Volume 43 Number 47

Hittin’ the tube


THE DRUG ISSUE After watching hours of Intervention — A&E’s reality show that profiles addicts, their families, and their painful first steps toward recovery — I concluded that junkies don’t watch Intervention. But if the average non-junkie watches too much Intervention, he or she will without a doubt become addicted to Intervention. So proceed cautiously.

With the exception of special "follow-up" entries, the structure of every episode (seven seasons’ worth) is similar. First you meet the addict (alcoholic, crack smoker, heroin injector, bulimic, huffer, pill-popper, meth-taker, overshopper, excessive video gamer, etc.) and take stock of his or her increasingly fucked-up life (job and/or marriage lost, homeless, secret stripping gig, custody of children taken away, threat of jail, etc.) Then you meet the loved ones (weepy grandma, terminally ill father, adorably articulate pre-teen, resentful husband, etc.) who’ve been enabling the addict for years, but are now pushed to the edge. The more compelling stories hog an entire show, but most of the time Intervention‘s intrepid editors split the hour between two unrelated yet carefully calibrated cases (for example, the plight of an anorexic single mom is cross-cut with that of a hulking rageaholic).

Rock bottom looms. But what’s that knock at the door? Why, it’s one of three Intervention-ists — mustachioed Jeff VanVonderen, redhead Candy Finnigan, or raspy-voiced Ken Seeley — here to oversee what’s inevitably an extremely emotional sit-down with the addict, who is thereafter spirited away to a recovery center. A quick post-rehab update, in the form of a sober and smiling subject (or on-screen text, in case things don’t go so well), ends each ep.

The reason I say junkies don’t watch Intervention is that they never suspect what’s in store. They all "agree to be in a documentary about addiction," which explains why they allow a camera crew to peep in as they steal medication, forge checks, fall down drunk, and so forth. But the intervention itself is always a complete surprise, suggesting that crack addicts have better things to do than watch A&E all day, or scour A&E’s Web site for newly posted tidbits. Intervention‘s popularity can be pinpointed thusly: it’s got the dramatic lure of a sensational trainwreck, but with the immense appeal of seeing a person who’s hit rock bottom turn his or her life around. Does this show inspire people to get help? Maybe. Is it exploitative? Perhaps. But one thing’s for sure: after your first Intervention viewing, you’ll be jonesin’ for more.


Ewok talk



SONIC REDUCER You might not expect it or detect it — listening to the beautifully interwoven fingerpicked guitar, viola, and flute of "Actaeon’s Fall (Against the Hounds)" and dark, sparkling, solemn drone of "Enemies Before the Light" off the new Six Organs of Admittance album, Luminous Night (Drag City) — but Ben Chasny is a pretty fun guy. I haven’t laughed so long and hard during a chat with a musician since forever, that is until the Six Organ-ist began riffing on a recent guilty pleasure: Lindsey Buckingham and in particular Law and Order (Warner Music Group, 1981).

"It’s the one where’s he’s naked, super-tanned, and glistening with oil (on the cover)," enthuses Chasny by phone from Seattle, where he’s trotting out to Trader Joe’s for a single can of black beans. "Man, he’s a fucking mad genius. That was on repeat on my turntable for a while."

After raving about an amazing Fleetwood Mac show he attended not long ago — "after every song [Buckingham] rips his guitar off and holds it up, as if he’s won a gold medal in the Olympics" — he pulls out a nugget related to Buckingham ex Carol Ann Harris’ book, Storms (Chicago Review Press, 2007), which describes the Fleetwood Mac-er holding his head at night, screaming about all the music running through his noggin. "Ethan [Miller of Comets on Fire] said, ‘He probably had that song "Holiday Road" in his head, and it was driving him fucking bonkers,’" Chasny quips. "I can image if you had that going on, you’d go fucking crazy."

I’m still chuckling when Chasny admits that he’s stolen many a lick from Buckingham as the guitarist for the now-dormant Comets on Fire: "I was running them through tons of distortion, so no one picks up." It’s all good — and it’s even better to catch up and talk early influences (the Stray Cats!?) and current musical loves (the Flower Corsano Duo) with the man, now firmly relocated in Seattle along with girlfriend Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers, who, as it happens, isn’t in Six Organs at the moment (instead they’re collaborating on another still down-low project). The couple moved out of my Mission District hood just as the shootings were escautf8g last year — and Chasny’s landlord raised his rent. "It was like, ‘Are you fucking reading the newspaper?’," he marvels. "You know how the Mission goes through periods of craziness? I was just, like, ‘Fuck this,’ and we rolled out because it’s cheaper and a little less violent where we are now."

The new Luminous Night seems to reflect Chasny’s peaceful transition to higher, northerly ground. For the first time he worked with a producer, Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth) and in the process has woven new instruments like tabla and synthesizers, as well as viola by Eyvind Kang, into the mix. His own soundtrack writing — and listening to, say, the music of Seven Samurai (1954) and Cosmos (1977) — have imbued Luminous Night‘s sound with vivid emotional arcs and an ever-widening scope that incorporates classical elements, synthesizer ruminations, and wanted-man Western-movie scores.

Nothing to feel guilty about here — but then Chasny would never not cop to an geeky early influence like the so-called "Ewok Song." "I know it by heart," he says, then semi-jokes, "and it’s the precursor to all these kids with wizard hats. It all comes down to the Ewoks singing around the fire. Akron/Family ain’t got nothing on the Ewoks, man." *SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCESun/23, 8 p.m., $12Independent628 Divisadero, SFwww.theindependentsf.com



Nathan Burazer of the SF instrumentalists just launched a monthly party, O.K. Hole, at Amnesia, whereas the all-femme Bay Area combo recently saw its Make a Mess 12-inch sell out. With Psychic Reality and Royalchord. Fri/21, 9 p.m., $8. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Garage rock’s Energizer Bunny embarks on a full-tilt freebie attack at Amoebas on both sides of the Bay, in honor of his spanking Watch Me Fall (Matador). Sat/22, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. Sun/23, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 2455 Telegraph, Berk. www.amoeba.com


J assault ’09 continues, in a more sedate, folktastic ‘n’ Neil Young-ly vein, by, this time, the Fleet Foxes drummer. With Pearly Gate Music. Sun/23, 8 p.m., $11–$13. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


In town at the same time as Reatard, the nekkid, garage-rockin’, lo-fi youngsters throw on a new ‘un, Alice and Friends (Goner). With Traditional Fools. Tues/25, 6 p.m., $5. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF.

‘Time’ passages


DRUG MUSIC "We attempted to dissolve time." That’s how the late John Balance, half of the now disbanded British experimental musical duo Coil, described the aim of their 1998 release Time Machines (Eskaton). Balance said this with such matter-of-factness that you hardly notice the ludicrousness of his claim. No mere sensation-hungry dabblers when it came to tearing down the doors of perception, Coil certainly had reason to stand behind their assertion. Having logged countless hours drifting in the lapping tides of Time Machine’s slowly unraveling synthesizer drones, I can tell you that Balance and musical partner Peter Christopherson definitely succeeded in their attempt.

Coil’s m.o. with Time Machines can be best summed up by the title of Spacemen 3’s 1990 demos compilation Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To (Bomp). Starting from the premise that hallucinogens can remove oneself from one’s temporal reality, Balance and former Throbbing Gristle member Christopherson (with assistance from William Breeze and Drew MacDowell), set out to synthesize music that would catalyze and tease out the temporally-disruptive effects of specific chemical compounds.

If that sounds a bit dry, there is indeed an aura of scientific self-seriousness to the release. Each composition is titled with the chemical name of the substance it has been designed for — track one, "Telepathine" (an earlier term for the compound found in Ayahuasca or yage, popularized by Burroughs and Ginsberg); track two, "DOET/hecate"; track three, "5-Me0-DMT"; and track four, "Psilocybin." But for Coil, science was another form of magic, something driven home by the album’s cover design: a black, glossy oval that alludes to the obsidian "scrying mirror" of Renaissance magician and astronomer John Dee, who supposedly used the stone to conjure spirits. (A limited number of albums also came with a set of stickers that when placed on top of each other depicted Dee’s sigil, the Hieroglyphic Monad).

I should confess, with much embarrassment, that for the many times and many different contexts in which I have listened to Time Machines, I have yet to experience any of the tracks while on the substances for which they were specifically engineered. That said, the album’s transportive effects are noticeable even while listening sober (and are certainly heightened by strong doses of THC). My experience has largely been subtractive: it is hard to do anything or to think about anything with much success, or even "actively listen," while Time Machines is playing. It is the aural equivalent of an isolation tank, in that you don’t even notice the vessel falling away, you’re so immersed. Turn it on, tune in, and dissolve.

Mothership connections



DRUGS If, while flipping through TV channels, you happened upon the episode of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab in which George Clinton appears, you might be forgiven for assuming that the Godfather of Funk, whose drug use reputation precedes him, was under Dr. Drew’s rehab care. In actuality, Clinton was not seeking any guidance from the good TV doctor. Rather, he was working alongside him in helping Rehab subject Seth "Shifty" Binzer get back on the straight and narrow road to sobriety by producing new music for the fallen Crazy Town singer.

According to those familiar with the 68-year-old funk ambassador and his lifelong body of work — which includes the catch phrase and Funkadelic album title Free Your Mind … And Your Ass Will Follow (Westbound, 1970) — George Clinton doesn’t lie or hide the fact that he has dabbled in mind-altering substances, using them to enhance the experience of the funk. "When you think of drug abuse, you immediately think of something you can’t handle, something that takes you over. So he [Clinton] is into drug overuse, but that is not the same as drug abuse. In one interview he [says he] never got religious until he took acid," explains Ricky Vincent, the Berkeley journalist, college professor, KPFA DJ, and author of the acclaimed music history book Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of The One (St. Martin’s Press), which includes a forward penned by Clinton.

"He indulges, but he manages it," says Vincent, who has interviewed Clinton numerous times. "Yes, he got arrested [once] for cocaine. But you don’t hear of him going in and out of the hospital because he overdosed and couldn’t control it. He is one of these people that has turned recreational drug use into a part of his lifestyle, and he doesn’t try to pretend that he doesn’t do drugs. George just says, ‘Hey, I get high all the time!’."

Clinton’s party ways are legendary. In Ice Cube’s early 1990s video for "Bop Gun (One Nation)" which heavily features the Godfather of Funk and reworks the title track of Funkadelic’s 1978 One Nation Under A Groove with the refrain "So high you can’t get over it," Cube at first shuns an invite to a party Clinton is throwing, saying, "I don’t know man. Your get-togethers are kind of wild." As anyone who has ever attended a Parliament-Funkadelic or P-Funk All Stars concert can attest, things tend to get crazy onstage as an ensemble numbering a dozen or more players wanders on and off stage. Most of the musicians are in costumes, including the diaper-clad guitarist/musical director Garry Marshall Shider. Donning his trademark fluorescent rainbow wig, lead funkateer Clinton is happy to be at the center of this organized chaos.

From the get-go in 1970 when the group released its first two albums, Funkadelic’s lysergic-drenched psychedelic funk noise was influenced by the rock music happening around it in Detroit and beyond. Clinton admits to taking acid to fuel his and his band’s early recordings at a time when LSD was still primarily a white person’s drug, not one widely accepted by the black community. Without it, Clinton’s pioneering psychedelic funk pioneered might never have happened. "I can’t think of any other way that you could conceive making music about going to the furthest edge of the universe and then turn around and take it to the bottom of the ocean and actually make it a musical party journey … I mean, you got to be a little altered to do that," says Too $hort, who has long drawn influence from Clinton’s music, and whose collaborations with Clinton include the title track of his 1996 album Gettin’ It (Jive).

George Clinton has been around long enough to witness this country’s changing public attitudes toward drug use and abuse. He’s smart enough to see through the hypocrisy of America’s so-called "war on drugs," and is never too shy to loudly address it. A couple of years ago, he wowed a young Def Poetry audience when he read the "poem" "Dope Dog." In actuality, its words are the lyrics to the song "U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog," from the Parliament-Funkadelic/P-Funk All Stars album Dope Dogs (P-Vine/Hot Hands/Dogone, 1994), which also features songs titled "Help, Scottie, Help (I’m Tweaking and I Can’t Beam Up)" and "Pepe (The Pill Popper)." Clinton left the audience at that HBO studio reading with an observant final line about "the deal on dope": "There’s more profit in pretending that we’re stopping it than selling it."


Aug. 30, 9 p.m., $38

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

(415) 673-5716


Intoxicated rhythms


An almost mythological speculation inundates many so-assumed drug-inspired recordings, especially those of the psychedelic ’60s. Despite my late nights of fuzzy research, I thus advise the reader to measure these drugged-out recordings with the highest dose of skepticism. (Michael Krimper)

Ash Ra Tempel and Timothy Leary — Seven Up (Kosmiche Kuriere, 1973)
While recording, members drink a 7-Up can laced with LSD.
Dr. Dre — The Chronic (Priority, 1992)
The much-imitated and never duplicated source of blunted funk rap.
David Bowie — Station to Station (RCA, 1976)
On a cocaine trip to new-wave space.
Sly and the Family Stone — There’s A Riot Goin’ On (Epic, 1971)
Famously recorded in Sly’s Bel Air drug mansion.
Leak Bro’s — Waterworlds (Eastern Conference, 2004)
Get wet with these rhymers on a PCP holiday.
Quasimoto — The Unseen (Stones Throw, 2000)
Madlib gets wicked with psilocybin mushrooms and a voice modulator.
DJ Screw — 3 N’ The Mornin’ Pt. 1 (Bigtyme, 1995)
The originator of purple drank (codeine, promethazine, alcohol).
The Cure — Pornography (A&M, 1982)
A dark journey into LSD, cocaine, and alcohol.
Pink Floyd — The Piper at The Gates of Dawn (EMI Columbia, 1967)
This Syd Barrett acid trip will keep you away from drugs forever. Bonus: songs about love interests that are really about drugs.

Rick James — "Mary Jane" (Motown, 1985)
Marijuana’s classic cut just to get your feet wet.
The Beatles — "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Capitol, 1967)
Heavily debated, but really, is this not about LSD?
Laid Back — "White Horse" (Sire, 1967)
Don’t ride heroin, but get up on that white pony!
E-40 — "White Gurl" (My Ghetto Report Card, Reprise, 2006)
Another Yay Area cocaine anthem.
Paper Route Gangstaz — "Keyshia Cole" (Fear and Loathing in Hunts Vegas, Mad Decent, 2008)
Tribute to the Oakland-based singer — and potent brand of herb.
Don Cherry — "Brown Rice" (Don Cherry, Horizon, 1975)
Oh, seductive golden brown of heroin!
Cab Calloway — "Minnie The Moocher" (Brunswick, 1931)
Save your wallet and stay away from Minnie, that drug fiend inside you!
Steely Dan — "Doctor Wu" (Katy Lied, ABC, 1975)
A tad colonial, but still an insightful meditation on the opiate trade.

Band of blabbers


With Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino pulls off something that seemed not only impossible, but undesirable, and surely unnecessary: making yet another of his in-jokey movies about other movies, albeit one that also happens to be kinda about the Holocaust — or at least Jews getting their own back on the Nazis during World War II — and (the kicker) is not inherently repulsive. As Rube Goldbergian achievements go, this is up there. Nonetheless, Basterds is more fun, with less guilt, than it has any right to be.

The "basterds" are Tennessee moonshiner Pvt. Brad Pitt’s unit of Jewish soldiers committed to infuriating Der Fuhrer by literally scalping all the uniformed Nazis they can bag. Meanwhile a survivor (Melanie Laurent) of one of insidious SS "Jew Hunter" Christoph Waltz’s raids, now passing as racially "pure" and operating a Paris cinema (imagine the cineaste name-dropping possibilities!) finds her venue hosting a Third Reich hoedown that provides an opportunity to nuke Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, and Goering in one swoop. Additional personalities involved are played by the disparate likes of Diane Kruger, Hostel (2006) auteur Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Bruhl, Til Schweiger, Rod Taylor, Mike Myers, and more.

Tactically, Tarantino’s movies have always been about the ventriloquizing of that yadadada-yadadada whose self-consciousness is bearable because the cleverness is actual. That balance started to slip in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) and Grindhouse‘s Death Proof (2007) passages where you just wanted the actors to quit shooting QT breeze so something could happen. Brief eruptions of lasciviously enjoyed violence aside, Basterds too almost entirely consists of lengthy dialogues or near-monologues in which characters pitch and receive tasty palaver amid lethal danger. When the movie’s too-brief climax is followed by un petit closing punchline, one feels a little less yappin’ and a tad more payoff could have pushed Basterds from highly to career-cappingly enjoyable. Still, even if he’s practically writing theatre now, Tarantino does understand the language of cinema. There isn’t a pin-sharp edit, actor’s raised eyebrow, artful design excess, or musical incongruity here that isn’t just the business. (Dennis Harvey)

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS opens Fri/21 in Bay Area theaters.

Alphabet soup



SUPEREGO ADDICT "That techno shit ain’t nothing but a bunch of clowns tripping their balls off to car alarms," the old saying goes. And it’s almost exactly right! If we’re still in the 1990s — which, by the way, also saw over-tattooed punk and swing revivalists nodding off to black tar and a swarm of bronze-bleached gays mething out to Bryan Adams circuit remixes when they could pry away from AOL chat. (You thought it took forever to download a naked JPEG in 1997? Try doing it on crystal.) Plus: candy-flipping Burners, K-holed zombie househeds, and reams of GHB newbies shitting their pants and dropping half-dead at the unfortunately ambulance-ridden EndUp.

Glancing back with a delicious shiver, the ’90s were a shadow-peopled heyday of designer nightlife drugs, an alphabet soup raining down in clubbers’ peripheries. But, really, from opiate-stoned flappers and Benzedrined mods to the Factory’s orange Obetrols and MDA at the Paradise Garage — when haven’t drugs driven the wee-hours subcultural?

Yes, the music plays into the drug of each scene’s choice, a Pan flute solo wafting over the Valley of the Dolls. You do need to drop E on a crowded dance floor to "get" most strains of techno, or smoke out bigtime for reggae to wobble you to Jah. And drugs drive the music: I’m currently rereading one of my fave tomes, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (Penguin, 1997), and it blows my Swiss cheese brain the sheer piles of drugs everyone was on in the ’70s rock scene. I guess that’s why they got so bloated in the ’80s.

Which leads us, squinting in dawn’s foggy light, to the present. It’s odd that the same prescription drugs kids use to stay well-behaved in math class are the ones most clubbers pop while getting dressed, with a key-snort of terror-funding coke to keep the edge off. But if ’00s electro and fidget house were the sound of Adderall and Ritalin, dubstep derived from hydroponic stank, the disco revival uncorking fresh poppers (see www.homochic.com for your designer bottle), and minimal techno just OCD writ large (a self-consciously undrugged movement?) then the illicit substance center, though cut with baby laxative, at least still holds. And always the liquor flows and flows….


Brain-teasing techno label Pokerflat presents a rare showcase of its stable, including deep mentalist Bug and smooth criminal John Tejada.

Fri/21, 10 p.m., $20, Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


Do-the-doo house is making a shining comeback, thanks in part to the Chicago master’s tireless touring. Shimmy and shake, boogie child.

Fri/21, 10 p.m.- 4 a.m., $10. Temple, 540 Howard, SF. www.templesf.com


"Cybernetic breaks with asymmetrical dub delays" from the former Glitch Mobber, with "global slut psy-hop" queen Ana Sia opening up.

Fri/21, 10 p.m., $10. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com


Your progressive-trance Burner warmup begins with the Euphonic Sounds tunes of this dapper space octopus.

Sat 22, 10 p.m.- 4 a.m., $15 advance. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com


Wherefore art thou, Ambient Romeo? All around us, of course, as pioneer Jega drops his excellent double-disc Variance (Planet Mu) after nine long years.

Sun/22, 10 p.m., $10. Li Po Lounge, 916 Grant, SF. www.nastysonix.com

Made in USA



DRUG LIT You can go to these places. Reading Righteous Dopefiend (University of California, 392 pages, $24.95), I kept trying to pinpoint, via clues in the text, where on "Edgewater Blvd." — Bayshore — the homeless heroin addicts whose lives the book chronicles were encamped. You want to know if you’ve walked by them. Because what pulls you through this often dense ethnography are finely drawn portraits of the brutal lives of individuals.

Philippe Bourgois, a professor of anthropology and medicine who taught for a while at UCSF (he’s now at the University of Pennsylvania) and Jeff Schonberg, a photographer, spent nearly 12 years with a core group of 10 homeless drug addicts in and around the Bayshore area. In Righteous Dopefiend they’ve created a devastating, blow-by-blow indictment of the countervailing forces that conspire to keep these people — Hank, Petey, Tina, Carter, Felix — on the margins.

Of course, the authors recognize that the members of the group they’re following bear some responsibility for the day-to-day atrocity their lives have become. But they track these lines back carefully, conducting extensive interviews with family members, former employers, and ex-spouses who live more (or at least much less precariously) in the "mainstream." Part of what’s revealed in these back stories reminded me of William T. Vollmann’s argument, in his book Poor People (Ecco, 2007), about "accident prone-ness": that the cultures of poverty, addiction and marginalization have a snowball effect within individual lives. Meeting medical — or court — appointments becomes impossible without transportation; sores and open-container tickets turn into abscesses and bench warrants.

The book is divided into nine parts, each detailing an aspect of the everyday lives of the homeless addicts. In "Falling in Love," over the course of interviews, monologues, and Schonberg’s overwhelming black and white photographs, we watch the trajectory of Tina and Carter’s on-again, off-again romance. The chapter is bracketed by "Intimate Apartheid" and "A Community of Addicted Bodies," which illustrate the particulars of the group’s estrangements (from within and without) and its focal, primary romance — with heroin, crack, and alcohol.

In "Making Money," the few legal, and many more illegal, means of getting enough cash to fix are catalogued and considered. Bourgois considers the obsolescence of blue-collar manufacturing jobs, nationally and particularly in rapidly gentrifying cities like San Francisco. What interests the authors here, as elsewhere, are the ambiguously symbiotic, even parasitic relationships employers have with the homeless. One boss who relies on a member of the group pays him exactly enough for a bag of heroin, ensuring that he’ll be at work again first thing the next day.

Throughout the first-person narratives, Bourgois threads his argument: that the institutions, ostensibly set up to serve this body of addicts (from the police-state to community clinics) are, like the employers, both dependent on them (for government funding, menial labor, etc.) and ultimately at cross-purposes with them. The services senselessly undercut one another, forming a no-place for the homeless to barely survive in, characterized by the either/or of living purely by chance, in extreme squalor, or in a permanent maze of bureaucracy. So the Edgewater homeless carve out a life in between, under the freeways but with methadone treatment or an SRO perpetually on the horizon. It’s a shell game where the addict always loses.

There are plenty of good reasons to get this book and read it. If you’re interested in homelessness, addiction, or in the public health issues surrounding IV drug use, this is an excellent source of information. The authors treat their subject brilliantly and with great compassion. It is also a hell of a story, and it’s local. These people walk by you every day and should not remain invisible.

This land is ‘Methland’


DRUG LIT Books claiming to be about drugs in some way — whether nominally fiction or nonfiction — all run up against the same problem: pharmacodependency is already culture. Or, as the literary theorist and academic Avital Ronell puts it in her brilliant, uncategorizable tract, Crack Wars (University of Illinois Press, 1993), drugs articulate "a quiver between history and ontology."

Put another way, drugs aren’t everything, but rituals of self-maintenance and care, from vitamins to exercise and so on, are built on addictive structures. Isoutf8g a drug as a singularity — as Nick Reding only apparently does in Methland (Bloomsbury USA, 272 pages, $24.95), a sort of informal case study of the effects and causes of the meth epidemic in the Iowa town of Oelwein — is a dicey proposition. It calls for a kind of Puritan monomania that might capture some of the lucidity of being on drugs but does so at the price of insight, a deductive rather than inductive logic.

It’s easy to claim that drugs are culture if we limit ourselves to the black-light poster canon of drug lit from Baudelaire’s Les Paradis Artificiels (1860) to Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) and Bret Easton Ellis’ coke-benumbed Less Than Zero (1985). In their time, those books appeared as threatening as their subject matter because they revealed associations between addiction and literature — a notion that seems rather quaint now. Nobody’s launching hysterical campaigns against toxic literature. Today, video games are the new objects of moral panic. Perhaps as books quietly got subsumed into the category of self-improvement, video games took on the cast of a potentially ruinous pursuit of unproductive labor.

In this context, meth is an oddly positioned drug: since its first large-scale use among soldiers on both sides during World War II, speed has been associated with hard work, endurance, and elevated mood over more abstract qualities. Whether prescribed for slimming down or perking up during its brief tenure as a licit drug, amphetamines have always tended to banal, everyday worry. As Reding writes in his book’s introduction, the U.S. meth epidemic is set apart not only because meth can be synthesized cheaply and discreetly at home, but because the drug’s main constituency is working-class, rural whites. Reding’s take on his subjects is compassionate but not treacly: a significant portion of the book links increased meth use with the effects of globalization upon the blue-collar job markets in small towns.

One of the Oelwein residents Reding profiles, a notorious crank addict named Roland Jarvis, went from earning $18 an hour with full union membership and benefits to $6.20 an hour without benefits or union membership after Gillette and later Tyson took over the company where he worked, Iowa Ham. Jarvis used meth to help pick up extra shifts even in the halcyon days of a livable wage, but it’s difficult to imagine how one could make do on $6.20 an hour without tweeking — Reding claims local meth production increased by 400 percent around the same time. Jarvis’ narrative arc culminates when his home explodes as he attempting to dismantle his basement meth lab. The descriptions that Reding shares — of how Jarvis’ skin proceeded to slough off in sheets, revealing the muscle below, for example — make for a kind of rural Grand Guignol, otherwise held in check by structural explanations.

The author gives the sense of a slightly distracted but pleasant dinner party host — wary of lingering on any subject too long, he returns cyclically to the nonaddicts who form the moral core of the story. Clay Hallberg, Oelwein’s high-strung general practitioner, and Nathan Lein, the assistant Fayette County prosecutor, are the book’s through-lines: their tentative redemption is the town’s, and the book’s conclusion plays out with a Midwestern brand of reticence. But Reding’s attempts to connect Oelwein’s story with his own family history cause the book to lose focus, particularly as it concludes. To his credit, this feels like the result of keeping an over-cautious distance from mom-baiting newsmagazine templates. Ironically, though, some of Methland‘s descriptions of meth-fueled psychosis — an elaborate fetish for enemas; frozen pigs in a blanket used as butt plugs — are far-out enough to be at home in the "Drugs" episode of Channel 4’s satirical documentary program Brass Eye.

Methland also tracks the paths of the meth trade, illustrating how early routes were established by out-migration from the corn belt to labor markets in Southern California, then were consolidated into an empire by Lori Arnold, and finally transformed into a decentralized system in which Mexican traffickers use illegal immigrants employed in the meatpacking industry as mules. By following both federal meth legislation and news coverage of the epidemic, Reding emphasizes meth’s functions and reputation within society. He links the drug to an incredible depression of wages and standard of living by corporations threatening to move operations offshore should they be forced to enact worker protections.

Meth is a drug with no celebrities, and Reding treats his subjects with respect, despite close calls with former addicts who play disc golf with him one minute and threaten his life the next. But even beyond a standard litany of reservations about nonfiction — that the author’s voice is too intrusive or not intrusive enough, that there are chunks of undigested research — Methland’s attempt to combine personal reflections on identity and place with an examination of the drug’s role in a small town’s economic struggles seems formally stale.

Perhaps this approach is more truthful, though: meth in Oelwein offers little in the way of rausch, which Ronell defines as the "ecstasy of intoxication," but can be everything when it comes to making do as agribusiness exerts its downward pressure on communities that had previously survived on small-scale farming and small business. Though he might not be able to keep his readers fully invested in his book’s characters, Reding illuminates how meth flows along the same lopsided trajectory of so-called development for which globalization is a handy catch-all. Meth lit is a distant prospect, and as Ronell reminds us with respect to crack, it’s because these drugs don’t have the veneer of moral defensibility. A writing more appropriate to the subject might put forth a louder call for justice for the future. Methland does an able job for now.

The elephant in the shroom



DRUG LIT The psychedelic experience is perfectly, if unintentionally, expressed in a poetry collection: Too long I took clockwork as a model instead of following the angle my inclinations make with the ground. So writes Rosmarie Waldrop in A Key into the Language of America (New Directions, 1994), a book based on Rhode Island founder Roger Williams’s 1643 guide of the same name. The most "meditative" poets, from Milton and Blake to James Merrill and Denise Levertov, are often those who have reworked historical texts. The same could be said about scholars of psychedelics. Forget about Aldous Huxley’s exaggerated diatribes and everything by Carlos Castenada. The "doors of perception" aren’t opened by self-indulgent rambles of the "I’m a spiritual person" variety.

In 2007, sick of the ingrained pop mythologies surrounding psychedelics (and realizing, it seems, that such pseudoscience isn’t helping make the case for legalization), British scholar Andy Letcher published Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom (Harper Perennial, 384 pages, $14.99). Though he spends quite a bit of time debunking myco-myths that I’d imagine are only actually believed by people while tripping — Santa Claus is a giant, speckled variety of the Amanita genus; Stonehenge was like a Dead show without the music — the double-PHD Letcher gives a solid sense of magic mushrooms as they moved through history, and we moved with or tripped over them. Letcher uncovers how little we can possibly know.

Because mushrooms can "simply be picked and eaten," Letcher explains, there is "not a single instance of a magic mushroom being preserved in the archaeological record anywhere." Drugs and apparent representations of magic mushrooms that have been found have had other, nonintoxicating uses, from food to insulation, or have been doctored up to appear trippy, as with one example of Neolithic rock art widely distributed through self-declared visionary Terence McKenna’s books — McKenna’s then-wife, Kat Harrison, actually made the drawing from a photo, adding her own interpretation.

I once heard prankster Paul Krassner relate the tale of his first psychedelic escapade. After his mind returned, he said, it seemed like a good idea to call his mother and express his elation (the rational part of his mind must have still been distracted). Her hilarious response was perhaps culled from the jumbled logic of the war on drugs: "Watch out," she pined into the phone. "I’ve heard that LSD can be a gateway drug to … marijuana!"

Letcher shares this realistic sense of humor about the life of drugs. Before picking apart proponents of the otherworldly "ancient mushrooming thesis," he offers them room to breathe. He is ultimately interested in the cultural evolution of the West’s "yearning for enchantment" in response to changes that have occurred since the industrial revolution. "That we in the West have found value in those remarkable mushroom experiences, where almost all others before us have regarded them as worthless," he notes, "means that in a very real sense we could claim to be living in the Mushroom Age." He explores how McKenna’s death in 2000 left the psychedelic movement without an "obvious figurehead" and how the need to paste our modern sensibilities onto "a pre-historic religion or tabu" (as shroom-popularizer Gordon Wasson wrote in a letter to Robert Graves in 1950), is just an urge.

Post-McKenna, what is the destination of the psychedelic movement’s next trip? A new book, Mushroom Magick (Abrams, 144 pages, $19.95), is respectable for its clear motivations and gorgeous, thorough design. It’s a little too much fun, consisting of over 100 lush, full-page watercolors by Arik Roper, whose shrooms "grow from the tip of my pen without much effort." Incomplete but clear field notes by Gary H. Lincoff and an essay by Erik Davis offer tasty morsels, and the short bibliography points to useful resources such as Paul Stamets’ field guides. But Daniel Pinchbeck’s foreword follows the same trajectory that Letcher so carefully deconstructs. I’m afraid that Mushroom Magick ultimately presents as recreational something that, with or without New Age revisionism, clearly has a deeper, revelatory role to play in human affairs. And that’s not furthering the discussion, that’s a little irresponsible.

Drunk on words



1. Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon, 1973. When jazz singer Anita O’Day found herself stuck with an odd group of musicians who weren’t drinking alcohol or smoking anything between sets — they were reading books — she considered such behavior the other side of life. A very Pynchonian phrase. I know more people (two) who claim to have read this novel on acid than any other — the writer Kevin Killian and the poet Joshua Clover.

2. The Soft Machine, William Burroughs, 1962. A whole cosmology, and an antidote to the hideous language virus from outer space.

3. Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, Philip K. Dick, 1974. In a future where manufactured drugs bend the parameters of space and time, our characters are still also dropping mescaline.

4. How I Became a Nun, César Aira, 1993. Poisonous ice cream is the agent that instigates a trip coextensive with the mysteriously-gendered childhood of poor little César Aira. Part Alice in Wonderland, part Genet.

5. Any book by Wilson Harris. Really. They all blur together. Staring at most any page of Harris is like staring at a painting by Rufino Tamayo, Anselm Kiefer, Charles Burchfield, or Wilfredo Lam.

6. The Book of Lazarus, Richard Grossman, 1978. Dropped into the middle of this collage-novel, with its sophomoric poetry, cartoons of crossing guards, and plot about kidnapping a mobster’s daughter, is a fragment from an eternal sentence. Seventy single-spaced pages of psychedelic cartoon as cosmically weird as Tamala 2010.

7. Guide, Dennis Cooper, 1998. Once, when I was 19 and tripping, I wandered into a room full of cadavers. Whoa, I said. Later that night, I glimpsed the secret structure of the universe. Guide is kind of like that. "Dennis" struggles to convey the unpleasant insights from a bad trip.

8. Ice, Anna Kavan, 1967. Born Helen Ferguson, Kavan named herself after one of her own fictional characters. In and out of mental institutions. On and off heroin. Devoted to gay men. Found dead with lots of heroin and lipstick in her room. In this novel the world is freezing over and a poor thin girl is always getting tormented. Or is she?

9. Gone Tomorrow, Gary Indiana, 1993. For just one scene — a gay sex acid trip at Dachau. Burroughsian flesh-melds, fairy tales bubbling into reality, and the discovery that the Holocaust has been reduced to kitsch.

10. Dream Jungle, Jessica Hagedorn, 2003. Another one-scene wonder — an acid trip on a Manila-bound airplane. Yikes.

11. Already Dead, Denis Johnson, 1998. Starring a toad whose secretions contain DMT.

12. On Heroes and Tombs, Ernesto Sabato, 1961. Three-quarters of this is just okay, but "The Report on the Blind" makes it worth the price of admission. A paranoid misanthrope explores the sect of the blind which he believes secretly rules the world. Does for the visually impaired what The Orphan does for foreign adoptees.


1. Cool For You, Eileen Myles, 2000. Introducing his latest, prescription drug-addicted memoir The Adderall Diaries, Stephen Elliott writes that "… only a fool mistakes memory for fact." Chris Kraus, as quoted by Myles: "Because capitalism’s insincere, it demands sincerity from its art."

2. Mama Black Widow, Iceberg Slim, 1969. "Under the crazy hypnosis of pills and alcohol I had the strange feeling I was in a fantastic flower garden, hearing the hum and buzz of insects …" Sounds like a sentence from —

3. Discovery of the World, Clarice Lispector, 1984. Except Clarice wouldn’t mention the pills and alcohol. It’s all subtext. Who’d have guessed she was addicted to sleeping pills the whole time?

4. Good Times: Bad Trips, Cliff Hengst and Scott Hewicker, 2007. Lit and art world luminaries describe their experiences, with illustrations.

5. A Voice Through a Cloud, Denton Welch, 1950. Excruciating pain is hallucinatory, and painkillers, too. "I was exquisitely conscious of the texture of things. There was torture in the smooth sheets, in the hair of the mattress and the weight of the blankets …"

6. Valencia, Michelle Tea, 2000. You can call it fiction, but I’ve been involved in illicit transactions with one of the characters.

7. The Peyote Dance, Antonin Artaud, 1976. A French Nobel Prize winner thinks Artaud didn’t even take that trip in the 1930s. Maybe not, but this book still gives me mescaline flashbacks — like the peyote trip in Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996).

8. Go Ask Alice, Anonymous, 1971. I haven’t read it, but my partner Jonathan says our teen heroine’s (to quote the cover text) "harrowing descent into the nightmarish world of drugs" — acid trips and gay sex — convinced him to follow her path.

The Corner



For the evolution-minded, the past is a living presence, and such all-American phrases as "start from scratch" or "clean-sheet design" cause anxiety. In our culture of disposability and revolution, the past is about as attractive as a worn-out razor blade — and we know what happens to them. So to find a new restaurant that simultaneously manages to be contemporary yet respectful of the past gives quiet delight. The restaurant is the Corner; it opened last spring and is indeed right at the corner of 18th and Mission streets, adjoining its older sibling, Weird Fish.

The Corner is better-looking than Weird Fish, which is by no means homely. Both are boxy and tall, but the Corner has a cozy mezzanine that not only looks upon the bustling bar below (part of the place’s identity is as a wine bar) but at the long south wall, a piecework of glass blocks, transom windows, and tall drapes through which the deepening twilight filters. There is even sidewalk seating for the al fresco-minded — brushed-aluminum tables nestled against an Art Deco exterior of black glazed-ceramic tiles that look original to the building (once a Chinese grocery) — or for those who find the noisiness of close quarters indoors to be intrusive. Like me. The mezzanine has the feel of a private room, but it can get nearly as loud up there as on the main floor. You’re not quite on the balcony of the Saint, circa 1980, but close.

The food is the sort you could eat every day, an assortment of Cal-Ital dishes prepared with a light touch. Restaurant food can be debilitating — too many calories, too much attention-seeking — so to find a restaurant whose cooking navigates the tricky passage between humble or indifferent on the one hand and grandiose on the other is a gift. The Corner’s style has an obvious root in the accomplished home kitchen, but the techniques are sharper, the effects intensified. These are among the major reasons for going out to eat in the first place.

And prices, it must be said, are astonishingly moderate for what you get. I’ve had plenty of cauliflower soups in recent years, but at most places even a cup would cost you more than $3.95. Here it buys you a broad bowl, and the cauliflower is purple, and the base of the soup is deep and rich — beef stock? Vegetarians would scream, of course, but using beef stock is the sort of simple touch that can subtly enhance certain dishes.

No one would mistake the Corner for a vegetarian restaurant. The menu includes a gratifying plate of charcuterie ($10), with sizzling coins of andouille sausage, slices of salami, and tissue-like sheets of coppa and prosciutto. This is a meaty array, and there is surprisingly little in the way of filler beyond a dab of mustard, a few bread rounds, and a small heap of pickled-onion shreds.

There’s also a wonderful leg (and thigh) of Muscovy duck ($10.95), given a bewitching, vaguely oriental treatment of star anise and Turkish dates, and a similar section of chicken ($9.95), herb-roasted, with goat cheese worked under the skin in place of butter. I wouldn’t have expected this substitution to succeed, mainly because goat cheese can be sharp and bossy, but under the spell of the heat, all the parts seemed to melt into a harmony.

Also ruled by the spirit of harmony (and even veganism!) was a plate of bruschetta ($5.95): toasts adorned with almost indecently ripe red tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil. This venerable combination is about as Italian as Italian gets; it needs no improvement and can’t be improved upon. The mac and cheese ($3.95), on the other hand, could have used a tweak or two. It was served in what looked like a small paella pan, so we award a point there for presentation, but it was seriously undersalted and, even when brought up to salt snuff, didn’t distinguish itself. Given the renaissance in restaurant mac ‘n’ cheese in recent years, often involving the use of such premium cheeses as Gruyère, the Corner’s version was curiously disappointing.

The comfort-food redeemer turned out to be a cherry crumble ($5), made with seasonal sour cherries that had been judiciously handled: sweetened just enough to qualify them as a dessert, and baked just enough so they didn’t lose their shape or texture. The bits of pastry added crunch interest, with a softening pillow of whipped cream on top. The crumble was served in a vessel that resembled a coffee cup with no handle, and this turned out to be just the right size for sharing by two people: several ample bites each, and done. Beautiful.

Servers have a lot of ground to cover — up and down stairs, in and out doors — and they do it ably. Water glasses are reliably refilled, and plates come and go in a smooth rhythm. And how about a not-small glass of good tempranillo for $5? Even plonk costs more than that now at most places, while glasses of better wine often run near or over $10. I have been patiently awaiting a revolution on this matter; could the Corner’s $5 tempranillo be the shot heard ’round the city?


Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 4 p.m. midnight;

Fri.–Sat., 4 p.m.–1 a.m.

2199 Mission, SF

(415) 875-9258


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible




CHEAP EATS The wheel came off the shopping cart and the whole thing went over. Cans clanged and rolled. Plastic milk jugs bounced, and the toddler in the kid seat crashed down with them, helpless, tangling with cereal boxes and plastic bags of produce.

Her mom, who was also holding a baby, had the look of a mom who was watching her two-year-old fall on her head. In between the bonk and the scream, there was that split second where question mark and exclamation mark meet. And stare at each other. While tumbleweeds roll silently by like a lone little wheel down Aisle 7. The sun moves a little. There’s so much space in that flat, hard moment that you could land an airplane on it.

Then: the long, loud, first breathless wail, like being born all over again. In automatic sympathy, everyone else holds their breath too, thinking: Breathe, kid! Breathe! But I know how hard kids’ heads are, compared to their mothers’ hearts. I’m more worried about the mom. In the time it took her to drop to the grocery store floor, still cradling her baby in one arm, and gathering up her now bawling toddler in the other, a crowd had formed.

Two store managers, displaying athleticism rarely seen outside track meets, were first on the scene. Before all the cans had even stopped rolling, they were offering the hurt and/or scared shitless child Popsicles and juice boxes. But the kid was inconsolable. "I’m not feeling well," she said, between wails.

For the next 15 minutes, nothing changed. The kid cried. The baby, heroically, stayed calm. While the mother, squeezing and rocking and there-there-ing, checked her older child’s head for bumps, or worse.

While the two store managers divided their labor, one serenading the mom with an endless stream of apology, the other scrambling for still brighter colors of Popsicles. While a couple of the bystanders, in a desperate attempt to be byuseful, bytapped the scattered groceries into a pile with their feet. While the woman in the business suit said, "You need to take her to see a doctor, right now."

To her credit, at least she said this just once. Whereas the woman who wasn’t in a business suit, speaking on behalf of all the rest of Berkeley, Calif., where this happened, would not stop repeating one word, "Arnica."

So, then, the song goes like this:

"Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry. There, there, sweetie. Show mommy where it hurts."

Crying crying. "I’m not feeling well." Crying.

"How about purple?" Crying.


"Ma’am, do you want me to hold the little one for you? We’re so sorry. Does she need ice, ma’am?"

"How about green? Do you like green?"

"Arnica." Crying.

"Sweetie, sweetie, it’s OK sweetie." Crying. "Mommy’s here, sweetie. It’s all right."


"Ma’am." Crying. "If there’s anything at all." Crying. "We can do, Ma’am."


And on and on and onica, until finally the mother, briefly wondering why she lives where she lives, pried her attention away from her crying child to look this woman in the eye and say, "Will you please go away?"

Which is where I, in the spirit of Lou Reed singing, "I’m just the waterboy<0x2009>/the real game’s not over here," admit that I wasn’t there. I’d hear all about it … how they escaped to the parking lot, to their car, only to find the store managers, through the miracle of pole vaults and sheer speed, had collected, bagged, and long-jumped their groceries to the parking lot, to their car, ahead of them. And free! I’d help put those groceries away. But I wasn’t there. I was in San Francisco, in a swirl of pain and fear all my own, eating duck soup by myself at my new favorite restaurant.


Daily: 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

201 Ellis, SF

(415) 885-5144

No alcohol


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

Wild thing


Dear Andrea:

I’ve read your column (and other sex columns) for years, and one thing I always notice you saying is that all fantasies are OK, and fantasizing about something can’t hurt anything. But what if you don’t think your fantasy is OK? I’m a lesbian, I have a girlfriend, and we have a pretty satisfying sex life. Even so, I’d understand why if I (or my girlfriend) were fantasizing about other women, or about things that we’re just not going to do, like S&M (some of our friends are into it but it’s not for us) or threesomes. But I’m not. I’m fantasizing about guys! When she fingers me, I pretend it’s a cock. I don’t even like cocks! I haven’t sex with a guy since I was 16, and I stopped because I didn’t like it. So what’s going on? I feel really bad about it, like if my girlfriend knew she’d feel betrayed, and also like I’m betraying myself. I’m happy being a dyke. I AM a dyke! So what the hell?

Love, Confused, guilty, still a dyke

Dear Dyke:

Of course you are, dear. You are a dyke and nobody can take that away from you, so no need to be so defensive. We believe you. The question then is, do you believe you? Are you really a dyke? Really? You really think so, feel so, know so? OK then. What are you worrying about?

Right. Your girlfriend. Well yes, it is entirely likely that she would find your fantasy life appalling, especially if, while cluing her in, you emphasized the part about pretending any part of her body is … one of Those Things. If you do decide to tell her what’s going on, you’re going to want to rephrase that. Fantasizing that there is a Thing around somewhere and fantasizing that said Thing has replaced your girlfriend are not at all the same thing, and you’re going to want to try to spin it in such a way that she hears that you are super-satisfied with her and just happen, also, to fantasize about one of those bad horrible Things that of course she could not possibly have, nor would you would never wish she did have. Are we all clear on that?

You would also want to emphasize that you are not thinking about cheating or answering one of those ads from straight guys looking for the kind of "lesbians" they’re used to seeing in porn movies. You’re not looking for man, just thinking about a Thing. A Thing completely unconnected to a person. An imaginary Thing.

Your other choice is, obviously, not to tell her. This is actually the way most people go, and despite my officially endorsing relationship glasnost as much as possible, I don’t actually believe that you have to tell even your nearest and dearest everything. If everyone did publicly confess every vile thing that had ever crossed their minds anywhere along the sexual response cycle, it might have a salubrious effect on society in general — No more shame! Everybody’s kind of perverted! — but then again, it might just as well make for a lot of really nasty fights and some divorces, and to what end?

I can only think of one reason to tell her, but it’s a big one: there is a chance that she will look startled (which will terrify you) and then confess, all in a rush, that she has similar fantasies and was sure you’d freak out if you ever knew, and then you could both laugh and forgive each other and yourselves and live happily ever after. But frankly, I’m still on the side of don’t ask, don’t tell (and don’t quote me).

But how your girlfriend would react is not really the question anyway, I don’t think. I think what you really need is to feel OK about it for you. I can’t make the fantasies go away (and neither can you). I can’t reach through the screen here and therapize you, or hypnotize you and make you repeat "It is OK to fantasize about things I do not want to do" over and over until you believe it. All I can do is tell you that I have heard the same things from lesbian after lesbian. Whether it’s because the taboo is the hot, or because women appear to be, by and large, rather more flexible of sexual orientation than men are, it seems that a lot of women who would never dream of having sex with a man do, in fact, dream of having sex with men. It’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, and politically incorrect, but that doesn’t make it not true.

There. I’ve normalized it for you. I hope it helps. I did forget to ask you one thing, though, a thing about Things: if you really want to feel a Thing in there, have you considered just buying one? They’re not the same, it’s true, but then again the Things you’ve been thinking of aren’t real either. Like the song says, it’s all only make-believe.



See Andrea’s other column at carnalnation.com.

Cranked up



In the early 2000s, crystal meth abuse became so rampant in San Francisco that city officials formed the Crystal Methamphetamine Task Force in 2005. A correlated increase in HIV transmission led the task force to focus on the gay men’s party circuit, targeting that community with education campaigns on the drug’s effects, safer usage, and safe sex tips.

But while the party boys got the attention, the drug appears to now be taking an increased toll on women. Has focusing on men meant that women users aren’t getting enough information on reducing harm?

Jennifer Lorvick is part of a team at the Research Triangle Institute, a nonprofit based in North Carolina that has an office in San Francisco, that is now studying women meth users in the Tenderloin. She agrees that the majority of users in the city are gay men, pointing to the alarming results of studies done between 2002 and 2005 showing a related increase in syphilis transmission as well as HIV among male meth users. Meth use still seems to be on the rise, increasing faster among women than men.

Lorvick’s group is researching meth use, sexual risk, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections in about 300 people in one of the poorest cross-sections, women at "street level" in the Tenderloin. The study "isn’t representative of clubbers, students or middle-class users," she cautions. With more than half of the project completed, she’s finding "lots of unprotected sex, trading sex for drugs or money. A lot of sex risk and a fair bit of STD infection."
One red flag is the city’s most recent monthly STD report, available at the Department of Public Health’s Web site. Meth is the only drug included in the statistics. Comparing the first half of 2009 with the first half of 2008, meth-related visits to the SF General Hospital’s emergency department jumped 11 percent for men, and spiked a whopping 38 percent for women.

While that’s a staggering jump, activists note that it’s just one isolated indicator, albeit one that should warrant a closer look at the problem. Gay rights advocate Michael Petrelis found that the stats lump together all kinds of visits, whether an accidental overdose, a user seeking to start detox, or a physical or mental injury. Michael Siever, currently a co-chair on the meth task force and a director of the Stonewall Project, said the physicians’ reporting methods need to be standardized. "These numbers ebb and flow," he said. "We need a long term view for trends."

Dr. Dawn Harbatkin, medical director of Lyon-Martin Health Services, a San Francisco clinic started in 1979 specifically to serve lesbians, says that in a bad economy societies experience "an overall increase in substance use, not just meth specifically." Siever concurs: "In bad times, the use of alcohol and all other drugs goes up. If you’re out of work, you have more time for meth. It’s a kind of common wisdom."
It’s not terribly surprising then, that there would be some increase in ER visits this year. But 38 percent is a huge jump for women. "Incarceration, hospitalization, and treatment is the same for women and men around the state," Hilary McQuie, regional director of the Oakland-based Harm Reduction Coalition, said of meth-related statistics across California. "In San Francisco, it was a party drug. Now it’s starting to even out" between men’s and women’s usage.
Lorvick said that nationwide, women make up about a third of the users of other substances like alcohol and heroin — but half of meth users. "There are a lot of women users — 50 percent. I don’t think people know that." She says that it was prescribed to women in the 1950s to help them remain slender, supposedly happier, and to get more done.
The study also found that African American women had higher rates of HIV and other STDs, even when not engaging in riskier behaviors. The researchers urged that free, voluntary, accessible, STD screening and treatment be provided to all meth-using women.
It may be time for the city’s meth task force to focus on HIV prevention and safer use for women as well as men. The Stonewall Project runs the information-packed Web site tweaker.org, which is oriented to gay and bi men.

But gay and bi men aren’t the only ones reading: "Meth use by women has been an issue for quite a while. I wasn’t expecting so many e-mails and responses from women," Siever said. "It doesn’t get as much attention, with less HIV transmission."
When Siever and his task force co-chair, Sup. Bevan Dufty, were asked about resources for women meth users, they mentioned treatment and counseling centers like the Iris Center, New Leaf, and Walden House. But as far as outreach and HIV prevention, there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent to tweaker.org for women who need information.

Furthermore, resources shouldn’t be solely for those who are ready to quit. Harbatkin of Lyon-Martin points out that it’s challenging to get women and transgender individuals into treatment.
For starters, Siever recommends having the city’s health departments track use more extensively. But he concedes, "Obviously, that’s not enough."

Fewer young people using drugs


Opposition to drug use is often couched in concern about children, but today’s kids are using fewer drugs than in the past. And, according to a survey of risky behavior, San Francisco’s young people are using fewer drugs than those nationally.

The San Francisco Unified School District, in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, surveys its high school students biannually to asses drug use, eating and exercise habits, and other possibly risky behavior.

Over the last 12 years, alcohol has been the most frequently abused substance among San Francisco high school students and usage rates have held fairly steady, dropping from 59.2 percent to 53.2 percent for one-time use, and from 27.5 percent to 22.3 percent for habitual use. The corresponding national rates have dropped from 79.1 percent to 75 percent and from 50.8 percent to 44.7.

Yet more people are seeking help for marijuana use than alcoholism. According to the Community Behavioral Health Services division of the city’s Department of Public Health, 36 percent of young people receiving substance abuse treatment are marijuana users and only 21 percent are treated for alcohol abuse.

The higher rates of treatment could explain the large decline in marijuana use since 1997.

The number of students who have tried marijuana dropped from 33 percent to 22.8 percent, and habitual use has dropped from 17.1 percent to 11.4 percent. This mirrors the national trend in which rates dropped from 47.1 percent to 38.1 percent and from 26.2 to 19.7 percent for lifetime and habitual use, respectively.

The decline in marijuana use is only surpassed by that of cigarette abuse, which has dropped by almost half from 60 percent to 36.5 percent for lifetime use and from 19.1 percent to 8 percent for habitual use.

A current year study, which does not include trend data, shows that rates of cocaine, methamphetamines, and steroid use are below the national average, all hovering around 5 percent.

The surveys only collect data on illicit drug use and do not include the abuse of prescription drugs, which Jim Stillwell, manager of substance abuse service for the San Francisco Department of Health, said is on the rise.

They get pills from their parents, he said, and because they see adults take them, they don’t seem as risky.

Mirant plant to close



GREEN CITY City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office struck a deal with Mirant Potrero LLC on Aug. 13 to shutter its polluting Potrero power plant no later than Dec. 31, 2010. The settlement agreement represents a major victory for San Francisco and the broad array of elected officials and environmental-justice advocates who’ve been railing against the hazardous byproducts of the 40-year-old fossil fuel-fired facility for years.

The agreement also requires Mirant to pay the city $1 million, which will be put toward addressing childhood asthma and supporting neighborhood beautification.

"It’s a great result for the city, but in particular for the southeast sector," said Herrera, who has opposed the plant since 1999. "A lot of folks deserve a lot of credit for this."

Residents living in southeast San Francisco and Bayview-Hunter’s Point, where asthma rates are higher than average, have borne the brunt of toxic emissions spewing from the plant’s brick smokestack nearly 24 hours a day.

"It’s been a long haul," Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the neighborhoods adversely affected by the pollution, said at a press conference. "Our community [has] some of the highest rates of asthma, the highest rates of cancer. We have babies being born in this community every day — and so we cannot keep our eye off the prize."

Maxwell’s vow to continue pushing even with the signed agreement in hand may prove wise considering that the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) — a body that oversees the state’s power grid and determines capacity requirements — has yet to grant its blessing to the deal. Under the terms of the agreement, Mirant must declare to Cal-ISO that it will not continue operation beyond the shutdown date. The utility also agreed not to pursue renewal of its "reliability must-run" (RMR) contract with Cal-ISO, which has required the plant to run against the wishes of elected officials in San Francisco for years.

Cal-ISO left open the question of whether it would agree to release Mirant from the RMR requirement. "The ISO will continue to require local measures to be available at the level necessary to ensure that San Francisco reliability is consistent with that of other major metropolitan areas in California and the nation," spokesman Gregg Fishman noted in a statement.

The battle to shutter San Francisco’s dirty power plant might not be over — but for the first time Mirant will now be aligned with the city and at odds with Cal-ISO. "I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due," Herrera told the Guardian. "[Mirant] ultimately did step up here with the settlement and make an unprecedented commitment."

What’s in it for Mirant? The city attorney dropped a lawsuit against Mirant that sought compliance with codes requiring seismic upgrades to old brick buildings on the site. The city also will give priority to any redevelopment plans for the company-owned site.

Chip Little, a Mirant spokesperson, said the company doesn’t have a particular vision in mind. "At this time, we have no redevelopment plans for the site," he said. Mirant does have other projects in the works outside San Francisco, however. "We responded to a [request for offer] that PG&E issued last year for new capacity," Little told us. Mirant has applied for licenses to build a 930 MW natural gas-fired plant near Antioch, and a 550 MW natural gas-fired facility at the Pittsburg power plant site.

The TransBay Cable, an undersea power line that will transfer electricity from Pittsburg power sources to San Francisco, is expected to go live in March. The cable will negate the need for most of the electricity supplied by the 350 MW Potrero plant, but there will still be a 25 MW generation gap.

"That’s really a rather small amount," Ed Harrington, director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, told reporters during the press conference. "We believe it could be met by underwriting other projects that PG&E is working on and by … cutting back when there’s a peak."

When a battle was waged last year over proposed construction of city-owned power plants to replace Mirant, many thought a solution that didn’t involve new in-city generation was impossible. One year later, this new accord with the City Attorney’s Office rests on the idea that shutting down Mirant with no new fossil fuel is not just possible, but within reach in the near future.

Cecile Lepage contributed to this report.

Packing for the trip



San Francisco has always been a big recreational drug town, from its opium dens of yore to the pill-popping beats and acid-eating hippies to business elites doing bumps in bathrooms to ravers on E and cranked-out clubbers, not to mention the tattered street souls scoring fixes of crack or smack.

But in terms of sheer numbers of Bay Area partiers stocking up on the full illegal pharmacopoeia all at once, it’s hard to top right now, the month of August, the run-up to Burning Man.

Now I know what they say. This event — which started in San Francisco 23 years ago and now occurs in the Nevada boondocks — isn’t simply a big drug fest. Many burners don’t even do drugs anymore. It’s about "radical self-expression" and "radical self-reliance" and all kinds of other radical stuff, like a gift economy, public nudity, and massive fire cannons. Radical, dude.

But let’s get real, m’kay? Burning Man may be many things, but among those things is that it may be the best time and place on the planet to ingest mind-altering substances, something recognized even by attendees who don’t regularly do drugs — although most burners also do them here.

Why? Because DRUGS ARE FUN!!!

OK, so you’re getting ready to head to the playa. You’re part of a mid-sized Burning Man camp that’s giving away peach schnapps Sno-Cones from a big peach-shaped art car and you’re all calling yourself James. Or whatever. Not important.

You got your goggles and combat boots. Your bike is covered entirely in fake pink fur and wrapped in blue electro-luminescent wire. You’ve packed enough costumes for a month, from the fire-crotch thong to an elaborate Ming the Merciless getup, complete with death ray. Again, whatever, not important.

What is important are the drugs. You’re going to spend a week frolicking through the planet’s preeminent adult playground, past all manner of tripper traps and the weirdest, most mind-blowing shit you’ve ever seen, mixing with a multitude of beautiful souls with Cheshire Cat grins. You’ll want one too.

I suppose you could do it sober, and I’ve heard stories about people who do. But why? This particular party environment is a lifeless desert that sucks the moisture out of you and everything around you, so booze just isn’t the best choice of intoxicant. I’ve known many people who have ended up in the medical tent from drinking, but none from using drugs.

In fact, it’s safe to say that drug cocktails are the cocktails of Burning Man.

Everyone has his or her drug combo of choice, but mine is flipping out. Candy-flipping (LSD and ecstasy) or hippie-flipping (shrooms and ecstasy), depending on my mood and agenda. It’s the perfect combo: E for the euphoria and psychedelics to amp up the weirdness. It’s like a wild, joyful ride into a parallel universe.

On a big night, I’ll often re-up several times, taking another dose of one or the other every few hours, balancing my buzz like the pro I am. And then, as dawn approaches after a long night of flipping around the playa, that’s the best time to get into the Ketamine. Believe me, Special K is just the right dessert for a meal like that, bringing all the night’s adventures into a sort of twisted focus.

Of course, you’re going to want to vary your experiences night to night, and for that you’re going to need to be well stocked. One year, I took K, MDA, MDMA, acid, shrooms, pot, Foxy, nitrous oxide (maybe that doesn’t count), cocaine, 2CB, 2CT7, mescaline, and, well, I’m sure there were others. I think I counted 15 in all, all consumed over the course of nine days. At that level, you begin count sobriety as its own drug.

By the end of the week, once the tolerance has been ratcheted up by daily drug use, some burners start to really pile on the chemicals, trying to regain the high highs from the early part of the week. Burn night, the week’s penultimate party, can get downright ugly, walking zombies with glazed expressions and wan, serotonin-depleted smiles.

It can take weeks to fully recover your senses after a run like that. But we do come back. Humans are remarkably resilient creatures.

Serious week-long benders aren’t for everyone, but almost everyone dabbles in the desert. Newbies want to maximize their experience and veterans just know, including the fact that (no matter what they’re intentions going in) they’ll want drugs, which can be tough to score out there.

Cops with night-vision goggles and plain-clothed narcs prowl the playa and we’ve all heard outrageous stories of vile, sneaky busts. As a result, we’re so guarded around people we don’t know that uninitiated newbies sometimes sadly conclude that nobody does drugs at Burning Man, despite all the giddy grins and oversized pupils. Remember: you aren’t paranoid if they really are out to get you.

So we down our drugs carefully and stock up here. But most of us are professionals — more so in the working than party worlds — who don’t have dealers on speed dial. So right now, we’re all banding together to place ridiculously large orders — hundreds of pills, pounds of fungus, all just for personal use — with the handful of multidrug dealers who can make more money in August than the other 11 months put together.

But drugs busts don’t spike in August, and busts at or en route to Burning Man have also been flat in recent years, despite eager law enforcement. That’s because we’re smart, creative professionals who really don’t want to get caught. And we’ve devised crazy, inventive ways of hiding them — systems I won’t reveal. We all have drugs, but bring your dogs and all your cop knowledge, and you still won’t find them.

We are determined and we love our drugs.
For great advice on dosage and warnings about various drug combinations, consult www.erowid.org.

Chronic debate



For decades, proponents of marijuana reform have argued that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes, has legitimate medical uses, and should be decriminalized on the grounds that prohibition doesn’t work.

In 1996, these arguments helped convince California voters to approve Proposition 215, which allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes. And in March, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled a major change in federal drug policy when he said that the Justice Department does not plan to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that operate legally under California law.

But the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance that has no medical value and a high abuse potential. As a result, cultivation, distribution, and sales of pot primarily occur on the black market, a shadowy mix of small-timers and powerful cartels.

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests that U.S. growers produced 22 million pounds of marijuana in 2006, worth $35.8 billion, and that California accounted for almost 39 percent of U.S. pot production.

Now, with California’s economy in the crapper, the state budget a mess, and federal judges ordering substantial reductions in California’s prison population, reform advocates are making an intriguing argument: if state or local governments legalize and tax even a fraction of marijuana sales in California, the state could see billions of dollars in new annual revenue and reduced enforcement costs.

Assembly Member Tom Ammiano recalls some laughter in February when he introduced Assembly Bill 390, state legislation to regulate marijuana much like alcohol. "But the budget fiasco has made some people who were dismissive take a harder look," Ammiano said.

A recent California Board of Equalization analysis of Ammiano’s bill estimates that if the state charged $50 per ounce, California would generate $1.4 billion in marijuana taxes annually.

Voters in Oakland also advanced the marijuana policy discussion last month when they approved a special tax on the city’s medical cannabis dispensaries. And in August, a three-judge federal court ruled that California must develop a plan to reduce its prison population by 44,000 over two years.

The public also seems to support making a change. In April, a Field Poll confirmed that for the first time a majority (56 percent) of California voters support legalizing pot.

Depite these advances, Ammiano says he wants to be strategic with his bill, gradually building support. "That’s why we made it a two-year bill," Ammiano said. His bill is scheduled for its first hearing at the Public Safety Committee, which Ammiano now chairs, by year’s end.

But some Bay Area activists aren’t waiting on Ammiano. Last month, Richard Lee, who operates four medical marijuana dispensaries in Oakland, filed initiative paperwork with the state and hopes to gather enough signatures to qualify a Tax Cannabis initiative in 2010.

Ammiano’s bill and Lee’s initiative allow recreational use of marijuana, penalize driving under the influence, and charge a $50 fee per ounce. But they differ around regulation and how to deal with the overarching problem of federal law. Ammiano’s legislation assumes a statewide system that mirrors the federal Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. Lee’s initiative leaves regulation to each county, similar to the patchwork approach to alcohol in other states.

Lee believes his initiative gives people more options. "We can’t order people to break federal law — that would be thrown out," Lee said. "Forty jurisdictions already permit medical marijuana cooperatives in California. So we already have that system, and we’ll follow that reality."

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who authored San Francisco’s medical cannabis dispensary regulations, believes it’s important to lay the groundwork at the local level. He points to the relative lack of growth in new municipalities that allow medical dispensaries since voters approved Prop. 215, calling it evidence of pot-related NIMBYism.

"Everyone says they support it, but they don’t want it in their own backyards," said Mirkarimi, who wants San Francisco to become the first U.S. city to add marijuana to the list of medicines it dispenses. "But the city Attorney’s Office is shy about pushing this envelope."

Mirkarimi wants to follow Oakland’s example and add a gross receipts tax to medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco.

But the legalization push has its fervent critics. At a recent Commonwealth Club debate on the economics of marijuana, El Cerrito Police Chief Scott Kirkland, who led the charge to ban medical dispensaries in his city, tried to discredit arguments that legalization will save money.

"I’m very disappointed with the state," Kirkland said, claiming that the BOE’s analysis drew almost exclusively on the work of Jon Gettman, a former director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"We have to have statistics we can rely on," said Kirkland, who then cited the same BOE report — it estimates that pot prices will drop 50 percent and consumption will increase 40 percent — to support his contention that legalization will lead to increased substance abuse.

Kirkland also challenged the notion that Mexican drug cartels will leave once the pot business is legitimized and regulated. "They understand that the money involved is astronomical," he said. "It’s wishful thinking that if you legalize marijuana, all of a sudden the cartels go away."

He also disputed claims that legalization would help empty state prisons. "It’s very common for advocates to associate legalization with reducing the costs of incarceration, but it’s a fallacy," Kirkland said. "It’s very rarely that a person goes to prison for their original offense."

Kirkland topped off his attack by citing the state’s June 19 decision to add marijuana smoke to its Proposition 65 list of substances known to contain carcinogens.

But BOE spokesperson Anita Gore refuted claims that their analysis relied entirely on reform advocates’ research. "Being as this is an underground activity, the resources are limited," Gore said. "But our researchers and economists used econometric models that are generally accepted and looked at all the available resources, which included academic and law enforcement studies."

Gettmann told the Guardian he uses data from NSDUH, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Office of National Drug Control, and the Bureau of International Narcotics — sources the prohibitionists also draw on. He admits that it’s hard to quantify a black market.

"But it’s easy for anyone to understand basic regulatory economic theory," Getmann said. "Marijuana use produces costs for society, but is largely untaxed. So users and sellers reap benefits, while taxpayers bear the costs."

He believes many advantages of legalization are qualitative. "It’s a better regulatory system for financial and fiscal reasons and for restricting access on the part of teenagers," Gettman said.

Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, points to research by the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, which found that arrest rates for everything in California have declined since 1990 — with the exception of low-level marijuana crimes. CJCJ’s research shows that rates for this group increased 127 percent since 1990, and 25 percent in the last two years.

"It’s a system run amok," Gutwillig said. He notes that of the 74,000 people arrested for marijuana-related offenses, 20,000 are youth. "The marijuana problem is increasingly becoming a mechanism for social control of young black and brown men in California."

"We feel that money is definitely a fine consideration," he continued. "But even if reguutf8g marijuana didn’t produce a dime, these punitive, wasteful laws must end."

Gutwillig’s group has estimated that legalization would save California’s state and local governments $259.7 million annually in court and incarceration costs alone, a figure DPA researcher Betty Lo Dolce said is very conservative.

"I don’t know if folks have a secondary offenses, so I don’t know if marijuana was legalized, if they wouldn’t be in state prison," Lo Dolce said. "Or conversely, if they may not have been arrested for drug-related crimes, but then those charges got dropped and they ended up inside because of secondary drug-related offense."

Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, believes that advocates of California’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) should have to justify that the program does some good.

"The idea that enforcing prohibition and seizing 5.5 million plants last year would be less costly than legalizing is crazy," he said.

But what about the public health costs?

UCLA pulmonologist Dr. Donald Tashkin said that the state added marijuana smoke to its Prop. 65 list, based on finding carcinogens in that smoke. "But you cannot translate chemistry into chemical risk because you have to take into account potential opposing effects," Tashkin said.

His research has found no association between heavy marijuana use and increased risk of lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Conversely, he and Dr. Donald Abrams, a cancer researcher at UCSF, have found that THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, has an anti-tumor effect.

"The bottom line is that you cannot use pulmonary risk as a justification for not legalizing it," Tashkin said.

Dr. Igor Grant, director of medical cannabis research at UC San Diego, said the question around marijuana smoke is quantity. "It’s not like cigarettes," he said. "Most people don’t smoke 20 joints a day for 20 years. But even if it was declared safe for patients, you wouldn’t want parents filling the room with smoke."

James Gray, an Orange County judge and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, believes marijuana is here to stay. "Instead of moralizing and punishing people for failing on moral chastity grounds, let’s manage its use," Gray said. "If people are using it, they should be able to know what’s in it."

The most harmful thing about marijuana, Gray contends, is jail. "The remedy is far more dangerous than the disease itself," he said. "There are thousands of people in prison because they did nothing but smoke pot, and a dirty drug test was a violation of their parole…. But I understand that some people in law enforcement stand to lose a great deal, and that the Mexican cartels are going to invest a lot of money in Madison Avenue advertising."

Lee, too, acknowledges the opposition, but remains hopeful. "People are coming out of the closet," he said. "That’s what caused the gay rights movement to take off. It’s starting to happen around marijuana use."

Confessions of a Bo-Fessional



That Bo & Sprite, I mix it up and tip it every day and night

Shady Nate, "Bo & Sprite," The Bo-Fessional

DRUGS I’m in the backyard of Shady Nate’s aunty’s house on 28th and "Zipper" (Chestnut Street) in West Oakland, watching Lil Rue of Livewire pour four ounces of purple syrup into a liter of Sprite, which turns the hue of pink champagne. With the residue, he coats a cigarette, Shady coats a Black&Mild, and Jay Jonah coats a blunt, which sputters and foams as it burns. When Rue licks the syrup cap, however, Jonah protests this breach of etiquette, though the dispute dissipates as the bottle goes around.

The syrup in question is promethazine-codeine cough syrup, known variously as "lean," "sizzurp," even simply "purple" (wreaking linguistic havoc since "purple" also means weed). "Lean" derives from its characteristic side-effect: if you drink enough, you need to lean against something to stand. West Oakland’s term of choice is "Bo," as in "Robitussin." Bo first oozed into rap in the late ’90s via the South, associated with the slowed-down chopped and screwed sound invented by Houston’s DJ Screw. One of Shady’s OGs, Big Mayne, assures us Bo’s been in Oakland forever, though formerly cheap liquor was its vehicle. (Drinking it straight is called "raw.") Soda is a comparatively recent innovation, indicating Bo’s increasingly youthful demographic, which extends to middle school.

"In ’95, I ain’t seen no one sippin’ syrup but OGs," Shady recalls. "We didn’t know what it was. Around 2000, it started to pop — couple motherfuckers knew about it but not everybody. But now, it’s like a fad. Like Mac Dre came with the thizz, it’s syrup now."

As Shady notes, Bo has supplanted Ecstasy as the hood’s must-do drug. But Bo is more likley to kill you; promethazine causes extreme drowsiness and potentially, in large enough doses, heart attacks or respiratory failure. DJ Screw himself died of respiratory failure at age 29 in 2000. In December 2007, six months after his post-prison triumph with UGK’s No. 1-debuting Underground Kings (Jive, 2007), Pimp C, 33, succumbed to a lethal combination of syrup and his preexisting sleep apnea.

The possibility of death has, of course, never deterred drug use except in individual cases; even so, as a trend, Bo is a risky high. Addictiveness aside, the best part of the high, I’m told, occurs on the brink of nodding off. (Jonah claims that nodding off at the wheel, not overdose, is the leading cause of Bo-related death in West Oakland.) But the target — "catching your nod" — seems easy for the inexperienced to overshoot, particularly when the delivery method is a beverage that tastes like it was designed for kids.

Tastes? Well, yes, I took a few pulls from the bottle, purely for journalistic purposes. Four ounces among four people isn’t enough to make you lean or nod, but it’s enough to get the idea. I was pretty lifted for three hours, then mildly so the rest of the day. The promethazine considerably enhances the codeine: my head felt pleasant, like a halo extended a few inches between me and the world, yet the sensation was crisp, not foggy, at least at this dosage, peaceful rather than giddy. This was a one-time trial for me, but I could easily see wanting to extend the high.

Indeed, extension is the point; Shady’s ideal is to nurse four or more ounces over the course of the day. In terms of rap hedonism, Bo has ushered in a new vibe. You don’t guzzle, you "tip" or "kiss" it. Instead of ballin’, you brag on stinginess, "I ain’t sippin’ with you" being a common refrain. Generally I’ve found people in the ghetto generous with weed — the blunt’s a preeminently social event — so Bo’s antisocial element is striking. "I done seen fights over the lacers," Shady laughs, referring to the use of the residue. "It almost just went down — Jonah almost took off Lil Rue!"

On this day in July, Shady has a pair of projects in Rasputin’s rap Top 20: an album, Gasman Unleashed (PTB/Clear Label/SMC); and a mixtape, The Bo-Fessional (DJ Racks), on which every song is devoted to Bo. As we drink, I ask about its effect on his creative process.

"I can rap all fast," he says (an understatement), "but when I’m on syrup — I’m singin’, I’m harmonizin’. It slows me down."

The difference is palpable on "Bo & Sprite," his mixtape take on Kid Cudi’s "Day and Night." The choice itself is uncharacteristic, as is the weird thickness of his Bo-soaked delivery, discovering melodic filigrees only implied in the original as he spins an amusingly mundane tale of scoring — classic drug music. Most of Shady’s vocals on Gasman are lean-free by necessity, in order to achieve full speed, but Bo-Fessional serves as an inspired b-side, documenting what, in Oakland, may be the Summer of Bo.

But Bo’s already grown scarce; the members of Livewire say the police have cracked down and doctors aren’t prescribing it due to the widespread abuse. Already expensive — roughly $15 an ounce — Bo’s street price is ever increasing due to the drought, which limits Shady’s indulgence to roughly once a week. This might be frequent enough, given Bo’s potential dangers. I very much understand the attraction, but at the same time, Shady and Livewire are talented dudes with a lot to live for.

This is your film on drugs



Movies and drugs were made for each other — depiction-wise that is, beyond experience-enhancing audience and creativity-enhancing (or canceling) maker usage. Too bad legality and morality so frequently messed with that perfect union. Herewith a highly selective, hardly definitive list of the medium’s

resulting greatest freakouts. It excludes the following: really obvious stuff, like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Reefer Madness (1936); most horrific withdrawal sequences (that’s another article); and scenes in which performers really do appear very high (inevitably, Dennis Hopper).

Case Study: LSD (1969) Your friends at Lockheed Aircraft Corp. crafted this cautionary educational short in which our heroine, already "pretty jacked up on marijuana," drops you-know-what. She then goes downtown for a hot dog. But when she’s about to consume that tasty snack it turns into a troll doll on a bun, begging for mercy because "He had a wife and seven kids at home to support." Then the screaming starts.

The Big Cube (1969) A spoiled stepdaughter and predator playboy attempt to drive wealthy widow Lana Turner insane by serially dosing her. What’s perhaps most amazing about this awesomely awful potboiler is that Turner’s acting is even worse when her character is straight.

The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) Before he’s ready to shelve pacifism once again to kick fascist butt, Tom Laughlin’s counterculture vigilante must go deep into his New Age White Dude’s identification with Native American spirituality by doing peyote in the desert. This attempt to separate ego from self is in fact the most egomaniacal drug trip in the history of cinema, equating Tom/BJ with the soaring national bird and Jesus Christ.

Go Ask Alice (1975) There may be no wrong-trip scene freakier than this TV movie’s one in which our teen runaway protagonist and a temporary traveling companion are made to bark like dogs for an older couple — the "winner" getting a new boost, the loser getting "punishment" horribly left to our imaginations.

Blue Sunshine (1976) Never grab the wig off a secret U.S. government LSD experiment veteran whose secret baldness "covers" homicidal psychosis. And if you do, this cult horror classic teaches, stay the hell away from the fireplace.

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984) This DIY punk parody’s all-female band members avenge themselves on their greedy manager by mega-dosing him, resulting in horrific hallucinations of Taco Bell ads and Barbra Streisand Yentl (1983) posters inspire unfortunate delusions of flight.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) On everything, Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro’s Duke and Dr. Gonzo visit Circus Circus — an environment that could induce anxiety attacks in the soberest tourist.

Cookers (2001) This vastly underrated quasi-horror is a one long paranoid wigout. Its three characters are meth cookers holed up in an abandoned rural house until their batch is done. Unfortunately, madness, sexual competitiveness, and the questionably supernatural intervene. The other great meth horror movie so far is Pop Skull (2007), which doesn’t even specify the substance being abused.

Knocked Up (2007) Paul Rudd. Shrooms. Five different types of hotel chairs. Plus "Love, the most beautiful shiny warm thing in the world!"

Theater You Can Eat


PREVIEW For me, the next-best pleasures to actually eating food are reading about food (Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate), watching movies about food (Juzo Itami’s 1985 Tampopo), and singing about food (Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop). Now I’ve found another option, and that is to watch theater about food. If this sounds as appetizing to you as it does to me, check out Theater You Can Eat. The People’s Theatre presents John Robinson’s world premiere of a play that examines how what we put in our mouths can affect our souls, minds, and the way we interact with one another. Served as a multicourse meal, the play consists of four humorous narratives that surround specific foods: coffee, salad, ceviche, and chocolate. The first, Wake Up Cup, explores how the rules of social protocol can be broken when a person is deprived of the essential morning caffeine (don’t we all know a little something about this?). In another called The Toss Up, Chef Lola finds out if food can trigger unpleasant memories when she enters her salad into a contest her ex-lover is judging. Theater You Can Eat is appropriately served up at Peña Pachamama, a Bolivian raw food restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach. For a full experience, theatergoers can either purchase a tapas or dinner ticket with the play.

THEATER YOU CAN EAT Through Sept. 6. Fri, 7 p.m.; Sun, 5:30 p.m., $19.95–$39.95. Peña Pachamama, 1630 Powell, SF. (415) 259-1623, www.thepeoplestheatre.com

Kurt Vile


PREVIEW Walking around the streets of his hometown Philly, Kurt Vile is on the other end of the phone talking about his various fixations and some of his musical dopplegangers.

"I was obsessed with Springsteen," he says, after pausing to ask for a pack of Camel Lights at a corner store. "I still love Springsteen. I love all the greats. I don’t love everything, but usually I get obsessed with everything. And Neil Young! I’ve always liked Neil Young, but a few years ago I read his biography Shakey [by Jimmy McDonough; Random House, 2002] and I was a psycho fan afterwards."

The first rumblings most of us heard from Vile, apart from his work with throwback psych-rockers the War On Drugs, were earlier this year, when he released God Is Saying This To You? (Mexican Summer) as well as a reissue of his 2008 debut Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher/Woodsist).

These lo-fi albums were compiled from home-recorded songs dating back to 2005. They are rife with woozy sound effects, gossamer instrumentals, and electronic drum beats. Vile’s voice resonates through vignettes about operating forklifts, conversations about red apples, and a scene devoted to riding on a yellow Schwinn while "blasting classic rock in spring." He evokes the isolated melancholy of Nick Drake, and Young’s dulcet-toned, raconteur-esque acoustic numbers.

But Vile isn’t fingerpicking himself into any niche. Constant Hitmaker‘s ecstatic opener, "Freeway," is a beacon of light, shimmering in ’70s pop glory but dosed with Vile’s wizened lyricism. On the March 2009 release The Hunchback EP (Richie Records/Testoster Tunes), Vile and his band the Violators hold nothing back. All amps are cranked to 11, resulting in reverb-laden songs so epic, it’s clear Vile is ready to walk far away from his lo-fi roots, at least for a while.

"On stage, Kurt Vile and the Violators are a serious force," says Richie Charles, the EP’s producer. "I suppose they take their cues from Kurt, but they operate as four dudes whose blood is being pumped by a single heart. The Violators should not be underestimated."

Vile’s facility for writing winsome, bare-bones fingerpickers and wailing Crazy Horse jams is a testament to the intensity of his ideas. "My mind’s always wandering," he says. "Theres so much on my mind about my music right now that it’s taking up all my brain."

These obsessive tendencies are finally paying off. In late May, Matador Records signed Vile, calling him one of the more important figures in modern-day American music. "Signing Kurt was the easiest decision we’ve made since we sponsored a seniors’ Jai Alai league in the early ’90’s," says Matador co-owner Gerard Cosloy. "The liability risks are much lower this time around, and the music’s far better, so everyone’s a winner."

Vile’s next album, the cunningly-titled Childish Prodigy, is due out in autumn. "It’s the closest thing I have so far to my masterpiece," he says. "It’s not super-clean or anything, but it’s most definitely not lo-fi. You can keep uncovering stuff in there. It’s my first album album."

KURT VILE With Dungen and Woods. Aug. 30, 8 p.m., $14. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-1615, www.bottomofthehill.com

Pressure Cooker


REVIEW "Some of you will not remain. Whatever you heard, it is five times worse," announces the ruthless but deeply well-intentioned culinary arts teacher Mrs. Stephenson. It’s the first day of the class she teaches at a high school in an underprivileged area of Philadelphia. Pressure Cooker focuses on three seniors who are hardworking chefs-in-training, all chasing the generous scholarships that success in a final competition would award them. Two of them are desperate for an economic leg up and physical escape: Fatoumata is an African immigrant who is disciplined and grateful for the opportunities the U.S. has offered her so far, but in order to realize her career goals she must escape the overbearing hand of her father. Erica, an amiable cheerleader who cares for her blind sister and laughs good-naturedly at her friends’ undeveloped palates — they can only appreciate Fritos and Cheetos — also cannot escape stifling familial expectations without assistance. The third, Tyree, is a football star when not sharpening his cooking skills. The high-stakes drama in the kitchen-cum-classroom is entertaining enough — particularly Mrs. Stephenson’s hilarious shouting and encouragement masked as jeering — but it is the homelife struggle of the subjects that makes this story worthwhile.

PRESSURE COOKER opens Fri/21 in Bay Area theaters.