Volume 43 Number 43

Happy trails

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Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

(Techland, Ubisoft; PC, XBOX360, PS3)

GAMER Though the cowboy is a quintessentially American hero, the Western genre has flourished in the hands of foreigners. Famous for his "Dollars" trilogy, Italian director Sergio Leone was one of the many European filmmakers who reinvented and preserved the form, even as it became unfashionable in the U.S. With this in mind, the efforts of Polish developers Techland in creating Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood are impressive, but less surprising. Replicating the distinctive look and tone of many gun-slinging classics, the team tiptoes the split-rail fence separating homage from imitation, crafting a first-person shooter with enough escapist, six-gun fun to counterbalance its many faults.

The game is a prequel to 2006’s uneven Call of Juarez, providing back-story for the original’s two protagonists — Billy Candle, a kid with a knack for getting trapped in nigh-unplayable Thief (1998) — style stealth levels, and Ray McCall, a Bible-toting psychopath who could harangue his enemies with scripture at the press of a button.

Ray is back, swapping his good book for a brace of Colts, and he’s joined by his brother Thomas, who favors a long rifle, a lasso, and a waistcoat full of throwing knives. Each sibling has a distinct playstyle, and you choose to control one or the other at the beginning of most levels. This is a welcome elaboration on the first game’s alternating setup, in which players would clear each level twice, first as Billy, then as Ray, hot in pursuit. Having the choice in Bound in Blood adds some needed variety, and invests the player in the brothers’ increasingly fierce rivalry.

Their enmity revolves around Marisa, the femme fatale astride a convoluted plot that draws on a number of Western tropes. Buried gold, rogue Confederates, angry Apaches, wisecracking banditos — it’s all there. Ray and Thomas blast their way through reverent, set-piece shootouts, trading gruff jibes as competition for Marisa’s affections heats up. With two playable characters, the lack of split-screen or online co-op is a glaring oversight, as irksome as the aggressive auto-aim or the brain-dead, shooting-gallery AI. Pistol-duel boss fights comprise the game’s best moments, switching the camera to holster-eye third-person and requiring the player to slowly circle their opponent before quick-drawing and firing at the toll of a bell.

Class-based multiplayer will keep some cowpokes coming back, but this seven-hour game is probably better as a rental. Though it’s not bad, and certainly not ugly, "good" would be too kind.

Anywhere Jarvis

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Truth-telling is one of the most woefully undervalued yet powerful cudgels in an artist’s arsenal — so I can appreciate Jarvis Cocker’s artful, chuckle-inducing application of force on, for instance, "Caucasian Blues," off his second solo disc, Further Complications (Rough Trade). And who doesn’t love a rock star who can proudly bray a line like, "I heard it said /That you are hung like a white man!"

Letting it all hang out from England, Cocker complicated it further: "I was interested in how blues music has gone from the music of protest, of the oppressed, to the blandest, safest music for white people to listen to in bars. I felt like that was a very strange journey that music has been on." His son broke in, searching for socks — the two were just about to leave for a holiday — but the languid, chatty Cocker, 45, sounded like he was in absolutely no hurry to depart. "And then there’s that thing about the mid-’40s — that’s when people start playing a few blues songs. I think people like blues music as they get older because they know when the changes are coming. As people get older, they want to know what’s coming next.

"I try to fight against that. And in perverse way, maybe the best way to fight against that was to write a blues song, but to try to make it be about something."

I could talk to Cocker on a plane, I could talk to him on a train, and I could talk to him about blues music being "used to sell a hell of a lot of cars" in the passenger seat of an Audi tearing back to SF from Point Reyes, via iPhone and earplugs, while tapping on the trusty laptop. He’s that good, that much of a closet mensch keeping it as real as a man of style and taste — who happens to have sold 10 million or so discs with Pulp — can.

But that was the past — and the present is all about Complications, a hearty helping of purely impure, cock-eyed and wiseacre, excruciatingly literate and glittery-eyed, glam-disco-cabaret pop pleasure. The recording draws deeply from the worldly wise cabaret of true-faux intimacy practiced by the Bowie and Gainsbourg schools of Euro-rock, yet also bears the smart, impudent imprint of its complicated maker. "I want to love you while we both still have flesh on our bones /Before we become extinct," he warbles with a wink to the Thin White Duke on "Leftovers," before turning around and confessing, "I love your body /Because I’ve lost your mind" on "I Never Said I Was Deep." The music of a man who enjoys speaking the unspoken while amusing both himself and the listener.

And this listener had to bring up Michael Jackson, whose Christ-like 1996 BRIT Awards performance Cocker famously crashed, shaking his cheeks impertinently in the King of Pop’s presence. But the man deferred with zero drama ("My phone went crazy the day after," he said mildly. "I suppose in a lot of people’s minds, in this country at least, my name will forever be linked to that. I don’t wish it to be."). He was willing, though, to touch on the connection critics have made between the new album and his break with wife Camille Bidault-Waddington. "It just kind of puzzled me, with some of the reviews in the U.K. at least, that go on about ‘he’s having a midlife crisis.’ I suppose it’s partly because I disclosed the fact that I split up with my wife, and that led people to say, ‘This is his breakup album.’ But I did conceive of this record as entertainment, rather than the primal scream of middle-aged angst."

Who knew someone willing to sing to the skies about how superficial he is, would be so … deep? Truth now. "We have so many distractions and so much crap around, you end up having an in-depth knowledge of who played the Riddler in the Batman TV series, and who played drums on England’s entry into the Eurovision song contest in 1973," Cocker drawled helpfully about "I Never Said I Was Deep."

"All this trivia, all this crap my mind is littered with — but for some reason I kind of take delight in knowing all this crap," he continued. "Maybe at the expense of things that might matter a bit more, or may be more rewarding. So often when I’m worried about something or neurotic about something, that might be the time to write about it, maybe to neutralize it. But by giving it utterance, it robs its power to own you.

"Maybe I will attain depth — who knows? Maybe. I’m working on it."

JARVIS COCKER

Tues/28, 9 p.m., $32.50

Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

www.livenation.com

De La Soul is alive

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CHECK ONE Last night, I played De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy/Warner Bros., 1989) for the first time in years. I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was a surprise, even though I always knew that much of De La Soul’s early appeal rested on its humor. Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer spelled “soundsop” backwards; Dave “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur loved yogurt. (He’s pictured eating yogurt in the album’s liner notes.) They complained about style biters who dug “Potholes in My Lawn”; and called their loopy, circuitous jams “Plug Tunin’.” There were references to soap, water, and Luden’s cough drops. In the first of several “game show” skits that bookended the album, Trugoy remarked that his favorite film was the 1976 sex-and-torture spectacle Bloodsucking Freaks. Twenty years later, De La Soul’s private language — or, to be accurate, “DA Inner Sound Y’all (D.A.I.S.Y. Age)” — still sounds fresh and crazily absurd.

Mainstream rock critics, suspicious of all that hippity-hop stuff, welcomed 3 Feet with restrained praise at first: Rolling Stone, in one of its historic blunders, only gave the album three stars while acknowledging it as “one of the most original rap albums ever.” The yellow-and-turquoise-daisies album art and MTV hype obscured De La Soul’s sharply intelligent sendups of go-go (“Do As De La Does”) and rap clichés (“Take It Off,” which parodied the then-ubiquitous “Funky Drummer” loop). Today, irony is so entrenched in the Generation X-Y-and-Zero lexicon that we forget how pleasurable it is when it’s done right.

Unfortunately, the good vibes quickly turned sour. Shortly after the album’s release, De La Soul ended an Arsenio Hall appearance with “Ain’t Hip to Be Labeled a Hippie,” a refrain first voiced on “Me, Myself and I.” The 1991 follow-up De La Soul is Dead offered a smashed flowerpot and tales of how the crew nearly got kicked off LL Cool J’s tour for fighting, just to prove that, hey, they ain’t no punks. Goofy odes to weed-smoking jostled uneasily with cautionary tales of child abuse and murder. The playful spirit of hip-hop’s so-called golden age was gone, another casualty in the oncoming storm of street realism and gangster aesthetics. (Mosi Reeves)

CHECK TWO I’d dug “Plug Tunin'” when I chanced across it on a mixtape from somewhere. This flow — this new style of speak — was shrouded in slang, occulted, and backed by a sound collage that seemed conjured from a basement where a rusty Victrola played the memories of an old man nodding off in his Lay-Z-Boy.

My boys hated that song. I loved it, but I didn’t “get it.” Armed with more fashion-sense than any of us knew what to do with, Marlon looked over at me and said, “You really like these Oklahoma muthafuckas?” Yes I did. Brothers was dope. From Strong Island, and dope. Rakim dope.

One Sunday, I was cleaning up my place to 3 Feet High and Rising and ran across a roach in an ashtray. Sprawled out on the couch watching the sun stream through my dirty windows, I “got” De La Soul. Every word was deciphered. It felt as if I’d learned a new language, or remembered an old one.

Things changed after that.

The 20th anniversary of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising is a cause for celebration. Anyone else feeling vindicated?

Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer, David “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur, and Vincent “PA Mase” Mason have chronicled the last 20 years through nine studio albums and countless production credits (Camp Lo, Gorillaz and MF DOOM among them). Prince Paul produced them, and in turn their popularity produced Prince Paul. They introduced a sleeping world to the black gale known as Mos Def.

De La is coming back to San Francisco. Witness genius at work. (D. Scot Miller)

DE LA SOUL

With Kenan Bell

Thurs/23, 9 p.m., $29.50

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

www.livenation.com

Street TV

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Ray Luv came up with a pre-Digital Underground 2pac in their group, Strictly Dope, and wrote "Trapped," Pac’s first single from 2Pacalypse Now (Priority, 1991). Grandson of Cab Calloway, he’s among the few rappers to be close to both Pac and Mac Dre, who brought him to Crestside, Vallejo’s Strictly Business Records for his EP, Who Can Be Trusted? (1992), leading to a deal with Atlantic for his classic LP, Forever Hustlin (1995). He’s done everything from lecturing in Europe to pimping during Bay rap’s early ’00s doldrums. His conversation ranges from ancient Sparta — "They were a great, warlike people, but they died out because they didn’t have culture" — to UpCodes that market music directly to consumers.

The title of Deathwish (PTBTV), Ray’s first solo album since 2002, reflects the darkness of a period when, he says, "I was prepared to die for street shit." As he puts it on the incendiary opener, "Swing Low," he was "running from [his] destiny and calling." That calling is evident on the album and on Pushin’ the Bay TV (pushinthebay.com).

A collaboration with Chinese-American artist Emcee T, PTBTV is among Bay rap’s current onslaught of YouTube-enabled Web TV, a phenomenon so ubiquitous that I’ve been on one or two — stand near Mistah F.A.B. long enough and it’ll happen. Few shows, though, have a host as charismatic as Ray Luv, which might be why the PTBTV site claims millions of visits — not bad for a one-camera, one-mic production. Even Ray seems slightly surprised.

"Most of our hits have been from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South America," he says. "Lately, for some reason, there’s been tons from Syria."

PTBTV is a modular affair. Ten-minute interview segments posted on its YouTube channel are interspersed with the occasional video. Bay rappers dominate, and the topics range from concise histories of new talents, such as Eddi Projex, to more topic-driven segments, like Spice 1 discussing being shot in late 2007. But the show also interacts with national artists. Ray’s chance encounter with Chamillionaire, for example, yields a quick interview. In an oversaturated genre, the ability to make the most of such moments distinguishes the successes from the failures.

"In this business, creating content is what you have to do full-time," says Damon Jamal of In Yo Face Films. The technical force behind The Dame Fame Show, Jamal knows what he’s talking about. Dame Fame is actually on TV, broadcast on various Comcast channels throughout the East Bay. Jamal and editor Tiffany J must deliver a 30-minute episode every three to four weeks. The show began when the duo inherited a timeslot on Alameda Comcast from another show that was unable to maintain the pace. A well-respected videomaker for artists such as San Quinn, Jamal easily assembled an episode but wasn’t satisfied with his own attempts to host. Enter Dame Fame.

A behind-the-scenes personality in Bay rap since the mid-1990s, when he provided muscle for the Paraphernalia to the Mob Coalition, Dame Fame once managed ex-3X-member Keak Da Sneak. E-40 confirms that Dame Fame even wrote the hook for 40 and Keak’s massive hit, "Tell Me When to Go" (BME/Warner Bros., 2006). The Dame Fame Show is his first foray into the spotlight, and he’s a natural. The recent 12th episode finds him alongside Dallas’ Dorrough, whose "Ice Cream Paint Job" is one of the hottest rap singles in the country.

"I am the king of street TV," Dame laughs. "I talk to the camera, [and] try to make people feel they’re there with me. And we go where other TV personalities are scared to go." This street sensibility doesn’t preclude coverage of industry events, like the Core DJ Fest in Atlanta, slated for the next episode. Much like that of PTBTV, The Dame Fame Show‘s goal, according to Jamal, is "to showcase Bay talent alongside national talent."

The Dame Fame Show and PTBTV are powered by their creators’ idealism. "We do it for the love!," Dame laughs, and it’s true — he’d be running around the same places with or without a camera rolling.

THE DAME FAME SHOW airs Monday at 9:30 p.m. on Comcast 27 in Oakland. Check listings for other cities. www.vimeo.com/inyofacetv, www.pushinthebay.com

Behind the Mitchells’ door

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sarah@sfbg.com

When James Raphael Mitchell, 27, son of the late porn film director and strip club owner Jim Mitchell, was charged with murder, domestic violence, kidnapping, and child abduction and endangerment last week, my first reaction was to wonder if he suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder.

I had run into met James in October 2007, at which time he sported a military-style buzz cut and told me he was in the Marines. And now I was reading reports that he had shown up at the home of his one-time fiancée, Danielle Keller, 29, the mother of their one-year-old daughter, Samantha Rae, killed Keller with a metal baseball bat, and fled with Samantha. He then led police on a five-hour manhunt that ended in Citrus Heights.

I later encountered James at the O’Farrell Theater, the club his father Jim and uncle Artie opened 40 years ago. At the club, the brothers produced porn films, battled with former Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s vice squad, and entertained members of the city’s political elite before Jim shot Artie in 1991.

Jim’s attorneys described the killing as an "intervention gone awry," while Artie’s kids believed it was a wrongful death. In the end, Jim served less than three years of a six-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter at San Quentin. After his release, he continued his involvement with Cinema 7, the corporation the Mitchell brothers formed to oversee their porn empire, until he died of a heart attack in July 2007.

Shortly after Jim’s death, his eldest daughter, Meta, became the O’Farrell Theater’s general manager. In fall 2007, Christina Brigida, a childhood friend of Meta, contacted me to see if I’d be interested in "a column about the reality of what the sex industry is like for females (both strippers and non-strippers)" and "female managers in adult entertainment." She proposed that she and Meta write the article. "The notion that the O’Farrell Theater is run by old white men pimping out women for money with no regard as to their treatment and/or well-being is just flat out not true," Brigida wrote.

In her piece, Meta recalled: "Growing up in my family there was a distinct line between the boys and the girls. The boys got to go on special outings with my dad and uncle, while the girls were left at home. As I grew older, so did my resentment. I continued to hate being left out. I felt like it all had to do with my dad’s business. The boys could go inside, and I couldn’t. I grew to hate the theater for taking my dad away from me."

Meta went to school and got a job as a mortgage consultant in San Ramon until 2004, when she began to recognize the club "as something that had taken care of us through the years."

And that’s how I came to be drinking coffee one morning in the club’s upstairs room, talking to Meta, a petite woman with a black bob, brown eyes, knee-length leather boots, a tiny dog, and a massive lime-green handbag. It was then that I met her younger brother, James, who his friends call Rafe.

I was seated in front of a photo of Pope John Paul II greeting Fidel Castro in Cuba, and a painting called Night Manager. The conversation somehow turned to war, at which point Rafe turned and told me he was in the Marines.

Meta resumed our conversation, which included my asking about a class action suit the O’Farrell dancers had brought against the club and Meta’s talking about her innovations, which included theme nights and costumes. At that point, Rafe interrupted, observing that "guys get drunk and just want to have fun and don’t care about costumes."

Clearly there was tension between Meta and James. And clearly Meta wanted to control the content of any story about the club. Although she promised me an interview that Halloween and mentioned that she "might be in costume," I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear back.

When I read the news about James, I called former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who is representing James and is a long-time friend of the Mitchell family. Hallinan had just returned from Mitchell’s arraignment in Marin County, where he is being held without bail.

"James feels terrible about what happened," Hallinan said. When asked about the possibility of James having PTSD from his time in the Marines, Hallinan said, "I don’t know if he’s been overseas or not."

I then got a hold of a copy of the permanent restraining order Keller had secured on July 7, five days before she was killed. From it, I discovered that James had not been deployed overseas. In fact, according to the allegations in the court order, he had abused Keller for almost two years, beginning a month after the couple met — claiming the abuse was his way to avoid Iraq.

The court filing also revealed that James brought his gun everywhere and usually kept it in his jeans until his siblings, including Meta, filed their own five-year restraining order after he pulled it out during a family business meeting at the O’Farrell Theater in November 2007 and "waved it around in a threatening manner."

Keller’s statement also charged that James has mood swings, used cocaine, had a meth addiction, and was arrested for domestic violence in February 2008 when Keller was four months pregnant.

The couple’s penultimate fight took place March 4 when Keller told him she was going to live with her mom. After that incident, James was arrested for vioutf8g his probation, and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris recommended putting James behind bars for three months. But 11 days before Keller’s killing, Superior Court Judge Mary Morgan sentenced him to two days and stayed the sentence.

Warren Hinckle, a veteran Bay Area journalist and long-time Mitchell family friend, observes that people can’t imagine what it was like to have grown up in this "battle-prone family."

"Sure, I knew Rafe, and obviously something very bad and weird happened," Hinckle told the Guardian. "People forget that the Mitchells spent a lot of the money that they made on First Amendment battles, and that they were on mob territory."

Keller’s attorney, Charlotte Huggins, said she wants to make sure there’s money set aside for Samantha. But that may be tricky because James was living on trust fund money. Following a 2008 settlement of the dancers’ class action suit against Cinema 7 — in which the corporation agreed to pay $2 million in legal fees and $1.45 million toward the dancers’ claims — Cinema 7 president Jeffrey Armstrong claimed in court filings that the corporation "is not able to pay the entire amount up front."

Instead, Mitchell matriarch Georgia Mae and John P. Morgan, co-trustees of the Jim Mitchell 1990 Family Trust, which holds two-thirds of Cinema 7’s shares, pledged stock certificates as security interest.

Jim Mitchell’s four adult children receive $3,000 a month from the trust. They have the right to withdraw 50 percent when they turn 30, and the remainder when they turn 35.

Court files show that Meta, who turned 30 last year, along with Justin and Jennifer Mitchell, are trying to wrest control of the trust from their grandmother, Georgia Mae, 85. Instead, they would like to appoint their mother and Jim’s ex-wife Mary Jane Whitty-Grimm as the successor trustee. A hearing is set for September.

A stripper who used to dance at the O’Farrell Theater under the stage name Simone Corday wrote the book 9 1/2 Years Behind the Green Door (Mill City Press, Inc. 2007), in which she recalls Artie Mitchell as her lover. Corday told the Guardian that when the Mitchell brothers shared a house in Moraga, Artie worried about Jim’s child-rearing techniques.

In Corday’s book, Artie is quoted saying, "You know how Jim has Rafe dressed as Rambo so much? Now they’re calling Rafe ‘the enforcer.’ If any of the kids use a swear word — even mine when they’re over there — Rafe is supposed to attack!"

Corday said she was shocked by Keller’s killing. "It’s been disturbing. What with his name being the same as Jim’s, and both being held in the Marin County Jail. It’s eerie."

Yoo-hoo, Gertrude Berg!

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

Even ginormous pop phenomena disappear from the collective consciousness faster than seemed possible during their heyday. Still, it’s surprising that The Goldbergs doesn’t loom larger in television history or general cultural awareness.

Admittedly, the show’s heyday came in TV’s early years as a mass medium. In 1949, when it commenced as a CBS half-hour, there were about 1 million television sets in use here. By 1954, at its run’s end, nearly three-quarters of U.S. households owned their own boob tube. One reason for that radical expansion was the vast popularity of I Love Lucy — which grabbed The Goldbergs‘ time slot and sitcom supremacy. Everybody still loves Lucy. But who remembers Mrs. Goldberg?

This year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival certainly does. Its 2009 Freedom of Expression Award goes to Aviva Kempner, director of Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, which makes its local premiere at the fest prior to its theatrical release on Aug. 7. In addition to the doc, SFJFF is screening four Goldbergs episodes.

Even more than a largely forgotten popular institution, Yoo-Hoo commemorates the one-woman dynamo who created and sustained it. Known to millions as humble Molly Goldberg, in real life Gertrude Berg (née Tilly Edelstein) developed performing ambitions and organizational chops from an early age, deploying both in her career despite an engineer husband’s ample means (he invented instant coffee) and a father’s harsh disapproval.

She pitched what became The Rise of the Goldbergs — after a first series about shopgirls was yanked for being too protofeminist — in 1929, the 15-minute radio show making its debut just after the Wall Street crash that triggered the Great Depression. Its portrait of a working-class immigrant Jewish family, idealizing Berg’s own, seemed dubious in appeal at first to the higher-ups. Yet soon it trailed only Amos ‘n’ Andy in national popularity, managing that without Amos ‘n’ Andy‘s degrading minority stereotyping. The Goldbergs were humorous, but not clowns — a warm, stable, relatable clan who looked out for each other and their close-knit community.

The center of both, it seemed, was Molly herself, whose homely homebody demeanor (not to mention the ESL malapropisms that embarrassed some assimilationist Jewish listeners) belied the breadth of progressive, non-saccharine wisdoms she doled out to one and all. She had her ditzy moments, but was nevertheless a very modern matriarch — quite unlike Lucy Ricardo, domestic ninny par excellence.

Berg masterminded this long-term success not just as star and head writer, but producer, mogul, and hard-driving perfectionist. She also had a clothing line, penned books, toured the vaudeville circuit and acted on Broadway. At one point she was named "Most Respected Woman in America" — following Eleanor Roosevelt, though in income their positions were reversed.

Despite all this, The Goldbergs died something of a slow, ignoble death. In 1951, actor Philip "Mr. Goldberg" Loeb was named as one among many "Communist influences" in the entertainment field by right-wing ideologues. The network wanted him out — and when Berg balked, a Top Three show was suddenly canceled for lack of commercial sponsorship. It returned later, the role recast — I Love Lucy launching in the interim — but some alchemy was lost. Blackballed and disconsolate, Loeb shot himself in 1955.

Berg soldiered on, driven as ever, until her death in 1966. The Goldbergs disappeared from syndication, then from memory. It would be decades before demonstrably Jewish characters (as opposed to gentile-fied Jewish performers) would again be so prominent on television. It’s worth noting that 60-plus years after Molly G. made her reluctantly-greenlit bow, Seinfeld almost didn’t make it on-air for fear it was likewise "too Jewish."

YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG

Tues/28, 6:30 p.m., Castro; Aug. 1, noon, Roda;

Aug. 2, 3 p.m., CineArts; Aug. 8, 2 p.m., Smith Rafael

THE GOLDBERGS

Tues/28, 3:30 p.m., Castro; Aug. 2, 12:30, CineArts;

Aug. 4, 2 p.m., Roda

See film listings for complete SFJFF info

www.sfjff.org

Celluloid Nation

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Unsurprisingly, Israeli films have been a big part of each San Francisco Jewish Film Festival program from the beginning. Yet despite that annual local sampling, occasional theatrical exports, and Oscar’s devotion (seven Israeli features have been nominated for Best Foreign Film so far, including 2008’s highway-robbery loser Waltz with Bashir), the general narrative of how that industry got where it is today has remained hazy. It clears up quite a bit after three and a half hours spent with Raphael Nadjari’s A History of Israeli Cinema, the new two-part documentary screening at SFJFF.

Nadjari’s choice of article is apt — this is a history, not any attempt at creating "the" definitive one, and no doubt seasoned viewers will be left scratching their heads over an omission or eight. (The weirdest being M.I.A. Eytan Fox, of 2002’s Yossi and Jagger, 2004’s Walk on Water, and 2006’s The Bubble.) But the myriad clips and commentators he assembles nonetheless piece together a cogent overview that will have you running to check DVD availabilities (usually in vain, alas).

Early features, before and after nationhood was declared in 1948, mostly sold the "Zionist utopia" that would unite millennia of Jewish diaspora, often using filmic language reminiscent of Soviet propagandist cinema. When audiences no longer needed that basic affirmation, more escapist forms emerged, notably the broad "bourekas" comedies and sentimental dramas depicting struggling ethnic groups (mostly Mizrahi Jews). Alongside these in the 1960s there developed a "New Sensitivity" school indebted to European art film that appealed to the intelligentsia if not the wider public. A gradual shift from collective to individual concerns affected everything from the omnipresent military dramas to dissenting political content, plus depictions of hitherto ignored or stereotyped figures whether Arab, gay, Georgian émigré, or simply female.

SFJFF 2009 continues this history with a sizable range of new Israeli screen work. Home-turf hit Lost Islands is a seriocomic family saga played to the big-hair beat of early ’80s New Wave (come back, Flock of Seagulls!). The excellent Zion and His Brother provides darker domestic strife amidst Haifa’s meanest housing-project streets. Coming highly recommended for a good time is A Matter of Size, which is pretty much The Full Monty (1997) of sumo wrestling. (Dennis Harvey)

A HISTORY OF ISRAELI CINEMA

Aug 1, 11:45 a.m., CineArts

Aug 8, 11:30 a.m., JCCSF

Hold the pickle

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superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Enough with the gourmet street food carts, already. What this joint really needs is some gourmet street cocktail carts. I can barely see it now: fixie-powered blenders, home-brewed Fernet shots, "shit coke" smuggled Cuban rum margaritas with powdered-sugar rims and laminated dollar-bill straws, bacon-wrapped hot dog martinis, 5-HTP power boosts … Anyone for an heirloom finger banana and Prather Ranch taurine daquiri? No?

BONER PARTY


DJ Richie Panic promises "cupcakes, piñatas, condoms, fashion tragedies, and those that understand the power of songs like ‘Surfin’ Bird’ recontextualized for these fucked-up times" at this tastelessly amazing Wednesday banger. Trust.

Wednesdays, 10 p.m., free. Beauty Bar, 2299 Mission, SF. www.beautybar.com

RIP: A REMIX MANIFESTO


Mashups — in or out? The scene’s still lively, and this SF360 Film + Club night brings together SFs top mashers Adrian and Mysterious D and London’s Eclectic Method, with a screening of mashup doc RiP: A Remix Manifesto.

Thu/23, 7 p.m., $12–$17. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

NICKODEMUS


The leader of the legendary, decade-old Turntables on the Hudson party just dropped the stellar, border-hopping Sun People (Eighteenth Street) disc, full of interesting, upbeat tribal tracks. "Positivity" is no longer a dirty word.

Fri/24, 10 p.m. –4 a.m., $10. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. www.paradisesf.com

GLITCH MOB


The heartthrobs of glitch-hop, now whittled down to a trio, bring their effed-up laser sound to Mezzanine’s tables, with L.A. future bass pioneer Daddy Kev opening up. Gangsta rap meets Burning Man? You better believe it.

Sat/25, 8:30 p.m., $22.50 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

BAY OF PIGS


The night before the raucous and naughty Up Your Alley fair, get your big gay fetish on with this giant man-meet for charity. Am I scared of the kiki party music by DJs Ted Eiel and Luis Cintron? Yes, sir! But scared equals horny here, hello.

Sat/25, 10 p.m. — 4 a.m., $40–$50.181 Eddy, SF. www.folsomstreetfair.org

UNITING SOULS


It’s the 12-year reunion of promoters Ramiro Gutierrez and Mikey Tello’s progressive house and chunky techno outfit — get that post-old-school rave feeling back with good ol’ Doc Martin headlining and a roster of other well-knowns.

Sat/25, 9 p.m.- 4 a.m., $15. Six, 66 Sixth St., SF. www.unitingsouls.com

SUPER HERO STREET FAIR


To the Batmobile (let’s go)! Wonder Woman Underoos are totally go at this huge, charitable outdoor affair. Heroic tunes by Opulent Temple, Afrolicious, Supersonic Salsa Collective, Pacific Sound, Smoove, and more mutant decks X-Men.

Sat/25, 1 p.m.–midnight, $10 with superhero costume, $20 without. Indiana and Cesar Chavez streets, SF. www.superherosf.com

FOR THE FUTURE


This massive gathering of pretty much every Bay techno and house crew benefits NextAid.org, which helps AIDS-affected African kids. Staple, Green Gorilla, Stompy, Dirty Bird, Om … 15 DJs, 14 hours, perhaps a few oxygen tents.

Sun/26, noon–2 a.m., $10–$15. Cafe Cocomo, 650 Indiana, SF. www.cafecocomo.com

MISS $1.98 PAGEANT


They don’t come any cheaper than drag queens Anna Conda and Monistat — or do they? We’ll find out when they host this koo-koo pageant where all the contestants must put themselves together (and fall apart) for less than the price of an, er, Estonian bride?

Tue/28, 10 p.m., $10. EndUp, 401 Sixth St., SF. www.endup.com

By degrees

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS It’s summer, smack dab, so I don’t mind taking you to Bodega Bay with me. And Henry. He’s my seven-year-old, Top Bunk, literally and figuratively. I have two four-year-olds, two twos, and a one. Henry, he’s my uncharted territory. My antennae, my tugboat, my scout.

If I say "I love you," he says, "I like you." Sometimes he doesn’t say anything at all. But he runs to me fastest and hugs the hardest. Little sweetie! Once he asked me out to the movies.

"You mean like a date?" I said, because at the time I was available.

"What’s that mean?" he said.

"A ‘date’?" I said. "That means you have to pay."

I know, I know … that’s probably inappropriate, I know, but the fact is I was also, at the time, strapped for cash.

Now I am practically rich. For me, I mean. The whole time we spent together at Camp Chicken Farmer, I swear, I paid for everything. It’s fun watching kids start to learn about money. Like at the grocery store yesterday when he saw a cheap toy gun he wanted … mere weeks ago he would have asked me to buy it for him. Now, knowing better, he begged.

And when that didn’t work, he promised to reimburse me tomorrow, after we get back home.

To raise capital for the not-so-cheap Nerf gun of his dreams, Henry manages a plum jam stand with his friend Clara and sister Emily on the sidewalk outside the house. For fun, I haggle with them over the price, then lower a belt-tied basket from an upstairs window. They put in a jar of jam. I have the exact amount, but I send down a ten to make it more interesting. They make my change and it is thrillingly perfect.

It might be inadvisable to have a financial advisor who is seven, but Henry is full of ideas for me too. I should collect my stories into books, and my songs onto CDs, and sell them on the sidewalk outside the house. He thinks I could make $1 million this way, and I don’t have the heart to tell him I’ve been there and done that, and made about enough for a Nerf gun.

I’m proud of this, that when his parents picked me to be their childern’s live-in-ish babysitter, they picked me over someone more qualified and less queer with graduate degrees (possibly even a PhD) in babysitting, or child development or some such.

In spite of my euphoria, I thought they’d made a huge mistake until I realized just how into stories these two are. They are insatiable, demanding, and discerning, and their babysitter’s graduate degree is in fiction writing, lucky them. (They say babysitter. For rhyming reasons, and because they ain’t babies, I prefer nanny.)

Anyway, I’ve just spent 40 straight hours alone with Henry, and he has squeezed all the story out of me. It’s not just a bedtime thing anymore. Here at Camp Chicken Farmer he wants bathtime stories too, and I have to admit that they will go real good with the bowl of popcorn he’s eating in the tub, on my porch.

And of course you have to have stories with your hot dogs on a stick and can-cooked beans around my hobo fire pit.

Speaking of 55-gallon oil drums, we lugged one to the beach yesterday and started making Henry’s steel pan out of it. We took turns hammering, and for lunch we went to Spud Point Crab Company, my crab shack of choice.

Their clam chowder has been voted Bodega Bay’s best four years in a row, and they only just opened in 2004, so maybe this year the votes aren’t in yet. Anyway, that’s the kind of hyperbole I can sink my teeth into. Not New York’s Best. Not the world’s. Bodega Bay’s. And by consensus, including mine!

My apprentice was less exuberant. "Pretty good," he said, after I asked three times. "Not the best?" No. "What’s the best clam chowder you ever had?" I asked.

"My mommy’s," he answered, but couldn’t quite put his finger on why, when I pressed him, except that she "makes the temperature just right."

It was hot. The soup, the sun.

After, we crossed the street, sat on a bench overlooking the Spud Point marina and decided, after much discussion and weighing of pros and cons and such, that it would be pretty cool to be a boat.

SPUD POINT CRAB COMPANY

Thu.–Tue.: 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

1910 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay

(707) 875-9472

No alcohol

Cash only

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

Am I blue?

0

andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com


Dear Andrea:

The woman I just started seeing likes fooling around for hours with all our clothes on and isn’t ready for sex. I like waiting too, except I have a medical condition called varicoceles, which means I have to wear tidy-whities whenever I walk around. After dates, I have to use heat and ice on my crotch because I’m so sore from the underwear, and I can’t achieve an erection the next day (irony: if I did manage to get her home with me, I wouldn’t have been able to get it up). I guess I just need to tell her that we can’t make out for more than a few minutes unless I can find a public bathroom to change into boxers and sweat pants, and then back into jeans when we’re done. It takes all the spontaneity and romance out of it, which I think are very important to her, but what else can I do?

Love,

Pants of Pain

Dear Pants:

You do have kind of a special case. The vericocele (a varicose vein of the testes) added to the heavy-petting-fanatic girlfriend is kind of a one-two kick in the balls. I think you’re being extremely accommodating, which may make you a very good boyfriend, but this is getting kind of ridiculous.

I think you are going to have to have a talk with her about what constitutes "sex," since she says she isn’t ready for any. What you’re doing is surely sexual, it just isn’t (a) intercourse or (b) particularly gratifying. To you. Are you absolutely sure she wouldn’t be on board with something that allowed you to move further along the sexual response cycle? I mean yours, obviously, but why not hers too while we’re at it? There’s nothing wrong with not being ready for intercourse, or with being into spontaneity and romance (although those have been known to cause an awful lot of havoc all on their own). Still, it’s unreasonable of her to expect you to go to this amount of trouble every time just because she likes to kiss. We all like to kiss, but few of us have to ice down our privates every time we get a chance do it.

I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she doesn’t know how much discomfort and inconvenience you’re putting up with for her sake. That means you have to stop martyring and start asserting yourself. Just say no to heavy petting! Say you’d like to add in some manual action, and you’d be happy to return any favors she might chose to bestow. You don’t have to go into gruesome detail about it, but you do get to say that the three-hour make-out sessions are hard on you, pun intended or not, as you wish. Alternatively, you could arrive wearing the sweatpants and the jockeys and use the escape-hatch feature in front to alleviate pressure, but I’m really more in favor of the actually telling her she’s torturing you (but be nice about it).

If that answered your question, I now have four for you: What’s with the changing into appropriate action-wear in a public restroom? Are you Superman? And isn’t it tighty-whities? Shouldn’t it be?

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

Are blue balls real? I mean, can it really hurt you? It keeps happening to me with this one girl, but I don’t know if it’s something I’m supposed to do something about or just suck it up.

Love,

BB

Dear B:

Real in what sense? I don’t believe they actually turn blue, and I know for a fact that even an advanced case is not going to hurt you. It’s just vasocongestion, all the little blood vessels and all that spongey erectile stuff getting filled up with blood that does not then go back where it came from in good time. I use the highly technical term "erectile stuff" rather than, say, "penis," because achy congestion and overwhelming frustration are hardly experiences limited to the penis-bearing population. In women, it feels a lot like the mildest menstrual cramp, or rather, the warm, heavy, vaguely achy feeling that often presages the onset of a period. It’s like being made aware of your internal organs, which are sending out "Over here, pay attention to me!" signals. It is not remotely like a kick in the balls, or ovaries, or whatever. Discomfort and frustration are not pain, and even pain does not necessarily signal damage. Blue balls may be safely ignored. Most often, they are ministered to by their owner, in private. Go to it.

Of course, there is such a thing as dangerous — emergency-level dangerous — vasocongestion. This one is pretty much a boys-only affair. It’s priapism, when an erection refuses to abate after a reasonable amount of time and a good-faith effort. This can blow out your blood vessels and leave you limp for life, but since it never ever happens just from some girl sitting in your lap, we can forget I ever even mentioned it.

Love,

Andrea

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

Not being boring

0

a&eletters@sfbg.com

There are reasons why John Baldessari has always seemed a little like god. For one, the L.A.-based artist resembles popular visions of the man upstairs. He’s a formidably tall fellow — 6 feet, 7 inches — with white hair and beard, and he exudes an unflappably calm, wise demeanor, characteristics that figure in his role as an influential professor for almost three decades at Calarts and UCLA. In Seven Days in the Art World, the dishy 2008 book-length look at the pre-downturn contemporary art scene, author Sarah Thornton describes Baldessari as "a hippie version of Michelangelo’s representation of the grand old man in the Sistine Chapel." It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that he makes art that you can faith in, if not always completely decipher.

At 78, Baldessari has amassed quite a body of work, even though he pared things down as one of his important early gestures, famously cremating his paintings to start afresh as a conceptualist. "I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art" was the ironic mantra that fueled a 1971 video and his first print, in which he wrote the phrase repeatedly as if a punishment. Since that time, he has well managed to steer clear of boredom, his own and that of his viewers, with works that playfully address mediated culture and the making of art.

Baldessari received a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement award at the current Venice Biennale, and he’ll be honored with a retrospective at London’s Tate Modern this fall. In San Francisco, a thorough selection of his prints is on view at the Legion of Honor. While screenprints and lithographs aren’t usually considered primary works, Baldessari’s approach is so connected to mechanical reproduction — he relies on found images, text, and photography — that the exhibition’s 100-plus examples, all from the collection of Jordan Schnitzer, an Oregon-based Baldessari devotee, comprise a very satisfying survey.

Baldessari’s art is seductive, though surprisingly difficult to parse. His works can play like engaging rebuses that are thwarted by his frequent use of bold, primary-colored dots placed over faces and objects, seriously throwing their meaning into question. Just as often, however, a Baldessari can have a succinct visual/conceptual punch line, like his 1973 Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts), which in classic conceptual art fashion, is just what the title describes. That early work also exemplifies the sense of playfulness and pleasure often present in Baldessari’s art. It shouldn’t seem surprising that his prints can evoke Matisse’s buoyantly colorful Jazz cut-outs.

"I’m glad you saw that, he’s a huge influence on me," Baldessari says when I mention the Matisse connection during a recent interview. At the Venice Biennale award ceremony, he acknowledged his indebtedness to Giotto, Goya, Duchamp, and especially Sol LeWitt, the latter two being similarly playful conceptualists who played with systems to rejigger the way we think about life and art. Baldessari’s mode of operation involves breaking down mass-produced images until they take on new meanings. He has long collected 8 x 10 glossies from forgotten films, advertising campaigns, or various other commercial images that he reconfigures, crops, and/or paints over. Like Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills from the postmodern late 1970s, Baldessari’s sources are coded with meaning and narrative, but are emphatically anonymous. "If I know who it is, it’s ruined for me," he says.

Besides movie stills, Baldessari turns his attention to drab landscapes, mundane table lamps — resulting in a jaunty 1994 series of full-size reproductions with bold patches of color painted over the shades and shadows — and body parts, notably noses and ears (don’t miss the vacuum-formed piece mounted on the ceiling at the entrance of the Legion exhibition).

One room at the Legion is devoted to a 2004 series of prints of men playing guitars. The images are broken into layers, goosing the perspective by having some areas on thicker paper and turning the instruments into solid blocks of color. The story of their making offers a window into Baldessari’s process: "I’ve had these 8 by 10’s of rock and roll musicians for years," he begins. "I collect a lot of stuff because I’m repulsed by it, and that whole rock and roll musician thing does not interest me in the least. I just wonder, why are they popular? I had the photos for years and didn’t know what to do with them, and all of a sudden something clicked — the guitar is an element in art from Cubism, it’s always there with the bottle of wine and newspaper and a loaf of bread. So I thought, how does that work in a more contemporary context?"

He goes on to describe his interest in shapes in photographs, making perspective into a flat plane. "What if I just erase all the gradation and make shapes of color? When the guitars are tilted, they’re pretty interesting shapes, especially in context with gaudy costumes, glitter and bling. It’s an interesting collision."

Perhaps not a lightning bolt from above, but like most of Baldessari’s work, the clash creates subtle sparks. The kind you can believe in.

JOHN BALDESSARI: A PRINT RETROSPECTIVE FROM THE COLLECTIONS OF JORDAN D. SCHNITZER AND HIS FAMILY FOUNDATION

Through Nov. 8 (Tues.– Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.)

free–$10

Legion of Honor

Lincoln Park, 34th Ave. and Clement, SF

(415) 750-3600
www.thinker.org

How healthy is Healthy SF?

0

news@sfbg.com

San Francisco is getting national attention for its attempt at universal health care. President Obama even applauded the city’s efforts in a speech: "Instead of just talking about health care, [San Francisco has been] ensuring that those in need receive it."

But Healthy San Francisco — a pioneering effort to do at the municipal level what the federal and state governments won’t — is running into some troubling problems, made worse by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget cuts.

The program was initiated by Tom Ammiano, now a state assemblymember, with backing from organized labor. Ammiano’s goal was to provide easy access to affordable health care for all of S.F.’s 60,000 uninsured. A local version of a single-payer program, he argued, could provide accessible primary and preventative care, alleviating the need for indigent patients to use the overcrowded and expensive San Francisco General Hospital emergency room as their primary medical provider.

Healthy San Francisco was launched on July 2, 2007, at two Chinatown clinics. It has grown dramatically, and now provides services to more than 34,000 residents at 27 clinics.

Although Newsom sat on the sidelines while Ammiano pushed the legislation, the mayor has now unashamedly claimed the program as his own to promote his gubernatorial campaign. On his Web site he boldly declares that "he’s created the only universal health care program in the country" — with no mention of Ammiano.

The $200 million-<\d>a-<\d>year program is partially funded by an employer-mandate requiring businesses with more than 20 employees either to provide health insurance or pay a fee to the city. The fees are broken down according to the size of the business; as of January 2009, employers pay between $1.23–<\d>$1.85 for every hour an employee works.

Like any traditional health insurance program, Healthy SF has annual fees and point-of-service charges paid by participants. The remainder of the program is funded through state grants.

Opposition to HSF surfaced immediately. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association sued the city even before the program started, alleging that the employer-spending mandate is a violation of federal law.

Kevin Westlye, the association’s executive director, claims his beef is not with the health care system, just with the employer mandate. He suggested that the city raise its sales tax to pay for the program — or that the financial burden should fall on the backs of the billionaires that run privatized health care and pharmaceutical companies.

But the city has only a limited ability to raise taxes, and any tax hike would require voter approval. The employer mandates and fees were much more politically feasible.

Deputy City Attorney Vince Chhabria, who is representing the city on the case, argues, "It is difficult to imagine, in these budget times, that San Francisco could provide universal coverage without employer health care spending requirements."

Federal courts sided with the GGRA initially, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the employer-spending mandate was legal. The GGRA appealed to the United States Supreme Court; the court will announce Oct. 5 whether it will hear the case.

That’s not the only litigation facing HSF. A group of low-income residents are suing the city, saying that the system’s annual fees and co-pays are too high. The program’s fees are scaled to the federal poverty level, which is currently set at an annual income of $10,830. A single person making between 101 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level — that is, between about $11,000 and $20,000 a year — pays $180 a year for HSF membership. People earning between $40,000 and $50,000 pay $1,350 a year.

There are also co-pays of $10 for medical visits and $5 to $25 for prescriptions — again, typical of health insurance plans.

Bay Area Legal Aid and the Western Center on Law and Poverty are representing three San Francisco residents who say those fees violate federal and state mandates, which stipulate that the city must provide free health care to those who can’t afford to pay. Healthy San Francisco is only one element of the lawsuit; it also claims that San Francisco General Hospital charges low-income people too much and that the city’s medical bills and collection practices aren’t fair.

One of the plaintiffs is Robyn Paige, a San Francisco resident with spine, foot, and hip injuries. Paige contends that she can’t afford the co-payments on her multiple medications each month and must either go without pain medication or borrow money. Lisa Qare, 21-year-old resident with MS, had to wait three weeks for medication for an eye condition that developed as a result of her condition.

A $10 co-pay may not seem like much, but when a patient needs several doctor visits a month and must pay $5 to $25 each for multiple prescriptions, it adds up. "As a result," Michael Keys, a Bay Area Legal Aid lawyer, told us, "those who can’t afford the charges are falling into medical debt or skipping services or medication."

And, not surprisingly, the cash-strapped city is having trouble finding enough staff and facilities to meet all the needs. Nancy Keiler, a Mission District resident and HSF participant, complains that clinic visits are too short, and that "the doctor is too hurried and has too many patients." (That’s a common complaint about private health plans, as well.) After waiting three hours, another HSF participant had to leave without her prescription to get back to work on time.

The long lines and waits will only get worse in the face of budget cuts. Pink slips were already handed out to several hundred San Francisco health care workers and 1,000 more may be laid off this fall.

Robert Haaland, who works with the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, told us the staffing cuts will make the situation much worse. Martha Hawthorne, a public-health nurse, said she thinks that there won’t be enough providers to provide good care — and that many health care workers losing their jobs will have to enroll in HSF themselves, putting even more strain on the system.

Ammiano, the author of the plan, is concerned too. "I’m very worried about it," he said. "It seems to me now that if there’s this budget pain, there will be impacts to San Francisco."

Nathan Ballard, the mayor’s press secretary, tersely denied that HSF will feel any budget pain. Asked about critics’ allegations, he said, "They’re wrong. We are going to expand Healthy SF this year."

Earlier this month, insurance giant Kaiser Permanente joined HSF — meaning that the health care giant will now participate as a provider in the program. Haaland voiced concern about that move, calling it "privatizing through the back door."

Mitch Katz, the city’s public health director, agrees there are flaws to the system, but defends its success. "It is by no means a perfect program," he said, "but we’ve made a big impact." With national health care costs rising three times faster than wages (some believe that health care costs are rising five times faster than wages) the nation is starting to seriously talk about overhauling the entire system. San Francisco is being considered as a model for national health care reform.

Labor leaders have lauded the basic formula of HSF and pushed for the federal reforms to use it as a model. As San Francisco Labor Council executive director Tim Paulson said in a prepared statement, "In San Francisco we demonstrated that legislation providing public health access and corporate participation creates a real path to universal health care coverage."

Research assistance by Gabrielle Poccia

Stoned love

0

a&eletters@sfbg.com

PROFILE "It’s a new wave, and a new positive light," says Kid Cudi of rap’s vaunted new generation. "It’s a different time now. [Jay-Z] was raised in the ’80s when shit was bad. And we grew up when times were much better."

Kid Cudi explains this while riding in a car from Manhattan to upstate New York. Earlier that morning, he appeared on MTV’s talk show It’s On with Alexa Chung, and now he’s en route to Camp Bisco, a three-day camping and music festival in Mariaville, N.Y. The next day, he’ll return to the road and "the Great Hangover," a national tour alongside Asher Roth, Pacific Division, B.O.B. and other purveyors of rap’s fresh optimism.

"Day ‘N’ Nite," Kid Cudi’s laconic ode to smoked-out surrealism, pipes out of car radios everywhere. "The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night," he sings with the chopped, slightly off-tune delivery of a rapper on holiday as producer Dot Da Genius’ spacey electronic beat blips and bloops. Harmonizing rappers isn’t a recent trend, of course, but by focusing on his weed-induced daydreams, Kid Cudi blazes uncharted territory. He tickles the intellect with "dat new new." Radio stations usually censor the word "stoner," but it’s the only element that fits within pop radio’s Babylon of hormonal sexploitation and sophomoric debauchery.

Leaked to Websites and blogs in the fall of 2007 and officially issued by Fool’s Gold Records in early 2008, "Day ‘N’ Nite" took over a year to float into the Top 5 of Billboard‘s singles chart. It’s the best proof yet that the "leaders of the new school" phenomenon isn’t a blog-concocted fantasy. For the past year, such superlatives have followed a wave of fresh-faced emcees and producers flooding the Web with unauthorized "remixes" of pop hits, freestyles, hastily-recorded demos, and periodic mixtapes to collect it all. Until now, with the recent success of "Day ‘N’ Nite," Drake’s "Best I Ever Had" and Roth’s "I Love College," it sometimes seemed like meaningless ephemera, just content for blogs and Web sites (and even some traditional magazines) that demonstrate their marketing skills to win ad dollars.

At the center of it is Scott Mescudi, a Cleveland-raised, Brooklyn-based 25-year-old who professes crippling shyness. "I’ve always been a loner. I always felt like I needed to be alone sometimes to think and meditate a lot," he says. "I know a lot of people feel the same thing. It’s important to address these issues on record because you don’t hear other rappers speaking on behalf of people like that."

Sorry, but these revelations aren’t a Guardian "exclusive." Cudi has repeated this in numerous interviews and in posts on his frequently updated blog, Kidcudi.com. It’s part reality, part image-building. His societal alienation dominates the 2008 mixtape A Kid Named Cudi. "Embrace the Martian," he harmonizes." "I come in peace, but I need you rocking with me." His quest for fame and fortune alternates as a path of redemption, a triumph over the haters and ex-girlfriends who doubted him. "I just kill a bitch with success," he crows on "Save My Soul (The Cudi Anthem)." "While she at home stressed out eating ice cream, I’m at the Grammy’s, living out a nice dream."

Cudi says he’s a child of urban pop who grew up with a steady diet of mainstream hip hop and R&B. "I was influenced by my older siblings and what they listened to," says Cudi, who is the youngest of four. "I was able to get into R&B because my sister was into New Edition and Al B. Sure. My oldest brother was into the Pharcyde and a Tribe Called Quest. My middle brother was into UGK, No Limit, Snoop Dogg, and NWA."

Cudi admittedly slept on the indie scene of the late ’90s that paved the trail for today’s alternative up-and-comers. Unlike Mos Def, he didn’t press up 12-inches and sell them to record stores on consignment. Instead he hooked up with a former Def Jam executive (current manager Patrick "Plain" Reynolds) and launched his A Kid Named Cudi mixtape across the Web’s biggest music sites.

Currently slated for Sept. 15 release, Cudi’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day (Mtown), probably won’t disprove the notion that he’s a suburban rapper who has experienced little struggle. But maybe that’s the point. By not pretending to be a ghetto Horatio Alger, he’s free to expand our view of blackness, and hip-hop in particular. The harmonizing vocals, the introspective rhymes, and the hormonally driven R&B (rap & blues) add up to someone who explores hip-hop as a state of mind rather than an inconvertible, street-anchored style. "My whole thing is expressing yourself in any way possible."

THE GREAT HANGOVER TOUR: ASHER ROTH AND KID CUDI

With B.O.B., 88 Keys

Fri/24, 8 p.m., $27.50

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

(415) 673-5716

www.ticketmaster.com

Bitter medicine

0

news@sfbg.com

The Democratic Party has been promising a major overhaul of the health care system for a generation or more. Now, with President Barack Obama and his party’s congressional leaders in a strong position to finally reach that elusive goal by next month, this should be a momentous time for the reform movement.

So why are so many health reform advocacy groups unhappy?

The answer involves policy and process. Rather than pushing for the single-payer system that many progressive groups demand and say is needed, Democratic leaders immediately opted for a compromise plan they hoped would be acceptable to economic conservatives and the insurance industry.

But Republicans are still calling them socialists for doing it, while the insurance industry — which loves the portion of the legislation that requires everyone to buy coverage — is still spending $1.4 million a day to either kill the complicated bills or turn them to its advantage.

When congressional Democrats unveiled America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (HR 3200) on July 14, many reformists thought a long-awaited, dramatic overhaul to a broken system was close at hand. The insurance companies would finally be made to adhere to ethical practices, and the Democrats would defend their plan to establish a government-run health insurance option that could compete with private insurers and keep them in check.

“American families cannot afford for Washington to say no once again to comprehensive health care reform,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who chairs the crucial House Education and Labor Committee.

The Democrats’ bill does address some critical flaws in the health care system. It would greatly expand Medicare to ensure coverage for low-income individuals, and would subsidize coverage for those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, defined as $43,320 for an individual and $88,200 for a family of four. The bill would forbid insurance companies from denying coverage to patients based on a preexisting condition, age, race, or gender. It would eliminate co-pays for preventative care and establish a cap on annual out-of-pocket expenses. To pay for it, the proposal would create a graduated tax on households earning more than $350,000 a year, with the top bracket being a 5.4 percent levy on incomes of more than $1 million.

Progressive members of Congress threw their support behind the bill because — and only because — it included the public option. “The public option is central to our support of health care reform,” read a statement from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), who chairs the CPC, was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “We have already compromised. More than 90 percent of the progressive caucus would vote today for a single-payer system. And so for us to compromise and get behind a really good strong public plan, I mean that’s as far as we’re going.”

While that statement indicates the precarious nature of the current legislation — which will likely be weakened further as it works its way through the process and merges with legislation from the more conservative U.S. Senate — many progressive groups aren’t even willing to go that far.

 

COVERAGE ISN’T CARE

Many single-payer supporters say some reform is better than none, and that the passage of HR 3200 would represent a major win. “We can advance many of the principles that we support with the House bill,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California and an organizer for the national reform advocacy group Health Care for America Now. The nation, he believes, needs to endorse principles such as universally covering Americans and making sure patients aren’t left alone “at the mercy of the private insurance industry.”

Yet other groups fear this cure would be worse than the disease, sending millions of new customers into a private insurance system that simply doesn’t work, and compounding existing problems.

“We’re still pushing for a national single-payer bill,” Dr. James Floyd, a health reform researcher with the nonprofit group Public Citizen, told the Guardian. “While we’re open to other options, we haven’t seen anything [in proposals by Democratic congressional leaders] yet that is acceptable.”

That position has plenty of support among the general public and reform-minded organizations, for whom single-payer continues to be the holy grail.

The current proposal “doesn’t change the system one bit,” said Leonard Rodberg, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, who works in health policy. “These bills are requiring that people buy insurance, but there are no numbers about how much the insurance would cost. And if the cost of the insurance is still too high, you can remain uninsured.”

And as negotiations center on the government-run insurance option, the concept of scratching the status quo and offering free Medicare-like health care to every American instead has fallen to the wayside.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) got 84 co-sponsors for his single-payer bill, HR 676, and hearings were held in June to explore the option. But congressional leaders then took it off the table. The reasons why seem to be as much about political will as they are about campaign contributions from the insurance industry. As one high-level congressional staffer told us, many lawmakers won’t back a single-payer system in part because they “don’t want to have to respond to being accused of being a socialist by the right wing.”

Then there’s the insurance lobby. “They spend hundreds of millions,” the staffer said. “They lobby Congress, and they provide millions to campaigns. They have Fox News. But the single-payer movement is growing leaps and bounds.”

Rodberg said the insurance industry would love to see a mandate to buy insurance approved at a time when insurers are losing customers because the economy is shedding thousands of jobs each month. “This is a bailout for the insurance companies,” Rodberg told us. “But there’s absolutely nothing in this legislation that will control costs, because it just leaves it to the insurance companies and the market.”

Dr. Jim G. Kahn, president of the California Physicians’ Alliance and a professor at UCSF with expertise in health policy, told us he believes the proposed bill falls short of the goal of comprehensive, universal coverage. “‘Universal’ was recently redefined by [Montana Sen. Max] Baucus as 95 percent — i.e., 15 million uninsured,” Kahn told us via e-mail. “Reaching even that level will be hard, due to the complexity of enforcing an ‘individual mandate’ on families with only modest income (and hence no subsidies). And in eagerness to reach that level, more and more people will become underinsured, with inadequate coverage and a further boost in already high medical bankruptcy.”

Medical debt contributed to nearly two-thirds of all bankruptcies in 2007, according to a study in the American Journal of Medicine. The majority of those afflicted were solidly middle-class homeowners at the start of their illness, and most had private health insurance.

Health Care Now, a hub for single-payer grassroots groups, is planning a large rally in Washington, D.C., for July 30, the anniversary of the founding of Medicare, on which many single-payer plans would be based. “Single-payer is the only plan that would truly be universal and contain costs,” said Katie Robbins of Health Care Now, arguing that the current plan pushed by congressional leaders “doesn’t protect us from the ills of the insurance-based system as we know it.”

Other progressive groups are withholding judgment for now, hoping the good aspects will ultimately outweigh the bad. “We’re digging through them now. We support a bill that has a true public option, and the House bill has that,” said Consumer Watchdog’s Jerry Flanagan. “But we really dislike the individual mandate [to purchase health insurance]. The insurance companies really don’t want the public option, but they really want the mandate.”

 

LEAVING OPTIONS OPEN

Even if single-payer isn’t going to be the national model yet, advocates say it’s crucial that states such as California be allowed to experiment with the option anyway. Single-payer advocates in Congress have insisted the health care legislation be amended to explicitly allow states to do single-payer (otherwise, federal preemption laws and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act might prevent states from doing so).

On July 17, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) successfully inserted such an amendment into the bill that cleared the House Committee on Education and Labor with a 25-19 vote, which included significant Republican support. The amendment was opposed by Miller, indicating Democratic Party leaders oppose the change and may ultimately succeed in stripping it from the bill.

“George Miller is a longtime supporter of a national single-payer plan and health care reform. The truth is, however, there are not enough votes in the House or the Senate to pass a final bill that contains single-payer language. That is unfortunate but it is also the truth,” Miller spokesperson Rachel Racusen told the Guardian.

California is a hotbed of single-payer activism. Even a leading candidate for state insurance commissioner, Assemblymember Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) — who appeared on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on July 15 to receive the endorsements of a long list of local elected officials — has made single-payer advocacy a central plank in his campaign.

The movement is so strong in California that it actually had legislators vying for who would get to carry its banner. San Francisco’s own state senator Mark Leno, a longtime single-payer supporter, was selected this year to take over the landmark single-payer legislation previously sponsored by termed-out legislator Sheila Kuehl, which has passed twice, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The more I dive into this issue, the more convinced I am that the answer has to be single-payer,” Leno told us. “The only reform that truly contains costs is single-payer.”

Leno doesn’t fault Obama for taking a more cautious stance — but he does believe the federal government shouldn’t block states like California from creating single-payer systems. “States should be incubators of trying different proposals. We have a great history with that,” Leno said.

But even with a Democratic governor, there’s no guarantee that single-payer would be approved. Mayor Gavin Newsom is running for governor, featuring health care reform in his platform. He chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors National Health Care Reform Task Force, which is pushing for approval of the Obama plan. But even Newsom won’t promise to back the Leno plan.

“He doesn’t think single-payer is the best option now,” Newsom’s campaign manager Eric Jaye told us when asked whether Newsom would sign the legislation as governor. “He hopes and believes that as governor he will be supporting a national public option.”

But in the end, the governor may not matter. Leno said the political reality in California is that voters, rather than legislators, will need to approve the single-payer system. The funding mechanism for any ambitious health care plan would require a two-thirds vote in the legislature, a political impossibility.

“The difference in California is the voters will have the final say. And I’m excited about that. The voters of California will be able to say to the insurance companies, ‘We’ve had enough, now go away,'” Leno told us. He said he expects a ballot campaign in 2012.

Of course, it won’t be that simple. Leno knows that the insurance industry will spend untold millions of dollars to defend itself and a “status quo that is only working for them, not for anyone else. This is an enormously powerful industry and they control the debates.”

“Our effort here in California is an educational one. We have from now until the election in 2012 to make the arguments,” Leno said.

 

THE COST OF INSURANCE

Testifying at a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee in June, Geri Jenkins, a registered nurse and the co-president of the California Nurses Association, related the story of Nataline Sarkisyan. The 17-year-old girl needed a life-saving liver transplant, Jenkins explained to Congress members. “But CIGNA would not approve it,” she told them, “until I, and hundreds of others, protested. During one of the protests, I was with Hilda, Nataline’s mother, when she got the call of approval.”

Hilda’s relief didn’t last long. By the time the hurdle had been cleared, Jenkins testified, “it was too late. Nataline died an hour later.”

Nataline’s story sparked national outrage, and it has since become a flagship tale highlighting all that is wrong with this country’s health care system. But as the debate about health care reform continues inside House and Senate committee chambers, discussion about “universal health care” — a phrase with a simple ring to it — has grown murkier.

“We have a universal health care system now,” Flanagan said, referring to how all Americans with serious medical conditions have a right to treatment — even if that treatment comes with great expense in an overcrowded public hospital emergency room. “It’s just the most inefficient system imaginable.”

With the August congressional recess coming up fast and Obama leaning on Capitol Hill to shift into high gear on an issue that was a hallmark of his campaign, the pressure is on to vote on the historic health care reform legislation within weeks.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed a health care reform bill July 16 that is similar to the House bill, with the vote split along party lines. Now, national attention has turned to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Baucus, which continued its efforts last week to achieve a bipartisan bill.

Many of progressive reform advocates simply don’t trust the players in Washington, D.C., to get this right, particularly Baucus. “He’s the voice of the insurance companies in the Senate,” Flanagan said.

A recent article in the Washington Post estimated that the insurance industry is spending an estimated $1.4 million per day to influence the outcome of the health care legislation, and pointed out that many of the lobbyists were Washington insiders who had previously worked for key legislators, such as Baucus.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit research group that tracks money in U.S. politics and operates the Web site opensecrets.org, launched an intensive study of health care sector lobbyist spending, including cataloguing industry contributions to individual candidates from 1989 to the present. Baucus received more industry campaign contributions in that time than any other Democrat, the CRP study reveals, with a total of $3.8 million. Henry Waxman (D-<\d>Los Angeles), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, received a total of $1.4 million in that same time, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) received $1.2 million.

Starting in the 2008 election cycle, the health sector gave more to Democrats than to Republicans, according to the CRP’s analysis.

To overcome that kind of money and influence, advocates say it was crucial to wield a credible single-payer option — a sort of death penalty for the insurance industry — for as long as possible.

“Having single-payer discussions on the table really informs the debate over the public option,” Flanagan said. “But by removing single-payer, it made the public option the left flank.”

Flanagan, like many, is worried about how a 900-page bill will turn out. “There are a thousands ways to get it wrong,” he said. “An easy way to get it right would be to just do a single-payer system.” ————

HEALTH CARE BY THE NUMBERS

Uninsured Americans: 47 million

Uninsured Californians: More than 6.7 million (about one in six)

African Americans without health insurance in California: 19 percent

Latinos without health insurance in California: 31 percent

Whites without health insurance in California: 12 percent

San Franciscans without health insurance: 15.3 percent

Rise in health-insurance premiums from 2000 to 2007 in California: 96 percent

Projected rise in health care costs per family without reform: $1,800 per year

Percentage of bankruptcies attributed to an individual’s inability to pay medical bills: 62 percent

Percentage of Americans who skip doctor visits because of the cost: 25 percent

U.S. rank of 19 industrialized nations on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions: 19

Jobs that would be created by extending Medicare to all Americans: 2.6 million

Annual U.S. spending on billing and insurance-related administrative costs for health care: $400 billion

Sources: Health Care for America Now, American Journal of Medicine, Physicians for a National Health Program

Bistro St. Germain

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paulr@sfbg.com

Few neighborhoods in Paris are more full of cultural flavor than the Faubourg St.-Germain, the Right Bank district whose main thoroughfare, the Boulevard St. Germain, is the home of the Café Flore (the original!) and the Deux Magots. Picture Sartre thoughtfully smoking a clove cigarette, with a demitasse emptied of espresso sitting on the table in front of him.

Although the Faubourg St.-Germain is very near the Sorbonne, its bohemian life is mostly a relic. These days the area is expensively residential, and its shops and restaurants reflect this affluence. So when our own bistro impresario, Laurent Legendre, recently opened his latest venture on lower Haight Street under the name Bistro St. Germain, was he looking backward or forward, toward nostalgia or aspiration?

If the lower Haight can’t quite claim anyone of Sartre’s stature as part of its boho past, it can claim that it has kept something of a boho present. The neighborhood retains elements of true grit and is full of young people, and its restaurants still tend toward the cheap. But the area’s socioeconomic furniture has been rearranged in recent years, and since the opening of nearby RNM in 2002, the upmarket trend has been palpable. Last year saw the arrival, in the next block, of Uva, a sleek enoteca, and now there is a proper bistro.

Legendre isn’t the only propagator of neighborhood bistros in San Francisco — nearby L’Ardoise, for instance, was launched by Thierry Clement — but he is a force majeure. His previous undertaking, Le P’tit Laurent in Glen Park, is unusually authentic. Before that, he was a longtime principal in Clémentine (in the old Alain Rondelli space) and Bistro Clémentine, both in the inner Richmond.

I do find myself wondering how many traditional French bistros we need in this city, which, as it happens, is not Paris, home of the traditional French bistro. Are others wondering the same thing? The evidence, at least at Bistro St. Germain, suggests not. The place has the boxy spaciousness of a swimming pool or a pool hall, yet it fills up quickly with people and noise. (Sartre: "Hell is other people.") Are the crowds drawn by the tasty location, the huge wall mural (a silhouette of the Paris skyline, including such familiar spectacles as the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, and Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre), or the crisply executed, fairly priced food? The answer to this sort of trick question, or trick rhetorical question, is almost always, all of the above.

The food does not disappoint, certainly. From the arrival of the first basket of bread at the table, it’s clear that care is being taken in the kitchen. The bread is a simple sweet baguette, still warm from the oven, sliced and presented with a pat of softened butter. The addictive properties of warm bread have, I believe, been under-investigated. Your bread basket will be endlessly, cheerfully replenished, but try to save some slices for mop-up duty in the event you have mussels — and you should have mussels. At $9 for a sizable platter, they aren’t expensive and can be had in a number of sauces, among them a basquaise of white wine, tomato, and peppers. Hugely soppable. And don’t forget some frites ($3.50) — sublimely crisp — for some additional counterpoint.

The menu ranges gracefully across the French classics. There are snails ($6.25 for six), served on a dimpled earthenware plate and redolent of raw garlic. There is a roast poussin ($14), beautifully bronzed yet with moist white meat — a quiet miracle — and served with a large stack of frites. Duck confit ($16) is nicely done, with a crisp crust still faintly sizzling; it is set on a broad bed of lentils that are the proper gray-green color but are too big to be the traditional Puy variety. As lentil-cookers will likely agree, a large virtue of Puy lentils is their determined resistance to overcooking. They don’t easily turn to mush. The bigger sorts have to be handled more carefully, but Bistro St. Germain’s kitchen passes this test.

I found a bourride ($17) — a seafood stew, complete with aioli-smeared rounds of toasted bread — to be defined by the presence of what I took to be some form of cheeks, perhaps halibut cheeks. The rest of the players, including shrimp, mussels, and chunks of salmon, I could easily identify by shape, texture, and flavor. The suspected cheeks, however — rectangular tabs of flesh, thumb-sized — offered a strong, almost cheese-like flavor. Can fish be gamey? I offered tastes around the table as a cross-check, and the reactions returned were mild. Nonetheless, I hesitated for a bit before finishing the last piece.

Vegetarians can find French cooking a tough go, but Bistro St. Germain is accommodating. The meatless choices are explicitly identified and aren’t shabby — a shallow bowl of ravioli ($15), say, stuffed with squash purée and bathed in a mushroom cream sauce. Not quite legendary, perhaps, but pretty good.

BISTRO ST. GERMAIN

Dinner: Tues.–Thurs. and Sun., 5:30–9:30 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m.

Brunch: Sun., 10 a.m.–2 p.m.

518 Haight, SF

(415) 626-6262

Beer and wine

MC/V

Very noisy if busy

Wheelchair accessible

Volume 43 Number 43 Flip-through Edition

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Appetite: Sweet ribs, buckwheat pancakes, Monterey abalone, bagna cauda dip, and more

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Every week, 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.

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Wexler’s delight. Photo by Virginia Miller.

Wexler’s Saturday Night Cookouts Commence
I’ve been to Wexler’s a few times now, wrote about it in Appetite last month, finding it a delightul addition to downtown for gourmet Southern food and Carlos Yturria’s excellent cocktails. Saturday they launched Saturday Night Cookout, a weekly $26, 3-course feast meant to be ordered by the entire table. Chef Charlie Kleinman is purported to smoke some sweet applewood-smoked Baby Back Ribs, which you’ll each get ½ rack of (add $8 for a full rack) as your main course, accompanied by house BBQ sauce, BBQ-baked Cranberry Beans, Corn Bread with spicy honey butter and Creamy Cole Slaw. Though the menu changes, this Saturday offered first courses of either Smoked Nante Carrot Soup with lime zest and Fresno Chili (which they use a lot of here) Sour Cream, or a Little Gems Salad with house-made ranch, smoked cippolini and cornbread croutons (picking up on the smoked theme?) Dessert is your choice of berry short cake with creme fraiche biscuit, whipped cream and berries, or Hamada Farm’s heirloom watermelon topped with fleur de sel and house chili powder. Wine pairings are an additional $15 and different wineries and winemakers will be featured. Is your mouth watering yet?
568 Sacramento, SF
415-983-0102
www.wexlerssf.com

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Southern Comfort: Gussie’s Chicken & Waffles debuts in Lower Fillmore
When it comes to chicken and waffles, I miss the classic Roscoe days of my youth, hitting the Sunset and Gower location after shows on the Sunset Strip. Haven’t found a comparable Bay Area joint, though there are some good chicken & waffles here. Gussie’s Chicken and Waffles opens today with an owner who once worked at none other than: Roscoe’s. Sidewalk seating for waffles, whether they be buckwheat, banana pecan, sweet potato, or buttermilk (I need NO other reason to go but these), or add crispy fried chicken, maybe even gravy and onions? Bliss. They rope me in further with a long list of classic Southern sides, including grits, mac ‘n cheese, black-eyed peas, red beans and rice, candied yams, collard greens. Other dishes include Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers, Louisiana Fried Catfish or Red Snapper, Grandma’s Chicken Salad, home-made Chicken Noodle Soup, or desserts like Southern Red Velvet Cake ("done the right way", per the menu) or Miss Pearl’s Banana Pudding made with ‘nilla wafers. The calories may not be comforting, but the food surely will be.
1521 Eddy Street
415-409-2529

Saison – a once a week dinner at Stable Cafe
A beautiful website reflects the ethos of our latest non-restaurant dinner: Saison Sunday nights in an actual rustic, historic stable behind Stable Cafe (making use of a grand gallery room and orange tree-studded garden patio) for a four-course, $60 dinner from Joshua Skenes (of Chez T.J. in Mountain View) and Mark Bright, co-owner and wine expert of Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant. The passion of these two makes this like dinner in a chef friend’s home: they’ll introduce guests to the kitchen staff and explain the night’s ingredients. Opening night menu yesterday included bagna cauda dip with garden vegetables, Monterey abalone with foie gras, four-story poularde (aka hen – not sure how the “four-story” part plays out), and Santa Rosa plum tart with creme fraiche ice cream. Reserve ahead as opening night was sold out in advance…
2124 Folsom Street
415-828-7990
www.saisonsf.com

In the Loop

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REVIEW A typically fumbling remark by U.K. Minister of International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) ignites a media firestorm, since it seems to suggest war is imminent even though Brit and U.S. governments are downplaying the likelihood of the Iraq invasion they’re simultaneously preparing for. Suddenly cast as an important arbiter of global affairs — a role he’s perhaps less suited for than playing the Easter Bunny — Simon becomes one chess piece in a cutthroat game whose participants on both sides of the Atlantic include his own subordinates, the prime minister’s rageaholic communications chief, major Pentagon and State Department honchos, crazy constituents, and more. Writer-director Armando Iannucci’s frenetic comedy of behind-the-scenes backstabbing and its direct influence on the highest-level diplomatic and military policies is scabrously funny in the best tradition of English television, which is (naturally) just where its creators hail from.

IN THE LOOP opens Fri/24 in San Francisco.

Big Rich

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PREVIEW Arriving outside Amoeba Music on Haight Street, Fillmore Rich — also known as the MTV2 rap star Big Rich — is stopped by a total stranger. "Yo! Big Rich. Man, I love "SF Anthem," and "That’s The Business," and all your music," the fan/rapper enthuses, quickly turning the chance sidewalk meeting into an impromptu audition. As the aspiring rapper — who shouldn’t be making any immediate plans to quit his day job — rattles into his second verse, large-framed Rich listens intently. Afterward he offers words of encouragement, and even his phone number, to the upstart.

Big Rich’s Heart of the City (3 Story Muzik) is one of Ameoba’s top-selling hip-hop albums. "I feel like it’s a part of my responsibility to give back to my community," Rich says. "That’s why I call myself Fillmore Rich. It’s not to glamorize anything. It’s just that’s how I feel. All the people I grew up with, they ain’t here no more. I feel like it’s my responsibility to stay here and represent and help where I can. I am the only San Francisco rapper that still has a residence in the neighborhood where they grew up."

This Saturday, Rich will be there when the SF youth AIDS education organization Get Live Stay Live puts on an event at the Bayview Opera House. "There’s [been] a lot of friction going on with my area and Hunters Point," he says. "I’m going to show there ain’t no friction." Rich has two other events booked the same day: he’ll be speaking on a panel at the Bay Area Producers Conference and performing at the car-themed Hot Import Nights mega-event at the Pleasanton Fairgrounds. Catch him if you can.

BAY AREA PRODUCERS CONFERENCE Sat/25, 8.a.m–11 p.m. (Big Rich is part of the "Beats and Rhymes" panel at 5 p.m.), $45. Cathedral Hill Hotel. 1101 Van Ness, SF.

www.bayareaproducersconference.com

Clutch

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PREVIEW To survive two decades in the music business, a band must learn to tolerate change. Clutch has prospered by embracing it. Since its beginnings as a shotgun marriage between East Coast hardcore and Southern rock, the Maryland four-piece has constantly retooled its elastic, blues-metal sound. Easily bored and eager to explore their prolific, improvisatory talents, the band members never perform the same set twice — they take turns surprising each other.

This year’s Strange Cousins From the West (Weathermaker Music) abandons the harmonica and keyboard accents that proliferated on 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion (DRT Records). Though the band has been on a bluesy, mellow trajectory since 2004’s Blast Tyrant (DRT), the pendulum is now swinging in the other direction, back toward the muscular guitar rock that comprised its definitive mid-1990s output.

The stand-out track "Abraham Lincoln" sounds appropriately like a funeral march, and the lyrics showcase singer Neil Fallon’s talent for making American history into motor-mouthed rock and roll genius. The album’s lead single "50,000 Unstoppable Watts" boasts a trademark non sequitur sing-along ("Anthrax/ham radio/and liquor"), underpinned by one of Tim Sult’s inimitable guitar leads. Neither shredding nor chugging, the licks glide along with the assured, unpredictable grace of a hopscotch expert.

On tour, Clutch is supported by Lionize, Sult’s reggae side project — bored, prolific, remember? — along with Baroness, a group that rivals the headlining godfathers in combining distorted guitars with Southern flavor and a vast range of influences. Extemporaneous and explosive in concert, Clutch is only skipped by the unwise.

CLUTCH With Lionize, Baroness. Wed/22, 8 p.m., $23. Regency Ballroom, 1290 Sutter, SF.

(415) 673-5716. www.theregencyballroom.com

Sha Sha Higby

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PREVIEW To achieve inner calm, you could do an hour of yoga, meditate on a seaside cliff, or pamper yourself at a spa retreat. But if you don’t have the time (or lack the funds), you could also attend a Sha Sha Higby performance to leave you feeling reflective, refreshed and inspired. Higby began her artistic career before she was even qualified to attend preschool. At age 3, a drawing of a single bird launched the artist into a new world of expression. Fast-forward to the present, and the internationally acclaimed performance artist insists she doesn’t have another option than to constantly create.

And boy, does this lady create. Using skills she acquired through her studies in Asia, the Marin County resident’s performances combine dance, puppetry, light, and sound to introduce a mysterious and haunting world of child-like wonders. She is perhaps best known for her elaborate structural costumes, which are handmade using old techniques and materials such as silk, gold leaf, wood, and paper. During her shows, Higby fully cocoons herself in these costumes, which she uses as evolving canvasses to animate stories of life, death, and rebirth.

For her latest show In Folds of Tea, Higby does it again. For two evenings, the Noh Space transforms into an enchanted pink forest as Higby takes the stage to work her unique brand of voodoo. See you there.

SHA SHA HIGBY Fri/24–Sat/25, 8 p.m., $10–$22. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa, SF.

(415) 868-2409, www.shashahigby.com

SF International Poetry Festival

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PREVIEW San Francisco is known internationally for many things, but top among them are parties, politics, and poetry. We’ve got plenty of events dedicated to the first two, but it’s surprising that we didn’t have a full-blown poetry festival until two years ago. Thankfully, the city, the public libraries, and the Friends of the library are back this year with four days of events dedicated to the medium that made Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti famous — with an intention of continuing the tradition as a biennial gathering. This round features main stage readings by local heroes and international stars like Maram al-Massri, Daisy Zamora, SF Poet Laureate Diane di Prima, and Ferlinghetti himself. Other highlights include an exhibition of artwork and broadsides from participating poets, screening of a documentary about Jack Hirschman, a conversation about the art of translation, an event for youth moderated by California state Poet Laureate Carol-Muske-Dukes, workshops, parties, and a North Beach Poetry crawl that includes stopping in at Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore and other famous haunts of the Beats. Best of all? Like creating poetry itself, all events are free and open to the public.

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL Thurs/23–Sun/26, Various times and locations. Free. www.sfipf.org

“Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004”

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REVIEW I saw my deceased grandfather before I saw Groucho Marx. In Richard Avedon’s 1972 photograph of the aging comedian, Marx’s push-broom mustache, here a baleen of gray bristles, is the only obvious identifying feature in what otherwise looks to be a portrait of an elderly Jewish man. Marx’s eyes — like Marilyn Monroe’s in Avedon’s famous 1957 portrait of the star seeming to want out of her skin — avoid the camera, looking off glassily toward something in the distance. Or perhaps they are trying to look at nothing.

Of all the faces in "Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004," the first large-scale retrospective of the late photographer’s work that makes its only U.S. stopover at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the ones crumpled with age, the ones closest to death, hold my attention most. The ubiquitous white backdrop and large format camera used in many shots allow the viewer an intimate look at the liver spots, wrinkles, fleshy furrows, stray hairs, scars, and other accumulated physical tallies that testify to what Susan Sontag called photography’s ability to depict "time’s relentless melt."

As in my encounter with the Marx portrait, you often notice the physical attributes of Avedon’s subjects before you register who they are. John Ford, replete with eye-patch, resembles a pumpkin caving in. Isak Dinesen (uncannily resembling Little Edie Beale in a brooch-adorned knit cap) is all hollowed cheekbones and cracked lips, and to quote Geoff Dyer’s wonderful catalog essay, "looks like she was once the most beautiful woman in the world — about 2,000 years ago." The exhibit contrasts Avedon’s portrait of Andy Warhol’s scarred torso, gnarled into a Weston-worthy bell pepper by Valerie Solanias’s gunshots, with the Apollonian perfection of the male superstars in the famous panorama of Warhol and his Factory Avedon shot prior to the artist’s near death experience.

Death has been a subject for photographers since photography’s invention, as much as it has developed as trope within writing on photography. Sontag certainly touched on photo-mortality, but it was taken up most melodramatically by Roland Barthes, who declared: "All young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality, do not know that they are agents of Death."

It would be foolish to brand Avedon with such a label, but there is something to be said for his willingness to allow his subjects’ place on this mortal coil to show through so clearly. Avedon was probably the most unsparing of 20th century photography’s great portraitists. But in their calculated presentation of their subject’s imperfections, his photographs manage at the very least to seem uncontrived — perhaps the best compliment a photograph can attract.

RICHARD AVEDON: PHOTOGRAPHS 1946–2004 Through Nov. 29, $9-$15 (free first Tues. and half-off Thurs. evenings). Mon–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 10 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000. www.sfmoma.org