Volume 44 Number 25

See you at the bar

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By Allan McNaughton

This week, San Francisco and the world said goodbye to a good friend, a true gentleman, and a diehard rock and roll fan. Bruce Roehrs, columnist and reviewer for Maximumrocknroll magazine and a staple on the local punk rock scene, passed away peacefully at his home. The exact time and circumstances of his death have yet to be determined.

Roehrs was born in Philadelphia and spent his childhood in Fort Myers, Fla. His mother, Elizabeth, raised him and his younger brother, Ted, in a single-parent household. He was proud to cite her as the main influence on his life, and the many strengths of Roehrs’ character (his manners, work ethic, optimism, and loyalty) are a testament to her parenting. In the mid-1960s, he attended the University of Miami, where his interest in basic three-chord rock progressed into a passion for all forms of jazz, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. After college, he spent time in Gainesville, Fla., and then Tucson, where he drove a Yellow Cab. Wherever he lived, he had to be close to a major city, where he could be sure to catch live music.

Roehrs moved to San Francisco in the early 1980s and soon became a fixture on the punk rock scene. His obvious passion for rock ‘n’ roll led to him being drafted by Maximumrocknroll founder Tim Yohannan to write for the magazine. His enthusiasm for the music he championed jumped off the page from his first reviews until the day he died.

In Roehrs’ most recent column for the magazine, the April issue, he froths at the mouth over the recent reunion of New York hardcore pioneers Agnostic Front while still devoting dozens of column inches to obscure punk, skinhead, and hardcore bands from Australia, Germany, and Boise, Idaho. His columns earned him thousands of fans all over the world. The massive outpouring of tributes that have appeared online since his passing give some idea of this love and respect. The stories his friends are sharing continue to give more insight on his unique personality, from the time Grand Funk Railroad gave him a bunch of acid to sell and he came back with $8 (he’d been giving it away to pretty girls), to his weekly grocery deliveries to a 90-year-old woman in his union. He always had a firm handshake for the fellas and a charming word for the ladies.

Roehrs’ many friends in San Francisco knew him as a fixture right in front of the stage whenever a great band was playing. He was a true music fan, from the latest just-out-of-the-garage projects of his drinking buddies to international stars like Motorhead, Cock Sparrer, and the U.K. Subs. He traveled extensively to pursue his passion, from flying to Texas or London to see his favorite bands, to driving through the South following his beloved AntiSeen.

While most of us find that our music tastes get mellower with age, Bruce joked that his tastes got harder, faster, and louder as he got older. He had less time for “wimpy shit” like the Undertones, although I know he always retained a soft spot for the Fall. He grabbed life by the neck the same way he would get you in an affectionate headlock if he saw you in the pit. He was also a longtime member of the Rumblers Car Club, was known to enjoy surfing and skiing, and could hold a reasoned conversation on pretty much any topic connected to history or current events. Still, nothing could top listening to loud, fast music over a couple of beers.

Roehrs will be sadly missed by his brothers Ted, Christopher, and Robert, his union brothers from San Francisco Carpenters Union Local 42, his brothers from the Rumblers CC, the staff and shitworkers of Maximumrocknroll, and his massive family of friends and fans on the international music scene. I’ll end this the way he would end his column: See you at the bar, you fucks!

For updates and memorial information, see www.maximumrocknroll.com

Inspirationstitute

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I don’t do regrets, but I do wish that I’d arrived in San Francisco early enough to catch more than the hot tail end of the Popstitute years. (A show of Popstitute-related archival objets d’art is on display at Goteblud starting Sat27.) In another way, though, the Popstitute era continues, perhaps more forcefully, now. Whether or not the participants have ever encountered or read about Popstitute, the spirit of the postmodern — savor the late ’80s-early ’90s-ness of that term — music-art-and-protest group is reborn in various forms within the most fab current Bay Area happenings, from the Thrillpeddlers to Hunx and His Punx to High Fantasy.

The past year or so has seen Marc Huestis’ 1982 new wave movie Whatever Happened to Susan Jane get a digital facelift, and Patrick Cowley’s 1976-79 recording project Catholic introduced to different generations thanks to Honey Soundsystem. For the thirstiest seekers left in SF and its stronger wings, the time is right for a fresh taste of Popstitute, and “Boredom=Death: The Popstitutes 86-95” is set to deliver the DayGlo dyed-hair mania to old friends and lovers and new eyes. On display at the zine treasure trove Goteblüd, it promises a barrage of ready-to-rule-today paper mementos, as well as banners, photographs, and Mylar photo ornaments. Opening night deserves to be a scene. A happening. An event that inspires wild ideas that bloom into wilder actions.

It’s overly simple to call Popstitute a punk and new wave next-generation answer to the Cockettes, even if there are corollaries between Hibiscus’ role as the Cockettes’ chief fount of inspiration and the late Diet Popstitute’s (a.k.a. Michael Collins) galvanizing role in Popstitute the band, club(stitute), and overall entity. The Goteblüd show is accompanied by a terrific fluorescent zine that gathers flyers (featuring Alvin Popstitute, now a writer), newspaper articles (by Don Baird and others), and zine excerpts, which all hint at Popstitute’s untamed variety.

The “Boredom=Death” zine includes some fantastic pages from Tantrum, a zine put together by Tyler (a.k.a. Tyler-Bob, or Tylenol) Popstitute. Behold Tyler’s drawing of Truthstar the Unicorn — Tyler was way ahead of the unicorn trend curve — bungee-jumping with Yoda and current 73-year-old-of-the -moment Yoko Ono. Clip out his mortifying Madame mask and wear it to a party. A few years back Butt magazine included a photo of one of my favorite art acts ever in SF, Tyler’s amazing H.R. Giger-like gay male circuit queen gym body, which was plaster cast and made from a latex-like material. I remember running into Tyler one night at a SoMa club when he was wearing it. It was pure Popstitute art: irreverent, brilliant, pop-influenced in a completely inventive and unpredictable way, both fun and scathing at the same time. Like Popstitute, it wasn’t sterile art for art’s sake. It was art brought to life.

 

BOREDOM=DEATH

Sat/27, 6-8pm (continuesw through May 29)

Goteblud

766 Valencia, SF.

www.goteblud.com

Volume 44 Number 25 Flip-through Edition

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From Russia with … mutants?

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Metro: 2033

(4A Games, THQ); Xbox360, PC

GAMER Ukrainian developer 4A Games is a minnow in an industry dominated by krakens, so it’s heartening to see a small, Old World studio deliver engrossing product in the form of Metro: 2033. Based on a novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro takes place in a postapocalyptic future. Nuclear winter has driven the population of Moscow underground, into the city’s vast subway system, and the survivors are beset from all sides by Communist fanatics, neo-Nazis, and bloodthirsty mutated beasts.

4A’s homebrewed game engine is a little rough around the edges, but it does an impressive job rendering the junk-strewn, densely populated Metro stations and the haunting, pitch-black tunnels that connect them. The title makes good use of the source material to create a convincing, cohesive atmosphere, drawing on local voice actors and maintaining a firm commitment to first-person storytelling reminiscent of Valve’s Half-Life series.

The voice-acting is just one component of the game’s excellent sound design, which cannily reinforces the eerie atmosphere. Whether it’s the unexpected howl of a mutant leaping at your throat, the off-key singing of a Communist guard about to get a throwing knife in the back, or the cacophony of haggling voices that welcome you a populated station, the game’s auditory cues can be almost as important as its visual wizardry.

Working in concert, audio and video can make Metro: 2033 a terrifying experience indeed. During intermittent visits to the city’s bombed-out surface, the player must wear a gas mask. Spend too much time breathing Moscow’s toxic atmosphere, and you will soon notice your character’s ragged, wheezy breathing as the air filters start to give out. If you’re attacked while wearing the mask, it will crack, impairing your vision, and soon you’ll find yourself battling enemies while staving off asphyxiation, unable to see them through your cracked, foggy gas mask — not for the faint of heart.

Unique touches like the gas mask, the hand-powered generator that juices your flashlight, and the pneumatically-pumped silent sniper rifle add convincing weight to the game’s dystopian world. The latter is particularly useful due to the game’s heavy emphasis on stealth — running and gunning through the Metro is a good way to get killed. This is partly due to a design decision, and partly due to the game’s wonky shooter mechanics. Some enemies require an exorbitant amount of ammo (which is doubly frustrating — ammo doubles as in-game currency), and it’s often difficult to tell whether or not a shot aimed at a fast-moving target has hit or missed. But these and other qualms are eminently forgivable in a first-time developer. Despite the game’s flaws, 4A definitely hits the target.

I to eye

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The white scrim separating the audience from the stage is an immediately impressive aspect of Marilee Talkington’s solo autobiographical play, Truce, in which the American Conservatory Theater–trained actor, director, and writer recounts growing up and coming to terms with a rare congenital disease — cone-rod dystrophy — that has gradually been taking her eyesight from her. The milky white gossamer screen creates a permanent distance, a soft distortion, through which the play attempts communication, understanding, and empathy.

There is also visible, at different times and to varying degrees, a vibrating, pixilated cloud projected onto the center of the scrim, mimicking the central vision that has by now irremediably disappeared (Talkington explains that she is now legally blind in her peripheral vision and without sight in the center of her vision). At the outset of the piece, we see Talkington slowly crossing at an angle downstage, set and lighting designer Andrew Lu’s solitary spot trained on her from behind, as she heads cautiously away from the light into the shadow cast by her own form. This initial movement is symbolically rich, full of an inner truth but at the same time misleading, since Talkington soon proves a boisterous, agile stage presence.

The disease, for which there is no current treatment or cure, was inherited from her mother, who also has it, and much of Talkington’s at times moving but dramatically uneven play is given over to working through the difficult relationship she has had to the feisty woman who gave her life as well as her powerfully alienating condition. But despite the seeming bleakness of the subject matter, Truce is full of vigor, humor, and, as the title suggests, gradual acceptance and, at the least, a preliminary form of reconciliation.

Talkington, moreover, is a charmer — a necessary survival trait, she suggests, of growing up with radical difference. That difference is at no time more apparent than in the eye contact Talkington describes maintaining with any seeing interlocutor, even though her only chance of taking them in visually is by approaching them from her periphery. This specific but central compromise remains a poignant summation of Talkington’s ongoing negotiation of the “I” and the “eye,” of the territory she stakes for herself in a sighted world.

On the largely bare stage, Talkington moves about in varying moods of determination, exuberance, tentativeness, and isolation (the spare but apt choreography is by Sonya Smith), at several points softly iterating the math of ocular deterioration, measuring the growing gulf between herself and the visible, “20/10, 20/60, 20/100, 20/400 …” In this West Coast premiere, directed by Crowded Fire’s Marissa Wolf, the action unfolds smoothly, often cleverly, with a minimum of fuss — like the way Talkington scoots around the stage on a wheeled stool, a collapsible white cane held out before her, crooked like handlebars, as she describes her legally blind mother’s bravado cruising on her electric three-wheel cart.

The negotiation with her mother, like her negotiation with the sighted world, takes a variety of forms in Talkington’s narrative, but the script (cowritten with playwright Justin Quinn Pelegano) proves rather too heavy with explication and underscored morals — as well as admittedly often charming vignettes from her past, including a deservedly starring role on her high school basketball team — and as a result forgoes, despite the evocative aesthetics of the scenic design, prolonged immersion into the profound existential meaning of her journey. Instead, its confessional quality can feel forced. Talkington is a capable mimic, but her mother does not quite sound like a fully-fledged character here, despite being at the thematic center of things. Talkington’s is a dramatic and challenging story, but we only just begin here to sense the implications it might have for us on the other side of the scrim, at the edge of the light.

TRUCE

Through April 3

Wed-Sat, 8 p.m., $10–$25

Noh Space

2840 Mariposa, SF

(415) 826-1958

www.vanguardianproductions.com

Endless hookup

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Where are the turntablist masters of yore? They’ve gone missing, replaced by the likes of the Hood Internet.

It’s true. The art of the hip-hop mix, once protected by the Skratch Piklz and the X-Men (a.k.a. X-ecutioners) and the Beat Junkies and Triple Threat, has returned to the province of the sound editors, just like in the early 1980s. The problem was the turntable itself. A painful lesson of the ugly aughts was to never trust technology. Hardware emerges, changes, and is destroyed according to consumerist tastes. The alchemical idea may be subject to manipulation by the likes of Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, and Eric Schmidt, but it is eternal in its adaptability to any mechanical form.

So while scratch DJs take to message boards and cry over Panasonic allegedly discontinuing its Technics 1200 line (which turned out be a false rumor), rockists and electronic heads open their laptops, launch Serato and Reason software, and get to mixing. It’s not like those turntable masters aren’t missed, though. While they spun and cut soul, funk, and hip-hop with finely nuanced techniques, like 16th century woodblock cutters, the new editors and mashup artists skip stones across genres, leaving small ripples of pop delight that quickly dissipate.

It’s a different aesthetic, that’s for sure. The Hood Internet consists of Chicago-based musicians Aaron Brink and Steve Reidell. Both moved there after finishing college — Brink at the University of Michigan and Reidell at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Initially they formed May or May Not, a “noisy pop band,” as Reidell called it, and made beats on the side for rappers “you would have never have heard of” until producers like Girl Talk and Them Jeans inspired them to create the Hood Internet Web site in 2007. Using Acid Pro and Ableton Live, they flooded the Web with smart, imaginative mashups of the Shins vs. Crime Mob, and Jim Jones vs. Daft Punk. It was a hobby: Reidell was an art director for Smart Bar, and the site’s array of cheeky collages is testament to his superior design skills. Brink is a clinical psychologist. They’ve performed around town and occasionally landed spot gigs on the weekend, but this spring marks their first extended national tour.

“I left my job earlier this year to be able to focus on the Hood Internet,” Reidell says. He’s calling from a video set in Chicago, and the resulting clip will be for “Chicago 3016,” a new single the Hood Internet produced with local MC Kid Static. It’s a reference to Chicago’s failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. “There’s a great hip-hop scene here right now, from Kid Static to the Cool Kids and Kidz in the Hall. Freddie Gibbs, he’s from Gary, Indiana, but he’s basically Chicago since we’re such close neighbors.”

Unless they’re showing some hometown love — they recently mashed together buzzing Chi-town newcomers Bin Laden Blowin’ Up’s “Chi Don’t Dance” with Broken Bells’ “Citizen” — the Hood Internet tends to use radio hits, flipping recognizable raps over rock and dance tracks. Hence, The Hood Internet Mixtape Vol. 4 includes “Bring the Tabloid Sores,” where Chuck D.’s stentorian boom from “Bring the Noise” rides over Nosaj Thing’s eerie electronic remix of Health’s “Tabloid Sores.” Less brilliantly, it also includes “Swaggin’ Out,” which pairs Soulja Boy’s muttering boast from “Turn My Swag On” with Joe Jackson’s smooth jazz-pop “Steppin’ Out.” “There’s a handful of irony in what we do. The mashup itself is an ironic form of music,” Reidell says. “We live in an age where anyone can do it if you’ve got Garageband and download some a cappellas.”

The Hood Internet operates in a pop context. It isn’t simply plundering black music for source material and reshaping it for white hipsters. Collected into the ongoing Hood Internet Mixtape series, these sounds represent how much of the audience, black and white, consumes music today. To the duo’s credit, their approach is more innovative than the hordes of mixtape DJs that artlessly smack Lil Wayne “exclusives” together with little care for flow or context, or even the old-school jocks who scratch and blend like it was still the ’90s. But these tracks also demonstrate how hip-hop has been reduced by much of its audience into a series of sugary sensations — again, the skipping stones analogy. It’s music for partying, getting laid, and working out at the gym, not for intellectual exploration. You can’t blame the Hood Internet’s clever and innovative response for the current pop miasma, though.

“In recent months I’ve digested the new Freeway & Jake One album, Pill’s 4180 mixtape and Freddie Gibbs’ mixtapes as intensely as the CFCF and Caribou album,” Reidell answers when asked if he takes hip-hop seriously. “That said, a lot of pop music — and a lot of hip-hop falls into that being that it’s popular — is disposable. It’s not because it’s hip-hop, it’s because a lot of pop music is disposable. The Hood Internet mixes a lot of that stuff. But while we might mix Gucci Mane one day, we’ll mix a really thoughtful Anti-Pop Consortium track the next day.

“I think there’s some value to it because it’s introducing people to things they might not otherwise have heard,” he continues. “It’s time-stamped to a certain degree, and it’s for partying. But there’s value to that, too. People like to have a good time.”

THE HOOD INTERNET

With Tobacco (of Black Moth Super Rainbow) and the New Slave

Sat/27, 10 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

www.bottomofthehill.com

A lost San Francisco saga

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arts@sfbg.com

Part one of “A lost San Francisco saga” ran in the March 17, 2010 issue of the Guardian. It can be found at www.sfbg.com/2010/03/16/lost-san-francisco-saga.

MUSIC In 1971, Herman Eberitzsch Jr. III decided it was time to record and somehow save his organic experiences of playing at clubs and avant-garde cafes in the city. He assembled a quartet from his “grapevine of connections” — including good friend Joe West, a Rasputin-looking guitarist, whom Eberitzsch originally met at the Post Office — and booked sessions at Roy Chen’s recording studio in Chinatown. With no previous studio background, Eberitzsch rehearsed the musicians, taught them the arrangements, and guided their inspiration in a quest for abysmal funk and thunderous jazz. These sessions produced an enchanting trip into “Rapture of the Deep,” a left-field meditation on rebellious passion, “Funk Punk,” and the ethereal moral fable “Dark Angels.” The unrestrained songs pull you head over heels into their internal worlds; their oceanic tides carry you great distances. Still, Atlantic Records saw no commercial success in the tapes, finding them much too experimental, and shelved the project.

Undaunted, Eberitzsch invested in a new quintet, Motion, “to bring some bread to the table.” He met Coke Escovedo along the way and joined his frenetic Latin outfit Azteca in 1973. During the first rehearsal, Eberitzsch called out “I got a tune!” as soon as a silence held the conversation. He taught them heavy joints that “came from outer space” — including “Life is a Tortured Love Affair,” “Make It Sweet,” and “Rebirth.” These songs would help land the contract for Coke’s seminal solo debut. They demonstrated Eberitzsch’s gift for concise, soulful lyricism, a quality he would cultivate over the course of his songwriting ventures.

Feeling reassured of his own talents and industry potential after such a success, Eberitzsch moved on to spearhead a new project with his close friend and lead singer, Johnny Lovett. He herded the grapevine once again, including songstress Linda Tillery, and brought Motion to Wally Heider studios in 1974. Always one to incorporate past experiences, Eberitzsch fused the propulsive pathos of Latin funk into his broad-flowing musical direction. The verdant, multilayered arrangements and groove-laden percussion were augmented by surging horn riffs and a lush string section.

These songs by Motion were tighter in form, shaped in part by Eberitizsch’s focus on concise lyrical narratives: testaments of joy and calls for solidarity in the face of injustice. It was the wake of the civil rights era, although America’s failed political experiment of dreaming national unity did not so much destroy idealism as redirect its boundless strength to a more grassroots level. “Our music was simply a product of people coming together in a community and expressing ourselves,” says Eberitzsch. “It was a groundswell of inspiration.” But Columbia also “didn’t hear it at the time,” and another set of tapes found their way to Eberitzsch’s basement.

These setbacks still didn’t disillusion Eberitzsch. He recorded at Different Fur Studios in 1976 and established the loose framework for an adventurous modern soul sound he would continue to develop and transform for the next five years. He worked extensively on Lee Oskar’s solo effort and collaborated once again with Greg Errico. He would record more challenging work in the late 1970s and early ’80s, fragmenting and experimenting with untapped techniques of musicality. (In 1984, he made “Morons,” a confessional tale about rude, party-crashers who eat all the furniture — something of a coarse minimal-wave racket destined to go viral on tomorrow’s blogosphere.)

 

A WISE INNOCENCE

“The music was very innocent,” Eberitzsch says. “We worked from a standpoint not so much of knowledge but of an ignorance of where we were going. We really were crawling to stand, to walk, to run. It was pure.” But by forsaking formula and conventional pop structures, Eberitzsch was able to craft a unique outsider sound hinged on his restless yet determinate spirit to create new dimensions of possibility in his music.

Eberitzsch brought that explorer’s ethos to the studio, where he played around with recording techniques. With a child’s amusement, he used an old- fashioned Fender Echoplex in “Rapture,” and applied a screwdriver to his Hammond keyboard to create wobbling noises. He then manipulated the tape loop, searching loosely for “weird sounds” that would produce warped textures. Those strange, idiosyncratic effects helped to shape the psychedelic, expanding quality of the music without smothering it in abstraction.

“It’s still earthy because it was manipulated not by machines, but by the hands of the monkey man,” Eberitzsch says with a laugh when discussing such techniques. He claims inspiration for his hands-on approach to technical play came in part from the infamous introductory scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the protohuman chimpanzee throws a bone into the air and it turns, in a twist of editing magic, into a spaceship.

Eberitzsch’s creative hunger also guided his poignant lyrical ability. He wrote ebullient songs that rejoice in the sweeter tastes of life, with invigorating messages about overcoming life’s struggles. In “Life is a Tortured Love Affair,” singer Johnny Lovett laces his words with an incisive despair, yet still gathers the vigor to belt out, “You’ve got to keep improving.” The mood is matched in “Dark Angels,” where fluttering keys charge an uplifting groove contrasted by a mournful guitar riff.

Soulful compositions such as “Life is a Tortured Love Affair” and “Dark Angels” possess different shades of tension, suspending aggressive and nurturing forces in a dynamic balance of sound and energy. While reaching to empower and gathering the courage to hope, the songs returned to sober realizations about “the nonresolvable conflicts of civilization.” Yet even today, Eberitzsch exudes a wise innocence, remaining simply and impossibly idealistic. “I wrote songs that have great messages about how it could be better,” he says.

Ecstatic that the world finally wants to hear his earthy psychedelia, Eberitzsch searches for some reason behind the new twist in his fate. “There’s a need for music that was from an era with a lot of vibrancy, wonderful messages, incredible originality, and spiritual feeling,” he says. Eberitzsch is right. His music not only embodies that iconic era of the Bay Area, but also, like a prism, distorts and enriches it from a new angle. It reminds us that much of this particular history has yet to be heard — let alone written. “That’s why the tapes ended up in the garage,” he reflects. “I thought somebody, some day, is going to end up in the garage and blow the sand off this cryptic message.”

Part one of “A lost San Francisco saga” ran in the March 17, 2010 issue of the Guardian. It can be found online at www.sfbg.com/2010/03/16/lost-san-francisco-saga.

Family Groove Records is releasing the HE3 Project: Chapter One on March 30. For more information, go to www.familygrooverecords.com.

 

Past, present, future

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Am I the only one who feels an overwhelming sensation of near implosion when listening to Flying Lotus? I’m not talking about Steven Ellison’s crackling, low-end production that leans on off-kilter percussion while swerving on warm synth melodies like the late great J Dilla tipping on trucks (although that liquidic soul is mad electrifying too). Ellison also summons this other lunatic style that seeps into my android brain right when I least expect. It’s a sort of smattering mercury-noise that builds to the point of maximum intensity and then falls away suddenly, disclosing a clearing of purplish-orange haze.

All that cyberkinetic production, however, works in tandem. Ellison’s gift is not so much that he can shock and awe with singular frenetic beats, but that he can craft a holistic mood that engages, holds, and in the thick of its hypnotic momentum, casts an entrancing spell. I’d make the case that the effect is a movement of dislocation and reembodiment, parallel to the transcendental objectives behind experimental forms of both spiritual and space jazz recorded in the late 1960s and ’70s. There’s no question that Ellison channels the celestial blood of Alice Coltrane (his great-aunt and perhaps greatest muse) in his testament. And just as those avant-garde jazz legends made headway finding musical freedom within intergalactic space-ways (the infinite within), Ellison charts something of a fractured spatio-temporal exploration himself.

I’m going to take a leap (if you will allow a journalist such an experiment) and tentatively pretend that the titles for Fly Lo’s records map the spiritual blueprint shaping his music. We’ll see if we can make some progress with this approach.

Ellison’s first full-length record, 1983 (Plug Research, 2006), marks the temporal origin of the 27-year-old and a return to a certain aesthetic sphere of possibilities. Ellison graces this effort with video game bleeps and zaps, that stark retro-futuristic sound of 1980s sci-fi film and monstrous joystick machines. But the drenched robotics nourishing “Massage Situation” and the warped sonic bits that weave through arresting drum programming in “Vegas Collie” don’t mine nostalgia. Instead, Ellison recontextualizes familiar sounds in magnetic ways, breathing life into vacuous drones from the past. History is revived to reimagine the future and overlay a richness of sensual value onto the present.

In 2008, Flying Lotus made ground with Los Angeles (Warp), a pioneering effort that won the ears of hip-hop heads, pitch-forking indie rockers, and electronic bass fiends/geeks alike. The record seems to have quickly become one of those pivotal works of art that serve as a reference point for nearly everything new school in electronic music. And Los Angeles, the city itself, the last stop on the New World’s burdened journey for Manifest Destiny, has also become such a symbolic environment for today’s musical wanderers. It’s a city of tense contradictions: endless opportunity and suffocation, cosmopolitan diversity and isolating segregation, an artificial neon-lit haven placed in a sun-choked desert by the sea. It’s not so different perhaps from that Old Word paradise mucked with broken dreams — Jerusalem. Such is the spatio-origin and milieu for Flying Lotus’ second full-length, as we hop on a sizzling “Camel” and “Melt!”; disintegrate into fuzz-drenched traffic on “Orbit 405”; and open our new metallic bodies in the whirlwind swamps around a “Parisian Goldfish.”

The third record on the horizon, Cosmogramma (Warp), set for release in the U.S. on May 4, breaks away from particular spatio-temporal signifiers to reach for the universal. Ellison baptized the record as a “cosmic drama,” and the title itself suggests nothing less than a grammar of infinitum. The single “Computer Face//Pure Being” is perhaps the best example yet of the antagonistic force that fuels Flying Lotus’ adventurous work. It incites a centrifugal experience — perilous and transformative — out of malfunctioning and utterly animate computer jazz. Yes, the age of machines with soul has dawned.

FLYING LOTUS

With Kode9

Sat/27, 9 p.m., $17.50

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

www.mezzaninesf.com

Moore and less

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FILM The people in Atom Egoyan’s movies have a tendency to be hiding things — pieces of their history, damages inflicted along the way, and complex motivations that are keys to our understanding of how the lives in a knotted web intersect and affect one another. We follow these expressive yet withholding characters, often back and forth through time, and collect subjective and fractional versions of the truth. Like the films themselves, Egoyan’s touch can be heavy — the characters saddled with exposition, the presence of coincidence at the intersections verging on the magical. He’s also proved that his intricate planning can backfire spectacularly (see: 2005’s Where the Truth Lies). But the results of his maneuverings rarely feel inconsequential: we are told, and have reason to believe, that our actions, our ideas, and even our untrustworthy narrations are freighted with meaning, for ourselves and those around us, in our peripheral vision and far out of sight.

The theme of undependable narrative surfaces in Egoyan’s newest film, Chloe (a remake of French director Anne Fontaine’s 2003 Nathalie), but here the artifice — of the premise itself — is so hard to move past as to feel at times like a barrier, rather than a passageway into the interior of a handful of lives. We do see interiors, in the beautiful, chilly household of Catherine (Julianne Moore), a Toronto doctor who suspects that her professor husband, David (Liam Neeson), may be cheating on her. And one of the more haunting images in the film is the painful sight of Catherine drifting through their home at night, barred from the rooms where her husband and teenage son (Max Thieriot) carry on their private, unknowable lives.

Why this unbearable situation would lead her to contact Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a beautiful young call girl she just met, and hire her to engineer an interaction with David to test his fidelity, is not quite clear. Nonetheless, one masochistic transaction leads to another, and in a series of lavish and exquisite settings, we, along with Catherine, are treated to the erotic details of Chloe’s encounters with David, which begin to charge the connection between the two women as well.

Moore’s work is as fine as ever, and she invests with pathos the role of a woman anxiously examining both her marriage and herself for signs of frailty and decay. But Egoyan has settled for something here: trying to beguile and seduce us. And in the end, this is more disturbing, and surprising, than the rather sharp turn Chloe makes into the landscape of the erotic thriller, where it takes the shape of an unbelievable story we’ve been told many times before. (Lynn Rapoport)

CHLOE opens Fri/26 in Bay Area theaters.

To read Mara Math’s interview with Atom Egoyan, go here.

Rainbow flex

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM The tagline “in glorious Technicolor” was never done more justice than when cinematographer Jack Cardiff was behind the camera. Whether summoning vertiginous Himalayan vistas, making a pair of scarlet ballet shoes outshine Dorothy’s ruby slippers, or accentuating a female star’s sensuality while also capturing her intelligence, Cardiff’s mastery of light and his bold, at times hallucinatory, use of super-saturated color put him in a class above in a field already filled with so many greats.

The Pacific Film Archive pays tribute to Cardiff starting this week, in a modest five-film retrospective, “Life, Death, and Technicolor,” that kicks off with the three films he shot for fellow Brit Michael Powell — A Matter Of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948) — that represent the pinnacle of his talents. Certainly, the series’ other two films, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954), have their charms (namely, Ava Gardner). But in a long and distinguished career that started in the silent era and included stints with Huston, Hitchcock, and Welles, as well as lensing some of the screen’s great female beauties, Cardiff’s work with Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger remains unsurpassed.

Like the art historical precedents he cited as influences — apparently, his knowledgeable explanations of Caravaggio and Vermeer’s technique landed him the job with Technicolor — Cardiff understood the affective power of color and used his palette to ratchet up the emotional intensity of Powell and Pressburger’s lush melodramas to new extremes. The red lipstick that Kathleen Byron’s near-hysteric Sister Ruth applies before Deborah Kerr’s shocked Sister Clodagh in Black Narcissus; the marine blue of the fairy tale gown Moira Shearer’s dancer wears to meet the ballet impresario in The Red Shoes; and the sudden floods of color in A Matter of Life and Death during its periodic switchovers from black and white stock.

And yet Cardiff’s technical achievements extend far beyond his eye for hue. All the Pandoran CGI eye-candy generated by James Cameron’s digital production army dulls in comparison to the kaleidoscopic Himalayan countryside, with its snow-capped crags and verdant foliage, that Cardiff conjured up entirely within a London studio for Black Narcissus. Likewise, the ballet-within-the-film sequence in The Red Shoes, which takes us beyond the theater proscenium into a gorgeous and melancholy land of a thousand dances, stands alone as one of the single-most gorgeous 20 minutes ever committed to film (as those who recently caught a restored print of the film at the Castro Theatre can attest to).

Indeed, the superlatives come easy with Cardiff. If you go to one of these films, you’ll see why. Your senses will thank you.

LIFE, DEATH, AND TECHNICOLOR: A TRIBUTE TO JACK CARDIFF

March 25-April 17, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249

www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

 

Viva, chicas

0

SUPER EGO Your kiki, cross-eyed club correspondent just returned, ass-tanned and full of mescal, from Mexico D.F. You’d think with all the lithe, young emo Altinos running around the bright and trash-strewn apocalyptic neighborhoods, their anime hair-spikes poking through the eye-level smog, there’d be a hopping alternaqueer club scene. But no — although Marrakech mixed in some thrashy Mexi-core with retro-electro hits and Tom’s Leather Bar (no leather, but lots of opera and a surprise Dutch blowjob — don’t ask) served up bored go-gos so over it they surely must have been parodying the concept of bored go-gos. Tal vez no pensaron en esto. And El Viena brought some boot-kicking banda, bringing to mind our own outstanding La Bota Loca party, Saturdays at Oakland’s Club 21 (www.club21oakland.com).

Otherwise, it was wall-to-wall Gaga. I blame NAFTA. Still, the drag saved it. The regal, bodystockinged reinas of Butterflies had me choking on my free peanuts, singing along to Celia Cruz, and the heartfelt, ramshackle performances at Oasis floated on a sea of waved white hankies and tossed carnations. But the most magical moment happened at Club 33. Mexico City nightlife is in turmoil at the moment — a recent spate of violence has forced bars to close earlier than usual. So, at precisely 2 a.m., to avoid police attention, we were locked inside the tiny, dark, hipster-strewn 33, speakeasy-like, while a dead-on drag impersonation of ranchera legend Paquita La Del Barrio (who recently said she’d rather see a child die than be adopted by a gay couple, que?) crooned us into ethereal swoons beneath a dinky mirrorball. D.F. I love you.

 

SWEDISH INVASION

OK, I’m officially weirded out that Swedes are everywhere again. But hey, if they can Nordic-track the hip and the hop like rhymesters Looptroop, Adam Tensta, and Timbuktu and Chords then I’m all blue-eyed with it. They’ll be showing off the multicultural side of state socialism, with hyper-eclectic styles and jokester flair.

Thu/25, 9 p.m., $10. Club Six, 66 Sixth St., SF. www.clubsix1.com

 

THE NEW 7TH HEAVEN ROLLER DISCO

Rollerskating parties — CELLSpace’s Black Rock Roller Disco and Mighty’s Roller Disco have tackled them, nightlife-wise, to insanely popular and hilariously hip-bruising effect. Now Mezzanine tosses its sequined fedora in the rink, with glittering DJs Conor, Chris Orr, BT Magnum, and Jordan. Crack that whip.

Thu/25, 9 p.m., $5 entry/$5 skate rental. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

 

MOSSMOSS

Local quality techno whiz Alland Byallo’s Nightlight Music label (www.nightlight-music.com) has been hosting a primo monthly throwdown every fourth Friday at 222 Hyde, and the goodies keep coming — this month features a two-hour set by local blorpy stabber Mossmoss, whose playful glitches always pep my roll.

Fri/26, 10 p.m., $5. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com

 

PRINCE LANGUAGE

If you missed DJ Greg Wilson at Triple Crown last week, I weep for you. The tasty, spooky rare funk, disco, global, soul, and New Wave re-edit wave keeps rolling over us, however. New York hottie Prince Language keeps it tight, chopped, and almost familiar — from Sharon Redd to the Rapture, Ahmed Fakroun to the Droyds.

Fri/26, 10 p.m., $8. SOM, 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com

 

TRANNYSHACK DAVID BOWIE TRIBUTE

Yes, we may have seen it all from the Trannyshackers — but trash drag can never really jump the Trannyshark. It’s foolproof! One of the club’s bloody jewels in its crown of regular tribute nights is this stardust fete, featuring, like, 40 queens and DJ Omar. (Watch for my favorite thin white drag, Kiddie.)

Fri/26, 10 p.m., $12. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.dnalounge.com

 

OTTER POPS

Gays: they are animals. Yet they’re so full of benefits. Combine your love of skinny, hairy queers with your yearning for philanthropy at this fuzzy shindig. Lightly furred cuties take the stage for a “Hot Otter Contest” (hopefully manscape-free), while $10 beer bust proceeds go to benefit the Marine Mammal Center. DJ Bus Station John helps you lick down to the stick. Purposes for porpoises? Positively.

March 27, 9 p.m., free. Lone Star Saloon, 1354 Harrison, SF. www.lonestarsaloon.com

 

STARGATE

If you haven’t checked out Temple’s sci-fi warper “Stargate-Portal Room” designed by artist Xavi, then this hyperdimensional celebration is calling out to you across the galaxy. Get alien with tech-breaks, acid crunk psych-heroes an-ten-nae, Deru, Lotus Drops, Phalanx, Drag’nfly, and dozens others.

March 28, 10 p.m., $5. Temple, 540 Howard, SF. www.templesf.com

Nihon Whisky Lounge

0

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE Among the stand-tall, manly-man libations, none stands taller than whiskey, or (for Caledonophiles) whisky. Caledonia was the Roman name for Scotland, of course, and in Scotland the manly men drink whisky. And wear kilts. What is the implication of all this for us fey, pampered, urban Americans? At the edge of our very own Mission District, a five-year-old restaurant called Nihon styles itself a “whisky lounge” and serves the small plates known to the Japanese as izakaya. So: take Japanese food, present it in a gorgeous, moody setting, sprinkle far and wide with Scotch whisky (including 400 varieties of single malt) as if watering your Chia Pet, and and lo! you get hipsters. Hipsters don’t wear kilts — yet — but they do like to wear their tight-fitting shirts untucked. Why?

Nihon’s whisky installation is impressive: a soaring architecture of bottles behind the bar. The bottle battlement dominates the main floor (which you enter through a set of huge, frosted-glass doors trimmed with wrought iron) and rises nearly as high as the mezzanine, the place to go if you seek some coziness. On your way up, note the porthole and, at the rear of the second floor, a semi-private lounge set with comfy chairs and a sofa under exposed roof joists. The only fly in this rich design ointment is the view: the windows gaze onto the unromantic intersection of Folsom and 14th streets and the immense, neon-glare parking lot of Foods Co. No wonder the panes are hung with screens of fine steel mesh.

Izakaya-style food reminds us that Japanese cuisine includes cooked as well as uncooked items, although it’s probably a stretch to call Nihon’s cooking Japanese in any purist sense. Evidence of California whimsy is laced throughout the menu, perhaps nowhere so plainly as in the rolls, which bear clever names and, like the fancier sorts of burritos, emphasize variety and plenitude. The thunderbird roll ($16) is a cornucopia of tempura soft-shell crab, gobo, and daikon sprouts, topped by a roof of eel, avocado, tobiko, and a glaze of tsume — a sweetish sauce made from boiled eel. A bit too sweet, I thought, like over-honeyed barbecue sauce. Better was the quite spicy samurai roll ($13) with spicy tuna, rounds of pickled jalapeño pepper the color of black olives, daikon spicy sesame sauce, and habañero tobiko. The chili heat here was measured but intense and sustained. The kamikaze roll ($15) resembled the thunderbird more than the kamikaze, with the chief difference being salmon instead of tuna. Salads abound. A familiar wakame edition ($5) mixed the blackish threads of seaweed with baby greens for a nice textural contrast; the salad looked like a small wig someone had plugged into an electric socket. We did find the dressing too salty. The Nihon salad ($8), by contrast, a tangle of somen noodles and cucumber slices within a ring of thin-sliced, nori-wrapped rice coins, benefited from a white miso dressing that, like ponzu sauce, found a balance among salt, sweetness, and acid.

You can go spicy or not. On the mild end of the scale, we found that a plate of broccoli and cauliflower florets ($5) had been roasted just enough to give them a hint of give and char while (as with a proper stir-fry) leaving them with plenty of snap. Not much else was done to them beyond a splash or two of ginger-soy sauce; they were left to speak for themselves. At the far end: Dr. Octopus ($10), a row of broiled octopus flaps seated on cucumber coins and squirted with some sort of fiery red chili paste. Red chili paste can be a doomsday weapon, obliterating every flavor around it — and that was pretty much the case here, although (also as here) such obliteration can be exhilarating. Notable was the tenderness of the octopus, which can toughen so quickly when cooked. If it’s beautifully tender, who cares about some chili overload?

Green tea might offer many health benefits, but it’s problematic as a dessert player, with a tendency to be pale and bitter at the same time. Green tea ice cream? Wake me up when it’s over. So when our attentive, smiling server mentioned green tea cheesecake, I saw a set of lips across the table crinkle with distaste. But the cheesecake ($4 for a slender slice) turned out to be sublime, with the tea’s edge wrapped in creaminess and sweetness, like a chef’s knife in a handsome leather sheath. Across the way, those skeptical lips smacked with pleasure.

NIHON WHISKY LOUNGE

Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 5:30 p.m.–2 a.m.

1779 Folsom, SF

(415) 552-4400

www.nihon-sf.com

Full bar

AE/MC/V

Noisy

Wheelchair accessible

 

Neighborliness

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS My soccer team is good. They win without me by gaudy scores like 18-1. When I’m there we still win, mostly, but with better manners. And sometimes we tie or even lose, but only when I’m there. This makes me feel needed.

After games the guys drink beer out of Dixie cups then go grocery shopping, because they’re married, and the girls, being single, go out for brunch or lunch or breakfast and talk about the guys. We wonder what they said, since they speak Portuguese and we don’t. My assumption has always been that they are yelling at me.

They play hard, but then they seem so nice, with their Dixie cups and shopping lists. Of course I am in love with my city right now, and all the people, grocery stores, and restaurants in it.

Even Tartine, which is the view from my new window, and on weekends especially is loused with line-loving wahoos. I love Tartine because I ate a sandwich from there once, a few years ago, and as I recall it was pretty fucking great. But also I love them because they represent a very special challenge to me, and you all know how I appreciate a good challenge.

So: my long-term goal in my new go-round at 18th and Guerrero streets is to annoy Tartine out of business. Just for fun! And not by saying mean things about them either. Obviously some talented folks are putting out some cool beans over there, to line ’em up like they do. No, I have in mind a more neighborly way to undo them.

First, let me fire up my tiny shitty old studio-size gas oven, then I will have to learn how to make morning buns better than theirs. Check that, then I will have to learn what a morning bun is. Hold on a second.

(Insert sound of idle whistling here)

I’m back. OK, mmm, hold on a second, my fingers are pretty sticky. OK, don’t worry, this is not a review of Tartine. I’m not going to say a word about their morning buns, only that it might take me a long time to put them out of business. But that’s fine, because time is a thing I have. Time, a tiny oven, and the means to make a cup or two of coffee.

My plan, then: to swing my gated window open and play my steel drum so enticingly that everyone standing in Tartine’s line will cross the street to see what gives. Then … I will give. I will offer them morning buns, mugs of coffee, and semi-intelligent conversation, for free of course, and so dazzled will they be by my neighborliness that they will eventually forget all about why they came to the Mission in the first place.

It’s a dream, and a distant and misty one at that, I know.

Meanwhile, for the last couple Sundays while all of Chestnut Street has been lined up outside my Mission District window, I have been on Chestnut Street having brunch, lunch, and breakfast at the wonderful and empty Chestnut Diner.

My new favorite restaurant! It was turned on to me by Alice Shaw the Person, who, having a car, carts us to and from our soccer games, which have been conducted lately in the Marina.

The omelets are great. The hash browns are fine. The décor is fantastic: light-blue-topped chrome stools around a J-shaped counter, with booths on either side.

I just can’t recommend the burgers, because they don’t understand rare there. Listen:

Me: Can I have that rare please?

Waitressperson: Half?

Me: (thinking, half?) Huh? No, Rare.

She: Oh, well.

Me: No, rare.

She: Half?

And so on until I gave up and ordered an omelet. But she looked sad about this, so I explained what rare meant and ordered a bacon burger. That way, when it came overcooked (which of course it did), it would still taste good. Which of course it did. *

CHESTNUT DINER

Daily: 7 a.m.–3 p.m.

1312 Chestnut, SF

(415) 441-1168

MC/V

No alcohol

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

A chillwave primer

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Chillwave is atmospheric and can fill the background, washing over you and allowing you to float through the world, or it can work as foreground with drastic beats that make you dance. Chillwave relaxes and excites. You feel it all around yourself. It’s multifunctional: the perfect backdrop for walks through SF on blue-sky days, for dipping your toes in the sun-speckled sand, for stealing kisses with your lover, for dance parties. It’s faded and fuzzy synth-pop of blissed-out beauty.

The group of artists who’ve been dubbed “chillwave” or “hypnagogic pop” or “glo-fi” or whatever disparate adjectives you want to throw at them includes Georgia’s Washed Out, South Carolina’s Toro Y Moi, Denver’s Pictureplane, Brooklyn’s Small Black, New Jersey’s Memory Tapes, Texas’ Neon Indian and Los Angeles’ Nite Jewel (the latter two perform at Mezzanine Fri/26). Most of these acts emerged in the summer of 2009.

It’s difficult to categorize or unify a bunch of disparate artists. Unlike musical movements of the past, chillwave doesn’t spring out of a locale, like grunge did via Seattle. Instead, these bands share aesthetic similarities that were discovered via the Internet, rather than through a physical community in the old fashioned sense.

The “alt” blog Hipster Runoff recently wrote that the Wall Street Journal announced that it (HR) is the christener and thus, in some sense — but which sense? — the creator of chillwave. This meta-moment examines how hype and musical genres start and what, if anything, make them real.

Carles of HR pointed to overlapping aesthetic qualities and to the fact that these acts tend to be single musicians working mostly with a laptop. These artists blend guitar, synth, and vocals into a hazy amalgam coated in the effects and echoes of their lo-fi approach. Looping and sampling are common features, which makes chillwave highly referential, and casts a déjà vu sense of familiarity, like dusk’s repetitious shadow, over the music.

Chillwave sounds sun-bleached, like it was once bright but is now faded, and it plays on nostalgia and sentimentality, perhaps recalling an idealized youth. When you can hear the lyrics despite the layer of dust they’re covered in, you make out simple repetitions of phrases such as “don’t look back” (to quote Toro Y Moi’s “Blessa”).

Washed Out, a.k.a. Ernest Greene, lived by a peach orchard with his parents after he graduated from the University of Georgia because he couldn’t land a job. With much free time and open space, he spent late nights writing and recording music himself. This approach is common — chillwave is largely composed of one-person bands, individual musicians.

Which leads to another key point: chillwave’s DIY recordings and distribution. Seattle’s the Stranger proposes that chillwave is a reflection of our ailing economy, which has left college graduates with no job prospects or money, because this music can be made easily and cheaply. These broke musicians look back to a brighter, more sequined past, particularly to the 1980s, both for its sound — New Wave samples are common, as are shoegaze-style sound-walls and Eno-esque ambient moments — and perhaps because it is the era when most of these musicians were young. It’s a perfect combination of old-meets-new, of vintage and technology.

Washed Out originally expressed no interest in touring, partially a result of Greene’s ambivalence about how to perform his music in an interesting way. Eventually he decided to recruit a backup band, a decision Neon Indian also made. He got his friends/touring mates Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner of Small Black to join him at South by Southwest and now comes to SF for the tail end of his North America tour with them. Next he’ll be opening for Beach House, whose dream-pop is a clear predecessor to chillwave’s aesthetic.

Greene says that while living at home in Georgia. he made his tracks to help him feel good and to allow him to escape. Through WO’s pastel pop, we can enter clairvoyant-style into an enchanted world of pulsating beats, precise hooks, and hazy mantras. *

WASHED OUT

With Small Black, Pictureplane, and Young Prisms

Sun/28, 7 p.m., sold out (limited tickets at door)

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

www.rickshawstop.com

Street view

37

By Skyler Swezy

news@sfbg.com

The Haight-Ashbury is out-of-control, according to some recent news reports and testimony by cops and other backers of the proposed sit-lie ordinance. They report street toughs brazenly smoking crack, blocking sidewalks, spitting on babies, and intimidating citizens with pit bulls.

As this story goes, dangerous thugs have replaced harmless beggars. They’ve gone from annoying to menacing, a change police say they’re helpless to address without legislation banning sitting or lying on sidewalks, which Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief George Gascón introduced March 1.

Proponents and opponents have attended City Hall meetings and voiced their arguments in the media. The police, homeless rights advocates, Haight Street business owners, residents, Newsom, and columnists have spoken their piece. But what do the street kids, who haven’t been heard from in this debate, have to say for themselves?

So on March 19, I spent the day walking the Haight to get the perspective from the street, asking kids what they think is going on?

It’s 3 p.m. and I’m standing on the southwest corner of Central and Haight streets next to a Bob Marley mural painted on the side of a liquor store. A cop car cruises by. With no thugs or panhandlers in sight, I head toward Golden Gate Park along the south side of the street.

On the corner of Masonic and Haight, there are some well-kept teens perched against the wall of X-Generation. Clutching shopping bags, they are not panhandlers, but they sit on the ground because Haight Street doesn’t have benches, except for one on Stanyan facing the park.

These kids clearly aren’t the targets of this ordinance, so I move on to the notorious Haight-Asbury intersection, which is also devoid of vagabonds. An old woman and young boy, both well-dressed, squat in front of Haight Asbury Vintage, watching shoppers pass by.

Almost at the end of the block, outside a closed storefront, a scruffy young man is perched on a back pack holding a battered piece of cardboard that reads “SMILES/HAVE A NICE DAY!? OR NIGHT.”

“You have a beautiful smile,” he croons to passersby. Most stare straight ahead, some smile without making eye contact; a woman in her 30s asks to take his picture. Jay is 18, has a scarce beard and crust in the corners of his sleepy pale blue eyes. He is from Ohio and says he has been bumming on Haight and sleeping in the park for about three months. He hitchhiked to San Francisco because his sister is “a back-stabbing crack head, so I left.”

He doesn’t think panhandling has become more aggressive recently, but that business owners “just want to be asses.” He’s not much of a talker and more interested in smiles, so I leave Jay to his work.

On the next block I meet Kevin Geoppo, 31, cupping a handful of coinage, sitting on the window ledge of a storefront under renovation. Kevin says he’s a heroin addict who grew up in Orlando, Fla., and made his way to San Francisco years ago. He’s obtained an SRO and primary care doctor, but can’t get a job.

He sees both sides of the sit/lie law debate. “Those who sit and lie do cause a lot trouble, stir up energy that isn’t needed to [hurt] tourism, and [threaten] violence, so I can understand why this is being talked about,” he says.

At the same time, he is wary of how the police would use the law and at whom it would be directed. He doesn’t think things are getting worse, but he says the panhandling and menacing attitudes of some kids ebb and flow as different groups pass through the city.

“A lot of these yuppie, rich, bureaucrat people are trying to clean up everything because if you take a left or a right anywhere off Haight Street, it’s rich people living in those houses,” he says. I let him get back to business and proceed down the street.

I decide to drop into Aub Zam Zam cocktail lounge for a veteran bartender’s opinion. Owner Bob Harpe is behind the horseshoe bar, slicing limes and chatting with long-time Haight resident Paul Zmudzinski.

Harpe doesn’t have problems with aggressive or congregating street kids. “If you ask them to move and treat them with a general level of respect, they go on their way.”

He believes the rising number of homeowners in the neighborhood and businesses catering to a more affluent clientele are behind the recent uproar. “The rents on Haight Street have escalated dramatically, so boutique owners have to pump up their prices. Then you get more affluent shoppers who are turned off by the skuzzy-looking street kids coming through,” Harpe says. “The whole thing is kind of disgusting.”

Back outside, I head to the next block and come across Kasper who is “flying a sign” that reads “SEX!!! NOW THAT I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, SPARE ANY $$$?”

He is a 33-year-old traveler who just landed back on Haight, having spent the last three weeks in Berkeley. He’s headed north to a 420 Rainbow gathering and then to Idaho for work. With combat boots, Army pants, and a neck tattoo, he’s a tough-looking guy with a soft-spoken voice.

“They don’t understand all the money they’ll lose. We panhandle money in the street and then spend it in the stores here,” Kasper says. “Those liquor stores rely on street people.”

He says many tourists come to the Haight to see people playing guitars, banging drums, and selling their hemp trinkets. And when it comes to instances of violence or aggressiveness, those are limited to a few of the community and could happen anywhere, regardless of a sit-lie law.

“These things are heavy,” he says nodding to his backpack. “To have to stand, hold your straps, and fly a sign to get something to eat is just ridiculous.”

McDonalds is the last establishment before Golden Gate Park, which serves as a three-mile squatter haven stretching to the Pacific Ocean. Beneath the golden arches, three guys are singing an improvised McDonalds song, but two busted guitar strings kills their burger ballad hustle.

The three agree to an interview and form a semicircle on the sidewalk. Stoney, 19, the guitar player, is wearing sunglasses, a backwards cap, and is heavily scarred on his arms and neck. “Are you against weed?” he asks, before hitting a pipe carved from a deer antler.

Angelo, 23, is a self-dubbed vagabond originally from Virginia. He just got out of jail for selling weed to a cop in the Tenderloin. Nick, 18, wears a mighty Afro and says almost nothing.

Two bike cops zip up and tell us to move it. “You’re blocking the sidewalk,” one cop says. Everyone stands up. “It’s not illegal yet, dude!” Stoney yells back toward the cops as we cross Stanyan to enter the park.

Stoney and Angelo agree with each other that lawmakers are focusing on the bad actions of a few to push all street kids off Haight. “We have the right to use the sidewalk just like anyone else,” Angelo says. “It’s crazy, man. We’re all just fuckin’ a bunch of cells put together, floating around a ball of fire in space.”

The sit-lie ordinance could be considered by the Board of Supervisors next month. For details on a March 27 citywide protest of the measure, visit www.standagainstsitlie.org.

Shit show

5

By Brady Welch

 

news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Food safety groups complain that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has until recently been dumping its crap in the backyards and gardens of any residents who unwittingly asked for it.

The city calls this crap “biosolids compost,” and for Mayor Gavin Newsom and the SFPUC, it seemed like a green dream come true. But it turns out that putting processed human excrement into people’s vegetable gardens might not be the elegant — if somewhat gross — reuse strategy it once seemed to be.

The vexing sewage sludge left over after treatment and separation of the city’s wastewater was being treated, combined with woodchips and paper waste, and labeled compost so it could, according to the SFPUC’s Web site, “provide essential plant nutrients, improve soil structure, enhance moisture retention, and reduce soil erosion.” Not bad for the ultimate human waste product.

The problem, say groups including the Center for Food Safety and Organic Consumers Association, is that the SFPUC’s compost contains a host of other toxins and hazardous materials not necessarily originating with what the city’s granola-munching denizens flush down the toilet. In fact, a January 2009 Environmental Protection Agency study of sewage sludge from 74 treatment plants found, in nearly every sample, “28 metals, four polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, two semi-volatiles, 11 flame retardants, 72 pharmaceuticals, and 25 steroids and hormones.” Yikes.

“You name it, it’s in there,” John Mayer, said spokesperson for the Organic Consumers Association. The compost “is hazardous waste, and it’s absurd to claim that it’s safe to consume. No matter what the sludge processing industry claims, it is by definition dangerous.” The EPA report would certainly seem to support Mayer’s claim, except that it expressly stops short of doing just that, stating that the results “do not imply that the concentrations for any [substance] are of particular concern to EPA.”

Then again, it was the EPA that started promoting the use of biosolid compost in the first place, back in 1978. The only safety thresholds the agency sets for biosolids compost concern nine heavy metals and the elimination of pathogens — none of the flame retardants, steroids, semi-volatiles, and carcinogens found in their study — a standard that has remained largely unchanged for a decade.

But that’s only part of the story, because as it turns out, San Francisco’s sewage sludge isn’t that contaminated compared to the shit generated in other regions. “We found in our tests that it’s really low for all the emerging pollutants,” SFPUC spokesperson Tyron Jue told us, citing data listed on its Web site indicating that testing goes beyond what the EPA requires, and even beyond more stringent European Union standards. Jue even said that the SFPUC’s biosolids compost has “metal limits lower than in a daily vitamin, and lower or comparable to store-bought compost.”

Yet Paige Tomaselli of the Center for Food Safety understands the data differently. “San Francisco may test above and beyond the national standards. They may think their testing is green. But the truth of the matter is that that the compost they’re giving away is not generated here in San Francisco.”

Indeed, the sewage sludge the SFPUC tested is not the same stuff it was handing out for three years as “organic biosolids compost.” After the organic food industry complained, the utility recently dropped the “organic” designation, offering the admittedly sheepish defense that the label was meant to imply “carbon-rich,” a definition that would make, among nearly everything else, the Guardian you hold in your hands organic.

Jue told us that the utility spends over $3 million annually on its biosolids program, $500,000 of which last year went to contracts with Synagro, “the largest recycler of organic residuals in the United States,” according to its Web site. The compost in the SFPUC’s giveaways came from the corporation’s Central Valley Composting Facility in Merced County, where it was mixed with sludge from at least eight other counties, including municipalities whose safety requirements are nowhere near as stringent as San Francisco’s.

“The vast majority [of sludge] comes from Fresno,” Tomaselli said, adding that the SFPUC continues to cite its own numbers, “completely ignoring the fact that this sewage sludge comes from a city with agricultural and industrial toxins that may be going into the waste stream.”

Many of those toxins remain in the “compost” San Franciscans have been applying to their tomato plants. “You can cook it all day,” Mayer told us. “Those things aren’t going anywhere.”

Both OCA and CFS say that, given such a broad avenue by which toxic material could enter the SFPUC’s compost, the SFPUC is violating San Francisco’s environmental standards. For example, the opening chapter of the Environment Code for the City and County of San Francisco explicitly states that all members of the city’s government should employ the “precautionary principle” in conducting its affairs, requiring the city to err on the side of caution in environmental policy.

One sentence in particular would seem to address biosolids and the 2009 EPA study specifically: “Any gaps in scientific data uncovered by the examination of alternatives will provide a guidepost for future research, but will not prevent the city from taking protective action.” And in the case of so-called biosolids, protective action would seem to call for keeping this shit away from food.

Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst at the EPA and founder of the Superfund program, flatly stated to us over the phone that “there’s no scientific consensus that this stuff is safe. They test less than 1 percent of the stuff that has been tested to be in it.”

The health effects of even that 1 percent can be alarming. Of the nine heavy metals the EPA tests for, chromium is a known carcinogen and mercury can cause permanent nervous system and kidney damage. But if that stuff doesn’t kill you, prolonged exposure to low levels of arsenic, another heavy metal, “can cause a discoloration of the skin and the appearance of small corns or warts,” according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration Web site.

Considering that Kaufman works in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (as apposed to the Office of Water that oversees biosolids), we asked him how and why his own employer is encouraging the land application of something so potentially hazardous.

“I think it’s very similar to the reason why the government doesn’t ban naked credit-default swaps. You’ve got a situation here where the cheapest way to dispose of the sludge is land application,” he said. By giving away the sludge as compost, as San Francisco has been doing, “you can transfer liability from the government to the public where the stuff is ultimately dumped. There is tremendous economic pressure to keep the ball rolling in the same direction.”

A February 2008 ruling of 11th Circuit Court of Appeals would seem to bear this out. The case involved the McElmurrays, a family of farmers that allowed the city of Augusta, Ga., to apply biosolids on their land from 1979 to 1990. The sludge eventually poisoned their crops and even the cows who fed on them.

Citing Augusta’s lack of disclosure about the noxious effects of the sludge, the McElmurrays sought compensation subsidies under a 2002 Farm Bill, going first to the county, then the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, a state-level agency. After a number of back-and-forth denials and delays, the matter was appealed to the national USDA, which then sought the EPA’s advice for their ruling.

The court found that the series of opinions the EPA subsequently issued were unrelated to the case before the USDA and were nevertheless based on Augusta’s faulty land application data. “In short,” the ruling’s conclusion states, “it appears that the only persons to consider [the McElmurrays’] applications ended up ruling in their favor…. The USDA’s decision to accept a contrary decision, based on no review of the applications by the EPA, was arbitrary and capricious. The conclusions of the EPA were not based on substantial evidence.”

As for SFPUC’s biosolids giveaway, “They wanted a program that would green-wash this dangerous substance,” Mayer told us. “And they participated in this ruse for the benefit of Synagro. Even the mayor got pulled in.”

Tony Winnicker, the spokesperson for the SFPUC before becoming Newsom’s press secretary in January, told us the idea behind the program was a good one. “The spirit behind this is right, in terms of reuse and sustainability,” he said. “This was one of the PUC’s environmental initiatives from the beginning, and the mayor supports the agency’s efforts at environmental sustainability.”

But Winnicker said he was not aware that San Francisco’s well-tested biosolids were being mixed with those of other areas, and that Newsom would defer to SFPUC experts on how to handle the situation.

“I have no doubt that they tell people it’s biosolids compost,” CFS’s Paige Tomaselli told us. But she echoed the 11th Circuit court’s findings when she added, “On the other hand, I don’t think people know what that entails.”

This could be why SFPUC recently suspended the compost giveaways. “We’re reevaluating,” Jue told us. “What we’re trying to do is take a step back. We’re always looking at all the new information presented in front of us.” As for the utility’s record of disclosure, “We’ve always been very transparent with everyone coming to pick up compost. This is bringing awareness to an issue people don’t want to think about. [Sewage] doesn’t disappear. We have to think about it.”

So what’s to be done? Newsom has pushed San Francisco to the national forefront in sustainability and generating zero waste. Unfortunately, “they’re part of the wrong side of the sludge game,” said EPA’s Kaufman. “Is it possible to manage it better? Yes. Is there a black box to spin gold out of hay? No. Can one be invented in the future? Maybe.”

Kaufman found quite a bit of potential in the city’s successful green-bin composting. “San Francisco collects biodegradable waste material, good waste material, that can make very good compost,” he noted. “It’s not made from industrial waste; it’s made from real organic material. That’s not what the giveaway compost is made from. If San Francisco had taken what homeowners had put in for recycling and composted that and given that away, that would be fantastic.”

It would certainly have been better than the shit it has been giving away.

The new War on Fun

46

news@sfbg.com

For several years, the Guardian has been running regular stories chronicling what we’ve dubbed the Death of Fun, a trend of official crackdowns and shakedowns on people who throw parties and festivals in San Francisco. In the last year, that trend has started to morph into an often brutal War on Fun, with a growing list of atrocities and casualties associated with this overzealous new approach to killing the city’s entertainment industry.

Why this is happening is baffling to those most affected: nightclub owners and workers, party promoters, DJs and VJs, fundraising activists, and people just out to have a good time without being harassed by a cop. But in recent months, we’ve learned much more about what’s happening and who the main perpetrators are.

Two undercover enforcers have been at the center of just about every recent case of nightclubs or private parties being raided without warrants and aggressively shut down, their patrons roughed up (see “Fun under siege,” 4/21/09) and their money, booze, and equipment punitively seized “as evidence” (see “Police seize DJs laptops,” 11/24/09) even though few of these raids result in charges being filed in court.

Officer Larry Bertrand of the San Francisco Police Department’s Southern Station and Michelle Ott, an agent with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, are plainclothes partners who spend their weekends undercover, crashing parties, harassing disfavored nightclubs, brutalizing party-goers, and trying to send the unmistakable message that they’re in charge of San Francisco nightlife. Neither responded to our interview requests.

Isolated incidents of intolerant cops and NIMBY citizens who repeatedly complain about certain clubs or festivals has been a problem for years (see “Death of fun,” 5/24/06 and “Death of fun, the sequel,” 4/24/07). Top city officials have opted to cancel events such as Halloween in the Castro District rather than try to manage them better, and the nightlife community has tried to organize in defense of its interests (see “Fighting for the right to party,” 7/1/08) with mixed results.

But the personal War of Fun by Bertrand and Ott seems to have galvanized and united the nightlife and festival community like never before, leading to the creation of a new California Music and Culture Association and prompting threats of a federal lawsuit alleging the ABC-SFPD collaboration is a racketeering scheme designed to harass, disrupt, and extort people engaged in otherwise lawful activity.

The myriad horror stories associated with Bertrand and Ott have also finally begun to draw attention from the Mayor’s Office, which has quietly pushed the SFPD to rein in Bertrand and change its policies on raiding parties and seizing property. State Sen. Mark Leno also has gotten involved, brokering a March 12 meeting between club owners and Steve Hardy, director of ABC (which, in addition to cracking down on nightclubs — see “Busting bars,” 6/23/09 — has recently announced a campaign against fruit-infused liquor).

“They were going to see how they could unwind this a bit,” Leno told us, adding that he was “infuriated” by stories of abusive treatment of the public. “The fear that it spreads through the community is unacceptable.”

The question now is what Hardy, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and Police Chief George Gascón — who has ordered some crackdowns and wants greater authority to discipline problem officers — is going to do about it.

 

CHAOS AT A STUDENT PARTY

It was after midnight on Jan. 31 when Krystal Peak, a journalist with San Francisco State University’s Golden Gate Xpress, received a call from her managing editor. There was a commotion and a swarm of police cars outside a student party at Seventh and Minna streets near her home, and she was asked to investigate.

She came upon the aftermath of a melee between police and partygoers that had taken place after a fundraising event at a SoMa warehouse art space was upended. The benefit was organized to raise legal funds for students who staged a building occupation at the University of California at Berkeley, in defiance of budget cuts.

The event was clearly chaotic, and it’s hard to sort out exactly what happened and when. City officials say the partiers were throwing bottles and firecrackers at the police; people at the event say the cops started it all.

But the tales partygoers tell about the behavior of Bertrand and Ott, the undercover enforcers, are similar to a series of other stories involving the pair, stories published in the Guardian and elsewhere.

There had been multiple arrests by the time Peak arrived on the scene. Numerous witnesses asserted that things were going along without incident until a fire marshal arrived in response to a complaint, and in short order, two officers who’d been there in plainclothes for hours — Bertrand and Ott — began shouting, tackling people, and kicking in doors.

Police Chief George Gascón acknowledged that the department has been targeting underground parties. “We get a lot of resident complaints about it,” he said in a recent Guardian interview. “We’re talking about a lot of the underground parties, or the parties where the promoters are exceeding their authorities to a number of people.”

Several hundred attended this particular party. Of the 11 people arrested, eight were either detained or cited and released. None faced underage drinking or drug charges. At least five were charged with resisting arrest. One individual was charged with vandalism, two were charged with battery on an officer, and two detained for being drunk in public.

Peak began photographing the scene: busted-up chairs, uniformed officers guarding the entrance, police cars everywhere. She zoomed her lens to capture the wreckage inside. None of the uniformed officers seemed to have a problem with her — but when she spotted the undercover officers with exposed badges, that changed.

The cops broke through the door, yelling. “They said, ‘This is an investigation, you’re not allowed to be here.'<0x2009> she said. “We told them we were with the press.” They threatened to arrest her.

Shortly after, the plainclothes officers crossed in front of her to an unmarked car. She took another picture. Bertrand, a tall guy with a shaved head, allegedly turned and grabbed her arm, and both officers shouted at her. “[Ott] said to me, ‘Your flash has impeded my investigation,'” Peak recounted. She was cuffed and arrested on the spot, and her camera was confiscated.

She was cited for obstruction of justice, but the charges were dropped. And she got her camera back — but says the SD memory card, where all the photos were stored — was missing.

“I flipped [the camera] open … and found the SD card was missing,” she said. She asked Bertrand where it was. “He said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,'” Peak recalled. Bertrand, she recalled, then looked around at a group of officers watching the exchange, and announced, “This woman is refusing to leave. I’m going to have to re-arrest her.” Ott appeared, according to Peak, and insisted that there was no evidence the memory card had been in the camera in the first place.

“My camera will not ignite a flash unless there’s a memory card in there,” Peak explained. In the end, she left empty-handed — without photos of the undercover officers.

 

BUSTING DOORS

Earlier, when the party was in full swing, a 24-year-old California State University, Fullerton student visiting from Los Angeles says when the fire marshal entered, Bertrand flashed his badge, yelling at everybody to get out. “It was really aggressive from the get-go,” said the Fullerton student, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he had a pending legal case. “It’s very hard for me to describe the intensity to which this guy was busting down doors.”

Later, the young man from L.A. said, he was following people who left in a rush, and ran to catch up. “Shortly after, I felt a blow to the back right of my head,” he said. “My glasses flew off, and I was tackled to the ground. My forehead was being pushed straight into the ground and they were holding my hair. I kept repeating … please, I can’t see — I’m legally blind. I thought three or four officers were on top of me, and they were saying, ‘Fuck you, you little anarchist punk.'<0x2009>”

That’s when he said he felt a sensation like “a bunch of really intense bee stings on my left side, just above my hipbone.” He thought he was Tasered — and photos he showed us depict a skin burn. SFPD officers are not authorized to carry Tasers.

“It sounds like a stun gun, not a Taser gun,” Ken Cooper, a firearms and Taser instructor based in New York, noted when the incident was described to him.

When we shared the photos with SFPD’s media relations department, Lt. Lyn Tomioka noted, “I can tell you that we do not have any tool that would produce the type of wounds shown in the picture that you attached, or produce a stinging sensation.”

The L.A. visitor said he was delivered this explanation from an officer while in the holding cell: “One of your anarchist buddies must’ve had a Taser, ran over to you trying to get one of our officers, got you instead, and ran away.”

Cooper Brislain, a Web developer from Santa Cruz, told us his iMac was destroyed that night. A friend of the owners of the art space, he was there doing video mixing for the party, he explained. After the trouble started, he began carrying his computer and mixing equipment toward the door. “The uniformed officers were going to let me go. I told them, ‘I just came here to perform.’ They seemed OK,” he said. Then he encountered Bertrand.

He … grabbed me by the collar, led me over toward the wall, and sat me down,” Brislain told us. He says Bertrand and Ott seized his computer. Brislain says no charges were filed against him.

The morning after, he found that his computer had been smashed up. His friends found it in pieces at the bottom of the stairs. To this day, he says he has not been able to retrieve his ID, which was seized that night. “I tried calling [Bertrand] on his extension to leave a message and never heard back,” he says. “They told me he probably wouldn’t return voicemails.” The District Attorney’s Office has a different perspective. D.A. spokesperson Brian Buckelew said the partygoers were drunk and “going nuts on police.” People were throwing firecrackers, he said. “It obviously got out of hand, and people were throwing bottles at police,” he said.

The student from L.A. allegedly shoved a female officer, Buckelew said. According to the report, he said, police officers were taking someone into custody, and he tried to pull them free.

Nevertheless, even Chief Gascón agrees that it’s not okay to destroy someone’s personal property. “If in fact the allegations were proven to be the case that an officer took somebody’s laptop and threw it down the stairs,” Gascón told us, “that would be inappropriate, and that officer would be sanctioned accordingly.” He noted that he met with an attorney from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about a recurring trend of officers — Bertrand in particular — seizing DJ laptops at underground parties. “We’ve met with them and we’ve agreed to actually tighten up the protocols in how this would be handled,” Gascón noted.

 

A RICO SUIT

The list of local nightclub clubs that have been recently targeted by Bertrand and Ott or subjected to ABC sanctions is long. It includes Great American Music Hall, Slim’s, DNA Lounge, Mist, Whisper, the Room, Vessel, Azul, Butter, and Club Caliente (which closed down after its mostly Latino customers were scared away by repeated raids).

“Using the now familiar pattern and ruse of ABC authority, these raids have been without warrant and without probable cause, under the pretext of finding liquor violations,” attorney Mark Webb wrote in a claim against the city, describing the harassment of Caliente owner Maurice Salinas and later adding, “Despite numerous raids, the invading officers [Bertrand and Ott] managed to ‘uncover’ a single infraction: one customer used his brother’s ID card, claiming he was over 21 to gain entry. For this reason, Mr. Salinas was cited and fined, bullied, intimidated, and yelled at on the spot.”

Webb said such behavior isn’t legitimate police work, but unlawful harassment. In fact, this experienced litigator said it’s far closer to the shakedowns and extortion rackets familiar to him from the start of his legal career in the late 1970s prosecuting organized crime cases in New York City.

That’s why he’s threatening to bring a novel lawsuit against the city and ABC under federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, a law designed go after the mob, but which has since been adapted to target entities ranging from the tobacco industry to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Webb told us that interference with legitimate business operations, such as running a nightclub, is the essence of RICO suits. As part of the case, Webb plans to submit a surveillance video that shows Bertrand kneeling on the neck of bartender Javier Magallon from The Room and twisting his arm. Webb gave us a copy of the video.

Another element of making a RICO case is the use of intimidation and retaliation against those who complain — which was central to a March 17 SF Weekly story about promoter Arash Ghanadan being inappropriately singled out for arrest by Bertrand as retaliation for filing a complaint against the officer with the Office of Citizen Complaints.

Webb says he has a strong case that he intends to file soon, but that most of his clients just want the SFPD to rein in Bertrand and stop facilitating ABC actions. “I want to have a sit-down with Gavin Newsom,” Webb said. “I am calling on Mayor Newsom to come in and mediate what would be an expensive, divisive fight that will generate national interest … I think this thing can go way quickly without litigation.”

Newsom press secretary Tony Winnicker, who said Newsom has brought concerns about Bertrand to the chief’s attention, didn’t immediately embrace Webb’s offer. “The mayor would rather leave it to the chief,” Winnicker said.

So the question for Gascón is whether he’s willing to take on the cowboy cops within the SFPD’s ranks. After all, Bertrand is also on the San Francisco Police Officers Association Board of Directors.

The nightlife community is organized like never before and plotting its next move in fighting a war it didn’t initiate and barely understands. Whether that war continues now seems to be a question for the party crashers and their supervisors.

Editor’s Notes

6

Tredmond@sfbg.com

In 2003, after the United States invaded Iraq, a San Francisco Chronicle technology columnist named Henry Norr got fired for participating in an antiwar demonstration. Marching against the war, the Chron’s managers decided, was a conflict of interest. Although Norr didn’t write about politics, or international affairs, or anything other than computers, he was sent packing.

A year later, Chronicle reporter Rachel Gordon was barred from covering the biggest story in town — Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to allow same-sex marriages — because she’d married her same-sex partner. Again the paper’s editors went up on their big high horses and pronounced her conflicted.

So how come it’s fine for columnist and former mayor Willie Brown — who writes about politics all the time — to work as a flak for Pacific Gas and Electric Co.?

Brown was on hand to represent PG&E March 17 at a California Public Utilities Commission hearing on Proposition 16, a statewide ballot measure aimed at blocking public power. He sat with the PG&E executives and said in public that he was there on PG&E’s behalf. PG&E has been a client of his private law firm, and he acknowledged that the company "sought my counsel" over the past few years.

Sounds like a lot more obvious conflict than anything Norr or Gordon did.

But guess what? The Chron has a different standard for celebrity former mayors who carry water for corrupt utilities. When we asked Chronicle editor Ward Bushee about Brown’s obvious conflict, here’s what he said: "Willie Brown writes a popular weekly column for the Chronicle, and readers frequently tell us that they look forward to reading his informed insights and entertaining opinions on issues ranging from politics to movies.

"Our readers like his column to a large degree because he’s the Willie Brown with a long and colorful political history and many connections," he continued. "Willie is not an employee or a member of the Chronicle staff but his columns go through standard editing procedures. He understands conflict of interest as well as anyone. I’m confident that he would not use his column to promote or benefit outside interests or clients. But if you feel differently, why don’t you contact him and ask him these questions directly."

Um, actually, Mr. Bushee, you need a history lesson. Brown was notorious for using his position as speaker of the state Assembly to promote the interests of his private law clients — something that could have gotten him disbarred in 47 states (but not this one). So he has a long history of "promoting … outside interests or clients."

And I did try to contact him. The first time I called, he answered his phone but said he was too busy to talk. I’ve left messages since then, and he hasn’t called back.

For the record, I enjoy Brown’s column too. And for the record, I have no problem with a journalist taking stands on issues. I speak about issues all the time — on panels, on the radio, at community events … anytime anyone’s willing to listen, I’ll tell you what I think. Which is pretty much what you read right here.

But I never get paid for advocating for anyone, certainly not PG&E. And I don’t like double standards.

Frankly, Bushee is wrong here. If Willie Brown can show up as PG&E’s spokesperson at a public hearing on a major political issue and still cover San Francisco and California politics as a columnist (without, by the way, ever disclosing in his column that a major player in the political world is a private client of his), then the Chron should give Henry Norr his job back. And Rachel Gordon should be able to write about the politics of same-sex marriage. Because this looks really, really bad.

The commons and commoners

48

By Ben Rosenfeld


OPINION This is a call out to creative, fun-loving San Franciscans: the mayor, the police chief, and their downtown cronies have declared war on our grassroots arts culture, and they are coming for your actual and conceptual space next. The future they promise is manifest in their many recent attacks on public and private gatherings, and their efforts to wrest the commons from the commoners.

On Halloween 2009, the San Francisco Police, under their new chief, Los Angeles transplant George Gascón, shut down the Take Back Halloween Flashdance in front of the Ferry Building before DJ Amandeep "Deep" Jawa even arrived. Then they shut down several smaller street parties. Their official reason — that organizers lacked permits — is what Bill Clinton famously termed an explanation, but not an excuse.

The SFPD has a long history of not only tolerating unpermitted gatherings, but of rerouting traffic around and even escorting them. The cops are fully empowered to grant the equivalent of on-the-fly permits. Applying for an actual permit is cumbersome, costly, anti-spontaneous — and reinforces the SFPD’s view of itself as censor.

Since Halloween, Chief Gascón’s force has been striking a mighty blow against crime by writing scores of open container citations to revelers in Dolores Park; fining or forcing the closure of SoMa clubs and bars for failing to conform to every fickle letter of the law; and sending undercover officers into warehouse and studio parties to bust them from within, sometimes violently, and without warrants.

Perhaps the most un-San Franciscan of all Gascón’s initiatives is his demand for an ordinance that would literally criminalize the very act of sitting or lying on certain public sidewalks at certain times. Never mind the fact that most violent crime is committed by people standing up and in striking range.

Not only is the idea just plain mean, it is anathema to San Francisco’s culture of compassion and broadmindedness, and its affirmative celebration of vibrant street culture. The danger is not that the police will arrest everyone who dares to take a load off or sit and sip a Snapple against the side of a building, but that they will enforce the law selectively according to their own purity tests, while robbing the rest of us of the diversity and ferment which make us richer.

On March 27, reclaim space for art and innovation. Sit and lie on the public sidewalk! March and sing in the public street! Picnic on the pavement. Pop open a beer in Dolores Park. Do it without a permit. The Constitution is your permit. San Francisco’s heritage of artistic experimentation is your permit. Hell, the people telling you to get a permit flocked here because people like you marched around them in the first place and made this city inspiring. Do it for them too. This is a defining moment. They are playing for keeps, and so must we. Let’s bask in San Francisco’s ongoing heyday, not in quaint stories of what used to be.

Ben Rosenfeld is a lawyer in San Francisco.

End the nightlife crackdown

5

EDITORIAL Police Chief George Gascón has asked for more authority to crack down on rogue cops, and has vowed to clean up the small handful of bad actors who are giving the department an ugly reputation for violence and abuse. But before San Franciscans are going to trust the chief, he’s got to show some evidence that he’s serious — and cleaning up the mess that is Southern Station’s crackdown on nightlife would be a great place to start.

As Rebecca Bowe and Steven T. Jones report in this issue, the SFPD seems to be waging war on parties, clubs, and events, particularly in the SoMa area. And it’s not pretty. Undercover cops sneak into events then call in the troops, who make multiple dubious arrests and, according to widespread accounts, seize or destroy laptops and other DJ equipment and beat up and abuse participants.

It’s a pointless waste of law enforcement resources. In a city where a significant number of murders remain unsolved, where merchants complain about street-level crimes that could easily be addressed by foot patrols, and where the chief complains that he lacks the funds to address all the problems he’s facing, we can’t fathom why stopping nightlife is a top police priority. At the very worst, some participants and promoters might be guilty of holding an event without the proper permits — but nobody’s getting robbed, assaulted, or killed.

And the tactics used by the officers are needlessly violent, sometimes brutal. According to lawsuits and eyewitness accounts, SFPD officers have smashed laptops, kicked and beaten partygoers, and arrested people with little cause. A San Francisco lawyer is preparing to file a RICO Act lawsuit against the city, charging that the police are conspiring with state liquor-control officials to harass people engaged in lawful activity.

The policy directives behind this appear to come from Cdr. James Dudley, the former captain of Southern Station, and the officer most directly responsible for the crackdown is Larry Bertrand. Paired with an officer from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Bertrand attends parties in plain clothes, sometimes dressed as a raver.

Complaints about Bertrand and the crackdowns are piling up. We’ve been writing about it for months. SF Weekly picked up the story last week. There are complaints filed with the city’s Office of Citizen Complaints and lawsuits pending. The chief may not have known about the problems at the crime lab, but he has to be aware of what Bertrand is up to.

Gascón should direct Dudley and Bertrand to back off — to halt the undercover work, end the seizure of personal property such as laptops and DJ gear (it’s not a crime to own a computer or speaker system), and work with the clubs and the nightlife community to devise reasonable systems for dealing with permit issues. And he needs to do it publicly, to let San Franciscans know that he’s addressing the issue.

Mayor Gavin Newsom needs to get involved too, and make a clear public statement that harassing parties and clubs isn’t the top priority for a cash-strapped city’s police department.