Volume 43 Number 31

What’s a label?


Who needs record labels? Do you? Yes, the music industry is in turmoil — so what’s the point of branding anymore? The Guardian checks out anonymous underground classics, military-industrial backers, trickle-up breakthroughs, warped corps, reissue revivalism, and indie’s wild, wild ride.

>>The name game
What does a record label mean in 2009? Label owners sound off
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Saved by zero
Dance music still shakes off labels and flirts with the void
By Marke B

>>Great expectations?
Indie labels ride the ups and downs of the blog buzz and bluster
By Kimberly Chun

The name game



LABELS Look for the label: that shopper’s instruction has carried a wealth of meanings over the years in the music industry. Stax and Motown have soul. Jazz has Verve. Kudu has that bluesy voodoo. If you want a symbol of vindictive business dealings, look up Savoy. If you’re obsessed with the history of post-punk and indie rock, see Factory, Rough Trade, and Creation. Yet what does a label mean in 2009? Do labels still matter in an ever more ephemeral music industry? In fact, does matter itself matter anymore in a world where the C in CD might as well stand for coffin-bound? God save EMI?

I put the first question to a number of label owners and representatives recently, hoping their answers might provide an entry into a discussion of the role of labels and the potential of music today. Their answers did not disappoint. "Anyone saying [labels] are dead and gone is not factoring in the talented, but brainless, American Idol contestant," quipped Ken Shipley, founder of the vaunted reissue and archival label Numero Group. "They’re backed by liquor companies and weapons manufacturers, and as long as the Army needs music for commercials at movie theaters, they’ll be in business. The labels that are about to be useless are the large indies — crippled by an infrastructure and overhead built for the ’90s CD bonanza — and the micro-indies, [that are] doing what any band’s manager can already do."

Such a perspective suggests that reissue labels have the truest vital stake in the future of commercially produced music, and this passionate music lover has to admit that it sometimes feels this way: over the last few years, archival entities such as Numero Group, Omni Recording, Trunk, Light in the Attic, and the local Water label have played as major a role in my listening experience as any indie dedicated to new groups and artists.

Yet even as iTunes demands that everyone stand under its umbrella, the meaning and importance of a small label can persist in very simple and profound ways. "I pay attention to records coming out on good labels that I know I can trust," says Filippo Salvadori of Runt Distribution, the Oakland home to reissue labels including Water and 4 Men with Beards. "A record label is an important hub for art and idea exchanges between music lovers and musicians," Bettina Richards of Thrill Jockey likewise declares, her directness and use of the word record born of past and recent experience.

"I think labels are as important as ever," maintains Mike Schulman of the Bay Area indie pop shrine Slumberland, which is currently experiencing a new burst of recognition thanks to bands such as Crystal Stilts and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. "With the increasing fragmentation and atomization of genres and scenes and markets, customers rely on labels as a curatorial enterprise, a shorthand signifier for what they’re into, and a useful tool to help sort through the mountain of new music."

The curatorial corollary, or an editorial variant, comes up more than once among small label owners. "In an sense, we serve as editors, but to do more than edit," says Andres Santo Domingo of Kemado Records. "We actively promote the artists on our roster and help make their life easier so they can dedicate themselves to being musicians [at a time when making] music is less financially viable than it was in the past."

Joakim Hoagland of the Norwegian label Smalltown Supersound has a more idealistic view of the label owner’s enterprise. "In my opinion, running a label is an artform," he writes, still passionate in the wake of a recent public debate with Peter Sunde of the Pirate Bay, a staunch opponent of music labels and other aspects of copyright culture. "I am in general a label fan and have read most books available on labels like Elektra, Impulse, Creation, Rough Trade, Factory, and so on. I love labels, and sometimes am more interested in a label than an artist."

While Hoagland makes a case for the label identity that is forged as a labor of love for new music, Shipley of Numero Group feels that reissue labels have a "brand identity" that most labels devoted to contemporary music currently lack. Indeed, this might be the case, thanks to the manner in which iTunes seems to have swallowed the experience of listening to recorded music. "Although millions of labels sell their music through iTunes, the only brand name that is really involved and talked about through the process is iTunes, which isn’t even a label," notes Jonny Trunk of the U.K. reissue treasure trove Trunk. "You cannot search on iTunes by label. Which is rubbish, really."

Matt Sullivan of the Seattle-based label Light in the Attic fuses Hoagland’s appreciation of past labels with Shipley’s and Trunk’s devotion to discovering old "lost" music. "There was something so beautiful about labels like Stax, early Sub Pop, Creation, or even Reprise/Elektra/Warner when Stan Cornyn was at the helm in that golden age of the late 1960s and early 1970s," he observes. "No one’s done it better since."

For Sullivan and Light in the Attic, a label functions as a way to right past industry wrongs, and find or create new audiences for abused and neglected artists. "Most managers, labels, publicists, booking agents, etc. are crooks and cheats, better suited for a position at Enron or Madoff Investment Securities," he notes. "After all, though, this is the entertainment business and it feeds on low-lifes." He contrasts this bleakly funny outlook with the dedication required in reissuing a choice recording from long ago: "Folks have no idea the amount of time that goes into a reissue. On the other hand, I have no idea the time that’s invested in making a tube of toothpaste." This dedication results in a recorded object with artwork in the case of Light in the Attic, or Trunk, whose namesake is an expert on music library treasures, and the author of a deluxe book of artwork (with a CD) related to the subject, The Music Library (Fuel Publishing).

As CDs pile up in landfills, vinyl is returning from the dead with ever-increasing commercial vitality, even if on a smaller scale. "From a personal level, I wish the CD would die," says Chris Manak, a.k.a. Peanut Butter Wolf of Stones Throw Records. "I don’t have an effective way of storing mine without losing them all the time. I wish everybody who liked music would buy a damn turntable or two, like me." Richards of Thrill Jockey sees growing vinyl activity, if not that level of popularity. "A great example of the trickle-up effect is the surge in LP sales," she says. "It is a great adventure to be a part of, and be on the hunt for new sounds without limitation to form."

But what does it all mean for the musician? "There may be some brave new world wherein the artists can do all the work themselves, but I think that notion, at least from the current perspective, is a pipe dream," says Joel Leoshke of Kranky, home of groups such as Deerhunter. "Can you name three artists that work without a label at the moment? I think not."

"Labels needs bands, not vice-versa," counters the acerbic Shipley. "The sooner every band in the world realizes that, the better off they’re going to be. Labels are for the lazy, the incompetent, and the cash-poor. Sadly, this represents 99 percent of all musicians. Good luck." Asked about the future role of labels within the industry, he makes a comparison. "The label’s role is a business version of child support: Wednesdays and every other weekend until your artists hit their teens and hate you."

Other label owners imagine even more dystopian scenarios. "As J.G. Ballard predicted, you will soon see musicians taking cruise ships and airliners hostage to hold private and compulsory listening parties," half-jokes David Thrussell of Omni Recording, which has uncovered vanguard audio explorers such as Bruce Haack. "Naturally, record labels will support artists to the maximum of their ability in these brave new marketing ventures." Slightly more seriously — only slightly — he lists his and Omni’s future goals as at attempt to "pry as many strange or under appreciated records out of musty vaults and attics as we can until the Earth explodes in a cloud of tepid dust (not that far off)."

Some label reps see labels taking on an even more encompassing role in relation to musicians. "I think some of the larger labels will be demanding much more from their artists — these 360-type deals where the labels want to own the artist, their recordings, their publishing, their gig rights, the merchandise, the outfits, all online activity, everything, everywhere," says Trunk. Hoagland of Smalltown Suerosund envisions a similar scenario in kinder, gentler, smaller terms. "My opinion is that labels should do more booking and publishing as well as releasing music. I think it is better for artists if you have one team or label work for you rather than three or four working against each other. I am not sure if 360-type deals work well with the majors, but the indie could make them into something cool."

"I know I’m a bit of a music geek about labels," admits Schulman, who once was more cynical about the industry machinations he’s moved through. "But I think that as the group of people who actually buy music continues to shrink down to a core of those who really care about it, they’ll continue to coalesce around the labels whose taste they trust."

Great expectations?


Equality has been achieved: this recession is kicking everyone’s arse. But I couldn’t help but squirm at a few recent music-biz disjunctions. How does one reconcile the scene at a South by Southwest "Great Expectations" label panel last month, listening to Tony Kiewel describe 2008 as one of the Sub Pop’s best years, with the bad news from Touch and Go’s Chicago HQ a week later? After shuttering its distribution — which once supported imprints ranging from Drag City to Estrus — in February, the 25-year-plus label laid off its entire staff. Owner and ex-Necros bassist Corey Rusk was going to run the enterprise solo.

A second major blow, especially when one considers Touch and Go’s history releasing important discs by Big Black, Scratch Acid, Die Kreuzen, Slint, Jesus Lizard, and of course, the Butthole Surfers (though the label’s 1999 loss in a legal battle with that band likely hasn’t helped). "Touch and Go basically allowed Merge to exist as something other than a singles label," Mac McCaughan of Merge Records stated in February. "If a company that did everything the right way can’t survive in this environment, then who can?"

Are these simply the latest surges and sucks of free-market capitalism’s death throes and toilet-bowl flows? And what’s the state of independence for local labels eking it out in this still-roiling stew of sorry economic news?

"The black and white fact is that [Sub Pop] is not Touch and Go," opines Cory Brown, owner of Bay Area independent Absolutely Kosher and general manager of Misra Records. He notes that Sub Pop is partially owned by Warner Bros. and that Touch and Go had the tough luck of losing some of its biggest artists, including TV on the Radio, Blonde Redhead, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Those departures "all went down not very well," says Brown, who believes Touch and Go’s contraction was "as much an emotional decision as a business one," considering the company had big releases by Pinback and Three Mile Pilot planned.

Rusk declined to comment, although one wonders what will become of his label’s newer bands, among them the Bay Area’s Mi Ami and Sholi. Still, should he strike up a new alliance, all systems could be go at Touch and Go once again. As Brown puts it, "Geoff Travis has closed Rough Trade multiple times now and come back with it."

What of the local label landscape? Lookout! and Jackpine Social Club have ceased new releases, whereas Tigerbeat6 and Anticon have left town. Slumberland is surfing a twee rock revival, and hip-hop’s SMC has taken on bigger fish like Killer Mike. As newbie Bright Antenna appears on the horizon, veterans such as Alternative Tentacles, Fat Wreck Chords, Runt/Water, Quannum Projects, Birdman, Daly City, Dirtybird, and Hook or Crook are staying alive. AT celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. "As music and media become increasingly accessible instantly from anywhere, the role of curator is more important than ever – if I can access 10 millions songs instantly from my phone, how do I choose?," Isaac Bess, director of business development at SF’s IODA (Independent Online Distribution Alliance) writes via e-mail.

Business is bright, thanks to smart planning, for SF distributor Revolver USA and Midheaven Mailorder, which supports labels such as Gnomonsong and DiCristina Stair Builders. "We’re doing well, and I think that has a lot to do with what our expectations are, and not looking for a big record to be carried by Walmart and Target," says general manager Mike Toppe, who thinks it’s more important to "keep connecting with people who are passionate about music."

Fat Mike, who started Fat Wreck Chords to put out music by his bands NOFX and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, has a more hardcore perspective. "In the ’90s, every fucking band we signed sold a shitload of records and got popular all over the world. It was ridiculous," he e-mails from NOFX’s current European tour. "Now only the really good bands can sell a decent amount. That’s okay, though. This industry collapse is mostly killing mediocre bands." As for the decline in CD and recorded music sales, the SF road warrior believes that’s not going to stop: "The record industry party is over, but great live bands will always do okay."

But what about the groups that can’t pick up blogosphere buzz? Both Jacobs and Brown acknowledge the difficulty in developing emerging or even mid-level bands via traditional avenues. Add in the complicating factor of so-called 360 deals, in which a label takes a percentage of all artist revenue in exchange for promotion, and you have what Brown calls a "destructive" outlook. "The bottom line is musicians should get paid," he said. "Forget about how labels are doing — how are musicians doing in this climate?

"I think new ideas really have to come into play, and those have to be based on the quality of life for the musician, not the company that comes up with an application," he continued, touching on the lack of public funds for musicians and lack of official recourse for bands if, for instance, they don’t get paid by a club. "It’s basic stuff, but it’s harder to look past those things. It has to go back to the content provider."

Home run


In American Hwangap, Lloyd Suh’s charmingly witty and gently woebegone world premiere, hwangap — the momentous 60th birthday marking completion of the astrological life cycle in Korean tradition — is occasion for a fresh start for Min Suk (an irresistibly expansive Keone Young), a former engineer and disenchanted immigrant returning home to his Texas-raised Korean American family 15 years after abandoning them and fleeing back to the old country. Of course, it’s not so easy to go home again.

Oldest son David (a razor-sharp Ryun Yu), the New York investment banker whose roiling inner turmoil takes the form of hilarious sangfroid, stays perpetually perched on the phone. Daughter Esther (a potent Angela Lin) vents her rage at her father soon after fetching him from the airport. Only youngest son Ralph (Jon Norman Schneider) seems suitably excited about the upcoming celebration, but then he’s over 30 and still living like a preteen in his mother’s basement. And while ex-wife Mary (a gracefully assured Jodi Long) musters a generous and forgiving mood, she is no longer the docile hausfrau Min Suk once knew. For his part, Min Suk remains determined to somehow win back their affection, persevering with sharp-witted good nature and newfound humility, even as it leads him literally up the backyard tree.

Magic Theatre and new artistic director Loretta Greco hit this one out of the park. Suh’s American Hwangap is a fresh, heartfelt and very funny family drama whose Shepard-esque themes and setting come underscored by passing slide-guitar licks and Erik Flatmo’s delicately whimsical scenic design, which gives just the right lift to the comically bent realism in director Trip Cullman’s production.


Wed/29-Sat/2, 8 p.m.; Sun/3, 2:30 and 7 p.m., $45-$75

Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina at Laguna, SF

(415) 441-8822

Reel Talk


At last year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, in his State of Cinema address, Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly spoke of a media landscape inundated with screens, in which you’re as likely to watch a movie on your PDA, or even a grocery checkout screen, as you are in a theater. The message was clear: the way in which we create and consume films is changing. To some extent, we have been living in this brave new world for some time, so SFIFF’s choice of photographer Mary Ellen Mark to deliver this year’s State of Cinema address carries with it an implicit nostalgia for cinema’s old world. Mark, who has frequently turned her camera on marginal subjects — Indian prostitutes, homeless American teens, circus performers — has also periodically worked as an on-set photographer over her four decade career, capturing moments of behind the scene candor on the sets of directors such as François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Milos Forman, Tim Burton, and Francis Ford Coppola. The images, collected last year in Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set (Phaidon), present Mark as an anti-Annie Liebovitz. She manages to catch her subjects unaware — as with the hilarious image of Dustin Hoffman making faces behind a quite serious Sir Laurence Olivier between takes on 1976’s Marathon Man. Others — among them Marlon Brando caught with a bug resting on his bald pate on the set of 1979’s Apocalypse Now — seem to square off with the camera. Incidentally, two of this year’s major SFIFF honors are going to Coppola and fellow child of the ’60s Robert Redford, so there’s a bit of a love fest for the era going on at this year’s fest. Undoubtedly Mark has as many fascinating stories as she does compelling images, but hopefully her talk won’t just be a stroll down memory lane.


Sun/3, 1 p.m., $12.50

Sundance Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF


The body count


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

I pushed a peanut shell through a hole in the tabletop. We were outside, upstairs, on a wraparound deck and the left side of me was getting burnt. The right side of him. Hot day …

There were boats. Water. There was a view of the Oakland skyline.

"I had my first lesbian lover," I said, to get his attention. I was tired of talking about snowboarding and soccer, sports, his and hers. I was ready for some he-said-she-said, the good stuff.

"Really?" he said, with the big smile with the perfect teeth.

Our beers were half-empty, the peanut basket half-full. I told my story, watching his face, pushing peanut shells through the many holes in the iron tabletop. I thought they were scattering on the floor below, on the deck, but in fact they were piling up on my skirt.

He dates a lesbian. His name is Ratatat and he has black hair and thick, black, old-fashionable glasses, an Asian Woody Allen or Elvis Costello, only a lot younger than both of them, put together.

He also dates me. Although … as our dates get funner, they get farther apart. And we talk more about who else we’re seeing … Which is fine. Really.

No. Really, I have a bad attitude about polyamorousness. Polyamorless, I call it. Luckily, my bad attitude is in this case trumped by a really very good attitude about the nature of reality. The nature of reality is that it is real. It’s what’s for dinner. No. It’s what we are left with after dinner, the bones, dirty dishes, and in some cases, indigestion.

I have started a kind of a museum of Things Guys Left At My Place Because They Leave In Such A Hurry. See? I’m a realist. In lieu of the return visit, let alone flowers, let alone love, I smoke the rest of their cigarettes and wear their big stinky shirts like a nightie in the morning, with my coffee. It’s a cool twist on cross-dressing, and I love it. I love the smell. I love the way guy-grade cotton feels against my bare skin. One man left a pair of sunglasses and I wore them and loved the way the world was.

But how can I explain all this to Ratatat, who treats me truly like a friend? Who leaves nothing and does come back, who picked me a flower one time …

I can’t! So I gave him the fantasy, the body count, instead: one woman, one man, since last we met. And he gave me his. The ongoing lesbian. A cute girl upstairs. Somebody else …

Besides peanuts, which are on and all over the house, we split an appetizer with our beers: Quinn’s signature, a halved tomato dressed with pesto and piled with shrimp. Perfect for the hot day, a midafternoon snack, and the bayside setting. Place used to be an actual lighthouse! Now it’s a split level, split-themed restaurant, yacht club style downstairs, peanut-littered pub up.

And there really was a pirate sitting near the door when we left, after only one beer apiece. Anyway, he was a salty old-timer with a parrot on his shoulder.

After we walked past him I turned to Ratatat and said, "That guy works for me."

Because he did. I’m a fiction writer.

I gave Ratatat and his flat-tired bicycle a ride home and a hug, then went to be with the children. Then went to be with the chicken. Cakey, who I had successfully cured of broodiness by bringing her to the woods and basically traumatizing her. As I write this, she is kicking leaves and looking for bugs right next to me, a healthy, happy, and functional member of society.

Well, what’s good for the chicken …

I will get on an airplane, which is the scariest thought I can think of. My passport application is all filled out. I forget how long it takes but I got a packet of alphabet pasta in the mail yesterday. While I’m waiting I will nitpick these A’s, B’s and C’s into top-secret international love letters, then eat the evidence.


Daily 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

1951 Embarcadero East, Oakl.

(510) 536-2050

Full bar


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

What do (people) want?



Dear Andrea:
Have you heard of a study that analyzed biometric feedback from self-identified male bisexuals, and the notable finding was that the overwhelming majority of these men were in fact homosexual, not bisexual? The conclusion of the study was that "true" male bisexuality is extremely rare. (For what it’s worth, I consider myself a "true" male bisexual, but what do I know?)

I also heard about another study from at least 10 years ago that tracked the sexual fantasies of self-identified lesbians, and the surprising result was that some 50 percent of these women actually fantasized about men while doing it with their female partners.

Have you heard of these, and would you care to comment?

Actually Here!

Dear Here:

I have, of course, and they’re all fascinating, partly for the science (which is generally super-simple and not easily misinterpreted) and partly for the reactions in the various communities whenever one of these studies is reported, which are frankly pretty funny.

The "there’s no such thing as male bisexuality" studies have received the most press, and the biggest, most offended reactions, but it’s not like the researchers at Northwestern University and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto set out to disprove the existence of an entire sexual orientation! All they did was hook up some volunteers to a plethysmograph and show them porn. I think the first researchers were probably as surprised as anyone when the self-identified bi men failed to respond in a recognizably "bi" manner. About three-quarters of the bi men read as completely gay according to their penises (do penises lie?), while the rest were indistinguishable from the self-identified straight guys. There was no recognizable "bi" pattern of arousal, and the subjects seemed overwhelmingly to fall on one or the other end of the Kinsey scale:

Regardless of whether the men were gay, straight or bisexual, they showed about four times more arousal" to one sex or the other, said Gerulf Rieger… the study’s lead author.

So obviously, you think you exist but you’re wrong, Bi Guy!

Okay, no. What do I really think? I think, for one thing , it’s all funny since in my little bubble of not only San Francisco-ness but San Francisco sex educator-ness, fake bi guys who are actually straight but want hot bi chicks to think they’re cool way outnumber bi guys who are actually gay but closeted. Also, I do think you exist. Clearly truly bi men are rarer even than we thought, but I’m fairly certain that you are not a figment of your own or my imagination, and I think sexuality is a mite more complicated than penile plethysmography.

Another study, described here in a ScienceDaily article from 2003, and distinguished by including only people who identified as gay or straight, turned up more bisexual women than expected, but replicated earlier results where gay and straight (but not bi) men responded consistent with their self-identification: In contrast, both homosexual and heterosexual women showed a bisexual pattern of psychological as well as genital arousal. That is, heterosexual women were just as sexually aroused by watching female stimuli as by watching male stimuli.

The extraordinary article on female desire that ran in The New York Times Magazine (www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25desire) introduced recent research by Meredith Chivers, who’s been following up on the research above with the added fillip of throwing some ape porn in the mix and requiring volunteers to report their own perceptions of their arousal levels, which proved wildly inaccurate: During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women reported less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more. Among the lesbian volunteers, the two readings converged when women appeared on the screen. But when the films featured only men, the lesbians reported less engagement than the plethysmograph recorded. Whether straight or gay, the women claimed almost no arousal whatsoever while staring at the bonobos.

Good to know!

As for the studies (self-reported behavior, no telemetry) that show a high percentage of self-described lesbians fantasizing about men while having lesbisex, eh. People fantasize about all kinds of things, particularly things they feel uncomfortable about. Are those women fake lesbians? The furthest I can go with that is to say that we’ve seen that women are much (so much!) more likely than men to be bisexual by attraction. I’m assuming that some of the women studied are physically attracted to both, but emotionally more attached to women ("Whom do you fall in love with?" is a hugely important but oft-neglected measure of sexual orientation) and some are into women but enjoy fantasies of committing unnatural acts with men. That some must be really not that into chicks but have chosen for whatever reason to live as lesbians is undeniable but just not that important. They wouldn’t be the first people to partner with someone not of their preferred gender, or the last, and their existence does not cast doubt on anyone else’s authenticity. Can anyone do that?



Don’t forget to read Andrea at Carnal Nation.com.

Historic proportions



GREEN CITY "110 The Embarcadero" is the stately address of a building that doesn’t exist yet. But the battle that continues to be waged over this proposed development, along with skirmishes that are brewing over other proposed buildings nearby, speaks volumes about a complicated tug-of-war that is emerging over a prominent slice of the city’s northern waterfront.

Preservationists are concerned about saving a union hall on Steuart Street that housed the International Longshoremen’s Association during the strike of 1934, which would be razed to build 110 The Embarcadero. That’s one of a number of historic properties critics say could face the wrecking ball as new building plans are drafted. Other proposals, among them 8 Washington and 555 Washington, have neighborhood activists anxious about long skyscraper shadows that could be cast on public parks, the development pressure that would result from allowing skyscrapers to exceed height limits, and views of the bay that would be enhanced from inside luxury high rises but blocked to others.

On the other side of the coin, building-trades union members increasingly desperate for work are fervently advocating for new construction projects that would open the spigot on jobs. And the Port of San Francisco hopes development money will help cover its huge infrastructure backlog.

Meanwhile a report released in early April by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission noted that the waterfront stretch from Pier 35 to the Bay Bridge is one of the most vulnerable to sea-level rise. As plans for this part of the Embarcadero are hashed out in public hearings and architects’ sketches, a new reality must be factored into the mix: some of that land could soon be underwater.


110 The Embarcadero initially won praise for its goal of attaining the highest certification level for nationwide green-building standards. Sponsored by Hines Interests, it was a shining example of ecodesign that even featured living vines climbing the sides. Even though it would shoot 40 percent above the allowable height limit of 84 feet, the San Francisco Planning Commission gave it a green light.

Enthusiasm waned, however, when historic preservationists pointed out that the building slated for demolition — 113 Steuart St. — was an ILA labor hall during the famous maritime strike of 1934, which erupted into violence after two union members were gunned down by police and led to a four-day general strike that paralyzed the city. "Harry Bridges rose to fame in this building," says architectural historian Bradley Weidmeier, referring to the famous labor leader. "Labor historians from around the country are going to be blocking this."

Hines hired a leading historic architecture firm, Page & Turnbull, to conduct a historic assessment of that building as part of the planning process. Yet the initial report neglected to mention anything about the building being at the center of a profound moment in San Francisco’s labor history.

Former Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, an opponent of the project, says the gaps in information weren’t hard to miss. "The fact that it was ground zero for bloody Thursday, that it was ground zero for the general strike … that people were shot in front of there, that their bodies lay inside. You want to know how we found that out? We got it online," Peskin said.

Page & Turnbull later submitted an addendum, including historic photos depicting people crowding into the two-story building to pay respects to the slain union members. The firm acknowledged its historic significance this time, but asserted that the now-empty building had undergone too many retrofits to comply with historic landmark requirements.

This, too, was challenged by project opponents. "You can look at pictures of dead people laying there on the sidewalk with that building in the background, and look at it today, and godammit, it’s pretty much the same building," Peskin says.

The Board of Supervisors in mid-March approved an appeal of the project and instructed city planners to prepare an environmental impact report. Ralph Schoenman, a preservation advocate who says he met with board members about the project, told us that "members of the board were plainly shocked by finding out that the historic report was so flawed and untrue."

That feeling may have lingered for some at the April 21 bard meeting when Supervisors voted 7-4 to reject Mayor Gavin Newsom’s nomination of Ruth Todd, a Page & Turnbull principal, to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.


Though the project has been stalled, the issues it stirred are gaining momentum. The picture of what this stretch of the Embarcadero could look like is shaping up to be quite different from developers’ gauzy artistic renderings. Sue Hestor, a land-use lawyer, is a driving force behind a community-led meeting scheduled for June 24 at the headquarters of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 34 (the successor to ILA) to initiate a new approach to development along the western edge of the Embarcadero.

"Threatened demolition of the 1934 Waterfront Strike headquarters at 113 Steuart has pulled us together," Hestor wrote in a widely disseminated e-mail. "The community will proactively start defining changes we want. No more waiting for a developer proposal, then meekly responding. The community gets to define how the city should look … along the northeast waterfront. When you start at the Embarcadero it is possible to weave in so many areas, so many neighborhoods, so much of our political and immigrant and labor history."

ILWU members are joining with preservationists in the effort to preserve 113 Steuart. "We are at a historic moment when working people are under unprecedented attack," a team of six Local 34 leaders wrote in a recent statement opposing the demolition. "That living history is a prologue to our struggles of the future."

Not all labor unions agree. At a picket staged by San Francisco’s Building and Construction Trades Council outside a Democratic Party luncheon April 21, protesters carried a few flew signs reading "How can we feed our kids with history?" The signs referenced the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, but the same question might be asked of 110 The Embarcadero, which was favored by building-trade workers.

Neighborhood groups are also worried because the construction of the two proposed 84-foot condominium towers at 8 Washington could cause the adjacent Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club to lose half its facility. "Six hundred to 700 kids come every summer to learn to swim and to play tennis," Club director Lee Radner says. "To us, it’s just a matter of the developer not considering the moral issues of the neighborhood club that has given so much to the community." Friends of Golden Gateway (FOGG), which formed to preserve the club in the face of development, has hired Hestor as its attorney.

Because the development would be partially built on a surface parking lot controlled by the Port Commission, a parcel held to be in the public trust under state law, developers proposed a land-swap to get around provisions prohibiting residential uses in those parcels. Renee Dunn, a spokesperson for the Port Commission, noted that the Port’s annual revenues total $65 million, while the amount that would be needed for repairs and maintenance of its century-old infrastructure is almost $2 billion. In general, "Public-private developments provide the dollars needed to make improvements," she told us.

In the wake of concerns about 8 Washington, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu sent a letter to the Port Commission requesting an update to the waterfront plan for that area. "Concerns are currently being raised regarding the proposed development … and the future development of seawall lots along the northern waterfront, and I share many of these concerns," Chiu wrote. In response, the Port agreed to conduct a six-to-eight month focus study for those seawall lots.

Meanwhile, a quietly growing problem may mean that plans for this stretch of the Embarcadero will get more complicated. A report released in early April by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission predicts a 16-inch rise in the level of the San Francisco Bay by 2050, and a 55-inch rise by 2100, based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Along San Francisco’s waterfront, the most vulnerable area will be from Pier 35 to the Bay Bridge, the report found. "Sea-level rise has been linear, and it’s continuing, and we expect that based on what we know about climate change, it will accelerate," notes Joe LaClair of BCDC. In the event of storm surges, he adds, "we will have to find a way to protect the financial district from inundation."

As local governments begin to get up to speed on mitigating the effects of climate change, new questions — beyond developers’ plans vs. neighborhood input — will have to come into play. One that BCDC plans to tackle in coming months, LaClair notes, is: "What does resilient shoreline development look like?" It’s a good one to start asking now.

Going nuclear



April Fool’s Day is known as a day for practical jokes designed to embarrass the gullible.

But Assembly Member Tom Ammiano’s legislative aide Quentin Mecke says the April 1 letter that Ammiano and fellow Assembly Members Fiona Ma and state Sen. Leland Yee sent Mayor Gavin Newsom urging him not to support a proposal to bury a radiologically-contaminated dump beneath a concrete cap on the Hunters Point Shipyard was dead serious.

In their letter, Ammiano, Ma, and Lee expressed concern over that fact that federal officials don’t want to pay to haul toxic and radioactive dirt off the site before it’s used for parkland. They noted that an "estimated 1.5 million tons of toxics and radioactive material still remain" on the site.

A 1999 ordinance passed by San Francisco voters as Proposition P "recognized that the U.S. Navy had for decades negligently polluted the seismically-active shipyard, and that the city should not accept early transfer of the shipyard to San Francisco’s jurisdiction, unless and until it is cleaned up to the highest standards," the legislators wrote. "Given the information we have, a full cleanup needs to happen," Mecke told us.

But Newsom’s response so far suggests he may be willing to accept the Navy’s proposal.


From the 1940s to 1974, according to the Navy’s 2004 historical radiological assessment, the Navy dumped industrial, domestic, and solid waste, including sandblast waste, on a portion of the site known as Parcel E. Among the materials that may be underground: decontamination waste from ships returning from Operation Crossroads — in which atomic tests in the South Pacific went awry, showering Navy vessels with a tidal wave of radioactive material.

"We have serious questions about the city accepting what is essentially a hazardous and radioactive waste landfill adjacent to a state park along the bay, in a high liquefaction zone with rising sea levels," the letter reads. "We understand that the Navy is pushing for a comparatively low-cost engineering solution which the Navy believes will contain toxins and radioactive waste in this very unstable geology. We hope that you and your staff aggressively oppose this option."

Keith Forman, the Navy’s base realignment and closure environmental coordinator for the shipyard, told the Guardian that the Navy produced a report that did a thorough analysis of the site.

The Pentagon estimates that excavating the dump would cost $332 million, last four years, and cause plenty of nasty smells. Simply leaving the toxic stew in place and putting a cap on it would cost $82 million.

Espanola Jackson, who has lived in Bayview Hunters Point for half a century, says the community has put up with bad smells for decades thanks to the nearby sewage treatment plant. "So what’s four more years?" Jackson told the Guardian.

Judging from his April 21 reply to the three legislators, who represent San Francisco in Sacramento, Newsom is committed only to a technically acceptable cleanup — which is not the same thing as pushing to completely dig up and haul away the foul material in the dump.

He noted that during his administration federal funding for shipyard clean-up "increased dramatically, with almost a half-billion dollars secured in the last six years." Newsom also told Ammiamo, Ma, and Yee that the city won’t accept the Parcel E landfill until both the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and the federal Environmental Protection Agency "agree that it will be safe for its intended use."

The intended use for Parcel E-2 is parks and open space, said Michael Cohen, Newsom’s right-hand man in the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. The Navy won’t issue its final recommendations until next summer. "That’s when regulatory agencies decide what the clean up should be, whether that’s a dig and haul, a cap, or a mix of the two, " Cohen explained.


Part of the Navy’s concern is the expense of trucking the toxic waste from San Francisco to a secure landfill elsewhere — someplace designed to contain this sort of material (and someplace less likely to have earthquakes that could shatter a cap and let the nasty muck escape).

David Gavrich and Eric Smith say the Navy is looking at the wrong solution. Gavrich, founder of the shipyard-based Waste Solutions Group and the San Francisco Bay Railroad, which transports waste and recyclables, and Eric Smith, founder of the biodiesel-converting company Green Depot, who shares space with Gavrich and a herd of goats that help keep the railyard surrounding their Cargo Way office weed-free, say the military solution is long-haul diesel trucks. But, he observes, the waste could be moved at far less cost (and less environmental impact) if it went by train.

Saul Bloom, executive director of Arc Ecology, a nonprofit that specializes in tracking military base reuse and cleanup operations, would also like to see the landfill removed, even though he’s not sure about the trucks vs. train options.

"We don’t have confidence about having a dump on San Francisco Bay," Bloom said. "I’m concerned about the relationship between budgetary dollars and remediation of the site. I’m concerned that the community’s voice, which is saying they’d like to see the landfill removed, is not being heard."

Mark Ripperda of EPA’s Region 9 told us that community acceptance is important, but a remedy must also be evaluated using nine specific criteria.

"A remedy must first meet the threshold criteria," Ripperda said. "If it passes the threshold test, then it is evaluated against the primary balancing criteria and finally the modifying criteria are applied."

Noting that he has not received any communication from either the Assembly Members or the Mayor’s Office concerning the Parcel E-2 cleanup, Ripperda said that "the evaluation of alternatives considered rail, barge, and truck transport, with rail being the most favorable transportation mode for the complete excavation alternative. However, the waste would still be transported and disposed into a landfill somewhere else and the alternatives must be evaluated under all nine criteria."

Ripperda said it’s feasible to remove the worst stuff — the "hot spots" — and cap the rest. "A cap will eliminate pathways for exposure and can be designed to withstand seismic events," he told us. "The landfill has been in place for decades and the groundwater data shows little leaching of contaminants."

Meanwhile Newsom has tried to redirect the problem to Ammiano, Ma, and Yee, saying he seeks their "active support in directing even more state and federal funds" toward cleaning up the shipyard. He made clear he wants to move the redevelopment project forward — now.

Sen. Mark Leno is carrying legislation that includes a state land swap vital to the city’s plans to allow Lennar Corp. to build housing and commercial space on the site.

But while Cohen claims the aim of the land trade is to "build another Crissy Field," some environmentalists worry it will bifurcate the southeast sector’s only major open space. They also suspect that was the reason Leno didn’t sign Ammiano’s April 1 letter.

Leno says that omission occurred because Sacramento-based lobbyist Bob Jiroux, who Leno claims drafted the letter, never asked Leno to sign. (Jiroux refused to comment.)

Claiming he would have signed Ammiano’s letter given the chance, Leno described Jiroux as a "good Democrat" who used to work for Sen. John Burton, but now works for Lang, Hansen, O’Malley, and Miller, a Republican-leaning lobbying firm in Sacramento whose clients include Energy Solutions, a Utah-based low-level nuclear waste disposal facility that stands to profit if San Francisco excavates Parcel E-2.

Ammiano dismisses the ensuing furor over Energy Solutions as a "tempest in a teapot.

"I signed that letter to Newsom because of the truth that it contains," Ammiano said. "Sure, there’s crazy stuff going on. But within the insanity, there’s a progressive message: the community wants radiological contaminants removed from the shipyard."

Got to be ‘Real’


TV ADDICTION If you can ignore the resulting three-ring circus of gossip — Countess LuAnn de Lesseps breaks up with her no-account cheating Count! Kelly Bensimon arrested for boyfriend beating! Alex McCord nude! — swirling off this Real Housewives of Orange County spinoff, The Real Housewives of New York City gets my vote as the most consistently toothsome entry into the Real Housewives franchise. Now approaching its May 5 season finale, the reality TV series reads as an uptown-downmarket update of Edith Wharton, albeit brand-crazed (designers, of course, get considerable love, but these enterprising housewives are also busy building their own brands) and considerably less tragic (unless you count the McCord couple’s over-the-top ensembles).

And thanks to some brilliant editing, Jane Austen would have had a hearty, tea-steeped chortle over the Brooklyn Bridge-wide disjunctions between these housewives’ socialite pretensions and more rough-and-tumble actions. It’s tough to beat last season’s climactic clash between crazy-eyed Ramona Singer and the comically striving McCords when Alex violated a girls-party theme dinner by bringing her attached-at-the-hip spouse Simon, coupled with a conversation lightly spinning around the idea, "What is class?"

Yet, in line with Austen, class — both in terms of proper behavior and the various social gradations on view — continues to be in session as this season’s recurring leitmotif. Attempts at behavioral instruction often wonderfully backfire: from the instance when the Countess told guests at a tribute-benefit for her and her husband to essentially shut up, to the episode in which ex-Elle Accessories editor Bensimon ditzily dresses down Bethenny Frankel, a meet-up that succeeds in making Bensimon look not only insanely stupid but horrendously snobby. Hypocrisy among the cognoscenti, who seem generally non-cognizant, persistently rears its dual heads.

Ready to call it all out is Frankel, the outsider chef busily establishing her "Skinny Girl’s Martini" and other business ventures, and the odd woman out since she isn’t and has never been an actual wife, let alone kept up a sprawling house. She functions as the closest thing to an Austenian heroine here. Salty, highly entertaining wisecracks roll off her hardened single-girl shell in rapid succession ("Think of my vagina as a vase — and if you’ve had sex with me it’s time to send flowers.") As much as I appreciate the yenta feistiness of Jill Zarin or the American-Indian-girl-strikes-it-rich forthrightness of de Lesseps, I identify most with the non-wife who’s attempting to keep it really real — especially during a season centered on charity events in the context of a slimly acknowledged recession, amid deeds that seem to have as much to do with building social capital as raising vanishing funds.


Arnold’s big hoax


The choice facing California voters May 19 is, to put it mildly, unpleasant. The budget deal hammered out by the governor and legislative leaders — which these six ballot measures will confirm and implement — at least kept the state solvent and prevented a financial catastrophe. But the solution is just terrible, and will lock the state into a budgetary nightmare for years to come.

State Sen. Mark Leno, who supports the deal, makes no attempt to soft-peddle what went on here. It was, he told us, the result of "extortion." Because California has an arcane and counterproductive rule mandating that any state budget and any tax increases must be approved by two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature, and because Republicans control just enough votes to block any budget, and because those Republicans have all signed a written promise never to raise taxes under any circumstances, and because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t get the GOP to go along with his compromises and is unwilling to accept Democratic proposals that might escape the onerous supermajority, budget stalemate in tough times is almost guaranteed. And in this case, because the state was running out of cash and hundreds of thousands of people were about to be put out of work as state-funded projects shut down, the Democrats were forced to accept a compromise none of them like.

A small number of Republicans insisted on vast changes in the way California does business — and because the Democrats saw no other options, the GOP faction got much of what it wanted. The result: the Democratic Party leadership is campaigning for a series of measures that reflect, to a significant extent, a Republican view of how the state should be run.

The opposition to the package comes from the far right (which is upset because the budget deal includes some new taxes, albeit regressive ones) and, increasingly, progressives, who argue that the measures will make it harder for the state to meet the needs of a growing (and aging) population.

We’ve listened to both sides, researched the measures in depth, and concluded that the best choice for Californians is to reject Propositions 1A through 1F. The proposal may address (most of) this year’s budget woes and keep the state running for a while, but it will create a fiscal straightjacket on the order of Proposition 13 that will damage California and undermine any progressive policy hopes for many, many years into the future. If the voters accept this deal today, they’ll come to regret it.

Proposition 1A doesn’t quite reach the Republican holy grail — a cap on annual government spending — but it goes a long way in that direction. The measure would require the state to make annual contributions to a budget reserve fund until the reserve reaches 12.5 percent of general fund revenue. The state would have to set aside reserve money every year, even in very bad years. If next year’s budget deficit is as bad as this one, Prop. 1A would make it worse. It restricts the use of "unanticipated revenues" — meaning the state can’t spend money it might have in very good years. There’s a really complicated formula for when the state can dip into the reserve, and how it can be used, but the California Budget Project, the respected policy watchdog group, points out that the measure amounts to a cap in spending, one that won’t keep pace with California’s needs.

"Prop. 1A would not address California’s existing structural shortfall — the gap between revenues and expenditures — that exists in all but the best budget years," CBP notes. "By basing the new cap on a level of revenues that is insufficient to pay for the current level of programs and services, Prop. 1A would limit the state’s ability to restore reductions made during the current downturn out of existing revenues."

The guidelines for future spending don’t take into account the increased demand for public services California will face in the next few years. The population will increase by 29.4 percent over the 2000 level by 2020, state officials project, but the number of people 65 and older will increase by 75 percent. That will put a huge new demand on state services — and if Prop. 1A passes, the budget won’t be able to expand to meet those needs.

The budget compromise included some temporary tax increases. The sales tax is slated to go up by one cent on the dollar, the vehicle license fee will rise slightly, and there’s an across-the-board increase in income taxes. Sales taxes are the most regressive way to raise revenue, and the income tax hikes hit the rich and the middle class evenly — hardly a fair or progressive plan.

But that money is needed to close the horrendous budget gap, and the propositions are designed to make it hard for progressives to say no. If Prop. 1A and Prop. 1B go down, the taxes expire after two years. If those measures pass, the taxes continue until 2012.

Prop. 1B is part of a deal that the governor cut with the California Teachers Association, the largest union of educators in the state. It shifts some more money to the public schools to make up for what was cut this year and last. It’s a complicated formula, but in effect it probably does nothing more than what Prop. 98 — the state’s mandate to fund education — already requires. The problem is that the governor and the school districts disagree on what Prop. 98 says, and without 1B, it’s unlikely that money will be forthcoming. The money California’s public schools get under 1B is still woefully inadequate; and again, this does nothing to address the structural problems.

Prop. 1C allows the state to borrow $5 billion from future lottery revenues to help balance the current budget. Of course, that money won’t be available in future years — unless, as 1C suggests, the lottery can find ways to sell more tickets. The idea here: increase lottery revenue through better marketing, thus taking more money from poor people (the lottery is an overwhelmingly regressive source of income).

Prop 1D’s title, "Protects children’s services funding," is a complete lie. Instead it redirects money earmarked for early childhood programs into the general fund, essentially de-funding some of the most effective and inexpensive programs California offers. Prop. 1E is a similar deal — it temporarily suspends the program that funds mental health services with a tax on the very rich, and puts that money into the general fund instead.

Prop. F is just stupid — it prevents lawmakers and the governor from receiving pay increases when there’s a budget deficit. That’s not going to change anything in Sacramento.

We’re acutely aware of the risks inherent in voting down this intricately orchestrated budget compromise. In effect, the Legislature, which has been paralyzed by the two-thirds rule, will have to go back and try again. The governor, who is ineffective at best and a severe roadblock at worst, will be little help. And the anti-tax forces will claim that the voters have vindicated their position.

But let’s look at reality. The tax increases will be in effect for the next two years anyway. The state’s budget position has worsened in the past month, so the Legislature will have to figure out how to deal with an $8 billion additional shortfall no matter what happens.

And in the fall of 2010, state voters will almost certainly have a chance to repeal the two-thirds budget rule — and have a good chance to elect a Democratic governor.

California needs major, structural budget reform. If we thought this were just a temporary painful deal that would postpone the worst of the state’s problems until Schwarzenegger and the GOP obstructionists were gone, we’d be tempted to support the package. But these measures lock the state into an unacceptable budget situation forever.

Vote no on 1A–1F.

In bloom



Next time you plop in front of the TV because you’re just too tired for anything else, remember the sociologists who tell us that the country is aging, and that we should plan for it. Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and dancer-choreographer Anna Halprin may not be your average "senior" couple, but we could do worse than to admire the most recent gift this long-lasting personal and professional relationship has given the Bay Area. At the very least, it should get us off the couch.

Lawrence Halprin is 92; Anna Halprin is 88. They have been married for 68 years. Both are still working. Their latest project is Spirit of Place, which Anna calls "something I wanted to do for Larry." Produced by Dancers’ Group as part of National Dance Week, Spirit is an installation piece inspired by Larry’s redesign of Stern Grove’s amphitheater in San Francisco’s fog belt. Reopened in 2006, it was built with massive blocks of granite — both honed and rough — imported from China. What used to look like a slightly disheveled excuse for a picnic area now exudes a sense of neolithic grandeur that is finely in tune with the columns of eucalyptus and redwood trees that stretch toward the light. It even includes a pyramid of boulders that accentuate vertical space. Larry wanted Stern Grove to become not just a venue for concerts, but a place for quiet meditation where, as Anna explains, "people can find themselves."

But Anna felt that the human body, in addition to the human spirit, needed to make its imprint on the park. She calls Stern Grove "the most secret place" in San Francisco; though it attracts thousands for its concerts, she finds it "magical" during the week when "neighborhood people walk their dogs, a man tries to exercise his belly off, and lovers make out." To honor this treasure, she wanted to bring the internal and external and private and public worlds together.

As in many of her previous projects, Halprin worked with like-minded people who "could make their own prayer." A call went out for volunteers from which she assembled a group of 60 participants: professional dancers, community people, students, and members of the long-running Sea Ranch Collective. Since Stern Grove does not allow amplification, the use of music would be limited. "It doesn’t matter," she explains. "We’ll make our own sounds."

She also asked local dancers/choreographers Shinichi Iova-Koga and his wife Dana to take an active part in the process because "I like what they are doing." Also, she continued, referring playfully to her age, "you never know what can happen, so I wanted to be sure that the work will not be put in jeopardy." Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man — a drawing that encases a human figure inside a circle and a square — served as Spirit‘s basic blueprint. "But I don’t want people to look only at the ‘dance,’" she insists. "I want them to see the whole picture — the flying bird, the laughing child — because all of life is a dance."


Sun/3, 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., free

Stern Grove, 19th Ave. at Sloat, SF


Zazang Korean Noodle



The words "Korean" and "barbecue" might never be woven into an eternal golden braid to compare with Gödel, Escher, and Bach, but they are definitely interwoven, perhaps even fused. When you say you want Korean food, you almost certainly will be understood to mean the kind served at the barbecue joints that line Geary Boulevard in the blocks just east of Park Presidio. These meals begin with a bounty of small dishes — pickled vegetables, bean sprouts, and so forth — before culminating in some kind of meat course in which you do your own grilling on the hibachi in the middle of your table.

There’s nothing wrong with this drill, but if you’re looking for something different yet still want Korean — and don’t want to go upmarket at Namu — what do you do? Why, you go to Za Zang Korean Noodle, of course, which, despite a name that sounds like one of the sounds written out on the old Batman television series when the bad guys were getting it (like biff! bam! boom! and pow!), is a nifty Korean noodle house on an almost invisible stretch of Geary between Divisadero and the Masonic underpass.

Yellow (almost gold!) is a theme here. The restaurant inside is largely done in tones of this cheerful color, and the pickled radishes on their complimentary plate are as pure an example of the hue as I’ve seen outside a box of Crayola crayons. They are like slices of the summer sun as depicted in a grade-school child’s drawing. They’re also mild — though tasty — and in this sense are something of a rarity on a menu otherwise laden with spice-charged possibilities. Perhaps their lone companion in mild-manneredness is the platter of boiled potstickers ($7.55 for a dozen); the cloud-shaped flour pouches have a softness I associate with shumai or other dim sum and are filled with gingery minced pork and chopped scallions. (You can also get them deep-fried, which brings a vegetarian option and a choice of headcounts, either four or eight.)

The noodle courses are, first, big. Just immense, easily enough for two people even if they’re hungry. The noodles themselves are housemade and resemble fresh spaghetti. They turn up in both the soupy dishes (zam pong, udon) and the un-soupy ones. In the second category, I found the spicy gan za zang ($8.95) to be unusually satisfying: a hemispherical bowl the size of a halved canteloupe, filled with noodles and slivered scallions, and a second bowl, smaller and shallower, filled with diced beef and vegetable (mostly eggplant, I guessed) in a thick black-bean, or za zang, sauce. (Hence the restaurant’s name.) Our server’s somewhat garbled advice, as I understood it, was to spoon the beef mixture gradually over the noodles. I did so and was happy, although I also took the occasional spoonful of the beef sauce neat and was just as happy with its dark, slightly fruity heat.

Black-bean paste figures in many of the non-soups, with the main variable being protein: seafood and pork are also offered, there is a flesh-free version, and the beef can be had in non-spicy guise. The wonderful noodles, meanwhile, figure in soups and non-soups alike. And vegetarians will note that all the soups are made with beef broth. This is bad for vegetarianism but good for flavor.

You are unlikely ever to find a more flavorful soup than zam pong ($7.95), which is like a bouillabaisse, only much, much livelier. The beef broth is charged with garlic and red chilis and is absolutely swimming with calamari tentacles, clams, shrimp (still dressed in their shells, making them tastier but a drag to eat), and slivers of onions and green bell peppers. Rice instead of noodles? That’s zam pong bap ($8.95). Udon, the other soup offering, is Japanese in origin and is neither spicy nor available with rice.

The cars hurtling along Geary are terrifying, like jets speeding down a runway en route to the great beyond, but in the slipstream of all that traffic, one can find surprisingly easy parking. The restaurant’s human traffic, meantime, is of the cheerful neighborhood sort: families, young couples, take-out loiterers, perhaps an oddball wearing a woolen beanie even on an eerily warm evening. At dinnertime I would skip the tall glass of complimentary warm tea the server brings. Too tall, too hot, too stimuutf8g — or, as John Madden used to say, boom!


Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

2340 Geary, SF

(415) 447-0655

Beer and wine


Noisy, but not too

Wheelchair accessible

Appetite: Swine fever, Alaskan obsession, Whiskey Wednesdays, Dungeness fritters, and more



As long-time San Francisco resident and writer, I’m passionate about this city and obsessed with exploring its best food-and-drink spots (in all categories), events, and news, in every neighborhood and cuisine type. I have my own personalized itinerary service and monthly food/drink/travel newsletter, The Perfect Spot, and am thrilled to share up-to-the minute news with you from the endless goings-on in our fair city.



RN74 rolls in on French wheels
Start making reservations now for Michael Mina’s latest — and most affordable? — SF restaurant at the base of the Millennium Tower. RN74is named after Route National 74, which passes through Burgundy, with the focus on, you guessed it: Burgundian pleasures in wine and food. Wine director, Raj Parr, oversees the 80-page, 3000 bottles, 50 by-the-glass wine list (so you know there’ll be many a fine choice), and Chef Jason Berthold, of none other than the French Laundry, prepares an exquisite, reasonably priced ($9-17!) menu with the likes of Smoked Sturgeon Rillettes, Crispy Duck Wings, Pea Tendril Veloute, Chilled Salad of Japanese Big Fin Squid, and Herb-Roasted Lamb Loin. Just opened on Friday for lunch and dinner, it’s the new, downtown impress a date or colleague dining destination.
301 Mission Street (in the Millennium Tower)

Gourmet sandwiches from random sources continues with Pal’s Take Away
Pal’s is located inside a dodgy corner market, Tony’s, at 24th and Hampshire, with sweet, friendly Jeff and David behind the counter making some kick-ass sandwiches and salads, diving into the ever-growing crowd of gourmet food coming from carts, out of garages (Kitchenette) and whatnot. Just opened last Tuesday, Pal’s changing menu includes a banh mi that’s becoming a runaway hit in the first week already: tender, pink/brown beef accented with jalapeno, carrot, onion on a crunchy ACME roll. Vegetarians aren’t left out with options like Full Belly asparagus tossed w/ Meyer lemon and Reggianno, topped with a Riverdog soft-cooked ranch egg on Acme whole wheat bread. Bet you never got that from a corner liquor/grocery store before.
2751 24th Street



Monday, April 27 – Meatpaper Mag’s Pig Party at Camino in Oakland

We haven’t tired of pig yet… I crave it most days. Meatpaper, food lover’s choice for all things meat, celebrates the launch of Issue Seven: the Pig Issue. Oakland’s Camino is the site of the party with their own Russell Moore, among other great pig chefs, like Ryan Farr and Taylor Boetticher, preparing fresh sausages, roast pork, pig tails, chicharrones, charcuterie, even gourmet corn dogs, plus vegetarian delights for the non-pig eater. Sponsors from Prather Ranch to Trumer Pils get in on the action. Sip cocktails, wine and beer while surveying whole-animal butchery demos from the experts. More details here: www.meatpaper.com/mailings/090413/index.html.
6-9pm, $35
3917 Grand Avenue, Oakland
NO tickets sold at the door so buy in advance:

Sunday, May 3 – Pig-Out Party at Coffee Bar… with screening of Porky’s
Coffee Bar and Ryan Farr’s 4505 Meats host a Pig-Out party to rival all pig parties (have you had enough of the pig yet?) This is one is unique… Mr. Farr gives a butcher demo with salty snacks (including his ever-popular chicharones), while Speakeasy “Big Daddy IPA” and Balletto Winery Pinot flow. 6pm means it’s supper time with a buffet of meats (duh), charred carrots, potato and leek salad, greens and veggies, and the pièce de résistance: Red Waddle Heritage Pig Roasted on a grill and rotisserie. Dessert has to have pig in it, too: bacon, peanut butter chocolate brownies. Being at Coffee Bar means its fabulous coffee and espresso will flow with music from DJ Denizen until movie time. Yes, the whole shebang ends with a wall projection of none other than Porky’s. Need I say more?
3pm – butcher demo, beer, snacks; 6pm Dinner, $35
RSVP: pigoutcoffeebar@gmail.com
Coffee Bar, 1890 Bryant, SF.

Through May 3 – Special Alaskan tasting menu at Pacific Catch
You don’t see Alaskan tasting menus too often. In fact, I’m hard pressed to remember ever seeing one. Which is why Pacific Catch’s menu this week intrigued. Exec Chef, Chandon Clenard, pays homage to North Pacific seafood in his series of tasting menus, available at the 9th and Irving and Marin (Corte Madera) locations. With “The Last Frontier” menu, there’s a choice of Alaskan King Crab soup or Alaskan halibut skewers to start. Main course is Hickory-smoked salmon with baby bok choy and black rice, and dessert is, what else? Baked Alaska with blackberry ice cream and spiked berries.
$26.95 for three courses
1200 9th Avenue



Whiskey Wednesdays at Fifth Floor
They had me at “whiskey”. Head to the classy, but-not-stuffy Fifth Floor Lounge, upstairs in the Hotel Palomar for Whiskey Wednesdays. The whiskey flights (purely for educational purposes, of course) change weekly with three whiskeys from around the world. Yes, this includes our country’s own beloved bourbons and ryes, along with the scotches, et. al. There’s even "flask service", so bring your flask to fill up. Cocktails for those who don’t want it straight will feature the base ingredient and go for $7. Might as well order Chef Laurent Manrique’s mother’s recipe of duck cassoulet ($12) to go with the brown stuff, which he serves special for Wednesdays.
12 4th Street

ACME Chophouse Happy Hour
There’s lots of activity at AT&T Park lately since baseball season began and many surrounding restaurants and bars are offering special happy hours. ACME is about as convenient as it gets being downstairs from the ballpark, but they’re hoping to give you a reason to come out on non-game days, too. $3 draft beers, $4 wines by the glass or $10 for a half-bottle sounds good enough, but there’s also $5 apps from Iron Chef/James Beard award-winning chef, Traci Des Jardin, like smoky chicken wings, Dungeness fritters or baby-back ribs.
Tuesday-Friday on non-home game days, 4:30-6:30pm
24 Willie Mays Plaza

Pretzeled logic



Ever since Michael Moore first attempted to meld Woody Allen and Ralph Nader, and Morgan Spurlock made himself the genially comic-lite host of an experiment in culinary consumerism, more and more documentarians have been tempted to star in their own movies. This is dangerous terrain, given that whenever one introduces the Element of Me into examination of a larger issue, Me tends to hog the spotlight. Even in certain films where the filmmaker’s own scarring formative experiences with mental illness (2003’s Tarnation) and so forth are the subject, there are often worrying overtones of narcissism, selectivity, and pursued melodrama. When documentarians are their own casting couch, what often really gets fucked is the unalloyed truth.

On the surface, Kate Churchill’s Enlighten Up! appears to squirrel around that trap. After all, she found a stand-in to occupy the center stage one senses an itchiness to claim for herself. He’s new to the film’s milieu and theme, so its narrative can become his process of discovering what she apparently already knows and would like to share. Meet Nick Rosen, an athletic, attractive New Yorker. A sometime investigative journalist on ambiguous leave from that or any other employment, he has the time and willingness to find out how "yoga can transform anyone physically and spiritually."

Trouble is, Churchill insists that he "transform" — and Rosen resists. Or rather, he just doesn’t "get it," doing pretty damn well by the asanas (poses) yet admitting early on that "spiritual awakening is a concept I cannot even relate to." He’d rather check out the dateable hot chicks nearly every class is packed with — and when he demands one off-camera night after months of celibacy for cinema’s sake, Churchill seems more pissed off than is seemly. (She doesn’t speak to him for two days.)

This is the stuff of Seinfeld-ish comedy. She seeks higher consciousness! He, pressure application to lower parts! But Churchill is fundamentally humorless — you can tell by the way she inserts "humor" with cutesy sound-effects. Her frustration at Rosen’s inability to "progress" as expected feels hypocritical because she doesn’t reveal the intricacies of her own progress. "The purest, most peaceful moments of my life have happened on my yoga mat" she notes. But just what it’s done for her — or why she needed it to — is left unaddressed. She finally vents, "I’m really sick of yoga," allowing that the project began with the hope that if she could "make someone else change, then maybe I would too." A provocative admission. Which is then dropped like a hot potato.

Of course pragmatist Rosen sorta flunks his yoga journey, fine-tuning his torso while remaining averse to "charismatic personalities" and "supernatural ideas." How could he not, when Churchill shops him through a bewildering catch-all array of disciplines, faiths, and techniques variably yoga-esque: Ishta, Bikram, Kundalini, contortionism, numerology, even "laughing therapy." Class instructors, students, and gurus offer evaluations both contradictory and redundant; the filmmaker seldom lets them get more than a sound bite in. Briefly she seems about to address the ethics of commercialization in a 5,000-year-old tradition turned multibillion dollar industry, then kinda forgets to. (See 2006’s superior doc Yoga, Inc.)

Finally, struggling to put a happy spin on a process that didn’t go as planned but that she won’t admit was really about herself all along, Churchill exhales "Nick was right — yoga has no simple definition, and that’s the beauty of it!" This is one tricky pose to sustain, the Self-Canceling Handstand with Delusional Lotus Smile. Perhaps the real lesson to be learned from Enlighten Up! is that if you’re making someone else walk the plank — er, spiritual path — at swordpoint, your own consciousness is the one that really needs lifting. *

ENLIGHTEN UP! is now playing in Bay Area theaters.

Tango No. 9


PREVIEW Entertain whatever stereotypes you will about tango as a relic of an openly macho era: tango in San Francisco is alive. Okay, and kicking.

You might envision a wacky, tacky ballroom competition — but not so rapido says Tango No. 9’s founder and violinist Catharine Clune, whose explorations over the last decade have unearthed what she calls "the many faces of tango." With trombonist Greg Stephens, pianist Joshua Raoul Brody, accordionist Isabel Douglass, and newest member Zoltan Lundy singing the Argentine blues, Tango No. 9 revels in tango’s many approaches to music, to dancing, and to life. And it’s not alone. "There’s an underground squadron of tango dancers, ranging from their 20s to their 60s," Clune says. "You can dance tango every night in the Bay Area. It’s in these crazy little back rooms you didn’t know existed, and that’s where we’ve practiced our chops." As social dancing, which she notes hasn’t been a mainstream American cultural movement since the ’50s, tango is "something people seem to want."

Professional dancers will be on hand at Noe Valley Ministry to perform the sultry moves, but if you only ogle los bailarines, you’ll miss half the fun, or half the pain. "If you can lose anything, from a horse race to a heart, they talk about it," Clune says of the moving and theatrical side of tango’s songs — for listening, not just getting down at the local milonga. In a set that traverses the genre, from its roots to the obscure late works of Astor Piazzola, the group performs the first "sentimental" tango, Carlos Gardel’s inspirational rendition of Pascual Contursi and Samuel Castriota’s "Mi Noche Triste," which set fire to an international phenomenon mourning lost love and tragedy. Like, Lundy says, "being left by a woman who was also your prostitute."

TANGO NO. 9 Sat/2, 8:15 p.m., $16-$18. Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez, SF. (415) 282-2317. www.tangonumber9.com

American Violet


REVIEW Lawyer movies can be really entertaining. Tim Disney’s American Violet certainly is. I was sucked in from minute one. Based on true events, it’s the story of Dee Roberts (an awesome performance by Nicole Beharie), a single mother with four little girls living in the projects of a small Texas town. In these particular projects, there are frequent drug raids. The law states that a single informant’s testimony justifies an indictment — and Dee is wrongfully accused. ACLU lawyer David Cohen (a brilliant Tim Blake Nelson), believes Dee’s community is being harassed because residents are black, although the theory is very difficult to prove. The district attorney Calvin Beckett (a sadistic Michael O’Keefe) is tough, and he likes plea bargains. David, Dee, and do-the-right-thing local lawyer Sam Conroy (the great Will Patton) challenge Beckett. American Violet is not only an interesting story, it’s based on a true one. You can’t help rooting for Dee and hoping that justice will prevail.

AMERICAN VIOLET opens Fri/1 in Bay Area theaters.

Thee Oh Sees, Mayyors, Nodzzz


PREVIEW "Less is more" sucks; "more is more" rules. Maybe that’s just the indulgent kid in me talking, but it hasn’t stopped me from incessantly barking my musical wet dream over a bullhorn to anyone with ears: more fuzz, grit, and grime; more sweat; more eyeballs rolling back into heads; more microphones in mouths. Then one day, Christmas came early. Hark! The herald angels sing. Someone heard these ardent desires and delivered to me a glittering layer cake of wondrous noise — a megabill starring garage kingpins Thee Oh Sees, incognito feedback wizards Mayyors, and lo-fi clamor popsters Nodzzz.

This Bay Area-baked rock ‘n’ roll show might reduce any holier-than-thou longhair into a hapless fanboy or girl — while still maintaining that hip exterior, of course. But that’s okay. You’ll get over pretending you’re cool, because you’ll soon be quoting the wise words of Britney Spears, yelling "Gimme gimme more" in reflex to the spectacle of visceral, adrenochrome-addled power. Like when Mayyors’ caged-animal vocalist John Pritchard lets loose his devilish yawps; or when ax-wielder Chris Woodhouse’s dirty, torrential licks get ghoulish; or when Oh Sees’ guitarist Petey Dammit hones in on a laser-cut groove and won’t let go; or when the Nodzzz boys brazenly wail "Is she there? Is she there?" over swooning, sun-lit strums; or when, or when, or when….

More is more: when it rains it pours.

THEE OH SEES, MAYYORS, NODZZZ With Sunny and the Sunsets. Wed/29, 8 p.m., $5. El Rincon, 2700 16th Street, SF. (415) 437-9240. www.elrinconsf.com>.

Paul Taylor Dance Company


PREVIEW Let’s send a libation or some other such thing in the direction of Terpsichore — the muse of dance — because Paul Taylor Dance Company is back. For five consecutive years, we’ve had an opportunity to gain a perspective on Taylor’s 50-plus years of dance-making. Then the money ran out. Thankfully San Francisco Performances found a way to have these remarkable dancers return with another set of three different Taylor programs. The earliest, the very dark Scudorama, which was thought to be lost, dates back to 1963. The most recent, Beloved Renegade, inspired by Walt Whitman and Francis Poulenc, premiered in February of this year. Taylor is sometimes considered old-fashioned because early in his career he abandoned self-conscious formal experimentations in favor of honing his pieces — the way a jeweler does when he polishes a diamond in order to bring out its many facets. In Taylor inspiration is wedded to musicality and craft. He also happens to be a sardonic observer of our foibles and vices. And when he strikes — hypocrisy is a favorite topic — he cuts to the bone. Few choreographers have made work which can be so joyously celebratory in one piece — both Esplanade (1975) and Arden Court (1981) are in the line-up — and so mordantly corrosive in the next that it leaves you shivering.

PAUL TAYLOR DANCE COMPANY Wed/29-Sat/2, 8 p.m.; Sun/3, 2 p.m., $32-$49. Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard, SF. (415) 392-2545, www. performances.org

“Dean Smith: thought forms 2003-2009” and “Dean Byington”


REVIEW Call it the tumbling dice effect: dice keep appearing within Bay Area art this spring. First there was the gigantic 16-sided polygon by Brian Wasson at Ping Pong Gallery — a prediction device freed from its Magic Eight ball. Now viewers can roll with enigmas of a dice-centered video installation that is the most intriguing facet of Kent and Kevin Young’s "Jury Breaks DNA Deadlock" exhibition at Steven Wolf Gallery. They can also stare deep into a large-scale C-print of a many-sided die that doubles as a calendar in Matt Keegan’s show at Altman-Siegel Gallery, "Postcards & Calendars." Yet the best invocation of chance and rolling dice takes place just out of sight — or does it? — in a knockout piece within Dean Smith’s "thought forms 2003-2009" at Gallery Paule Anglim. Smith’s 2005 colored-pencil drawing thought form #11, from 2005, was generated by repeatedly rolling a tetrahedron. Smith’s process renders an object — a meta-die — that is both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, and that ultimately collapses or blooms free from dimensionality. The piece’s shades of blue make this state of play a flirtation with the sublime.

The dice games mentioned above are something different from the clichéd forest animals and color-theory rainbows that invaded Bay Area art during stretches of the last decade, or the skulls that took over Artforum in the wake of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007) and Don Ed Hardy’s mass-production of tattoo imagery — they aren’t trendy gestures so much as chance manifestations. Smith’s thought form #11 is one expression within a multiyear project that yields ever-changing graphite on paper works and video. The pieces at Paule Anglim span from 2003 to 2008 and evoke everything from space ships or outer space community outposts to totems and medieval devices, while never remaining stuck in specificity. They’re well-paired with a one-room, four-piece show by Dean Byington, whose oil-on-linen extensions of collage are a Beatrix Potter-meets-Brueghel-in-paradise hallucinatory delight. "Oh my god, this is all diamonds!" a young girl exclaimed upon looking closely at one of Byington’s works, which seem like minimalist experiments with color from a distance. Step in closer and you’ll discover endless mountains, forests, and quarries; caves with cute yet unsettlingly prison-like windows carved into their sides; stacks of stalagmites; and greenhouses that resemble giant Cartier eggs. Oh, and the occasional strange half-fox half-rodent. Be sure to say hi.

DEAN SMITH: THOUGHT FORMS 2003-09 and DEAN BYINGTON Through Sat/2. Wed-Fri, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Gallery Paule Anglim, 14 Geary, SF. (415) 433-2710. www.gallerypauleanglim.com

Pitting poor against poor


OPINION In 2004, California voters passed Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), to fund the expansion of community-based mental health services. MHSA is funded through a 1 percent tax on the portion of a taxpayer’s income in excess of $1 million. It was a form of uniquely appropriate progressive taxation, making the rich pay for all the ways they test our sanity, made especially acute today in the wake of foreclosures and job losses.

Today, Gov. Schwarzenegger is leading a bipartisan assault on Prop. 63, which funds an array of needed services in California and San Francisco. By placing Proposition 1E on the May ballot, the governor is asking voters to divert MHSA money to pay for the budget deficit. This maneuver ignores the fact that California is a safer, saner place because of the act — 200,000 people are now enrolled in mental health services who were not in 2004.

The proposition pits the poor against the poor, making mental health consumers pay the price for the budget deadlock in Sacramento. Mental health services are designed to improve the lives of communities by minimizing the potential for homelessness and hospitalization. Prop. 1E, pitched as a two-year measure, leaves effective programs in the lurch, threatening resources in every neighborhood.

MHSA funds programs for youth and families affected by street and gang violence, queer youth showing early signs of mental health issues, and residents in supportive housing. One of its key accomplishments has been the expansion of resources designed to reach consumers in culturally appropriate ways, with an open process, allowing communities to design solutions to their own problems.

"After Prop. 63 was passed, people with untreated mental health needs saw a glimmer of hope," remarked James Keyes, who serves as a member of the San Francisco Mental Health Board. "In San Francisco alone, we were able to do workforce training, prevention, and housing retention among people with mental health concerns. These innovative programs might not be with us if Prop. 1E passes."

For whatever short-term savings Prop. 1E might provide, the long-term consequences are disastrous. The costs of untreated mental illnesses affect our public health system. Those who never get care, or who lose care, will likely find their jobs, housing, and relationships in peril, and will rely on the remaining (and much more expensive) threads of the social safety net.

Vote No on 1E and send a message to the state government that long-term budget solutions start with Prop. 63’s logic — progressive taxation on those with the most ability to pay. Letting the governor and the legislature cut essential survival services to balance the budget sets a horrible precedent. If voters let them get away with it, they will surely target poor people every time the budget is deadlocked. *

James Tracy works with Community Housing Partnership.

Editor’s Notes



Gray Davis was a pretty poor governor. He ran as a moderate who could manage the state, but utterly failed to deal with the energy crisis of 2000-01, leaving rolling blackouts and skyrocketing electricity bills as his legacy. He cost the state billions. He presided over a legislative budget stalemate. He was a captive of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. He gave the Democratic Party a bad name.

And for all that, nothing he did was close to what his replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Republicans in Sacramento are doing today.

Under Gov. Davis, California reduced the size of public school classes, mandating that K-4 teachers have no more than 20 students. That has made a huge difference in the classrooms, and the results show it. But it’s going to be almost impossible for most school districts to stick to that target now, because the schools are getting huge budget cuts.

So are all the other state services, and aid to counties, which means more layoffs and cuts at the local level. And still, the state is $8 billion more in the hole.

Democrats in the Legislature have tried everything they could think of. They negotiated with the Republicans, who have a veto over the budget because of the crazy two-thirds rule. They came up with a plan that fit what Schwarzenegger had been asking for, and he still refused to accept it. And now the Democratic leadership is forced to try to sell a series of state propositions that nobody likes, that will put California in worst financial straights, and that will have as bad a long-term impact on the state as Proposition 13.

Propositions 1A-1F are a terrible deal, the result of GOP blackmail and extortion — and they won’t even solve the problem. This governor is going to leave the state in the worse shape it’s been since the Great Depression. Almost makes you long for the days of Gray Davis.

In 1967, at the height of the antiwar movement, when American cities were in political chaos, a young tenant organizer named John Ross ran for San Francisco supervisor as a radical out of the Mission advocating rent control and an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, among other things. But one of his opponents discovered that Ross was a convicted felon who served two years and six months in federal prison for refusing the draft, so they took his name off the ballot.

Now, 42 years later, Ross — the writer, poet, unrepentant radical, and longtime Guardian correspondent, may be getting some recognition from the city. Sup. John Avalos is going to introduce a resolution honoring Ross for his extensive literary and political contributions to San Francisco. The May 12 ceremony, at 3:30 in the Board of Supervisors chambers, will be followed by "poems under the dome" — a poetry reading at City Hall at 5:30. If you want to help out (or donate money — please) contact Diamond Dave Whitaker at 240-0286 or Avalos’ office at 554-6975. *



Who needs record labels? Do you? Yes, the music industry is in turmoil — so what’s the point of branding anymore? The Guardian checks out anonymous underground classics, military-industrial backers, trickle-up breakthroughs, warped corps, reissue revivalism, and indie’s wild, wild ride.

>>The name game
What does a record label mean in 2009? Label owners sound off
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Saved by zero
Dance music still shakes off labels and flirts with the void
By Marke B

>>Great expectations?
Indie labels ride the ups and downs of the blog buzz and bluster
By Kimberly Chun