Volume 43 Number 34

Appetite: Bar Crudo’s new digs, Bruno’s good evening, sweetbreads, pastas, and more


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.

Campy/classy Good Evening Thursdays



Good Evening Thursdays at Bruno’s… a sexy, weekly, speakeasy-like supper club
Take "Pussycat" in giant, Parisian ’60’s lettering, white tablecloths and waiters in vintage suits, a Rat Pack-vibe menu (reasonably priced) of Filet Mignon with bone marrow, chop salad, martinis, and Oysters Rockefeller, throw in a leering cat from the rafters, and, yes, a gold pole in the middle of the room (hmmm…?) and you have Good Evening Thursdays (at least until another name is decided upon). Up leopard-carpeted stairs in Bruno’s intimate, 35-seat private room, you’ve got yourself about the coolest non-restaurant, meal ticket in town. The genius behind this concept? A cracker-jack chef line-up of Chris Kronner (from Serpentine), Slow Club, Chez Panisse), Danny Bowien (of Bar Tartine), Sam White and Howie Correa (both front of house at Chez Panisse), and Oliver Monday (from brand new flour+water) who create and cook the meals each week. I went on debut night, May 7, and found it worth dressing up for. Sans reservations, the downstairs ’60’s-chic lounge celebrates Thursdays, too, no res. required, with old school imbibements and killer bar food, like Let’s Be Frank dogs with kimchi and bacon mayo, or pork banh mi. Read more and see photos in my latest Perfect Spot newsletter.
Reservations: goodeveningthursday@gmail.com
2389 Mission, SF

Artic char at Bar Crudo


Who says there’s a recession? All these new openings are keeping me busy… 5A5 Steak Loungeofficially debuted last week (mentioned in soft opening phase in my Perfect Spot newsletter). Ebisu just re-opened, remodeled and with new menu. In SoMa, Italian La Briciola opened where Vino e Cucina used to be. Swell took over in the former Bar Crudo space with Japanese Euro ethos still in play. Moroccan fave Tajine even returned… inside a Van Ness club, Heights Lounge. Little Skillet’s chicken ‘n waffle window is finally up and running and it’s tasty, y’all!

Bar Crudo moves to bigger digs on Divisadero
Bar Crudo is a spot like no other. Long one of my favorite places for seafood, it’s the place to be wowed with delicate, inventive crudo. The original spot, long situated downtown, recently closed, making way for a larger locale in the Western Addition. Fans like me are delighted to know there’s five new crudos to try (and eight hot dishes, thanks to a bigger kitchen). Owners (and actual bros), Tim and Mike Selvera, converted a former pizza joint on Divis into a new Bar Crudo, debuting this week. With Tim’s love of obscure, artisan beers, there’s fine ales to pair with your oysters, like Deschutes Brewery’s The Abyss, plus an impeccable wine list, even five cocktails created by non other than Jacqueline Patterson of Heaven’s Dog. Though I’ll kinda miss the charming, cramped layout of the original, thankfully, I don’t have to miss sparkling-fresh seafood and crudos like Arctic char with creamy horseradish, wasabi tobiko and dill.
665 Divisadero, SF

flour+water opens in the Mission
This one’s been long-awaited from a foursome with Gary Danko/La Folie and Postrio/Plouf pedigree. Yes, it’s yet another Italian restaurant (across from Cafe Gratitude) with salumis, wood-burning oven for pizzas and a communal table, but with a quality-focused menu based around the "four pillars" of Italian cuisine: pizza, pasta, salumi, and, of course, vino. In the pizza realm, I like the sound of the Novo, with potato, farm egg, house pancetta, oregano, or the Cariciofi: artichokes, onion, pecorino and capers. Hand-rolled pastas intrigue, like Corzetti Stampati with braised Monterey squid and fava beans. Antipasti include sweetbread, Meyer lemon and spring onion fritto – works for me! There’s a handful of entrees, salads, and desserts like olive oil cornmeal cake with honey-thyme ice cream. Don’t forget a mostly Italian wine list of around 60 bottles priced between $30 and $60. I can’t wait to see what Sean Quigley, owner of Paxton Gate, has done with the interior design.
2401 Harrison, SF

From East (NYC) to West (here), 54 Mint debuts in Mint Plaza
Umbrian native Alberto Avalle, founded and helmed New York’s famed Il Buco and after 15 years in the Big Apple, desired the relaxed pace and weather of California. Thankfully for us, he’s also bringing his passion for, and mastery of, Italian food to our city. Slated to open today, 54 Mint (neighbor to Blue Bottle Cafe and Chez Papa Resto), is a place for pure simplicity and high quality: hand-rolled pastas, truffles, Sicilian rice cakes with black squid, and wines all happily under $35 a bottle. Starting with dinner this week, by early June they plan to add lunch… for a Summer of la dolce vita.
54 Mint (between Jessie & Mission Streets)




AFRO-SURREAL Why would you commission a choreographer for a work featuring performers stuck into costumes that hide their bodies? This anomaly didn’t deter the 69 dancers who, in late April, auditioned at ODC Commons for a world premiere by Ronald K. Brown. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts wanted a site-specific piece to go with its current exhibition of Nick Cave’s wearable sculptures, "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" — and Bay Area dancers jumped at the chance to work with one of today’s most thoughtfully intriguing choreographers.

Brown, who initially had wanted to become a journalist, found his way into dance almost serendipitously. Though he’d been fascinated with researching and writing articles on the way people lived their lives, dance allowed him to do that more indirectly, and also more deeply. He called his company Evidence because of his belief that we are products of the things that have shaped us — our culture, our roots, our families. The dry legal term "evidence" poorly suggests the physically and emotionally rich dances that have earned such a wide following for this modern dance artist, whose choreography is influenced by West African cultures. (Brown brings his company to YBCA Feb. 18-21, 2010)

Amara Tabor-Smith, a former 10-year member of Urban Bush Women, will perform in the Cave project. She doesn’t think of Brown as a fusion artist. "The way I see him is that he modernized West African dance," she explained a few days after the tryouts. But her depth of admiration comes from a recognition that Brown’s work is "infused with spirit." She made it as one of 13 dancers although she auditioned primarily to "soak up his energy and give energy in return."

Brown, who knew and admired Cave’s evocative sculptures from afar, became interested in this project partly because of an experience at the Seattle Art Museum, where he encountered a diorama of African costumes and masks displayed on life-size figures.

"I would talk to the person with me, then slightly turn my head, and there were [the figures]. After a while I almost couldn’t tell who was who," he explained. Being aware of a mask’s mysterious power to hide as well as to reveal, he nonetheless also told the dancers he wasn’t going to turn them into witch doctors or shamans because "we live in America, in a contemporary society."

Brown also insists he did not want to "collaborate" with Cave but wanted to have "his own dream." Since the suits in the actual exhibit are too delicate for performance, he chose a set made from raffia, the natural fiber prevalent in West African dance. Though visually different, they also allow one to sense rather than see the body. Being quite heavy, they may restrict a dancer’s movement. During the audition, the choreographer worked with shuffling steps and close-to-the-body arms. He also worked on phrases from Orisha dances and Sabar steps from Senegal ("a kind of social street dance," according to Tabor-Smith.) There may be little or no music, perhaps only the sound of the dancers’ feet and the whoosh-whoosh of raffia.

Speaking from Ireland last week, where he was setting work, Brown wouldn’t commit himself to the length of the piece but revealed that, though it was originally planned for the galleries only, it would encompass YBCA’s lobby area as well. "There will be a guide to take the dancers and the audience on a journey, so that whatever feelings we have, you also have — or it hasn’t happened."


May 28, 7 p.m.; May 30–31, 3 p.m.,

free with gallery admission ($5–$7)

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787


Born to be wildly visionary


AFRO-SURREAL Living in black America means you’re already living "science fiction" — already born to be wildly visionary and future- bent in form, function, context, and appearance. No choice, really.

History cast your ancestors in the real-world version of the genre’s defining, overarching anxiety-ridden trope — the Earthly-and-Earthy- Beings-Overcoming-Enslavement-and-Genocide-by-Evil-Aliens story.

Black America is clearly the result of Africans surviving an evil alien abduction to an evil alien slave planet where our ancestors, nearly transformed into automatons, came to develop sonically-induced counteracting powers of telekinesis, time travel, teleportation, telepathy, and "trickster-knowlogy" to combat invading alien armies who had us beat when it came to more bluntly ballistic technology. To those African spirit combatants we owe the advent of such dark avatars of symbolic, sonic, and psychic African weaponry as Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Romare Bearden, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, De La Soul, Ramm El Zee, Jean Michel Basquiat, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, whose battle cry "Great Black Music Ancient and to the Future" is as succinct a manifesto for the black SF movement as has ever been written.

But now let’s get really real up in this piece: the terms black science fiction, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Punk, post-blackness, Black Surrealism, Black Dada Nihilismus, etc., are all born of attempts to accommodate and simulate the strange reality of being black (and "black being and nothingness") in the not-so New World in ways not seen on BET. Yet all these terms are actually redundant — black in America by itself already signifying the ultimate in Weird Tales.

They’re also just a tad elitist and academic — at times intended to suggest that some blacks, usually college miseducated, are more modern, avant-garde, and outside the black box than others. The world that most black working-class people live in here in these United States is already as freaking strange twisted and bizarre as any space opera. The self-taught artists that have come from African American working class communities — Ra, Thornton Dial, Bessie Smith, Thelonious Monk, Simone, Hendrix, David Hammons, George Clinton, Wu-Tang Clan to name a few — are all more "out of this world" than their merely grad school-sanctioned brethren and sistren. No surprise.

After all, who needs to dream bigger than folk trying to escape from America’s urban behavioral modification concentration camps? Furthermore, anybody who thinks the extraterrestrial African imagination needs anything but a daily reality check to get fired up needs to come spend a day in Harlem.

From my bedroom window nested high up on uptown’s Sugar Hill — blocks from the old cribs of Ellington, Robeson, Hughes, and Basie — I can see a shimmering forest of spring green trees being stalked and hovered over by a four-building complex of high-rise public housing projects known as the Polo Grounds towers. Each is 30 stories; the combined 1,616 units hold an estimated 4,200 residents of primarily African descent on a 15-acre property that defines Harlem’s eastern edge. At night these towers are illuminated by an artificial, man-made double moon: one brand new, one still to be demolished — the side-by-side circular monstrosities known to us natives as Yankee Stadiums I and II.

If that’s not odd enough, check this out: If you call up Harlem’s 155th Street corridor on Google maps, you will not find any evidence of these gargantuan buildings when you zoom in. What you will see instead is a huge empty white space marked "Polo Grounds." The online information readily available about the Polo Grounds says nothing about those four Tolkienesque towers, or the folk who live there.

Instead, it blathers on about the forgotten baseball stadiums, long demolished, that once stood there for the New York Giants, the Yankees, and the Mets. Think about it — 4,200 folk of color vertically stacked in their own Babel but erased from human consideration on the virtual map of the world and replaced by fanboy baseball lore. If that’s not black science fiction, I don’t know what qualifies.

Devil’s poetry


AFRO-SURREAL Sadly, the mythology of poet Bob Kaufman almost rivals all we have left of his poetry. However, to place Kaufman within a mere "cult of personality" (along the lines of some of his contemporaries) undermines the innovation of his process and what it brings to the tapestry of American poetics and the complicated and surreal orality of his poems.

Called "the American Rimbaud" by the French, Kaufman lived as a poetic assassin. A frequently arrested union organizer, like Stagger Lee wielding a .44 of devil’s poetry, Kaufman assaulted the willing and unwilling (even white police officers) with verse. If you were cool, you knew his assault was meant as a cipher, a juxtaposition of rhythm, image, and sound meant to invite the listener into a dialectical examination of identity, even the identity obtained from syntax: "I went to a masquerade<0x2009>/ Disguised as myself<0x2009>/ Not one of my friends recognized."

Kaufman’s poetics were Kerouac’s spontaneous prose without the notebook, taken literally. Think an un-choreographed version of "Amethyst Rocks," the prison yard scene in Slam (1998) where Saul Williams stops a would-be beatdown with poetry. Except for Kaufman the beatdown was always real, inevitable, and though sometimes provoked, never for the camera.

Kaufman was the spirit of true North Beach bohemia: the street poet who stood "on yardbird corners of embryonic hopes drowned in a heroin tear," panhandling "with moist prophet eyes" free styles of surrealism, the blues and duende, meant to disturb, disrupt, and ultimately liberate.

Kaufman’s "crackling blueness" is distinctly Californian. In poems like "Carl Chaessman Interviews the PTA," Kaufman filters the "west of the west" through absurdist reflections that juxtapose outlaw figures such as Chessman (a 1960s serial killer on San Quentin’s Death Row) with figures from California’s mythology, all to the rhythms of a radio announcer calling a ballgame: Carl Chessman is in sickly California writing death threats to the Wizard of Oz, his trial is being held in the stomach of Junipero Serra, at last the game starts, Chessman steals all the bases & returns to his tomb to receive the last sacraments from Shirley Temple.

Ultimately, according to poet and scholar Nathaniel Mackey, what Kaufman creates is a cross-cultural poetics difficult to categorize. Though he lived in North Beach and is credited with coining the phrase "beatnik" — and infused his poetry with jazz and Eastern religious influence — Kaufman transcends the singular categorization of "Beat poet." By aligning himself with the pain of "all losers, brown, red, black, and white; the colors from the Master Palette," Kaufman creates a new American poetics — a hybrid poetics of projective California duende blues, an examination of the exhaustion that comes from the persistence of breath.


PIXEL VISION: Bob Kaufman’s poem "Heavy Water Blues"

Afro-lunacy in bloom




"Ticket to Heaven," the last of the series of Our Gang comedies, was produced by Oscar Micheaux in 1944, with music provided by Babs Gonzales and his band, Three Bips and a Bop, on a makeshift sound stage constructed inside of a Harlem tenement building. The plot summary is as follows: With the help of Farina, Pineapple, and Stymie, Buckwee runs amok after reading an early Nation of Islam pamphlet that promises a place in heaven to any Black Muslim who killed a white person for Allah. The throats of the entire gang are slashed with unsheathed straight razors. Alfalfa is forced to sing "Ole Man Ribber" before his throat is slit by a young Robert Blake in blackface. Directed by Spencer Williams, the script was written by Flournoy Miller, who dedicated this final episode to the memory of his late partner, Aubrey Lyles. Miller then moved on to penning scripts for Gosden and Correl’s. Amos ‘n’ Andy television show. The controversial episode aired last Nov. 22, 1963, much to the glee of the N.A.A.C.P.


You can’t eat with everybody. You got to have the right vibrations.

Vera Grosvenor, dancer-vocalist, Sun Ra Arkestra

Menstrual blood, in both the Hoodoo folk traditions of the American South and the Straga traditions of southern Italy, is used to bind one’s affection to another. In Sicily, for example, a few drops of blood pricked from a woman’s finger is stirred into a man’s coffee. In the southern states, a man might get Hoodoo’d with a few drops of menstrual blood mixed into his red beans and rice. This spell is also quite effective when worked in the reverse by men substituting menstrual blood for the obvious. The following is an excellent recipe a lady might serve a gentleman caller for lunch.

Tomato with Basil Dressing

diced tomatoes

1 bunch basil

4 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

5 Tbs. olive oil

2 cloves garlic

3 tsp. of menstrual blood

Salt and pepper

Let stand for 30 minutes. Serve with Toscanini bread, Parma ham, salami, and a carafe of red wine. Bon appetit!


"What fool coon nonsense is this?" the Devil asked. "You call this a sacrificial offerin’? These ain’t nothin’ but some greasy, chewed-up chicken bones! What happened to my sammich?"

"Ah’ done et’ it" R.J. replied. "Ah gots hongry on de way ober ‘cheer!"

"Well how in the hell do you expect to play the greatest blues guitar in the history of the world if all you got to show for it is some splintered chicken bones all spit up with some nasty ol’ nigger slobber? What’s wrong with your head, boy? I’m the devil! You gots to give me somethin’ … !"

In the moonlight, R.J. turned his empty lint-lined pockets inside out. He gave the Devil a helplessly pathetic half-smile. "You is ’bout the most pitiful colored boy I done ever laid these infernal eyes on," the Devil said. "But I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do …. "


A report released late last night from the Crab Corner sheriff’s department confirmed recent rumors concerning retired physical education instructor, D.T. Ward, 68, who alleged over the weekend that a spectral, feral-eyed black man passed through the walls of his newly-paneled basement Saturday morning, and greeted him with a strange but cheery salutation.

"At first, I thought he was askin’ for a plate of ‘green eggs ‘n’ ham,’" D.T. told a disbelieving deputy. "Like in them Dr. Seuss books. But now that I think on it, what he said sounded somethin’ more like what them magician fellas say ‘fore they pull a rabbit outta their hats — Wham! Bam! Alley Ka Zam! — only this nigra fella was more dicty an’ foreign soundin’, like he was addressin’ royalty or somethin’, lookin’ at me with them flint-fire eyes. Gave me the Willies!"

According to Ward, whom long-time neighbors suspect is rapidly degenerating into senility, the red-haired apparition floated into the upstairs kitchen, where he took a box of Cap’n Crunch from a kitchen cupboard and prepared a large bowl of the sugar-coated cereal, using close to a full quart of milk. The sepia-tinted spectre then returned to the basement, sat on the sofa, nestling the bowl on his lap, and watched cartoons on the family’s new big-screen television with the Wards’ three visiting grandchildren — Ralph, Edwina, and Skip. The children chirped that he enjoyed early-vintage Popeye cartoons best.

"Right neighborly fella," D.T. said. "Real nice to the kids. Didn’t drink, smoke, or cuss. Helped around the yard. Wore a bowtie".


The wretched inherited the earth. And the Man spurt a glorious rain. His underwear was left sticky with seed.

Witches taught naming was power. To name was to know and exert influence over the world of things. The ability to name determined the fuction of a thing. To name was to tame. But we learned otherwise. Real power lay in un-naming.

We refused names, numbers, and codes. We refused stamps, marks. We acted anonymously and moved beyond the Man’s mechanisms of global economic and social control. If the Man could not name us, he could not know or tame us. Once he declared us one thing, we become another. We were an invisible and ever changing alphabet. The Man found our meaning more difficult to grasp than a bead of mercury.

He lamented. The cornerstone of the corporate nation-state, the family, had crumbled.

"Errant fathers! Sluttish mothers! Bastard births! Negro music! What is the world to do?" he mourned. "Return to the power of prayer!" So when the robots rolled into the cities, chirping "Automaton Christian Solidiers," we became the robots. The Man did not and could not know. We was them.

Even at the end, in the euphoria of his avarious wet dreams, he thought the tumors raging within were of his own making. But how could he know?

We shifted gender, race, and class. And hopped from one species to the next. We were flora and fauna. We were never what we seemed to be. We were never what he expected. We were random, illogical, varied. He could not predict us.

Then he turned on himself. "To restore order," he said, "we must restore the family. We must attempt to rebuild our moral foundation with the assistance of God."

In his megalomania, the Man resurrected the biblical Abraham from the dust. The ancient patriarch stood before the people and lifted his simple robes. He turned and bent over and exposed the halves of his pimpled ass. His asshole puckered and spoke in gaseous bleats. Throngs of people shuddered in awe. The Savior had come at long last in the mask of Abraham’s encrusted asshole.

"The father is the spirtual leader of the househould," it said, "the model of God’s love. And he must wash his wife in the waters of that love. He must also instruct his children on matters God’s word with diligence. It is his moral obligation, a duty bestowed on him by heaven. It is the responsiblity of men to teach and reaffirm God’s word."

A rancid pungency wafted through the crowd in fog-like densities. The people swooned and were overtaken by uncontrollable nausea and diarrhea. Soon, the streets were flooded with the waters of God’s love. And the waters clogged the circuitry of the robots under the Man’s control.

It was then the Man expired, jacking off in pools of his own shit.

Darius James is the author of the novel Negrophobia and the film survey That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury).

Ain’t I a werewolf?


AFRO-SURREAL Stylistic rigor and as full an embrace of progressive technologies as budgets allow have made Underworld Trilogy (Sony Pictures DVD, $93.95) a pleasurable extension of epics from fang-face past. Yet perhaps the most significant aspect of Len Wiseman’s cycle about immortals warring for supremacy is an updated recognition of the post-1960s liberation strides of blacks and women in our society. It is reflected in the power and intellect of the first film’s heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her fellow vampiric rebels (like Robbie Gee’s tech-wizard Kahn) and lycan foes ("Razahir/Raze," played by Underworld concept engineer Kevin Grievoux). The last and best installment, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, is a virtual remix of my generation’s seminal televisual event, Roots. If that ain’t Afro-Surreal, then what is?

It was 30 years ago — not long after the historic airing of the adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots fundamentally changed public perceptions of America’s "peculiar institution" — that I moved to the Sahel and immediately became obsessed with Dogon lore about the Sirius star system and a family of deities including the trickster Pale Fox. Blood debates about antiquity and provenance continue to rage between disdainful classicists, denizens of the moribund field of Egyptology, and independent scholars of varying stripes devoted to Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (1987). My view supports linkages between the overlapping subcultures of the Dogon, Amazigh, "Egyptians," Zulu, and others, resulting in a kozmic fusion wherein the primordial werewolf (some would prefer jackal or werehyena) is a key deity from the dawn of civilization in the Motherland.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans finds the great Irish actor Michael Sheen’s "lycan" leader character Lucian subbing for Kunta Kinte. In the stark, nightmarish Eastern European fiefdom of vampire lord Viktor (Bill Nighy), the decadent, pale vampires are pampered aristocrats guarded and served by their dark, subhuman lycan slaves (hybrids of humans and wolves). Lucian changes from pet house nigger fettered by shackles of the flesh and mind — condescendingly deemed "a credit to his race" by Viktor — into an enlightened, empowered rebel leader who brings deliverance to lycan-kind by forging an alliance with despised animal spawn of William Corvinus in the wooded wilds.

Yet all is not Molotovs and roses — there are sadistic spectacles of whipping at the hands of cruel overseer Kosta, Nubian ally Razahir is forced to submit to lycanthropy, and Lucian suffers the ultimate price for miscegenation with Viktor’s daughter Sonja (the underrated Rhona Mitra). Rise of the Lycans may not be Blacula, but it is often a winking mash-up of Roots and the even more hardcore, honest Mandingo (1975). In a time when America has just elected its first (official) black president but open dialogues on slavery — and reparations for same — remain muted at best, it’s heartening to witness product straight out of Hollyweird somehow serving as an optic Trojan horse for the oft-forgotten and misrepresented radicalism of antebellum culture heroes like Nat Turner, Cinque, and the O.G. Black Moses herself, Harriet Tubman.

Rise of the Lycans has been roundly panned by fanboys and critics alike, which is hardly shocking considering America’s unwillingness to face the major episodes of its bloody past — the enslavement of Africans via the Triangular Trade, and the genocide of the First Nations. Yet to these eyes and ears, the film’s a first sign in the Age of Obama that a willingness to finally address the West’s hateful legacies can emanate from "low" culture, despite the will to bliss out in the opiated mass of post-racial utopia.

Natural light


REVIEW The abundant drama of natural light is reason enough to see Summer Hours, a family drama by Olivier Assayas aspiring to Proustian profundity and Chekhovian chambering. I prefer Les Destinées Sentimentales (2000) for Assayas’ novelistic mode, but the new film still has plenty to like. This will be especially true for Antiques Roadshow fans, who will have a field day with all the Musée D’Orsay-approved furnishings, even if the characters themselves don’t seem quite so sturdy. The film opens with an annual reunion at the beautiful country estate where matriarch Hélène (Edith Scob, the daughter in Georges Franju’s 1960 classic Eyes Without a Face) has tended the reputation and archive of a long-dead artist relation. When Hélène dies, the question of the house and all those beautiful objects falls to the three adult children. Being an Oliver Assayas film, this a globalization issue. Frédéric (Charles Berling) is the only one who remains in Paris (an economist who doesn’t believe in economics, he’s more susceptible to sentimentality than the other two). Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) has gone after the art market in New York, while brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) covers the financial sector in China. A clear opposition — perhaps too clear — is erected between the memory of provincial France and the dislocated pulse of the contemporary, but to Assayas’ credit, Summer Hours doesn’t feel like it has its mind made up between the two: the darting camera courts the promise of speed and movement, while the luxurious play of light nurses what’s been lost. The characters are never more than their scenes, but there are a few breathtaking ones, including two bookending portraits of footloose youth that recoup Summer Hours‘ air of inconsequence.

SUMMER HOURS opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.

SFIAF’s dance events


PREVIEW Perhaps the best part of this year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival is that it’s happening at all. After the dispiriting news of the demise of the Oakland Ballet, one is grateful for anybody who is surviving. SFIAF’s dance offerings are not as many as most of us would like, but they are excellent and splendidly varied. The hottest ticket in town, of course, is Sasha Waltz and Guests. The Goethe Institute also includes her work in its concurrent film series. Scott Wells and Dancers are bringing two weekends of sometimes unruly but ever-so-cheeky testosterone-laden work to CounterPULSE, while Jess Curtis/Gravity is leaving its home at CounterPULSE to take a version of its Symmetry Project to Union Square. Curtis and Maria F. Scaroni, in the company of local dancers, will perform their new Transmission. Gravity will appear as part of the free "Jewels in the Square" series, daily noontime performances by local and international dancers throughout the festival. Last, but by no means least, Gamelan Sekar Jaya celebrates its 30th anniversary during the fest. May they have many more and may we have many more SF International Arts Festivals.

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL May 20-31, various venues. www.sfiaf.org

Uptown Thursday night


AFRO-SURREAL PREVIEW Fuck all that. Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night (Profile, 1997) is one of the most slept-on albums in the history of hip-hop. Period. Innovative well beyond its years, Uptown Saturday Night introduces the Camp Lo aesthetic — a combination of exquisite wordplay, foppish elegance, and Bronx-style bravado mixed in with a fearsome frivolity. They redefined "gangsta," using the oft-quoted Posdnous lyric "Fuck being hard /Posdnous is complicated" as a motto. Because Uptown Saturday Night IS complicated, which makes it hard. It’s also pornographic and violent to an extreme and probably bears the uncomfortable distinction of being the first, if not only, hip-hop album to portray coprophilia in nearly positive light.

The album is a complete immersion into a certain brand of street slang that bears a lineage with Iceberg Slim, De La Soul, Digable Planets, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. Definitely otnay orfay ofeys, the Lo’s first outing is the most utterly inaccessible and damn-near indescribable crossover album of the era.

Camp Lo created such a lyrical Gordian knot that even the most versed connoisseur of microphone wizardry could be left looking baffled with a handful of either jewels or cubic zirconia — only an accurate hip-to-square conversion chart could tell which. "In another millenia /Blow the dust off these jewels," says Geechi Suede, and to this day, Googling the lyrics of their one and only "hit," "Luchini," brings page after page of misquoted and half-heard snippets exposing Herbs. An example: "Keep your ears out for our years"? How about keep your ears out for Roy Ayers? He’s a jazz musician. "Levitating in da’ shiggys"? How about dashikis? They’re a kind of shirt, from Africa.

All Afro-Surreal elements are present: a layered rococo style steeped in international travel; a dandy’s obsession with "vines" from Paris and Milan; a literary approach with references ranging from Donald Goines to Fragonard; and a frivolous manner that belies a serious intent. After Uptown Saturday Night, hip-hop changed, and not necessarily for the better. Go see Camp Lo. Give these men their due.

CAMP LO With DJ Apollo and Sake 1. Thurs/21, 10 p.m., $10. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. (415) 762-0151. www.mighty119.com

Rock, B.C.


PREVIEW I have yet to touch down upon the streets of Vancouver, B.C., but was advised recently by Jexxe Taylarr of Twin Crystals that if I ever do make the pilgrimage, I should stop by the Emergency Room — a hole-in-the-wall performance space where in addition to Taylarr’s band, the likes of Shearing Pinx, Sex Negatives, White Lung, and Gang Violence tear shit up on a regular basis.

"The music scene is unbelievable," Taylarr says via e-mail. "There was a lack of places to play, so a bunch of our friends opened this DIY warehouse space and it instantly seemed to take off," he continues. "Never have we seen shows with so many rad bands."

Count Twin Crystals as one such band. With synthist Jeremiah Heywood and drummer Jordan Alexander in tow, Taylarr and company wreak serious havoc. "Punk Heart" is a tried-and-true anthem that nods back to the blown-out alt of the Screamers and Wipers. Brimming with harsh, electric current and buzzsaw electronics, the song has a J. Mascis-like lead that’ll wrap around your face and scorch you. "Witness" is one helluva of an afterburner: as Taylarr unloads into the mic with unchecked rabidity, its raw primitive roots and sludgy demeanor rattle the speaker cones.

A few years after inception, Twin Crystals has stocked its vault with a collection of self-made vinyl, cassette, and CD-R releases on banners like Needs More Ram and SLU. The trio plans to issue more classics on the Gilgongo and Split Tapes imprints in the coming months. Taylarr credits the group’s bulky catalog in part to his trusty record lathe. "I have a bunch of black 10-inch acetates from 1940 that we release little jams and ideas on," he explains. "The digital format will die and all these great jams we have will be lost forever, so we just make these lathe-cut records to preserve the audio. It’s a great art project."

TWIN CRYSTALS With Long Legged Woman, Modern Creatures. Thurs/21, 9 p.m. $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923. www.hemlocktavern.com

Black man in the cosmos



AFRO-SURREAL "The Black Man in the Cosmos" wasn’t among the course offerings when I attended the University of California-Berkeley. The class was taught once, in 1971, by musician/composer Sun Ra (1914-93), whose lectures might include topics like the outer space origins of ancient Egypt, conceptualized as a black African culture. This cosmic tradition has a long history, particularly in Chicago, where Ra lived from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, and where Elijah Muhammad used it as the founding mythos of the Nation of Islam. Ra claimed to have influenced the NOI, though he rejected its conclusions, much as he would later criticize the Black Power movement he helped foster as too materialist.

Ra’s "Black Man" lectures — one of which recently surfaced on The Creator of the Universe (Transparency, 2007) — epitomize why he wasn’t taken seriously for so long. Critics who appreciated the severity of Ornette Coleman or the ferocity of Albert Ayler couldn’t accommodate the mischievous mysticism of a man who claimed to come from Saturn. Instead of playing the role of brooding artiste, Ra favored extravagant showmanship, cloaking ultimately stern spiritual messages in language as absurd as the science-fictional garb worn by his Arkestra. His strategies included Joycean deformations of words based on false etymologies and sound play. "Arkestra" itself characteristically mixes the spiritual (Ark of the Covenant) with the quotidian. According to John Szwed’s definitive 1998 biography, Space is the Place, this was how "orchestra" was pronounced in Ra’s native Birmingham, Ala.

Yet the strangeness of Ra’s music may have been the biggest stumbling block. His prodigious output is extremely diverse, continually vioutf8g unquestioned dichotomies. A product of the 1930s big band scene, when he led an orchestra under his terrestrial name Herman "Sonny" Blount, Ra was at the forefront of free jazz, yet he shocked fans and foes alike when, at its height, he began incorporating tight arrangements of swing classics by Fletcher Henderson, Ellington, and others into his sound.

Ra’s lifelong interest in synthesizers — there’s a photo of him with a primitive one in 1941(!) — developed into a command of pure sound. He adapted his style to the nuances of a particular keyboard. The 1970 recording Night of the Purple Moon (Atavistic, 2007), for instance, is a quartet disc on which he plays baroque runs on the Rocksichord, a 1960s electric harpsichord. The 1978 recording Disco 3000 (Art Yard, 2008), a live quartet performance, features Ra’s organ-like drones on the obscure, loop-enabled Crumar Mainman. Unlike some synth wizards, Ra was a virtuoso pianist, with a lightning-fast right hand and a left hand that seemingly bounced around of its own volition. While unafraid to mash the keys with his forearm, Ra’s ambidextrous precision and unorthodox chord voicings — he was unafraid to mash the keys with his forearm — place him among the top players of his time. If he’d worn a suit and stuck to piano, he’d be ranked with the likes of Art Tatum, as is evident from his previously-unreleased recital Solo Piano: Teatro la Fenice Venizia (Golden Years, 2003), possibly the best such recording.

Big bands remained Ra’s ideal, though they were giving way to smaller bop combos by the time he formed the Arkestra in the mid-’50s. Yet his insularity resulted in some of his most original works, discs that defy generic categories, like 1963’s reverb-drenched, proto-psychedelic Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy (Evidence, 1992), 1965’s percussive, minimalist Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, v. 1 (Esp, 2006), or 1967’s Strange Strings (Atavistic, 2007), on which the Arkestra, with no prior experience, plays various non-Western stringed instruments, accompanied by bells, tympani, sheet-metal lightning.

While the atonal Strings may be Ra’s least typical album, it embodies two of his main concerns. On the one hand, he was a tone colorist in the Romantic tradition, seeking unusual instrumentation to produce unique shades. But as that album’s untutored string section suggests, he was a highly conceptual composer — garnering attention from John Cage and others — known for arranging and conducting collective improvisation. Traditional/avant-garde, inside/outside: such oppositions didn’t exist for Ra, who even explored a "low" genre like disco on 1980’s tongue-in-cheek On Jupiter (Art Yard, 2008).

The bewildering amount of Sun Ra reissues stems from his habit of self-recording, which also dates from the 1940s. Had he not done so, albums like Strings and Cosmic Tones wouldn’t have been recorded. Nor would they have been released without his forming El Saturn Records, among the earliest artist-run labels. Given that his technological futurism seemed to stem from his preoccupation with outer space, Ra’s artistic achievements are perhaps inextricably bound to his cosmic consciousness. As with Prince, artistic activity was driven by extramusical concerns, which, if they result in an occasional lapse in "good taste," nonetheless are the ingredients that elevate Ra from artistic excellence to genius. This genius may not have given him more than a subsistence living, but it has made him immortal. Unless, of course, as an inhabitant of Saturn, he already was.

Ding dong, Wicked Witch is alive


AFRO-SURREAL What was black music like before hip-hop took over? On Chaos: 1978-86 (EM), a compilation of private press recordings by the obscure machine funk guitarist Wicked Witch, it resembles squelching synthesizers riffed like rock guitars and deep, rumbling bass stomps. Unevenly tuned fretboard licks mash with splashing, polyphonic drum patterns as a mysterious leading man uncomfortably murmurs lyrics like "I just can’t hang out, too much time is lost."

As a young guitarist hooked on Cream, Sun Ra, and Weather Report who mostly played for family and friends in southeast Washington, D.C., Wicked Witch’s Richard Simms didn’t achieve local fame, much less a national audience. But his subterranean woodshedding reverberates with tremors from an industry in upheaval. Musicians adopted electronic equipment en masse, supplanting the flowery string arrangements of 1970s disco with keyboards and drum programming. It wasn’t just black musicians transitioning to the computer age: early-1980s rock offers contrasts between lush new romanticism (Human League, Duran Duran) and crass arena sounds (Foreigner, REO Speedwagon). While the latter is celebrated via redundant VH-1 retrospectives and football stadium soundtracks, early-1980s black music and its heroes (the System, Imagination) remain unexplored.

Nelson George describes the period in 1988’s authoritative history The Death of Rhythm & Blues. "Synthesizers of every description, drum machines, and plain old electric keyboards began making MFSB and other human rhythm sections nonessential to the recording process," he writes, somewhat overstating his case. "There were so many … with all the personality and warmth of a microwave."

George’s "microwave music" condemnation still resonates, and this crucial period of black music — just before the hip-hop, R&B and quiet storm era — has largely escaped serious critical attention, save for disco aficionados who cherry-pick proto-house music stars like D-Train and Larry Levan. Meanwhile, Wicked Witch’s unintended documentation of the black new wave — meshing machine gun funk with spacey keyboard ambience on "Fancy Dancer," giving a shambolic twist to Mahavishnu Orchestra-style jazz fusion on "Vera’s Back" — has reemerged on the collector’s market. Simms’ private press singles, which include two 7-inches and a 12-inch long player, have been bootlegged. Original copies trade for $100. This probably led EM, a Japanese specialty label, to contact Simms and assemble Chaos.

"It wasn’t commercial," Simms said during a recent phone conversation. Forced Exposure, the Boston distributor handling Chaos, had passed on his information, but it took more than two weeks to finally reach him. Though pleasantly surprised by the novelty of an interview, he’s somewhat suspicious of the affair. When asked how many copies he pressed up, he shoots back, "Why are you inquiring about that?" as if this writer, armed with a copy of Goldmine magazine, wants to corner the market on Wicked Witch collectibles. And how did Simms come up with the name Wicked Witch anyway? "I’m stumped on that one," he says. "I think I wanted something dramatic, like theater."

Simms remembers forming his first band, Paradiagm with teenage friends "on an original-type kick" from around the area. The group recorded the track "Vera’s Back" before going their separate ways. "We were trying to do an original act, but people didn’t really accept it," he says. Chuck Brown’s ingenious go-go style, an amalgamation of James Brown’s call-and-response breaks and N’awlins marching band jazz, reigned as D.C.’s unofficial soundtrack. And since Paradiagm wasn’t a go-go band and didn’t play covers of radio hits, they couldn’t get bookings: "It was too hard to break new material." Simms managed to reach the manager of Return to Forever, Chick Corea’s jazz fusion superstar collective. But he says, mysteriously, "We did vocals, and they weren’t doing no vocals."

After that came Wicked Witch, which Simms describes as a "studio thing" where he worked out his musical ideas and recorded them. Yet even that was relatively short-lived. "My background is jazz fusion," Simms says. For Wicked Witch, he tried to merge fusion and funk, resulting in tracks with cryptic time signatures and spaced-out melodies. "If it was more funky, I think it would have been it. But it wasn’t funky enough. But I still dig it."

By the mid-1980s, the leather-clad hero of "Fancy Dancer" disappeared in the Chocolate City, just as the hip-hop era had begun. "Kids, a job, other things you gotta do … all of the above got put on top of the music. And then the music became close to nothing," Simms says. Before that happened, however, he pressed up those now-collectible records for himself. "Nobody was doing it for me, so I might as well do something on my own, right?"

For your earholes




Afro-Surreal is a crackling transmission from the tightest tunnels and recesses of inner space, and the furthest, darkest outposts of outer space. Afro-Surreal is androgynous — butch and femme on a whim. Afro-Surreal is a sonic realm that can morph any millisecond. It is a single body with many voices. Afro-Surreal might sound like gospel, but it ain’t, or if it is, it’s Goth gospel. Afro-Surreal is a Puya-like bloom from the root of a manifesto named "Black Sabrina." Afro-Surreal is a flawed masterstroke from the most unjustly under-known "popular music" recording artist of the 21st century. Afro-Surreal is the sound of Chelonis R. Jones.

Right now, the sound of Chelonis R. Jones is Chatterton (Systematic), his second solo album after the equally deep and fantastic Dislocated Genius (Get Physical, 2005). It’s named after a poet, and it’s a place where Giorgio Moroder-meets-Donna Summer to soundtrack an eight-minute minimalist epic sung from the perspective of the ungrateful sole survivor of a plane crash. It’s a place where rehab is a "recreant blur," and Fleetwood Mac’s "Dreams" are buried beneath threatening street wisdom from an ex-.

"’WELL SHUT MY MOUTH WIDE OPEN!’is an old surrealist term of expression that Afro-Americans created when they were emancipated, due to the fact that emancipation wasn’t a reality, but a much dreamed of condition that they hoped would become a reality." So writes Ted Joans — as tedjoans — in the liner notes for the recently-reissued 1974 album King of Kings (Pyramid/Ikef) by the Pyramids, Bay Area artist and musician Idris Ackamoor’s revelatory group. Joans was referring to the free jazz sounds of the time, but he could just as well have been referring to Death’s definition of rock ‘n’ roll, as demonstrated on …For All the World to See (Drag City), a previously unreleased true treasure of black Detroit rock that also dates from 1974. Brothers David and Bobby Hackney don’t just invent punk — "Freakin Out" is like the Buzzcocks if they were muscular — they create agit-punk on the epic "Politicians in My Eyes."

The arrival of Death couldn’t be better timed to match the black rock signs of life within the surreal electronic solar system of Jones’ Chatterton. Jones’ braiding of word and sound is subliminal, like when Pornography (as in a song that sounds like that particular era of the Cure) arrives in the wake of a track called "Tornogrpahy." In the audio "Che-ography" he has created with dozens of studio collaborators (charted on his MySpace), a cat-lady character from a 12" single (2007’s "Helen Cornell") can cameo in a song by another recording endeavor about a girl who suffers when "the pimps and crack dealers hit her…where the good lord split her."

All the lonely people, framed by "Pompadour," Chatterton‘s penultimate track that pays homage to an idol by stampeding to finality like "Speedway" on Morrissey’s Vauxhall and I (Sire, 1994). "’Twas said, ’twas said: Black singers are … well, so very very … uh … cliché," Jones, well, sings — and sings from a bottomless well. "And still, and still you know you’ll screw for them … you’ll screw in private anyway!"


Afro-Surreal-List and writing by Chelonis R. Jones

Editor’s Notes



It was not what you’d call a banner day in the big leagues. On May 12, the progressives — who celebrated sweeping victories in last fall’s election — lost three significant battles, leaving me more than a little nervous about the upcoming epic fight over Mayor Newsom’s 2009-10 budget.

In separate votes, with different members going the wrong way each time, the Board of Supervisors sided with Newsom on a private deal to build a solar-power project in the Sunset District, then approved his Muni service cuts and fare hikes.

And while the final Muni vote was going on at City Hall, the School Board was meeting nearby and voting to restore a military recruiting program to the public high schools.

This is not what any of us had in mind during last fall’s campaigns.

The vote to approve the Recurrent Energy project came early in the day and left me shaking my head. The idea was fine — build solar panels on the Sunset Reservoir — but the contract the mayor’s Public Utilities Commission put forth was full of serious problems. For starters, nobody was ever able to explain why the city never looked seriously at a way to build the project itself instead of giving the land to a private, for-profit company that will charge very high rates for the power. It was the kind of deal you’d expect the fiscal conservatives to wince at, but no: Sean Elsbernd was all in favor.

That left Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos to raise the questions about this use of public resources and public money. The problems should have been hammered out in committee, and the deal amended before it ever came to the board. But to my surprise, John Avalos voted with Carmen Chu to pass it out of Budget and Finance.

Then, again to my surprise, Eric Mar broke with the progressive bloc and sided with the Newsom camp to approve the thing.

I wasn’t thrilled with the outcome, but you can’t win ’em all — and I figured that at least the Muni fare hikes were going down. After all, Board President David Chiu had done an outstanding job of challenging Muni on its assumptions and its spending on plans, and was leading the charge to reject the budget. Six other supervisors signed on to his move.

Then the backroom talks started — right in the middle of the board meeting. The Mayor’s Office offered a few tidbits, but insisted that the fare hikes and service cuts had to be passed or the entire city budget would be out of whack. And to my surprise, in the end, Chiu blinked. He voted to table his own resolution, effectively approving the Muni plan.

What was missing in all of this, I think, was visible progressive leadership. Chiu has done some good things, but he’s still very new — and in this case, he didn’t stand up to the mayor. I think that’s partially experience, learning how Newsom plays the game and realizing that you can’t let him threaten you or push you around, that compromise is fine and open communications are great, but that in the end, the supervisors have to call their own shots.

And there’s nobody else on this board stepping into that role right now.

The progressive majority on the board is fractious, but that’s always going to be the case. The reason there’s no left-wing "machine" in San Francisco, and never will be, is that people on the left are always too independent and too unwilling to be herded. There’s still room, though — and now, a desperate need — for leadership, for someone who can be the majority whip and make sure the six votes are there when we need them.

If the progressives can’t stick together on Newsom’s budget, it’s going to be a long, and painful, year.

I wish Mark Sanchez had decided to stay on the School Board instead of running for supervisor. He would have been re-elected, and either Jill Wynns or Rachel Norton would have lost, and this whole JROTC fiasco would never have happened.

There are plenty of problems in the schools, plenty of issues for the board to work on, and with the deep budget problems, it’s going to be important for the members to work together. The decision by Wynns and Norton to dredge up a done issue and drag it back before the board was needless and wrong.

I’m way against JROTC in the schools, but even some of the people who ended up supporting it — like board member Norman Yee — never wanted to see it back before the board again. Now we’re going to be fighting over this for months to come. There may be litigation, and it didn’t need to happen.

Now any hope of finding an alternative leadership program that doesn’t involve the military is gone for at least the next two years, and we’re stuck with the Army as part of our high school curriculum.

Not a banner day, folks. Not a banner day. *

Downtown’s missing history


EDITORIAL To hear the proponents of a new downtown condo complex talk, you’d think they were giving the city a wonderful deal. In exchange for an exemption from height limits that would allow a tower twice the allowable size just a few yards from the Transamerica Building, the developer would give the city a little patch of parkland that’s now privately owned. Even the city planning director, John Rahaim, seems to think the special treatment is acceptable, since none of the other buildings in the area are nearly as tall as the Pyramid, and, he told the Chronicle, "usually you cluster tall buildings together."

Of course, the usual crew of downtown boosters love the architecture (a sort of spiral design), love that it would create housing in an area that’s generally empty at night, and figure that something only about half as tall as the high-rise it’s next to can’t be all that bad.

But there’s a stunning lack of historical perspective in all this discussion.

The Transamerica Building seems like an icon today, but when it was first proposed in 1969, it met with strong opposition — not so much because of its unique design (although some prominent architecture critics thought it was hideous) but because it was way too big, too tall, and jammed into a human-scale neighborhood where all the other buildings were low-rise. It was a flash point for the anti-Manhattanization movement and rallied preservationists, environmentalists, and neighborhood advocates.

One of the central issues: in order to accommodate the new tower, the city would have to give up a block-long section of Merchant Street, an alley filled with small businesses. The controversy over the sale of that public street occupied center stage in the Transamerica battle, and in order to convince the supervisors to hand over the public property, Transamerica agreed to build a little park on the edge of the property. That’s how Redwood Park came into being — as a concession from a developer who had been given public land.

And now another developer, Andrew Segal, is offering to give the park back — again, as mitigation for a project that’s too big for the site. So the city, in exchange for approving a bad project, winds up with land it would have had anyway if it hadn’t accepted a different bad project four decades ago.

And there’s been very little attention paid to the historic reasons why this project would need special exemptions from two city laws to move forward. In the mid-1980s, with Dianne Feinstein in the mayor’s office, the city was getting choked with tall, bulky — and frankly, nasty-looking — high-rises that were turning downtown and South of Market into dark, windy, dismal canyons. After long debate, many public hearings, and extensive discussion, the voters approved two measures aimed at limiting the impact of overdevelopment. One of them, Proposition K, barred new buildings from casting shadows on public parks. The other, Proposition M, limited high-rise office development and mandated the preservation of neighborhood character. At the same time, the height limits in that area — on the edge of Jackson Square and North Beach — were reduced, again after many hearings and much debate. The idea was that downtown’s skyscrapers shouldn’t be intruding northward.

Let’s remember: this won’t be affordable housing. The new condos will be priced at the top of the market (clearly the developer thinks the housing market is coming back in San Francisco). And while environmentalists like the idea of building housing near jobs, very few of the new condos that have gone up downtown have provided housing for San Franciscans. Most are owned either by empty-nesters returning from the suburbs, Silicon Valley commuters, or international jet-setters seeking a SF pied-à-terre.

So there are very good reasons for planners and the supervisors to reject this project — and for the city not to forget that the rules that make this deal unappealing were neither random nor a mistake. There’s history here, and once you understand it, the project makes very little sense. * *

The list in surrealist


1. Putney Swope (Robert Downey Sr., 1969) The elder Downey’s brilliant, completely irreverent send-up of race, politics and the advertising industry. Smoke a big fat joint and watch this one. You will laugh your ass off. Take special note of the "commercials" for the products by Truth and Soul, Inc.

2. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2002) Spike Lee’s dark, squirm-in-your-seat masterpiece brings minstrelsy into the 21st century. Damon Wayans tries to get himself fired from a racist TV station by producing an extremely offensive prime time minstrel show. The show turns out to be a smash hit.

3. The Watermelon Man (Melvin Van Peebles, 1970) One of the great Afro-Surrealists casts Godfrey Cambridge as a white racist insurance salesman who wakes up as a black man after watching race riots on the late night news. Very, very OUT, especially the scene where Cambridge sits in a tub full of milk trying to reverse the color change.

4. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971) Peebles casts himself as Sweetback, a black stud sex worker who kills a racist cop and has to go on the lam. More allegory than literal narrative, it reminds me of Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970).

5. Black Like Me (Carl Lerner, 1964) Curious writer James Whitmore wants to experience being black so he takes a pill to darken his skin, tests his new identity on his favorite shoe shine man and heads down south. Bad idea. He runs into trouble instantly (near-lynching, bad vibes from every white person) and basically goes insane.

6. Which Way Is Up? (Michael Schultz, 1977) Richard Pryor plays three characters — a jackleg preacher, a dirty old man, and an orange picker who accidentally becomes union hero — in this very funny remake of The Seduction of Mimi (1972).

7. Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin’ (Michael Blum, 1971) Pryor’s first standup film. He’s coming off a coke binge, the film crew is pissing him off, and no one is laughing, but that doesn’t stop him. The highlight is the demented "a wino and a junkie" routine.

8. Space is the Place (John Coney, 1974) Sun Ra, black alien jazz musician for Saturn, lands his spaceship in early-1970s Oakland. His mission is to rescue black people, but strangely, no one wants to be saved. He battles the CIA, apathetic black youth (who think he’s a hippie from Telegraph Avenue) and a character called the Overseer while finding the time to put on a concert at Laney College. Anything by Sun Ra is Afro-Surrealism at its most potent.

9. Ghost Dog (Jim Jarmusch, 1999) Jim Jarmusch’s mystical meditation on the samurai, Brooklyn style. My man Isaach De Bankolé almost steals the movie.

10. Sankofa (Haile Gerima, 1993) Gerima’s off-the-charts take on slavery is disturbing, downright depressing, and utterly psychedelic. A black supermodel on a shoot on Goree Island, the infamous slave trader’s fort, steps into a basement and is transported back to a West Indies plantation. Afro-Surrealism at its best.

The cult of Fanaka



AFRO-SURREAL Visitors to filmmaker Jamaa Fanaka’s MySpace page are greeted with a clip of Snoop Dogg clutching a pile of Fanaka DVDs — 1975’s Welcome Home Brother Charles, a.k.a. Soul Vengeance; 1976’s Emma Mae, a.k.a. Black Sister’s Revenge; 1979’s Penitentiary; and 1982’s Penitentiary II. He quotes some choice lines and enthusiastically sings the director’s praises: "These movies right here — this is black history."

When I mention Snoop Dogg to Fanaka, he’s delighted. "All the rappers love me," he says over the phone from Los Angeles. "Also actors, like Eddie Murphy. The first time I ran into him, he was with his brother, and they recited [a scene from Penitentiary] verbatim. That happens all the time."

The Fanaka library (which also includes 1987’s Penitentiary III and 1992’s Street Wars) has also earned a following among cult-movie fans. "I love that they’re cult films, because of what a ‘cult film’ means: the film lives because the people want it to live," he explains. He’s not a fan of the term "blaxploitation" — though it’s commonly applied to his films — due to its connotations.

"There were companies that were very profitable, and all they made were ‘exploitation’ films, which meant that they made low-budget films on subjects that Hollywood didn’t want to take on," he says. "It only became a negative term once they put that prefix ‘blax’ on it. No black filmmaker ever liked that term, though it was coined by a black publicist. ‘Blaxploitation’ has evolved into a genre, like a horror film, or an action film. But black filmmakers still resent the term because of its origins."

Born in Mississippi, raised in L.A., Fanaka says was distracted from committing a crime by a pair of UCLA recruiters who made him believe he could realize his childhood dream of becoming a filmmaker. ("They asked me, did I want to go to UCLA? I said, ‘Yeah. I’d like to go to the moon, too, but my chances of getting there are pretty minuscule.’") He was eventually accepted into the school’s prestigious film program, where he also earned a master’s degree; his peers included Charles Burnett, who directed 1977’s Killer of Sheep.

"It was an exciting time to be a black filmmaker," Fanaka says. "People like Charles Burnett were part of my film crew, I was part of his film crew. We helped each other, advised each other. Those were the halcyon days of filmmaking at UCLA."

Even more notably, "I’m the only person in the history of filmmaking to write, produce, direct, and get theatrical distribution for three feature films I made as part of my curriculum at the UCLA film school," Fanaka says. He shot his first feature, Welcome Home Brother Charles, on the weekends when he didn’t have class.

"I felt like, if I had access to all of this equipment, and the wherewithal to make a 10-minute film, why not make a whole feature?" he recalls. "I wanted to reach the widest audience possible, and no matter how good a short film is, the audience is going to be limited. Then I went on to graduate school and I made Emma Mae and Penitentiary."

This kind of determination also extended to Fanaka’s fundraising efforts. His parents invested their life savings into his work (good call — Penitentiary, Fanaka says, was the most successful indie film of 1980), but he wondered why he was rejected for a grant by the American Film Institute. He did some research and learned that only one African American had ever been a part of the grant-awarding committee. "I wanted to give minorities a shot," he says, so he wrote a letter to then-Sen. Alan Cranston suggesting that the committee should be more diverse. The next grant cycle, he got the money to help make Emma Mae; the following cycle, he served on the committee. "That goes to show you how the squeaking wheel gets the oil," he remembers, proudly.

In less-tenacious hands, there’d certainly be no Welcome Home Brother Charles. "White slave owners used to tell white women horror stories about the size of the black males’ sexual equipment," Fanaka explains. "But rather than frightening the white females, it intrigued them. I wanted to make a film that took that myth and exaggerated it to show how ridiculous it was, and I chose to do it in a very surreal, powerful scene."

(Note to readers who haven’t seen the film: uh, think 1997’s Anaconda. The entire Penitentiary series is also a gold mine of surreal moments, particularly part three, which features a prison-dwelling, crack-smoking, snarling killer dwarf. Fanaka sums up that film in one word: "feral.")

Now in his late 60s, Fanaka has been slowed in his efforts to make Penitentiary IV by complications from diabetes. He’s also been working for the last decade on a music documentary, Hip Hop Hope. It’s an apt title for a film by Fanaka, who calls himself "a very optimistic person." He’s enjoyed the resurgence of interest in his work, with screenings at places like San Francisco’s Dead Channels Film Festival and Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, and frequent airings of the Penitentiary films on cable.

"My most artistic film, in my estimation, was Welcome Home Brother Charles, because I had no axes to grind but to try and use the medium of cinema to attack that myth, and attack it in a way that was quote-unquote artistic. Of course, very few people took that from it because that one scene kind of colors the whole film," he chuckles. "But I think as time goes by, people are gonna realize the value of these films I’ve made and begin to understand them."

Call it Afro-Surreal


I’m not a surrealist. I just paint what I see. — Frida Kahlo


In his introduction to the classic novel Invisible Man (1952), ambiguous black and literary icon Ralph Ellison says the process of creation was "far more disjointed than [it] sounds … such was the inner-outer subjective-objective process, pied rind and surreal heart."

Ellison’s allusion is to his book’s most perplexing character, Rinehart the Runner, a dandy, pimp, numbers runner, drug dealer, prophet, and preacher. The protagonist of Invisible Man takes on the persona of Rinehart so that "I may not see myself as others see me not." Wearing a mask of dark shades and large-brimmed hat, he is warned by a man known as the fellow with the gun, "Listen Jack, don’t let nobody make you act like Rinehart. You got to have a smooth tongue, a heartless heart, and be ready to do anything."

And Ellison’s lead man enters a world of prostitutes, hopheads, cops on the take, and masochistic parishioners. He says of Rinehart, "He was years ahead of me, and I was a fool. The world in which we live is fluidity, and Rine the Rascal was at home." The marquee of Rinehart’s store-front church declares:

Behold the Invisible!

Thy will be done O Lord!

I See all, Know all, Tell all, Cure all.

You shall see the unknown wonders.

Ellison and Rinehart had seen it, but had no name for it.

In an introduction to prophet Henry Dumas’ 1974 book Ark Of Bones and Other Stories, Amiri Baraka puts forth a term for what he describes as Dumas’ "skill at creating an entirely different world organically connected to this one … the Black aesthetic in its actual contemporary and lived life." The term he puts forth is Afro-Surreal Expressionism.

Dumas had seen it. Baraka had named it.

This is Afro-Surreal!


A) Surrealism:

Leopold Senghor, poet, first president of Senegal, and African Surrealist, made this distinction: "European Surrealism is empirical. African Surrealism is mystical and metaphorical." Jean-Paul Sartre said that the art of Senghor and the African Surrealist (or Negritude) movement "is revolutionary because it is surrealist, but itself is surrealist because it is black." Afro-Surrealism sees that all "others" who create from their actual, lived experience are surrealist, per Frida Kahlo. The root for "Afro-" can be found in "Afro-Asiatic", meaning a shared language between black, brown and Asian peoples of the world. What was once called the "third world," until the other two collapsed.

B) Afro-Futurism:

Afro-Futurism is a diaspora intellectual and artistic movement that turns to science, technology, and science fiction to speculate on black possibilities in the future. Afro-Surrealism is about the present. There is no need for tomorrow’s-tongue speculation about the future. Concentration camps, bombed-out cities, famines, and enforced sterilization have already happened. To the Afro-Surrealist, the Tasers are here. The Four Horsemen rode through too long ago to recall. What is the future? The future has been around so long it is now the past.

Afro-Surrealists expose this from a "future-past" called RIGHT NOW.

RIGHT NOW, Barack Hussein Obama is America’s first black president.

RIGHT NOW, Afro-Surreal is the best description to the reactions, the genuflections, the twists, and the unexpected turns this "browning" of White-Straight-Male-Western-Civilization has produced.


San Francisco, the most liberal and artistic city in the nation, has one of the nation’s most rapidly declining black urban populations. This is a sign of a greater illness that is chasing out all artists, renegades, daredevils, and outcasts. No black people means no black artists, and all you yet-untouched freaks are next. Only freaky black art — Afro-Surreal art — in the museums, galleries, concert venues, and streets of this (slightly) fair city can save us!

San Francisco, the land of Afro-Surreal poet laureate Bob Kaufman, can be at the forefront in creating an emerging aesthetic. In this land of buzzwords and catch phrases, Afro-Surreal is necessary to transform how we see things now, how we look at what happened then, and what we can expect to see in the future.

It’s no more coincidence that Kool Keith (as Dr. Octagon) recorded the 1996 Afro-Surreal anthem "Blue Flowers" on Hyde Street, or that Samuel R. Delany based much of his 1974 Afro-Surreal urtext Dhalgren on experiences in San Francisco.

An Afro-Surreal aesthetic addresses these lost legacies and reclaims the souls of our cities, from Kehinde Wiley painting the invisible men (and their invisible motives) in NYC to Yinka Shonibare beheading 17th (and 21st) century sexual tourists of Europe. From Nick Cave’s soundsuits at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to the words you are reading right now, the message is clear: San Francisco, the world is ready for an Afro-Surreal art movement.

Afro-Surrealism is drifting into contemporary culture on a rowboat with no oars, entering the city to hunt down clues for the cure to this ancient, incurable disease called "western civilization." Or, as Ishmael Reed states, "We are mystical detectives about to make an arrest."


Behold the invisible! You shall see unknown wonders!

1. We have seen these unknown worlds emerging in the works of Wifredo Lam, whose Afro-Cuban origins inspire works that speak of old gods with new faces, and in the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who gives us new gods with old faces. We have heard this world in the ebo-horn of Roscoe Mitchell and the lyrics of DOOM. We’ve read it through the words of Henry Dumas, Victor Lavalle, and Darius James. This emerging mosaic of radical influence ranges from Frantz Fanon to Jean Genet. Supernatural undertones of Reed and Zora Neale Hurston mix with the hardscrabble stylings of Chester Himes and William S. Burroughs.

2. Afro-Surreal presupposes that beyond this visible world, there is an invisible world striving to manifest, and it is our job to uncover it. Like the African Surrealists, Afro-Surrealists recognize that nature (including human nature) generates more surreal experiences than any other process could hope to produce.

3. Afro-Surrealists restore the cult of the past. We revisit old ways with new eyes. We appropriate 19th century slavery symbols like Kara Walker, and 18th century colonial ones like Yinka Shonibare. We re-introduce "madness" as visitations from the gods, and acknowledge the possibility of magic. We take up the obsessions of the ancients and kindle the dis-ease, clearing the murk of the collective unconsciousness as it manifests in these dreams called culture.

4. Afro-Surrealists use excess as the only legitimate means of subversion, and hybridization as a form of disobedience. The collages of Romare Bearden and Wangechi Mutu, the prose of Reed, and the music of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Antipop Consortium express this overflow.

Afro-Surrealists distort reality for emotional impact. 50 Cent and his cold monotone and Walter Benjamin and his chilly shock tactics can kiss our ass. Enough! We want to feel something! We want to weep on record.

5. Afro-Surrealists strive for rococo: the beautiful, the sensuous, and the whimsical. We turn to Sun Ra, Toni Morrison, and Ghostface Killa. We look to Kehinde Wiley, whose observation about the black male body applies to all art and culture: "There is no objective image. And there is no way to objectively view the image itself."

6. The Afro-Surrealist life is fluid, filled with aliases and census- defying classifications. It has no address or phone number, no single discipline or calling. Afro-Surrealists are highly-paid short-term commodities (as opposed to poorly-paid long term ones, a.k.a. slaves).

Afro-Surrealists are ambiguous. "Am I black or white? Am I straight, or gay? Controversy!"

Afro-Surrealism rejects the quiet servitude that characterizes existing roles for African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women and queer folk. Only through the mixing, melding, and cross-conversion of these supposed classifications can there be hope for liberation. Afro-Surrealism is intersexed, Afro-Asiatic, Afro-Cuban, mystic, silly, and profound.

7. The Afro-Surrealist wears a mask while reading Leopold Senghor.

8. Ambiguous as Prince, black as Fanon, literary as Reed, dandy as André Leon Tally, the Afro-Surrealist seeks definition in the absurdity of a "post-racial" world.

9. In fashion (John Galliano; Yohji Yamamoto) and the theater (Suzan Lori-Parks), Afro-Surreal excavates the remnants of this post-apocalypse with dandified flair, a smooth tongue and a heartless heart.

10. Afro-Surrealists create sensuous gods to hunt down beautiful collapsed icons.


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of the African Diaspora present the works of Mutu, William Pope L., Trenton Doyle Hancock, Glenn Ligon, Wiley, Shonibare, and Walker en masse, with Lam’s Jungle as a center piece. Lorraine Hansbury Theater stages Genet’s The Blacks and Baraka’s The Dutchman, while San Francisco Opera adapts Aimé Césaire’s Caliban and the Fillmore has an Afro-punk retrospective. Afro-Surreal adaptations of Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Hurston’s Tell My Horse (1937), and Marvel’s Black Panther will grace the silver-screen.

These are the first steps in an illustrious and fantastic journey. When we finally reach those unknown shores, we will say, with blood beneath our nails and mud on our boots:

This is Afro-Surreal!

Fear itself



CHEAP EATS It was the stuff that nightmares are made of, two little kids, shrill and shrieking with maniacal laughter, chasing me around a cluttered house with huge, dripping spoonfuls of mayonnaise.

My bad. I’d made the mistake of showing them my Achilles heel. Still it’s remarkable how innately merciless kids, sharks, and hyenas can be. I begged. I pleaded. I tried to reverse my position: I LOVED mayonnaise, I’d in fact been overjoyed, appetized, and positively heartwarmed to find them dipping tablespoons into the jar and filling their faces.

Nothing worked. They were foaming at the mouth, lipslick and shiny, sticking out their whited tongues, baring their dripping teeth, spitting and tearing at me with greasy fingers, little glistening dollops flying every which way from their spoons and hair. If I didn’t already have PTSD now, after years of my mother’s cooking … forget it!

I’ll be surprised if I can open a refrigerator ever again, even in the safety of my own home, my own refrigerator … let alone order a hamburger in a restaurant. Let alone a turkey or ham sandwich.

And the sad thing is: I was just about to get over it, I think. After a lifetime of all-out avoidance, I had knowingly and ungaggingly ingested things with mayonnaise in them on three separate occasions in 2009. A dip, a dressing, and (I shouldn’t say this because it was a secret ingredient) a birthday cake.

Enjoyment would be a strong word for what I felt on each of these occasions, but after tolerance comes appreciation, right? And after that, enjoyment can’t be far behind.

My new favorite expression has to do with jumping over your own shadow. Which, of course, can’t literally be done, but once you make the decision to live poetically, as opposed to, say, politically, polemically, pedagogically, or potlucklessly, well …

Give you an example: I have three things, a passport, an airplane ticket, and a really very thick fear of flying — which, although it is not as deeply-rooted or legendary as my mayophobia, nevertheless requires more anti-anxiety medication.

Or did, but that might be about to change. Things do.

After the kids chased and caught and slimed me, I couldn’t get the gag reflex to go away. No amount of bathing helped. No amount of laundry detergent could induce me to ever again wear the clothes I was wearing. Dips, dressings, and birthday cakes I regard with tight lips and at least one eyebrow raised.

Yet I look forward to being with the little doodooheads. I admit I especially look forward to their bedtime, where my storytelling has taken on an uncharacteristically moral tone. Essentially, any chicken or other animal who exploits any other chicken or other animal’s weakness winds up being eaten by snails.

Hey, not my favorite kind of ending, either; just another hazard of the profession, like being sick most of the time and needing vacations. Why I am going to Germany for said vacation is a long, untellably excellent and delightfully moral-less story, more my speed, entailing swirls of dragons, dragonflies, butter, the color blue, my friend Kiz, punk rock, and the Loma Prieta earthquake …

Anyway, I’ve got one month left to live, for sure, and then a layover in Philadelphia, so I thought I’d practice on a cheesesteak. Enter Phat Philly, stage left. Make that stage 24th Street near Valencia, in the Mission. This is my new favorite-smelling restaurant, for sure. I would like to be laid to rest in there, unboxed, maybe taxidermed onto the wall, or just propped up in an out-of-the-way corner, even for a week, in case our sense of smell survives us some.

Classic pepper steak with provolone … I’m telling you, and the rolls are imported from Philly, which you wouldn’t think would be a good thing, normally. But: they work! They’re great.

And Sockywonk let me taste her onion rings, and did not pour ranch dressing in my ear. Adults are so cool!


Daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

3388 24th St., SF

(415) 550-7428

Beer & wine


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

Crash landings



As the U.S. military wrestles with President Barack Obama’s plan to expand the war in Afghanistan while reducing its presence in Iraq, there’s a mounting cost on the home front for the 1.9 million soldiers who have been deployed to those conflicts and are now beginning the often difficult transition back to civilian life.

Inadequate stateside mental health and other veterans’ services has been serious problem for years (see "Soldier’s heart, 12/22/04). A report in January 2008 by the RAND Corp. titled "Invisible Wounds of War" found that nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, and that an additional 19 percent experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed. But only slightly more than half of these returning veterans seek treatment that RAND called "minimally adequate."

The report estimated that PTSD and depression will cost the nation $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment, but also estimated that investing in more high-quality treatment — and thus lowering the rates of suicide and lost productivity among veterans — could reduce those costs by $2 billion within two years. Modern life-saving and protective technologies and repeated deployments appear to be making the problem worse now than in previous wars.

"Early evidence suggests the psychological toll of the deployments may be disproportionately high compared with physical injuries," the report stated, concluding that a national effort is needed to expand and improve the capacity of the health care system and to encourage veterans to seek this care.

That national picture is reflected in San Francisco. Judi Cheary of San Francisco’s Department of Veteran Affairs medical clinic said that 25 percent of the service members they see returning from Afghanistan and Iraq receive a mental health diagnosis.

Keith Armstrong, the clinic’s PTSD counselor and a professor of psychiatry at University of California-San Francisco, noted that veterans often have a diagnosis that includes depression and PTSD, or substance abuse and PTSD. "So they may be struggling with many problems," said Armstrong, who wrote Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families (Ulysses Press, 2005). "Others simply have adjustment challenges from being in combat."

For instance, traffic can be difficult for returning service members who drove in combat conditions, where explosives were a constant concern. "They are scanning the environment because that’s what kept them safe in combat, or pushing the steering wheel when a friend is driving, trying to move from one lane to another," he explained.

According to V.A. data, California has the third-highest number of veterans in the nation. In Northern California, most live in the Central Valley, leaving some San Francisco vets feeling isolated. "There’s a lot of talk about supporting the troops, which is nice, but it’s intellectual," Armstrong said. "Here people may not disclose that a family member is in war, not because they’re afraid people will spit on him, but because they are afraid that people will say dumb things."

His clinic has seen an increase in these veterans in the past year. Armstrong typically sees three clusters of PTSD symptoms: intrusive symptoms (vets can’t get particular images and experiences out of their head); avoidance symptoms (vets believe they don’t have a great future ahead; they feel numb, it’s hard to get close to them); and arousal symptoms (vets are often irritable and angry).

Anger often causes the most problems. "We see more self-destructive and reckless behavior in younger folks," he added. "They have anger, revenge-based fantasies. They know what it’s like to blow someone’s head off or to see it being blown off, so when they get angry, that crosses their mind." But he said that couples and families often talk more about "the numbing" and "the inability to connect."

Armstrong also pointed out that many vets worry about the effect on their career of getting help, and how it looks to others if they do. "That’s due to both their training and age group," he said, noting that 50 percent of soldiers are 17-to-24-year-olds, and 89 percent are male.

"So it’s not just about war, but about the developmental stage of the troops," he said. "It’s an appropriate age to be independent and not get any help. But that, combined with the stigma of asking for help — and if they have PTSD avoidance symptoms — can keep them from going in."

As a result of recent studies showing that PTSD can develop up to five years after discharge, the V.A. extended what was previously a two-year limit in which veterans could get help to a five-year window. They also now have a suicide prevention hotline number for vets: 1-800-273-8255.

"The V.A. overall has made some mistakes, but it has really taken suicide prevention seriously," Armstrong said.

There are nonprofit options as well. Founded in 1974, Swords to Plowshares provides counseling and case management, employment, training, housing, and legal assistance to homeless and low-income veterans.

Equally important, it’s staffed by veterans like Walter Williams, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has combat-related PTSD, and Tia Christopher, a survivor of military sexual trauma. "The experience of being in a war zone as well, or being sexually assaulted by some one in your own unit, that’s profound," Armstrong said.

As Christopher explained, she and Williams have similar symptoms and attend weekly V.A. appointments to deal with their own mental health issues, between providing services to other veterans at the group’s Howard Street office.

"Pretty much everyone coming back has combat stress and everyone I know has been buying rifles," Christopher said, noting that cleaning guns can be a meditative therapeutic activity for veterans. "Combat stress becomes clinical PTSD when those symptoms don’t go away."

Christopher said women who were in combat and survived military sexual trauma face "a double whammy." Out of the military for more than seven years, Christopher observed that "things get better, but the memories don’t go away."

In 2007 there were more than 2,000 reported military sexual assaults, but only 181 were court-martialed, she said. "So basically survivors are dealing with injustice of nothing happening.

"I used to wish that PTSD gave you purple spots," she added. "That way people would know you had it. Instead, you are left dealing with getting panic attacks all of a sudden and being on edge."

"I call it a flare-up," Williams said. "It’s different each time. Sometimes, when I have to focus and get my mind around something, I’m blank. I feel like I want to cry, but I can’t."

Unlike past generations who openly identified as vets, "this new wave of vets is "more intent on blending in," Williams said. "They’re trying to suppress their symptoms. They don’t want to be seen as weirdos."

Deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan as a communications specialist in 2004, Williams recalled having to give up his weapon twice and being put on suicide watch. "For a week, they watched me, then they gave me my weapon back."

He’s convinced that the best solutions to the challenges facing this latest wave of PTSD-afflicted vets lie in "listening to stories from the mouths of people with it," he said.

Bobbi Rosenthal, regional coordinator for V.A.’s homeless program, said that an estimated 20 percent of the 6,514 people recorded in San Francisco’s 2009 homeless count are veterans.

Anita Yoskowitz, administrative site manager for the V.A.’s homeless services center on Third Street, said 90 percent of the vets who use the clinic’ showers, laundry facilities, and computer lab have PTSD.

And while many of the center’s clients are still from the Vietnam and Desert Storm era, the average age is starting to come down, she said, as veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan begin to trickle in.

Veterans can come to the clinic every day, but those who are not clean and sober are limited to three times a week. When folks come for medical care, Yoskowitz said, "the clinic is on the look out for mental health problems."

Jacob Hoff, who volunteers at the center’s computer lab, said that from conversations he overhears, it’s clear that coming back is hard. "There’s a lot of survivor’s guilt. I can really tell the young kids who are coming in and learning how to be homeless. The older guys tell them where to go for food."

Donald Fontenot, who enlisted in 1980, was on the computer looking for housing when he shared his story. He enlisted when he was 18 and then messed up his knees jumping out of a C-141 jet, so he understands the stress of no longer being able to perform.

"You are young and strong and then all of a sudden, you can’t do these things," said Fontenot, who was living in his car behind the clinic until it got towed by the police. "So I wound up more homeless."

Currently staying with a friend, Fontenot recalled meeting a Vietnam vet who likes to walk around Golden Gate Park at night with a pistol. "It gives him the feeling of walking around in the jungle," said Fontenot, who is searching for suitable Section 8 housing — another unique challenge for PTSD-afflicted veterans in San Francisco.

For some, the road to recovery leads them from the streets of San Francisco back into the arms of their family. One such local family shared their story with the Guardian and we decided to shield their identities for privacy. Mike recalled the dramatic change he saw in his brother, Joe, who joined the Marines directly after 9/11, after he tore up his shoulder in Iraq.

"His whole mentality, even if he didn’t support the war in Iraq, was of a to-die-for-it Marine," said Mike, recalling the hurt and disappointment in Joe’s voice after he had two surgeries, and couldn’t return with his unit to combat.

Mike said his brother’s state of mind worsen after he had been out of active duty for three years, and that the first signs that his brother might have PTSD were night sweats and an inability to pay attention.

"But how can you expect soldiers to pay attention to isolated thoughts, words, and action, when they are or have been immersed in culture that teaches you to ‘walk, talk, shoot, shit’?" Mike asked.

Joe was homeless in San Francisco for stints in 2007, but never longer than a week. Mike recalled how things came to a head when the two brothers got into a fight one night after Mike closed the bar where he worked.

"Here we are, I’m 30 and he is 28, in a fist fight, and I told [Joe], ‘I think you’re losing your mind.’ And he said, ‘then save me,’ lying on my kitchen floor at four in the morning. But then that was it, no more conversation."

Joe soon checked himself into a couple of private facilities where he berated psychiatrists for not knowing about military combat zones and could always check himself out. "Then he went over to the East Bay, went into a 24-hour Fitness Center to use the shower, got into it with a security guard for trespassing and disorderly conduct, got arrested, and was brought to the V.A.’s PTSD center in Palo Alto," Mike said.

It was at this state-of-the art facility that Joe began to get help, and this year he returned to Chicago, where he is living with family until he returns to school to pursue his master’s degree. Joe’s mother, Betty, said dealing with all this has been minor compared to the prospect of losing her middle son permanently. But she resisted labeling behavior she believes was connected to his imploding marriage and financial problems when he moved to California, as well as to fallout from his injuries in Iraq.

She recalls getting an e-mail from their now former daughter-in law saying, "Joe has been living in the park, camping." Betty said the first year after Joe came back was pretty tough. "We knew the marriage was over. And a couple of times I called two of his real close friends who are Marines, to tough-talk to him. For a period of time, he was acting out, a different person. You could tell something wasn’t right, and yeah, some blamed it on the service."

Asked what she thought of giving vets with PTSD a Purple Heart, an idea the military floated earlier this year, Betty said, "I don’t know. They all have to go through it in some respects. My feelings about why he ended up totally collapsing is that he was trying to do too much on too little. They are over there, building cities and lives for people. Then they get back and find they can’t support their families or themselves. But at least it’s not like when folks came back from Vietnam and were labeled as bums."

Guardian staff writer Sarah Phelan’s son deployed to Iraq in 2007 and returned in April 2008.

Dazed and confused



Police officers in the Tenderloin have routinely violated city policies and wasted scarce public money sending people busted for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to the Community Justice Center (CJC), a pet project of Mayor Gavin Newsom that was supposed to save money and clean up the Tenderloin.

Instead, all these minor drug possession cases have been dismissed by an already overtaxed court system. And as the police have only just begun to ease up on referring these cases to the CJC in its second month of operations, they continue to bust the homeless for quality-of-life violations.

The Tenderloin police station referred at least 17 cases of simple pot possession cases to the CJC since its inception in March. After only one month of the CJC’s operations in the Tenderloin, Public Defender Jeff Adachi could already see that such police referrals represented a larger misuse of resources occurring throughout the city.

Adachi’s office has handled more than 300 cases at the CJC. Of his caseload, he estimates that "about 80 percent of the cases have involved loitering, illegal camping, possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia, and blocking the sidewalk. The remainder of the cases were petty thefts, batteries, and other miscellaneous crimes."

Clarence Wilson, a 67-year-old African American Rastafarian, had his marijuana possession case dismissed at the CJC with Adachi’s help. Wilson’s ordeal began after he finished crossing the street at Hyde and Ellis at 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 8. He recalls walking in the crosswalk during a green light. But when he gazed up while reaching the other side, it had just turned red.

Two Tenderloin station police officers stopped him for jaywalking and proceeded to question him to see if he was carrying anything. "Just herbal," he admitted, referring to the small amount of marijuana he had just purchased.

The officers faced Wilson against the wall, handcuffed him, and drove him to the Tenderloin police station where he spent 45 minutes handcuffed to a bench. Before they released him with a court date for the following Monday at the CJC, they booked him under a jaywalking infraction and a misdemeanor violation of marijuana possession of less than 28.5 grams (an ounce).

Wilson’s case stands out because he has lived in the city for 33 years with a clean record, but has now been sucked into Newsom’s costly criminal justice experiment. "I was the guinea pig for that day," he said. "All these other people were crossing the red light walking, and you chose me — and you wouldn’t even tell me why I was being arrested. You wouldn’t even read me my rights."

"If the officer wanted to cite Mr. Wilson for jaywalking, he could have written a citation and released him on the spot," Adachi said. "But to handcuff him, treat him as a common criminal for possession of a small amount of marijuana is exactly what the city’s directive prohibits."

Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of a $100 fine. But city law, specifically Administrative Code Chapter 12X, calls for police to make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana their "lowest priority" and to focus their resources elsewhere. The Board of Supervisors approved the law in 2006, sponsored by then-Sup. Tom Ammiano, who wrote, "the federal government’s war on drugs has failed" and called for a more sensible approach in San Francisco.

Particularly at a time when Newsom is asking every city department to makes budget cuts of 25 percent to cope with a $438 million budget deficit, Adachi said many CJC cases are a waste of precious public resources.

The CJC only takes misdemeanors and nonviolent felony cases in its court system. Modeled after New York City’s Center for Court Innovation, it serves as a one-stop location for the court to refer offenders to social services to address the root causes of criminal behavior — although those programs dealing with substance abuse, mental health treatment, and other social needs are also on the budget chopping block.

CJC only handled violations in four selected central neighborhoods deemed to be burdened by chronic crime: the Tenderloin, SoMa, Civic Center, and Union Square communities. Capt. Gary Jimenez of the Tenderloin Police Station could not be reached for an extensive interview, but told the Guardian that his officers are simply enforcing the law by citing offenders and referring such cases to the CJC.

CJC coordinator Tomiquia Moss has weighed in by facilitating talks between Adachi and Deputy Chief of Police Kevin Cashman, who sits on the CJC advisory board to address which cases get referred. While all 17 of the pot cases have been dismissed at the CJC, Moss believes that Adachi must continue to communicate with Tenderloin police officers to advise on citation referrals. "We don’t have any impact on how the police department administers enforcement," she said. "We can only be responsible for what happens to the case once it gets here."

Moss takes pride in the CJC for providing services even to clients whose cases are dismissed. She believes that almost all the people who have been referred to the CJC accept assistance because caseworkers are respectful and culturally competent, although she has yet to compile comprehensive statistics on CJC cases.

To get a sense on of the big picture at CJC, the Guardian reviewed a report from the Coalition on Homelessness based on the court’s calendar for its first two months in existence. Out of 336 total cases between March 4 and May 1, 100 (30 percent) were for sleeping outside; 71 (21 percent) were for possession of a crack pipe; and 99 (29 percent) were "public nuisance" citations to the court, a subjective violation often given with another citation such as obstructing the sidewalk.

However, among the pending cases that faced trial, the CJC reports that more severe crimes like theft, fraud, disorderly conduct, possession with intent to sell drugs, and soliciting drugs — cases routinely heard in other courtrooms — make up the majority.

Moss acknowledged the limitations of the CJC during tight budget times. "We anticipate people not being able to get all their needs met because there aren’t enough funds. Services are in jeopardy … You gotta consolidate. You have higher client-to-service-provider ratios. It’s a significant issue."

If the CJC is to continue operating with limited resources, Adachi and homeless advocates say Tenderloin police need to focus their resources on serious crimes, rather than quality of life violations that predominately criminalize the homeless.

Bob Offer-Westort, the civil rights organizer for Coalition on Homelessness and coordinating editor of the local paper Street Sheet, says it’s a shame to continue funding the CJC while service centers like the Tenderloin Health drop-in center are being closed due to budget cuts. Offer-Westort acknowledges the laudable social services provided at the CJC, but said "its front-end is conducted by law enforcement officers" who treat it as a "homeless court".

While Newsom hoped the CJC would be popular with city residents concerned about the homeless, 57 percent of San Franciscan voters weighed in last November against allocating extra funding to the CJC with Proposition L.

Although the mayor is proposing a 25 percent cut in the public defender’s budget, Adachi fears this would mean firing 38 lawyers, or one-third of his staff. This could translate to a withdrawal from representing approximately 6,000 clients at his office. In turn, low-income defendants stretched thin by the economic crisis would have to turn to being assigned to private lawyers with costly hourly rates that will still have to be paid for by the city.

Adachi told the Guardian that the marijuana possession cases at the CJC represent the benign types of cases squeezing his office dry, and that Newsom still has not provided Adachi with the two lawyers he promised to handle CJC cases. Newsom’s spokesperson, Nathan Ballard, would not comment on the cases going to the CJC, telling the Guardian, "I’m not going to play along."

Bruce Mirken, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, sees San Francisco’s use of scarce resources for marijuana cases as parallel to state and federal policy. "In a sense, it’s a small piece of a larger puzzle, which is that we waste billions and billions of dollars every year in tax money that could be being used for schools, roads, healthcare, etc. in arresting and prosecuting people for possession of a drug that’s safer than alcohol. It’s just crazy, it’s pointless, and every dollar spent on it is a dollar wasted — particularly when government is strapped for cash and cutting vital services to try to balance the budget."

The city and state continue to reassess their marijuana regulations and enforcement on a broader scale. In April, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi proposed legislation allowing the city to sell medical marijuana through the Department of Public Health. And in March, Assembly Member Ammiano began pushing for the state to legalize and tax marijuana.

In the meantime, the CJC, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Public Defender’s Office are still stretching their resources to handle small possession of marijuana cases cited by Tenderloin police station — in spite of the city’s stated priorities. And homeless individuals continue to get cited for quality of life violations while city workers providing social services see their budgets running dry.

State of the movement



As local antiwar activists continue to oppose the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they are struggling to mobilize popular support under a presidential administration that is less overtly bellicose than the Bush regime.

Antonia Juhasz, author of The Bush Agenda (William Morrow, 2006) and last year’s The Tyranny of Oil (William Morrow), has worked with a number of Bay Area antiwar groups. Over coffee in the Mission District, she said much has changed since President Barack Obama took office.

"It’s an amazing victory for the antiwar movement that we pushed people to elect a president who pledged to end the Iraq war. Now our job is to make that pledge a reality," she said, visibly tired from long work on a report about Chevron Corp.’s profiteering in Iraq and even at home in Richmond, where it’s sued the city to block a voter-approved tax increase.

Juhasz argues that all U.S. troops and contractors should leave Iraq immediately and that all bases be closed. But Obama’s plan includes a slower withdrawal timeline and for some U.S. forces to be left there indefinitely.

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CodePink and Global Exchange, told the Guardian that Obama supporters need to realize that it’s fine to disagree with our first African American president on some policies. She described MoveOn.org, the prominent liberal organization that was a key player in Obama’s campaign, as "very top down," and focused on pro-Obama talking points. "It’s very hard because a lot of groups have become appendages to the administration."

Juhasz feels the antiwar movement needs to better communicate that "the organizing isn’t over when the campaign is over. Even if the leader agrees with you, they still need activists to push them."

But she acknowledges the difficulty of the task. "We want to keep from telling people they’re wrong. They won, which is great. But we need to say ‘You have the responsibility to keep organizing for the issues, not just the individual.’ It’s critically important to see beyond the leader, so it doesn’t become a cult of personality," she said, recalling that "under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if there wasn’t a mass movement for revolutionary change, there wouldn’t have been a New Deal."

That kind of pressure is clearly not being exerted on Obama. Tom Gallagher, a San Francisco resident active with the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, told us during a March 21 San Francisco demonstration commemorating the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, "If McCain had been elected there would be many more people here protesting. Obama is using the schedule Bush agreed to on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq."

Gallagher grew more irked as he said, "Obama has sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. He’s getting a pass on it, and McCain wouldn’t."

ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) has continued to agitate against war and for social justice. Richard Becker, ANSWER’s Western Regional Coordinator, told us the relatively low turnout on March 21 was not surprising.

Becker said he sees Obama’s popularity as "elation" over Bush’s exit. But no matter how bad the past or good the intentions of a candidate, once the candidate is elected U.S. president, he said, "the job description is CEO of the Empire." Becker cautioned that it will take time for postelection euphoria to wear off and for people to realize that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are dragging on under Obama.

Local activist David Solnit, a mainstay of Direct Action to Stop the War, works with Courage to Resist, which supports military war resisters. The group also helps recruits fight "stop-loss," which sends soldiers back to Iraq for additional tours of duty without their consent. "Obama said he’s going to change it eventually, but we’re worried about right now," he said.

Courage to Resist organizer Sarah Lazare agrees with Solnit that peace activists should oppose U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Lazare says it’s important to communicate that "Afghanistan is not a good war" and that "terrorism is a tactic" that cannot be destroyed militarily.

"Measuring the number of people at a demonstration is not the only way to measure what’s going on," she said. Among her examples of ongoing, dynamic organizing is the work of Courage to Resist and Iraq Vets Against the War.

IVAW is directly organizing active-duty members of the military to engage in dissent. SF Bay Area chapter member Peter Schlange told us that their ranks are growing as the Iraq war continues.

IVAW is also challenging the Afghanistan buildup. In a recently passed resolution, the antiwar veterans group "calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people, and supports all troops and veterans working towards those ends."

Paul Kawika Martin, organizing and policy director for Peace Action, says his group wants all troops out of Iraq by 2010, with no "residual forces" or contractors left behind. Martin also says it’s important for activists to march and to lobby Congress. He stressed that both Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi lobbied for reform, and U.S. peace activists also need to do so.

Martin feels the peace movement will have an important impact on the new administration. "I don’t think he fears being too liberal," Marin told me. "But he wants to get things done, and like any politician he will be more pragmatic than we want him to be."

Martin said the troop escalation in Afghanistan was a concern for Peace Action. Martin is working with a group of 70 activists, think tanks, and aid workers who make up the Afghanistan Policy Working Group. He points to Reps. Raul Grijalva (now the co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus), Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, and Maxine Waters as key allies of antiwar activists in Congress. "We need to support them," he told me.

The antiwar movement itself also needs support, given that many of its top activists have been arrested repeatedly in the last six years.

Organizer Stephanie Tang with the World Can’t Wait dismisses hope for Democrats as a trap. She pointed to Nancy Pelosi’s early knowledge of torture and Obama’s recent announcement that the administration would block release of torture photos in the courts. In March 2008, Tang was arrested for allegedly obstructing police at a Berkeley demonstration opposing a military recruiting center.

Walter Riley, Tang’s lawyer, told the Guardian: "It’s my contention they identified Stephanie as a leader and are vioutf8g her constitutional rights to protest an illegal war."

Berkeley police referred inquiries to the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, which had not returned our call at press time. Riley said a Berkeley policeman "blind-sided her," and, holding his club horizontally, slammed Tang off her feet.

Police later attempted to get a statement from Tang while she was receiving medical treatment for injuries sustained during the incident. Berkeley police only later charged her with obstructing police at the march. Tang faces one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Madcap laughs



SONIC REDUCER "I told you so" are the sweetest, shortest words in the lexicon of raving visionaries and maligned prophets, but Sir Richard Bishop is far too gentlemanly to resort to such snack-sized snarkery. Still, I’m thinking the world’s attentions and the brothers Bishop and their many projects might finally be harmonically, magically converging as I park myself on a thrift-store coach beside the charming Bishop in the airy, uncannily tidy West Oakland flat he shares with Mark Gergis (Porest, Neung Phak, Mono Pause).

After the 2007 death of Sun City Girl Charles Gocher, attentive underground music fans — who’ve revered the band for its determinedly DIY, cassette-culture cussedness — collectively blinked, rubbed their eyes, and wondered why they hadn’t paid closer attention to the endlessly productive Girls (even now issuing rarities via the new Napoleon and Josephine: Singles Volume 2 [Abduction]). Attention from figures like Bonnie "Prince" Billy (who told me that the Bishop Brothers’ Brothers Unconnected show at Slim’s was the best he saw last year) and labels such as Sub Pop, which talked to the Bishops about doing a best-of, soon followed.

Likewise Sublime Frequencies — the label Richard and Alan Bishop toiled on for years amid accusations that they were ripping off artists, failing to follow academic protocol, and simply not applying enough polish to their rough aesthetic — began to get its due as a groundbreaking disseminator of obscure sonic gems from such far-flung, seldom documented sites as Burma, Laos, and Western Sahara. Richard, who is less involved with the imprint these days, says they’ve become adept at tracking down and paying the performers. Today, the label gets the kind of praise it richly deserves, including a hefty feature by onetime naysayer Clive Bell in Wire. Sublime Frequencies is also producing the first European, non-Mideast tour by breathtaking Syrian folk-pop legend Omar Souleyman, whose Highway to Hassake (Sublime Frequencies, 2006) positively shreds with phase-shifted Arabic keyboard lines and frenetic beats.

Meanwhile Sir Richard is concentrating on his new Oakland life, bathed in the soft light and BART train roar streaming in from the ‘hood. "It seems like it’s alive here — whereas in Seattle it’s kind of dying and not just musically," he says happily. "This is not the best neighborhood, but when I go out the door, I’m alive, and I’m totally aware of what’s going on, and there’s just some cool creative energy to grasp onto."

Guitars and instruments are neatly clustered in an alcove across from a massive TV rigged to catch Mideast channels — perfectly tuned into Bishop’s current obsession with and studies into the music the half-Lebanese musician first heard his grandfather play on old cassettes. Here in Oakland — aided and abetted by the half-Iraqi Gergis and his collection of Middle Eastern MP3s, cassettes, VCDs, and vinyl — he’s been digging deeply into the music of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, a homecoming of sorts since Bishop started out studying Egyptology around the time of Sun City Girls’ early ’80s inception.

When Bishop started tracking his fine, even sublime new The Freak of Araby (Drag City) in Seattle, the switch from making a poppy electric-guitar album to one centered on Middle Eastern-related originals and covers was a natural one — a tribute to his latest fave, Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid. Bishop scrambled to learn new songs in six days, but he’s pleased with the result, which he’ll fill out live with tour mate Oaxacan as his backing combo. The disc "was very rushed, and I didn’t have time to hash out a lot of the ideas," he says. "There are people who are not going to like it, but that’s okay, it never bothered me before!" And with that, the jolly Sir Richard laughs. *


Fri/22, 9:30 p.m., $10

Stork Club

2330 Telegraph, Oakl.




Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes are in the Brooklyn post-punkers’ past, now gathering steam with Sub Pop singles and SXSW blather lather. Wed/20, 9 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com.


Don’t fear the guitar solo, all ye Johannesburg black-rockers. Fri/22, 9 p.m., $12. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


Out now with Invisible Cities (Ubiquity), the polyrhythmic Midwestern mind-blowers destroyed all reservations at their last BOH show. Fri/22, 10 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com.


The pint-sized electro-grime poobabe finds a Cure with "So Human." Sun/24, 9 p.m., $18. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. rickshawstop.com