Volume 46 Number 40
CHEAP EATS Yeah, and part of the idea of going to New York City was to escape New Orleans’s heat, which would best be described (for those who haven’t been) as hot.
Hot hot hot hot hot.
As luck would have it, best laid plans and all, it was even hotter than that in New York while we were there, squeak squeak, fuckity fuck. It was hot hot hot hot hot hot hot. So as soon as we got back home to hot hot hot hot hot, we went camping.
In an air-conditioned camper. With our landlordladypersons, an adorable couple name a Pam and Cindy. Now Cindy, being a tried and true in the wool Cajun, has a brother name a Blaine only everybody calls him Bruno. And this Blaine (only everybody calls him Bruno) is my new favorite person because even though he knew we were crazy for camping on the edge of a swamp during mosquito season, he not only loaned us his trailer but drove it there. And parked it. He’s a truck driver.
Our campsite had been under water the previous weekend, and therefore vacant, so the mosquitos were happy to see us.
We heated our dinner in microwaves that first night. S’mores were not discussed. Next day, though, there was a breeze and we were able to sit outside all day and watch a hawk wrestle with a giant catfish that had been trapped in a puddle.
Hedgehog took pictures, if anyone wants to see them. She also shot some alligators, and a sweet, tiny red parrot that had fallen in love with our friend Cherry’s roof rack.
I went around pulling dead sticks out of trees, and that night’s dinner happened over a fire. Here’s what I grilled: salmon, swordfish, boudin, turnips, tomatoes, peppers, pineapple, peaches, and garlic. The corn I soaked in its husks and threw on the coals.
On Sunday Blaine Only Bruno (or Bob, as I call him for short) came back and took me, Hedgehog, and Cindy to his crawfish pond. So, yeah, so that was how I spent the last part of my last weekend in Louisiana: having a complete pond-to-table crawfish experience.
We piled into this patchy li’l boat and sat on upside-down buckets. The traps are baited with sweet potatoes! Bob putt-putted us around the pond, pulling them up and dumping the crawfish onto a stainless steel sorting table, where we took turns wiping the angry ones through the square hole into net bags, and tossing the half-eaten or otherwise at-peace ones back into the water.
After, driving along the levee in his pickup truck with probably 50 pounds of crawfish for our dinner and then some, Bob told us about his friend’s crawfishing brother who looks like Z.Z. Top and had recently “caught a heart attack.”
Moments later, we ran into him, sitting in a pick-up truck of his own, eating a bag of potato chips and looking indeed like Z.Z. Top — the whole band. Pleasantries were exchanged. Potato chips were not.
Nevertheless, when we got to Bob and Cindy’s mama’s house, where the crawfish were to be boiled, I caught a stomachache — which is a horrible thing to have when you are about to eat 50 pounds of crawfish.
In a desperate attempt to get good again, I guzzled ginger ale. I ate a piece of dry toast. I sat in a recliner and closed my eyes, and missed the part where we boiled them to death.
Hedgehog was there. She said the secret was to not only add the seasoning to the pot, but to plaster them with it afterwards.
Well, they were spicy, and the best crawfish ever. Once I started eating them, I couldn’t stop. In fact, I’m still eating them. Packing up for the long road ahead: New Orleans to Frisco, by way of Pennsylvania and Ohio, or home to home, via home and home.
When I was there — home home — last time, Crawdad de la Cooter kept wanting to go to all these new Cajun restaurants popping up all over the Bay Area, even in Fairfax. I suppose after I’ve been back for a few months I will need these places, but for now I’d rather be eating pho and watching soccer at my new favorite Vietnamese restaurant and sports bar:
Lunch: Mon-Sat 11am-2pm; Dinner: Mon-Sun 5-10:30pm
2067 University Ave., Berk.
APPETITE Time to dive into summer — at least nominally. These five playful dishes recently made an impression, and brought a little sunshine to the table.
BREAKFAST BISCUIT SANDWICH AT 15 ROMOLO
Brunch at one of the city’s best bars, 15 Romolo, is a pleasure, and blessedly unmobbed. Arrive at opening (11:30am), and you’re likely to secure a table instantly. Greeted with complimentary waffle shots — yes, rounds of waffle bites resting in a mini-pool of maple syrup and boozy rum — you’re then guaranteed impeccable mid-day cocktails ($9–$10), like zippy, frothy absinthe showcase (not for the anise or licorice averse) Famous Fizz, made with St. George absinthe, shaken with strawberry-thyme shrub, cream, egg white, finished with seltzer. Or try a Breakfast of Champions # 2, rich with Manzanilla sherry, Nocino walnut liqueur, maple syrup, coffee tincture and house banana cordial — warmly gratifying, not cloying. Exciting drinks are a given here, but the menu’s no slouch. This has been true at night and it’s likewise true at brunch. The one that makes me salivate is the breakfast biscuit sando ($9). In keeping with other brunch dishes, portions are generous: a moist, green chile biscuit filled with crispy fried chicken, the perfect kind of bacon (not too crispy, fatty), fried egg, house pickles, and a vivid arugula walnut pesto. Hash browns accompany, and after adding on a hefty, savory house rye sausage patty ($3), I practically rolled out post-meal, blissfully fattened.
15 Romolo Pl., SF. (415) 398-1359, www.15romolo.com
SMOKED BRISKET MEATLOAF AT PICAN
Though one can experience both highs and lows at downtown Oakland’s upscale Southern sanctuary Pican (like uneven desserts or cocktails — oh, would that that sweet Mint Julep be less syrupy and served in a proper Julep cup), staff are eager to please and the American whiskey list is extensive. New executive chef Sophina Uong (Waterbar, 900 Grayson) continues introducing vibrant dishes to the menus. Even as I begin digging into new menu items like playful blue crab profiteroles, my heart belongs to classic smoked brisket meatloaf ($21). It’s genius, really: shaved slices of Creekstone natural beef brisket are baked into a meaty-yet-light loaf, served with BBQ tomato jam, on roasted sweet corn salad with Cajun cheddar aioli. Mom’s home cooking, upscale Southern treatment, California creative-fresh spin — a veritable mash-up of cuisines.
2295 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 834-1000, www.picanrestaurant.com
MANGO SALAD AT RANGOON RUBY
Merely a couple weeks old, downtown Palo Alto’s Rangoon Ruby boasts chefs Win Aye and Win Tin, formerly of Burma Superstar, serving fresh, vivid Burmese dishes. The chic, clean space boasts a nice spirits collection (all three St. George gins can be found here, along with Camus Cognac) and tiki-focused cocktail menu, including lava and scorpion bowls for two or four. While still working out opening and service kinks, owner and Burma native John Lee presents a gracious, hard-working aesthetic grown from his own experience working in the restaurant at San Francisco’s Fairmont. Beloved Burmese salads ($10-13), from tea leaf to ginger, are done right here — brightly generous and served in its superior version: strips of mango atop greens, that fantastic hint of savory imparted by fried onions and garlic, accented with cucumber and dried shrimp. Also try nan gyi nok ($12), a heartwarming mound of rice noodles doused in coconut milk chicken and yellow bean powder, accented with a squeeze of lemon and a hard-boiled egg.
445 Emerson, Palo Alto. (650) 323-6543 www.rangoonruby.com
PICKLED HOT LINK AT SHOWDOGS
Showdogs corners dogs in a space that continues to improve Market Street’s less culinary-inclined blocks, adding on old school sign and sidewalk seating enclosed by hedges since they opened. I have a number of go-to sausages (plus a rocked-out corn dog), but it’s the pickled hot link ($6.95) that remains truly different. A hot link, plump and pickled in apple-cider vinegar for a couple weeks: it’s tangy, slightly blackened as it’s grilled to order, topped with Crater Lake blue cheese sauce and arugula leaves.
1020 Market, SF. (415) 558-9560, www.showdogssf.com
CHAWAN MUSHI AT NOMBE
As part of an affordable seven-course Kaiseki dinner ($39.95) at Nombe, chawan mushi or Japanese savory egg custard has been prfected by chef Noriyuki Sugie. Though numerous izakayas, particularly Nojo, make memorable versions, I was recently hooked on Sugie’s uni chawan mushi, lush with uni’s seaworthy, umami notes, woven into a silky, custard, topped with more fresh uni, served traditionally in a covered dish. Order a pour from Nombe’s impressive sake list — ask co-owner and sake sommelier Gil Payne to recommend a pairing for you — and settle into black booths in the quirky, comfy Mission diner space.
2491 Mission, SF. (415) 681-7150, www.nombesf.com
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Is San Francisco still on the cutting edge of women’s issues? I recently spent a sunny Saturday morning buried in the radical archives of Bolerium Books (www.bolerium.com) — which is by the way, an amazing resource for anyone researching labor, African American, First Peoples, and queer history, among other things. Me, I was looking into our city’s rich history of feminist activism, inspiration for our upcoming Guardian “Bay Area Feminism Today” panel discussion. The event will unite amazing females from across the city who have but one thing in common: they’re pushing the envelope when it comes to the definition of what a “women’s issue” is, in a time when very few people claim feminism as their primary crusade. We’ll be talking more about their exciting projects –- but also touching on more universal issues. What is San Francisco’s role in fighting the nationwide attack on reproductive rights? How is our progressive community doing in terms of supporting women and maintaining a feminist perspective on issues?
Women’s work: it’s alive and kicking, and it deserves its moment in the spotlight. Meet our panelists here, in preparation for the real deal.
THE GUARDIAN PRESENTS: “BAY AREA FEMINISM TODAY”
Wed/11 6-8pm, free
City College of San Francisco Mission campus
1125 Valencia, SF
St. James Infirmary programs director, ex-president of Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club
For me, sex worker rights are a feminist issue because they are about body autonomy. As much as reproductive choice is a feminist issue, so too is the right to determine the ways in which we use our bodies, change our bodies, and take care of our bodies. When people are criminalized for their HIV status, denied access to hormones and safe gender transitions, or are afraid to carry condoms because it might lead to police harassment or arrest — these are all feminist issues. At St. James Infirmary (www.stjamesinfirmary.org), we provide healthcare and social services from a peer-based model, so community is really the central aspect of the project. I was excited to chair the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club (www.milkclub.org) last year, because I wanted to keep raising sex workers rights issues as part of the LGBT agenda. At St. James, nearly 70 percent of our community members are LGBTQ, so it’s really critical that sex workers rights are treated as a queer issue, a feminist issue, and a labor issue.
Artist and founder of Queer Rebels
My partner KB Boyce and I started our production company Queer Rebels (www.queerrebels.com) to honor the feminist and queer of color artists and elders who paved the way. Our main project is “Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance,” a performance extravaganza which took place June 28-30. Such an exciting time! The Harlem Renaissance legacy remains with us to this day. It was an explosion of art, intellect, and sexual liberation led by queer Black artists. I’m also a board member at Community United Against Violence (www.cuav.org). CUAV was formed in the wake of Harvey Milk’s assassination and the White Night riots, and does incredible work to address violence within and against the LGBTQ community. Another way I’m involved with women’s issues is through Femme Conference (www.femme2012.com). In a culture where femininity is both de-valued and the expected norm, Femme Con creates a vital feminist space — this year it takes place in Baltimore, Maryland.
DJ and promoter of queer nightlife
I work in nightlife to provide space for communities that often don’t have spaces to come together. For 15 years, I have been providing music for women as the resident DJ at Mango (every fourth Sunday at El Rio, www.elriosf.com). I also work to support my fellow LGBT veterans by promoting their visibility through my nightlife projects. Ex-Filipino Marine and two-spirit drag king Morningstar Vancil’s story has inspired me to work on creating a space that raises awareness about LGBT veterans, especially women living with disabilities. I also think it’s important to do outreach in the Black LGBT community to help strengthen support for organizations such as the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition (www.bayardrustincoalition.com), a group that is not only fighting for Black LGBT equality, but is focused on social change for all oppressed people. After 10 years of executive producing the Women’s Stage at SF Pride, I was honored as a grand marshal this year at an event hosted by the BRC and Soul of Pride. It was beautiful to see so many Black LGBT people dedicated to moving global equality forward. Although there is a need to reach out to everyone in the Black LGBT community, naturally my goal is to first focus on connecting more women, a group that has always been less visible.
Co-director of Mujeres Unidas y Activas
My organization Mujeres Unidas y Activas (www.mujeresunidas.net) is based on a double mission: personal transformation and community power for social justice. MUA is a place where women arrive through different challenges in their lives. We try to provide emotional support and references so that they don’t feel like they’re alone, so that they have strength to begin the process of healing and making changes. Those can include issues of domestic violence, problems with teenage children, labor or housing issues — when they arrive at MUA they begin the process of developing their self esteem and becoming stronger. They also begin to participate in trainings and making changes in their community and to the system through civic and political participation. At MUA, women find a home. They feel comfortable because they’re always welcome. We’re developing strong leadership, leadership that is at the table when it comes to making decisions about our campaigns, like our letter of labor rights and the help we give to victims of domestic violence through our crisis line. Every day our members are developing their ability to be involved in the organization and community, and making changes in their personal and familial lives.
Attorney and elected member of the SF Democratic County Central Committee
As an elected member of the SF DCCC (www.sfdemocrats.org), the governing body of the SF Democratic Party, I am working to involve the party in recruiting more women to run for political office locally. In the June 2012 election, I assembled a slate of the female candidates for DCCC — we called ourselves “Elect Women 2012.” It was a controversial effort, because it included both progressives and moderates. In the wake of a highly contentious and factional term on the DCCC, we hoped to prove that moderates and progressives can work together to re-energize Democrats in this important presidential election cycle. Running for office in San Francisco is a high stakes game; it is costly and requires an extensive political network. And so the DCCC is where many future candidates get their start — it is where they build the connections necessary to run for higher office, and where they hone their fundraising abilities. By recruiting and supporting women candidates for the DCCC, I am hoping to build a “farm team” of female candidates within the party. This year, I am proud that the seven women incumbents on the DCCC retained our seats in the June election, and that we achieved parity by electing four new women to the party’s governing board. I look forward to seeing what these women can accomplish together.
Deputy state director of Drug Policy Alliance
Ending the failed war on drugs is a women’s issue because women are far too often bearing the brunt of that failure, losing their freedom, children, economic independence, safety, health, and sometimes their lives as victims of the war on drugs. Women in prison in California can be shackled during childbirth, lose custody of their children because they use legal medical marijuana. They’re vulnerable to HIV and hepatitis C because they or their partners don’t have access to sterile syringes for injecting drugs. My major project for the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org) is mobilizing San Francisco to show the rest of the world how effective progressive drug policy can be. I want to see San Francisco open the first supervised injection facility in the United States, to end new HIV and hepatitis C infections among people who use drugs. I want us to truly have effective, culturally appropriate substance use treatment for everyone who requests it. I want San Francisco to end the cycle of undercover drug buys-incarceration-recidivism. I want us to address the appalling racial disparities in who gets arrested, convicted, and incarcerated for drug offenses here. I want us to aggressively defend our ground-breaking, well-regulated medical cannabis dispensary system against all federal intervention. San Francisco is leading the way in the United States in addressing the harms of drug use and drug prohibition but we have a lot more we can do.
MIA TU MUTCH
Transgender activist and SF Youth Commission officer
I’ve worked for a plethora of LGBTQ organizations and have been on several national speaking tours. I currently serve as media and public relations officer of the San Francisco Youth Commission, and use my position to promote LGBTQ safety and overall health. I’ve partnered with several city departments in order to create a cultural competency video that will train all service providers on best practices for working with LGBTQ youth. As a vocal advocate against hate crimes and sexual assaults, I’m working with local groups to create a community patrol in the Mission to prevent violence against women and transgender people. I’m also the founder of Fundraising Everywhere for All Transitions: a Health Empowerment Revolution! (FEATHER), a collective aimed at making gender-affirming transitions more affordable for low income transgender people. I work to create avenues of equality for those who benefit the least from patriarchy by creating a culture of safety and support for people of all genders.
FILM In the annual hothouse atmosphere of Sundance, even mediocre or bad new American narrative features are cocooned in an atmosphere of self-congratulation — at least until the reviews come out a few hours later. Movies that are actually pretty good invariably become “great” for the duration of the festival; with everyone searching for something to hyperventilate about, one need only light a birthday candle to set off a roman candle of hyperbole. Most of these movies come out a few months, waving their festival awards, only to look significantly diminished in the sober light of day (and decreased altitude). Suddenly they’re, well, just pretty good.
With the occasional exception, of course. Six months after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (and a Cannes Camera d’Or), Beasts of the Southern Wild proves capable of enduring a second or third viewing with its originality and strangeness fully intact. Magical realism is a primarily literary device that isn’t attempted very often in U.S. cinema, and succeeds very rarely. But this intersection between Faulkner and fairy tale, a fable about — improbably — Hurricane Katrina, is mysterious and unruly and enchanting, an imaginative leap of unusual ambition and accomplishment for a first feature.
Ostensibly based on a stage play — co-scenarist Lucy Alibar’s Juicy and Delicious, said to be a bluegrass musical — Benh Zeitlin’s film is wildly cinematic from the outset, as voiceover narration from six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) offers simple commentary on her rather fantastical life. She abides in the Bathtub, an imaginary chunk of bayou country south of New Orleans whose residents live closer to nature, amid the detritus of civilization. Seemingly everything is some alchemical combination of scrap heap, flesh, and soil. What might look like an unhygienic, frightening, child-abusive nightmare to any Social Services authority is to Hushpuppy a constant playground, and to her elders a sort of pagan-libertarian utopia.
Before the story has gotten properly started there’s a community celebration with fireworks, music, guns fired into the air, babies crawling everywhere — a celebration of nothing in particular, at least that we can tell. But as our heroine says, “The Bathtub has more holidays than the rest of the world.” It is clear that, for that and many other reasons, its citizens have no use for the rest of the world.
She lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) — albeit in separate ramshackle trailers on stilts — a fierce, erratic man with unknown demons who’s seldom outright unkind but acts less like a father than an Outward Bound coach, teaching his charge the tools to survive on her own. (In addition to slopping the livestock and pets, she can already make dinner for herself, lighting the stove with a blowtorch.) But one day he disappears, leaving Hushpuppy without human company beyond the memory of a long-absent mother she nonetheless frequently talks to. When Wink returns, it’s in a hospital gown and bracelet; whatever happened, he doesn’t want to discuss it.
Soon they have bigger things to worry about, anyway, as “the storm” is coming — prompting all but a few stubborn holdouts (well-fortified by alcohol) to evacuate the Bathtub. Wink and child aren’t going anywhere, waiting it out instead in a shack then floating to safety in their boat (a decapitated truck bed).
The area is fully flooded, however, and an illegal breach of a remaining levee drains it but can’t repair the devastation wrought on plants, animals, and homes. The holdouts are forced at federal gunpoint to evacuate at last, sequestered in a relief shelter-hospital whose sterility and order is as alien to them as the surface of Mars. Worse, this exile hastens the serious illness Wink was able to keep (mostly) at bay in the Bathtub — as the wary say, hospitals are where sick people go to die.
With its elements of magic (or at least the illustration of a child’s belief in such), mythological exodus, and evolutionary biology — Gina Montana’s Amazonian schoolmarm Miss Bathsheeba defines her eat-or-be-eaten perspective with “Everything is part of the buffet of the universe” — Beasts goes way out on a conceptual limb. Particularly for a low-budget movie with non-professional actors; you could argue it achieves many (if not more) of the same goals Terrence Malick’s 2011 The Tree of Life did at a fraction of that film’s cost and length. Its messiness is an organic virtue, with grainy imagery whose hand-held spastic camerawork (by Ben Richardson) is for once much more than a trendy stylistic choice; the instability feels in synch with Hushpuppy’s world, in vibrates with the slightest clue provided by glance, weather, or instinct.
The frenetic yet amorphous atmosphere might on a first viewing make you question whether there’s really much story beneath the busy aesthetic surface, but in fact for all its freely digressive air Beasts is pretty tightly constructed. (Nonetheless, you can imagine the editors scratching their heads initially over how this footage might possibly cut together, unless they were in on the project from the start.) Adding to that spectral, hyperreal effect is a score by Dan Zomer and Zeitlin that combines keening or plucked strings with the ethereal chime of a glockenspiel, at times sounding like a Sufjan Stevens instrumental.
There are moments of real enchantment, like an all-girls’ side trip to a floating bordello whose bosomy ladies surrender to their maternal instincts, or the recurrent glimpses that see Hushpuppy’s hog gradually morph into a thundering pack of tusked, primeval wild boars. (Toward the end especially, this latter effect underlines the notion that the film’s closest recent antecedent is Spike Jonze’s 2009 Where the Wind Things Are, another child’s feral fantasy.)
Through it all the pint-sized Wallis (who was just five when she was chosen from some 4000 auditioning kids) strides with astonishing alertness and confidence, a vulnerable minor one minute, as regally self-possessed as Pam Grier in Coffy (1973) the next.
It would almost be a shame if she did anything else — this performance would be best preserved as a mysterious lone bolt from the blue, just as the movie itself seems to capture unrepeatable lightning in a bottle.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD opens Fri/6 in San Francisco.
SUPER EGO Hi, my name is Paris Hilton. I’m a DJ. I have a new song out called “Afrojack” with Rihanna. Want to experience it? Close your eyes. Lay on something soft, like grass, or a lamb, or Perez Hilton’s dumpster bag of excised stomach. Journey with me back in time to 2007. Can’t you feel the tiny fingers embroidering the pockets of your half-bleached jeans, the douche-mousse dripping down your Gucci wraparounds, the gaudy wheeze of MySpace deflating slowly underfoot, the background throb of masked insurgents? Can’t you hear the gentle buzz of Britney’s flaxen hair fall, her greenish umbrella tap-tap-tapping at your car window? Quickly, now, hold my chihuahua Tinkerbell, I’m fading, fading rapidly into the animated gifs, Ed Hardy tramp stamps, hot-pink Hummers, and reality programming challenges of your constantly refreshing mind…. Oh, how ew!
Delete, delete, delete.
Paris’s debut on the decks last month, melting down mostly and dragging up all the celebucrap of history’s tackiest decade (OK, OK the foppish 1670s were pretty bad), was yet another meme-ready sign of well-played Mayan prediction. 2012 Apocalypse! It’s here! And it’s wearing sparkly tuxedo lapels and flubbing the EQ levels!
But Earth’s supposed obliteration countdown can also inspire, and lead to some more, er, sophisticated sonic expressions, especially concerning the intersection of humanity and technology.
“With the Mayan calendar ending this year and all the crackpot end-of-times theories, I thought, ‘this is a perfect time for an inward reflection of who we are and where we’re going. And also an opportunity to renew or hit the reset button on our own humanity.'” That’s Alan So, dreamy executive and artistic director of the glorious Soundwave Festival (Thu/5-September 30, www.projectsoundwave.com/5), explaining to me over email the genesis of its 2012 theme: “Humanities.”
The bi-annual, three-month-long Soundwave takes over the city with a heady onslaught of sonic explorations, many of the electronic, installation-based variety, but also incorporating nifty biophysical elements and experiential live performances. This installment promises some truly cosmic haps.
The fest kicks off at the Cal Academy’s great Nightlife weekly on Thu/5 (6pm-10pm, $12. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., SF. www.calacademy.org/nightlife), with techno-audial treats like Jay Kreimer’s ‘Born Wireless’ empathic facial responder, Stephen Hurrel’s live sounds of the moving Earth, and The Cellar Ensemble’s sound-light oracle instrument, plus guitarist Danny Paul Grody “playing the skies of the Aurora Borealis in a mini-planetarium” and artist Shannon O’Malley giving out tastes of her satiric-disastrous Apocalypse Cakes.
Footage from last year’s Soundwave:
More Soundwave 5 summer tantalizers: “Tension” at the Battery Townsend military bunker in Marin, which pairs riveting strings compositions with extreme resonance; “The Human Bionic” series at the Lab featuring Joe Cantrell’s Sounding Body, an audience interactive performance that uses brainwaves to conduct sound; and Canadian folk artist Diana Burgoyne’s interactive performances using intense-looking analogue-circuitry masks. The physical body is transcended, too: Andrea Williams and Lee Pembleton’s “SleepWalks” encourages participants to snooze (bring your sleeping bag) while the artists play music for their dreams, and “Revelation Zen,” a collaboration with the Zen Center attempts to breach dimensions both inner and outer.
“The advancements in technology have been astounding in the past 20, more so in the last five,” So told me. “Just think what can do now that we couldn’t do even do two years ago. We create technology to make lives ‘better.’ Machines know when we are awake, which means they also know when we are sleeping. Technology has been integrated in our worlds and our bodies so heavily it is becoming inescapable. I wanted to explore that in the sense of sound, and in the spirit of working towards humanity’s renewal of purpose after what we’ve don to the Earth.
“Also, probably, its my own unconscious self yearning for a simpler life in the midst of all this technology. Is that a possibility?”
The oft-heard, not-so-much-seen Michigander now lives in New Zealand, but still transmits the techno-eclectic vibes he learned under Carl Craig’s tutelage, with an open-air accessibility and broad funk wink.
Wed/3, 9pm, $5 before 11pm, $10 after. icon, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.facebook.com/housepitalitysf
Amazingly energetic and fun NYC bhangra-meets-brass nine-piece combo, led by dhol drummer Sunny Jain, seriously gets crowds hyped. Punjabi funk: taking over America the crazy right way.
Fri/6, doors 8pm, show 9pm, $18. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www. slimspresents.com
SALEM DJ SET
Whither them witches? Witch house has been completely (and, by my scry, bewitchingly) taken up by a young “Why so serious?” coven of underground musicmakers who make no bones about bubbling the weird underside of the Internet up into a brew of funhouse splatter. But lost, I fear, is the gangsta rap-referencing button-pushing of OG poster children Salem. This DJ set may bring back the danger.
Fri/6, 10pm, $10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com
The roving minimal wave and dark synth party celebrates three years of “vagabond existence” with guests The KVB (moody electronic shoegaze from the UK) and Deathday (aggressive industrial, filtered through hissing tapes, from LA).
Fri/6, 9:30pm, $5 before 10:30, $7 after. SUB/Mission, 2183 Mission St., SF. www.facebook.com/warmleatherettesf
Mayor Ed Lee and suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi each took some lumps on June 29 as they were cross-examined by opposing attorneys in front the Ethics Commission, which is conducting the official misconduct case that Lee brought against Mirkarimi over a Dec. 31 domestic violence incident. But the hearings proved unexpectedly dramatic when the room was suddenly cleared for an undisclosed security threat — following testimony by Lee that a city commissioner alleges included perjury.
The incident raises a number of issues that officials hadn’t yet answered by Guardian press time. Was the security threat real? If so, why wasn’t the room or the rest of City Hall properly secured after the mayor was whisked away? If not, who ordered the room cleared and why?
Undersheriff Paul Miyamoto, who ran against Mirkarimi last year, told the Guardian that the San Francisco Police Department notified his office that a caller claimed to have planted bombs outside of City Hall and on the Golden Gate Bridge. Deputies conducted a search and found nothing, and his office didn’t order the recess of the hearing. “We did not evacuate anyone,” he told us.
Speculation about the incident was heightened during the break when Debra Walker, a Mirkarimi supporter and longtime member of the city’s Building Inspection Commission, told the Guardian that Lee committed perjury when he denied speaking with any members of the Board of Supervisors before filing official misconduct charges. Lee was responding to a direct and pointed question from Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp — one that that Lee’s attorneys had unsuccessfully objected to.
Specifically, Walker said that her longtime friend and political ally Sup. Christina Olague — who Lee appointed to serve the last year of Mirkarimi’s term for the District 5 seat — had told her repeatedly that Lee had asked her advice before filing the charges against Mirkarimi, and that Olague’s advice was that Lee should ask for Mirkarimi’s resignation but drop the matter if he refused.
That allegation, which was first reported on the Guardian’s Politics blog shortly after the commission went into recess (Olague had not yet returned a call from the Guardian asking whether she had spoken to Lee about Mirkarimi), prompted reporters to confront Olague in the hallway outside her supervisorial office, where she tersely denied the allegation and then took refuge behind closed doors.
When the reporters lingered and persisted, waiting for a more complete answer, Olague finally emerged, reiterated her denial, refused to speculate about why her friend Walker would make that claim, and said, “We’re not allowed to discuss this matter with anyone before it comes to the board…I may have to recuse myself from voting on this.”
It was unclear why she thought recusal might be necessary, but if she does disqualify herself from voting on Mirkarimi’s removal later this summer after Ethics completes its investigation and makes its recommendations to the board, that would hurt Lee’s effort to get the nine votes needed to remove Mirkarimi.
When the Ethics Commission hearing resumed after a couple hours, Lee was again placed in a position of denying specific factual allegations that others have made, again raising the possibility that he committed perjury in his sworn testimony, which could expose him to felony criminal charges while undercutting his moral authority to remove Mirkarimi over the single misdemeanor count of false imprisonment that he pleaded guilty to in March.
The second instance was when Kopp asked Lee, “Did you ever extend any offer through third parties that you would find him another job if he resigned?”
“I don’t recall offering Sheriff Mirkarimi any job,” Lee replied.
Kopp specifically asked whether that job offer had been extended on Lee’s behalf by permit expediter Walter Wong or by San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin, to which Lee replied, “Absolutely not.”
Mirkarimi supporters have told the Guardian that Peskin had made that offer, which Mirkarimi refused, shortly before the party chair publicly called for Mirkarimi’s resignation. The outgoing message on Peskin’s cell phone said he was unavailable and wouldn’t be checking his messages until July 5. Mirkarimi’s attorneys said they’re still figuring out how to respond to the developments and had no comment, but Walker said she’s willing to testify under oath.
But the dramas underscore the treacherous grounds opened up by these unprecedented proceedings, the first involving the Ethics Commission and the broadened definition of official misconduct placed into the City Charter in 1996. As baseball great Barry Bonds and former President Bill Clinton learned, being forced to testify under oath about sensitive topics can be a tough trap to negotiate.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith also seemed to be trying to spring that perjury trap on Mirkarimi as he took the stand on the morning of June 29 following an hour on the stand at the previous night’s hearing. Keith reminded Mirkarimi that he was advised not to discuss his testimony with anyone and asked, “Who have you spoken to since last night?”
“My attorneys,” Mirkarimi answered.
“What did you say to them?” Keith asked, drawing objections about attorney-client privilege that Commission Chair Benedict Hur sustained.
“Did you stop for coffee?” Keith then asked, seemingly concerned that Mirkarimi may have discussed his testimony with someone at the coffee shop that morning, which Mirkarimi denied. Keith let the allegation go but maintained an accusatory, hectoring tone throughout the next three hours that he had Mirkarimi on the stand, two more hours than he had told the commission he would need.
Much of the time was spent trying to establish support for the allegation that Mirkarimi had dissuaded witnesses and sought to thwart the police investigation, which was triggered by a call from Ivory Madison, a neighbor to whom Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, had confided. But the testimony yielded little more than the city’s unsupported inference that Mirkarimi must have directed Lopez and his campaign manager, Linnette Peralta Haynes, to contact Madison after she had called the police and urged her to stop cooperating with them.
Mirkarimi has maintained that he did nothing to dissuade Madison or anyone from talking to police, and that he wasn’t aware of the investigation or that Madison had made a videotape of Lopez showing a bruise on her arm until hours after the police were involved. He even sent a text to Lopez saying there was nothing he could do, as he noted.
“It was after 4pm on January 4 when I first learned of any of this,” Mirkarimi testified, later adding, “I was very clear to her in saying you can’t unring the bell, we have to follow through with this.”
Yet Lee and the deputy city attorneys who are representing him also maintain that they needn’t prove witness dissuasion or other allegations they have made, and that the Dec. 31 incident and Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to a single misdemeanor count of false imprisonment are enough to constitute official misconduct and warrant his removal, an interpretation that Mirkarimi’s attorneys dispute.
Keith sought to hammer home how Mirkarimi should have admitted to and publicly atoned for his crime right away rather than telling reporters it was a “private family matters” (which Mirkarimi admitted was a mistake) or fighting the charges by trying to discredit Madison publicly, an allegation he denies.
After unsuccessfully trying to get Mirkarimi to admit to directing efforts to question Madison’s credibility in local media accounts, Keith asked, “Did you ever direct anyone not to attack Ivory Madison?”
“I never directed anyone to attack or not attack,” Mirkarimi replied.
Keith also clarified that Mirkarimi denies the allegation Madison made that the physical abuse on Dec. 31 went beyond grabbing Lopez’s arm once in the car, as the couple has maintained. “It’s your testimony there was no punching, pulling, or grabbing in the house?” Keith asked, which Mirkarimi confirmed.
Yet Keith said that given the totality of what happened, Mirkarimi should have known he couldn’t continue on as sheriff. “Under those circumstances, wouldn’t resigning be the honorable thing to do?” Keith said, to which Mirkarimi replied that it’s a hard question and that he’s doing what he thinks is right.
Faced with friendlier questions from his own attorney, David Waggoner, Mirkarimi apologized for his actions, saying “I feel horrible and ashamed,” but that he was “sad and scared” to have his family torn apart against their will. He also said that he believes he can still be effective as sheriff because “what makes San Francisco special is our forward-thinking approach to criminal justice.”
Longtime Sheriff Michael Hennessey — who endorsed Mirkarimi and continues to support him — established a variety of programs emphasizing redemption and rehabilitation, hiring former convicts into top jobs in the department to emphasize a belief in restorative justice that Mirkarimi ran a campaign promising to continue.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be an example of what this redemption process looks like,” Mirkarimi said, choking back tears.
But Keith had the last word before Mirkarimi left the stand, belittling the idea that Mirkarimi offers an example to follow by noting how much probation time and court-ordered counseling he still has to undergo and asking, “The process of redemption doesn’t happen overnight, right?”
LEE ON THE STAND
Under questioning by Kopp, Mayor Lee admitted that he doesn’t have a written policy on what constitutes official misconduct, that his decisions are made on “a case by case basis,” and that he’s not sure whether conviction of a crime would always constitute official misconduct “because I’ve never confronted this before.”
“Were you aware that many members of the Sheriff Department have criminal convictions?” Kopp asked. Lee said he was not aware. Asked whether he was aware that Sheriff Hennessey had hired a convicted murderer into a top command staff position (see “The unlikely sheriff,” 12/21/11), Lee said he wasn’t.
Lee’s insistence that Mirkarimi’s crime makes him unable to deal effectively with other officials was also attacked by Kopp, who asked, “Isn’t it true that people get elected who have disagreements with other city officials?” He pointed out that City Attorney Dennis Herrera had nasty conflicts with Lee when they ran against each other for mayor last year, but that they’re working well together now.
Kopp also drilled into Lee about his decision to bring official misconduct charges before conducting an investigation or speaking with any witnesses besides Madison — an answer Lee blurted out just as city attorneys objected to the question. Much of Madison’s written testimony has been rejected by the commission as prejudicial hearsay evidence (see “Mayor vs. Mirkarimi,” July 27).
But the public’s perception of this case, if not it’s outcome, could turn on whether Lee is holding Mirkarimi to standards that he himself — as someone appointed mayor on a later-broken promise not to run for a full term — couldn’t meet. It was what Kopp seemed to be driving at before the bomb scare.
“You have asserted in your written charges that Sheriff Mirkarimi’s conduct fell below the standard of decency, good faith, and right action that is impliedly required of all public officials, correct?” Kopp asked.
“Yes,” Lee replied.
“We expect certain things of our elected officials, right?” Kopp asked.
After a long pause, in which Lee appeared to be thinking through his answer, he replied, “That’s generally true, yes.”
“And when the charter speaks of official misconduct, it doesn’t say we expect a certain standard for the sheriff, a different standard for the mayor, a different standard for the DA, a separate standard for the assessor, it just speaks in general terms about official misconduct for public officials, right?” Kopp asked.
Kaiser objected to the question on three counts, sustained on the grounds that it calls for a legal conclusion.
“Do you yourself believe there’s a separate standard for sheriff than for other elected officials?” Kopp asked, and this time the city’s objection was overruled and Lee replied, “It should be the same standard.”
“And would you agree with me that one of the things that is expected of elected officials is for them to be honest and forthright when dealing not only with their constituents, but with other elected officials?” Kopp asked, his final question before Chair Benedict Hur announced that the hearing would be suspended and the room would need to be cleared.
After the hearing reconvened, Kopp drew parallels to other city officials who remained on job after scandals, including former Mayor Gavin Newsom (who had an affair with a subordinate who was married to his campaign manager), former Sheriff Dick Hongisto (who was jailed for refusing to carry out a court’s eviction order), and current Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White (whose husband reported that she hit him in the head with a pint glass).
Asked about the latter case, Lee responded, “I don’t know all the circumstances around that and I don’t believe I was mayor at the time.”
Oakland elementary schools that were packed with kids until a few weeks ago are now closed for the summer — and five are closed for good. In October the school board voted to close them in a move that would save about $2 million per year.
But many Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) residents are not pleased. At the Oct. 26 meeting where the vote was cast, 500 protested. Concerned parents and teachers have been petitioning and meeting with school board members and Superintendent Tony Smith for months, trying to reverse the decision.
“No one wants to close schools, but the OUSD made this difficult decision because it’s in the best long-term interest of students,” reads a June 22 press release.
Resistance to that decision now continues at one school that was supposed to close June 18. To the dismay of the district, it remains open. Lakeview Elementary is the site of a sit-in and free school, orchestrated by parents and teachers.
“Lakeview has strengths,” the June 22 press release goes on to say. “It has shown improved academic performance in recent years and, boasts a strong sense of community and close alignment with its afterschool programs.” But low rankings in attendance and test scores overshadowed those strengths in the decision to close the school.
Yet it seems that “strong sense of community” seems to be more powerful than the school board thought.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Joel Velasquez, a parent of three and PTA member who has had children at Lakeview for 10 years, didn’t think it would come to this.
“I’ve watched everything that went on as a parent here for 10 years,” Velasquez said. When the school was threatened, “I probably spent 20 hours a week meeting, talking, emailing, researching, sending, forwarding — I mean, this is something that has been ongoing.”
“I met with Tony Smith for an hour,” Velasquez said. “I sat with board members.”
But as the end of the school year approached, he was growing more desperate, so he ended up making an announcement: “On the last day of school, I’m not going to leave. And I hope that people join me.”
They did. Lakeview’s building is slated to be turned into administrative offices, and that process was scheduled to begin two weeks ago.
Now, the school that should be filling up with district employees’ office supplies still has children running around its grounds. Organizers opened the People’s School for Public Education, and classes, taught by an army of credentialed teachers and qualified volunteers, run from 9am to 3pm, Monday through Friday.
At a June 27 visit, I toured the school and sat in during a Social Justice class. In the People’s School’s organic garden, a smiling gardening teacher had to stop an overzealous six-year-old from drowning the kale. “They love watering!” he shrugged. Another child, still mesmerized 30 minutes after the official end of music class, improvised on the djembe along with the drumming teacher. From a balcony, a volunteer called to him: “There’s ice cream!” he looked up, considered, and then kept drumming.
The group of kids has grown since the school opened June 15, as parents hear about the summer school and come see it for themselves. The Lakeview sit-in is unlike other recent occupations in the careful vetting process each visitor gets. After all, protecting the kids and their education is the most important goal of the project. But during school hours, parents are permitted to come inside and stay with their children as long as they want, seeing what the school is like.
Still, getting parents to send their children to a summer camp that isn’t technically legal isn’t always easy. “I think our society, not just parents, are really reluctant to do something like this,” Velasquez said. “But I see it as a positive service to the community. We’re using the building for what it’s intended to be used for.”
Julia Fernandez, a high school math teacher, got involved with the effort to save the schools through the Occupy Oakland Education Committee, and her two children, ages 2 and 4, are enrolled in the summer school.
As a nine-year resident of Oakland, Fernandez says, the cuts affect her and her family. She’s taking part in the demonstration partly “for my own kids,” Fernandez said. She said the cuts “affect the school where my kids would go. It’s likely that it’s going to be closed or turned into a charter school.”
“But the thing that motivates me the most is all these attacks that are happening against people,” Fernandez said. She guessed that it was adversity of many kinds, not just school closures, that motivated many parents to join the protest and send their kids to the People’s School.
“People are really upset about all the attacks that are being done on regular working class people. People are losing their homes, they’re getting laid off, and now their schools are closing. It just seems like all these services, all these rights people should have, are being taken away”
MORE THAN MONEY
Organizers emphasize that the money saved seems paltry, just $2 million for five functioning schools.
“Think about it, this is not very much,” Velasquez said. “And they’re wasting almost $4 million to do these transitions to close the schools. They’re spending more than the savings.”
OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint confirmed that the savings will be “in the $2 million range,” and that the total cost of the transition is about $3.7 million.
These expenses include about $117,000 one-time moving related costs and about $200,000 in staffing, including paying a transition director.
They also include $95,000 in transportation costs, which may not be one-time expenditures; they may “as needed for an additional year or more,” Flint said in an email.
Meanwhile, about 1,000 students will be displaced by the move. Many will move to Grass Valley and Burckhalter, and these school’s capacities will be expanded with portable classrooms.
“The promise that we made to students was that we would guarantee students at the closing school a place at a school that was higher performing than the one we were leaving. We were able to live up to that promise,” Flint said.
However, there was a problem: “Most of the schools that perform in the top tier are already subscribed to capacity, so we had to expand the capacity using portables.”
Will these high performing schools remain high-performing as an influx of new students show up at their doors in the fall? After all, Oakland has many more elementary schools than comparable districts, a result of the small schools movement, a policy adopted in 2000 that led to the closure of some larger schools, which were replaced by smaller ones. According to a study conducted by Brown University’s Annenburg Institute for Education Reform, Oakland small schools are “safer, calmer, and more welcoming to families” than the schools they replaced.
But as private donations from those excited about small schools, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, run out — along with federal and state money — Oakland may be reverting to larger institutions.
And as the OUSD sees it, that may not be a bad thing.
“To build toward the day when every OUSD school is a high-quality school, we need to concentrate our time, attention and resources in a manageable number of sites instead of spreading ourselves too thin,” he said in an email. “Quality over quantity is the goal when we can’t do both and the current financial environment prevents us from properly caring for 101 schools.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD PROBLEM
One of the reasons for the stated school closure is that it ranked in “the bottom quarter of elementary schools in terms of the number of children living within a half-mile of the school or within the attendance area” and the “lowest percentage of neighborhood students attending the school (30 percent).”
The school is also 99 percent children of color.
As Oakland Tribune education reporter Katy Murphy has written, about half of students in Oakland attend schools outside their district. As a statement from the group Decolonize Oakland points out, “We have to question why the families of black and brown students who live outside of Adams Point have chosen Lakeview.”
Maybe it’s that strong sense of community? All of the other schools slated for closure are also in the flatlands and serve mostly African American and Latino students.
Root, formerly Occupy the Hood Oakland, has played a big part in the organizing. So has Education for the 99 Percent, Occupy Oakland’s education working group, and other Occupy Oakland volunteers.
“A lot of people from Occupy have been extremely supportive and we wouldn’t be able to do this action without that support,” Velasquez said. “For example, the food, they have come every single day to feed, not just breakfast, lunch and dinner, but snacks and drinks.”
The sit-in has also received support from labor groups. A letter signed by more than 50 teachers’ union leaders and local school employees declares, “An injury to one is an injury to all. Let’s seize this opportunity to fight alongside parents, students, and community. We will mobilize our members to support this struggle.”
The demonstration has not, however, received support from the city of Oakland. Officers from the OUSD Police Service has visited the school several times (and Velasquez says they have done so without warning, despite agreeing to call first to avoid scaring children). Oakland police have been on site as well, and the protesters have received warnings to leave.
“I still remain hopeful that the protesters will see that the most forward-looking resolution to the standoff is to disperse peacefully and to concentrate their efforts on improving the school district for the year 2012/2013 and beyond,” Flint told me. “Right now we still believe that if there’s a relatively prompt resolution to the standoff, we’ll be able to meet our targets to get the facilities ready.”
“It’s not clear why they’re doing this sit-in in Oakland, an overwhelmingly Democratic district where Republicans can’t get elected,” Flint said. “The fundamental problem with this issue is all the Republicans have taken a no taxes pledge.”
Velasquez agrees. “It’s criminal what the state of California is doing right now,” he said. “But we’re focusing our attention on Tony Smith and the board because they’re accepting these conditions, and they shouldn’t…So if they feel that way, why are they not doing something about it, instead of accepting the conditions, and hurting the families and the students? Most importantly the kids.” Flint said the board would be willing to work with the group, but that the sit-in is pointless. “I don’t view this current action as something that is providing us any additional leverage,” he said, though he noted that his office had not attempted to use the sit-in to pressure the state. “We’ve coordinated people across the state, sending in postcards and petitions,” he explained. But when asked what worked best, he said nothing has. “I can’t name a time we’ve been successful,” he said, “because I don’t think we’ve been successful.” As budget cuts sweep the country many governments are feeling this kind of defeatism. The Peoples School for Public Education may not last forever. But they’ve taught 30 kids for free for more than two weeks now, and despite limited time and resources, show no sign of stopping.
HERBWISE It’s time to get a Discover card. As of July 1, you can no longer use your Visa or Mastercard credit or debit card to buy medical marijuana. And of course, American Express cards have been out of the question since spring 2011. Electronic Merchant Systems, which handles card processing for most of the nation, sent out an announcement last month to its vendors, raising the stakes for dispensaries across the country that seem to be coming under a coordinated federal attack. Cash-only cannabis? That’s pretty bad, maybe just as bad as the next thing I have to tell you about…
MORE BAD NEWS
The Vapor Room is closing. Yes, the perennial Best of the Bay-winning, nine-year old Lower Haight dispensary-lounge (607 Haight, SF. www.vaporroom.com) will be closing its doors as of July 31, according to the nonprofit’s executive director Martin Olive. Olive told the Guardian in a phone interview that the dispensary learned an undisclosed amount of time ago that its landlord had received one of the doom-bearing letters now so familiar to San Francisco dispensaries from US Attorney Melinda Haag declaring that the dispensary was within 1,000 feet of Duboce Park. The city’s permitting laws, Olive told us, are concerned with how far cannabis clubs are from playgrounds, not park grounds. Vapor Room has a long-standing relationship with the Harvey Milk Rec Center that anchors the park — the nonprofit actually sponsors free yoga classes and health counseling that take place in the center itself. Olive wouldn’t confirm rumors that Vapor Room’s stock will continue to be available for delivery, but that’s the word on the street.
PLEASE NO MUNCHIES JOKES
The “bath salts” face-eater didn’t have any bath salts in his system. In fact, the only drug authorities uncovered through post-humous tests was cannabis.
As an events editor, organizations that don’t send us the vital information we need to cover their event are the bane of my existence. It is another thing entirely, however, when an organization requests that vital information be kept out of the newspaper. A sign of the times when it comes to cannabis journalism, I’m afraid. And as such: check out a happy hour benefit at El Rio for “an organization supporting low-income, AIDS-HIV, and cancer patients with free medicine.” Sigh. It’ll be running semi-concurrently with pop-up Mugsy Wine Bar’s hat-tip to Bastille Day (5:30pm-8:30pm). Drown your frustrations with some nice sparkling Blanc de Noir Cremant de Bourgnone, why don’t you.
Fri/13 4pm-6pm, free. El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. www.elriosf.com
Search YouTube for “Conan O’Brien and Martha Stewart Get Crafty with Pot.” Discussion question: for all the weirdness that you just read, is marijuana becoming more or less accepted in mainstream culture?
MUSIC In Jimmie Rodgers’ 1930s-era song “The One Rose,” the country music pioneer wistfully croons “So blue, so lonesome too, but still true/Rosie haunts me, makes me think of you/You’re the one rose that’s left in my heart.”
Midway through Mornin’ Old Sport’s surreptitiously upbeat, plucky country-folk ditty “Katie” — off the contemporary band’s debut self-titled full-length, released July 10 on Misery Loves Co. — singer-guitarist Scott Nanos harmonizes with fiance-bandmate Kate Smeal about their complex love story. “The shadows are calling my number/I know I’m just waiting in line/but I’ll sing my vows as I’m pulled underground/I’m Katie’s and Katie is mine.”
Complicated love, it seems, is universal. While the song is toe-tapping fun, like a candlelit county fair square dance with checkered tablecloths and corked bottles of homemade moonshine at the ready, the message is a bit deeper: I’m in burning love, but eternal commitment could drag me to an untimely death of spirits.
And yet, “It is very loving,” Nanos insists over a pitcher of beer near Embarcadero, mere weeks before the band’s summer tour. “It doesn’t really sound that happy to me,” Smeal laughs after repeating the hook. “Fatalism and love are the same,” Nanos returns.
“It’s just a really sad love song,” Smeal concedes.
Mornin’ Old Sport is not solely based on this core romantic relationship, there are other types of connections in the now-Oakland based band, those of the blood-brother variety. Like the one between Nanos and fellow Berklee College of Music classmate Jeff Price — the band’s drummer who helped produce the album, which Price’s real brother mastered in their parent’s Colorado recording studio. The Price family runs the small Misery Loves Co. record label (the father was a session musician beginning in the 1960s).
Nanos and Price have been making music together since the first day of college in Boston in 2006, and have been living together just as long. There, at the Massachusetts music school, the band began in earnest — but with a twist. While it started with a few more members, the name Wiffle Bat, and a wholly different sound (Smeal describes it as “circus indie rock”), it eventually whittled to the Mornin’ Old Sport trio.
The three say they organically fell into the music they make now, which is reminiscent of pre-war Americana, early country, jazzy standards, the vaudevillian spirit of Tin Pan Alley, and twangy folk, with influences like Gene Autry, June Carter and Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, Doris Day, the aforementioned Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams. But have they wedged themselves into a vintage corner?
“I was thinking about this the other day, because it is something that mentally I’ve confronted within myself,” says Nanos. “But everything that’s coming out right now is derivative; it’s derivative of the ’80s, or chillwave is slightly derivative of the late ’70s psychedelia, and late ’60s. It’s just a matter of what you’re using as a jumping-off point.”
Nanos’ major at Berklee — music therapy — was one factor leading to these earlier eras as jumping points.
“My field work in music therapy stirred up a romance with 1930s, ’40s, and even ’50s music because I was doing a lot of work with older adults, ages 60 to 90. So I’d do Tin Pan Alley songs, and maybe some Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald,” says Nanos. “I really started to fall in love with those styles, of which Kate was already a huge, avid fan.”
Adds Smeal, “My parents always sang to me, and then I started studying jazz in early high school — that lead the way for me because I really enjoy old throwback country music that has jazz elements to it.”
“I think our relationship and also music therapy made me enamored with vintage music,” Nanos concludes.
Now there’s yet another relationship to take into consideration: Mornin’ Old Sports’ new connection with the Bay Area. Nanos, Smeal, and Price moved out West this February and fell in love with Oakland. “We moved for romantic reasons…” Nanos says. Smeal smiles, “and now we’re staying for the same.” They tend to do that, finish each other thoughts. Price often laughs, nodding along.
In playing Oakland and Berkeley co-ops, house parties, and warehouses, they’ve just begun absorbing the local scene, and through the shows recently added two new members to the group — bassist Jack Kodros and guitarist Mike Schlenoff. Currently, the five musicians are out on the road for their first big tour, lugging those brand new vinyl records in the hot van. The debut was officially released this week, while the band makes its way through the Midwest.
Recorded mostly live in Price’s family studio just north of Aspen last year, the record is a promising and pleasurable debut, straddling vintage genres, and mixing up vocal duties. Nanos often leads, but Smeal shines on jazzy torch songs, “Over the Moon” and “My Lips,” along with swooshing if maudlin country track “Clementine.”
Standout track, “When the Bomb” boasts some icky lyrical imagery “when the bomb finally drops/I’ll splatter on the wall/But when that bomb finally drops/It won’t hurt me at all,” yet musically remains sticky-lemonade-sweet and cheery.
There’s a timelessness to all this. “When the Bomb” has such a nostalgic tug, it’s difficult to believe it’s not a cover. But that’s part of the charm in these songs, the reverence to the past and the relative simplicity of those feisty chords.
“If you took a Beach House song or something and wrote out chord changes for it, melody line, someone would [still] have a really tough time recreating it,” says Nanos. “Whereas I feel like the kind of song we’re aiming to write, we can write a chart for someone and be like, ‘here you go, just go play it.’ I like the social values of that.”
As for band hopes of that nature, Smeal has a lofty one: “The ultimate goal of the band is to make art that will stay alive years and years after we’re dead.”
“And that will most likely never happen,” Nanos interjects as Price chuckles, “but that’s the goal.” *
EDITORIAL If the San Francisco Police Department put up checkpoints and metal detectors all along lower Market Street and stopped and searched every person who walked by, they’d find some contraband. No question — a certain percentage of people on the city’s main downtown artery are carrying drugs or weapons. Some have warrants out. There would be multiple arrests and criminals taken off the streets.
And it’s hard to imagine that anyone would consider that a good idea.
So how about moving those checkpoints to the Mission and Bayview-Hunters Point? You might get even more weapons and drugs. And it would still be a profound violation of the civil liberties of every San Franciscan.
But what Mayor Ed Lee is now talking about — instituting some version of the notorious New York City “stop and frisk” law — isn’t much different. Under New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the police have been given the authority to search, without cause or a warrant, anyone who looks suspicious. The goal is to get guns off the street.
The result: The vast majority of people stopped are African American or Latino — and 88 percent are totally innocent.
It is, in other words, a huge waste of police resources as well as a systematic program or racial profiling and harassment.
Lee told the San Francisco’ Chronicle’s editorial board that he realized the problems with the New York system and wants a better model. And he said, correctly, that there are serious problems with gun violence, particularly in Bayview-Hunters Point. “I think we have to get to the guns,” Lee said. “I know we have to find a different way to get to these weapons, and I’m very willing to consider what other cities are doing.”
But San Francisco has spent huge amounts of time and resources trying (not always successfully) to build a community policing program that would increase trust between the police and communities of color — and any version of “stop and frisk” would instantly undermine that effort. It’s a terrible idea, and Lee should make it clear that he is dropping any discussion or consideration of it.
The mayor and his supporters insist that they’ll only pursue this approach if it can be done without profiling. But that’s almost impossible and it’s a fantasy to think the San Francisco cops, once empowered to stop anyone for any reason, would target white people the same way they do blacks and Latinos. There’s never been an example anywhere in the country where this kind of law was anything but a case study in racial profiling. Even Police Chief Greg Suhr sounds dubious.
The fact that Lee would even suggest this is a sign of how far he’s moved from his progressive roots. Moving even a step further toward this sort of wholesale civil-liberties violation would be a disaster for San Francisco.
THEATER The set (by Beowulf Boritt) is almost unassuming in its simplicity: just a trio of receding frames arching over the stage, each progressively more askew, and beneath them a jumble of aluminum chairs piled to one side. Still, such simplicity also hints at, and soon delivers, rich complexity.
The chairs become many things over the course of the evening but first of all a bus stop, where an African American woman (C. Kelly Wright) in 1950s dress waits and remembers. This mute opening scene then gives way to a reverie and nightmare — a memory and history that take the form of a highly fraught “entertainment” — as a man in a white suit and a black string bow tie (Hal Linden), invariably recalling the Old South if only via the emblem of a certain fast-food chicken franchise, comes onto the stage and pronounces the start of the show.
That would be a minstrel show, a notorious artifact of 19th and 20th century American popular culture, which returns with subversive vengeance in The Scottsboro Boys — the iridescent 2010 Broadway musical by the famed song-making team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, in collaboration with equally-no-slouch associates David Thompson (book) and Susan Stroman (director and choreographer). Making an impressive Bay Area debut at American Conservatory Theater, The Scottsboro Boys revisits the trials and the international cause célèbre sparked by the false accusation of rape leveled by two white women at nine freight-train–hopping African American youths (all teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 19) in Depression-era Alabama.
If this seems a heavy subject for a musical, that hardly prevents The Scottsboro Boys from being exquisitely well wrought and enthralling, thanks to an excellent score (channeled wonderfully by Eric Ebbenga’s pit orchestra), Stroman’s devilishly potent staging and choreography, and a strikingly multifaceted, charismatic cast that includes a memorable Clifton Duncan as Haywood Patterson, upon whose memoir, Scottsboro Boy, the narrative partly draws (David Bazemore, Cornelius Bethea, Nile Bullock, Christopher James Culberson, Eric Jackson, Jared Joseph, James T. Lane, JC Montgomery, Clifton Oliver, and Clinton Roane make up the rest of the outstanding ensemble).
At the same time, it’s precisely the mesh-clash of form and content —recalling similar canny deployments of popular theatrical forms Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret and Chicago — that makes Scottsboro a vigorous, if sometimes simplified excavation of the case, as well as this country’s ongoing convolutions over race, sex, ethnicity, and class. A productive tension arises between the show’s exquisite spectacle and the often uncomfortable, even macabre content of the storyline. In just one example, a winning tap number erupts in the young men’s shared jail cell, inspired by the terrifying proximity of the electric chair. So charged a number generates as much thought as emotion, as the audience shifts uneasily in a place where popular entertainment mingles pleasure and complicity, truth and artifice.
The subversive appropriation of minstrelsy is not unique to Scottsboro —there’s the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s 1965 production of Minstrel Show, Or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, Suzan-Lori Parks’ use of minstrel tropes in Topdog/Underdog and The America Play, and Spike Lee’s 2000 film Bamboozled, for instance — but the musical deploys it with its own intent, humanizing the young men whose lives were permanently altered by their arrest and the subsequent trials, which became international news when the Communist-led International Labor Defense got involved, sending in celebrated New York attorney Samuel Liebowitz as the new defense counsel. That the trials were themselves the lesser evil in a white Southern regime of lynching and mob justice (waiting, essentially, just outside the walls of the jailhouse) is never lost on the audience either.
Thompson’s admirable book, meanwhile, in the figure of the woman at the bus stop (an unnamed Rosa Parks) bearing witness to the events of the past, draws a line from the Scottsboro case to the later Civil Rights Movement. But, ironically, the use of Rosa Parks obscures as much as it reveals if we think of her as a lone actor who sparks a revolt against an unjust system. She too was a member of a movement culture, one that had built on the activism of the 1930s that first brought the Scottsboro case to light. *
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
Extended through July 22, $20-$95
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary, SF