Volume 44 Number 33

Orgone and back again

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“IT’S A BACK-BRAIN STIMULATOR! IT’S A CEREBRAL VIBRATOR! TURN YOUR EYEBALLS INTO CRATERS!”

Thus intones Dave Brock on “Orgone Accumulator,” an ass-kicking Rube Goldberg-device of a space rock staple, and to this day the final word on the science of orgone accumulation. But Brock just as well might have been describing his immortal Hawkwind, and its 30-plus-year legacy of melting brains.

My first exposure to the group came through the titanic double live album Space Ritual (United Artists, 1973), a sprawling collection of tracks that draws you into its gravitational pull through a convergence of the inexplicable and the strangely familiar–adventurous. Its sci-fi explosions underpinned by the rhythms of classic rock ‘n’ roll, the album negotiates the ungainly symphonic mass of sound into something resembling popular music — what I imagine the Voyager Golden Record version of “Johnny B. Goode” sounds like through vintage 1972 space helmet speakers.

The Hawkestra’s wall-of-sound aural assault-and-battery was crucial to the early evolution of rock’s more adventurous strain. Yet the group, like their own Silver Machine, has a way of flying sideways in time. If there is such a thing as a trajectory to heavy metal, then it’s almost certainly cyclical, with Brock’s cosmic rock cadre materializing in disparate spots along the circumference. Here in 2010 AD, Neurot Recordings, the consistently adventurous record label of Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till, is set to release Hawkwind Triad, a collaborative homage featuring 11 classic Hawkwind anthems as covered by U.S. Christmas, Minsk, and Von Till via his ongoing solo project Harvestman (including fellow Neurosis member Jason Roeder on drums this time around.) There’s a common musical current running through these three supremely cosmic bands, a signal that traces one of its numerous potential origin points to circa-1970s Ladbroke Grove, England.

 

II: COOL, PSYCHEDELIC, FUCKED-UP

“Cool, psychedelic, fucked-up heavy music,” is how Steve Von Till describes the bands on Hawkwind Triad.

“The obvious lineage of my journey to Hawkwind,” Von Till says over the phone from his post-Bay Area home in Cour d’Alene, Idaho, “was growing up and being totally into Motörhead.” This lineage is doubtlessly followed by many devout Hawkwind followers, who might first encounter the band as a footnote to the career of bassist/sometimes vocalist Lemmy Kilmister. (Back in high school, an offhand reference buried within the liner notes to Motörhead’s No Remorse compilation album is where Hawkwind first hovered into my line of vision.)

“Growing up, there weren’t a lot of fans in my circle, but we tended to find each other,” Van Till says. This dynamic unfolded once again as the mad-scientist guitarist found himself drawn to the nascent triad through the irresistible pull of a common love of one of rock’s freakiest acts. “Funnily enough,” Von Till says when asked how Hawkwind Triad came about, “U.S. Christmas and Minsk had contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this project, and asked if I would be willing to put it out on Neurot Recordings. Being thoroughly convinced that I was the bigger Hawkwind fan, I said, ‘Yeah, but on the condition that you let me record on it.'”

The result of this collaboration is the rare cover album with replay value past the initial novelty factor — those haunted by memories of the “ironic” punk cover album should have no cause for alarm, partly because the subject matter flat-out crushes, but also because of the inherent consonance between the three bands, as evidenced by the album-like flow between tracks (the structure doesn’t segregate bands — we seldom hear an act twice in a row). Before dispensing with the space-tropes, it needs to be said that all three groups share some kind of sonic kinship that reveals itself most starkly as they orbit around Hawkwind’s catalog.

 

III: IN WHICH HARVESTMAN TAKES US DOWN THROUGH THE NIGHT

How’s this for an overture: I saw Harvestman in San Jose back in March, wherein Von Till introduced his set by telling us that the stage/venue was now, effectively, his spaceship. Von Till’s bluesy croak serves him well in Neurosis, adding a human voice to the otherwise alienating canyons of dissonance and cool droney shit. While covering Hawkwind as Harvestman, it becomes perhaps the high point of his tracks. As in his other works, this is the sound of someone, ahem, lost in space — on “Down Through the Night,” Von Till’s voice clings to the crackly rhythm guitar like a life preserver, while cold, electric snatches of melody emerge around him before descending back into the fuzz. This may be the song Von Till was born to play — likewise, this is my favorite track on the album.

 

IV: IF MINSK WAS AROUND IN THE ’70S, WOULD IT USE A BUBBLE MACHINE?

Minsk makes everything scary. When the doomy Peorians opened for Wolves in the Throne Room last summer, with God as my witness, Slim’s started spinning during their set (full disclosure: beer on empty stomach, etc.) In interpreting Hawkwind, somewhat terrifying in its own right, the familiar rambling bass walks, cavernous guitar, and psychedelic poetry of the lyrics — interlaced with oscillating electronic beeps and warbles, flute attacks, sax honks, and ghostly keyboard lines — no longer coalesce into a groovy Milky Way of sound. Like a grotesque funhouse mirror, the band stretches the familiar Hawkwind vibe to cyclopean proportions, reminding us that there’s something implicitly terrifying about being that distanced from terra firma. “Assault and Battery/The Golden Void” at once sounds the most like a Minsk and a Hawkwind song: either beautiful or nightmarish, depending on your vantage point. “Down a corridor of flame,” indeed.

 

V: CHRISTMAS COMES TO THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL

U.S. Christmas covering Hawkwind feels almost inevitable. Of the three groups lending their respective voices to the space rock primogenitors, USX appears the most immediately indebted, bearing Hawkwind’s singular vision through the 21st century and nurturing essential mutations to the sound.

This is not a knock on the band’s originality. Rather, being situated amid such sonically rich territory seems to have motivated the band to stretch its psychedelic iteration to the weirdest frontiers possible. Eat the Low Dogs (Neurot Recordings, 2008) showcases a group of musicians operating through its own inscrutable logic. Rorschach riffs that could conceivably echo Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Black Sabbath, and/or Philip Glass abound throughout the record, underscored by Nate Hall’s raw vocals, which somehow reflect Hawkwindian drones and trills. On “Silent Tongue,” Hall repeats “50 bottles of gasoline” with a cumulative intensity until it comes to act, intentionally or not, as a mantra for regenerative musical destruction. U.S. Christmas’ sound is fixated on smashing its influences down to the atomic level and reconfiguring the orgones into constellations of its own singular design. Like their cohorts on Hawkwind Triad, the North Carolina quintet discerns the loopy, time-bending trajectory of its English forebears’ Silver Machine, and hops aboard.

Something is missing

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Mama’s goin’ strong. Mama’s movin’ on. Mama’s all alone. Mama doesn’t care. Mama? Ma-ma-ma-mama? Mama’s very alone (not to mention a bloody mess) in Louise Bourgeois’ “Mother and Child,” the nonagenarian artist’s fifth exhibit at Gallery Paule Anglim.

Motherhood, in all its generative and suffocating capacities, has been something of an idée fixe for Bourgeois across her 60-year career — most famously in her Spider sculptures, whose spindly arachnids, the artist has said in interviews, are stand-ins for her mother. Their fractured, complicated relationship surfaces in other works as well, as has Bourgeois’ own experiences as a mother.

Biographical context is secondary, though, to experiencing this recent group of maternally minded paintings and sculpture. “Mother and Child” packs a visceral punch that will be familiar to anyone who has seen The Brood (1979) or Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Although certainly no horror film, the exhibition viscerally explores the flipside of the “miracle of birth”: feelings of ambivalence, repulsion, and grief.

IS SOMETHING MISSING?

YES, SOMETHING IS MISSING AND ALWAYS WILL BE MISSING

THE EXPERIENCE OF EMPTINESS

So proclaims part of the text in I Am Afraid (2009). Printed onto a large, woven cotton canvas, the words hang over the rest of the exhibit like a curse. They speak to the sense of loss that frequently figures as part of postpartum depression. In giving birth, the mother has lost part of herself; but she has also been cut off from the experience of that loss. This, Bourgeois seems to declare, is not just the cost of human procreation, but an inescapable component of artistic endeavor as well.

Surrounding I Am Afraid are a series of drawings in blood-red gouache, originally done on wet paper to allow the sanguine watercolor medium to dry in saturated blotches, depicts the cycle by which a woman is born, matures, and then gives birth, becoming a mother herself. The figures are crudely sketched, at once child-like and grotesque, but their affective power comes from the suggestiveness of their basic shapes.

The sagging ovals of the drawings’ many fetal unborn, swollen bellies and rounded thighs are picked up in two tuberous bronze sculptures, Echo 1 and Echo IV (both from 2007). The sculptures’ biomorphic forms evoke bodily interiors — internal organs, fatty tissue — even though they are hollow shells of something that was once exterior: castings of old sweaters that had been stuffed and soaked with liquid. Something is always missing.

If you need an upper, Jay Howell’s got your fix. The 111 Minna curator’s latest solo show, “Alligator Fuck House,” crams enough DayGlo exuberance into the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it A440 Gallery (certainly the smallest space in the cavernous 49 Geary) to set you smiling all afternoon. If you aren’t blindsided by Mona Lisa, a mixed media avalanche that covers an entire wall, inspiration board-style, with Howell’s neat pen and ink doodles (“This boner is sincere,” reads one), vintage nudie mag clippings, and personal ephemera, then get in close to take in the framed drawings, each a rainbow unto itself.

Really Long Legs and Long Armed Fun smush together dozens of brightly hued Seussian figures that stretch their Mr. Fantastic-like appendages into long smears of color (and in Long Armed Fun, spell out the name of the game). Under the Leaves depicts a florid tree showering the ground with Fruity Pebbles foliage.

Matt Furie, Howell’s co-conspirator in anarchic, Technicolor figure drawing (the two let it rip two years ago at their “Return to Innocence” show at Receiver Gallery), is also currently showing a modest yet freaky assortment of paintings and drawings at Mission District sartorial one-stop Painted Bird. Come for the vintage duds, stay for the scenes from Swamp Thing’s kama sutra. *

LOUISE BOURGEOIS: MOTHER AND CHILD

Through June 12, free

Gallery Paule Anglim

(415) 433-2710

www.gallerypauleanglim.com

JAY HOWELL: ALLIGATOR FUCK HOUSE

Through June, free

A440

49 Geary, SF

(510) 593-0990

burningbook.com/index

MATT FURIE: FROM BEYOND

Ongoing, free

Painted Bird

1360 Valencia, SF

(415) 401-7027

www.paintedbird.org

 

Firelit: Coffee with benefits

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Since its release a couple of months ago, I’ve been savoring Firelit Spirits‘ one-of-a-kind coffee liqueur, featuring none other than Blue Bottle Coffee. Starting off with 1,800 bottles (which are just about gone, by the way), founding partners, Jeff Kessinger and St. George Spirits distiller Dave Smith have created a coffee liqueur that retains all the nuance and glory of fine coffee. It is robust with unaged brandy, Madagascar vanilla beans and just enough cane sugar to provide balance, rather than cloying sweetness. With a strong caffeinated kick and at a bracing 60 proof, this is coffee with benefits.

I had the privilege of chatting with Jeff Kessinger and Dave Smith, both gracious guys with a deep knowledge and passion for spirits, to discuss the story behind Firelit’s creation. The recipe and concept are Kessinger’s, and his story has been covered in various publications.

In speaking with Smith about what prompted the great St. George to embrace this project, my suspicion that the distillery receives numerous pitches for products or use of the facilities was correct. What made them take a longer look at Kessinger’s recipe? As he was an old friend of St. George’s, they decided to experiment with a trial batch, believing so much in what they initially produced that Smith took on distilling responsibilities. Smith and Kessinger shared a vision for making a unique, natural tasting (read: not sticky-sweet) coffee liqueur. Smith explored recipes himself over the years, even a chicory coffee liqueur after a New Orleans’ trip. Along with James Freeman of Blue Bottle, Smith and Kessinger tested a slew of iterations of the liqueur with every shade of coffee bean, achieving a consensus on the final product for initial bottling. Dave acknowledges that many spirits come out of what is more or less a “dare”, the risk becoming greater the more unexplored the liqueur style. “It’s not difficult to make a good product”, Smith says, “but it’s very difficult to make a great product.”

Understandably, Smith calls Firelit a product he’s “incredibly proud of”, expressing the unique thumbprint of each person involved, which is, in fact, a common goal at St. George. One of the most exciting aspects of Firelit is that it will be produced with different coffee beans and brands. Just as coffee beans reflect the terroir and climate of a region in any given year, Firelit will evolve and reincarnate, allowing varying coffees to take center stage, even as the base profile remains the same. This is a welcome new liqueur for any spirits (and coffee) lover… and also another locally made treasure.

Available at:
K&L Wines
The Jug Shop
The Wine Club
Swirl on Castro

Visit Virginia Miller’s culinary itinerary site, www.theperfectspotsf.com

Magnetic folk

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The video for “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros plays like a Super 8 summer memory you wish you had. The happy, whistling back-and-forth duet between front man Alex Ebert and real-life girlfriend Jade Castrinos is illustrated with scenes from a 21st-century Merry Prankster stopover in Marfa, Texas. Everyone’s playing guitars, running through fields, and prancing about holding hands in a way that suggests the 11-piece folk band’s bond goes beyond the ecstatic sing-alongs that have been the toast of festival crowds from here to Coachella.

The group’s creator, Ebert (who spent another life as singer for the sharply mod punk band Ima Robot) is undoubtedly the ring leader of all this. He presents himself in a vaguely messianic manner, with unkempt brown hair piled atop his head and enigmatic zeros painted on his torso. “But it’s done with a smile,” Ebert says during a recent phone conversation about Edward Sharpe, Ebert’s musical transformation, and art-based community making. The group’s namesake, he explains, began as his autobiographic ideal.

“Edward Sharpe was an idea of a better version of myself, the me that I wanted to be when I was five years old — which I think is what all of us want to be,” Ebert reflects, unhurried despite his publicist’s insistence that we talk no more than 15 minutes. “It’s not really such a big deal, I don’t think. I guess in some ways, when I started the band I didn’t feel particularly attached or close to myself. Alex Ebert — I didn’t know what the hell that meant anymore.”

So he got on a new deal. Met his new love, Castrinos (“The power her spirit exudes, the truth that pours from her eyes, the reminder of sort of something bigger whenever she’s around — sometimes you meet people that are inexplicably important,” he says about their relationship), started jamming with friends from around town, bought a white school bus, and took off on tour.

Ebert says his transition to folk music was a bid to create togetherness in the Los Angeles of his childhood, where sprawl seems to have precluded connectivity. “What the city did for me was really make me pray for community,” he says. “It made other people pray, and I think some of that yearning has made its way to the album as a heralding for some kind of community.”

It’s enough to make you throw on your peasant skirt and thumb for a ride on the bus. But what exactly would one be signing up for? What’s up with, say, the red zeros? Ebert laughs. “I still have to figure out what the hell [they mean],” he says. “I was getting really, really into mathematics and physics [back when in 2009, when he formed the band]. I was getting into trigonometry and not knowing what the fuck I was talking about. One night I came up with the Magnetic Zeros. It just sort of felt like something.”

So maybe the point is not to get bogged down in the specifics of the Edward Sharpe mythology. Which is fine, because the music is entertaining enough on its own. The ease of the collective background singing recalls the organic way it was created. Onstage, Castrinos and Ebert romp about, clearly quite pleased with the joy their adventure has brought to their fans over the last year — but perhaps less so about the sold-out shows and critical accolades.

“The music industry is … it’s just important not to take it too seriously,” Ebert says, reflecting on how he maintains joy in the face of hectic touring and promotions for the album. “That can be really crazy-making. It can be a bizarre, humorless game, so I think it’s good to bring some levity and levitation to this whole situation.”

EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS

With Dawes

Thurs/27, 9 p.m., $25

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

www.livenation.com

Global movement

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Albert Einstein said that “dancers are the athletes of God.” He didn’t say which god he had in mind, nor has the quote made all that much sense. What’s so hot about being in sports? Martha Graham tried to explain it by saying dancers achieved that exalted status through the practice and discipline of their daily work. But couldn’t that be said for any artist? Still, looking at the lineup of dancers at this year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival makes me think Einstein had a point after all.

Dancers are a breed not quite of this world. They certainly are among the most unpractical people roaming this wobbly universe. What they make doesn’t last. It can’t be bought, pawned, hung on the wall, or reproduced to bring in royalties. Their careers are short. Except for the very few, they can’t support themselves with their work, and every time they practice their craft they risk one limb or another. Fortunately for the rest of us, they know what they are in for, and they learn to live on air and love. What dancers also appreciate is a good floor — no splinters, not too slippery, not too sticky. And, yes please, some decent lights.

That — and the till — is what the San Francisco International Arts Festival can offer its dancers, who come from as far away as Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo; Vevey, Switzerland; and Berlin. They also come from Boston, Brooklyn, and the Bay Area. Additionally, the festival, now in its seventh year and still a shoestring operation, assists with the intricacies of individual fundraising — and acquiring visas — but the responsibility for production costs and traveling remains up to the invited artists. This is not the way it’s supposed to work. Whoever said that the biggest supporters of the arts are the artists hit it closer than Einstein did.

But in these parlous times, we take what we can get. The offerings this year certainly look intriguing. What’s not to like in these double bills and single program evenings?

Dana Lawton Dances with Studio Rue Dance For Who is She?, Lawton and three colleagues choreograph famous women on each other; Lawton will be Marilyn Monroe, by Jia Wu — who had previously never heard of the blond bombshell. Perception also shaped Studio Rue Dance’s Byb Chanel Bibene’s solo, Clinic. On leaving the Congo, he had to learn the hard way that whatever he did, he was first seen as “black” and only then as a “man.”

Christian Burns and Anthony Discenza with Company Prototype Status Rarely do visuals and dance support each other as effectively as in the Burns/Discenza Beneath Your Sheltering Hand which looks at how the media messes with our psyche. The Swiss Company Prototype’s Marvin — watch an android come to life — will also be performed (with two other solos) on their own individual program.

Erica Essner Performance Co-op with Gretchen Garnett and Dancers Ten years ago the Erica Essner Performance Co-op moved to New York. Now they are back because Essner wants us to see “her astounding dancers” in two recent pieces. Last year Gretchen Garnett and Dancers performed as part of SFIAF’s Mash — wild, wooly, and worthwhile — Union Square series. This year they have an indoor spot.

Single slots are taken by Amy Seiwert/im’ijre and motion sensor wizard Frieder Weiss world premiere, White Noise, a collaboration Seiwert loved because it pushed her outside her comfort zone. Boston’s Collage will bring East European music and dance. The Bay Area’s The Foundry isn’t asking you to come to see its Please Love Me in a theater. They’ll come to you, perhaps in a bar, park, or parking lot. 

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

May 19–31

Various venues, most shows $25

1-800-838-3006

www.sfiaf.org

Butoh, and beyond

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I was just in Baltimore for a conference on the New Drama movement in Russia — not so much a movement, as it turns out, as a new and diverse post-Soviet generation of theater artists carrying forward, reassessing and reinventing the form. The work on display over an eventful weekend was quite varied and, on the whole, an intriguing sampling of the restive theatrical activity being generated under the New Drama label. The take-home point: Russia is a hotbed of serious work to which attention should be paid.

The folks behind the San Francisco International Arts Festival don’t need to be told such things, much to the benefit of Bay Area audiences. They comb the globe for exciting developments in the arts and bring them to our doorstep each year. Indeed, when I last spoke to Andrew Wood, the festival’s executive director, he had just returned from Russia and Poland, where he was scoping out next year’s potentials among some of the most innovative theater-makers anywhere. But the beauty of SFIAF, whose seventh annual program opens May 19 and runs through the end of the month, is its commitment to bringing together local as well as international artists and companies under one broad, synergistic umbrella.

Among the tempting theatrical programs in 2010’s multidisciplinary lineup are two very different, envelope-pushing physical theater companies that nonetheless share a common Butoh influence: Russia’s Derevo and San Francisco’s inkBoat. Derevo’s artistic director Anton Adasinskiy predates the new generation of Russian theater makers I was learning about in Baltimore. He founded his company (whose Russian name means “tree”) in 1988, three years before the Soviet Union imploded. Now based in Dresden, Derevo enjoys a worldwide rep for innovative and devilishly clever work. Indeed, it’s been maybe the most buzzed-about theater ticket for weeks. The company’s 2009 piece, Harlekin, receives its U.S. premiere at SFIAF.

Pair this with local Butoh-fusion heroes inkBoat and that company’s SFIAF offering, the world premiere of The Crazy Cloud Collection — itself an international collaboration featuring choreography by Japanese Butoh master Ko Murobushi and inkBoat’s founder Shinichi Iova-Koga — which channels one of Zen Buddhism’s more eccentric figures, the 15th-century monk Ikkyu, also known as Crazy Cloud.

A rare glimpse of contemporary life and politics in the Middle East comes with the Syrian company Al Khareef Theatre Troupe, which makes its West Coast debut this year with The Solitary, a two-person play that posits the relationship between a political prisoner and the guard who represents his sole human contact.

And almost as rare: a new show from the Bay Area’s legendary Antenna Theater. The Sausalito experiential theater company (inventors back in the 1980s of Walkmanology, which adapted portable audioplayers to their all-encompassing sensory spectacles) rolls out its world premiere of The Magic Bus, a forward-moving look back at the Summer of Love and Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters that (tooling around the city on a tricked-out bus) will be a real trip.

Also worth checking out: the circus-inspired French company A.K.Y.S. Project, making its U.S. debut with 100 Percent Croissance (100 Percent Growth), a highly physical meditation on contract workers in the high tech industry. SF’s own Keith Hennessey, of Circo Zero, presents one of his acclaimed (but rarely performed locally) all-improv concerts under the title Almost Nothing, Almost Everything. SF’s foolsFURY offers, as a work-in-progress, the American premiere of French playwright Fabrice Melquiot’s The Unheard of World. Local shadow theater masters ShadowLight unveil their latest, The Good-for-Nothing Lover: Concert Reading with Shadows. And last but not least, Australia’s Sunny Drake is here with the U.S. premiere of his other-wise, a solo multimedia performance piece as magic act about accepting yourself as different, distinct and not alone — a play that comes with a flat disclaimer: “You will only understand this show if you are human and born on Planet Earth.” You’ve been warned.

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

May 19–31

Various venues, most shows $25

1-800-838-3006

www.sfiaf.org

Volume 44 Number 33 Flip-through Edition

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The Mitchell sister

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sarah@sfbg.com

Porn heiress Meta Jane Mitchell Johnson is running a little late when I arrive at the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater, the adult entertainment establishment her father Jim Mitchell and uncle Artie Mitchell founded on the edge of the Tenderloin, just blocks from City Hall, July 4, 1969.

Johnson, 32, recently became co-owner of the theater and invited me over to discuss her vision for this notoriously hardcore strip club and the challenges she faces in an industry dominated by the Déjà Vu corporate strip club chain, in a town whose political leaders are still trying to figure out how best to regulate the clubs to ensure that their predominantly female workforce is properly compensated and protected from harassment in safe, sanitary conditions.

A young guy on the front register ushers me into a side room. The walls are decorated with photographs that recall the people and players who have made this club such a storied San Francisco institution and a landmark in the history of the sex industry.

There’s an image of a topless Marilyn Chambers, the star of Behind the Green Door, the porn film the Mitchell brothers shot and screened at the theater in 1972 and was a major hit after it became known that Chambers was also the wholesome face on Ivory Snow soap flakes box.

There is a photo of Artie with a young raven perched over his shoulder. It was taken in 1990 during a trip to Aspen, Colo., to support gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who worked at the club in the 1980s and was facing serious charges, including sexual assault and possession of drugs and explosives, that eventually got dropped.

Another shows both the Mitchell brothers, photographed when they were still young and rakish and battling the vice squad, even as they entertained the local political elite.

Today the brothers are dead, Artie from bullet wounds inflicted when Jim shot him with a rifle in February 1991; Jim from a heart attack in July 2007. And now Jim’s oldest son, James Mitchell, 28, is in jail awaiting trial for allegedly beating his ex-girlfriend Danielle Keller to death with a baseball bat in July 2009 and abducting their baby daughter, Samantha.

Unlike his father, who continued to run the Mitchell porn empire after serving less than three years for voluntary manslaughter, James is facing life behind bars.

“He is charged with six serious felonies and is facing life imprisonment with no possibility of parole,” Marin County Deputy Chief District Attorney Barry Borden said recently. Johnson told me that her brother no longer owns stock in Cinema 7, the corporation the Mitchell brothers founded to oversee their burgeoning sex business.

This latest family tragedy occurred in the wake of a $3.74 million class action suit that was settled in 2008. Brought by three MBOT dancers, the suit led to valid claims by 370 dancers who complained about Cinema 7’s “piece-rate” wage system. Under that system, the club compensated dancers solely for the number of private dances performed, waived meal and rest periods, and failed to reimburse dancers for costumes, props, and makeup.

Since then the club ended the piece-rate system, but introduced chips customers must buy to procure lap dances and encounters in small, curtained private rooms. On a recent night, the girls at the O’Farrell Theater remained smiling and bright-eyed as they succeeded in getting some customers to purchase chips for lap dances and private encounters. But the rest of the crowd remained largely silent and mostly tight-fisted as customers watched the club’s exotic dancers perform on its disco-balled stage.

All of which left me wondering if Johnson can succeed in overcoming her family history and reputation to make a difference for her workers and community while facing a nationwide recession in an industry dominated by an out-of-state chain.

 

THE UNLIKELY SAVIOR

Johnson greets me dressed in Ugg boots and jeans, apologizes for being tardy, and leads the way upstairs to the theater’s office so we can talk.

I first met Johnson in 2007 (“Behind the Mitchell’s Door,” 07/22/09) when she arrived at the theater in knee-high boots, clutching a massive lime handbag and a tiny dog named Baby. During that first encounter, three months after her father died, Johnson confided that when she took over the office, it was full of dildos dancers had given the Mitchell brothers. Placing her dog on the pool table that dominated the office, she said she planned to massage all this male energy toward femininity.

Today it looks as if she has started to deliver on that promise. The pool table is gone. The sofa where Hunter S. Thompson used to sit remains in the room. But now a clothesline runs between the office walls, draped with a stripper’s glove, stilettos, and a G-string emblazoned with the word “Gonzo,” presumably in honor of Thompson.

“It was a little thing we made to give away,” Johnson laughs.

She introduces her youngest brother and club co-owner, Justin. “Me and Justin are close. We are the owners and we are making some changes,” Johnson explains. “We are making the prices more reasonable so customers don’t have to spend an arm and a leg just to get a lap dance. And we’re going to hold events like poetry slams. We are trying to make the club fun again. We definitely see a hit due to the economy, but we’ve also been hit by the decision from the class action lawsuit.”

Johnson insists she and her brother aren’t “your typical strip club owners.”

Were in a symbiotic relationship with our dancers, she says. That sets us apart from other clubs. The dancers are our employees. We pay them minimum wage and workers comp. We cover their Healthy San Francisco costs. We incur a lot of expenses legally employing our dancers. But instead of crying about our handicap,’ she said, referring to treating dancers as employees, my goal is to show we can manage the club without a pimp mentality, without a How much can you shake them down for? approach.

“A lot of our employees have been here a long time and have had to deal with all the painful violent stuff too,” she continued. “And folks are still here, even though their hours got cut and they are not making as much money.

In 2007, Johnson told me that she resented the family business when she was growing up. “The boys could go inside, and I couldn’t,” she recalled. It wasn’t until 2004, when she was working as a mortgage consultant in a cubical farm in San Ramon that Johnson began to take pride in the business “as something that had taken care of us through the years.”

Johnson, who became the club’s scheduling manager in 2005, recalls the shock of losing her dad in 2007. “It was like being dumped in icy water,” she says. “At first we didn’t know how to handle it. But we learned. Five years ago, I was much more liable to listen to advice. But I need to be able to fall asleep feeling good. That involves treating people a certain way. I don’t think any other strip club in the country is being run the way this one is.”

Johnson got married and went on maternity leave in 2008. ” When my son was six months old, I came back for the club’s 40th anniversary party and I realized, they need me both of us [she and her brother]— as owners, steering the proverbial ship. No one else wants to be held accountable. We never discussed selling. Our father built this place. It’s completely shaped our lives. Good or bad, it’s ours.”

 

TOUGH INDUSTRY

As a nude strip club, Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theatre stands in direct competition with Crazy Horse on Market Street and the Déjà Vu-owned clubs including the Market Street Theaters, Gold Clubs and other spots in SoMa, and most of the clubs in North Beach. The exception is Lusty Lady, the only unionized, worker-owned peepshow in the country.

If you walk into the Gold Club in San Francisco, well, there are 50 other Gold Clubs in the country, so, its generic, Johnson says. But theyve got their business model. Were not trying to copy Déjà Vu or Crazy Horse. Were the Mitchell Brothers. Its been part of us and our whole history.

Dancers agree that the Lusty Lady isn’t in competition with Déjà Vu.

“They’re Walmart, and we’re the mom and pop store on the corner,” Lorelei*, a dancer at Lusty Lady, said. “At the Lusty, we pride ourselves on being alternative and having tattoos and piercings.”

Some dancers, who we’ve indicated with an asterisk after their altered names, voiced fear of being identified as critics of Déjà Vu’s business model.

“If Deja Vu found out I was shit-talking them I would probably get fired and be blacklisted from all their clubs,” Sugar* said. “If I were to get blacklisted, I’d be totally screwed because there are no other clubs in San Francisco,” where she doesn’t feel pressure to do more than dance, “which is not my thing.”

“Or the Lusty Lady, which doesn’t pay enough to cover my bills,” she continued. “But Deja Vu is notorious for being a terrible company to work for, mainly because of their outrageously high stage fees.”

Other dancers say they had to pay stage fees at the Déjà Vu-owned Hungry I, and sometimes went home empty-handed after eight-hour shifts when uninvited touching was common.

“The number one thing that would improve our work experience is if someone actually forced Deja Vu to stop charging us stage fees,” Amber* said. “Almost no one outside the industry knows that dancers pay money to go to work. A lot of customers think the clubs pay us, like, thousands of dollars. In San Francisco we pay between $100–$200 per shift, sometimes more.”

By law, dancers have the right to choose employee status, versus being considered independent contractors. “But that’s a joke,” Amber added. “If we choose employee status, we’re required to do a minimum of 10 lap dances per shift. The club keeps all that money, and we would get paid $12–$15 an hour.”

But Edi Thomas, counsel for Déjà Vus Centerfolds club, flatly denies that the dancers who perform at Centerfolds (the only nightclub in San Francisco authorized to operate as a Deja Vu Showgirls club) pay stage fees.

Rather, entertainers who perform at Centerfolds (and/or at Hungry I, the Condor, and Market Street) are paid a substantial percentage of the patron revenues generated from individual dance sales, Thomas stated.

The entertainers are issued Forms 1099 at year-end, reflecting the amounts they were paid by the nightclub, she said, which means the dancers are independent contractors, not employees. These nightclubs operate within the law and make every effort to assure that entertainers are well compensated and perform in safe and lawful environments.

There are, as in any industry, former and disgruntled workers carrying a desire to harm a nightclub or the industry for their own personal reasons, Thomas added. “But those workers do not represent the voice of the majority.

 

CENTER OF THE STORM

When the Mitchell Brothers founded their empire, it was against a backdrop of organized crime trying to exercise a monopoly on the porn industry. According to a 1977 U.S. Department of Justice report, members of La Cosa Nostra tried to request exclusive distribution of Mitchell Brothers’ porn films.

The Mitchells resisted for years, but DOJ claims they eventually entered into a contract with LCN’s Michael Zaffarano to distribute “Autobiography of a Flea.” the Mitchells also fought City Hall.

During the 1980s, Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s vice squad tried to close the Mitchell Brothers’ operations. But under Mayor Willie Brown, the former attorney for late Déjà Vu strip club owner Sam Conti, SFPD enforcement reportedly eased.

Then in 1997, Déjà Vu started to take control of the city’s sex clubs, introducing stage fees and private rooms. In 2002, three former MBOT dancers filed their suit against Cinema 7. The next year, three other dancers brought suits against Market Street Cinema and Century Theater. And in 2005, Deja Vu settled a class action labor suit with its dancers. Attorney Greg Walston, representing the dancers, said at the time that minimum pay rate would protect dancers from being forced into prostitution to make money.

Deja Vu threatened a counter-suit based on the allegations of prostitution at their clubs, but Walston told reporters: “The record speaks for itself.” Walston used police reports with prostitution allegations to bolster his case and said he was doing the job the District Attorney’s Office should have done.

In July 2008, when MBOT reached its $3.74 million class action settlement, Cinema 7 president Jeffrey Armstrong said that the corporation was “not able to pay the entire amount up front.” Instead, Mitchell matriarch Georgia Mitchell and her business partner John P. Morgan, then cotrustees of the Jim Mitchell 1990 Family Trust, which holds two-thirds of Cinema 7’s shares, pledged stock certificates as security interest.

But the debate about how to treat sex work in San Francisco continues. In November 2008, District Attorney Kamala Harris and Mayor Gavin Newsom opposed Proposition K, a local measure that tried to decriminalize prostitution by forbidding local authorities from investigating, arresting or prosecuting sex workers. They argued that the measure would increase prostitution on the streets, give pimps cover, and hamper efforts to stop sex trafficking. The measure failed.

At the time, Prop. K advocate Carol Leigh and cofounder of the Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network said, “We feel that repressive policies don’t help trafficking victims, and that human rights-based approaches, including decriminalization, are actually more effective.”

Today, erotic dancers must identify which of a tangle of regulatory entities is the appropriate venue to lodge complaints. District Attorney spokesperson Erica Derryck said Harris is dedicated to prosecuting violent crimes committed against all San Franciscans, regardless of whether they happen in a club or an alley.

“If there are two drug dealers and one attacks the other, we’d prosecute. But that’s not to say there won’t also be consequences for underlying criminal behavior too,” she said. “But anyone who has been victimized should be confident of going to the police and reporting any incident.”

Derryck said public health and safety complaints can be lodged at entities that provide permits and licenses, including the Planning Department and Entertainment Commission.

“There might not be any criminal activity involved, but this route hits clubs in the pocket and is worth considering if dancers want to represent their grievances,” she said.

Meanwhile dancers say there is still pressure to do more than just dance in some clubs. “For some dancers, the clubs feel fine,” Lorelei says. “It’s a safe space where no ads are needed. They see it as a fair exchange. But if you just want to dance — when one girl is doing this, and another that, how are you supposed to make money?”

Other dancers wish managers wouldn’t abuse their power. “Sometimes they back you up,” Amber said. “Other nights, someone insults you and they won’t help.” And many wish management would try to make the clubs fun again.

“It used to be a party, but now it’s about the cheapest dirtiest fuck you can get,” Lorelei said. “Taking stage fees created a dark environment that carries over to the customers. It’s like we’re goats in a petting zoo begging, saying give me money, give me coke.”

 

FAMILY BUSINESS

Attorney Jim Quadra, who represented the dancers in the MBOT class action suit, said that for all the talk about treating dancers right, the Mitchells’ interest was money.

“At the time, a group of people thought the agenda was to get dancers to do more than dancing because that’s what brings in the revenue,” Quadra said. “But Meta comes off much better than the rest of her family.”

During the trial, Jim was asked if there were meetings where Cinema 7 personnel defined what they meant by a “lap dance” in the piece rate system.

“You need a lap for a lap dance,” Mitchell replied. “You are getting down to like, you know, lap dance, erotic theater, America. And your question is like just a waste of the public’s slender resources, like drop[ping] a basketball in the ghetto and asking, ‘Did you define what that is for them?'<0x2009>”

Johnson, who voluntarily took the witness stand, was asked if there was any reason dancers would be afraid of her father. “He can be a little gruff and he can be cranky, a grouchy old man,” she replied.

Today Johnson is moving ahead with a vision she began to outline in 2007, then put on hold until December 2009, when a law suit about the family trust fund was settled.

“We settled everything out of court in December with my grandmother, which was a nice Christmas present,” she says, confirming that she and her siblings succeeded in removing their 83-year grandmother, Georgia Mae Mitchell, as trustee of the Jim Mitchell family fund. They replaced her with their mother, Jim Mitchell’s ex-wife, Mary Jane Whitty-Grimm, who also has custody of James’s baby daughter, Samantha.

“Danielle’s mother has some personal problems … that made the court reluctant to give her custody of the baby. so they gave Samantha to Mary, who is a nice woman, who is married with a family,” former San Francisco D.A. Terence Hallinan told me, after James Mitchell replaced him with another private criminal defense attorney, Douglas Horngrad, in March.

In court filings related to the family trust fund, Mitchell matriarch Georgia Mae claimed her grandchildren’s lawsuit was intended to deny her jailed grandson James his share of the trust to defend against his serious felony charges.

“Justin asked me to take money out of the trust account of his brother James, and send it to his mother instead of paying his criminal defense attorney, Terence Hallinan,” the Mitchell matriarch claimed.

I asked Hallinan if the trust fund was the reason James Mitchell changed attorneys. “Yes and no,” Hallinan said. “It definitely had to do with money and who was going to run the club. The poor grandma, she is such a nice person. She was trying to play fair and be nice to all the kids. It’s not a really healthy family. ‘Rafe’ [James] is where he is. In my opinion, he is still not clear what happened or why.”

Johnson, for her part, says her brother James has mental health issues. “I don’t accept what he did,” she said. “I’m not making any excuses for it. He’s either insane or he’s a monster. But the family has an obligation to make sure he has legal defense. He was always a beneficiary of the trust. But he fired his lawyer, which is the worst thing he could have done.”

A restraining order Keller secured five days before she was murdered claims Mitchell abused her for years, had mood swings, used cocaine, and was addicted to methamphetamines.

“Danny should have left,” Johnson said.

It’s been painful to read the comments people leave,” she continued, referring to online reaction to her brother’s arrest that suggest the Mitchells are bad seed and should be wiped out. It’s not because James is a Mitchell, or because there’s some bad gene.”

Rather, she said he had serious unaddressed problems, “a time bomb that was going to explode and then it did in just about the most horrific way imaginable.”

“When I was 13, my father shot my uncle Artie. And when I was 31, James killed Danny,” she adds. “So I hope I don’t live to be 103.”

 

WOMEN’S WORK

In 1985, the O’Farrell Theater’s marquee famously read, “For show times call … ” followed by Mayor Feinstein’s phone number. But that was another era.

“I don’t know Dianne Feinstein,” Johnson says, as she shows me a cartoon R. Crumb drew in 1985 of then-Mayor Feinstein as Little Bo Peep, with a bunch of men, including political and law enforcement leaders, peeking out from under her skirts. “I know my father was never very fond of her. And I’m sure her reasons for wanting to shut the club down were based on the idea that women are being exploited and that we need to save them.”

Johnson says some of their dancers are single moms; some are young girls who can’t get enough work at retail jobs to pay their bills; and others are college students and graduates.

“There are as many stories as there are dancers. But the stereotype is that dancers are being exploited and have to be protected because they can’t protect themselves and no one really wants to dance. But when I came through the club door, I realized that many women want to do this and get upset if people try to save them. Some people feel that working in a strip club is bad, wrong, dirty. No. But it can be if you are pushed into it and don’t want to do it.”

Dancers the Guardian spoke to confirmed that they dislike being framed as victims. When we are painted as victims, we look stupid, Lorelei said. All we want is to make sure that folks are following the labor code and providing the same basic, decent working conditions youd get if you were working at a coffee shop.

But dancers know that some people are titillated by the idea of women being taken advantage of. “They don’t want that fantasy to go away, that she’s really a good girl and doesn’t want to do it,” Lorelei said. “If it turns out we are not traumatized, horrified, or disenfranchised, it ruins the whole fantasy.”

She fears that political leaders know bad things are happening but don’t want to talk about them for fear it implies they are permitting them. “The attitude is these women aren’t real, they are sex workers, so if they get raped or go missing, who cares?” Lorelei claimed. “We can’t admit they are the babysitter, the girl who sits next to you at the office.”

When Johnson began working at MBOT, she was shocked that the dancers were naked. “But no one is forcing anyone to be here,” she says. “Sure, some women dance out of necessity. But there are women who are really into it … What’s bad is the exploitation.”

It’s hard to tell from the outside whether the MBOT dancers are feeling better about their working conditions these days or whether having a woman in charge makes a big difference.

On a recent Saturday night, we were charged $40 to enter the club. The ticket gave us access to the theater’s main stage, where a succession of ethnically diverse and athletically built girls pranced, pole danced, and eventually took it all off — in tasteful fashion — as the customers threw tips on stage.

A friendly girl asked if we’d like some company but backed off gracefully when we declined to do more than chat. No one else tried to hustle us for the next hour, and we didn’t get the sense that these women were desperate to make more money. The private rooms remained empty during our visit. But there are VIP rooms that we didn’t have access to, and it’s possible more hardcore stuff was going on elsewhere in the club.

As we left, a tour bus pulled up outside, full of tourists who pressed their noses against the bus windows to eyeball the famed Mitchell Brothers establishment, drawn just to gawk at this titillating and complicated San Francisco institution.

Johnson and Mitchell believe their club gives women a path to financial independence and that having a female in charge makes a difference. They don’t need a man,” Johnson says. “In most strip clubs, the pay is all under the table, and the girls keep cash in shoe box under the bed.”

“Dodging the IRS,” Mitchell adds.

But they recognize that some dancers may be coming from abusive situations. Johnson said she realized one dancer was in trouble when she asked to be booked for every shift. “I looked at the situation and saw 16-hour days in stilettos and an exhausting schedule. It took a woman’s insight to work out what was going on.”

“It goes back to a woman’s touch, ” Mitchell says.

Johnson blames this nation’s puritanical roots for the abiding disapproval toward the sex industry and those who work in it.

“But it’s come a long way,” Mitchell interjects.” When this place first started, it got raided non-stop. Now it’s much more acceptable than 20 years ago. In the next 20 years, I’m optimistic that prostitution will be decriminalized, at least in our city, if not in our state.”

So is prostitution happening as much as some dancers say it is? “You can’t penalize people for surviving,” Johnson says. “What dancers do outside clubs is their business. We don’t have control over them. All we can do is worry about them. We don’t condone illegal activity inside the club. We don’t encourage or support it. That’s our official take.”

Johnson acknowledges the O’Farrell Theater may have the reputation for being perhaps the most hardcore club in the city. “But everything that happens here, happens elsewhere,” she says. “It’s the same exact deal except they don’t care at all, and we’re a family-run business.”

Mitchell observes that the O’Farrell Theater is huge part of the city’s tourism industry. “When conventions come through, we’re one of the prime tourist spots, along with Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said.

“San Francisco is known for its freewheeling sexuality, like the Folsom Street Fair,” Johnson adds. “People say San Francisco is Oakland’s slutty sister. And people come here because this club is an institution, a landmark in San Francisco.”

So can Johnson make a difference against this convoluted backdrop?

“It’s a benefit to have a female in management,” Johnson claims. “When we come up with an idea, I think: How will the dancers feel? We’re on the same team. I treat them like teammates. We’re not in a battle over who gets the most money. I can see through things. Women manipulate men, and dancers are in the business of manipulating men. It’s a sale. It’s a hustle. They have that mindset. But I say, no, you don’t need to make up situations. You just tell us what’s up. But that’s not the normal attitude. In most clubs, it’s ‘Shut up, do what we say, and pay your fees.'”

Johnson says she was recently at the AT&T store, and the girl asked where she worked. “I said, at a strip club. People find that incredibly interesting. This girl was 23 and she was not comfortable with the idea of dancing, but at the same time she was fascinated by it. And it’s not going away, women dancing and stripping, You can hate it; you can love it — it doesn’t matter.”

After so many years on the San Francisco scene, MBOT is striving to be a legitimate part of its neighborhood and the city’s business community. And to Johnson, some of that involves unfinished business.

Lou Silva was the artist who did the original mural of whales on the clubs wall. Thats what I remember as a child. My dad and uncle were connected to that community and the underground comic movement in the late 1970s. They made money, they wanted to spread the love around, so they did a giant art project on the side wall. And a couple of years before my uncle died, they started to redo it. But the project stopped when my uncle was shot. We are going to bring the whales back. Were working on it with an Academy of Art class. It will be far more peaceful and calm than a crazy jungle scene on the wall. We want to redo whales to demonstrate that we are interested in more than just sex and exploitation. We want to be connected to our community again.

Noting that the new mural is part of the beautification of Polk Street, Johnson concludes: The mural on the wall is unfinished because of Arties death. Now its time to finish it, not to have unfinished art on the wall because of some horrible, violent incident. Its an investment to show we are not the Mitchells everyone thinks we are.

Hot slice

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Check out more photos of Boot and Shoe Service here.

DINE Interviewing a pizza guy: predictable banter about perfect crusts and luscious tomatoes, right? But restaurant owner Charlie Hallowell completely caught me off guard with a mouthful about life and the oven that sustains it. His new Boot and Shoe Service joint is a short walk from Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater and a neighborhood away from his other popular pizza hub, Pizzaiolo. Hallowell loves pizza, like, really loves it, and now he’s going to use it to love you.

“I want to love the shit out of [customers],” he says, chomping on his lunch amid tables covered with chairs, as the dinner-only resto fires up its oven.

Two dozen tables and bar seats and a first-come, first-served, no reservation policy, means the place has been continually packed since it opened in December. The 800-degree oven toasts the fluffy, handmade crusts a crisp golden brown with a little doughy squish in the middle. Toppings like wild arugula, Monterey Bay squid, calabrian peppers, rosemary, mint, and pancetta (all 100 percent organic) make each of the fluctuating menu choices a full-on pleasure.

The peculiar name pays homage to the building’s former shoe repair tenants and ink drawings on the walls show leggy slices wearing kicky boots. Hallowell’s intentions for the new place were pretty simple: employ some talented young cooks, hang friends’ art, sell Bourbon, play Otis Redding, and hire hot girls with tattoos to run the food. And make damn good pies.

“It’s a fucking pizza — a circle of dough with shit on top of it. But there’s something beautiful about doing something over and over again,” he says of the process of slinging pies day in and day out. Spin a little dough lasso-style, smear on the sauce, throw on some cheese … um, not quite. Hallowell says it’s about building a special relationship with the oven and the fire.

“If you’ve had a fight with your girlfriend, or you haven’t been laid in awhile, or your mom’s dying from cancer and you try to throw in a log — the log will roll off the fire, maybe it won’t catch, or it lands on a pizza,” he says. “When you’re not there and you’re not present, the pizza burns.”

Hallowell has dedicated his life to pizza — and sometimes that freaks him out. Making pizzas may feel mundane at times, but he believes that the three most important things in life — fucking, eating, and sleeping — can all have a tendency to feel that way. So he kneads in a little extra love and hopes it comes through.

“I feed people. I fuel people. I cook with love so people can keep living. They can go home after dinner and make love to their wife and look after their children. They can wake up a happy human being.”

His main concern is helping his customers relax. He tells me he’s tired of how insecure this world makes people feel and he points the blame at the male anatomy.

“It’s all about your dick. It’s all about the size of your dick,” he starts shouting at me. “Your dick isn’t big enough.” He repeats the phrase about six times, louder and louder, and when I look around to see if anyone else is put off by the phrase and the sheer volume of his voice, not one of the chefs looks up from their work.

All this insecurity, Hallowell says, is what make people question if they’re truly lovable.

“Are you lovable?” he shouts to one of his chefs.

“Hell yeah, I’m lovable!” the chef shouts back.

Hallowell turns back to me. “Your mom doesn’t love you. Your dad doesn’t love you. Your friends … ” He lists off more people in my life, locking his eyes on mine. I put my notebook over my head and jokingly mutter to the chefs, “I’m getting a little nervous and maybe this interview isn’t going as planned.”

“And this is all why I promise to love the shit out of people,” Hallowell calms down. “They deserve love and respect. The business part is for the birds.”

BOOT AND SHOE SERVICE

3308 Grand Ave., Oakl.

(510) 763 2668

www.bootandshoeservice.com

Shake-shake-shake

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superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO And so, my queer peeps, we finally get an official “day” that won’t automatically invoke thoughts of rainbow jock straps, hot pink pasties, inscrutable promotional booths, and Miller Lite sponsorships. I’m talking about the new Harvey Milk Day, May 22, which doesn’t yet involve an Altoids float full of Gold’s Gym refugees or a Virgin sweepstakes. But I’m sure we’ll try our damnedest!

J/k, j/k, don’t get your Pride panties all in a twist, just sayin’. It’s beyond lovely that Mr. Milk is finally being recognized by California, thanks to our perennially tanned, leather-pantsed, and boyish state Sen. Mark Leno. And it’ll be plum-dandy to (hopefully) refocus on the great political legacy of the queer movement.

That’s not to say we’re not gonna have ourselves a little party. All day Saturday, the Castro District will be abuzz with what looks like 20-hundred gonzo events, everything from a “Hotcakes for Harvey” brunch at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, to the crazy tricycle-race-meets-bar-crawl Tour de Castro with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, to a, duh, “Milk & Cookies Street Fair.” Happily bewilder yourself by visiting www.milkday.org for the full rundown. Then, on Sun/23, the ginormous Kink Armory gets taken over for a hootin’ and hollerin’ Castro County Fair (www.castrocountyfair.org) and a fruity evening Milk Shake party hits 715 Harrison (www.milkshake2010.com). No, we don’t get a day off work, but if you’re queer, you best be workin’ all the time anyway.

 

TERRORBIRD

Oh yes, Terrorbird is a real thing, with terrorclaws. OK, it’s not that scary, but Terrorbird is one of the biggest local indie and electronic music promoters going, and it’s celebrating its fourth birthday with a beakin’ extravaganza. DJs Sugar & Gold and Disco Shawn work it out between primo acts Man/Miracle, Baths, the Splinters, and Sister Crayon.

Thu/20, 8 p.m., $5. Milk, 1840 Haight, SF. www.milksf.com

 

JD SAMSON

If you don’t have a kinda-crush on JD Samson, formerly of Le Tigre and now of MEN, you are not human. Samson will bring expertly fun electro-fied rock skills to “create space for rad people to dance and smile and hold each other.” Unicrons and The Workout host, Honey Soundsystem, Distorted Disco DJs, Fonzie, and more open up.

Fri/21, 9 p.m., $10. Triple Crown, 1772 Market, SF. www.triplecrownsf.com

 

FAREWELL J.PHLIP

Oh man, one of my favorite DJs in San Francisco is leaving, and I can’t even be mad at her because she’s (of course) going to Berlin. You can catch her waving a mind-melting techno adieu at the superior Phonic party at the EndUp on Thursday, or you can watch her wig out with world-famous Dirtybird labelmates Claude Vonstroke, Justin Martin, Christian Martin, and Worthy at Mezzanine. Better yet, do both for a double dose. See ya on the Phlipside, J.

Fri/21, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $15. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

 

NGUZUNGUZU

Completely mad tropical bass rave sounds from this young Los Angeles duo who are blowing up the spotlight with that warped airhorn sound. Catch them rumbling the intimate 222 Hyde space with support from Ghosts on Tape, Disco Shawn, and Rollie Fingers.

Sat/22, 10 p.m., $5. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com

 

SANGUINE SUNDAY

Soulful sassiness all Sunday afternoon at this North Beach throwdown. Mama Feelgood hostesses, soul food is served, tacos cost a dollar, local artists astound, and DJs Centipede, Romanowski, Aebldee, and Honey Knuckles knock on smooth beats of every genres — vinyl 45s only, folks!

Sun/23, 2 p.m.–7 p.m., free. Mojito, 1337 Grant, SF. www.myspace.com/mojitosf

 

CAPSULE DESIGN FESTIVAL

Look, to go out you don’t just need to have style, you need to be style. Which may explain why I’ve worn the same flannel shirt and Tigers ball cap to the club for the past five years. Meet me at this Hayes Valley afternoon extravaganza featuring more local underground designers than you can shake a wire hanger at (and curated by Javier Natureboy, so you know it’ll be edgy). Let’s put on a new attitude.

Sun/23, 11 a.m.–6 p.m., free. Hayes Green , SF. www.uniondesignsf.com

A hologlyphic story

2

arts@sfbg.com

FILM/VISUAL ART The first time I witnessed Walter Funk’s Hologlyphics, I’d spiraled up the whimsical stairs of Jaina Bee’s Granny’s Empire of Art, parted curtains and slipped inside the otherwise dark, slanted-roof attic. A circle floated in the center of the room that slowly morphed into a rhombus, then a rectangle. It was three-dimensional, but not real. Along with its movement, sound spread from keyboards and motion-sensor instruments and bounced off the walls.

Remember when R2-D2 projected Princess Leia’s message “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope”? What was once just an idea imagined by George Lucas is now Walter Funk’s Hologlyphics — although the images are abstract and more like Leia’s famous coiled buns. Unlike the 3-D technology Avatar is hyping, Hologlyphics requires no glasses and presents a 90-degree view of the object, allowing a viewer to walk around the image and see it from multiple perspectives.

Funk developed a system for live auto-stereoscopic movies along with music and created a family of real-time spatial image synthesis and processing algorithms that he has coined Hologlyphics. The system takes information from keyboards, controllers, motion sensors, and acoustic instruments and projects a 3-D image that interacts with the sound it is simultaneously producing. “So as something gets bigger and smaller, something might get louder or softer or lower or higher in pitch,” Funk explains as we talk over a café americano (him) and black coffee (me) at the Marsh Café. “The sound and the visual are considered one thing. For every visual, there’s an associated sound, just like in the real world.”

Funk has been pursuing holography ever since he went to the now defunct Museum of Holography in New York in the 1980s. In 1987, he ordered his first holography kit and played with graphics on the now-ancient Apple IIe. But he kept running into walls and was frustrated by monetary and technological constraints. He considered abandoning his work. Then, in the early 1990s while doing research in old technical journals, he discovered Homer Tilton’s display system and got in touch with Tilton.

“He [Tilton] was really open to the idea of doing art with his parallactiscope system, even though it wasn’t what he did,” Funk explains. “He actually put together some early hardware for me. Here I was, this freaky artist in California. And he didn’t necessarily share my same visual aesthetic, but just liked the idea that people wanted to do other stuff with his display.” By 1994, with the aide of Tilton, Funk had put together his first prototype.

Currently the display projects green, morphing, 3-D shapes. But Funk has big dreams for the future — although there are still the same two limitations: money and technology. In an ideal future, the system would be “larger, full color, and photo-realistic.” If the system was larger, multiple people could view it at a time — just like Avatar. But for now, Hologlyphics works best as a one-person-at-a-time experience. “Everything I’m doing is pretty much abstract, which is good, since I’m doing a lot of abstract music,” Funk says. “At the same time, I’d like people to incorporate real-world imagery with it.”

Funk has an optimistic view of the latest 3-D craze. “There are some negative aspects because some studios are just going make things 3-D to make money. But there’s a whole new world of storytelling going on. Done right, it can be amazing and even evolve into a different art form beyond film.”

With Funk’s system, viewers witness multiple perspectives while moving, just like the hologlyph, thus integrating it fluidly into the real world. “This is a cheesy example, but everyone knows it,” he says, with more energy than a mere cafe americano can provide. “Imagine Clint Eastwood when he says, ‘Go ahead, make my day.’ What if you were watching that movie for the first time, and right at that scene you’re looking at the back of his head because you can — that takes away a lot of effect and power from the filmmaker. It’s not a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just a different art form.”

Hologlyphics illustrates the potential for enhanced viewing experiences and new ways to tell stories. “The thought of it is very common, but the existence of it is not,” he says. “I think once this stuff does exist, there’s no putting it back. It’s like Pandora’s box — people are gonna love it.”

WALTER FUNK’S HOLOGLYPHICS

Maker Faire

Sat/22, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun/23, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; free–$25

San Mateo County Event Center

346 Saratoga Drive, San Mateo (650) 574-3247

www.hologlyphics.com

 

Shoot ’em up

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FILM Some people truly love movies, and love making movies, yet a legitimate question arises: for the greater good, should they be stopped? Or at least drastically slowed down?

That worry rumbles just under the surface of Clay Westervelt’s documentary Popatopolis, and the entire oeuvre of the filmmaker it’s about. Jim Wynorski is a onetime Roger Corman protégé who started making his own low-budget movies in the late 1980s, riding out the direct-to-video wave with a mix of sequels nobody was waiting for (1989’s Return of the Swamp Thing, 1994’s Ghoulies IV), the inevitable “erotic thrillers,” miscellaneous action trash, unintentionally funny horror flicks, unintentionally unfunny comedies, and so forth.

Somewhere around the millennium’s turn he started alternating between even cheaper cable softcore cheese (several Bare Wench Project flicks, 2009’s The Devil Wears Nada) and comparatively lavish exercises in genre clock-punching (2005’s Komodo vs. Cobra, 2004’s Sea Ghost). The latter were usually made under pseudonyms — because even the SyFy Channel knows the words “Jim Wynorski” raise a red flag that might send fussy viewers straight to bed with a book.

Popatopolis chronicles the creation of 2005’s The Witches of Breastwick, whose writer-director agreed to make it in just three days as an “experiment” — to the dismay of a cast and crew already fed up by incredible shrinking production schedules. One says Wynorski’s “problem is he keeps saying yes to everybody. If you keep lowering the bar of how quickly and cheaply you can make a film, it’s just not fun anymore.”

Wynorski typically gives actors one take to realize his vision — not that he actually explains what it is. By all accounts a dear man off-set, on the job he throws tantrums, cuts any corner — but does complete a million shots per day. Still, is being this prolific a virtue to anyone besides his financiers? Corman wistfully opines, “Jim is a better director than he thinks he is.” Wynorski counters, “I’m not Picasso. I’m more like the guy who paints Elvis on velvet.”

Well, not Elvis so much as black-light poster babes — the surgically enhanced bombshells he favors, some of them moonlighting hardcore “models.” The ones who aren’t lament the demise of real B movies like those Wynorski used to make, which featured quasi-stellar legitimate thespians like Antonio Sabato Jr., Ice-T, Shannon Tweed, two lesser Baldwins, and both Coreys. Even those folk wouldn’t do a Breastwick. Yet that shoestring epic makes enough cable deals to achieve the kind of profit margin mainstream Hollywood only dreams about.

Its sequel (plus five more features) were in the can before 2005 was out. “He’s like a machine that can only do one thing in the world,” a colleague observes. Popatopolis captures some golden moments you wouldn’t get in any ordinary making-of, as when a new actress says “Whoever wrote this script doesn’t like women very much,” and old-hand actress Julie K. Smith shrugs, “Jim Wynorski wrote it. A couple rum and Cokes, and the anger comes out.” Westervelt will be on hand to answer questions at the Oddball screening and to introduce Wynorski’s 1986 killer-robot epic Chopping Mall. 

POPATOPOLIS WITH CHOPPING MALL

Fri/21, 8 p.m., $10

Oddball Films

275 Capp, SF

(415) 558-8117

info@oddballfilm.com (RSVP required)

 

Drills, baby, drills

2

rebeccab@sfbg.com

The disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should be viewed as a wakeup call for the San Francisco Bay Area, Pacific Environment’s Jackie Dragon noted at a May 11 forum on oil spill preparedness and prevention.

The forum was planned even before the April 20 explosion of BP’s rig, triggering the onset of an out-of-control oil spill that has continued to wreak havoc in the Gulf for nearly a month. Up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day could be gushing from undersea pipeline, according to the highest estimates, which would dwarf the damage caused by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

Investigative reports in the New York Times in the wake of the spill revealed that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) had issued deep water drilling permits in the Gulf without obtaining permits from a federal agency that assesses threats to endangered species — in violation of federal law — and that MMS routinely overruled staff biologists’ safety concerns. The reports suggest the failure of not only a mechanical device, but an entire regulatory system, in which oil company interests appeared to take precedent over public safety and environmental concerns.

Here in California, environmentalists breathed a sigh of relief when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger withdrew his support for Tranquillon Ridge, a controversial offshore oil drilling project planned off the coast of Santa Barbara. Yet the governor’s change of heart doesn’t safeguard California’s coastal territories from a spill. Millions of gallons of oil are transported in and out of the ports every year, and refinery infrastructure dots the coastline.

“It’s all about the initial timeframe,” noted Fred Felleman, an environmental consultant who spoke at the forum. Shaken by BP’s colossal blunder and wary of the string of failures that led up to last year’s Dubai Star oil spill, environmental groups are now pushing for legislation they hope will slash response time by requiring ships to deploy protective boom before pumping fuel, so potential spills could be sopped up immediately.

The precaution would do little to remedy a major spill, however, and it’s just a small piece of a wider response puzzle that entails coordination among volunteers, community groups, and multilevel government agencies to accomplish everything from containing the slick, to cleaning beaches, to caring for impacted wildlife.

Although established protocols and a chain of command are in place for responding to oil spills, several speakers at the forum noted that vigilance tends to wane between these catastrophes. The environmental devastation in the Gulf could prove to be a catalyst for investing more energy and resources into safeguarding against the worst.

 

LESSONS LEARNED?

Fortunately, the Bay Area has been spared from the sort of devastating blow that is blackening Gulf of Mexico waters, crippling fisheries, and sending tar balls ashore. However, the bay has weathered two comparatively minor oil spills in the last three years, which could be viewed as learning experiences for a bigger incident.

The Cosco Busan spill occurred in late 2007, when a cargo ship hit the Bay Bridge under foggy conditions and released 58,020 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay. According to a detailed account of the incident response, the vessel collided with the Bay Bridge at 8:30 a.m., and the fuel leaked out in a matter of minutes. Two hours later, the estimated amount spilled was reported at 10 barrels (420 gallons), and hours passed before the actual quantity was revealed. The state official who determined how much had leaked arrived at Yerba Buena Island at 9:45 a.m. to perform an assessment but had to wait more than two hours to be transported to the ship.

Speaking at the forum, Zeke Grader, of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said fishing boat captains with vessels at Fisherman’s Wharf were ready to be deployed instantly to help contain the spill — but the Coast Guard initially turned them away. “This was a relatively minor spill in a bay, and we were totally unprepared to deal with it,” Grader charged. “That is really egregious.” Commercial fishing vessels were finally deployed to help with efforts, most venturing out on day five — long after the damage had been done.

San Francisco Baykeeper, a pollution watchdog group, was inundated with thousands of phone calls from volunteers, but the lack of an overarching volunteer coordination plan between governmental agencies and community organizations made it difficult to plug people in, executive director Deb Self noted. The Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) is the state agency under the Department of Fish and Game that works in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard and the financially responsible polluter to react when a spill occurs. Carol Singleton, an OSPR spokesperson, acknowledged that better communication during the Cosco Busan would have made the response more effective.

The spill affected the Bay Area’s biologically rich ecosystem. Just 421 of the roughly 1,000 oiled birds recovered by volunteers were successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild, according to the Golden Gate Audubon Society, while nearly 7,000 are estimated to have died. Even a small drop of oil on the feathers of a bird can destroy the animal’s natural insulation, resulting in hypothermia.

Singleton said a well-established oil-spill response strategy is in place. “Every vessel and every facility has a contingency plan,” she noted. “We’re constantly practicing.” Since the Cosco Busan, a volunteer coordination plan has been crafted, she said. Ecologically sensitive areas are mapped out and prioritized, and a network of wildlife care facilities stand ready to take in oiled animals.

Following the Cosco Busan spill, members of the Legislature put forth a suite of proposals that came to be known as the “spill bills,” resulting in a few stronger protections such as spill-response equipment stationed and ready for deployment in high-risk areas, enhanced funding to care for oiled wildlife, and grants to local governments for oil-spill response tools. However, some ideas for stronger protection got killed by Schwarzenegger’s veto pen.

Former Sen. Carole Migden proposed a mandatory spill response time of two hours, but that was vetoed. Sen. Loni Hancock proposed beefing up the state’s Oil Spill Prevention Administrative Fund, which is derived from fees on barrels of oil transported into California ports, by upping the charge from 5 cents to 8 cents per barrel. That was also struck down, as was Sen. Mark Leno’s proposal to establish grants to develop better containment and cleanup technology.

As the disaster in the Gulf continues to unfold, Dragon of Pacific Environment said grassroots environmental organizations might renew pressure for stricter regulations on some of these fronts.

 

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Another piece of legislation, inspired by the Dubai Star oil spill, is expected to go before the Senate Environmental Quality Committee in early June. The Dubai Star mishap occurred last October when at least 400 gallons of bunker fuel was released into open water near Alameda.

Far smaller than the Cosco Busan incident, the Dubai Star spill still resulted in the deaths at least 100 shorebirds. It happened at Anchorage 9, two miles south of the Bay Bridge, during a fuel transfer — a routine fill-up that occurs roughly 800 times per year.

The official investigation report hasn’t been released, but U.S. Coast Guard Captain Paul Gugg noted that a faulty valve was to blame. Some 2,000 gallons of oil overflowed, but went unnoticed until someone aboard a tugboat pointed it out, according to Gugg’s account. Most of the oily mess was contained on board, but between 400 and 800 gallons spilled over the port side, instantly creating a toxic plume.

“This particular vessel is equipped with high-level alarms, and high high-level alarms, which did not activate,” Gugg noted.

Under state regulations, vessels are required to respond to spills by deploying 600 feet of boom within 30 minutes, and 600 more feet more within one hour. In the case of the Dubai Star, that didn’t happen, a report released by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership noted. Instead, the slick was allowed to spread.

Assembly Member Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced AB 234 to establish a requirement for vessels to deploy boom before beginning a fuel transfer, so that a spill could be contained without losing time. The state of Washington has a similar law, noted legislative aid Paige Brokaw, “and their current conditions are pretty similar to our current conditions.” Booming is only effective at slower currents, which makes things difficult since a fuel transfer can take more than eight hours, and currents may shift in that time.

Huffman’s office received a letter of opposition to the bill from OSPR. “Booming is a good method to contain a spill, but it’s not a foolproof method,” said Singleton, the OSPR spokesperson. “To use that one method, it just may or may not work in certain circumstances.” Nonetheless, proponents of the bill say that even partial oil containment in higher currents is better than having no precautionary measures at all.

While the lessons of the past can be instructive, forum participants noted that continuous coordination, communication, and vigilance is the surest path to being able to respond if another oil spill occurs in the Bay Area. Grader, meanwhile, said he knew the best solution of all. “The ultimate prevention,” he said, “is basically getting off our oil addiction.”

San Francisco gaze

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC On certain mornings in San Francisco, I step outside and feel as if I’m enveloped by clouds. Dew drops slide off of wiry branches, sparkling as they hit the cement sidewalk. Is it pretty or is it dark? It’s pretty and dark. Before I lived here, it wasn’t clear to me that this was even possible. As the day unravels, it reveals both sunny and stormy moments.

Much like a San Francisco day, the no-fi psych-rock of Young Prisms casts sunbeams and rain showers. Sitting with the group on the rooftop of Ruminator Audio, a studio space in the Mission, I ask about the moods it aims to create and receive. I hear the words "dream-state," "California," "tripped-out," "engaging," "engrossing," and, finally, guitarist-vocalist Matthew Allen’s breakdown: "It’s made so you can hear it two different ways. So each time you listen to it, whether at a show or on your headphones, you’ll discover totally different things."

Four-fifths of the group spent their childhoods in all-boy or all-girl schools on the Peninsula, where a strange amalgam of suburbia and house parties drove them to wage war against ennui by making music. Randomly — once — they performed as individual musicians at an improv show at Mills College before they found each other as a band. Bassist-vocalist Giovanni Betteo played a miked typewriter; Allen and guitarist-vocalist Jason Hendardy played guitar.

Eventually, in a desperate attempt to escape the suburban boredom that bubbled outward as they got older, the barely 20-year-olds moved into a house in San Francisco. Here they met Jordan Silbert, a Detroit native, who completed the prism as drummer. As Silbert jokes, "It’s been the worst two years of my life."

In the YP’s Mission house, the friends became a band. The energy of "a crammed, shitty apartment," as Betteo deems it, led to productivity and tomfoolery. "But at least we were able to practice there," Betteo notes. To which vocalist Stefanie Hodapp adds, "And play music how we wanted to."

"We had just started writing songs again for the first time in years, and also had just met Jordan. So things were really weird," Betteo elaborates. "We were trying to understand each other’s personal styles for a while and what we’re into. We would try different techniques, like jamming together or individually bringing in parts of songs."

"One day it all freely came out," he says. And the band’s self-titled EP for Mexican Summer was born. Its combination of shredded chords, dreary drumbeats, and nostalgic crooning is luminous and murky.

SXSW and an accompanying tour forced YP to abandon their San Francisco rental, and on returning, they’ve found themselves scattered across the city — in the closet spaces of their friends in the group Weekend and on borrowed couches. "We are certain there will be a new YP home," the band declares. "Sometime soon, we hope." The house had negative and positive aspects, they explain. Someone on their block was shot in the dick. There was blood on their porch for weeks.

Young Prisms’ upcoming show with Weekend celebrates a new split-single on Transparent. It is the first in a succession of releases from the prolific band: a split 7-inch with Mathemagic on Atelier Ciseaux, a live 12-inch on Under Water Peoples, and a full-length that might be released at the end of the summer.

According to Batteo, the track on the Weekend split, titled "I Don’t Get Much," is a precursor to the sound of the upcoming full-length. The album is being mixed by Monte Vallier beneath the roof where we sit. "It’s the last song we wrote in the apartment," Betteo says. "From there, the songs have become more cohesive. There is more focus and more of a mission."

"I Don’t Get Much" slowly flows in with shoegaze reverb, rises up, and then drags the listener down. The water levels eventually re-rise and plateau. There are echoes, heartbeats, and an apocalyptic romance, as male and female vocals repetitively discuss the end.

When I ask the band to explain the existentialist undercurrent that ripples throughout the song, Allen rhetorically asks: "If you don’t do anything, what does it really matter?" And vocalist-partner Hodapp notes, "It’s about how dying does not matter once you get in the ground."

Can a dark day be textured with the pretty? Or is the sunny sky filled with clouds? Young Prisms have the answers. *

YOUNG PRISMS

With Weekend, Grave Babies, and Swanifant

Sun/30, 9:30 p.m., 8 p.m., $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk St., S.F.

(415) 923-0923

www.youngprisms.com

Renaissance Man

0

MUSIC/STAGE/LIT When I meet Ise Lyfe in downtown Oakland, the 28-year-old MC is sporting a button-down shirt, slacks, cardigan, and a purple and pink tie. Put a Wall Street Journal under his arm and he might blend in with the lunchtime business crowd. He’s fresh from a meeting with one of the distributors of his company, Lyfe Productives, hence rocking business casual.

Seeing Ise “in character” is appropriate, given his latest endeavor: a theatrical show, Pistols & Prayers, and the book of the same title (available on iUniverse) on which it’s based. After a successful one-off performance at Berkeley Rep — and a tour involving the show, book signings, and rap gigs — Pistols returns for a three-night run at Oakland’s Fox Black Box Theater benefiting nonprofit Youth Movement Records. According to Ise, his pitches of the book to African American studies departments have resulted in 21 course adoptions.

“You have good books in universities, like Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, but not contemporary texts from a hip-hop artist,” he says . “My book’s a collection of prayers, poems, journal entries, essays, anecdotes. But it’s also palatable for hip-hop heads. You can sit down and blaze through it.”

As Ise suggests, Pistols is an eclectic affair. Its unity comes from the author’s political sensibility. The poems recall the late-1960s explosion of African American poetry documented in anthologies like 1972’s New Black Voices, even as Ise updates the frame of reference. Most compelling are the nonfiction prose meditations, recounting, for example, his visit to Ghana, the murder of Oscar Grant, and his ambivalence about Barack Obama.

Such material might easily prove resistant to dramatic presentation, but Ise is no stranger to the stage; he has performed spoken word since age 17 and rocked HBO’s Def Poetry Jam in 2006. While loosely following the book, the stage version of Pistols is a genuine theatrical experience. Using a minimalist set, spotlights, and a video screen, Ise brings Pistols to life with support from DC of KMEL, folksinger Melanie Demore (who punctuates the proceedings with African pounding sticks) and celloist Michael Fecskes.

“It’s a collage,” Ise says. “We bring together hip-hop, folklore, spirituals, and [Fecskes] playing the cello brings in this Americanized background. You’re able to see the clash of it onstage.”

At many rap-related theatre shows, the cast members are actors who fail miserably at hip-hop. But Ise is a real rapper. When comparing the state of contemporary hip-hop with its golden age, he can rip a verse from KRS-One’s “Ah Yeah” with all the furious swagger of the original before dropping into a comically tepid rendition of Drake’s “Best I Ever Had.” He also has acting chops. Seeing Ise transform into one of his characters, a dope fiend named Uncle Randy based on addicts he knew as a kid in Oakland’s Brookfield neighborhood, is impressive: his eyes go glassy, his face and body contort with tics and twitches as Randy delivers his satirical, cracked-out observations on America.

Artistic ambitions aside, Ise has turned to theatre and books as a way of getting more exposure in the overcrowded, blinged-out rap landscape. Make no mistake: Ise Lyfe gets around. He tours nationally, is a commissioner of arts and cultural Affairs in Oakland, and counts among his fanbase luminaries like Alice Walker and Dave Chappelle. He has two nationally-distributed albums under his belt, spreadtheWord (Hard Knock, 2006) and The Prince Cometh (7even89ine, 2008), which has moved more than 30,000 units. Still, he admits, “We have a hard time getting the same coverage as my counterparts.”

“Normally I’d be recording my next record,” he says when asked about the two years since Prince Cometh. “But I want to put that money and energy into expanding our audience then dropping a record that changes everything.”

“There’s no one here who sells more records, fills more shows, or does anything more provocative than us,” he says. “I keep hearing, ‘Nobody’s trying to hear that shit you’re talking about.’ But the numbers say somebody is. It’s interesting that Ise Lyfe is an afterthought when I run this shit. And I mean that humbly.” 

PISTOLS & PRAYERS

Fri/21–Sat/22, 7:30 p.m.; Sun/23, 4 p.m.; $10–$20

530 19th St., Oakl.

(510) 832-4212 www.iselyfe.com

Garcon!

0

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE When Garçon! succeeded Alma about four years ago, I thought: well, there goes the neighborhood. Alma had been a rather special place, a temple of nuevo Latino cooking, and it had a witty name that meant “soul” in Spanish while slyly referring to the owner-chef, Johnny Alamilla. “Garçon,” by contrast, is a word of near-abuse that gets shouted at servers in French restaurants in dumb movies — or, occasionally, in real life, at real servers by dumb people.

The word “garçon” should probably have an exclamation point appended to it as a matter of routine, and — huzzah! (or voilà?) — the signage at Garçon! includes the exclamation point! In the restaurant’s early days, the signage was dismal, a sharp falling-off from Alma’s, and I took this to be a bad sign: just cheap-looking banners rippling in the breeze, as if they were having a Labor Day clearance sale on washers and dryers.

The improved signage suggests that Garçon! has settled into its rather choice location. There is a certain amount of history to live up to. In addition to (and before) Alma, the nicely windowed corner space at the corner of 22nd and Valencia streets was home to the Rooster, which was interesting in a slightly odd way.

Garçon! isn’t odd, but it is a good, solid French restaurant in a neighborhood that has just about every other kind of restaurant other than. So maybe it’s a little eccentric after all, or maybe just unexpected. Certainly it’s good-looking; the Iberian-grotto look of Alma has been swept away in favor of metropolitan polish; Garçon! might be one of the most Parisian-looking restaurants in the city, with its vintage Dubonnet posters and individual lamps on each table (each fitted with a CFL, for greeniac cred). Their glow warms the dark wood of the tables.

Chef Arthur Wall’s food is of the hearty school. This is not a restaurant you will leave hungry. If you have any doubts about getting your fair share, you might be interested in the prix-fixe, $32 for three courses, which is a little high to provide true economy of scale but does ensure that you get three courses. It brought me, one evening, a substantial coq au vin, a dish I don’t see offered that much any more although, like its close relation boeuf bourguignon, is one of the staples of French country cooking. At Garçon! the coq turned out to be a whole leg (thigh plus drumstick) braised in red wine with bacon, carrots, and pearl onions — a fairly wintry dish to be offering in mild springtime, I thought, but the meat was tender and juicy, and a wonderfully thick sauce had gathered at the bottom of the earthenware crock.

The pork chop ($23) didn’t appear on the prix-fixe menu — maybe because it wouldn’t fit. It was a massive fist of meat, nicely cooked to a hint of rareness and laid atop a bed of symmetrically diced potatoes. A bit less overwhelming in scale, and more stylish, was duck-leg confit ($19 — not a bad price), stylishly presented with a potato mousseline, braised baby leeks, and sections of mandarin orange. Only the duck fiend would have had this after having had duck-liver paté ($9), a creamy, mild square like a thick slice of white cheese, along with toast points, arugula, apple slices, and a red wine syrup that could have passed for some kind of berry coulis.

As a Francophile, it does slightly grieve me to say that French handling of the hamburger can sometimes leave something to be desired. At Garçon! you can have your burger ($12) decorated with a slice of cheese ($2) of your choice — brie, say, to go with the brioche bun for what I thought of as the Frenchburger. The meat turned out to be okay if overcooked (I asked for medium-rare, got well-done), and the bun was fine if a bit puffy. But the cheese! Mon dieu! Brie does not belong on a cheeseburger; it resists melting and acquires an unappealing mustiness from the heat. The fries were decent but could have been more crisp and golden. If you need a rinse aid, you might be interested in the burger and beer ($15).

The dessert menu includes a glimpse of the sublime: a chocolate ganache tart ($9) accompanied by sour cherries, mint, and a puff of whipped cream that one time was made with goat cheese and another with plain sweet cream. The accompaniments are nice, but the tart, with its flaky-crisp pastry crust and voluptuous chocolate filling — like a cross between pudding and fudge — can stand on its own. I’m tempted to add an exclamation point but won’t. 

GARÇON!

Dinner: Tues.–Thurs., Sun. 5–10:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

1101 Valencia, SF

(415) 401-8959

www.garconsf.com

Full bar

AE/DC/MC/V

Somewhat noisy

Wheelchair accessible

No-fry zone

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS A loud sound peeled my skin off, strip by strip, top to bottom, like a banana. We had just walked into the restaurant, just walked past the fire alarm, headed toward a cozy corner booth, and … I mean, I know I’m hot, but this was ridiculous. I grabbed the Maze’s arm, turned him around, and slipped back out to the sidewalk, aswirl in electronically piercing shrieks, potassium, instant headache, flashes of white light, and other symptoms of stroke.

Having played three games of soccer earlier that day, running was out of the question. So was eating anything in the world other than chicken and waffles. I had to get the taste of Roscoe’s out of my mouth. So we waited for the fire trucks.

Some people stayed in the restaurant, having dinner, as if it weren’t the end of the world all around them. I took this as an endorsement. Gussie’s was going to be good. It was just going to be impossible to be in there.

Although … the fire alarm had nothing to do with me, or the restaurant. Apparently this happens — I think because the whole block is all one building, so if someone in apartment 937 burns their toast, the poor people minding their own waffles all the way down Eddy Street at Gussie’s have to hear about it. And the clear winner is Excederin.

Luckily we hadn’t sat down yet, let alone ordered, so none of our food was getting cold while we milled about on the sidewalk with one-tenth of the Western Addition, waiting for the fire trucks to come squirt some toast somewhere at the other end of the block. We looked at the menu in the window, wondered what we would order, and talked about love and shin guards.

The Maze doesn’t play soccer. On the other hand, I’ve been threatening for some time now to kick him real hard.

"My mom said to tell you hi," he said. "She asked how you were doing."

Aargh, it was Mother’s Day, and I’d forgotten to call the Maze’s mom! Whom I’ve never met, by the way, or talked to — but we do have this mysterious mutual solicitousness for each other, the Maze’s mom and me. I don’t know why this is, but for many many years — in fact for much longer than I have known the Maze — I have been tempted to go to San Diego and have Thanksgiving dinner with his mom. And dad. Once I did eat peanuts with his brother, and I guess that makes me something like family.

I don’t know.

But I do know about love. I just do. I wish I knew how to write about it, or talk about it, but I don’t, and that’s why I’m going to focus on chicken and waffles for the next couple years.

Gussie’s chickens are about as bad as Roscoe’s, but her waffles are better. But her greens are worse. But if you pour a lot of hot sauce and a little bit of maple syrup into them …

Speaking of which, Gussie’s does have real maple syrup, for only $1 more. Plus they have their own homemade brown sugar syrup concoction, which is also pretty good.

What I don’t understand is how places that specialize in fried chicken can possibly not bother to fry their chickens … you know, to order. This seems like a no-brainer. It doesn’t take that long to fry a piece of chicken. I’m sure they don’t pull the waffle off of a pile of waffles, because waffles are only good if they come hot off a waffle iron. Right?

Well, fried chicken is only good if it comes hot out of the oil. Any amount of time in a basket or bin or bucket, it’s just not going to work. It isn’t. Not if you’ve ever had real fried chicken like at Gravy’s, or Grandma’s, or at Wayway’s, or Rube Roy’s, for that matter.

I have high hopes for next week’s chicken and waffles, but then, I always have high hopes. What I need is a good pair of cowboy boots. Pointy, with a steel toe.

GUSSIE’S CHICKEN AND WAFFLES

Tue.–Thu. and Sun.: 8 a.m.–10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat.: 8 a.m.–midnight; closed Mon.

1521 Eddy, S.F.

(415) 409-2529

MC/V

Beer & wine

Loving LaHood

0

By Jobert Poblete


news@sbg.com

GREEN CITY U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wowed urban cycling advocates at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., in March when he climbed atop a table to praise them for their work promoting livable, bike-friendly communities. LaHood followed up that connection with a blog post in which he announced a "sea change" in federal policy, declaring: "This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized."

The groundbreaking post was accompanied by a DOT policy statement urging local governments and transportation agencies to treat walking and bicycling as equal to other modes of transportation. The statement concluded that "increased commitment to and investment in bicycle facilities and walking networks can help meet goals for cleaner, healthier air; less congested roadways; and more livable, safe, cost-efficient communities."

Since then, LaHood has come under fire for his pro-bike statements. The National Association of Manufacturers’ blog said that the policy would result in "economic catastrophe." At a House hearing, a representative implied that the secretary was on drugs.

But bike advocates, who were initially wary of having this key post occupied by one of the few Republicans in the Obama administration, have rallied to LaHood’s defense. In San Francisco, bike and livability advocates are optimistic that LaHood’s statements will be backed up with meaningful action.

"LaHood is not just talking the talk," San Francisco Bicycle Coalition program director Andy Thornley told the Guardian. "He seems to be actively moving federal transportation policy toward a broader, more sustainable program."

As DOT secretary, LaHood has enormous influence on how federal money is spent and on the Obama administration’s transportation policies. Thornley is hopeful the new policy direction will free more money for bikeways and other alternatives to the automobile. The federal government doles out billions of dollars for transportation, and beyond some direct funding of bike and transit projects, removing conditions that have forced recipients of federal transportation dollars to spend it on roads and highways could have a big impact on bike and pedestrian-friendly regions like the Bay Area.

"We’re already doing a good job regionally of prioritizing how we spend our money," Thornley said. "But on the federal end, the money comes out already conditioned and has to be spent on highways."

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, echoed Thornley’s enthusiasm for the DOT’s new policy direction. "If livable, walkable communities become a priority of the federal government, that could be really revolutionary," he said.

But Radulovich acknowledged that much of this depends on the outcome of a new surface transportation bill being drafted in Congress. The bill would allocate hundreds of billions in federal transportation dollars, and bike and transit advocates are already mobilizing to make sure it’s written in a way that promotes livability and sustainability. Transportation for America, a national coalition that includes a number of Bay Area groups, is lobbying Congress and the Obama administration to create a "21st century transportation system" that supports walking, biking, and sustainable development.

To succeed, advocates will have to overcome a number of other challenges. Thornley pointed out that outside of urban centers like the Bay Area and Seattle, bikes aren’t taken seriously as a form of transportation. He also warned that the industries that benefit from automobiles will be pushing back and telling the public that more bikes and transit will cost their industries jobs.

But Thornley is hopeful that other industries are getting the message that sustainable development is good for business. He said people are returning to cities and developers are taking note. "Developers are casting positive votes by investing in the city, building up residential options, and recognizing that the market wants these choices."

If new bike-friendly and pro-livability policies are to gain traction, Thornley said, "it will be about showing folks that spending money on transit, biking, and walking is just as productive for jobs and building communities. In the long run, it’s a much better investment."

East Bay endorsements

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EDITORIAL There’s not a lot to bring voters out to the polls in Berkeley and Oakland, but two important races deserve attention. Proposition C, a bond act to replace the city’s aging public pools, has widespread support, but needs two-thirds of the vote to pass. And in a race for an open judicial seat, Victoria Kolakowski has the opportunity to become the first transgender person to serve on a trial court in the United States.

OUR ENDORSEMENTS


YES ON PROPOSITION C


Berkeley has four public pools, three outdoors and the indoor Berkeley High School Warm Pool. All four are badly in need of repair, but the Warm Pool faces imminent closure. That would primarily affect the disabled and senior communities, who use the pool for exercise, recreation, and therapy. It’s not a wealthy group overall, and having a place to go year-round to swim (or in some cases, just do physical therapy in the water) is a big deal.

The remaining pools are used by kids, adults, local swim clubs, and Berkeley residents who can’t or don’t want to spend the money on private gyms. Prop. C would provide the money to build a new Warm Pool and fix the cracks and do seismic upgrades and needed repairs on the other facilities. It’s the kind of measure that’s hard to oppose (it would cost the typical homeowner less than $100 a year in increased taxes) and every member of the City Council has endorsed it.

But with no major local issues on the ballot, progressives may not turn out in large numbers, which means the more conservative voters (who tend to dominate low-turnout elections) could account for enough votes to deny Prop. C a two-thirds majority. So Berkeley residents need to get out and vote — yes on C.

KOLAKOWSKI FOR JUDGE


Three people are contending for Seat No. 9 on the Alameda County Superior Court. It’s a rare open seat, and all three candidates have strong legal records and appear to be qualified for the job. But Kolakowski is our pick, in part because she’d make history — but more so because of her long history of public service and her progressive values.

John Creighton, a career prosecutor, has 25 years experience in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. He has the support of a lot of local law enforcement groups and a long list of judges. Louis Goodman, a defense lawyer, also served as a deputy D.A. before going into private practice. All the judges who haven’t endorsed Creighton are backing Goodman. We have nothing against either candidate — except that the bench is already full of former prosecutors.

Kolakowski is a different type of candidate. She’s spent much of her career as an administrative law judge, and for two years she helped the state try to recover some of the money that private utilities and energy traders stole during the 2000-01 energy crisis. She also has been deeply involved in community activities, serving as chair of Berkeley’s Human Welfare Commission, working with the city’s Police Review Commission on LGBT sensitivity training for police officers, and sitting on Oakland’s Budget Advisory Committee. She’s been on the Board of San Francisco’s Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center and is currently co-chair of the Transgender Law Center Board.

She’s an advocate for openness in the courts and wants to push for more transparency in how the Administrative Office of the Courts spends its budget. She also wants to make the courts more accessible to people who can’t afford lawyers.

Her election would be more than an historic statement — it might help change the way courts deal with transgender people (who often wind up in court, either for what ought to be simple things like identification changes or for the more serious problems facing a marginalized community with high unemployment). She has the support of Oakland City Attorney John Russo, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, Oakland City Council Member Rebecca Kaplan, and many other progressive leaders. Vote for Kolakowski.

Make hotels pay their share

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By Martha Hawthorne


OPINION If you ride Muni, educate your children in public schools, or rely on city services, you’ve already felt the impact of cuts to the city budget over the past few years, and it could get worse. San Francisco is facing a $522 million deficit this year. It’s expected to swell above $700 million in the next two years. Current budget balancing proposals include laying off teachers and nurses and cutting after-school programs, youth job training, street cleaning, public safety, recreation, and health services for San Franciscans and visitors alike.

While city residents and employees have sacrificed, certain Internet hotel booking sites are trying to evade more than $70 million in legally required hotel taxes. Additionally, airline companies that use San Francisco hotels to house their flight crews overnight are attempting to escape paying the hotel tax, depriving the city of millions of dollars in revenue annually.

At the same time, 5 million visitors to the city each year are not being asked to shoulder their share of the rising costs for services including public transit, public safety, and infrastructure. In fact, the hotel room surcharge in San Francisco hasn’t increased in 14 years, while costs have skyrocketed. Currently visitors to San Francisco pay the same or lower surcharge than they do in many other large cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Houston.

That’s why we have come together to create the Stand up for San Francisco Coalition, a group of teachers, nurses, parents, public employees, and concerned citizens who believe the city needs to find new ways to fund our highest priorities. Together, we are headed to the street to collect signatures to place on the ballot an initiative that would close loopholes and make hotels pay their fair share.

This proposed measure would do three things. It would ensure that Internet hotel booking sites pay the full amount of hotel surcharge they owe — bringing millions of dollars each year into the city. It would end a practice by which airlines are attempting to not pay hotel room taxes they legally owe. And finally, it would impose a temporary visitor surcharge of 2 percent, costing the average visitor $3 per night, to support the infrastructure and services that help draw visitors and serve them during their stay, which would sunset in four years.

We are committed to thinking creatively about ways to fix our city’s budget problems, beginning with ensuring the city collects what it is owed from big hotels. Our initiative asks visitors contribute a few dollars more per night to help guarantee San Francisco is a city that lives up to its progressive values. In order to save the jobs of teachers, protect HealthySF, care for our seniors, stop service cuts to Muni, and hold the line for public safety, hotels and visitors need to pay their fair share.

Martha Hawthorne, a public health nurse, is a founder of Stand up for San Francisco and one of the official proponents of the Hotel Fairness Initiative.

Editor’s Notes

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Tredmond@sfbg.com

The governor of California released his last official state budget proposal May 14, just a few weeks before Mayor Gavin Newsom releases what might be his last official city budget proposal. The guv’s is truly ugly, so bad it’s almost hard to imagine what would happen if it passes. The mayor’s may not be a whole lot different.

Here’s why Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget is so hypocritical. In his message, Schwarzenegger said that "employment remains the biggest source of concern" as the state emerges from the Great Recession. Then he moved to guarantee more unemployment.

I remember when a Democratic Assembly Member from San Francisco first proposed the idea that would later become the philosophical basis for the CALWORKS program. Art Agnos, who went on to serve as mayor of this city, suggested that it wasn’t such a bad idea to make welfare recipients work — as long as the state offered education, training, and, most important, affordable child care. A lot of us complained about it, warning that it would never get fully funded; it costs a lot up front to provide the services that allow long-term unemployed to transition into the workforce. Ultimately, however, most states have now created some sort of welfare-to-work program.

Now Schwarzenegger wants that completely eliminated. Along with all state-subsidized child care. So how are low-income people with kids supposed to get a job?

They’re not. They’re supposed to become a permanent underclass in a rich state. That’s exactly what the governor is talking about — destroying opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people, keeping them from joining in the productivity boom we’re going to need to get the economy going again, forcing them to live a third-world existence, at a massive cost to the state’s future. All to avoid modest taxes on the rich. If that’s not class warfare, I don’t know what is.

So how are we going to respond in San Francisco? Will Newsom’s budget — the one he will have to answer for as he runs for lieutenant governor — be cuts only? Or does he have the courage to tell the truth — that the only way the state and the city are ever going to emerge from this recession is if the folks on top of the economic pyramid chip in a little more? Well, I asked his press person, Tony Winnicker, and here’s what he said: "The mayor’s budget will not rely on taxes to achieve balance."

Nice.

ENDORSEMENTS

Our endorsements  for the upcoming election were originally published on April 27. We’re republishing them here for the benefit of absentee voters. Our clip-out guide to take to the polls will appear in our June 2 issue and online.

On the eve of the June 8 election, we’ll be publishing our handy clip-out guide for you to take to the polls. Before then, however, take a minute to read about our decisions — and why they’re important for the future of the country, the state, and San Francisco.

ENDORSEMENTS:

>>NATIONAL AND STATE RACES

>>STATE BALLOT MEASURES

>>SAN FRANCISCO BALLOT MEASURES

>>JUDICIAL RACES

 

Pictured above: 

OUR CHOICES FOR DCCC

We’ve already endorsed candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee (see “Our endorsements for DCCC,” 3/30). We’re listing them again here for easy reference — in the order they will appear on the ballot. (Since it’s unfair to present candidates in a crowded field in alphabetical order, the state every year does a random alphabetical drawing to set the order in these races.)

The election is crucial — DCCC controls the local Democratic Party endorsements, which can make a huge difference in district supervisorial contests.

 

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 13

Debra Walker

Aaron Peskin

Eric Quezada

Joe Julian

Alix Rosenthal

Michael Goldstein

David Campos

David Chiu

Rafael Mandelman

Kim-Shree Maufas

Carole Migden

Robert Haaland

 

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 12

Chris Gembinski

Connie O’Connor

Michael Bornstein

John Avalos

Hene Kelly

Melanie Nutter

Sandra Lee Fewer

Eric Mar

Milton Marks

Jane Morrison

Jake McGoldrick

Larry Yee