Volume 44 Number 22

Where landlords, developers, and cars are king

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EDITORIAL Are cars more important than people? Is it okay to evict a tenant just to make space for a garage? Should new garages be designed to preserve on-street parking too? Seems like a no-brainer to us. But legislation by Sup. David Chiu that would put some limits on the expansion of garages — an increasing problem in Chinatown and North Beach — has infuriated some real estate interests, and it’s possible that this eminently reasonable bill might fail.

It’s a sad statement on San Francisco politics, and the implications go way beyond this one planning measure.

The problem has its roots in the Ellis Act, the state law that allows landlords to clear all the tenants out of a building, then sell it to wealthier people who want to buy their units as tenants in common (TICs). The Ellis Act has been responsible for thousands of San Franciscans losing their homes — and a new twist has been developing in Chiu’s district.

In the crowded Chinatown-North Beach area, parking is at a premium and people who are buying TICs want a place to put their cars. So landlords and speculators are throwing out tenants not just for new owners, but to make room for garages.

Chiu’s law — which would apply only in parts of District 3 — would deny building owners a permit to construct a new garage if a tenant was evicted under the Ellis Act in the past 10 years. And it would require a conditional use authorization from the City Planning Department for any new garage construction.

Chiu also wants new rules for curb cuts — the openings in sidewalks that allow cars to drive into garages. The cuts would have to be as small as possible and designed to preserve on-street parking.

On a larger level, the bill would make it easier to construct new housing without parking — a significant change in how San Francisco has handled off-street parking for many years. Instead of mandating garages in new apartment buildings, Chiu wants to discourage them. He’s saying, in essence, that space for people is more important than space for cars.

That’s a logical step in a city that is trying to enforce a transit-first policy. It’s a small piece of a larger political battle to transform a city planning system that for too long has been driven by the needs of the private automobile. It should have passed unanimously and Mayor Newsom should sign it into law.

In fact, the bill passed on first reading Feb. 9, with only Sups. Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu voting against it. But Sup. Bevan Dufty now says he has concerns about the measure, and Chiu has agreed to postpone the final vote until March 9.

Dufty’s a key vote, because it’s likely at this point that the mayor will veto the measure. And with Elsbernd and Chu opposed and Michela Alioto-Pier still out with health problems, supporters can’t override a veto without Dufty.

We couldn’t reach Dufty, but supporters of the bill say he wants the measure watered down to eliminate the conditional use requirement — which would force city planners to check and make sure the builder or landlord was following the rules — and replace it with a discretionary review requirement, which would allow the garage construction unless someone objected. That puts the burden on the tenants (who in many cases are low income people whose primary language isn’t English) to protect themselves. And it would undermine much of the power of the bill.

It’s insane for Dufty to oppose a reasonable measure that only applies to a small part of one district, protects vulnerable tenants, and pushes the city away from further automobile dependence. It’s insane that the mayor is expected to veto the bill. It’s insane that it’s even an issue. And if the ordinance fails, it will be a sign that even in San Francisco, in 2010, landlords, developers, and cars are still king.

Editor’s Notes

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Tredmond@sfbg.com

Hundreds of parents packed the Marina Middle School auditorium last week to talk about cuts to public education — and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, who spoke about reforming Proposition 13, said he thought the response to his suggestions was overwhelmingly positive. That’s not surprising — public school parents in San Francisco are not really the demographic you worry about when you talk about raising taxes to pay for education.

And until fairly recently, I thought it was impossible to do anything worthwhile about tax policy on a statewide level. I figured the state Legislature, with its obstinate Republicans, could never launch a tax reform movement, and that passing a ballot measure to alter Prop. 13 was a long shot at the very best. I was the one telling local officials that we had to look to our own resources, right here in San Francisco.

But when I see hundreds of parents organizing around school cuts, and hundreds of Muni riders organizing around transit cuts, and tens of thousands of students organizing around cuts to higher education, I start to think: maybe there’s hope.

Maybe the state has gotten so bad, the red ink so awful, that Californians will finally realize that they can’t have good public services for free. And maybe they’ll realize that Prop. 13 does a lot more for big commercial property owners than for homeowners, and that a split-roll measure like the one Ammiano is proposing could raise the kind of money we need for decent schools and public services.

I have to hope so.

A progressive primary for District 6

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By Supervisor Chris Daly

OPINION Ten years ago, the newly drawn District 6 (which includes the Tenderloin, South of Market, and North Mission) was thought to be politically up for grabs. With an aggressive grassroots campaign and a progressive sweep across the city, we won the seat. Despite small demographic shifts to the right over the years, we’ve built a clear progressive identity for our district. Community stakeholders and all of progressive San Francisco should be proud of this accomplishment.

In 2006, despite downtown’s major effort to unseat me, I held on with a nine point, or 1,600-vote, margin. I would guess that this is generally reflective of the current political dynamics in the district. In other words, District 6 is roughly a progressive +10 district.

But heading into the first open-seat race in the district in 10 years, we have to take care to not become victims of our own success. Already, four serious progressive candidates have declared for the seat and are now raising money, seeking endorsements, formulating campaign strategy, and assembling their teams.

Our system for electing supervisors allows voters to rank their top three choices. In other words, even if all progressive voters ranked three progressive candidates on every ballot, a certain number of those votes would not transfer to the strongest progressive candidate. In District 6, where the political contests have been pretty black and white for a decade, it’s a safe bet we’ll have more than our share of voters who only vote for one candidate. (In 2006, a number of voters even marked me as their first, second, and third choice.)Sensing an unexpected political opportunity, downtown is working to coalesce around a single candidate to steal away the seat and the progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors. We can’t afford to let that happen. Our 10-point margin of error is too small to risk moving forward on our current path.

That’s why I have asked all the major progressive candidates in the race to participate in a progressive primary early this summer. A central polling place will be open to all District 6 voters. We will have a ranked-choice ballot that will include the progressive candidates who have qualified for public financing (raised more than $5,000 in qualifying contributions.) Permanent absentee voters will be able to mail in their ballots. In most respects, the progressive primary will look like an officially sanctioned election.

The primary will give district voters an opportunity to signal their early preference in candidates and will give the progressive campaigns much-needed experience identifying and turning out their supporters. More important, it will give the rest of us a window into what otherwise could become a very confusing progressive cluster.

The winner of the primary will become the beneficiary of my endorsement and campaign support. It also will be a momentum-builder for the campaign that is already strongest within the district and will signal to all progressive voters that, even if they’ve committed to another candidate, they need to make sure they rank the progressive primary winner on their ballot.

As progressives continue to build our politics, we need to keep creating democratic forums and structures. I hope the Progressive Primary becomes a useful component of our political movement.

Supervisor Chris Daly represents District 6.

Volume 44 Number 22 Flip-through Edition

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Dames on the brain

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DVD REVIEW Columbia’s new two-volume, eight-film set "Bad Girls of Film Noir" is a delightful addition to any shelf of B-movies, and a damn good excuse to insist on using a friend’s DVD projector.

Two of the films in this package, Women’s Prison (1955) and One Girl’s Confession (1953), had pre-DVD release screenings at this year’s Noir City Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. Though he was not the most charismatic guest speaker in the history of that sublime annual SF movie ritual, Grover Crips, Sony’s vice president of asset management and film preservation, certainly deserved the tribute he received at Noir City. The transfers to DVD from new vault prints that make up this fine package are truly impressive. And while some of the titles included don’t exactly fit snugly in the noir canon, there’s so much here worth watching that for any fan of the array of delirious thrills that constitute "golden age" Hollywood filmmaking, such quibbles are strictly in killjoy territory.

Women’s Prison is a veritable treasure trove of guilty cinematic pleasures, and one of three flicks in the set featuring blonde bombshell Cleo Moore. The rest of the cast includes noir mainstays Audrey Totter (the versatile Swede who was so, so good in 1949’s The Set-Up, Tension, and Alias Nick Beal) and Jan Sterling (the scorching, jaded, less-than-faithful wife in 1951’s Ace in the Hole). Howard Duff and Ida Lupino, married in real life, seem to be having a blast as the good-guy prison doctor and his nemesis, the psycho warden obsessed with escalating levels of discipline.

For their glimpses of mid-20th century New York City, the two on-location thrillers The Killer That Stalked New York (1950, check out Jim Backus as a sleazy club owner) and The Glass Wall (1953) are hard to beat and show that John Huston wasn’t the only Hollywood director influenced by neorealism. These two feature, respectively, Evelyn Keyes and Gloria Grahame. The latter film especially, whose trailer brags that it was "shot secretly by hidden cameras in teeming Times Square and all over exciting New York City," really captures the flavor of midtown Manhattan street life.

And as inept as the story’s framing device is, I praise the gods of Tinsel Town for giving me Night Editor (1946), mostly because of the statuesque, scheming femme fatale played by Janis Carter. It’s a bit of stretch pairing her with the, shall we say, less than charismatic William Gargan, but I can’t imagine any actress putting more sexually-charged zest into a request to gaze at a murder victim.

Sly ‘n’ sincere

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kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "Move while you’re watching me / Dance with the enemy — here is my remedy!"

Though the production is vaguely "Toxic," don’t confuse this Brit with Britney. Little Boots, a.k.a. Victoria Hesketh, may be a dulcet, highly infectious dead-ringer for Britney Spears — sporting a sweeter voice and ‘tude, judging from her lyrical preoccupations and her popular homemade YouTube snippets showing the Boots covering Kid Cudi or Cyndi Lauper.

And as El Niño continues to batter our doors, one can’t help but wonder what a steadily heat-seeking, viral-vid starlet like herself makes of the chill falling over pop, both under- and overground in the form of, say, Cold Cave and the xx? Lo, behold synthpop prime mover Phil Oakey of Human League, dueting with Hesketh on "Symmetry," off her debut, Hands (Atlantic), which finally sees its stateside release this week.

"Maybe it sounds cold, but I think it sounds really cool as well. That’s the whole thing, the detached Human League thing," explains Hesketh, 25, phasing in and out by phone from London.

"I’m just really interested in electronic music and inspired by it, so I kind of got into it from that angle, being a fan of the sound and the records."

Today’s colder, sparser synth minimalism perhaps reckons more honestly with the instruments themselves, with a sound that isn’t trying to resemble anything other than itself. Its quiet aggression resonates perfectly with the cold wind of austerity that has been long blowing through the music world. That harder, tougher, oft-pared-down synth sound also jibes with the continuing cultural fascination with the ’80s: rhyming perfectly with fashion’s studded stilettos and architectural leather, it reads like armor against pummeling economic times.

Hesketh is completely frank about the hardscrabble pop environment she’s found herself in — and the way understandable fiscal conservatism is affecting the art and craft of music-making. "I think the industry doesn’t really have any money, and I’m not selling very many records, so they’re just playing it really safe because they’re scared to invest money in anything that’s too weird and can’t fit," offers Hesketh, who’s had Ellie Goulding, Music Go Music, and Marina and the Diamonds on repeat lately. She says that timidity doesn’t bleed into the formation of such delectable nuggets as the Madonna-esque "Stuck on Repeat" and the Telepathe-like "Mathematics," which sees Hesketh winningly rhyming Fibonacci with Pythagoras while entreating, "But the only formula I know will work for us / Is that when we’re together in the sum of our parts / It’s far greater than what we added up to at the start."

That juxtaposition of every-girl vulnerability is full frontal on Hesketh’s solo electric piano version of "Stuck on Repeat," one of the most popular of her DIY, laptop-made videos. Flanneled shoulder to camera, hair dark and bushy, in Paul Frank monkey jammies, she sings to herself — and to the Webcam — in a way that makes one think that you and Hesketh are sharing an intimate moment, much like meeting Lily Allen via MySpace, and peering through a tiny window into her world. But even good things must end. "I don’t do [those videos] anymore," Hesketh says flatly. "I did them a lot, so it’s a bit boring. but yeah, it definitely helped as a way to get exposure. Now I’m kind of having a break from them and doing something new." Namely performing throughout the U.S., in the flesh: these Boots walk onto the Fillmore stage March 9.

LITTLE BOOTS

With Class Actress and Dragonette

Tues/9, 8 p.m., $15–$20

Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

www.livenation.com


COME IN FROM THE COLD

MIDLAKE


Where Fairport Convention meets Fleetwood Mac, the Denton, Texas, band convenes for its sublime new The Courage of Others (Bella Union). With Matthew and the Arrogant Sea. Thurs/4, 9 p.m., $16–<\d>$18. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com

BARN OWL AND DANIEL HIGGS


It’ll be a hoot when the SF psych-drone nature boys cavort with the Lungfish savant. With Carlton Melton and Electric Jellyfish. Fri/5, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

To hurl or not to hurl

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Keep your panties on and your polka dot bras in the drawer — they may be flattered, but Tegan and Sara have enough lingerie to last a lifetime. The Canadian twins are on the road for a tour of their latest release, Sainthood (Sire/WEA, 2009) and were proud to receive not one, but two, animal print brassieres on an Austin stage last week.

"I don’t even know what to say about ladies wearing leopard print bras — but I can say I would never have to buy another bra again," says Sara Quin, recalling the outrageous number of undergarments that she and her sister receive on a regular basis. Long-haired rocker dudes and R&B artists with six-packs seem the obvious targets for women’s personal attire, but cute little lesbians from Alberta?

"There are always bras and underwear backstage at venues, and I always wonder, who gets these?" Sara says. "Then I remember— we do."

Their stylish haircuts alone have switched ladies to the other side, not to mention their adorable turned-up noses, intelligence, feminist opinions, and six albums of pure pop genius. It’s been 12 years of music-making for the siblings, and they’re still surprised by the forward, and forceful, signs of affection some fans offer.

"I’m used to boys screaming ‘Take your shirt off!’ That’s common and annoying. But when a girl does it, I have to ask, ‘What are you thinking?’<0x2009>" The catcalls and Mardi Gras-style requests have always been hard for Sara to swallow. "My God, I’m not a stripper."

Baffled, she tries to deconstruct why women feel the urge to yell such absurdities. "Maybe they’re just excited to participate in a social custom?" she hypothesizes. A shy girl herself, she gives props to those ladies who have confidence. "Sometimes we have to suspend our logical, cultured brains and just enjoy the fact that people objectify you — take it as a sign of affection and roll with it."

Tit-show requests aside, Sara says she and Tegan couldn’t be happier with their dedicated fan base. Audiences sing along, pay attention, and eat up the witty banter the ladies are known to dish out between songs.

"We don’t feel like we’re a buzz band anymore and it’s not such a question about whether or not people will leave the show as a fan," she says, taking a break from set-up at a venue in Dallas. "Our audience has grown, and I’ve really been feeling an energy of oneness."

So if fans are shunned for catapulting linens, what would the ladies like to see land at their feet? Letters are nice, but Sara can’t fathom why people crumple and chuck them onto stage. "Call me romantic — or meticulous — I’d probably arrange for a carrier pigeon to send someone a note. But I’m a musician and I put a lot of thought into the packaging and delivery of how people receive things."

In recent years, books became a popular, yet potentially dangerous gift idea. "I love books, but people’s aim is far too accurate," Sara laughs, noting her near escapes from death. "I totally appreciate any gift. But if you’re going to throw a book, pad it with a towel."

TEGAN AND SARA

Fri/5, 8 p.m., $35

Fox Theater

1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

1 (800) 745-3000

www.ticketmaster.com

Riff evangelists

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC "I felt pretty much the day Wino called me up that it was a really important, really essential thing." Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, Shrinebuilder bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros makes the founding of his new band seem inevitable, like some sort of astronomical event. "Wino" is the nom de rock preferred by legendary guitarist/vocalist Scott Weinrich, cofounder of a new collaboration between musical luminaries that also includes guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly and drummer/vocalist Dale Crover.

For fans of a certain kind of slow, heavier-than-lead music called "doom metal," these are all household names. Cisneros played bass in the mythical South Bay trio Sleep (with High on Fire’s Matt Pike) before founding drone metallers Om. Wino’s is the most impressive pedigree, one defined by stints with Washington, D.C.-area doom pioneers the Obsessed and L.A. cult heroes St. Vitus. Kelly is well-known in the Bay Area for his work with Oakland experimental titans Neurosis. Crover cut his teeth in Seattle, drumming for the Melvins.

The towering reputations and wide-ranging commitments of the musicians involved made creating the first Shrinebuilder album a scheduling nightmare. Rehearsals took place in multiple locations, often with only two members present — those absent participated by swapping riffs over the Internet. Despite these logistical difficulties, Cisneros insists, the process couldn’t have been more natural. "The in-person rehearsals really just confirmed the songs that we had going." Confined to only three days of studio time, they nevertheless crafted a self-titled album that exudes a confident coherence across its five lengthy tracks.

Even the lyrics, often a point of contention in other, lesser bands, benefited from this uncanny natural understanding: "Without explaining anything about the song, or the vibe, we just all knew what went next — how to proceed," Cisneros recalls. "We had a common understanding of the lyrical theme between all of us. I’m not sure that’s common in bands. We didn’t really need to say anything, we just all finished the lyrics as each other would have."

As can be guessed from the band’s name, the lyrical theme is one of religion, and construction, and the marriage of the two. Song titles like "Solar Benediction," "Pyramid of the Moon," and "The Architect" exemplify this fascination. More than just singing about worshipers, however, the members of Shrinebuilder are worshipers themselves, crafting a temple of their own design. As Kelly explains in an interview with Decibel magazine, "I think we’re just laying more bricks on the foundation that has been laid previously … it’s really an homage to sound, to music, and to its infinite wisdom, you know? The power of it. The religion that is sound. The electric church. All of that. I think that that’s been our lives."

The members of Shrinebuilder, then, are the four riff evangelists, and the album, like the New Testament, is a coherent whole that allows significant leeway for the individual tendencies of its creators. Each of the album’s five songs is a concatenation of different parts, many of which bear the tell-tale fingerprints of their authors. Wino’s bluesy howl makes his sections easy to identify; so too Kelly’s muscular, mammoth riffs and Cisneros’ syrupy bass lines. The album’s most liturgical passage occurs halfway through "Pyramid of the Moon," when an epic, reverberant riff suddenly culminates in haunting, euphonic chanting, which Kelly insists was entirely improvised by Crover and Cisneros in the studio.

Preparations have already begun for another, longer album, one that will involve more rehearsal and more studio time. But even if conflicts arise, the members of Shrinebuilder can rely on the natural affinity that results from their canonization as doom metal apostles. Have you heard the good news?

SHRINEBUILDER

with Harvestman, A Storm of Light

Sun/7, 8 p.m., $17

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421

www.theindependentsf.com

New New Orleans

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Galactic’s provocative new album, Ya-Ka-May (Anti-), is the sound of new New Orleans. It’s named after yaka mein (which is alternately spelled ya ka mein, yaca-meat, et cetera), a type of Asian noodle stew. Its clash of jazz, bounce, and R&B is hot and sweat-inducing, with so many voices that you can’t tell if it’s a great party or a riot breaking out. “No more dreams, this is reality!” shouts “sissy” performer Big Freedia on the bounce track “Double It.” “You gotta shake, baby!”

“I’m a wild man,” chants funk Indian Big Chief Bo Dollis from the Wild Magnolias. “I’m a wild man, oh y’all!”

At its center is a “Liquor Pang,” a derelict’s screed from Josh Charles and Ryan Scully (formerly of N’awlins funk band the Morning 40 Federation). “I’m making bad decisions with the money I earn,” slurs Charles. “Ain’t no shame like a pang for some liquor, man.” Meanwhile, Scully screams, “Yeah! I’m shutting it down!” “Liquor Pang” is supposed to sound like an oncoming hangover, but it feels like an alarm — a reminder of how dark and unhinged the Ya-Ka-May party becomes.

The album itself seems like a happy accident. For years, Galactic was best known as part of a sprawling jam scene, one of dozens of bands that traveled through earthy festivals and small theaters like wandering minstrels. The band’s early albums, including the 2003 Sanctuary release Ruckus (which featured production by Dan the Automator) hewed to the funky, organic side of downtempo — like flagship artists Medeski, Martin & Wood and Thievery Corporation — with long instrumental passages and wah-wah workouts punctuated by former member Theryl DeClouet’s gritty vocals.

“Some of our early success on the road was due to that scene embracing us,” says Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines during a phone interview. Like many associated with the jam scene, he dislikes that phrase, calling it a “label created by the press.” He seems to prefer “taper community,” although jam fans probably don’t use cassette recorders anymore. “Our band started in a grassroots way — we got in a van and literally drove around America. The way we approached our business originally was in the jam band style of grassroots, do it yourself.”

The turning point was 2007’s From the Corner to the Block (Anti-). Inspired by Brand New Heavies’ Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1 (Delicious Vinyl), where the acid jazz pioneers recorded with golden age hip-hoppers like Kool G Rap and the Pharcyde. Galactic worked with indie-rappers like Gift of Gab, Lateef and Lyrics Born from the Quannum crew, pioneering 1990s bounce artist (and subsequent “Back Dat Azz Up” superstar) Juvenile, and DJ Z-Trip. Vibrant and energizing, From the Corner to the Block was the first Galactic album that didn’t seem like a byproduct of its neverending tours.

To hear Raines tell it, there wasn’t any grand ambition fueling Ya-Ka-May. “Our intent was not to create a dark, disturbing type of record,” he says. “We were really trying to work with some of our favorite artists and do a snapshot of what the current music is there, and maybe isn’t that well known outside of New Orleans.”

Much of Ya-Ka-May features Katey Redd, Sissy Nobby, and Big Freedia from New Orleans’ “sissy” bounce culture. It’s one of the few queer rap scenes in the country that isn’t divided from the mainstream since, as Raines puts it, they perform at clubs throughout the city. “These are bounce rappers that happen to be gay,” says Raines.

A local DJ, Jay “Rusty Lazer” Pennington, served as a liaison for the bounce rappers. Other guests like “supafunkrock” player “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the world-famous Rebirth Brass Band are longtime acquaintances of the band. “It’s a small town. Everyone knows each other.”

With so many shouting and signifying, Ya-Ka-May can wear you out like a daylong community festival with 100 performers on the bill. The specter of Hurricane Katrina lingers above it all. Perhaps that’s where all the wondrous and sometimes-bizarre mania comes from.

“For years, you couldn’t walk out of your door without thinking about the storm or interacting with some aspect of it,” he says. “But there’s life there, and there’s art being made. It’s a really fascinating city to live in, to watch an American city go through something so traumatic.

“To some degree, everything in New Orleans now revolves around that event. But Ya-Ka-May isn’t about Hurricane Katrina. It’s about the contemporary scene in New Orleans as it exists today.”

GALACTIC

Fri/5, 9 p.m.

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

www.livenation.com

Education of a felon

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Filmmaker Jacques Audiard has described his new film, A Prophet, as “the anti-Scarface.” Yet why do this gripping, gritty feat of moviemaking — tutored though not neutered by the schools of grim social realism and grimy magical realism — that disservice? Why deny this heartfelt yet tough-minded entry into the prisonsploitation ranks of Cool Hand Luke (1967), Papillon (1973), and HBO’s Oz?

A Prophet‘s forebears are couched in the lyrics of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and Bertolt Brecht’s “Mack the Knife” (Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s version wheezes warmly over the final credits) and lurk in the memoirs of Edward Bunker and Jean Genet, rather than in the Grand Guignol fantasy of a snow-blind Al Pacino introducing us to his little friend. Yet much like Scarface (1983), A Prophet bottles the heady euphoria that chases the empowerment of the powerless and the rise of the long-shot loner on the margins — permutations of the capitalist success story and odes to hard-working individualism familiar to, say, Michael Mann fans. Still, that swirl of programmatic referents shouldn’t discount the inspired rigor of A Prophet, which — in its almost-Dickensian attention to detail, devotion to its own narrative complexity, and passion for cinematic poetry — rises above the ordinary and, through the prism of genre, finds its own power.

The supremely opportunistic, pragmatically Machiavellian intellectual and spiritual education of a felon is the chief concern of A Prophet. Played by Tahar Rahim with the guileless open-faced charisma reminiscent of River’s Edge-era Keanu Reeves (though Rahim is more agile and pliable than the reserved Reeves), Malik is half-Arab and half-Corsican — and distrusted or despised by both camps in the pen. When he lands in jail for his six-year sentence, he’s 19, illiterate, friendless, and vulnerable enough to get his shoes snatched straight off his feet his first day in the yard. His deal with the devil — and means of survival — arrives with Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), temporarily locked up before his testifies against the mob. Corsican boss Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup, who resembles a scary, sketchy Father Christmas) wants him dead, and Malik, loudly propositioned by the would-be stoolie in the showers, is tagged to penetrate Reyeb’s defenses, namely his cell, with a blade hidden in mouth.

The bittersweet irony is that the man Malik must kill, at the risk of being killed himself, seemingly turns out to be the first to show him any kindness. During their brief, bloody tryst, the cultured Reyeb advises his assassin to educate himself behind bars, offering him gifts of books. And after Malik’s gory rebirth, as first a protected, contemptible serf serving the Corsicans, it turns out that the teenager’s a seer in more ways than one. From his low-dog position, he can eyeball the connections linking the drugs entering the prison to those circulating outside, as well as the machinations intertwining the Arab and Corsican syndicates — just as he happens to see, and confide in, the dead Reyeb, too. It’s no shock that when Cesar finds his power eroding and arranges prison leaves for his down-low, multilingual crossover star that Malik serves not only his Corsican master, but also his own interests, and begins to build a drug empire rivaling his teacher’s.

Throughout his pupil’s progress, Audiard demonstrates a way with Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, and when Malik finally breaks with his Falstaffian, castrating patriarch, it makes your heart skip a beat in a move akin to the title of the director’s last film. It’s like several other exquisitely imperishable scenes in A Prophet: a sequence that aims for the chaotic, sensuous intercourse of a close-range shoot-out; the image of a sacrificial deer arcing through the air; the sight of Malik, awkward in a business suit, taking his first plane ride; a vision of a fragile rainbow coalition of crime. This Eurozone/Obama-age prophet is all about the profit — Malik is a biracial, border-crossing player who has translated his survival skills into power-grabbing opportunity — but here he’s imbued with grace, even while gaming for ill-gotten gain.

A PROPHET opens Fri/5 in Bay Area theaters.

My son, my son, what have ye done

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FILM Some of the best documentaries in recent years have been hijacked by their subject — or even by another subject the filmmaker wasn’t planning on. Prodigal Sons was supposed to be Kimberly Reed’s story about a high-school quarterback, basketball captain, class president, and valedictorian born to a family of Montana farmers, returning for a reunion 20 years later — albeit as a fully transitioned male-to-female transgender person attending with her female lover. This will definitely be news to most of Helena, Mont., especially those former classmates who once swooned with puppy love or envy over the jock prince who is no more.

That would have made for an interesting movie. What makes Sons a fascinating one is that Reed finds the camera focus — as director/producer/coeditor, her own camera — stolen almost right away by a crisis in progress. Its name is Marc, adopted “problem child” of the McKerrow family (Kimberly changed her surname post-op). It’s not so much that Marc grabs the spotlight out of a jealous need for attention, though that may be a factor. It’s that he’s still trapped in a sibling relationship that for her ceased to exist — at least in its original form — decades ago, and Kimberly’s presence stirs up all kinds of buried shit.

Marc’s living in the past isn’t mere self-pity or indulgence. Already stamped as a bit of a fuckup (held back in grade school, a high school dropout), he suffered a head injury at 21. That commenced an ordeal of seizures, brain surgeries, and complicated med cocktails. He’s married with a daughter, but emits toxic clouds of social awkwardness and discontent that sometimes erupt in violent mood swings, which here result in at least one police intervention.

“It’s not the real me” is his usual refrain afterward each such “episode.” While Kimberly looks to reconcile her successful new identity with a community she’d ago severed most ties to, Marc struggles to assert any cogent post-accident identity at all.

Running a gamut from harrowing to miraculous (not necessarily in that order), the remarkable Prodigal Sons grows stranger than fiction when abandoned-at-birth Marc discovers something jaw-dropping about his ancestry. Suffice it to say, this results in a trip to Croatia and biological link to some of Hollywood’s starriest legends.

If Kimberly’s story is about repression forcing a mentally healthy transformation, Marc wrests us away from that inspirational self-portrait. He renders Sons a challenging, head-on glimpse of mental illness with no easy answers in sight. Christianity, a well-adjusted gay third brother, conservative yet surprisingly adaptable parents, jail time, savant piano mastery, and other elements also factor into this wild ride of a documentary. Its narrative progress might be dismissed as over-the-top if it didn’t happen to be true. 

PRODIGAL SONS opens Fri/5.

No regular play

2

superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO One of the best things about the San Francisco scene is we don’t have “hits.” You can always escape that tired Kid Cudi dirge or hypothetical Ke$ha-Cannibal Corpse mashup (not a bad idea, as long as it involves rusty chainsaws) by jetting to another spot. Below is a brief survey of four of the city’s most intriguing regular parties, and the music they’ll most likely ravish you with.

YORUBA DANCE SESSIONS

I’ve got to admit I kind of lost it in a good way on the Som floor at this new weekly the last time I attended. (If I huffed down the back of your neck, I apologize.) It’s one of the most diverse-crowded joints in the city, flipping to deep global soul rhythms, and yes there was a dance circle. “There is a negative stigma attached to house music,” DJ and founder Carlos Mena told me. “It is not the stereotype-laden skits that appear on Saturday Night Live. It is soul-filled music, which encompasses rhythms from Africa and beyond. I want to provide a space for dancers to express themselves.” Upcoming guests include Greece’s Osunlade and Ezel from the Dominican Republic.

Sounds like:

DJ Spinna featuring Erro, “Butterfly Girl (Casamena Remix)” Babatunde Olatunji, “Saré Tete Wa” Ezel featuring Tamara Wellons, “”In My Lifetime (Deetron Remix)” Fela Kuti, “Ako” Afefe Iku, “Baiao”

Wednesdays, 10 p.m., $5. Som, 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com

LIFE/STYLE

You’ll want to don a fly fedora or pop a fresh gardenia in your hair for this youthful and stylish — but actually not pretentious — free weekly at the revamped Beauty Bar, which just celebrated its first anniversary. Decades of familiar retro (is that redundant?) are definitely on the carefully curated playlist, but mixed into some newer party jams by DJs Roll and Ts with the help of some stellar backup from the likes of the excellent Sweaterfunk crew. Indie, Northern Soul, boogie, glam, Brit, Mod … the night can go in any direction. “It’s always a headful of rad times!” says Roll.

Sounds like:

The Juan Maclean, “Happy House” New Order, “Blue Monday” The Ronnettes, “By My Baby” Holy Ghost!, “Hold On” David Bowie, “Queen Bitch” Wham!, “Club Tropicana”

Thursdays, 10 p.m., free. Beauty Bar, 2299 Mission, SF. www.beautybar.com/sf

LOOSE JOINTS

Tom Thump, Centipede, and Damon Bell — the “highly unlikely yet perfectly unusual” DJ trio behind this two-year-old weekly throwdown at the Make-Out Room are pure quality, mainstays on the SF scene who each light up in individual ways. Loose Joints is a gonzo sonic outlet for their funkier sides, incorporating Italo, Latin, space disco, globaltronics, and even future bass beats into a cutting-edge stew. Says Thump, “We’re like an all-vinyl house party (as in your home) where everyone is so trashed they’re tearing their clothes off. We’re boundary pushing and blurry — but never cheesy.”

Sounds like: The Bamboos featuring Lyrics Born, “Turn It Up!”

Tropical Discoteque 2, “La Rosa (Simbad and F. Francis Edit)”

Stevie Wonder, “Superstition (Todd Terje Edit)” Situation, “Goblin in the Bikini Shack” Gonja Sufi, “Holidays/Candylane”

Fridays, 10 p.m., $5. Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., SF. www.makeoutroom.com

OLDIES NIGHT

“We’ve had people that dress really nice, like from a certain era — and we’ve had people in their underwear, ha ha,” says one of my favorite club people, Primo Pitino, of the attendees at the fantastic, eight-year-old, twice-monthly, doo-woppy Oldies Night, which he puts on with DJs Ivar and Daniel. “But our party isn’t a throwback party for turning back the clock, it’s for playing music we used to dance around the house naked to, like ‘Please Mr. Postman.’ And our cute crowd has a fairly low asshole ratio.” It’s all true, and not a hard sell by half.

Sounds like:

Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion” Gino Washington, “Out Of This World” The Montereys, “Without A Girl” Bo Diddley, “Bo Diddley” The Metros, “Since I Found My Baby”

First and third Fridays, 10 p.m., $3. The Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF. www.theknockoutsf.com

Specchio

0

paulr@sfbg.com

Success brings penalties as well as rewards, and if you are a successful cuisine in America, one of the penalties involves banality. Banality is the essence of mass culture. You are Italian food and everybody loves you, but Chef Boyardee puts you in a can and sells you from Wal-Mart shelves, and (just a bit higher up the shame scale) you can find yourself being dished out in hackneyed versions in hackneyed settings, squishy cannelloni in bland Bolognese sauce at quaint spots with tabletop candles set in empty bottles of cheap Chianti.

Yet there’s much to be said for the tried-and-true. Europe might be the Old World, but it also has its ultramodern dimensions. In my observations, the resolution of old and new has generally meant that the latter is fitted gracefully into the former, another piece of a puzzle being forever assembled. The American way is to raze whole blockfuls of hideous, shoddy buildings so a new generation of hideous, shoddy buildings can replace them. The past in America is as disposable as everything else, from razor blades to auto workers.

Specchio is a newish Italian restaurant in America (in our very own San Francisco, in fact), but it has the Euro-modern feel of a glam place in Milan or Barcelona. The embrace of the new is fervent and obvious; the name means “mirror,” with an implication of a dusty article you might find atop Granny’s chest of drawers, but Specchio’s interior design doesn’t emphasize mirrors and certainly not dust. There are, instead, textured concrete walls, concrete floors, a gleaming stainless-steel exhibition kitchen at the rear of the soaring main dining area, and spare furniture of a post-Bauhaus flavor. It is the sort of setting you would expect to be deafening even without people in it, but the noise, while not inconsiderable, is surprisingly well-managed. In this respect Specchio resembles Delfina.

The au courant setting does not quite prepare one for chef Gino Assaf’s poised, traditional menu. (Assaf grew up in Venice and was the chef at Gondola in North Beach for several years.) It’s the photographic-negative, or mirror, effect: a reversal, with the old as an inlay on the new. It has been many years, for instance, since I last tasted vitello al tonno — veal topped with tuna sauce, as classic an Italian dish in its way as spaghetti with meat balls — and that version had been made (with scaloppini-style cutlets) by a home-schooled Italian friend. Specchio’s version (part of a $48 prix-fixe) featured slow-roasted veal in thin slices, almost like carpaccio or bresaolo; these were laid like mats on a wide plate and topped with the creamy, caper-sharpened tuna sauce, pipings of crème fraiche, plenty of lemon, and a small garden of arugula leaves.

More thin-sliced flesh: salmon carpaccio (also a prix-fixe item), scattered with shreds of fennel root and green peppercorns and dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. This version was visually more arresting than the traditional beef interpretation — translucent orange salmon flesh trumping opaque red meat — but the overall flavor effect was less rich and tangy.

Lobster is overrated and problematic, and (for me) the less that’s done to and with it, the better. The flesh is best when plucked right from the shell, swabbed with a bit of butter, and eaten. So lobster ravioli in a lobster bisque sauce (again, prix-fixe) sounded as if it might be overwrought. It wasn’t. The meat inside the pasta pockets remained sweet and firm, with its distinctive tactility, while the creamy sauce was intense with crustacean essence. For a bit of color, the kitchen added asparagus coins.

Swordfish, as the meatiest of fish, needs no introduction and very little help — just some tabs of braised leek and grapefruit sections, say, atop a grilled steak (prix-fixe), itself seated atop a bed of roasted potato, zucchini, and red bell pepper. The leek and grapefruit made an unexpected and appealing combination: a fruity sharpness with an undertone of earth.

Complaining about tiramisù is almost as cliché as tiramisù itself, so I am pleased to report that Specchio’s tiramisù was as good as could be: moist but not soggy, with a nice balance between the competing charges of espresso and liquor. (The great weakness of tiramisù is too much booze, which leads to sogginess and drunk-breath.) Equally impressive, in the Italian tradition of classic simplicity, was a pat of lightly sweetened ricotta cheese topped with a syrupy strawberry reduction that was more fruit than sweet. It was like a small piece of cheesecake, with no crust. Is there a Chef Boyardee take on this? I hope not.

SPECCHIO

Dinner: Tues.–Thurs., Sun., 5:30–10:30 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

2331 Mission, SF

(415) 958-5528

www.ristorantespecchio.com

Wine and beer,

AE/DS/MC/V

Well-managed noise

Wheelchair accessible

 

Shipwrecked

1

 le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS

Dear Earl Butter,

As you go through life, never underestimate the importance of somewhere to sit. In fact, stand up right now and kiss your chair. Kiss one for me, too — the comfy cat-hair chair that I like — and use your tongue please, Earl. For me. I dream of that chair, and hope to be sitting in it two weeks from today.

Let’s not ever, ever again take furniture for granted, OK? Everyone talks about a roof over your head, clean water, something to eat, honest work, etc. Those things are important, sure, but my message is this: so are chairs.

Probably you are wondering about the process of soul-searching and/or method of meditation that led me to such a discovery. Well, welcome to the less sisterly aspect of my loopy family. I know you know what I’m talking about.

This time: As a favor to and from our brother and your friend Phenomenon, Jean-Gene the Frenchman and me occupy two multimillion dollar houses on North Caicos, which is an undeveloped island in the Caribbean. It’s not only not Ohio, it is also the furthest thing from Germany I could ever imagine — if not geographically, at least in tone. Think: 80 degrees, fluffy white clouds, a continuous breeze, palm trees, the sound of surf, powdery beaches, and swimmably soft blue water. For free!

Can I complain? Well, since I am drawn to impossible challenges, let me try: There’s nowhere to sit. Our spectacular beachfront houses, which Phenomenon helped build and lost more than his shirt on, are of course unsellable, and, for our purposes, unfurnitured. We eat lunch on the beach, which is nice, but breakfast is a stand-up affair, and for dinner we sit on coolers and eat off of luggage.

My brothers are, like me, undiluted (and therefore deluded) optimists. As such, we are susceptible to posers, and prayer. We are here to work. Well, anyway, Jean-Gene is always hammering, sawing, landscaping, and just generally trying to nicen up for the banks that will likely soon own these doomed homes. I’m washing windows, sweeping, mopping, and pruning. But let’s face it, most of the meaningful work I’ve been doing is on my tan. Not only because I hope to attract some emergency rebound loving upon my untriumphant return to San Fran. It also happens that the only place I can breathe is the beach.

A couple miles out there, where the reefer is, where the waves break, where the water gets deep and darker blue, is a very visible and highly metaphorish, to me, shipwreck. At night we sing Belafonte songs to it. I brought my steel drum.

By day, I can’t stop looking. I dream. I think I probably might be pretty beautiful. I know my steel drum is. The front half of the ship juts proudly out of the water, and then, after a gap, there’s the back half, cracked and tilted, a complete mess.

Like a crosswired siren, drawn fatally to shipwrecks, I am tempted to swim it. But Jean-Gene, always the peach, has an inflatable kayak. I’ve never been in a kayak, canoe, or raft that didn’t spill, but I can swim forever. I can float. I’m strong, right?

Same time, I know that I’m also in many respects myself a shipwreck. For example: this longing to be explored.

Dear Lady,

That is great. Me and Joel, we went to the NYBuffalo Wings, in which Joel got the BBQ steak sandwich ($6.49) and Earl got himself the chili cheese hot link ($4.98). Joel said, “This is hitting the spot” and later described the sandwich as very tasty. And with lettuce that really helped it along, Joel did say, crispy, and very fresh. Earl will say that when you get a chili dog, it’s one thing, but when it’s a chili hot link dog, and there’s cheese (sauce, I think), it is not out of line to expect a lot of flavor.

But Earl was left out in the bland cold a little bit. If your chili and your link don’t cut it, you can hit up a meal like this in all sorts of ways, condiments for example, like raw onions, relishes, jalapeños … there are literally a million of them, but none were offered. Also, Joel paid because Earl is broke.

NYBUFFALO WINGS

Mon-Thurs., 10 a.m.–11:30 p.m.;

Fri-Sat., 10:00 a.m.–2:30 a.m.;

Sun., 10 a.m.– 11:30 p.m.

665 Valencia, SF

(415) 863-7755

AE/MC/V

No alcohol

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

 

Marshall amps

1

johnny@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART/MUSIC I’m walking with Jim Marshall from his apartment in the Castro to his favorite restaurant just around the corner. The T-shirt he’s wearing showcases one of his more famous photos, of Johnny Cash flipping the bird. Marshall tells me and his friend and assistant of 13 years, Amelia Davis, about another time he was wearing the shirt. When the person he was with said he wanted one, he promptly took it off and gave it to him. We sit down at a table, I turn on my old tape recorder, and Marshall asks me for my first question. I say, “Well, it’s not a question, but I guess the first thing I could observe about you is that you’ll give someone the shirt off your back.” He laughs.

This story, itself born from a story from Marshall, suits an article about him, because as the title of his one of his new books makes clear, a major foundation of his photography is trust. Almost every page of Trust: Photographs of Jim Marshall (Vision On, 165 pages, $34.95) illustrates the deep implicit bond between photographer and subject in Marshall’s work, an element largely lacking from the prefab realm of music photography today. At times, this trust makes for startling juxtapositions: more than once Marshall’s camera catches a singer — Mahalia Jackson at Carnegie Hall; BB King at the Fillmore West; Janis Joplin at an outdoor concert in San Jose; Big Mama Thornton in a San Francisco recording studio; Nina Simone at New York Town Hall; Big Joe Turner at Berkeley Folk Festival — wholly unguarded, with arms open wide. The gesture reflects Marshall’s wholehearted embrace of music, an approach that makes his best images sing.

Marshall is a San Francisco photographer. “I was just starting out during the Beat era, in 1959, hanging out in North Beach,” he says. “They called me Jaguar Jim because I had a Jag 120. I photographed at the Hungry Eye. Lenny Bruce was the first roll of color I ever shot — 10 frames. Fantasy Records called me up about 10 years ago and said, ‘Jim, we’ve got some of your shots here.’ I figured there was some Creedence [Clearwater Revival] stuff, or Otis Redding. But there were 10 slides [of Bruce] that had been stuck under a cabinet for 35 years.” One of those 10 frames can be found in Match Prints (HarperCollins, 208 pages, $40), a just-published collaborative monograph that juxtaposes photos by Timothy White with photos by Marshall. In the shot, Bruce is standing before a brick wall, and he has his arms outstretched — almost like he’s expecting to be arrested. He’s on stage.

The back and forth between White’s photos and Marshall’s in Match Print — also on display at New York’s Staley-Wise Gallery later this month — is partly a conversation between on-the-scene verité images and the carefully set designed studio shots that tend to dominate magazine profiles. But it’s also about iconography and a memorable pose: Jim Morrison taking a drag from a cigarette for Marshall, Robert Mitchum inhaling (unlike Bill Clinton) for White. Match Prints has a casual sense of humor, evident in the pairing of Cash giving the finger with a White shot of Elizabeth Taylor flipping two birds after stepping out of a limo. (It’s also made clear by Alice Cooper’s playfully catty comments about his sister-in-leopard-skin-boots Lil’ Kim.) But the lingering moments of the book, and ironically, the most contemporary visions, come from older black and white Marshall photos, such as one of a zaftig Mama Cass in the back of a car, or bouffant-and-eyeliner beauty Little Richard lost in thought. Cass’s style and Richard’s drag are very Bay Area rock n’ roll 2010.

Marshall’s photography is 2010 enough to be lodged in the White House at the moment. President Obama has a Marshall shot of John Coltrane (also within Trust) on the wall. “He [Obama] had a White House photographer take a picture of him reflected in the [frame’s] glass,” Marshall explains with pride. “He signed it, ‘To Jim — I’m a big fan of your work … and Coltrane!” A little later, back at Marshall’s apartment, I look at this photo, and think of Obama’s image and trust. In deed, is the President doing right by the artists?

At lunch, Marshall zooms in on a telling moment from Obama’s recent State of the Union address. “He said, ‘This administration this year will end discrimination against gays in the military.’ The camera was on four generals and admirals in front of Obama. The whole place stood up and applauded. Those motherfuckers didn’t blink, didn’t move — nothing. They just sat there stone-faced. That’s the last thing they wanted to hear.”

The trust recorded in Trust is a different kind of commitment than one offered by a political figure. The photo of Coltrane — itself reflective, a bit melancholy, even haunted — that Obama sees himself within is a chief example. “Miles [Davis] saw my pictures of Coltrane and saw that John trusted me, and that was good enough for Miles,” Marshall explains, after I tell him about a great Davis interview in which he proclaimed that his favorite thing to do was watch white people act stupid on TV. “Miles, he didn’t like white people a whole lot. But for some reason he liked me. He said, ‘You’re as crazy as me.'” The truth is, in America, then and now, that’s as good a reason as any to like someone.

Truth is another strong element of Trust. Marshall’s investment in emotional truth means that his opinions aren’t always orthodox. Trust contains some photos of the infamous 1972 Rolling Stones American tour — “I must have done two pounds of blow on that tour,” Marshall crows — also documented by Robert Frank in the movie Cocksucker Blues. “I was never a big Robert Frank fan, and I’ll tell you why,” Marshall says, with trademark intimate candor. “As good as [Frank’s classic 1958 monograph] The Americans is — and it’s one of the all-time great photo books, damn near as great as [1955’s] Family of Man — what Frank failed to do is this: he didn’t show in one picture, as far as I can remember, the joy of being an American. It’s cynical. That bothers the shit out of me.”

As much as Frank, Marshall is a primary documentarian of 20th century America, well aware of a time when great filmmakers and photographers had enough faith in the government to work for it. “I had a Baby Brownie [camera] when I was a kid,” he says, when asked how he found his calling. “Everything was blurry — you had to take the picture when the sun was at your back. But I won a track meet, the 50 yard dash, and a guy was taking pictures for the school. He had an early Leica. When we go back to my apartment I’ll show you my scrapbook — it has pictures of cameras cut out of magazines and pasted on the paper, with their prices written in pencil. He took a picture of me that was razor sharp, and I thought, ‘This guy has a magic box.'”

Marshall’s Leica images have their own magic, evident in monographs such as Tomorrow Never Knows — The Beatles’ Last Concert (1987), Monterey Pop (1992), Not Fade Away (1997), Proof (2004), and Jazz (2005). Trust distinguishes itself by the dominance of color images — Marshall laughs heartily when I tell him that the blue sky found in a pair of outdoor concert photos of Joplin is a California blue. The color in Marshall’s photos is super-real, to re-deploy a word Anthony DeCurtis applies to White in the introduction to Match Prints. It isn’t the cliché hallucinogenic vision found in so many recreations of drug trips or the ’60s, but instead an extra intensity, utterly pure.

“The single greatest performance I ever saw in my life was Otis Redding in Monterey [at Monterey Pop in 1967],” Marshall says, as we page through Trust. “Brian Jones was there as a guest, and he said, ‘I think Mick [Jagger] is one of the greatest singers, and our band is one of the best, but personally, you couldn’t give me a million pounds to follow Otis Redding on stage.’ It was that shattering of a performance.” The photo we’re looking at as he says this is deep black and rich blue, with fists to the fore. It’s a cry — a shout — into the night.

A pair of photos in Trust capture confidences exchanged between Johnny Cash and a top-of-the-world Bob Dylan — a country-folk echo of the gestures of confidence between Marshall, Coltrane, and Davis. Marshall laughs when I tell him of an anecdote about the great folk artist-archivist and magician Harry Smith slamming the door of his Chelsea Hotel room in the young Dylan’s face with a loud “Fuck off!” When Marshall first began to photograph Cash and Dylan, the upstart musician was uncooperative, until his idol set him straight about the man behind the lens. “Bob Dylan respected without equivocation two people,” says Marshall. “Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger.” Indeed, Trust’s American history isn’t just a rock star history, it’s a secret history, a braided folk tale that extends from Elizabeth Cotten to the unlikely yet perfectly logical friendship between Sly Stone and Doris Day. Its stunning photos of the Carter Family can inspire a conversation about Redding’s and Anita Carter’s individually magnificent versions of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”

Back at Marshall’s apartment, a photo of his late friend Tim Hardin at Woodstock broods as quietly as one of Hardin’s ballads, near the fireplace. “A million people around him, and he’s totally alone,” Marshall says, as if he took the shot yesterday. The hallway is lined with photos, not just by Marshall, but more often by famous acuaintances, many of them layered gestures of friendship that need no inscription. Marshall takes out his teenage scrapbook and sets it down on a table by his autographed images of Obama and Joe DiMaggio. “This was from the late 1940s!” he says, his voice rising in amazement. “Isn’t that a mindfuck?” It sure is. Another mindfuck would be for the best musicians and biggest personalities of the Bay Area to step in front of Marshall’s Leica today.

 


 

A NEW LOOK: JIM MARSHALL AND FRIENDS PUT THE FOCUS ON MS

VISUAL ART/EVENT This month, from March 5–19, one of Jim Marshall’s iconic images of Janis Joplin will be showcased in Union Square. The shot, of Joplin at the Palace of Fine Arts with arms outstretched as she sits atop a colorful Volkswagen Beetle, is just one of a number of prints being auctioned up for sale by photographers such as Baron Wolman, Michael Zagaris, Herb Greene, Robert Altman, Bobby Klein, and Marshall.

The cause is treatment of — and public awareness and conversation about — multiple sclerosis. All of the proceeds from sales of the photography goes to MSFriends, a grass-roots nonprofit begun by Marshall’s longtime friend Amelia Davis. Marshall hired Davis as an assistant knowing she had MS, and one encounter with Davis makes it easy to see why: she’s committed and dedicated. In the case of MSFriends, this dedication involves providing 24/7 telephone peer support, running an organization staffed by people who have MS, in an effort to help people with MS and others understand and respond to a misdiagnosed and misunderstood disease. 

For more information about MSFriends Rock for MS and MSFriends, go to www.msfriends.org  

 

Taxi turbulence

13

By Skyler Swezy

news@sfbg.com

It’s 10:20 p.m. on a recent Saturday night. Cab driver Dorian Lavender picks up a middle-aged couple outside the Gold Club, a strip joint in SoMa.

The couple is sharply dressed for a night out. After requesting the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theatre as their destination, the man brags to Lavender about having had sex with a stripper in one of the club’s private rooms. His female companion smiles and says nothing.

“This is before I met her,” the man explains. “We’re swingers.”

Minutes later, beneath the theater’s flashing marquee, the man hands the driver a $20 bill for the $10 fare. “Keep the change,” he says.

A few blocks away, a young couple flags the cab from the corner of Bush and Polk streets. They are talkative and entertained as Lavender tells them about the swingers. Ten minutes later, the meter reads $9.86. Apologizing, the young man hands him $11.

Lavender folds the bills into the cash-wad kept in his pocket.

“That’s how it goes with cab driving,” he says. “The nice couple tips 10 percent, the weird swingers tip 100 percent — and they were more interesting to talk to.”

At 25, Lavender considers cab driving a great gig and survives working only three shifts a week. He enjoys the cash, freedom, and unpredictable encounters. He’s even landed a few dates. A lot of career cabbies start driving for the same reasons. But after the excitement wears off, it turns out to be a tough job.

A typical cab driver in San Francisco makes less than $30,000 a year. Before drivers even start a shift, gate fees (covering the rental on the cab and the use of its permit, known here as a medallion), gas, and graft have already set them back close to $100. Bribes are commonplace in the industry, used to ensure weekend shifts, airport fares, and newer cars.

The industry offers no retirement plan or health coverage. In fact, the primary reason some people stay behind the wheel long after the thrill is gone is the promise that at some point, after maybe 15 years, an active driver becomes eligible for his or her own medallion. It costs almost nothing, and offers a tremendous benefit: drivers with medallions no longer pay high gate fees, get better shifts — and can lease out the permit when they’re not working. The lease revenue alone can nearly double a driver’s income.

Since 1978, medallions have been issued only to working drivers, and entirely on the basis of a waiting list that now numbers 3,200 names. New medallions become available when permit-holders retire, die, or are forced by disability to stop driving.

That system — and the entire cab industry — is about to change, profoundly. On Feb. 26, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency agreed to allow some permits to be sold on the open market to help close its huge budget deficit. When the dust settles and the implications of that decision become clear, life for cab drivers and passengers will be very different.

Some say the industry will be better; some say it will be much worse — but the truth is, nobody really knows.

 

PRIVATIZING PERMITS

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s adminstration has talked about allowing the sale of permits for several years, but only in the past few months has Christine Hayashi, SFMTA’s deputy director of taxi services, come up with a detailed plan.

It’s aimed at addressing what some drivers call an unfair and flawed system. Permit-holders by law must drive a minimum number of shifts, and it they get hurt or just get too old to drive, they have to surrender their medallions, leaving them with no source of income.

It will also help SFMTA’s budget — the city could sell unclaimed permits for big money and would get a cut of every other sale.

But critics, including Judge Quentin Kopp, the former San Francisco supervisor who wrote the 1978 law that created the old system, say the medallion holders just want to cash in on something that has always been city property.

The pilot project approved by the SFMTA board allows the city to sell up to 60 medallions directly to drivers and allow about 300 drivers over the age of 70 to sell their medallions to any qualified driver who can come up with the cash. The program aims to set a fixed selling price, but has yet to do so, instead setting a $400,000 limit. It is estimated that medallions will sell for no less than $200,000.

That, of course, will be a huge windfall to the sellers, who paid nothing for their permits.

The pilot program was essentially a done deal even before the Feb. 26 vote. In an e-mail to the Guardian, agency spokesperson Judson True confirmed that $11 million in taxi revenue had been added into the MTA budget before the vote took place.

 

THE GREED FACTOR

Kopp sat behind the desk in his West Portal neighborhood office a week before the MTA vote, bitterly condemning the medallion sales program. “It’s based on greed. It’s based on City Hall greed,” he said. The stentorian 82-year-old occasionally thumped the desk with his fist for emphasis as he launched into the history of Proposition K. Then-Sup. Kopp authored that landmark legislation prohibiting private companies from owning driving permits, instead granting control to drivers.

“This will reverse a system that gave a genuine cab driver the opportunity to obtain a permit and replace it with a system that restores the ability of people with lots of money to buy a permit,” he said.

But Kopp’s bill had some unforeseen consequences. The list has become so long that medallions are being issued to people in their 60s and 70s — and some of those people are driving passengers around town despite failing reflexes, eyesight, and motor skills.

Carl Macmurdo, president of the Medallion Holders Association (MHA), believes that selling medallions will provide an exit plan for geriatric drivers while giving younger cabbies an entry opportunity. At 59, Macmurdo is still a full-time driver and has been in the industry 27 years.

It makes sense that MHA members are generally in favor of the pilot program — they could potentially make a mountain of money. Although only those over the age of 70 are now eligible to sell them, the age limit could be lowered in the future.

 

INDENTURED SERVANTS

The United Taxi Workers (UTW) headquarters consists of a few cramped offices on the fourth floor of an old office building in the Mission District. All the interior trim is painted taxi-yellow. In late January, UTW spokespersons Mark Gruberg and Rua Graffis sat at a large table, fearing the worst.

They predict the sale of medallions will provide large cab companies with the equivalent of indentured servants. They say drivers will need upwards of a $200,000 loan to purchase a medallion, requiring a hefty downpayment.

Few drivers will be able to pay for a permit with savings, so the system will only work if someone is willing to finance those purchases. And drivers who are recent immigrants or have bad credit may not be able to get traditional loans. So they could wind up borrowing from their employers, the cab companies, UTW activists say — and by owning the debt the companies will essentially own the medallion.

“Supposedly there’s going to be a provision that says a cab company can’t lend money to a driver toward purchasing a medallion. But it would be so easy to get around that by hooking up with an outside lender,” Gruberg said.

Another fear is that the pilot program will favor young drivers and punish veterans. “Suppose a 27 year-old is on the list and I’m 63. Which one of us is the bank more likely to lend money to?” Graffis asked.

Under the pilot program, drivers will have the option to purchase according to seniority on the list. But without a lender, that’s little help.

 

WHO’S GETTING SCREWED

At 1 p.m. the day of the SFMTA vote, Bill Mounsey and David Barlow were sitting on a bench outside the hearing room. Both are members of UTW and planned to speak in protest of the pilot program.

Mounsey is 63. He’s been on the list for 13 years and is No. 200. He is part of the group most vulnerable in the medallion reform process — drivers who have already waited more than a decade but still have years to go.

If at any point the board decides to eradicate the list before he receives a medallion, Mounsey’s years of waiting will be wasted. “I would never buy one. I’m 63 years-old, no one would ever give me a loan,” he said.

For now, the wait list survives. Under the pilot program, one medallion will be given away for every one sold until the list is exhausted. However, with only half as many medallions being given out, Mounsey fears the list will move half as fast.

Around 50 people attended the meeting, a small fraction of the city’s cab drivers. At 3:56 p.m. the board passed the pilot program and Prop. K moved a little closer toward death.

Hayashi spent more than 175 hours trying to create a pilot program that provides the city with revenue and benefits the taxi drivers. She has made an effort to engage the taxi community and worked with a group of drivers to draft the proposal. She even plans on getting a taxi license.

After the City Hall meeting, Hayashi explained the challenges facing the pilot program over coffee in a downtown cafe. Before March 30, when the proposal is set for a final SFMTA vote, Hayashi must lock down lenders, create lending programs feasible for drivers, and set a fixed selling price for the medallions.

The blaring problem with the pilot program is a lack of committed lenders ready to finance cab drivers’ loans. Bank of the West has expressed interest, as well as two New York credit unions experienced in medallion loans and two San Francisco credit unions.

But how will those loans be structured? Who will qualify? How much of a downpayment will drivers need? And how, in the end, will this change the experience and qualifications of the drivers — and the quality of cab service in the city?

Hayashi sounds confident. “Good service depends on happy drivers. Our goal is to restore professional pride for the drivers, allow them to feel that taxi driving is a career and a respected profession,” she said.

But a lot — a whole lot — can go wrong with this major change in a complex industry that provides essential service to residents and tourists alike. And once the city moves down the path to private medallions, it’s going to be hard to go back.

Expanding movement

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

When University of California Berkeley students staged building occupations last fall, their furious, brazen response to startling tuition hikes and staff cutbacks captured the attention of the world, recalling the radical actions of earlier generations.

Yet the thrust behind the March 4 Strike and Day of Action, a mass mobilization for public education and services that is reaching into all corners of the state and spreading nationwide, appears to stem from widespread agitation that extends well beyond the flare-ups on college campuses.

"What’s historic about this is that pre-K through PhD has never walked together," said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, which represents faculty in the California State University system. "We have often been pitted against one another, and I think everyone feels finally, in the end, there is no difference in importance between pre-K and PhD. We need it all."

The historic new alliance faces an uphill climb in an environment characterized by a devastating budget crisis at the state level. California — the world’s eighth-largest economy — hovers around 47th in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending, and the most recent wave of budget rollbacks has cut to the bone.

Students and teachers across the Bay Area argue that with dramatic slashes in funding, the educational system is failing youth. Class sizes are ballooning to claustrophobic levels, students are unable to take their desired courses, fees are going up, bathrooms are getting cleaned less frequently, and staffers are getting stressed by overwhelming workloads. "Classes are jam-packed," Taiz says. "You have kids sitting on the floor. You have students just begging to be allowed in a class."

As University of California students decry a 32 percent hike in fees, the California State University system is suffering from damage inflicted by 2,000 faculty layoffs over the past year. The San Francisco Unified School District, meanwhile, is staring down an estimated $113 million budget deficit over the next two years, and 900 layoff notices recently were issued to teachers, librarians, secretaries, and other school employees to warn them that their jobs could be slashed by the end of the school year.

When San Francisco’s school district faced a gaping budget shortfall during the last budget cycle, it was propped up by a combination of Rainy Day Fund reserve dollars and stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With no such safety nets in place this time around, anxiety levels are higher and the outlook is uncertain.

March 4 is shaping up to be more than an opportunity to vent frustrations to elected leaders. Instead, organizers describe it as a rallying point for a movement to defend public education that has caught on like wildfire, uniting people from different worlds. Pickets and rallies will be staged throughout the region. Thousands are expected to swarm Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Students from a handful of East Bay campuses are organizing marches to Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. Students and faculty from Berkeley will be boarding buses to take the message to Sacramento. The Oakland Unified School district will host a districtwide mock "disaster drill" to call attention to the disastrous budget. Even public transit activists opposed to the latest round of Muni service cuts and fare hikes are joining the protests, hoping to expand the discussion to support vital public services (for details on these and other events, see "Alerts" opposite this page).

"We’ve never gotten this level of activism over anything in SF since I’ve been here," says Matthew Hardy, communications director for United Educators of San Francisco. "There’s a growing movement for progressive taxation and budget reform instead of draconian cuts."

Taiz, who teaches history at Cal State Los Angeles, described March 4 as an opportunity to fill a void in leadership. "Historically, in these moments where ordinary people step up to the plate, you end up leading the leaders," she said. "We are kind of shocked, but in truth, we do know what has to be done." Quality education isn’t just important for young people, but for society as a whole, she argued. "I am a baby boomer, and if the folks coming up behind me don’t have really, really good jobs, I’m going to be eating dog food. Because those are the people who pay Social Security and pay the taxes."

In the week preceding March 4, teachers and students throughout the Bay Area were in a frenzy of preparation.

Carlos Baron, a theater professor at SF State, was wondering whether the grand procession of papier-mâché puppets his theater students will unveil on the March 4 Day of Action should take a V-shape or some other form. "The main puppet is the Draculator," explained Baron, a Chilean who directed plays in the Salvador Allende era before he began teaching at SF State in 1978. "It’s a cross between the Terminator-Governor and Dracula. But also it doubles as a banker and a general."

When asked how funding cutbacks affect students, Baron didn’t hesitate. "It impedes the creation of a positive vision for themselves and this society," he said. It stunts "the development of the imagination," he added. "We are trained as individuals to accept our failure and our smallness because we’re familiar with it. They don’t want an educated population, a sensitive population, a dreaming population. Would we select Schwarzenegger?"

Nicole Abreu Shepard, a first-grade teacher at Buena Vista Elementary in San Francisco’s Mission District, was collecting permission slips from parents to take her students to a rally and march down 24th Street. "The entire school is walking out," Abreu Shepherd said. Buena Vista’s art program exists solely because parents volunteer their time, she explained. More than half the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and many incoming kindergarteners or preschoolers are new to the English language. Now there are proposals on the table to increase kindergarten class sizes to 25 or possibly even 30 students. "It’s sort of tying their hands behind their back and asking them to teach on one foot," she noted, and worried about the eventual result. "It’s going to be harder and harder to keep parents who could afford private school in a public school system."

Meanwhile, at the UC Berkeley campus, Krystof Cantor was sitting behind a table heaped with piles of radical literature bearing titles such as "After the Fall: Communiques from an Occupied California." Cantor, who earned his PhD in vision science in 2005, was joining student organizers in making one last push to drum up student interest in March 4 events at a multi-faceted event called "Rolling University." Late on the evening of Feb. 26, a dance party on the Berkeley campus morphed into a street riot — replete with ignited Dumpsters — in downtown Berkeley. The incident attracted media attention and drew public criticism from administrative officials.

The radicalized student movement that has erupted on the UC Berkeley campus is "very much about seizing power," Cantor told the Guardian several days before. "It’s been disruptive, it’s been militant, and it’s been creative. That’s very scary," to the administrators the movement is targeting, he added.

That focused pressure on UC administrators sets these students apart from the coalition of UC Berkeley faculty members and student government members and allies who are coordinating bus trips to protest in Sacramento March 4, he explained. "Sacramento’s not innocent, but it’s not like the administrators are just doing what they have to do," he charged, pointing to new construction projects on campus even as workers are hit with layoffs and furloughs, plus an increasing trend of privatizing on-campus jobs and services. "You can save the public sector by pouring money into it. But it won’t work if the people in charge … want to privatize everything."

Jasper Bernes, a graduate student in English who was seated next to Cantor, noted that the occupation tactic is catching on at other campuses. "I have no doubt that March 4 will greet us with news of many occupations," he said.

Baron, the Chilean theater professor, noted that some SF State students had occupied a business school building in protest of budget cuts. "They were pissed," he said. "They wanted to do something radical. They really inconvenienced a lot of people — but they took chances nonetheless. I went there, and I locked arms with them for awhile." At the same time, he wondered about how effective it was, he said.

And for all the months of preparation and visioning, Baron said he also wonders what will ultimately be borne out of the marches, rallies, pickets, and procession of lovingly crafted street puppets he helped breathe life into. For all the hard work and planning, he says, "My problem is not so much March 4. It’s March 5."

Questioning Prop. 16

4

rebeccab@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY In Sacramento, at a Feb. 26 joint legislative committee hearing about Proposition 16, a ballot initiative that Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. plans to sink $35 million into, PG&E executive Ed Bedwell found himself in the hot seat. Sen. Mark Leno and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, who both represent San Francisco, joined Assembly Member Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) in grilling Bedwell about an initiative that seems to be aimed directly at the efforts of San Francisco and Marin counties to establish alternative power providers to PG&E.

"What this measure is really about is limiting competition," Leno charged as the hearing got underway. "It’s not about anything else, right? In effect, this will do nothing but limit competition."

San Francisco and Marin are both in the process of creating community choice aggregation (CCA) programs, public entities that would offer electricity from clean, renewable technologies. Prop. 16, on the June ballot, would require two-thirds of voters to approve CCAs.

None of the state’s other investor-owned utilities have supported into the initiative, but representatives from the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayer’s Association joined Bedwell in testifying in favor of Prop 16.

Bedwell said he didn’t believe there is any motive behind it, a statement that prompted laughter from the audience. He argued that Prop. 16 would "give Californians the right to choose who would serve them." He quoted a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business who said CCA is "fraught with danger" and added, "We couldn’t agree more."

But if Prop 16 passes, the likelihood that San Franciscans will be able to choose between PG&E or a power provider that offers 51 percent green electricity will be significantly decreased. And if PG&E rates continue to climb, customers will have no choice but to go along for the ride with this energy monopoly.

Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network who testified against Prop. 16, said PG&E has requested rate increases amounting to 30 percent by 2013. In rural communities where unemployment is high and farmers rely on energy-intensive water pumping for irrigation, these ballooning energy costs would hurt the economy.

Michael Boccadoro of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association, an organization representing 40,000 growers that usually partners with PG&E, testified against Prop. 16. "This will have a chilling effect, not just on CCA, but on the irrigation districts as well," he said. In the midst of a recession, "we’re in a very significant water crisis," he said. "Rate increases have a chilling effect on the farming community because we’re paying for higher-priced power from PG&E and we have to pump groundwater."

Paul Hauser, representing municipally-owned Redding Electric Utility, testified that if customers in his economically depressed territory were paying PG&E prices instead of the municipal rates, they would pay an extra $440 per year.

"Never … have I seen political activity by a regulated utility so far outside the bounds of acceptable conduct as PG&E’s sole sponsorship of the Constitutional Amendment politely referred to as Proposition 16," said John Geesman, former executive director of the California Energy Commission. Geesman noted that PG&E Corp. derives all its funding from PG&E Co., which is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, meaning ratepayer dollars are being siphoned into the $35 million devoted to the Prop 16 campaign.

"It ought to be illegal to take ratepayer dollars and use it against ratepayer interests," Geesman said.

San Francisco Sup. Ross Mirkarimi testified that the opposition could never amass as much funding for a fight against Prop. 16 as PG&E will spend to promote it. "It should be laughed out of the political arena anywhere near Sacramento," Mirkarimi said.

Yet it’s moving forward. Despite stern warnings from Leno that PG&E is flouting a state law saying utility companies must cooperate fully with CCA programs, Bedwell was free to leave after the tough questioning session from elected officials. Clustered in the hallway just after their pro-Prop. 16 testimony, the men in expensive suits were the ones laughing.

Still defying gravity

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By Brady Welch

news@sfbg.com

For more than a decade, a curious scene has greeted viewers looking upon the old Hugo Hotel at Sixth and Howard streets. A bright green couch lurches precipitously from the building’s corner window. Packs of reading lamps are scaling the building’s outer walls. A floor or two up, another couch, some coffee tables, and one of those old and impossibly heavy television cabinets appear to contemplate jumping from the fourth-story rooftop. No prank of the homeless, this precarious assemblage — wow, that’s a dangling claw-foot bathtub three stories up — is the Defenestration Project, the work of Bay-Area artist Brian Goggin.

“I never thought it would last,” Goggin recently admitted to us. In fact, the project wasn’t supposed to last for more than six months. “The clock and armoire were built for the project. But the bathtub is an original from the Hugo, and all the others were salvaged from the street or found in thrift stores.” It is a testament to the project’s sheer fortitude against the elements — and its quirky appeal — that Defenestration will celebrate its 13th anniversary March 5 at 1:AM Gallery, located directly across the street from the installation.

The event will be a retrospective-cum-fundraiser for a proposed $75,000 restoration Goggin has titled “Project Restore Defenestration” that includes illuminating the lamps and installing an LED strobe in the hulking television set. “We’re making sure that all the pieces are looking good and in some cases even better than they originally looked,” he said.

A few pieces of furniture already have been removed, many needing to be entirely rebuilt. Others will be restored while remaining affixed to the building, requiring boom lifts and scaffolding. Overall, these will require resealing, repainting, fiberglassing in some instances, and in the case of the couch, getting covered in a new gloss of latex (as a preservative). Goggin estimates the restoration will take from one to three months, and he may even add some entirely new pieces to the installation.

“We want to see it vibrant again,” he said. For the gallery show, he plans to have individual pieces of furniture on view with the intent that patrons will sponsor them. “We’re hoping to get the funding and support, so by the time the rain stops, we’re funded and ready to go. If we don’t, maybe it’s time for it to come down.”

And come down it eventually will, though not for lack of funding and support. In October 2009, a court ruled that the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency could condemn and acquire the building under eminent domain for $4.6 million. Though the agency’s plan is to build much-needed affordable housing in the area, the sale represented the retreat of any protective cover the building’s original owners, the I.M. and S.I. Patel Living Trust, inadvertently provided for the artwork.

The Guardian spoke to Jeremy Sugerman, Goggin’s legal adviser, who was able to confirm that the artist always had a loose agreement with the Patels whereby they reserved the right to notify the artist to take down the work for any reason or lose title to it. So when the Redevelopment Agency purchased the building, the notice from the Patels came due.

Sugerman and Goggin then went directly to the Redevelopment Agency and pleaded with them to let the building and art stay until a new development was solidly in the works. A raggedy Hugo Hotel with couches and reading lamps welded to its side, they argued, is easier on the eye than an empty hole in the ground. Sugerman told us that the agency was immediately receptive. A month after the purchase, SFRA commissioners approved a permit stipulating that the work could stay hanging for a minimum of 18 months.

Then again, any demolition of the building will require a litany of proposal reviews, permits, and budgeting that could take longer than the 18-month lifeline. In other words, Defenestration will continue to occupy the same conspicuously abandoned and, depending on whom you ask, dilapidated building at the corner of Sixth and Howard.

Originally funded by a combination of maxed-out credit cards, a $3,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, “sweat equity” from more than 100 volunteers, and a staggering $14,000 raised on the project’s opening night, Goggin — understandably — doesn’t envision the same type of institutional support existing in today’s economy for his present renovation. Still, he’s positive. “I feel like this can be done,” he said, adding that $75,000 “is not an outrageous amount to be raised. It’s much less than Burning Man projects that only stay up for a few days.”

Which got us to wondering how in the heck Goggin came up with the idea of Defenestration — a word that means throwing someone or something out a window — in the first place. “I was an apprentice to a sculptor in Europe for a number of years, helping him set up shows, and he invited me to go create an installation in Paris,” Goggin told us. “There was this one area where they were demolishing 18th-century buildings, and I could see remnants of the walls and portions of the staircases and tiled elements of the bathrooms and old shelving. Through the course of imagining what could fill that vacant space that so many had lived in, life and form created a drama.”

For years, it was a drama that played out solely within the artist’s head. But Goggin eventually received the NEA grant, and like a kid who just received his allowance, went shopping around. “I just started knocking on doors, asking people who had buildings if they’d be interested as a base for this installation,” he told us. “Most owners were interested in the idea but then, when they found out what would be involved in installing the piece, became less interested. After I was told off a 16th time, I was riding my bicycle by the Hugo Hotel and I noted the sign.” The sign Goggin is referring to is still there. Posted for potential buyers of the building, it reads: “LOT & BUILDING for SALE. Limit ‘130’ ZONED: RC. 3 HEIGHT,” and lists a fax number.

“It looked vacant, so it seemed like a good option,” he said. “I sent them a proposal.”

Sumati Patel, the daughter of the buildings owner, loved the idea, and over the course of a few weeks, convinced her father that having Goggin work on the building would ultimately be advantageous to the real estate. Squatters had become a problem since renovations on the building had stalled in the 1990s. “Lots of squatters,” Patel told us. “Tons. They’re pooping and peeing. They would have rallies. It gets tiring. It gets expensive.” Under the artist’s agreement with the owners, Goggin sort of took responsibility for the building. “If a squatter got it in, Brian would go over there and take care of it,” Patel said. And how does she feel the project turned out? “I remember once picking up my AAA magazine and seeing an article about Defenestration and showing my dad, like, ‘See?'”

The agreement between Goggin and SFRA to keep the work hanging certainly testifies to the success of the project. It has become part of the neighborhood, and although its days are numbered, perhaps they will be brighter than ever before.

Bill Bennett, Public-Interest Fighter, dies at 92

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On the front page of the Oct. 19, l988 issue of the Guardian, we ran a big picture of Bill Bennett with a caption that read: “Bill Bennett, the only public official in California to take on PG&E.” The California Public Utilities Commission was poised to make yet another multibillion giveaway to the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — and not one public official in San Francisco was on hand to monitor the CPUC hearings and testify about the horrible impacts the rate hike to pay for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant would have on the public. Our editorial noted, “The only public official in California who has taken on the case is Bill Bennett, a member of the State Board of Equalization and a former member of the CPUC, a determined old warrior who fought Diablo from the start and continues to do so, on his own, against the odds and at considerable personal cost.” William Morgan Bennett, the public official who for more than five decades fought the corporate goliaths, died Feb. 9 at his home in Kentfield after a short illness. He was 92. Today, there are other public officials out there fighting PG&E, but there is nobody who could take on PG&E and its private utility allies as effectively as Bennett.

For the full obituary, see the Bruce Blog at sfbg.com