Volume 43 Number 10

Waxing fried

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› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I got a Brazilian. I play on a Brazilian soccer team. I pass for Brazilian. I pass to Brazilians. I figured, what the fuck, I’ll get a Brazilian.

My Canadian likes it like that. I happened to know this, and did it for him. That way, in case we become a couple and have a fight some day and he says, "What did you ever do for me?" I’ll say, "I got my ass waxed in the middle of winter," and, argument over, we’ll live happily ever after.

Why I don’t write restaurant reviews is illustrated by the following little story:

I ate at my always favorite restaurant, Just For You, three times in 10 days, and two of those times I ordered the hangtown fry. If you don’t know what a hangtown fry is … I feel so sorry for you that my eyes are watering.

My mouth is watering too, because what it is, see, is eggs with onions, oysters, and bacon. Or: everything that makes life lovable, give or take butter. And there’s always plenty of that on the table at my always favorite restaurant.

Just to be clear: this is not a review of Just For You. I already reviewed it eight or nine times. It’s my last-standing always favorite restaurant. This is just a story (true) that has a moral (iffy), and happens to be set at a particular place. In Dogpatch. San Francisco. California.

The hangtown fry’s creation myths center around Placerville, which used to be called Hangtown, and/or San Francisco, which used to be called San Francisco, during the gold rush. Miner walks into a bar, says, no joke, he struck it rich, what’s the most expensive meal they can make him? Cook invents the hangtown fry ($6) on the spot.

Six dollars!!! In the middle of the 19th century!! Do you see my point? Inflation be damned, 160 years later you can get the same damn thing for breakfast at Just For You for just four dollars more!

But that’s not my point. My point is that, if you ask me, the oysters should be breaded and fried — not because that’s the more authentic way to make the dish (although it might be, for all I know), but because it tastes better this way. Trust me. That’s how they made it on Friday. And if I were a restaurant reviewer I would have written, Ohmigod! Ohmigod! Ohmigod! I mean what else can you say about fried oysters and bacon on the same plate? With eggs and onions.

Cornbread …

And then when I went back on Wednesday, with Earl Butter, and ordered the hangtown fry again, the oysters were not at all breaded or fried and the dish was, like, yeah, whatever.

Don’t get me wrong, I love raw oysters. There is no oyster better than a raw oyster. But these wasn’t raw oysters. They were knocked out of a jar (I’m guessing) and cooked into some eggs. And there’s a world of difference between a not-raw jar-knocked oyster breaded and fried, and a not-raw jar-knocked oyster just knocked and notted and cooked into eggs, bacon notwithstanding.

Tell you what, I have never been madder at my always favorite restaurant than I was that Wednesday morning, Earl Butter as my witness. I was madder at them than they used to be at me 10 years ago for trying to keep the place a secret.

Which goes to show you that, in the words of Shakespeare, you never can tell, and therefore shouldn’t write restaurant reviews. You should get a Brazilian.

And a Canadian who appreciates Brazilians.

On exotic-bodied chicken farmers.

If you’re me.

My new favorite restaurant is Bombay. Indian. Only I’m madder at them than at Just For You. It was classic: small white girl orders something hot hot hot, and a knows-better waiterperson goes, "Oh, no no no, that’s already the spiciest dish on our menu." He talks her into medium, and the spiciest dish on their menu turns out to be as spicy as a bowl of corn flakes. Been in a bad mood ever since.

BOMBAY INDIAN RESTAURANT

Daily: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; Dinner, 5 p.m.–10:30 p.m.

2217 Market, SF

(415) 861-6655

Beer & wine

AE/DISC/MC/V

L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.

Dark knight

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TV EYED You know a show has gotten under your skin when it begins to trigger nightmares. That’s the case with Showtime’s Dexter, now winding up its third season after building, with frustrating slowness, its intertwined partnership narratives revolving around serial killer-turned-crime fighter Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall). Dexter was carefully trained by his adopted hero-cop father to blend in, closet his antisocial blood-thirsty desires, and channel those murderous impulses toward bad apples who slip the scales of justice. Sounds like another "post-racial," pro-assimilation narrative cluttered with Twilight and True Blood vampires looking for acceptance?

As developed from the 2004 novel by Jeff Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the series does wink at the unsavory secret history of superheroes: the difference between, say, Batman and Dexter is that the latter obviously gets off on his kills. Luckily the Miami Metro Police abounds with murderers within and without, although, Dexter, for all his sinister smarts, doesn’t seem to be self-aware enough to realize that his redemptive retraining and repurposing could be applied to the evildoers he so methodically destroys.

The nightmares enter the picture by way of the crack writing and insinuating acting — particularly by Hall, the golden boy with dead eyes, who was also so adept at unpeeling his character’s layers as Six Feet Under‘s dutiful gay conservative, and Jennifer Carpenter, who portrays his impulsive police officer sister, Debra, and rolled her cubist eyes to queasy effect in the title role of 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose. As for Dexter — so busy holding down a job as a blood-spatter forensic specialist at Miami Metro and solving crimes in order to satisfy his blood lust — is there a more untrustworthy narrator on television?

This season centers on Dexter’s continuing trust issues in the form of two partnerships that threaten to rock his world: his upcoming nuptials to damaged but increasingly grounded, pregnant girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and his accelerating friendship with Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits), an ambitious, charismatic assistant district attorney who thinks Dexter has done him the favor of stabbing his brother’s murderer, and seems to understand his needs. Their closeness develops to the point where Dexter mentors Miguel in his first righteous kill, but there’s more to Miguel than meets the eye — leave it to the cutthroat lawyer to really give it his so-called bleeding-heart-liberal public defender nemesis as the series teases out and critiques some of the politically conservative undertones of its quasi-pro-capital-punishment narrative. While the pregnant Rita satisfies her hunger pangs with chocolate at home, it appears that Dexter has created another monster of his own.

www.sho.com/site/dexter/home.do

Rolling out the carpet

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REVIEW Director Mary Zimmerman’s association with the Berkeley Rep goes back to 1996’s Journey to the West, her adaptation of the classical Chinese novel, famously followed in 2001 by Metamorphoses, a visually startling adaptation from Ovid’s collection of Greek and Roman myths for which she went on to receive a directing Tony. Since then and always in collaboration with Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, her home base, Zimmerman has returned four more times with productions in a similar vain: vigorously flamboyant, even cheeky stagings of classic texts from the ancient Greeks to the Brothers Grimm to most recently — in a revival of a 1992 work currently up on the Rep’s intimate Thrust Stage — the 1,001 tales of The Arabian Nights.

Zimmerman has gained wide acclaim for this kind of work, and although I haven’t seen them all, the few productions I have encountered have usually left me less than enthusiastic. When not just showy and underwhelming, they proved off-putting in their characteristic combination of baroque, antic staging and translation of "timeless" truths via an American vernacular of pop references, every-guy inflections, mundane sentiment, and low humor. At its worst, this meld of eye candy and "accessible" language feels like pandering and condescension at the same time, wedding a democratic instinct for dumbing down with a pretentious notion of what’s good for us.

Harsh, I know, and evidently a minority opinion, but that said, I’m relieved to add that The Arabian Nights is one of the more successful expressions of this normally problematic formula. It exhibits only mild versions of the excesses mentioned, hewing closer to the spirit of the original material and showing more restraint overall than, for example, Argonautika, a retelling of Jason and the Argonauts’ quest for the golden fleece whose relentless capering marked Zimmerman’s last Berkeley Rep offering. The Arabian Nights is also restlessly inventive with staging, but more organically and less imposingly so. Unfolding with a versatile 15-member cast amid the luxurious minimalism of scenic designer Daniel Ostling’s bed of Persian carpets and soft cushions, beneath an inviting glow from low-hanging antique lamps, Nights already has a less lofty and more approachable feel — assuming one gets past the initial blush of Orientalism — than the extravaganzas that have landed next door on the Rep’s vast proscenium stage.

A co-production of Berkeley Rep and Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Nights was first staged in the wake of the first Gulf War. It was the mainstream media’s narrative treatment of that conflict, especially its cheerful echoing of militaristic euphemisms steeped in callous brutality — a casual discourse around bombing other people that is so familiar these days, even among "peace candidates" like President-elect Barack Obama, that it can go almost unremarked — that reportedly sparked the idea to dip into the treasure trove of tales making up the legend of Scheherazade (Sofia Jean Gomez) and One Thousand and One Nights. Scheherazade, you’ll remember, forestalls her wedding night execution at the hands of her new husband, a serial wife murderer with trust issues named King Shahryar (played as a sort of dour every-guy with royal license to kill by Ryan Artzberger), by unfurling, Penelope-like, one tantalizing yarn after another.

Her gripping storytelling ability is the king’s and our pleasure both, as Scheherazade is granted one extension after another. The stories were indeed good enough in themselves to convince adapter Zimmerman to forego any heavy-handed political messaging in favor of foregrounding a choice selection of wonderfully improbable but often pointed tales concerning everything from infidelity to revenge, wisdom, and infamy — the last via a monumental breaking of wind.

The immediate political urgency and topicality take a back seat — and no doubt for the better, theatrically speaking — to the dramatic and comic power of the stories themselves, augmented by a robust ensemble performance, in which the actors also take care of the musical accompaniment, handling a small, efficient assortment of traditional instruments. In revisiting it after another and far more ghastly Gulf war, Zimmerman seems to have gone even further in letting the stories have their say — a tall-tale showdown is even improvised afresh each night for one particular scene.

There’s enough bitter irony after all in the repetition of Baghdad’s standard title as "the city of peace and poets." Beyond this, Nights adds only a quiet but hauntingly suggestive coda at the end of two enjoyable acts, wherein the animated bodies of Zimmerman’s hard-working cast suddenly fall silent and roll gently across the stage, like so many leaves blown by catastrophes natural or man-made, marking time and an evanescence to which there is no possible response.

THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

Through Jan. 4, 2009

Tues.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs. and Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (check site for exceptions); $13.50–$71

Berkeley Repertory Thrust Stage

2025 Addison, Berk.

(510) 647-2949

www.berkeleyrep.org

Streetlight serenade

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER ‘Tis the season to max out with shopping merriment, and San Francisco still being a record-picking spot of worldwide renown, it’s bittersweet to flip through this year’s handsome UK gifty-paperback, Old Rare New: The Independent Record Shop (Black Dog), and spy the "hi-de-ho"-ing Cab Calloway logo of the late, lamented Village Music in Mill Valley. Such an overflowing vinyl goldmine till it shuttered last year — another victim of high rents and a wildly fluctuating music marketplace. The book is far from perfect: was Amoeba Music ever called Amoeba Records, and why isn’t Grooves listed in the US store directory?

But Old Rare New has its heart in the right place in its offhand celebration of brick ‘n’ mortar music trolling, filled out with short Q&As with collector-head artists like Chan Marshall, Quiet Village’s Joel Martin, and Cherrystones’ Gareth Goddard. It’s refreshing to get an eyeball of Byron Coley’s contrarian ‘tude: if independent music stores are going bye-bye, he writes, "Don’t blame me or my record scum buddies. We’re still as idiotically interested in fetishizing vinyl product as we ever were, but we’re all getting goddamned old, and we’re not being replaced in a fast and timely manner."

Nonetheless, it’s sad to see Open Mind Music in the US store directory, still listed at 342 Divisadero even though owner Henry Wimmer closed that locale long ago, reopened at 2150 Market, and then — argh! — closed that storefront at the end of October to concentrate on online sales (a small Open Mind record enclave, however, remains within the collective-run Other Shop II at 327 Divisadero). Also not listed — and why not with such reissue jewels as Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem’s L’Incendie (Byg, 1974) and Humble Pie’s Town and Country (Immediate, 1969)? — is Streetlight Records in Noe Valley, set to close on Jan. 31.

Codgers in the know will recall the days when Aquarius sat a few doors down from Streetlight, making the spot a twofer destination for serious LP trawling. Streetlight took up the indie and avant slack in the area when Aquarius moved to Valencia Street: amid its substantial vinyl selection, you can dig up Les Georges Leningrad’s Deux Hot Dogs Moutarde Chou (Les Records Coco Cognac, 2002) on red vinyl and TITS’ and Leopard Leg’s estrogen-athon split-LP Throughout the Ages (Upset the Rhythm, 2006). Deals can be had with the 10 percent-off-everything sale that kicked off on Black Friday.

The ever-increasing gentrification of the street — the mob in front of Starbucks was nutty on a recent Sunday morn — has definitely had an impact on the shop, according to manager Sunlight Weismehl, who has worked at the 32-year-old flagship store for more than two decades. "I believe over the years the area has become a destination for high-end houses," he says, "and the artists and working class have been pushed aside as they have in many neighborhoods. Because of that we don’t get as many people coming in during the day." The San Jose and Santa Cruz Streetlights are doing fine, and the Streetlight at Market and Castro reaps the benefit of better foot traffic.

One twist concerning the 24th Street store’s demise: Streetlight isn’t getting kicked out by greedy out-of-town landlords — they’re closing themselves down. Streetlight owner Robert Fallon owns the Noe Valley shop’s building. "I believe he feels that the rent in the neighborhood is higher than what we’re paying," explains Weismehl.

In an effort to stay afloat and pay its way, the manager says the store tried to "touch on everything. We certainly tried to have strong international, jazz, and roots sections and to try to serve the neighborhood as much as possible. Half crazy obscure things and half whatever the neighborhood is looking for."

And Noe Valley music mavens have reacted in kind. "We’ve been getting a lot of responses ranging from writing letters to the owner to just saying they’ll be sad when we’re gone. Some say it’s the last thing they came down to the street for," Weismehl says, adding that with Real Foods gone and the neighboring video store closed, "it’s a question of how much [the remaining] shops serve the neighborhood." Not to mention the fact that there’s one less accommodating spot that will keep on a touring musician: Weismehl recalls such staffers as Rova’s Bruce Ackley, Comets on Fire’s Noel Harmonson, Sebadoh’s and Everest’s Russ Pollard, and Unwritten Law’s Pat Kim. And after Jan. 31? I’m going to have borrow a baby stroller to feel even remotely at home in the hood.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

NO AGE AND TITUS ANDRONICUS


ShockHound music site parties up its launch with a free show by the LA noise duo and the Glen Rock, N.J., rock five-piece, now signed to XL. Thurs/4, 7 p.m., free with RSVP at www.shockhound.com. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com

A FOGGY HOLIDAY 2008


SF indies give it up for this Talking House CD of carols. With the Trophy Fire, the Heavenly States, and more. Fri/5, 8:30 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

MURS


Expect a jammed club for the prescient Murs for President MC. Fri/5, 10 p.m., $15–<\d>$20. Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck, Berk. www.shattuckdownlow.com

SOULFUL HOLIDAY PARTY


The now-NorCal-dwelling soul-OG Darondo is spreading the deep magic. With Wallpaper and Nino Moschella. Fri/5, 9 p.m., $16–<\d>$21. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com

ENERGY ANNIVERSARY BLAST


Energy 92.7’s takes off for the fourth year with Cyndi Lauper, Michelle Williams, Lady GaGa, Morgan Page, and others. Sat/6, 8 p.m., $36–<\d>$46. Grand Ballroom at Regency Center, 1300 Van Ness, SF. www.ticketmaster.com

HANK IV AND MAYYORS


The SF garage-punk scrappers return from their luminary-littered East Coast tour and join the souped-up Sacto rock unit. With Traditional Fools. Sat/6, 9 p.m., $7. El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. www.elriosf.com

RAILCARS


Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart produced the SF band’s Cities vs. Submarines EP (Gold Robot) in his kitchen. With Religious Girls and Halcyonaire. Tues/9, 9 p.m., $8. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

Heaven-sent hip-hop?

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Everyone loves a young artist on the verge. When a new, talented voice emerges from nowhere, we all buzz and titter. As a result, John "Blu" Barnes isn’t talking to the press at the moment. According to the Los Angeles rapper’s manager, Jonathan Kim, Blu is "trying to clear his head before he starts working on his next album," which will probably be made for a to-be-confirmed major label. "Clearing his head" means tuning out the noise of the blogs, magazines, fanboys, and hip-hop critics that lavished attention on him.

It may be the first time Blu’s been silent by choice. He has stoked fans with sharp-tongued linguistics all year, issuing two albums — Johnson&Jonson, with producer Mainframe, and as C.R.A.C. (Collect Respect Anna Check) with producer/rapper Ta’raach, The Piece Talks (both Tres) — and scores of guest appearances on others’ rap tracks. The avalanche of material brought his smack-talking, pussy-hunting abilities to the fore — with increasing acclaim.

But in the high-stakes, winner-take-all world of hip-hop, one false move will not only get your ass dropped from a label roster like a kidney stone, it’ll get your album shelved indefinitely. In its December issue, XXL magazine inducted Blu into the "Freshman Class of ’09." It also included a brief "Graduation" story on last year’s picks, nearly all of whom have fallen victim to stalled careers, waning audiences, or artistic malaise.

Years ago, when Blu was a hungry teenage striver in Southern California, he referred to this dangerous world of superstars, prodigies and has-beens as heaven. Below the Heavens: In Hell Happy with Your New Imaginary Friend (Sound in Color, 2007), his collaboration with producer Alec "Exile" Manfredi, "was a concept I came up with in high school," he told me back in January. "I thought all the people I was associated with were so-called below the heavens because we all want to get to heaven, and heaven was the mainstream, like, commercial success. And we were below the heavens."

Blu’s path to heaven began with the help of Exile, whose career courses from underground to mainstream circles, from Emanon (his longtime indie-rap group with singer-rapper Aloe Blacc) to thug pioneers Mobb Deep. At the time, Blu was a self-described freestyler, the type of dude who battled other prospective rappers in huddled "cipher" circles outside LA nightclubs. Exile pushed him to write lyrics that were more than just invectives and put-downs.

"I was always pushing for a more personal record from him," Exile said. "He definitely resented me for that a little bit because he wanted to get his raw MC-type shit out. I helped him polish his style."

Blu still manages to talk a gang of shit on Below the Heavens. On the first track, "My World Is," he brags, "Back when I was a young spitter bitches used to ask me to kick a flow to them. Next thing you know I’m strokin’ ’em." But he’s also disarmingly sensitive and poetic. On "Simply Amazin’<0x2009>" he describes rapping "until I buckle and become winded / And all the air from out my lungs slips into the sky like weed smoke." On "The Narrow Path," he admits, "I need a pen, I need a pad, I need a place to go, to get this shit lifted off of my soul." Through deft linguistics, Blu yearns for better days, rapping to not only save his life, but improve it.

Back in January, Blu told me: "As I started formuutf8g the album, it seemed to be like a collection of my life on earth, which is striving to make it to heaven. I felt since that was what the record was turning out to be about, I felt the title fit in both ways." When Blu said "both ways," he referred to heaven on earth as well as the spiritual afterlife. "I definitely wanted the respect from [Below the Heavens]," he continued. "I just wanted people to hear me, and cats wonder who I am. And it did that plus more. Now I’m looking to step it up for the people."

In the year that followed, Blu fully indulged his "raw MC-type shit" with The Piece Talks and Johnson&Jonson. If neither album approaches Below the Heavensspiky brilliance, they at least confirmed that Blu’s lyrical talent was undeniable. Now he’s on the cusp of entering the heaven of mainstream rap world — and an uncertain future.

BLU

With U-N-I, Richie Cunning, and Fashawn

Tues/9, 9 p.m., $12–<\d>$14

Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1422

www.theindependentsf.com

Torch songs

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In the best promo photo for Sébastien Tellier’s third album, Sexuality (Record Makers), he sits in a shaft of light before a piano, his ever-present fitover sunglasses pushed up on the crown of his head, and a burnished gold hand rests on the shoulder of his Members Only jacket. Hovering over his left shoulder is a blank, benevolent casque belonging to the album’s producer, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo — one half of Daft Punk. It’s a silly scene of symbolic torch-passing. Outside of France, Daft Punk’s role as a synecdoche for modern French pop as a whole has previously only been played by Serge Gainsbourg, and imagining the Jesus-like Tellier trying to fill out Gainsbourg’s Repetto footwear and the Punks’ Gap khakis simultaneously is awkward.

At points, Sexuality makes that mantle fit better. The recording starts with "Roche," its gently slapping rhythm and Moroder-esque synth-sequencing mimicking the Biarritz surf Tellier conjures as he sings, "Je sens la chaleur de l’été / C’est ahh, c’est ahh." After tackling family and politics with his debut, L’incroyable vértité (2001), and his still-more-ambitious Politics (2005), respectively, Sexuality is Tellier’s latest go at finding what he calls a "master subject." The challenge here has nothing to do with taboo, but instead with how to approach such a massive topic without parroting the clichés that make it possible to talk about it in the first place.

In terms of pacing and mood, much of Sexuality stays with the tight knot of anticipation that forms in your gut before foreplay or even making out. De Homem-Christo is a light touch, and his main purpose is to keep Tellier from plunging into the masturbatory. Even if nothing here attempts to encompass the whole of human experience as Tellier’s "La Ritournelle" did, the album’s greatness is sublimated and spread out over its 11 tracks — plenty of time to warm up your lover, with no dips in concentration.

As with everything else on the full-length, "Roche" is nothing if not paced: the drum programming in particular has a Cartesian precision to it and the sounds are arranged in rational space. Having little to do with the labyrinthine wind-ups of Modeselektor’s Eurocrunk beats and none of the oversize, bitcrushed rock kits in Justice’s arsenal, Tellier seems to be working within another decade’s technological limitations — the results, if not always sexy, feel somehow closer to the mood, texture, and pace of actual sex.

More than half a dozen listens into the disc, the lyrics have already given up on revealing themselves as narrative or typically poetic. The meaning is only half there on a song like closer "L’amour et la violence," with the words’ other halves rolling off into pink steam over roiling classical arpeggios. With few established roles and nothing resembling an erotic scenario, Sexuality‘s bi-curious Franco-Teutonic funk is not quite enough to establish sensuousness and romance in brains scorched by the general availability of hardcore porn and its imaginary, but it’s one of the best places we can start. *

SÉBASTIEN TELLIER

With Hearts Revolution, Lilofee, and DJ sets by Black Shag, BT Magnum, and Safety Scissors

Thurs/4, doors 9 p.m., $15 advance

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

www.mezzaninesf.com

Boys to men

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Longevity in rap is the exception, not the rule, but those exceptions are glorious: witness E-40, who dates his career from his 1988 self-released 12-inch as a member of MVP. After 11 years with Jive Records, 40 signed to Lil Jon’s Warner Bros.-distributed BME for his 2006 Gold-certified album, My Ghetto Report Card. Now the 41-year-old Vallejo veteran has returned with The Ball Street Journal, which dropped Nov. 24, a Monday, to increase first week sales.

The same day, San Francisco independent SMC released From a Boy to a Man, the long-awaited seventh solo album by Fillmore legend San Quinn, who began recording in 1991 at age 14. "My competition was Kriss Kross," he told me in a phone interview several days earlier, neatly putting his endurance in perspective.

Though Quinn, now 31, released a handful of discs in his late teens on JT the Bigga Figga’s then-Priority-distributed Get Low Records, his success has always depended on his loyal local fanbase. Fueled by his regional radio hit, "Hell Yeah," his last disc, The Rock (SMC, 2005), is his biggest seller yet, moving more than 20,000 copies.

Yet despite good independent numbers and 17 years in the game, the powerfully deep-voiced Quinn is still hungry. "I’ve yet to blow all the way up," he said. "I want to be known worldwide, and I’m still slowly climbing that mountain."

THE BALLITICS OF RAPPIN’


Quinn makes a good point: if your audience keeps expanding, you can’t be said to have fallen off. A major label rapper like Yung Joc may have debuted with a triple-putf8um single — "It’s Goin Down" — in 2006, but where is he now, let alone 17 years from now? The overinflated major label economy of scale means Joc could sell 200,000 and still be a failure, whereas Quinn’s independent grinding has kept him viable with only a tenth of that figure. I somehow suspect Joc’s artistic legacy won’t compare with Quinn’s in terms of length or depth, regardless of sales.

"Lotta these new dudes is ringtone rappers," E-40 remarks on BSJ‘s "Tell It Like It Is." After 15 years of major-label activity, 40 knows whereof he speaks. He pioneered the "rapper as independent label head" model with his Sick Wid It Records, forcing the industry to take notice when his 1993 EP, The Mailman (Sick Wid It), debuted at no. 13 on Billboard‘s R&B chart with no major-label distribution deal.

While signed to Jive, 40 frequently complained the imprint never gave him that superstar push. He knew he could be bigger, and in an era of shrinking album sales, the fact that the well-promoted Ghetto Report Card scored 40 his first Gold since 1998’s The Element of Surprise (Sick Wid It/Jive) proved him right. (His 1995 Gold album for Jive, In a Major Way, went Putf8um in 2002, showing more artistic longevity than many an instant Putf8um disc.)

The push is not without its price, however. Don’t get me wrong: BSJ, to me, is clearly the best major-label rap disc of the year. Like every such recording, it’s too longand where Jive gave 40 free rein, the corporate hand of Warner Bros. is evident. For example, the Akon collection, "Wake It Up," is an admittedly catchy pop single though it sounds more like an Akon song showcasing 40. Similarly, the marquee power of Snoop Dogg can’t disguise the fact that his verse on "Pain No More" sucks, which is a shame, since 40’s verse rocks.

But overall, BSJ is a more distinctively E-40 disc than Ghetto, inasmuch as its tempo and feel varies more than the hyphy-fueled onslaught of its predecessor. (BSJ had 12 producers, where Ghetto had five.) "Earl," an atypical slice of moody mob music from Lil Jon, is the most classic-sounding E-40 track in years, while the more spiritual "Pray for Me," produced by longtime 40-collaborator Bosko, is a close second.

"It’s got an old-school, 1989/1990-kinda feel," said 40 by phone a month ago. "But I mixed it all up for the new generation." The new generation, to be sure, is much in evidence: in the strong contributions from 40’s producer/son Droop-E and rapper/protégé Turf Talk, especially the hyphied-out mob banger "Got Rich Twice." Rick Rock’s three spacious, sample-laden beats are, as usual, way ahead of their time. The rapper’s collaboration with Too $hort, "Sliding Down the Pole," might sound like old times, but the whistling Willy Will beat is as fresh a post-hyphy groove as anything on BSJ.

GROWING PAINS


Where BSJ is like a big-budget cinematic thriller, Quinn’s From a Boy is more like an autobiographical novel, with an emphasis on storytelling and a socially responsible undercurrent.

"If you want to know how a young black man feels in San Francisco, you can tap into this record," said Quinn. Yet his disc belies this everyman characterization. It’s saturated with Quinn’s personal history, from his mother’s struggles as a single parent on the title track, to his relationship with his sibling, Fillmore rapper Bailey, on "My Brother," to his advice to his 11-year-old son, Lil’ Quinn, who raps alongside his dad on "Billionaire." "Billionaire" displays a very different conception of the uses of wealth than most street rap: "College education for your children," Quinn raps. "That’s what we call livin’."

The extraordinary thing about From a Boy is how Quinn holds its various themes together, sounding neither preachy nor hypocritical. While nominally a gangsta rapper, Quinn is much more a "kill you if you fuck with me" than a "kill you because I enjoy it" MC. His crack-dealing persona is there — as on the infectious single "Rockin’ Up Work" — but the overwhelming impression the full-length leaves is cautionary. Opening with actual KTVU sound clips about a deadly Fillmore shooting, "They’re All Waitin’ on Me" reminds me of Paris in its depiction of the urban war zone and is much more typical of the album’s vibe.

Quinn admits he’s not the best beat-picker, and given how incendiary the Traxamillion-produced bonus track, "Do Ya Thizzle," is, I wish there were a couple of more A-list collaborations. Quinn’s protégé, Filipino producer Dexbeats, is a great find, and the songs are so well-written, they render such second-guessing moot.

All told, both 40 and Quinn have reaffirmed their OG status in Bay Area rap. It’ll be interesting to see whether BSJ will equal the success of 40’s first Warner Bros. disc and whether the increasingly national visibility of SMC will get Quinn any extra regional play.

‘Barf Manifesto’

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Maybe it’s the urge to purge months of presidential campaign propaganda or eight years of George W. Bush. Maybe it’s the holiday season. All I know is this: barf is in. The evidence is all around us. On TV, you’ll find Hurl, "an eating competition with an extreme sports chaser" that couples tunnel rides in steel balls with mac ‘n’ cheese gorge-fests in an attempt to make contestants vomit. On the magazine racks, no less a trend bible than Vice recently devoted an illustrated feature to a guy whose raison d’être is puking upon select stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Based on the photographic evidence, he chooses his targets well ("Wesley Snipes is my least favorite person on Earth. Have you heard about his ear hair?"). But I do have to quarrel with his belief that Elizabeth Taylor deserves a Technicolor yawn.

Without a doubt, the best addition to the thriving contemporary vomitorium is Dodie Bellamy’s Barf Manifesto (Ugly Ducking Presse, 32 pages, $7). The fact that Bellamy’s text is a sort of celebratory puke in response to Eileen Myles’ 2004 essay "Everyday Barf" only fortifies vomit’s role in contemporary consciousness. The publisher’s promo text for Barf Manifesto cheekily likens it to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as "an intimate account of a long, sometimes tortured but enduring friendship between two female writers." Taking that cue, I’ll risk sacrilege and say I prefer Bellamy’s book to Gertrude Stein’s.

It’s a mistake to assume, as I initially did, that Barf Manifesto might ideally be placed next to Valerie Solanas’ similarly slim yet convulsive 1968 SCUM Manifesto, which was recently republished by BüK America at the street tract value of $1.49. Not a rant so much as a pair of roiling bursts of text, Bellamy’s book has feminist intent, but ultimately it presents an artistic credo, in the manner of Andre Breton’s paeans to Surrealism. She sister-spews a trail of artistic connections that leads from Myles’ essay to the nauseating beauty and power of Op Art figurehead Bridget Riley’s imagery.

Bellamy weaves through the intestinal curves of a complex anecdotal maze — we accompany her and Myles through the violent smashing of a piñata, a vivid confrontation over a toilet, and a hilarious exchange about Lynndie England. Along the way, she works out the mother issues so often connected to stomach sickness. She declares that she’s out to "attack the essay" and (carrying on from her 2006 book Academonia) to "shit on academic pretension," but really, she pukes on the doctrinaire BS of insidious Professor X’s across the land. In the process, she transcends the occasionally overbearing libidinal influence of Kathy Acker on some of her other work. A bravura lindy hop through the possibilities of English, Barf Manifesto is too good for a porcelain god.

In the American tree

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REVIEW I’ll remain calm while reviewing Bernadette Mayer’s new collection of poems, Poetry State Forest (New Directions, 128 pages, $17.95). It’s sort of a B-sides-and-rarities collection. I first heard "Easy Puddings" through a recording of a reading-interview Mayer gave with Susan Howe on KPFA-FM in the 1970s. While not all of the poems are new, all of them might be new to you.

This dense forest is, first and foremost, public property. Although Mayer’s poetry looks and often is intimidating, it also offers warm welcome: it comes straight out of the ground ("mud’s an introduction to thinking," she writes), and its loaded with good humor ("mother give me five I know not what I do"). Add to this the fact that Mayer has always been fiercely and unapologetically political:

I only have faith in writers

One painted on a barn "FUCK BUSH!"

This gives a bad name to fucking

Like Catullus, whose work she’s translated, local news and the people and places of her life (in upstate New York) flash in and out of the poems, creating a choppy river of narrative. These flashes of local news suffuse their subjects with a mythical quality. They come with creation myths: "& when phil first met max, born in henniker, new hampshire, he was jumping on the top of our yellow couch, saying, ‘i’m high!’." Mayer’s neighbor Helen Green ("i buy brown / beige & white eggs / from the greens"), who grew up in the upstate New York town of Troy, becomes "Helen of Troy."

Poetry State Forest is packed with weird trees and you may need snowshoes. But the experimental nature of the writing is born of necessity, not art: it charts a mind too complex, too humanly thoughtful and restless to be encapsulated into neat syntax. Line by line, ideas bump into one another in explosions of beautifully torqued grammar: a series of sonnets gives way to a long section of notebook fragments, or a dialogue between Mayer and her house.

Over the course of her long and awesome career, Mayer’s reverently studied and mastered one poetic form after another (the sonnet, epigram, and sestina, among others), and then gleefully watched each implode. She’s really the direct heir to Gertrude Stein. And if William Burroughs was right that "intellectuals are deviants in the U.S.," Mayer is living proof by the sheer force of her intellect, and the capable way it undoes syntax, form, and orthodoxy at every turn.

The first poem in Poetry State Forest, "Chocolate Poetry Sonnet," ends with the couplet "poetry is as good as chocolate / chocolate’s as good as poetry." I want to know where Bernadette Mayer gets her chocolate.

For a new cinema

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Commenting on the relationship between his identity as a filmmaker and his identity as a novelist, the late Alain Robbe-Grillet told the New York Times, "We are friends, but never collaborators." Like many of Robbe-Grillet’s pronouncements concerning his own work, the statement is pithy and guarded, and cannot be taken entirely at face value.

Robbe-Grillet is primarily known as one of the chief proponents and practitioners of the nouveau roman ("new novel"), which sought to extricate literature from its formal, stylistic, and historical precedents. But he was also a prolific filmmaker, and film frequently creeps into the discussions in his essay collection, For a New Novel (1963), as both a frame of reference and as a kind of practical model. Viewers will get a chance to decide for themselves how in cahoots Robbe-Grillet the filmmaker was with Robbe-Grillet the novelist during "Enigmas and Eternity: The Films of Alain Robbe-Grillet," a series curated by Joel Shepard of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts which includes several films directed by Robbe-Grillet that have long been unavailable in the United States.

Ironically, Robbe-Grillet’s first foray into film was his much-lauded collaboration with director Alain Resnais, as the screenwriter for his landmark 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad (which is part of the series). Marienbad received plenty of acclaim upon its release, netting a Golden Lion in Venice and an Oscar nomination for Robbe-Grillet’s screenplay. It also generated nearly as much controversy. Claiming to have sat through the entire thing — let alone, that one "got it" — became a kind of shibboleth for the ’60s intelligentsia.

Two years later, Robbe-Grillet would step behind the camera to direct his first film, L’Immortale, in which Marienbad‘s influence is still fresh. Like Marienbad, Robbe-Grillet’s directorial debut is a gorgeous, obtuse math proof that doesn’t necessarily prove anything. Its characters are merely new variables being plugged into a familiar equation — a man ("N") tries to track down an enigmatic woman ("L") and convince her of their previous meeting against an exotic backdrop — that is designed to shuffle them through time and space. The palaces of Nymphenburg and Schleissheim have been swapped out for the souks and mosques of Istanbul. As the femme fatale, Françoise Brion in Nina Ricci replaces Delphine Seyrig in Chanel, doing her best catalog poses as she insists to her pursuer that the ancient capital around them is, "not a real city, but a musical set for a romantic comedy."

L’Immortale is in some ways Robbe-Grillet’s screen test. Cribbing a few moves from Resnais while trying out a few new tricks, Robbe-Grillet seems to be playing around with, as he describes in a 1956 essay in For A New Novel, the cinematic image’s ability to "suddenly (and unintentionally)" restore the reality of "gestures, objects, movements, and outlines." When watching any film, our field of vision is always bounded by the camera’s frame. But Robbe-Grillet exploits this technological feature, forcing us to focus on the objects and people on screen to the extent that what they signify becomes secondary to their presence.

This makes for lots of shots of empty chairs (Robbe-Grillet has a thing for empty chairs), frozen crowds out of Marienbad‘s manicured gardens, and several "impossible" continuous pans in which the same people keep remarkably reappear in front of the slowly sweeping camera. Despite however many times Brion asserts that "everything is fake," Istanbul is the most obstinately present thing about L’Immortale. The Turkish merchants, maids, souvenir hawkers, and child guides who appear on the sidelines are largely oblivious to the inchoate memories and stifled desires of the film’s European ciphers. In a possible proto-swipe at Orientalism, Robbe-Grillet seems to be saying that Istanbul itself — that survivor of multiple Crusades, invasions, and reconstructions — will continue to endure, outliving the Istanbul of European fantasy.

True to the spirit of Robbe-Grillet, I can only tentatively state to what extent L’Immortale is representative of the rest of his filmography (as of press time, only one other film, 1966’s surprisingly funny meta-noir Tran-Europe Express, was screened). No doubt, he’d be self-conscious about the air of canonicity necessarily implied by a retrospective. "The writer must proudly consent to bear his own date," he writes in one essay, "knowing that there are no masterpieces in eternity, but only works in history." Undoubtedly, there are times when Robbe-Grillet’s work shows its age — Marienbad in particular has become fodder for countless perfume commercials and parodies of pretentious art cinema. Robbe-Grillet also recognized that prescience could be a double-edged sword. As if writing a self-fulfilling prophecy, he observes,"[Novels] survive only to the degree that they have left the past behind them and heralded the future." This idea equally applies to his films.

ENIGMAS AND ETERNITY: THE FILMS OF ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET

Through Dec. 18

$6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

Good Pizza

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Are hotel restaurants second-class citizens? Do they fly coach? Not all of them, certainly, in this city: several of our grandest restaurants, including Masa’s, Campton Place, and the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, are in (grand) hotels. Still, the hotel restaurant, as a general proposition, gives a brief shiver. One has the abiding suspicion that these enterprises serve a captive audience consisting of out-of-towners — people here for conventions or conferences, or maybe just plain old tourists. In a tourist town like ours, tourists are the objects of considerable ambivalence. They spend money, yes, which is a particularly attractive gesture during times of economic apocalypse, but they’re also suckers for cable-car rides and dishes like cioppino served in hollowed-out rounds of sourdough bread.

They’re also not too likely to be found at such places as the intersection of Seventh and Mission streets, where, after nightfall, the look and a good deal of the feel of gloomy Gotham City in Tim Burton’s first Batman movie set in. Scraps of stained newspaper rustle in the gutters, and passersby mutter to themselves. You wouldn’t expect to find a hotel here, and yet there is one: it’s called Good Hotel, it’s part of the Joie de Vivre chain (which has made something of an art of bringing alternative style to sketchy or otherwise unlikely sites), and its restaurant is called Good Pizza. Yes, a hotel restaurant that’s a pizzeria! This could be a first.

Tony pizzerias have been blooming in the city in the past few years, and Good Pizza is one of them. It emphasizes high quality ingredients — how about some fromage blanc from Cowgirl Creamery, or bacon from Nueske? — and it’s also bright and good-looking in a way that reminded me of IKEA. The main color is an orange-peach, but there’s plenty of warm wood trim, glass, and shiny stainless-steel for the Stockholm look. The bright and generous lighting, in addition to making the interior glow, also flows out to the street. The pizzeria is a lantern on its otherwise ill-lit corner.

The menu is quite limited, with a twist. On the non-twisty side, you can choose from among nine pies with predetermined toppings; the possibilities here range from a simple, classic margherita pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil) to a more oddball pie featuring the aforementioned fromage blanc in the company of seasonal organic apples, toasted walnuts, and scallions. The twist is that you can put together your own pizza, which, so far as I know, isn’t permitted at such places as Delfina, Pizzetta 211, Piccino, or Gialina.

Perhaps there is wisdom in not permitting people the freedom to command their own pies. Seinfeld‘s Kramer tried to put cucumbers on a pizza, until Poppie smacked him down. Let this be a lesson to us all.

Cukes aren’t an option at Good Pizza, but one evening we did order a pie that we supposed would be a splendid, if brief, monument to vegetarian possibility but didn’t turn out quite right. The culprit, we decided, was the sun-dried tomatoes, which in certain contexts can add a sausage-y weight but in others can be noisy and uncooperative. Our pizza, a 12-incher ($13), began with the included tomato sauce and a proprietary cheese blend, and we added (besides the sun-dried tomatoes), roasted mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and fresh tomatoes (an extra $1 each). We couldn’t quite put a finger on the exact nature of the clash, although artichoke hearts can be as recalcitrant as sun-dried tomatoes, and the fresh tomatoes had been added after the pizza had been lifted from the oven, leaving them raw and untethered to everything else.

Much simpler and therefore more coherent was the pepperoni pizza ($14 for the 12-incher). Has there ever been a bad pepperoni pizza? This one was made with Hobbs pepperoni, which made it sound a little hoity-toity. But the sausage was not only garlicky and peppery but greasy; it left little pools of orange everywhere, like chorizo in a queso fundido, which made me feel that it was half-time at a college football game somewhere.

No pizza is complete without a salad, and Good Pizza offers one, and only one: the good salad ($8 for the large version, with an herbed flatbread). The salad is basically a Greek salad without feta cheese; its players include tomato and red bell pepper slices, chunks of cucumber, kalamata olives, and artichoke hearts, all bathed in a memorable lemon-oregano vinaigrette.

No pizzeria experience is complete without some beer or wine. You could enjoy a Moretti ($4.50) with your pie — Italian beer is underrated — but a livelier choice might be a glass of red or white wine ($5.75) from Más Wine Company in Cloverdale. In a small irony, the beers (there’s also Coors Light) come in bottles, while the wines by the glass are on tap. The Más 2006-vintage vino was an impressive proprietary blend of syrah and cabernet (with a dash of petite sirah) that tasted strongly of cherries and was indeed, as the winery’s Web site promises, "food friendly" and "approachable."

Given the ovens that must be the center of any pizzeria’s kitchen, it isn’t surprising that Good Pizza’s shiny display cases are full of baked goods, including scones, muffins, and cookies — wonderfully intense lemon-sugar cookies for just 90 cents. Not bad. (The baked goods aren’t actually baked onsite but come from Pacific Baking Company.) The scones and muffins also clue us in that Good Pizza, like many another hotel restaurant, does a smart morning business. Who wouldn’t love the smell of breakfast calzones in the morning, with the sun breaking over the corner of Seventh and Mission and a fresh newspaper to read?

GOOD PIZZA

Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–3 p.m., 5–10 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–10 p.m.

112 Seventh St., SF

(415) 626-8381

www.jdvhotels.com/dining/good_pizza

Beer and wine

AE/MC/V

Not quiet

Wheelchair accessible

Beauty, reappraised

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First look by Matt Sussman:

The deYoung Museum’s retrospective of the late, great Yves Saint Laurent’s 40-year career designing haute couture comes at an awkward moment for fashion and its fans. With the country facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, “recessionista” is the buzzword du jour and Vogue and its ilk are trading their trend watches for old bromides such as “investment pieces” and “necessary luxuries.”

This strange timing is certainly no fault of the de Young, which had the foresight to begin planning this massive retrospective (and to ensure that SF was its only US stop) in 2002, well before the designer’s untimely passing last June. Amid the profligate bailouts, “Yves Saint Laurent: 40 Years of Fashion” not only offers up a snappy lesson in fashion history, it provides a necessary helping of that luxury so often promised, but debatably afforded, by public art institutions: beauty, reappraised.

Saint Laurent collected beautiful things — his homes in Paris and Marrakech were exquisitely appointed with Louis XVI furniture and paintings by Picasso and Goya — and he made the creation of beautiful things his life’s work. One can walk through the exhibit and simply appreciate this — the jackets that flawlessly capture Van Gogh’s brushwork through sequins; the evening cape that’s a cataract of autumnal feathers. But Saint Laurent is a master because he consistently made all the paillettes and feathers and evening gowns and safari suits telegraph what Tim Gunn likes to call “a point of view.”

Saint Laurent’s point of view was that beauty is a form of power and nothing is sexier than confidence. “The body of a woman is not an abstract idea,” he once said, “[A dress] is not made to be contemplated but to be lived in, and the woman who lives in it must feel herself beautiful and right in it.” Even on unobtrusive mannequins, you can see how Saint Laurent’s silhouettes were always conscious of — and gracious toward — a woman’s body. Many garments would be as flattering on a 20-something gamine as on a woman in the fullness of middle age. Perhaps this is why Catherine Deneuve has continuously worn YSL since 1967.

This is immediately apparent in the two rows of garments, backlit in soft blue, that form the entryway to the rest of the exhibit. Here are all the Saint Laurent hallmarks: transparency, androgynous tailoring, the perfected detail — all executed with a sly playfulness and flair for drama. A 1968 evening gown of sheer black silk chiffon, with a ring of ostrich feathers discreetly placed just below the navel, shocks first with all that it leaves exposed, and then with its elegance. A more modest 1991 two-piece evening ensemble dedicated to ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire (to whom Joseph Cornell also paid homage), evokes the casual ease of a dancer’s cool-down outfit — save for the exquisite bugle bead embellished hems. Several examples of Saint Laurent’s signature Le Smoking ensembles — his feminine remake of the tuxedo — are also on display, each one a master class in fit and proportion.

The “Yves Saint Laurent revolution” was not merely a matter of taking cues from street style and changing social mores and gender roles. Like Coco Chanel before him, Saint Laurent’s prerogative was to make clothes for women who wanted to dress for themselves, and not for the Social Registry circuit that still dictated the shopping habits of couture clients when he took over Dior, at the tender age of 21, in 1957.

Granted, many of Saint Laurent’s repeat customers — those names printed on the bottom of the exhibit’s explanatory cards like cartouches in an Egyptian temple — still went to charity luncheons, galas, and season openings. But clad in YSL, they could cause tongues to wag, cluck disapprovingly, or flutter with lust. Saint Laurent’s 1971 ’40s-inspired collection initially struck a sour note with fashion critics, who turned up their noses at what they saw as tasteless “Vichy chic.” But looking at that collection’s signature piece now — a sumptuous, acid green fox fur jacket with shoulder padding befitting a linebacker, or Joan Crawford — one sees a kind of social armor. It says, “don’t fuck with me,” in the classiest way possible. No wonder Naomi Campbell wore the jacket (with just a pair of tights and heels) in Saint Laurent’s farewell retrospective.

“I’m the last couturier,” Saint Laurent intones in a voiceover near the beginning of David Teboul’s intimate 2002 documentary Yves Saint Laurent 5 avenue Marceau 75116 Paris. It’s hard to scan how serious the gently self-deprecating Saint Laurent is being — although his visible physical frailty belies the sharpness of his instincts and his eye as he designs his final spring/summer collection.

Since Saint Laurent’s death, fashion has become yet more rapaciously capitalistic and pragmatically democratic: houses have become branches in multi-brand luxury conglomerates, designers sell to both Target and Barney’s, and haute couture has largely become an accessory to advertising. Saint Laurent’s “last couturier” statement comes off as a declaration of purity in the face of such seismic shifts. A palliative for these sour times, “Yves Saint Laurent: 40 Years of Fashion” grants us unprecedented access to the beautiful world he crafted, whose dignity he sought to protect until the end.

YVES SAINT LAURENT: 40 YEARS OF FASHION

Through April 5, 2009

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden, SF

www.famsf.org

———–

Second look by Kimberly Chun:

Menage A Trois: Looking And Longing And “Yves Saint Laurent”

TAKE ONE The flat, pop, almost banal brilliance of Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) hinges not on tragically trite dungeon-mistress corsets but on the critical tension between the silently exploding, sexually exploratory interior life of Severine (Catherine Denueve) and her frigid-to-frozen good-bourgeois exterior, impeccably framed by Yves Saint Laurent’s prim-chic uniform-esque daywear. These costumes continue to inspire imitators’ collections today — who can forget the jingle-all-the-way opening scene, where Severine rebuffs her handsome surgeon husband during a carriage ride? Her suave Prince Charming abruptly orders their coachman to roughly drag his resistant, now-struggling bride into the fairytale forest — the brass buttons on the men’s coats perfectly rhyme with those on Severine’s five-alarm scarlet wool suit — where they tie her up, tear off that perfectly tailored jacket, whip, and molest her. Bien sur, this is just Severine’s idle before-bed rape and violation fantasy, made all the more pungent by the perverse spoiling of Saint Laurent’s exquisite getups.

At this point in his career, the designer was fully occupied, dreaming up four full collections a year — two for ready-for-wear and two for haute couture — composed of as many as 100 ensembles. Yet he still loved to design for stage and screen. This job led to a lifelong friendship with Deneuve. One iconic frock from Belle de Jour — the sublimely austere, black wool barathea A-line with proper white satin collar and cuffs — is on display at “Yves Saint Laurent,” the exhaustive YSL retrospective at the de Young. An ever-so-slightly-hip-slung black patent belt nearly disappears beneath an invisible front placket closure: black on black. There may be more memorable outfits in the film — particularly the buttoned-up Severine’s protective-shell outerwear — but this piece, redolent of maids, nuns, schoolteachers, and other archetypal images of traditional female service — throws the distance between Severine’s desire for debasement and her icy, blue-eye-shadow-frosted hauteur into stark relief. It’s a study in contrasts: puritanical, yet in its girlish, unconstrained, almost innocent lines — also found in the gray trapeze dress Saint Laurent dreamed up for Christian Dior in 1958 — it eschews the predictable sexuality of the previous era’s “New Look,” with its nipped waists and full womanly skirts.

TAKE TWO Saint Laurent never shied from fantasy, and the Orientalist/colonialist dreams of the designer, who was born in Algiers and spent much of his later life in Morocco, are in full effect at the de Young — Jean Paul Gaultier dined out on the hyper-exaggerated cone breasts that Saint Laurent first conjured in his 1967 African collection. But equally fantastic, if pegged to more utilitarian, workday pursuits, are the examples of women’s wear influenced by salty Mediterranean seafarers, pin-striped swells, and animal-skin-clad hunters. Saint Laurent takes the functional and elevates it until it is almost painfully, acutely sensuous: witness 1968’s suede thigh-high boots accentuating an all-legs Amazon, accompanied by a figure-masking suede tunic and visor-ed hood. Nearby is his first safari jacket from 1968, laces descending from the neckline above a hip-riding ring belt, shorts, and tall boots. Tom Ford borrowed such insouciant lacing to revive moribund Gucci in the ’90s. Veruschka famously struck a pose in this outfit for the fashion press, but I can’t help but imagine longtime Saint Laurent muse and his femme counterpart Betty Catroux as its genuine inspiration.

Less lioness than angular blonde whippet, perpetually booted, putf8um blonde, and a permanent member of her and Yves’ imaginary band Les Saints (Catroux’s maiden name is Saint), the androgynous Catroux — who haunted the exhibition’s media preview at the de Young — was a mannequin for the house of Chanel when Saint Laurent spied her at a nightclub and insisted she work for him instead. A year after their meeting, Saint Laurent designed his first smoking jacket or tuxedo for women: “It was his first step in the exploration of masculine dress within a feminine framework,” writes Alicia Drake in The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris (Back Bay, 2006). “The idea of girls dressing like boys and the tensions and attraction that could evoke was a daring new concept in fashion after a decade characterized by graphic, doll-like dresses, white tights, and bouncing hair.” This huntress is the flip of Belle de Jour‘s anti-heroine — aggressive, sexually liberated, and ready to loosen those lacings.

TAKE THREE Bridal gowns inevitably close couture shows, and while some fabulist fashionistas might prefer Saint Laurent’s opulent 1980 tribute to The Merchant of Venice-style Shakespeare or his outrageous but borderline gimmicky 1999 bridal Eve in a pink silk rose bikini, flower ankle bracelet, and train, I prefer the laugh-aloud audaciousness of his “queen baby” infanta/infantile 1965 bridal sock. Call it a divine bride-in-a-sack. Wittily foregrounding the untouchable yet phallic purity of bride-as-fantasy-virgin, Saint Laurent wraps his imaginary maiden in an intricately hand-knit, fisherman-style, ivory wool swaddling. The knobby knit encapsulates her head. Her arms disappear behind poncho-like slits. The designer’s beloved ribbons and bows punctuate her face, waist, and ankles, and pilgrim-buckled shoes poke out beneath. This is bride as a baby bottle cozy, ready to pop — evoking some creamy, dreamy, organic future, as well as some alien yet recognizable, marriage-as-Iron Maiden past.

Sensational trans-bashing at SF Weekly

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OPINION SF Weekly published an article Nov. 26 with the headline "Border Crossers." The subhead explained the thesis: "Long rap sheet? No problem. Transgender Latina hookers in SF are successfully fighting deportation by asking for asylum."

The title successfully encapsulates the Jerry Springer-like journalism masquerading as a feature article in an alternative weekly in San Francisco. While I would normally just dismiss this as another example of how SF Weekly is turning into the National Enquirer, the article is important in that it reveals the intense discrimination transgender immigrant women who do sex work face in San Francisco — and unfortunately, quite possibly jeopardizes an incredibly essential legal protection.

The writer, Lauren Smiley, apparently believes she has unearthed a shocking secret: that transgender women may receive asylum in the United States based on intense discrimination in their home countries. So trans immigrants can avoid deportation even when they have been arrested for prostitution and have rap sheets.

As Smiley notes, immigration judges and asylum officers have the discretion to grant asylum when a transgender woman presents a showing of a well-founded fear of persecution based on gender identity. Even Smiley admits that transgender women face violence and intense discrimination in their home countries; however, what Smiley finds the most egregious is that some small subset of the asylum-seeking women have been prosecuted for sex work.

What Smiley single-mindedly ignores is the astonishing statistics that show an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent for transgender women of color, and perhaps even higher statistics for undocumented women in San Francisco. Instead of pointing to the well-documented obstacles transgender women face in employment, Smiley interviews one transgender woman who was able to get a job as evidence that transgender women really do not have to be "hookers" to survive. (Yes, she really did use the word "hookers".)

Without any context or analysis, Smiley quoted Dan Stein, president of the "Federation for American Immigration Reform" (FAIR) as a credible critic of the practice of granting asylum to immigrant transgender women. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently officially designated FAIR as a hate group, but nowhere in her article does Smiley mention that the organization is considered one of the least trustworthy, if not laughable, sources for information on immigration.

What concerns me most is not the cheapness of the shot, but rather that — like so much sensationalist journalism — a piece like this gives fuel to right-wing activists like FAIR. Even Smiley notes that the Republican Party has included in its platform an end to the practice that has literally saved many lives.

What is even more astounding is that last year, Smiley received an award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for an article about how doctors were using a new treatment for transgender children so that they wouldn’t develop into their biological sex until after puberty — which would give those kids the choice to transition later.

Yet in the Nov. 26 piece, when describing the landmark case of Geovanni Hernandez-Montiel, who was the first to get asylum based on gender identity, this award-winning writer frequently refers to Giovanni using the male pronoun "he." While I would not expect most journalists to give a nuanced perspective on Giovanni’s gender identity, I do expect a journalist who has received an award from an LGBT media watchdog group to allow for a more fluid understanding of Giovanni’s gender. I called Smiley and she acknowledged that she should have better described FAIR. When I asked her about the other problems, she simply said I should write a letter to SF Weekly.

In San Francisco, can’t we expect and demand better?

Robert Haaland is co-chair of SF Pride at Work, a LGBT labor organization. Alexandra Byerly is program coordinator, EL-LA Program Para Trans-Latinas. Nikki Calma is a member of the Commission of the Status of Women. Cecilia Chung is chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission

Transforming traffic analysis

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› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY A court injunction against new bicycle projects in San Francisco (see "Stationary biking," 5/16/07) could get lifted next year, thanks to environmental studies released Nov. 26 and headed to the Board of Supervisors next month. But it’s a subtle, technical change in how city officials analyze traffic impacts that could have a more far-reaching implications.

It’s called Level of Service Reform and it would change the triggering mechanism for when projects need to conduct full-blown environmental impact reports, an expensive and time-consuming requirement that led to the three-year bike project injunction. And LOS reform has been rattling around the city bureaucracy long before the Guardian wrote about it two-and-a-half years ago ("The slow lane," 5/17/06).

"It’s either wonderful that I started working on this in 2002, or it’s embarrassing," Rachel Hiatt of the San Francisco Transportation Authority told a Nov. 19 meeting of TransForm (formerly the Transportation and Land Use Coalition) on the subject.

The California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 requires EIRs for projects with potentially significant environmental impacts, as is the case when the level of service (LOS) at an intersection could be changed. LOS is measured by the amount of time it takes a car to pass through a given area. The time consumed by the car is often referred to as control delay. Measured by grades A through F, control delay per motor vehicle times of up to 30 seconds (E grade) are acceptable in San Francisco.

Designating sections of certain busy streets to accommodate a bike lane would affect the control delay, thereby earning the area a lower LOS grade. Since cars now essentially have priority over alternative forms of transportation, many potential bike lanes have been stranded by the LOS standard.

City officials are working to replace the LOS measure with a new one based on auto trips generated (ATG), using 1 ATG as the threshold for an EIR. Projects that generate no car trips will not be seen as having any environmental impact, thereby moving through the approval process quicker and cheaper.

"LOS needs to be taken out of the picture," Hiatt said.

The argument for LOS replacement is not solely about the need to accommodate other transit modes, but about lowering costs and making government more efficient. Hiatt outlined other problems with the current measure as the failure to accurately gauge environmental impact, failure to reflect the city’s "transit-first" policy priorities, and an inefficient CEQA review process.

Development advisor Mike Yarne of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development said that if the city wants to topple LOS, the Transit Authority has a case to make. "What the TA needs to show is that ATG is a more effective proxy to calculate environmental harm," Yarne said.

The city is also considering instituting a mitigation fee to be paid by project sponsors to compensate for environmental impact. Proceeds from the fee will be used to enhance all existing modes of transit, pedestrian safety, and could even include planting trees.

"The fee will go toward making people move faster," Yarne said.

Yarne admits that it could be a little difficult to make both changes at once. San Francisco will be the first city in California to create a mitigation fee, so other cities are taking notes.

"It would be quite an accomplishment if we could make it happen. It’s never been done," explained Yarne, noting that most cities have come to recognize that CEQA does not work well in urban areas. "The irony of ironies is the stopping of the bike plan."

Last week the TA released a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the San Francisco Bicycle Plan. With almost 900 days since the last new bike lane was constructed, the new bike plan will allow a roughly 75 percent increase to the current network..

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum expressed hope in the potential of the new EIR, slated to be approved this spring, after which the plan will be finalized and the city can go back to court to try to get the injunction lifted.

"The draft EIR is definitely a big step toward completion, but more needs to be done," she said. "The ridiculous exercise of slowing the bike plan down is a great case for why we need environmental review reform."

Stop PG&E’s corporate welfare

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EDITORIAL Just in time for the holiday season — and the colder weather — Pacific Gas and Electric Co. wants to shift millions of dollars in fees off big industrial customers and force residential consumers to pay more for natural gas.

The move would set a terrible precedent, and San Francisco officials should join the consumer groups that are calling on the California Public Utilities Commission to reject the plan.

At issue is California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE), a state-mandated program that helps low-income consumers pay for basic gas service — enough to heat their homes and cook their food. CARE costs PG&E nothing; the entire subsidy system is paid for by modest surcharges on every utility bill in the state. But now the biggest gas users — giant corporations like Exxon Mobil and Chevron — want to stop paying the surcharge, and PG&E, along with San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, is taking up their cause. The three giant utilities have asked the CPUC to reduce their subsidy contribution by $90 million. Residential customers would pick up the slack. Why? Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman, told Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus that "We’ve got to try to help make it more attractive for businesses to do business in California."

But Chevron and Exxon Mobil aren’t suffering from a hostile business climate in this state. Both have reported record profits in the past year. The CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, was paid $16.7 million; Chevron’s CEO, David O’Reilly, made $15.74 million. The fee shift wouldn’t help small businesses much; it’s based on how much energy a customer uses, so the big energy-intensive industries pay the most.

The best way to boost the business climate in this recession era is to promote consumer spending — which means putting more money in the pockets of residents. Raising the gas bills of people who are already hurting will have the opposite effect.

"It’s an absolute outrage that the biggest companies would be given a discount on the backs of ratepayers," Mindy Spatt, media advocacy director at The Utility Reform Network (TURN), told us. "Everyone’s so worried about making the climate good for businesses, but what about the climate for people?"

A CPUC administrative law judge ruled against the utilities in November, but the case will go to the full commission, possibly as soon as Dec. 18. (Details are online at the Bruce Blog at sfbg.com.)

San Francisco has an interest in the outcome, since the city’s economy will take another hit if PG&E gets away with this. And, of course, it’s ironic that the utility would take this step just after it spent $10 million to defeat a local public-power measure (which would have lowered electric rates and helped both small and large businesses, as well as consumers).

The supervisors ought to pass a resolution opposing the plan and City Attorney Dennis Herrera should file a formal statement of opposition on behalf of the city.

In another front on another battleground, state assemblymember Tom Ammiano and state senator Mark Leno are introducing a joint resolution that would put the Legislature on record as supporting the legal challenge to the same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, and as raising concerns that the measure violates the equal protection and separation of powers safeguarded in the state constitution (see "Tyranny of the majority," 11/26/08).

Leno told us that the intent isn’t to put pressure on the California Supreme Court, which will begin considering the case in January, but to make clear the Legislature’s intent that substantial changes to the constitution such as this should go through the more cumbersome revision process.

Joining Leno and Ammiano in sponsoring the bill are Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Assemblymember John Perez, and state senate president Darrell Steinberg and state senator Christine Kehoe. Leno said he expects others to sign on as well. It’s a solid idea, and the Legislature should approve it.

Editor’s Notes

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

I was out of town the day Tom Ammiano appeared at his final meeting as a San Francisco supervisor. Too bad; I would have gone, no matter how busy I was, just to be a part of history.

I know that sounds silly. The Barack Obama inauguration will be part of history. The election of Harvey Milk was part of history. Ammiano’s last day? Hey, the guy’s moving on to Sacramento. Take a bow, everyone says thanks, and another local politician takes another political job. History?

Well, yeah, actually. Because when the history of progressive politics is written in this town (and I hope some other poor sucker takes on that job so I don’t have to) Tom Ammiano will go down as a central figure in the movement that turned San Francisco around.

It’s worth noting that the movie Milk, celebrating the life of the gay pioneer, opened around the same time Ammiano was clearing out his City Hall office. The connection goes deeper than the fact that they were both queer men fighting for basic human rights and dignity at a time when that was a huge uphill struggle.

Milk was part of an urban movement that came out of the 1960s and came of age in the 1970s that sought to wrest control of San Francisco from a cadre of military and big business leaders who had been running it since World War II. The agenda of the crew that we collectively refer to as "downtown" was turning the sleepy port city of the 1930s into the financial headquarters for Pacific Rim trade. They wanted San Francisco to be another Manhattan; they laid plans, they put the machinery in place — and they never asked the people who lived here whether that was the future we wanted.

Because all that downtown development meant higher rents, more evictions, gentrification, budget deficits, too many cars, the death of small businesses … and by the mid-1970s, the activists had figured out how to fight back. It started with electing supervisors by district so that big money didn’t always carry the day.

Milk was elected supervisor as part of the progressive push that put George Moscone in the Mayor’s Office. And if Moscone and Milk had lived, it’s possible that the tide could have turned right then. But the assassinations derailed district elections, turned the city back over to downtown, and sentenced the San Francisco left to more than 20 years of tough political dark ages.

Ammiano got elected in that era, when the developers called all the shots, when tenants and environmentalists and neighborhood people were lucky to get two or three votes on the Board of Supervisors. His pro-tenant and anti-development proposals never even reached the desks of mayors who would have vetoed them anyway.

But he didn’t give up, and in 1999, in the bleak days of the dot-com boom, he took on a long-shot campaign for mayor that, in one six-week period, reenergized the San Francisco left. With his help, district elections came back; and with his leadership, a decidedly progressive board took office in 2001. Living wage, sick pay, universal health care, bike plans, real estate transfer taxes, tenant protections … these are all products of that change.

Ammiano was an odd sort of leader, someone with a sense of humor who didn’t take himself anywhere near seriously enough. He would be the first to credit the movement, not the man — and he’d be right. But when we needed him, he was there.

Decongest me

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› sarah@sfbg.com

San Francisco could raise $35 million to $65 million for public transit improvements annually by charging drivers $3 to cross specific downtown zones during peak travel hours, according to a San Francisco County Transportation Authority congestion pricing study.

The aim of those fees, SFCTA staffers say, is to reduce congestion, making trips faster and more reliable, neighborhoods cleaner, and vehicle emissions lower, all while raising money to improve local and regional public transit and make the city more livable and walkable — improvements they hope will get even more folks out of their cars.

London, Rome, and Stockholm already have congestion pricing schemes, but plans to charge congestion fees in New York got shelved this July, reportedly in large part because of New Jersey officials’ fears that low-income suburban commuters would end up carrying a disproportionate burden of these fees.

As a result of New York’s unanticipated pressing of the pause button, San Francisco now stands poised to become the first city in the United States to introduce congestion pricing. But the plan requires approval from both local officials as well and the state legislature.

As SFCTA executive director Jose Luis Moscovich told the Guardian last week, "The state has control over passage of goods and people. Therefore, if we want to restrict that in any way, e.g. charging a congestion fee, [we] have to get the state’s permission."

If a congestion pricing plan is to go forward, it will need the support of Mayor Gavin Newsom. Wade Crowfoot, the mayor’s climate change advisor, told us, "It’s obvious that the mayor embraces the concept, as he laid out in his 2008 inaugural address."

But Newsom isn’t signing the dotted line just yet. "The mayor wants to make sure that there are no negative impacts that would make people not want to come to San Francisco, or would harm low-income people who live in areas that are not served by public transit and have no other choice but to drive," Crowfoot said.

"We are encouraging the [Transportation Authority] to do vigorous public outreach so that no one feels blindsided," Crowfoot added.

But as SFCTA executive director Jose Luis Moscovich explained Nov. 25 to the supervisors, who also constitute the transportation authority board, even if San Francisco gets the legislative green light, it could take two to three years to implement a congestion pricing plan.

"We’re not making a proposal," Moscovich said. "We’re just showing the initial results of our analysis."

That said, it’s clear Moscovich believes congestion pricing is feasible and would contribute to local, regional, and statewide transit goals.

TOO MANY PEOPLE


With San Francisco planning to accommodate 150,000 new residents and 230,000 new jobs over the next 25 years, Moscovich’s principal transportation planner, Zabe Bent, outlined four scenarios last week that would mitigate impacts in already congested areas.

These scenarios involve a small downtown cordon, a gateway fee with increased parking pricing downtown, a double ring that combines gateway crossings with additional fees downtown, and a cordon that imposes fees on crossings into the city’s northeast corner. (See www.sfmobility.org for details, including maps of the four possible zone scenarios.)

It seems likely the SFCTA will pursue the double ring or northeast cordon option.

As Bent told the board, "If the zone is too small, people will drive around it. And drivers within the zone could end up driving more, thereby eroding anticipated congestion benefits."

But all four scenarios aim to alleviate an additional 382,000 daily trips and 30 percent extra time lost to traffic congestion that would otherwise occur by 2030, according to SFCTA studies.

"We won’t reach environmental goals through clean technology alone," Bent explained. "Even if everyone converted to a Prius, the roads would still be congested."

Observing that it already costs at least $4 to get into the city by car — on top of $2 per gallon for gas and high parking fees — Bent argued that congestion, which cost the city $2 billion in 2005, reduces San Francisco’s competitiveness and quality of life.

Stockholm raised $50 million a year and reduced congestion by 22 percent with congestion fees, while London raised $200 million a year and reduced congestion by 30 percent.

In San Francisco, the SFCTA used computer models to determine that by charging $3 per trip at peak hours, the region would get maximum benefits and minimum impacts.

Discounts would be available for commercial fleets, rentals, car shares, and zone residents, Bent said, with toll payers getting a $1 "fee-bate" and taxis completely exempt.

As Moscovich noted, "Taxis are viewed as an extension of the public transit system."

BIG BUSINESS GRUMBLES


With concerted public outreach scheduled for the next two months, and business groups already grumbling about even talking about any increases to the cost of shopping and commuting with the economy in meltdown, Moscovich warned the supervisors not to wait until after the next economic boom hits, before planning to deal with congestion.

"Now is the right time to study it, but not implement it yet," Moscovich said.

Kathryn Phillips of the Sacramento-based Environmental Defense Fund told the Board that in Stockholm, public support grew to 67 percent once a congestion fee was in place.

"People saw that it reduced congestion, provided more public transit services, and made the city more livable and walkable," Phillips said.

BART director and Livable City executive director Tom Radulovich believes that free downtown transit would make the fees more palatable. "Fares could be collected when you get off the train if you travel outside of the zone," Radulovich said.

Noting that BART is approaching its limits, Muni Metro needs investments, and parking fees are an effective tool for managing congestion, Radulovich added. "Congestion pricing’s main criteria should not be to make traffic move faster. I don’t want to create more dangerous streets, but generally speaking, I think that plan is on the right track."

As for fears that San Francisco’s plans could tank at the state level because of concerns about working-class drivers being unfairly burdened, Radulovich noted that SFCTA studies at Doyle Drive determined that only 6 percent of peak hour drivers are low-income.

"The vast majority are earning more than $50,000 a year," Radulovich said. "And since the number of low-income drivers is very small, they could be given discounts. The real environmental justice issue here is what current congestion levels are doing to people living downtown, who are mostly low-income. They put up with inhumane levels of traffic and congestion, which affects the health and livability of their neighborhoods."

Dave Synder, transportation policy director for SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association), said he believes the regressive tax argument is a misleading attack.

"The truth is, that without the revenues this program will bring, the MTA will have to cut service for poor people, not increase service to meet increased demand for people who can no longer afford to drive," Synder told us.

But several local business groups are claiming that San Francisco doesn’t have a congestion problem compared to European cities.

Ken Cleveland of San Francisco’s Building Owners and Managers Association, said he believes that reports of congestion in San Francisco "are more hype than reality.

"We have no problem compared to London, Rome, and Stockholm," Cleveland said. "Congestion fees may work when you have a huge city with millions of people crammed in, like in London, Manhattan, Rome, but not in San Francisco."

Cleveland urged a hard look at what this increase means for people who drive now. " Fees of $160 a month would be "a real hit" on the middle and working classes, he said.

Jim Lazarus of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said he opposed a local cordon, but supports a regional congestion pricing program. "Look out the window at 10.45 a.m., and you’ll see that there is no congestion on Montgomery and Pine," Lazarus told us, noting that unlike London, which covers 600 square miles, San Francisco only has a 49-square-mile footprint.

"If you decide not to go into downtown London, the odds are your taxes, jobs, and revenues will still go into London’s coffers," he said. "That’s not the case in San Francisco. So from a small business point of view, it doesn’t make sense."

Bent says the SFCTA’s study provides numbers that are irrefutable, in terms of showing how travel times are impacted by congestion, during peak hours. "We’re talking about modest improvements in speed, but significant improvements in travel time," Bent said.

The proposed fees won’t affect shoppers, museum-goers, or those going out at night, but would benefit all users of the public transit system, Moscovich said.

"We’re not designing for London, we’re designing for San Francisco," Moscovich told the Guardian. "And this is not an anti-automobile program. This is an effort to achieve a balanced transportation system."

With the congestion fee revenue reinvested in transportation infrastructure, Moscovich adds, public transit will be less crowded, and provide more frequent, faster service.

"It all makes perfect internal sense: folks with the least resources are likely to benefit the most," said Moscovich, who predicts that San Francisco will agree on some form of congestion pricing.

"The mayor wants to be seen as a leader in initiating climate change commitment, and transportation is one of the first ways to achieve this," he said. "Especially since 50 percent of San Francisco’s greenhouse emissions occur during peak hour travel."

"We’re trying to change behavior, not just engineering. We don’t want people in cars. … For every pollution-free Prius, you have diesel buses and older cars sitting in traffic idling, essentially eroding any benefits. The best way to optimize results is to get some cars out of the peak hour."

Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who is president of the SFCTA board and has supported the congestion fee-pricing system since it was implemented in London, said that "business will have to step up [and] make a willing suspension of disbelief to see that enhanced mobility will enhance business opportunities.

"There will be no need to get mauled at the mall," McGoldrick predicts. "San Francisco has wonderful things to offer, not just a sterile, homogenous, single-purpose environment. You can’t match museums and cultural amenities out at the malls. San Francisco is a cultural center, not just a strip mall."

McGoldrick, who is termed out in January, said that the new Board "will lean very positively toward doing this." He added that state representatives, including Sens. Leland Yee and Mark Leno and Assembly Members Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano "will see the benefits.

"They should be willing to carry the banner because of the long term benefits for their grandchildren," McGoldrick said.

(The Board will consider the congestion pricing scenarios and impacts Dec. 16. See www.sfmobility.org for details of public workshops and meetings.)

Cue the clowns

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› steve@sfbg.com

The circus doesn’t come to San Francisco, but its performers do, sexy and talented dreamers who bring a creative energy that has transformed the city’s nightlife and counterculture. Spinning aerialists and dancing clowns now proliferate at clubs and parties, and their number has more than doubled in recent years.

They come from towns across the country — often via Burning Man, where they discover their inner performers, dying to burst out, and other kindred spirits — to a city with a rich circus tradition, which they tweak and twist into something new, a hybrid of the arts and punk sideshow weirdness. It’s the ever-evolving world of Indie Circus.

One of the biggest banners these performers now dance and play under is Bohemian Carnival, which draws together some of the city’s best indie circus acts, including Vau de Vire Society, the clown band Gooferman, and Fou Fou Ha, acts that fluidly mix with one another and the audience.

Last Saturday, as families across the country shopped and shared Thanksgiving leftovers, this extended family of performers rehearsed for that night’s Bohemian Carnival. Fou Fou Ha was in the Garage, a SoMa performance space, working on a new number celebrating beer with founder/choreographer Maya Culbertson, a.k.a. MamaFou, pushing for eight-count precision.

"Do it again," she tells her eight high-energy charges, who look alternatively sexy and zany even without the colorful and slightly grotesque clown costumes they don for shows. I watch from the wings as they drill through the number again and again, struck by how the improvised comedy at the song’s end changes every time, someone’s new shtick catching my eye and making me smile.

"That’s what we love the most, the improv element to it," Culbertson tells me. "We see how far you can take it and not break character."

As Fou Fou Ha wrapped up and headed home to get ready for the show, Gooferman and Vau de Vire were just starting to rehearse and set up over at the party venue, DNA Lounge. Reggie Ballard was up a tall ladder setting the rigging, the dancers stretched, Vau de Vire co-founder Mike Gaines attended to a multitude of details, and Gooferman frontmen Vegas and Boenobo the Klown played the fools.

"I feel like I’m on acid," Vegas said evenly, his long Mohawk standing tall.

"Are you?" Boenobo said, perhaps a little jealous.

"No, I wish," Vegas replied. "But that’s why it’s weird."

"Huh," Boenobo deadpanned. "Weird."

Fucking clowns. I decide to chat up a dancer, Rachel Strickland, the newest member of Vau de Vire, who stretched and unabashedly changed into her rehearsal clothes as she told me about why she moved here from North Carolina in July 2007.

"I waited a long time for this. I always knew I wanted to come to San Francisco and work on the stage, doing something in the line of Moulin Rouge, with the costumes and that kind of decadence and debauchery," Strickland said, oozing passion for her craft and the life she’s chosen, one she said has met her expectations. "I danced as much as I could my whole life and I have an overactive imagination, so it’s hard to shock me."

Not that Vau de Vire hasn’t tried. Shocking people out of their workaday selves is what the performers try to do, whether through vaudeville acts, dance routines, feats of skill, or just sheer sensual outlandishness. Vau de Vire choreographer Shannon Gaines (Mike’s wife of 19 years) also teaches at the local indie circus school Acrosports and, with beatboxer and performance artist Tim Barsky, directs its City Circus youth program, which combines hip hop and other urban art forms with circus.

Gaines has been a gymnast and dancer all her life, skills that she’s honed into circus performances she does through five different agencies, often doing corporate events "that involve wearing a few more clothes" and other more conventional performances.

"The other seems like work to me. But this," she said, a wry smile coming to her lips, "is like dessert. This is what excites me."

She’s not the only one. With their growing popularity, San Francisco’s indie circus freaks are juggling an increasingly busy schedule and developing even bigger plans for the new year, including a national tour and an extravaganza called Metropolus that would reinforce San Francisco’s reputation as the best Big Top in the country.

As Boenobo told me, "It’s a moment in time when there’s something big developing in San Francisco."

MIMES AND PICKLES


The circus arts are ancient, but San Francisco’s unique role in morphing and perpetuating them trace back to the 1970s when Make-a-Circus arrived here from Europe — where circus traditions are strong — and the local, organic Pickle Family Circus was born.

Wendy Parkman, now a board member at San Francisco Circus Center, the circus school she helped develop in conjunction with the Pickles and legendary performer Judy Finelli, worked for both circuses and described how they derived from San Francisco’s vibrant arts scene and its history of grassroots activism.

"It was just a wonderful, spontaneous bubble, a renaissance of circus activity," Parkman told the Guardian. "It was an outgrowth of the fabulous ’60s and the involvement of people with community and politics and art."

Parkman and many others trace the local lineage of a renaissance that came to be known as New Circus back to the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which in 1959 started doing political theater that incorporated comedy (or more specifically, Commedia dell’Arte), music, farce, melodrama, and other aspects of clowning.

"It really started with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and it flourishes here because of the rich arts culture that we’ve always had here," Jeff Raz, a longtime performer with both original SF troupes who started the San Francisco Clown Conservatory and recently had the title role in Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo, told the Guardian.

"San Francisco felt like a place where things could happen that were socially and politically relevant," Parkman said. "Circus has always been a people’s art form. It’s a great way of getting a lot of people involved because it takes a lot of people to put on a show."

Perhaps even more relevant to the current indie circus resurgence, both Make-a-Circus and the Pickle Family Circus reached out to working class neighborhoods in San Francisco, where they would do parades and other events to entertain the people and generate interest in the circus.

"It was happy, healthy, and accessible to people of all ages, classes, and backgrounds," said Parkman said, who noted that things began to change in the 1980s as funding for the arts dried up and Pickle hit hard times.

"The Pickle Family Circus was a grassroots circus that was part of a real renaissance. Unfortunately, it didn’t go very far," Dominique Jando, a noted circus historian who has written five books on the circus and whose wife teaches trapeze at the Circus Center, told the Guardian.

Still, the Pickle legacy lives on in the Circus Center and Acrosports, making San Francisco and Montreal (birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, whose influence has also propelled the indie circus movement) the two major hubs of circus in North America. Unlike Europe, Russia, and China, where circus training is deeply rooted and often a family affair passed from generation to generation, Jando said, Americans don’t have a strong circus tradition.

"We are really the poor children of the circus world. There is not the same tradition of circus here that there is in Europe," said Jando, a native to France who now lives in San Francisco. "Learning circus is like ballet, and it’s not really in the American psyche to work and train for seven years for a job that offers modest pay."

Homegrown spectacles like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus commercialized the circus and transformed it into the three-ring form that sacrificed intimacy and the emphasis on artistry and narrative flow. Traditionally in Europe, the clowns and music structured a circus performance, with the punctuation and interludes provided by the acrobats and other performers of the circus arts.

"It’s the superhuman and the supremely human, who are the clowns," is how Raz defines circus. "Clowns are becoming more central to the circus, the supremely human part, and that has a lot to do with our times."

Raz, Jando, and Parkman all pointed to the sterile excesses of the televised, digitized, Twittering, 24/7 world we live in as feeding the resurgence of circus. "It points to a demand by the audience to see something more down to earth and real," Jando said. "There is a need to go back to basics."

"It’s a response to the overly technological world we’re living in. People want to go back to what the human body can do and be in the same place as the performers," Parkman said. "One of the concepts of the Pickles was that it was drawing on the European model. I’d say what’s going on now in San Francisco is an offshoot of what the Pickles did."

Raz said the rise of Indie Circus and its influence on the local arts scene is consistent with his own experiences as an actor and clown. He used to keep two resumes, but performers today are often expected to be steeped in both disciplines, letting one inform the other and opening up new forms of creative expression.

"That melding that you’re looking at, from the club scene to Burning Man, is seeping into a lot of the world," Raz said. "Circus is very much a living art form."

Somehow," Jando said, "it has become a sort of counterculture on the West Coast."

INDIE, THE NEW NEW CIRCUS


Boenobo and Vegas haven’t done any real training to become clowns. They’re performers who use the clown shtick to build a fun and fantastical world off their solid musical base.

"There has to be whimsy. People take themselves so seriously," Boenobo said, noting that it was in response to the serious-minded Winter Music Conference in 2001 where he had the idea of having the members of his new band, Gooferman, dress as clowns. It was a lark, but it was fun and it stuck, and they’ve been clowns ever since.

"The clown thing floats my boat. It is a persona I really dig. And the band kicks ass. We’re all just super tight. The Bohemian Carnival is just a bunch of friends, like a family ejected out of different wombs," he said.

The band does kick ass. Setting aside the clown thing, their tunes are original and fun, evoking Oingo Boingo at its early best, particularly since the summer, when Boenobo and Vegas brought in a strong new rhythm section. But it’s the collaboration with Vau de Vire and the other groups that round out Bohemian Carnival and really bring it to life.

"People say it just blew my mind, and that is the immortality of it," Boenobo said. "It’s super-fucking gratifying, really. It’s just stupid."

They performed last month at the Hillbilly Hoedown inside a giant maze made of hay bales in Half Moon Bay, with the clowns and circus performers creating a fantastical new world for the partygoers. As Gooferman played, Shannon broke the rules and danced atop a hay bale wall behind the band, conveying pure danger and backwoods sex appeal.

"The Gooferman character is called Bruiser or Shenanigans," Shannon said of her performer alter egos. "She does the things that you’d get kicked out of a party for, but I can get away with it."

She considers herself more of a "fluffer" than a dancer, and while Gooferman plays, she gets the band and crowd charged up by pushing the limits of silliness and composure herself and seeing if they’ll follow. "So they’re thinking, wow, if she can do that, I can do all kinds of things."

Their world not only includes practitioners of circus arts (contortionists, aerialists, trapeze artists, clowns, and the like), but also the fashion scene (including outlandish local designers such as Anastasia), painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, fire artists, and DJs like Smoove who bring a certain zany flair to the dance parties.

"It’s hybridized. So it’s not just circus arts with some musical backing," Boenobo said. Instead, it creates a fun and whimsical scene that makes attendees feel like they’re part of something unusual, fun, and liberating. "Immersion is very important."

That’s why the Bohemian Carnival and its many offshoots try to break down the wall between the performers and the audience, who often show up in circus or Burning Man styles, further blurring the borders.

"When you break down that big third wall, there’s no pretense," Mike Gaines said. "It’s really about the party and the community."

Clowns circulate in the crowd, interacting with the audience while aerialists suddenly start performing on ropes or rings suspended over the dance floor. It draws the audience in, opens them up, makes them feel like they’re part of something.

"All of the sudden, people get to realize the dream of running away with the circus, but they get to leave it at the end of the night," Boenobo said with a wink, "which they generally like."

"The line of where circus starts and ends has been blurred," said kSea Flux (a.k.a. Kasey Porter), an indie circus performer who earlier this year started Big Top Magazine (www.bigtopmagazine.com) to chronicle the growing culture. "I love the old-school circus, but as with everything, it needs to be able to evolve to continue to grow."

When he joined the indie circus movement five years ago, performing with the Dresden Dolls, Flux said it transformed his life. He quit his corporate job and started developing his art and trying to make a living in the circus arts, including promoting the culture through the magazine.

"I found the circus and was completely filled with a new life," Flux said, noting that it was through his long involvement with Burning Man that he was exposed to the circus scene. "I think Burning Man gives a platform for it. People get stuck in their jobs and there’s this great week when you can let go and be what you want to be."

That’s also how the talented aerialist and hooper who calls herself Shredder got into this world, which she’s now explored in both the traditional circus and the indie variety, preferring the latter.

"I didn’t even know it was possible, but I just love it," said Shredder, who worked as a firefighter, EMT, and environmental educator before getting into performing through Burning Man, where Boenobo set up the Red Nose District in 2006 for all the many offshoots of the indie circus world that attend the event.

Shredder developed hula hoop and aerial routines, training hard to improve her skills and eventually was hired by the Cole Brothers Circus in 2006 to do aerial acrobatics and hooping. Founded in 1882, Cole is a full-blown circus in the Ringling Bros. tradition, with a ringleader, animals, and trained acrobats. Shredder toured 92 cities in 10 months until she felt the creativity and joy being snuffed out by the rote repetition of the performances.

"We did the exact same show everyday. It was like Groundhog Day but worse; same show, different parking lot," said Shredder, who later that Saturday night did a performance with more than a dozen hula hoops at once. "Then I heard about Vau de Vire through some fellow performers and I just heard they were doing really well and I wanted to be with a group like that … I was just so happy that they were willing to help me design my vision as an artist."

COMING TOGETHER


The Bohemian Carnival name and concept was actually an import from Fort Collins, Colo., where Mike and Shannon Gaines created the Vau de Vire Society as part of the performance and party space they operated there in a 100-year-old church that they purchased.

Mike’s background was in film; Shannon was a dancer; and the world they created for themselves was decidedly counterculture. So was their space, the Rose Window Experimental Theater and Art House, which they operated from 1997 to 2001 and lived in with 20 of their bohemian friends.

"It allowed us to really get to know ourselves. We had all day to just rig up any kind of performance we could imagine," she said. "If you had a crazy idea, you could just come on over at 3 a.m. and do it."

Their signature events were themed parties that would open with performances of about 30 minutes, usually combining music, dance, and performance art, followed by a dance party that was essentially an all-night rave. Initially the performances just drew off of the creativity of their friends, including those Shannon danced with. The themes were often risqué and sometimes included nudity.

The performances evolved over time, bringing in talent such as Angelo Moore of the band Fishbone, who is still a regular part of their crew. They were all attracted to the freaky side of performance art, which drew them toward sideshow, vaudeville, and circus themes and expanding what was technically possible. "We ended up getting a rigger in and just flying around the theater," Mike said.

In 2000, they did their first Bohemian Carnival event. "That’s when we started dabbling in the circus," Mike said.

While the events gained regional acclaim in newspapers and were supported by notables figures, including the town’s mayor, there was a backlash among local conservatives, including some who objected to how a traditional church was being used for raves by these bohemian freaks.

In 2001 they decided to search for a new home. "We looked around for the place that would be most accepting of what we were doing," Mike said.

San Francisco was known to be accepting of their kind, and there were groups here that were edging toward similar kinds of parties, including Infinite Kaos and Xeno (and its predecessor, Awd), as well as the band Idiot Flesh, not to mention the more serious circus being done at the Circus Center and Teatro Zinzanni.

"San Francisco, in this country, is a real hotbed for circus. So we were like, ‘Now we can bring in legitimate circus performers," Mike said. Shannon got a job teaching at Acrosports, allowing her to be immersed full-time in her art and to help grow her community.

Serendipitously, in August 2001, indie rocker Boenobo of the band Chub — a funky ska outfit whose members would wear different costumes to each of their performances — formed Gooferman, which wasn’t originally the clown band it is today: "The idea was you had to be in a costume and you had to be stoned." They morphed into a full-blown clown band, and began collaborating with circus performers.

"But it never coalesced until recently," Boenobo says.

That process probably began around Halloween 2004 at the Vegoose Festival in Las Vegas, when Vau de Vire Society was asked to fill eight hours’ worth of programming and turned to their San Francisco brethren for help, Mike said. They drove or flew about 100 people to the event.

It was also the year Boenobo staged the GoofBall in San Francisco, drawing together a variety of entertainment that helped change the nature of the traditional dance party. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the year that reviled President George W. Bush won a second term and when longtime Burning Man artists staged their ill-fated revolt against the event (see "State of the art," 12/10/04).

"When people get too serious, they need this shit even more," Boenobo said of the increasingly irreverent, naughty, and participatory parties he was throwing.

Meanwhile Fou Fou Ha was developing its act. Culbertson and Raymond Meyer were waiting tables at Rose Pistola in 2000 and decided to put their big personalities to work for them, bringing in other performers such as Slim Avocado and setting up routines to perform at CellSpace and other venues.

"We’re sort of like the children of Cirque du Soleil in a way, but we wanted to give it an edge," Culbertson said. "It’s sort of like the second wave vaudeville … now with more of a rock edge."

Fou Fou Ha’s shows play off the dark and surreal kind of performance that is more European than American, a style Culbertson was exposed to while studying choreography during her Fulbright scholarship in Holland in the late 1990s. When she returned to the United States in 2000, "I wanted to form a [dance] company." But she wanted it to be fun. "People really like the idea of serious dance combined with comedy, where you can fall out of your pirouette," she said.

"We’re kind of like guerilla circus," Slim, a trained ballerina, said. "It’s a whole new movement. It’s like ’30s cabaret, but edgier."

Boenobo started the Red Nose District on the playa at Burning Man in 2006, drawing together his Bohemian Carnival friends, a local group of stilt- walkers known as Enhightned Beings of Leisure, installation artist Michael Christian’s crew from the East Bay, the Cirque Berserk folks from Los Angeles, and others from the growing circus world.

"It’s a safe environment to be and do what you want," Gaines said of Burning Man, noting how those breakthroughs on the playa then come back home to the city. And that ethos carries into Vau de Vire, which is truly a collective of like-minded friends, one that eschews hiring outside performers for their shows. "They’re all just part of it," he said.

What they’re all part of — Vau de Vire, Gooferman, Fou Fou Ha, and the rest of the Indie Circus folk — has begun to make a strong imprint on San Francisco nightlife and counterculture. From a performer’s perspective, Boenobo said, it feels good. "Our local family is super comfortable with one another," he said, something he’s never felt before after 25 years as a indie rocker. "It’s rare to not have a lot of ego to deal with, and it’s super rare with this kind of high-quality performance."

But they want more. As Flux said, "We want to take over the world."

WHAT’S NEXT


Slowly, the circus collective members are moving toward becoming full-time freaks. Already, Mike Gaines said most of the 12 to 15 regular Vau de Vire performers practice their art full-time, subsidizing their performances by being instructors in dance or the circus arts.

That’s not to say the parties, with their large number of performers, are lucrative. "With circus, you get a million more people on your guest list, so circus is complicated from a promoter’s perspective," Joegh Bullock of Anon Salon, which incorporates circus acts into its parties, including the upcoming Sea of Dream party New Year’s Eve. "But we love it and wouldn’t do a show without it."

To pay the bills, "we also do a lot of corporate gigs," Gaines says, not proudly. Fou Fou Ha does as well, including performing at the Westfield San Francisco Centre this holiday season. They’re all dying to take their show on the road, but that, too, takes money. "Sponsorship is the key if we’re going to tour with 60 people," said Mike, who’s been working hard on a deal and said he feels close.

Boenobo’s latest plan is Metropolus, a circus-style extravaganza he’s planning (along with Bullogh and Gaines) for next Halloween, hoping to ferry guests (using buses or perhaps even art cars from Burning Man) among several venues in town (such as Mighty, 1015, Temple, and DNA Lounge) and a huge circus tent he wants to erect in Golden Gate Park.

In addition to circus-style entertainment drawn from across the country, he wants to precede the Saturday night finale with three days and nights of workshops and smaller-scale performances. His goal is for Metropolus to because a signature event for San Francisco and the indie circus scene, the equivalent of the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas; the Winter Music Festival in Miami; or the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The time seems right, with the current financial meltdown creating opportunities even as it makes funding their world domination plans difficult. "Each time you have a crisis like we’re having now, it’s a ripe time for circus," Jando said, noting that circus boomed during the Great Depression and after each of the two World Wars.

And after going through years of pure absurdity in Washington, DC, and on Wall Street, Raz said the clowns of the world — from Stephen Colbert’s conservative television character (who Raz says employs clown techniques in his comedy) to a singer named Boenobo — now have a special resonance with people. As he said, "One of the things clowns do is they live the folly large."

———–

CLOWN’S EYE VIEW

I’ve been following Indie Circus for years, intending to add it to the profiles of various Burning Man subcultures (see www.steventjones.com/burningman.html) that I’ve written for the Guardian, but my reporting on this story began in May. And at the suggestion of Gooferman frontman Boenobo the Klown, I decided to start from the inside and let him turn me into a clown.

As makeup artist Sharon Rose transformed me into a happy clown backstage at DNA Lounge, I asked Boenobo what I should do (besides interview people). We just needed to clown around, keep the drunks from crowding the performers, help clear the stage between acts — whatever needed doing. "We’re the scrubs," he told me, clown-to-clown.

As we spoke, the acrobats stretched, a corpse bride goofed off as she prepared for her aria, members of the Extra Action Marching Band started to slink in, clowns applied their makeup, and female performers occasionally came back from the stage and whipped off their tops.

When Gooferman went on, I still didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, so I stood next to the stage, watched, and awkwardly tried to be a little goofy in my dancing. A tall, beautiful blond woman stood next to me, catching my eye. She was apparently alone, so after a couple songs, during a lull, I asked her, "So, do you like clowns?"

"I am a clown," she said with a grin.

"Really?" I said. "You don’t look like a clown."

"But I am," she said. "I even do clown porn."

She turned out to be 27-year-old porn star Hollie Stevens, who told me she "grew up as a clown" in the Midwest before moving to California and getting into porn seven years ago. She even starred in the film Clown Porn and still sometimes dons the red nose and face paint for her public appearances, usually just for her own amusement. Stevens once appeared on the Jerry Springer Show as a clown, even getting into the requisite fight on stage with a friend.

"Clowns, you either love them or you hate them," she said, and she loves them.

I asked why she was there and she said that she’d come to see Boenobo. They had talked but never met, and shared a sort of mutual admiration. It was a clown thing. Clowns … they get all the hot chicks.

While we talked, an acrobat worked the pole on the stage, followed by an aerialist performing above the dance floor, one scene woven seamlessly into the other. The clowns of Gooferman puttered around the stage, removing equipment to get ready for the next act, flirting with the girls, trying to scam more drink tickets, or simply entertaining others and themselves.

The life of a clown is rarely dull.

————

UPCOMING INDIE CIRCUS EVENTS

DEC. 5–6


Acrosports Winter Cabaret

639 Frederick, SF

8 p.m., $5–$15

www.citycircus.org

DEC. 12


Auditions for Acrosports’ City Circus

Call (415) 665-2276, ext. 103 for appointment

DEC. 12-14


Frolic: CircusDragBurlesque Festival

Featuring Fou Fou Ha, Anna Conda, and more

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

8 p.m., $100

www.counterpulse.org

1-800-838-3006

DEC. 20


Open House and Holiday Carnival

San Francisco Circus Center

755 Frederick, SF

10 a.m.–4 p.m., free

Pratfalls and Rising Stars

7 p.m., $12 adults, $8 children

San Francisco Circus Center

Tickets and info at www.circuscenter.org

DEC. 20


Storytime Festival, featuring Vau de Vire Society

4–7 p.m., "Tales of Enchantment," (G-rated show) 8–11 p.m., "Storytime for the Inner Child," (R-rated show)

$30–$50

Palace of Fine Arts

3301 Lyon, SF

www.storytimefestival.org

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>>More: Read Marke B.’s club review of Bohemian Carnival

Volume 43 Number 10 Flip-through Edition

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The odd couple

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PREVIEW Do we have a new odd couple in town? At first glance Todd Eckert and Nol Simonse don’t seem to have much in common though both are tall, lanky dancers who allow themselves to disappear into other people’s choreography. Eckert’s steadying presence in Robert Moses’ Kin company contrasts strongly with Simonse’s febrile intensity in companies as diverse as Kunst-Stoff, Stephen Pelton Dance, and Janice Garrett and Dancers.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that the two have in common a desire to strike out on their own. Unlike ballet dancers, who are still mostly trained to interpret within a given language, modern dancers learn early on to create language and content from within themselves. So last year Eckert and Simonse hooked up for a performance of their own works. They liked what they saw. So did audiences.

For Shared Space 2, an evening of world premieres, each artist will create a solo and a group piece. Eckert’s Routines of Chaos investigates compulsive behavior: his yet unnamed quartet looks at self-sabotage in connection to relationship building. Simonse’s How Fortunate the Man with None mixes his own material with some "borrowed" from other dancers. For his group piece on grief, he examines the concept of the journey as developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

SHARED SPACE 2 Fri/5-Sat/6, 8 p.m., and Sun/7, 7 p.m.; $20. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., SF. (415) 273-4633, www.dancemission.com

Little Joy

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PREVIEW Few had a clue about Little Joy as we watched them gather on the outdoor stage at Big Sur’s Fernwood campground this fall. The Los Angeles band had slipping onto the Festival in the Forest bill the weekend before it was to perform at the Independent alongside Devendra Banhart side project Megapuss, and the ramshackle crew — which included vocalist-guitarist Binki Shapiro, multi-instrumentalist Rodrigo Amarante (Los Hermanos), and drummer-multi-instrumentalist Fabrizio Moretti (the Strokes) as well as Banhart and producer Noah Georgeson — took its time setting up. And why not? The sky was clear, the nightmarish Big Sur fire was behind us (though the Henry Miller Library was preparing to close for fear of mudslides), the green and gold mountains above the stage were a fantastic, organic distraction, and there was plenty of spectacular autumnal parkland to wander

As the group began to fiddle with its instruments in earnest, hipsters hailing from the Bay, Monterey, and LA suddenly materialized — like headbanded, bejeweled elves in designer sandals — from woods. Something special was going down. Yet little did we realize how sweet it would be: behind those scenester shades onstage came the most dulcet pop tunes, lightly scented with classic Brill Building songwriting and a whiff of Cali languor. Sounding for all the world like louche, beachbound Dion and the Belmonts, Little Joy sported an El Lay too-cool-for-you exterior that was simultaneously attractive and off-putting, but their songs — now collected on a self-titled Rough Trade debut — bid you to come closer, closer.

LITTLE JOY With the Dead Trees and Red Cortez. Tues/9, 8 p.m., $13. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 522-0333, www.slims-sf.com

Bad boys reformed … and together

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PREVIEW Superficially, Britpop arena monsters Oasis and alt-country whiz kid Ryan Adams appear to be strange bedfellows. But on further review, their careers bear a striking resemblance. Both Oasis and Adams burst onto the music scene from seemingly nowhere: Oasis with its Definitely Maybe (Creation, 1994) and Adams as the ringleader of critical darlings Whiskeytown. From there, both tasted their greatest successes. Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory (Creation, 1995) sold more than 18 million copies worldwide, spawning their two best-known songs, "Wonderwall" and "Champagne Supernova." After Adams split from Whiskeytown in 1999, he released Heartbreaker (Bloodshot, 2000) and Gold (Lost Highway, 2001), which remain his most popular albums. Though Oasis and Adams have enjoyed solid sales and sold-out concerts through the middle part of their respective careers, they’ve endured commercial backlash, with fans becoming disillusioned with bad behavior, prickly relations with the media, and uneven albums. Gallagher brothers Noel and Liam, and Adams gained reputations as unstable, petulant artists, given to substance addiction, which often overshadowed their music.

Lucky for us, both Oasis and Adams seem to have grown weary of their bad-boy personas, and have recently focused on writing music reminiscent of older glories. Oasis’s new Dig out Your Soul (Big Brother/Warner Bros.) is a swaggering, triumphant return to form, that sees the likely lads from Manchester scaling back the power ballads and turning up the guitars to create their most engaging effort since Morning Glory. The ever-prolific Adams has kicked heroin, formed a new group called the Cardinals, and released Cardinology (Lost Highway), which is perhaps the strongest, most cohesive effort of his career. The two groups join forces Dec. 3, bringing their expansive, impressive catalogs to the Oracle Arena. Here’s hoping they’ll highlight past successes and bright futures.
OASIS AND RYAN ADAMS AND THE CARDINALS Wed/3, 7 p.m., $37.75–$66.25. Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum, Oakl. (415) 421-8497, www.livenation.com

The oldest story in the book

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REVIEW It’s the oldest story in the book — and no, I’m not talking about Adam and Eve. Eden is yet another addition to the familiar marriage-in-trouble genre, with no real twist to speak of: after 10 years together, Breda (Eileen Walsh) feels unloved by her husband Billy (Aidan Kelly). Meanwhile, Billy finds himself tempted by the forbidden fruit of infidelity. Rather than stunt the film, this well-trodden subject matter makes Eden’s success all the more impressive. Without reinventing the wheel, director Declan Recks has crafted one of the most captivating films of the year. It helps, of course, that he has two consummate performers. Kelly captures the subtle nuances of his character, who struggles to balance his selfish desires with his familiar obligations. And Walsh, winner of the Best Actress award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is nothing short of heartbreaking. Both actors look — for lack of a better word — real, and their presence enhances the film’s ability to produce a genuine empathetic response. Taken as a whole, there is a beauty in this quiet Irish drama rarely found in the glossiest of Hollywood blockbusters, with each frame thoughtfully composed. Despite the otherwise mundane story, Eden emerges as downright idyllic.

EDEN opens Fri/5 in Bay Area theaters.

“Lutz Bacher: ODO”

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PREVIEW A continuous line of images adheres to the spacious walls of Ratio 3. They all seem to be produced on the same roll of sticky-backed paper. Thanks to visual literacy conditioning, we follow them as a narrative. There’s a picture of a weird blue guy standing in a forest, dolls, hunky male mannequins, a bearded guy being nailed to a cross, a smiling woman holding a thrift-store sculpture, a Photoshop view of a bottomless Laura Bush standing with her hubby, and other random sights. Videos of banal superstore interiors, fluffy dogs, landscapes, and more are projected in odd corners above our heads.

Lutz Bacher’s current exhibition is as oddly engaging as it is opaque. Don’t look to the press release for answers — it’s a handy recipe for butterscotch pudding. The show’s title refers to a character, played by René Auberjonois, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And yet reason pulses beneath the surface of this puzzling installation. You don’t really need to fully get it to tap into its strange intimacy. The images have a stream of consciousness quality similar to contents of an e-mailbox, where personal notes commingle with abject spam — a hefty percentage of the material on view made its way to the artist through that electronic media stream, and if the look of the pictures sometimes seems too hi-res to betray that source, all the better.

Bacher, whose work has involved a dry, incisive use of appropriated and self-made material (Vargas paintings, political joke books, a hauntingly glitchy self-made video of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Stadium), offers another clue at the start of the exhibition: an old-school overhead projector enlarges a handwritten thank-you list marking all that follows with a sense of the artist’s community. "ODO" is engrossing for the images alone, some of which depict the artist and her previous works. But ultimately, it offers an intuitive view — one that may not make immediate sense, but that flares in your memory at the most unexpected moments.

LUTZ BACHER: ODO Through Dec. 13. Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m. and by appointment. Ratio 3, 1447 Stevenson, SF. (415) 821-3371, www.ratio3.org