Volume 46 Number 04



Harry Houdini: the name conjures up a multitude of images and ideas about what a magician and escape artist should be. The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is currently celebrating that rich and long-lasting legacy with Houdini: Art and Magic, a new exhibit featuring a collection of vintage photographs, event posters, archival film, original props, art installations, and more, focusing on the world’s most famous magician — who died in 1926, on Halloween.

“The genesis for the show was just really seeing how Houdini’s relevance still remains today in popular culture, and how despite being born in 1874, he still is so visible in the culture, visible in contemporary art. His celebrity has really transcended three centuries,” says CJM curator Dara Solomon.

The exhibition was originally put together by the Jewish Museum in New York, with the CJM also getting involved early on in the process, as local organizers felt that there would be a strong interest in Houdini from the Bay Area — after all, the legendary icon had performed in San Francisco several times; he appeared at the Orpheum Theater, broke out of locked box lowered into the bay at Aquatic Park, and hung off the side of the Hearst Building to perform his famous straitjacket escape stunt.

Tracing Houdini’s life from his birth as Erich Weiss in Budapest in 1874 and following his family’s immigration to the United States, his upbringing as the son of a rabbi, and the eventual evolution of his performing talents and ascension to the world stage, the exhibit tells Houdini’s story through displays of rarely-seen personal photographs, handwritten journals, and what may be the biggest draws for fans — a trunk, milk can, straitjacket, and handcuffs that actually belonged to the magician and were used in his shows.

What visitors to the exhibit won’t see are any explanations or descriptions revealing Houdini’s secrets — something that organizers wanted to avoid.

“It would be seen as the ultimate sort of betrayal if the exhibition set out to reveal Houdini’s tricks,” says Solomon. “He worked so hard at making his body this sort of instrument to do these performances, he was in such amazing physical shape — that was what really allowed him to do these amazing feats of strength.”

Another aspect to the exhibit is the exploration of the impact of Houdini and his mystique on contemporary artists — paintings and other installations from artists such as Deborah Oropallo and Raymond Pettibon add to the survey of his legacy.

“So many artists in the past 20 or 25 years have really been taken by Houdini as inspiration and as a model for how an artist works; they find this real connection with the art of the magician and the art that they make, that they are both illusionists,” says Solomon.

For 10 years after his death, Houdini’s widow Bess conducted séances on Halloween attempting to contact and communicate with him from beyond the grave — with his ever-growing popularity, and a new fan base with each new generation, somebody, somewhere in the world will undoubtedly be trying to do the same on Monday night.

“I think that there has been nobody else like him — he was such a master of communications and a marketing genius that he ensured that he left this incredible legacy,” says Solomon. “When people think of the world of magic, he is still the one and only.”



Through Jan. 16, 2012

Thurs., 1-8 p.m.; Fri.-Tues., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

$5–<\d>$12 (18 and under free)

Contemporary Jewish Museum

736 Mission, SF

(415) 655-7800


Strength of song


In Cuba, there is just one group that specializes in traditional Haitian songs — the Creole Choir of Cuba. “Some of the songs in our repertoire are those we learned from our parents or grandparents, others we learned during the many visits we have made to Haiti,” says choir director Emilia Diaz Chavez, through translator Kelso Riddell.

Riddell is the group’s tour manager for this journey, which is the choir’s fifth trip through the U.S. The vibrant ensemble — featuring Creole vocals and percussion — appears in San Francisco at the Herbst Theatre on Nov. 3, through the California Institute of Integral Studies’ public programs and performances series.

Diaz Chavez created the group in 1994 in Camagüey, Cuba. The core ten members — Rogelio Torriente, Fidel Miranda, Teresita Miranda, Marcelo Luis, Dalio Vital, Yordanka Fajardo, Irian Montejo, Marina Fernandes, Yara Diaz, and Diaz Chavez — were already part of the Regional Choir of Camaguey, which Diaz Chavez also directs (and has for the past 32 years). “The Haitian descendents of the Regional Choir got together to form the Desandann or the Creole Choir of Cuba with the objective of promoting the songs of our ancestors,” she explains.

Desandann literally translates to “descendents.” The choir is made up of the descendents of a people twice displaced, first from West Africa, then from Haiti. Some of their ancestors escaped slavery in Haiti near the end of the 18th century, others came to Cuba more recently to work in the coffee and sugar plantations.

Diaz Chavez was born in Camagüey, and remembers nights at home singing — she says her whole family enjoys song and dance. She studied music at the School of Arts in Camagüey, then completed her studies in Havana. “After graduating, I became particularly interested Haitian music and bringing it to the rest of the world,” she says.

While the journey of her people may have included displacement and sorrow, the songs the group sings are mostly uplifting — lyrics include messages of love, humor, and happiness, along with struggle. “These make us all laugh and cry and sing and dance,” say Diaz Chavez. And the consistent hand percussion and moving vocal compositions maintain an air of excitement, urgency. Live, the group dresses in colorful prints and engages audiences in participation. On this tour, which includes 30 performances during a six-week period, the choir also has been holding workshops at schools throughout the country.

“We hope people leave our concerts knowing more of our Haitian music, and that they have received our messages of love and friendship,” Diaz Chavez says, “And [we hope] they enjoy a little Cuban music too.” *


Nov. 3, 8 p.m., $25–$65 Herbst Theatre

401 Van Ness, SF

(415) 621-6600




The annual San Francisco World Music Festival, now in its 12th year, will premiere “The Epic Project: Madmen, Heroines & Bards from Around the World.” The performances bring together singers, musicians, and epic chanters from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Tamil Nadu rivers of India, among other worldwide locations. Performers include Azerbaijani kamancha master Imamyar Hasanov, Chinese nanguan master Wang Xin Xin, North Indian tabla master Swapan Chaudhuri, South Indian carnatic violinist Anuradha Sridhar, and more.

Fri/28-Sun/30, 8 p.m., $20

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

3200 California, SF

(415) 292-1233



Riffat Sultana, daughter of legendary singer Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, performs traditional and modern music including Sufi, folk, and love songs from Pakistan and India. The vocalist is backed by an ensemble playing tabla, bansuri flute, and 12-string guitar. Sultana, who comes from eleven generations of master vocalists, is the first woman of her lineage to perform publicly and to tour the West. Since moving to the US, she has performed with Shabaz (previously known as the Ali Khan Band) — an acoustic group of world musicians — and more recently, her own Riffat Sultana & Party, a paired down group focused mainly on her velvety vocals.

Fri/28, 8pm, $12–$15

Red Poppy Art House

2698 Folsom, SF

(415) 826-2402

Halloween 2011


Ghost Hunt! On this week’s cover, the spirits of Johnny Venetti, Jasmine Donaldson, and Jackie Andrews haunt meddling kids Caitlin Donohue, Marcus Banshee, and Walter Gomez on the Kink.com Armory’s Upper Floor (NSFW). Photo by Matthew Reamer, concept by Mirissa Neff. 

This year we’re doin’ it up (f)right for halloween with an issue full of ectoplamic boo-ness. Fear our terrifyingly bad puns!

>>Our spooky, kooky, altogether ookie list of Halloween events to die for

>>A paranormal interview with local ghost detective Loyd Auerbach, with a chilling excerpt from The Ghost Detectives’ Guide to San Francisco 

>>A map of classic haunted San Francisco spots — oooOOooOo!

>>Tagging along on a ghost hunt through horrifyingly charming Pacific Heights

>>The great Houdini died tragically on Halloween — his legend lives on in a spellbinding exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

>>Forget “The Walking Dead”: Horror classic Zombie shambles through the Roxie

>>Get into the bewitching, haunted pop of local breakout act the Soft Moon

Boonus! Here’s your ghoulishly incredible retro Halloween video:

A quick and spooky guide to haunted San Francisco


“Even in their graves Californians are happy,” posits a 1922 Chronicle article. “[Ghosts] don’t go at all with a land of sunshine and flowers.” This may have been a slight simplification. With a history full of calamity and a climate ruled by fog, San Francisco seems a good spot for a haunting or two. In fact, our city holds a multitude of spooky spots. From golf course to aircraft carrier, some of San Francisco’s less expected haunts continue to incite shivers. (Lucy Schiller)



By day, the site of Adolph Sutro’s ill-fated bathhouse is eerie enough, a crumbling ruin swamped by fog. Nighttime transforms it into a pitch-black abyss. It is rumored that a few unlucky souls were once sacrificed in the nearby cave, and that their spirits will come calling when a candle is lit.

Geary Avenue and Great Highway, SF.



“Whenever we find a bone we put it right back,” says a gardener working around the course. “We don’t want any bad luck.” Indeed, skulls and femurs are common discoveries at Lincoln Park, once the site of City Cemetery. Thousands of bodies remain a few feet beneath the manicured turf, and for the past decade workers have reported everything from feeling uneasy to ghostly shoulder-tapping.

300 34th Ave., SF.



If anywhere in San Francisco were to be truly haunted, this would be the place — the Columbarium houses the urns of some 30,000 deceased San Franciscans. It’s surprising that so few ghost stories come out of the place. A little girl, according to caretaker Emmit Watson, is the sole specter, roaming the Columbarium’s hallways at night.

1 Loraine Court, SF.



A hooded statue ominously stands near the entrance to Stow Lake, the spot of more than one ghostly legend. Details and characters vary, but stories revolve around the deaths-by-drowning of a young woman and her child. Visit the statue under cover of darkness, watch it change positions, and wait for a weeping apparition to appear.

Golden Gate Park, SF.



Inexplicable footsteps, electrical surges, and slamming doors have been commonplace since the bell tower’s construction in 1927. The odd occurrences led to a 1968 séance, which determined the real culprit: not a ghost, but the terrible psychic energy amassed by decades of young artistic frustration.

800 Chestnut, SF.



Active during both World War II and the Vietnam War, the USS Hornet has seen its share of death. More than 300 on-deck lives have been lost to war, accident, and suicide. The aircraft carrier is now decommissioned and docked in Alameda, where it revels in its paranormal appeal. Crew and visitors alike report the specters of sailors, lost belongings, and the sensation of being invisibly shoved.

707 W. Hornet Ave., Alameda



Dubbed by a 1902 Chronicle article as “the most fiercely haunted house in San Francisco,” the Russian Hill mansion has been replaced by two apartment buildings, later used in the shooting of the noir classic “Dark Passage”. But once upon a time, the Manrows were plagued by an apparition who threw hatchets, pulled hair, and ransacked rooms.

1080 and 1090 Chestnut, SF.


The great Pacific Heights Ghost Hunt


With his bedazzled fanny pack, kerosene lantern, Civil War-era boots, calf-brushing leather jacket and windswept gray mane, Jim Fassbinder looks like any weathered San Francisco character. Listen to him wax poetic on Mary Ellen Pleasant or Gertrude Atherton, though, and you’ll realize you’re talking to a man with a serious passion. To Fassbinder, these gals aren’t only appealing for their work as (respectively) an abolitionist and a feminist novelist. Their lingering spirits are the real draw.

“I’m basically a fishing guide,” Fassbinder asserts early in his three-hour ghost hunt on the streets surrounding Alta Plaza Park in Pacific Heights. “I tell you about the kinds of fish, take you to all the spots, set you up with the right gear.” The fish in this extended metaphor are ghosts, friendly for the most part, who Fassbinder believes roam through the houses and streets of this bone-chillingly cold neighborhood.

Along the year-round tour, Fassbinder uncovers, displays, and recounts evidence of the neighborhood spirits. One likes to pelt ghost hunters with eucalyptus seed pods, or as Fassbinder calls them, “gum nuts.” One will visibly and eerily turn a metal key over in your open hand. One will cross California Street, her body only visible as a cylinder of mist.

Fassbinder seems to be met with very little skepticism and a great deal of genuine interest. Cold-afflicted and with his voice a grave octave below normal, Fassbinder addressed a recent tour of nearly fifteen people in the lobby of the Queen Anne Hotel. Those enraptured by the ghost hunter’s words included several tourist families and two grinning grandmothers hopped up on painkillers (I quickly learned) for their bad backs.

“My goal is for each of you to have a real supernatural encounter,” he said, and was met with a camera flash, which may or may not have also captured a telltale ghostly orb. The chandelier flickering above the listening party garnered nervous glances and a burgeoning murmur, which Fassbinder soon quelled. “It’s just the wires,” he said, but not everyone seemed convinced. (Lucy Schiller)

San Francisco Ghost Hunt, Weds-Mon, 7 p.m., $20.Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter, SF. (416) 922-5590, www.sfghosthunt.com.

Boo ya!



Hell’s bells, our very own high unholy day approaches — and the fact that Halloween’s on a Monday this year means an entire weekend of insane. Oh, why not just make it a whole week. Surely you have a week’s worth of slutty Rick Perry toupee costumes in your closet? Tape ’em on crooked and check out some of the eee-vil events below, from fiendishly family friendly to naughtily “adult.”


“Death in Parallel” fundraiser and preview Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission, SF. (415)821-1155, www.missionculturalcenter.org. 6:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m., $50. Get your dead on a little early at this sneak preview of the epicenter of SF’s Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Dream Queens Revue: Halloween Spooktacular Show Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, 133 Turk, SF. www.dreamqueensrevue.com. 9:45 p.m., free. The dreamy weekly drag show goes ghoulish with SF’s sole goth queen, Sophilya Leggz.


“Ann Magnuson plays David Bowie and Jobriath, or, the Rock Star as Witch Doctor, Myth Maker, and Ritual Sacrifice San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org. 6 p.m.-9:45 p.m., free with museum admission. Fierce hero of the 1980s New York performance underground (and familiar face as sitcom television sidekick-boss-neighbor), Magnuson returns to her fabulous roots in this piece that include incorporate “dreams, Jung, human sacrifice, Aztec shamanism, and all things dark, bloody, and beautiful.” And it’s a costume party! In the SF MoMA! Creativity abounds.

“Halloween! The Ballad of Michele Myers” CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission, SF. www.counterpulse.org. 8 p.m., also Fri/28-Sun/30, $20. Gear up for a drag-studded slasher musical taking cues from “Heathers” and “The Facts of Life,” starring the perfectly horrific Raya Light. She’s a-scary!

Naked Girls Reading: Neil Gaiman Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission, SF. www.sexandculture.org. 8 p.m., $15. Costumes and masks are encouraged at this semi-participatory, all-but-traditional reading of Sandman creator Gaiman’s darker work.

TheaterPop SF: SuperNatural, Red Poppy Arthouse, 2698 Folsom, SF. www.redpoppyarthouse.org. 7 p.m., $10. Local performers skip the tacky underchin flashlights and dry ice for carefully composed, intricate explorations of the macabre.

“Unmasked! The 2011 GLBT Historical Society Gala” Green Room, San Francisco War Memorial, 401 Van Ness, SF. www.unmaskedgala.org. 6 p.m.-9 p..m., $60/$100. A star-studded affair featuring fabulous (of course) entertainment, yummy food, and some of the most revered names in the queer community, including Phyllis Lyon, Jose Sarria, and Armistead Maupin.

Zombie Nightlife with Peaches Christ California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park, SF. www.calacademy.org. 6 p.m.-10 p.m., $12. The undead are by no means unfashionable — get a zombie makeover, dance with similarly festering folks, sample the latest zombie video games, and listen to a presentation by the Zombie Research Society at the ever-popular, always good-looking weekly Nightlife event at the Cal Academy of Sciences. With Peaches Christ as hostess, it’s a zombie no-brainer.


The Big Nasty: 10th Anniversary Party with Too $hort Mezzanine, 444 Jesse, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com. 8 p.m., $30. A $1000 best costume prize is sure to put the kibosh on those perennially popular nurse get-ups. As if legendary Bay legend Boo $hort, er, Too $hort weren’t enough of an incentive to ditch tired costumes and go as your favorite classic rapper.

Haunted Hoedown, Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com, 9 p.m., $10. Rin Tin Tiger and Please Do Not Fight headline the second annual hoedown at this live rock showcase; expect a barn-burner.

Jason Webley’s Halloween Spectacular Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com. 9 p.m., $14. After once faking his own death at a Halloween show and then disappearing for six months, accordionist Webley’s full-band show this year promises excitement, to say the least.

Night of the Living Shred Club Six, 66 Sixth St., SF. www.clubsix1.com. 9 p.m.-4a.m., $10. This hip-hop and electro throwdown is one where we’ll let the WTF press release speak for itself: “four rooms, five bands, five of the Bay’s best DJs including The Whooligan and Richie Panic, a Paradise Wheels half-pipe and best skate trick contest” — all catered by Mission Chinese Food and Bar Crudo and hosted by two of our favorite people ever, Kelly Kate Warren and Parker Day.

“Rhythm of the 90s” Ultimate Halloween Party Café Cocomo, 650 Indiana, SF. www.fivestarunited.com. 9 p.m.-2 a.m., $45. Break out the Clueless costume and the ketchup bottle; Café Cocomo’s massive dance floor has plenty of room to turn back the clock. Macarena, anyone?

Salem 103 Harriet, SF. www.1015.com, 10 p.m., free. The biggest and scariest name in the witch house dance music movement swoops in from Michigan for a free show, with Tearist, Pfang, Gummybear, Dials and Whitch providing gallows support.

Scaregrove, Stern Grove, 2750 19th Ave., SF. www.sfrecpark.org. 4 p.m.-9 p.m., $8. ‘Tis the season for bouncy castles — bring the kids out for hayrides, carnival activities, a haunted house, and (fingers crossed) funnel cake at the park.

Speakeasy’s Monsters of Rock Halloween Festival Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, 1195 Evans, SF. www.goodbeer.com. 4 p.m.-9 p.m., free. Parties centered upon the theme of good beer never really get old — especially when there are food trucks, live music, and heady costumes.

Sugar Skull Decorating Workshop Autumn Express, 2071 Mission, SF. www.autumnexpress.com. 5 p.m.–6 p.m., $20. Sugar skulls are provided (so you can keep licking away at last year’s) at artist Michele Simon’s decorative exploration of the Dia de los Muertos tradition.

Third Annual Zombie Prom Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa, SF. www.zombiepromsf.com. 9 p.m., $20. Costume contest, coffin photo booth, live music, and a scary thought: the dancers on the floor tonight may have been doing that move for hundreds of years. Hey, our prom was kind of like night of the living dead, too.


BiBi SF: Queer Middle East Masquerade 4 Shine, 1337 Mission, SF. www.bibisf.org, 9 p.m., $10. The charitable and extremely sultry BiBi SF throws a great party that combines Arabic, Persian, Pan-African, and Latin sounds with hip-shaking belly dancers, lovely drag performances, and an unbelievably hot crowd. All are welcome to this fourth installment of marvelous masquerading.

Club 1994 Halloween Special Vessel, 85 Campton Pl., SF. www.vesselsf.com. 9 p.m.-3 a.m., $18.50 advance.  Sexy electro glamour throwdown for Halloween, anyone? The gorgeous crew behind Blow Up is resurrecting its super-popular, Nintendo-rrific tribute to the pop sounds of the early ’90s (oh yes boy bands and TERL classics!) for a Halloween dress ’em up. With Stretch Armstrong, Jeffrey Paradise, and Vin Sol. The awesome Ava Berlin hosts.  

Circus Center’s Haunted House Circus Center, 755 Frederick, SF. www.circuscenter.org. Tours from 6-7 p.m., show at 7:30. Putting your body in the hands of a practicing student is sometimes not the best idea (see: haircuts, dental exams), but the Circus Center’s students have thrown together an extensive haunted house sure to turn your stomach in only the best way.

Dark Room does Halloween Hot Spot, 1414 Market, SF. 10 p.m., $5. “It’s like Debbie Does Dallas for freaks!” Quoth the undead hosts of this cute monthly queer goth and industrial party at a the little-known but awesome Hot Spot club on Market. Throw on your sheet and twirl. 

Ghost Ship IV: The Afterlife Treasure Island. www.spacecowboys.org. 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $50 tickets (extremely limited) on site. A massive, Halloween-themed arm of Burning Man, Ghost Ship mashes together DJs, art cars, food trucks, a stroboscopic zoetrope, and thousands of people.

GO BOO! Deco Lounge, 510 Larkin, SF. www.decosf.com, 9 p.m.-late, $5. If you want to experience some really sexy underground disco energy with a fantastically diverse crowd, the monthly Go Bang! Party is one of your best bets — this Halloween edition brings in DJ Glenn Rivera and Mattski to join residents Sergio and Steve Fabus of the storied Trocadero Disco. Pop on a costume and hustle on down.

Halloween Freakout with Planet Booty Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.planetbooty.org. 9 p.m., $12. It’s hard to imagine a more extreme Planet Booty, but this would be the night for it: swap your standard neon unitard for a black velvet version.

Halloween Masquerade with Zach Deputy The Independent, 628 Divisidero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com. 8:30 p.m., $20. Deputy’s “gospel-ninja-soul” provides the soundtrack to an unorthodox masquerade, followed by a free (with ticketstub) Boom Boom Room afterparty.

Halloween 2011: A Red Carpet Runway Massacre Jones, 620 Jones, SF., www.juanitamore.com. 9 p.m., $35. “I prefer the glamour to the gore on Halloween,” quoth ever-poised (even while double-fisting shots) drag ruler Juanita More. Join her at recently opened rooftop bar Jones for dancing and fashionable fun with Djs Delachaux and Sparber, club Some Things hilarious Project Runtover amateur design contest, treats from farm:table and Gimme Shoes, and More, More, More.

“Hallowscreen” cartoon screening Walt Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery, Presidio, SF. www.waltdisney.org 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. Also Sun/30, Mon/31. $7 adults, $5 children. Catch “Hell’s Bells” and other early, strange Disney shorts that show Walt’s more uncanny side. If you haven’t been to the excellent museum yet, here’s a great occasion.

Horror Costume Party, SUB-Mission, 2183 Mission, SF. www.sf-submission.com. 9 p.m., $4 in costume. Get your gore on with Meat Hook and the Vital Organs; after an earsplitting set, zombiewalk down the street for a taco at Cancun.

Foreverland Halloween Ball Bimbos 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. www.bimbos365club.com. 9 p.m., $22. The Thriller dance is only the beginning at this costume-intensive, 14-piece tribute to M.J. himself.

Jack O’Lantern Jamboree Children’s Fairyland, Oakl. www.fairyland.org. 10 a.m. — 5 p.m., also Sun/30. $10. From juggling and puppets to rides and parades, Oakland’s Fairyland puts on a gentle All Hallow’s weekend.

Lights Down Low Halloween SOM Bar, 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com. 9:30 p.m., $10 advance. One of the city’s finest, wildest parties brings in bass music star Pearson Sound a.k.a. Ramadanman with DJ Christian Martin, Manaré, Sleazemore, and Eli Glad.

Mansion Madness: Official Playboy Halloween 2011 Mist Ultra Club, 316 11th St., SF. 9 p.m., $40-$80 Find your haunted honey bunny among the bodacious playmate hostesses at this hoppin’ Slayboy event.

Monster Bash on the U.S.S. Hornet 707 W. Hornet, Pier 3, Alameda. www.uss-hornet.org. 7:30 p.m., $25. What better place to celebrate spooks than among the 300 ghosts haunting the crannies of Alameda’s ancient aircraft carrier?

Spooktacular Japantown Halloween Party and Trick-or-Treat Japantown Peace Plaza, Post at Buchanan, SF. www.sfjapantown.org. 12 p.m.–4 p.m., free. Uni-nigiri and candy corn: the perfect combination. Trick-or-treat in the light of day through the Japan Center Malls.

32nd Annual Spiral Dance, Kezar Pavilion, 755 Stanyan, SF. www.reclaimingspiraldance.org. 7:30 p.m., $10–$20 (sliding scale). The witches of San Francisco gather for a huge participatory dance honoring those who have passed.’

Trannyshack Presents: Halloween: A Party DNA Lounge, 375 11th, SF. www.dnalounge.com. 11 p.m., $25. Anything but the traditional drag, the 5th incarnation of Peaches Christ and Heklina’s annual costumed throwdown features a fantastically horrific secret (and “big!”) guest judge. Oh, and the usual genius-creative bevy of outré drag performers, including Fauxnique, Becky Motorlodge, Toxic Waist, and Exhibit Q.

Wild Side West Costume Contest and Party Wild Side West, 424 Cortland, SF. 8 p.m., free. Try not to get your t.p. body cast caught on a shrub in the Bernal hotspot’s beer garden.

Wicked Gay! Halloween Bash Lexington Club, 3464 19th St., SF. www.lexingtonclub.com. 9 p.m., free. The happily hectic Mission dyke bar holds a costume party and contest with live beats.


All Hallow’s Eve DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.dnalounge.com. 9 p.m.-afterhours, $13, 18+. Great goth and industrial music parties Meat and Death Guild form an unholy alliance with the gorily titillating Hubba Hubba revue burlesque dancers for what’s sure to be a night to dismember. DJs Decay, devon, Joe Radio, Netik, and more tear you apart on the dance floor

Ceremony Halloween Tea, City Nights, 715 Harrison, SF. www.industrysf.com. 5 p.m.-midnight, $40. The name sounds genteel; the shirtless gay dancing to Freemasons and others will likely be raucous.

Fruitvale Dia de los Muertos Festival Fruitvale Village, Oakl. www.unitycouncil.org. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., free. Oakland’s Day of the Dead festival, falling a bit before SF’s, features dancers, gloriously fragrant food, huge crowds, and, of course, compelling tributes to loved ones who have passed.

Halloween Family Dance Class, ODC Dance Commons, 351 Shotwell, SF. www.odcdance.org. 1 p.m-2 p.m., $5/person, $20/family. Britt Van Hees allows kids and folks who’ve already mastered the Sprinkler to add the Thriller dance to their repertoire.

The Holy Crow Holy Cow, 1535 Folsom, SF., www.honeysoundsystem.com. 8 p.m.-2 a.m., $5. Quaffingly queer electronic music collective Honey Soundsystem throw one of the best weekly parties in the city — the Halloween edition of Honey Sunday should be a total scream, queen. 

Midnight Monster Mayhem, Rockit Room, 406 Clement, SF. www.rock-it-room.com. 9 p.m., $10 before 11 p.m. The live hip-hop dance party (costumed, of course) may well be the perfect nightcap to pumpkin pork stew at nearby Burma Superstar.

PETNATION 5 Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com. 9 p.m., $5 before 10 p.m., $10 after. Dance to Fido’s memory — Public Works honors deceased pets with soul-shaking beats, a DDLM art exhibit and a commemorative altar (plus, proceeds go to OccupySF).


Classical at the Freight Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison, Berk. www.freightandsalvage.org. 6:30 p.m., $10.50 for adults, under 12 free. The Bellavente Wind Quintet breathes chilling strains to a kid’s costume parade and candy-filled celebration.

Halloween at El Rio El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. www.elriosf.com. 8 p.m., $7. Two Ohioans under the stage name “Mr. Gnome” take over the inclusive, ever-popular dive for Halloween.

Teatro ZinZombie, Teatro ZinZanni, Pier 29, SF. www.love.zinzanni.org. 6 p.m.-11 p.m., tickets start at $117. Tonight might be the one to finally catch SF’s cabaret mainstay, which for a few precious hours transforms into a zombie-laden spectacle.

Viennetta Discotheque: Halloween! UndergroundSF, 424 Haight, SF. 10 p.m., free. One of SF’s cutest underground queer Monday weekly parties will claws you to reel in horror at the frightful fantasticity of its drag denizens. Your body hits the floor with DJ Stanley Frank, Alexis Blair Penny, and Jason Kendig on the decks.


Haunting the hunters



“There are so many popular ghost-hunting apps, software programs, and TV shows out there right now that rely only on the tech side of things — but what people don’t realize is that if you take the human part out of the ghost-hunting equation, you’re really left with nothing. Sure, it may look like your app is detecting some sort of peripheral movement, or the people on TV may be tracking some remote electromagnetic phenomenon. But you have to remember that ghosts were once people, that you’re dealing with human beings. Technology will only take you so far. You need that human sensory and extrasensory contact for the spirit to fully reveal itself as more than just a blip on a screen. You can’t just go take a photo of a ghost with your iPhone!”

Master of Parapsychology, professor at JFK university, and Bay Area ghost detective Loyd Auerbach (www.mindreader.com) is speaking to me over the phone about the book he published earlier this year with psychic Annette Martin, The Ghost Detectives’ Guide to San Francisco, a spooky and involving compendium of the duo’s 16-year investigations into local paranormal phenomenon. Auerbach had just come from a weeklong conference on the paranormal at Atlantic University in Virginia, where hot topics included quantum psychometrics, split beam research, global consciousness projection and convergences, and — his specialties — recurrent research with mediums and parapsychology education.

That’s some heady stuff for a down-to-earth guy who credits comic book geekiness as his gateway to paranormal investigation. “It’s either surprising or not surprising that so many paranormal investigators are comic book geeks and old TV show fanatics,” he says with a laugh. (Auerbach is also a well-known chocolatier: his Haunted By Chocolate line, www.hauntedbychocolate.com, will be featured at Berkeley’s Spun Sugar shop for Halloween.)

Besides the ghost detectives’ indepth sleuthing at places like Alcatraz, the Queen Anne Hotel, and Chinatown, I was particularly intrigued by Auerbach and Martin’s concept of “residual haunting” versus actual haunting. “Residual hauntings are simply traces of emotion or action that clutters the psychic territory of a location — even living people can ‘haunt’ a place residually. A real haunting consists of a complex set of phenomena that naturally involve one or several spirits, but that moves beyond repetitive enactments and into a fuller narrative.”

The ghost detectives do indeed experience fuller narratives — several of them chilling, like the barrage of negative feelings that assault Annette in Chinatown and the echoes of despair filling Alcatraz. And some are more, er, entertaining, like Auerbach’s intimate encounter with a specter named Cayte at the Moss Beach Distillery that’s jokingly referred to as “ghost sex.”

The book was to have kicked off a series exploring Bay Area. Unfortunately, Annette, whose “gift of the white light” brought her a considerable amount of TV and radio fame, passed away in September. “I have so much material from our collaboration, I’m still planning to do something,” Auerbach said. “And to answer your next question: no, I haven’t exactly heard from Annette from the other side. But several of her psychic friends have, and I’m hoping my next project will involve seeking her out.”


An excerpt from The Ghost Detectives’ Guide to San Francisco

LOYD I indicated we should move back to the main room, it had large windows looking out toward the bay. In front of the windows was a platform. Annette moved to the platform and windows.

ANNETTE What I felt was a lot of energy, right around here.

LOYD Right here?

I set down the TriField Meter as well as a natural EMF meter, which measures non-tech sources of magnetic and EM fields. The latter has a sound indicator to alert the user when the readings change.

ANNETTE I am going to turn on my tape recorder and see if we can pick up any voices.

Something is registering with me. … She stands at the window, waiting for him. Ah, she’s asking me why he hasn’t come.

[Annette took a few deep breaths and began to channel.]

My name is Annette and this is Loyd. There is nothing to be afraid of. Can you show me something?

[Annette: She was certainly curious. I was getting her questions intuitively.]

ANNA MARIE Yes, I am from San Francisco. I went to school here, Notre Dame de Victoria and St. Gabriel’s and Mercy High School… Did I like the nuns? Some of them. You spend time in the chapel [at the Presidio]. You feel good there. You want to run and play with the children, but sometimes they get frightened.

LOYD What is your name?

ANNA MARIE Anna Marie.

LOYD What is your last name?

ANNA MARIA Guiterrez.

LOYD Where were you born?

ANNA MARIE Not in this country. I came as a child. Travelled a long ways…

LOYD How did you travel? By what means of transportation?

ANNA MARIE Mother said by boat. Mother was beautiful. I came back to find her, but she is not here ….

LOYD Do you remember when you came back here?

ANNA MARIE People, many parties … noise … people … men … no ladies. I used to swing on a tree.

LOYD A tree here? [Annette nods.] Were you married?

ANNETTE She’s turned away from me now, she says others come here but not her love, not her man. “Ships, many ships.”

LOYD Annette, can you tell what she is wearing?

ANNETTE Yes, she is wearing this long white dress, with something tied in the center. She has very long hair but there is something tied around her head. Like a white scarf… She looks, she could be 20. She keeps changing, sometimes she looks older…. This is where she is waiting for him.

LOYD The man she loves?

ANNETTE She says she calls him Pugsy, but that wasn’t his real name….She doesn’t want to talk anymore. Anna Marie, can you tell me his real name? “It’s too painful,” she says. It’s alright, it’s alright, we will call him Pugsy.

This is the place where they would meet. There was a big tree, a great big tree with branches that go way up. He put a rope around the branch so that she could swing and they would laugh.

She doesn’t understand why all these people were here. She says that if she stays here, maybe he will find her. She can’t find him…

LOYD What year does she remember being here?

ANNETTE She thinks it’s 1776…. This is 1996, Anna Marie. We come with love and we don’t want you to be sad and you can leave if you want. [Annette takes in two deep breaths.] OK, she ran away. Wow!

LOYD So she’s basically stuck here?

ANNETTE She is stuck here, on her fixation on this man. And there was this tree, like a big oak tree, I saw it so clearly, and laughing and giggling.

LOYD Do you think it was taken down to build this building?

ANNETTE I forgot to mention that I felt closer to the water when I was talking to Anna Marie. Did anything measure on the meter?

LOYD Yes, a couple times when she was speaking through you.

ANNETTE She would come in close to me and then she would back away. At one point is was like we were holding hands. She is very friendly, very loving, but also very sad.

From The Ghost Detectives’ Guide to Haunted San Francisco, copyright 2011 by Loyd Auerbach and Annette Martin, published by Craven Street Books


Mixed messages



In San Francisco — the first major city to launch a midnight police raid to break up an Occupy encampment, which it repeated Oct. 16 — city officials are struggling with contradictions between claims of supporting the movement but opposing its tactic of occupation. Protesters have reacted to those mixed messages by erecting a growing tent city in defiance of Mayor Ed Lee’s public statements on the issue.

The situation remained fluid at Guardian press time, with OccupySF members unsure when and whether to expect another raid. That sort of standoff has repeated itself in cities around the country. But it seems particularly fraught here in the final weeks of a closely contested mayor’s race as Lee’s stated belief that “a balance is possible” is put to the test.

On Oct. 18, when hundreds of OccupySF protesters and their supporters entered City Hall to testify at the Board of Supervisors hearing — where Lee appeared for the monthly question time and was asked by Sup. Jane Kim to “describe the plan that our offices have been developing” to facilitate the OccupySF movement — it became clear there was no plan and that Lee was standing by the city’s ban on overnight camping.

“From the very beginning, I have fully supported the spirit of the Occupy movement…To those who have come today and who come day after day as part of this movement, let me say now that we stand with you in expressing anger and frustration at the so-called too big to fail and the big financial institutions,” Lee said at the hearing.

“Then don’t send the police in to destroy it,” yelled a woman from the crowd.

“Well, we are working with you,” Lee responded as Board President David Chiu banged his gavel at the interruption and said, “excuse me, you are out of order” and the packed hearing room erupted in shouts and applause at calling out the contradiction in the mayor’s position.

“Well, we are working with you. We are working with you to help raise your voice peacefully and will protect and defend your right to protest and your freedom of speech,” Lee continued, eliciting scattered groans from the crowd. “But that’s not the same thing as pitching tents and lighting fires in public places and parks that are meant for use by everyone in our city. But we can make accommodations and we have, and we can do this while not endangering public safety in any way.”

Afterward, as Lee was surrounded by a scrum of journalists asking about the issue, he made his stand even more clear. “We’re going to draw the line with overnight camping and especially structures,” Lee told reporters. Asked why the police raids have taken place in the middle of the night and why San Francisco is banning practices being allowed in other occupied cities, such as tents and kitchens, he offered only nonresponsive answers before being whisked away by his security detail.

Back inside the hearing room, Sup. John Avalos — who has led efforts to mediate the conflict and prevent police raids — called Lee’s comments “very frustrating. I’m alarmed that he is moving toward nightly standoffs with the Occupy movement.” After watching video of the chaotic Oct. 16 raid, at which several protesters were injured by police officers, Avalos called the situation “unsafe for both sides.”

Six of the 11 supervisors voiced support for OccupySF during the meeting, although Kim — who supports OccupySF and Lee’s mayoral campaign and whose District 6 includes the two protest encampments, in Justin Herman Plaza and outside the Federal Reserve — said at the hearing, “We’re all struggling to figure out the best way to accommodate it.”

Indeed, when the Guardian sought details on “the plan” Kim said she was developing with Lee, her staffers told us there was nothing in writing or major tenets they would convey. And mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey told us, “There’s not really a plan, per se, because the movement is so fluid,” although she confirmed that the city would not allow tents or other structures: “The tactic of camping overnight, he does not support.”

But OccupySF protesters were defiant as they streamed to the microphone by the dozens during public comment, decrying the city’s crackdown and claiming the right to occupy public spaces and to have the basic infrastructure to do so. As a woman named Magic proclaimed, “This can be a celebration or a battle, but we will not back down.”

The next afternoon, a large group of OccupySF protesters took their complaints about mistreatment by officers to the Police Commission meeting. Previously, Police Chief Greg Suhr had taken the same stance as Lee, with whom he had consulted before ordering the raid, claiming to support OccupySF but oppose overnight camping (see “Crackdown came from the top,” Oct. 11).

“We will surgically and as best as possible and with as much restraint as possible try to deal with the hazards while protecting people’s First Amendment rights,” Suhr had said, reiterating a ban on tents and infrastructure.

But by the end of the long Police Commission hearing — which was peppered by angry denunciations and chants of “SFPD where is your humanity?” — Suhr seemed to soften his position: “We have no future plans to go into the demonstration. We know that it’s for the long haul.”

OccupySF members interpreted Suhr’s remarks, which went on to raise concerns over potential future public health hazards that a growing encampment might present, as a change in the policy Lee had outlined a day earlier, erupting in the cheer, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

In the wake of that meeting, more than 40 tents — including a working kitchen and fully stocked medical tent — have been erected in Justin Herman Plaza, although neither the Police Department nor Mayor’s Office have answered Guardian inquiries seeking to clarify what current city policy is regarding OccupySF. But for now, protesters have declared victory over the city and are happy to be turning their full attention back toward powerful banks, corrupt corporations, and the rest of “the 1 percent.”

“I’m really proud of the OccupySF participants who went to the meeting today,” Zoe D’Hauthuille, a 19-year-old protester, told the Guardian after the Oct. 18 meeting. “I feel like they were really honest and super effective at getting people to realize that we need certain things, and that the city is violating our rights.”

24 hours of occupation



No sooner had I arrived at downtown Oakland’s Frank H. Ogawa Plaza — christened Oscar Grant Plaza by the activists who have established the Occupy Oakland encampment there –than the police showed up.

It was Oct. 18, and the ever-evolving occupation had been going strong for eight days. Oakland City Hall served as a backdrop for the bustling tent village, and the plaza steps were adorned with banners. “Welcome to Oscar Grant Plaza,” one proclaimed. “This is an occupation. We have not asked for permission. We do not allow the police. You are entering a LIBERATED SPACE.”

By press time, a standoff between Oakland police and the 300 to 400 occupiers hadn’t yet occurred, though a clash seemed imminent. City government had declared the autonomous village illegal and issued several eviction notices, citing health and safety concerns, while occupiers had made clear their intentions to stay put.

Around 5 p.m. on Oct. 18, two cops appeared at the camp. They weren’t in uniform, but black polo shirts emblazoned with the words “Tactical Negotiator.” Protesters immediately surrounded them, a customary response to police presence since the encampment was raised. The police said they’d come to “facilitate” a march scheduled to depart from the camp — but the protesters demurred. Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly had not consented to this, they replied.

The impasse didn’t last long, because a group of about 50 tore into the intersection and headed up Broadway. The radical queer march had commenced. “We’re here! We’re queer!” They chanted. “Tax the banks and eat the rich!” Many donned fabulous costumes, and one skinny person clad in form-fitting leopard print carried a sign showing a unicorn bursting from a cage, with the words, “It’s time to break free.”

As the march passed Wells Fargo and Chase, a dozen police vehicles trailed slowly behind, occasionally sounding sirens. Apparently, this was what they’d meant by “facilitating.”

Despite the cat-and-mouse with the cops, the nonviolent demonstration concluded without incident. Protesters returned, flushed and energized, to home base — Occupy Oakland, a vortex of radical defiance against the ills of capitalism that had materialized Oct. 10 and showed no signs of fading. Intrigued, I decided to spend 24 hours there documenting it.



The camp encompassed a lively blend of projects that seemed to have materialized organically. There was a kitchen serving free food, a first aid tent, a media tent where one could power a laptop by bicycle, a free school named for police shooting victim Raheim Brown, an informational booth with stacks of radical literature, a container garden, portable toilets, an arts and crafts space, and a kids’ area. Committees had been set up to tackle safety, sanitation, finances, events, and other duties, replete with color-coded armbands. Regular workshops, political discussions, teach-ins, lectures from notable speakers, and live music performances had all been arranged. Taking it all in, a woman with long gray hair exclaimed, “The ’60s were never this organized!”

Occupy Oakland’s experimental community mushroomed up as part of the wave of encampments established in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, part of a nationwide movement that has captured the public’s imagination and reinvigorated the left.

“We are reclaiming public space to use as a forum for the people to come together, meet one another, listen to each other, and build power for ourselves,” read a statement on the Occupy Oakland website. “[It] is more than just a speak-out or a camp out. The purpose of our gathering here is to plan actions, to mobilize real resistance, to defend ourselves from the economic and physical war that is being waged against our communities.”

The camp supported a wild and unlikely mix of people united in their disenchantment with the status quo — young and old, black and white, housed and homeless, queer and straight, credentialed and uneducated, vegan and omnivorous — and within this developing space, societal barriers seemed to be falling away.

“It’s an occupation that transcends what it was initially about,” reflected a protester named Miguel. “It’s feeding homeless people, and it’s giving people a place to sleep.”

Protesters didn’t rally around demands. “From my understanding, this is a movement of autonomy, and liberation from … the politics of representation, and the economics of capitalism,” said Bryan R., an organizer who helped plan the occupation. “To engage in dialogue with the power by means of demand is to acknowledge their power over us.”

All decisions were made by consensus in a General Assembly. The occupation had passed resolutions stating that it didn’t back any political parties, supported the Pelican Bay prisoners’ hunger strike, and was in solidarity with striking students and workers.

Rodrick Long, a 21-year-old Oakland native who’d been camped at the occupation for two days when I met him, said he felt he was participating in a piece of Oakland’s history.

“As far as Oakland goes, I just think we need more unity,” he said. “There’s a lot of gang violence, and a lot of poverty. A lot of people don’t show enough that they care about Oakland. But it’s a lot of people here. I didn’t expect this many people to come.”



Occupy Oakland seemed both serious and playful as it journeyed each day toward fomenting the revolution, or maybe just keeping the camp together, depending on who you asked. A tense General Assembly meeting was reportedly held after the city issued the first eviction notice on Oct. 20, and occupiers vowed to hold their ground. But the somber moment broke up when someone kept randomly shouting “Michael Jackson!” — prompting someone to blast the song “Smooth Criminal” over a loudspeaker, sparking an impromptu dance party before everyone got down to business again.

The occupiers were sculpting a self-governed, non-hierarchical mini society in the heart of Oakland as an affront to Wall Street bankers and capitalism itself — a complicated endeavor, to be sure. This was, after all, a mix of perfect strangers, some with mental-health issues (who’d been failed by the very system the occupation was opposing, several people pointed out to me), striving to coexist in a densely populated public park. Illegally.

There were ups and downs. Mainstream newspapers were running headlines about the occupation’s rat problems, television reporters had gotten into tiffs with protesters, and in the hours before I arrived, a man who went by Kali was forced out for starting arguments that eventually came to blows.

The outside world seemed separate from the occupation, though its presence was acutely felt. News vans were parked along the perimeter at all hours of the day, and a live stream sent raw footage directly to the Internet, making the surreal scene feel a bit like a fishbowl.

As night fell, around 150 people congregated in the plaza’s amphitheater for the evening’s General Assembly, which opened with general announcements. Ellen spoke about organizing actions against foreclosures. Jonathan urged a transition from mega-banks to credit unions. Someone proposed expanding the first aid tent into a free clinic that would operate out of an onsite RV. But just as a woman began describing the struggle of revolutionary youth in Uganda, shouts rang out from somewhere in the thicket of tents. Kali was back. Members of the “safer spaces” committee made a beeline toward him to try and deescalate the conflict, while others milled about in alarm and confusion.

Despite mediators’ efforts, Kali went on a rampage, triggering an emergency meeting to determine how best to handle this kind of aggression. Once he departed, however, the encampment’s emotional rollercoaster seemed to wind down.

“It’s up to us to figure out creatively how to maintain the health of this camp,” organizer Louise Michel told me later. “It’s really important for people here to figure out how to problem solve … Everyone has the commitment.”



Dialogues had been started to address safety issues — but the city of Oakland was highlighting reports of assaults and sexual harassment as reasons the encampment would not be allowed to stay.

Security volunteers were regularly stationed around the plaza perimeter. Tim Simons began his shift around midnight, pacing the sidewalk and gazing out at the deserted downtown Oakland street while maintaining constant communication with his security crew via walkie-talkie.

“It’s been the most intense mixture of people coming together that I’ve ever seen,” reflected Simons, who’d watched the occupation grow since the beginning. “They’re camping here because they want this to become a revolutionary political force. The significant question is: How do we project outward from here? Is this going to become more than just a camp?”

He stressed its significance as a takeover of public space, saying it integrated all manner of people whose lives had been impacted by failed economic policies. Simons also acknowledged the anti-police attitude shared by many occupiers. “In Oakland, it’s really hard to play this game that the police are on our side,” he said. “There’s no real illusion here about what role the cops play.”

That sentiment wasn’t shared by everyone, though. “We’re trying to practice a nonviolent response toward police,” Mindy Stone, who was staying in a tent at the Occupy Oakland overflow camp at Snow Park, told me. “We want to try to make them feel like they are the 99 percent.”

It had been an eventful night. I drifted off to sleep in a borrowed tent, as the banter of people sitting and smoking on park benches floated in.

The next morning was sunny and warm, and the mood of the camp was buoyant. Kitchen volunteers busily prepared food, joking together as they listened to music. Donations flowed in daily from Arizmendi bakery, farmers’ markets, and other generous supporters.

In the arts and crafts area, people were painting a banner to urge people to withdraw their money from major banks by Nov. 5, Guy Fawkes Day. A redhead in a flowing silken outfit wound his way through camp with a garbage bag, asking people if they had pocket trash. A self-defense workshop was in swing, its participants partnered up, giggling, as they practiced holds and blocks.



Dallas Holland was tending wheatgrass, bok choy, herbs, and other edibles in a container garden. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the way the community has come together … It’s amazing to watch this transform into a Mecca of ideas,” she said. “People are having meetings and thinking of ways to perpetuate the movement.” An Alabama native, Holland graduated from college in 2006 and had been unemployed for a year.

Allen Adams, a 37-year-old Oakland native, told me he’d been sleeping outside regularly since before the occupation. “I quadruple up on the shirts. It gets to you,” he said.

He’d had little luck finding work, though he was constantly searching online. With him was Brandy, his well-loved, four-month old pit bull.

“I’ve been struggling all my life,” Adams said. “My dad did, my mom did, my grandmother did. And for what? To have no money.” But he said he was amazed and inspired by the occupation. “I like the fact that people can get together and discuss issues. How can we implement programs to do what California has failed to do? It’s a big task. We’re just working toward betterment. Lasting changes, not just temporary shit.”

Michel echoed these goals. “It’s really bold, and it’s really complex, but no one’s ever lived what we’re trying to do,” she said. “People feel a lot of ownership over what we have here. There’s a sense here of people having each other’s back. Politically, it’s huge.”

During my last hour at Occupy Oakland, David Hilliard, a founding member of the Black Panthers, delivered a speech, driving home the point that the occupation should be organized and focused.

“You’re here, which is a wonderful thing,” Hilliard told the occupiers. “Now we need to have some very basic programs dealing with desires and needs here in Oakland. It can’t be abstract. I can assure you, in a very short time, they’re going to run you out of here. Put something on paper that can help you address the basic desires — otherwise, you’re not going to last long. Get some concrete demands.” *

Lime Rickeys and sourdough sundaes


APPETITE Though my sweet tooth has diminished over the years, it only means I can’t stomach sickly sweet. I still take immense pleasure in a fine dessert. Here are some desserts so good they threaten to surpass the meal that came before.



Citizen Cake has been on a meandering journey from its original Grove Street location, to its new Fillmore home, with a recent revamp from restaurant to ice cream parlor. My last visit nearly went south when at 4 p.m. we arrived hungry for a meal as well as chef Elizabeth Falkner’s ever dreamy desserts.

Our server informed us the restaurant wasn’t serving the regular menu — although the website, menu and storefront all say they serve lunch from 11 a.m. on daily. I’m glad they decided to make a meal for us (they said it was because we were close to 5 p.m. dinner time), but I hope this gets worked out quickly, so that what is stated as being served is served.

Thankfully, the savory dishes we ordered pleased, particularly a fried chicken Cobb sandwich ($13). Although pricey, the chicken is of high quality and expertly fried, laid over a layer of egg salad (nice touch), topped with avocado, blue cheese, and bacon tomato vinaigrette in a brioche bun. The savory menu is predominantly sandwiches, salads, appetizers, and comfort food dinner dishes like meatloaf or spaghetti and meatballs.

Where I get excited is with soda fountain offerings. In classic style, there are egg creams (favorites from my East Coast days), milkshakes made with any choice of Falkner’s cakes, phosphates, spritzers, floats, and my all-time favorite root beer, Devil’s Canyon, on draft. Now I don’t have to wait for the annual SF Beer Week to have this gorgeous root beer! Though cherry or Concord grape phosphates ($4) are listed on the menu, ask about off-menu options: I recently ordered a passion fruit phosphate, subtly floral and bright. I likewise reveled in the effervescent tart of a fresh Lime Ricky ($4) balanced by bitters.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know soda fountains are making a comeback, although I’ve been waiting for more to open in San Francisco (watch for a classic parlor to open up soon in Cole Valley).

Soda fountain sips are just the beginning. Falkner’s lush cakes, macaroons, cookies, tarts and cupcakes still abound. But there’s now a liquid nitrogen ice cream machine (which she was operating herself on last visit), the liquid nitrogen ice creams a base for an extensive new list of sundaes and shakes.

I went straight for sourdough ice cream, delicately bready, not too sweet and altogether right in an SF sourdough sundae ($9) drizzled with grape syrup, brazil nuts, and salted Spanish peanuts. The bowl is dotted with diced strawberries and an exceptional chocolate-peanut butter halvah, sticky and satisfying. I was ready for a second bowl as soon as I finished the first.

2125 Fillmore, SF. (415) 861-2222, www.citizencake.com



The duo of Pisco Latin Lounge and Destino share adjoining storefronts and menus, including the biggest selection of pisco (over 50 bottles) around. The pisco is certainly a draw. But, unexpectedly, dessert stands out here, too.

Recent returns to this duo (which I’ve been dining at on occasion for years), included a relaxed Sunday brunch and dessert. Blessedly, both brunch and dinner menus offer triple chocolate chile buñeulos ($7). These dense chocolate dough balls are dark and oozy, with merely a hint of chile. Resting in a pool of salted caramel with a vanilla crème anglaise dipping sauce, they are dangerously decadent.

1815 Market, SF. (415) 552-4451, www.destinosf.com



Dessert at Jasper’s Corner Tap is as much a highlight as the heartwarming, gourmet pub fare and impeccable cocktails. A cinnamon pretzel donut and a shot of Maker’s Mark and espresso with cream ($8) is filling after burgers and Shepherd’s Pie, but you’ll find room. The donut is made from house pretzel dough, but it is still somehow light and soft. A shot of bourbon, espresso, and cream is served affogato-style, an ideal finish. Ultimate kudos go to two house ice creams: fresh mint and Maker’s Mark bourbon ($4 a scoop). The bourbon is creamy and boozy, while fresh mint is bright. Together, it’s a Mint Julep in ice cream form. Genius.

401 Taylor Street at O’Farrell, (415) 775-7979, www.jasperscornertap.com

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Parking it


CHEAP EATS So they have that classic car show every year in Alameda. It’s a pretty big deal, and Park Street is closed to traffic. The classic cars park in the parking spots, and the people walk down the middle of the road and look at them, and into them, and under the hood.

My own personal interest in classic cars would best be described as D) Nonexistent. But Boink and his dad like to go. They have a whole tradition around it, which ends in pizza. They look at the cars, they eat the pizza. It’s a boy thing. I wouldn’t know.

Except that this particular Saturday I didn’t have any football or soccer or even necessarily baseball to play. And there was an apartment to look at on Park Street, in Alameda. (This was a couple weeks ago, back when Hedgehog and me were still relatively homeless.) So, OK, so, we went.

Hedgehog looked at the apartment without me. We had by this time begun to start to feel almost a little bit paranoid about the fact that no one seemed to want to sublet to us. Not in Berkeley, not in Oakland, not in San Francisco. The day before, we had looked at a shithole in the Tenderloin and, out of desperation, loved it!

But the guy decided to rent to someone else, for no real reason.

“Why?” I asked him on the phone. We had seen the place first. Our credit is perfect. We are clean, upstanding, even accomplished citizens.

“I don’t know,” he said, after a long pause. “No real reason.”

“Oh,” I said. “OK.” Because what else can you say?

This much we knew: it couldn’t possibly be because we are a gay couple, this being San Francisco. So, we decided, it must be me. To wit, that I am too witty. That I am intimidatingly charming, classy-looking, and well-spoked. Technically, I decided this. But Hedgehog agreed to go see the next place by herself. And that was in Alameda. On Park Street. During the car show.

While she was scoping the place out I wandered aimlessly, people watched, car watched, and just generally sat down on a manhole cover. I was hoping to see Boink and his dad, and/or Popeye the Sailor Girl and her mom. I hadn’t seen any of them all since early summer, so was quite unreasonably excited about the possibility of seeing them.

But mostly I saw legs.

Which made me hungry. Then Hedgehog came back and said the apartment was ours for the taking.

Well, hers. But: no tub, no natural light, no me (technically), and it smelled like dude.

“Let’s eat,” I said, standing up.

And then, as if by some sort of cartoon magic, there was Popeye the Sailor Girl, holding her mom’s hand, the both of them looking about as cute as some buttons. What’s more, they were hungry too!

Then Boink and Dad came by, and they were looking cute too, but not hungry, not like us’ns. They just wanted cars and pizza.

Popeye the Sailor Girl and her mom being both gluten free, their favorite restaurant is Burma Superstar. Hedgehog loves Burmese food.

Ergo: our decision was easy. It’s the same place as the one in the city, on Clement Street, only no lines! Not even at exactly lunch time on a beautiful special-event weekend.

I had me some mint chickeny thingy without mint and Hedgehog had duck garlic noodles without hardly any garlic. But to illustrate what a super restaurant Burma Superstar is, both dishes were still good.

And we had the chicken coconut noodle soup, which was especially tasty, of course. It’s kind of like the Thai classic Tom Ka Gai, only eggs instead of mushrooms, which is trading up in my book. Oh, and noodles — which I always thought Tom Ka Gai should have, anyway.

It was so nice to catch up with Popeye the Sailor Girl, and to play Steal Mommy’s Purse with her while her mom was in the restroom.

A delightful time.

A new favorite old favorite restaurant.

And I don’t know about the classic car show but, hey, I like Alameda.


Lunch: Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Tue.-Thu., Sun. 5-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.

1345 Park, Alameda

(510) 522-6200


Beer & Wine

French twists



FILM The San Francisco Film Society’s annual French cinema roundup stretches its national mandate a bit this year. Take the Dardenne brothers’ The Kid with a Bike, one of the best films of the year regardless of country of origin but like the rest of their work particularly fixed in the (French speaking) Belgian working class. It begins in motion, as adolescent Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret) desperately redials his father’s disconnected number from a foster home. He refuses to accept a social worker’s calm explanation that his father has left without a forwarding address, breaking away for the first of many wild flights. Already we’re navigating a complex identification with the boy, rationally removed from his situation at the same time that we are viscerally attached to it.

The Kid with a Bike paints a remarkably sure portrait of adolescent pain. Several critics have made much of Cyril’s tendency to bite, but I found those moments where he simply shuts down even more disquieting, in no small part because the narrative flow is temporality blocked. Though Cyril is eventually given refuge, it’s as difficult for the boy to accept a hairdresser’s kindness as it is for him to resist a neighborhood tough’s illusory promise of self-emancipation (the actors playing these peripheral roles are excellent, layering coming-of-age formulas with fallibility and grace). The latter conscripts Cyril for a violent act, one which in spite of its petty nature holds enormous consequence in the narrative’s web of responsibility and guilt. It is difficult to imagine a contemporary Hollywood movie maintaining such moral complexity in the face of a child’s loss of innocence.

Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki maintains his particular approach to faces and pacing in his first Gallic effort, though Le Havre consciously raises the ghosts of French cinema, specifically postwar resistance dramas and the neighborly realism of filmmakers like Marcel Pagnol. The director accents the timeless quality of the titular port with his classical framings and muted color palette even as his story directly refers to modern Europe’s anxieties. An elderly shoeshine man freighted with the name Marcel Marx (André Wilms) discovers a young African boy hiding out from the immigration authorities under Le Havre’s docks. With his wife ill in the hospital, Marx takes the boy in, eventually raising funds to smuggle him on to his mother across the English Channel.

The community that coheres around Marx is familiar from any number of partisan allegories: there are the good Samaritans who help Marx shelter the boy; the faceless nosy neighbor who calls the police; the world-weary souls at the neighborhood bar; the leery inspector who seems hesitant to carry out unjust orders; the misty invocations of the past and hard talk of money; the final Casablanca-like rapprochement between Marx and the inspector. A restrained melodrama, Le Havre is that rare film where everything that turns out right suggests the opposite. The artifice of the style and plotting are meant to produce a hesitation, certainly, but the remainder is an honest yearning for justice. If it seems odd that it would take a Finnish director to call upon France’s better angels, that’s part of what gives Kaurismäki’s traditionalism just the right touch of provocation.

Also worth checking out is Pierre Schoeller’s fascinating train wreck of an information age political thriller, The Minister, starring longtime Dardennes player Olivier Gourmet as a compromised bureaucrat. The Long Falling, Martin Provost’s second match up with actress Yolanda Moreau after Séraphine (2008), purposefully shuttles from a hardened Belgian village to an unmoored Brussels and features Agnès Godard’s characteristically probing camerawork, itself a pride of French cinema. I wasn’t able to preview Mia Hansen-Løve’s Goodbye First Love, but if the director’s wise and poignant second feature, The Father of My Children (2009), is any indication, it might well prove another highlight of an already strong French Cinema Now program.


Thurs/27-Tues/ 2, $12–<\d>$13

SFFS | New People Cinema

1746 Post, SF



The way we were weird



FILM In 1990, cable was still a luxury many chose not to afford. The Big Three — it was now grudgingly being admitted that Fox might make it Four — weren’t doing anything all that different from what they had a decade or two or three before. Certainly the popular likes of Major Dad, Beverly Hills 90210, and America’s Funniest Home Videos weren’t exactly rocking the boat as thus far known to viewers and sponsors.

Then came Twin Peaks, which most ABC executives had thought a grievous mistake. Principal writer Mark Frost had the successful Hill Street Blues under his belt, but co-creator David Lynch’s four movies hadn’t remotely seemed to qualify him for America’s living rooms. The Elephant Man (1980) was a prestige project for which he was a hired hand, still his most “normal” film even if eccentric by most other standards; Dune (1984) was an expensive disaster fan-editors are still trying to salvage. Blue Velvet was the most perverse Americana joke imaginable in 1986, a screen year otherwise defined by Top Gun. As for Eraserhead (1977) — well, never mind.

Debuting in April of 1990, Twin Peaks took Velvet‘s surreal juxtaposition of Eisenhower-era small town idyllicism with hair-raising behavioral excesses, then stretched it semi-mockingly over the broad, flat ensemble canvas of Peyton Place — a trashily soap-operatic bestseller and TV series whose movie incarnation Frost-Lynch screened for inspiration. The notion of innocence defiled almost beyond comprehension was crystallized in their startling image of a homecoming queen beatifically dead, plastic-wrapped, washed onto the riverbank of her picturesque Washington state burg.

“Who killed Laura Palmer?” briefly gripped the nation, just as “Who shot J.R.?” had 10 years earlier. Two decades ago everything tasted better when drizzled with the special chocolate sauce of “postmodernism,” and Twin Peaks was the most ironic cherry pie vehicle for that addictive popular culture had yet baked up. It was so cool you could hardly believe it was actually being watched.

Then it wasn’t, making for one of the medium’s brightest, fastest flameouts. But naturally its cult has endured, despite so many home-viewing releases since compromised by laziness and rights issues, not to mention the colossal buzz kill of 1992’s first/last big-screen spin-off. Its actors have aged, and in numerous cases not prospered. But Twin Peaks itself is like Dorian Gray, forever ageless, seductively not-quite-right.

You can indulge your undying love at the Roxie, when a more-or-less “20th Anniversary Tribute” offers close to six consecutive hours of Peaks-iana. Co presented by short-range nostalgists Midnites for Maniacs, the evening commences with Otto Preminger’s noir-ish 1944 Laura, another story about an obsessed-over dead babe that was an apparent influence on the much later series.

Things begin in earnest with the 90-minute Peaks pilot, directed by Lynch himself. Swaying to the drugged prom dance themes of Angelo Badalamenti’s signature score, it introduced an incredible range not just of characters but of actors, both running the gamut from dewy to screwy.

Beyond those luscious youths (Lara Flynn Boyle, James Marshall, Sherilyn Fenn, etc.) who all seemed poised to become movie stars — particularly Sheryl Lee, whose Laura Palmer incited such mania that the Seattle “local girl” cast simply to be a corpse was brought back as a hastily conceived doppelganger — there were ex-actual movie stars (Piper Laurie, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn), faded TV stars (Michael Ontkean, Peggy Lipton), David Lynch “stars” (Eraserhead himself, Jack Nance), miscellaneous oddjobs, and onetime “Elizabeth Taylor of China” Joan Chen. The latter never seemed quite to know what she was doing there, but then she wasn’t supposed to be — Isabella Rossellini had dropped out. Bemusedly observing all was Kyle MacLachlan’s apple-cheeked FBI Agent Dale Cooper, a Lynchian alter ego willing to plangently wade into swamps of teenage prostitution, cocaine deals, surreal dwarf fantasias, and so forth — as long as he could break for a cuppa diner joe and more of that fine pie.

Alternately queasy, campy, and swoony, Twin Peaks had it all. With its unending parade of lurid revelations, not excluding occult ones, the whole miraculous brew constantly threatened to sink into self-parody. Many thought it did so in the second season. ABC’s shuffleboard scheduling dealt further death blows to a fickle mainstream audience that had decided they weren’t sure if they cared who killed Laura Palmer anyway. (Lynch would have preferred the mystery remain unsolved.)

Still, the fanatics who remained made it seem viable to roll camera on 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (the Roxie program’s final feature) just after the show’s cancellation. No longer writing with Frost but Robert Engels, Lynch saw it as the first in a feature trilogy that would expand and complete the Peaks universe.

That was not to be. Booed at Cannes, Fire tanked everywhere but Japan. As with everything Lynch has ever done, it has defenders. The worse the project, the more vehement the defense, and as very possibly the worst of all, Fire is some folks’ notion of a cruelly maligned masterpiece. The director shot over five hours of material; should those umpteen deleted scenes ever surface, you can bet on a corrective-fan-edit frenzy.

In the meantime there’s still just the movie, as infuriating as the show was frequently great. It’s also (very) occasionally great, which itself is infuriating. The first section (starring Chris Isaac as Agent Non-Cooper in Upside-Down Pin Tweaks-ville) is the smug, dumb, garish self-parody the series never quite descended to. Eventually things come in to relative focus around Laura Palmer’s final week on Earth, building toward a surprisingly blunt religious fall-ascension, complete with literal angels.

The hellfire bits do have their moments, like scary Bob (Frank Silva) slithering into a bed, or driving two leashed girls at the end like panicked farm animals to slaughter. But the heightened gore and nudity seem pandering; fascinating Lee, 18 going on menopause, is made to totter around like a cokehead version of Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest (1949). There is dialogue as gee-whiz as Laura answering “Nowhere fast!” when asked “Where you going?” by Donna (Moira Kelly replacing Boyle, which doesn’t work); and as crass as demon-addled daddy Leland (Ray Wise) telling daughter “Let’s get your muffin!” en route to breakfast and the apocalypse. What is David Bowie doing here? As the New York Times review noted, such useless incongruities “would have made [just] as much sense inserted into a segment of Golden Girls.”


Sat/29, 7 p.m., $15

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087



Snack time!



FILM “We are going to eat you!” Accompanied by a close-up shot of a vile, undead head, the iconic poster for Lucio Fulci’s 1979 Zombie clearly delineates the fate of all human flesh. It’s not a threat — it’s a guarantee, oozing with maggots and emphasized with a follow-up promise: “The dead are among us!”

Like all international cult movies of a certain era, Zombie is known by multiple titles; sometimes you’ll see it called Zombie Flesh-Eaters or Zombi 2, since it was released on its Italian home turf as a sequel-in-name-only to George Romero’s 1978 Zombi (better known stateside as Dawn of the Dead). But Fulci’s film is no Romero rip-off; you’ll find zero social commentary or monsters-as-metaphors here. (Sometimes, a zombie is just a zombie.) Fulci, who’d made his name directing salacious giallo films and the occasional spaghetti western, plunged eagerly into full-bore horror; the film’s skin-crawling, buzzing-fly mise-en-scène is jolted throughout with eyeball-popping moments of both terror and what-the-fuckness (key phrase: zombie vs. shark).

As Stephen Thrower notes in Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (an essential tome for its gore-geous photo plates alone), “Fulci’s zombies [are] far more revolting and putrescent than Romero’s.” I’d agree, even with Dawn‘s epic exploding head. But you know what, horror fan? You don’t have to choose. There’s room enough in the world for two zombie kings. It’s been a whole lot easier for Americans to feast on Romero films over the years, though, which is why the Roxie’s three-day screening of Zombie is such cause for excitement. The theatrical re-release is part of a nationwide rollout by Blue Underground, one of the current leaders in the give-trashy-movies-the-classy-DVD-releases-they-deserve movement (the company was founded by William Lustig, director of 1980 cult classic Maniac — speaking of exploding heads).

It’ll hit the screen “in a new 2K High Definition transfer from the original uncut and uncensored camera negative,” so everything will look extra juicy. As of October 25, you can also snatch up Blue Underground’s two-disc “Ultimate Edition,” featuring the new transfer and quite a few extras (though some seem to resemble the extras from Shriek Show’s 2004 two-disc “25th Anniversary” release; diehards will likely repurchase anyway).

If your only exposure to zombies of late has been TV’s The Walking Dead, you need a dose of Zombie. First shot: a gun aimed at the camera; from that moment it never lets up, as big-eyed Tisa Farrow (Mia’s less charismatic sister) travels in search of her missing father to the cursed island of “Matul” with suave newspaper reporter Ian McCulloch (Fulci, dubbed in Noo Yawk-ese, cameos as his editor). Matul happens to be ground zero for the undead apocalypse — filled to the brim with gushing, goregasmic guts. It makes The Walking Dead look like Disneyland. Best Halloween treat ever.


Sat/29, 3 and 5 p.m.; Sun/30, 3, 5, 7, and 9 p.m.; Sun/31, 7 and 9 p.m., $5-$9.75

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087








Recorded at a quiet waterfront house in North Carolina, the third studio release from Baltimore, Md.’s Future Islands showcases a slower, more refined side of the synth-pop trio. In a sense, it’s a departure from the raw emotional frenzy of last year’s In Evening Air. However On The Water is perhaps its most frighteningly moving release to date. With a powerful, bone-chilling voice, Samuel T. Herring narrates an emotional pilgrimage over lush synth and bass arrangements augmented by cello, violin, and marimba. “The Great Fire” is a haunting duet featuring Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. “Balance” is sunny, romantic, and totally infectious. True to Future Islands form, On The Water will pull at your heartstrings and leave you begging for more. (Frances Capell)





Bad As Me (Anti-) opens with the horn blaring “Chicago,” a tough track that chugs forward like a hell-bound locomotive, letting you know straightaway that Tom Waits can still take you by surprise. On “Talking at the Same Time” he’s stretching his voice to a new range. On “Satisfied” he’s growling. On the raving mad “Hell Broke Luce” he’s mocking war with claps, distorted guitars, “Lefts!” and “Rights!” and one shocking couplet after another. Elsewhere, Waits is the old tender dreamer, like on the jazzy “Kiss Me,” for instance. But it’s the concluding “New Year’s Eve” that Waits is at his finest — a simple, touching narrative with a Spanish air. Though not as encyclopedic as Orphans, of course, Bad As Me lives up to all the rowdiness and romance you expect from Waits. (James H. Miller)





The Field has mastered the craft of using minimal techno’s precise intensity as a launching pad for satisfying waves of spaced out and hypnotic sounds. With Looping State Of Mind it continues to demonstrate how repetition used right can bring you to an ecstatic state of mind. Miniature melodies stretched out in ways that make you want to float as much as they make you want to dance. With slight tension and no clear cut release, it’s a record that keeps you in its groove, while also introducing new found moments of dreamy and slowed down come down after taking you so high. This is what getting lost in an elegant trance sounds like. (Irwin Swirnoff)





Tarot Classics begins in familiar territory for West Palm Beach, Fla., indie rockers Surfer Blood. “I’m Not Ready” recalls the vocal power-hooks and catchy melodic guitar of 2010’s reverb-soaked debut Astro Coast. “Miranda” and “Voyager Reprise” maintain its retro seaside vibe while showcasing tighter, more ambitious instrumentation. With synthesizers, layered vocals, and jungle-bird samples, “Drinking Problem” finds this quartet venturing into previously uncharted waters. Though it’s a bit more restrained, JP Pitts’ distinctive voice remains boyish, sweet, and slightly morose on Tarot Classics. The four song EP also comes with a distorted, bass-heavy remix by Oakland based one-man project Speculator. Tarot Classics is a brief and tantalizing glimpse into the bright future of Surfer Blood. (Capell)

When it’s over



MUSIC “The reason why my rhythms are so repetitive and feel almost infinite is that, in a way, I fear closure. In the same way that I can never finish a book, I have trouble ending my songs. I have trouble ending anything. I can’t even finish a meal,” Luis Vasquez, frontrunner of the Soft Moon, tells me. (The group plays Mon/31 at the Independent.)

Thinking about beginnings is equally problematic. The Soft Moon is a music project built on unsettled grounds. It’s magnetized between the poles of late 1970s and early ’80s post-punk, the motorik beats of techno and Krautrock, and organic forms of Afro-Cuban poly-percussion, but all equally disrupted from their roots, on a search for some other destination.

The anxiety about endings is strange, on the surface at least, because Vasquez — singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist — has accomplished more than your average procrastinator. Since last year’s self-titled debut on Captured Tracks, a desolate and rapturous composition, the Soft Moon has steadily seduced a devoted listenership. Vasquez, along with fellow Bay Area-based musicians Justin Anastasi on bass and Damon Way on drum machines and synthesizers, just performed a few shows on the East Coast after returning from tour in Europe earlier in the summer. The band is also working on material for a second full-length and preparing for the release of a new EP, Total Decay, coinciding with a launch party on Halloween in San Francisco.

Songs by the Soft Moon often begin in full throttle, as if they’ve already begun. They move forward carried by the sheer propulsive gravity of their engineered drum patterns — driving their gutted vehicles according to shapes and zigzags, towards endings that dissolve, break in static, submerge into chaos, or collapse abruptly as if the frequency on the radio has just changed or connection suddenly lost. Despite whatever glimmer of hope or flicker of light is carved out by the oscillating guitar strums and the burning synthetic melodies, the songs never find their way out of claustrophobia.

They have geometrical names: “Circles,” “Parallels,” or frightening ones: “Tiny Spiders,” “Dead Love.” They conjure moods of loss: forgotten memories, clouded nostalgia, a future that never came to pass, harrowing desire, and love. Vasquez doesn’t sing so much as chant in a corrosive whisper, “You can’t pull yourself out of the fire,” or he screams, yells, moans, gurgles from the depths — his voice degenerates into a mechanical short-circuit, primal electric emotion. “I don’t know what it is about endings,” he says. “Maybe I want to hold onto the moment. Sometimes I take a snapshot of it as if it’s still there. Maybe it’s simply my fear of death.”

The substance of the Soft Moon is raw, cutting. Yet the music feels good, even approaches heights of euphoria. Streams of pleasure charge the rawness; optimism suspends fear. It’s delivered in pop formulas, forged from hours, years of digesting Prince, Madonna, Joy Division, Kraftwerk. But the Soft Moon also turns pop upside down. Hope is never realized. Familiar intensities of pleasure and desire are disturbed. The music spurs an emotional awakening in your guts, in the ghost of the machine that beats its mechanical rhythms on and on. A haunted undercurrent of pop washes up on the shore — like all promised lands, a tragic place.

Vasquez thinks the Soft Moon evokes his childhood growing up in Victorville, a suburban desert community nestled in the heart of the Inland Empire just outside of Los Angeles. He recalls empty space, tract houses, malls, skies that went on forever, blinding flashes of sunlight, and a soft moon hanging low in the horizon. He remembers riding in the car for endless stretches, the rhythms of commuting, “isolated in music as if it was a sanctuary.”

I ask, so how do you ever finish a song, at least in the sense of putting it out there? “I just abandon them,” Vasquez says. Why bother making them? “I get attached to songs and put a lot of effort into making them. Occasionally they become revelations for me.” How do you recuperate your abandoned revelations when you perform, repeating all over again what you could never finish in the first place? “When I play live, it gets to a euphoric level, and it’s very cathartic, but I never get a sense of overcoming anything. Or the overcoming is really only my chance to express something to the crowd, to be vulnerable, finally.”

Perhaps the Soft Moon’s most revelatory song yet is “When It’s Over.” It’s something of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, anticipating the end, a bleak and empty one, and at the same time recovering the traces of a past, revealing the specters and ghosts that still inhabit the present. Recurring dreams serve as inspiration; “You know, the typical: alien invasions, planets colliding, comets, the sun exploding — very cosmic — the earth stopping, or falling,” he says. “It always has something to do with the galaxy. It’s always so devastating … I never could finish [Cormac McCarthy’s] The Road either.”

The EP, Total Decay, follows these same themes of temporal and planetary displacement, or rather, diaspora. But the core engine, and enigma, of these songs is always one full of life, vital and imaginative. “I want to hold onto the organism, since technology is developing so fast that we have difficulty adapting.” Vasquez says. “Body, sensitivity, emotion, skin, flesh, blood — I think that’s why the nostalgia is so prevalent in the music.”

The Soft Moon holds on just as equally to the machine. The songs are produced organisms, synthesized from spirit and electronics; they are born, grow, mature, and wither away. In “Total Decay,” swirling alarms disperse, echo, derail into static breath. Synthetic wind gusts into the hypnotic poly-percussion of “Visions,” dancing frenetically around punctuated low end bass. Claps chatter and keys bubble up from the ether, and return to their source, without justification, just as suddenly. *


With Led Er Est, Chelsea Wolfe, Michael Stocke, and Josh Cheon

Mon/31, 9 p.m., $13

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421



It came from Spacey



THEATER A single black armchair center stage and one big fat “Now” projected on the back wall signal our anticipation pretty neatly — of a famous opening line, of the famous actor about to utter it, and in the feeling that it is something more than a history play unfolding here, at this moment, in a city and country thoroughly and unprecedentedly “occupied” with political matters. A big, pungent production of Richard III? Yes, now sounds about right.

The production running through this week at the Curran Theatre (courtesy of SHN) originated in June at London’s Old Vic, where its star, Oscar-winning American film actor Kevin Spacey, has served as artistic director since 2003. Its trans-Atlantic tour is part of the Bridge Project (co-produced by the Old Vic, New York’s BAM, and Neal Street Productions), which brings together onstage a mix of American and British theater talent. Director Sam Mendes, also a well-known name in Hollywood since he and Spacey both won Oscars for 1999’s American Beauty, offers (despite some unevenness in tone and persuasiveness across the cast) a generally fleet and sure modern-dress staging of one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, helpfully subdivided with dramatically underscored chapter headings projected during transitions, and building to a rousing climax over the live rumble and pounding of multiple tenor and bass drums.

Tom Piper’s set, meanwhile, presents a cold-looking and always nearly empty room, covered in dull white paint turning to dishwater gray over its weathered surfaces, and lined with doors in a suggestion of multiplying intrigue as well as history’s endless entrances and exits. The subdued lighting (in Paul Pyant’s design) accents the tarnished look of a world beset by obscure plots and creeping doom, while from time to time casting characters’ shadows onto the walls like ulterior selves.

In the title role, Spacey delivers a crowd-spoiling yet seriously potent performance as the quintessence of power-mad ambition at the highest levels of the social hierarchy. Appearing in that center armchair as the play begins, in disheveled modern black-tie evening dress and a paper crown, Spacey’s Richard is a reluctant celebrant in a “weak, piping time of peace,” who not only aspires to reach the throne by ruthlessly doing in all family and familiars in his way, but who takes exquisite pleasure in sharing with the audience the graphic details of the journey. His own party is just beginning, and won’t stop until combined forces wipe King Richard out on Bosworth Field, ending a bloody two-year reign and an English imperial dynasty.

Spacey’s Richard is vocally and physically powerful, well shaped in every detail of its unshapely protagonist-villain. His wooing of Anne (a sharp, sultry Annabel Scholey), for example, in a famous early scene, or his impatient proxy wooing later on of a second wife via the young girl’s mother (the Duchess of York, played commandingly by Haydn Gwynne), are as comically subtle and rich as they are virile and startlingly explosive. A rare moment of self-doubt in Richard, wrestling with a late-blooming attack of conscience, is also beautifully handled.

Spacey’s enjoyably vivid interpretation lies in a compelling blend of sociopathically cool, intellectual charm and an underlying animal drive manifest in the Z-shaped posture of Shakespeare’s physically “unfinished” hunchback. When standing still, Spacey’s Richard balances on a twisted leg bound up in a metal brace and perched on the ball of the foot, his head twisting and jutting, with one arm wrapped in a black leather glove and the other tucked up high like a fledgling wing. But when this incarnate of political malevolence moves, he flies around the stage with the quick and decisive energy of a once-wounded creature long-adapted to its deformity, an angry raptor on a metal cane. It’s that two-sided quality that makes good sense of the play’s moral vision too, which draws so forceful and timely a distinction between citizen-duping outward show and the inner appetites driving a ruling class of cannibals. *



Wed/26-Fri/28, 7:30 p.m.; Sat/29, 2 and 8 p.m., $35–$150

Curran Theatre

445 Geary, SF






HERBWISE A throng of reporter types had gathered in the lobby of the State Building to listen to State Senator Mark Leno and State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano badmouth the feds.

“It is not the purview of the federal government to upset the will of the people,” said Ammiano, to the grunted affirmations of the patients, advocates, and cannabis business owners who had also assembled for the event.

Leno called the recent steps taken against the medicinal cannabis industry — which provides California each year with somewhere between $50 million and $100 million in taxes according to a 2010 estimate by the state’s Board of Equalization — “the exact wrong policy for a deep recession.” And then there’s the patients themselves. The two gay politicians commented that the issue of patient access is especially salient for the LGBT community, given that group’s increased incidence of HIV and AIDS.

Ammiano and Leno announced plans to push for federal regulatory guidelines that would clear up inconsistencies in the way medicinal cannabis works at the state level. As of press time for this article, Ammiano had scheduled another panel to discuss the matter on Tuesday, October 25 where he’ll be joined by marijuana advocates, labor leaders, Steve DeAngelo — founder of Harborside Health Center, which the IRS recently announced owes millions in back taxes because the business cannot legally write off standard expenses — and Matthew Cohen, who was handcuffed for hours along with his wife when the DEA raided his legal Mendocino County grow-op Northside Organics earlier this month. The event is being timed to coincide with President Obama’s visit to San Francisco this week.

When the politicos were done with their spiels, they trotted out Charlie Pappas, the owner of Divinity Tree Patients’ Wellness Cooperative. The landlord of Pappas’ 3,000-member dispensary was served with a cease and desist notice from the DEA that threatened property forfeiture and jail time if he continued to let Divinity Tree operate in his building.

Pappas approached the podium in a wheelchair, a patient himself. As he was introduced, it was noted that here we had one of the little guys, not a tycoon turning millions of dollars of profit as dispensary owners have been portrayed by unsympathetic media and government officials. It’s illegal to turn a profit off of medical marijuana — and who would want to get rich off of sick people anyway?

The controversy over the issue is understandable, but also mind-blowingly hypocritical. You know who turns a profit off of making and distributing medicine? The pharmaceutical industry, to the tune of billions of dollars, in fact. Makes the $1.7 billion national market that constitutes the medical marijuana industry look like shake.

The sound of money talking rendered unsurprising the words of a one Bruce Buckner, who has been a patient “since the laws passed” and who came down from his home in Sonoma County to attend Ammiano and Leno’s press conference. Buckner shared his suspicions about why the federal government turned its eyes to dispensary operations this autumn. Slightly grizzled and wearing a straw hat, Buckner had sat patiently though the event, hooked up to a respirator.

“It’s real obvious why Obama is doing it,” he said. “The pharmaceutical industry is afraid of how potent this medicine is.”

Stealing an election — and more



OPINION The emergence of apparent voter fraud that mars San Francisco’s mayoral election rightly resulted in calls for a federal investigation and federal monitors. It’s not the political interests of rival candidates that are at issue. It is the consequences of a dishonest election process for our city and its future.

Almost exactly 20 years ago, the McArthur Foundation, home of the genius awards, recognized the Democracy Index for showing the connection between voter participation and election and campaign reforms. The group found that the greater the transparency in political contributions, the stronger the protections against pay-to-play politics, and the greater protection against voter fraud, the higher voter participation climbed.

Today it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that sleazy tactics, end-runs around campaign rules, and dubious voting schemes do as good a job suppressing voter interest as the Republicans did in Florida in the 2000 election victory of George W. Bush, or poll taxes did in the past.

In this year’s mayoral election, we appear to be headed toward the bottom of a slippery slope. Campaigns hungry for advantage aren’t slow to recognize loopholes; soon a loophole becomes a strategy. What follows then is to push the envelope over the line. A candidate’s honorable intentions too quickly fall prey to the politics of convenience.

This year, with an interim mayor pledged not to run for election and thus avoid the entanglements of political self-interest, the expectation was raised high.

“My goal is to restore the trust in the mayor’s office of the past,” Mayor Ed Lee said in an interview just two weeks after assuming office.

In the ensuing months, Lee’s posture changed. He would be no better than the minimum standard required in the law, he said in his interview with the San Francisco Examiner.

He would not release the names of his finance committee, he claimed that a Run Ed Run effort was blameless after the Ethics Commission found a loophole that left them outside the city’s campaign laws, he complained that keeping track of contractor contributions was burdensome paperwork that he should be spared, and he maintained a close relationship with the leaders of independent expenditure committees while insisting he knew nothing of their activities.

When new tools can provide citizens with near instant access to everything from when the next bus comes to restaurant inspection scores, Lee’s campaign is supported by efforts that are deliberately opaque, designed to misinform if not to mislead.

Clearly this is not a mayor trying to leave the city, or its political process, better than he found it.

A 2011 mayoral victory under fraudulent terms would make everyone a loser, regardless of candidate preference.

It’s not just an election that might be “stolen” by unethical or illegal manipulation.

We would be defrauded of what we are entitled to have: the chance for all of us to forge a better future for the city without our optimism shattered by dishonest, unethical practices. That should not be sacrificed for anyone’s political advantage…

Larry Bush publishes citireport, a journal of politics and money


Editor’s notes



I say it over and over again, because some people clearly aren’t paying attention:

Corruption matters.

When the mayor of San Francisco surrounds himself with people who don’t show any respect for campaign finance or ethics regulations, who think it’s fine to skirt (and possibly break) election laws, it undermines faith in local government.

And at a time when conservatives at the national and state level are mounting a concerted campaign to shrink, weaken and ultimately burn down government, the last thing San Francisco needs is to give them fuel.

Listen: When Willie Brown was mayor, a tax lawyer named Ron Chun was running for assessor. Generally a good guy, generally progressive, full of creative ideas. But when I asked him about how to get more revenue into the city, he said:

“Why should we bring in more revenue? Willie Brown’s just going to waste it on his cronies anyway.”

He wasn’t alone. A lot of generally progressive people felt as if paying taxes was throwing money down the sewer. Because everyone knew that Brown was hiring unqualified people, pouring cash into contracts for his pals, handing out raises and benefits to city workers who supported him — and treating critics as if they were traitors to the nation.

Mayor Lee says he doesn’t approve of what looks an awful lot like voter fraud and doesn’t support what the independent expenditure committees are doing in his name. But anyone with any sense knows that the IE groups and the Lee campaign and the Lee administration are all parts of a permanent floating crap game where the players move around but everybody knows everybody else and there’s no way to keep communications completely shut off. If Lee wanted these “independent” groups to quit using stencils to make sure voters choose him for mayor, these operators would stop.

But he talks to people like Brown, people who have disdain for honest, open government, and they tell him not to worry. These things blow over. Once he wins the election, it won’t matter.

But when you have a mayor who invites corrupt actors into the house, it does matter. It matters a lot.