Volume 46 Number 52

Smells like team spirit


MUSIC “This is our biggest song by far,” Clyde Carson says wearily at his hotel room in San Jose. The song, “Slow Down,” features Clyde alongside his newly reconstituted group, the Team, and we’re waiting for Kaz Kyzah and Mayne Mannish to show. Mayne turns up, along with “Slow Down” producer Sho Nuff, but Kaz remains MIA, and the difficulty of keeping three rappers on the same page probably explains why the song is credited to “Clyde Carson featuring the Team,” though it appears on the crew’s reunion EP, Hell of a Night (Moedoe, 2012). In heavy rotation on KMEL, and branching out to other markets like LA and Chicago thanks to its Youtube-driven dance-craze, “Slow Down” has been bubblin’ for much of the year, as Clyde has doggedly pursued the hit with solo shows and Team dates.

Bay rap fans might experience a little déjà vu here. Back in 2004, when they burst out of Oakland with their regional smash “It’s Gettin’ Hot”— produced by a then-teenaged Sho Nuff — the Team helped launch what became known as the hyphy movement, following up with a memorable onslaught of local hits like “Just Go” and “Patron.” But what should have been the culmination, their sophomore album, World Premiere (Rex/Koch, 2006), was instead interminably delayed, blunting its impact. When Carson moved to LA in 2006 to sign a solo deal with Capitol through The Game’s Black Wall Street, the Team seemed prematurely finished due to business rather than personal or creative reasons.


Like several Bay artists signed by the majors during the hyphy era, including Mistah F.A.B., Clyde never got to drop an album; Capitol only released a pair of singles, “2 Step” and the Sean Kingston-featuring “Doin’ That,” in 2007, but didn’t release Clyde until 2009.

“You never know what’s gonna happen so you can never blame a label,” he says. “At the time Capitol was merging with Virgin. [Capitol Executive VP] Ronnie Johnson took over my project once the companies merged. We was getting ready to shoot the ‘Doin’ That’ video and — he died in his sleep. And I didn’t have enough of a foundation where I could move without a label.”

Instead of succumbing to this blow, Carson got back on the grind, and the success of “Slow Down” has resulted from a perfect storm of factors, beginning with an October 2011 call from now-adult Sho Nuff, whose youth had limited his earlier participation in Team activities.

By November, Clyde says, “we were in the studio recording. I put the hook on ‘Slow Down.’ I wanted a feature so I reached out to Keak da Sneak, but it didn’t work out so I reached out to Kaz and he put that verse on. Then I sent Kaz five or six songs and he did them all in one day. So we were like, shit, let’s do a Team album and put Mayne on these songs.”

Mayne himself is a key element of what we might call the Team 2.0.

“There was a time where I fell back from rappin’ and started learning the game by managing Carson,” he admits. “I wasn’t as confident a rapper as Clyde and Kaz, really goin’ in there destroying shit.”

But “destroying shit” is exactly what Mayne does on the third verse of “Slow Down,” and all over the EP, his rapid staccato bark providing a perfect contrast to the low-register growls of Kaz and Clyde.

“Some rapper blood just came out of me,” Mayne laughs, “and when we started back working with Sho Nuff, he helped bring my whole character and style out.”

The final ingredient was unpredictable: when “Slow Down” first dropped early this year, an SF high school student under the handle J12 posted a Youtube video of a dance he invented to the song. “The J12” has gone ghetto viral, racking up 700,000 hits, spawning numerous homage vids, and fueling demand for Team appearances in previously unheard of areas like Chicago. Inevitably J12 converged with the group, dropping the dance in the official video and becoming Carson’s DJ.

“He put that shit on for real,” Clyde says. “I never imagined havin’ a dance to one of our songs. When I was a teen, niggas wasn’t dancin’. But it lets me know the music we makin’ is resonating with that generation.”

“I ain’t gonna start dancin’,” Carson laughs, though I submit he’s doing the J12 at 1:05 of the official video. “But I definitely appreciate it.”


We were here


FILM “I feel like I was maybe here, a while back. Or I’m older than I really am, and I just have this young body and spirit and mind — but I have a memory of this place when it was bangin’,” says video blogger Crystal Starr in new doc Detropia, gazing at the Detroit skyline from an abandoned building somewhere on the West Side, puffing a little joint.

Most people who grew up in the Rust Belt, kicking around the ghostly landscape of industrial decay, know this feeling intimately. But for those of us from Detroit, once-glamorous capital of American manufacturing and symbol of the triumph of capitalism, the sentiment is especially keen. We feel like we were born with the history of the city in our bones.

Another common feeling is that of dread upon hearing that yet another arty documentary (or brow-furrowing article, or glossy photo book) about the Motor City’s current economic state is coming down the pipe. The narrative arc of such things is usually this: remember Motown? Cars were amazing. Then there were scary riots, probably out of thin air. Then the jobs left. Isn’t Detroit sad now? Look how spooky this abandoned train station from the 1930s is! America is over. Wait! Some hipsters are starting a farm downtown! There may be hope after all. But who knows?

Detropia, directed by Heidi Ewing, who grew up near Detroit, and Rachel Grady, doesn’t exactly deconstruct that crusty storyline (non-spoiler alert: the hipster-farmers become performance artists). But this important and beautiful film shows how much more of the Detroit tale takes on meaning and shape when told through the voices of people who actually live there, with a cinematic eye that doesn’t shy away from reality, even as it bends it to narrative ends. (In Detropia, even a plastic-wrapped head of iceberg lettuce is a metaphor.)


Those voices include Starr and several others, including George MacGregor, president of the United Auto Workers Local 22, who is filmed during the painful closure of an American Axle plant; Tommy Stephens, slight-but-wise owner of an old school bar-restaurant; and a jaunty band of scrap-metal salvagers who should become the subject of a documentary in their own right.

Yes, the film has a somber tone and melancholy style. Grim statistics — “in the last 10 years, Michigan has lost 50 percent of its manufacturing jobs;” “six million workers lost their jobs” — are dutifully displayed. Current Detroit industries, like casino gambling or techno and hip-hop music, and their effect on the economy are left unexamined. And yes, the ruins of Detroit look gorgeous. (One thing Detropia gets spot-on is how the pervasively humid, green-gray light of the coastal city echoes off peeled paint and crumbling yellow-red brick.)

But when you hear MacGregor at his desk gently telling an elderly retiree on speakerphone that she has no vision insurance — it was one of the union compromises of the auto industry bailout — right before he launches into a mesmerizing rhapsody on the middle class, the camera lingering on his greased hair and patchwork sweater, you realize the utopia of Detropia isn’t the hoped-for return of the old days. It’s the insistence of humanity to persevere and form a community, no matter how crazy things get.

DETROPIA opens Fri/28 in Bay Area theaters.




SUPER EGO First off, a woozy-recovery shoutout to the heroes of Folsom Street Fair, beyond the organizers themselves, who continue to bring a solid electro music festival vibe to the, er, packed fistful of proceedings. I think drag artist VivvyAnne Forevermore outdid all the torture enthusiasts by staying in full face for three whole days of performing, the mysterious entity known as Luther proved at its party that 400 shirtless, sex-reeking men on a dancefloor doesn’t mean “circuit party,” and DJ Carnita of Hard French valiantly kicked off the amazing Deviants party fresh from the hospital, his ankle broken in a tragic gay basketball accident. What we won’t do for love!

Now, looking ahead (after all those behinds): is trap music a trap? The burgeoning microgenre has seized the Internet this summer after bubbling under for 10 years, begun as a low-budget, dirty-sounding Atlanta rap beats style meant to reflect the dark and paranoid feel of the drug game — the “trap” in question. What it’s become is both a savvy marketing onslaught by hype-happy music producers, some of them of the douche variety (boo) and also a way for dubstep-weary general partiers to get deeper and sexier, by combining hip-hop’s crunked 808 bass-snare swag with EDM’s keyboard-driven energy and some classic booty-bass trimming (nice).

I’m digging it, even though I’m no fan of pop-EDM’s LCD aspirations or contemporary hip-pop’s zombie materialism and worn-out masculinity-crisis tropes — although all that’s recently been changing a bit, and luckily the sophisticated techno and alternative hip-hop scenes have been thriving in reaction. SF finally has a regular club night devoted to the sound, Trap City (Sat/29 and last Saturdays, 9pm-4am, $7–$10. Icon, 1192 Folsom, SF.). And of course we’re giving it some goofy irony and some serious underground connections.

The irony comes via witchy-Tumblr graphics, cartoonish “gold chainz swangin'” hype, and Net-savvy entities (producer Trill Murray and rapper Chippy Nonstop perform this month). The underground connects come from notorious DJ Ultraviolet, queen of the early, grimy dubstep and bass scenes here, who runs the Trap with partner Napsty.

“I think a lot of DJs are getting into this style of music because it is a lot less intense and ‘ravetastic’ then most of the brostep coming out these days, and that sort of vibe is easier for more people to grasp right now than electro and dubstep bangers — although I enjoy those, too,” Ultraviolet told me over email.

“I’ve always injected a bit of hip-hop flavor into my sets and so a lot of the trap music coming out recently appealed to me: it sounds good on the big soundsystems and girls aren’t afraid to dance to it. I really like the diverseness of the scene. At Trap City we get all types of people. You just see everyone going nuts and loving it so much, I kinda ask myself, as a bass music DJ how could I not get into this? LOL.”

Together with other local DJs — some of them hailing from the burner, glitch, or street bass scenes — like Taso, Stylust Beats, Bogl, and AnTennae, and following in the footsteps of bigtimers like Diplo and Flosstradamus, the Trap City kids are pushing the sound forward. Even if it all ends up being more marketing mirage than actual sonic imprint (ahem, moombahton), it’s got a great beat and we can dance to it.

“SF has always loved its hip hop and dirty bass, so the combination of the two seems to fit perfectly with SF’s style,” Ultraviolet tells me. (Peep her productions and trap mixes at www.soundcloud.com/djultraviolet.) “We’re a cool town, this is cool music. I see SF and trap music having a long romantic relationship.”



Last time our favorite Latin funk-global jams collective took over Mighty, it was dancing room only — this installment looks to be just as groovy-bonkers, with a three-hour set from awesome Afrolicious brothers Pleasuremaker and Senor Oz (including live percussion), and special guests J-Boogie and Izzy*Wise.

Fri/28, 10pm-late, $8 advance. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com



The renowned Manchester technoist blew minds last year with the release of two EPs, Passed Me By and We Saty Together, that embraced an almost terrifying sludgy slowness, mesmerizing with an ur-tribal vibe. He’ll be joined by psychotomimetic occultists Demdike Stare, glitch-blissed Balam Acab, SF’s ghostly oOoOO, sound artist Holly Herndon, and Dark Entries’ darkwaver Josh Cheon for an eclectic night of sounds of now at the Public Access party.

Fri/28, 10pm, $12–$15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



A Polish house duo so close to my heart I can feel it beating them right now. They live in Berlin now, and combine polished Wolf + Lamb-like R&Bish vibes with that trademark Germanic techno attention to every detail. Most important, they have a sense of humor, great ears for new releases, and are a lot of fun to dance to.

Sat/29, 9pm-4am, $10–$20. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF. www.monarchsf.com



The 100 percent vinyl soul party jets out of the toddler stage, with all the origonal crew in tact, including one of my favorite people, DJ Mama Bear. Laidback, deep boogie, slow jams loveliness — and yes, you will sweat.

Sat/29, 9pm, $5 advance, Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com



This sounds cool: A party in a huge space (Space 550, in fact) with 3-D visuals mixed live (first 500 in get glasses), a DJ set by Ladytron, and a 1990s house room with old school and 3-D video games, and a giant projected Pong tournament. Double double win win.

Sat/29, 9pm-late, $25 advance. Space 550, 550 Barneveld, SF. www.tinyurl.com/stereo550



Who will win this year’s drag tiara of insanity and wonder? All the underground gender clown cognoscenti will gather to determine the new princess-unicorn of the scene, brought to you by the Tiara Sensation crew (they do the fantastic Some Thing drag night at the Stud on Fridays). Judges Pink Lightning, Gina LaDivina, and HRH Princess Diandra of NYC will choose from a glittering bevy of hopefuls; current titleholder Lil Miss Hot Mess will step down (and down) in a surely unforgettable number.

Sat/29, 9pm, $15–$20. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com


In FiDi, a Turkish gem



APPETITE With the Guardian’s recent move to the Financial District, I’ve frequented downtown haunts, returning to old favorites, discovering new gems. Humble, tiny spaces like La Fusion (475 Pine, SF. www.lafusion-sf.com) delight with Peruvian-influenced Nuevo Latino dishes, including rotisserie chicken and warm bread salad, vivid ceviches, cinnamon-clove inflected sangria, and fried empanadas dipped in huacatay sauce and piquillo pepper aioli. However, the biggest standout of new FiDi dining spots has been an upscale Turkish restaurant, Machka.

Walking up to Machka, directly across from the Transamerica Building behind a line of motorcycle and Vespa parking, you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a chic cafe in Rome. In fact, Machka is Turkish, with a brick-walled dining room with massive chandelier, whose lighting casting an appealing glow on fellow diners, while a flat screen plays classic Turkish films, like Kirik Plak (1959), visible through a glass wall from inside the restaurant.

Machka was just opened in July by lawyer Farshad Owji and his wife Sibel. The chef is Reynol Martinez, who served those delightful duck confit tacos and some of SF’s best fish tacos at Potrero Hill hidden gem, Papito. (He also cooked at Globe, Aperto, and Epic Roasthouse.) Service is one of Machka’s strong suits, including the professionally engaging warmth of Jessica — who was a server at Nopa — or Gulhan, who recently moved here from Turkey, his gracious hospitality setting a familial tone. P.S. he’s also an inspiring reader of Turkish coffee grounds.

Starting with the SF standard — locally sourced, mostly organic ingredients — one journeys to Turkey in rare form. Although there have long been hole-in-the-wall treasures like A La Turca in the Tenderloin or the Mission’s mid-range Tuba, the Turkish list has been short. Machka fills a gap, faring well with both traditional and creative Turkish. In the meze-starter realm, pistachio-crusted goat cheese ($11) is easy to lap up. Spread the subtle, soft cheese, crunchy with pistachios, over toasts, sweet and savory with caramelized onions, golden raisins and wildflower honey. There’s only a handful of lamb tartare dishes in town (Gitane’s being one of the best), and Machka’s version ($13) is brightly gratifying, tossed in mint, grainy mustard and argan oil, with haricot verts.

Tender, grilled octopus ($13) is mixed with chickpeas and celery, doused in lemon and olive oil — it’s a delicate smattering of celery leaves that adds a garden-fresh aspect to my favorite invertebrate. Blue cheese and chorizo-stuffed dates ($9) are a crowd-pleaser, particularly wrapped in pastirma (Armenian cured beef) in a sherry wine-mustard vinaigrette. The only missteps seemed to be a bowl of fava beans ($10) which sounded like the ideal veggie dish, mixed with English peas, snap peas, cilantro, mint, sumac in lemon and a smoked paprika vinaigrette, but was surprisingly bland. A traditional fattoush salad ($11) was likewise humdrum, a mere couple tomatoes, cucumbers and pita crisps unable to bring the greens to life.

On the entree side, I crave the durum (flatbread) wrap ($12) to-go when I don’t have time sit down and savor the restaurant’s soothing setting. I love the falafel wrap (also available as a $9 starter), laced with cacik (light, seasoned yogurt), pickled cucumber, lettuce, grilled red onions, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and tahini sauce. The elements weave together into the ideal wrap: fresh, textured, filling — also available with chicken, lamb or beef. Speaking of lamb, Machka does it right: as a burger ($15), curry-marinated in a kebab over rice pilaf (one skewer $13, two $26), or in my top choice, a marinated ground beef and lamb sausage, the adana kebab.

Chef Martinez displays vision in entrees like a seared branzino ($25). The flaky fish is interspersed with roasted fennel and cherry tomatoes, which taste like another glorious fruit altogether — sweet, sour, fantastic — roasted in a balsamic pomegranate reduction. It’s an elegant entree that takes an unexpected turn with the tomatoes.

The wine list ($9 for a five ounce glass, $14 for eight ounce) includes interesting Turkish wines, like an acidic, zippy 2010 Kavaklidere Cankaya Emir from Ankara, and from the same producer, a balanced, fruity red: 2011 Kavaklidere Yakut Okuzgozu. Another wine that worked well with starters was a tropical fruit-laden 2011 Pinot Gris from New Zealand, The Ned.

You couldn’t do better than a dessert of kunefe (or kanafeh, an Arab cheese crusted in shredded pastry, often phyllo dough — Jannah in the Western Addition also makes a beauty of a version). Soft, white cheese oozes from crisp, shredded phyllo soaked in honey and rosewater syrup, a finish sweet and satisfying as the overall experience in this latest Turkish respite.

Matchka 584 Washington, SF. 415-391-8228 www.machkasf.com

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Roll with it



CHEAP EATS They said it would smell like a hamster cage. And it did, but we persevered. Our instructions were to go all the way to the back of the restaurant — past the cash register and past the kitchen, where there was another, much pleasanter room that did not smell like a hamster cage. And it didn’t.

It was a whole, secret, new favorite restaurant back there. With couches, plants, and wooden chairs with heart cutouts in the back. The floor was concreted river stones; small, pretty, shiny ones that I thoroughly enjoyed both walking on and looking at.

Hedgehog said it felt like a former Home and Garden Center, which was probably a pretty good guess. We sat at the table closest to the bookshelves, and she picked something out to read while we waited for our vermicelli.

My Milk Toof, by someone with a good sense of humor and a lot of time on her hands. She poses and photographs two kinda cute “baby teeth” named Ickle and Lardee into a comic strip. Now, I’m not a book reviewer, but Hedgehog was still reading their little tiny adventures, often out loud, even after our vermicelli bowls were served. So . . .




By Hedgehog

Since I was going to be watching Chicken Farmer third-string quarterbacking Sunday morning and be at Candlestick for the 49ers home opener Sunday afternoon, I really wanted to write about baseball.

Unfortunately, none of the baseball players I tweeted questions to got back to me. Which is a shame, because I really did want to know Brandon McCarthy’s favorite restaurant and Omar Vizquel’s views on same-sex marriage.

Even though I wasn’t going to say anything about football, I will say this: Chicken Farmer’s team was short a player and had no subs the entire game and they still won by one point! Of course, I didn’t know what the score was until we were walking back to the car, but even when I thought they had lost, I could tell it was a real good game.

Also: there are more assholes per square foot attending professional football games than there are at professional baseball games. Even at the $2 A’s games. But watching football live is enjoyable (excepting for all the other people doing it, too) and it was only partially humiliating to walk around the parking lot for three hours beforehand, stumping for donations for the Children’s Book Project with a Dr. Seuss hat on.

Moving on to more important matters: I am pleased to report that the Mission Playground reopened last weekend, all but the pool (which they say will be ready in December — perfect timing, since it’s an outdoor jobbie). I am not pleased to report that the food trucks promised to be in attendance in the adverts were gone by 2pm, when Earl Butter and I finally made our collective way over there. In addition to the kiddie areas, there is an artificial turf soccer field, two tennis courts, and a basketball court. So now you know where to find us.

There, or the Mission Rec Center, which has free racquetball and ping pong, and where there is a women’s boxing class I wish I could take being taught by an Olympic lady boxer. Boxerette? Boxer ladyperson.

Cheap Eats, cont.

Pugilista, I believe, is the word she was looking for.

Our vermicelli bowls, lemongrass chicken for her and grilled pork for me, were top-notch ‘uns, with plenty of crisp lettuce, carrots, red onion, basil, cilantro, and peanuts drenched in a red-peppery fish sauce dressing. Oh, and one sliver of not-hot jalapeno.

Oh, and the meat was delicious. Juicy and just perfect.

Mysteriously, we had also ordered an order of spring rolls. Maybe because we were too hungry when we first came in. But the thing is, the spring rolls are essentially the contents of the vermicelli bowls, only wrapped in rice paper. Equally excellent, but redundant.

They also have banh mi and noodle soups. Awesome food, nice people, and a really cool place, once you get past the hamster cage.


Mon. 9am-7pm; Tue.-Wed. 10am-7pm; Thu.-Sat. 9am-8pm; Sun. 9am-6pm

1309 Solano, Albany

(510) 525-7899


No alcohol


Fly, on the wall



DANCE Suspended by a single rope, Jennifer Chien’s bare feet gently push against the white wall of Zaccho Dance Theatre’s studio. The move propels her into space; perhaps she is swimming, perhaps flying, or just floating on Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi’s finely detailed score.

Chien is rehearsing the finale for Niagara Falling, Flyaway Productions artistic director Jo Kreiter’s latest site-specific outdoor work. It will be performed against the west wall of the Renoir Hotel on Market Street. The dance in the air feels quiet and ever so poetic, particularly for a work that originated in Kreiter’s sense of having been “stung and caught by that whole American economics story.”

Niagara is another of Kreiter’s socially conscious choreographies, in which she examines vital issues through art making. She has called herself a “citizen artist,” a person she describes as someone whose work is “essentially concerned about how we live in the world.” (Poet Adrienne Rich and musician-activist Pete Seeger have been guiding lights.)

“Actually,” Kreiter adds, “any artist does that — except that some of us are more able or willing to talk about the issues.” She has called Niagara Falling “an artistic response to the economic degradation of our current recession.”

As a citizen artist, Kreiter’s choreographies are most frequently performed in public places, free of charge. They are accessible to casual passersby, neighborhood folks, and dancegoers. This is art at the heart of the democratic ideal.

Her works also subtly alter the urban landscape and the way we perceive it. After Singing Praises: Centennial Dances for the Women’s Building, the owners of the Women’s Building confessed that before the piece, they had not even known their Mission District neighbors. Mission Wall Dances honored the old Garland Hotel, an SRO that housed disadvantaged people until it burned and was rebuilt as lodging for tourists. (Painter Josef Norris was inspired to add some of Kreiter’s dancers to the building’s existing mural.) With one of her earliest works, Sparrow’s End, Kreiter created an “urban fantasy” for one of the most drug-infested alleys in the Mission. I still remember its beauty and also the odor that pervaded that sad location.

Niagara happened because Kreiter had admired David and Hi-Jin Hodge’s video setting for Brenda Way’s 2009 In the Memory of the Forest. Talking with the artists, Kreiter realized that the three of them had much in common — particularly when she learned that the Hodges had documented the poverty and decay of David’s hometown, Niagara Falls, NY, by talking with its citizens. Some of what he said sounded all too familiar with what is happening to many people in San Francisco.

Both cities are also surrounded by beautiful but sometimes terrifying bodies of water. The imagery is as ancient as Noah’s bobbing ark and as recent as the videos of Japan’s 2011 tsunami. So it seems appropriate that the first two pieces of equipment Kreiter ordered were a lifeboat and life jackets. The boat is a commissioned steel structure; the vests came off the rack.

Hanging from the wall at the Zaccho studio for the last rehearsal there — the equipment would be moved downtown later that day — three dancers are buffeted by the video’s raging waters and a howling storm on the soundtrack. The women look ever so vulnerable as they try to catch and don the slippery life jackets. Yet gradually in all that chaos they find a common rhythm and can link arms in relative safety.

While Niagara is a piece that gives voice to the reality of the urban poor, it’s also a beacon of hope. The work happened because, Kreiter acknowledges, people — like the Renoir Hotel’s owners and Urban Solutions, the SOMA-based economic development nonprofit — have been supportive of the project. Pointing out that she started working on the piece before the advent of Occupy Wall Street, she observes that “everything is collapsing, and yet in some places there are people who try to pull things forward.” *


Wed/26-Sat/29, 8:30 and 9:30pm, free

West wall of the Renoir Hotel

Seventh St at Market, SF


Narc fetish



HERBWISE I’ll be honest with you, after last week’s Herbwise interview with Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidate/everything to everyone person Roseanne Barr, I feel like anything I write this week is going to be a sad, sorry after party. Kind of like me in my cubicle right now, nursing Folsom Street Fair-inflicted wounds. Even my last-minute plans to get picked up for blowing smoke in public — purely for the benefit of this column, of course — were foiled when I couldn’t figure out who the real pigs were at the Fair. Damn you, accurate latex replicas!

Thank goodness there is plenty of stupid celebrity cannabis news to tide us over.


Lady Gaga rifled through a pile of presents tossed onstage at her September 18 concert at Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome, sniffed a bunch of tobacco cigarettes, finally found a cellophane-wrapped, bread stick-sized joint, and sparked it in front of the crowd.

She’s already on record about smoking weed to aide her songwriting creativity, which may explain the surfeit of 420-themed presents in the mountain of swag that had been flung at her by fans. She took a high-shine to a white belly shirt with two cannabis leaves printed over the breasts, and ditched her studded black mini-dress to change into the shirt, baring some awkwardly rolled-down fishnets.

Yes folks, she’s smoking openly, a move unfortunately timed simultaneously with a rather impressive pre-tour weight gain. Awkward “munchies” jokes, deploy.


But perhaps Gaga was just trying to bring attention to a recent mega-breakthrough in the world of medical research. Scientists at our very own California Pacific Medical Center have found evidence in lab and animal tests that the cannabis chemical compound cannabidol can effectively impair ID-1, the gene that causes cancer to spread.

The pair of docs that made the discovery want to make it clear that the amount of cannabidol needed for these positive effects are so vast they can’t be effectively obtained by smoking, but nevertheless, the discovery does bode well for more weed research in oncology.


Fiona Apple faces up to 10 years in jail on a felony charge after her tour bus was pulled over in the famously-anti-drug town of Sierra Blanca, Texas and drug dogs reportedly found four grams of hashish in her possession. Sierra Blanca cops have also caught Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson holding.

The “Criminal” singer had to spend the night in jail and postpone her Austin concert, saving her somewhat abstract tirade against the cops that locked her up until Houston. She said she has “encoded” some information about potentially illegal actions performed by her arresting officers, which she’ll hold to herself unless they want to get “fucking famous”

Classily, one of said officers has responded in a letter sent to TMZ. Gary “Rusty” Fleming, jowly information officer for the Hudspeth County sheriff’s office (and creator of a grisly, fear-mongering drug war documentary Silver or Lead, the website of which proudly lists kudos from Department of Homeland Security deportation officers) called Apple “honey,” before the insults began: “I’m already more famous than you, I don’t need your help. However, it would appear that you need mine.” He concluded that she should just “shut up and sing.”

Which brings to mind a man I saw at the fair this weekend dressed as a narcotic agent. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a less arousing thing to base sexual fantasies on, but now I totally get it: being a narc might just be the most perverted thing ever.

The real McGee



STREET ART Gone are the days when Barry McGee, or Twist, or Ray Fong, or whatever alias he happened to be painting under at the time, stalked the San Francisco streets throwing up 3-D screws, Clarion Alley stunners, and his much-admired tags. Nowadays, he exhibits in big-deal gallery shows, like his mid-career retrospective that opened to much fanfare at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive on August 24.

BAM/PFA devoted a space the size of a downtown parking garage to McGee’s works, which have ballooned in size as the years go on. Walls literally bulge with clusters of photos and drawings, a homage to the multifarious chorus of the street. A four-pack of dummies from his show at Pittsburgh’s 55th Carnegie International perch on each other shoulders, the uppermost’s arm mechanically waving a spray can. Look, an upended white van! Curator Lawrence Rinder had “no idea” how McGee and his henchmen managed to fit the vehicle into the gallery, as Rinder told a passel of press types at a media preview.

Recently-completed behemoth wall of his patched acid tests in Brooklyn notwithstanding, McGee is the poster child for decades-old genre of “street artist” — those who may have gotten started on the street, but now focus their creative oeuvre on recreating street art-style works indoors.

You’ll never miss the graffiti cultural reference at the retrospective — outside BAM/PFA, tags covered one wall of the museum (“SNITCH” the faker said, tricking me for a moment into thinking that someone had beef with McGee, which would be heresy in these parts) and its glass front doors.

This juxtaposition may be the main thing that keeps McGee’s art interesting. Small tropes impregnate the Berkeley retrospective: on one red wall McGee’s buffed his own work, then overlaid it with blank speech bubbles. Creation, censure, empty creation — it’s the weird feedback loop of his gallery-street life encapsulated.

“I appreciates his early stuff more than the esoteric stuff he’s doing today,” says muralist Sirron Norris when I call him at his Valencia Street studio to talk about McGee’s influence. “That stuff just goes right over my head.”

Norris moved to SF in 1997. Initially a commercial artist, “I was just blown away by the fact that there were cartoons in museums and galleries, and that was because of Barry,” he said. “I thought, I can do that.” McGee and his partner Margaret Kilgallen were instrumental in Norris’ decision to paint his now-signature blue bears and Victorion anti-gentrification Transformer on walls in the Mission and Western Addition. (Catch his most recent, whimsical mega-wall, info in this week’s rundown of our favorite Bay Area murals)

“He was doing something different.” Susan Cervantes co-founded Precita Eyes Mural Arts in 1977, and since then has been at the nexus of community mural-making in San Francisco and the Mission. The kind of murals that Precita Eyes sponsors tend to more neighborhood, family-based than McGee’s works, which even then smacked of high art potential (or were they high art already? A graduate of the SF Art Institute, the “street artist cum gallery artist” cliché was never apt in describing McGee.) Cervantes has known him since before he got into street art, and once he started on her neighborhood’s walls, she says his influence on other artists was undeniable.

“He showed us another way of seeing the world around us,” she tells me in a phone interview. “There’s things that have more content in them than just doing your name, or doing different styles of lettering.”

Looking around at the murals in the Bay today, the possibilities McGee exposed us to are evident. But I wonder sometimes who is becoming inspired by his gallery works, or those of other “street artists” who have found a way to support themselves in the art world. Are there baby taggers out there who are having their minds blown by this street-gallery mashup, who see possibilities for the once-and-sometimes-subversive art, not just increased the potential commercial viability?

Well anyway, I sure hope so.


Through Dec. 9, $9.50 museum admission

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.



Qualifying Mirakarimi’s jury


The San Francisco Board of Supervisors formally received the official misconduct case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi Sept. 18, starting the clock on the 30-day deadline that the City Charter provides for the board to take action. Board President David Chiu announced a special meeting to consider the case on Oct. 9 at 2pm. The schedule the board had previous agreed to: a 10-minute presentation by the Ethics Commission, 20 minutes by representatives of Mayor Ed Lee (who brought the case), 20 minutes by Mirkarimi’s side, a five-minute rebuttal by Lee, public comment (which could last for hours), and then deliberation by supervisors.

The drama-before-the-drama will involve what in court would be called jury selection — Mirkarimi’s lawyers want to see if any supervisors should be disqualified from voting.

It’s a critical point: It would take at least nine of the 11 supervisors to remove the sheriff, and that number doesn’t’ change if some are ineligible to vote. So every recusal is, in effect, a vote to save Mirkarimi’s job.

And it’s an open question whether some supervisors should recuse themselves. They’re supposed to be unbiased jurors, and if any of them have discussed the case with the mayor in advance, they might be forced to sit this one out.

Mayor Ed Lee was asked on the witness stand whether he spoke with any supervisors about removing Mirkarimi, and he denied it. But Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker said her longtime friend and political ally Sup. Christina Olague told her Lee had sought her input on the decision. Confronted by journalists, Olague denied the charge but said, “I may have to recuse myself from voting on this.”

Another possible recusal from the vote would be Sup. Eric Mar, who just happened to be called as a juror in Mirkarimi’s criminal case — and thus could have been exposed to prejudicial evidence — before those charges were settled with a plea bargain. There have also been rumors that Board President David Chiu spoke with Lee about Mirkarimi at some point.

Last month, Mirkarimi lawyer David Waggoner told the board that he wanted each supervisor to declare whether he or she has spoken with anyone about Mirkarimi, but the legal team is proceeding cautiously, wary of offending the supervisors who will now decide the fate of their former colleague.

“We’re going to respectfully ask each member of the board to state under oath who they’ve talked to about the case,” Waggoner told us.

Normally, jurors would be extensively questioned during the voir dire process, and those who had served on an elected body with a defendant for years would almost certainly be removed from the jury pool, which seems to have been the case with Mar’s disqualification on the criminal case. But that’s just one more example of how this unprecedented process is anything but normal, with city officials basically making up the rules as they go along.

Feinstein screws Breed


Candidates in the District 5 supervisorial race, where one recent poll showed almost half of voters undecided about a field of imperfect candidates to represent the city’s most progressive district, have been sharpening their attacks on one another — and learning lessons about hardball politics.

Christina Olague, the incumbent appointed by Mayor Ed Lee earlier this year, has been taking flak in recent debates from competitors who are highlighting the schism between her progressive history and her more conservative recent votes and alliances. That gulf was what caused Matt Gonzalez to pull his endorsement of Olague this summer and give it to Julian Davis.

London Breed has now suffered a similar setback: US Senator Dianne Feinstein revoked her endorsement of Breed following colorful comments the candidate made to Fog City Journal, which were repeated in the San Francisco Chronicle, blasting her one-time patron Willie Brown.

Breed, whose politics have been to the right of the district, seemed to be trying to assert her independence and may he gone a bit overboard is proclaiming that she didn’t “give a fuck about Willie Brown.”

Sources say Brown has been in payback mode ever since, urging Feinstein and others to stop supporting Breed. Neither Brown nor Feinstein returned our calls, but Breed confirmed that she was told the senator was “concerned” about that published comment. And we know that Feinstein never called her to discuss the article, her comments or the fact that, perhaps at the behest of Brown, she was yanking her support.

On the record, Breed was contrite when we spoke with her and reluctant to say anything bad about Brown or Feinstein, except to offer us the vague, “There are a lot of people who respect and like me, and they don’t like what they see happening.”

The Aoki files


Editors note: Steve Woo and Alex T. Tom argued in a Guardian oped last week that a new book unfairly paints Richard Aoki as an FBI snitch. The book’s author asked for space to respond.

OPINION I write to correct serious misstatements about my new book — and particularly about my revelation that the late radical leader Richard Aoki was an FBI informant — in the editorial by Steve Woo and Alex T. Tom.

My book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), examines the FBI’s covert activities concerning the University of California during the Cold War. It focuses on the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures: Clark Kerr, the UC president; Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement; and Ronald Reagan, California Governor.

Subversives is based on more than 300,000 pages of FBI records released to me as a result of five lawsuits I brought under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI frequently claimed redacted information had to be withheld by law, but as a result of my challenges, seven federal judges ordered the FBI to release more information. One court order specifically recognized my expertise, stating, “Plaintiff has persuasively demonstrated in his affidavit that his research requires meticulous examination of records that may not on their face indicate much to an untrained observer.”

In Subversives I also profile many other figures, including Aoki, a revered activist in the San Francisco Bay Area who I revealed was a paid FBI informant at the time he gave the Black Panthers some of their first guns and firearms training in late 1966 and early 1967. I also disclosed this in an article and video produced with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), which were published contemporaneously with my book last month.

Woo and Tom are incorrect when they claim my findings about Aoki are “baseless and false.” Although reporting on intelligence activities is notoriously difficult and often relies on off-the-record sources, I relied only upon on-the-record sources such as:

— A detailed interview with retired FBI agent Burney Threadgill Jr., who was Aoki’s initial handler;

— A 2007 interview with Aoki in which he denied being an informant but when pressed added, “People change. It is complex. Layer upon layer.”

— FBI records concerning Aoki released in response to my Freedom of Information Act request, including a November 16, 1967 report on the Black Panthers that identified him as informant T-2.

— Consultation with former FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen, who had helped vacate the murder conviction of Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt on the ground that the FBI and Los Angeles police failed to disclose that a key witness against him was an FBI informant.

My conclusion that Aoki was an informant was thus based on the totality of my research — not merely on a “scrap of evidence.” The detailed notes to my book make this clear. As I also have noted, available evidence does not show whether the FBI was involved in Aoki’s arming the Panthers, or that bureau officials even knew about it.

My initial disclosures about Aoki have been confirmed by the FBI’s release of 221 pages of Aoki’s FBI informant file. I reported this in a September 7 article, posted with his entire informant file as released to me at the CIR website.

Although I strongly disagree that my revelations about Aoki “damage the movement” and reinforce stereotypes of Asian Americans, they surely shed new light on him. For while he may well have been a dedicated activist, substantial evidence shows he also was an FBI informant. Although his full role and motives are not yet known, Richard Aoki was undoubtedly more complex than his fellow activists knew.

Seth Rosenfeld is a San Francisco writer.


The case for reinstating Mirkarimi


EDITORIAL We know for a fact that on New Year’s Eve, 2011, Ross Mirkarimi, the elected but unsworn sheriff of San Francisco, had a physical altercation with his wife that left her with a bruised arm. We know she later complained about that bruise on a video lasting less than a minute. Beyond that, nobody except Mirkarimi and Eliana Lopez knows exactly what happened; there were no witnesses except the couple’s three-year-old son, no video taken during the fight, no audio recordings — nothing.

We know that Mirkarimi agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment — although we also know there was never any evidence that he actually imprisoned anyone.

That’s all we really know about the incident that has set off an expensive, drawn-out, political and legal battle that could change the city’s politics for years to come. If the whole thing seems a little overblown, that’s because it is.

There is nothing in the record that justifies Mayor Ed Lee’s move to suspend Mirkarimi, and nothing that would justify the supervisors voting to remove him from office. In fact, a removal vote would set a dangerous precedent for future mayors in a city that already gives its chief executive far too much power.

Let us examine the three main reasons why the board needs to vote to restore the elected sheriff.

1. If you believe Eliana Lopez, there’s no case.

The only person other than Mirkarimi who can honestly and accurately testify about the events of New Year’s eve is Lopez — and she has been clear, consistent, and convincing in her account.

Lopez acknowledges that she and her husband have had marital issues, that Mirkarimi wasn’t as supportive or her and their young son as he should have been, that he was away from home and working when she should have been sharing domestic duties. She was considering divorce — but was worried that Mirkarimi might gain custody of their boy.

She testified under oath before the Ethics Commission that Mirkarimi was never someone who “beats his wife” (to use Lee’s utterly inappropriate terminology). He had no history of domestic violence with her.

What he did was grab her arm during an argument, leaving a bruise. Inexcusable, but hardly a sign of serious assault. In fact, Lopez testified that she bruises so easily that just playing around with three-year-old Theo can leave marks on her.

Lopez testified that she made the video to use as a tool — a bargaining chip, so to speak — if Mirkarimi ever sought to gain custody of their son. She said she believed that her neighbor, Ivory Madison, who made the video, was a lawyer and that the video would be protected by attorney-client confidentiality. She said she never wanted to go to the police and never felt physically threatened by her husband.

The mayor charged Mirkarimi with attempting to dissuade witnesses and interfere with a police investigation, but those charges were based almost entirely on the testimony of Madison, whose rambling 22-page statement was so full of hearsay that the Ethics Commission tossed almost all of it. There was absolutely no evidence of witness tampering, and those claims were dismissed.

In fact, the only reason the commission recommended removal is the fact that Mirkarimi bruised his wife and pled to a misdemeanor — one that everyone knows he didn’t really commit. Remember: It’s legal, and common, in misdemeanor cases to plead to something you never did to avoid facing trial on more serious charges.

There’s no principled way to accept as credible the testimony of Lopez and still vote to remove the sheriff. If she’s telling the truth — and we believe her — the case should end right there.

2. Mirkarimi was chosen by the voters, and the voters can freely remove him.

Ross Mirkarimi was elected in November, 2011, with a clear majority in a contested race. The state Constitution provides an excellent remedy for replacing an elected official who has lost the confidence of the voting public; it’s called the recall. With a fraction of the effort that’s been spent on this case, people who feel Mirkarimi should no longer serve as sheriff could have collected signatures and forced an election.

The City Charter gives the mayor extraordinary authority — we would say too much authority — to unilaterally suspend an elected official and seek removal. That’s a power that should be wielded only in the most extreme cases, with great deference to the will of the voters.

Lee did no investigation before filing official misconduct charges. He based those charges on unsubstantiated claims, most of which were proven false. There’s a dangerous precedent here: If Mayor Ed Lee can suspend without pay Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on such limited evidence, the ability of future mayors to misuse this power could be alarming. And remember: There is nothing in the Charter that allows anyone to suspend or seek removal of the mayor.

3. This case mangles “official misconduct.”

There’s another dangerous element to this case, and it’s not just a legal technicality. The New Year’s Eve incident occurred before Mirkarimi took the oath of office; on that day, he wasn’t the sheriff of San Francisco. He was a supervisor.

It’s hard to claim he was guilty of “official misconduct” on a day when he had no official duties. A fascinating, but unsigned analysis by somebody who clearly has a strong legal background is posted on the web (rjemirkarimi.blogspot.com). It notes:

“If the Supervisors approve what the Ethics Commission did on August 16, they will be handing a powerful new political weapon to all mayors, present and future. Good mayors may never misuse it, but other mayors might. No longer will such a mayor be limited to examining an opponent’s conduct while in office. He will have carte blanche and a strong motive to look farther back in time for personal misconduct that occurred before his opponent took office, and to use what he finds to suspend his opponent without pay and remove him from office — all while claiming (as undoubtedly he will) to be engaged in a noble pursuit of truth and justice.”

Let’s be serious: There have been San Francisco mayors with a long record of vindictive politics, or seeking any method possible to punish their enemies. There may well be again. Do we really want to have this case — this weak case driven more by politics than reason and evidence — set the precedent for the grave step of overriding the voters and removing an elected official?

Any of these three reasons ought to be grounds to vote against the mayor’s charges. Together, they make a sound enough case that it’s hard to imagine how the supervisors, sitting as a fair and impartial jury, could come to any conclusion other than returning Mirkarimi to office. We recognize that there are political implications, that Mirkarimi’s foes will target anyone who votes to support him. And just as it’s hard for some politicians to appear “soft on crime,” it’s nearly impossible to survive in San Francisco if you’re considered “soft on domestic violence.” But anyone who doesn’t want tough choices shouldn’t run for public office. It will take courage to do the right thing here — and in the end, that’s what should matter.

Chronic youth



FILM It can’t be a coincidence that within a week, a pair of films have been released about 35-year-olds who contemplate hooking up with 19-year-olds. That 16-year age gap — with an immature or other otherwise emotionally stunted thirtysomething on one end, and a precocious millennial on the other — is narrow enough to be plausible, but just wide enough to be awkward.

Now in theaters, Hello I Must Be Going traces the existential flailings of Amy (Melanie Lynskey), so discombobulated post-divorce that she moves back home and takes up with Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), the son of one of her father’s potential clients. Despite their chic Connecticut lifestyle, Mom (Blythe Danner) and Dad (John Rubinstein) have been hit by the recession; Amy’s self-pitying second adolescence only makes the household tension worse. Meanwhile, her hot, clandestine fling with Jeremy, an uninhibited actor, is tested less by their age difference than by his connection to the lucrative account that Amy’s father is desperately trying to land. Of course, there is a cringe-worthy scene where Amy crashes a party, looking for Jeremy, and the bleary-eyed youth who answers the door announces “Someone’s mom is here!”

This week’s Liberal Arts reverses the genders of the controversial couple, with Jesse (How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor, who also wrote and directed) falling for Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a student at the leafy Ohio university he graduated from years before (never named, but filmed at Kenyon College, Radnor’s own alma matter). The two meet when Jesse, now a jaded Brooklynite, visits to celebrate the retirement of Professor Hoberg (Richard Jenkins); unlike Hello‘s Amy and Jeremy, who waste no time knocking boots, the question of whether to consummate the relationship becomes a major plot point.

Liberal Arts is at its best when delineating a specific type of collegiate experience — as safe, privileged bubble where, as Jesse explains, you can announce “I’m a poet!” without anyone punching you in the face. It can also be an oppressive space, as illustrated by a cranky prof who feels trapped by academia (a razor-sharp Lucinda Janney), and a morose classmate of Zibby’s who identifies a little too closely with David Foster Wallace.

And it’s stuff like the Wallace references (again, never named — just identified via heavily dropped hints, for all the cool viewers to catch) that’re ultimately Liberal Arts‘ undoing. Radnor explores some interesting themes, but the film is full of indie-comedy tropes — the friendly stoner (Zac Efron) who randomly appears to dispense life lessons; an anti-Twilight rant that’s a bit too pleased with itself; the unusually attractive character who appears in the first act and is obviously destined for inclusion in the inevitable happy ending.

By contrast, “airless” and “predictable” are not words anyone would use to describe the life of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, colorfully recounted in Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a doc directed by her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland. The family connection meant seemingly unlimited access to material featuring the unconventionally glamorous (and highly quotable) Vreeland herself, plus the striking images that remain from her work at Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Narrated” from interview transcripts by an actor approximating the late Vreeland’s husky, posh tones, the film allows for some criticism (her employees often trembled at the sight of her; her sons felt neglected; her grasp of historical accuracy while working at the museum was sometimes lacking) among the praise, which is lavish and delivered by A-listers like Anjelica Huston, who remembers “She had a taste for the extraordinary and the extreme,” and Manolo Blahnik, who squeals, “She had the vision!”

Glamour also factors into Peter Ford: A Little Prince, a 40-minute documentary directed by Alexander Roman, who’ll attend both Sun/30 screenings with film subject Peter Ford. “My whole life has been defined by being Glenn Ford’s son,” the sixtysomething Peter says. (For all the Jeremys and Zibbys out there, Glenn Ford was a Hollywood superstar in the 1950s.) Home movies and snapshots depicting a blissful domestic life contrast with Peter’s rambling interview, which spans the length of the film and reveals that all those happy scenes were staged for publicity purposes. Less a bio of Glenn, Peter, or Peter’s mother, dancer Eleanor Powell, A Little Prince is more a peek into the psyche of someone who’s spent his life in the shadow of a legend. “Being a movie star’s child is the hardest job in the world,” Peter says — hyperbole clearly wrought from a lifelong identity crisis.

And it wouldn’t be a week in San Francisco without a film festival (or two: check out Nicole Gluckstern’s take on the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival elsewhere in this issue). The folks at SF IndieFest — who already program their flagship fest, plus DocFest and genre showcase Another Hole in the Head — add another to the rolls with the Northern California Action/Sports Film Festival.

Aimed at athletes rather than typical film-fest types (evidence: movies screen at Sports Basement locations, where you can gear up for your next adventure on the way out the door), this three-day event contains the expected array of skiing, skateboarding, and surfing flicks — check out Manufacturing Stoke, which takes a look at how the surf industry has been transformed by a recent trend toward using environmentally-friendly materials to build boards — but also films focusing on more specialized pursuits like bouldering and slacklining.

Fans of Into Thin Air won’t want to miss 40 Days at Base Camp. The base camp in question is the bustling, ever-shifting village — filled with an international population of guides, climbers both soulful and breezy, Sherpas, volunteer medics, and assorted support staff — perched beneath Mount Everest. As personal triumphs mingle with day-to-day activities (and grimmer tasks, like clearing away long-dead bodies that have worked their way up through the ice), one observer accurately dubs the scene “a fascinating microcosm.” *

Liberal Arts and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel open Fri/28 in Bay Area theaters.

Peter Ford: A Little Prince screens Sun/30, 11am and 3pm, at Delancey Street, 600 Embarcadero, SF. For tickets ($8) and more information, visit www.alittleprince.net.

Northern California Action/Sports Film Festival runs Fri/28-Sun/30 with films screening simultaneously at Sports Basement locations in SF, Walnut Creek, and Sunnyvale, and Mission Cliffs, 2295 Harrison, SF. For tickets ($5; festival pass, $25) and schedule, visit www.sfindie.com.

Critical Mass at 20



I was in Zeitgeist on a Friday summer evening, at a planning meeting for the 20th anniversary of Critical Mass, when I first heard about the idea of kicking off the celebration week with a renegade bicycle ride over the Bay Bridge.

The people who first shook up the city’s commute two decades ago were going to take the idea of seizing space from cars a step further — and fulfill a longtime cyclist fantasy. They were going to take the bridge.

Chris Carlsson, the author/activist who helped found Critical Mass and has evangelized the concept around the world, reminded me of this super-secret ride last Wednesday when I finally got around to starting my reporting for this story. I was surprised that I’d forgotten about it — but yes, I told him, I still wanted to be there.


“This will galvanize our sense of the week,” Carlsson told me, explaining that Critical Mass has always been about “opening up a space for a conversation,” whether it’s about how urban space is used or who gets to make that decision.

“There is a real necessity to have a place for people to start thinking creatively. That’s Critical Mass’s enduring contribution, 20 years ago and today.”

What started in September 1992 with 48 cyclists pedaling together through San Francisco has become an enduring worldwide phenomenon. On the last Friday of every month, without leaders or direction, this group bike ride simply meanders through the streets, riders smiling and waving at motorists often perplexed at the temporary alteration of traffic laws by a crowd too big to stop or ignore. While views of Critical Mass may differ, the conversation about urban cycling that it started has had an undeniable impact on how people see cities and their power to shape them, placing it high on the list of San Francisco’s proudest cultural exports.

Last Friday evening — a week before thousands of people are expected to show up for the 20th anniversary ride Sept. 28 — I rode over to a meeting in the back of the art gallery at 518 Valencia, the welcome center for the week. The first international arrivals were there: four Europeans who flew to Mexico City, where most of them built tall bikes to cycle up to San Francisco for the anniversary ride, arriving last week after a four-month trek.

They were veterans of Critical Mass events all over Europe, which borrowed the concept from the Bay Area, and they were happy to be going back to its core.

Andrea Maccarone is a 31-year-old Italian who lives in Paris when he isn’t bike touring, which he does quite a bit, last year riding to consecutive Critical Mass events in Paris, Toulouse, Rome, and Madrid. “It began here and spread everywhere,” he said. “A lot of my lifestyle — I’ve been a bike messenger and worked in bike kitchens — is based on what started here.”

His French girlfriend, Marie Huijbregts, described a cultural happening that began when she was 8 years old. “It’s a political movement of cyclists to release the streets from the cars,” the 28-year-old told me. “It’s environmental, do-it-yourself, and a great way to meet people.”

She said she wanted to be here “because it’s supposed to be the biggest one and all the world was invited. It’s symbolic and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Carlsson has watched the event he helped popularize spread to hundreds of cities around the world, from the Biciletada in Sao Paulo to the Cyklojizda in Prague. He loves to see young people who have been energized by Critical Mass and the larger renegade cyclist movement that grew up around it — from DIY bicycle kitchens and art bikes to creative political actions that seize public spaces — “who dream of San Francisco with stars in their eyes.”

But he often feels like we’re the “hole in the donut” of this international urban cycling movement, unable to retain the same intention and energy that it had when Carlsson, Jim Swanson, and a group of their bike messenger and anarchist cyclist friends conceived of the idea (originally called Commute Clot) in the Market Street office of a zine called Processed World.

Carlsson still hears the stories from people whose lives were changed by Critical Mass. But it was only in the last year or so, as the 20th anniversary approached, that he started regularly riding Critical Mass again, with a new generation of participants often drawn by confrontational yahooism, riding well-trod routes and rejecting efforts to suggest destinations as counter to its leaderless ethos.

“It’s extremely predictable now and I’m sick of it,” Carlsson admitted to me, a less diplomatic version of what he wrote in the introduction to the newly released book of essays he edited, Shift Happens: Critical Mass at 20, writing that the “euphoria of cooperative, joyful reinhabitation of urban space is hard to sustain after a awhile.”

Yet that powerful central idea is still there, and it remains as relevant as ever in cities dominated by fast-moving cars. People working together to create “an organized coincidence” can still change the rules of the road, opening up all kinds of new possibilities.

“It is an unpredictable space and you never know what’s going to happen,” Carlsson told me. That’s true of the history of Critical Mass around the world — with its storied clashes with cops and motorists, and its glorious convergences and joyful infectiousness — and it was true of our quest to take the Bay Bridge the next day.




We weren’t just being daredevils. The idea of fighting for a freeway lane against six lanes of fast-moving cars, drivers distracted by that epic view of San Francisco, was conceived by Carlsson as a political statement protesting current plans to rebuild the Bay Bridge with a bike lane going only from Oakland to Treasure Island, leaving out that final 2.5-mile stretch into The City.

And for years, the Bay Bridge had been out there as a symbol of where bikes couldn’t go — and in dozens of demonstrations, riders have sought to make it up those ramps, particularly during the Bikes Not Bombs rides protesting the US invasion of Iraq, only to be blocked by police.

Carlsson handed out flyers headlined “A Bay Bridge for Everyone,” harking back to the early pre-Internet “xerocracy” that used flyers to promote Critical Mass ideas or suggest routes. A local historian, Carlsson included photos and descriptions of the Bay Bridge with three lanes of cars in each direction on the top deck, back when the lower deck had trains.

Why couldn’t we have one lane back for bikes? Well, it’s actually under consideration — sort of.

The idea of creating a bicycle/pedestrian lane on the western span is the subject of an ongoing $1.6 million study by Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority, which are looking at attaching paths to the sides of the bridge. That would likely require replacing the decks on the bridge with a lighter new surface to compensate for the added weight, all at a cost of up to $1 billion.

Carlsson thinks that’s ridiculous overkill, and probably intended to scuttle the idea (or else put the blame on bicyclists for the cost of resurfacing the bridge). “For five grand, in three hours it could be done,” he said, arguing that all cyclists need is a lane, a protective barrier, perhaps a lowering of the speed limit — oh, and the political will to recognize that we have as much right to this roadway as motorists.

“It is a sad commentary on the nature of our government that the only way the state transit agency will take bicycling seriously as everyday transportation is when pressured by demonstrations and organized public demands,” Carlsson wrote on the flyer. “Why don’t they take the lead in opening space for cycling instead of doing everything to obstruct, deny, and prevent cycling?”

Even getting to Treasure Island for a bike ride isn’t easy for the car-free. Muni only allows two bikes at a time on its 108 bus, so Carlsson borrowed a van to shuttle almost 20 of us out there in multiple trips. Among the crew were the group that rode up from Mexico City, a Peruvian, and many regular local Critical Mass riders, including Bike Cavalry founder Paul Jordan and LisaRuth Elliott, a 10-year Critical Mass rider who helped edit Shift Happens and coordinate volunteers for the anniversary week, along with a couple of its very early adherents: Hugh D’Andrade and Glenn Bachmann.

“Nobody knew what we were doing,” Bachmann said of that first ride. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. But displacing cars left us this intense euphoria.

Elliott said she was drawn to Critical Mass shortly after she got into urban cycling, attracted by the sense of community that had developed around her transportation choice. She was later inspired to visit Paris and Marseille and other cities that adopted Critical Mass rides.

“They have taken charge and are leading their movements to better bicyclable cities. It’s an adaptable idea,” she told me as we prepared to load our bikes on the van bound for Treasure Island.

Once we were out there, we gathered for a picnic on the beach in Cooper Cove, where we got some sobering news from David Wedding Dress, who talked us through the ride and was going to be trailing our crew in his Mercedes as a safety measure.

“Prepare to be in jail until Monday morning,” he told us. There were also the high winds and dangerous gaps to contend with, offering a bleak prognosis.

A veteran radical activist and bicyclist, Dress has ridden the bridge before and been arrested most times, and he didn’t share Carlsson’s view that we were most likely to get away with it. When Carlsson arrived, he tried to shore up our spirits, saying we’d probably be okay if we maintained the element of surprise.

“We have a right to do this and make that point,” Carlsson said.

Elliott, who was already a wobbler going in, decided not to ride, but 16 of us decided to do it anyway, feeling nervous but excited. When a CHP patrol pulled over a car near our spot and it turned into an hour-long arrest and towing ordeal, which we were forced to wait out, we had plenty of time to think about what we were doing.

As D’Andrade told me as we waited to ride up to the bridge entrance, “What feels to me like the early days of Critical Mass is how scary this is.”



In the beginning, the Critical Mass activists say their battle for space was a safety issue infused with a political message, delivered with a smile derived from the joyous new discovery that riding with friends made it much easier. San Francisco streets were designed for automobiles, and to a lesser extent public transit, with cycling relegated to the bike messengers and a few renegades seen by most as simply refusing to grow up.

Even the nascent San Francisco Bicycle Coalition of that era — which grew in numbers and power on a similar trajectory as Critical Mass, despite its policy of maintaining a defensible distance from that outlaw event — was initially dominated by the philosophy that urban cyclists should ride quickly with car traffic and didn’t need separate lanes.

“That’s what I like to remind people is how scary bicycling was in San Francisco in the early ’90s,” D’Andrade said.

I first encountered Critical Mass in 2001 when I was the news editor for the Sacramento News & Review, and Berkeley resident Jason Meggs brought the movement into automobile-centric Sacramento. My reporters and I covered those early rides, which were met with a harsh crackdown by police, who often cited every minor traffic violation.

But Meggs was committed to the concept, as he wrote in his Shift Happens! essay entitled, “The Johnny Appleseed of Critical Mass,” a role he has played over the last 19 years. “Critical Mass made me a video activist and filmmaker; it sent me to jail and then to law school, and again to graduate school for healthy cities. It provided us the space to build a vibrant bicycle culture, and to feel free and alive in cities that otherwise felt hostile, caustic, and alien,” he wrote.

Meggs calculates that he’s been arrested more than 20 times and received more than 100 traffic tickets during Critical Mass events, beginning with the Berkeley Critical Mass that he started in March of 1993, in part to protest plans to widen I-80.

“Those early rides were legendary — moment to moment ecstatic joy and street theater,” he remembered. “The combination of bike activists and freeway fighters with anarcho-environmentalists on wheels was a combination that couldn’t be beat. Like a newscaster once said of Critical Mass, back then we were drunk with power.”

Yet in almost city where it’s sprouted, Critical Mass has had to battle through crackdowns by police, which are often met with greater determination by the cycling community. San Francisco fought through a showdown with Mayor Willie Brown in 1997, when his threats to shut Critical Mass down turned out thousands of cyclists for the next ride.

In 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle sensationalized a conflict between a motorist and Critical Mass, beginning a media campaign that led Mayor Gavin Newsom to order a heavy police presence on subsequent rides — a show of force, but one without any apparent plan or directive — again increasing number of cyclists.

Each time, San Francisco city officials were forced to accept the inevitability of Critical Mass, opting to avoid the route of the harsh, sustained, and costly crackdowns employed in New York City, whose police and city officials essentially went to war with Critical Mass in 2004 and have all-but destroyed it. Portland has also had a tumultuous relationship with its Critical Mass, with police there essentially shutting it down.

Yet Carlsson noted in his Shift Happens essay that the bicycle activism that formed along with those rides still prevailed: “Both cities — not coincidentally I think — have implemented extensive and intensive street-level redesigns to accommodate the enormous increase in daily cycling that followed the rapid growth and ultimate repression of their Critical Mass rides.”

San Francisco has seen an even greater explosion in the number of cyclists on the roadways, so many that spontaneous “mini-Masses” of cyclists form up during the daily commutes on Market Street and elsewhere. But despite the near-universal City Hall support for cycling here, and the SFBC’s status as one of the city’s largest grassroots political advocacy organizations, Carlsson said San Francisco’s cyclists still lack the infrastructure and policies needed to safely get around the city.

That’s one reason why the challenge of Critical Mass is still relevant, he said, and one reason why we were determined to ride our bikes into San Francisco on the Bay Bridge.



The cops left a little before 6pm, so we massed up and headed for the Bay Bridge, pedaling single-file up a long hill. Soon, the long western span of the bridge came into view, stretching to the downtown destination that we all hoped to reach without incident or arrest, as we passed a sign reading “Pedestrians and Bicycles Prohibited.”

As we crested the hill and dropped down toward the freeway entrance, our pathway seemed clear, with the only real variable being coordinating with Dress in the Mercedes trail car, but Carlsson was on the phone with him and we all assumed that we were about to ride our bikes onto the Bay Bridge.

We were in a fairly tight pack, Maccarone smiling atop the tall bike that had traveled so far to this point, as we rounded the swooping right turn to the point where even cars make a dangerously quick entrance onto the bridge from a complete stop, merging into loud and dense traffic moving at freeway speeds.

We stopped, looked back for Dress, and he wasn’t there. A minute crept by, then another, as cars drove cautiously past us to get onto the freeway, their drivers giving us the same quizzical, confused looks that we’d seen on Critical Mass so many times. Another minute passed, then another, as Carlsson lit one of the road flares that we planned to use as a secondary safety measure to the Mercedes.

Then, a CHP patrol car rounded the bend, the officer sternly telling us over his PA system, “Don’t even think you’re getting on this bridge with those bikes.”

So we turned around and began to head back when Dress finally arrived in his Mercedes, presenting a moment of truth. Did we proceed anyway, even though we had been warned and knew the officer had probably radioed in our presence, taking away the element of surprise and increasing our chances of arrest?

There was dissension in ranks and a clear division among those urging opposite courses of action, but Carlsson and others continued to ride away after talking the Dress, who proceeded onto the freeway. Later, Carlsson said he was still game to go at that moment, but tried to be responsive to the collective: “I was not comfortable imposing going on the bridge on everyone.”

D’Andrade advocated for going anyway, but most felt it was too risky at that point, siding with Carlsson’s argument that is wasn’t about getting arrested: “I like to do something and get away.”

And so it was decided that we would choose a strategic retreat, some pledging to take the bridge some other day, hopefully with greater numbers. Besides, we all had a big week ahead of us, starting the next day with the first official event of Critical Mass’s anniversary week: the Art Bike/Freak Bike Ride and BBQ.

We gathered the next afternoon on the waterfront under sunny blue skies, our aborted bike crew increased in size 10-fold, joined by underground DIY bike crews from San Francisco’s own Cyclecide to the Black Label crews from Minneapolis, Oakland, and Los Angeles, infusing the ride with a countercultural edge.

Urban bike culture is now vast and varied — from the eco-warriors and urban thinkers to wage slaves and renegade tinkerers — and they’ve all found a regular home in Critical Mass. “Twenty years on, people are kinda nostalgic about it, even if they don’t ride in it or think it’s a good idea,” an activist name rRez told me during that beautiful Sunday ride, the one we were able to take because we weren’t in jail.

Carlsson told me on the ride that he was at peace with our failed mission of the day before, a sign that being radical isn’t the same thing as being reckless. “That was a good strategic retreat moment. It’s very adult,” he said. “It was a good experience for all of us, and nothing bad happened and nobody is in jail.”

In a way, that’s the essence of Critical Mass. It isn’t pure anarchy, and it’s not about fighting with the cops or the motorists, something Carlsson sees as straying from its original intent. It’s a joyful gathering, an exercise in the power of people who are willing to challenge the status quo and take well-considered risks to create a society of their choosing.

“In a modern capitalist society, the roads are the lifeblood,” Carlsson said, “and if you block them, you’re a threat.”




Wednesday 26

East Bay Ride, meet at West Oakland BART station, 11:45am. Ride along the east shore of the bay to the Rosie the Riveter monument in Richmond.

NOIZ Ride, McKinley statue on the Panhandle at Baker Street, noon. Bring food, drink, and layers for a several hour, non-strenuous ride featuring three live bands.

Shift Happens book release party and discussion, Main SF Library, Latino-Hispanic Room, 100 Larkin St, 5:45 p.m. Discuss Critical Mass and this new book with its writers.

Book release concert, Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF, $15, 8pm. Featuring Seaweed Sway, Aaron Glass and Friends, and Kelly McFarling


Thursday 27

Mosquito Abatement Ride, Meeting place TBA near 16th & Valencia, SF, 11am. One-hour rides with a cycling city contractor.

NYC Critical Mass discussion and video, 518 Valencia, SF, 2pm. Hosted by Times Up New York City.

Bike Polo, Jose Coronado Playground, 21st and Shotwell, SF, 7-9pm. Play with locals and visitors, share a beer.

Bikes, Bands, and Brew: CM’s 20th Bday party, CELLspace, 2050 Bryant, 7pm, $10-20. Bike cultural offerings and music by Grass Widow, Apogee Sound Club, The Rabbles, and Future Twin.


Friday 28

20th Anniversary Critical Mass Ride, Justin “Pee Wee” Herman Plaza, Market and Embarcadero, SF, 6pm

Vintage Bicycle Film Festival, Oddball Films, 275 Capp, SF, $10. Saturday 29 International Critical Mass Symposium, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, Rooms 303/304, 5-8pm. Event will include an open mic and CM20 Anniversary Week photo contest at 7pm Sunday 30 Farewell Bike Ride and Party, 1pm departure from 518 Valencia, 2pm at Ocean Beach. Bring food and drink to share with your new friends and listen to bands on Rock the Bike’s pedal-powered stage. For more events and details, visit www.sfcriticalmass.org

Celebrate Mass


Check out this week’s cover story on the 20th anniversary of Critical Mass, then proceed directly to the festivities below


East Bay Ride, meet at West Oakland BART station, 11:45am. Ride along the east shore of the bay to the Rosie the Riveter monument in Richmond.

NOIZ Ride, McKinley statue on the Panhandle at Baker Street, noon. Bring food, drink, and layers for a several hour, non-strenuous ride featuring three live bands.

Shift Happens book release party and discussion, Main SF Library, Latino-Hispanic Room, 100 Larkin St, 5:45 p.m. Discuss Critical Mass and this new book with its writers.

Book release concert, Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF, $15, 8pm. Featuring Seaweed Sway, Aaron Glass and Friends, and Kelly McFarling


Mosquito Abatement Ride, Meeting place TBA near 16th & Valencia, SF. One-hour rides with a cycling city contractor.

NYC Critical Mass discussion and video, 518 Valencia, SF, 2pm. Hosted by Times Up New York City.

Bike Polo, Jose Coronado Playground, 21st and Shotwell, SF, 7-9pm. Play with locals and visitors, share a beer.

Bikes, Bands, and Brew: CM’s 20th Bday party, CELLspace, 2050 Bryant, 7pm, $10-20. Bike cultural offerings and music by Grass Widow, Apogee Sound Club, The Rabbles, and Future Twin.


20th Anniversary Critical Mass Ride, Justin “Pee Wee” Herman Plaza, Market and Embarcadero, SF, 6pm

Vintage Bicycle Film Festival, Oddball Films, 275 Capp, SF, $10.


International Critical Mass Symposium, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, Rooms 303/304, 5-8pm. Event will include an open mic and CM20 Anniversary Week photo contest at 7pm


Farewell Bike Ride and Party, 1pm departure from 518 Valencia, 2pm at Ocean Beach. Bring food and drink to share with your new friends and listen to bands on Rock the Bike’s pedal-powered stage.


For more events and details, visit www.sfcriticalmass.org

Haunted house



MUSIC After a decade of tinkering on the fringes of lo-fi experimentalism, Ariel Pink has become synonymous with a distinctive production sensibility: submerging effortless, sun-drenched pop hooks in a queasy, viscous haze, like an impulsive, basement-dwelling Phil Spector for the 21st century.

From Worn Copy (2005) to Before Today (2010), Pink’s universe seemed to hinge on this murky aesthetic, making this year’s Mature Themes all the more confounding. Despite its clean, competent studio polish, Pink’s newest effort exudes all the vague perversity and outsider spirit of his most radically fuzzed-out 8-track explorations.

Next Monday, Pink will appear at Bimbo’s 365 Club in support of Mature Themes, armed with the Haunted Graffiti project, and the tightest lineup of his backing band to date.

Whereas many bedroom producers have lost their way in the transition to studio recording, (largely due to a forfeiture of creative control), Pink’s success in this new environment is attributable to a rigidly independent approach.

“We basically lived at the studio that we built ourselves… over the span of six, seven months,” Pink explains over the phone, from his home in LA. “It gave us the opportunity to… let ourselves get loose and comfortable. That’s the whole goal, I think… you don’t want to be keeping track of time. You’re not going to take certain risks.”

Surely enough, Mature Themes abounds with risky maneuvers, from the Ween-esque genre-emulsifying “Is This the Best Spot?,” to the lo-meets-hi-fi clash of “Schnitzel Boogie.”

“A song like ‘Schnitzel Boogie’ is not gonna come [about] when you’re punching clock at the studio,” Pink observes.

He would know, given his first foray into studio territory, which resulted in Before Today: the crossover hit that catapulted the Haunted Graffiti project to Pitchfork-level acclaim in 2010. It’s the most immediately engaging, song-oriented effort of Pink’s career thus far. However, he contends that even “Round and Round”‘s pop brilliance was the product of a torturous, creativity-stifling recording process.

“It gets expensive, very quickly, if you’re in somebody else’s studio, and there’s somebody else engineering you,” Pink says. “Really, it’s better if we just don’t involve anybody else.”

Bedroom producers are, by nature, control freaks: commanding the direction of their own creative universe with little regard for outside perspective. Therein lies Mature Themes‘ success; although the album finds Pink backed by a band for just the second time, it resembles the unfiltered product of a singular mind, much like his formative recordings.

Pink’s eccentricity, and his ever-expanding influence among laptop auteurs, can be credited to a self-described “aesthetic of all-inclusiveness.” Instead of cherry-picking artistic influences, or even preferences, his objective is to jam the entire art-world indiscriminately through his musical meat-grinder.

“I always did what I did with the notion of dispelling any kind of genre formality,” Pink says. “I wanted to make experimental music, [but] in the form of pop music, like some sort of joke.”

Truly postmodern, this philosophy hinges on isolating and extracting musical idioms, and reassembling those ideas in a new context. Given Hype Williams’ omnivorous sampling techniques, Neon Indian’s confused retro-futurism, and the scathing consumer-culture indictments of James Ferraro (who will share the bill on Monday), Pink’s all-inclusive approach has manifested itself far and wide, generating not just a trend, but a zeitgeist.

Revealingly, when pressed to explain the thread between “chillwave” and “hypnagogic pop,” Neon Indian and Ferraro, Pink declares, “that thread is really my contribution, I feel.”

From pop artistry to vanguard tinkering, Pink refracts a heaping pile of musical possibilities through Mature Themes‘ warped lens, making a strong case for himself as the unifying figure of an otherwise fragmented musical landscape.


With Dam-Funk, Bodyguard (James Ferraro) Mon/1, 8pm, $20 Bimbo’s 365 Club 1025 Columbus, SF (415) 474-0365 www.bimbos365club.com