Volume 42 Number 39
TECHSPLOITATION It’s shocking how quickly we’ve all gotten used to the idea that the government can and will listen in on everything we say on our telephones, as well as everything we do on the Internet. Case in point: the FISA Amendments Act passed in the House last week, and is predicted to pass the Senate this week. This is a bill that grants telecoms retroactive immunity for illegally giving the National Security Agency access to the phone calls and Internet activities of millions of US citizens. What this bill ultimately does, aside from not holding companies accountable to the Constitution, is open the door for future mass infractions.
We’re looking down a fiber-optic cable that leads to a future where US spies can snarf up everybody’s data without warrants, combing through it for potential suspects in an ongoing digital witch hunt for terrorists or other "bad guys." I’m not saying anything new here. This is just a quick recap of every progressive futurist’s nightmare: it’s an Orwellian world where nothing you do goes unseen.
My hope is that this absurd bill won’t pass the Senate. But if it does, at least we can hope it will be somehow held in check by other laws to come, and by constitutional challenges. But I still think it’s time that we kiss our old-fashioned notions of privacy goodbye.
And not because we will all reveal our secrets and therefore be equally naked, as "transparent society" shill David Brin has argued. We never will be equally naked. There will always be governments and wealthy entities that have the means to cover their tracks and hide their transgressions. I think we must shed the idea that somehow we can protect the rights of ordinary people by protecting what we in the United States once called privacy.
The notion that we should each be granted a special sphere where everything we do goes unseen, unremarked, and unrecorded is a relatively new notion in itself, something that could hardly have existed in a small-town society where everybody knew everybody else’s business. And it still hardly exists in many high-density countries like Japan and China, where privacy is not as prized as other rights are.
What we ask for when we ask for privacy in the United States is a simply a space (physical or digital) to do legal things without fear of reprisals. Even when we had a more tightly-wrapped notion of privacy, say, 50 years ago, it was hardly perfect. Secrets leaked; spies spied. But there were no 24-hour videocam logs and detailed records of your every correspondence available and searchable online. You could write love letters to your secret admirer, ask her to burn them, and be sure nobody would ever know about your forbidden love.
If those letters were intercepted in a small community, your infamy would live forever. Not so in the digital age, when there’s so much readily available infamy that nobody could be bothered to remember your indiscretions for more than a few seconds. What I’m trying to say is that we will never have the old privacy of the burned letter again.
Instead we will have the new privacy, where what we do can be seen by anyone, but will mostly be hidden by crowds. The problem is that we still lose the old privacy forever. My secret transgressions may be drowned out by multitudes, but anyone who is determined to spy on my most private life will probably be able to do so without a warrant.
So what do we do? Develop new standards of propriety, becoming as formal and controlled behind closed doors as we are in public? I think that will have happen in some cases. And in most cases, people will rely on crowds to hide them, hoping they never fall under sustained scrutiny. The more noise all of us make, the more we can help to hide the innocent. There will be a kind of privacy in the crowd.
But there will also be a private class of people who never have to rely on crowds. To return to my earlier point, I don’t buy for a minute the idea that at some point everyone including the rich and politically connected will be subjected to the same scrutiny as those people whose phone records were illegally handed over the to NSA by AT&T. The powerful will continue to have old-fashioned privacy, while the rest of us must get used to living without it.
Annalee Newitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a surly media nerd who tried to hide behind a crowd once but they dispersed.
THE QUEER ISSUE Aurora Theater takes on reportedly its first gay-themed work with a West Coast premiere of Keith Bunin’s almost-too-smart The Busy World Is Hushed, a play that ultimately has as much to do with questions of Christian faith and the mixed blessing/burden of family as with sexual orientation. The play, which debuted off-Broadway in 2006 amid a fracas in the Episcopalian Church over the issue of homosexuality, concerns a middle-aged Episcopalian minister, scholar, and single mother named Hannah (Anne Darragh) who hires a young writer, Brandt (Chad Deverman), to ghostwrite her book on a newly discovered gospel that may represent more faithfully (ahem) the "authentic" Jesus.
Both characters have personal reasons for being interested in this project. Hannah was widowed when her husband walked into the sea in a possible suicide, leaving her pregnant and alone. Her sharp intellect leaves plenty of scope for criticism of the institutional and historical construction of God and the bigotry of the Church, but her faith which she grounds in her own suffering and isolation as a way of giving them meaning and purpose is only refined in the process. Meanwhile, Brandt, a lapsed Episcopalian, long ago moved away from a church that invalidated his identity as a gay man. But with his father dying in the hospital and unable to concentrate on his own writing, he’s eager to lose himself in Hannah’s work at least partly because of the bitter questions his father’s cruel demise stirs up about the nature of God and religion.
Bursting into this scene comes Hannah’s wayward 26-year-old son, Thomas (an especially engaging James Wagner), just back from another of his ecstatic "get lost" adventures, a patch of porcupine quills jutting from one ankle. Soon Brandt, clearly smitten, is kneeling before Thomas plucking out one quill after another with a mischievous glee that covers for the eroticism in this little St. Sebastian moment (a tableau that morphs into another about as preposterous when, in their next meeting, Thomas dons a big leather toolbelt to put up a couple of shelves). Hannah’s delving into Christian history and exegesis mirrors her equally solitary if gregarious and promiscuous son’s own restless quest to understand his real-world father which holds out for him a similar promise of existential meaning, moral guidance, and a quieting of the soul.
But their quests, while similar, are also in conflict. A battle is being drawn between mother and son in some sense over, and in the name of, the father(s) so that when Hannah practically begs the hapless Brandt to act on his feelings for her son, it’s with something less than unalloyed Christian spirit. Director Robin Stanton’s actors deliver their lines with conviction, but the dialogue gets both too pat and too constructed, at times almost Socratic, so that soon belief is a dwindling resource all around.
THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED
Through July 20
WedSat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 and 7 p.m.; $40$42
2081 Addison, Berk.
(510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org
When Sean Dorsey started the Fresh Meat Festival in 2001, transgendered artists were sequestered inside the alternative club scene. With this new event, Dorsey threw the doors wide open. While transgender and queer performances still have a special attraction for their constituencies, the festival’s need to move to Theater Artaud, its largest venue yet, proves its broader appeal.
This year’s presentations ranged far and wide, and so did the quality. That’s one of the perils of this type of focused programming: the desire to be supportive and inclusive can mean presenting artists who may not be experienced or even talented enough. The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival went through similar growing pains. But Fresh Meat which is fun, balanced, and thoughtful is on the right track.
Five groups received commissions. The Barbary Coast Cloggers and Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu presented excellent premieres; the first joyously clickety-clacking, the other lyrically flowing through new interpretations of passed-down dancing. In trying to show the breadth of its repertoire, however, Colombian Soul attempted too much. The troupe presented undeveloped, under-rehearsed fragments, including a religious procession and a same-sex partnered "maypole" dance. Musicians Nejla Baguio and Prado Gomez’s artistic partnership looked young. The tentative Who’s Your Daddy?, musings on being a parent, had a few sparks but ultimately fizzled. Also respectfully but unenthusiastically received was the transgendered Transcendence Gospel Choir and its invitation for a community sing-along.
Two artists I would like to see more of were the outstanding countertenor Jose Luis Muñoz, who sang a powerful aria from Juana (an opera-in-progress by Carla Lucero), and Scott Turner Schofield, a FTM word artist. In an excerpt from Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps, he performed a smart, witty audition for Hamlet. It was also a pleasure to see the nonchalant Shawna Virago, who performed two supersmart, edgy new songs.
Still, the evening belonged to Dorsey, and not just because he founded the festival. Lost/Found, a duet he performed with Brian Fisher, showed again how nuanced a thinker, writer, dancer, and choreographer he is. I can’t think of anybody, no matter their identity, who creates works about growing up as theatrically cogent and as tremulously alive.
SONIC REDUCER The cormorants know, the red-winged blackbirds have heard, and the quail would wail: the Marin Headlands and surrounding environs are imbued with more than a little magic. You don’t need to spend much time there to know this, rolling through pebbly Rodeo Beach or tromping down Tennessee Valley Road, soaking up the sagey scents and painting the digits dark red with crushed blackberries, as little girls wander by talking on seagull-feather faux cellies.
They will testify, as will Will Oldham a.k.a. Bonnie "Prince" Billy, a.k.a. ace Palace Brother, singer-songwriter, and star of Old Joy (2006) and Matewan (1987) to the area’s healing properties and the way its fresh breezes, rippled clouds, and hills in every hue of green ignite the imagination. After all, until recently Oldham was squirreled away at the Headlands Center for the Arts as an artist in residence. In one of the few interviews he’s consented to lately, Oldham told me he ended up doing much songwriting, including a commissioned piece with his Superwolf partner Matt Sweeney intended for a new Wim Wenders film.
"I felt super-fortunate," said the jovial, easygoing Oldham from Louisville, Ky., where he’d driven to from the Bay Area only three days previous. No matter that tornado warnings were all over the local media as he cast his mind back. "It was kind of a dream situation, because out there in the Headlands, there’s no cell phone reception. And once you cross through that tunnel, you’re in something you can imagine as wilderness and by the sea, and there’s a fair amount of wildlife snakes and skunks and turkeys and deer and coyotes and bobcats and seals, which, if you choose to, you can see more of than you see any human being on any given day."
He’ll be back in the Bay after touring Europe and playing a handful of US dates, ending in San Francisco. The occasion is Lie Down in the Light (Drag City), Oldham’s worthy, rootsier follow-up to the transcendent The Letting Go (Drag City, 2006). If the latter is colored by the otherworldly ambience of its Icelandic origins, then the new album is touched by the tender humidity of its Tennessee recording site, encompassing, according to Oldham, "a couple songs that sort of address using terms of love, devotion, and even lust songs themselves."
"I think," he offered, "at the end of the day, sometimes it can be the truest form of comfort, especially if you’re a singer. You can find in music just about any ideal emotional landscape you crave, whether it’s angst or rebellion or celebration or union or dissolution. It’s all there, and none of it’s going to call you back or text you at four o’clock in the morning or blame you for anything you did or didn’t do or slap you with a paternity suit."
Not that Oldham can speak on paternity suits. "My lawyer says I can’t answer questions like that," he demurred mirthfully. Meanwhile there’s some heavy weather to consider. "I do have a cellar," he said, not worried at all. "But I’m not the hiding kind. I want to see it if it comes. I think I can run faster than a tornado." *
KICKING, LICKING, GOOD
LOWER CLASS REVOLT
Kicking it blue-collar style, the comp celebration includes Rademacher, Tigers Can Bite You, and Light FM. Wed/25, 10 p.m., $4. Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF. www.theknockoutsf.com
Kicking it Krautrock, the Citay collaborator’s Kranky release promises near-exotica grooves. Wed/25, 9:30 p.m., $5. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com
Kicking it old-school, the Los Angeles underground hip-hoppers unleash The Release Party DVD in July. Thurs/26, 9 p.m. doors, $20 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com
Kicking it Vivaldi styley, if the composer wore Converse. The ethereal Sub Pop indie-rockers get with their folk label mate Sera Cahoone. Sat/28, 9 p.m., $13. Slim’s, 333 11th., SF. www.slims-sf.com
Kicking it free-noise mode with such Oakland exploratory musical surgeons as Moe! Staiano, Ava Mendoza, and Liz Allbee. Sun/29, 9:30 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com
ALL THAT GLITTERS: LADY GAGA
It takes a lot of g-g-guts to name your act after the Queen tune "Radio Gaga," ‘fess up to the fact that you attended Catholic school alongside Nicky Hilton, and make it your personal mission to make pop cool once more. Lady Gaga, 22, has the moxie to undertake all of the above, having gone from setting hairspray afire on fringy NYC stages and attending Tisch School of the Arts at NYU to hammering out songs for Britney Spears, and making her own brazen dance-pop à la "Beautiful Dirty Rich." Why did she name her debut, The Fame (Streamline/Interscope)? "The concept is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you have, as long as you can embody a sense of inner fame and value of your own ideas, you can really be whoever you want," Lady Gaga opined huskily on her way to a Raging Waters gig in San Dimas. "I was nobody, and I’ve been jerking people for years into thinking I’m somebody I’m not. I used to get into clubs like when I was 16. I’d usually just walk right in because of the way I carried myself, the way I dressed, the way I spoke to people."
PREVIEW Sometimes history has a peculiar way of bringing us full circle. Charles Trapolin’s family owned slaves on their plantation in South Carolina. Joanna Haigood’s family were slaves in the vicinity. The commonality and difference between those two families led to The Monkey and the Devil, a collaboration between Trapolin, the former ODC dancer turned visual artist, and dancer/choreographer Haigood. Taking its title from racial slurs, the world premiere examines a festering wound in the social fabric that has not healed nearly as well as many of us would like to pretend. Haigood started the piece long before Barack Obama’s candidacy but, she points out, it certainly has acquired an unexpected urgency. "Racism," she says, "hurts everybody. It’s a social ill that we need to address and realize that it is connected to economy and class." Formally, the piece is an installation, continuing Haigood’s long-time interest in working with picture frames. It’s a visual motif that works well with Trapolin’s idea to create a house split in two. On the set, two couples one white, one black take turns assuming roles. Audiences are invited to stay as long as they like during this four-hour performance. Though she’ll have a collection box, the show is free because Haigood really wants all of us to come see it.
THE MONKEY AND THE DEVIL Fri/28 and Sat/29, 15 p.m. Free. Zaccho Dance Studio, 777 Yosemite, studio 330, SF. (415) 822-7644, www.zaccho.org
PREVIEW Listening to Asunder is freaking me out. It’s the middle of the night, the moon is full, and I was barely paying attention to the plodding funereal doom. That is, until I glimpsed a foreign movement from the corner of my eye and, sensing a phantasmic force, my heart plummeted into my guts. If John Gossard’s eerie chants, likely effective at summoning Lucifer from the bowels of a very cold hell, didn’t raise ghosts previously unheard from in my creaky Victorian, what did?
It’s no secret if you’re even passingly attuned to local music happenings or ever pick up this paper that the doom-death community on both sides of the Bay is close-knit and as prolific as a war graveyard at the height of collateral damage. But Asunder just might be the darkest, dreariest, and most melodically melancholy of them all. But it’s too simple to relegate their metal dirges to the staid realm of the glacial and miserable; Asunder begs the question, "Can doom be dynamic?" and answers in the affirmative. Patience and subtlety, reverence and yes, the spiritual, are conjured in equal parts by down-tuned strings and minor keys. When their sophomore release, 2006’s Works Will Come Undone (Profound Lore Records) produced by the East Bay’s esteemed Billy Anderson (High on Fire, Saros) filled 72 minutes and 45 seconds with two epic tracks, it was risky but the foursome added enough slow complexity to make it work. Let their chilling arrangements and a newly upgraded sound system tempt your ghosts at the Oakland Metro Opera’s grand reopening.
ASUNDER With Trees, Necrite, Skin Horse, and DJ Bad Jew. Fri/27, 8 p.m., $8. Oakland Metro Opera House, 630 Third St., Oakl. (510) 763-1146, www.oaklandmetro.org
Asunder with Trouble and Mammatus. Wed/9, 8pm, $16-$18, Slim’s, www.slims-sf.com
REVIEW May 15 was one of those few cheery days in San Francisco when a sunny morning transitioned into a "warm wind blowing, stars are out" night. Oh yeah, and that whole State Supreme Court lifting the ban on gay marriage thing probably raised overall spirits a bit. But no, that wasn’t the reason the evening mood was so upbeat. In fact, the joyous news that day was that a straight couple, refusing to be disenfranchised any longer, announced their engagement at the Stud’s mixed, bimonthly, electro-punk-pop night Rock Candy. I know, it’s all so unclear, but it wouldn’t be the city by the Bay if the fog didn’t continuously roll in, right? And as I rolled into the club, ready to rock, I too refused to be left out in the cold any longer and searched the venue for my next ex.
Sure, I came up in the age of rock star divorces like those of Tommy Lee and Heather Locklear or Locklear again and Richie Sambora. So I vow that if I were a rock, I’d be jade because I no longer have faith in the so-called sacrament of marriage. Still, I say if straight people want to live in acrimony, they should be able to. But ear candy beat eye candy for the night-creatures in attendance amid the polyamorous union of DJed new rave, goth, indie, and Brit-pop, and club hosts Marc Blinder and Virginia Suicide’s rousing gay marriage-themed sing-along, which culminated with the inspiring "We Are the Champions." Truth be told, I think it’s great that the happy couple delayed their announcement until everyone achieved the freedom to marry. Nonetheless, my more disillusioned half wondered what all the commitment-phobic gay partners, who previously shooed off marriage with "Darling, I’d marry you if I could," will do now.
ROCK CANDY First and Third Thursdays, 9 p.m.2 a.m., $5. Stud, 399 Ninth St., SF. www.elasticfuture.com
REVIEW Ramin Bahrani’s first feature, Man Push Cart (2005) about a struggling Pakistani service worker selling coffee and bagels from a midtown Manhattan pushcart signaled the arrival of a genuine talent for atmospheric and absorbing realist drama, and an unpreachy champion of America’s disregarded immigrant working-class. Like a New York City Ken Loach with the anxious psychic interiors of a Cassavetes, Bahrani’s portraits (using nonprofessional actors and an ambient soundtrack) prove so highly attuned to character and evocative of place that you might overlook what a good storyteller he is. Chop Shop, his second feature (cowritten with Bahareh Azimi), delves further into the social terrain limned by the first, while relocating to New York’s urban periphery the industrial sprawl of Willets Point in outer Queens, a teeming maze of auto shops and chain-linked yards ringed by turnpikes, erector-set bridges, and Shea Stadium. Here 12-year-old Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco), alone in the world but for his sister (Isamar Gonzales), works jobs in and around the auto body shops to save money for a dilapidated food van he hopes will be the economic foothold that will keep them together. Admittedly lacking some of the sureness of Bahrani’s debut, Chop Shop‘s nevertheless compelling exploration of everyday drama on the harried, often undocumented margins of immigrant life has never felt more timely or deserving of attention.
CHOP SHOP opens Fri/27 at the Roxie Film Center. See Rep Clock.
REVIEW Remember those jazzy Raymond Scott tunes that accompanied many Depressionera Bugs Bunny cartoons? The rhythmic tinkling of the xylophone, the metronome and piano one-two-ing, while the trumpets and clarinets wah-wahed to our wise-ass rabbit scrambling to free himself from the inner workings of a factory. Those images merged Technicolor fantasy and swinging wackiness to the dumb, impersonal nature of mass production, a cartoonish combo that comes to mind when entering Matt Gil’s exhibition at the Marx and Zavattero Gallery. Residing over the majority of the space is Gil’s kinetic work Conveyor with 24 Sculptures (2007-08), a nonstop catwalk of coffee-tabletop-size ceramic forms parading in a loop for the viewer. The slip-cast, candy-colored glazed shapes are straight out of the space-age Googie design era: it’s the kind of curvy, biomorphic, and geometrically surreal commercial art our parents and grandparents bought at department stores. Gil’s mechanism rotates smoothly, though the forms occasionally wobble. Nothing like wobbling ceramics to make one nervous in a gallery. This carousel, however, leads one to imagine that like Schroeder’s closet full of Beethoven busts there might be a replacement or two in the artist’s studio. What transforms Gil’s piece further is that it’s underlit by floodlights, generating Dr. Seusslike shadows on the walls that grow larger, then smaller. There are other large-scale sculptures including the blue standing noodle Puzzle Piece and the almost 11-foot-tall black tiki comb Muckracker 1.0. Nevertheless, Conveyor‘s humor and nod to Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction makes it deservedly the most attention-worthy thing in the room. Along the walls are Gil’s ink and watercolor sketches of would-be monumental forms. These too radiate a giddy simplicity, inviting viewers to appreciate form and space for precisely what they are.
MATT GIL: REEL TO REAL Through July 2. Tues.Fri., 10:30 a.m.5:30 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.5 p.m. Marx and Zavattero Gallery, 77 Geary, second floor, SF. (415) 627-9111, www.marxzav.com
Talking to Barn Owl is something of an evangelical experience. Longhaired duo Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras confess they’re often mistaken for brothers, but their kinship actually began when they met at San Francisco State University, where they both played in metal bands.
"I guess it was through folk music and roots music and Indian classical and some other things that we started to see the validity of the drone what it was besides this new experimental genre or whatever," Porras recollects. The three of us are hunched over tea and coffee outside a sleepy Outer Richmond café, and I keep thinking about how it’s been a long time since I’ve talked to rockers so plainly obsessed with refining the kind of music they play. "I’ve definitely reached a point where I’m not interested in music that doesn’t take risks of some sort," Caminiti says. "Having this new freedom is almost like an addiction."
Drone music is as old as Tuvan throat singing, though many of the modern Western incarnations refer to the vibrationally attuned literature and compositions of mid-20th-century minimalist composer La Monte Young, who Barn Owl has studied up on. Unlike Brian Eno’s electronics-based tone poems, Barn Owl’s West Coast drone is distinctly earthy. It’s Metal Machine Music from the organic aisle, with smoky landscapes of guitar and vocals hovering in heated sustain. Though layered effects overlap, the overall sound still bears the imprint of guitar strings, in keeping with predecessors like Charlambides, as well as heavier hitters like Om.
"Just having that hand directly on what’s making the vibrations really appeals to me," Caminiti explains. "There’s something about starting with that organic element, and then adding effects upon that to do something else, rather than having it completely computerized."
The duo is obviously interested in space, but they also have a natural sense of drama, something left over, perhaps, from their metal days. When a loose drum beat emerges after three hazy tracks of their handsomely designed LP, From Our Mouths a Perpetual Light (vinyl on Not Not Fun; CD forthcoming from Digitalis), there’s a sudden focusing effect; when a gigantic guitar chord thunders from out of nowhere a few seconds later, it’s seismic. A clear-eyed frieze of acoustic guitar takes on extra potency within the duo’s minimalist architecture.
Barn Owl’s current tactic of frequent releases on a few sympathetic microlabels suits their constant recording habit, though their growing reputation means Aquarius Records can’t keep these limited editions in stock for long. "The home aesthetic is what the majority of our work has been based off of, and I’d say we definitely prefer that," Caminiti says. "Especially with free music, it goes along with having the freedom to explore."
Of course, this freedom is on prime display in concert, in which the duo pushes dialogued concepts into chancy, sculptural terrain, forging a physical relationship with the audience in the process. "That’s our ultimate goal," Porras opines, "a room full of people just being consumed by this wall of energy." And inspiration is everywhere, or so it seems from a story Porras relays about being awakened by a terrifying sound a few weeks earlier: "In the middle of the night, the water heater just started making this insane noise…. It was definitely a drone," he says, laughing. "When the terror dwindled, we just started listening to it, and it sounded so cool."
Tues/1, 9:30 p.m., $6
1131 Polk, SF
THE QUEER ISSUE Call it a harmonic convergence of two queer legends of indie rock and queercore. Victor Krummenacher of Camper Van Beethoven and Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division got together recently to talk about the way it was, coming out in the repressed 1980s and coming into their own experientially, politically, and musically in 1990s San Francisco each, as Krummenacher puts it, a "gay guy suddenly in Candyland." Life is still sweet and hella active for these old friends: Krummenacher celebrates Camper’s 25th anniversary with a June 28 show at the Fillmore, and Ginoli is unleashing Pansy Division’s new documentary, Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band, at Frameline June 26, complete with an afterparty performance at the Eagle. And naturally, this won’t be the last you’ll hear from these prolific players: Pansy Division is working on a new album and Ginoli has a memoir coming next year on SF’s Cleis Press, while Krummenacher is recording as McCabe and Mrs. Miller with the Sippy Cups’ Alison Faith Levy and recently completed a fifth solo full-length. (Kimberly Chun)
JON GINOLI Before I started Pansy Division, I’d been actively trying to find other gay musicians’ records. I’d listen to records, listen for hints, and it just seemed like I was always getting disappointed in that there were musicians I heard about who were supposed to be gay that would flat-out deny it in interviews. I thought, OK, if all these people who I think are lying are not going to come out, or really aren’t … that’s when it finally dawned on me that I should do this band. At the same time I had that idea, so did Tribe 8. It was Tribe 8 and us and Glen Meadmore in Los Angeles. When we started that’s what was going on in queer rock. The only other thing I knew about and I didn’t know about this till I started playing was Fifth Column in Toronto.
There really wasn’t much you could point to, and that’s partly why I wanted to be as out and blunt as I could. Because it seemed like if you were gay and you liked rock ‘n’ roll, it was something you had to hide and it was something that there was some shame attached to.
VICTOR KRUMMENACHER It was an interesting time. From my perspective, we had the [Michael] Stipe rumors and we had the Hüsker Dü rumors. But it was kind of, like, don’t ask, don’t tell. Kid Congo was always out. He was always what he was, which I admired a lot.
JG I remember meeting him in New York, in ’94, ’95, and by that time, I knew he was gay. But I’d been a fan of all bands he’d been in the Gun Club, the Cramps, and the Bad Seeds and I didn’t know he was gay until 10 years after I’d started buying his records.
VK A lot of the reason I was attracted to punk rock was because I knew queer people in it. My friends were gay, and I was coming out, and it was just really easy to deal with because they liked the same music, and it was fun. But it was a hard time, and the ’80s sucked. I’m 43 now, and I deal with people in their 20s who have no clue how much it sucked.
JG Only the highlights have filtered down to them.
VK There was Phranc, and there was some chatter about Morrissey.
JG It’s interesting I was thinking, OK, it’s like a ladder. You’re taking a step at a time to reach a certain place, and I was thinking about the women’s music scene, the lesbian music scene, from the late ’70s. The folk scene.
VK Which seemed a little bit more coherent.
JG But it also seemed more insular, especially when I talk to people from that period. It was about being separate, and the thing about me wanting to do Pansy Division was that I wanted to engage by using rock music. It was kind of like taking the music that’s popular but doing something that people would consider subversive with it.
People were dying, and that’s why even though I was horny and wanted to sing these pro-gay songs we sang about condoms a lot. We had some songs that were cautionary tales. But for somebody who was born in 1987, there’s no way that they could have much of a clue about what we’re talking about, because they just didn’t see the people dying. I moved here in ’89 from Champaign, Illinois, and one of the first things I did was join ACT UP.
VK My experiences with ACT UP and Queer Nation meetings were rowdy good times it was go out and be visible and be noisy and then it got very bureaucratic, which I think was a natural progression.
JG ACT UP ran its course, which was right around the time I had the idea to do Pansy Division. I’m a political person, but I don’t like too much music that’s really didactic and up front about its politics. I didn’t want to make music that people would agree with but wouldn’t really enjoy. I thought this is my way to do cultural activism.
What I wanted to mention was I had a band [the Outnumbered] before Pansy Division that had three albums. They were indie in the ’80s, and at the time, I was out to my band members, I was out to people in Champaign, but I didn’t feel like I could write about being gay in my music because I was trying to represent the band and they were all hetero.
So did you have any bands before Camper?
VK Camper was my first band, when I was 18. It was funny I came out, and my band broke up [in 1990]. It might have had something to do with why I wanted to leave the band at the time, but it had nothing to do with the band breaking up. Basically when I came out, they were like, "And … ?" I don’t think it was any great surprise.
But the interesting thing was as soon as I came out, it was immediate acceptance. Seldom did I run into any problem, which made me wonder, why the hell didn’t I do it sooner, and why the hell didn’t more people do it?
JG It seems to me both Michael Stipe and Bob Mould have made statements about how they didn’t want to come out because they didn’t want to be seen as role models. The problem was to me, well, you’re already role models to people and some of them are gay and some of them are straight.
My own thought about it was, well, if no one is going to come out and be out in music playing the style I like, then I’ll do it. I mean, I had nothing to lose, and I do respect that other people have a lot of pressures, record companies.
VK The truth of the matter is, you guys did a lot of legwork that did ripple up.
JG So now you’re doing Camper, and you’re out, and you’re in a long-term relationship. Were you been able to meet guys at shows, even if you wanted to back then, and now that you’re out, do you have a gay contingent at Camper shows?
VK I wind up with gay contingents usually in the strangest, most unexpected ways. It’s been more than once that I’ve gone home with a guy, and he figures out, "You look familiar." Anonymity can be something you can thrive on. Or I guess, bluntly, it’s nice to fuck around and have people not know who you are because I’ve frequently been hit on because of who I am.
What I’m interested in is, where do you see younger people going?
JG We came along pre-MySpace, pre-Internet, really. It’s so different now. It used to be a guessing game where you’d trade rumors with other gay people about people you heard that were gay. Now Pansy Division has a MySpace page, and I’m getting messages and friend requests from other queer bands all the time and a lot of straight bands, too, that like our music. So I think it’s not that big of a deal anymore unless you’re trying to make it in the mainstream. Then there’s still a wall where you can’t make it unless you’re already successful to some point, or you set out to be. Look at Rufus Wainwright. He’s on a major label, but it was obvious from the outset that he was going to be a cult figure.
VK Especially if he’s going to be doing the Judy Garland things. Not to dig too hard, but I did actually see it the other night [on PBS], and it was, like, "Why did you do that?" In a certain way, ironically, it’s great progress "Oh, yeah, a gay guy doing all of Judy at Carnegie Hall at Carnegie Hall." My mom used to play Judy at Carnegie Hall, and I’ve always loved Judy Garland, but then I was just going, "That’s not Judy Garland. That’s just Rufus Wainwright." I feel like he’s better in his own context.
JG Given that I’ve always chafed against the gay identity that posits show tunes as part of the essential experience, I made myself sit down with the Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall double CD, and, you know, his between-song patter was campy but he didn’t camp those songs up anymore than they already were. But I don’t want to hear anybody singing "The Trolley Song." I really don’t.
PANSY DIVISION: LIFE IN A GAY ROCK BAND
Screening Thurs/26, 7 p.m., $9<\d>$10
2961 16th St., SF
Show begins 10 p.m., $7
398 12th St., SF
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN
Sat/28, 9 p.m., $25
1805 Geary, SF
MY MISERABLE, LONELY, LESBIAN PREGNANCY
By Andrea Askowitz
My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy is a bracingly frank and exhaustively detailed tour of lesbian single-motherhood, written as a more or less straightforward journal of the weeks leading up to conception and birth. It’s funny and addictive author Andrea Askowitz spares few of the details one might hunger for, from her selection of a donor to her doctor’s-office conception to her quest to get laid in the third trimester. Alongside the pregnancy, she chronicles a messy, lingering breakup with her lover Kate, her nonprofit’s struggle to stay afloat, and haunting memories of her best friend Robin, whose fatal cancer was discovered after a pregnancy.
Sharp-tongued Askowitz maintains her wicked sense of humor throughout, feeding the reader deliciously bitchy one-liners as she navigates pregnant Los Angeles, with its doulas, prenatal acupuncturists, and support groups ("I walk out terrified I’m just like these women. Please, no. They seem so happy."). She observes her own neuroses and midnight freak-outs just as lucidly, and we’re grateful for the recognition that it’s not just her no-show friends making her miserable and lonely.
By the end, however, Askowitz’ relentless self-involvement, the source of much of the book’s humor, begins to wear thin. What’s missing is a connection to something larger that transcends the sometimes funny but often repetitive whining. While it could serve as a warm, honest resource on the little-explored subjects of sperm donation and home birth, My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy ends up reading a little like a long and tiresome sick note.
Oooh! Lookee up here, on the dirty gay porn rag shelf. Past the Out, featuring a very strange half-naked photospread "dedicated to the memory of Georgia O’Keefe" think nipply model and cow skulls and The Advocate, giving you full-on yawnsville with ho-hum marriage and "reality gays" stories. Past Genre‘s insectoid white boy snaked in the Stars-and-Stripes cover and Instinct‘s insightful "Exposed! Mario Lopez Rocks Your Bod!" tell-all.
Up here in the anal bleachers, Inches parts hunky Russki Nickolay Petrov’s iron curtains, and shoves anti-model Herman’s head in our gaping eyeballs. Black Inches leads with "Holla! 8 Black Brothas Boned Up!" and showcases Quentin ("9 inches Cum Taste the Flava!"), while Latin Inches outsizes ’em with Carlos ("13 x 6 Extra Thick ‘n’ Juicy!"). Alas, a quick scan reveals no Asian Inches or Eskimo Inches or even Arab Inches, although they’re all the rage. (Inch’allah!) With Playguy you also get a bonus Inches from 1996, so it reeks of meth and dial-up modems.
We’re a soft target for hairy Honcho cover hunk Alex Corsi’s "heat-seeking missile," although the "Bobbin’ for boners" and "Bareback rimming" how-tos seem like mere excuses for pretty pictures. Celebratory 100th issue Unzipped model Antonio Braggi’s tagline says everyone wants him for his "11 x 6," but we’re pierced by his steely gaze and perfect facial hair formation. Another can’t-miss in this issue: "Weapons of Ass Destruction! The Battle of the Celebrity Replicocks!" We’re dismayed by the dearth of bear-porn magazines this month, and that Mandate‘s "9 Hot Hunks Butt Naked!" is full of too-familiar faces. But we’re perfectly pleased by Advocate Men‘s dreamy "stallion in a suit" and a hair suit at that Matthew Cameron. Grrrl.
Last seen playing a priest in Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely (2007), Werner Herzog is back behind the camera with Encounters at the End of the World. Guided by Herzog’s trademark droll narration, Encounters journeys to Antarctica, starting at the McMurdo Station research facility, where the director talks with people who’ve chosen to make a living in the world’s most isolated community. Though grubby McMurdo is hardly picturesque, the surrounding land where Herzog visits divers who daringly study sea life below the ice, volcano researchers, and penguin and seal experts is as breathtaking as it is stark.
Filming in Antarctica, Herzog made what he called "a couple of good decisions." One was to hand over his camera for the underwater sequences, leaving the diving to experts. The other was more elemental. "Normally I am a man of celluloid, but filming on celluloid when it’s very cold becomes a clumsy affair," he explained during a recent phone interview. "You have to keep your raw stock warm enough because film doesn’t bend when it’s extremely cold. It’s like uncooked spaghetti that you bend, and then it breaks. So I decided against my normal procedures to film with digital cameras. And therefore there was not much of a challenge Antarctica is easy. It’s not like the times of [Robert Falcon] Scott."
If you think that title only refers to geography, think again. "[Global warming is] not the predominant subject of discourse in Antarctica. What is all-pervading is that many of the scientists are rightfully in my opinion convinced that the human presence on this planet is quite limited and not sustainable," Herzog said. "But it doesn’t make me nervous. Martin Luther said something very beautiful when he was asked once, ‘What would you do if tomorrow the world would disappear?’ He said, ‘I would plant an apple tree.’ And I find this a very good attitude. I don’t plant apple trees, but I make films."
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Opens Fri/27 at Bay Area theaters
THE QUEER ISSUE Mark Twain’s observation (cribbed from poet Thomas Campbell) that "distance lends enchantment to the view" could serve as a guiding axiom for the languorous, enchanting films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Apichatpong shows more than he tells, and his camera often obscures rather than explicates the minute, alchemical operations taking place before it.
Somnambulant features such as the day-tripping Blissfully Yours (2002), the shape-shifting gay fable Tropical Malady (2004), and the double-exposed parental portrait Syndromes and a Century (2006) have left many critics bewildered but entranced. Others just seem confused by the elliptical, dream-like logic of the films, in which local lore and landscape shape the narrative as much as characters’ peripherally observed actions. Viewers hoping for glints of elucidation in Apichatpong’s juvenilia and nonfeature projects will probably be disappointed by "Mysterious Objects," the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ latest program honoring the director, for as its title indicates, his short films may be his most enigmatic.
All of Apichatpong’s signature traits a fascination with the local and mundane, an unabashed love of syrupy pop songs, and a flair for throwing curve balls are present in this grab bag of films made between 1994 and 2007. In the gleeful Anthem (2006) three elderly women listen to a supposedly blessed techno-lite number. Inexplicably, they are dropped, table and all, into a busy gym (and into the dead center of a badminton match), around which the camera makes multiple 360-degree circuits. Other such narrative jumps merely frustrate. Malee and the Boy (1999) begins with the scrolling text of a transcribed comic book, then switches to footage of hospital visitors. Whereas Anthem suggests a leap of faith, Malee just feels indecisive.
The program’s heart is Worldly Desires (2005), a half-hour trek across the same superstition-laden terrain of Tropical Malady. Dedicated to his "memories of the jungle," Worldly Desires is Apichatpong’s most meta film yet: a music video, a romantic drama, and a composite document crafted from "behind the scenes" footage.
In the opening sequence, a forest’s nighttime choir of insects is interrupted by a bossa nova groove. Suddenly a spotlight washes out the middle ground, illuminating the camera and lighting rigs trained on a singer and her background dancers as she lip-synchs a love song with familial undercurrents. The next few shots follow a man and woman as they hurry through the brush. It takes a few seconds before one can disambiguate the crosshairs in the center of the frame from the dense foliage.
Apichatpong keeps us at the periphery. Each re-shoot of the video is from the same, distanced vantage point. The couple’s arduous journey to find an enchanted tree unfolds through playback monitors, the director’s instructions, and the grumblings and random musings of an exhausted crew. We’re never told if the lovers cross paths with the pop star, or whether what we’re watching is the staging of something staged or a video diary.
Though Tropical Malady‘s first half focuses on a gay love story, it feels somewhat disingenuous to pin a queer sensibility on Apichatpong, even if he is gay. However, with its humorous foregrounding of the labor-intensive means by which the pop culture industry packages "normal" heterosexual love, Worldly Desires certainly invites queer labeling if not at least queer readings such as this critic’s.
Thurs, July 3, 7:30 p.m. (program 1) and Sun, July 6, 2 p.m. (program 2), $8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
"Let’s pretend we own the world today," Kathleen Hanna sings midway through the uncharacteristic Bikini Kill ballad "For Tammy Rae." In her new solo show "An Archive of Feelings," the woman Hanna was singing for, Tammy Rae Carland, breaks down and reframes some of what she owns from a queer, feminist perspective that upsets emotional and financial conceits. Carland can wittily point out the beauty of mold and frame it in gold, but her show’s largest C-prints are perhaps the most powerful. My Inheritance presents 21 objects that belonged to her late mother. The widely varying forms of worth that might be ascribed to bingo memorabilia and domestic objects take on a tough, acidic irony here through the piece’s title, and through a presentation that resembles and critiques the kind of white-page auction presentation found in Sotheby’s catalogs. One Love Leads to Another similarly presents the tape culture (via cassettes such as Let’s Rock from the 1980s that kick-started K Records in Carland’s onetime home of Olympia, Wash. Like Carland’s mother’s keepsakes, these punk feminist objects have a colorful Yard Birds’ aesthetic specific to Washington state, but their countless communal and creative connections showcase the power of sisterhood beyond bloodline.
AN ARCHIVE OF FEELINGS
Through July 27
Tues.Sat., 11 a.m.6 p.m., free.
804 Sutter, SF
› email@example.com CHEAP EATS There’s a reason you don’t see electric can openers anymore. They’re completely idiotic. But maybe you have arthritis, or a wrist-related disability. With you (and lots and lots of money) in mind, some cat in Hong Kong invented the One-Touch can opener, which runs on batteries. I came across one in an able-bodied young friend’s kitchen drawer. To her credit, the battery was dead, or MIA. Ergo, I couldn’t figure out how to work it. Which wasn’t, by the way (and speaking of idiocy), for lack of effort on my part. In fact, we got into a bit of a brawl, me and this nifty, innovative, as-seen-on-TV assemblage of plastic and metal parts. It won. After about an hour and a half bloodied, bruised, and fuming I swallowed my pride, along with four teeth, and asked my friend in different words how the goddamn fucking piece of shit bastard worked. She was in the other room, nursing the baby. "Oh, that?" Someone had given it to her as a present, she said, as embarrassed as I was (to her credit). It needed a battery. There should be a "real" can opener somewhere in the same drawer, she said. Oh. I limped back to the kitchen, found the familiar, trusty, stalwart hand-crank Swing-A-Way, and the feel of it in my hands was like mother’s milk to the tongue. I was so soothed and content I fell asleep. On my feet. At the counter. On the clock. So to speak. Next to the refrigerator. Through no fault of my own, dinner was late. Modern technology was to blame. Anyone who can’t see that is even dumber than me. Some things can’t be improved upon, and the classic model rotary can opener is one of them. Anyone who tries … I hate them. I love cooking in other people’s kitchens, but I’m going to have to start traveling with my own can opener ideally, for effect, in a holster. Just one week after being humiliated by a device designed for senior citizens, I was in another friend’s kitchen, helping out eatswise before a party, and I had another run-in with yet another kind of can opener that wasn’t your standard Swing-A-Way rotary opener, and therefore didn’t work. Technically it wasn’t my run-in so much as my friend Kizzer’s. At least initially. We were working side-by-side, me chopping up stuff for the coleslaw, and she opening cans for the bean salad. Trying to open cans, I should say. But this particular new, improved, innovative state-of-the-art can opener had different ideas, which included Kizzer almost having to go to the emergency room and me pretty much smelling and feeling like bean juice for the rest of the day. Ironically, the idea behind this alleged improvement on perfection is to cut the lid down below, on the can side of the seam, rather than the top, so that you don’t end up with that ragged and dangerous lid to dispose of. You end up with a ragged and dangerous can. Not to mention it took three people with graduate degrees, a couple of knives (without), and about 15 minutes to finish the job that my old $2 opener would have finished in less than 10 seconds (I checked). And the mangled can, afterward, looked very much like a weapon. So I verbally abused our lovely and gracious hostess for keeping such a thing in a house with small children, and she said it was the only kind they had at Rainbow Grocery. Ah. Leave it to my favorite kind of people, vegetarian hippies, to turn can opening into a bloody, beany battlefield, and in the interest of what? Safety? Ergonomics? The environment? Look, if they don’t have a $2 can opener down at your local thrift store, you can order one brand new online for $6. I’m sure of it. I really did check: eight wrist-twists and five seconds opens a standard-size can. And if that sounds too exhausting, too time-consuming, or somehow dangerous to you, get the hell out of the kitchen please. I’ll cook. * My new favorite restaurant is Puerto Alegre. I was eating something brunchy there with Earl Butter, my brother, and my nephew when it occurred to me that I’ve been eating here pretty consistently for longer than I’ve been pretty consistently eating anywhere else around here. So it must be good. It’s not the best Mexican food in the Mission District, but I love the atmosphere. And if you show up right at 11 a.m., even on weekends, you can sit right down. PUERTO ALEGRE 546 Valencia, SF (415) 255-8201 Mon., 11 a.m.10 p.m.; Tues.Sun., 11 a.m.11 p.m. Full bar MC/V
CHEAP EATS There’s a reason you don’t see electric can openers anymore. They’re completely idiotic. But maybe you have arthritis, or a wrist-related disability. With you (and lots and lots of money) in mind, some cat in Hong Kong invented the One-Touch can opener, which runs on batteries. I came across one in an able-bodied young friend’s kitchen drawer. To her credit, the battery was dead, or MIA. Ergo, I couldn’t figure out how to work it.
Which wasn’t, by the way (and speaking of idiocy), for lack of effort on my part. In fact, we got into a bit of a brawl, me and this nifty, innovative, as-seen-on-TV assemblage of plastic and metal parts. It won. After about an hour and a half bloodied, bruised, and fuming I swallowed my pride, along with four teeth, and asked my friend in different words how the goddamn fucking piece of shit bastard worked.
She was in the other room, nursing the baby. "Oh, that?" Someone had given it to her as a present, she said, as embarrassed as I was (to her credit). It needed a battery. There should be a "real" can opener somewhere in the same drawer, she said.
I limped back to the kitchen, found the familiar, trusty, stalwart hand-crank Swing-A-Way, and the feel of it in my hands was like mother’s milk to the tongue. I was so soothed and content I fell asleep. On my feet. At the counter. On the clock. So to speak. Next to the refrigerator.
Through no fault of my own, dinner was late. Modern technology was to blame. Anyone who can’t see that is even dumber than me. Some things can’t be improved upon, and the classic model rotary can opener is one of them. Anyone who tries … I hate them.
I love cooking in other people’s kitchens, but I’m going to have to start traveling with my own can opener ideally, for effect, in a holster. Just one week after being humiliated by a device designed for senior citizens, I was in another friend’s kitchen, helping out eatswise before a party, and I had another run-in with yet another kind of can opener that wasn’t your standard Swing-A-Way rotary opener, and therefore didn’t work.
Technically it wasn’t my run-in so much as my friend Kizzer’s. At least initially. We were working side-by-side, me chopping up stuff for the coleslaw, and she opening cans for the bean salad. Trying to open cans, I should say. But this particular new, improved, innovative state-of-the-art can opener had different ideas, which included Kizzer almost having to go to the emergency room and me pretty much smelling and feeling like bean juice for the rest of the day.
Ironically, the idea behind this alleged improvement on perfection is to cut the lid down below, on the can side of the seam, rather than the top, so that you don’t end up with that ragged and dangerous lid to dispose of. You end up with a ragged and dangerous can.
Not to mention it took three people with graduate degrees, a couple of knives (without), and about 15 minutes to finish the job that my old $2 opener would have finished in less than 10 seconds (I checked). And the mangled can, afterward, looked very much like a weapon.
So I verbally abused our lovely and gracious hostess for keeping such a thing in a house with small children, and she said it was the only kind they had at Rainbow Grocery.
Ah. Leave it to my favorite kind of people, vegetarian hippies, to turn can opening into a bloody, beany battlefield, and in the interest of what? Safety? Ergonomics? The environment?
Look, if they don’t have a $2 can opener down at your local thrift store, you can order one brand new online for $6. I’m sure of it. I really did check: eight wrist-twists and five seconds opens a standard-size can. And if that sounds too exhausting, too time-consuming, or somehow dangerous to you, get the hell out of the kitchen please. I’ll cook. *
My new favorite restaurant is Puerto Alegre. I was eating something brunchy there with Earl Butter, my brother, and my nephew when it occurred to me that I’ve been eating here pretty consistently for longer than I’ve been pretty consistently eating anywhere else around here. So it must be good. It’s not the best Mexican food in the Mission District, but I love the atmosphere. And if you show up right at 11 a.m., even on weekends, you can sit right down.
546 Valencia, SF
Mon., 11 a.m.10 p.m.; Tues.Sun., 11 a.m.11 p.m.
I’m 30 and have been married for five years. I do all the cooking, cleaning, and shopping. My wife does a few things around the house, but not many. We do not have any sex at all; she doesn’t have the drive any more. The last time we did it was two years ago. My wife has even told me to find someone else and to stop wasting time on her. I just don’t know what to do.
As much as I don’t feel like playing Quincy (the wrinkles!), I might be willing to declare your marriage dead for you, except for one thing: I think your wife is probably depressed, which means she can probably be treated. And if she can be treated, maybe your marriage can be helped too.
I had to check twice to make sure you’d really written "30," and not the 50 or 60 your sad, resigned little note put me more in mind of. If you’re really 30 and didn’t marry your gramma’s longtime mahjongg partner, then your wife, too, is presumably young and was, presumably, not like this when you married her. So something has happened in a mere five years to transform her from whatever vibrant young thing you married to this limp, tired, and rather bitter-sounding dishrag. Would you please sit down with her and talk about seeing someone? And listen: just leave the no-sex part out of it for starters. "I’m not getting laid and that means you’re broken" is not a recommended opening move.
I’m in my early 30s, single, and have never been with a professional sex worker. I have traveled to all kinds of poor third world countries, so I’ve had infinite opportunities, but I’ve never wanted to do it. I’m a relationships kind of guy.
However, my work has taken me to a new location where I am basically of no value in the dating market. I’m interesting, not bad looking, fit, tall, and have lots of other good qualities, but the women here are looking for a cool local guy with lots of free time on his hands. Dating is flat-out impossible for me while I’m here.
In my period of involuntary celibacy, I have learned something: men (and probably women too, but I can only speak as a man) are not designed for celibacy. It’s not just sex that I miss. It’s some indefinable part of the experience of being with a woman. The smile, the pheromones, the cuddling, the long hair …
I know that a pro’s smile is not the same thing as the smile of a woman who really likes me which can never be bought and I don’t like fake things. Should I suspend my disbelief for a few hours and just enjoy it? Would I feel rotten afterward? And, even more important, is this an ethical thing to do? Is there anything else I can do in my situation? I wish I could go somewhere where a woman would occasionally return my smile, but I am stuck here for now.
Lonely (without) Abroad
You sent this letter quite some time ago, so let’s hope you’re out of No-Love-Land by now. Since you asked, though, I have no ethical qualms about people paying for sex as long as the person doing the selling is as fully empowered to not be a prostitute as she is to be one. Whether or not you believe that this condition can ever be met, especially for women, depends on your broader sexual-political viewpoint. I am rather a middle-of-the-roadish feminist these days and neither believe that all sex with men is prostitution (or rape) nor that prostitution is an especially empowering form of goddess-worship. I do believe that many women really are in a position to freely choose the sex trades and to leave them when they wish. Those are, of course, the lucky ones, though the college girl stripper/hooker/performance artists, not the streetwalkers and we haven’t even looked overseas, where poor young women may have fewer choices.
Is it ever ethical to pay such a "professional"? Many would say of course not. Others, including myself in some moods, would choose the practical over the ideal and point out that while such transactions may be distasteful, if nobody pays her she will starve, or be beaten, or both. This is one of those situations that has no perfect answer, the world in which it occurs being too imperfect to yield one.
I don’t think hiring a street prostitute in a poor country is really your cup of weak yak-butter tea anyway. A better idea, in your position, would be to cultivate a few pseudo-intimate online relationships and save your money for the occasional trip abroad to visit one of those (provided you’ve netted an actual woman) or, failing that, to pay a fancy freelancer a lot of euros.
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.
Andrea is also teaching two classes: "You’ve Really Got Your Hands Full" a realistic look at having twins at Birthways in Berkeley.
THE QUEER ISSUE It’s best to begin at the edge. Gay urban photography has a fleeting yet reliably revelatory home at those places where water laps up against land. On the East Coast, from 1975 through 1986, Alvin Baltrop explored the Hudson River side of Manhattan, capturing black-and-white visions of sex, murder, and architecture by cruising the piers as a peer rather than as an exploitative outsider. On the West Coast, during the ’50s and ’60s, Denny Denfield used Baker Beach and its nearby wooded areas to invent an Adam-only Eden best glimpsed solo through 3-D. And around the same time in Montreal, Alan B. Stone was hiding in a shed, looking through a shutter at the dock-working men and sunbathing boys who populated the city’s port. In the zone known as the city’s historical heart, his camera cautiously hinted at desires that could lead to prison time.
Curated by David Deitcher, the SF Camerawork exhibition "Alan B. Stone and the Senses of Place" proves Stone’s photographic versatility ranged from a low-key form of William Kleinlike typographic artistry to extremely subversive pastoral romanticism in commissioned Boy Scout photos to the candid portraiture of the beefcake genre. Such a showcase isn’t Deitcher’s intent, though he’s structured the show (and written about it, in an autobiographical essay) to foreground a specifically gay vision and experience of Montreal from a time when men were arrested and publicly vilified in newsprint for being homosexual. Stone provides the nuanced vision; Deitcher identifies its facets and identifies with it. His analysis of Montreal through Stone’s camera takes on special resonance when placed next to Douglas Crimp’s look at post-Stonewall New York through Baltrop’s camera in a February 2008 Artforum piece.
The difference between the liberated time of Baltrop and the closeted era of Stone is evident in their views of waterfront lazy sunbathers. Perhaps the brightest in tone and in quality of light of the Baltrop photos showcased in Artforum (also on view at www.baltrop.org) gazes from a few hundred feet away at a half-dozen naked men as they soak up the sun, converse, and dangle their feet off the edge of a pier. The gay-lib visibility inherent to the men’s affectionate nudity is doubly emphasized by Baltrop’s distanced yet full-frontal perspective. In contrast, Stone’s 1954 photo Untitled (Lachine Canal) glimpses the back of a boy in a swimsuit seated at the Port of Montreal’s shoreline the identity of his solitary subject remains poignantly invisible to the photographer, who, as Deitcher notes, was stricken with arthritis at an early age.
There’s a similar echo to a pair of photos one by Stone, one by Baltrop that depict men standing at the sunlit thresholds of waterfront warehouses. Stone’s 1954 Untitled (Dock Workers, Port of Montreal) is a furtive from-behind vision of a shirtless, assumedly heterosexual dockworker. One image from Baltrop’s "Pier Photographs, 1975-1986" glances at a shirtless man, also from behind, but from a much nearer vantage point. Attired in tight jeans and black boots, he’s the painter Alva, at work on a large piece of sexually explicit graffiti. The picture’s dominant darkness and the roughness of its lit threshold a window-size hole in a warehouse wall suggest an edge of menace that Baltrop’s photos of body bags make plain. An unauthorized space for gay sexuality in a bombed-out urban zone, the piers were rife with dangers unknown.
Stone’s and Baltrop’s photographs could form chapters within an imagined monograph about the changing relationship between gay sex and the city. Such a book could venture into the garishly colorful Times Square seen in Gary Lee Boas’ 2003 book New York Sex, 1979-85 (Gallerie Kamel Mennour) the title alone prompts comparisons to Baltrop’s equally unsentimental vision of a different space within pre-Giuliani, pre-Disney Manhattan. It could draw from David L. Chapman’s and Thomas Waugh’s recent San Franciscoset monograph Comin’ At Ya!: The Homoerotic 3-D Photographs of Denny Denfield (Arsenal Pulp), to show the California-dreaming answer to New York grime, and to further reveal through the inherent solitude of the 3-D stereoview process the inner recesses of a pre-gay lib experience far from Baltrop’s and Boas’ sights and sites of group sexuality.
Such a book could open into film as well, since movies such as João Pedro Rodrigues’ O Fantasma (2000), Jacques Nolot’s Porn Theatre (2002), Tsai Ming-liang’s The River (1997) and Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003), and William E. Jones’ V.O. (2007) foreground age-old connections between the edges of urban society and sexuality. The portrait of Montreal that emerges from "Alan B. Stone and the Senses of Place" hints at the possibilities of such a project and leaves one wondering about the worlds of desire that can exist outside computer screens today.
ALAN B. STONE AND THE SENSES OF PLACE
Through Aug. 23
657 Mission, second floor, SF
OPINION We all remember Gavin Newsom’s stunt four years ago, when he emerged from a tight election race against Matt Gonzalez and promptly "legalized" gay marriage, sending his approval ratings soaring and guaranteeing him a second term. Back then 80-somethings Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon became the first smiling gay couple to marry in honor of La Newsom, before then a politician known mostly for cynical, anti-poor rhetoric (remember "Care Not Cash"?).
Now that the California Supreme Court has struck down the ban on same-sex marriage, everywhere we hear of couples who’ve been together 10, 20, or 30 years (or six months) rushing to tie the knot and proclaim: "finally … it’s … legitimate!" It’s hard to imagine a more wholehearted rejection of queer struggles to create defiant ways of living and loving, lusting for and caring for one another methods not dependent on inclusion in the dominant institutions of straight privilege.
Gay marriage proponents now declare that finally gays and lesbians are "full citizens" as opposed to half-citizens, one imagines, or gasp non-citizens! As Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts the biggest raids in history, the gay establishment celebrates its newfound legitimacy. Sure, for a few of the most privileged, the right to get gay married might be the last thing standing in the way of full citizenship. But there are certainly a legion of impediments for the rest of us.
Let’s step back for a moment and imagine what it means to be a full citizen of the foremost colonial power, bent on bombing rogue states to smithereens, exploiting the world’s resources, and ensuring the downfall of the planet. As same-sex marriage fetishists rush to stake their claim to straight privilege, who gets left behind? Oh, right anyone who doesn’t want to follow an outdated, tacky, oppressive model of long-term monogamy sanctioned by a state seal.
Want health care? Get married (to someone with a good health plan). Need a place to live? Better get working on a spouse with a house. Need to visit your friend in the hospital? Forget it (unless you’re ready and able to tie the knot). Need to stay in this country, but you’re about to get deported? Should’ve gotten married while you had the chance!
Want to define love, commitment, family, and sexual merrymaking on your own terms? Honey, that’s so last century this year it’s all about matching putf8um Tiffany wedding bands, the Macy’s bridal registry, and a prime spot on the Bechtel float in the Pride parade now that’s progress!
While San Francisco has a long history of sheltering dissident queer cultures of incendiary splendor, the rush for status within the status quo threatens to delegitimize everyone who isn’t ready for the Leave It to Beaver lifestyle.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is most recently the editor of an expanded second edition of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (Soft Skull Press, 2007). Her new novel, So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, will tantalize you this fall.
GREEN CITY San Francisco’s new solar incentive program just might make the conversion to green power almost free to city residents when combined with other state and federal programs, some of which expire at the end of this year.
This is an unlikely city for such a dynamic, as we reported a couple months ago (see "Dark days," 04/16/08), given our small lot sizes, high costs, and the fact that we have about twice as many renters as homeowners. The solar program also hit some political snags.
Promoted since December 2007 by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Assessor/Recorder Phil Ting, the Solar Energy Incentive program has been struggling to get Board of Supervisors approval since January when Sups. Chris Daly, Jake McGoldrick, Ross Mirkarimi, and Aaron Peskin objected to the use of public money to fund the program, which will subsidize solar installations on private homes and businesses.
These San Francisco Public Utilities Commission funds were intended to expand publicly owned power projects such as solar panel installation on city property. But as the SFPUC’s Barbara Hale explained to the Guardian, new laws prevent cities from qualifying for state rebates if they convert municipally owned buildings to solar, making those conversions a comparatively losing financial equation.
So on June 10, the board approved Newsom’s program in an 8-3 vote, with Mirkarimi lending his support after he secured funding for a complementary $1.5 million, one-year solar pilot program targeted at nonprofits and low-income families. The San Francisco Solar Energy Incentive program will provide $3 million in solar rebates annually for 10 years.
As Mirkarimi aide Rick Galbreath told the Guardian, "Nonprofits can’t always move as fast as the private sector, and solar advocates, who have been pushing other programs since December, have already got things in the pipeline."
Some of those other programs combine with the new city one in interesting ways. "What if solar were free? Then everyone would install it, right?" was the question posed by Tom Price, whom we profiled in January (see "Solar man," 01/02/08) for founding Black Rock Solar, which does large public interest solar projects using volunteer labor.
Now Price thinks the free solar power that he’s been able to leverage for schools and hospitals just might be available to the average San Franciscan. "This program inadvertently could make solar in San Francisco the cheapest it’s ever been," Price told us. "At least for a short window of time."
Under the city’s program, solar rebates begin at $3,000 for homeowners and rise in $1,000 increments to a maximum of $6,000 if residents use local installers, hire city-trained workers, and live in city-designated environmental justice districts. For private businesses, the rebate cap is set at $10,000. But that amount can rise if combined with the state and federal incentives that expire at the end of the year.
"I’m one of three tenants. Each of us has an electrical meter, each of us is eligible for a $5,000 rebate under the city’s program," said Price, who rents on Potrero Hill and hopes to pull off an almost no-cost conversion with his landlord.
Price estimates the solar conversation will cost about $15,000 per tenant. So, if two conversions are done (there’s only space for two conversions on most of the city’s Edwardian and Victorian homes), Price’s landlord can subtract two $5,000 cash rebates, plus the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.administered California solar incentive, plus a $2,000 federal tax credit.
Price said landlords can also take advantage of a 30 percent investment tax credit on top of a 60 percent tax deduction that Dave Llorens of Next Energy found buried deep within the economic stimulus package signed by President George W. Bush earlier this year. Landlords can then arrange to sell cheap, renewable power to their tenants.
"What if I sign an agreement with my landlord to pay $50 per month for the right to have access to his solar system?" Price said. "So now the money that would have been going to PG&E goes to the landlord."
And it’s clean, free power, rather than PG&E’s expensive power generated largely from nuclear and fossil fuel sources.
"This makes San Francisco the first place a tenant and a landlord can really work together to make solar power affordable," Price said. "And that in turn will help drive adoption of renewable energy."
The San Francisco Chronicle has suddenly discovered that the middle class is leaving San Francisco.
Staff writer James Temple broke the news on the front page of the Sunday, June 23 paper with a lead sentence that boggles the mind in its insight and news value: "The number of low- and middle-income residents in San Francisco is shrinking as the wealthy population swells, a trend most experts attribute to the city’s exorbitant housing costs."
I don’t want to downplay the importance of this story. It could have (and should have) been written a decade ago, when Willie Brown was mayor and city planning policy, combined with the dot-com boom, started San Francisco on the path toward becoming the first fully gentrified big city in America. And I’m always frustrated when a daily newspaper reports after the fact on something that could have been prevented, or at least slowed, back when the story first became a story.
But the news is still news today, and the fact that the Chronicle has facts and figures and demographers denouncing and community leaders deploring means the problem will be getting some additional attention this fall. That matters, because this November, the future of San Francisco will again be on the line.
And that could be a very good thing.
Calvin Welch, who has been fighting for a progressive city longer than many of today’s activists have been alive, remembers the summer 1972 state ballot: "You had George McGovern. You had the Coastal Commission [Act]. You had the farmworkers [labor law]. You had marijuana [decriminalization]. And you had every constituency on the left coming out to vote for them all. And they all won."
This fall in San Francisco we will have perhaps an even greater perfect storm: a proposed rebuild of SF General Hospital, which is a huge priority for organized labor. A housing justice measure that sets aside money for affordable housing (and could help address the single biggest issue in the city, something even the Chronicle now puts on page 1). A green energy and public power measure (which would shift energy policy toward renewables and bring in millions of dollars). Two new revenue measures that tax the wealthy. Six seats on the Board of Supervisors, including three swing districts that will determine whether the progressive majority that has controlled the board since 2000 will remain intact. And all of that will happen in the context of the Obama campaign and a massive statewide mobilization to protect same-sex marriage.
We are a fractious crew, the San Francisco left, but if we can come together this fall, share resources, and run some sort of large coalition campaign for progressive values, this could be an election for the ages.