister Kelley once again yields delectable results. "Bang On" — a fiercely minimal hip-wiggling thump à la ESG — focuses around the chanting proclamation, "I love no one, and no one loves me," with Kim’s sunny assertion of the phrase chased by Kelley’s frowning echo. Elsewhere, the opiated melodica backdrops of "Istanbul" make for a seductive travelogue, as does "Regalame Esta Noche," an exquisitely vulnerable Spanish-language ballad rendered in the dustiest, huskiest of tones. Listeners seeking the familiar Breeders guitar-chug, however, will gleefully throw themselves face-first into the psychedelicized swirls of "Overglazed," an ecstatic thunderer set a-twitch by Kim’s howling repetition of a simple, inarguable line: "I can feel it." Honestly, though: who couldn’t? (Todd Lavoie)


With Colour Revolt

April 30, 8 p.m., $23


333 11th St., SF



Om: Miami 2008


Back when I was a younger young ‘un, Om helped open my ears to the world of San Francisco house music. I’d waste gallons of gas I couldn’t afford, driving around listening to the likes of Miguel Migs and Colette because my car had a decent sound system. Lately, though, I’ve been disappointed with the label since it seems to have drifted away from the soulful house I had grown to love. So I was skeptical when I popped the new Om: Miami 2008 in my deck while driving down I-580. Two bridge tolls and four missed exits later, I was still in a trance from the Fred Everything’s deliciously nostalgic "Here I Am." Overall the compilation stitches together a slew of impressive sounds, including Eric Kupper’s remix of Samantha James’s "Breathe In." Om is clearly back to its old tricks, and I’m all ears. (Jamilah King)

The joy of cowboys


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

"The western has not so much died as fragmented," declared New York Times critic A.O. Scott in a think piece last year about Hollywood’s latest incarnations of the genre. Citing Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and more recent, far-flung revisions such as Wisit Sasanatieng’s 2000 Tears of the Black Tiger, Scott argued that the western is a mutable export because the myth of the Old West existed even before the advent of cinema. Myths build on their grandeur and solidify their status with each new telling and embellishment, whether those revisions take the form of broadsides spreading the dastardly deeds of Billy the Kid or cinematic Cold War–era allegories staged by John Ford under a baking Arizona sun.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s film series "Non-Western Westerns" has traced the global fragmentation of the western myth from more familiar locales such as Utah (as represented by the Italian Alps in Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 film The Great Silence) and the Mexican desert (Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 El Topo), to unexpected stopovers in Bollywood (1975’s Sholay) and Hong Kong (Johnnie To’s 2006 Exiled). But the most curious, if not the most joyful, destination in the series’ itinerary has to be the land once known as Czechoslovakia, the home of Oldrich Lipsky’s rangy 1964 horse opera Lemonade Joe.

Lemonade Joe is a sweet and goofy musical parody of the type of westerns Hollywood specialized in before Sam Peckinpah sauntered into town. Though made the same year as Leone’s breakthrough, A Fistful of Dollars, Lipsky’s movie is its diametric opposite. The good guy’s whites remain stainless; the bad guys are mustachioed; and the Trigger Whiskey saloon is likelier to erupt into musical numbers or slapstick fisticuffs than gunfire. The plot follows song-prone sharpshooter Lemonade Joe (played by the suitably dashing operetta stag Karel Fiala) as he weans the rowdy menfolk of Stetson City off of their beloved firewater and over to his miracle tonic, Kolaloka lemonade, all the while competing for the hand of temperate ingenue Winifred Goodman against archnemesis and Trigger Whiskey owner Doug Badman.

Lemonade Joe‘s hand-tinted look is clearly at odds with its soundtrack. But Lipsky’s last concern is fidelity, let alone realism. Indeed, the plot is periodically nudged along by touches that are as evocative of Bugs Bunny cartoons as they are of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925). Smoke rings spell out messages, dotted lines plot the course of bullets, men fall like dominos after a single punch, and an unforgettable wide screen close-up travels deep into Joe’s yodeling throat.

As singularly silly as Lemonade Joe may be, its eccentricity is a reflection of the western genre’s established popularity in Eastern and Central Europe. Writer Jirí Brdecka based his screenplay on the Lemonade Joe stories he penned for magazines in the ’40s. Around the same time, Karl May’s novels set in the American West were immensely popular in Czechoslovakia. During the Cold War, Eastern Bloc countries produced and consumed westerns that functioned as ideological critiques of America, yet trafficked in the trappings of that most stalwart of American icons: the cowboy.

Then again, wherever it is set, the western has always been about the encroachment of capitalism and civilization onto untamed, lawless wilderness. Many of the genre’s narratives are driven by an unspoken nostalgia for a savage paradise lost. In Lemonade Joe, this takeover is staged in economic terms. Joe’s father turns out to be the president of the company whose product he constantly shills, and whose fiercest competition is the whiskey market. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Joe and his newly-won Winifred hope to ride off into the sunset to sell their new product, Whiskeykola, bringing together alcoholics and teetotalers under brand unity.

Lipsky’s imagery and Brdecka’s screenplay may be slyly critical, but they’re far from a critique of American imperialism. If anything, their movie’s outlandishness might be seen as a rebuff to the then–Soviet Union’s aesthetic mandate for socialist realism. Lemonade Joe is an East Side love letter to a now-vanished chivalric myth of the West, one that Hollywood was discarding in favor of moodier and bloodier fare, and one to which it is impossible to return — except, perhaps, in the movies.


Sat/5, 3 p.m., $5

SFMOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater

151 Third St, SF

(415) 357-4000


Tom’s jones


Last year, after he was "fired" by Paramount for becoming the new Wacko Jacko, Tom Cruise bought United Artists. As the company prepares to Cruise into an uncertain future, the Castro Theatre is presenting a retrospective of its oft-glorious middle period. It kicks off with some Woody Allen (1977’s inevitable Annie Hall and 1975’s rare Love and Death). The lineup includes once-celebrated films (1955’s Marty, 1971’s The Hospital); classics that gained that stature after their initial release (1955’s Kiss Me Deadly and Night of the Hunter); and newly-struck 35mm prints. The 35 mm batch includes 1961’s West Side Story, whose hothouse palette makes it one of the greatest-ever testaments to old-school Technicolor.

Plus, Tom Cruise will personally introduce every screening and shake each patron’s hand as they leave. OK, we made that part up. But you never know.


Thurs/3 through May 4; $7–$9.50

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen


› paulr@sfbg.com

You could, if you were inclined, step into CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen and do nothing but drink wine. The establishment opened on mid-Market in 2005 as a wine bar, after all, and the wine list is so extensive that it’s actually presented as a bound volume. I’ve seen less impressive Bibles. But you could also, if you were inclined, step into CAV and eat food while not drinking wine, and you wouldn’t necessarily think you were missing out. Of course, the people at CAV don’t want you to sunder food and wine, since the whole point of the restaurant is to bring them together — with wine first among equals, for once. But it’s a tribute to chef Michael Lamina’s kitchen that the wine-friendly food can stand on its own. This is a nice corollary to one of my own cherished postulates: that many food-friendly wines are quite good on their own.

The name suggests a certain Iberian romance. It falls just one letter short of cava, the Spanish word for Spanish sparkling wines made in the méthode champenoise and also for "dig," with an implication of caves and candlelight. There is no dinner quite so atmospheric as one held in a candlelit underground chamber at a winery — and unfortunately CAV isn’t underground. It is narrow and deep, though, with a zigzag floorplan and a large multilight window at the very back of the rear dining room. The view through that window is of the famous alley where Zuni Café (which is next door) used to do its charcoal grilling nearly 30 years ago.

And the food does have its Spanish touches. The wine-friendly cuisines tend to come from the wine-producing parts of the globe, and this means, heavily, the Mediterranean basin and its California cousin. But we mustn’t forget Germany, which produces many lovely, if floral, white wines and some reds too — not to mention spaetzle, the butter-fried noodle squiggles that, in CAV’s rendition ($6) are so delicious that we actually asked for seconds, long after we’d run out of other dishes we might have spooned the spaetzle alongside. Spaetzle would go very nicely with some grilled bratwurst, but at CAV it also makes a fine starter or share plate or just a little something extra to fill in the corners.

As for Spanish accents: we noted them in baby octopi ($13) expertly braised (meaning neither mushy nor tough) in a smoked-paprika broth littered with shavings of fennel root and fried chickpeas. Smoked paprika is possibly the most distinctive of the Spanish flavorings, whether in the cured pork sausage called chorizo or in a seafood dish, as here.

There was also a Castilian note in a salad of arugula leaves ($9), tossed with sections of satsuma mandarin oranges, almonds, shavings of Zamorano cheese (a hard, Parmesan-like sheep’s-milk cheese produced on Spain’s central plateau), and saba, a balsamic vinegar–like dressing. (Bear in mind that Italy and Spain spent centuries ruling parts of each other.)

In keeping with CAV’s wine-bar roots, portions are not huge, and even the big plates, such as beef tenderloin ($25), are on the modest size. But for any number of reasons, this is fine; it helps restrain both expense and gluttony, it encourages exploration and sharing, and it tends to keep food and wine in balance. The tenderloin, a boneless but juicy piece of meat, had been pan-roasted to the rare side of medium rare, plated in a pool of jus-like marrow foam (foam! reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated) beside little heaps of blanched haricots verts and black trumpet mushrooms, then topped with a purée of caramelized onion. Earthy would be a succinct description of this dish; also autumnal — perfect in a city of eternal autumn.

Not all the culinary influences are Mediterranean-derived nor otherwise associated with the lands of wine. We came across a plate of sashimi ($9) made from tai snapper (a sea bream from New Zealand), arranged atop a set of kohlrabi-stuffed spring rolls that looked like Tiparillos, and, for some color, slivers of kumquat and squirts of arugula puree. Beer would have been fine here, but so was a small glass of Schmelz grüner veltliner. (As is the case at several other wine-intensive spots around town, wines by the glass are available as 2.5 ounce tastes or 5 ounce glasses. Two cheers for sobriety.)

Desserts were startlingly good and not pricey by recent standards. There was a sniff of disdain from across the table at the prospect of a butterscotch tartlet ($7.50), since there are those who don’t care for butterscotch. I’m not one of them; I’ve always responded to what seems to me to be a simple and irresistible blending of vanilla into caramel. The creamy butterscotch filling of the tartlet was that, yes, but it also had … liquor breath! Someone had discreetly spiked it with Scotch whisky, and eating it was like giving a peck on the cheek to a boozy but lovable old aunt on Christmas Eve.

The chocolate–peanut butter cookies ($5 for three) arrived on the wings of higher expectations, and they did not disappoint. They resembled Oreos, except with an intense peanut-butter mousse as a filling rather than the sugary white stuff in the commercial kind. And as if that weren’t enough, the kitchen threw in a bonus: a scattering of candied peanuts, like peanut brittle without the brittle. We dug that.


Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5:30–11 p.m.

Fri.–Sat., 5:30 p.m.–midnight

1666 Market, SF

(415) 437-1770


Wine and beer



Wheelchair accessible



CHEAP EATS We took the board outside and, like any other civilized wine-country people, we ate our cheese and our bread. We sipped our wine out of jelly jars, and it was cheap shit. Birds. Frogs. Crickets. The redwood trees catch fire in the sunset, and the pink peach blossoms and the white cherry ones glow a little after like phosphorescent stars on a teenager’s bedroom ceiling.

The Jungle told a childhood story about worms, gathering them for his uncle, who, for show, would grill them on the barbecue. There were three of us: him, me, and this visiting friend of his from Bumfuck, Wash.

"So I get how it is that we return to the soil," I said. "But how exactly is it that we come from the soil?"

They looked at me. It was almost dark. In private, I had been wondering this since I was six. Geologically, biologically, ill-logically, I had wondered. Becoming worm shit seems pretty easy. The reverse blows all sorts of fuses for me. Not to quote myself, but I put it best 20 years ago, in a song: "I can make a dead cow into steaks but how can I make a live one out of stew?" People danced. Nobody answered the question.

Now seemed like as good a time as any to ask again. The Jungle is one of my go-to conversationalists and thinkers. We’ve spent many hours together, in vans, trying to wrap our verse-chorus-verse-chorus brains around just such concertos, and worse, like where to eat in Nebraska.

His friend had gleaming eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a long beard. Not quite white, his hair was nevertheless Einsteinian in length and spirit. And, turns out, his brother-in-law is a physicist. Thus was he able to explain to me, in lay-chicken-farmer terms, the law of conservation of energy: there’s only so much stuff, it says, he said, and stuff can turn into other stuff, but nothing new gets created.

"Are you trying to give me writer’s block?" I said.

He said he was not. He said something turns into something, but nothing does not. He might as well have been dancing.

Behind me, in the coop, my chickens were unwinding toward sleep, which is an audible process, like a car engine ticking as it cools. They kind of buzz, and whir. Then nothing. After a day of scratching, pecking, and bathing in dirt, eating bugs, stones, grass, and oyster shell, they deserve the few feet of elevation the roost provides for the night.

In the morning they will lay their eggs. Which kind of answers my question right there. For chickens. For humans, we will need to add poetry. My mom and dad, to the best of my knowledge, did not eat bugs or grit or take dust baths. In fact they were pretty annoyingly hygienic. At least at the time. Always changing my diapers and sloshing me in the tub, baptizing me, making me go to church and shit. As if to say: You are not dirt! You are not dirt! And other such poems and prayers. Maybe what’s needed is not the addition of poetry, so much as the subtraction of it.

Yes! You know how I know? Because after the chickens were eaten — the ones on the grill, not the roost — we wiped our mouths and went inside, drank more wine, and Einstein said, "OK, I have heard both of you perform before. How about if I read you my poetry?"

This, for someone who’s been through Catholic school and, worse, graduate school, for someone steeped in prayer then poetry, poetry workshops, and poetry readings … this should have been a horror-movie moment, the Jungle and I looking at each other with wide, terrified eyes, the music chopping, screeching, swelling. May I read you my poems? Life had honed me to cut my wrists, or his, at the thought of it.

Instead I was thrilled, delighted, honestly honored that my slanty, woodsy, slightly witchy shack should hostess an impromptu after-dinner poetry reading. And that was when I knew that the transformation, this me-in-the-making, was finally, impossibly, complete: I really am a fucking chicken farmer, ain’t I?


My new favorite restaurant is Green Chile Kitchen, and my new favorite thing is pozole, or posole. No matter how you spell it, it’s hominy, it’s chicken, it’s onions and cilantro, it’s soup, and it’s spicy. And that all adds up to I’m drooling all over the keyboard, just to type it. This is New Mexican style stuff, with an emphasis on red or green chiles, or "Christmas," which is both. Check it out: cheap, and damn good!


601 Baker, SF

(415) 614-9411

Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.

Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

Beer and wine




› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

I’ve written aplenty about testosterone: for instance, the then-new research demonstrating that high testosterone does not make a male a winner as much as winning makes a male’s testosterone high; and the current vogue for prescribing T for everything formerly ascribed, with a shrug and a sigh, to "getting older." I’ve taught a bunch about hormones, describing estrogen — with its touch-and smell-sensitivity enhancing, "receptive" sexuality-producing qualities — as the "fuck me hormone," leaving chin-jutting, bad-boy testosterone to be described, inevitably, as the "fuck you" hormone. I’ve also been quick to explain that that’s a joke, son, and to debunk that characterization, emphasizing that women have and need T as much as men do (if in lower quantities), and that aggressive men do not turn out to have higher levels than their meeker brethren. Without testosterone, nobody gets laid — not even lesbians.

And then recently we took the kids to the children’s museum and I insisted that, naps and lunch be damned, we had to be in the car for the broadcast (actually a rerun) of This American Life’s testosterone episode. (Hear it for yourself at www.thislife.org, Episode 220.) You could skip producer Alex Blumberg’s introduction about coming of age while feeling guilty for even having testosterone, due to an early (and entirely uncalled-for) reading of Marilyn French’s "seminal" feminist potboiler The Women’s Room (Ballantine, 1988). Just don’t miss the segment on the man with no T (Act One: "Life at Zero") which will, in a mere seven minutes, turn everything you think you know about testosterone on its head. The interviewee, who had written an anonymous piece for GQ, developed an unspecified, rapid onset condition that shut down his T production entirely. But before he got a diagnosis, he simply … ceased wanting. Anything.

We know that T supplies the drive for sex and possibly for success, but with absolutely none in this guy’s system, he had no drive for anything. He stared at the wall, un-driven to get up. He could live on Wonder Bread spread with Miracle Whip and want nothing else, although he didn’t particularly want that, either. Everything looked beautiful because he lacked the will to judge it as anything else. He didn’t bother trying to see his girlfriend. He became, in short, a sort of bodhisattva, but without any sense of spiritual enlightenment — evolved, but in a meaningless way. An enlitened being, if you will. He sounded relieved, yet a bit let down to be reconnected, via supplementation, to the world of drives and wants and needs and giving a shit, rather the way people who have near-death experiences often describe resisting the pull to return to their heavy, duty-bound corporeal selves. An amazing story, implying as it does that without T life is, if not precisely not worth living, not worth caring about whether one lives it or not.

More familiar but in some ways equally startling was the interview with transman Griffin Hansbury, who, at the time, had entirely enough or possibly too much T in his system — enough to fuel a few bar fights and an inappropriate remark or two to a female coworker. Hansbury started out, like pretty much every F2M I’ve known, as a women’s college–attending, women’s studies–studying, "Take Back the Night"–type womyn’s wummin, and ended up … a pig. He is honest and extremely funny, describing how under the influence of massive amounts of T, he started dogging women around and getting turned on — literally — by the piston action of passing machinery. He said stupid stuff. He offended people; and moreover, felt entitled to do so. Most alarming, he became suddenly, uncharacteristically interested in and even good at math and science, like a sort of instant anti-Barbie. I hesitate to extrapolate from this (as does Hansbury). I hesitate to even think about it, if I can help it. If one of my kids (I have a boy and a girl, a built-in controlled experiment) asks, later, what makes somebody good at math, you better believe I won’t say "testosterone." Unless it’s true. I can’t wait to find out, I tell you what.

There’s also the story in a recent New York Times mag about the current and discomforting (to some; I think it’s kinda cool) phenomenon of women entering colleges like Bryn Mawr and Wellesley and leaving as men, a situation the gender studies departments can pretty much take either blame or credit for, depending. I can’t think of a handier way to break down the old dualistic gender paradigm, myself. The new gents ought to take a lesson from the humorous and self-depreciating Griffin Hansbury, though, and be mindful not to act like total buttheads while they still have to share the dorm showers.



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.

English is dead


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION By the time English truly is a dominant language on the planet, it will no longer be English. Instead, say a group of linguists interviewed in a recent article by Michael Erard in New Scientist, the language will fragment into many mutually-unintelligible dialects. Still, some underlying documents will supply the grammatical glue for these diverse Englishes, the way Koranic Arabic does for the world’s diverse Arabic spinoff tongues. English-speakers of the future will be united in their understanding of a standard English supplied by technical manuals and Internet media.

People like me, native English speakers, are heading to the ashcan of history. By 2010, estimates language researcher David Graddol, 2 billion people on the planet will be communicating in English — but only 350 million will be native speakers. By 2020, native speakers will have diminished to 300 million. My American English, which I grew up speaking in an accent that matched what I heard on National Public Radio and 60 Minutes, is already difficult for many English-speakers to understand.

Hence the rise of Internet English. This is the simple English of technical manuals and message boards — full of slang and technical terminology, but surprisingly free of strange idioms. It’s usually also free of the more cumbersome and weird aspects of English grammar.

For example, a future speaker of English would be unlikely to understand the peculiar way in which I express the past tense: "I walked to the store." Adding a couple of letters (–ed) to the end of a verb to say that I did something in the past? Weird. Hard to hear; hard to say. It’s much more comprehensible to say: "I walk to the store yesterday." And indeed, that’s how many non-native speakers already say it. It’s also the way most popular languages like the many dialects of Chinese express tense. The whole practice of changing the meaning of a word by adding barely audible extra letters — well, that’s just not going to last.

When I read about the way English is changing and fragmenting, it has the opposite effect on me than what you might expect. Although I am the daughter and granddaughter of English teachers and spent many years in an English department earning a PhD, I relish the prospect of my language changing and becoming incomprehensible to me. Maybe that’s because I spent a year learning to read Old English, the dominant form of English spoken 1,000 years ago, and I realize how much my language has already changed.

But my glee in the destruction of my own spoken language isn’t entirely inspired by knowing language history. It’s because I want English to reflect the lives of the people who speak it. I want English to be a communications tool — like the Internet, a thing that isn’t an end in itself but a means to one. Once we all acknowledge that there are many correct Englishes, and not just the Queen’s English or Terry Gross’s English, things will be a lot better for everybody.

I’ll admit sometimes I feel a little sad when my pal from Japan doesn’t get my double entendres or idiomatic jokes. I like to play with language, and it’s hard to be quite so ludic when language is a tool and nothing more. But that loss of English play is more than made up for by the cross-cultural play that becomes possible in its stead, jokes about kaiju and non-native snipes at native customs. (My favorite: said Japanese pal is bemused by American Christianity, and one day exclaimed in frustration, "God, Godder, Goddest!")

For those of us who spend most of our days communicating via the Internet, using language as the top layer in a technological infrastructure that unites many cultures, the Englishes of the future are already here. In some ways they make a once-uniform language less intelligible. In other ways, they make us all more intelligible to one another.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd whose English is obsolete.

Chop from the top


OPINION San Francisco officials released two very different documents last week. The first was a list of the 596 city employees making $150,000 a year or more in base salary. The second was a letter to the 334 patients of the Chronic Care Public Health Nursing program informing them that as of April 15 they will no longer have a public-health nurse helping them manage their illnesses.

You might expect that when the mayor proposes an "across the board" budget cut from city departments because of a looming budget deficit, almost any position in city government would be on the table. You might expect that maintaining services to the most vulnerable city residents would be a priority. But according to these two documents, you’re safe if your salary is $150,000 or more, and you are abandoned if you are poor, frail, and chronically ill.

Last week, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin suggested that instead of just cutting from the bottom, the city also consider cuts at the top. "So let me understand," the Chronicle quotes District Attorney Kamala Harris (No. 55 on the top-earners list), "Aaron Peskin is basically saying we should eliminate all the doctors and lawyers who work for the city."

But Harris didn’t understand. Peskin isn’t proposing to cut all of those 596 positions. He is proposing that in a fiscal crisis, the agenda should include some cutting from the top, not just the bottom.

As a public health nurse in the program slated for closure, I’ve been working to treat and make plans for my patients during the day, while working at night to keep the program open. I’m not worried about my job: nurses are in high demand and there’s comparable pay in many private hospitals. But private health care rarely serves the people I’ve come to know doing this job for the past year: frail, uninsured elderly folks with no families; patients who face language and literacy barriers who can’t navigate the system and use emergency rooms when they feel sick; long-time residents of Laguna Honda Hospital coming back to the community not knowing how to use a cell phone, let alone monitor their diabetes.

As the number of chronically ill people skyrockets, along with the costs of caring for them, it would seem a no-brainer to fund a group of nurses who are experts in keeping those folks out of the hospital. But our health care system still operates on an acute-care model. While Medi-Cal will pay the city much of the expense of sending a nurse to do brief wound care for a diabetic, it pays much less for a nurse to keep that same person healthy enough to avoid the next wound. Calcuutf8g future savings from chronic care health services is hard. So on paper at least, it’s a money-saver, if not the moral choice, to close the program.

When I was in nursing school, my public health professors told me, "in Public Health, you have to be an advocate, because your patients can’t be." But I bet those 596 top earners can defend themselves — and Peskin is right, some of them should be given the opportunity.

Stefan Lynch

Stefan Lynch, RN, is a public health nurse at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and a member of Service Employees International Union 1021.

Emeric Kalman, 1931-2008


Emeric Kalman, a neighborhood activist well known for his decades-long work of bringing important issues concerning the city’s public services and infrastructure to officials at City Hall, died March 22, on his 77th birthday, after battling cancer for several months.

Trained as a mechanical engineer, Kalman fled communist Romania in 1968 with his wife, Valeria, settled in West Portal, and worked at Bechtel from 1970 to the late 1980s. After retiring, he used his considerable expertise and proficiency with highly technical documents to bring to light waste and inefficiency in numerous city departments.

"Emeric contributed his research, his knowledge from his engineering background, his sense of fiscal prudence and accountability, and his demand for transparency and sunshine to making the city a better place for its citizens," said Joan Girardot, head of the Marina Civic Improvement and Property Owners Association and a former president of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods.

In 1997, Kalman and fellow watchdog Girardot brought an important story to the Guardian — one that was critical to understanding why the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had failed to make regular repairs to the city’s vast water system, which flows from Yosemite to San Francisco. Kalman and Girardot discovered that by using an accounting trick to create an artificial yearly "surplus," the PUC had been transferring millions of dollars annually since 1979 to the city’s general fund — an amount adding up to half a billion dollars. Instead of going toward the care of the system, the money went to sparing officials the political difficulty of having to raise taxes after the 1978 passage of Proposition 13 drastically reduced municipal coffers. (see "The Water Bond-doggle," 8/27/97).

By that time, Kalman had established himself as a trusted source, having discovered numerous problems with the privatization of Presidio National Park and the San Francisco Zoo earlier in the 1990s. In fact, it was Kalman and Girardot who convinced city officials to force the zoo to at least list all of the facility’s assets before they handed it over to the private zoological society.

Tenacious in his activism, Kalman never walked away from an issue. For example, he joined Girardot and other activists in taking the Recreation and Park Department to task in 1997 when it voted to end all public review of how the zoo spent its annual multimillion-dollar grant from the city. (see "The Secret Zoo," 11/26/97). Since the late 1980s, he dedicated himself, along with Girardot, to the ongoing fight against the city’s neglect of regular repairs to the Marina Yacht Harbor and its overly expensive proposal to overhaul the facility, making it more suitable to the owners of high-end yachts and possible privatization and likely destroying the use of an important public open space in the process. (see "Bay Watch," 2/28/01)

On March 17, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution commending Kalman for his "outstanding contributions to the community." Sponsored by District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, with whom Kalman had worked most recently in an unsuccessful fight against the PUC’s proposal to raise water rates, the resolution recognized both Kalman’s stubbornness as well as his gracious demeanor (it was not unusual for him to kiss the hands of female city clerks). "Emeric’s old world gentility and grace, combined with new world zeal for justice and fairness in government, made him a force to be reckoned with and a real asset to San Francisco," Elsbernd said. "He was, in a word, undaunted."

Kalman is survived by his son, Ronald; his ex-wife, Valeria; his sister, Judith Ertsey; his nephew, Robert; and his two grandnieces, Elianna and Roxanna — all residents of San Francisco. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Kalman’s name to the National Alliance for Mental Illness. A memorial service will be held April 2, 12:45 p.m., at the Hills of Eternity Cemetery Chapel, 1301 El Camino Real, Colma.

Savannah Blackwell is a former Guardian reporter.

Labor’s merger pains


› jesse@sfbg.com

Part one of a series on the emerging problems with labor mergers

For well over 100 years, San Francisco hod carriers — workers who assist stone, brick, and plaster masons — have gathered at the Local 36 hiring hall to find work. Though not as large and bustling as it was in its heyday, the hall, now situated in Daly City, still serves as an important social as well as professional gathering place for San Francisco and San Mateo County "hoddies."

But on Monday, March 10 and Tuesday the 11th, when the union’s members arrived to put in for jobs, they found the entrance shuttered and a paper sign taped to the door.

"This Office Will be Temporarily Closed Due to the Transition of the Separation between Local Unions," the sign read. Several South Bay phone numbers were listed below — one for the dispatch office at Local 270, a much larger South Bay chapter of the Laborer’s International Union of North America (LIUNA), and one for Carlos Lujan, 270’s business manager. When the workers tried to call the numbers to secure work, they claim officials at 270 told them they couldn’t help them.

Meanwhile, several told the Guardian they could hear the phone ringing through the hiring hall door as calls from contractors came into the office. Every phone call most likely meant a job that would not be filled by one of the willing workers left outside.

"I felt abandoned," 25-year union member Jerrold ‘JJ’ Jones told the Guardian. Jones told us he waited for nearly three hours for the hall to open on March 11, only to give up in frustration. "Here I pay dues six months in advance and because that hall is closed, I didn’t have the opportunity to go out for a job that day."


The reasons for the hall’s closure trace back to an ill-fated merger between Local 36 and Local 270. The story is more than just a tiff in a relatively small labor group; it’s symbolic of a much wider issue that’s beginning to explode in organized labor.

In recent years, unions across the country have been encouraging smaller locals like 36 to join with larger shops to increase their clout and negotiating power. Supporters say these mergers create organizations better able to stand up to giant businesses and institutions.

But the trend also has drawbacks: more members under the aegis of one organization means more power in fewer hands — and sometimes, a lack of union democracy.

Local 36 seemed a prime candidate for merger, with only 120 members. Local 270 had more than 4,000 dues-paying workers and hefty political and trust fund accounts. But high-placed sources within the San Jose local tell us that it’s had serious turmoil over the past year — and the members from San Francisco say they feel left out.

Local 270’s leader, Carlos Lujan, is the subject of an investigation by the international union’s inspector general. Documents provided to the Guardian show that the inspector general has been looking into several complaints about Lujan’s leadership, including his conduct of meetings. An official from the parent union has observed the last three executive board gatherings and is expected to file a report with the Washington brass in the coming weeks.

"Clearly there are troubles out there," attorney Bob Luskin of the Washington firm Patton, Boggs, told us. Luskin acts as the union’s special counsel. "The marriage [between 36 and 270] looked like a good idea at first," he said. "But in the end, it didn’t turn out so well."

Much of the current internal strife at Local 270 appears to have begun when Lujan announced his retirement at the end of March 2007. Two weeks prior to his planned departure, Lujan’s advisors proposed a post-retirement consultant’s job for him. According to a complaint filed with the Department of Fair Housing and Employment by former 270 employee Leslie Scanagatta, the consulting gig would have paid Lujan $500 a week, and the union would pay to fly him from his home in Texas to San Jose for meetings.

Scanagatta’s complaint states that Lujan became angry after she and several other officials voiced concerns with the plan. It alleges that Lujan declared to another union official that she would "be terminated by the end of the week" — which she was.

"It was devastating," Scanagatta, who now works for Santa Cruz County, said. "I was laid off for eight months and I’ve taken a 38 percent pay cut now."

Lujan did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

One of the people pushing for Lujan’s consultant job was Edgar Calonje. Calonje, who worked for the union as an independent contractor, said he met with Lujan before the boss announced his retirement, and that Lujan told him and Enrique Arguello, a member of 270’s executive board, that he was planning "to get his retirement [benefits] and consultant fees as well."

"We thought if we helped him [get the deal], we would be in good shape," Calonje said by phone from Nicaragua, where he was visiting family. "But that’s not what happened."

First, Lujan withdrew his retirement and decided to stay on. Then, in November 2007, Colanje lost his job — after, he says, a private memo he had written surfaced in which he criticized Lujan’s leadership and integrity.

Shortly after Colanje was let go, Arguello — who now says he didn’t actively support Lujan’s retirement plan — resigned from his job as a business agent rather than accept a demotion. A Nov. 28 letter from Lujan to Arguello obtained by the Guardian states, "the reason for the change in your position was because the pattern of actions made by you in the past could put this Local in a difficult position."


Early in 2008, the atmosphere of dissension in San Jose began to affect the hiring hall in Daly City, and eventually boiled over into physical confrontation. First, former Local 36 business manager Alex Corns clashed with Lujan and resigned in a huff from his new job at 270. Then Will Davis, who ran the Daly City hall after the merger, was dismissed. A March 6 letter from Lujan to Davis cites Davis’s "lack of commitment to work under my agenda as Business Manager" as the reason for his termination.

The following afternoon, Friday, March 7, Davis and Corns arrived at the hall to find the locks changed. That evening, they told us, a group of former Local 36 members met in a pizza parlor across from the shuttered hall and decided to petition the International to grant Local 36 back its independence. According to their account of what happened next, which was verified by Sgt. Ron Mussman of the Daly City Police Department, when Davis, Corns, and the other participants in the meeting emerged from the pizza parlor, they saw Lujan sitting in his pickup truck, which was parked in the restaurant’s lot. Across the street, two officials from 270 were inside the hiring hall removing computer equipment.

The now-dissident union members surrounded Lujan’s vehicle. Lujan fled the scene, according to worker and police accounts, allegedly striking one of the members in the forearm with his car as he backed up. The incensed crowd moved across the street and the workers from 270 barricaded themselves inside the hall. Lujan reportedly flagged down a police car as he drove away and the cops drove to the hall to escort the two men from San Jose safely out of the building.

Corns and Davis said they could not secure keys to the hall’s new locks by the time of Monday morning’s job call. For two consecutive mornings, out-of-work union members were turned away. Corns told us he finally called a local locksmith late Tuesday morning, March 11, so that members could be dispatched to jobs the following day.


For Corns, the failed merger with Local 270 is a personal as well as a professional tragedy: he was instrumental in helping 36 join with 270 after Lujan’s election as the bigger local’s business manager. Now he feels responsible for jeopardizing the organization he’s worked for since he was a teenager.

"I’ve been in the union for 35 years," Corns said, his voice choking up. "This is so heartbreaking to me."

Beyond the problems with one controversial business manager, Corns says the story is about the larger problem: increasingly top-down union management. In late February, he told us, 70 members of Local 36 voted unanimously to secede from 270 and become an autonomous chapter again. A representative from LIUNA was present at the vote and confirmed their version of the events for us. Despite the members’ calls for autonomy, officials in LIUNA’s International office in Washington, DC refused to go along; instead, on March 13, union brass granted their secession from Local 270 but immediately forced 36 into another merger — this time with a chapter based in Oakland, Local 166.

As a result of the two mergers, Corns says, the assets of Local 36 have been swallowed up by the larger chapters. He produced old bank account statements for us that showed well more than $100,000 in Local 36’s coffers before the organization joined with 270. Now, he says, he doesn’t know where that money is. Laborer’s International spokesperson Jacob Hay told us that the parent union is undertaking a "reconciliation process" to determine how much of Local 36’s money should go to Oakland and how much should stay in San Jose. Despite the apparent desire for independence among 36’s members, Hay argued that the union is making the right decision by forcing them into another merger.

"We think that it is in the best interests of smaller locals like [36] to join with larger, more powerful locals," he said. "You have more collective bargaining power with larger numbers [of members] … the goal here is to get all the hod carriers in the Bay Area into one local."

Will Davis and other Local 36 members do not share Hay’s bigger-is-better enthusiasm. "We’ve never gotten a good reason why we can’t just have the local back," Davis said. "We’ve never done anything wrong. We’ve never been under investigation. Why are we being punished for something we didn’t do?"

Editor’s Note: In the paper edition of this article, the Guardian misidentified two dates. Lujan announced his retirement in 2007, and the atmosphere of dissension began to affect the hiring hall in Daly City early in 2008.