Volume 43 Number 33
I found this on Craigslist. Please, please stop this poor girl before it’s too late! She should hear from a professional that she’d be sacrificing nerve endings to a bunch of dickweeds who are suckers for media standards. And they won’t even like her more. God help us.
advice please re labia w4m
so im hearing mixed reviews from guys about a female’s labia. do guys prefer the labia minora to be big or small? because tons of my friends are seeking to have them made smaller (like by a lot) so they look like playboy types etc. is that what guys want? what turns men on? and why? any advice on what to do here for me??
‘Nuff said. Thank you.
A Concerned Citizen
Oh, okay. Maybe she’ll see this and maybe she won’t, but obviously this is a thing, or a Thing, that affects a lot of young women, just as she says. "Tons" of her friends, though? I realize she’s posting from L.A., where you have to expect this sort of thing, but the image of busloads of girls she went to high school with or worked with at Hot Topic after school lining up for surgical "correction" is unsettling even me.
So, what is going on here? I’ve long assumed (this has been going on a while now) that women used to go a lifetime without seeing their own (it takes a mirror and the will to look) or anyone else’s labia in great detail unless they had chosen to be midwives or something, in which case they were busy.
Men used to see a few sets, all too different from each other to even form much of a preconceived notion of what they "ought" to look like. Hardly anybody used to view an endless parade of stunt labia, chosen or surgically altered to conform to a (sub)cultural standard. But since the 1990s or so, that is exactly what we are doing. The porn industry standard is tiny, close-to-the-body, and unusually symmetrical, and if that is what young men are seeing before they even get a peek at the real thing, I suppose it’s to be expected that some may be shocked or dismayed by reality’s asymmetry and wild diversity of form, and in some cases indignant that they did not get exactly what they were in the mood for. It works with YouTube and iPods!
At least with pubic hair (a similar issue with young men being shocked on first encounter), one can go with the fashion flow and change with it as it (inevitably) changes. The same cannot be said for surgical rearrangements.
Now, how do I feel about young women permanently altering themselves to suit male fancy? I think it might be a trick question, actually, since I’m not entirely sure that that many guys care that much. What if they do, though ought a young woman scramble to put herself through a painful, expensive, dangerous (all surgery is dangerous) procedure to please guys who probably still won’t be that into her if they’re not already? Of course not. Nothing is ever that simple, though.
Most of the Web sites put up by surgeons who do these procedures talk a great deal about painful horseback-riding or bicycling or inability to wear pants, all very real if somewhat rare complications of very long or loose labia. Then they give a little nod to being displeased with the size, period, and that’s the population we’re worrying about here. A reputable surgeon is going to accept or reject patients based not only on physical factors but emotional ones as well, especially patient expectations ("this surgery will make my labia smaller" versus "this surgery will make me stop hating myself"). And I hate to say this, Concerned Dude, but there are plenty of women (and men too, of course) whose self-esteem problems really can be cleared right up with the proper application of surgical instruments. I hate to see people who undergo surgery, itself morally neutral and a personal choice, treated like brainwashed sheeple who could not possibly have had a good enough reason to go under the knife.
As for the nerve endings, while I was appalled to see this statement There is no physiological association for sensory pleasure with the labia that function is served by the clitoris. The only sensation elicited from labia is pain upon tearing or stretching. on one of the surgeon’s sites, since it is obviously wrong and very condescending in that surgeon-y way as well, I think we have to concede that the labia are not the major, or even a major, route to sexual ecstasy for most women. A half-inch or so less here or there is not going to make much difference. Not that that’s any reason to go chopping them off, though, sheesh! L.A. Girl, don’t listen to your girlfriends. You’re fine. None of you knows enough yet about what men want, or, much more important, about what you want yourselves. Don’t change a thing!
Don’t forget to read Andrea at Carnal Nation.com.
Every Monday, Virginia Miller of personalized itinerary service and monthly food, drink, and travel newsletter, www.theperfectspotsf.com, shares foodie news, events, and deals. View the last installment here.
‘Tini time at SF Cocktail Week
May 11-18: SF Cocktail Week
SF Cocktail Week is here… In honor of SF’s truly vibrant cocktail culture and supporting the fab Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans (if you’re there, go!), the mission is "to preserve the Cultural Heritage of saloons and their cocktails in San Francisco, while also celebrating California’s Culinary Philosophy and Tradition". Sounds like a great mission to me. The third year in, this just keeps getting bigger. It’s no Tales of the Cocktail but it’s certainly a stellar line-up of parties, classes, competitions and events, taught and presented by a long list of the many of SF’s bartending greats.
A few highlights include opening (at Le Colonial) and closing (at Jardinere) parties, the US Bartenders’ Guild National Competition (all day Tuesday: 11am for SF competitors; 5pm for national finalists), CUESA’s Cane Spirits & Farmer’s Market Cocktails event is Wednesday night (their Winter Cocktails event was a blast – excellent cocktails at every turn!), there’s a historical cocktail and bar crawl with Tablehopper herself on Saturday, a Saturday class with artisanal cocktail genius,Scott Beattie, and monthly Savoy night at the one-and-only Alembic on Sunday. Thursday is Bar School, a day of classes around town, ranging from $25-45, the line-up includes Distillation 101 from Hangar One’s Lance Winters, Erik Atkins’ walk through the Gentleman’s Companion, Jeff Hollinger (Absinthe) and Neyah White (NOPA) teach you how to make your own cocktail ingredients from syrups to bitters, plus more worthy classes for the budding mixologist to take it to the next level.
All around SF; events free to $45
May 12-16: The Big 4’s Wild Game Week returns
The Big 4 Restaurant (PSF) in Nob Hill’s Huntington Hotel has been around for decades and is just the kind of atmosphere I want when craving old world elegance and cocktails by the fireplace. On the food tip, its bi-annual Wild Game Week offers a menu so unique, it’s one of the only times you’ll see dishes like Himalayan yak or Rocky Mountain wapiti (elk chop, to you). This year a first is added: Brazilian piranha “ribs” with a creamy mustard dressing ($18). That’s right, piranha. Come hungry as the deer and the antelope certainly will play.
1075 California Street
Schmidt’s: Ready and German
NEW RESTAURANT and BAR OPENINGS
German haufbrau-reminscent Schmidt’s Deli opens in the Mission
Walzwerk’s Christiane Schmidt and David Pierce opened Schmidt’s last Wednesday, and I was warmly welcomed by the sweet staff that day. (I’m ready to go back!) The space is roomy, sparse with neatly ordered shelves stocking grocery items (and beer steins) from Germany — think herring, gooseberries, curry ketchup, rosti-in-a-box. They’ll be easing into hours, open from 11am-3pm on weekdays only for now. The plan is soon to be open all day from 11am-11pm, meaning it’ll be the go-to spot for veal schnitzel sandwiches, house-made sausages, spaetzle, kohlrabi (German turnip) and rutabaga gratin, sauerkraut, and German baked goods from Esther’s Bakery in Mountain View. And all under $11! Once the imported beers begin to flow (soon), I imagine the space cacophonous with happy locals at communal tables, clinking glasses over sausages.
2400 Folsom Street
Korean tacos and burritos at John’s Snack & Deli
With the Korean taco craze in Los Angeles reaching a fever pitch (can anyone say Kogi?), John’s Deli owner (John himself) throws his hat in the Korean taco ring at his tiny deli offering Korean specials. Pairing kimchi with burritos and tacos includes meats (bulgogi beefbq chicken, pork, tofu) cooked Korean-style (with his Mom’s secret sauce) and toppings on the Mexican side (cilantro, onions, cheese). I dig the combo of sweet/savory meat mixed with spicy, pickled kimchi. Occasionally, come mid-afternoon, they sell out of certain meats (beef, last time I was there), but if you aren’t picky, they’re all good.
40 Batter Street
Workday gourmet lunches at Carte 415
Is there no end to food cart mania? It appears not. Downtown workers have gourmet-casual sandwiches and salads at The Sentinel, which set the standard. In cart form, there’s Carte 415 inside the Atrium at Second and Mission. Joshua Skenes, formerly Exec Chef of Chez TJ and Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern, launches out into gourmet food cart territory with, you guessed it: a changing, market-fresh lunch menu. A Bacon-jam BLT with burrata and heirloom tomato sounds particularly good to me, but there’s meat and veggie salads, sandwiches and snacks, like their granola or bbq vegetable chips. Call first as they’re not open yet but should be any day now. With plans for more carts around the city in the future, there will be no shortage of gourmet-on-the-go options.
101 Second Street
P>I’ve been aware of the intersection between alternative culture and bicycles since 1996, when I saw my first tall bike at Reed College in Portland, Ore. Since then, I’ve seen bikes at Burning Man tricked out with paint, fun fur, and EL wire. Bikes at Critical Mass made to look like animals or disco balls. Bike-powered carnival rides at Coachella. And punk girls, dressed in pink, dancing on minibikes at Tour de Fat.
But it wasn’t until "The Art of the Bicycle," an underground multimedia art show and party held in a warehouse in the Mission District last May, that I came to understand how these were each parts of a greater whole spokes in the wheel of a bicycle culture that centers around creativity, empowerment, and, above all, fun. It also became clear, as I sipped cheap beer and listened to live punk rock in an unpermitted space, that this culture was very different from the road bike culture my dad (and his Spandex shorts) was a part of in the 1980s or even the activist culture my friends in the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are in now.
No, this bike culture is something else. Rooted in DIY principles, punk and anarchist values, a good dose of geekiness, and rejection of the mainstream, the alternative bike culture that exists in San Francisco and beyond is an entirely different animal and it’s growing up fast.
In the Bay Area alone, there’s Cyclecide, a bicycle club known for mutating found and rejected bikes into new forms and pedal-powered rides, as well as for their carnie aesthetic and rodeo-inspired antics; the Derailleurs, a group of women who dance on, with, and about bicycles; and the Trunk Boiz, an Oakland-based community of kids who pimp out their bicycles the way their older brothers might’ve pimped out their low-riders; and many others all of whom operate outside the realm of traditional bike culture or politics.
And each of these are connected to a greater network of bicycle artists across the country and the world. The past decade has seen the birth of the Portland-based Bicycle Porn festival, which screened films showing the sexiness of (or near) bikes at Victoria Theater last November; as well as the New York City-based Bicycle Film Festival, which had its first West Coast showing in San Francisco several years ago and now visits 39 cities per year. There are now more than 120 bicycle clubs all over the world, with originals like Black Label growing so big it has 40 chapters of its own. And only five years after the first bicycle dance troupe, the Sprockettes, was formed in Portland, there are 11 bicycle dance troupes worldwide.
But who are these people? Why are they so inspired by bikes? And why make art with or about them, rather than just ride them? The answer is complex. For some, the bike is simply a beautiful machine, an engineering problem whose solution hasn’t changed much since the 1600s but whose application is infinite. For others, it’s the bike’s democracy that’s so appealing: cheap, accessible, and available to all kinds of riders. Some see the bike as a vehicle for change, undermining car culture and the politics involved in non-people-powered transportation.
But what seems to tie all these people together is a counterculture instinct. These are artists, musicians, and math geeks. They’re the same people who may have been drawn to skateboarding or surfing (before both became commercial and mainstream), punk shows, Dumpster diving, or even Stitch ‘n’ Bitch parties. It’s a community of people dissatisfied with the status quo and filled with the imagination and ambition to work outside it if not against it.
"We wanted to have fun," said Jarico Reesce, about founding Cyclecide in 1997. "And we wanted to break every rule we could." (Molly Freedenberg)
San Francisco’s bicycle advocates have been focused on winning approval for 56 near-term projects outlined in the city’s bike plan, which would increase the number of miles of bike lanes from 45 to 79, and quadruple the number of city streets bearing "sharrow" markings (see "Street fight," 2/4/09).
But bike-related projects farther out on the horizon could significantly raise the bar for a bikeable San Francisco. Here are a six long-range concepts that could make cycling in the city more safe, enjoyable, and accessible to people who might otherwise be driving solo.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Cyclists who commute between San Francisco and the East Bay have asked an obvious question for years: why must I spend money on BART fares or bridge tolls to get across the bay when I know I’m capable of biking there? When construction of the new east span of the Bay Bridge is finished, cyclists will finally get a bike path but it will only get them from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island. Luckily, the idea of installing a complementary bike path along the west span to San Francisco is being entertained. It’s expensive (estimates place the cost at $200 million) and complicated (a 2001 feasibility study found there would need to be tracks on both sides of the bridge for balance). But in early April, the Bay Area Toll Authority agreed to spend $1.3 million on an 18-month study so the project could be shovel-ready when funding becomes available.
CAR-FREE MARKET STREET
Market Street is a popular thoroughfare for bicyclists even though much of its design creates tight-squeezes and conflicts with automobiles. For years there’s been talk of making it car-free, an idea once advocated by former Mayor Willie Brown. It was studied in 1997, but never received enough support to move forward, in part because area merchants worry their business would be hurt by restricting motorists. But the latest attempt to quell Market Street traffic may get more traction. Sup. Chris Daly, who also sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, requested a comprehensive study on restricting Market Street traffic and a draft report is expected by early summer. Andy Thornley, program director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, notes that the overarching idea is not to make Market Street exclusive to bikes and pedestrians, but to improve it as a whole. "A car-free Market Street may be the route," Thorney says, "but it’s not the reason."
COLOR ME BIKEABLE
Ask Dave Snyder, transportation policy director at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), what constitutes an ideal bike lane, and he’ll say it has to be safe enough for parents to feel comfortable allowing their eight-year-old to ride a bike there. "That’s a very high standard," he says. "But it’s a correct standard." One approach for safeguarding bike lanes, adopted in New York City and elsewhere, is to color them in. Bike activists have been pushing the idea here, but the monkey wrench in the works is a sort of national bible of traffic symbols that lacks a standard for colored bike lanes. If the city rolls with a concept that’s outside the rulebook, the thinking goes, it could be a liability. But bike advocates hope to incorporate colored bike lines into the standard via a pilot program. In coming months, be on the lookout for more colorful city streets.
THINK INSIDE THE BOX
A bike box is a colored bike zone just before an intersection designed to let cyclists get out in front of traffic at a red light so they can be more visible. SF has two low-profile bike boxes, Thornley notes, but plans are on the horizon to install more. When the city of Portland, Ore. installed them, it produced a video called "On the Move with Mr. Smooth" to promote the concept. Hosted by a greasy character in a neon green shirt, the video makes a big deal about how motorists get a great view when they stop behind the bike-box line. "The bike box," Portland’s slogan proclaims. "Get behind it."
A BLUE-GREEN WORLD
Blue for the water, green for the parks and open space, the Blue Greenway is envisioned as a 13-mile corridor along the southeastern waterfront that would connect a string of existing parks from the Giants’ stadium to Candlestick Point State Recreation Area. "We want to connect not only parks along the Blue Greenway, but connect people to the waterfront," explains Corrine Woods, who is working on the project through the Neighborhood Parks Council. The corridor will serve as the city’s southeastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail, a massive interconnected trail network planned by the Association of Bay Area Governments that is envisioned as a 400-mile recreational "ring around the Bay."
BACK ON TRACK
For now cyclists aren’t allowed to bring their bikes not even the folding kind on Muni trains or buses (although some buses have bike racks outside). But it’s something the Municipal Transportation Agency has on its radar as a possible policy change, according to spokesperson Judson True. "As we move forward and people become more aware of the benefits of public transit, our vehicles become more and more crowded," True notes. This may be a good problem to have, but it means the agency must work out a strategy to accommodate wheelchair-bound passengers, strollers, walkers, bikes, and other essentials that passengers bring on board. Once the bike-plan injunction is lifted, True says, he expects MTA to approve a pilot program for bikes on Muni. In order to discourage more people from driving, he says, "linking sustainable modes of transportation like biking and transit is key."
This map of all foreclosures in San Francisco shows a heavy concentration in the southern part of the city, home to many low-income communities of color.
When Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Sophie Maxwell convened a task force in July 2007 to figure out why African Americans are leaving San Francisco and how to reverse this trend, the subprime loan market crisis was about to send a shock wave of home foreclosures sweeping through southeast San Francisco.
Hope SF, the promised rebuild of the city’s public housing projects, is underway at a cost of $95 million. The city’s certificates of preference program, giving housing priority to black residents displaced by redevelopment, has been expanded and extended. But little has been done to address the immediate problem.
Instead political leaders have focused on a plan to subsidize Lennar Corp.’s construction of thousands of new condos in the southeast section of the city the heart of the San Francisco’s remaining African American community and have done nothing to promote a plan that could convert hundreds of foreclosed homes into affordable for-sale or rental units there, right here, right now.
African American Out Migration Task Force (AAOMTF) members recall warning that the crisis would likely hit San Francisco’s already dwindling black population extra hard. And Sup. John Avalos, who was running for election in District 11, remembers seeing impacts in the Excelsior District as early as 2007.
"I was telling people in early 2007 that this was a problem in District 11, and even real estate people didn’t believe me," recalled Avalos, who is exploring legislation to hold banks accountable and spoke at an ACORN protest in support of Excelsior homeowner Genaro Paed, a Filipino native who just staved off eviction orders pending the outcome of his lawsuit against Washington Mutual concerning what Paed describes as "a predatory loan" secured in 2006.
Avalos also planned to introduce legislation on May 12 that would expand protection of renters, including those in foreclosed homes who are now being evicted by banks.
This isn’t the first time city leaders have studied the African American exodus or ways to prevent low-income and minority households from being preyed upon or displaced. Indeed, this task force’s initial findings, (released last summer after Lennar spent millions to persuade voters to support building 10,000 condos in the city’s southeast) suggests San Francisco’s entire black community is at risk unless proactive and immediate steps are taken.
According to U.S. Census data, the city’s African American population shrank to 6.6 percent of the city’s total population by 2005 (a 40 percent decline since 1990) and will likely slip to 4.6 percent by 2050, according to the California Department of Finance. And these findings were made before the foreclosure crisis heated up.
In 2008 Maxwell and other elected officials convened a Fair Lending Working Group (FLWG) to figure out how to respond to the wave of foreclosures. By year’s end, there were 667 home foreclosures in San Francisco, almost all in the city’s southeast sector.
These numbers sound small compared to Contra Costa County or Oakland, where thousands of foreclosures occurred. And they aren’t big enough to qualify for the first round of President Barack Obama’s National Stabilization Program grants, which were released earlier this year. Based on a census-driven formula, the grants sent $8 million to Oakland and no money to San Francisco.
But with half the city’s foreclosures in the Bayview, home to most of the city’s remaining African Americans, the fact that little has been done to save these homes or to follow early recommendations to do so is a gentrification crisis in the making.
Ed Donaldson, housing counseling director at the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation in the Bayview District, served on the FLWG and remembers suggesting a two-tier track. First, take steps to protect renters in places that have been foreclosed and second, buy as many foreclosed properties as possible with the aim of reselling or leasing them as affordable units. While the FLWG liked the renter protection angle, it did not support the foreclosure acquisition program.
"The idea fell on deaf ears," recalls Donaldson, who was disappointed his foreclosure purchase plan didn’t make it onto FLWG’s recent recommendation list. FLWG members include financial institutions such as Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual, and Patelco Credit Union; community-based organizations such as Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, SFHDC, Mission Economic Development Agency; and city agencies. The agency also has received staff support from Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, the Mayor’s Office of Housing, Treasurer Jose Cisneros and the Office of the Legislative Analyst.
"We’d already seen the spike in foreclosure numbers, so how did these recommendations get pushed out? We need something with teeth," Donaldson said.
SFHDC executive director Regina Davis says she suggested a foreclosure purchase and resale plan as an AAOMTF member and was concerned when she noticed that her recommendation was not included on the list discussed at the April 23 meeting. Billed as a closing-out session, that meeting took place at the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and was attended by Davis, chair Aileen Hernandez, Redevelopment director Fred Blackwell, the Rev. Amos Brown, Barbara Cohen of the African American Action Network, Tinisch Hollins of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and former supervisor and assessor Doris Ward, among others. The AAOMTF is finishing up its work this week.
"I got involved because I believed that in exchange for participation, we would see things done and/or funded. Part of what we want to see are real action items that keep African Americans in San Francisco or bring them back. So we really want this issue to move forward with substance," Davis told the Guardian.
Recognizing that San Francisco is facing massive budget constraints, SFHDC is proposing to borrow $1.5 million from Clearinghouse CDFI, a Los Angeles community development financial agency, to acquire and rehabilitate these foreclosed properties.
Davis’ group would then turn it around and offer residents several options: buy (if the prospective buyer qualifies for the city’s $150,000 downpayment assistance and a $50,000 loan from the California Housing Financing Agency); lease (in which SFHDC sells the home to the buyer but leases the land, making the price affordable), lease-to-own. Or, Davis adds, people could rent the units at affordable rates.
But to make the plan work, SFHDC need the banks to sell the properties AT below market rates. Noting that foreclosed properties are still selling in the Bayview for $400,000, Davis says her nonprofit intends to purchase 100 to 200 homes during a 24-month period at less than $200,000 mark.
Yet Davis remains optimistic about the plan’s chances as SFHDC negotiates with major banks for a 50 percent discount, noting that there is a monthly average of 50 foreclosures in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point, and SFHDC has access to 100 qualified buyers.
Blackwell said the Redevelopment Agency hasn’t developed an initiative or a funding pool to respond to the foreclosures in the city’s southeast sector. But, he said, the agency is looking at ways to apply for National Stabilization Program funds even though "federal guidelines mostly don’t apply well in expensive markets like San Francisco.
"We are engaged in advocacy so San Francisco can take advantage of any federal stabilization funds, but we don’t have an agency-specific proposal," he continued.
"Frankly, I think community-based organizations are the best to do programs like that, especially since there is so much anxiety about the Redevelopment Agency and property acquisition in the southeast," Blackwell added.
He believes that given the city’s current budgetary constraints, the AAOMTF "will likely look for leadership from the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors in cases where members have made recommendations and there is an opportunity to bring in public money."
Blackwell feels the city is still getting its mind around its foreclosure problem. "We’ve been spared the wholesale neighborhood-by-neighborhood devastation that places like Antioch faced," Blackwell said. "So, there wasn’t the same sense of urgency. And there’s a need to look more closely at the data. A lot of the information is based on anecdotes."
Yet the feds seem willing to help if city officials take the initiative. Larry Bush, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regional office, says San Francisco and Oakland could file a joint foreclosure plan application.
"If they can identify 100 homes, they’d be eligible for $5 million," Bush said, noting one snag that could unravel the plan locally. "Foreclosed properties must be vacant for at least six months. And as you know, in San Francisco, foreclosed homes still sell."
Maxwell says the city could do more to confront predatory lenders and enforce tenant rights, as well as developing a plan to buy foreclosed properties. "But in San Francisco it’s an issue because of relatively high prices," she told us.
Yet the city’s high prices are the very problem pushing out low-income residents. African American home ownership actually increased after 1990, even as out-migration among black renters increased. But now, if the foreclosures stand, that exodus will likely accelerate.
Asked if she supports SFHDC’s current foreclosure plan, Maxwell said, "It makes sense to me. If that could be done, it would be optimal."
Myrna Melgar of the Mayor’s Office of Housing says she’s not sure that a foreclosure resale plan would work in San Francisco for folks who bought a couple of years ago, when house prices hit $700,000, only to see house prices fall to around $400,000.
"San Francisco is a very different universe from Detroit," Melgar said. "Properties don’t sit around empty and vacant. They are bought by speculators who are betting that in two or three years, their values will go up. So if we had money to buy these properties, which we don’t, we’d be in competition with the speculators, who have lots of money with no strings attached, and who drive the prices up."
Another difference, Melgar said, is that San Francisco banks are holding onto 50 percent of their foreclosed properties, whereas Antioch banks are only holding onto 22 percent. "We’d like to keep folks in the homes," Melgar said. "But it’s a policy issue related to the reality that we have such limited funds."
CHEAP EATS Wish I could take the two parties I went to on Saturday and superimpose them onto each other, so that the Rockridge moms and dads could mix with the young trans men, drag kings, and queer burlesque performers.
When I mentioned this seemingly surreal idea to Alice Shaw after our soccer game Sunday, she said, simply, "Do it. You can!" And she teaches photography, so I decided to believe her.
Not only that, but since my own training is technically as a fiction writer, I think I’ll bring my buddy Earl Butter with me to both parties, even though in real life I only ate lunch with him and then dropped him off at his house.
Earl Butter deserves a bigger piece of pie. Don’t you think?
"My whole life has been a series of disappointments," Earl Butter really did say, at lunch. "One after the other after the other, and eventually you reach the point where one more thing … well, it might just be the one that breaks you."
We were both looking at his piece of pie, and it was, in fact, astonishingly small. Small enough to put inside a teacup. Small enough to break anyone’s spirit.
I gave him half my piece. To be honest, I didn’t miss it. If I go back to Mission Pie, it will be for a cup of coffee.
Now, to show you what a great friend and altruistic farmer I really really am, after lunch I took Earl Butter with me to this Kentucky Derby party in Oakland. Of course you heard that a 50:1 long-shot won, by a mile, and that gives me more hope than Susan Boyle gave everyone else.
But I already had more hope than is good for me, anyway.
Anyway, so I met this big fat queer stripper chick stage-named Kentucky Fried Woman at a burlesque show. "I’ve heard all about you," I said, because I had. I’d heard that she has a Derby party every year and makes buttloads of the Best Fried Chicken Ever.
Praise the Lard … it’s true!
And there were biscuits, and corn bread, and mac ‘n’ cheese, and every possible shade of white and yellow things to eat, but I have a confession to make: I went to two shows in one week and didn’t get the burlesque thing. I mean, song and dance and comedy I understand, but the part that ends in swirling pasties? … Nothing. I’m sorry.
This probably seems like sour grapes coming from an uncurvaceous woman with sour grape-sized tits, so it probably is sour grapes. And/or to me, life itself is almost unbearably sexy as it is, with it’s fried chicken and red umbrellas, its beautiful people, licking their lips.
A friend had to explain it to me. But I still didn’t get it. Maybe the striptease, like fried chicken itself, is simply not for everyone. That was how I decided to leave it.
Then I went to this party. Then, later that night, I went to this other party. I was on the dance floor talking to my two new favorite people: the woman whose children I watch, and the mom next door, our hostess, who was wearing a wig, false eyelashes, it being her birthday.
Perhaps giddy at having found sitters, one or two other people were wearing wigs. That was it. Oh, and one guy was wearing a cowboy hat. I was wearing what I always wear: a skirt, a shirt, and a little mascara.
"I’ve been watching you," Cowboy Hat blurted, as soon as we’d been introduced. He seemed unable to contain himself. "And I have to say," he spilled, "that you have really impressed me with your outfit!" I think he was a doctor. He had to notice the life leaving me as he went on and on, congratuutf8g me on my get-up, my costume, how well I’d done!
Worst of all, he meant all this as a kindness, so vodka and tonic in his face was not an option.
The only way to shut him up, which didn’t hit me soon enough, sadly, was to unbutton my shirt, swing it over my head, and let it fly. I undid my bra, my skirt, the music erasing the rest as I danced down to my exact body, the song, finally getting it. *
Mon.-Thu., 7 a.m.-9 p.m.;
Fri., 7 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Sat., 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
2901 Mission, SF
L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.
Nopalito might or might not offer "far and away the best Mexican food in the Bay Area," as a hyperbolic toot harvested locally and posted on the restaurant’s Web site contends I say not but the food is very good. The menu card, moreover, gives a brisk tutorial in the persistence of Indian language and culture in Mexico and is worth scanning just as an intellectual artifact. In a world of burritos and quesadillas, often made with flour tortillas, it is revelatory to read about such possibilities as caldo tlalpeño (the traditional chicken soup), pollo al pibil (as part of a panucho), and huitlacoche (in a mushroom quesadilla). The Maya and Mexica who lived a half-millennia ago might well find aspects of these dishes, or at least their names, familiar.
Or would, if they could get in. Nopalito, although fairly sizable, doesn’t take reservations, but it does allow you to phone yourself onto a waiting list and be phoned back when your table is imminently available. You will likely be given an estimate on the wait when you join the list, but this information is not of high reliability, and, like flying stand-by, you should be prepared to move fast to claim your place. The advantage to the restaurant, meanwhile, is clear: tables are not held, but filled immediately.
As the punny name suggests, Nopalito is an offshoot of nearby Nopa. "Nopalitos" are also shreds of prickly-pear cactus that often end up in morning eggs. Since Nopalito doesn’t serve breakfast, this potentially signature ingredient is honored by being largely if not entirely invisible. But because "nopalito" is a diminutive form of "nopal" the westernized spelling of the Nahuatl word for the parent plant we can extract a useful clue, which is that words ending in a vowel and "l," such as "pibil" and "tamal," are often Nahuatl in origin and suggest that the food so described is more Indian than European.
Mexico is sufficiently huge and various to make generalization a perilous undertaking, but one way to think of Mexican cooking is as a modest overlay of European influence much of it involving pork on a broad and deep base of Indian ingredients and techniques. "Pibil," for instance, refers to a Maya method of wrapping marinated meat in banana peels and stewing it underground with hot stones. I didn’t see the Nopaliteños tending any barbecue pits, but chicken cooked in some pibil fashion did find its way onto the panucho ($4), a crisped corn tortilla also topped with black beans, pickled onions, and a feisty salsa of habañero chilis.
Corn tortillas are subtle but pervasive, a reminder that corn "tamal" is the Nahuatl word was, along with beans and squash, a principal pillar of the Mesoamerican diet. We found a quesadilla made with a blue-corn tortilla ($8) and filled with mushrooms, cheese, epazote, salsa molcajete, and huitlacoche (the fungus that grows on corn and is sometimes compared with truffles) to be quietly effective. A bit more loudly effective was a tamal enchilado ($4), a tube of masa, like very thick polenta, imbued with ancho chili and cooked with stewed pork, queso fresco, and crema (the Mexican answer to crème fraîche).
The ultimate in stewed pork has to be the carnitas ($14), which are excellent by any standard. The cubes of meat were marinated in beer, orange, cinnamon, and bay leaf, sealed in a pouch of parchment paper, then slow-cooked to exquisite tenderness and flavorfulness. The accompaniments were appropriately simple: a salad of shredded cabbage, a few halves of pickled jalapeño pepper, and a small tub of tomatillo salsa.
On the other hand, there was carne asada a la plancha ($15): grass-fed skirt steak in a nocturnal, slightly smoky pasilla salsa. The salsa was wonderful, but the meat was quite tough, almost unchewable, especially in comparison to the carnitas. Of course grass-fed beef isn’t as tender as corn-fed, but a few, or few more, whacks with a tenderizing mallet might have helped here. Somewhere in between lay a half chicken in mole poblano ($13), the meat nicely moist and pliant and the mole sauce (of chocolate, chiles, cinnamon, nuts, and toasted sesame seeds) richly fruity without a hint of bitterness.
Despite an improbable location adjoining the new Falletti Foods in what is basically a small mall, Nopalito has a Missiony glow, from the mod shades of green throughout the interior to the youthful staff. There is also a communal table not quite a private table, but a shared table is better than no table, as the prickly pears among us know.
Daily, 11 a.m.10 p.m.
306 Broderick, SF
Beer and wine
The cheapest special effect in the world is having one actor fire a cap gun as another cries, "Ow, ya got me!" Ergo crime did pay, in spades, for Hollywood’s "Poverty Row" studios in the disillusioned years between World War II and Eisenhower-era prosperity. Subsequently dubbed "film noir," this period’s myriad violent melodramas were cranked out fast, exhibited briefly, then forgotten.
Yet recent years have left very few stones unturned in the quest for buried gems. Back when he was programming at the Roxie Theater, Elliot Lavine did much to foster their cult with retrospectives showcasing both the genre’s acknowledged classics and dustiest obscurities. When he left in 2003, noir fans wore mourning black though were consoled by the start of SF’s annual Noir City festival that same year.
Still, watching lurid old B-flicks at the funky Roxie had an extra frisson lacking amid the Castro Theater’s grandiose respectability. Very good news, then, that Lavine is bringing bad guys (and duplicitous dames) back to Valencia Street with "I Wake Up Dreaming: The Haunted World of the B Film Noir." Its two weeks emphasize noir’s lesser-sung efforts from the cinematic sweatshops of Monogram, PRC, Eagle Lion, and other economy-class companies where production values were low and the hard-boiled sleaze factor was often cranked high to compensate. Many of the 29 features haven’t been seen theatrically for decades, and few are available on DVD.
On Poverty Row, young talent proved itself; mainstream luminaries landed there once their box-office clout had expired. Thus velvet-voiced 1930s glamazon Kay Francis briefly descended to Monogram after Warner Bros. dumped her. In Allotment Wives (1946) she’s a socialite coolly fronting a polygamy racket targeting returned GI’s, while enduring Mildred Pierce-like torments from an ingrate daughter whose every action screams "Mother, slap sense into me." (Oh yes she will.)
Another WB castoff, ingénue Joan Leslie, starred in that year’s unique Repeat Performance. She’s an actress-turned-murderess who gets her wish to live the last fateful year over again only to watch as the same deadly events unfold, only worse. Having outgrown a famous-juvenile heyday, Bonita Granville was ready to play twins one good, one a "cheap little chiseler" embroiled in a murder mystery in The Guilty (1947). (And to think just months earlier she’d been crushing on Andy Hardy at MGM.)
These programmer factories promoted personalities who only rated bit parts at the majors. Where else could sneering, square-faced Lawrence Tierney’s bullying malevolence float entire movies like The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947) and The Hoodlum (1951)? Some noirs risked having no familiar faces at all. The docudrama-style Canon City (1948) uses real locations and (some) real inmates to recreate a Colorado prison break one thwarted, in part, by a gutsy, home-invaded gramma-with-hammer.
While most titles here are known only to the most fanatical buffs, two come with minor cult status already attached. The craziest among fabled screenwriter Ben Hecht’s odd few directorial efforts, Specter of the Rose (1946) is an amour very-fou tale set in the ballet world, its prima ballerina imperiled by a dancing partner-spouse who experiences homicidal ideations when not husking heavy mush stuff: "Hug me with your eyes." "I am." "Harder!"
Likewise linguistically challenged in the best possible way is 1955’s Shack Out on 101, in which a young Lee Marvin unforgettably limns "Slob," bus boy extraordinaire forever pawing unaroused waitress Terry Moore. Meanwhile, lurking Commies plot to overthrow the American Way of Life, off-ramp greasy spoons included. With its hilariously pissed-off dialogue no obstacle to red-blooded patriotic display, Shack is a Cold War trash classic so plutonium-hot it smokes.
I WAKE UP DREAMING: THE HAUNTED WORLD OF THE B FILM NOIR
May 1428, $10
Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., SF
What’s a "bike movie?" If you immediately thought of Breaking Away (1979), two upcoming events suggest that your definition is li’l old-fashioned. First up: the Disposable Film Festival is hosting a "Bike-In" outdoor screening. Pedal over and enjoy a selection of films (with an emphasis on bike themes) culled from DFFs past; an after-party celebrates the release of the Guardian‘s Bike to Work issue.
San Franciscans Eric Slatkin and Carlton Evans founded the fest in 2007 to highlight so-called disposable films "any film made on these alternative devices we’ve seen cropping up in the past few years: cell phones, web cams, point-and-shoot cameras, one-time use video cameras, pocket cams," Slatkin said. "They really democratize the idea of not just filmmaking, but of a filmmaker."
The spirit of the festival lends itself to a bike-in screening. "The core of the DFF is a real DIY aesthetic," Evans said. "I think there’s a similar kind of aesthetic in the biking community in San Francisco. I bike all over the city, and I’m always navigating the city in a way where I’m having to overcome obstacles. You just sort of take on these challenges and come up with your own solutions."
Brendt Barbur, director of the New York City-based Bicycle Film Festival (now in its ninth year, it travels to San Francisco this summer), would likely agree with this comparison. The BFF showcases experimental films, music videos, documentaries, and more, with tie-in art exhibits and live music shows, but it’s powered by the creative energy of everyday cyclists.
"Technology has given the bike movement a tool to express themselves," he said from BFF headquarters in NYC. "That DIY spirit runs through the festival. A lot of people maybe they’re graphic designers or bike messengers have something to say, and cameras are now accessible to a lot of folks. Those little gems they produce are, a lot of times, the most popular movies at the festival."
DISPOSABLE FILM FESTIVAL: BIKE-IN
Wed/13, 8 p.m., free
Outside the Good Hotel, 112 Seventh St., SF
BICYCLE FILM FESTIVAL
TV OR NOT TO BE "All around is magic, just open your eyes and see it," declares either Siegfried or Roy at the beginning of A Rich Tradition of Magic, a previously VHS-only compendium of visual abuse compiled by the inimitable Pinky of TV Carnage. The man isn’t kidding. The menu of Rich Tradition is formatted to look like a remote control with the push of a button, your screen melts like the hallucinogenic kick-off of a bad acid trip, bringing visions of spray-on hair, senior citizen aerobics, white teens moonwalking to Kenny Loggins’ "Footloose," and grunge figure skating set to "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (Is this what drove Kurt Cobain to suicide?)
Not yet prone to gutwrenchingly funny juxtapositions (Say Anything boombox scene meets child with extreme vibrato singing "Lady in Red"; John Ritter meets Rosie O’Donnell’s horrible idea of someone with Down syndrome), this early installment in the TV Carnage library veers toward the straightforwardly unsettling and outright disturbing. We get aerial performers accidentally slicing each other in half in mid-air, an elephant stomping on people in a circus tent and then rampaging through the streets, and a split-second skull-glimpse of Heaven’s Gate suicide guru Marshall Applewhite. We get Real TV footage of a methed-out man holding his baby as hostage, dangling the boy Blanket-style from a second-story window and demanding that police deliver him some beer.
Kids are people, too. A Rich Tradition of Magic‘s hapless master of ceremonies Gary Coleman ricochets between performative childhood and sad adulthood. A public service safety announcement by a Diff’rent Strokes-era Coleman is cross-cut with an Entertainment Tonight report about him assaulting an annoying fan. Later, Coleman warns us all of the dangers of "Showoff-itis."
John Travolta lipsync footage is perhaps the chief disturbing link between A Rich Tradition of Magic and The Dinah Shore Portal to Hell, another DVD whose beyond-Dante depths I’m just beginning to plumb. The opening installment is a series of lipysnc and live musical performances on Shore’s television show. A strange assortment of performers including Jeff Bridges and NFL star Terry Bradshaw try to be musical with varying degrees of success. William Shatner repeatedly attempts to be dramatic and poetic. All the while, unexpected lesbian golf icon Shore looks on admiringly, our friendly guide to the diabolical stretches of celebrity narcissism, her reliable appearance taking on an increasingly absurdist quality. Later, we are treated to Roger Ebert repeatedly tongue-lashing Gene Siskel between takes while recording promo spots. Rumor has it that it’s the later chapters devoted to alcohol, cocaine, and LSD that truly deliver the TV horror. I’ll report on those another time, if I survive them. (Johnny Ray Huston)
› firstname.lastname@example.org SONIC REDUCER Thrills and chills and disco ball spills that’s what the Horrors are made of? After Shih Tzu-banged frontman Faris Badwan brattily ripped the mirror ball off the ceiling of 330 Ritch a scant two years ago, who knew the U.K. band would show its true, formative, and fundamentally curious colors? The hues and cries streaming off the Horrors’ second album, Primary Colours (XL) read as a limpid, moonlit pop-sonnet to true-school proto-goth-rockers and morbidly fixated post-punk upsetters like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Killing Joke. Just don’t flash that dance-floor orb in front of Badwan again. "Mmm, Faris never really liked mirror balls," mumbles guitarist Joshua Third, né Hayward. It’s frozen in Boston, where the group is performing that night, and the chill that drops momentarily over the conversation is brief yet bracing. "Luckily we haven’t played anywhere with a mirror ball for ages." Despite the menace or maybe because of it the goth-punk movement has always seemed fundamentally conservative. But the Horrors don’t peddle the shockabilly moves so common among goth-identified SoCalis. In contrast to the easy-sleazy comic-book corn of today’s prominent goth-punk purveyors pass the Horrorpops and just keep walking the group now draws from exploratory originators Joy Division and ornery rabble-rousers the Birthday Party. Primary Colours boasts driving tunes carved from silvery synth textures ("Three Decades") and Jesus and Mary Chain-like buzz-saw pop that thumps with creative negativity ("Who Can Say"). The group capers on the same frosty darkling plain as Interpol, judging from tunes like the Velvet-y, string-strewn "I Only Think of You," which may turn off those with a low tolerance for pop pomposity. Still, the opening track, "Mirror’s Image," sets the tone for pleasing surprise with its initial lush, plangent soundscape more akin to Lindstrøm than Sisters of Mercy before gently plunging into spiraling reverb, effects-gristled guitar, and a nodding keyboard fragment that will have some recalling Echo and the Bunnymen and others Kraftwerk. Third says Primary Colours was "the first chance we had as a band to shut ourselves away and work on the record on our own. We’d retreat into a rehearsal space and get completely lost in it. Yeah, I think that really comes through." The Horrors titled the first song they ever wrote "Sheena is a Parasite," so yes, this is throwback rock, It gazes directly into the eyes of the more serious Anglo art-rock makers of the ’80s with self-conscious affection, especially on haunted, haunting songs such as "Do You Remember." And what’s wrong with that? "We actually made a record that’s a complete trip, from start to finish it takes you through different moods," Third explains. "Also, you can listen to it on repeat, because the last track plays into the first track. I’ve always been quite into the idea because I like to sit down and listen to things over and over again." It’s a quality he misses in many new albums. "Yeah, partly the Internet’s to blame. Partly labels are to blame. Partly bands are to blame because they don’t seem to care anymore," he says, capping the remark with a small grim chuckle. In the Horrors’ hands the ensemble coproduced along with longtime collaborator Craig Silvey, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and video artist Chris Cunningham Primary Colours sounds astonishingly unmusty, stirring with tangible signs of life. The group has managed to find a pulse while maturing into, yikes, artists. "We were all 19 when we wrote the first record now we’re in our early twenties!" Third exclaims. "I think it’s the typical growing-up … malarkey." * THE HORRORS With the Kills Tues/19, 8 p.m., $22.50 Fillmore 1805 Geary, SF ———— MORE LIVE: COMEDIANS OF ROCK II Musical funny folk Tara Jepsen of Lesbians, Chris Portfolio of Hank IV, and Matt Hartman of Sic Alps pit wits and carve out snarfs at this comedy two-fer. Wed/13, 9 p.m., free. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com BLACK JOE LEWIS AND THE HONEYBEARS And what a long, sweet name it is: the Austin, Texas, soul-stirrers cook up hot ones from Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! (Lost Highway). Sat/16, 9 p.m. $17. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com JOHN VANDERSLICE The Tiny Telephone operator’s new Romanian Names (Dead Oceans) rolls out Moog moods and Byzantine yarns. Mon/18, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. www.amoeba.com. Tues/19, 7:30 p.m., $16. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com
SONIC REDUCER Thrills and chills and disco ball spills that’s what the Horrors are made of? After Shih Tzu-banged frontman Faris Badwan brattily ripped the mirror ball off the ceiling of 330 Ritch a scant two years ago, who knew the U.K. band would show its true, formative, and fundamentally curious colors? The hues and cries streaming off the Horrors’ second album, Primary Colours (XL) read as a limpid, moonlit pop-sonnet to true-school proto-goth-rockers and morbidly fixated post-punk upsetters like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Killing Joke.
Just don’t flash that dance-floor orb in front of Badwan again. "Mmm, Faris never really liked mirror balls," mumbles guitarist Joshua Third, né Hayward. It’s frozen in Boston, where the group is performing that night, and the chill that drops momentarily over the conversation is brief yet bracing. "Luckily we haven’t played anywhere with a mirror ball for ages."
Despite the menace or maybe because of it the goth-punk movement has always seemed fundamentally conservative. But the Horrors don’t peddle the shockabilly moves so common among goth-identified SoCalis. In contrast to the easy-sleazy comic-book corn of today’s prominent goth-punk purveyors pass the Horrorpops and just keep walking the group now draws from exploratory originators Joy Division and ornery rabble-rousers the Birthday Party. Primary Colours boasts driving tunes carved from silvery synth textures ("Three Decades") and Jesus and Mary Chain-like buzz-saw pop that thumps with creative negativity ("Who Can Say").
The group capers on the same frosty darkling plain as Interpol, judging from tunes like the Velvet-y, string-strewn "I Only Think of You," which may turn off those with a low tolerance for pop pomposity. Still, the opening track, "Mirror’s Image," sets the tone for pleasing surprise with its initial lush, plangent soundscape more akin to Lindstrøm than Sisters of Mercy before gently plunging into spiraling reverb, effects-gristled guitar, and a nodding keyboard fragment that will have some recalling Echo and the Bunnymen and others Kraftwerk.
Third says Primary Colours was "the first chance we had as a band to shut ourselves away and work on the record on our own. We’d retreat into a rehearsal space and get completely lost in it. Yeah, I think that really comes through."
The Horrors titled the first song they ever wrote "Sheena is a Parasite," so yes, this is throwback rock, It gazes directly into the eyes of the more serious Anglo art-rock makers of the ’80s with self-conscious affection, especially on haunted, haunting songs such as "Do You Remember." And what’s wrong with that?
"We actually made a record that’s a complete trip, from start to finish it takes you through different moods," Third explains. "Also, you can listen to it on repeat, because the last track plays into the first track. I’ve always been quite into the idea because I like to sit down and listen to things over and over again." It’s a quality he misses in many new albums. "Yeah, partly the Internet’s to blame. Partly labels are to blame. Partly bands are to blame because they don’t seem to care anymore," he says, capping the remark with a small grim chuckle.
In the Horrors’ hands the ensemble coproduced along with longtime collaborator Craig Silvey, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and video artist Chris Cunningham Primary Colours sounds astonishingly unmusty, stirring with tangible signs of life. The group has managed to find a pulse while maturing into, yikes, artists. "We were all 19 when we wrote the first record now we’re in our early twenties!" Third exclaims. "I think it’s the typical growing-up … malarkey." *
With the Kills
Tues/19, 8 p.m., $22.50
1805 Geary, SF
COMEDIANS OF ROCK II
Musical funny folk Tara Jepsen of Lesbians, Chris Portfolio of Hank IV, and Matt Hartman of Sic Alps pit wits and carve out snarfs at this comedy two-fer. Wed/13, 9 p.m., free. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com
BLACK JOE LEWIS AND THE HONEYBEARS
And what a long, sweet name it is: the Austin, Texas, soul-stirrers cook up hot ones from Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! (Lost Highway). Sat/16, 9 p.m. $17. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com
The Tiny Telephone operator’s new Romanian Names (Dead Oceans) rolls out Moog moods and Byzantine yarns. Mon/18, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. www.amoeba.com. Tues/19, 7:30 p.m., $16. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com
Bicyclists generally try to avoid hills, so one of the most popular bike routes in town is a series of turns called the Wiggle, which snakes along a valley through the Lower Haight. The route a sort of bridge between east and west is traveled by a growing number of bicyclists, from hipster kids on colorful fixies to grizzled seniors on comfortable touring bikes.
I ride the Wiggle every day. Coming from the Panhandle, the most harrowing approach is the three blocks I have to travel on busy Oak Street, competing for space with impatient motorists who often seem to forget that they’re wielding deadly weapons. Many times I’ve had cars zip by me within inches, honk (a very startling sound when you’re not wrapped in metal and glass), zoom up right behind me, or flip me off.
But then I turn right onto Scott Street and the world suddenly changes. My heart rate drops and I breathe deeply. Rain or shine, there are almost as many bikes there as cars. The cyclists smile and nod at one another and even the motorists seem more respectful, sometimes waving us through the stop signs even when it’s their turn. It feels like an informally functional community. It’s how traveling around this city ought to be.
Even though the citywide percentage of vehicle trips taken by bicycle in San Francisco is still in single digits (compared to more than 20 percent in many European cities), and even though a court injunction that’s expected to be lifted this summer has banned any new bike projects in the city for the past three years, bicycling is booming in San Francisco, increasing by almost 50 percent since 2006. I’m never alone these days on my solo commute.
My decision to ride a bike and sell my car wasn’t about joining a movement. I just like to ride my bike, a simple joy that I really began to rediscover about 10 years ago. It’s fun, cheap, and an easy way to get exercise. And it connects me with my surroundings the people, buildings, and streetscapes of this beautiful city in a way I didn’t even realize I was missing when I drove.
But as pressing political and planetary realities have welled up around my personal transportation choice, I’ve come to see that I am part of a movement, one that encapsulates just about every major issue progressive San Franciscans care about: public health, environmentalism, energy policy, economics, urban planning, social justice, public safety, sustainability, personal responsibility, and the belief that we can make our communities better places, that we’re not captive to past societal choices.
As a bicyclist and a journalist, I’ve been actively engaged in these struggles for many years. I understand that bicyclists are criticized in many quarters as a vocal minority with a self-righteous sense of superiority and entitlement, and that I’m personally accused of bias for writing empathetically about bicyclists in dozens of bike-related stories.
Well, guess what? I don’t apologize. We are better than motorists, by every important measure. We use less space and fewer resources and create less waste and pollution. Bikes are available to almost every segment of society, and we don’t need to fight wars to power them. They improve the community’s health and happiness. And when we get into accidents, we don’t kill or maim the people we hit.
And you know what else? This really is going to be the Year of the Bicycle, as it’s been dubbed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the city’s largest grassroots civic organization, with more than 10,000 dues-paying members. There are more of us than ever, politicians now listen to us, and San Francisco is on the verge of the most rapid expansion of its bike network that any American city has ever seen.
This is the moment we’ve been moving toward for many years, a turning point that the Guardian has meticulously chronicled and proudly promoted. The bicycle has become a metaphor for progress that is long overdue. So mount up on May 14, Bike to Work Day, if you’d like to be a part of the solution to what’s ailing our city and planet.
I love my bike, and so do most people who see it. San Franciscans appreciate the little things, like someone who rides a silly-looking bike.
It started as a basic used mountain bike, but I styled it out for Burning Man a few years ago, covering it with heavy red acrylic paint that looks like stucco, a big basket covered in fake fur and ringed with electro-luminescent wire, and custom-welded high handlebars topped by a lizard horn.
Maybe you’ve seen me around town and if so, maybe you’ve seen me blow through stop signs or red lights. Yes, I’m that guy, and I only apologize if I’m stealing a motorist’s right-of-way, which I try to avoid. Rob Anderson, who successfully sued San Francisco to force detailed studies of its Bike Plan (and blogs at district5diary.blogspot.com), regularly calls me and my ilk the "bike fanatics."
I’ve interviewed Anderson by phone a few times and tangled with him online many times. He’s actually a pretty well-informed and well-reasoned guy, except for his near pathological disdain for bicycling, which he considers an inherently dangerous activity that government has no business promoting and is not a serious transportation option.
But San Francisco would be a gridlocked nightmare without bikes. Transportation officials say this is already one of the most traffic-choked cities in the country (second after Houston), a big factor in Muni never reaching its voter-mandated 85 percent on-time performance. During peak hours, most Muni lines reach their holding capacity. Imagine 37,500 additional people (the estimated number of San Franciscans who primarily travel by bike) driving or taking Muni every day.
Conversely, imagine the transportation system if bicycling rates doubled and some of those bulky cars and buses became zippy bikes. Quality of life would improve; the air would be cleaner; we would emit far less greenhouse gases (transportation accounts for about half of the Bay Area’s carbon emissions); housing would get cheaper (building parking increases costs and decreases the number of housing units); pressure would decrease to drill for oil offshore and prop up despotic regimes in oil-rich countries; pedestrians would be safer (about a dozen are killed by cars here every year); and public health would improve (by reducing obesity and respiratory ailments associated with air pollution).
Increase bicycling rates even more, to the levels of Berlin, Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, and San Francisco would be utterly transformed, with many streets converted to car-free boulevards as the demand shifts from facilitating speeding cars to creating space for more bicyclists and pedestrians.
Sure, as Anderson points out, many people will never ride a bike. The elderly, those with disabilities, some families with kids, and a few other groups can credibly argue that the bicycle isn’t a realistic daily transportation option. But that’s a small percentage of the population.
For the rest of you: what’s your excuse? Why would you continue to rely on such wasteful and expensive transportation options a label that applies to both cars and buses when you could use the most efficient vehicle ever invented?
At the SFBC’s annual Golden Wheels Awards banquet on May 5, SFBC director Leah Shahum described a bike movement at the peak of its power, reach, and influence. "In the last two years, we’ve seen an unprecedented political embrace of bicycling," she said, praising Mayor Gavin Newsom for his championing of the Sunday Streets car-free space and calling the progressive-dominated Board of Supervisors "the most bike-friendly board we’ve ever seen."
In just a few years, the SFBC went from fighting pitched battles with Newsom over closing some Golden Gate Park roads to cars on Saturdays a two-year fight that ended in a compromise after some serious ill-will on both sides to Newsom’s championing an even larger Sunday Streets road closure on six days this spring and summer, even fighting through business community opposition to do so.
As with many Newsom initiatives, it’s difficult to discern his motivation, which seems to be a mixture of political posturing and a desire to keep San Francisco on the cutting edge of the green movement. Whatever the case, the will to take street space from automobiles which will be the crux of the struggles to come is probably greater now than it has ever been.
Because at the end of the day, Anderson is right: bicyclists do have a radical agenda. We want to take space from cars, both lanes and parking spaces, all over this city. That’s what has to happen to create a safe, complete bicycle system, which is a prerequisite to encouraging more people to cycle. We need to realize that designing the city around automobiles is an increasingly costly and unsustainable model.
"The streets do not have to be solely or even primarily for cars anymore," Shahum told an audience that included City Attorney Dennis Herrera, top mayoral aide Mike Farrah, and several members of the Board of Supervisors (including President David Chiu, a regular cyclist and occasional bike commuter), drawing warm applause.
Shahum was certainly correct when she called the politically engaged community of bicyclists "one of the strongest and most successful movements in this city," one she believes is capable of moving an ambitious agenda. "During the next six weeks, we have the opportunity to win a literal doubling of the city’s bike network."
She’s referring to the imminent completion of environmental studies that support the city’s Bike Plan, which will allow the courts to lift the nearly three-year-old injunction against new bike projects in the city. The SFBC has been aggressively organizing and advocating for the immediate approval of all 56 near-term bikeway improvements outlined in the plan, which have been studied and are ready to go, most with grant funding already in the bank.
"I think San Francisco is hungry for a higher use of public space," she said. "Imagine streets moving so calmly and slowly that you’d let your six-year-old ride on them."
That’s the standard advocated by the international car-free movement, which I interacted with last year when I covered the International Carfree Conference in Portland, Ore. These influential advocates believe bikeways should be so safe and insulated from fast-moving traffic that both the young and old feel comfortable riding them.
"Streets belong to us they are the public spaces of the city but they don’t feel like they belong to us," said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, a sponsor of Sunday Streets, which was honored at the Golden Wheel Awards. The streets, he told the crowd, "don’t need to be the objects of fear."
Later, as we spoke, Radulovich said it’s not enough to create narrow bikes lanes on busy streets. One of the great joys of riding a bike with a friend is to be able to talk as you ride, something he said transportation advocates around the world refer to as the "conversational standard."
Politically, there’s a long way to go before San Francisco embraces the conversational standard, the creation of permanent car-free bike boulevards, or traffic law changes that promote bicycling. Anderson and his ilk reacted with outrage last year when the Guardian and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission began discussing adopting Idaho’s bike laws here, in which bicyclists treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs (see "Don’t stop: Bike lessons from Idaho," 5/14/08).
Yet until bicycling is taken more seriously as a real transportation option, all this talk about sustainability and green-everything is going to continue falling woefully short of its objectives.
The powerhouse environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council held a gala awards dinner May 9 at the California Academy of Sciences for its first Growing Green Awards, an effort to honor innovators in the growing sustainable food movement.
The award selection panel was chaired by journalist Michael Pollan, whose The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Penguin Press, 2006) and other works have made him a leading voice calling for recognition and reform of a corporate food system that is unsustainable, unhealthy, and harmful to the environment.
That movement has garnered some high-profile support and attention, but has so far failed to effectively counter the influence of agribusiness interests, he told me. "We need an organization like the NRDC in the food area, or we need to get NRDC to embrace our issues."
The awards banquet showed that Pollan and his allies have made progress with the NRDC, which should be a natural ally of advocates for better food and transportation systems, two realms that have the biggest impact on this country’s natural resources.
But when I left the ceremony as hundreds of guests were being seated for dinner, I rode away on the only bicycle there.
Recently I was lucky enough to land at an international theater festival in Wroclaw, Poland, jostling elbows with a transnational mix of theater folk on the occasion of the 13th annual European Theatre Prize, this year awarded to the great Polish director Krystian Lupa. It was an eye-opening glimpse at some awesome theatrical muscle rarely if ever seen in the Bay Area, or even the United States. Globally-renowned powerhouses like Italy’s Pippo Delbono and Belgium’s Guy Cassiers were there with some extraordinary work, not to mention that of Lupa, whose utterly brilliant and plotless eight-hour fantasia on Andy Warhol’s Factory, Factory 2, proved an absolute highlight of my theatergoing career thus far.
While dreaming of the day Factory 2 takes its local bow, I can only appreciate all the more what places like UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall or San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts do in bringing us news of the theatrical world or news of the world, theatrically. Another local presenter of exceptional international work has been the San Francisco International Arts Festival, whose sixth season begins this week. SFIAF and executive director Andrew Wood have increasingly made world theater a vital part of the fest’s eclectic performance mix. This year is no exception, with three must-sees in the lineup.
First, South Korea’s Cho-In Theatre makes its U.S. debut with The Angel and the Woodcutter, an original physical theater piece reutf8g the Korean folk tale in a wordless, poetical drama as uncompromising as it is unexpected. Then, Russia’s famed, immensely creative performance ensemble, the Akhe Group proponents of what they call "Russian Engineering Theatre" and favorites at SFIAF in 2005, where they presented White Cabin return with the U.S. premiere of Gobo.Digital Glossary, a wild and captivating conglomeration of video projections, animation, ambient music, lasers, clowning, and trompe l’oeil.
Also receiving its Bay Area premiere is Beyond the Mirror, an unprecedented collaboration between New York’s Bond Street Theatre and Afghanistan’s Exile Theatre. The description of this first American-Afghani theatrical outing might ring a bell: Mirror had been slated to open Brava’s theatrical season in fall 2008, when the U.S. government’s inexplicable delays in processing visas for the Afghan performers forced its last-minute cancellation. That disappointment will happily be rectified by SFIAF when Mirror opens at Cowell Theater. (A second San Francisco appearance follows as part of foolsFURY’s Fury Factory festival in June.)
The two companies began crafting the play after meeting by chance in 2002 among the refugee camps outside Peshawar in northern Pakistan, where the activist, physical-theaterbased Bond Street went after 9/11 to develop links to the Afghan people and work with a German NGO building schools in the devastated country. Exile, meanwhile, had formed as a group of refugee playwrights, actors, and other performance professionals committed to keeping Afghan arts alive and reflecting the concerns of the Afghani population living as second-class citizens in Pakistan.
Never more timely, the play ranges over the last three decades of Afghanistan’s history, using an expressive mélange of theatrical forms and techniques including oral history, mythology, live music, traditional dance, drama, acrobatics, puppetry, and film to tell a story of war and hope at the cusp of yet another turbulent chapter in the country’s unfolding story. Notably, the eight-member half-American, half-Afghani cast includes Afghanistan’s most famous actress, Anisa Wahab, who grew up in happier times on camera as a child star and has continued to act despite its still dangerous implications for women.
Communicating partly with some mutual English, and largely in terms of both distinct and shared physical vocabularies, the artists developed what became Mirror in a nonlinear, highly abstract way, according to Bond Street artistic director Joanna Sherman, who codirected it with Exile’s Mahmoud Shah Salimi. That in no way diminishes its rootedness or poignancy.
"We went around the countryside and interviewed different people, and videotaped them as they would allow," Sherman explained by phone from New York. "Our challenge was to portray these terrible stories in a way that was not gruesome or impossible to watch. We used our physical techniques in a way that it would be watchable and compelling but not exactly ‘realistic.’"
Since Mirror‘s premiere at the second Kabul Theatre Festival in 2005, much has happened in the U.S. and Afghanistan, prompting a small but significant revision, a new final scene, according to Sherman. "We do leave on a thought of hope," she stressed. "But [we’re] doing some interviewing again and getting some additional video. We’ll see what happens."
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL
May 20-31, various venues
Tobacco doesn’t like the Beatles, or the Who. And Pink Floyd is "okay." This makes sense for the man whose prolific mind fuels Black Moth Super Rainbow. The Pittsburgh analog synth sorcerers specialize in prismatic albums that swing seamlessly between sunlit repose and hallucinatory freak-outs. They use an array of vintage beat makers, keyboards, and guitars. Those who pin BMSR’s mercurial sound with the "psychedelia" label aren’t peering deep enough into the looking glass.
"Maybe subconsciously all that garbage is in there and I don’t realize it," Tobacco consents. "I definitely don’t try to make it sound like Pink Floyd or the Beatles, but maybe that stuff’s just stuck in my head and I just can’t get it out."
He’s happier to cite the Beastie Boys’ 1992 mutative alt-rap disc Check Your Head (Capitol) as an influence, one that’s especially evident on his 2008 solo effort Fucked Up Friends (Anticon). He also credits one of the Beasties’ hip-hop cohorts: "I hated music when I was a kid. The first song I ever liked was "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie."
From Biz Markie to prog rock, nothing about BMSR’s sound is straightforward. The group cultivates a mystique that blends the anachronistic with the futuristic. Some surrealistic soundscapes are steeped in bongwater, while others teeter on the glittery edge of acid-trip oblivion. The resulting deconstructed melodies and beats elude most genre epithets. With Eating Us (Graveface) about to drop on May 26, Tobacco, né Tom Fec, is hoping that people will finally stop calling BMSR weird.
"I’ve never thought an album like [2007’s] Dandelion Gum (Graveface) was weird, but a lot of people did, even people who liked it," says Tobacco. Not so with Eating Us: "Everyone’s either understanding what I was going for or they’re just repeating what we’re telling them,"
Tobacco wrote and recorded Eating Us on his own, before enlisting the help of producer David Fridmann, who he says "just sort of pull(s) the gunk out of" BMSR’s sound. In the process, the wonderland of sonic bits and pieces found on albums such as 2003’s Falling Through A Field (Graveface) gives way to an expansive landscape of heady incantations for the electronic age.
If Dandelion Gum saw Black Moth spreading its wings for flight, Eating Us is the sound of the band going airborne. Drums replace beat machines. Layered dream-dipped hums and purrs play hand-in-hand the spooky minor-key trills that are one of the band’s signatures. The melodies are more cogent but no less rainbow-hued. Tobacco’s Vocoder-drenched voice is inhumanly-human on tracks such as the regal "Iron Lemonade."
For bands that continue to put out albums the traditional way, these are trying times. "When I was one of those young whippersnappers in high school, I used to read magazines and that’s how I found out about stuff," Tobacco says when asked about the shifting frameworks for music and music writing. "Now it’s all blogging, [and] no one would have heard of us without it.
"What sucks is that our album leaked a month ago and everyone started reviewing it," he continues. "I’ve been reading things by people who weren’t even done listening to it they were reviewing as they were listening. That just changes perceptions. It’s not about the album anymore, it’s about the hype that leads up it. When I was a kid, it was all about finding the album when it came out that’s when its life began. Now, once the album comes out, it’s dead. Who knows, May 26 may be the last time you hear about [Eating Us]."
That isn’t likely. BMSR’s albums are like musical toys, catering to nostalgists who still seek out music in its physical form. Their 2008 EP Drippers (Graveface) was packaged with five scratch-and-sniff scents, and Eating Us includes a 16-page booklet that can be refolded to create different images. Oh, and the cover art has hair.
The best bands constantly change, metamorphosing against sameness, labels, and the death of ideas. BMSR continues to evolve from the dimmest corners of the mind into transcendent swaths of weirdo-pop sensibility. It’s almost like the Beatles, if they got behind synthesizers, went underground, and never emerged from 1967. Almost.
There is the power of the Tarot, and there is the power of Tarot: recently reissued on CD by the French label Sparax, Walter Wegmüller’s 1973 double-LP is the type of recording that seems to grow in influence with each passing year. Locally, Tarot‘s enthusiasts include Wooden Shjips, who Twitter-testified to its majesty earlier this year. "It is a true album, best experienced as a whole," enthuses singer-guitarist Ripley Johnson. "One of the amazing things about it is its breadth: of styles, of textures, of instrumentation. Yet it still manages to just sound like Tarot. I credit Dieter Dierks’ production. There’s a haze over the entire album that gives it an unlikely cohesiveness. It took me a while to even notice the ‘songs,’ though it shifts seamlessly between rockers and drones, folk and almost-cheesy piano pieces. There’s a distance to the sound that tempers everything, and gives it an unusual balance."
While the album is credited to him, the Swiss Wegmüller isn’t a musician so much as a painter and creator of Tarot decks who guided an all-star cast of instrumentalists in a musical interpretation of the subject. "Tarot and music are as connected as a musician with deep knowledge of the cards wants them to be," says Jessica Lanyadoo, a Tarot-based intuitive counselor and author of the Guardian’s Psychic Dream astrology column. "Matter is vibration solidified, and spiritual content can be translated into sounds or music as much as words or even things. Style and execution are in the hands of the artist, of course, but there is tempo in each and every of the Tarot cards, as well as pitch. The disks/pentacles are deep and rich sounds while the swords are more reedy/tinny. The wands/staves move fast, while the cups flow."
The cups flow indeed on Tarot, though without doubt, the album’s revitalized reputation can be credited to Julian Cope, the musician-author whose 1995 book Krautrocksampler declares, "BUY THIS ALBUM. IT IS THE SOUND OF THE COSMOS." Because the Spalax double-CD only includes extremely small images of the 21 cut-out Tarot cards packaged with Wegmüler’s original LP version, Johnson of the Wooden Shjips isn’t alone in hoping for a vinyl reissue.
"I consider the album part of the ‘guru trilogy,’ along with Sergius Golowin’s Lord Krishna von Goloka (Kosmische Kuriere, 1973) and Timothy Leary and Ash Ra Tempel’s Seven Up (Purple Pyramid, 1972)," Johnson says. "These were all supposedly the brainchild of Ohr Records’ Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, and all recorded by Dierks. I’m a huge Ash Ra Tempel and Klaus Schulze fan, so I love the trilogy as well as the Cosmic Jokers’ records. The idea that a record executive would put together musicians of this caliber, purportedly bathe everyone in acid, then let them loose in a quality recording studio, is beyond imagination these days. That they pulled out so many great albums from it is even more amazing."
Do Wooden Shjips approve of such practices? "I guess you could say we don’t disapprove, " Johnson says, capping his answer with a hint. "It enhances my appreciation for the engineering job done on Tarot and all of those records."
WOODEN SHJIPS With Masami Kawaguchi’s New Rock Syndicate, Eternal Tapestry. Fri/15, 8 p.m., $6. Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. (415) 252-1330. www.theeparkside.com
Pre-Christian religion is all the rage in metal these days, and the second of two high-profile "Pagan" tours is rolling into town, along with Thor, Hecate, and various henges, stony or otherwise. Pagan Fest 2009 is headlined by the Finnish folk-metal outfit Korpiklaani, a group that puts the polka back into heavy music’s thrashing "polka beats," levying a relentless kick-snare attack with traditional Finnish melodies. Unlike many of their folk-metal brethren, the band was folk first and metal second, making the transition from obscure bar band to globe-trotting headbanger coalition by adding distorted guitars to its ancient hoedowns.
Irish black metal outfit Primordial is in direct support, mixing orthodox razor-wire riffing with jaunty, Emerald-isle rhythms and an epic feel. Finns Moonsorrow hew similar sounds, coupling frostbitten guitars to the thematic roots in Finnish folklore that give them their pagan bona fides.
Pirates are apparently honorary pagans these days: Alestorm played the Pagan Knights tour back in March, and New Jersey buccaneer-thrashers Swashbuckle round out the Fest bill with some plundering aplomb. Versed in all the freebooting lingo and boasting a number of mizzenmast-ready guitar licks, the trio is readying a new album that is sure to go triple-putf8um on the Spanish Main.
Montreal’s Blackguard is the odd band out its tinkling keyboards occasionally flirt with folky scales, but they’ve also got a decidedly post-pagan symphonic thing going on. Thankfully, they like drinking stuff out of old-timey mugs, so they’ll fit right in with everyone else. So will anyone who likes rock-worship, of either kind. Praise Odin!
PAGAN FEST 2009
With Korpiklaani, Primordial, Moonsorrow, Swashbuckle and Blackguard
Sat/16, 6 p.m., $30
375 11th St., SF
Ah, Le Poisson Rouge — how I yearn for you. The edgy New York City club and performance space has become a golden nexus for the current rich collision of the indie, electronic, and contemporary classical worlds. Zing go the avant-garde, filter-bent strings in the Bay often enough, of course, especially through the out-there provenance of sfSound (www.sfsound.org), the biannual Soundwave Series (www.projectsoundwave.com), and Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (cnmat.berkeley.edu). But it took last August’s sold out Herbst Theater one-off by Wordless Music, the Poisson-based org that brings big indie names to the new music stage, to finally hold SF’s flannel-clad fixie pixie population enraptured by the freakier side of symphonica, with the white-noise-drenched West Coast premiere of “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and soul-loosening pieces by Bay boys Fred Frith (“Save As”) and Mason Bates (“Icarian Rhapsody”).
It’s been a massive year for 32-year-old Virginia native Bates, who told me over the phone that he moved from NYC to North Oakland four years ago because he “wanted a house and a short commute to a great city.” In March the Julliard grad debuted a six-movement work, Sirens, commissioned by local vocal greats Chanticleer, right after he wrapped up a three-season young-composer-in-residence program with the California Symphony. Perhaps his biggest break came last month, when the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, assembled via audition vids and led by San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, made its debut at Carnegie Hall, playing a portion of Bates’ latest orchestral suite, The B-Sides. Like many other professional cynics, I had my nails sharpened and painted Jungle Red for this dreadful-seeming Internet marketing buzz-blast, but the inclusion of Bates’ forward-thinking work helped rescue the affair from maudlin crowd-pleasing.
Speaking of gimmicks, here’s what many perceive as Bates’: he plays a laptop onstage with the orchestra. Good heavens! Mere gimmickry’s a sad assumption — sure enough, his YouTube gig has reignited that tired technology vs. “true” classical debate that has periodically raged ever since the theremin took the Paris Opera stage in 1927. But Bates, who has toured clubs in his DJ Masonic guise for years, rises above all that with a deep knowledge of dance music history, which itself claims a long and fruitful entanglement with contemporary classical, and a mission of sonic integration.
“The laptop is a piece of the enterprise, a means of augmenting the texture of an orchestral arrangement and adding a richness that evokes new sonic landscapes,” says Bates, who considers his keyboard a “specialized extension of the percussion family.” As for snap judgments about technology, “it actually goes both ways,” he says. “Of course, some traditional symphony-goers can’t really go there. But it’s important for people from the club world to know that I’m not just orchestrating techno” — like the Balanescu Quartet’s version of Kraftwerk or the Williams Fairey Brass Band’s take on acid house. “I’m not Richie Hawtin for woodwinds and booming tubas. I’m coming from a more ambient, electronica place — I’m always aware that I’m playing off something while delving into unique textures and expanded sonari.”
The B-Sides, which will have its full debut for three nights with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall, consists of five movements inspired by archetypal ambient moods — from the buzzing insects and tropical evocations of “Aerosol Melody Hanalei” to astronautical voice transmissions and blankets of static in “Gemini and the Solar Winds.” “Wharehouse Medicine,” which the YouTube Symphony debuted, is like a nifty bit of Leonard Bernstein pumped up with chattering clicks and back-ear bass that energetically summons up the chillout rooms of yore. If it seems odd that Bates references vinyl in his title, while combining laptop rumination and live orchestration, don’t sweat it. “I was thinking back to the experimental freedom that B-sides once afforded to groups like Pink Floyd — surgical strikes into trippy terrain.”
Bates will also be bringing his outstanding Mercury Soul project (www.mercurysoul.org), conceived with conductor Benjamin Shwartz and visual artist Anne Patterson, to Davies after the May 22 symphony performance and to Mezzanine (www.mezzaninesf.com) on May 28. Mercury Soul “is almost a negative image of what I do with an orchestra,” Bates says, “where I DJ and we create a club atmosphere interspersed with live performances of contemporary works by the likes of Steve Reich and John Luther Adams.”
“Look, I know a laptop is never going to be as expressive as a fiddle,” Bates says, a twang of his Virginian upbringing coming through. “And a CD installation pack may never rival the power of a written score. But if I can expand and screw around with orchestral space that way, then it definitely meets my intent.”
With the San Francisco Symphony
Wed/20, Fri/22, and Sat/23
8 p.m., $35–$130
Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness
PREVIEW The last time we saw Lizz Roman, her dancers were parading on Project Artaud Theater’s catwalk, climbing its scaffolding, and dangling from its imposing industrial crane (relics from the time the place buzzed as a canning factory). Now, three years later, she has taken over another popular performance venue, Dance Mission Theater. This time she doesn’t restrict herself to the interior; At Play starts outside at the corner of Mission and 24th streets, then moves upstairs into the various areas that most of us consider to be adjuncts to the main theater. It’s one of the peculiarities of Bay Area dance that so many choreographers are drawn to creating site-specific installations. Some work with an existing space, others add their own touches. Roman belongs to the former. I can’t help but think that DMT’s architectural properties aside Roman was attracted by its spirit as a home to so many artists and dance students. Roman is not the first to use DMT; Keith Hennessy has orated from its fire escape, and Jo Kreiter has dangled from its parapet. Joining longtime Roman dancers Sonya Smith and James Soria are Tara Fagan, Brian Fisher, and Kelly Kemp. Most encouragingly, Roman is again working with cellist Alex Kelly and DJ-percussionist Clyde Sheets. They worked magic at Artaud, and I’ll bet that they’ll do it again in the heart of the Mission.
LIZZ ROMAN AND DANCERS Through May 24. Fri-Sun, 8 and 9:30 p.m., $20. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St, SF. (415) 273-4633. www.brownpapertickets.com
PREVIEW Enough about Thee Oh Sees already. Let’s talk about Shannon and the Clams. John Dwyer’s new outfit is great and all, but Shannon is bodacious. She’s a peroxide-haired, punk-rock pin-up who gets real mean on her Danelectro bass.
I caught the classic beauty out and about last week with an unmasked Nobunny. They were catching a glimpse of those pretty Black Lips performing at the Great American Music Hall. A few months earlier, I saw Shannon and her Clams doin’ their thing for the hometown crowd at Oakland’s Stork Club. For sure, the highlight of the night was their rendition of Del Shannon’s "Runaway." I can’t get enough of that song. Anytime I hear it, it’s embedded in my brain for days. I enjoyed the guitarist’s mimicry of whatever high-pitched instrument is used in the bridge of the original recording. Surf rock interpretation at its finest.
Shannon’s gnarly, gruff-sounding wail conveys the angst of an exhausted teenage wreck (see "Cry Aye Aye"). She’s somewhere between a woman possessed by Little Richard and the vocal huskiness of the Gossip’s Beth Ditto. Another standout track, "Blast Me To Bermuda," is pure teen-punk energy, with a slicing riff that propels the Clams’ late-1950s, early-’60s style into a more contemporary garage rock sound.
Shannon is worthy in my book. Good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll!
SHANNON AND THE CLAMS With Thee Oh Sees, Sonny and Sunsets, and the Mystery Lights. Fri/15, 9 p.m., $8. Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. (415) 970-0012. www.amnesiathebar.com
PREVIEW After generously treating its fans to an agonizing four-year wait,
Manchester-based trio Doves decided it was time. They recorded the 11 tracks that make up their fourth LP in a converted barn in the sprawling Cheshire countryside, a part of England that like the group itself is roughly as fashionable as a rhinestone-bedazzled fanny pack.
The result of this labor is Kingdom of Rust (Heavenly/Astralwerks), a collection that combines unabashed, fist-pumping spirit with the murky melancholy that defines Doves’ at times brilliant 10-plus-year career. While the trio has always been adept at heartbreaking dirges (see: "The Sulphur Man"; "The Cedar Room"), the emotional landscape of its new release includes hope as well as despair. For every haunting ballad ("Birds Flew Backwards"; "Lifelines"), there are a pair of powerful anthems albeit ones with touches of melancholy that are driven by pounding drums, vocalist/bassist Jimi Goodwin’s soulful warble, and expansive arrangements.
Built around a swirling riff by guitarist Jez Williams, "Winter Hill" uncoils into the group’s catchiest number to date. Rollicking tracks like "Spellbound" and "The Outsiders" beg to be played live. Thanks to YouTube, it’s already clear they are even better in concert.
Bands are usually applauded for finding a winning formula and sticking to it (read: musical stagnation) or experimenting for the sake of it (read: resorting to desperate measures after running out of melodic ideas). Rarely are they praised for naturally progressing and maturing. But Doves have shown time and again that they don’t need the awards and the plaudits. They’ll happily keep making great records and filling theaters. All we have to do is listen.
DOVES With Wild Light. Mon/18, 8 p.m., $27.50. The Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 346-6000, www.thefillmore.com>.
REVIEW Missed The Beast Stalker at the just-completed 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival? Make sure you catch its theatrical run at the Four Star, a longtime hotspot for new Hong Kong genre films. (Owner Frank Lee was dishing ’em out long before 2006’s The Departed, a H.K. cops ‘n’ gangstas remake, raked in box office megabucks and Oscar gold.) Where else would I have seen 1998’s Beast Cops, starring the inimitable Anthony Wong and the irritating Michael Wong (no relation)? The Beast Stalker boasts neither Wong, but it does have Cops codirector Dante Lam, who directs solo here and cowrote the script. Prior to a car chase gone horribly awry, Tong (Nicholas Tse) was the kind of police captain his fellow officers hated to serve, thanks to anger issues, petty politics, and other charming attributes. After Tong accidentally causes the death of a child coincidentally the daughter of an attorney, Ann (Zhang Jingchu), who’s prosecuting a mob boss he takes some time off to become, uh, less of an asshole. It’s only when Ann’s other young daughter is kidnapped (what are the chances?) that Tong can attempt to redeem himself, though scar-faced baby snatcher Hung (Nick Cheung) proves an adversary as muddy-gray in the morality department as Tong is. Amid the gun battles and tense cell-phone negotiations (wouldn’t be a H.K. action flick without plenty of both), there’s not much beauty to be found in either of these two beasts. The movie, though, is plenty thrilling.
THE BEAST STALKER opens Fri/15 at the Four Star.