Volume 46 Number 03

The selling of Ed Lee

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steve@sfbg.com

Ed Lee has gone through a remarkable makeover in the last year, transformed from the mild-mannered city bureaucrat who reluctantly became interim mayor to a political powerhouse backed by wealthy special interests waging one of the best-funded and least transparent mayoral campaigns in modern San Francisco history.

The affable anti-politician who opened Room 200 up to a variety of groups and individuals that his predecessor had shut out — a trait that won Lee some progressive accolades, particularly during the budget season — has become an elusive mayoral candidate who skipped most of the debates, ducked his Guardian endorsement interview, and speaks mostly through prepared public statements peppered with contradictions that he won’t address.

The old Ed Lee is still in there somewhere, with his folksy charm and unshakable belief that there’s compromise and consensus possible on even the most divisive issues. But the Ed Lee that is running for mayor is largely a creation of the political operatives who pushed him to break his word and run, from brazen power brokers Willie Brown and Rose Pak to political consultants David Ho and Enrique Pearce to the wealthy backers who seek to maintain their control over the city.

So we thought it might be educational to retrace the steps that brought us to this moment, as they were covered at the time by the Guardian and other local media outlets.

Caretaker mayor

The story begins quite suddenly on Jan. 4, when the Board of Supervisors convened to consider a replacement for Gavin Newsom, who had been elected lieutenant governor but delayed his swearing-in to prevent the board from choosing a progressive interim mayor who might then have an advantage in the fall elections. Newsom and other political centrists insisted on a “caretaker mayor” who pledged to vacate the office after serving the final year of the current term.

It was the final regular meeting of the old board, four days before the four newly elected supervisors would take office. What had been a bare majority of progressive supervisors openly talked about naming former mayor Art Agnos, or Sheriff Michael Hennessey, or maybe Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin as a caretaker mayor.

When then-Sup. Bevan Dufty said he would support Hennessey, someone Newsom had already said was acceptable, the progressive supervisors decided to coalesce around Hennessey. That was mostly because the moderates on the board had suddenly united behind a rival candidate who had consistently said didn’t want the job: City Administrator Ed Lee.

Board President David Chiu was the first in the progressive bloc to breaks ranks and back Lee, saying that had long been his first choice. Dufty became the swing vote, and he abstained from voting as the marathon meeting passed the 10 p.m. mark, at which point he asked for a recess and walked down to Room 200 to consult with Newsom.

At the time, Dufty said no deals had been cut and that he was just looking for assurances that Lee wouldn’t run for a full term (Dufty was already running for mayor) and that he would defend the sanctuary city law. But during his endorsement interview with the Guardian last month, he confessed to another reason: Newsom told him that Hennessey had pledged to get rid of Chief-of-Staff Steve Kawa, a pro-downtown political fixer from the Brown era who was despised by progressive groups but liked by Dufty.

Chiu and others stressed Lee’s roots as a progressive tenants rights attorney, the importance of having a non-political technocrat close the ideological gap at City Hall and get things done, particularly on the budget. So everyone just hoped for the best.

“Run, Ed, Run”

The drumbeat began within just a couple months, with downtown-oriented politicos and Lee supporters urging him to run for mayor in the wake of a successful if controversial legislative push by Lee, Chiu, and Sup. Jane Kim to give million of dollars in tax breaks to Twitter and other businesses in the mid-Market and Tenderloin areas.

In mid-May, Pak and her allies created Progress for All, registering it as a “general civic education and public affairs” committee even though its sole purpose was to use large donations from corporations with city contracts or who had worked with Pak before to fund a high-profile “Run, Ed, Run” campaign, which plastered the city with posters featuring a likeness of Lee.

Initially, that campaign and its promotional materials were created by Pak (who refuses to speak to the Guardian) and political consultant Enrique Pearce (who did not return calls for this article) of Left Coast Communications, which had just run Kim’s successful D6 victory over progressive opponent Debra Walker, along with Pak protégé David Ho.

During that campaign, the Guardian and Bay Citizen discovered Pearce running an independent expenditure campaign called New Day for SF, funded mostly by Willie Brown, out of his office, despite bans of IEs coordinating with official campaigns. That tactic would repeat itself over the coming months, drawing criticism but never any sanctions from the toothless Ethics Commission. Pearce was hired by two more pro-Lee IEs: Committee for Effective City Management and SF Neighbor Alliance, for which he wrote the book The Ed Lee Story, a supposedly “unauthorized biography” filled with photos and personal details about Lee.

Publicly, the campaign was fronted by noted Brown allies such as his former planning commissioner Shelly Bradford-Bell, Pak allies including Chinatown Community Development Center director Gordon Chin, and a more surprising political figure, Christina Olague, a progressive board appointee to the Planning Commission. She had already surprised and disappointed some of her progressive allies on Feb. 28 when she endorsed Chiu for mayor during his campaign kickoff, and even more when she got behind Lee.

Olague recently told us the moves did indeed elicit scorn from some longtime allies, but she defends the latter decision as being based on Lee’s experience and willingness to dialogue with progressives who had been shut out by Newsom, noting that she had been asked to join the campaign by Chin. Olague also said the decision was partially strategic: “If we get progressives to support him early on, maybe we’ll have a seat at the table.”

Right up until the end, Lee told reporters that he planned to honor his word and not run. During a Guardian interview in July when we pressed him on the point, Lee said he would only run if every member of the Board of Supervisors asked him to, although about half the board publicly said that he shouldn’t, including Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who nominated him for interim mayor.

And then, just before the filing deadline in early August, Lee announced that he had changed his mind and was running for mayor, the powers of incumbency instant catapulting him into the frontrunner position where he remains today, according to the most recent poll by the Bay Citizen and University of San Francisco.

Lee the politician

With his late entry into the race and decision to forgo public financing and its attendant spending limits, one might think that Lee would have to campaign aggressively to keep his job. But most of the heavy lifting has so far been done by his taxpayer-financed Office of Communications (which issues press releases at least daily) and by corporate-funded surrogates in a series of coordinated “independent” groups (see Rebecca Bowe’s story, “The billionaires’ mayor”).

That has left Lee to simply act as mayor, where he’s made a series of decisions that favor the business community and complement the “jobs” mantra cited relentlessly by centrist politicians playing on people’s economic insecurities.

Yet Lee has been elusive on the campaign trail and to reporters who seek more detailed explanations about his stands on issue or contradictions in his positions, and his spokespersons sometimes offer only misleading doublespeak.

For example, Lee’s office announced plans to veto legislation by Sup. David Campos that would prevent businesses from meeting their city obligation to provide a minimum level of employee health benefits through health savings accounts that these businesses would then pocket at the end of the year, taking $50 million last year even though some of that money had been put in by restaurant customer’s paying 5 percent surcharges on their bills.

Although Campos, the five other supervisors who voted for the measure, four other mayoral candidates, and its many supporters in the labor and consumer rights movements maintained the money belonged to workers who desperately needed it to afford expensive health care, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said it was about “jobs” that would be protected only if businesses could keep that money.

Lee parroted the position but tried to push the political damage until after the election, issuing a statement entitled “Mayor Lee Convenes Group to Improve Health Care Access & Protect Jobs,” saying that he would seek to “develop a consensus strategy” on the divisive issue — one in which Campos said “we have a fundamental disagreement” — that would take weeks to play out.

After a frustrating back-and-forth with Lee Press Secretary Christine Falvey by email, it’s still unclear how to resolve the contradiction between whether businesses could seize these funds or whether they belonged to employees, with her latest statement being, “The Mayor absolutely wants these funds spent on providing access to quality primary and preventative health care because this is the business’s obligation under HCSO. Making sure that these funds go to pay for health care is the most important objective.”

Similarly, when police raided the OccupySF encampment on Oct. 5, Lee’s office issued a statement that was a classic case of politicians trying to have it both ways, expressing support for the movement and its goal to “occupy” public space, but also supporting the need to police to clear the encampment of those same occupiers.

But now, in the wake of a repeat raid on Oct. 16 that has inflamed passions on the issue, the question is whether Lee can run out the clock and retain the office he gained on the promise of being someone more than a typical politician.

Weed Wars

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HERBWISE “I always knew that doing this show would be a risk,” says Harborside Health Center founder Steve DeAngelo in a phone interview with the Guardian. A medical marijuana dispensary could probably always be considered controversial fodder for a nighttime reality TV program, but DeAngelo’s enterprise rose above standard controversy when it became the target of the IRS, the federal agency ruling that it could no longer write off common business expenses. It now owes $2 million — an amount that left the rest of the industry quaking with concerns over its future.

The perfect time for an on-air debut, right? DeAngelo thinks so.

“If the American people see how we use this medicine, how we distribute it, they’re going to support it,” he says. “They’ve only gotten a chance to see the government’s side, the propaganda side.”

Especially nowadays. In the past few weeks, the feds have launched a multi-lateral attack on medical cannabis dispensaries (see the Oct. 12 Herbwise column, entitled “Feds crack down”). The Treasury Department convinced banks to close dispensaries’ accounts. The Department of Justice has sent out numerous cease-and-desist letters to dispensaries. The notifications insist that the trafficking illegal substances is occurring, and that it must be stopped — a turnaround from the Obama administration’s earlier pledge that it would not stand in the way of a patient’s access to medicine.

DeAngelo claims that Harborside is among the top 10 highest tax payers to the city of Oakland. The dispensary has gone through disputes over taxes paid before, but this latest persecution has meant a diminished sense of security for the dispensary’s 120-person staff at its San Jose and Oakland locations — not to mention among patients.

“They’re terrorized,” says DeAngelo. “I have 60, 70, 80-year old patients who are terrified.”

It’s high drama stuff. Ironically, filming for Weed Wars — save a few remaining pickup shots — had already concluded by the time of the ruling. Surely Discovery Channel executives are smacking their foreheads, having shot the relatively boring chunk of 2011 at Harborside.

“It does seem like the cameras got turned off at just the wrong time,” says DeAngelo.

The dispensary founder says that his people thoroughly vetted Braverman Productions prior to signing any deals — it wasn’t the only offer they got to be the subject of such a show. He’s confident the company will shy from the “unreal setups” so prevalent on other reality TV series. And he hopes that despite the current drama (which might make its way into the final episode of the program’s season), producers will portray the dispensary in a way that’s respectful and shows an accurate image of what day-to-day operations look like.

But whether or not that will be the case remains to be seen. An article written by a staff member in the September 2011 edition of the Harborside newsletter questioned the use of “weed” in the show’s title (a faux pas in the medical marijuana industry). In such a volatile political environment, the temptation to sensationalize cannabis dispensaries might run pretty hot. Or on the contrary, maybe Weed Wars will make the sale of state-legal marijuana seem as normal as being a Coloradan bounty hunter or a Kardashian.

Regardless of what happens, DeAngelo’s not ruing the day he decided to go into medical marijuana.

“We decided when we opened our doors that it was worth the risk. I still think it was worth that risk.” *

Weed Wars premieres November 27 at 10 p.m. PST on the Discovery Channel

 

Volume 46 Number 3 Flip-through Edition

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The bad old days

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tredmond@sfbg.com

Willie L. Brown, according to the Chronicle’s John Cote, is “a tremendously popular figure in the city, viewed by many as an avuncular man-about-town, elder statesman and a uniquely San Franciscan character.” The Ed Lee Story, a hagiographic campaign book, refers to Brown’s “characteristic showmanship and hypnotic charm.” Even Randy Shaw, the housing activist who clashed with Brown over gentrification once upon a time, now says in BeyondChron that Brown’s first term “was the most progressive of any mayor in modern San Francisco history.”

I feel as if I’m living in some sort of strange parallel universe, something out of Orwell or North Korea or the Soviet Union of the 1950s. It’s as if history never happened, as if the years between 1996 and 2004 have just vanished, have been deleted from San Francisco’s collective memory. It’s crazy.

I wonder:

What about the thousands and thousands of people who lost their homes and were tossed out of the city like refugees from a war? What about the rampant corruption at City Hall? What about the legions of unqualified political cronies who got good jobs and commission posts? What about the iron-fisted machine rule that kept local politics closed to all but the loyal insiders? Doesn’t any of that count?

Here are some things that absolutely, undeniable, demonstrably happened while Willie Brown was mayor:

Rents on the East Side of town, particularly in the Mission, tripled and sometimes quadrupled between 1996, when Brown took office, and 2004, when he left. Evictions more than tripled, too, and at one point more than 100 people a month were losing their homes. Most of those people were low-income, long-term tenants. They were forced out because richer people were moving into town during the dot-com boom and could pay more for those apartments. We called it the “Economic Cleansing of San Francisco.”

Every day, it seemed, we’d be out at another rally as the Tenants Union and the Mission Antidisplacement Coalition tried to save another family from the forces of gentrification. Every week, it seemed, another group house full of artists would be served an eviction notice. Everywhere you looked, nonprofits and small businesses were losing space to high-tech companies with plenty of money.

I watched the wrecking crew tear down a studio complex on Bryant Street, forcing more than 100 painters and photographers to leave, to make way for a high-tech office project that was approved even though it violated the local zoning laws — and then was never built. For two years, I walked to get my lunch past the empty hole in the ground that had once been a thriving community.

That was typical. Every developer who waved money in front of the mayor got a building permit, no matter how crazy, illogical or illegal the project was. The Planning Department and the Bureau of Building Inspection were little more than fronts for the lobbyists and Brown cronies who determined development policy in the city.

In October, 1999, the author Paulina Borsook wrote a famous piece in Salon called “How the Internet Ruined San Francisco.” I agreed with the sentiment; the influx of the dot-commers was wrecking all that was cool and weird about the city. But she got one point wrong: The Internet didn’t ruin anything. The Internet was, and is, a technology, a tool, something that, like most technological advances, can be used for good or evil.

Mayor Brown didn’t create the dot-com boom. Although he took credit for an awful lot of things, even Willie didn’t claim to have invented the Internet.

But what he did — and what ruined many San Francisco neighborhoods, and ruined the lives of many San Franciscans — was to let the economic cleansing of the city happen, without raising a finger to slow it down or prevent the evictions or protect the most vulnerable people in the city. Over and over, he encouraged it — by appointing commissioners and supervisors and department heads who allowed evictions and development and displacement in the name of growth and prosperity.

In fact, when reporters from the zine Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll asked Brown about the problems facing poor people, he told them that the city had become so expensive that poor people would be better off living somewhere else.

Because he didn’t care about poor people, or tenants, or artists, or anyone who lacked money and flash and dazzle and clout. He was the worst kind of imperial mayor.

Here’s how we put in it in our 33rd anniversary issue in 1998:

“Let’s say the next major earthquake that hits San Francisco is of roughly the same magnitude of the Loma Prieta quake of 1989, or maybe just a bit stronger. Let’s say it wipes out right 1,000 houses and leave some 5,000 people homeless … and lets say a few unscrupulous profiteers take advantage of the shortages of critical supplies and charge desperate residents triple the normal rate for food, blankets and drinking water….

“The profiteers, speculators and charlatans would be exposed in the press and roundly, loudly denounced by every political and community leader in the city. The ones who didn’t wind up in jail would be forced to leave town in disgrace.”

Or else they wouldn’t. Because when an economic earthquake ravaged San Francisco during his term, Brown — the most powerful mayor in modern history, a guy who could have had an immense impact on what was happening — went to meet the speculators and profiteers with outstretched arms, welcomed them to the city and partied with them at night.

And when he ran for re-election, they thanked him by funding an astonishing $5 million campaign.

Then there was the corruption. Not only did Brown raise pay-to-play to a new art form, he filled the city payroll and key commissions with campaign workers, former political allies, and cronies, subverting the civil service system and undermining both the function of city agencies and public respect for local government. At least seven Brown appointees were indicted or investigated for criminal misconduct. While sentencing a Housing Authority official to five years in prison, U.S. District Judge Charles Legge decried what he called Third World-style corruption at San Francisco City Hall.

When Mayor Ed Lee, who is now seeking a full four-year term, was asked to give Brown a grade for his eight years in Room 200, Lee said: A-Plus.

Which makes us a little nervous. To say the least.

I’ve been going back through the Guardian archives over the past couple of weeks, picking out some great covers to reproduce (see page 18) and looking at four and a half decades of alternative news coverage of San Francisco. And if there’s one theme that emerges from the stacks and stacks and stacks of papers, it’s that local government matters.

In the 1960s, when the underground press was talking about sex, drugs and dropping out, the Guardian was talking about the ways big corporations were stealing the taxpayers’ money at City Hall. (Okay, the Guardian wrote about sex and drugs too. But sex and drugs and political scandals.)

The difference between the independent alternative press and the underground papers of the era was more than just thematic. The underground publishers were having a great time and celebrating culture, but none of those publications was built to last. From the day they published their first issue in October, 1966, Guardian founders Bruce Brugmann and Jean Dibble intended their paper to become a permanent part of San Francisco.

The Guardian quickly demonstrated that it had a different approach than a lot of the “New Left” — particularly when it came to electoral politics. At a time when some were saying that it made no difference whether Ronald Reagan or Pat Brown won the 1966 governor’s race, the Guardian made the key point about Reagan.

“California cannot afford the luxury of this kind of conservatism,” a Nov. 7, 1966 editorial stated. “Because of the millions of people coming to California, because San Francisco and Los Angeles soon will have the greatest concentration of urban power in history, because farm land and open space is vanishing at a suicidal rate, because technology is putting vast populations out of work, because of the social neglect of our cities and the uglification of our countryside, because we now have the knowledge to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.”

And while the paper devoted considerable space to reporting on and opposing the war in Vietnam, it was also developing a reputation for local investigative reporting. One June 7, 1971 story showed how the city had all of its short-term deposits in local banks that paid no interest at all. The story parked an investigation by the city’s budget analyst, the resignation of the city treasurer — and a new investment policy that brought the city at least $1 million more revenue a year. (Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $5 million a year, times 40 years is a lot of money that the Guardian brought into the city coffers).

And from the start, the Guardian was a nonpartisan, independent foe of corruption, secrecy and undue influence at City Hall. So while the paper eagerly endorsed Phil Burton (and later his brother, John) for Congress and lauded their antiwar and environmental policies, the Guardian also blasted the Burtons for exercising undue influence back home. The paper strongly endorsed George Moscone for mayor — then denounced him when he fired Harvey Milk from a commission post after Milk had the gall to challenge the Moscone/Burton candidate for state Assembly.

The 1999 Sunshine Ordinance, which dramatically opened up City Hall records, was sponsored and promoted by the Guardian. Willie Brown and his cronies hated it.

It’s probably a misnomer to say that the Burtons, who were a dominant force in local politics in the 1970s and 1980s, ran an old-fashioned machine. They didn’t have the iron control over local politics and the patronage jobs system that the word “machine” implies.

But when Brown became mayor of San Francisco, he had all of that. Brown controlled eight solid votes on the Board of Supervisors (and through various political machinations, had managed to appoint most of them). “He ruled the building,” Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who was a supervisor during those years, recalled. “If you defied him, you were radioactive.”

And one of the people who rose through the ranks as a loyal Brown appointee was Ed Lee. Who to this day thinks things in that administration were just dandy.

 

The Lee campaign complains about “guilt by association,” and that’s a legitimate point. Ed Lee isn’t Willie Brown. He’s a lot more open, a lot (a lot) more humble, and as numerous progressives have pointed out to us, his door is open. He doesn’t have the history of sleaze that pretty much defined Brown’s political career.

There will be no “Ed Lee Machine.” In fact, with district elections of supervisors pretty much guaranteeing more diffuse political power in the city, there will never be another mayor able to rule the way Brown did.

And these days, Brown’s clout could easily be overstated. Until he engineered the selection of Ed Lee as mayor, his power seemed to be waning. And even Mayor Lee hasn’t done everything that Brown wanted.

Of course, the Chronicle, which he helped immensely when Hearst Corp. bought the paper and had trouble with federal regulators, has helped Brown by giving him a column that created a new, sanitized persona.

But the important thing about the Brown administration was not so much who was in charge but who benefited. The landlords, the developers, the big corporations got pretty much what they wanted from City Hall. The rest of us got screwed.

And now those same interests — in some cases, the exact same people — who supported, promoted and worked with Willie Brown are backing Lee for mayor. If they thought he was going to be an independent progressive, that money and support wouldn’t be coming in. There are people who miss the machine days — and if they think Ed Lee is their guy, it’s reason to worry.

Corruption matters. When people lose faith in local government because they see the kind of sleaze that was daily business under Brown, then they stop wanting to pay taxes for public services. After all, the mayor is wasting our money already. Lee may be a decent guy — but some of the people he hangs out with, some of the people who are supporting him, have a long and very unpleasant history in this town. And all the time he was sitting there at City Hall, while Brown was running a corrupt operation that did lasting damage, Lee never raised a public finger in protest. I hate to see all the history forgotten when people decide who to support for mayor in November, 2011.

Fall fresh

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APPETITE These three new places just opened; these early dishes jump out.

 

PARK TAVERN

Staring out at Washington Square Park and city views from Park Tavern’s front dining room, one could be in Europe or New York. Yet the glow is distinctly San Francisco (specifically, North Beach). The menu exemplifies the typical cooking of our peninsula: high quality ingredients prepared carefully in heartwarming dishes. There are raw, fried, or smoked menu categories, and entrees like a plump poulet rouge (red chicken) standing at attention over a platter of potatoes and wilted spinach, doused in herbs and jus. From the owners of Marlowe (marlowesf.com), this new space is already a source of comfortable sophistication in North Beach.

Early stand-out: Though bites like NY steak crudo ($10) sprinkled with Parmesan and crispy horseradish delight, a delicate (read: slight) appetizer of compressed Yellow Doll watermelon and Mangalitsa prosciutto over mustard greens ($11) is the one that leaves an impression. True, compressed watermelon with meat has been a trendy starter in recent years, but it’s a delicate whisper of truffle that sends it over the top. Truffle flavor can easily come off as heavy-handed, but here it’s a welcome tease, hinting at umami worlds behind its initial sweet and savory contrasts.

Bonus: Dessert should not be forgotten at Park Tavern, and, no, I’m not talking about daily “birthday cake” specials — like coconut cream or chocolate caramel, both sold out on my last visit. I headed straight for grownup ice cream shakes ($9 each): Fernet ice cream with a shot of Fernet and Fever Tree ginger beer, or an Arnold Palmer with black tea ice cream, lemon gelato and St. Germain elderflower liqueur.

1652 Stockton Street, (415) 989-7300, www.parktavernsf.com

 

UMAMI BURGER

Raved about ad nauseum in LA for years, Umami Burger already has a staunch following ensured. The chain’s first SF opening in Cow Hollow paves the way for the next two Bay Area locations already in the works. From tempting sauces (Umami ketchup, Dijon mustard, roasted garlic aioli, jalapeno ranch) to veggie burger offerings like the Earth Burger ($12 — mushroom edamame patty in white soy aioli with truffle ricotta), Umami Burger is a guaranteed hit. Overhyped, though? Definitely. These are good burgers, to be sure, but there are many equally gourmet and crave-worthy burgers in town. Still, Umami’s having fun and it shows.

Early stand-out: I’m all about the Manly Burger ($11): beer cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings, bacon lardons. There’s only a bit of each ingredient, but somehow the thin layer of bacon cheesiness makes you appreciate it all the more. Add in a side of giant tempura onion rings ($4.50) and the day’s stresses seem minimal.

2184 Union Street, (415) (415) 440-8626, www.umamiburger.com

 

CANELA

Canela is an airy new Spanish tapas restaurant in the Castro. With the front window ushering in bright sun and Market Street’s bustle, it’s a lovely mid-day respite with a glass of sangria ($5). The restaurant is still finding its legs with the menu (mostly tapas; will evolve to include dinner entrees), and as is expected, some dishes work better than others. Kudos for house-made chorizo on their coca flatbread ($14-15).

Early stand-out: There’s two! A bright amuse of gazpacho (also on the menu at $5 cup/$7 bowl). The cool puree of tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, garlic, and olive oil kickstarts the taste buds. Salt cod salad ($9 small/$15 large) is punctuated by olives, red onion, and orange slices, cutting the saltiness of the fish, while orange vinaigrette ties it together. For me, salt cod evokes the Mediterranean every time, particularly when it’s this fresh-tasting and, well, salty. This simple salad sent me right back to Spain gazing out at the sea.

2272 Market Street, (415) 552-3000, www.canelasf.com

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com

 

Paws out

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS She’s allergic to dogs and cats, and can’t breathe in my apartment. Thus all this subletting. By way of a landing pad, we found a quick, couple-week rental until the 15th of the month. It was pet free, but dusty, maybe moldy, and cold. Our kitchen was a hot-plate on a broken washing machine, a toaster oven on a dresser, and a sink.

The sadness of which, complicated by the frustration of trying to find a breathable place to live in an already suffocating market, plus my team lost at least 30-0, and Hedgehog and I were rejected again for yet another apartment we’d wanted — it reduced both of us to tears at exactly the same time: Sunday.

Which may have contributed to our decision to go get a drink. Staying home in our shithole was not an option. There was no TV there, and the 49ers game was on, and postseason baseball. We would have to battle our depression the old-fashioned way: in a dark and stinky bar.

Wild Side West! One of my all-time new favorite bars ever, on the strength of its fantastic backyard garden that you can almost never sit in because it’s so damn cold out. Normally that’s where I go, but this time there were games on, and — and this is a big and — there was a table full of delicious homemade sausages: chicken ones, bangers, and big long juicy spicy Hungarians. There was cole slaw without mayo, bowls of pepperoncini and cornichons, and some really good pesto pasta salad. And a tip jar.

So we’re sitting inside, at the bar, tipping and eating and drinking and cheering, smooching and hugging during commercials, and just generally putting the “lesbian” back into lesbian bar, when in swaggers this loud, dreadlocked woman with a big, energetic and smelly dog, sets a plate of half-a-sausage on the bar next to me and while she orders her drink, the dog is trying to climb up on the stool next to mine. He actually almost gets her sausage before she manages to divert and calm him.

But already slobber is flying, and the dog is panting, shaking off cooties, and not smelling very entirely good, even to me, when Hedgehog goes, on the other side of me, Sniff.

Uh-oh, I think.

Understand: the 49ers are winning big. They’re wearing their home red, the mere sight of which cheers me to the marrow. The Brewers are up on the Cards — and that’s what we want in the National League. The Brewers. I don’t want us to have to leave this little bubble of sausage-y happiness we have found at the end of our hard cold week of searching, rejection, and 30-0. But am I the kind of person who advocates for herself, let alone her sweetie?

To date, no. But.

But I can hear Hedgehog getting sneezy and itchy. I can see it. Next comes raspy and breathless, and if you’ve ever sat with someone you love while they have an asthma attack, you’ll be with me when I turn to Dreads and say, “Can you please take your dog outside to the patio? My partner’s allergic.”

She looked at me as if I had asked her to — I don’t know — put out a cigarette, or something. “But this dog is friends with the owner,” she said, unable to fathom how a patron of her dog’s buddy’s bar could possible have a problem with it.

I said, “I don’t care.” I said, “My partner’s allergic. We’re here. And I’m asking you to take the dog outside.” I said these things!

“How about the other end of the bar?” she said.

“Fine,” I said, knowing we would miss the end of both games.

Hedgehog had half a drink left. The bartender came over to us as Dreads was relocating her dog, and she asked what happened.

“She’s allergic to dogs,” I said, “so I asked her to take hers outside.”

“Oh,” the bartender said, and went back to work.

Hedgehog sniffed. We left half a drink on the bar, and moved on, cursing and hating and vowing never to go back to my all-time new favorite bar ever. And later that day we found our dream-sublet: a cottage! In Oakland!

WILD SIDE WEST

Daily: 2 p.m.-2 a.m.

424 Cortland Ave., SF

(415) 647-3099

Cash only

Full bar

 

Queens, riders, fancy hats

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caitlin@sfbg.com

>>See more high-steppin’ photos of the Grand National Rodeo here.

RODEO Shelby Terry is a cowboy. To be more specific, he is a bucking bronco rider. Despite the fact that he was a little disappointed in the ride he had just finished at the Grand National Rodeo at Cow Palace on Friday night, he was willing to talk about the importance of the yearly event — which has been taking over the grounds for 66 years now.

“I hope they don’t ever get rid of it. If they just added 10 to 20 thousand dollars to the budget they’d be able to attract the really big name riders.” Then a camera was brandished and all of a sudden, the cowboy morphed into the Marlboro man.

Fact: cowboys are hot. This is one of the reasons why the half-empty stadium was a shame on Friday night at the Cow Palace. But beyond the titillation of watching intent, muscular men and women put themselves in the way of bodily harm from the hooves of a multi-ton animal, there are other reasons to make the journey down to Geneva Avenue.

For one, the glittery horses. Not since the heyday of My Little Pony have steeds been this tricked out — the horses ridden by the rodeo queens not only have silky braids and fancy saddles, but also sparkly behinds (which you can see up close and personal in the stables, where show ponies hang and you’re welcome to wander during the event). There’s also goat, dog, and rabbit shows, designer hat stands, beer for sale, and shooting exhibitions.

Miss Grand National Rodeo 2010, Holly Kucera won her title last year based on her appearance, horsemanship, and comportment. She’s a skinny blonde with curly hair and pageant makeup who was happy to speak with the Guardian about the Grand National.

“This is just a one-after-the-other kind of thing,” Kucera smiled from atop her white horse as she waited to ride out into the arena. “It’s a real entertainment sport.” Both Kucera and Terry mentioned, however, that the rodeo is far from its glory days, when weekend shows would be sold out and athlete entry was more competitive.

And it bears mentioning that — amidst the sparkles and snorts of humans and animals — not everyone was thrilled about the Grand National’s high octane roping and slamming. A group of activists from Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (S.H.A.R.K.) stood outside in the balmy parking lot during the event, holding up “Not Fun For the Animals” and talking to passers-by about the neck-jerking cruelty of cattle roping.

GRAND NATIONAL RODEO

Remaining dates: Fri/21-Sat/22 7:30 p.m., $23–$44

Cow Palace

2600 Geneva, Daly City

www.cowpalace.com

 

The right combination

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Deborah Slater Dance Theater celebrated its 20th anniversary last year; for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, 2011 is its 38th season. The two choreographers have had enviable careers both locally and nationally. By now they know what they are doing. Or do they? Are there roads not yet taken?

Talking with both of them on the eve of their latest premieres — Slater’s Night Falls October 21 at ODC Theater, Jenkins’ Light Moves November 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts — it is striking about how enthusiastic they are about the unknown. At this point in the rehearsal process they have an idea where the new pieces are going, yet they are also conscious of how fragile, risky, and exciting this whole art-making endeavor still is — particularly when it involves new collaborators.

The two women have much experience working closely with dancers, writers, designers, and composers. They are particularly committed to soliciting, and acknowledging, the contributions that dancers make in developing the movement material. But here they are both stepping into unknown territory, pushing their processes into new dimensions.

In Night Slater takes on the subject of aging. It’s a particularly poignant topic for dancers who are considered over the hill by the time they are 40. As is her want, Slater has done her research. Besides doing a lot of reading, she hosted a series of get-togethers with women between 30 and 80 who discussed the subject from a kaleidoscope of perspectives — physical, emotional, social, psychological. They provided welcome information but also elevated the topic beyond the level of personal experience.

The biggest input, however, came from an old friend, playwright-director Julie Hébert, with whom Slater worked early in her career as a soloist. Though the two have never collaborated on a company project, they have had many fruitful conversations over the years. Hébert wrote the script for Night featuring a heroine, Peregrine, who (Hébert and Slater agreed) would be realized by two male and four female performers. Each one, says Slater, acts his or her own age.

Jenkins’ new collaborator is visual artist Naomie Kremer, whose paintings and multi-media work she has admired for years. Jenkins recognized its theatrical potential when she saw Kremer’s video set for the 2008 Berkeley Opera production of Bluebeard’s Castle. In a preview last year, the video environment for Light looked sometimes saturated with color but airy and always luminous — in part, perhaps, because video depends on direct, and not reflected light.

Collaborating with Kremer provided Jenkins, who calls herself hopelessly monolingual, with the opportunity of learning a “new language.” Kremer imposes strong visual rhythms and cadences on what she does; her art dances even on a flat canvass. So to create a piece about the trajectory of daylight as it changes while traveling from dawn to dusk, the two artists had to juxtapose two different kinetic languages.

So what are the particular challenges that Slater and Jenkins are facing in working with these new collaborators? For Slater it is the fact that only one of her performers is a trained dancer. Over the years, she always worked with dancers who express themselves well in words and movement. Actors, apparently, want to use movement on a one-to-one basis with words. The two mediums are different, Slater says, “but they are learning. It’s all coming together.”

Her fellow choreographer has experienced a similar shift in her idea-sharing process: “I have learned to be much more articulate and precise in communicating my observations,” Jenkins says. Night Falls and Light Moves sound like they just might be companion pieces. *

NIGHT FALLS

Fri/21-Sat/22 and Oct. 27-29, 8 p.m.; Sun/23 and Oct. 30, 2 p.m., $17-$20

ODC Theater

3153 17th St., SF

(415) 863-9834

www.deborahslater.org

LIGHT MOVES

Nov. 3-5, 8 p.m., $25-$30

Novellus Theater

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

 

Light years

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM A pioneer of what film scholar Gene Youngblood called “expanded cinema,” San Francisco artist Jordan Belson developed his majestic form of abstract cinema over six decades of work. He died last month at 85, the same day as George Kuchar. Belson worked on a very different plane than Kuchar: his films were non-representational, long in the making, and were for many years out of circulation owing to his rigorous standards. The prints showing at a special memorial screening at the Pacific Film Archive come from the Center for Visual Music, a Los Angeles-based organization carrying on extensive preservation work of Belson’s work. Choreographed along the lines of rhythm, texture, frequency and color, Belson’s assured geometric forms tend to evoke sublime metaphors of subatomic particles, space odysseys and mandala wheels. For me, they create a startling awareness of cinema’s weightlessness (and for less than The Tree of Life‘s catering costs).

Belson had deep roots in the sprawling avant-garde mapped in Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000 (University of California Press). After graduating from UC Berkeley a painter in 1946, he became enamored with cinema’s purely graphic possibilities after being exposed to visual music by the likes of Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren at Frank Stauffacher’s legendary “Art in Cinema” series at the old San Francisco Museum of Art. Along with his early forays in animation, Belson shot Christopher Maclaine’s The End (1953), a fruitful case of clashing sensibilities.

Belson took a great leap forward with a series of light shows he orchestrated with electronic music composer Henry Jacobs in the late 1950s. The Vortex Concerts created a sensation at the Morrison Planetarium in Golden Gate Park: “People were just ripe for it,” Belson explained in an interview with author Scott MacDonald. “It” was a carefully articulated sensory immersion based upon the planetarium’s advanced technology (including a then novel star projector), Belson’s extraordinary sensitivity to the kinesthetics of light, and Jacobs’ innovative compositions for rotational speakers.

You get an inkling of what they were up to in Allures (1961), an enveloping film that grew out of the Vortex Concerts. The mostly circular figures radiate out, rotate, recede, divide and multiply. These movements surface micro-calibrations of tonality and rhythm in the music. A gravitational focus towards the center of the frame draws in the eye and makes those moments when the entire frame glimmers with points of light frankly overwhelming. The titles of some of Belson’s other films give you a sense of his energy-seeking objectives: Séance (1959), Chakra (1972), Cycles (1974, co-produced with Stephen Beck), Music of the Spheres (1977), and so on.

Belson preferred not to discuss his practical methods in public — “I like a convincing illusion,” he told MacDonald — but it’s clear from watching a selection of his films that his technique evolved over time. In Light (1973), a piece inspired by the electromagnetic spectrum, Belson conveys color as a matter of temperature rather than discrete points of energy. And in his final masterwork, Epilogue (2005), the light particles of Allures have been replaced by billowing supernova clouds of color subtly illuminating Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead.” Given Belson’s lifelong channeling of the cosmos, it’s fitting that this video composition was partially funded by NASA’s art program.

The Center for Visual Music has issued an excellent DVD including several of the abovementioned films (Jordan Belson: 5 Essential Titles), but Belson’s work takes on a different life in the cinema — among other revelations, the darkness surrounding the screen is superbly vivid in light of Allures‘ fireworks. “I am essentially an artist of the inner image,” the filmmaker told MacDonald. Film is not the most logical tool to accomplish this ends, but Belson undoubtedly made the medium his own. 

“JORDAN BELSON: FILMS SACRED AND PROFANE”

Wed/19, 7:30 p.m., $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk

(510) 642-5249

bampfa.berkeley.edu

 

Swiss (don’t) miss

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Heidi stand down. The Berlin and Beyond Film Festival celebrates its sweet 16 with a clutch of Swiss films that catapult that oft-overlooked alpine land into the cinematic big leagues. From this year’s centerpiece film Bold Heroes, set in a juvenile cancer ward, to How About Love, a tense love story set on the troubled border between Myanmar and Thailand, Swiss cinema is hogging some of the German-language spotlight generally dominated by its Northern neighbor. My personal picks, Sennentuntschi, a Halloween-appropriate horror flick, and The Sandman, a quirky comedy about a man who becomes a walking sandstorm, aren’t the festival’s biggest movies, but may prove to be among the most memorable.

An Alp-traum, combining bits of The Blair Witch Project (1999), Deliverance (1972), and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Sennentuntschi unfolds in a series of sometimes confusingly non-linear flashbacks from 1975. After the presumed suicide of the church sacristan (Thomas Landl), a bedraggled mute (Roxane Mesquida) stumbles into the village. Immediately suspicion for the young man’s death falls on her, especially when the parish priest (Ueli Jaggi) denounces her as evil, demonstrating as proof her apparent fear of the crucifix. Certain there is a rational explanation for her unexplained presence, the village cop (Nicholas Ofczarek), a slow-witted, big-hearted John Elway look-alike, begins the search for her true identity as discontent and rumor simmer around him.

Meanwhile, on top of the mountain, uncouth goat herder Erwin (Andrea Zogg), his mentally-challenged protégé Albert (Joel Basman), and his city-slicker volunteer Martin (Carlos Leal) court codified horror-film comeuppance by crafting a straw-filled sex puppet, a Sennentuntschi, and “inviting the devil” to turn her into a real woman. The cruelly violent treatment meted out to their “supernatural” helpmate, naturally the mysterious mute, is rendered all the more disturbing once it’s revealed that she may in fact be a feral innocent rather than a demonic succubus. The movie boasts some remarkable cinematography, with a palette that renders even slaughtered goats attractive, and haunting shots of the misty mountains that would do Peter Jackson proud. And though the film occasionally gets bogged down in police procedure and missing persons’ bureaus, there’s enough splatter and chill to satisfy the blood-thirst of most horror fans, from slasher-flick fan kids to aficionados of refined psychological terror.

A gem of minimalistic absurdity, The Sandman opens innocuously enough, following an uptight philatelist and failed conductor, Benno (Fabian Krüger) on his daily rounds from stamp shop to café, shower to bed. Navigating the world and his relationships with the special arrogance of a congenital loser who doesn’t recognize his own shortcomings, Benno’s limited horizons take on a surreal cast once sand inexplicably begins to trickle from his body, leaving a pebbly trail wherever he goes. Possibly even more disturbing to his equilibrium are the romantic dreams he begins having about Sandra (Irene Brügger), the barista he despises, who runs the café directly below his apartment and keeps him awake at night practicing her “one-woman orchestra” act with sousaphone and loop machine.

Horrified to discover they are sharing the same dream, the two join forces to determine both the source of the nightmare and of the endless streams of sand, which eventually turn Benno’s formerly pristine apartment into a treacherous dune. Krüger and Brügger each deliver gracefully understated performances, circling each other with wary exasperation even as circumstance forces them into ever closer proximity. Although a couple of plot points never really get fully developed (it appears that the sand has soporific properties, but selectively so), The Sandman‘s guileless commitment to its own playful illogic makes it a genuine pleasure to watch. And while it’s never entirely clear whether or not they find the secret of stopping the sand, Krüger and Brügger’s final musical collaboration is a show-stopper.

BERLIN AND BEYOND FILM FESTIVAL

Oct. 20-26, most shows $12

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.berlinbeyond.com

 

The last hurrah

0

emilysavage@sfbg.com

MUSIC On the final day of Budget Rock 10, the endmost moment of the Budget Rock showcase itself, there will be pancakes and local ’80s surf-punk band the Phantom Surfers. Likely a few tear stained cheeks as well.

The daylong event at Thee Parkside — which tops off four days plus 10 years of weirdo, trashy, slack rock shows — also features the annual morning record swap and a ticketed evening lineup that includes the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, the Mothballs, Midnite Snaxxx, and Okmoniks, amongst others.

The organic pancake batter, donated by former Thee Parkside co-owner Sean O’Connor, will come in a pressurized can (he created Batter Blaster), while the bands, many brought back together specifically for Budget Rock, will come to the venue courtesy of Chris Owen and his longtime fellow organizer, Mitch Cardwell.

This year’s fest, Thursday, Oct. 20 through Sunday, Oct. 23 at Bottom of the Hill and Thee Parkside, not only brings back Phantom Surfers from the first ever Budget Rock showcase, but also returns Boston’s Lyres, the classic ’80s punk band formed from the ashes of DMZ. Organizers also recruited bands that played subsequent years — the masked Nobunny (this time playing original budget rock-esque covers), Subsonics, the Statics, Personal & the Pizzas (whose first ever show was at Budget Rock), and booked a Ripoffs reunion show — a coup for Owen, who’s been a fan of the ’90s garage rockers since college.

“The fact that Lyres and the Ripoffs are playing in San Francisco in the year 2011 is fucking incredible,” Owen enthuses from his perch at Gio’s, an old school Italian FiDi spot he says reminds him of Thee Parkside when he first started going there in late 2000. “Carpet on the ground, tablecloths on the tables.” (Obviously things have changed immensely since then.) But it was there, sharing beers after work with his friend John O’Neill, that Owen says they first came up with the idea for a Budget Rock showcase — a term he borrowed from another of his all-time favorite bands, the Mummies (which he later got to reform for Budget Rock 8). Owen and O’Neill had both been booking shows at the venue, and came up with the concept to concentrate all the then-scattered acts.

That first fest took place in 2002. Including the 2011 showcase, 190 bands will have come through Budget Rock. Over the decade it survived a move to the East Bay for a couple of years (to the Stork Club), lead organizer shifts (Owen bowed out for most of last year as his wife was pregnant) and the general chaos of unrefined rock’n’rollers. O’Neill vividly recalls when Peter Zaremba of the Fleshtones ran outside mid-song onto 17th Street to sing to a Muni bus that had just pulled up. And Phantom Surfers’ guitarist Maz “Spazz” Kattua claims “All I remember about [Budget Rock 1] was that we played in matching boxer shorts with hearts on them and sock garters.”

So why end it now? Owen chalks it up to two main reasons: the organizers of Budget Rock are in different spots in life (he now lives in Fairfax with his wife, son, and baby daughter); and the influx of other like-minded showcases like Total Trash and 1-2-3-4 Go’s contribution.

“You want to fill a void, not create one,” says Owen. “That is the guiding principle. The whole concept of this festival was filling a void, there wasn’t anything like this. There was no local garage rock or kind of dorky minimalist music showcase [then].”

Plus, he says, “Once we got to six [years], we knew we would shoot for 10. And we were like, ‘if we can get to 10, we should get Lyres to come back.'”

While all the other bands at Budget Rock 1 were local, and most other acts throughout the years have been Bay Area bred, Lyres was a special case. O’Neill had booked shows in Boston before moving out West, and managed to fly Lyres to SF through alcohol endorsements that first year. Lyres evoked the ethos of the fest, a clear marker, unlike “careerist” bands, as Owen refers to others that try to make it big or take themselves too seriously — those types have never been the Budget Rock style.

“It’s a certain kind of ‘I don’t care about the rest of the world’ mentality,” Lyres organist-vocalist Jeff Conolly says about his band’s longevity, “and a genuine love for being in a group where you enjoy the results of the process.”

It’s about having a good time in your band, without a lot of expensive hoopla. “Big picture, the whole idea of [Budget Rock] was just having fun — not professionalism or competition or reputation. Those things aren’t important,” Owen stresses. “I would like to remember having a good time. That’s the only purpose that this was ever supposed to serve.”

He later gave me a list of “perfect budget rock bands” (those that have played the fest in the past, or simply fit the vibe): the Mummies, Icky Boyfriends, the Brentwoods, Captain 9’s and the Knickerbocker Trio — and any band with Russell Quan, Tina Lucchesi, or Mike Lucas.

Lucchesi, of the Trashwomen and a zillion other Bay Area bands, has played the fest in different incarnations 18 different times. This year, she plays the final Budget Rock on Saturday with Tee’N’Dee Explosion, then the next night at Thee Parkside with both Special Ed and Midnight Snaxxx. “There’s a lot of that friend-rock thing going on this year,” Owen says, “Sunday’s going to have a lot of it, pretty much all day long.” He later adds, “This is the last hurrah, so we wanted to do something cool.”

Jokes the mischievous Nobunny, “I don’t believe for one second it won’t be back next year.”

BUDGET ROCK 10

Thurs/20-Sun/23, $5–$20

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th, SF

(415) 621-4455

www.bottomofthehill.com

 

Thee Parkside

1600 17th, SF

(415) 252-1330 www.theeparkside.com

Bittersweet bear

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Over beers one night, a friend of Himalayan Bear (a.k.a Ryan Beattie) described for him a tattoo he wanted: a boat full of sailors being swallowed by a kraken with the inscription “Hard Times” beneath it. Thus, the title of Himalayan Bear’s third, and most fully formed album to date, was born.

“I wanted to make it a bit more LP-centric,” Beattie says of the record. “I was trying to explore a concept — every song is a love song.”

The Victoria, BC native (and former Frog Eyes guitarist) opted to go electric on Hard Times; abandoning the mainly acoustic sound of his previous albums in favor of heavy reverb. “I’ve had an obsession for a few years with Hawaiian lap steel,” he confesses. For Beattie, the lap steel guitar embodies a balance between complete despair and total bliss. This dynamic — a juxtaposition of soaring highs and agonizing lows — serves as a surprisingly fitting description for another instrument: Beattie’s incredible voice.

He’s been making music since his teens, but it wasn’t until his early twenties that Beattie discovered he could sing as mournfully as his heroes. His voice can be low, soothing, and subdued in one moment, only to launch into a howling falsetto in the next.

Although Hard Times often evokes the leisurely tropical repose of the Hawaiian music Beattie enjoys, it also meanders into the shadowy, foreboding wilderness where he resides. He calls his Victoria home a “paradise of darkened woods.” Beattie’s artistic environment appears on tracks such as “The Caballo” — a sparse forest hymn on which he repeatedly croons, “there is a darkness that quakes in me.”

For Himalayan Bear, recording has traditionally been a solitary process. This time around, however, Beattie wasn’t alone. He chose to record the eclectic batch of songs at the Last Resort — a Victoria house with a basement recording studio that he describes as sort of a drop-in center for touring musicians. “You can run upstairs, and someone will be there that you haven’t seen for maybe a year.” For this reason, he was able to enlist the help of friends to contribute a range of instrumentation such as trumpet, double bass, and of course, lap steel. “Coming out and engaging with people is far more helpful,” Beattie says. “Having other people’s hands on [a] record makes any record better.”

It took about a year for the album to come to fruition, yet the accomplishment for Beattie is bittersweet. On Sept. 20, Absolutely Kosher founder Cory Brown announced that due to financial hardship, the serendipitously titled Hard Times would be the Bay Area record label’s final release. “I’ve been really fortunate to work with them,” Beattie says of Absolutely Kosher, which has also put out several Frog Eyes albums. “They’ve had some pretty amazing releases; seminal releases. Certainly, to be the closing chapter is quite an honor.”

He’s toured extensively with Frog Eyes over the past several years, but playing a Himalayan Bear show is an entirely different animal. “To me, playing live is the greatest thing ever,” says Beattie. “Obviously singing is a bit more intense for me, a bit more emotional. I tend to work myself into this wailing frenzy.”

When I ask where his inspiration comes from, the amicable, talkative Beattie suddenly goes quiet. It becomes apparent that music is somewhat of an involuntary response; it simply pours out of him. After a moment of silence, he offers, “just beautiful things in your head, you know?”

HIMALAYAN BEAR With Garrett Pierce and Ready Steady Tues/25, 9 p.m., $7 Hemlock Tavern 1131 Polk, SF (415) 923-0923 www.hemlocktavern.com

Maiden voyage

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC In 2010, while Franki Chan contemplated the pros and cons of bringing back his much-beloved Los Angeles-based Check Yo Ponytail party concert series, he wasn’t entirely sure where it all might lead. All he knew is that he’d become detached from the rapid takeover of the DJ scene and the lackluster dance parties that were becoming the norm.

At the urging of a friend, he resurrected the popular event from a two-year hiatus, knowing there was an undercurrent of exciting electronic artists and bands just waiting to break out. Now, less than a year and a half later, Chan is excitedly discussing the first ever 10-stop, two-week, cross-country Check Yo Ponytail tour featuring Spank Rock, the Death Set, Pictureplane, Big Freedia — and DJ Franki Chan.

Chan, who also runs the IHEARTCOMIX record label, started the first version of Check Yo Ponytail in 2006 at a downtown Los Angeles club called Safari Sam’s. The shows quickly developed momentum, filling a niche that perhaps people hadn’t yet realized they’d been yearning for.

“At the time, we were one of the first parties in town to put a focus on the breaking electro scene,” Chan says. “And that attitude of mixing bands, electronic artists, and DJs was part of what made it feel different.”

Soon word spread outside of Southern California and Check Yo Ponytail began drawing high-profile acts such as Justice, The Horrors, Boys Noize, Das Racist, even Andrew W.K., whose relentless party anthems actually might best encapsulate the underlying spirit Chan strives for at his shows.

Though it tends to favor electro, rock, and hip-hop most, the characteristics of a Check Yo Ponytail show go beyond genre limitations. Chan doesn’t care what kind of music an artist or band makes as long as it’s fun and adds to the whole tight-knit, projector screen visual-fueled, dance-minded feel of the evening.

“There’s a linear feeling in these bands’ outlook that is expressed in their energy and how they perform,” he says. “We want it to feel like a very family style show and we invite all the performers to join each other onstage. We hope audiences will come and want to be there from the start to the finish. It’s run like a show, but it feels more like a party.”

Spank Rock, a.k.a Naeem Juwan, is of those performers expressing energy on the tour — fresh off the release of his long-anticipated sophomore LP, Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar. Forgoing some of the straight-up party rap and Baltimore club bangers of his debut for a decidedly more all-over-the-map approach, the album’s excellent mashing of pop, electro, hip-hop, and rock sounds like a business card for the Check Yo Ponytail “sound.”

“I just get bored with the same genres, dealing with the same sounds,” Juwan says. “I think it’s a pretty cohesive album, but the parts that might feel weird or schizophrenic about it I think are just because it’s my album,” he continues, referencing his decision to release the album on his own label and break free of his previous one producer approach.

Juwan was very familiar with Check Yo Ponytail even before Chan asked him to headline its maiden tour voyage, describing it as “one of the few parties in LA where you get to be exposed to a lot of new independent dance and rock music together.” He’s also well acquainted with New Orleans bounce rapper Big Freedia, who guest stars on his new album, and the Death Set, after befriending the Australian electronic punk group during its stint living in Baltimore. This familiarity will no doubt come across at a show that is essentially a big group of friends traveling around the country, partying, and playing music together.

“Every act has a ton of energy,” Juwan says. “So if people are packed in there, I’m expecting it to get pretty wild.”

CHECK YO PONYTAIL TOUR

With Spank Rock, The Death Set, Pictureplane, Big Freedia, and DJ Franki Chan

Fri/21, 9pm, $20

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

www.mezzaninesf.com

 

Battle hymns

0

MUSIC On the winding beach roads of Central California, in the cool coastal stillness of midnight, I remembered what the music hive mind spewed forth when it came to recently released record (and previous albums) from Philadelphia’s the War on Drugs: road trip music.

I pushed play on Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian) — the band’s first full-length since the departure of Kurt Vile — and was greeted by Tom Petty. Well, not actually Petty, but the milieu in which an album of his might exist. It was the War on Drug’s charismatic leader Adam Granduciel, a vocalist, guitarist, and harmonica playing samplerphile, and friends, pouring out of the speakers, wooing me with layer upon layer of crunchy rock.

The next week, I spoke with Granduciel while he cleaned dirty dishes in preparation for another tour away from his home base in Philadelphia.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You used to live in the East Bay.

Adam Granduciel I had a friend who was living there [in 2001], and I was like ‘maybe I’ll go see what California is all about.’ I actually had never been there so I flew out with a bag and my guitars. I loved living there. It’s just, I was so young and so restless that I stayed for two years…then moved back to the East Coast via train. I’d like to hopefully one day go back up there.

SFBG Tell me about making Slave Ambient.

AG Eighty-five percent of it started at my house. We had informal sessions where we would record, maybe just drums — or two drummers at once — and I’d record everything to tape and then spend days dubbing it out, sampling, resampling, then I’d transfer all the tapes at my friend Jeff Zeigler’s studio.

We also did some stuff in Dallas, Texas for a week…in December 2009. A lot of people say that stuff was scrapped — it was really never scrapped, I would keep like, a vocal chorus, or some guitar or drums.

[Zeigler’s] got a great collection of synthesizers, effects, and mics. A lot of the crazy sounds are just myself at home off the tape machine. I think the record is the journey in my growth as someone who is constantly recording at home and learning new ways to do things. Like all the stuff that’s under “Come to the City,” without that beat in the background — the electronic pulse — that song would be super straight-forward. I wasn’t always working on a song, I was working on a tone. It was about a year of doing that, then finally I was like, ‘alright, I’m now ready to focus on the record.’

SFBG Sounds like a lengthy process.

AG There are 12 songs on the record, I probably had ideas for 30 and they all ended up being thrown in through various ways to songs on the record. Like, “Baby Missiles” we worked on for almost three years, just trying to get the right feel. I mixed it like, 50 times.

SFBG What’s your take on the whole road trip/driving music thing?

AG I think it’s cool. I’m definitely sometimes just like, ‘really?’ But I think it’s cool because when you’re driving and a great song comes on you’re like, ‘this is the fucking life.’ But at the same time, driving music sometimes means that it’s music you don’t have to think about, you just cruise like “Boys of Summer” or “Take it Easy” — I guess those are both Don Henley — but I think maybe it’s just that freedom or spirit in the songs that people relate to. Or it’s just something people write without having experienced it.

SFBG I’d read it enough times that I made a point to listen to it on a road trip.

AG I think maybe the other thing too is that I spent a lot of time on the sequence of songs — on the all the records — the sequences have always really flowed. You can just put it in and you don’t have to press fast forward, you can just cruise on [Highway] 1 — so I can see it.

THE WAR ON DRUGS

With Purling Hiss, and Carter Tanton

Sun/23, 8 p.m., $12–<\d>$14

Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421

www.theindependentsf.com

Awake and singing

1

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The company members onstage had started out just a couple of hours ago in literal harmony, joined in song. Now everyone appears spent, heated, and confused. They wonder what has happened to them. They wonder if they’ve lost their way; if their extraordinary effort and success over recent years has been worth anything. It’s a moment of truth, fraught with personal and collective drama, overshadowed by desperate and tumultuous times. The Group Theatre, arguably the most influential theater in American history, is about to disband.

At this point Harold Clurman, played by actor Michael Navarra, steps forward. In 1930, Clurman (with his Group co-founders Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg) had led a year’s worth of Friday-night talks in which he laid out, in passionate ramblings, a vision for an American theater that didn’t yet exist. A decade later, much as the venture began, it ends with a Clurman speech. The few succinct lines shaped by Navarra seem to cradle for a moment the strife and disorder onstage, ringing out an eloquent justification of theater as a deep and enduring social enterprise.

Soon after this scene, the first run-through of In the Maze of Our Own Lives concludes on a rehearsal day in late September, but not without a subtle sense of histories converging. If playwright and director Corey Fischer drew on Clurman’s own language in fashioning this bit of rousing dialogue, its spirit no doubt draws too from three fervent decades with the Jewish Theatre (formerly A Traveling Jewish Theatre), his own well-known ensemble company founded with Naomi Newman and Albert Greenberg in 1978. In a chance conflation of theatrical destinies, the premiere of this ambitious, intelligent, soulful new play opens what TJT has announced will be its final season.

Sitting in roughly the middle of the house at the Jewish Theatre’s Florida Street home, Fischer thanks his cast and asks the production’s stage manager for the run time. After already massive cutting and reshaping, it seems the play could probably still stand to lose a few minutes from each act. But Fischer seems pleased with the results so far. The cast’s eight actors, meanwhile, are quietly taking in their own sense of the play as a whole, now that it’s fully up on its feet. Naomi Newman (who will debut a new play of her own about Grace Paley later in the season) has been getting her first glimpse of Maze from a seat in the third row. Not far away, outgoing artistic director Aaron Davidman has sheets of fresh notes to deliver to Fischer. It was Davidman who, five years ago, first discussed and developed with Fischer the idea of a play about the Group Theatre, after both had read John Lahr’s profile of Clifford Odets (the Group’s famous actor-turned-playwright) in the New Yorker.

It struck them both immediately, reading about Odets, that the Group was a natural, necessary subject for TJT to explore. “I don’t think the Group Theatre was ever self-consciously trying to do anything Jewish,” explains Fischer. “It just happened that a lot of them — Strasberg, Clurman, Odets, Stella Adler — they were coming directly from the only tradition of Jewish theater that ever existed: [the Yiddish theater]. It was more that in their focus on their America, that had to include the immigrant experience. That’s what they knew.

Of course, the breakthrough for Odets was writing about the people he knew. That’s what opened it up for a generation of writers, and not just theater writers. Morris Dickstein talks about Odets influencing Bernard Malamud and Grace Paley — which was fascinating because they happen to be the two non-theater writers whose work we have done the most through our Word for Word collaborations.”

A subject as grand and complex as the Group Theatre — which spawned many famous productions, plays, and artistic careers for stage and screen, influencing theater and filmmaking, theater training, and American literature at large — would present any playwright with a supreme challenge. This first run-through was proof Fischer and his colleagues had captured a coherent narrative with several key, interlocking strands in two well-shaped acts together totaling not much more than two hours. Although Fischer would eventually cut another 25 pages from the script before rehearsals were over, the play and the staging — which uses an appealing mix of media, original music, and ensemble movement to create a delicate dialogue between one company and its historical subject — was coming across persuasively.

In five years of researching the history of the Group, Fischer says he grew to appreciate a connection to these forebears he had not recognized at all when he, Newman, and Greenberg founded their company in Los Angeles (TJT relocated to the Bay Area in 1982). Fischer relates to the commitment, social and artistic, that drew the members of the Group together.

“Cheryl [Crawford] has this line, ‘We never used to fight like this when we were starving.’ Of course it’s not the whole story but, in other words, they came together because they needed each other to simply do the work they were called to do. They were a remarkable group, whatever their individual failings,” he continues. “What they had in common was they didn’t want to do commercial mainstream theater as it existed then. Clurman says of Chekhov’s characters: ‘I like them, they’re full of life, they’re not depressed, but they have no outlets in their society, so nothing means anything.’ Clurman gave Friday night talks for a year so people could just come and listen to this guy, this crazy rant, but that was the impulse.

I can’t remember who was just saying this about the current situation — I don’t know if it was about Wall Street, but this whole notion of talking crazy until enough people are listening — these world-changing movements start with one person and then grow to a few people in a small room. That’s how it starts.”

IN THE MAZE OF OUR OWN LIVES

Through Nov. 13

Previews Wed/19, 8 p.m.; opens Thurs/20, 8 p.m.; runs Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (also Oct. 30, Nov. 6, and 13, 7 p.m.), $15-$35

The Jewish Theatre

470 Florida, SF

1-800-838-3006

www.tjt-sf.org

 

The killer next door

0

TRASH Having terrified generations of horror film fans with his portrayals of some of cinema’s most feared and iconic characters, Kane Hodder is a modern monster movie legend.

Perhaps best known for his long-time portrayal of the hockey mask-clad killer Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th franchise (he played the role four times — more than any other person) the actor and stuntman has had a storied 30-plus year career in Hollywood, which he covers in his excellent new autobiography, Unmasked: The True Story of the World’s Most Prolific Cinematic Killer (Author Mike Ink, 352 pgs., $25.99).

Co-written with Michael Aloisi, the book is full of great behind-the-scenes stories from Hodder’s entertainment work, but it also delves into his childhood, when he was the victim of many a bully, and into brutally honest and heartbreaking (but ultimately inspiring) detail about the horrific burn he suffered in a 1977 stunt gone awry.

“It’s not so much the re-living the traumatic stuff that’s hard, but it’s the stuff that I am really grateful for that’s hard or emotional to talk about,” says Hodder over the phone from a book tour stop in Massachusetts. “It’s like any other therapy session, though — you talk about the things that bother you and you feel better.”

The softer side of the celluloid boogeyman is revealed throughout the pages, from stories about the people that helped save him and aided his recovery, to interacting with his loyal fans. Hodder also talks about teaming up with Scares That Care! a nonprofit organization run by horror industry professionals to help sick children.

“It’s nice to not only help raise money — I [also] enjoy talking to young people who have burned or have been bullied, because I can certainly identify with both of those things,” he says.

One shouldn’t think that Hodder has lost any of his ability or appetite for terrorizing, however. His roles in recent films such as BTK (2008) and Hatchet (2006) are clear examples of that. He enjoys giving people a good scare even when he’s not working on screen — around Halloween he sometimes appears at events at haunted houses and attractions to sign autographs — and he can’t help himself from getting in on a little of the fright action.

“Very often I’ll just go into the haunted house and take somebody’s spot for a while, and scare people for fun. When I can smell that fear it’s very intoxicating to me,” Hodder says with a dark chuckle. “I just really enjoy scaring people, I think it’s so much fun.”

www.kanehodderkills.com

The case against C and D

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By Brenda Barros, Riva Enteen, Joe Jacskon, Renee Saucedo, Dave Welsh, David H. Williams and Claire Zvanski

OPINION The Guardian started out right on Proposition C and D:

“Our initial instinct was to oppose both of these measures… There’s a basic unfairness about all of this that bothers us … city workers are being asked to give up part of their pay — but the wealthiest individuals and big corporations in San Francisco are giving up nothing. It’s part of the national trend — the poor and middle class are shouldering the entire burden of the economic crisis, and the rich aren’t suffering a bit.”

It’s too bad that the Guardian editors didn’t stick to their guns.

We all know why decent pensions and health care cost so much: corporate greed. And the identity of the corporate criminals who are driving the economy into the ground is no secret. It’s the Wall Street banks and financial speculators. It’s Bank of America and Wells Fargo. It’s the corporate CEOs. It’s the insurance companies.

All workers, whether they work for the city or not, have a right to affordable medical care and a decent retirement.

Take Ethel, who retired 10 years ago after working for the city for more than 20 years and collects a pension of only $17,000 a year. Both Prop C and Prop D would take money out of her check. Some city workers qualify for section 8 housing — Prop C and D would take money out of their paychecks too.

None of this is rocket science. But the corporate media pounds away daily at public employees and ignores the shenanigans of their buddies in the corporate boardrooms. And far too many fall for this bait and switch, or are just too confused to stand up and fight back.

Now, with Propositions C and D, the downtown bigwigs and their lapdog politicians are taking advantage of this confusion to sock it to the victims, and make workers pay for the party the rich have been having at our expense.

Unfortunately, there are those among us who think we should concede many of our hard-fought rights in order to appear reasonable and fend off future attacks.

Making these kinds of concessions is like putting a little blood in the water, and hoping that the corporate sharks will be satisfied. But the reality is that when sharks taste blood, they just get hungry for more.

The editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, the mouthpiece for Wall Street and its minions, said pretty much the same thing in a recent editorial:

“San Franciscans should have no illusions,” wrote the Chronicle editors. “Props C and D offer only modest down payments on the reforms [sic] that must be pursued… The very fact that business and labor leaders are supporting Prop C… sets the stage for… further reforms [sic] that will almost certainly be needed…”

Of course the “reforms” that the Chronicle is demanding are just more attacks on workers’ rights. That’s why many political leaders, including former Supervisor Chris Daly and Ted Gullicksen of the Tenants Union — opposed both Propositions C and D.

Enough is enough. Let’s take heart from the Occupy Wall Street movement. After decades of Reaganomics, Bushonomics, and Democratonomics, it is high time to draw the line, stand up to Wall Street, and fight back.

Join former Supervisor Chris Daly and Tenant’s Union leader Ted Gullicksen, and: Vote NO on C! Vote NO on D! Tax the Rich! 

Brenda Barros is vice-chair, Social Economic Committee, SEIU 1021. Riva Enteen is a member of SEIU 1021. Joe Jackson is co-chair of the S.F. African American Employee Association. Renee Saucedo is a member of SEIU 1021. Dave Welsh is a delegate to the S.F. Labor Council. David H. Williams and Claire Zvanski are retiree members of SEIU 1021.

SF values and OccupySF

5

EDITORIAL This is what civility and compromise looks like:

At a little after 10 P.m. Oct 16, a squadron of San Francisco police equipped with riot gear raided and attempted to shut down the OccupySF protest. It was the second time San Francisco has embarrassed itself, becoming the only major U.S. city to attempt to evict members of the growing Occupation movement — and this time, the cops used a lot more force.

The first crackdown, on Oct. 5, was supposedly driven by concerns that the activists were using an open flame for their communal kitchen without the proper permits. This time around, the alleged lawbreaking was confined to a Park Code section that bans sleeping in city parkland after 10 p.m. And since Justin Herman Plaza, where OccupySF is camped, is technically under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department, that ordinance could be enforced.

But let’s be serious: The encampment endangered nobody, and if any Rec-Park officials had actually complained, the police couldn’t provide their names. This was all about rousting a protest against corporate greed and economic injustice. It came with police batons, several beatings and five arrests.

And the mayor of what many call the most liberal city in America hasn’t said a word. Mayor Ed Lee was clearly consulted on the raid, clearly approved it — and now becomes unique among the chief executives of big cities across the country, most of whom have worked to find ways to avoid police confrontations.

David Chiu, the president of the Board of Supervisors, issued a ridiculous statement saying that “Both the Occupy SF protesters and the San Francisco Police Department need to redouble their efforts to avoid confrontations like the ones we saw last night.” No: The protesters didn’t start it, didn’t provoke it, didn’t want it — and frankly, did their best to avoid it. The crackdown is all about the folks at City Hall trying to get rid of one of the most important political actions in at least a decade — and doing it with riot police.

This is what the civility and compromise so touted by Mayor Lee and Board President Chiu looks like. And it’s a disgrace.

In Oakland, where the encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza, renamed Oscar Grant Plaza for the event, has far more people than Occupy SF, city officials approached the activists and offered to issue whatever permits were needed. Mayor Jean Quan visited the general assembly, waited her turn to speak, and then politely asked the group not to damage the somewhat fragile old oak tree on the site. In deference to her wishes, the group surrounded the tree with a fence.

In New York, the private owner of the park where Occupy Wall Street is camped agreed not to evict the demonstrators — or even move some of them to all for a regular park cleaning.

Why is San Francisco acting so hostile? Is this not a city with a reputation for political activism and tolerance? Is it really that big a problem to allow activists to peacefully occupy public space to denounce the greatest corporate thievery in a generation?

San Francisco ought to be supporting the OccupySF movement, not harassing it. Lee should immediately call off the police raids. The Board of Supervisors should have a hearing on this, bring Police Chief Greg Suhr, Mayor Lee and representatives of Rec-Park and the Department of Public Health and work out a solution that doesn’t involve repeatedly rousting the protesters in the middle of the night. And if this continues, perhaps OccupySF should move to the plaza in front of City Hall.

Sup. John Avalos is the only person at City Hall who is making an outspoken effort to protect the protest; he needs some support.