Volume 43 Number 12

Lethal force


Editors note: This story ran Dec. 12, 1992

The autumn air was crisp and clear in Hayward on the night the kid called Glasstop took a shotgun blast in the back of the head and died for the theft of a $60 radio.

It was just before 8 p.m., on Sunday, Nov. 15. The lights were on in the parking lot outside the Hayward BART station, where a six-car southbound train had arrived a few minutes earlier. About 50 passengers had gotten off, and some were still straggling into cars or waiting around for the next AC Transit bus.

Glasstop, a 19-year-old warehouse worker from Union City whose legal name was Jerrold Cornelius Hall, had ridden the train from Bayfair, one stop north, along with John Henry Owens, a 20-year-old unemployed custodian who lived in Oakland. The two young African American men were standing at the bus stop, not far from the station entrance, when Officer Fred Crabtree pulled into the parking lot in a BART police cruiser.

Crabtree was a white 16-year veteran of the transit police agency and a member of its elite Canine Corps. His partner was a highly trained German shepherd imported from a special obedience school in Germany. The dog trotted at Crabtree’s side as he approached Owens and Hall. The officer carried a loaded 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.

Crabtree was responding to a report of an armed robbery: Halfway between Bayfair and Hayward, a passenger had told the train operator that two black men had taken his Walkman personal stereo. The passenger said one of the robbers had a gun and described what they looked like; the trainman passed on the message, and the BART dispatcher passed it on again. Owens and Hall matched the third-hand description that came over Crabtree’s radio.

Within a matter of minutes, Hall was lying in a pool of his own blood, Owens was in handcuffs, and the parking lot was a mass of sirens and flashing red lights. Hall was pronounced dead shortly after midnight at Eden Hospital; Owens is still in the Alameda County jail. The police never turned up a gun.

And the man who reported the robbery disappeared without leaving his name.

That’s about all BART officials will say about the incident. They’ve clamped on a lid of secrecy that defies most normal local police procedures and violates the California Public Records Act. The San Francisco newspapers have almost entirely ignored the shooting, and there’s been little reaction from the East Bay community.

But an extensive Bay Guardian investigation has turned up a long list of troubling questions about the death of Jerrold Hall – and a long list of serious problems in an agency that has some of the most sweeping police powers in California, and some of the least civilian oversight.

Our investigation, based on a dozen interviews, a review of public records, and more than 50 pages of unreleased internal documents from the BART police and other local authorities, shows:

Officer Crabtree violated one of the most basic rules of modern law enforcement – and his own department’s written policy – when he fired a warning shot toward the suspect, potentially endangering the lives of passersby in the busy urban area. The nine .33-caliber pellets from that shotgun cartridge wound up in the side of a tree, about 4-1/2 feet above the ground.

BART’s own internal documents contradict the official claim that Hall was attacking or threatening Crabtree at the time of the shooting. Statements filed by several witnesses, and at least two BART police officers, suggest that Hall was more than 10 feet from the officer when the shots were fired, and was walking away. Medical records obtained by the Bay Guardian show that he was shot in the back of the head.

The shooting appears to violate nearly every modern police standard on the use of deadly force. In fact, the latest BART Police Operational Directive, dated July 22, 1987, states that guns may be fired only to prevent a suspect from killing or wounding another person, or to stop a suspected felon who is presumed to be armed and dangerous from fleeing and escaping arrest. But BART internal documents and other records obtained by the Bay Guardian provide little evidence to suggest that Hall fit either category.

Nevertheless, on Dec. 4, a BART Firearms Review Board, consisting entirely of BART police officers appointed by the chief, determined that the “use of lethal force in this instance was justified.” BART officials refuse to release the report or comment further on the findings.

The fact that Crabtree fired a gun to subdue Hall seems to undermine one of BART’s central reasons for the use of trained attack dogs. The dogs, BART officials say, are supposed to support officers in situations just like the one in question – to intimidate, and if necessary, pursue and immobilize a suspect when other backup isn’t available, and to attack immediately if an officer is under assault. Some law-enforcement experts, and many civil-rights advocates, question the use of dogs for that purpose – but all those contacted by the Bay Guardian agreed it was rather curious that Crabtree’s canine partner sat out this whole bloody incident.

Officer Crabtree is on administrative leave, with pay, pending the final outcome of an internal investigation. Owens is still facing robbery charges, despite the lack of a victim willing to testify against him. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for this week.

But the problems with the BART police go far beyond the arrest of John Owens and the death of Jerrold Hall. In fact, the Bay Guardian has learned:

BART’s Internal Affairs Division, which reviews citizen complaints against BART police officers, has investigated 162 cases in the past five years, 39 of them involving excessive use of force – and not a single charge was sustained. Law-enforcement observers say that’s an astonishing statistic, one that casts severe doubt on the department’s ability to control police abuse.

“I’ve never heard of any department with a rate of zero sustained complaints,” said John Crew, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Police Practices Project. “I can’t believe that none of those people had a single valid case.”

The BART Police Department has a written procedure for civilians filing complaints. A 1991 directive signed by Chief Harold Taylor states that every department employee should accept complaints by mail, by phone, or in person, and refer them to the watch commander or the Internal Affairs Division. But there’s nothing posted in any BART train or station to tell the public about the complaint process, no procedure for appealing a Police Department decision to a civilian review agency, and not much visible effort to inform BART employees about how to handle complaints.

The BART police use dogs for purposes inconsistent with many modern law-enforcement guidelines. Most local police agencies employ canines primarily to sniff out bombs and narcotics, or to search for dangerous suspects hidden in dark, confined areas. Berkeley has banned police dogs altogether. The BART police dogs are not trained to sniff out bombs or drugs, and are rarely involved in searches; the officers use the animals as standard backup, to intimidate and apprehend suspects in even fairly routine arrests.

The elected BART Board of Directors has demonstrated virtually no effective control over the BART police, and most board members don’t seem to know or care what their armed employees are doing with those badges, dogs, and guns.

None of the board members contacted by the Bay Guardian could even guess how many citizen complaints had been filed against the BART police since 1988, or what the outcome of the cases had been. None could explain the complaint procedure, or identify the person responsible for supervising internal investigations. Most didn’t know how the police chief was hired, or to whom he reported; some board members didn’t even know his name.

Several years ago, I asked Art Shartsis, a downtown lawyer who was then the BART Board president, if he knew who ran the BART police. His answer was unusually blunt, but entirely typical of the attitude board members show toward the force.

“I don’t know,” he told me. “I guess we must have a chief.”


Jerrold Hall was the son of Alameda Fire Department Captain Cornelius Hall, a retired Navy Reserve officer who lives with his wife, Rose and two other sons in a comfortable middle-class home in suburban Union City. Both of Jerrold’s brothers are in college, earning top grades; his aunt is the first black woman ever to serve on the Board of Trustees of Auburn University.

Jerrold, who graduated from high school in 1991 and was living with his parents, “had some problems, like a lot of kids these days,” his father told me. “But we hoped he’d outgrow them. He was a good kid, never into guns or killing or any of that sort of thing.”

On Sunday, Nov. 15, at about 2 in the afternoon, Hall met Owens at the Eastmont Mall in Oakland. According to a sworn statement Owens gave to the police, the two drank a few beers and part of a small bottle of E&J Brandy. Early in the evening, Hill invited Owens to his home, and they left the mall on an AC Transit bus to catch a BART train for Union City.

According to Owens and several other witnesses, Owens and Hill encountered a black man in his late 30s on board the train, and the man asked them if they wanted to buy one of the Walkmans he was carrying in a bag. When first questioned by police, at about 1:35 a.m., Owens said he declined the offer, went to another train car “where more girls were,” and met up with Hall again a few minutes later. At about 4:30 a.m., he made another statement, acknowledging that he was present when the friend he called “Glasstop” told the would-be salesman, “give me your Walkman.”

Several other witnesses on the train agreed that Hall had confronted the man, and walked away with a bag. None, including Owens, saw a gun.

However, the victim of what the BART police still call an “armed robbery” called the train operator on the intercom and said two men with a gun had stolen his Walkman. The operator, who never saw Hall or Owens, reported the incident, and it was relayed to BART police, who instructed the trainman to stop in Hayward, and, after a brief delay, to open the train doors. Hall and Owens left with about 50 others; according to the station attendant, they jumped the emergency gate and walked into the parking lot.

The police were able to find several eyewitnesses to the alleged robbery; however, other than Owens and Crabtree, who was the only police officer on the scene at the time, the internal report does not identify a single witness who actually saw the shooting.

An official Dec. 7 statement, written by BART Police Chief Harold Taylor at the request of the Bay Guardian and reviewed by BART’s legal department, notes that “witnesses disagreed as to the precise sequence of the next events.”

The internal BART police documents obtained by the Bay Guardian contain no formal statement or direct quotation from Crabtree; he apparently filed no written report. The reports were all prepared by other officers, who arrived at the scene after the shooting.

According to those reports, filed shortly after the incident, Crabtree approached Hall and Owens, who were standing near a bench in the parking lot’s bus-stop area, and ordered them to lie on the ground with their hands over their heads. Owens complied; Hall did not.

Hall, the reports state, “confronted and challenged Officer Crabtree, attempting to take Officer Crabtree’s shotgun from him at one point.” There is no mention of what the dog, who was trained to bite anyone who attacked Officer Crabtree, was doing at the time. BART officials refuse to elaborate, saying the incident is still under investigation.

However, one Bay Area dog trainer, who has trained police dogs, said it’s highly unlikely that a German shepherd of the sort imported by the BART police (see sidebar) would fail to respond in such a situation. “Dogs are very loyal and protective,” the trainer, who asked not to be identified, told the Bay Guardian. “These dogs are carefully bred and taught to attack anyone who physically endangers their human handler. Sometimes they overreact; they very rarely underreact.”


Owens told the police he “did not see the cop and Glasstop get into any physical fighting. They did not touch. They were just arguing.” After a few moments, Owens said, “Glasstop walked over to me and said we could go. So we started to walk away.”

Whatever the nature of the confrontation between Hall and Officer Crabtree, the police report and witness statements leave very little doubt that it ended with Hall walking away – and, as the internal police report states, “with Officer Crabtree retaining the shotgun.”

It’s also clear that some time, perhaps as much a minute or two, passed between the initial clash and the shooting – more than enough time for Hall and Owens to start walking away. During that period, the documents suggest, the passenger who had initially reported the robbery – and had not made any contact yet with police – suddenly ran out into the parking lot, pointed toward Hall and Owens and shouted, “That’s them.” Then the passenger fled.

Crabtree then ordered the two young men to halt again – and at that point, the statements get very fuzzy.

According to the official statement released Dec. 7 by BART, Crabtree “summoned his canine, but Hall resisted the dog.” A medical report filed by Alameda County emergency technicians who examined Hall after the shooting includes no mention of any dog bites or wounds of any sort other than those caused by the shotgun. A copy of the report, which has not been released, was obtained by the Bay Guardian.

Crabtree, the official BART statement continues, “fired a warning shot at a nearby tree. Hall continued to move toward the other suspect, and at one point turned and assumed a position which concealed his hands.”

The internal police report, however, states that Owens was the one who was “failing to keep his hands in view,” and who, in what the report described as “an effort to get rid of the evidence [Walkman],” put his hands into his pants pockets. At that point, the report states, Crabtree “used deadly force on suspect Hall.”

Owens said he responded immediately to the second command to halt, but that Hall kept walking away. When Owens heard the shots, he turned around, “and my partner was lying face down…. Then I heard all the cops coming with sirens.”

In fact, within a matter of minutes, at least three more BART police cars and a backup unit from the Hayward Police Department had arrived on the scene. Even if Hall, who by all accounts was walking, not running, had been attempting to “flee,” it’s unlikely he would have been able to get far.

And after an extensive search of the train, the tracks, the station, the parking lot, and everything else in the vicinity, the BART police acknowledge they were unable to find a gun.

Although the BART police initially insisted that Hall had been shot in the chest, and most of the news reports carried that statement unchallenged, even BART now admits that the shot struck the young man in the back of his head. His father, Cornelius Hall, never had any doubt.

“I’m a trained emergency medical technician,” he told the Bay Guardian. “I was in the hospital room when the nurse was washing down the body. I know what an entrance wound looks like, and my son was shot in the back.”

In Modern Police Firearms, a textbook on law-enforcement procedures, Professor Allen P. Bristow of California State University, Los Angeles, writes that deadly force should be used to stop a fleeing felon only when “he cannot be contained or captured” through other means. Further, Bristow notes, an officer considering deadly force should ask the following question:

“Is the crime this suspect is committing, or are the consequences of his possible escape, serious enough to justify my taking his life or endangering the lives of bystanders?”

The San Francisco Police Department guidelines on deadly force embody some of that same philosophy. “Officers shall exhaust all other reasonable means of apprehension and control before resorting to the use of firearms,” the Aug. 24, 1984, policy states. Officers are allowed to shoot at a dangerous, fleeing felony suspect “only after all other reasonable means of apprehension and control have been exhausted.”

San Francisco, like almost every other police agency in the Bay Area, and most in the country, strictly prohibits warning shots. So does BART: “Discharging of firearms [is] not allowable as a warning,” BART’s official weapons policy states.

The BART police are a bit more lenient than San Francisco on the use of deadly force to stop fleeing suspects. The officer must only believe that “the suspect is likely to continue to threaten death or serious bodily harm to another human being,” according to BART’s July 22, 1987, operational directive. Yet the directive also states that a firearm may not be used “when the officer has reason to believe … that the discharge may endanger the lives of passersby, or other persons not involved in the crime, and the officer’s life, or that of another person, is not in imminent danger.”


Armed guards have patrolled BART trains and stations since the agency started running trains about 30 years ago. At first, they were simply known as “BART Security”; the officers had the authority to carry weapons and arrest suspects, but under state law, they weren’t members of a real police department. For the most part, that limited their authority to the confines of BART property.

In 1976, the state Legislature granted BART the authority to run a police department with jurisdiction and authority second only to the California Highway Patrol. BART officers now have full police powers, not only on their own turf, but in every one of the 58 California counties.

The department, headquartered near the Lake Merritt BART station, currently employs 151 sworn officers and nine dogs (see sidebar Page TK). An undisclosed number work undercover, in plain clothes, riding the trains and looking for crimes that range from fare evasion, “eating,” and “expectoration,” to assault, robbery, and rape. By far the most common crime, according to a BART police statistical breakdown for 1992, is “vagrancy”: 4,227 separate instances were reported by BART officers in the first 10 months of the year.

The BART Police Department has a $12 million annual budget, a fleet of patrol cars, and its own communications system. Officers earn salaries that Chief Taylor calls “competitive” with other departments in the Bay Area.

And at a time when California law-enforcement agencies are coming under increasingly strict civilian control, the BART police operate with nothing more than token oversight.

Chief Taylor reports to no commission, mayor, or city council. The department is administered by BART’s assistant general manager for public safety, who reports to the general manager, who reports to the board. BART spokesperson Michael Healy said the board plays no role in hiring or firing a chief, much less in disciplining police officers.

Former BART Board member Arlo Hale Smith said that in his term of office, the BART police chief rarely showed up for board meetings. “Even when we had something to discuss about the department – usually a labor-contract issue – the assistant general manager would come,” Smith explained.

Citizen complaints against the BART police are handled by the Internal Affairs Department, which is not a separate agency, as it is in many police departments, but a branch of the Detective Division, Taylor told the Bay Guardian.

That, some critics say, may explain why BART has the lowest possible rate of sustained complaints against its police officers. “There’s a very good reason for civilian agencies to handle complaints against the police,” said the ACLU’s John Crew. “People who have been abused by the police have a hard time trusting the same police department to do an honest investigation.”

Cornelius Hall, who is no stranger to government bureaucracy, said he ran into a stone wall when he tried to get some basic information about his son’s death from BART. “They wouldn’t even give me the police report,” he told the Bay Guardian. “The only way I can find out what happened to my son is to hire a lawyer and have it subpoenaed.”

Crew said he finds the situation “chilling.” He said he saw a “complete dearth” of civilian oversight in the BART administrative structure. “There’s no opportunity for meaningful public input, for hearings, for discussion of issues,” he continued.

“It’s not an acceptable situation. But under the circumstances, the members of the BART Board have an increased responsibility to ask questions and keep on top of their police department’s practices.”

In the case of Jerrold Hall, at least, that doesn’t seem to be happening. The shooting hasn’t been on the agenda for any board meeting since Nov. 15, and board members say they haven’t received any information about it from BART management.

And unlike Cornelius Hall, they haven’t even bothered to ask.


The day after a BART police officer shot Jerrold Hall in the back of the head, transit agency spokesperson Mike Healy told reporters that Hall had been shot in the chest.

Not true.

Healy also told reporters that Hall had attacked Officer Fred Crabtree, and continued to attack him after Crabtree fired a warning shot.

Not true.

And Healy said that the warning shot was fired “over Hall’s head.”

Not true, either.

Healy freely referred to an alleged “armed robbery,” but he didn’t tell reporters that BART police had searched the entire area and never found a gun. He didn’t say that the alleged robbery victim had vanished without a trace, either.

So the public got a one-sided – and, as it turns out, largely inaccurate – picture of the incident. The press, taking Healy’s information at face value, portrayed Jerrold Hall as a violent, gun-wielding punk, shot in the act of attacking a cop.

“In some ways,” says Hall’s father, Cornelius, “that’s the saddest part of all.”

And while Healy finally put out a statement Dec. 7 acknowledging that some of his previous comments were in error, he did so only after a three-week barrage of questions from the Bay Guardian – and he never issued a word of apology to the Hall family.

It’s hard to blame Healy for the initial round of misinformation: In the heat of a bloody battle, the truth is often obscured. But Healy clearly knew, or could have known, within a few days after the incident that his official press statements had been wrong – that, for example, the medical reports showed Hall had been shot from behind. He could have called the reporters who were covering the story and let them know, or issued a new press release with updated information.

He could have tried to rescue some of what was left of the dead 19 year old’s personal reputation – and salvaged a bit of his own in the process. Instead, he fell back on the old BART strategy: When in doubt, stonewall. Then duck for cover, and hope it will all go away.

The BART Police Department may be the least-responsive law-enforcement agency I’ve seen since the discovery of the shredding machine in the White House basement. There is no press officer. The watch commanders, lieutenants, and captains refer all press calls to Chief Harold Taylor, who won’t come to the phone; his secretary refers the calls to the BART Public Affairs Office.

When I first called Healy Nov. 16 to ask about the shooting, he told me he hadn’t seen a police report, and didn’t know if one existed. He also said he didn’t know what the citizen complaint procedure was for the BART police, and had no idea if it was in writing. I filed a formal request for those and other records Nov. 17; under the Public Records Act, I had a legal right to a response within 10 days.

I let it slide to 15 days (holidays and all), then started calling Healy’s office. He was too busy to come to the phone at first, but after I harassed him for several hours, he told me that Chief Harold Taylor was handling my request, and that I should call him directly. Taylor wouldn’t come to the phone at all: He had an assistant tell me that Public Affairs was handling the request, and that I should call Mike Healy.

I spent another day trying again to reach Healy, who finally told me he wanted to set up an interview with Taylor – for Dec. 4, 17 days after I’d sent in a request for information most police agencies would probably have provided in less than an hour.

Chief Taylor showed up for the interview with a BART lawyer, who promised that the chief would fax me a statement of the facts of the shooting sometime later that afternoon. The brief, incomplete statement finally arrived three days later, around 3:30 p.m. Dec. 7, 21 days after my initial request. And BART officials still won’t release the full police report.

If I were a suspicious reporter, I’d wonder what they were trying to hide.


Deputy dog

In Philadelphia, the Inquirer revealed several years ago, police dogs attacked 358 people in the course of 33 months, leaving many of them scarred or maimed for life. In Los Angeles, the Times recently reported, the local K-9 Corps recorded more than a thousand bites in three years. In Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, trained German shepherds tore into a total of 375 legs, arms, and torsos in the course of their law-enforcement work.

In the past 10 years, canine corps scandals have tarnished the reputations of police departments all over the country and have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in lawsuits.

In Berkeley, however, police dogs have been banned since the early 1970s, when a City Council member named Ron Dellums responded to the brutal use of dogs against blacks in the South with a resolution abolishing the local canine corps. In San Francisco, dogs handle only a few very limited tasks.

But since 1990, the BART Police Canine Corps has been expanding into the sort of work that created such extensive problems in other American cities – a use for dogs that critics say has little justification.

“There are two basic rationales for using police dogs,” explained Richard Avenzino, director of the San Francisco SPCA, whose agency has worked with the local Police Department canine program. “One is for sniffing out explosives or narcotics. The other is for searches, mainly in enclosed spaces, where the dog’s sense of smell can aid in finding a hidden human suspect.

“But there’s also a perception that a snarling dog can intimidate people, which creates a lot more potential for trouble.”

The first BART Police canine corps dates back to the early 1970s. But the BART Board disbanded the program in 1975, after a police dog on a train in Philadelphia barked at BART Director John Glenn.

In 1990, Police Chief Harold Taylor restored four dogs to the force, saying they would be “a strong statement of police presence,” would deter violent crime, and could be used to help clear homeless people from trains and stations. In an interview last week, Taylor said the dogs, which now number nine, are used “to back up officers, in all their law-enforcement duties.”

The dogs, imported German shepherds, are bred and undergo Schützhund training at a special school in Germany, where they learn to attack on command. “The dogs only [understand] German,” explained Deputy Chief Kevin Sharp. “The officers learn to issue their commands in that language.”

Sharp said none of the BART dogs are trained to sniff out bombs or drugs and that they aren’t often needed for searches. In normal situations, he said, the dogs stay in the police car, with the window open, while the officer approaches a suspect. “They’re trained to jump out and attack without any command if they see that the officer is under assault,” he added.

ACLU Police Practices lawyer John Crew found that description alarming. “In other words,” he said, “we have dogs deciding on their own when to use what amounts to lethal force. That’s not a very good idea.”

Avenzino said the training methods used for such dogs “are, to put it mildly, controversial. A dog will do anything to please its owner; if you teach it to attack on command, it’s like loading a gun. In my opinion, it’s very dangerous.”

Jim Chanin, a Berkeley lawyer who has filed several lawsuits over attacks by police dogs, said he sees no good reason for BART to have a canine corps. “The problem is that these dogs are just trained to attack,” he explained. “You can’t use them to search for some kid lost in the BART tunnel.

“If there’s something the BART police do on a regular basis that requires the use of dogs, I certainly can’t see what it is.”

Chief Taylor told the Bay Guardian that dogs provide much less expensive backup than additional sworn officers. Berkeley Police Lt. Tom Grant said he agrees, to a point: “But then you have to pay out those big legal settlements if one of the dogs does something wrong.”

Gun crazy


Editors note: This story ran Oct. 17, 2001

Bruce Seward imploded while riding an AC Transit bus.

It was 4 a.m. on May 28, 2001, and Seward was rolling through the darkness on the 82 line, headed south from Oakland toward Hayward. Hands clapped over his ears, Seward, a 42-year-old car salesman, rocked back and forth, vacilutf8g between sobbing and shouting. He was barefoot, according to witnesses.

Bus driver Anthony Ramsey heard Seward ranting, “They trying to kill me, they trying to kill me.”

“Shut up!” one passenger screamed. Another rider threatened to toss Seward off the bus.

Seward morphed, gaining some inner – momentary – calm. “Thank you, God, thank you, God, thank you, God,” he chanted.

A few weeks earlier Seward had jetted to Danville, Ill., for his mother’s 67th birthday; his mom and eight siblings didn’t notice any behavioral peculiarities. But now, quite publicly, the Oakland man’s synapses were misfiring.

At the end of the line, the Hayward BART station, Seward got off the bus. An hour later a veteran BART cop named David Betancourt found the rangy African American man outside the station, lying next to a Dumpster, naked and semi<\h>coherent. Betancourt, according to confidential police reports obtained by the Bay Guardian, grabbed Seward and shook him. “Are you OK?” the cop yelled.

“No,” Seward shouted, standing up. “No, it’s not OK.”

Betancourt, police reports indicate, says Seward then charged him. Yanking a can of pepper spray off his belt, the cop blasted the naked man in the face. The chemical spray did nothing.

Then, according to witnesses, Seward grabbed Betancourt’s 26-inch-long wooden nightstick. The officer – as he would later tell his superiors – began to fear for his life. Betancourt said he thought Seward would “beat [him] to death” with his own baton or attempt to disarm him and shoot him.

The cop drew his blued steel Glock and squeezed the trigger, dropping Seward with a single .40-caliber slug through the heart.

Seward’s demons are buried with him. Family members have few clues about why his mind melted down. They know he survived a similar psychotic episode in the early 1990s. And they know he went to see a psychologist two days before he died. It seems his relationship with an Oakland woman was collapsing; maybe the emotional turmoil had shattered him.

Betancourt, who has 20 years of law-enforcement experience, 8 of them with BART, emerged unharmed from the fatal skirmish; police records show the officer suffered no injuries. His career seems undamaged as well: Betancourt returned to active duty last week after probes by the BART police and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office cleared him of any wrongdoing. The cop had been on paid administrative leave since the incident.

“It’s unfortunate that somebody died, but the officer was justified in using deadly force that morning,” Betancourt’s attorney, Leo Tamisiea, said.

BART police chief Gary Gee concurs. “I think he acted appropriately,” Gee told us. “The tussle that took place, the back-and-forth exchange – when it had no effect on [Seward] and the officer feared that he himself was going to suffer serious injury or death, he took the action he felt necessary.”

Regardless of BART’s official line, a key question remains: did Betancourt really have to kill Seward? It’s a question neither asked nor answered in the 90 pages of BART police reports leaked to this paper.

“My brother would still be alive today if the officer was doing his job correctly,” Michael Seward, 45, an Illinois state prison guard, told us. “I can’t see any justification for shooting an unarmed civilian.”

According to almost every major U.S. police department’s official guidelines – including those of the BART police – a cop can use deadly force only if the cop reasonably believes his or her life (or the life of another person) is in immediate jeopardy.

Did Betancourt truly think Seward was going to bludgeon him to death? And if so, was the cop making a realistic assessment of the situation? These questions, too, are unresolved by the investigations of BART and the D.A.’s Office.

The subway system has offered Seward’s family only fragmentary information about case number 01-22334. “The hardest part is that we’re not getting any help from the police department,” Michael Seward said. “I have not received an autopsy report on my brother. We’re trying to find out what actually happened, and the police have not been forthcoming in terms of giving us an accurate, detailed explanation of what happened.” The family is contemputf8g a lawsuit.

Lurking in the police documents leaked to this paper is one fairly startling fact: “Officer Betancourt’s duty weapon left the scene with him,” one chronology of the incident reads. Two hours after the killing, Betancourt turned the Glock over to investigators. “That’s totally against protocol,” said former Santa Monica cop Frank Saunders, a consultant on police practices. “In these cases, you’re supposed to take the officer’s weapon immediately.”

“I don’t know why there are time gaps in the reports,” BART spokesperson Mike Healy admitted.

For Samantha Liapes, director of Bay Area PoliceWatch, Seward’s death is symptomatic of a broader problem. “We’re very troubled by this: yet another example of unwarranted deadly force being used in a situation where someone was obviously in mental distress,” Liapes said. “The fact that the man was naked and clearly not carrying a life-threatening weapon makes the use of deadly force by the officer even more troubling.”

Two weeks after Seward was killed, San Francisco cops put 20-some bullets in another mentally ill man, Idriss Stelley, in a movie theater at Sony Metreon. Stelley, according to his mother, was brandishing a less-than-lethal, two-inch-long knife.

Beyond the specifics of the two cases, there’s a larger policy issue: are local cops getting the proper training in how to handle mentally ill people?

As required by state law, BART – along with most other Bay Area departments – gives new recruits six hours of schooling on the subject. “We are sensitive to the fact that there may be a need for additional training and are receptive to looking into it,” BART chief Gee said. “But I’m not so sure that even if Betancourt had gotten supplemental training on dealing with persons who are mentally ill, that it would have changed the outcome in this case.”

The chief could take a cue from San Jose, which has put 130 of its officers through a 40-hour training on mental health crisis calls.

Lt. Brenda Herbert, head of the San Jose Police Department’s Crisis Management Unit, runs the training program, which was launched in 1998. “What we’re trying to do is teach officers to talk someone down, rather than take them down physically,” Herbert says. “It’s a matter of teaching these officers what it means to be hearing voices, how to talk to someone who’s hearing voices, how to find out what the voices are saying so that you can take the necessary precautions.”

Seward is not the first person to bleed to death in the parking lot of the Hayward BART station. It was there, in 1992, that BART cop Fred Crabtree confronted Jerrold Hall, a 19-year-old African American. Hall, who was getting off a train with a pal, fit the description of a robbery suspect. Crabtree – armed with a baton, a can of pepper spray, a handgun, a shotgun, and an attack-<\h>trained German shepherd – told Hall to halt.

After a quick discussion Hall turned and walked off, his hands clearly visible. Crabtree ordered him to stop. When Hall failed to heed the command, the cop loosed the 12-gauge shotgun, blasting the young man in the back of the head.

As it turned out, no evidence was ever found connecting Hall to any robbery – and he was unarmed (see “BART Cops, 41-0,” 1/14/98).

BART came under public pressure to fire – or at least discipline – the officer. Politicians made noises about putting the subway system’s largely unaccountable 182-<\h>officer force under the supervision of a civilian review board.

Apparently unswayed by reason, BART officials did absolutely nothing, and eventually the public discontent tapered off. Crabtree remained on active duty until his own inglorious demise a few years later: the officer was found hanging from a noose in his home as porno tapes played on the TV.

Interviewed last week, Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors, said he’s pushing for more police oversight but at this point doesn’t have the votes on the nine-member board to pass any new rules. It may prove especially hard to muster those votes in the fear-<\h>laden post-Sept. 11 climate.

“The concern the [Seward killing] triggers for me is whether we’re doing enough to make sure things like this don’t happen,” Radulovich said.

It could be that David Betancourt really had no choice but to gun down Bruce Seward. Maybe it really was a kill-or-be-killed situation.

There is, however, another, more grim possibility: that the police culture at BART has changed very little in the last nine years. And the majority of the BART board doesn’t seem to care.

Loose canon


› kimberly@sfbg.com

Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966) not Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol, 1967). For that matter the Plastic Ono Band rather than the Beatles, and Brian Wilson before Paul McCartney. Scott Walker, not Paul Simon. Arthur Russell, not David Byrne — though regards to the Talking Heads. ‘Fraid no Bruce Springsteen but plenty of Neil Young. The Band not … well, Bob Dylan hangs on despite the unfortunate I’m Not There (2007), the seeming party-stopper in a never-ending stream of Dylan books and arcana. Prince, in lieu of Rick James, bitch.

Low-budg bedroom production, not Chinese Democracy (Interscope). Not reggaetón but Krautrock. Not Afro-Cuban but African. Not doo-wop but girl group. Nope to Phil Spector but yes to Lee Hazlewood or, better, Lee "Scratch" Perry. Stock on the Replacements and Hüsker Dü is way down, but Bad Brains and Black Flag shares are up. Sorry, the Who isn’t all right but Zep’s song remains the same. Nevermind Nirvana but hello, Sparks — and no, not Jordin Sparks. And oddly enough, not the Tubes or Huey Lewis and the News, but Journey — and specifically "Don’t Stop Believin’."

Now repeat, twirl around, pat your head whilst rubbing your stomach, click your heels together twice, and commit the aforementioned to memory: this is your new rock canon.

Just trust me on this. I’ve read a lot of music stories and CD reviews in ’08, and since I’m missing the crucial math gene, I can’t quantify the exact number of times the hallowed names of Arthur Russell, Neil Young, or Brian Wilson have been invoked, but believe me, they have, more times than group-think-phobic music writers care to admit. And that’s not to say the artists and recordings these canonical creators have displaced are now worthless: even admitting that a canon (or three or four) exists, let alone articuutf8g one, can be a dicey proposition — whether you’re among lit professors or cruising music crit circles. The very idea evokes exclusivity, hierarchy, neocon grandstanding, worries about exclusion, and allusions to dead white men. "I think most professors would not want to say there’s a canon but if you teach a course on American literature there are still things you want to teach," opined one tenured prof pal. "They’re critical of a canon but they still are creating a canon. It’s very implicit and unconscious in some ways."

Yet anyone who’s cared deeply enough about pop to critique it can’t help but notice the seismic shift in the ’00s — even as the state of criticism seems to wax and wane with the fortunes of a music industry still searching for an uploadable business model; music mags busily folding or scrambling for lifestyle advertising; and newspapers gutting their staffs and substituting arts criticism with reviews wrought by, say, sports copy editors. Meanwhile blogs generate a still-fluid mixture of earnest criticism, bracing truth-telling, and hands-free promotion. A canon — or the very idea of classics and common musical references that all agree on — presupposes a foundation of critical thought, and who can afford to judge amid the hand-wringing desperation of today’s music marketplace?

Who instigated this changing of the guard, this revised rock ‘n’ roll canon? Tastemakers, tastefakers, marketing minons, and branding blowhards? Writers, DJs, musicians, music store staffers, promoters, and Robert "Dean of American Rock Critics" Christgau? All Tomorrow’s Parties, Arthur, Pitchfork, and the Chunklet writers who dreamed up issue 20’s music journalist application form ("Would you admit to not actually being that familiar with your frequent points of reference you name-drop [e.g., Captain Beefheart or Gang of Four]?")? This very humble independently owned, independent-minded rag? We’ll never admit it — because the very notion of forging a new pop canon in this fragmented, un-unified, de-centered vortex of music-making, consumption, and collecting seems utterly ridiculous, if not downright moronic. Yet a generational aesthetic realignment has occurred, and as a wise friend once told me, shift happens.


BEAT SUITE Benga, Diary of an Afro Warrior (Tempa); Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp); Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)

EXOTICA Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry); High Places, High Places (Thrill Jockey)

J-HEAVY Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO, Recurring Dream and Apocalypse of Darkness (Important); Boris, Smile (Southern Lord)

LIVE LOVES Fleet Foxes at Bottom of the Hill; High on Fire at Stubb’s; Jonas Reinhardt at Hemlock Tavern; MGMT and Yeasayer at BOH; My Bloody Valentine at the Concourse; Nomo at BOH; Singer at Rickshaw Stop; Stars of the Lid at the Independent

LOCALS ONLY The Alps, III (Type); Faun Fables, A Table Forgotten (Drag City); Tussle, Cream Cuts (Smalltown Supersound); Dominique Leone, Dominique Leone (Stromland); Mochipet, Microphonepet (Daly City)

PLEASANT NODS Beach House, Devotion (Carpark); Growing, All the Way (Social Registry); TV on the Radio, Dear Science (Interscope)

POP NARCOTIC Crystal Stilts, Alight of Night (Slumberland); Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch); Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador)

PSYCHED Guapo, Elixirs (Neurot); Mirror Mirror, The Society for the Advancement of Inflammatory Consciousness (Cochon)

PUNX Fucked Up,The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)

YESTERDAYS La Dusseldorf, Viva (Water); Graham Nash, Songs for Beginners (Rhino); Linda Perhacs, Parallelograms (Sunbeam); Rodriguez, Cold Fact (Light in the Attic); Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blue (Sony)


Ask a musician


› johnny@sfbg.com

There is a riddle wrapped in the central enigma of Stephen Kijak’s 2007 film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. That riddle is Julian Cope. Dozens of musicians, including David Bowie and Brian Eno, listen to the elusive Walker’s music on-camera and testify to its impact. But Cope, who effectively revived Walker’s career and laid the foundation for his current cult legend status by compiling the ultrarare 1981 retrospective, Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker (Zoo), only communicates with Kijak via an e-mail that the filmmaker weaves into the web of commentary. In a movie dedicated to slowly revealing a famously mysterious figure, Cope cameos as an invisible man.

Cope’s role in 30 Century Man got me thinking about his position within popular music, a train of thought that led to the subject of musicians as creators and guardians of musical canons. In the ’80s, I’d bought albums by Cope’s group, the Teardrop Explodes, and early solo recordings such as 1984’s fox-y Fried (Polygram, 1984), where he wears a turtle shell and nothing else on the cover. Some close friends were so devoted to Cope that they named their first son Julian, but my interest in him fizzled. Checking back decades later, I soon realized that through writing, he’d generated new waves of enthusiasm around the "supreme Magic & Power" of Krautrock (via the self-published 1995 tome Krautrocksampler [Head Heritage]) and Japanese psychedelia (via Japrocksampler, published in 2007 by Bloomsbury). His Web site, www.headheritage.co.uk, spotlights a favorite album each month and uses list-making as an opportunity to uncover unique tracks like Bloodrock’s 1970 death-rattle ambulance anthem "D.O.A." — a song one of my high school teachers used to introduce poetry to a class of burnouts.

Deemed a "rock musician, author, antiquary, musicologist, and poet" by Wikipedia, Cope is likely the most visionary canon creator or canon editor among those musicians given to the practice. The man who once sang a love song to Leila Khaled is now more ambivalent about terrorism — and about Cluster, even if Krautrocksampler helped remake their reputation. But his musical guides might also be sonic versions of the ancient megaliths he’s also studied and written about at length. Before I even began reading Cope’s notes on rock’s various formations, they’d put a spell on me — in other words, they influenced my listening habits. He’s like a benevolent musical version of Dr. Julian Karswell, the rune master in Jacques Tourneur’s 1959 film Night of the Demon.

Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne is a musician-canonist whose aesthetic has fewer aspirations to deep authority than Cope’s, but one that roves more freely. While Devendra Banhart is often credited with the rediscovery of pastoral folk priestess Vashti Bunyan, it was Stanley who first introduced her recordings to new generations: she appears on Dream Babes, Volume 5: Folkrock ‘n’ Faithfull (RPM), a 2003 entry in a ’60s girl-pop series he began in 1994, as well as his 2004 compilation, Gather in the Mushrooms: British Acid-Folk Underground, 1968-1974 (Castle Music). A keen expert regarding cult figures such as Joe Meek, Stanley recently traced Bon Iver’s current fringe hero status back to Thomas Chatterton in a piece for the UK Guardian. Saint Etienne’s revelatory 2004 contribution to the mix series The Trip alone has turned me on to the Left Banke, Gloria Scott’s neglected 1974 disco classic What Am I Gonna Do? (Casablanca, 1974) and its arranger, Gene Page, and Serge Gainsbourg’s 1970 Cannabis soundtrack (Universal, 2003).

The musician as critic, if not canonist, has a long tradition in the United Kingdom: Stanley wrote for Melody Maker before forming Saint Etienne, for example. Cope might be viewed as the butch authorial corollary of Morrissey, who has waved the banner for such alternate history icons as Sparks, Klaus Nomi, and Twinkle, the latter the subject of a Stanley RPM compilation. The rock star- or DJ-as-curator trend also manifests via compilation series such as Fabric and festivals like All Tomorrow’s Parties. When My Bloody Valentine curated the 2008 New York installment of ATP, to some degree the musician-as-canonist idea came full circle, as the most evasive band from the mid-to-late-’80s reappeared amid a flurry of reissues from the era. If you’re frozen at the Googleplex crossroads of music circa 2008 and looking for a new old direction, it helps to ask a musician. (Johnny Ray Huston)


Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)

Coconut, Hello Fruity (Allone Co.)

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours (Modular)

El Guincho, Alegranza! (XL/Young Turks)

Bruce Haack, The Electric Lucifer (Omni Recording) and "Party Machine" and "Icarus" from Haackula! (Omni Recording)

Tim Hardin, 1 (Water)

Nite Jewel, Good Evening (Gloriette)

The Present, World I See (Loaf)

Michael Rother, Fernwärme, Flammende Herzen, Katzenmusik, and Sterntaler (Water)

Arthur Russell, Love Is Overtaking Me (Audika)

Various artists, Space Oddities: A Compilation of European Library Grooves from 1975–1984 (Permanent Vacation)

Ricardo Villalobos, Vasco (Perlon)


Purple canon


One of the hot discs in Oakland back in 2004 was In Thugz We Trust (Rap-A-Lot/Asylum) by Thug Lordz, a duo of mob music veterans Yukmouth and C-Bo. It was dope but it underscored a problem: all the big Bay-associated artists established careers in the ’90s, before radio play and major label action dried up. During the pre-hyphy drought, it was tough to achieve any fame outside the hood.

Fast-forward to post-hyphy 2008: the canonical list of Bay Area rappers has expanded considerably. Despite receiving no local airplay through an ongoing dispute with KMEL musical director Big Von Johnson and continued hedging by Atlantic to release his album, Mistah FAB managed to dent national consciousness with his hook on Snoop’s single "Life of Da Party." The increasing clout of SF independent label SMC raised newer acts Beeda Weeda and J-Stalin to the regional stardom necessary to go further. Winner of the Guardian‘s reader choice poll for hip-hop, Beeda had one of the most successful discs of the year with Da Thizzness, while Stalin’s Gas Nation topped the rap best-seller list at Rasputin Music the week of its release, Sept. 23. Other acts like Eddi Projex have cracked the airwaves to remain hot, while the Jacka — whose career began at the tail end of the ’90s as a member of C-Bo’s Mob Figaz — had the biggest local single of the year, "All Over Me," from his highly anticipated album Tear Gas, due in March.

The older acts haven’t disappeared, however, as witnessed by new discs from San Quinn and E-40. A notable development of the past two years has been the solo career of former Delinquent G-Stack. Taking a page from Mac Dre’s book, Stack has developed new personae like Purple Mane and George W. Kush to release four purple-themed compilations, plus a solo EP, preparatory to his SMC full-length, Dr. Purp Thumb, slotted for February. Along the way, he’s begun developing newer acts like Deev Da Greed, a co-owner of Stack’s 4 the Streets Entertainment and, along with Qoolceo and Tay Peezy, a member of the HEEM Team.

"I can rap but that wasn’t my dream," Deev confesses at the Grill studio in Emeryville. "When we opened the label, I was in the lab [the studio] a bunch, so I was, like, let me do a verse." Despite these casual origins, Deev acquired serious buzz this year with his effortless flow — he just floats over any beat — and clever wordplay, co-signing Stack’s fourth comp, Abraham Reekin (4 the Streets).

The accidental rise of Deev illustrates the difference four years has made. The glacial pace of change during the pre-hyphy period has become torrential as fresh acts like Stevie Jo, Philthy Rich, and Yung Moses continue to bubble to the surface. This is partly technological — the fruit of a Pro Tools and YouTube generation — but it’s also inspirational. Unlike the first half of this decade, there’s a place to rise to. The prospect of attaining fame as a Bay Area rapper is still unreasonably difficult, but FAB and others have at least proved the prospect still exists. (Garrett Caples)


1. J-Stalin, Gas Nation (Livewire/Thizz/SMC)

2. Beeda Weeda, Da Thizzness (PTB/Thizz/SMC)

3. G-Stack, My Purple Chronicles (4 the Streets)

4. The Jacka, Fed-X, and AP.9, Mob Trial III (Sumo)

5. Mistah FAB, Playtime Is Over (Demolition Men)

6. Shady Nate, The Graveyard Shift (Demolition Men)

7. G-Stack and Deev Da Greed, Abraham Reekin (4 the Streets)

8. Livewire Da Gang, Pay Ya’self or Spray Ya’self (Livewire)

9. Ise Lyfe, The Prince Cometh (7even89ine)

10. San Quinn, From a Boy to a Man (Done Deal/SMC)


Tops in 2008



This year saw American pop (Rhianna, Kardinal Offishall, and Sean Kingston) broadly embracing Jamaican music. Likewise, Jamaican artists emulated, covered, and incorporated American pop and R&B motifs more than ever. The trend in JA was toward hot singles over hot albums, while dozens of new artists broke out. Women in particular had a massive resurgence in reggae (Queen Ifrica, Etana, Cherine Anderson) and dancehall (Tifa, Timberly, D’Angel, Tami Chynn). Money — having it, making it, spending it — was the most prevalent song topic. Here are six categories of reggae artists who made as big an impact on music as Jamaican athletes did on the track in Beijing.

TOP DAWGS Dancehall chart-toppers included Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, and Busy Signal.

ROOTS REFRESHERS Taj Weekes, Dwayne Stephenson, Morgan Heritage, Pressure, and Tarrus Riley enlivened one-drop traditional reggae.

LADIES IN CHARGE Women charged the charts, including Spice, Tifa, Natalie Storm, Timberlee, Pompatay, D’Angel, Etana, and Queen Ifrica.

CATCHING FIRE Newcomers galore emerged, like Bugle, Serani, Demarco, Erup, Black Ryno, and Konshens.

SOLID AS A ROCK Veterans who didn’t let us down included Beres Hammond, Tony Rebel, Jah Cure, Mr. Vegas, and Junior Reid, as well as Damien and Steven Marley.

POP GOES REGGAE These reggae/pop/R&B combinations and remixes made us smile: Estelle/Sean Paul, Jazmine Sullivan, John Legend/Buju Banton, plus French roots-boots remixes of Mary J. Blige, Lil Wayne, Nas, and Motown.


Art Lessing, Sleeping Ghost (An Electric Eggplant)

Der TPK (Teenage Panzerkorps), Games for Slaves (Siltbreeze)

Endless Boogie, Focus Level (No Quarter)

Expo 70 and Rahdunes’s split-LP (Kill Shaman)

Fabulous Diamonds, Fabulous Diamonds (Siltbreeze)

Los Llamarada, Take the Sky (S-S)

Nothing People, Anonymous (S-S)

Sic Alps, US EZ (Siltbreeze)

Suicide, Live 1977–1978 (Blast First)

Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador)


Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (Type)

Krallice, Krallice (Profound Lore)

Mount Eerie, Lost Wisdom and Black Wooden Ceiling Opening (P.W. Elverum & Sun)

Ecstatic Sunshine live

Prurient live

Bulbs, Light Ships (Freedom to Spend)

Mincemeat or Tenspeed in a cave

Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band, 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons (Constellation)

Pukers cassette


Testament, The Formation of Damnation (Nuclear Blast)

Gama Bomb, Citizen Brain (Earache)

Bloodbath, The Fathomless Mastery (Peaceville)

Cannabis Corpse, Tube of the Resinated (Forcefield/Robotic Empire)

Hail of Bullets, …of Frost and War (Metal Blade)

Bison B.C., Quiet Earth (Metal Blade)

Grand Magus, Iron Will (Rise Above/Candlelight)

Jucifer, L’Autrichienne (Relapse)

Gojira, The Way of All Flesh (Prosthetic)

Enslaved, Vertebrae (Indie)


1. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (Sony)

2. Zion-I, "Juicy Juice" (Gold Dust)

3. Grouch, Show You the World (Legendary Music)

4. Weezer, "Pork and Beans" (Geffen)

5. Santogold, Santogold (Downtown/Atlantic)

6. The Foals, Antidotes (Sub Pop)

7. T-Pain, "Chopped ‘N Skrewed" (Jive)

8. Tapes ‘N Tapes "The Dirty Dirty (Recession Remixes)"

9. Jamie Lidell, Jim (Warp)

10. Hottub, "Man Bitch" (LeHeat)


10. The Kills, Midnight Boom (Domino)

Hince and Mosshart’s latest was forceful and impressively consistent, which, yes, meant it was professional, and which, no, didn’t mean it was soulless. The pair spotted the rhythmic snap and hypnotism in ’60s playground sing-alongs. Working with these features instead of nostalgia or camp, they had the basis for a percussion-driven ’00s rock.

9. Steinski, What Does It All Mean? 1983–2006 Retrospective (Illegal Art)

Steve Stein’s influential ’80s tracks were extreme hip-hop: not only any song, but any sound that society had made could be sampled and woven into his boom-box fabrics. Of course, this made for legal nightmares. In 2008, we got the gift of a straightforward packaging.

8. Benga, Diary of an Afro Warrior (Tempa)

The Croydon dubstep man shoved the movement forward with Warrior, but he played it as a nudge. An eclectic, graceful, and terrifically undogmatic outing, it seemed to stroll along the Thames, picking up a new rhythm in each neighborhood. Through that, it remained fierce.

7. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

When you head off to the cabin in the woods to record your masterpiece, it doesn’t tend to work out well. You realize the woods are cold and boring, and that you are missing some helpful equipment. Justin Vernon’s excursion into the Wisconsin snow should inspire a new crop of such failures, because it polishes the myth. In its austerity and bone-cooling effect, Emma recalls a more focused Bonnie "Prince" Billy.

6. The Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch)

In 2008, soaking an indie album in Jesus and Mary Chain noise was about as original as what Bon Iver did (see above). Yet it too worked. Critically, Stephin Merritt never let his latest become a disc about texture: he knew that the key to noise pop is the pop. And Distortion delights in the girl-group drums and pert melodies while dramatically cringing at the feedback it pretends is just part of every record. "Drive on, Driver" is more indebted to Fleetwood Mac than anyone else.

5. Lucinda Williams, Little Honey (Lost Highway)

We extend the same sort of charity to Lucinda Williams as we do Chan Marshall — we just really want those gals to be in a happy place. For the first time in a while, Lucinda cut a studio set with optimistic poetry, and Honey not only warmed anyone who got close to Essence or West (both Lost Highway; 2001, 2007), it even matched the elegance of those discs — and with a way juicier palette.

4. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (XL)

The culture-jamming ("Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa") wasn’t as deeply meaningful as some held, but the light touch with which it arrived made the record a bit of a marvel. It was sweet, it was for parties, and it had nothing to do with Paul Simon. And the lyrics cribbed from freshman classes at Columbia were remarkably workable and unsophomoric.

3. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money)

Wayne has a monopoly on ink. What doesn’t make it onto his neck goes into his paeans. Both outlets — the tats, the praise — can seem excessive, but the latter just keeps on being reasonable. Wayne is the rapper as post-rapper, deliciously self-aware. Rapping is a funny thing to do, and rap albums are increasingly funny things to make. He’s getting inside it: looking with awe at that thing he just said, then riffing off it, then riffing off that, wheezing and grunting until his syllables morph, and enjoying himself.

2. Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)

The Baltimore pair found a sound on their debut. On their second record, they improved it and grew into it. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally seemed to be operating in some last outpost of melody, where tart country-pop hooks could be heard in a final, furry form before they collapsed. That made Devotion both comforting and lonely.

1. Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (New West)

For starters, DBT are shaping up as their generation’s premier bards of booze. When not singing mid-bender, they’re suffering through the aftermath or plotting the next go-round. What that really means is that their songs teeter powerfully between the concomitant bitterness and shame. The 19-song Creation was built to have room for all the less proud emotions.

Honorable mentions: Lykke Li, Youth Novels (LL); White Hinterland, Phylactery Factory (Dead Oceans); Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers (Rounder); James Pants, Welcome (Stones Throw); Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)


1. Various artists, Obsession (Bully)

2. Kurt Vile, Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher)

3. Jonas Reinhardt, Jonas Reinhardt (Kranky)

4. Ariel Pink, Oddities Sodomies Vol. 1 (Vinyl International)

5. Lindstrom, Where You Go, I Go Too (Smalltown Supersound)

6. Bum Kon, Drunken Sex Sucks (Smooch/Maximum Rocknroll)

7. La Dusseldorf, Viva (Water)

8. John Maus, Love Is Real (Upset the Rhythm)

9. RTX, JJ Got Live RaTX (Drag City)

10. Sic Alps, US EZ (Siltbreeze)


1. Godwaffle Noise Pancakes

A cluster of floor-crouching noiseniks + a heaping helping of syrupy waffles hot off the griddle = a great way to kill two hours on a Saturday afternoon.

2. Beth from Times New Viking tells me outside the Great American Music Hall that she likes my cat sweatshirt: And according to her, she only gives out one sweatshirt compliment per year — oh, snap!

3. Spire Live, Fundamentalis (Autofact/Touch)

Dynamite double LP compilation of live recordings dubbed in various European cathedrals from the likes of Philip Jeck, Christian Fennesz, BJNilsen, and more.

4. Eat Skull, Sick to Death (Siltbreeze)

Hurrah to the Philadelphia noise imprint for releasing this gem of a debut.

5. Kevin Drumm, Imperial Distortion (Hospital)

The Chicago native once again falls head over heels for the drone.

6. Wavves, Wavves (Woodsist)

I love this kid! Bedroom-spun beach punk in the vain of Beat Happening and the Embarrassment.

7. Common Eider, King Eider, Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes (Root Strata)

If I could fork a Goldie over to Rob Fisk for every time this album made its way through my stereo speakers, he would have a lot of Goldies.

8. Excepter, Debt Dept (Paw Tracks)

The Brooklyn electronic performance troupe sings about burgers, sunrises, and killing people on its new disc.

9. Blank Dogs, On Two Sides (Troubleman Unlimited)

New-wave synths soiled in grime, decayed vocals, and tape hiss galore from this prolific newbie.

10. John Wiese at the Lipo Lounge

Sounded like chunks of metal swelling to the size of balloons and then bursting into my chest for 10 awesome minutes.


1. Yellowtail featuring Alison Crockett, "You Feel Me" (Bagpak)

2. Dave Aju, "Crazy Place" (Circus Company)

3. Jazzanova featuring Randolph, "Let Me Show Ya (Henrik Schwarz Remix)" (Sonar Kollektiv)

4. Grace Jones, "La Vie en Rose (Casinoboy Version)" (Trackybottoms)

5. Mike Monday, "The 11 11" (Om)

6. Recloose, "Catch a Leaf" (Loop Sounds)

7. La Vida Buena, "Humanidad" (Amalgama)

8. Sebo K, "Too Hot" (Mobilee)

9. Art Bleek, "Modern Spaces" (Connaisseur)

10. Jimpster, "Dangly Panther" (Freerange)


John Maus, Love Is Real (Upset the Rhythm)

Hercules and Love Affair (DFA) and at Mezzanine

Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Pt.1: 4th World War (Motown)

Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch)

Stereolab, Chemical Chords (4AD)

White Magic, New Egypt (Latitudes)

Cluster at Aquarius Records and the Boredoms at the Fillmore

My Bloody Valentine at the Concourse

Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)

Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (Type)

I can’t not mention: Sparks, Exotic Creatures of the Deep (Lil Beethoven); Beach House, Devotion (Carpark); Cut Copy, In Ghost Colors (Modular Interscope); Nagisa Ni Te, Yosuga (Jagjaguwar); the Alps, III (Type); Paavoharju, Laulu Laakson Kukista (Fonal); Antony and the Johnsons, Another World (Secretly Canadian).


Gas, Nah und Fern (Kompakt)

Fennesz, Black Sea (Touch)

Mavis Staple, Live: Hope at the Hideout (Anti-)

Various artists, Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records’ Story (Big Beat)

Abdel Hadi Halo and the El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers, Abdel Hadi Halo and the El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers (Honest Jon’s)

Skyphone, Avellaneda (Rune Grammofon)

Autechre, Quaristice (Warp)

Susanna, Flowers of Evil (Rune Grammofon)

Raymond Scott Quintette, Ectoplasm (Basta)

The Last Shadow Puppets, The Age of the Understatement (Domino)

Tape, Luminarium (Hapna)

Al Green, Lay It Down (Blue Note)

Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)


Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

Various artists, Victrola Favorites: Artifacts from Bygone Days (Dust to Digital)

Moondog: The Viking of 6th Avenue: The Authorized Biography by Robert Scotto (Process, 2007)

Barack Obama

Blitzen Trapper, Furr (Sub Pop)

What It Is: What It Is by Paul G. Maziar and Matt Maust (Write Bloody)

Various artists, Eccentric Soul: Trager and Note Labels (Numero)

Immortal Technique, The 3rd World (Viper)

Grayceon, The Grand Show (Vendlus)

Two Gallants perform Dec. 26, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore. www.twogallants.com


I Got the Feelin’, James Brown in the ’60s DVD (Shout! Factory)

It will remind you why you decided to play music in the first place. If you don’t play music then it will make you want to start.

Silentist, Silentist (Celestial Gang)

Mark Burden always keeps me interested. Nancarrow or Reich with blast beats.

Over the course of more than two months of touring I saw and got to know several bands that were new to me. Coconut, Experimental Dental School, Parenthetical Girls, Flying, and so many more. I can’t remember ever getting to see so much inspiring music made by so many creative, energetic, and completely fun people.

Weasel Walter, solo, duos, trios, and on and on

No matter what the setting, he pushes the situation further with his drive, talent, and humor (all of which are refreshing and needed in the improvised music scene).


Nominated for the best act of commitment that didn’t involve self-mutilation. All in unison, shaving their heads onstage and then revealing perfect Marine dress uniforms under their smocks. They looked so good it inadvertently might have been the best recruiting campaign since Kid Rock and NASCAR teamed up to con kids across the US.

Death Sentence: Panda! and …


I went to every show of both these bands over the year whenever I was in town. Without fail I would be deaf, destroyed, and smiling, or dancing, laughing, and smiling. Check them out to match those descriptions to the correct band!

Earth, Wind and Fire: In Concert DVD (Geneon, 2000)

I work at Lost Weekend Video, so I watch more new music DVDs more often than I get new CDs. But maybe you’ll do the same after watching this bass player do high kicks for an hour and not miss a note.

Touring with old friends KIT and Hawnay Troof. Watching Vice Cooler get a bunch of crossed-armed kids dancing, cause bartenders to leave their posts to run to the stage and move, and VC almost break his neck jumping off monitors all in single-digit minutes. With KIT, add in the insane attack of Steve, the bouncing energy of Kristy, and the apologetic guitar soloing of George Chen, and try not to beam.

Joining Deerhoof! Getting to spend so much time of 2008 with John, Greg, and Satomi has made this year feel like no other.




Wooo! Wooooo! No, I’m not a giant faggotty owl. I’m the ghost of recent San Francisco underground dance floors past — equally faggotty — and I controool you. Or at least I did, until that brazen neon bitch from American Apparel showed up on the 2k8 guest list, with his matte lamé leggings, Adderall diet, Marvel comics mask, baile funk BFF, and Ableton plug-ins.

Gurl, I got caught with my ZOMGs down, and it was total fap fap fap.

For more than a decade, I fierce ruled the insular world of club tunes, dividing them up into techno, house, and hip-hop, with some occasional ’80s nostalgia on the side. I froze all dance genres in the booty-phat ’90s with my snap-hand, casting off up-and-comers with a haughty high-hat spray of laughs. Breakbeats? Electroclash? IDM? Nu-rave? Trance? Specter, please. Passing fancies, they all got swallowed up with ghostly ease. Despite my aging denizens — no more backflips at the breakdowns, no more weekend trips to Body and Soul in NYC, a lazy wash of Rihanna remixes and Mary J. mash-ups — I held all the club cards, and it felt mighty real.

I just never thought the children would use my own tools to destroy me.

Sure, I peeped those Misshapen mid-aughts electro youngsters at the fringes, flashing their disabled glasses and pajama-like outerwear on Lastnightsparty, snapping up Justice remixes on BIGSTEREO, laughing along with Hipster Runoff. And, yeah, I knew that high-school crunkers fetishized "da club"; that feisty programmers refreshed techno; that global styles stewed together in dubstep; that iDJs resurrected ancient categories like grunge and hair metal, irony slowly melting into earnestness.

But all that was old news, relying on even older genres — I mean, electro’s like from what, 1972? — and most of those darned kids, I figured, would end up directly beamed into MySpace, never setting a single fluorescent Nike onto me. The few who found their way to the "real" underground — my underground, with my same five goddamned DJs — would still have to bow down before me.

Oh, how wrong I was. I never opened up to any of the newer energies — I was afraid, I got petrified — despite their thrilling old-school affinity, preferring to keep my exhausted thralls lockstep in an endless search for purity, the enslaving chimera of "authenticity."

"Fuck that," said the children, and exploded. This year, especially, the local scene saw an infusion of youth like it hasn’t seen since rave. And like rave, there’s just no stopping the march of the Smurfs — with more to come, if the wide-eyed, underage flood at LoveFest was any indication. Everything’s escaping my control! Lazer bass! Bloody Beetroots remixes! Banger freaks! Electro-cumbia! Disco perversion!

I’d blame the hipsters, except I helped create them, d’oh. And even if, in this onslaught of danceable enthusiasm, some of that old underground feeling seems to be lost — the yearning for an inverted hierarchy to escape the real world, the notion of a special dance floor family — it’s still kind of thrilling. Maybe I, the ghostess with the mostest, should float down from my high horse and show the new gen how to dance properly.


Frankmusik, "3 Little Words" (Island Music)

Ane Brun, "Headphone Silence (Henrik Schwarz Remix — Dixon Edit)" (Objektivity)

Clubfeet, "Die Yuppie Scum" and Gold on Gold (both Plant Music)

Mark E., "Slave 1" (Running Back)

Foals, "Olympic Airways," Antidotes (Sub Pop)

SIS, "Nesrib" (Cecille)

Buraka Som Sistema, "Sound of Kuduro" (Modular)

The Golden Filter, "Hide Me" (Dummy)

The Very Best, "Sister Betina," Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are the Very Best mixtape

The Notwist, "Boneless," The Devil, You + Me (Domino)


Hater aid


When I saw the promo blurb for rock critic Dave Thompson’s new book I Hate New Music (Backbeat) a couple of months ago, I figured I’d found a kindred spirit — someone who could explain once and for all why U2 and the Foo Fighters were evil, Radiohead was hopelessly overrated, and the Kings of Leon or whoever were irrelevant. Someone who could articulate why even a bad Humble Pie or Thin Lizzy album — you know, like Renegade (Warner Bros., 1981) — is likely to be more memorable and entertaining than this week’s featured review on Pitchfork. (By the way, I just checked, and right now, it’s the new album by the Killers. I’ll take my creaky cassette of Humble Pie’s Smokin [A&M, 1972] over them any day.)

Well, for all its potential, I Hate New Music reads less like a searing manifesto and more like a batch of shoot-from-the-hip essays on assorted classic-rock topics: the double album, Queen, 8-tracks, the double live album, and so on. Only briefly does he touch on some of the more distressing trends that have taken hold over the last decade or so, like the impact of Pro Tools, which allows home-studio mavens to polish turds as convincingly as major-label artists. Or the simultaneous rise of online music distribution and the sad, slow demise of the local record store. Releasing music is now easier than ever. Getting paid for it or, if you’re a listener, wading through it all is harder. Actually, it’s impossible. (It doesn’t help that I’m currently living in Indiana, where it’s still 2002.)

I don’t want to hate new music, and though I may be crotchety beyond my years, I really don’t hate it. Not all of it. I was genuinely excited by all the albums on my humble year-end list — and a handful more that didn’t fit. And in an encouraging trend, only two of those entries are reissues. It’s just that I don’t care if music is actually new or just new to me, and there’s always going to be more of the latter. I finally got the American Music Club this year, which happened to have an excellent new disc. But I also finally got, or discovered, Lee Perry’s, Omar Khorshid’s, and Peter Laughner’s solo recordings, a slew of weird CD-Rs on the barely legal (or not) Dolor Del Estamago label, and the deluxe reissue of the Allman Brothers’ 1972 double-album Eat a Peach (Mercury). These things excited me as much as anything with "2008" stamped on the back.

Anyway, while I disagree with Thompson that rock died in 1976, I do agree it’s getting harder to weed out the survivors.


1. Various artists, Always Something There: A Burt Bacharach Collectors’ Anthology 1952-1969 (Ace)

2. Joe E., Love Got in My Way (Eabla)

3. Outlaw Order, Dragging down the Enforcer (Season of Mist)

4. American Music Club, The Golden Age (Merge)

5. Bohren and der Club of Gore, Dolores (Play It Again, Sam/Ipecac)

6. GridLink, Amber Grey (Hydra Head)

7. Soilent Green, Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction (Metal Blade)

8. Nadja, Desire in Uneasiness (Crucial Blast)

9. Esoteric, The Maniacal Vale (Season of Mist)

10. Singer, Unhistories (Drag City)


Hungry for Lee Hazlewood


Imposing baritones, orchestral sweeps, and curious couplings of drama and whimsy — honestly, could we ask for better components to soundtrack a year of such 11th-hour intensity, a year of struggle and strife and the unspeakably surreal, mercifully offset by glimmers of giddiness at the prospect of something altogether new? The gift of hope delivered to us on Nov. 4 was a lovely early Christmas treat, but let’s face it: all of that waiting made 2008 a year of epic proportions. How fitting, then, that I ticked off the months with a steady stereo stream of theatrics, and that guiding most of them was the spirit of an Oklahoma Dust Bowl refugee who subverted pop music by embracing the machine while still trying to tear it down and start anew. The godfather of cowboy psychedelia, the architect of the saccharine underground, the original pop iconoclast himself: Lee Hazlewood.

Hazlewood’s greatest gift — both as a solo artist and as the cranky-baritoned foil to the sugary Nancy Sinatra — was his ability to take the supposedly disparate genres of pop, country, and lounge music and rub them against one another to riveting, highly cinematic effect. Heaped in heavy echo and bolstered by gushing string arrangements, delivered with the skill of a raconteur and bristling with unexpected juxtapositions, his music remains as head-swimmingly oddball as ever.

This year saw the return of three leading carriers of Hazlewood’s quixotic torch. Lambchop’s OH (Ohio) (Merge) offers more cryptic, disheveled elegance from the Nashville band, while the twisted lounge and heavy-ballad wooziness of Tindersticks’ The Hungry Saw (Constellation) gives a worthy update to Hazlewood’s signature tearjerker "My Autumn’s Done Come" — vibraphone and all. Not to be outdone, Nick Cave temporarily tables his more-recent chest thumping for big-screen melodrama on a few moments of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Anti-): on "Jesus of the Moon," in particular, he and his Bad Seeds serve up Hazlewood-worthy western-skied balladry.

Cue the strings! With its sumptuously reverb-steeped production, punchy brass, and colossal orchestrations, the Last Shadow Puppets’ The Age of the Understatement (Domino) proves to be just as indebted to Hazlewood’s studio wizardry as it is to its obvious Swinging London signifiers. Local chanteuse Kira Lynn Cain floats out haunted refrains of the legend’s twang-cabaret on her billowing beauty The Ideal Hunter (Evangeline), while the desert panoramas of Calexico’s Carried to Dust (Quarterstick) provide a testimonial to the power of Hazlewood’s beloved mariachi horns. Seekers of the heir apparent to the vocalist’s wry, croaking country wordsmithery should look no further than the parallel honky-tonk universe of the Silver Jews’ Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City). Lastly, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan pick up the familiar Nancy and Lee story line and flip the script: on their Sunday at Devil Dirt (Fontana International), Campbell assumes the male, Svengali role of Hazlewood, writing all of the words and arrangements, and Lanegan becomes the gravel-diva counterpart to Sinatra. The result is ravishingly weepy orchestral pop and off-kilter country-blues rambles. Would Hazlewood approve? Total-Lee. (Todd Lavoie)


Spiritualized, Songs in A & E (Fontana International)

Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree (Mute)

M83, Saturdays = Youth (Mute)

Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)

DeVotchKa, A Mad and Faithful Telling (Anti-)

Sigur Rós, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (XL)

Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid (Fiction/Polydor UK/Geffen)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Anti-)

The Last Shadow Puppets, The Age of the Understatement (Domino)

Hot Chip, Made in the Dark (DFA/Astralwerks)


You heard it here first


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The first time I noticed that my city of art and innovation was getting short shrift was when The New York Times started going on about "freak folk," Joanna Newsom, and Devendra Banhart and really, you know, getting rhapsodic about these baroquely retro space-folk flavors.

And somehow it never quite came up that these people are San Francisco people, and that their music is San Francisco music. I mean, yes, Banhart has a rep as being a bit of a drifter. Yes, Newsom is really from, you know, Nevada City … and yet, where else could they have first truly taken root, where else could they have first broken through the topsoil, drunk of the dew, and soaked up the dappled sunlight, except in the rich, loamy cultural compost heap that is San Francisco, the Bay Area, and its wooly NorCal surround?

This germination of culture, color, sound, and flavor is, in the most organic sense of it, completely cyclical. Ken Kesey’s garden parties put out roots and rhizomes and threw up spores that took hold almost immediately among music lovers in the region. The result was a distinctly American growth medium for the archetypes of Dionysus, Pan, and Astarte; for the mystic and mythic yearnings of the Victorians; and for the willful, self-starting proto-anarchism of the English Diggers. Cross-pollinate that with the intellectual and aesthetic rebellion of situationism and free jazz, borne in with the gusting, blowsy Beat generation, and you have yourself a rather fecund and folkloric little bramble — one that got even more biodiverse with all the punk rock springing up like weeds in the 1970s.

This polyglot epoch of musical discovery gave us so much. Not just the Dead’s first three records, the Airplane, or even David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name (Atlantic, 1971) — what about Blue Cheer, Moby Grape, Fifty Foot Hose, the Flamin’ Groovies, the Avengers, and the DKs? Rather a multifaceted mix, but relevant, because Bay Area bands like these set the pattern for divergent waves of underground music-making during the next three or four decades.

The last 15 years in particular have seen these retro sounds made new in the Bay Area and then breaking into the critical, and sometimes commercial, mainstream somewhere else. Usually New York is quickest to take all the credit. Like with that whole garage rock revival. Yeah, yeah, the Strokes, blah, blah, the latest in NYC retro-cool. It’s not that we were first, here in SF. It’s just that we’ve been playing that stuff on KUSF-FM for years, and fabulous local bands have been cranking out that sound for years, and suddenly the Big Apple is basking in the hipniz.

Or in the glorification of Williamsburg, which totally followed the Mission District in terms of exuberantly youthful, excruciatingly hip, oft-naïve, and fearlessly spasmodic creative gusto. Dang, before there was a TV on the Radio, Kyp Malone was working at the One World Cafe on McAllister and Baker streets, making music with Rocket Science and the Nigger-Loving Faggots and handing out fresh-pressed records to the community-radio DJ down the street. OK, so that’s not the Mission, but it sort of was a suburb of the Mission.

Or with the whole freak-folk thing. Back in 2004 or thereabouts The New York Times started noticing there were hairy kids playing spacey and folkoric acoustic sounds. They quickly championed the term "freak folk," and in 2006 even ran a big, lushly illustrated, front-page article in the "Sunday Arts & Leisure" section, Will Hermes’ "Summer of Love Redux," that curiously never once mentions San Francisco, despite bolting the whole thesis down with repeated references to Banhart, Newsom, Vetiver, Comets of Fire, the Six Organs of Admittance, and Jolie Holland.

Now we see, from the foggy depths, a new rising of fuzz and hair, the shambling and very organic children of Blue Cheer. Parchman Farm was an early bloomer, as was Comets on Fire, and now the Bay Area is throbbing with shaggy combos exploring the idiom. Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, Sleepy Sun, and so many of those Frisco Freakout acts — how will these vibrations resonate across the nation over the next five years? And will New York City somehow take credit for that, too? I think not. They’re just too damn cool to grow out their bangs past the uncomfortable midlength stage.

Philly, though, which gave us Bardo Pond, Brother JT, Siltbreeze Records — there’s a hairy, done-it-all scene stealer I can live with.


1. Godwaffle Noise Pancakes closing show at the former ArtSF, Nov. 8

2. William Hooker, Hemlock Tavern, July 24

3. Heavy Metal (1981) and Conan the Barbarian (1982, with James Earl Jones and some other guy) at the Castro Theater’s "Analog Adventures" showcase

4. All Tomorrow’s Parties, Monticello, NY, Sept. 19-21

5. Expo for Independent Arts moves to Dolores Park and triples in size, Sept.


Daughters of the drone


Whether it was the Numero Group’s 2006 Ladies from the Canyon compilation, the Water reissues of Judee Sill and Anne Briggs, Vashti Bunyan’s return, Devendra Banhart’s heroine-worship of Karen Dalton, or Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation (Atria) — the history of female singer-songwriters has received welcome revisions over the past few years. Lone wolves like Townes Van Zandt and domestic collaborations like John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s are the exception to the rule: hallowed solitude and spiritual doubt belong to the women at their pianos and guitars. The brilliant innuendos and cavalier remonstrations of the Leonard Cohens and Paul Simons of the world are too arch to nick the lonely edge of invisibility. It’s that old "show, don’t tell" lesson: the men fulminate despair, masquerading transparency, while the women blur the singer and the song.

From the outskirts of the musical map there are persistent rumblings of a new solo sound. Some of my favorite albums of the year are by women who fling their voices across miles of echo, and push chords into thick drifts of dub drones and nursery rhyme traces. I’m thinking of Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (Type), Valet’s Naked Acid (Kranky), Avocet’s Morning Singing in Afternoon (self-released), Christina Carter’s Original Darkness (Kranky), Lau Nau’s Nukkuu (Locust), and Inca Ore’s Birthday of Bless You (Not Not Fun), though surely there are others. Add to this already-stellar group Pocahaunted, the Los Angeles duo whose full-length, Chains (Teenage Teardrops), is a mandala wheel of Stevie Nicks yowls and grungy repetition, and you’ve got a stacked playlist.

On the face of it, these women artists appear to contradict the basic tenet of singer-songwriterdom: make sure everyone can understand the words. But Sill, Dalton, and Mitchell all registered opacity. Their albums often seem as much about stealing away from the outside world as they are about letting the listener in. The records by Grouper, Valet, Avocet, Carter, and Inca Ore are too distended and punk-streaked to pass as folk, though they have that same sense of precarious balance as the earlier so-called ladies from the canyon. Diffuse in sound and space, their music is concentrated in effect. Grouper’s recording is my favorite of the bunch for the slippery melancholy of Liz Harris’ hunched acoustic strums. Her starry vocals conjure stillness and distance without sounding aloof. Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill ends with the stark, sad pop of an amplifier being unplugged, an apt reminder of the limits of intimacy. And yet, how else to describe the experience of these albums? Following their designs, we find ourselves in a mental state as free as it is familiar.


(in alphabetical order)

Michael Hurley, Little Wings, Avocet, Lucky Dragons, and a sunset for all time at Angel Island, July 12–13

Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)

Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (RCA Victor, 1964)

Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (Columbia)

Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)

Group Inerane, Guitars from Agadez (Sublime Frequencies)

Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (Type)

My Bloody Valentine at Concourse, Sept. 30

Rodriguez, Cold Fact (Light in the Attic)

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (Matt Wolf, US)


Moving forward


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Gathering my thoughts about how I listened to music in 2008, I think not only of Luc Sante’s piece on Manny Farber in this month’s Artforum, but also Ariana Reines’ Action, Yes piece explaining why she hates the "cleanness and elegance of tight and perfect writing." In different ways, both pieces deal with the importance of smallness, incompleteness, and, to steal the title of Reines’ piece, "sucking."

Because it’s easy not to suck, and this may or may not be the Internet’s fault. Music itself did not suck in 2008, despite the crumbling of an always-already imaginary consensus, and that’s maybe what’s so unsatisfying about trying to hang 12 months on something as well-executed yet under-inspiring as, say, Dear Science (Interscope). I’m not sure that people won’t start rallying around a single release or clutch of releases to narrate what made this year worth listening to deeply, but the albums that spring to mind now as forecasting what will sound good in the future are ones that pursued a small, near-inarticulate muse and ended up with something almost monomaniacal. It’s not a coincidence then that so many of these records were made during time apart from the artists’ main gig. The economy, man. We all gotta grind.


1. Inca Ore, Birthday of Bless You (Not Not Fun)

Former PDXer and current Oaklander Eva Saelens is Inca Ore. Her most recent solo LP is an incantatory, patient ritual, a literally awesome tapestry of magnetic tape smears, disembodied wails, and dark, roiling resonance.

2. Arms, Kids Aflame (Melodic)

Harlem Shakes guitarist Todd Goldstein strikes out on his own here, and the results can be insanely satisfying: the indie triumvirate made up of "Whirring," the title track, and "Tiger Tamer" is a welcome reminder that pop music is supposed to make your heart race. The album’s second half is less distinctive, but it’s not like it hasn’t earned the right to be.

3. Bohren and der Club of Gore, Dolores (Ipecac)

There’s nothing organic about this full-length’s inert pace: slow enough to make Swans sound like a thrash band, its floating vibraphone riffs eerily familiar/defamiliarizing like only the Twin Peaks soundtrack before it, Dolores at times seems like a morbid joke. If the characters in Samuel Beckett’s trilogy listened to music, I have a hunch it would sound much like this.

4. Zomes, Zomes (Holy Mountain)

In addition to playing guitar in Lungfish, Asa Osborne constructs sturdy little habitations out of drum machine, guitar, and organ under the Zomes moniker. While it may sound too controlled at first, the recording’s insistence on small, unvarying patterns reveals itself as an autonomous language over time, its photocopy mystery emerging from the stuff of repetition and reproduction itself.

5. Ssion, Fool’s Gold (Sleazetone)

This disc’s two release dates might as well stand in for its own ability to navigate, rather than drown in, Internet-era self-reflexivity — it seems less like a one-off collection of jams than a collection of techniques for fucking with identity. Tracks like "Street Jizz" and "Clown" don’t have to decide between earnestly camp and campily earnest because they realize a third way.

6. School of Language, Sea from Shore (Thrill Jockey)

The punched-out vowel sounds that open this album recall, like Sébastien Tellier’s "Divine," old Art of Noise productions. Field Music’s David Brewis uses them as a bed not for uptight Euro-funk, but for generously rendered bedroom prog. At moments surprisingly muscular ("Disappointment ’99") but always rhythmically ambitious, Sea may seem like Manny Farber’s "white elephant art" from the outside, but is unmistakably "termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art" within.

7. Indian Jewelry, "Free Gold!" (We Are Free)

Thematically, the idea of establishing your own currency as a subversion of government and the totalizing power of capitalism both has a precedent, at least, in the B-52’s Whammy (Warner Bros., 1983). The record’s appeal has little to do with good timing, however: there are too many honest-to-goodness songs here for it to be "out" rock, too much Rev/Vega worship for it to be simply psychedelic. Gold’s appeal, instead, is its beefy epileptic punch. Listen close and feel the retina burn.

8. Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)

It would be a lie if I said I didn’t care about this band before this album, but what’s remarkable here is that for all the group’s touted perfectionism, the two preceding LPs consistently opted for the warmth of loneliness, something the listener could, y’know, identify with. In contrast, Third is a hard, long, steely drag on modernism’s cold monumentality: "Machine Gun" is dubstep packed tight into a tarry espresso shot. Even the escape imagined in "The Rip" is hounded by a spidery Casio riff — the stuff of uneasy sleep.

9. RA.085, Tobias Freund Podcast (residentadvisor.net)

Stepping away from dance-oriented mixes for a minute, Resident Advisor commissions the best mix they’ve ever hosted. Freund’s work is hard to find, but this mix makes clear that he’s got a privileged understanding of both minimal techno and ambient’s DNA — and some killer crate-digging luck. I mean, come on, that Savant track? (Discogs it!)

10. Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry)

The cliché about bands like GGD — nominally "noise," but whose music actually deals in another kind of abstraction, like Animal Collective or Excepter — is that they get more pop and more weird as they grow into their career. Saint Dymphna can be swallowed whole — parts of God’s Money (Social Registry, 2005) tended to stick in the throat — and the group makes no bones that this comes at the expense of extraneous oddness. But a certain strange eclecticism takes its stead. Occasionally Lizzie Bougastos’ voice sounds like a Wiccan falsetto incarnation of M.I.A. The band openly goes for dubstep in "Princes," and "House Jam" is the song folks will go apeshit over at their reunion concerts 20 years in the future.


A better tomorrow


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In the real world, the New York Stock Exchange did the butterfly flop all year, and the global economy sank along with it. But in the fantasy world of hip-hop, stock options on prime talent just went up and up. If it wasn’t XXLmag.com proclaiming its Freshman Class of ’09 — led by Blu, Kid Cudi, and Wale — then it was top blogs Nahright.com and 2dopeboyz.com posting hundreds of videos, MP3s, photo galleries, and other ephemera per week. Web sites like Okayplayer.com lavished attention on its favorites — "real hip-hop" artists like the Roots and Common — with audio/video items and high review scores, doling out 92 of 100 for Q-Tip’s The Renaissance (Universal Motown).

Of course, MTV and its poorer cousins, MTV Jams and BET, still showed plenty of Young Jeezy and Rick Ross videos, mean-mugging thugs and "dimepiece" models looking soulfully in the camera, eager to show their souls and shake their asses. On the Billboard charts, dependable superstars such as Kanye West and T.I. dominated with subpar albums and MOR malaise.

Meanwhile, like a cheery prospectus, the new hip-hop media teemed with blogs and Web sites promising a better tomorrow of future stars. Seasoned music journalists found the hype difficult to ignore: this year’s CMJ Music Marathon included a panel asking, "The Hip-Hop Renaissance: A Cultural Rebirth?" Meanwhile XXL magazine, the bastion of conservatism that seemingly puts 50 Cent on the cover every month — the Freshman Class list was a rare lapse — wondered, "What the hell happened to good ol’ gangster rap?" Apparently, the new breed of MCs’ penchant for appropriating nerdy icons (Charles Hamilton’s Sonic the Hamilton), paying homage to old-school classics (Pacific Division’s "F.A.T. Boys"), issuing 10-minute linguistic exercises (Mickey Factz’s "The Inspiration"), and rhyming over dance beats (Wale’s cover of Justice’s "D.A.N.C.E.") present a major threat to rap’s G’s-up-hos-down kingdom.

It needn’t have worried. The new Internet landscape flourished on buzz, not actual achievement. Indie-rockers were doing it for years — witness the rise of mediocre talents Vampire Weekend and Lykke Li — before the Cool Kids learned how to blow up with nothing more than a few demo songs and a flashy MySpace page. By the time the Cool Kids finally put out The Bake Sale EP (Chocolate Industries), an ode to limited-edition sneakers and sugar cereal, the Chicago duo had already spent several months basking in magazine covers and sold-out national tours. The Bake Sale may have been good, but its release felt anticlimactic. And let’s not even mention Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money), and his "100 best Lil Wayne songs you’ve never heard." That’s so 2007.

The Cool Kids may be the best example of how to manipulate the new hip-hop stock market — ply the blogs with YouTube videos (popular topics: Top 10 R&B chicks worth a "smash"), and distribute mixtapes via Zshare.net (popular topics: Barack Obama and freestyles over Lil Wayne’s "A Milli" and old J Dilla beats). Original material such as Kidz in the Hall’s The In Crowd (Duck Down) and Black Milk’s Tronic (Fat Beats) drew positive reviews from magazines and traditional Web sites. But once the free MP3 downloads and shaky-camera videos dried up, the new hip-hop media didn’t seem to care about actual albums one could buy in stores — or, sadly, just download for free. It thrived on fresh content, not critical analysis.

Some actual hits emerged amid the deluge. Kid Cudi’s "Day N Nite," Asher Roth’s "Roth Boys," Q-Tip’s "Gettin’ Up," Kidz in the Hall’s "Drivin’ down the Block," B.O.B.’s "Haterz," and Jay Electronica’s "Exhibit A (Transformations)" drew universal props. Mountaintop pronouncements from Jay-Z ("Jockin’ Jay-Z," "Brooklyn Go Hard"), Eminem ("Number One"), and Nas ("Be a Nigger Too," "Hero") were heeded by all, though these utterances paled in comparison to past glories.

Mostly, though, there was a lot of crap to sift through. If critics and fans couldn’t agree on whether Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III was a certified classic or just an above-average hit album, it was because we were too busy downloading music, surfing blogs, and watching videos to think about it. Perhaps we’ll figure out what 2008 means many years from now, long after that tomorrow finally arrives — for better or worse.


1. Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)

2. Daedelus, Love to Make Music to (Ninja Tune)

3. Black Milk, Tronic (Fat Beats)

4. The Cool Kids, The Bake Sale EP (Chocolate Industries)

5. Kidz in the Hall, The In Crowd (Duck Down)

6. Blue Sky Black Cinema, Late Night Cinema (Babygrande)

7. Invincible, ShapeShifters (Emergence)

8. Black Spade, To Serve with Love (Om)

9. Common Market, Tobacco Road (Hyena)

10. Lyrics Born, Everywhere at Once (Epitaph)


Hail to the king, baby


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Evil Dead II was released in 1987. I was a horror-crazed sixth grader, the kind of kid who insisted on screening Psycho at her 12th birthday party. Bruce Campbell became a god to me that year — me, and about a zillion others, who’ve basically worshiped the man throughout his colorful career, which spans TV (including USA Network’s current Burn Notice) and movies (with starring roles in cult hits like 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep and cameos in Evil Dead series director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man flicks).

Throughout it all, it’s hard not to see a little bit of Evil Dead‘s cocky Ash in all of Campbell’s roles. Campbell knows this. After two decades, he’s used to it.

"Perceptions are all over the map," Campbell told me over the phone from Minneapolis, where he was screening his latest film, My Name Is Bruce. "On one hand, someone’s pissed if you don’t present that smart-alecky persona. And yet whenever I have characters that are similar to the Ash character, I get blamed for not doing anything different. So you’re kind of screwed if you don’t, screwed if you do."

Enter the mega-meta My Name is Bruce, which is about a movie star named Bruce Campbell who’s kidnapped by a superfan to help rid his town of a seriously pissed-off demon. Campbell directed, co-produced, and hosted the filming ("Now I have a Western town I can’t do anything with") on his rural Oregon property. And, of course, he stars, as "a warped, distorted, worst-case-scenario version of myself."

Campbell the character is a guy so jerky he inspires a production assistant to serve him a bottle of pee instead of his demanded-for lemon water (he drinks it anyway — yep, it’s that kind of movie). His sleazy agent (Ted Raimi) holds business meetings at strip clubs; his ex-wife, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss, who played Cheryl in 1981’s The Evil Dead — one of many in-jokes scattered throughout), seeks ever-larger portions of his meager earnings. He spends booze-soaked nights in his trailer, taunting his dog.

In other words, dude ain’t no hero. But li’l goth Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) — "Bruce Campbell is the greatest actor of his generation!" — sees Campbell as Gold Lick, Oregon’s only salvation.

"The idea [for the film] was pitched to me by Mark Verheiden, who wrote it, and by my producer partner, Mike Richardson, who owns Dark Horse Comics," Campbell explained. "It was based on a comic that Mark had read years before called The Adventures of Alan Ladd — Alan Ladd was sort of a swashbuckling guy who did some movies in the ’40s and ’50s. [In the comic], people kidnapped him to help them fight pirates, because they knew he was a swashbuckling actor. So we just decided to do an updated, twisted version of that."

If you’re seeking slick terror, you may be let down by My Name Is Bruce; it’s a staunchly B-grade affair, and the villain is no scarier than anything Scooby-Doo ever faced. The main enjoyment is seeing Campbell on the loose, gleefully mocking his image and all that goes with it, including dorky fans who quiz him about career footnotes. Who else would remember 2002’s Serving Sara?

"I mean, [in My Name Is Bruce], I come across as the biggest jerk on the planet. So I’m taking everybody down with me. If you’re gonna do a dumbbell version of Bruce Campbell, then you’re gonna get a dumbbell version of the fans as well," he said. "There’s a sequence where I talk to a group of fans outside a studio, and it’s basically verbatim various conversations I’ve had. Ninety-eight percent of my fans are really normal, rational people. I just included the other two percent in the movie."

Campbell, whose previous directing experience includes 2005’s Man with the Screaming Brain, said he’s comfortable calling the shots on a low-budget shoot.

"I don’t mind being in this world because we’re kind of left alone," he said. "We don’t have to appeal to everybody. We don’t have to have a $48 million opening. It’s a lot less pressure. If this movie sucks, I’ll take the blame because I have no one else to blame. So I guess that’s the beauty and the horror of that scenario."

Campbell reports back to film the third season of spy dramedy Burn Notice in a few months; it’s a full-time gig for most of the year, and he’s just fine with that. He’s fine with playing second banana.

"That’s the best gig in the world. You watch the other guy sweat, and then I show up and go, ‘What did I miss?’" he said.

But back to My Name Is Bruce, the reason Campbell is crisscrossing the country at present. I had to ask: if Campbell could kidnap one of his idols, who would it be, and why?

"Robert Redford," he said without any hesitation. "Robert Redford, I would kidnap. Just to ask him about [his] movies. I would just sit him down. I wouldn’t hurt him. I would just poke him a little bit and ask him questions."

MY NAME IS BRUCE opens Wed/17 in Bay Area theaters.

Bruce Campbell in person with Peaches Christ

Wed/17, 7 and 9:40 p.m., $10.50

Bridge, 3010 Geary, SF.

Bruce Campbell in person

Thurs/18, 7:30 and 10 p.m.

California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge, Berk.


Amber India


› paulr@sfbg.com

Whatever you think a tony Indian restaurant might look like, you’re probably not picturing Amber India. On the other hand, if you’re wondering what a tony Indian restaurant smells like, you probably already know: it smells like the regular kind, which is to say, it smells of curry. Amber India smells bewitchingly of curry while looking like, in its elegant stackedness, Postrio.

You step inside from street level — or lane level, since the restaurant lies along a pedestrian plaza, Yerba Buena Lane — and find yourself at the host’s podium, on a small platform, while the restaurant opens out below you like an enchanted, hidden valley. Amber India doesn’t quite have Postrio’s Gone with the Wind staircase or exhibition kitchen, but it does have gorgeous flooring (large tiles of what looks like polished sandstone); impressive columns; a partly coffered ceiling; square leaves of gilded, pressed tin tethered to some of the light fixtures; and atmospheric golden lighting in general. Given the hardness of the flooring material and the scale of the restaurant (which can accommodate nearly 200 people), noise is notably under control.

Amber India opened in the city just this past June, in a neighborhood that has seen drastic changes in recent years. (The restaurant’s siblings, scattered across the Peninsula and South Bay, have been a presence in the Bay Area for nearly 15 years.) For one thing, there is now an actual neighborhood, with people living just steps away — mostly overhead, in the condominiums above the Four Seasons Hotel, and in the many other residential buildings that have sprung up in SoMa. The restaurant is also convenient to shoppers, museum-goers (the new Jewish Museum is just across the walkway, while the Yerba Buena Center and Museum of Modern Art are barely more than one block distant), and out-of-towners.

Why would they come to Amber India, apart from its convenience and style? One reason might be that the food emerging from the kitchen is gratifyingly spicy. We were particularly exhilarated by the dal Amber ($12.95), a shallow dish of black lentils swimming in a thick, rust-colored sauce the menu described as consisting of "cream, tomatoes, and spices." "Spices," in the world of Indian restaurants, is a come-hither word that tells you practically nothing; it doesn’t have to mean "spicy" — i.e. hot — but it does here. Dal is often soupy and can be indifferently prepared in other restaurants, but Amber India’s version had a velvet smoothness that left an erotic tingle on the lips.

If you want the standards, many of them are here. But the menu offers a wide array of imaginative cooking, including the use of unorthodox ingredients. Duck? How about duck tikka kebab ($10.95), chunks of boneless breast meat marinated in spicy yogurt, pan-seared on skewers, and served with an eerily addictive dill-caper sauce the color and consistency of homemade mayonnaise? The meat was beautifully tender and didn’t even need the sauce, but once the meat was gone, we kept dipping out spoons into it as if it were a separate dish.

Thanks to saganaki and The Simpsons, many of us are familiar with fried cheese, but grilled cheese — as in actual chunks of cheese, not packaged in a sandwich — is another matter. Amber offers it as paneer tikka lal mirch ($15.95), elongated cubes of mild white cheese, marinated and grilled. If you’ve eaten grilled tofu, you’ll have a good sense of the look and feel of this dish, although the cheese has more tang.

As a boy, I was unimpressed by the cans of spinach devoured by Popeye the Sailor Man: I liked Popeye, but spinach was repulsive, period, new paragraph. Then, in early adulthood, I discovered saag paneer, an exotic version of creamed spinach punctuated with chunks of white cheese. Every Indian restaurant I’ve been to — except, now, Amber — offers an interpretation of this standard. Amber’s spinach dish is called teen saag ($14.95); it consists of spinach (plus some dill and mustard greens) wilted with cumin and garlic and, for counterpoint, mushroom caps and spears of baby corn instead of cheese chunks.

I would count that dish as vegan, despite a small suspicion that cream was involved. Indian cooking is expansively vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, but if you are a sometime or intermittent vegetarian, or a pesco-vegetarian — or even just some kind of poser — Amber doesn’t disappoint. Our tongues were left pleasurably smoldering by the "thecha" shrimp salad ($9.95), a clutch of small shrimp marinated with garlic and chilis, sautéed, and nested in mixed baby field greens. The masterstroke: a vinaigrette scented with lemon verbena, an herb that, like lemongrass, is lemony in a way distinct from plain lemons.

It’s possible that people eat in Indian restaurants without having naan, but I have never seen such a display. Amber isn’t the place to experiment with the naanless life, either; its flatbreads are wonderful exercises in blistered tenderness, and the signature Amber rounds ($3.95) come with a variety of toppings, including a fragrant and nippy blend of chili and thyme.

On the other hand … $3.95 for a disk of bread sprinkled with a few herbs isn’t exactly the steal of the century. Amber’s prices are, I would guess, about 50 percent higher than the Indian-restaurant average in the farther reaches of the city. So you pay a city-center premium that reflects convenience and the affluence of the surroundings. But you won’t find better Indian food, and in that sense the premium, although steep as a percentage, is modest as a fact.


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., noon–3 p.m.

25 Yerba Buena Lane, SF

(415) 777-0500


Full bar


Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Darkest day


› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS For all I know you are reading this on the darkest day of the year. And for all you know I am sitting in a rocking chair in front of my wood-burning stove, not rocking so much as reeling, hands in hair, trying to get my head straight.


Why do I water my cat? Most people water their plants. I neglect mine, water the cat instead, and the cat chews on the leaves and then pukes, or not, and everything works out somehow, except: possible liver damage.

Except everything does work out, and Weirdo the Cat stays weird and alive and well, at 15. In people years I am less grandmotherly than her, but for the record we both like afghans and rocking chairs.

Wondering: Why do I watch opera? Why do I read the wrong novels? Why do I fall in love in winter when I could do so much more with spring or summer? Why is love, the word, never enough, like a hot water bottle under the covers, at your feet?

I sleep in my socks. I wear long underwear, flannel pajama bottoms, and a sweater, sometimes a sweatshirt and sweater. I wake up drenched in sweat, wonder why. Really really cold nights I’ll wear a hoodie, or a hat, or pull my headband down over my ears.

First Weirdo the Cat and then I will cease to become point-of-view characters, and the bed, the litter box, the faux brick wall behind our wood stove will miss us equally, our opposite-of-vacant stares and songs of complaint.

Because it’s dark here in the woods, even in summer, I decorate my shack year-round with Xmas lights. It’s one small room, x by x, with three overhead lights, two floor lamps, a row of track lighting, a utility lamp, and 9,999 strategically placed unblinking Xmas tree bulbs. Then the power goes out and I have to battle seasonal affection disorder with candles and flowers.

On the radio they said to put olive oil on your chapped lips. I’m a bad Italian. I prefer butter to olive oil, onions to garlic, and kisses to both. I’m skinny. At my age! I don’t eat enough pasta and never go to church, unless it’s to make fun of their idea of bread and wine.

I was standing at the stove pouring bacon grease from the skillet into the jar, for the working of future miracles, and as I watched the stream turn to strings turn to drops of dripping drippings, I thought, These are the clogged arteries of Christ. Put them in your refrigerator, in remembrance of Him. And also so they don’t get rancid.

Ceremoniously, although no one was watching, not even a cat, I dipped my middle finger, right hand, deep into the jar of still-warm bacon fat, and rubbed it all over my lips. Olive oil, my ass, I thought.

But that’s another story. In this one, in the spirit of giving, declaring truce, peace, and eggs, I grant my Catholic peeps, Protestant hens, roosters, and religious people everywhere their saviors, virgins, prophets, crowing, and high holy holidays. In fact, I’m so out of gas right now that I even give you eternal life. It’s yours. If that’s what you believe, you got it. I won’t argue.

For me, I don’t see the point. It’s not life to which I am insanely attached, it’s my point of view. This very particular chicken farmerly capacity for watching, wondering, waxing poetic, and waking up alone and deeply disturbed. Like that hot water bottle twisted in the covers somewhere near your feet, it’s little comfort to me, on the longest night of the year, your concept of heaven, or energy, or yet another go-round. Even if … if I ain’t there to call it, in my exact eyes and language, then what the fuck?

Thinking these deep, ecclesiastic thoughts, I put my jar of bacon fat in the fridge, washed and dried the frying pan, did the rest of the dishes, then stood in front of the bathroom mirror and ran my fingers through my hair. Looking good enough, I thought, I went out into the world in search of vegetarians to kiss.


My new favorite restaurant is Los Comales in Oakland’s Diamond District. A regular meat burrito (carnitas, in my opinion) is under $5, but you have to sweet-talk them into chips, or pay 50 cents. Or, if you’re really really poor, you can get a bean and cheese burrito for $2.40, and kiss me by way of meat.


Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

2105 MacArthur, Oakl.

(510) 531-3660



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

Nothing doing


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I’ve been married to my husband for close to 10 years. I admit, I didn’t marry him because we were head over heels in love. I was only 21 when we met, but I already felt that being "in love" was a lie. It was something you saw in movies or read in romance novels — something silly that doesn’t last. I did and do love my husband in my way, and he loves me. In the 10 years we’ve been together, I’ve seen many marriages fail. But we are still together and doing OK — at least, emotionally. My question is: can someone just suddenly become asexual? We’ve never had a burning-hot sexual relationship. When we first met, it was once every couple days. As time went on, it was once every two weeks or sometimes once every three months. Now it’s something like once every six months or so. It never lasts very long, but I chalk that up to it being so infrequent that he can’t last.

Then recently, he told me he didn’t like blow jobs anymore and didn’t want them. Then just about a week ago, we were watching a program on different relationships. When it got to this group of asexuals he said that sounded like him. I was baffled! He’s 40 years old. He’s been sexually active for more than 25 years (he started kind of young). Now, after 10 years of marriage, he suddenly loses all interest? Is he truly asexual? Or do you think there’s something else going on?



Dear Baf:

I think there’s something, and I think your story, which sounds so weird to you, is just the sort-of-extreme end of a typical pattern. People do tend to have less sex (a little or a lot less, depending) as the initial honeymoon high fades, and as other responsibilities (I’m looking at you, kids) and distractions accumulate. How much it cools and how cold it gets is to some extent under our own control and some extent not — if there’s not much flame there to begin with, it doesn’t take much to quench it, and pour water on the embers, and metaphor metaphor. There are so many factors besides simple neglect that could be in play here, though, that I hesitate to give you an airy pronouncement of "you didn’t use it, you lost it." There’s got to be some element of that going on here, though. You guys didn’t use it much, did you?

I was making some notes for a revision of my "sex after parenthood" class recently and when I got to the "use it or lose it" segment, I had that haunted feeling of something familiar, hovering just out of reach. What did this situation remind me of, and what had I done about it? Finally I realized it was hiking, of all things. Way back, when I had the leisure to go hiking with a friend every week, I used to look for excuses to put it off. It sounded hard, I didn’t have the energy, I just wanted to be left alone to read my book … and then I’d heave myself up and go and it would be the greatest thing ever. So. That’s my prescription for sexual atrophy/avoidance: get up, put on your boots, and just do it. Except maybe without the boots, unless you’re into that.

Contrary to popular supposition, lack of sex does not necessarily make people horny; it often makes them yawny instead. Sex breeds sex. A really hot evening’s entertainment leads to really hot memory/reverie over coffee in the morning and lascivious thoughts come sundown. But all of this is couples’ stuff, and there is something else going on with your husband on the unilateral side.

Asexuality in the recent, current understanding is more of a lifelong thing, an inborn tendency kind of like homosexuality except for the whole "sexuality" part. Sure, there are people whose traumatic sexual histories cause a total shut-down, but I’d call that sexual aversion rather than asexuality. And I’d guess that your husband is suffering from a combination of acquired low libido caused by not having much sex or much passion at home, plus low testosterone ( "doesn’t like blow jobs" all of a sudden is cause for concern). That last one can actually be tested, and I’d be happy to be proved wrong but even happier to be proved right, since all it would take is a little supplementation and, as they say (confusingly), Bob’s your uncle.

But you know what? This is a really stupid thing to play guessing-games about. Your husband is sitting right there and he doesn’t really look all that busy, you know? What did you say when he made his startling pronouncement? Did you actually ask him if he’s always felt pretty much asexual (in which case, sucks to be you) or if it’s only recently seemed like something other people crave in a way he just doesn’t get? Maybe you need to have more sex to get more sex, or maybe you need to come to terms with a sexless marriage, but either way you’d best get busy.



Andrea is teaching Sex After Parenthood at Day One Center (www.dayonecenter.com), Recess (info@recessurbanrecreation.com), and privately. Contact her at andrea@altsexcolumn.com for more info.

Budget funeral


› amanda@sfbg.com

Hundreds of people gathered for a funeral among makeshift gravestones buried in the lawn of City Hall on Dec. 11. The tombstones marked some of the essential public health and community services laid to rest by mid-year budget cuts: health care for jail inmates, day services for the homeless, the SRO Collaborative, and the Laguna Honda adult day care center.

Collectively they amount to a $36 million thinning of an already stretched social safety net that is designed to catch the most vulnerable populations in San Francisco. Of the city’s $118 million projected deficit, about 30 percent will be recovered from the Department of Public Health, with cuts to care and counseling for the mentally ill, services for the elderly, and closing some medical respite housing. All these services — and more — have been suggested by the DPH in response to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s request for deep budget cuts.

But advocates and front-line workers say these cuts will only create a greater cost to the city over time, as people with acute illnesses and mental health and substance abuse problems lose their primary care and end up in the emergency room, potentially in worse condition, receiving more costly care.

"The cuts in services are going to cost," Marykate Connor, director of Caduceus Outreach Services, said at the rally. Cuts to nonprofit organizations that handle much of the city’s drop-in health services mean more ill people will end up at SF General.

But the city’s premier — and only — public hospital is already crunched. "It’s sort of crazy right now. Six to eight months from now if these cuts go through, it will get a lot crazier," said Ed Kinchley, an emergency room social worker.

In a memo to the Health Commission, DPH director Mitch Katz pointed to a higher-than-budgeted census at SF General, which provided a short-term boost in revenue but also stretched resources at the busy hospital and exacerbated its budget situation.

Kinchley, who’s been at General for 24 years (12 of them as a social worker), said part of his job is getting substance abusers and people with mental health out of the ER and into care programs. "It’s already hard for me to get someone in detox in a day," he said.

On a typical Friday afternoon, he’s successful with one in five people. Unfortunately, when someone comes in asking for detox is the time when it can do the most good, if it’s available. "It’s really crucial in that situation to seize the time," Kinchley said. Though they try to keep in touch with clients and get them in as beds become available, there’s high attrition on the waiting list. "They don’t have a hell of a lot of choices except to start drinking again that day."

Martha Hawthorne has spent 23 years as a public health nurse for DPH, working out of the Castro Mission clinic. She does targeted case management for high-risk mothers and their newborn babies — essentially making sure they’re connected with other health care workers who specialize in chronic problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and substance abuse. "I’m one of the people that sees the system from the patient’s point of view," she said.

She’s also able to illuminate how certain cuts can have spillover effects on a newborn baby. "There are five to six specialized, highly skilled RNs being eliminated. One is an expert in diabetes care for pregnant women," Hawthorne explained. If that nurse is cut, "the clinic will still exist, the patient will have five to 10 minutes with the doctor and receive instructions, but there will be very few people to teach her how to use insulin, to follow the instructions, to change her diet…. A woman without this care can have very sick babies. This is one little, little example of a staff cutback that has a direct effect on care."

Furthermore, the way the cuts are being exacted carves deeper into the social safety net than ever before. For example, Progress Foundation contracts with the city to do acute diversion and transitional housing and services for mentally ill people coming out of General’s emergency room. Its annual budget is roughly $14.8 million, mostly funded by Medi-Cal with matching state monies. A smaller amount of city money fills the gaps.

DPH has asked Progress, as well as many other nonprofit providers, for a 5 percent cut — but the cut is based on the entire foundation’s funding, not just what the city gives them. Executive director Steve Fields said that means closing two out of three acute diversion programs or four out of six transitional residential treatment programs.

"It ends up closing about $3 million in programs to save $700,000 [of city money] over the next 12 months," Fields said. "I’m sympathetic to the problem, but it just doesn’t make sense to give up that much [state and federal] money." He pointed out this represents 40 to 50 transitional beds or 20 acute diversion beds in facilities that have been licensed, permitted, received neighborhood approval, and have been functioning at 90 to 95 percent capacity. "Once you lose these beds, you don’t get them back."

And, he said, the real effects are felt on their clients. "However you look at it, the need will be there. They don’t leave town. We end up seeing them somewhere. They’re going to be in a hospital bed or they’re going to be in jail or they’re going to be in a longer-term skilled nursing facility" — all more expensive solutions to a chronic problem. "We may be making decisions that we may regret down the road because we’ve had to react so immediately to the crisis," Fields said.

"This is happening at a time when there’s all this increased need," said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

The numbers for families, provided by Compass Community Services, are grim: between 2007 and 2008, the number of families seeking shelter jumped from 75 to 148. At the same time, the city has reduced family shelter beds by 20 percent, and the waiting list is now more than four months long — meaning families are waiting for shelter longer than they can actually stay in it.

"It’s a really brutal time to cut health and human services," said Friedenbach, whose group is advocating for an alternative list of cuts that incorporate some of the suggestions posed by SEIU and the Coalition to Save Public Health. They call for capping city salaries at $150,000 and letting go of all management staff brought in since a 2007 hiring freeze.

Hawthorne pointed out that while these cuts hit the neediest hardest, public health for everyone will suffer, pointing out that the city will be less prepared for a large-scale emergency or epidemic.

"SF General is a trauma center, and anybody who needs top-level trauma care is going to end up there. If it’s crowded with people who don’t need that level of trauma care, their response will be slower," said Hawthorne, adding that all emergency rooms in public and private hospitals are ultimately affected by cuts to clinics and nonprofit services.

"On a hopeful note, there’s huge potential as people realize the depth of these cuts," Hawthorne said. "The public needs to demand the human right to health care."

An open letter to the archbishop


Dear Archbishop George Niederauer:

On Dec. 3, in the face of a national outcry against the passage of Proposition 8, you defended the role you played in its passage, which included giving a video interview to the pandering Web site marriagematterstokids.com, in which you intoned that "the successful, millennia-long model of marriage is between a man and a woman…. And the introduction of another model seems to us to go against the success of that model."

But beyond just words, you directly persuaded the Mormon Church to join the fight, which that church said it would not have done absent your encouragement. As San Francisco’s highest Catholic prelate, what you say and do matters, not only to the loving members of your flock whose lives you have disrupted, but to voters throughout the state. Now, adding insult to injury, you are crying "victim."

Please do not pretend that your own right to free expression is at stake because we are protesting your actions. No one denies that you have a constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy, just as we have the right to protest your hurtful conduct. Your statement that we should just agree to disagree over gay marriage, and stop hurling obloquies like "bigot" and "pervert" at one another, is the very essence of sanctimony. You did not agree to disagree before you acted to invade the bedrooms of consenting adults whose partnerships in no way impinge on your own rights. Your entreaty now for respectful discourse is simply a crusader’s demand for surrender and conversion.

You stated in your interview to marriagematterstokids.com: "Societies, nations, states do not create marriage; marriage is antecedent to that … The society, the government comes along later, and is not meant to revise or redesign marriage."

What sanctimony. You have designed marriage politically in exactly the manner you pretend to eschew. If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one. Teach against it until your voice runs out. But have the ecumenical restraint not to legislate your morality. And please do not profane the sacrifices of abolitionists and civil rights activists by falsely equating their efforts to expand people’s rights with your efforts to restrict them.

You may bridle at the term "bigot," but there is no better term to describe the prejudice you tapped to help repeal the hard-fought gains of same-sex couples. Assuring yourself that you are "tolerant" does not make it so. The Catholic Church behaved ignobly in failing, until 1967, to take a firm stand in support of interracial marriage. You have advanced no argument against gay marriage that people did not also advance against interracial marriage. It pains us to have to call you — our homophobic friends, family members, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and clergy — bigots. But let the term fester in your ear until you are delivered from your bigotry — or we are.

This is not a polite debate. Nor is it a mere culture war. It is a war for fundamental rights and human dignity. We will fight until we win. And you will be left to explain once again why you were on the wrong side of history.

Ben Rosenfeld

Ben Rosenfeld is a civil rights lawyer in San Francisco.

Conservatism’s last stand?


As Tom Ammiano moved from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to the California Assembly at the start of the month, he went from the budgetary frying pan right into fiscal fire, a place where the Republican Party’s "no new taxes" pledge has finally turned the political heat up to an unbearable level.

"I think the state’s road is very, very difficult, and the city’s road is very difficult," Ammiano told the Guardian. "There is a failure of leadership on [Gov.] Arnold [Schwarzenegger’s] part. I’m not giving [Mayor Gavin] Newsom an A+, but he at least came to the board."

The difference lies with the anti-tax pledge by the influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform that all Republican legislators have signed. Combined with the requirement for two-thirds of the Legislature to approve state budgets, the pledge has made it impossible to close a state budget deficit pegged at $40 billion over the next 18 months, a gap that could shut down state government by March.

"No matter how nice the Republican next to me is, or how gay friendly, they’re doctrinaire and they have everyone by the cojones," Ammiano said.

Senator Mark Leno says now is the time for Democrats to aggressively fight back against an inflexible anti-tax stand that has eroded critical government services for a generation and has now finally reached a crisis point. The conservative crusade has been led largely by ATR head Grover Norquist, who once famously said he wants to shrink government to the level where he can drown it in the bathtub.

"Every Republican has signed a pledge to someone who wants to drown government in a bathtub — Grover Norquist. So nothing will happen until we rip up those pledges," Leno told me, noting that the two-thirds vote margin is just three Republicans each in the Assembly and Senate. "Six human beings are bringing us to our knees."

Even the conservative editorial page writers of the San Francisco Examiner (who endorsed John McCain for president) on Dec. 15 wrote, "the deficit has become so overpowering that — hate it all we want — California cannot continue functioning in 2009 without at least temporary tax raises."

Yet Norquist and the Republican legislators in his thrall haven’t softened their position one bit and instead hope to win deep cuts with this game of brinksmanship. "Now it’s up to the governor to come up with a budget that doesn’t borrow money and doesn’t raise taxes," Norquist told the Guardian.

He said the problem is that California hasn’t adopted a system of making a searchable, detailed list of all government expenditures available to the public, as they have in states like Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Alaska.

"Ralph Nader and I have joined in sending three letters to your governor asking them to go transparent," he told us. "To say you’ve cut the budget as much as possible without having 30 million Californians help look at what makes sense and how to cut the budget is not serious. There’s not been a serious effort in California to scrub the budget, period."

Norquist did not return Guardian calls with follow-up questions about the fact that few credible government watchers think the budget gap can be closed with cuts alone or whether the current standoff — which even Schwarzenegger blamed on legislative Republicans — could hasten the demise of conservatism. But for now, conservatives are standing firm.

Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill put out a statement saying, "Raising taxes doesn’t solve the underlying problem of California’s budget, which is the state spends more than it takes in." His statement may not be true — after all, raising taxes does indeed address that problem — but his caucus is sticking to it for now.

"Republicans remain strong against tax increases and that’s particularly important now when the nation is facing a recession," Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, press secretary for the Senate Republican Caucus, told the Guardian.

Leno called the tax pledge "childish and irresponsible," and akin to Democrats saying they won’t consider any spending cuts. "What kind of honest negotiations can there be when they’ve signed that pledge?" Leno said.

Lockhart countered that, "we’re bargaining in good faith for California taxpayers." Asked about the potentially devastating impact to the economy of shutting down all state spending and projects, Lockhart denied the Republicans were being irresponsible: "The responsible thing to do is project California taxpayers and jobs."

The Legislative Analyst’s Office last year put out a report entitled California’s Tax System: A Primer in which it wrote "California’s tax burden is about average," and in fact less than the industrial states’ average of under $12 for every $100 of personal income. And US tax rates are about 15 percent less than those in the European Union.

Leno has reached out to business leaders to have them try to talk some sense into the Republicans. Ironically, despite the Republicans rationalizing their pledge in the name of not wanting to hurt economic growth, the collapse of the bond market combined with the budget impasse threatens to cut off all state spending and send the already weakened economy into a nose dive.

"I wouldn’t think that anyone with a business mind or business concerns would in any way support the status quo right now," Leno said.

Leno said that even the Chambers of Commerce in San Francisco and Los Angeles are advocating for a reinstatement of the vehicle license fee, something that Schwarzenegger has voiced openness to even though his crusade against it helped sweep him into office five years ago. LAO figures show the lack of a VLF, by the end of the current fiscal year, will have cost the state $43.3 billion since it was repealed.

Leno said the Democrats are planning ballot measures for next year to raise revenue and repeal the two-thirds budget vote requirement, which only California, Rhode Island, and Arkansas have. As the state’s budget crisis devastates state services as well as those at county and city levels, Leno hopes this will be Norquist’s final stand.

"No one expects we can make $40 billion in cuts," said Leno, who hopes that the situation illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of the right-wing stance.

"We do know there’s opportunity in crisis," Leno said. "It’s getting really ugly now and everybody knows it."

Changing climate


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY In its final full month in power, the George W. Bush administration has managed to screw up one last chance to take action on the increasingly desperate climate crisis, the latest in a string of diplomatic failures being inherited by the incoming Barack Obama administration.

The UN Climate Change Conferences in Poznan, Poland concluded Dec. 12 after nearly two weeks of negotiations, presentations, and demonstrations. Greenpeace pushed hard for strong action at the conference, even using San Francisco as a staging ground for its message.

Yet what Greenpeace officials initially viewed as a great chance to show a new face of American leadership on global warming instead turned out to be what group spokesperson Daniel Kessler called "a profound disappointment."

Kessler and other representatives from Greenpeace told the Guardian that members of the American delegation refused to agree to any international agreements because they didn’t want to constrain the incoming administration. The indecisive US stance then spread to other industrialized nations and no substantial agreement was reached.

"In Poznan, it seemed like everyone was in a holding pattern waiting for the Obama administration. But it’s just another excuse when what we really need is action," Kessler said.

For Ben Smith, Greenpeace’s global warming national organizer, this is just the most recent strategic move that the administration has made over the past eight years to obstruct any meaningful progress on the environment.

"The reality is, of course, that they’re catering to industry and don’t want to come to an agreement," Smith said. "They’re continuing their efforts to stall any progress."

Much of Greenpeace’s work at the conference has been to work around the US delegation, attempting to show the international community that the Bush administration is in its death throes and out of touch with the country when it comes to dealing with global warming.

On Dec. 6, Greenpeace organized "A Global Day of Action" to send the message that the American people are ready to help save the planet. It staged demonstrations in 25 cities around the country and dozens more around the world. In San Francisco, the organization brought more than 300 volunteers, activists, and community members to Crissy Field to hold a 30-by-50-foot green postcard reading: "Dear World Leaders, We are ready to save the climate — San Francisco. P.S. Yes We Can!"

A helicopter buzzed overhead to capture the image with the Golden Gate Bridge towering in the background. The images and others like it were sent to the Greenpeace delegates in Poland.

During the San Francisco event, Lauren Thorpe, a field organizer with Greenpeace, stood on the back of the flatbed truck that served as the stage and summed up the day’s message. "We really want strong action on global warming and we’re ready for America to take a leadership role on that again," she said.

The atmosphere at the event was hopeful and enthusiastic. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi even stopped by midway through his morning jog, apparently unaware he was scheduled to speak until 20 minutes before. He stood above the crowd in gray sweats and, after catching his breath, delivered a stirring impromptu speech encouraging the audience to hold officials at all levels of government accountable.

"Our federal government is moving at a very glacial pace in order to address the global warming crisis," he said. "And I’m not seeing any evidence that that’s going to turn around soon enough so that we can relax here from a local or municipal perspective."

Though the negotiations in Poland may have fizzled, the outpouring of support from San Francisco and elsewhere has encouraged Greenpeace during this important transition period. Kessler says that Greenpeace will continue to pursue its direct action strategy while working with the Obama administration’s new team.

"There is a lot of hope that he’s going to do the right thing," Smith said.

Lucy Pearce, a campaign leader from the British organization Stop Climate Chaos, urged the Crissy Field crowd to push for bold action on the climate change in the coming year: "We have to keep the pressure on and make sure that we don’t just rest on hope. We’ve actually got to deliver on climate change."

It’s never too late



My dad was a fan of last-minute shopping. As in: he’d go to the mall on Christmas Eve an hour before closing and park in the red zone. Though it drove my mom crazy, it seemed to work for dad — thanks in equal parts to his ability to manage anxiety (he didn’t seem to have any) and the one-stop-shop-iness of the mall experience.

But what if you’ve slacked on your shopping this year and you want to shop locally? Whether your idea of "last-minute" is a week before Santa comes or Christmas morning before the kids wake up, here are some shopping ideas that’ll help make your last-minute mad dash less, well, maddening.


Delisa Sage is as much curator as owner of this charming Potrero Hill shop, which features a mix of vintage and locally-made items with a focus on female designers and hand-made objects. From clocks to cameras and jewelry to housewares, you just might find something for everyone here.

1345 18th, SF. (415) 282-4401, www.collage-gallery.com


These sister stores are an ideal stop when shopping for kids and their parents. Owner Elizabeth Leu carefully chooses toys, clothing, stationery, and books that are stylish, environmentally friendly, and often made by local designers. Both stores have extended holiday hours, and if you sign up for the mailing list, you’ll get a coupon for 20 percent off.

540 and 508 Hayes, SF. (415) 565-0508, www.shoplavish.com and www.shopfiddlesticks.com


Focusing on unusual styles from small-production shoe companies, Delirious is an ideal stop for your shoe-loving friends and family. Plus, owner Amy Boe has stocked up on socks, tights, bags, and slippers for holiday gifts and stocking stuffers.

317 Connecticut, SF. (415) 641-4086, www.getdelirious.com


Come for eco-consciousness, stay for style and selection. Spring always has a variety of gorgeously designed tableware, candles, bath and body products, linens, and often children’s dolls, all sustainable and non-toxic. Think hippie values with Dwell aesthetics.

2162 Polk, SF. (415) 673-2065, www.springhome.com


If there are any holes in your gift list, you can surely fill ’em here. Cards, hats, gloves, jewelry, tchotchkes, home décor, joke gifts … you name it, Therapy carries it — and the Mission District favorite is open Christmas Eve.

541 Valencia, SF. (415) 621-5902, www.shopattherapy.com


Fun, funky, and oh-so-cute, this tiny store is chock-full of winsome delights, from wooden mustaches to Russian doll–style stackable bowls. Though usually closed on Mondays, they’ll stay open Dec. 23 for last-minute shoppers.

855 Valencia, SF. (415) 671-5384, www.curiosityshoppeonline.com


An easy hop, skip, and a jaywalk across from Curiosity Shoppe is this weird and wacky favorite where rare stones and plants are as easy to find as taxidermied animals. Plus, they’re open Christmas Eve!

824 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-1872, www.paxtongate.com


Sure, beer is a niche gift. But there’s no better place to find a unique, imported, hard-to-find brew than this delightful basement shop. Plus, you can drink while you shop.

1168 Folsom, SF. (415) 503-1033, www.citybeerstore.com


Stuck at home with the kids? In bed with the flu? Sometimes shopping online is your only option. But if you’re going to do it, why not shop an SF-based business? The Branch warehouse on Van Ness Street is stuffed floor-to-ceiling with sustainable, adorable gifts, including toys, furniture, housewares, and clothing. Order by Dec. 19 to send gifts by Christmas. Or, if you’re later, simply send a card with a photo of what you’re buying so your giftee knows you weren’t that late.

(415) 626-1012, www.branchhome.com


What could be easier than a gift certificate, or more welcome than a massage? Purchase an affordable session ($65–$130) with Potrero Hill-based Jennifer Bryce ahead of tiem and let your giftee make an appointment. Bryce is trained in Swedish, shiatsu, hot stone, deep tissue, and many more massage styles, so everybody (and every body) should benefit from her touch.

(415) 215-6205, www.phoenixrisingbodywork.com


When it’s the idea of a gift that’s more important to you than the object itself, why not donate to your favorite cause — or that of your loved one — in your giftee’s name?

DonorsChoose.org is an interesting option for those who want to know exactly where their money is going. On this site, teachers ask for classroom materials and donors choose which projects to support. Check out the main site at www.donorschoose.org or City Editor Steven T. Jones’ personal choices at www.donorschoose.org/donors/viewChallenge. Support two-wheeled travel by giving to the Bike Kitchen (www.bikekitchen.org), a do-it-yourself resource run by volunteers, or the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (www.sfbike.org), an alliance promoting the bike for everyday transportation. Other organizations we like are Western Regional Advocacy Project (www.wraphome.org), which seeks to expose and eliminate root causes of civil and human rights abuses; Coalition on Homelessness (www.cohsf.org), which initiates program and policy changes to promote social justice and create exits from poverty; and Nature in the City (www.natureinthecity.org), which seeks to restore wildlife and connect urbanites with the nature where they live. And perhaps the cause closest to our hearts this season is overturning Proposition 8. There’s been some controversy over which of the big marriage equality organizations or smaller grassroots efforts have the tools and resources to affect change, so choose carefully when donating. We like the 10-year-old Equality California (www.eqca.org). Other organizations we trust to support equal marriage rights, as well as other issues of importance to the LGBT community, are the National Center for Lesbian Rights (www.nclrights.org) and Horizons Foundation (www.horizonsfoundation.org).

Need even more ideas? Check out the special deals on the SF Convention and Visitors Bureau site, www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/shopsf. Also see our staff gift lists on our Pixel Vision blog and our 2008 Holiday Guide. And don’t forget to let us know how you spent your money locally this year at sfbg.com/local, where you’ll enter to win $500 in gift certificates to local businesses.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

San Francisco’s not ready to make $118 million in budget cuts.

I realize the city can’t operate at a deficit, and if payment due exceeds accounts received, something has to be done. But it can wait a few weeks. In fact, the final decisions ought to wait for the new Board of Supervisors to take office in January. The city won’t go broke in the meantime.

But Mayor Gavin Newsom is rushing his cuts through, demanding 400 layoffs and taking a hatchet to the Department of Public Health. There are all sorts of alternatives — our editorial in this issue looks at how the city can bring in more revenue. There’s also a lot more sanity needed as the board and the mayor look at what could be devastating reductions in essential public services.

For example: I like the 311 program. It’s convenient. But I’d rather wait longer for my non-emergency call to be answered than to have public health workers lose their jobs. And the 311 budget hasn’t been touched.

Police and fire are, of course, essential — but it’s insane to give the cops and firefighters, who are among the best-paid city workers, a 7.5 percent pay hike this year while social service workers are getting laid off.

It’s lovely to have more fire stations per square mile than any other big city in California, but there are nowhere near as many fires as there were when the system was designed, and closing some down would save millions.

How come the mayor still has seven people in his press office, most of whom are paid to keep the press from finding out what’s going on?

Why are we talking about cutting the $800,000 Small Business Assistance Center, which actually helps the most important sector of the economy, when there’s $10 million, much of it redundant, in the mayor’s Office of Economic Development?

Why is Dean Macris, the former city planning director, still hanging around and getting paid?

Wouldn’t an across-the-board wage freeze be better than layoffs? What about capping the pay for city employees at $150,000 a year? What about capping police overtime?

What about having all these discussions in public, before the mayor sends out pink slips?

Or would that just make too much sense?