Volume 42 Number 47

Vamp camp

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STRAIGHT-TO-DVD REVIEW These are dark and bloody times for vampires. The Mormon-made young adult series Twilight goes multiplex in December. Next month brings the premiere of True Blood, an HBO drama about our fanged frenemies, created by Six Feet Under‘s Alan Ball. And at the vanguard of the iron-deficient-creatures-of-the-night revival is Lost Boys: The Tribe (Warner Premiere), a long-delayed sequel to 1987 teen vampire classic The Lost Boys.

Twenty years have passed since the Emerson family moved to Santa "Santa Cruz" Carla, when young Sam (Corey Haim) tacked up that sexy poster of Rob Lowe and met the Frog brothers (Haim ex-BFF Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander); older bro Michael (Jason Patric) partied down and pounded blood with overbite sufferer David (Kiefer Sutherland); and the mulleted, steroidalicious dude from Tina Turner’s band with the oily slip ‘n’ slide torso hoisted his sax aloft, sang "I Still Believe," and forever ruined the good name of Santa Cruz’s music scene. The back cover of The Tribe refers to the sequel as a "modern remagining" of the original. Does she mean to imply an imagined TV show or film name? Given how far downhill the national culture has slid over the past two decades (think, oh … The Two Coreys), it should come as no surprise that the straight-to-DVD sequel is figuratively as well as literally a suckfest.

A new pair of Emerson siblings, orphaned brother and sister Chris and Nicole (progeny of Michael? Sam?), move to a beachside town called Luna Bay and soon begin knocking heads and other body parts with a gang of meathead surfer vamps (the Poison look: definitely out). Having left behind his parents’ comic book shop, mysteriously solo vampire slayer Edgar Frog (Feldman) has taken up residence in a creepy trailer. A talentless half-brother to Kiefer Sutherland named Angus has been dredged up to play head bloodsucker Shane, who takes a shine to Nicole and slips blood in her drink, roofie-style, at a party.

Saddled with a mind-boggling script and actors of ill or no repute, the filmmakers attempt to distract us by upping the trash quotient. Picture a Dumpster after a six-week Sunset Scavenger strike. Or rather, picture a crapstorm of severed heads, entrails, impalements, fountains of blood, tits, alcoholic beverages poured on tits, ass, not one but two girl-on-girl makeout scenes, and many, many money shots of vampires mid–feeding frenzy. Suffer through the closing credits for The Two Coreys reunion as painful as anything you’ve seen on the A&E Television Network or YouTube. Suffer through the extras for a pair of equally Corey-tastic alternate endings, an Edgar Frog featurette on the tools of the trade (carbon fiber stakes, holy water balloons), and a depressing video in which a "Cry Little Sister" remix is performed for an audience of downmarket extras taking a stab at vampire chic.

Collage boys

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As we enter the intoxicatingly rich world of Zona, we encounter a deceptively simple melodrama. It unfolds in shadow play on a gold-hued screen fronting a kind of rectangular tent at the back of the stage. We see the silhouette of a mother cradling her newborn infant, swaddled in a blanket, as an old recording of an Italian operatic duet comes seeping through. The woman sets the baby down and briefly retires from the scene, giving opportunity to a snarling beast which promptly swoops in and snatches up the child. Returning to find the babe gone, she collapses in a fit of grief and anguish as the music swells to its climax, her gently unduutf8g hand rising from her swooning body in a kind of unconscious farewell.

This same gesture, delicate and precise, returns later as another woman, played by the same male actor (a deft Stephen Lawson, now out in front of the curtain in another of several consecutive female guises), finally greets the beast that has been pursuing her — a naked male figure with the head of a bear — with a frightened reflex that suddenly transforms into a come hither call.

In its straightforwardness, the shadow play at the start of Zona is anything but straight. It sets up a number of complex tensions that will wend their way through a layered 55-minute multimedia collage of drag performance, lip-synch, camp iconography, and dark revelry presented by Montreal cabaret performance duo 2boys.tv (Lawson and Aaron Pollard). These tensions include the art form itself, as Zona recycles the tropes of queer cabaret in a focused reclamation of an intensely dark strain in midcentury American film and theater brooding on madness, desire, and loss.

Not that Zona isn’t also immediately rewarding and funny. A scene in which Lawson repeatedly mimes a looped sample of Elizabeth Taylor’s screams in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) is as hysterical as it is, frankly, hysterical. But it’s less an excuse for knowing camp humor than part of an attempt to push the queer cabaret form in a more dramatically serious direction, while allowing it more self-reflexivity than ever. Enveloped in an often breathtaking series of video-based images and a haunting soundscape, Zona traces a somber, troubled mood throughout, while eschewing any easy resolution of its themes.

Although originally created for a 2006 theater festival in Calgary, Canada, rather than a bar or cabaret, Zona‘s design stays true to its roots in underground queer theater, and is so intimate and compact it almost makes the modest stage at New Conservatory Theatre Center look overly roomy. At the same time, Pollard’s video and audio direction add greatly to the show’s ingenious layering of textures, cultural references, and associations. In one achingly lovely movement, a reclining Lawson, as the actress whose love has led her to the brink of madness, opens a large book toward the audience from the lip of the stage. On its blank pages appear two small video projections: one of the naked beast with bear’s head, and the other of the actress’ character herself, both dynamic images subtitled in halting phrases of pain, regret, and remembered passion. Lawson’s mesmerizing performance, meanwhile, strikes an eerie balance between human emotion and jagged masquerade.

Zona marks the West Coast debut for the Canadian duo, with thanks due to NCTC’s artistic director Ed Decker for bringing the denizens of Montreal’s vibrant scene out to the Bay Area. Here’s looking forward to the next time the boys are back in town.

ZONA

Wed–Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m., $22–$34

New Conservatory Theatre Center

25 Van Ness, SF

(415) 861-8972

www.nctcsf.org

Raphael’s “Way”

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Who can turn the Dogfather’s head with a tune, bring a melody to Mary J. Blige’s lips, and get Stevie Wonder out of bed in the wee hours? Raphael Saadiq, that’s who. And with good reason: the Oakland-born-and-raised vocalist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer not only found substantial fame back in the day singing alongside bro Dwayne Wiggins and cousin Timothy Christian in Tony! Toni! Toné!, he’s kept his chops honed over the years by lending his ear for stellar R&B and soul. He’s produced Joss Stone, 2Pac, the Roots, John Legend, Kelis, Mos Def, D’Angelo, and the Isley Brothers, among others. He’s collaborated with a who’s who of pop putf8um, including Blige, Snoop Dogg, Whitney Houston, the Bee Gees, Ludacris, and John Mellencamp.

Damn. Little wonder a legend like Wonder will rouse himself at short notice to assist on Saadiq’s fab, hip-shaking old-school soul disc, The Way I See It (Columbia). The way Saadiq, né Charlie Ray Wiggins, tells it — over the phone during a late-morn breakfast in Los Angeles — his protege CJ had just finished singing his part on the sinuous, ready-made hit "Never Give You Up," when he announced, midtrack, "I’d like to invite Stevie Wonder to my album." So Saadiq decided to call Wonder and ask for a harmonica solo: "[Wonder’s] usually traveling around the country, and he asked, ‘When do you need me?’ I said, ‘An hour.’ He goes, ‘An hour?’ And he showed up an hour and a half later at one at night."

Easy for him to ask since Saadiq had already worked with the rock ‘n’ soul icon and Beyoncé on a Luther Vandross tribute, but it’s clearly Saadiq’s down-to-earth charm, disarming ease, and all-too-evident talent that keeps those friendships alive. Oh yes, and Wonder is "his Taurean brother" — born May 13 to Saadiq’s May 14.

That casual vibe runs throughout Saadiq’s immaculately assembled, long-awaited followup to 2004’s Ray Ray (Pookie). "For the most part, I kind of played everything myself on the whole album, but I bumped into certain people," he says. He plucked Rocio Mendoza, the sensuous lead vocalist for "Calling," from his favorite LA breakfast spot and gave her a star turn. Stone — to whom Saadiq has been linked romantically, though he demurs, "We’re just friends" — also guests, on the creamy, dreamy, string-stung mélange "Just One Kiss." But star turns aside, what fully emerges from Way is its sweet, sweet soul songs — living, breathing throwbacks to ’60s Motown, as fleshed-out and vital as anything by current soul revivalists like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, and Duffy, and crafted by a luminary of the genre’s last resurrection. The cover image of Way, with a besuited, Marvin Gaye–like Saadiq, for instance, was taken two years ago at Oakland’s Sweets Ballroom.

The new album — out Sept. 16 on the heels of Saadiq’s Sept. 11 appearance at KMEL’s House of Soul show at Ruby Skye — began to come together two years ago. "Being away from home so long, on an island [the Bahamas, where he was producing Stone] — the next thing you know, you look down, and the album is done," Saadiq drawls. "But I’ve always heard music like that, since I was seven years old. Some of the first music that ever really opened me up was that music, so it wasn’t a stretch for me."

The R&B vet can also step back and break down why a new gen has gravitated toward old-school bounce. "For artists it’s coming back because a lot of DJs spin a lot of vinyl, and that’s all they’re really listening to," he explains. Nonetheless, he continues, "it never really went away. It’s the only thing that don’t leave the shelf. It’s always been in my player." And that’s the player without and within: "I hear music all day and all night," Saadiq says. "I hear music in my dreams." To get the songs out of his head, he says, "You go through the chords and progressions, play drums. I jump on all the instruments until I hear something I like."

Such mental agility — and such a work ethic — must come from his now-70-something guitar-player father, speculates Saadiq. "He was working two or three jobs since he was 10," says the songwriter, who regularly gets back to East Oakland to see family. "Now he owns some buildings, and he’s always trying to work on them and be helpful to tenants. He’ll say, ‘I gotta get back to Oakland, so I can take out the garbage,’ and I’ll say, ‘What garbage? Are you crazy!?’ He’s a different kind of guy." It goes without question that his pops must be able to relate to Way‘s sound? "It’s music," Saadiq comes back, "that anyone who lives under the sky can relate to right now."

RAPHAEL SAADIQ

Wed/20, 8 p.m., $22

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus, SF

www.bimbos365club.com

Rabbit Research Collective

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PREVIEW The cultural map has changed, and Paris is no longer its center. Still, how does a small, unknown company from Chambery — a city best known as a jumping off place for some of the most spectacular boating and skiing in France — all of a sudden pop up in San Francisco? As with a lot of gigs, networking helps. In July ODC/Dance performed in Chambery, and voilà, here comes Rabbit Research Collective, a three-year-old multimedia art group that, rather unusually, includes a semiologist. Company founder, ballet-trained Emilie Camacho and American-born Corine Englander first participate in ODC Theater’s House Special, the culmination of a two-week collaboration with other selected dancers and choreographers. Joining local artists Monique Jenkinson and the trio of Charya Burt, Vishnu Tattva, and Melody Tanaka, they’ll present a workshop performance of a new piece created during their ODC residency. Then the duo moves over to the Alliance Française, where they’ll showcase Vertige (Vertigo), choreographed in 2006 around the concept of falling. The evening includes rehearsal footage and a discussion about the work’s generation. A glimpse at the video suggests that these women perform with souls, bodies — and brains.

HOUSE SPECIAL Wed/20, 8 p.m. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. $15. (415) 863-9834, www.odctheater.org

VERTIGE (VERTIGO) Sat/23 and Tues/26, 8 p.m. Alliance Française de San Francisco, 1345 Bush, SF. $15. www.afsf.com, www.brownpapertickets.com

Zing go the strings

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PREVIEW How do you tell a fiddle from a violin? No one cries when they spill beer on a fiddle. From Ireland to Scotland to Appalachia, the hearty fiddle followed the common folk wherever they settled. In pubs and on back porches, fiddle tunes trickled down through generations, learned by ear from fathers or friends. Styles evolved within the regional confines of community, variously emphasizing and echoing chosen parts of the homeland’s repertoire.

The 20th Annual Fiddle Summit reunites three fiddle masters from different styles under one roof: Alasdair Fraser, a Scottish fiddler, his bow heavy, his sound as thick and peaty as his brogue; Martin Hayes, an Irish fiddler with a high-lonesome, lilting style, his tempo wistfully stretched and yearning; and Bruce Molsky, an Appalachian fiddler, his sound percussively bright and bouncing, his melodies drawn chordally across multiple strings. Though each will showcase his own style for a set, the three end the show together, embracing the commonalities of their instrument and the debt each mode owes to the others.

As the opening night act for the Downtown Berkeley Music Festival, the Fiddle Summit is but one course in a brilliant banquet of sound. That morning, organist Will Blades and drummer Scott Amendola’s dueling solos will offer a gratis mind-blowing at high noon on the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza on Shattuck at Center. On Sunday, Chad Manning plays what the fiddle summit forgot: a set of bluegrass, Texas-style, and swing fiddling at Jupiter (2181 Shattuck), where you can try for yourself to tell a fiddle from a violin.

20TH ANNUAL FIDDLE SUMMIT AT THE DOWNTOWN BERKELEY MUSIC FESTIVAL Thurs/21, 8 p.m., $22.50. Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk. (510) 548-1761, www.downtownberkeleymusicfest.org Festival continues through Sun/24, see Web site for details.<

Bona fidelity

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PREVIEW Lots of people want to be rock stars, but life usually gets in the way, and one day they wake up as midlevel managers commuting from suburban Milwaukee. While Joe and Suzy Chief Purchasing Officer may not have fame and glory, they definitely have disposable income, and now they can buy their high school dreams for a day.

Since 1997, Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp founder David Fishof has recruited bona fide rock stars from Roger Daltry to Slash to act as counselors to wannabe musicians, helping them perfect their instruments and perform as a band at the end of the session. "It’s almost like the television show where they do an extreme makeover on a house and they only have one week to do it," said former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson, laughing. He got involved during last year’s 10th anniversary show in Las Vegas. "I find it’s really a fun challenge. You basically get to accomplish in one day what most musicians take 20 years to do."

One day at the camp costs $1,999. The five-day tour package fetches a cool $9,999. Some think the cost is worth it. Vancouver surgeon-guitarist Bill McDonald, 56, will attend his fourth camp this summer. "In my line of work, it’s a very high-stress profession, and the music allows me to escape that for a bit," he said. McDonald’s tour goes from Phoenix to Los Angeles, with a stop here at the Fillmore where his wife and teenage children will watch him perform.

Fishof won’t reveal how much counselors get paid, but insists that the enterprise, now his full-time job, is not particularly lucrative. "I do it more as a labor of love," he said, noting that he’s looking into turning the camp into a reality show. "I love getting letters from people saying, ‘You changed my life.’ People call me and say, ‘My husband doesn’t have road rage anymore.’"

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FANTASY CAMP Opening for Extreme and King’s X. Mon/25, Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. For details, call 1-888-762-2263 or go to www.rockandrollfantasycamp.com

“Warchild”

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REVIEW German director Christian Wagner’s Warchild is a captivating and tragic drama about the psychological repercussions of the Bosnian war. Ten years after the fighting has ended, Senada (Labina Mitevska) comes across evidence suggesting that her daughter Aida, who was lost in the melee, might still be alive. She follows lead after lead with a kind of eerie resolve, undaunted by the fact that everyone — including her estranged husband — thinks she’s behaving irrationally. She eventually makes her way into Germany illegally and discovers that Aida, now 12 and renamed Kristina, was adopted by an affluent couple. Although the girl is clearly enjoying a life of privilege and has no recollection of her birth parents, Senada is determined to take her back to Bosnia. Naturally, this desperation is an expression of maternal love. But Senada also seems to believe that in reclaiming Aida, she will be able to reclaim the life that was essentially stolen from her during the war. Mitevska gives an arresting performance as the guarded but obviously broken protagonist; she is simultaneously sympathetic and unsettling.

WARCHILD opens Fri/22 at the Roxie Film Center. See Rep Clock for showtimes.

Sweetest taboo

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PREVIEW The taboo has always had a special place in my heart. As a pre-adolescent, I was given a list of banned books from a rogue librarian and I hunted down and read every one of them. It may have seemed odd to find an 11-year-old black boy reading the likes of John Rechy’s City of Night (Grove, 1963) and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (Olympia/Grove, 1959), but these verboten tomes, along with the librarian’s free beer and porn, served as an illicit gateway out of my little coal-mining town into the larger, lustier world. If not for the innocence-stealing pederast posing as the coolest adult I knew, I might still be in that town, feeling like I was missing something but never knowing what. In short, banned books saved my life: I never would have read a single one had they not been banned.

That’s why it’s exciting, even titilutf8g, that the San Francisco Center for the Book, in collaboration with the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, presents "Banned and Recovered: Artists Respond to Censorship." The 63 installation, multimedia, and graphic artists showcased at the two sites don’t so much address the issue of banned books as celebrate their favorites, which happened to have been banned somewhere at one time or another — and what great book hasn’t? Among those praising the forbidden at the Center for the Book are Enrique Chagoya, who offers a 2000 diptych to Burroughs, and ex–Black Panther propagandist Emory Douglas, who brings Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970) to light.

BANNED AND RECOVERED: ARTISTS RESPOND TO CENSORSHIP Through Nov. 26. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. San Francisco Center for the Book, 300 De Haro, SF. (415) 565-0545, www.sfcb.org. Also Sept. 5–Dec. 31. Tues.–Sat., noon–5:30 p.m. Reception Sept. 5, 6:30 p.m. African American Museum and Library at Oakland, 659 14th St., Oakl. (510) 637-0200, www.oaklandlibrary.org/AAMLO

The circle game

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Say "Kumbaya," somebody. Despite vast differences in sound, intent, and commercial appeal, a thin yet unseverable bloodline connects the big, bold, Brill Building, pop-factory-perfect songcraft of Carole King, last heard coursing off the AM radio, and the stripped-raw, close-to-bare-bones rasp and moan of Tiny Vipers’ Jesy Fortino, delivered to a small clutch of listeners at the Elbo Room last year. Eyes squeezed shut, plucking her acoustic guitar beside just one other guitarist, Ben Cissner, she was a small dark star, poured fully concentrated into the sparse minor key chords of "Swastika," and, as gutsy as the loudest reaches of the underground, she sang as if her life depended on it: "If I would let you into my heart / Would you thank the Lord / Would you tear it apart?"

Superficially, so far away — doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore? — from King’s monumental oeuvre, which seems almost incidental amid the gushy, gossipy tidbits propelling Sheila Weller’s bio, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation (Atria), concerning King’s beleaguered marriage to her first husband and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin, with whom she wrote such songs as "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," among many other classic pop numbers, even after he fathered a child with one of the pair’s vocalists. Likewise Weller makes much of Mitchell’s out-of-wedlock daughter and penchant for using her songs to seduce paramours like Leonard Cohen, Graham Nash, and James Taylor — the last often credited with spurring the singer-songwriter movement and acting as a unifying thread between Mitchell, King, and Simon — and Simon’s uninhibited, proto-pro-sex feminist "eroticism"; read: sex in a cab was "no problem." Yet as remote as the early-’70s phenomenon of the singer-songwriter seems, the form appears to have returned: could this be the revival of core values of craft and voice, the intimacy and immediacy of a writer on a single instrument, during a tumultuous time for the music industry, post-Auto-Tuned disasters and Ashlee Simpson lip-synch blowouts — the adult flip-side to the bubblegum remnants of High School Musical, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers?

The initial energy of so many turn-of-the-millennium garage rock bands may have petered and innumerable hip-hop artists may have turned toward dully materialistic navel-gazing, so hail the return of the soft-spoken singer-songwriter who can break down a tunes to its bare, unadorned components. The stars are aligned; the signs, apparent: from Outside Lands headliner Jack Johnson landing at the top of the Billboard 200 chart with his latest album, Sleeping Through the Static (Brushfire/Universal), earlier this year, to ex–Castro Theatre ticket-taker, proudly folkie Devendra Banhart being adopted by Parisian couturiers and glitterati, from the MySpace-inspired success of Colbie Caillat and Kate Nash to the iTunes-buttressed popularity of Eureka native Sara Bareilles — hell, not to mention everyone and their dog documenting their solo acoustic version of "Bubbly" and posting the video on YouTube. This quiet flurry of activity undoubtedly whetted someone’s appetite for all things unplugged.

Those with eyes trained on pop cycles might point to the rise of antiwar sentiments throughout the country, coupling it with the renewed attention given to the softer, sincere sounds of singer-songwriters — a worthy theory, though apart from the many unfortunate CD-Rs of anti-Bush agit-pop that crossed my desk during the last two presidential elections, the generally apolitical vibe of the music from this crop of singer-songwriters seems to belie that notion: championing green issues are as didactic as these writers get. Instead this current wave of earnest songsmiths has more to do with both a reaction against the insincere, canned, possibly un-nutritious mainstream boy-band and Britney-centric breed of pop from the recent past — the likes of which could only be enjoyed with a semi-size dose of irony — and a response to an easy access of technology, which allows just about anyone and their mutt to make their own music at home, bypassing Brill Building–style hit-factories.

This time, the slew of sensitive men — solo fliers ranging from Iron and Wine, Conor Oberst, and Adam Green to Josh Ritter, Jonathan Rice, and Ray LaMontagne — sequestered behind acoustic guitars or pianos, working freak-folk, soft-rock, commercial pop, and Grey’s Anatomy–friendly veins, are being almost eclipsed by the multitude of womanly singer-songwriters. Natural women all, including Feist, Kimya Dawson, JayMay, Brandi Shearer, Yael Naim, and Ingrid Michaelson, among others. As much as King, Mitchell, and Simon are considered mothers of these singer-songwriters — along with predecessors like Woodside resident Joan Baez and ’60s folk hit mistress Judy Collins and successors like the many estrogen-laden ladies of the ’90s Lilith Fair outings — so too are indie sisters Liz Phair, Sarah Dougher, and Cat Power, a holy trinity to homemade, once-bedroom-bound DIY divas who make their own clothes, hope to carve out their own path, and find their own vox.

Of course, one can’t discount the release of resurrections and reissues of neglected and forgotten femme singer-songwriters such as Vashti Bunyan and Ruthann Friedmann and late greats Judee Sill and Karen Dalton, whose latest private recordings were unearthed via Green Rocky Road (Delmore) in June. And Mitchell’s unique guitar tunings, experimental mindset, and maidenlike purity of sound has made her one of the most oft-referenced artists of the last few years, thanks to such explicit shout-outs as Wayfaring Strangers’ Ladies from the Canyon (Numero, 2006). But no less influential is Phair, whose classic Exile in Guyville (Matador) got the royal reissue treatment this summer: her pro-sex, third-wave feminist, Midwestern rejoinder to riot grrrl writ large, with a gatefold sleeve and a slip of naughty nipple peeking through. At the same time, Dougher — cover girl in Johnny Ray Huston’s take on the last, more-riot grrrl-centered singer-songwriter movement in the Guardian about a decade ago — took a more polemical tack on the Northwest coast with her K Records releases, while working tangibly for greater female rock visibility by organizing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls and teaching courses on the history of women in rock at Portland State University.

But Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, appears set to be the Joni Mitchell of this generation — even as Marshall has largely turned her back on originals with her latest Jukebox (Matador). The Seattle-based Fortino’s almost gothic melodrama seems to draw more than a little inspiration from Marshall’s What Would the Community Think (Matador, 1996), while San Francisco transplant Thao Nguyen of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down borrows Marshall’s clarion-call, half-sung, half-spoken phrasing for her far more fancy-free, loose-limbed, and shambling songs. Nguyen sounds positively, happily tipsy on the old-timey bounce, finger clicks, and sandpapery soft-shoe shuffle on We Brave Bee Stings and All (Kill Rock Stars).

Yet Marshall’s most indebted sib might be Emily Jane White, 27, whose Dark Undercoat (Double Negative) evokes the former’s haunted and haunting, hollowed-out sensuality as well as her songwriting savvy and way with a hook. "Everybody’s got a little hole in the middle / Everybody does a little dance with the devil," the Oakland singer-songwriter croons on her "Hole in the Middle," sliding around the curves of this verb or the other and letting her voice drift off into the meaningful silences between the words.

The surprise is that this intensely eerie, closely miked singer-songwriter also turns out to be one of the more deliberately political-minded. Of "Hole," she said recently while breaking from the recording her second album with Greg Ashley, "I originally wrote that in response to the war in Iraq when that first started. Yeah, it’s about American imperialism."

And perhaps that’s the key to why the music by this former member of an all-girl band, the Diamond Star Halos — much like those seemingly apolitical numbers by other singer-songwriters — has increasingly relevance today: White and other crooners are foregrounding the everyday loves as well as the overseas skirmishes in a way that transcends the desensitizing glut and so-called objectivity of news headlines, sound-bites, and bloggable blurbs — and acutely personalizes it all. Call it the resensitizing of pop.

"I’ve always believed that your personal experience is political," says White, echoing the first wave feminist tenets, "and everyone has a story to tell, about how they’ve lived their lives and what has happened to them, and the experiences they’ve gone through. Not that what I think I do is revolutionary or anything, but one positive thing about being a singer-songwriter is people have contacted me and said they’ve felt a strong sense of encouragement or inspiration, so I think putting myself out there says something."

Emily Jane White plays Aug. 22, 8 p.m., $8, at the Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl. www.uptownnightclub.com

From Silicon Valley to “City Hall”

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

WWLD: What would Lilith do? Described by besotted music writers as the love child of Frederic Chopin and Sarah McLachlan, the supple-voiced imaginary spawn of Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, classically trained singer-songwriter Vienna Teng freely confesses she’d be nothing if not for Ms. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Tori Amos — staples from her college days spent immersed in computer science studies at Stanford. But what of the most shadowy love buried in the South Bay native’s past? Walt. As in Disney. "I think I’ve always been influenced by Disney musicals," Teng says with some wry humor from Brooklyn, where she moved last year from San Francisco. "At least those from the Little Mermaid and Aladdin era. Yeah, I know it’s not a cool thing."

Adam’s fierce first love might not approve. But as the inspiration for the feminist-centered, oft-unplugged folk-rock fest known for giving the music of Amos and McLachlan a forum in the ’90s, Lilith would undoubtedly delight in the sweet, subtly elegant mixture of classical melodicism and pop chart-friendly folk on the 29-year-old Taiwanese American vocalist’s most recent CD, Dreaming Through the Noise (Zoe/Rounder).

Perhaps that early affinity for Disney’s protean fairy tale characters allowed Teng to imagine leaving her software engineer job at Cisco Systems, Inc. and begin playing coffeehouses on downtown Mountain View’s Castro Street seven years ago. Maybe that imaginative affinity led her to build the substantial following that fills venues like the Independent and has purchased 60,000 copies of her first two albums (Warm Strangers [Rounder, 2004] and Waking Hour [Virt, 2002]), and made it easy for Teng to put herself in the shoes of, for instance, gay couples on the brink of marriage ("City Hall") and drowned victims of Hurricane Katrina ("Pontchartrain").

For Teng, music is way of fully grasping topics weighing on her mind, "a more gentle exploration than editorials or speeches": she aims to write songs she doesn’t already hear out there. And next up for her forthcoming album is the challenge of crafting lyrics about global warming and suicide bombers. The latter is one number she hasn’t been able to finish, she says: "The more I read about it and research it, I realize, gee, it’s really hard to write about."

Still, the process of putting together her fourth full-length has been a refreshingly unrestrained experience. Teng and South Bay–bred coproducer Alex Wong assembled a chamber orchestra, tapping into Wong’s classical percussion background, and recorded everywhere from New York City and Indiana to SF’s Noe Valley Ministry and a spooky Victorian in the Mission District ("It was indeed haunted, but the owner explained it was just haunted by her old pets") — just to get that eerie feel for couple songs revolving around the past. "We pretty much indulged in every outlandish idea we’ve come up with," Teng says happily. "The joke is it’s basically two Asian American kids from an overachiever culture making an album together."

Vienna Teng performs 3:25 p.m., Sun/24, at Outside Lands‘ Avenues stage, Polo Fields.

Great northern

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

After the gold rush of her July residency at National Underground on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I recently sat in the sunny, sub-level kitchen of singer-songwriter Serena Jean Southam’s East Village flat, listening to Jerry Garcia, playing with cats, and admiring her father’s old Martin guitar as she proceeded to explain her band’s name:

"It came from Jimmy, our drummer," Southam said. "The Whiskey Trippers were the old bootleggers [in the South]. And both Gitano [Herrera, her lead guitarist and writing partner] and Jimmy love the NASCAR. Well, apparently the Whiskey Trippers were the fastest drivers ’cause they had to run all the booze, and outrun the cops. And so these gentlemen went on to found NASCAR…. You know this … were you testing me?"

This redneck Negress was not. Still, it was a delight to discover a host of linkages, sonic and otherwise, between the Winnipeg, Manitoba–born beauty and myself, a NASCAR- and twang-lovin’ southern gal. Not least of which are a shared obsession with Neil Young and Levon Helm, and a historic disdain for female singer-songwriters — Palo Alto–bred Stevie Nicks excluded. Going by Serena Jean and the Whiskey Trippers’ first, eponymous self-released EP — brimming with rich, autobiographical songs only six months into their collective career — it’s safe for me to rephrase Alfred Stieglitz on Georgia O’Keeffe: "At last, a woman on wax!"

Meditation on the private dark times and hard-won victories behind Southam’s songs "Moving On" and "Whiskey Led Me Down" occasioned our worshipful Nicks talk: "I was married to a guitar player … big mistake! There is so much to learn from Fleetwood Mac….

"So yeah, married to the lead guitar player, and I was in this jam band Hiway Freeker, and also in a band called the Bob Dylan Project," she continued. "We had two different bands: one where we would just cover Bob Dylan songs, and the other, which was originals. And we played in New York for a couple of years. Then it was time to start touring, and we didn’t want to pay the crazy rents here so we moved back up to Canada."

O, Canada. The singer-songwriter revival afoot seems to be garnering the most ecstatic attention since the movement’s early-1970s heyday, sprung from Southern California’s easy breezy attitude and wooden music aspirations at the Troubadour. However, inspired by Canada’s classic Laurel Canyon-meets-Woodstock twang gang, including the aforementioned Young, the Band, and Joni Mitchell, Southam is a genuine artist who will carry on 20 years forward and beyond — a brave individual of style for sticking to her aesthetic guns.

"On one hand," Southam offered, "I’m really excited because people have said to me, ‘Nobody’s making music like this in New York right now.’ And then sometimes I get really insecure, like, is that because nobody wants to hear music like this? But this is what I like, and want to listen to. This is my voice."

www.myspace.com/serenajeanmusic

Volume 42 Number 47 Flip-through Edition

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Into the wild

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I first heard singer-songwriter Kaki King when a friend returned from a three-month stint traveling in the Pacific Northwest with her third CD, …Until We Felt Red (Velour, 2006). She accidentally left the disc at my apartment and for the next few weeks before I, ahem, remembered to give it back, my world was filled to the brim with King’s ethereal, rhythmic compositions, all centered around her virtuosic guitar playing.

King, who turns 29 Aug. 24, made a name for herself as a solo guitarist on 2003’s Everybody Loves You (Velour), impressing guitar geeks with her unusual technique of picking the strings with both hands. On her next three albums, King gradually incorporated additional instrumentation, including her voice, into her empyrean sonic quilt-work. This year’s Dreaming of Revenge (Velour) is perhaps her most accessible recording yet.

"I’ve always been writing vocals into songs," King said from her parents’ home in Atlanta. "My first two records were instrumental guitar because that was kind of a discipline, just something I had been trying to accomplish."

While King’s sings more on Dreaming than ever — on almost half the tracks — the album remains grounded in her work as an instrumentalist, with her voice often figuring as just one more layer in a lush cosmic soundscape. Everything she writes, she explained, "has fundamentally to do with tuning up my guitar and working from there."

Other musicians have been converted to King’s music. Recently she has played on albums by the Foo Fighters and Tegan and Sara, been showcased in the 2007 film, Into the Wild, and gigged as a hand double in August Rush (2007). But King insists that she did not imagine herself paying the bills as a full-time musician until just before she recorded her third album. "I always thought, ‘Oh, I’ll do another record and then I’ll go to grad school,’<0x2009>" she said. She always assumed she would take over her parents’ law firm.

The songwriter will play Outside Lands with a five-piece, although lately she has been yearning to return to her solo roots, which she plans to do on her fall tour. "I’m doing a show that’s going completely back to just me on guitar, what I was doing when I was touring the first time," she said. "I have lost just a little bit of my chops because I haven’t played guitar at that level in a while, so I’m basically rechallenging myself to go out there for 70 or 80 minutes playing just guitar — no looping, no bands, no cutesy chit-chat. It feels almost like a cleansing thing."

KAKI KING performs at 4:30 p.m., Sat/23, on Outside Lands‘ Presidio stage, Lindley Meadow.

Singing softly, carrying big ideas

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NICOLE ATKINS AND THE SEA


Atkins would probably do well on American Idol. Her big, bellowing voice sounds tailor-made for balladeering, and breathy, heartbroken pixie girls have edged talent like hers out of the indie market. But Atkins refuses to cover "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and has instead crafted a huge power-pop sound all on her own. (Laura Mojonnier)

1:40 p.m. Sun/24, Presidio stage, Lindley Meadow

DEVENDRA BANHART


Is the Venezuelan-bred naturalismo god a freak-gypsy poet-prophet, or just a rambling, acid-damaged ghost of San Francisco past? You decide, long-haired child. (Mojonnier)

2:15 p.m. Sat/23, Sutro stage, Lindley Meadow

BON IVER


Which one’s Bon? And is this really a … singer-songwriter? Regardless, Justin Vernon has made a gorg album — multitracked vocals and all — with For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar). (Kimberly Chun)

3:10 p.m. Sun/24, Presidio stage, Lindley Meadow

BECK


Known as much for his musical range as his idiosyncratic artistic sense, Beck’s songs veer from dadaist dance tunes —à la Guero (Interscope, 2005) — to melancholy blues ballads like those on Sea Change (Geffen, 2002). He’s come a long way from 1994’s single "Loser" with his latest album, Modern Guilt (Interscope), a collaboration with coproducer Danger Mouse and guest Cat Power, proving that he’s no one-hit wonder, but rather a truly multidimensional songwriter. (Molly Freedenberg)

6:40 p.m. Fri/22, Sutro stage, Lindley Meadow

ANDREW BIRD


It isn’t easy to overshadow Ani DiFranco — especially in a concert hall filled with her fans. But that’s exactly what Bird did when he opened for the quintessential singer-songwriter on her 2005 tour. Bird’s spectacular vocal and musical abilities — particularly his trademark whistling and violin playing — are mesmerizing. But even more so is his ability to weave beautiful, emotionally honest songs from so many kinds of lyrical and musical threads. The combination has brought him not only acclaim, including a position blogging about his songwriting process for the New York Times, but status as an indie heartthrob. (Freedenberg)

3:35 p.m. Sun/24, Twin Peaks stage, Speedway Meadow

JACKIE GREEN


Polished Versatility is the SF singer-songwriter’s middle name, his first is Jackie, but fans call him their own personal Roots Savant. (Chun)

1 p.m. Sun/24, Lands End stage, Polo Fields

SEAN HAYES


Don’t you know you gotta water sunshine? The fiercely independent SF singer-songwriter has worked with all manner of great artists round town, including Ches Smith, Ara Anderson, Etienne de Rocher, and Jolie Holland. (Chun)

3 p.m. Sat/23, Presidio stage, Lindley Meadow

NELLIE MCKAY


So get off McKay’s back and take your ape-ish size 12 shoes off her madcap persona because, as the New York City singer-songwriter drawls on "Identity Theft," "I’m tired of maturity, airport and security, running from the thought police, fighting with the go-betweens." Yes, I hear Bob Dylan in those wildly loopy lines, but you gotta love the musical theater-inspired, wittily whittled wordsmith’s divine verbosity — via songs that leave ’em crying, with glee, at the disco. (Chun)

4:20 p.m. Sat/23, Panhandle stage, Speedway Meadow

REGINA SPEKTOR


Is it Spektor’s old world beauty or postmodern songwriting — both evident in her breakthrough video "Fidelity" — that charms audiences so much? We think it’s probably both, though her distinctive vocal style, songs that read more like short stories, creativity with instrumentation, and magnetism onstage are surely what have brought the Russian-born chanteuse so much success. (Freedenberg)

5:15 p.m. Sat/23, Sutro stage, Lindley Meadow

M. WARD


Sometimes Ward’s friends let him play on their records (Bright Eyes, Cat Power, Jenny Lewis). Sometimes Ward gets his friends to play on his records (My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Neko Case). Sometimes Ward’s gently rollicking guitar flirts with Zooey Deschanel’s sweet country honey (She and Him). And sometimes Ward plays a big outdoor festival all by himself. (Mojonnier)

3:40 p.m. Sat/23, Sutro stage, Lindley Meadow

Love songs

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TYSON VOGEL OF TWO GALLANTS

* Hazy Loper (San Francisco)

* Ted The Block (Oakland)

* Michael Hurley (Northwest area)

Two Gallants play at 6:05 p.m., Sat/23, at Outside Lands’ Presidio stage, Lindley Meadow.

MICHAEL HILDE OF MOUNTAINHOOD

Locally I’m into David Enos. David is a filmmaker who also played keys in the Papercuts and did the art for their album. His songs are great, haunting, and unflinching.

Nicky Emmert from Mammatus plays solo acoustic as Misty Mountain. The songs are all superlong and unfold in slow motion. Incense [is] in his guitar. We’ve done a couple of shows together, the first was at the San Siern Holyoake and Wood Festival, May ’07.

I also want to especially mention Jonathan Arthur from the All Night Sunshine band in Seattle. He’s brilliant, and plays very, very rarely. As far as I know, the only two times have been with me when I go to Seattle. Maybe more. I hope more.

MATT NATHANSON

* Brett Dennen. He is so good, and he’s just beginning. He has decades of greatness ahead. It is inspiring. His phrasing makes me wish I had soul.

* Bill Foreman. Best songwriter I have known, period. I feel like he moves forward with every song. It is the most natural evolution I have seen. He has so many great ones. His stuff is hard to find, but it’s worth every step. The full band version of "St. Louis" will change you.

* John Vanderslice. His songs sound like they were beamed in from Mars. His records are sonic perfection. He doesn’t think like a normal person. His lyrics crush me.

* Steve Perry. Not really a singer-songwriter, I guess, but who doesn’t wish they had written "Don’t Stop Believing" or "Oh Sherrie"? And who doesn’t love yellow, sleeveless, zebra-striped T-shirts?

Matt Nathanson plays at 7 p.m., Sat/23, on Outside Lands’ Twin Peaks stage, Speedway Meadow.

BART DAVENPORT

(1) Thom Moore (Nevada City)

(2) Greg Moore (Nevada City)

(3) Mia Doi Todd (Los Angeles )

(4) Kelley Stoltz (SF)

(5) Brian Glaze (Oakland)

(6) Kacey Johansing (SF)

(7) Jesse DeNatale (SF)

(8) Mark Eitzel (SF)

(9) Miranda Zeiger (SF)

(10) Amy Blaustein (Berkeley)

Davenport plays 9:30 p.m., Sept. 19, Café Du Nord, 2174 Market SF. www.cafedunord.com

KIRA LYNN CAIN

My favorite singer-songwriters (who are not family members):

* Nico, circa Desertshore (Reprise, 1970), The Marble Index (Elektra, 1969), and The End (Island, 1974)

* Syd Barrett, circa The Madcap Laughs (Capitol, 1970) and Barrett (Capitol, 1970)

* Leonard Cohen

GARRETT PIERCE

"In all honesty, I think SF has been struggling to find a new batch of singer-songwriters to latch onto. I thought Daniella of Snowblink was going to be the next voice of SF, but she just moved to Toronto.

Favorite local singer-songwriters: Peggy Honeywell, Joanna Newsome, and Sean Hayes.

Fave nonlocal singer-songwriters: Diane Cluck, Bon Iver, Tom Waits, Jolie Holland, M. Ward, Matt Bauer, Hayden, and Michael Hurley.

SONNY SMITH

Welllll, Jonathan Richman is nothing new under the sun, but he’s been one of my heroes for a long, long time.

Smith plays 7:30 p.m., Aug. 29, at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., SF. www.makeoutroom.com

BRITTANY SHANE

My favorite local singer-songwriter: Stephanie Finch (Chuck Prophet’s wife and keyboard player). I loved her band Go Go Market and their CD, Hotel San Jose (Evangeline, 2002)!

Other singer-songwriters I love: Kathleen Edwards, Liz Phair, Susanna Hoffs, Dido, Sheryl Crow, Fran Healy, and Josh Ritter.

Critical sass

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ISBN REAL This month, a collection of Daniel Mendelsohn’s essays on books, plays, and films is being published. How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken (Harper, 480 pages, $26.95) is excellent. But it lacks something I can’t help wanting from the criticism I read, no matter how often some denunciation tries to shame the desire out of me. One of Mendelsohn’s pieces even takes novelist and literary critic Dale Peck’s 2005 review collection, Hatchet Jobs (New Press, 240 pages, $14.95) to task for indulging in the very thing I look for: bitchiness.

According to Mendelsohn, Peck’s analysis of any book cedes too much space to his caustic persona. Mendelsohn suspects that "what’s really going on here isn’t so much criticism as a kind of performance."

This is a common complaint. As standard as it’s become for critics to coat their reviews in personality, extravagantly painting their territory with barbed humor and a couple catalogs’ worth of references, there’s no scarcity of resistance to that practice, either. Just last week, on Mark Sarvas’ blog The Elegant Variation (www.marksarvas.blogs.com), writer Benjamin Percy expanded on Sarvas’ disgust over an excessively autobiographical review of Julia Reed’s memoir, The House on First Street (Ecco, 208 pages, $23.95) in the Aug. 3 The New York Times Book Review. Percy suggested a causal connection between the swell of infantile pop punditry on cable news channels and "those critics who spotlight their voice, their life, upstaging the assigned book."

Within How Beautiful It Is, Mendelsohn quotes Peck’s response to the controversy surrounding his critical flaying of Rick Moody a few years ago. Here we-go-’round-the criticism-bush: in turn, Peck’s quote mentions Heidi Julavits’ highly-regarded piece about the future of literary culture from the March 2003 maiden issue of The Believer. There, Julavits appeals to book critics to cool it already with the self-serving wisecracks. In fact, she mentions Mendelsohn as an exemplar of considered evaluation free from the static of the vitriol that’s come into fashion.

Julavits’ major beef was with the sadism of the bitchy critic, and in large part, that’s the same problem Mendelsohn has with Peck’s reviews. I have a lot of inner ethical debates queued up before I ever address, let alone endorse, the matter of the clever takedown. What I am willing to dispute right here, right now, is the puzzling belief that caustic criticism is not just ethically but also artistically deficient.

It’s one thing to frown upon a mean-spirited performance that gets away from the reviewed work as well as the rhythm of its own structure. I could even grudgingly comprehend were a canonical critic like Dorothy Parker called out for wandering too far into the realm of bilious stand-up comedy. (So much for wicked stand-up criticism as only a current trend). Regarding Peck, Mendelsohn is not wrong to point out the ungainliness of his grabs at attention. I can appreciate the argument that one’s limited reserve of creative energy should be spent in the service of creation and not destruction, particularly in the assessment of writers who don’t deserve the baroque angst their crappy books inspire.

But is there really no understanding that the affected horror of the cranky critic is a ritualized template for evaluation, and one that is as valid — when done well — as any other? If there isn’t, we’re all in trouble.

Comic drama

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Rock me, sexy Jesus — I mean, sexy, sniffle-y Steve Coogan. With a little luck, the British actor’s latest comedy will soon place those lyrics on the lips of teenaged malcontents — the same ilk that Coogan’s hemorrhoid-commercial thespian and high school drama theater Dana Marschz haplessly mentors in Hamlet 2. As a parody of inspirational teacher flicks, Hamlet 2 (see our review) is a rousing success — the type Mr. Holland would toss his opus for. It’s almost completely due to Coogan. In contrast to his brief, blotto turn through that other cinematic lampoon in the theaters, Tropic Thunder, he klutzes, kibitzes, and futzes, hilariously, through nearly every frame.

Hamlet 2 finds Coogan playing an American mired in a monochromatic Albuquerque. Marschz is a pathetic synthesis of ditziness, show-must-go-on hope, and ambition — writing Hamlet 2 seems the perfect way for him to exorcise his own fatherly ghosts and put a feel-good spin on that downer play. Yet it was the character’s bare-faced vulnerability that Coogan — known in the United Kingdom for his TV commentator Alan Partridge and stateside as an independent actor who has appeared in films by Michael Winterbottom, Jim Jarmusch, and Sofia Coppola — found most daunting.

"I think I’m going to fall flat on my face in everything I do, really," allows the actor, congested and "bunged-up" during the San Francisco stop of a press tour. "I’m used to playing comic characters who are often unpleasant people and who you somehow have some kind of empathy for. This guy isn’t awful or nasty. He’s vulnerable and foolish and slightly self-delusional. I could see how you could make him funny. [The trick is to make sure] the audience would care enough about him to see it through to the end. That was the tough thing."

Coogan meets the challenge. Now perhaps kids in music stores will call out for the actor’s drama geek or rocker Christ figure as much as his smirking, überhipster version of Tony Wilson in 2002’s 24 Hour Party People. "I feel very, very close to that film," Coogan says of Wilson, partly because he grew up in Manchester, where he often slipped into Wilson’s Hacienda nightclub. "All the events in that movie, I witnessed as a young teenager. When I did the movie, I felt like I was reliving my youth — except I was playing the guy at the center of the events, rather than the spectator."

Cheap eights

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS On my way home one morning from another night of urban debauchery followed by very little and very disturbed sleep, I happened to glance at my little pickup truck’s odometer at the exact moment it turned to 88,088. You want to mark these moments, if you’re me, but of course you can’t. At 60 mph, you have, what, one minute to revel in the numerological significance of the big event?

Well, guess what? One minute is enough time to realize that, hey, the day was Friday, Aug. 8, or 8/8/08! Which I very quietly celebrated for 12 seconds (two-tenths of a mile) before going, Hey, I wonder what time it is? Because I left the city at 6:45 and I’m on Stony Point Road, approaching Pepper, so…. No way!

Yes way. It was 7:52, exactly, by my cell phone, which never has enough signal for meaningful conversation but always stays connected to the sun. Or however they do that.

So, to summarize, at eight minutes to 8 a.m. on 8/8/08, my car’s odometer read, 88,088, and just like that your chicken farmer truly had herself a new favorite number.

Yeah yeah yeah, but what did you eat that day? Well, since you asked, I ate oatmeal with blackberries for breakfast as soon as I got home and picked me some blackberries. Then I ate a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with a pile of home fries for lunch. And then I ate some chicken soup with lots of hot sauce for dinner.

In-between meals I ate the first couple apples off my apple tree, and I ate some sunflower seeds, and popcorn of course, and a poached pear. Poached in the sense of I stole it off someone else’s tree. Oh, and I ate a cucumber salad. All these things I ate. Since you asked.

And notwithstanding all this eating and eight-ing, it was an unremarkable day. In fact, an unlucky one. I had planned to stay home all day to sign for my new laptop, which never came because FedEx couldn’t find my house. Which is what I get, I suppose, for living in a shack.

Come to think of it, eight was my first favorite number. Thanks to Ray Fosse, whom I was in love with. For no apparent reason. I remember that, thanks to Ray Fosse, eight was my first big-deal birthday. Which (for the record, by the way, so you know) I turned on May 21, 1971. Or: 5/21 (5+2+1), ’71 (7+1) … and … oh, I’m just fucking with you now.

I mean, it’s all true, and my math, I believe, is good. But I’m a reasonable chicken farmer. I have a level head and square shoulders and two flat feet on the ground — except, I guess, when I’m flying over fences with a hatchet in my hand, chasing deer. Which I do, if you believe everything you read in the paper.

Anyway, like I was saying, new laptop. As you know, I finally broke down and got an actual cell phone. Plus my first-ever iPod. I am totally geared and gadgetized now for a serious bid to re-enter the world as most people I know know it. My chickens shudder at the thought, but I am even looking to move back to civilization — not so FedEx can find me so much as that’s where I work now. In civilization. With people and everything! At least part-time, but I haven’t had me even a part-time job since the late ’80s. No lie.

I’ve been buttering my bread and bringing home the bacon as a musician and a writer, respectively. And all along, as you know (if you’ve been paying attention), my true ambition has been to work in the service industry.

Is feeding kids, changing diapers, and cooking dinner the service industry? If so, I am almost there! Last week I opened an actual savings account. And I know what you’re thinking, right now, if you like Cheap Eats and Eights. You’re thinking, "Don’t quit your day job."

I won’t.

—————————————-

My new favorite restaurant is King Sing Chinese Cuisine because its name is practically a song. At lunchtime on a Sunday there was nobody there, and the weirdest show ever on TV instead of the Olympics. Some kind of Chinese reality variety show with fire-jumping, sleight-of-handing, and iron-cheffing. Plus cute cute girls and hot hot guys. Both waiters were standing in front of the TV with their hands behind their backs, mesmerized. Wanted to ask for an explanation, but asked instead for the fish fillet with tender greens.

KING SING CHINESE CUISINE

Sun.–Tue. and Thu.–Sat.; 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

501 Balboa, SF

(415) 387-6038

Beer

MC/V

Burning woman

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› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

It’s late summer again, when the hipper urban enclaves empty out and suddenly there’s parking because all the cool people have gone to Burning Man or some other anarcho-artsy fire-dancing/fairy-wings festival. Burning Man in particular, plunked down as it is on a lake bed as hot as Venus and as barren as the moon, can take a toll on participants’ health and well-being. According to my friends at the Women’s Community Clinic (www.womenscommunityclinic.org) nothing takes more of a beating out there than the private parts (less private than usual due to rampant nudity and a fair amount of random partnering) of female festival-goers.

So what do women need to know to avoid having to rush their rashes straight to the clinic as soon as they’ve unloaded the truck and showered off the playa dust? Staffers there asked me to write a list of common sense self-protection maneuvers for a situation in which sense is less valued than sensation and spontaneity.

(1) This goes for everyone: drink an insane amount of water. I actually recommend bringing double the usual ration of a gallon a day — it’s not like you can easily run out for more in a commerce-free zone like Black Rock City. You want to "piss clear" (an infelicitous phrase that I have nevertheless often found useful since first encountering it at Burning Man). Your health depends on it. Your urinary tract, in particular, will thank you.

(2) Keep clean. This is, of course, one of the many uses to which any extra water can be put, but you’ll also need unscented baby wipes with no greasy or sticky additives. You don’t want to attract every mote of dust (and oh my, is there a lot of dust) and convince it to cling to your damp spots. Out in the desert, I wash my face with witch hazel pads and my other parts with massive numbers of store-brand unscented "natural" baby wipes. Don’t get these mixed up.

(3) Bring a safer sex kit. Consider all casual pickup sex unsafe unless somehow proven otherwise — you don’t want to be having long, intense negotiations with strangers while you’re out of your head on whatever you’re doing out there to get out of your head. Use condoms and, while you’re doubling your recommended water ration, do the same with the lube. The fierce desert wind wicks moisture like you would not believe, and even nice known-quantity sex with your steady partner can chafe. Lube up. You might want to consider using gloves for anything really intimate, too, and just generally being more careful than usual about introducing anybody’s (blank) into your (blank). After a few days on the playa, you’re likely to be abraded, chapped, windburned, sunburned, scraped, scratched, and undefended in a way that’s unfamiliar to the city dweller. It’s much easier to pick up somebody else’s creepy-crawlies when your skin isn’t in top shape, and trust me, it won’t be. Use the condoms and other barriers when reasonable. Piss clear when you’re done and don’t forget the wipes. Bring alcohol gel and clean your hands regularly, even if you haven’t been up to anything. Don’t get crazy and clean things that oughtn’t to be cleaned with alcohol, though.

Most of all, don’t be an idiot. I can’t stress this enough, and the Community Clinic, while staffed by women too nice to call you an idiot, doesn’t want you to be one either. If you’re going to take substances specifically designed to bring out the idiot in you, do so under the safest circumstances you can manage. Party with your friends, make a meeting place, follow a buddy system, and make some rules for yourself. If you’re going to take E or anything else likely to act as an empathogen (or "entactogen") — that is, a drug that makes you think you like people who may not, in truth, be worthy of your affection — try to do it in the presence of people who’ve got your back, and not because they want to climb up on it and hump you like a dog.

There are organizations dedicated to disseminating information on safer drug-taking. I do the sex part, and I habitually worry about young people having sex with people they don’t like, or, especially, with people who don’t like them. If you’re going to do it anyway, use a condom. Not only do you not have these people’s e-mail addresses, you may not even like them, remember? You’re not going to want to track them down later to ask about that funny-looking pimple.

And finally, if you’re female and have sex with men or might have sex with men after enough empathogens, bring Plan B emergency contraception with you. This may seem extreme, but it’s not like you have to use it. Condoms can break or be forgotten. Midnight’s "oh, what the hell" can easily turn to "What the hell did I do?" in the harsh (in Burning Man’s case, extremely harsh) light of day.

Love,

Andrea

Got a salacious subject you want Andrea to discuss? Ask her a question!

Hunters and collectors

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW It wasn’t so long ago that the term "curated" moved from dusty archive territory to popular lexicon. When did curated databases, boutique merchandise, and Netflix queues become commonplace? In the Bay Area, more than one school offers a master’s degree in "curatorial practice" — but who has a concise description of what that really means? The term has become elastic, perhaps because there’s too much material — of all sorts — to deal with in contemporary culture. Someone’s gotta figure out how to marshal and present it coherently.

Two current high-concept group exhibitions are equally about their curatorial premises and respective curators — Henry Urbach and Jens Hoffman — as the objects on display. Both have extended titles — "246 and Counting: Recent Architecture + Design Acquisitions" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and "Passengers" and "The Exhibition Formerly … ," at the Wattis Institute at California College of the Arts — and will evolve during their runs into 2009. Both are activated by transparent systems that generate their form.

"246 and Counting" includes every object Urbach, SFMOMA’s Helen Hilton Raiser curator of architecture and design, acquired during his first two years at the museum. In the wall label, he admits the show "aims to focus our attention on collection building." It’s not a stretch to say it has something to do with shopping: Urbach, who previously ran a commercial gallery in Chelsea, NYC, admits as much in the audio guide: "To shop well is half my job" (the other is to experiment with "curatorial practice"). And the presentation will grow to include each new piece he buys before "246" closes. The exhibition itself is a surprisingly refreshing take on the "collection show," the homely, hometown sibling to the bigger traveling exhibit.

Playing out on low platforms and arranged chronologically based on the date the works were purchased or given, "246"<0x2009>‘s structured format ironically allows for a degree of irreverence. Urbach leans framed photographs by Richard Barnes against the wall, stacks 1986 Beosystem stereo equipment, and splays silkscreen posters by the beloved activist nun, Sister Corita, on the floor under transparent Plexiglas boxes. It’s the same means used to showcase an iPhone, a donation from Apple, credited to Jonathan Ive. The fact that many of us have one makes for an automatic entry point.

The objects are identified on laminated cards, so the display initially resembles a high-end vintage store or the apartment of an aesthete/design guru — the format affords an approachable sense of personality. Urbach’s gesture is one of exposure — of the museum’s hierarchy and of his own sensibility. He uses this to assert a curatorial identity, and the narrowed focus makes for satisfying, authored viewing. If there’s an inclusion you question, you know who’s to blame.

The former director of exhibitions at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Hoffman — who just completed his first year of programming at Wattis — expresses a similar tastemaker sensibility. The contemporary art has a more experimental vibe because the gallery doesn’t collect. It feels as if Hoffman selected his picks from international art fairs. As noted on the Wattis Web site, "Passengers" is a "constantly transforming exhibition of emerging international contemporary artists, none of whom have ever had a solo presentation in an American public art institution." It’s structured around 12 artists: 11 with a few pieces, and one with a somewhat larger presentation, in a literal white cube space, before the latter artist leaves the show and another from the 11 remaining cycles into the bigger box.

The eclectic range of works — by artists familiar to Frieze readers but who will probably turn up in biennials down the line — tend to be funky and/or conceptual in bent and include Annette Kelm’s serial photos of a woven baseball cap; Valérie Mréjen’s short films about enacting various identities; and Federico Herrero’s painting project (though Aug. 30), which also involves a mural on a Potrero Hill home.

On Sept. 2 the show morphs into "The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers" — coincidentally with a showcase of works by San Francisco artist Tauba Auerbach, whose Alphabetized Bible (2006) is included, in editioned form, in "246" and "Passengers." The exhibition’s form will shift as well: after each solo presentation, the artist will leave the show, but none will be added. The final artist, Aurelien Froment, gets the entire space in August 2009. This may not be fair to the previous "Passengers," but it does make for a tidy denouement.

Like "246," the "Passengers" structure is perhaps more memorable than any of its works, making both meta-projects: shows about the act of making shows. It’s fitting, then, that Hoffman’s title salutes Prince, who has constantly reinvented himself, the structures of music distribution, and performance platforms. The musical artist has had his share of misfire projects, but you always know he’s going to come up with some convincing new challenge to cultural consumption. *

246 AND COUNTING: RECENT ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN ACQUISITIONS

Through Jan. 4, 2009

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

For hours and prices go to www.sfmoma.org

PASSENGERS: 1.12 FEDERICO HERRERO

Through Aug. 30

"The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers" runs Sept. 2–Aug. 29, 2009

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

1111 Eighth St., SF

For hours go to www.wattis.org

The trip

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Everyone I tell about my project thinks I’m nuts. Maybe they’re right. But many progressives have been pushed to the brink of madness by what this country is becoming. Besides, it’s too late to turn back now, so I’m going to take the trip and try to drag all of you along with me.

The basic plan is to drive from San Francisco to Denver in a rented Chevy Impala, stopping by Burning Man on the way there and back, covering the Democratic National Convention in the middle, reporting and posting to the Guardian‘s Politics blog the whole way, and then producing a cover story by the end.

What do these two epic events have in common besides synchronicity? For starters, they each have strong roots in San Francisco and will be disproportionately peopled by Bay Area residents. And this year’s Burning Man art theme — American Dream — is an obvious effort to achieve sociopolitical relevance. These two great American pageants are promoting similar goals from opposite directions.

"Burning Man doesn’t mean anything unless it affects the way we live our lives back home," event founder Larry Harvey told me earlier this year as we chatted in his rent-controlled apartment on Alamo Square. "That city is connecting to itself faster than anyone knows. And if they can do that, they can connect to the world. That’s why for three years I’ve done these sociopolitical themes, so they know they can apply it. Because if it’s just a vacation," he said, pausing to choose his next words carefully, "we’ve been on vacation long enough."

Liberal Democrats also feel they’ve been lost in the political wilderness for long enough, and they hope Barack Obama is the one to lead them out of the desert and into power. And I’ll be chronicling their launch, from when I pick up my convention press credentials the morning of Aug. 25 to when Obama addresses 75,000 people in Mile High Stadium four days later, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech. Then it’s back to the playa for the big freakout.

If truth be told, which is my intention, I don’t know what I’ll write. I’ll embrace the chaos and let the road provide the narrative. But expect insightful juxtaposition of two realms I’ve covered extensively over the past two decades — the political culture and the counterculture — peppered with perspective from my yin-yang travel mates: Democratic Party bigwig Donnie Fowler and performer Kid Beyond, a.k.a. Andrew Chaikin.

This is a story of who we are and what we may become. I hope you’ll join the journey.

Personal or political?

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› sarah@sfbg.com

The Board of Supervisors Clerk’s Office has quietly begun redacting contact information — including phone numbers, street addresses, and e-mail addresses — from all communications sent to the supervisors by members of the public.

The Clerk’s Office will not redact personal information if individuals indicate that they authorize its release, Clerk of the Board Angela Calvillo wrote in a May 23 memo. Yet the policy shift brings to an end a long-standing tradition in which members of the public could peruse copies of all of the weekly communications to the Board simply by asking to see the petitions and communications file.

Instead, Clerk’s Office staff are now asking people which items they want to see before letting them access the file, in case the requested items need to be redacted.

"If it’s a redacted item, it needs to be handled differently," Clerk’s Office deputy director Madeleine Licavoli explained, noting that a Controller’s Office report wouldn’t need redactions, but public communications would.

The COB’s office does provide a one-line summary of each item in the Board’s weekly agenda packet, but it’s hard to know which pieces are of interest until they are read in full. And the public’s contact information has always provided a handy way for citizens to identify like-minded individuals and for reporters to find story sources and material.

Licavoli said the new policy did not occur in response to specific incidents or complaints, but as a result of a discussion about the need to redact personal information. "The first time people encounter this policy, they say, ‘Whoa, what’s this about?’<0x2009>" Licavoli acknowledged. "But we’re trying to protect personal information, not make things harder for people who just want to look at them.

"We are always trying to expand what’s available," Licavoli added, noting that the Clerk’s Office is working to ensure that when the supervisors return from recess next month, people will be able to access redacted public communications by viewing a CD in the Clerk’s Office.

But open government advocates claim there is no provision for the redaction policy under the California Public Records Act or the city’s voter-approved Sunshine Ordinance. Instead, they fear the new policy reflects a growing trend of trying to scare people into believing that the public’s right to privacy trumps its right to know.

Sunshine advocate Kimo Crossman told the Guardian that the overwhelming reason people need access to redacted contact information is for political speech or technology-savvy new media outlets.

"The city is preventing it because they don’t want to have organized citizen push-back," Crossman said. "This is not about private personal information like your blood pressure."

Like Crossman, Sunshine Ordinance Task Force member Rick Knee also opposes the clerk’s new requirement that people must request the release of their contact information.

"There has to be a very narrow application of the redaction policy," Knee told us. "If the law does not require it, the default is for disclosure."

Bob Stern of the Los Angeles-based Center of Governmental Studies told us he understands the arguments for privacy. "But if an individual does not want their contact information posted online, it should be an opt-out situation at the very worst," Stern added.

But some blame the new policy on San Francisco’s sunshine advocates, such as Crossman, claiming it was their attempts to make databases to screen Sunshine Ordinance Task Force appointees that led to the tightening of the redaction policy.

"Certain people insisted that the Clerk of the Board make a policy, thereby forcing them down this particular path," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. "These folks wanted a confrontation, but they ended up worse off than [under] the ad hoc, unarticulated policy that existed."

Scheer believes that if this redaction policy is contested, the government could win. "If you’re not a reporter, then people care more about their privacy than access," he said.

"Everyone is terrified about identity theft," he continued. "There have been all sorts of horror stories about the government inadvertently leaking information. And anything the Clerk of the Board agrees to give to one person, they have to give to everyone, including sleazebags who put it into a big database and sell it to spammers and telemarketers."

But Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, believes that if the case goes to court, the judge would conclude that this information is presumed to be public. "To withhold information, you have to find a specific public interest in keeping it confidential," Francke said.

Francke notes that the CPRA exempts, for example, the home addresses of school district employees, but does not delegate the authority to create new exemptions. "When you have rules that say apples, oranges, and bananas are exempt, that provides evidence that fruit as a general category is not exempt. The example of CPRA exemptions shows they were decided against a background of documented, actual harassment, not the decision of a faceless bureaucrat."

Francke believes public organizing is hindered by the new policy.

"The value of privacy is not one that the government decides," he said. "It’s your choice how private you want to be. It’s your privacy, not the government’s. So unless they give you an informed opt-out choice, then what they are managing is not privacy but government secrecy."

Money for nothing

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› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to be feeling pretty confident in her reelection prospects this November, despite an independent challenge by high-profile peace mom Cindy Sheehan.

But that hasn’t stopped the San Francisco Democrat from raising big bucks from scores of interest groups who are contributing to her campaign committee and to the political action committee she controls, known as PAC to the Future.

Most of the money she’s raising is going toward assuring her continued power in Washington by giving it to the campaigns of other Democratic members of Congress, particularly those facing tough election battles that could threaten the party’s House majority.

Pelosi’s reelection committee has raised $2.36 million over the past two years, hundreds of thousands more than the average House member, according to federal campaign disclosure records and data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Her PAC raised an additional $585,000 during the current election cycle and spent $769,000, much of which has also gone to other candidate committees in payments of $5,000 and $10,000.

Many newly elected Democrats in the House represent conservative constituencies, and with her blessing they sometimes vote with Republicans to distance themselves from the party’s perceived liberal leaders like Pelosi, according to a new book published this month, Money in the House: Campaign Funds and Congressional Party Politics (Perseus, 2008). Democratic leaders in the meantime have continued a phenomenal fundraising spree to help protect those House members.

"Speaker Pelosi’s extraordinary financial commitment to her party, and especially to her party’s vulnerable members, illustrates the overriding emphasis congressional parties and members place on money," writes author Marian Currinder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute. "And her encouragement of selective ‘opposition votes’ demonstrates the complexity of governing in a highly partisan and highly competitive political environment."

Even the day-to-day reelection expenses of Washington’s unrivaled leading lady are outsize, as Pelosi’s spending records show. In June 2007, she celebrated her 20th year in Congress with a glitzy fundraiser held in the capital’s Union Station that cost at least $92,000 and featured a performance by soul singer Patti LaBelle.

The bill included $25,393 for a slick video production; $61,105 on catering, rentals, and securing the site; $2,000 for hairstyling and wardrobe assistance insisted on by LaBelle; $2,824 on flower arrangements; and $1,396 for chocolates from a Pennsylvania-based confection maker.

Pelosi spent at least $650 from her campaign on makeup for the steady string of appearances she made after being sworn in as House speaker in January 2007. An annual fundraiser held this year at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco cost $23,454 for catering and other expenses.

As for the top contributors to Pelosi’s reelection committee, they include several members of the Gallo family, proprietors of the E&J Gallo Winery, who gave a total of $23,000 through maximum individual donations of $4,600. The Modesto-based company has long made contributions to both parties, particularly enriching candidates who show a willingness to scale back or even throw out the federal estate tax, which affects the inheritances of the wealthiest American families.

The Corrections Corporation of America gave $2,300 to Pelosi and $2,700 to her PAC. CCA is part of a storied group of for-profit privatization companies in Nashville, Tenn. that are closely tied to former Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist and includes the Hospital Corporation of America and Ardent Health Services.

Just this year, the state of California hired CCA to house 8,000 inmates at six of the company’s facilities; a significant portion will go to a new $205 million CCA complex under construction in Arizona.

The nation’s largest private jail company suffered bad publicity during the 1990s due to a series of high-profile escapes and inmate killings inside its prisons. It teetered on the edge of bankruptcy after overbuilding jails without having enough inmates available to fill them, but the George W. Bush administration helped save the company with a new homeland security agenda that called for confining rather than releasing undocumented immigrants while they awaited deportation or asylum-request proceedings. The company’s revenue jumped nearly a half-billion dollars over the last five years and its lobbying activities in Washington, DC have increased similarly.

The entertainment industry has ponied up its share to Pelosi as well. The maximum $4,600 donation came from Aaron Sorkin, powerhouse writer behind the long-running TV series The West Wing and the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War. Christie Hefner, a regular donor to Democrats and heiress to Playboy Enterprises, contributed $1,000.

Steven Bing, a Hollywood producer who inherited a real estate fortune, and billionaire Las Vegas developer Kirk Kerkorian gave thousands to Pelosi over the last two years. Kerkorian has given to both parties, but he and Bing share a special relationship after having fought a nasty tabloid war.

Kerkorian allegedly hired private investigators to sift through Bing’s trash in search of DNA evidence that would link him to a child borne by Kerkorian’s ex-wife, whom he was divorcing, according to a lawsuit filed by Bing. Vanity Fair in July described Bing as part of a skirt-chasing entourage that ran with Bill Clinton and threatened to tarnish Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid with its freewheeling bachelor reputation.

The wealthy Herbert and Marion Sandler, major supporters of MoveOn.org and other social justice causes, gave Pelosi a combined $9,200. The couple presided over the meteoric rise of Oakland mortgage lender Golden West Financial, which sold to Wachovia for $24 billion in 2006. The housing crisis led Wachovia to post staggering multibillion-dollar losses this summer, and some business writers have attributed its declining fortunes to the Golden West purchase.

In June, George Zimmer of Fremont, founder of the Men’s Warehouse, gave $2,300. Notable husband and wife political team Clint and Janet Reilly, both active as candidates and donors, contributed a total of $19,200 to Pelosi’s campaign and PAC.

"Essentially, raising money for the party and its candidates is required of leaders," Money in the House author Currinder told the Guardian. "Pelosi wouldn’t have been elected speaker if she wasn’t a stellar fundraiser."

So where is Pelosi’s money going if not to television ads for her own campaign? She divided $250,000 among the campaigns of approximately 70 congressional candidates, and disbursed about $532,000 more to them through PAC to the Future. The beneficiaries included $14,000 to Democrat Chet Edwards of Texas, whose district includes President George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch. Pelosi has publicly recommended him to Barack Obama as a possible running mate.

In addition, about half of the money Pelosi has raised since the beginning of 2007, slightly more than $1 million, went to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, DC. She also gave to the Democratic parties of key battleground states including Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Ohio. She singled out Democrat Travis Childers of Mississippi for extra cash totaling $21,000. In May, Childers stunned observers by defeating a Republican in a special election held when a representative vacated his House seat to take over for conservative icon Sen. Trent Lott.

"She has had prodigious success raising funds for individual Democratic candidates, for the DCCC, and for her own campaign and PAC," Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institute, told us. "Most party leaders represent safe seats but nonetheless try to set a high standard for raising money to advance their party’s broader objectives."

Pelosi’s Capitol Hill and San Francisco offices directed our questions to her fundraising operations at the DCCC. Her political director there, Brian Wolff, called the war chest "another vehicle for her to communicate with constituents in California." But he conceded that the pressure is on, "especially now that we have so many candidates and incumbents that need help. It definitely falls on her to be able to have a very aggressive fundraising campaign."

Wolff insists, too, that the Democrats revolutionized fundraising by seeking out smaller donations from large numbers of people instead of returning to the same short list of affluent contributors they had in the past.

In general, top donations to Pelosi still have come from lobbyists and lawyers, the real estate industry, insurance companies, banking and securities firms, and Amgen, a major biotech researcher based in Thousand Oaks. Officials from the labor movement’s biggest new power broker, the Service Employees International Union, also gave substantial sums, as did other major unions. But they fell far behind the contributions of large business interests.

Art Torres, chair of the California Democratic Party, told us that health care reform failed in 1990s at least partly because of political spending by drug companies. But he said that Democrats winning the White House and expanding their majorities in Congress would create a greater mandate to overhaul the health care system.

"It’s always been about issues" rather than fundraising, Torres said. "When I’ve talked to her, it’s always been about ‘How can we get this or that legislation through?’<0x2009>"

It’s worth pointing out, however, that the nation’s largest drug wholesaler, McKesson Corp., is based in San Francisco, and donors from pharmaceutical companies gave Pelosi more than $85,000 this cycle. Drug companies have given freely to Democrats in the past, but Democratic officeholders "still voted against their interests every time," Torres said.

Pelosi’s campaign spending on everything but her own reelection shows she doesn’t regard Sheehan as much of a threat. But the antiwar candidate did make it onto the ballot Aug. 8 and the Sheehan campaign has raised approximately $350,000 since December in small contributions after refusing to accept money from PACs and corporations.

"We didn’t have the party infrastructure going into this," said Sheehan campaign manager Tiffany Burns, adding that Pelosi’s campaign expenditures are "just another example of how Pelosi believes she is entitled to this seat."

JROTC is not a choice

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OPINION To hear proponents of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) talk, it’s a matter of personal choice for 14- and 15-year-olds to sign up for the Pentagon’s military recruitment program, which is being phased out of San Francisco’s public schools June 2009. The San Francisco Board of Education also recently voted to remove physical education credit from the program this school year. It had to: the retired military officers who teach the course don’t meet the educational standards of state law, and the course doesn’t meet state physical education standards.

Supporters of JROTC are taking the issue to the November ballot. Their initiative, albeit non-binding, would put San Franciscans on record as in support of the military program.

As Democratic clubs and other political organizations begin their endorsement process, progressives need to understand the importance of defeating this initiative. It’s not a harmless measure. If it passes, the new school board can use it to reinstate JROTC. If it loses, it’s less likely the board will change its course. Thankfully, last week the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) voted overwhelmingly not to endorse the measure.

JROTC is not summer camp or a harmless after-school activity. It is one more way the military finds bodies for its illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Denisha Williams can tell you that. The African American high school senior in Philadelphia told the City Paper that she left JROTC and opted out of the military having her contact info. It hasn’t made any difference: “I have received phone calls, e-mail, three letters and a 15-minute videotape. I even received a phone call from a female recruiter asking if I was still interested in the Navy. I told her I wasn’t and hung up. A week later I received another letter and the tape.”

Capt. Daniel R. Gager, commander of the US Army recruiting station in south Philadelphia, said he and other recruiters were ordered by the US Recruiting Command to put more time and energy into recruiting high school upperclassmen such as Williams.

In San Francisco, at least 15 percent of the cadets have been placed in the program without their consent. It seems the military will do whatever it takes to get in front of our youngsters in our public schools.

Pressuring kids to join the military is wrong. International law says kids under 18 should not be recruited at all, and the ACLU agrees (see www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen). Recruiters in every high school and at every mall in this country break that law every day.

Nationally about 40 percent of JROTC kids end up in the military. In San Francisco, proponents claim only 2 percent go on to military careers. They are wrong. According to the school district, no tracking of JROTC students is done.

Please work to defeat Proposition V, the pro-JROTC initiative.

Mark Sanchez and Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Mark Sanchez is President of the San Francisco Board of Education and an eighth grade science teacher. Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical queer activist and writer whose regular columns appear at beyondchron.org.