Volume 47 [2012–13]

Bedroom jams

1

Are you in the mood for love? Do you need a bubble bath first? Are you down with hot (but safe) stranger sex? Follow our handy flow chart, learn which tracks will best set your love-making mood.

 

Volume 47 Number 52 Flip-through Edition

0

She has had it

0

marke@sfbg.com

STAGE Oh, the drama. Three weeks before Dolores Claiborne — the 1992 Stephen King thriller transformed by composer Tobias Picker and librettist JD McClatchy into a two-and-a-half-hour opera — was set to premiere, mezzo-soprano Dolora Zadjic bowed out, citing knee problems. She was singing Dolores. Whoever could learn this exhausting part (Dolores is onstage almost every scene, singing up a storm) in 21 days?

By divine luck, gifted and game soprano Patricia Racette was here to perform in another SF Opera production, Arrigo Boito’s 1867 Mefistofele. (Don’t miss it: the 30-minute witches’ sabbath/orgy scene featuring an entire writhing, nude-suited chorus is glorious.) Racette burst unannounced into the packed press conference addressing her acceptance of the part, a tornado of scarves, with a loud, “Speak of the devil!” She had sung Picker’s music before, in previous operas An American Tragedy and Emmeline. She was quick to pick things up. And how different was a mezzo-soprano from a soprano, anyway?

As it turns out, quite a bit. Right off the bat, I will say the Sept. 18 premiere of the opera was energetic, disturbing, visually stunning, and, at several moments, ethereally beautiful. All your favorite lines are there (“I get to say ‘bitch’ and ‘shit’!” Racette exclaimed with glee at the presser), although the cuss words don’t make it to the supertitles, so delicate are we. The fantastic cast members sang for their lives, and conductor George Manahan led the orchestra nimbly through the thicket of Picker’s score, which held several delightful surprises, including eerie whistles and shivery cinematic effects. The staging was brilliant — using video projections and multiple-tier trickery, a series of sets within sets opened up, playing off the story’s flashback-filled timeline.

And Racette nails it, although she’s more comfortable in high dudgeon as vengeful fury than as stone-faced martyr. As King wrote it, this tragedy of a feisty Maine woman burdened with misfortune and accident is an affecting character study set in an atmosphere of uncanny dread and dark humor. Yet Picker and McClatchy have decided to focus on plot, rather than psychological complexity. There really isn’t too much plot here, though, so we get a lot of repetition. And what plot there is sometimes twists and shocks, but it’s not particularly expansive or enlightening. Feminist attitudes are struck, but everyone’s a feminist when it comes to a woman being beaten by an icky husband (macho, well-voiced Wayne Tiggs) who’s sexually molesting her sweet daughter (the wonderful Susannah Biller, who kills it in an unhinged aria). That molestation is strikingly staged, Dolores’ revenge is exacted during an eclipse, and there’s a bit of mystery about some money and another death, which is tidily cleared up.

But the real action’s in the vertiginous moods of the tale, and Picker’s score can’t seem to find them. Picker’s part of a generation of American composers that traffics unselfconsciously in cinematic horror, high camp, tacky Americana, and other contemporary modes, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily good at all of them. I think Dolores’ imperious, ill-fated employer, Vera Donovan (Elizabeth Futral, giving her all, singing “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to”) is meant to be part Norma Desmond, part Nancy Reagan, but she ends up more kitsch than camp — mostly because she’s near-shrieking all the time.

Here’s the only real problem with a production that may have been colored by shaky nerves. Often there are three sopranos — Vera, Dolores, and the daughter, Selena — tearing up the stage. That could be awesome (who doesn’t love three anguished sopranos in an eclipse) but the vocal lines are so cartoonish at times that they seem more parody of opera-singing than a natural extension of the drama. Every exclamation is punctuated by high note after high note, like a DJ dropping all the builds and going directly for the breakdowns. Dolores Claiborne is juicy and in many ways a triumph. And it will surely draw new audiences to the opera (opening night was bursting with gothic youth). They’ll probably love it. But I’m afraid that their stereotypes about what opera sounds like might be confirmed.

DOLORES CLAIBORNE runs through Oct. 4. www.sfopera.com

 

Porn again

1

marke@sfbg.com

SEX + MUSIC What does Tumblr sound like? Is there an xTube channel on Pandora? Does Grindr have autoplay? (Perish the thought.) Already the gay porn soundtrack seems a relic of some ancient age, when people used pterodactyls to press “play” on the VCR, or put their real ages in their AOL chatroom handles. But even just a few years ago, during the increasingly desperate gasps of the dominant adult film studios, porn soundtracks were an essential part of big, expensive productions, and local background composers like JD Slater and Minor9 were taking experimental liberties.

Now, we’re about to be treated to the Holy Grail of lost porn soundtracks, with the upcoming release of School Daze, a double-album collecting the skin flick work of SF electronic pioneer Patrick Cowley for Fox Studio, composed from 1973-1981. Cowley, who died of AIDS in 1982, is famous for his production work with disco diva Sylvester and epic Hi-NRG tracks like “Menergy” and “Megatron Man.” School Daze contains some pretty trippy stuff — in the buffed, blonde, hairless heyday of early ’80s gay porn like Muscle Up, you’d hardly expect to come across such expressionistic (yet still playful) compositions with titles like “Seven Sacred Pools,” “Zygote,” “Pagan Rhythms,” and “Tides of Man.”

School Daze is being released on HNYTRX, local DJ crew Honey Soundsystem’s label, on Oct. 19 — Cowley’s 63rd birthday — with a celebration at Honey’s weekly Sunday party, Oct. 20. (Details at www.megatronman.com). I talked to Honey members Josh Cheon and Jacob Sperber about the unearthed gems.

SF Bay Guardian OK, rumors have been flying about these tracks for years. How did you get you get your hands on them?

Josh Cheon In 2007, Honey Soundsystem was blessed to meet the former owner of Megatone Records [Cowley’s label], John Hedges. He was moving to Palm Springs and invited us over to his basement to collect over 2000 records from his collection. Among the archives we noticed three moldy boxes of quarter inch reel-to-reel tapes. Some of the tapes had unreleased music by Patrick Cowley. Inspired, we contacted Patrick’s friends and family to discover as much information as possible.

A few of Patrick’s friends asked if anyone had discovered the gay porn soundtracks Patrick had composed. Digging deeper, we unearthed John Coletti, the owner of famed vintage gay porn company Fox Studio in Los Angeles. John had heard about Patrick’s music from the legendary Sylvester and proposed he write music for his films. That was in 1981. Patrick jumped on this offer and sent reels of his college compositions from the ’70s to John in LA. We were able to locate Coletti in Los Angeles though an old address on a porn tape. In May 2013, I flew to LA to pick up the tapes from the Fox Studio storage garage and brought them back to San Francisco.

SFBG Why do you think Patrick went so moody and trippy with these compositions?

JC I think the ambience reflects the gay bathhouse scene of San Francisco during the late ’70s. Patrick frequented the bookstores in the Castro and the bathhouses of SOMA, a few blocks from his recording studio. He had the perfect setting to compose songs there. He also smoked a lot of pot and most of these songs could be stoner jams.

Jacob Sperber It can’t be denied that these compositions have that tripped-out sound that most San Franciscan musicians end up folding into their music. The jam bands that made this place famous and the microclimates of this city breed a noodle-y and melty sound in the musicians that live here. In conversations with people who worked with Patrick, we learned how much the session musicians and jazz artists in the Bay Area influenced the sounds of 12-inch disco here. Undoubtedly Patrick worked with a lot of these session musicians and took inspiration from them. There is a foggy melancholy to this city and it comes through in the music, with perhaps a premonition of the storm to come in the ’80s, when HIV first hit.

SFBG Have you had a chance to watch the actual movies these tracks went with? Are the soundtracks effective as porn music?

JC Yes, I own both movies that use Patrick’s music. This compilation features soundtrack music from two Fox Studio films Muscle Up and School Daze. The movies were originally shot on 16mm with no microphone so they were silent. Rather than overdub fake sex moans, John Coletti decided to use Cowley’s music as soundtracks. Coletti used a variable speed oscillator to adjust the pitch and speed of Patrick’s songs in-sync with the film scene. So yes, a lot of thought went into fitting each composition with the film scene, and it works wonderfully.

SFBG After spending so much time with this, what do you think about the sounds of porn today?

JS Honestly we don’t know many people who watch traditionally produced porn these days. Most of our friends either don’t want to pay for it, aren’t turned on by it, or are making their own at home. The new soundtrack to porn is sex. The raw grit of an iPhone microphone recording or even the silence of your laptop on mute, so that your roomies don’t know you’re jerking off, is way more of a turn-on these days.

Porn, punked?

17

culture@sfbg.com

SEX + MUSIC Girls put out for bands. Thrashing drums and driving bass have been known to leave a babe or two with autographed cleavage, missing panties, and a backstage pass. Sacramento band Get Shot!, the self-proclaimed “sleaziest punk band in the world,” decided to reap more than the usual rewards from its crew of exhibitionist groupies, starting a porn site — GetShotGirls.com, of course — that combines its members’ greatest loves: naked girls and rock and roll.

The idea isn’t exactly radical at its core. Sites like SuicideGirls, God’s Girls, and BurningAngel all encourage masturbation to the same platter of “alt” women: tattoos, piercings, short bangs, and thick eyeliner, usually with few diverse options in terms of shape, size, and ethnicity.

But GetShotGirls is a great PR move — visit the site and you get a few girls, plus a lot of Get Shot! And bandleader J.P. Hunter argues GetShotGirls has a fresh perspective: women sans airbrushing paired with hard-to-discover NorCal punk music. He swears there’s more to it than horny male rockers capitalizing off willing fans and their own egos. But the proof is in the porn. We called him up to pry for more details.

SFBG: You say rock is too serious today. Is there as much stimulation during your live shows as your site offers?

J.P. Hunter: Yeah, there’s stimulation all right. I cum on the crowd during the last song.

SFBG: Wait, what?

JPH: We’re not a gimmick band, but during our last song I do end up wearing a four-and-a-half foot long penis that shoots whipped cream. People start licking it off each other and everything. Feels great. Feels really great. I especially like to aim for couples.

SFBG: Sounds like you’ve got a great thing going onstage. Why move to Web porn?

JPH: I’m capitalizing on having fun. Porn is a fun, interesting industry. I’ve been doing a lot of research on what’s out there and over the years corporate backing has gone up while quality has gone down. But we’re all natural, with little-to-no editing. We’re committed to keeping girls in natural settings and giving them full creative control. Then we feature unsigned bands in our movies. Soon we’ll have a radio station. We’ve already got music from about 50 bands ready to go. We’re not just promoting ourselves, we want to promote all unsigned artists. We want to be just as rock and roll-oriented as we are porn-oriented.

SFBG: So who are the girls on the site?

JPH: Some are friends. We’ve also put up ads. Started getting girls for band photo shoots and met girls coming to shows. We start a friendship with them, they dance for us, and then we take their pictures. Some do it for their own personal portfolios. Some like the female empowerment, power over men through seduction. And they like us. We’re nice and fun to hang out with.

SFBG: Let’s be real: Are you doing this to get laid?

JPH: Actually no. I’ve been in a relationship for a couple years now. My girlfriend, Jilian Haze, does makeup and hair for all the models.

SFBG: You have a new female bass player, Laura Lush. What does she think?

JPH: Laura is a sexually open person. She contacted GetShotGirls about modeling for the site. Shortly after, she saw that we were looking for a bass and ended up being a great fit. She’s a tough chick — she broke both her legs at a Death Angel concert. And she’s bisexual.

SFBG: What about including some naked boys for the ladies and gay boys who like punk? And how about adding more diversity? So far all your ladies are pretty similar…and white.

JPH: We just did a photo shoot with a Mexican girl. And there’s an Asian girl on the site. But yeah, we definitely want to expand on that. I don’t think we’ll go the gay route because we don’t have to, marketwise. And we’re a heterosexual band. But we do want to add more girl-on-girl action. Straight women like lesbian porn.

SFBG: Once you get more cash flow, what’s your next step for the site?

JPH: A movie with a band getting fucked after their show, behind stage, by groupies.

 

Hit the lights

1

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM The 3D IMAX concert film may be lurching toward cliché status, but at least Metallica: Through the Never has more bite to it than, say, this summer’s One Direction: This is Us.

Director Nimród Antal (2010’s Predators) weaves live footage of the Bay Area thrash veterans ripping through hits (“Enter Sandman,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” etc.) into a narrative (kinda) about one of the band’s roadies (The Place Beyond the Pines‘ Dane DeHaan). Sent on an errand, the hoodie-wearing hesher finds himself caught in a nightmarish landscape of violence, fire, hanging bodies, masked horsemen, crumbling buildings — more or less, the dude’s trapped in a heavy metal video, and not one blessed with particularly original imagery. Yet despite Never‘s deliberately baffling storyline, it’s also often very literal: a fight scene set to “Battery,” for example.

Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett — other members: singer-guitarist James Hetfield, bassist Robert Trujillo, and drummer Lars Ulrich — is the band’s resident movie fanatic; for proof, see Too Much Horror Business, the 2012 book chronicling his memorabilia collection. (Through the Never offers a larger-than-life chance to ogle his Boris Karloff guitar.) Though it contains unsettling elements, Hammett admits that Through the Never isn’t really a horror film.

“We needed to find a concept that fit all four of us as people, as well as Metallica as a band,” he says, holding forth a day after the movie’s Metreon premiere. “There were a lot of different concepts thrown at us. Most of them were science fiction — and while I’m a big sci-fi fan, I just don’t see Metallica making a sci-fi movie. But Nimród’s concept was loose enough that we were able put our own ideas and personalities, and the band personality, into it. Sure, it would’ve been great to have a scary, 60-foot troll tromping around with a Metallica shirt on. It would have been fun for me. But I don’t know if it would have been as much fun for the other guys!”

About that “loose concept” — though Hammett says the decision not to give DeHaan’s character any dialogue was so “anyone could understand [the film] anywhere in the world,” he admits that some viewers have been confused by the story.

However, “the great thing about this movie is that it’s open to interpretation,” he says. “It’s being told in a metaphoric fashion, which means that depending on who you are, and where you are in your life, you’re going to have a different interpretation of this movie. And that’s the beauty of it — it’s like Metallica lyrics. It acts almost as a mirror to what your own life perspective is. That is something that we wholeheartedly chase in all our creative endeavors — we want something that is not, ‘This is a square and that’s it.’ That’s boring! We want something like, ‘Is this a rectangle in a different dimension that has capabilities that we don’t even know about?’ It’s much more of an interesting approach, and I think it was the right one to take with this movie.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Metallica has been the focus of a feature film — prior to Through the Never came searing, deeply personal 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

“Two different animals altogether,” Hammett says of the films. “Monster was a documentary about four people and their real struggles against adversity. This is more along the lines of pure entertainment, being able to put forth a concert scenario and tell a story at the same time. That was really unique and cool for us.” *

 

METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.

The great divide

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Whatever the wisdom of Obama’s strategy for Syria, public response has made it clear that most Americans no longer want the US to meddle in foreign affairs — at least not if it costs money and might embroil our troops in another endless, winless imbroglio. This is a little flummoxing, since not so long ago we gave another president a free pass to invade countries for far more dubious reasons, and are still paying the price for those rubber stamps in many, many ways a decade later.

So why the turnabout? It’s pretty simple. Not only is 9/11 an increasingly distant memory rather than a recent open wound inviting retaliatory action (no matter how reckless or misguided), but the economic downturn has shifted Americans’ attitude toward (an even bigger than usual case of) “The hell with other people’s problems, what about me?” For good or ill, there is no injustice we feel more keenly, or care about more deeply, than that we suffer ourselves.

Yet the explanations proffered as to what happened to make us so enraged (and broke) are utterly contradictory. We’re still the richest country on Earth — richer than ever, in fact — so why do so few citizens feel that fact even remotely relates to their everyday reality?

Jacob Kornbluth’s Inequality for All is the latest and certainly not the last documentary to explore why the American Dream is increasingly out of touch with everyday reality, and how the definition of “middle class” somehow morphed from “comfortable” to “struggling, endangered, and hanging by a thread.” This lively overview has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the director’s friend, collaborator, and principal interviewee Robert Reich — the former Clinton-era secretary of labor, prolific author, political pundit, and UC Berkeley professor of Public Policy. Whether he’s holding forth on TV, going one-on-one with Kornbluth’s camera, talking to disgruntled working class laborers, or engaging students in his Wealth and Poverty class, Inequality is basically a resourcefully illustrated Reich lecture — as the press notes put it, “an Inconvenient Truth for the economy.”

Fortunately, the diminutive Reich is a natural comedian (he’s spent a life honing self-deprecatory height jokes) as well as a superbly cogent communicator, turning yet another summary of how the system has fucked almost everybody (excluding the one percent) into the one you might most want to recommend to the bewildered folks back home. He’s sugar on the pill, making it easier to swallow so much horrible news.

Reich takes us through the gamut of horrible figures: how the US now has the most unequal distribution of wealth among all developed nations (by far); how as adjusted for inflation the average male makes less than he did in 1978 while the average “person at the top” makes two-and-a-half times more (over $1 million annually as opposed to just under $400,000); how general productivity, profits, and costs of living have continued to rise since then, while 99-percenter wages flatlined; how eerily the stats on 1928 and 2007 mirror each other, in terms of peak wealth concentration and unregulated financial-sector speculation. (We all know what happened in 1929 and 2008: ka-boom, or rather, ka-bust.)

Contradicting the “trickle-down theory,” Reich stresses that the very, very wealthy can’t spend enough to uphold their share of a US whose well-being is now 70 percent dependent on consumer purchases — it behooves everyone for that money to be spread around more evenly, because “What makes an economy stable is a strong middle class.” (He also makes the point that contrary to even common liberal wisdom, globalization hasn’t significantly reduced the number of American jobs — only the amount that they pay.)

There are man-and-woman-on-the-street interviews — not just with those on the losing end of this equation, but with one company-owning Richie Rich who freely admits current tax rates, loopholes, and so on mean people like him pull far less than their fair weight society, job creators or no. (On the other hand there’s Mitt Romney, who shifts the silver spoon to the side of his mouth long enough to decry the “envy” and “class warfare” behind all income-inequality debate.)

We also hear from the usual chorus of reactionary hysterics, like the Fox yobbo who swears Reich surely must “secretly worship Karl Marx” to hold the opinions he does. Doesn’t he realize that all government is bad, and all things free market inherently good? Never mind that the “Great Prosperity” — America’s economic golden age from 1947 to 1977 — was precisely the time that unions were strongest, the middle-class flourished, the rich were taxed up the wazoo (and seldom complained about it, at least publicly), and the government kept close watch on Wall Street and corporate hijinks. That so many have come to accept an economic logic blatantly opposing everything that made that period prosperous for almost everyone testifies to decades of brilliant conservative propaganda.

Now we live in an era where duly employed (even doubly employed) people see their homes foreclosed upon, and higher education is a crippling financial burden many can afford only at the price of possibly lifelong debt. Yet we’re told that minimum wage laws are for crybabies and upward mobility remains a matter of, y’know, really wanting it.

Having seen all this coming a long way off (he admits by the end of his post under old college buddy Clinton, “I became a true pain in the ass” to anyone who’d listen), Reich prefers not to say “I told you so” but “Here’s what you can do” — despite Citizens United and other developments that have drastically reduced citizens’ influence on public policy. Depressing as much of what he says is, he’s such a mensch that hearing him say it here is still pretty enjoyable. *

 

INEQUALITY FOR ALL opens Fri/27 in San Francisco.

Bright future

6

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE It’s still early in the new season, yet two programs this past weekend offered worthwhile perspectives on new dance. “New” in this case doesn’t necessarily indicate right out of the oven, but the pieces were novel to these eyes, and more importantly, they looked fresh and left behind a pleasant aftertaste.

Every year Dance Mission Theater schedules two first-come, first-serve choreographer showcases, one in the fall, the other in the spring. Rarely have these evenings been a complete washout. Sure, you get the occasional novice who yet has to find a way to navigate the space (this time, that spot belonged to Erica Pinigis’ A Small and Rapid Sorrow). In the only other single-dancer piece, Todd Eckert’s hermetic Sole Soul felt like it was channeling someone being imprisoned without any possibility of escape.

The evening started on a ghostly note and ended with a paean to percussive feet. Megan Finlay’s Blood will have Blood looked suspiciously as if it were inspired by Macbeth, in the way that the man of the house was repeatedly attacked by something that nobody else could see. The piece, though a little thin, had a good sense for building suspense, starting on a comedic note but quickly becoming sinister.

Una Fusion de Percusiones’ snappy and friendly competition between Vanessa Sanchez and Arturo Flores delighted with its sense of freedom and discipline. While Flores mainly stuck to Mexican-flavored heel work, Sanchez spiced hers up with jazz and tap.

San Mateo’s Monsoon Dance Company brought a group of pre-teen girls in an exceedingly simple but enthusiastically performed Deva Ganesha, a Bollywood-style homage to the pot-bellied Indian god. Natasha Carlitz and Erika Tingey, all in white, wove their trajectories through pathways delineated by white balloons. If there was a subtext, as Subtext implied, it escaped me.

A trio of Afro-Caribbean dancers — Adonis Damian, Jose Carlos Alarcon, and Delvis Savigne Frinon — excelled in Reggaeton Fusion’s mostly unison choreography that benefited from these fine dancers’ skill, energy, and collaboration. They returned later in Ramón Ramos Alayo’s Untitled, which might have been a preview excerpt of a new piece Alayo will premiere in November. Set very closely to a lushly romantic orchestra score, the work featured dancers who kept the choreography aloft.

 

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

You can’t blame choreographer Gregory Dawson for calling his newly minted hour-long septet fabbrica materasso d’argento. It is a lot more euphonious, and mysterious, than “silver mattress factory,” which refers to the metallically painted walls of Zaccho Dance Theater’s home, a former Serta manufacturing facility.

Though badly in need of better seating facilities, the space is becoming popular as a performance venue. But it has never looked better than in Dawson’s intelligent and spacious choreography, bathed in Patrick Toebe’s bluish lighting design that highlighted the performers one minute before swallowing them up the next.

Dawson, a former member of Alonzo King Lines Ballet, decamps for Italy — he is also a mosaic artist — for extended periods of time. For a choreographer, fabbrica is a major achievement, mesmerizing, puzzling yet ultimately convincing. Of course, he carries within him much of what he learned during his 18-year tenure with King. But he made the fractured lines, the fierce attacks, and the collage approach his own.

There are moments when you began to wonder where what looked like independent units were going, besides showcasing excellent dancers at their best. But in the end the pieces came together. It felt like a veil had been yanked away and, all of a sudden, you clearly saw what had been a journey for these six dancers after all. The exception was Jeffrey Van Sciver, who after an astoundingly virtuosic yet silken solo, performed in a diaphanous white skirt that beautifully set off his dark skin, simply disappeared. Why? Was his presence a guiding force no longer needed? Dramaturgically, this seemed weak.

Dawson brilliantly balanced the vigorous, individualized center-space dancing with a haunting pictorial quality, in which the performers devolved into black silhouettes against the silver coated black wall. Moving friezes, they melted away.

Alton San Giovanni’s tempestuous score excellently supported the choreography. The dancers: Jordan Drew, Oliver Shock, Ilaria Guerra, Christopher DeVita, Jessica Wagner, Isaiah Bindel, and, of course, Van Sciver — who next month is starting his first season with Lines Ballet — performed at the top of their impressive abilities. I want to see them again. *

Tim’s San Francisco

11

steve@sfbg.com

Longtime Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond, who left the paper in June, is launching a new media project, continuing more than 30 years of work as one of San Francisco’s premier progressive voices by starting an online publication under a new nonprofit organization.

The San Francisco Progressive Media Center promises to deliver original news, arts, and cultural reporting on a daily basis, differentiating itself from local blogs that serve mostly to aggregate stories written by other media outlets and offer commentary on that reporting.

“Democracy can’t survive without reporters and I want to have reporters out there covering the news everyday. San Francisco has always needed a liberal daily newspaper,” Redmond told us, predicting that online reporting outlets representing various perspectives will eventually rise to compete with the limited local coverage offered by the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner.

“I will focus on all the things I care about in San Francisco,” Redmond told us, listing land use issues, housing costs, and media criticism as some examples of his interests.

Redmond has remained remarkably upbeat and positive since his clash with the San Francisco Print Media Co. — whose purchase of the Guardian he engineered last year to save the financially troubled, locally owned newspaper — ended his long run with the Guardian (see “On Guard,” June 19).

“I’m just moving on and doing my own thing. I’m excited about my new project and I’m raising a lot of money for it,” Redmond said. “I’m getting a tremendous amount of community support. I hope to have 50-60 grand on hand by the end of the month.”

To help reach that goal, Redmond and his supporters will throw a fundraiser on Sept. 26 at the El Rio. Despite being a stalwart of the left, Redmond said he’s getting support from across the ideological spectrum. “I have spent 30 years building a reputation in town as someone who doesn’t take cheap shots and I’m fair,” was how Redmond explained his broad support.

Although he’s still awaiting IRS approval of his nonprofit status, Redmond has already assembled a board of notable progressive luminaries to help him, including Eric Weaver, Laura Fraser, Calvin Welch, Alicia Garza, Gen Fujioka, Gabriel Haaland, and Giuliana Milanese.

“I wanted a board that reflects the diversity of San Francisco’s left,” Redmond said, noting that board explicitly has no editorial control.

Haaland said that Redmond has long been an important progressive voice in San Francisco and he’s happy to see that voice continue, particularly under the new nonprofit model that he’s creating.

“Having an independent, progressive media is more important than ever, and being a nonprofit takes it to another level of independence,” Haaland told us.

Welch said the new publication is arriving just in time to help expose important issues that will affect the future of San Francisco.

“I think we’re at a critical point in this city’s history,” Welch told us, citing the growing public unease with intensified waterfront development and other economic and sociopolitical trends. “The timing is impeccable and people would be interested to read online what Tim and others’ takes are on what’s happening in the city.”

San Francisco Progressive Media Center will be the latest effort to expand the city’s media landscape amid the downsizing of the once-dominant Chronicle and Examiner (see “Media experiments,” 5/25/10). Those ventures have included the San Francisco Public Press, SF Appeal, and the Bay Citizen, which had a high-profile launch in 2009 followed by being folded into the Center for Investigative Reporting last year (see “Compressing the press,” 2/22/12).

Redmond is finalizing details of his new project and has yet to announce the name for his new publication, which he plan to launch next month. [UPDATE: At the Sept. 26 event, Redmond announced that his new publication will be called 48 Hills: The Secrets of San Francisco.” There are 47 named hills in San Francisco – and as those of us who have spent their lives fighting for social and economic justice know, there’s always one more hill to climb.“]

In the meantime, he’s been blogging at Tim’s San Francisco (timssanfrancisco.blogspot.com) and preparing to teach an investigative reporting class at City College of San Francisco. On the new site, Redmond plans to feature some video and other multimedia content, but he said “this is not a techie venture, this is a content-driven venture.” And while seeking to showcase a variety of voices, Redmond will set the tone for the publication, telling us, “I’m interested in working with anyone in this city, but I’m the editor.”

Redmond said he still supports the Guardian, even if he has concerns about its parent company’s growing list of media holdings, which also includes the San Francisco Examiner, SF Weekly, and a large share of the Bay Area Reporter. Redmond said that media consolidation works for the community only when there is a diversity of other voices.

“I’m glad Todd [Vogt, CEO of San Francisco Print Media Co.] bought the Guardian and kept it going, and I’m glad the Guardian is still alive,” Redmond said. “I’ve been working for someone else my whole life…and it’s time for me to move on and do something new.”

Press Up! San Francisco Progressive Media Center fundraiser and launch party. Fiery speeches, refreshments, music. Sept. 26, 6-9pm, El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. Donations of $25, $50, $100, or $250 can be made at the door or at tinyurl.com/SFPMCcontribute.

Immigration detainer limits watered down

1

Sup. John Avalos’ Due Process for All ordinance, legislation barring San Francisco law enforcement agencies from honoring detainer requests issued by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the federal Secure Communities (S-Comm) program, faced obstacles at the Sept. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting.

But an amended version returned to the board on Sept. 24, where it was expected to be approved (after Guardian press time for this issue, so check out the SFBG.com Politics blog to see what happened).

The legislation initially had enough support for a veto-proof supermajority, but opposition has surfaced to prevent the legislation from winning approval as written, most notably from Police Chief Greg Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee, who threatened to veto the legislation.

At issue was whether to amend the legislation by including “carve-outs” — exceptions requiring law enforcement to honor ICE requests in cases where offenders are suspected of serious violent crimes, child molestation or human trafficking. Sup. Jane Kim offered amendments giving the Sheriff’s Department discretion in such cases, which she characterized as “thoughtful and limited,” but which were opposed by Avalos and Sup. David Campos.

In San Francisco, ICE detainer requests issued under S-Comm have resulted in at least 784 deportations since 2010. Avalos’ legislation seeks to extend due process to all San Franciscans by making it illegal for local law enforcement to comply with such requests.

–Reed Nelson

SFSU police get Tasers

1

Just because the San Francisco Police Department can’t get Tasers doesn’t mean all the cops in San Francisco are missing out.

The San Francisco State University Police Department will soon arm its officers with conducted electrical weapons, known by the brand name Taser, following a statewide push from the California State University Chancellor’s Office to arm all of its campus police statewide with the weapons.

The university police started training with their new weapons Sept. 12, according to university spokesperson Ellen Griffin, but haven’t armed its 28 officers with them just yet. The department still has to set rules for their use and the cabinet of SF State President Leslie Wong will soon meet to advise him on Taser policy. Details on what shape that policy will take are still hazy, the university told us.

“What I can say is that Dr. Wong is deeply committed to protecting the safety and welfare of our campus community,” said Shawn Whalen, a member of the president’s cabinet.

For the past decade the SFPD has tried at various times to have their officers armed with Tasers but have met loud opposition and are without them to this day. One of the most vocal opponents of the weapons, Police Commissioner Angela Chan, is concerned that the Tasers can be fatal.

“Tasers can cause serious injury or death and have cost law enforcement that use them millions of dollars in lawsuits,” she told the Guardian. About 500 people having been killed by Tasers in the US since 2001 according to a report Amnesty International released last year.

Of those killed, Amnesty International said, 90 percent of the victims were unarmed. Despite the statistics, Tasers are in widespread use around the country and in the California State University system.

Mike Uhlenkamp, spokesperson for the CSU chancellor’s office, said that 17 campus police forces were armed with Tasers, and now all 23 will have them, including SF State.

The arguments Taser advocates make for having the weapons is that they can be used in lieu of a gun. Steve Tuttle, spokesperson for Taser, said that was the reason 17,000 law enforcement agencies use Tasers worldwide.

“I think it’s a loud minority that’s gotten their way in San Francisco,” Tuttle said. The idea that SFPD is the lone holdout had him saying that the “vocal minority” got their way.

But Chan said that’s a myth. Tasers are often used as a compliance weapon when an individual is passively resisting arrest or not responding to an officer’s commands, she said. “Unfortunately, this can lead to overuse and unnecessary use, especially on young people and people of color, as we’ve seen around the country, including on college campuses.”

She has reason to be concerned about the safety of the campus community. When activist squatters were arrested in May by the SF State’s university police, allegations of excessive force streamed in.

The activists printed a zine documenting their experience. Melissa Nahlen, 25, reportedly wound up with “cuts near her eyes, a bruised and swollen lip, a swollen left hand … and cannot bend her neck downward due to being stomped on by the police.”

A campus police officer also sustained injuries, according to news reports.

Tasers are used to avoid just that kind of situation, Training Lieutenant Randall Gregson of the BART Police Department told us. Though policies differ from department to department, Gregson ran the Guardian through BART’s tactics in using Tasers to provide a glimpse in the things SFSU will need to consider.

BART police carry their Tasers on the “support” side of the belt, meaning the non-dominant side, he said. They also have a choice of carrying it in their duty belt on a thigh holster. “It’s an officer’s individual preference,” he said.

That preference is important, and sometimes could mean the difference between life and death.

When BART officer Johannes Mehserle reached for his Taser but mistakenly drew his gun and shot and killed Oscar Grant back in 2009, issues about where to holster weapons came to the fore.

“How could a trained officer mistakenly pull and fire his gun if, as he claims, he intended to deploy his Taser?” Mehserle’s lawyer wrote in a rhetorical question in a court brief, arguing that BART’s Taser policy was a factor in the shooting.

That’s the exact kind of incident President Wong’s policy will address for his officers, and the lives of the students of San Francisco State University may depend on it

LAFCo should launch CleanPowerSF

14

OPINION Last month, the Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) — largely at the mayor’s behest — refused to launch CleanPowerSF, a program which is absolutely crucial to leading the country and the world to reverse the climate crisis (see “Power struggle,” Sept. 18).

The Board of Supervisors must now use its state-granted authority to activate San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to launch CleanPowerSF, regardless of SFPUC.

CleanPowerSF plans currently waiting to be implemented would create 1,500 jobs a year for the next 10 years, and install over 400 megawatts of local clean electricity projects. By 2024, 50 percent of our electricity would be generated by such local clean installations.

The newest proposed rates for CleanPowerSF are now fully competitive with PG&E, and the SFPUC’s staff (before the mayor intervened) was making unprecedented progress on the local clean energy installation plans. So at the SFPUC’s Aug. 13 hearing on CleanPowerSF rate-setting, community and environmental advocates stood unanimously to urge that the program be launched.

For the mayor and SFPUC of what is supposed to be one of the most environmental cities on Earth to completely ignore those community advocates, and throw a monkey wrench into the launching of CleanPowerSF, is simply beyond the pale.

Thankfully, in its wisdom, when the 2002 California Legislature passed the Community Choice law that made CleanPowerSF possible, it put city councils and county boards legally in charge of such programs (not mayors).

So is not up to the Mayor’s Office whether or not CleanPowerSF is launched. It is instead the job of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And in a resounding 9-2 vote on Sept. 17, the Board of Supervisors raked the SFPUC (and by extension, the mayor) over the coals for not initiating CleanPowerSF. The vote was in favor of Sup. London Breed’s resolution demanding that the SFPUC obey the will of the board and launch CleanPowerSF immediately.

That’s a great first step, but the board now needs to go beyond resolutions and take decisive action through LAFCo, its most powerful tool for moving CleanPowerSF. LAFCo is independent of city government, is funded and tasked to oversee new enterprise programs like CleanPowerSF, and four of its five members are elected supervisors.

 

This independent supermajority can check mayoral overreach, and the LAFCo’s current board commissioners are John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, and London Breed, all advocates of CleanPowerSF.

LAFCo was specifically given the budget and authority to act on CleanPowerSF when SFPUC fails to do so, and has already done this successfully in the past. When CleanPowerSF was first created in 2004, SFPUC refused to draft an implementation plan. In response, LAFCo stepped in with its own implementation plan and SFPUC, not wanting to lose influence, got back to work.

In 2011, SFPUC tried to sidetrack CleanPowerSF into only purchasing (but not building) clean power, refusing to fund planning work to establish a local installation and green jobs program. LAFCO stepped in to fund that work itself, and again SFPUC came back to the fold and hired Community Choice experts Local Power to do the work.

Now, yet again, SFPUC is refusing to do its job. Six months ago, it abruptly halted work on the local buildout and green jobs plan, and last month SFPUC put the whole program on hold by not setting rates.

LAFCo must now use its authority and leverage to both remove the rate-setting road block, and get the CleanPowerSF local buildout planning back on track. Eric Brooks is the sustainability chair of the San Francisco Green Party.

Blow your mind

6

rebecca@sfbg.com

SEX Examples of Americans’ obsession with sex abound. It seemed the mainstream media would never get over Miley Cyrus’ ostentatious twerking at the Video Music Awards. Politician Anthony Weiner managed to live down his sexting scandal, only to mar his comeback with still more sexting. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” broke records for its searing popularity, but its rape-y message inspired a feminist parody, substituting the lyrics “you’re a good girl” with “you’re a douchebag.”

One researcher in the field of human sexuality estimates that 95 percent of all the sexual activity humans have — in every society — is for pleasure, not for reproduction. Despite the fact that almost everyone is apparently having sex for the sake of sex, we still live in a country where certain public schools stick to abstinence-only sex education with zero information about birth control. Meanwhile, right-wing opposition to women’s reproductive rights threatens to send laws governing access to abortion and contraceptives hurtling back to the Dark Ages.

Given the ongoing cultural clash, it’s fitting that San Francisco — famous for its sexual institutions like the Folsom Street Fair, Kink.com, Good Vibrations, and the Lusty Lady (may she rest in peace) — is poised to lead the way in offering one of the only Ph.D. programs in human sexuality nationwide.

San Francisco already boasts numerous pioneers in sexual education and related studies. City College of San Francisco, for example, began offering one of the first gay literature courses in the country in 1972, leading to the 1989 establishment of the first Gay and Lesbian Studies Department nationwide. And the National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University was created to promote sexual literacy, with the goal of replacing misinformation about sexuality and dispelling negative attitudes with evidence-based research on sexual health, education and rights.

The newest Ph.D. program will be housed at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS, www.ciis.edu), and is scheduled to get under way in 2014. Gilbert Herdt, an anthropologist who founded SF State’s National Sexuality Resource Center and has been working in the field of human sexuality for some 35 years, is the program director.

Formerly a professor at Stanford and the University of Chicago, Herdt had long dreamed of creating a Ph.D. program with a multidisciplinary approach to human sexuality, an effort he believes would have been stymied a decade ago by political resistance.

“A lot of people are shocked when they realize there is only one Ph.D. program in the United States on human sexuality,” Herdt notes, referencing a program offered at Philadelphia’s Widener University focused on sex education. The CIIS program will be the first accredited doctoral program in human sexuality in the western United States.

It took decades for women’s studies and gender studies to be considered Ph.D.-worthy academic disciplines, Herdt points out. But when it comes to this endeavor, “there’s one big difference: Human sexuality remains a taboo in the United States.”

Consider this. In the Netherlands, Germany and France, sex education in schools can begin as early as kindergarten. Here in the US, states such as Florida still lack comprehensive programs offering in-depth information on sexually transmitted disease or contraception. It might not come as much of a surprise that Western Europe has lower rates of unwanted teen pregnancy, HIV and STDs.

Sex ed was eroded as part of a political backlash. “In the ’70s, there began to be a series of moral campaigns — some were directed against abortion … some were directed against homosexuality,” Herdt notes. “When Reagan was elected, it ushered in a whole new social campaign — and for the first time, opposition to sex education and opposition to abortion was joined, and served as a bridge to connect different groups who had previously never been working together: groups that were against gun control, groups that were against abortion rights, and groups that were against homosexuality.”

All of which has led to the current state of affairs, and as things stand, “I consider the United States one of the most backward countries when it comes to comprehensive sexual education and positive values regarding sexual behavior,” Herdt says. But he’s hoping to play a role in changing that.

The Ph.D. program at CIIS seeks to train a new generation of experts in human sexuality with a pair of concentrations. The first centers on clinical practice for contemporary practitioners, marriage and family therapists or psychiatrists. The current training requirement for clinicians on human sexuality is a measly eight hours, which “just shows the disregard that society has for sexual pleasure, and sexual wellbeing and relationship formation, and so on,” in Herdt’s view.

The second concentration centers on sexual policy leadership. Asked to identify some of the most pressing policy issues of concern to sexologists, the program director said existing gaps in comprehensive sex education is a top priority, and predicted transgender rights would intensify as a major issue. “I also feel that the Republican assault on women’s bodies, women’s contraceptive and reproductive rights — this is a huge and very dangerous area.”

Herdt became involved with CIIS through a conference called Expanding the Circle, which merges the LGBT community with individuals working in higher education from throughout the country. Prior to that, he ran the National Sexuality Resource Center at SF State. Asked why he’d looked to CIIS rather than a major university to house the program, Herdt responded, “these large premier institutions, such as Stanford and Berkeley — you know, they have many, many extremely important programs … But they do have a more traditional emphasis when it comes to disciplines.”

At CIIS, on the other hand, he found openness to the kind of academic program he envisioned. Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, columnist and author of numerous books on sex, will be a professor there along with Sean Cahill, director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute and co-author of LGBT Youth in America’s Schools.

Promoting sexual literacy is just as important of a program goal as influencing policy, Herdt said. “Americans really continue to have very sex-negative attitudes when it comes to the body, the integration of sexuality with all the elements of their lives. So many people feel that sex is fragmented in their lives, and they don’t have a holistic sense of wellbeing.”

While advancements in neuroscience, psychology and other forms of research have all served to further our understanding of sexuality, Herdt bristles at the idea that it is all hard-wired.

“I’m very much aware that Americans continue to have a view that when it comes to the important things in sexuality, they’re all hard-wired in the brain,” he says. “I do not agree with that view. I believe that the most important things in human sexuality are the things we learn in society. The values we learn, the ethics, the way we can form relationships. The way we learn to love. Or not to love, to hate. These are such tremendously important issues in human sexuality and human development.” He added, “Let’s put it in its proper way: It’s interactive.”

Battle of the Bulb

33

news@sfbg.com

On a sunny September afternoon, Osha Neumann slowly walks onto the dirt path leading to the Albany Bulb, using a walking stick for balance against the pebbles. With a white beard and lanky frame, the 74-year-old artist and attorney is no stranger to this landfill turned art space turned homeless encampment that juts out of the East Bay shoreline near the Berkeley Marina and the Golden Gate Fields racetrack.

Neumann has been coming for more than a decade, with his son-in-law Jason DeAntonis to build driftwood sculptures, and as an attorney fighting for the rights of the homeless who live on the 31-acre plot. He’s witnessed its evolution from rubble-filled no man’s land to one of the last undeveloped stretches of open shoreline in the Bay Area.

“The Bulb has been a refuge, a solace, a place of inspiration,” he said. “It’s a place where I can get off the grid and live in this wonderful, successful, fruitful anarchy. I came to really love this place.”

But the Albany Bulb is now facing another transition point in its evolution, one that pits nature lovers and city officials against those who have call this strange stretch of shoreline “home.”

>>Check out a slideshow of the Albany Bulb here

 

 

TRASH TO TREASURE

The Albany Bulb is a radical space of massive debris sculptures and structures, huge concrete slabs of graffiti, tents and tree houses, and artifacts from wreckage that, incorporated into the natural landscape of acacia and eucalyptus trees, is a unique and beloved slice of land symbolizing the free spirit of the region.

It’s where sparrows and other birds come to nest, and where dog walkers take dirt paths to the water’s edge. It’s also a space that major organizations such as the East Bay Regional Parks District, the Sierra Club, Save the Bay, the state park system, and the city of Albany have all fought for decades to preserve, with the idea that humans should not be allowed to live there. And in October, due to the enforcement of a no-camping policy approved on May 6 by the Albany City Council, the people living at the Albany Bulb will have to tear down their makeshift homes and say goodbye permanently.

“This has been in the works for 40 years,” said Robert Cheasty, a former Albany mayor and the current president of Citizens for East Bay Parks.

The Bulb became a part of the Eastshore State Park, a stretch of land with a trail along the East Bay shoreline that connects Oakland to Richmond, in the mid 1980s. And with the proclamation of a park came the people. Cheasty has become one of the most outspoken critics of people occupying the Bulb.

“It cannot be allowed to be privatized by any group or person,” he said.

It’s an argument that’s been made many times over the years, but now it seems to be on the verge of coming true.

The first people living in the Bulb came to take up residence after the eviction of the homeless campers from People’s Park in Berkeley in the mid ’90s. Before that, it was used as a landfill for BART and highway construction materials.

Nature inevitably took over, and much of the debris has been moved to certain areas within the park. Some of the first residents were immortalized in the documentary film Bum’s Paradise, where they lived in harmony with four artists known as Sniff, whose paintings and sculptures came to beautify the unconventional living space. In 1999, the first major eviction took place.

“Then, as now, the city provided them no place to go,” Neumann said. “People just scattered with no place to go, into the surrounding jurisdictions primarily.”

Neumann said he worked unsuccessfully with the people living at the Bulb in fighting the 1999 eviction, telling the Guardian, “People were unorganized and it felt hopeless and despairing.”

Neumann said little has changed. The Bulb remained the same, a landfill, albeit without a regular crew of humans living on it. In 2002 the planning of the Eastshore State Park moved ahead, and Neumann, not content to let the Bulb become homogenized, formed the group Let It Be, advocating to keep the “wildness” of the space. It didn’t go over well, and plans moved forward to clear the plateau of its coyote bush, in an area directly north of the racetrack, and fill it in with dirt.

Norman Laforce, who chairs the Sierra Club’s East Bay Shoreline Park Task Force and East Bay Public Lands Committee, has been involved in the planning since its creation. He says hundreds of people worked to make the park possible. He believes that because the city of Albany did not engage in strict enforcement of illegally camping after 1999, it was ripe to be occupied again. And it was.

The city of Albany handed over the deed of the park to the state park system, and the cap and seal order from the Regional Water Board — which stated that the area was clear of any hazardous waste leaching into the bay — was lifted in 2005. Over time, the Bulb’s current 64 residents sought refuge there, about the same number of people who were forced to leave in 1999.

Of those, at least 36 residents don’t have any regular income, while those who do rely mostly on government programs such as Supplemental Security Income. Laforce and Neumann may not agree on much, but both understand the impending enforcement of the no-camping policy to be a new chapter in the Bulb’s story.

 

 

WHOSE PARK?

As Neumann makes his way to one of the resident campsites, he stops to take in the view. It’s an unrivaled panoramic portrait of the San Francisco skyline against the glittering bay. He shakes his head when I ask him about the people who oppose campers at the Bulb.

“I think there is a small group of people who are committed to kicking people out of here,” he said.

“Our position has been that the Albany Bulb is a part of the McLaughlin East Shore State Park and is not to be privatized,” Laforce said of the Sierra Club’s view. “We fully support the removal of the illegal campers that are currently out there.”

The Sierra Club and the Citizens for East Bay Parks cite safety concerns as a reason the campers need to leave.

“I was attacked by somebody’s pit bull,” Cheasty said. “It’s happening regularly out there. It’s the antithesis of open space and public land.”

The city of Albany, hesitant at first to ruffle feathers, now supports the removal of campers. “The City Council is working to achieve the Strategic Plan Goals, adopted in 2012,” said Albany City Clerk Nicole Almaguer in an email.” The goals include maximizing park and open space for all members of the community.”

Almaguer noted that the Albany City Council retained the services of Berkeley Food and Housing Project with a $60,000 contract to conduct outreach and engagement services to the city’s homeless, and voted unanimously to extend this agreement to help the campers at the Bulb.

But she made it clear that once October arrives, the people will need to leave. They will receive verbal and written warnings if they don’t. (A camping violation generally amounts to $161 in fines, according to one of the Bulb campers.) One of the major problems, both Laforce and Cheasty say, is that some of the campers don’t want BFHP’s or the city’s help.

They just want to stay on the Bulb.

Neumann introduces me to three-year resident Katherine Cody, or KC. With pink hair and a wide smile, she seems younger than her 60 years. She babies her shih tzu Eva and makes beaded jewelry. Before living in a tent at the Bulb, she lived in her van. One of the perks to living at the Bulb, she explained, is seeing dolphins swimming in the bay, and watching the 50 to 100 hummingbirds nest in the tree above her tent every year.

KC’s past isn’t so idyllic. She said she was stabbed 20 years ago and the traumatic experience of yelling for help to no avail made her grateful to find a place like the Bulb.

“I am terminally ill,” she said on a recent afternoon, “So I need a lot of help sometimes, and without my having to ask or go begging door to door, my neighbors show up.”

After losing a lot of blood from the stabbing, Cody contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Despite its rough exterior, KC and other residents argue that their neighborhood at the Bulb is not any more conducive to drug addiction or infighting than any other neighborhood or town.

“They are not capable of doing this job,” KC said of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project’s efforts. “It’s ridiculous to expect in that time span to be able to get the job done. It’s just long enough to make it look like they were being kind and not throw us out immediately, but it’s not long enough to really do anything.”

For Neumann, who has never been homeless himself, watching his friends and people he has known for years struggle to find a place to live makes him want to resist the city’s enforcement.

“They are criminalizing the status of being homeless in Albany,” Neumann said outside of KC’s tent. “Albany doesn’t have anything. It doesn’t have a shelter, it doesn’t have transitional housing, it doesn’t have available subsided housing, doesn’t have any services. Nothing. Zero.”

Neumann and some of the Bulb campers claim that police from surrounding jurisdictions told many homeless people, forced to leave their encampments in other areas, to go to the Bulb. Albany Police deny the charge, with a spokesperson telling us, “the Albany Police Department did not/does not have a policy of instructing homeless people to relocate to the Bulb.”

Nonetheless, Neumann says, “For a long while, this was Albany’s homeless shelter.”

Amber Lynn Whitson, 32, said that she will celebrate her seventh year living at the Bulb on Oct. 31, if she is able to stay. But she is one of the few inhabitants, she said, who is actually preparing to leave.

“Me and my boyfriend have gotten rid of almost everything we own,” she said between cigarettes. Whitson said she came to stay at the Bulb after moving around a lot.

“It’s so nice here,” she laughed. “When you have been kicked around from place to place and told you don’t belong here, you don’t belong there, it’s so refreshing to be told by the local authorities you belong there.”

Whitson said she isn’t sure where she will go after the no-camping policy is enforced. She is sure though, that the fight to resist will continue.

“This won’t be over in October,” she said. “Even if we are out, it won’t be over in October.”

 

LIGHTS OUT

After we speak with some of the residents, Neumann and I part ways. Before he leaves, he encourages me to take a look around, meet people, and enjoy the art.

Along with the people residing at the Bulb, the art has become a major sticking point surrounding what the Bulb is and what it could be. Cheasty, while not wanting the people to stay, personally doesn’t see the harm in keeping the art intact. In contrast, Laforce believes that part of making the Bulb into a “usable” park requires the removal of the art.

But many people want it to stay. An activist group known as Friends of the Bulb organized a concert with Santa Cruz band Blackbird RAUM at the Bulb for Sept. 28, hoping to draw a large crowd to resist the city’s efforts to remove the campers, and discuss the future of the Bulb.

“We hope it will bring people that live on the Bulb and those that use it to enjoy it together, because who knows how much longer it’s going to be there,” said Doug Gilbert, one of the event’s organizers.

Gilbert said the group started out of the necessity to answer the question of who will control the space: “There are two fundamentally different world views. Those that use the space are the ones in control of it, and those who are truly privatizing it, by deciding who can go there, if the dogs have to be leashed, if the art will stay.”

In the coming month, Laforce said the Sierra Club will continue to support the city’s efforts to relocate the people living there.

“The Albany Bulb is not going to be the homeless solution to the East Bay,” he said. “It’s not just some wasteland.”

Neumann, for his own part, remains skeptical about what will actually take place in October, but he’s certain that, from now on, things at the Bulb will be different. “They do not want to have a repeat of what happened in ’99,” he said before he left for the day. “And that will be the end of this incredible experiment.”

Mexican summer

1

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC There was no reason for me to be awake at 7:31am, since I’d flown into Mexico City the day before. Losing two hours of sleep from the time change left me dazed. Exactly 10 minutes later my hotel room started to shake. I sat up, alarmed, and assessed the commotion I heard in the hallway before I realized I was experiencing a 6.2 earthquake from the fifth floor. I clicked on the TV and saw structured evacuations of buildings that could have easily been near me. I wondered if I should be doing the same, but the shaking stopped. It was like my welcoming jolt — “Get ready, you’re with us now. You do what we do.”

I’d trekked to this monster of a city before, but only spent three days last time. I loved it on a touristy level and knew I wanted more, so I planned a return this summer. Coincidentally, SF’s Alcoholocaust Presents (which books punk shows) had Los Headaches and Los Vincent Black Shadows slated for some Bay Area appearances shortly before my trip, as part of both Mexico City bands’ West Coast summer tour. Intrigued, I spent two consecutive nights at the Hemlock Tavern checking out the bands, which were bouncing off the walls with energy (even when the musicians weren’t playing). Bob Log III and the Okmoniks headlined to a hot and crowded club the second night.

I bought Los Headaches’ CD, Never Ending Hunger, the night before from Twist!, the bassist [Ed. note: All last names are omitted to protect the band members from immigration]. At the time I didn’t realize he’s really not a member of the band (I figured they had interchangeable members since he is in Los Vincent Black Shadows) and that US Immigration, some weed in a guitar case, and those pesky work visas had marred the tour plans of two Headaches; granting them deportations and a five-year ban on US entry. Alcoholocaust would put me in touch with Twist! He’d be my point of contact for a week of strangers showing me kindness, sharing music, and letting me in on parts of the city I may have not otherwise seen.

 

“IT’S LIKE JEEEZ

“Ever had Mezcal?” Twist! asked. I’d been off the sauce for nine months, but before I arrived an itinerary email suggested plans to infiltrate an invite-only VICE party (where the Growlers played), record shopping (my request), seeing some venues where local bands play or a house show (ultimately my goal), and the problematic hint of grabbing some beers.

We ate a salmon and caper pizza and I was introduced to chimichurri at a restaurant in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. His wife and 5-month-old joined, along with Carlos (one of the deported Headaches). Everyone but me had a beer. “Yes,” I answered. “What about pulque?” he retorted. The concoction of fermented agave sap evaded me on my previous trip. In the spirit of trying new things and rather than be a slave to any rules about substance (yet cautious not to be enslaved by the bottle), I decided the next day to alleviate my anxiety and imbibed.

“It’s like Jeeez” Fosi said, joking about the drink’s suspect consistency in a thick accent. (They told me they don’t normally speak English, but since my Spanish is limited they made an exception). He’s the other deported Headache, a guitarist who faced tough questioning and an invasive search from immigration officers who threatened him with up to 20 years in jail if he didn’t adequately cooperate. One mango, one pistachio: down the hatch. Both were delicious and I had no regrets, body buzz and all.

Hell bent on finding an in to the VICE party, a barrage of texts and phone calls flew across the table. Pepe (Twist!’s brother and Los Headaches’ drummer) met us at the bar. I envisioned the lost home video mentioned of the two brothers taking turns throwing themselves into a drum set, honing their Nirvana impersonations as kids.

Their conversations lapsed into Spanish as another stressful development arose when a band showcase they organized at the last minute for Friday night was suddenly jeopardized by greed (the person who was going to lend the art space was now asking $300. It wasn’t clear to me if that meant pesos or US dollars). For a moment my stomach sank and I thought there might be a shakedown, but a house was secured. They’d throw a party, free of charge.

Despite the free hors d’oeuvres and Dos Equis we stumbled upon at a Volcom party for a new shoe line, it probably paled compared to any exclusive party. I passed on the Growlers (a few of the band members snuck in) since Friday’s showcase would be the main event.

 

“THIS IS ALL FOR YOU, MAN”

Nico called my name to join him for a walk to the liquor store. Bleached-blond with shades, there’s no way he’s not in a band. He plays guitar and sings (they all sing) and was the final Headache I met in Mexico City. He described the common response from girls when they ask what he does and he tells them he plays rock’n’roll: they’re not interested. I said freelance music writing doesn’t pay well either. “We are losers,” he joked.

They don’t often get paid to play, but the determination to simply do what they love with their lives seemed to be the core of their existence. The showcase came together in a series of sweaty, passionate, punk-rock performances. Grandma Boys, Suca Suca, and Los Reverse demonstrated spirited, supportive roles for the aforementioned bands.

“This is for you. This is all for you, man,” Twist! said, almost staring through me with intensity. Party mode had climaxed, but the profundity of what transpired didn’t sink in until later. The day before I left, Fosi asked, “Did you get what you came for?” I told him “And then some.” Humbled, lucid, and feeling alive, I left fulfilled. My reward is that I remember everything.

 

Volume 47 Number 51 Flip-through Edition

0

The observer

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Filmmaker Jem Cohen is known for his artful documentaries, including 2003 Fugazi portrait Instrument. His latest, Museum Hours, has many doc-like qualities, but it’s the closest he’s come to a narrative. Set in Vienna, it follows Canadian Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara) as she arrives to care for a dying cousin. Adrift in an unfamiliar city, she meets Johann (Bobby Sommer), a guard at the stately Kunsthistorisches Museum. He offers to show her around and serve as translator, and a genuine friendship — based on a shared affection for art — is formed.

Like the artist Bruegel, whose paintings so fascinate his characters, Cohen focuses on the details of everyday life; his camera lingers as carefully on street scenes as it does on the museum’s priceless artifacts. I caught up with Cohen — a Persistence of Vision Award winner at this year’s SF International Film Festival — just before Museum Hours‘ theatrical release.

SF Bay Guardian Museum Hours shows some well-known landmarks, but it’s more focused on Vienna as a living, breathing city.

Jem Cohen I’m always fascinated by the city beneath the city, and particularly the city that is not made for tourists. Vienna is known for [the Vienna State Opera], and glorious views — and all of that is fine. I don’t have anything against it. But there are back streets, neighborhoods with immigrants in them, and places where people who don’t have a lot of money go. All of that is something that I wanted to bring to the surface, but in a natural way, because [Anne] is stuck there, wandering, and she doesn’t have a lot of dough.

SFBG Working in the Bruegel room, Johann muses that he always notices something new each time he looks at the paintings. Do you feel like that about Vienna?

JC I feel that way about every city! I feel that way about street photography, too. When you wander, if you just open your eyes and ears, then you will receive gifts. Things will come around the corner that you don’t expect. That’s eternally the hidden motor of my work.

SFBG What drew you to Bruegel?

JC Standing in front of his paintings, I felt this uncanny kinship that had a lot to do with my work as a street photographer. In particular, it’s this feeling of being in the random particle generator of life, and not knowing exactly where to look. It’s a very particular thing to have events going on all over the frame and you’re not told, “This is the one important thing.” You have an openness which allows you to constantly shift what is foreground and what is background, and try to make something out of that. I feel that’s part of the street photography tradition, and it’s part of what Bruegel was sort of miraculously doing in the 16th century.

SFBG Museum Hours contains an extended scene of a museum docent delivering a lecture about Bruegel to a tour group. Why did you include that?

JC I wasn’t making Museum Hours for any market. But if I had been, that scene would have been the kiss of death. Everyone would have said, “You’re out of your mind. You can’t just drop a 10-minute lecture in the middle of a movie and expect people to be OK with that.”

But the scene with the docent allows me to introduce a lot of things that are important to me, in terms of how I feel about art. It also suggests that the main characters of your movie are not the only human interaction that everybody needs to be focused on. Something else could happen; the guard could turn the corner and hear a guest lecturer, and become immersed in that.

SFBG I couldn’t tell if she actually was a lecturer, or an actor playing one.

JC One of the things that I most hoped to do in the film was to have people unsure of what is documentary material and what is not, and unsure of who is acting and who is not, and unsure of whether the movie is a city portait or a narrative about these strangers who meet. Or whether it’s really about Pieter Bruegel the Elder, or about museums as a possible crossroads.

That slippery quality is one of the most valuable things to me about this film, as well as [my film] Chain (2004), which also involved non-actors and actors, and having it be essentially an open question.

SFBG Museum Hours has quite a different tone than Chain. It’s a lot friendlier, for lack of a better word.

JC Chain is, in some regards, a horror film about a kind of depersonalization and homogenization of the world that’s insidious and, in its way, quite brutal. Museum Hours is a film that has, at its core, a belief in art as something that goes from past to future, and actually continues as a viable human communication. It’s also about friendship and the kindness of strangers.

I don’t see those two projects as antithetical; they’re just different facets of the same world. I don’t feel, as a filmmaker or as a person, that everything goes either light or dark. But I’m glad that I don’t always have to make movies that are angry, because Chain is an angry film. It had to be.

SFBG How did you cast your lead actors?

JC I had seen Mary Margaret O’Hara as a musician almost 25 years ago. I was just so taken by her presence that I had in the back of my mind that someday I would love to work with her on a film.

When I met Bobby, he was working as a driver and a waiter. I used him in one earlier project just to read some German text, and I loved the way he sounded. I also liked the fact that he had a lot of odd life experience that he could bring to the role.

SFBG They’re both credited with writing some of the dialogue, too.

JC It’s kind of a half-scripted movie. Sometimes, it’s actually one of them speaking lines that I had written, with the other one being completely free to respond. Again, I tried to make it unclear what lines are scripted and what lines are not — so that the film feels more like life to me.

I wanted to make a down-to-earth movie. I thought it would be lethal to deal with, basically, art, life, and death, and do it in a pretentious way. People have their range of passions, which can include Rembrandt and AC/DC. That’s fine! That’s the way I live.

SFBG I’d love to see Museum Hours in a double feature with The Mill and the Cross (2011). What did you think of that film?

JC I didn’t see it! I felt like I couldn’t see somebody else’s Bruegel movie while I was making my own. I will seek it out and watch it now, because I heard it’s quite lovely. It’s really nice to me that that so many people have responded to Bruegel over the years. I think there’s something very “of the people” about him that also intrigues those of us who work in cinema. *

 

MUSEUM HOURS opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.