Volume 48 Number 33

Fast food workers strike in the Bay Area and worldwide

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Bay Area fast food workers who walked out and picketed their stores last year are set for a repeat performance in their battle against the house that Big Mac built, timed to debut right as the Guardian hits the streets. And this strike is also set to expand.

On May 15, fast food workers worldwide plan to rise up in protest of unfair labor practices and punitive actions by their bosses. Fast food workers in the Bay Area will be joining the strike. Labor sources tell us their numbers may double thanks to new workers joining the movement in Pleasanton, Livermore, and Oakland.

The new Oakland march is twofold: One will picket a McDonald’s on East 12th Street, and another a McDonald’s on 14th and Jackson.

“I haven’t had a raise in three years,” a McDonald’s worker who identified herself as Markeisha told us just after she went out on strike from an Oakland McDonald’s in December. And contrary to the common narrative of fast food workers being independent teenagers, Markeisha said she has two children, and she is their sole provider.

Another common misconception is that workers are merely fighting for higher wages. Although raises are among their needs, fast food workers also contend they are a vulnerable workforce. Wage theft, low salaries, slashed hours, and punitive measures for speaking out are among the grievances fast food workers allege against their bosses at chains including McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell.

“One thing we found when talking to fast food workers was wage theft issues were high,” Service Employees International Union Local 1021 Political Director Chris Daly told the Guardian. “When you’re making $8-11 an hour, a couple shifts can be the difference between paying the rent or not.”

Workers we talked to at the last strike alleged their jobs at McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken paid so low they had to also enroll in CalFresh (food stamps) to afford food. That sort of government subsidy for big business puts a strain on the taxpayer, former Labor Secretary and current UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich noted on his blog.

McDonalds alleges last year’s actions were strikes-in-name-only. “To right-size the headlines, however, the events taking place are not strikes. Outside groups are traveling to McDonald’s and other outlets to stage rallies,” McDonald’s wrote in a press statement.

Counter to the corporate narrative, the Bay Guardian witnessed multiple Oakland McDonalds workers joining picket lines (captured on video: “Oakland joins 100 cities in national strike,” Dec. 5,www.sfbg.com).

The next Fast Food Strike will have a world focus. Earlier this month, Salon.com reported the strike will reach cities including Karachi, Casablanca, London, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Geneva and San Salvador.

“The fast food organizing across the country speaks to how this issue is capturing not just the public imagination,” Daly told us, “but speaking to low-wage workers realities to struggling simply to live.” 

Volume 48 Number 33 Flip-through Edition

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Bimbo’s 365 club

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When Agostino “Bimbo” Giuntoli first arrived in San Francisco from Italy in 1922, the 19-year-old found work as a janitor and then as a cook at the swanky Palace Hotel. He likely didn’t think that, within 10 years, he’d be running one of the hottest Prohibition-era speakeasies in the city — where well-heeled guests came to drink, gamble, and watch a young Rita Hayworth dance in the chorus line. Even tougher to believe, most likely, would be the fact that his club is still in business, and run by his family, nearly 85 years later.

Bimbo’s 365, named for its owner (whose nickname was born of a boss not knowing how to pronounce Italian) and its original address on Market Street, is one of a dwindling number of family-owned businesses in San Francisco — and at a time when other historic venues like Café du Nord are shuttering or getting a yuppified overhaul, Bimbo’s seems (knock on wood) to be going strong.

“We work really hard, and we’re very fortunate to be where we are,” says Michael Cerchiai, who reopened the club as a live venue in 1988 after nearly two decades of it being available only as a rental for private parties. Soon after, Bimbo’s served as a hub for the burgeoning swing revival of the ’90s and the growing acid jazz scene. Erykah Badu played there on her first national tour, as did Fiona Apple; the last time George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars came through, Stevie Wonder showed up unannounced and sang too.

“We’re a tight-knit Italian family, so it’s a lot of tough love. We get things off our chest, and I think sometimes you can’t do that when it’s not a family-run business,” says Cerchiai, who recalls going to shows with his siblings when they were small children — back when the club was black-tie only. “We had a Felix [tuxedo rental] down the street, so we’d get dressed up and check out the show, and that was a way to see our grandfather and our dad.”

Michael’s brother Gino, and their father, Graziano Cerchiai (Mr. Bimbo’s 83-year-old son-in-law), are three of the seven staff members running the present-day Bimbo’s — whose stage has most recently seen Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Flaming Lips, and the White Stripes, among others.

Says Cerchiai, “Having grown up here, loving music, it’s just gratifying to see people coming out, enjoying a show, and having a good time.”

1025 Columbus Ave, SF

(415) 474-0365

bimbos365club.com

Trouble Coffee

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Inscribed on the window at the Yosemite Avenue location of Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club is the phrase: “Serving guts and honor.”

Proprietor Giulietta Carrelli, who opened the Bayview location on April Fools Day of 2013, six years to the day after opening the first Trouble Coffee location on Judah Street in the Outer Sunset, said she started it “to build a community.”

It’s not a café where patrons sit silently on laptops. Nor should one post Instagram photos of the signature cinnamon toast (which costs $3.50, by the way, despite being credited with touching off the $4 toast madness as a signifier of gentrification, something antithetical to what Trouble stands for).

No, Trouble is “a community built via word of mouth instead of technology,” explained Carrelli, a petite blonde whose skin is covered in tattoos, including freckles splashed across her cheekbones. “I knew I was going to build a place that was just face-to-face conversation, as an art form.”

The coffee shop was created with the help of friends and Carrelli explained that she built Trouble “because I couldn’t hold a job.” And for good reason: For years, she’d experienced schizophrenic breakdowns that made it impossible to work steadily. Over time, she’s developed coping mechanisms to get through the worst: Swimming in the ocean. Eating coconuts. Structure.

“Trouble is a survival tool,” both for her and her customers, Carrelli explained. “Everyone needs a place that they trust.” She’s known for her mantra, build your own damn house. What’s it mean? “Your house is your psyche,” she says. “Your house is your truth.”

Carrelli and her coffee shop were recently featured on This American Life, converting her into a celebrity. At first, she says she felt odd having the whole world know about her struggle with mental illness. But one day, she received something in the mail that changed all of that. It was a postcard sent by a schizophrenic, covered in feathers and flowers. On the back was the message: “I’ve lit myself on fire three times. After hearing your story, I don’t think I’ll do it again.”

4033 JUDAH ST., SF

1730 YOSEMITE AVE., SF

TROUBLECOFFEE.COM

Tobener Law Center

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San Francisco attorney Joseph Tobener has been doing tenants rights work in San Francisco for more than a decade, starting his own practice in 2002, where he currently employs three other attorneys and two paralegals. Another pair of attorneys who used to work there recently spun off their own practice.

In the last year of so that Tobener came onto our radar with the work he’s done fighting evictions and displacement, including representing an organization leading those fights, San Francisco Tenants Union, and paying attorney to do one day a week of volunteer work for SFTA, the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee, and other organizations. 

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been. We get about 60 calls a week and we always give free consultations,” Tobener told us.

Among those calls have been tenants displaced so landlords can use Airbnb to rent rooms to tourists and get around local rent control laws and other tenants protections, an increasingly high-profile issue that Tobener has helped elevate through stories in the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Guardian (see “Residents vs. tourists,” Feb. 4).

“I feel like we’ve made some progress in getting people aware of this issue,” he told us.

Under contract with SFTU, Tobener has gone on to sue seven more landlords who have evicted longtime tenants in favor of short-term tourist rentals that are illegal under city law, and he says that he’s preparing to file many more such cases (see “Lawsuits target Airbnb rentals,” April 29).

After also scoring a big recent victory by getting the city to finally fix elevators in public housing projects, Tobener has made a thriving small business out of defending the longtime residents from displacement.

21 Masonic Ave, SF

(415) 504-2165

Tobenerlaw.com

Thee Parkside

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Once upon a time, the Bay Guardian was headquartered in a giant converted warehouse at the bottom of Potrero Hill. Since Thee Parkside was just a short walk away, at 17th and Wisconsin streets across from Jackson Park, it was only natural for the music venue and pub to become a regular destination for Guardian staff.

Many classes of interns were welcomed to the newspaper via pitchers of beer filled (and filled again) by Parkside bartenders. Departing staff members were sent off in style with farewell bashes staged at Thee Parkside. So it’s with nostalgia for the days when we could amble over to this venerable dive any time we pleased that we honor Thee Parkside with a small business award.

A music venue that hosts a mix of metal, punk, country, and garage rock performers, Thee Parkside has patrons who tend not to be overly concerned with frills — think tater tots paired with Happy Hour specials such as $1 Natural Light in a can or $3 PBR tall boy specials. The dim interior is often filled with ecstatic sweaty music fans getting lost in a musical crush of sound, the back patio a glorious outdoor refuge, the bathroom doors well-loved with layers upon layers of graffiti and band stickers.

Aside from the punk and metal acts it’s probably most well known for, Thee Parkside also hosts Free Twang Sundays beginning at 4pm. The all-ages shows feature the Bay Area’s best country, western, bluegrass Americana, and rockabilly acts — if it’s twang, it’s Thee Parkside’s thang.

1600 17TH STREET

THEEPARKSIDE.COM

(415) 252-1330

Panchita’s Pupuseria

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In the gentrifying heart of the Inner Mission District — near the corner of 16th and Valencia streets, where longtime bookstores, markets, bars, and restaurants have all been forced out by rising rents in the last year or so — a simple Salvadorean restaurant has continued to thrive by serving one dish, pupusas, to customers old and new.

Panchita’s Pupuseria is a wonderfully unassuming little restaurant that spills out of its own doors on busy weekend nights, with its family members joining the street food vendors on the sidewalk flipping these tasty treats, as they’ve been doing in a series of Mission locations over the last 24 years.

“My grandma and mom started it there with a bunch of my uncles,” Doris Vargas tells us of the original location on 17th Street that has since closed. She and her family don’t mind the challenging evolution of the Mission, with its influx of high-paid tech workers. “It has expanded our customer base. My mom loves that pupusas have been exposed to a larger crowd.”

The pancake-like pupusas are served right off the grill with hot sauce and curtido, a slaw-like mix of cabbage, carrots, and spices soaked (the word actually mean “soaked” in Spanish) in a vinegar that Vargas’ namesake mother makes herself, infused with pineapple, something she learned before emigrating from El Salvador at the age of 25.

Simple, delicious, family-run — and a survivor appreciated by us and the large crowds of newbies that have begun to discover it.

3091 16th St., SF

(415) 431-4232

SF LGBT Center Economic Development Department

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The first initiative in the nation to “comprehensively address the economic barriers faced by low- and moderate-income LGBT individuals and families,” the 10-year-old San Francisco LGBT Center’s Economic Development Department (EDD) takes on a huge task.

More than a third of SF’s homeless people are LGBT. Transgender individuals often face huge amounts of discrimination in the workplace, and suffer from some of the highest unemployment rates as a result. Prejudice and, often, a lack of a structured environment due to homophobia, can discourage LGBT people from starting their own business or cause them to fear coming out at work.

The LGBT Center EDD energetically addresses these issues with a vast array of programs, events, collaborative workshops, and innovative actions. The center’s Small Business Services arm helps guide LGBT entrepreneurs all the way from pre-startup to expansion: free, one-on-one technical assistance, collaborative workshops, a credit-building micro-loan program, loan packaging, small business mentorship, and referrals to its huge small business development network.

Soon to launch: a “fun, intuitive, and user-friendly” business plan development app; B-Lab, a free drop-in incubator to share ideas, receive mentoring, and engage in mini-workshops; a “Capital Within Reach: How to Empower Your Small Business With Alternative Funding” seminar, including crowdsourcing tips, May 21 at 6:30pm; and, in October, the 2014 Bicoastal Economic Empowerment Week, with a chance to schmooze and learn from New York start-ups. The center’s Small Business Services’ keystone event, its Fall LGBT Career Fair, attracts thousands of attendees and hundreds of employers looking to make connection with LGBTs.

“Eighty-three percent of employers who participated in one of our recent career fairs said they plan to follow up with the candidates they met there,” Kevin Fu, the center’s public relations coordinator, says. “And during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, our Small Business Services Program provided technical assistance to 89 businesses, worked with 50 entrepreneurs to develop business plans, connected seven businesses to mentors and helped 12 small businesses secure $140,000 in growth capital.”

When grouped with the Economic Development Department’s other initiatives — including the LGBTQ Employment Services Program (which features the nation’s first specifically transgender-oriented employment program, TEEI), and the Financial Services Program, which supports asset-building and helps with credit repair and homebuying assistance —the LGBT Center is working overtime to keep the LGBT community on its financial feet.

1800 Market, SF

(415) 865-5664 (front desk); (415) 865-5555 (main line)

www.sfcenter.org

HeartZilla

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Hidden in a strange, inward-facing compound at 18th and Folsom streets that is filled with small art galleries, hair salons, and oddly themed storefronts, Pirate Salon has always been groovy spot to get a killer hairdo with a rogue flair, particularly by the Barcelona-born-and-trained queen of color and style Ana Rivero Rossi for the last four years.

While Pirate Salon is still a small business worth recognizing and visiting, Rivero Rossi’s brand new salon on Valencia Street between 24th and 25th, HeartZilla, is really something special. Along with her boyfriend Todd Hanson, also a fellow artist, Rivero Rossi has scoured the Bay Area for groovy vintage chairs, fixtures, and other funky decor that ooze the same unique flair (for example, we dig the colorfully drip-painted walls) that she brings to her clients’ hair.

“It is important that each hair style that I do is custom designed, with love, to the desires and idiosyncrasies of the client. I collaborate with every client to create a look that allows each person to feel uniquely themselves, their inside worlds expressed outwardly, with freshness and finesse,” she said, describing the concept behind her new salon at “a love-hair monster.”

As a visual and conceptual artist (anariverorossi.blogspot.com), Rivero Rossi (who is my stylist) has created some interesting street art pieces, including Aqui Love, a series of artistic custom hearts connected by shoestrings hanging from overhead electrical wires around the city — a play off of the hanging pairs of shoes that are the stuff of urban legends.

Now, Rivero Rossi is pouring her own heart into HeartZilla — which is just now getting off the ground in this high-profile location, and she’s still in the process of selecting the right stylists to fill out her other chairs — so we thought this newcomer to Valencia Street deserves some love from us and from you.

1380 Valencia Street, SF

www.heartzillasalon.com

GameShop Classic

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One of the original Internet viral videos, the “Nintendo 64 kid,” features a familiar Christmas scene cranked to 11. A pajama-clad brother and sister jointly tear open a wrapped box sitting under the tree, and the present spurs a sudden, joyous, but frighteningly excited squeal. “IT’S A NINTENDO SIXTY-FOOOOOOOUR!” the brother screams, at a pitch that’s not-quite human. “OH MY GODDDDD!” His eyes nearly pop out of his head.

Walking into GameShop Classic is just like that.

Old-school video games line the walls, from the common to the rare: a Magnavox Odyssey 2 (circa 1978); the NES classic, Duck Hunt; a Sega Genesis CDX (built to resemble a DiscMan); and even an Atari Lynx (1989), one of the last console creations from the company that started the video game craze.

Gene Pereverzev, the owner, is humble about his store’s collection (first derived from his personal collection). Through trades and Internet hunts, he’s built a small arsenal of retro-gaming goodies.

For now, he said, GameShop Classic is a pop-up inside of his FixLaptop.com store on Taraval Street, nestled in the sleepy, foggy, Sunset District. But even a fledgling startup is worthy of note.

The video game industry’s emphasis on major titles and blockbuster sales have all but demolished mom-and-pop video game stores. San Francisco is littered with Gamestops, a national corporate behemoth filled with pushy clerks selling unnecessary video game warranties, stocking only the newest and bloodiest digital creations.

GameShop Classic harks back to a time when daring digital stories were lovingly told with pixels so few they could be counted with the naked eye. Pereverzev, 28, has high hopes for GameShop Classics’ future: Soon it may play host to classic video game tournaments (Soul Calibur! Smash Brothers!). He wants to bring the video game community together.

And should you want to re-create one of the Internet’s first viral videos, Pereverzev has you covered. In the window of his store sits an originally boxed Nintendo 64.

2101 Taraval St. 415-242-9990

Asmbly Hall

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve solicited input from visitors to SFBG.com about their favorite small businesses in San Francisco, and by far the leading vote-getter was Asmbly Man, a clothing boutique in the Fillmore District that was opened in 2011 by the husband and wife team of Ron and Tricia Benitez, who are veterans in the apparel industry.

We gave them our Best Fresh Prep award in our 2012 Best of the Bay issue, so rather than just hearing us again sang the praises of this cool spot to get some stylish duds from the best local designers, here are some of the reader comments that we received:

“They have the best selection of clothes, friendliest owners ever, and a great curation of local art.”

“I love the lines they carry and appreciate all the local brands support. The owners are very nice and welcoming to the customers and community.”

“I love the owners and their merchandise. They are extremely friendly with their customers. They are also supporters of local designers. The vibe is nothing but laid back with the cool ambiance and music.”

And finally, a word from Tricia Benitez: “We really appreciate this honor and we love SF Bay Guardian for the support!”

We love you too, and all of the small businesses that help make San Francisco such a special place.

1850 Fillmore St, SF (415) 567-5953 www.asmblyhall.com

Guardian Small Business Awards 2014

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San Francisco’s small businesses are being threatened by the forces of gentrification and displacement like never before — at the same moment that they are more important than ever. This is the troubling paradox at the center of this year’s San Francisco Small Business Week.

Economists warn the city needs to diversify an economy that has become too concentrated in the vulnerable technology, finance, and land development sectors. Small businesses epitomize diversity. They are the backbone of the local economy, circulating far more of their revenues here than any corporate chain, while distinguishing San Francisco’s commercial corridors from their sterile counterparts in other cities.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and fiscally conservative politicians love to trot out the plight of small businesses to elicit public sympathy or attack progressive regulations benefitting workers or the environment, but it is the self-interested pursuits of wealthy corporations and investors that really poison the pond in which small businesses flourish.

Just consider the headlines in San Francisco’s daily newspapers. On May 8, the San Francisco Chronicle had a story about Flax, an awesome art supply store that’s been in business for 37 years, being displaced from its iconic store at Market and Valencia streets by a 160-unit condo project. The story described the waves of new condo projects hitting the Upper Market area that are displacing small business such as Home Restaurant and the Arthur J. Sullivan Funeral Home. “They are just rolling over us — it’s unstoppable,” Judy Hoyem of the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association told the Chronicle.

The cover story of the next day’s San Francisco Examiner was about the eviction of Marcus Books, the country’s oldest African American bookstore. Inside that issue, Mayor Ed Lee wrote a guest editorial ironically entitled “Small businesses shaping our city’s future.”

It was a happy-talk celebration of the same small business community that his economic development policies — with big Wall Street corporations worth billions of dollars driving up rents on small business and getting local tax breaks in the process — have been threatening.

“San Francisco’s commitment to small businesses and local manufacturing continues to gain momentum,” Lee wrote. Yes it does, like a tidal wave of corporate cash sweeping through the city. So during this year’s annual Guardian Small Business Awards, we’re saluting the survivors, those small business people who are riding out the storm through their tenacity, creativity, and refusal to let the forces of gentrification drive them out.

The current business cycle will pass, along with its upward pressure on commercial rents and unfair competition from chain stores. But until it does, please continue to support these and other homegrown small businesses, the soul of San Francisco commerce.

Guardian Small Business Awards 2014

Asmbly Hall

GameShop Classic

HeartZilla

Le Video

LGBT Center

Panchita’s Papuseria

Thee Parkside

Tobener Law Center

Trouble Coffee

Bimbo’s 365 Club

The Philosophy of Drunk

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THE WEEKNIGHTER  Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That’s why each week Broke-Ass Stuart (www.brokeassstuart.com) will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, bringing you stories about the places and people who make San Francisco one of the most phenomenal cities in the world. Who wants a drink?

“I feel like I’m on vacation in my own town! I’ve literally never walked around here in the 12 years I’ve lived in San Francisco!”

I was excitedly telling this to Alex as we walked out of the West Portal Muni tunnel towards the Philosopher’s Club (824 Ulloa St, SF.415-753-0599). Sometimes you get stuck in a rut and feel like you’ve seen everything there is to see in San Francisco, and then one day, you decide to do something different.

I’d heard great things about the Philosopher’s Club for a long time, that it was a solid dive bar with friendly regulars and a cool staff. Also, when I’d written an article about SF’s writer bars years before, someone had gotten butt-hurt at me in the comments about not including the Philosopher’s Club, so I figured it had a literary bent as well. Because of all this I’d somehow built it into my mind as a dark, cave-like, candlelit bar, where old men screamed at each other about Dostoevsky and James Joyce. Of course, like nearly everything, I was completely wrong.

Walking in on Tuesday evening I found a well-enough lighted bar that had no cave-like tendencies at all. The Grateful Dead wafted from the speakers and instead of old curmudgeons arguing about Oliver Wendell Holmes, I found people a variety of ages watching a couple teams on TV doing hockey stuff. Helmets of 10 or so football teams sat above the back bar near a ton of SF Giants bobbleheads surveying the scene and mildly nodding their accession.

“It’s a fucking sports bar?” I asked Alex, who’d been there before. “I was thinking these particular philosophers would be closer to the Dalai Lama than to Yogi Berra” to which Alex simply pointed to the ceiling and said, “Actually the Dalai Lama is right there”.

Looking up I saw a big chunk cut out of the ceiling and in the space left over was a mural. The center of it was painted blue and ringing it were about 30 or so philosophers peering down on the patrons disapprovingly while we drank. John Lennon was looking directly at us, arms crossed. Mark Twain looked askance, refusing to make eye contact. And MLK whispered to Gandhi that he had a dream that one day Broke-Ass Stuart would be able to walk out of a bar not completely shit-faced.

Okay, maybe I was projecting a bit, but it is a little weird to literally get looked down upon by the greatest minds in history while getting tanked. When Mother Theresa is keeping tabs on your bar tab, it makes getting a good buzz on a little awkward.

Or it doesn’t. The great thing about the Philosopher’s Club is that they actually don’t give a fuck. I almost wonder if the name is some kind of joke the owner started with his buddies like, “You know who are great philosophers? Drunk people, that’s who!” and thusly named the bar. Truthfully, I don’t even know. I forgot to ask the bartender because I was too caught up in checking out the old photos and death notices on the wall, singing along to “Sugaree”, and admiring that the men’s room had a trough.

That night Alex and I joined the philosopher’s club by getting drunk at the Philosopher’s Club and all was right with the world. I think it’s time I start exploring more San Francisco neighborhoods I never go to. Maybe your neighborhood is next.

Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com

 

Burning mouse

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Mike Daisey is a talker. He can talk about a lot of things. Hell, he can talk for 24 hours straight (and did in All the Hours in the Day at Portland’s TBA Festival in 2011). This gift of gab has brought him acclaim as an artist in the theater, where he’s known as an eminent monologist of the desk-bound Spalding Gray school. In one case, it’s even brought him public scandal, to wit, NPR’s 2012 call-out regarding fabricated bits in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs — an experience Daisey says has made him not only “wiser” but “a better storyteller.”

But Daisey doesn’t tell stories for the sake of talking alone. He chases after questions that intrigue him, and these, more than his comically barbed but affable stage persona, make his stories worth listening to. Occupying a fertile middle ground between high concept and low humor, his self-referential yarns confront issues he sees as central to how we live and — in a related, no less passionate way — to how the theater lives and dies in American culture. He directly essayed this latter theme in his 2008 show, How Theater Failed America, but it remains a lively concern, as he suggests below.

His latest, American Utopias, makes its Bay Area debut at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend. Following the format he has been honing since the late 1990s, Daisey uses a few notes written on loose sheets of paper to re-create afresh each night a set of three intertwining stories about Disney World, Burning Man, and Occupy Wall Street, following all three down their respective rabbit holes to glean what, individually and cumulatively, they might teach us about ourselves.

SF Bay Guardian You grew up in a really remote corner of the country. When you consider what brought you to where you’re at now, how much of that do you attribute to this background?

Mike Daisey I grew up in a place called Fort Kent, Maine, which is on the Canadian border. It’s actually the end of US Route 1, which begins in Key West. To me, psychically, it always feels like this must be the most remote place possible because every piece of mythology about roads is that sort of Tolkien idea, “The road goes ever on!” Whereas I was like, “No, it doesn’t actually. It ends. Right here. This must be the furthest place from everything.” It’s a very interesting area, the St. John Valley, around the St. John River. The people are predominately French Canadian. It’s a very different place from what I’ve come to recognize as the rest of America.

I do think that there’s a storytelling tradition that grows up in Maine, that exists there, that informs the work I do now. I think partly it’s informed by years of speech and debate at a very tender age. I think it’s informed by a couple of years of playing Dungeons & Dragons at a formative time. And, layered on top of all of that, was a very earnest desire to discover a form that would allow me to create theatrical experiences that were new in the moment that they were spoken. I was really dedicated to that proposition, that there could be a form of theater that lives in the moment that it’s spoken, both for the performer and the audience. I was looking for a form that would allow both there to be rigor and precision in the structure, but at the same time allow true spontaneity, and allow discoveries to happen in the moment that could not be anticipated.

That’s what I love about the monologues, about all storytelling. I often think of jazz when I’m trying to explain it to people. In the Western tradition, it is hard for people to understand how it is that something is composed without being written. We’ve all become so mired in the tyranny of the written word that we actually come to believe that the act of writing is the act of thinking. The spoken work is actually closer to the thought; it’s a more primal form than the form that writing takes. We forget that. So it’s hard to explain to people sometimes how something [spontaneous] can have form and precision and texture and depth. People often want to know, “How long did you work on this monologue?” And there really is no right answer to give, except the one that the jazz legends often give, which is to say, my whole life.

SFBG Do you think that that fascination with the research and work that goes into a piece is part of the way art gets commercialized, packaged as discrete products?

MD Yeah, I think that’s true. You know, I just went to Cuba. I was in Havana for about two weeks. I’m working on what’s going to be a separate piece, from the show that I’m bringing to Yerba Buena, about the commodification of art. When art transforms into a good. As soon as it does, as soon as it enters that market place, we really want to know its provenance; we want to know that this piece was not just tossed off by the artist. We want to know that the artist was thinking about something, or dreaming about something. We want to know that the piece we’re holding is a piece of the artist’s greatness and is an important piece at that. A lot of what it’s about is really acquisitive in nature.

That’s one of the reasons my going to Cuba was so fascinating. Being in a culture where a ballet dancer is paid the same amount that a surgeon is paid is really fascinating for what it does to cultural priorities. I’m not even saying that we all should pay surgeons the same amount as ballet dancers. But coming from my own culture, which I think is anti-art — I think it’s heavily tilted against art because of a real grain of Puritanism that runs through the center of the American character — it’s really fascinating to think about different ways that lives could be lived. Watch me: I’m slowly dovetailing! That connects to American Utopias in a really direct way. A lot of that monologue is about the effort to imagine a different way of life.

SFBG Where does theater figure in that imagining?

MD Theater really needs to make more radical shifts if it wants to take back some ground in the cultural conversation. Not necessarily in a traditional way, opening large movies that everyone’s talking about, but in a quieter way. I feel like theater sometimes suffers from being neither fish nor fowl. I’m often struck by the difference between a play [that’s considered a success] with 400, 500 performances. But those numbers don’t compare to millions of page views on YouTube.

At the same time, there’s another unique number, which is one, like when I create a show that’s for one night only and only happens once. There’s uniqueness to that, which the American theater also has a hard time [working] with because the form involves playwrights and rehearsals — we have a hard time doing the unique event. So instead we have this weird compromise, where we create this unique event but we then do this unique event 23 times. There’s this very odd middle ground. I often feel a correspondence between those numbers: like a run of 23 or 31 performances and page views of seldom-visited pages on the Internet. It’s really hard to thrive when you’re not doing something that’s singular each time and, at the same time, you’re not doing something that’s digital and ubiquitous and anyone can watch anywhere.

I just wish theater would grapple with one world or the other. I feel sometimes like the theater is a little bit its own version of The Glass Menagerie. It’s ignoring the war, everything that’s going on outside, like Tom talks about in his opening monologue of that beautiful play. But then the whole play is in this apartment, in this world where everyone’s dreams become sort of curdled and small. I sometimes feel like we really need to break out of the apartment. We all need to be like Tom and we need to hit the road.

SFBG Given it has three very different strands to it, what is American Utopias ultimately about?

MD American Utopias is about how we create spaces. But not just in the traditional architectural terms, but how we create them socially. So it’s an examination of three very different types of spaces. In each case, the members of the community that have made that space think of it as a kind of utopia. They see it as a reflection of a more perfect world. In many cases they wish they could live there more of the time but they know it’s not possible. I have preferences among the three to some extent but, on the other hand, none of the three are really my utopia. As a consequence, my role, I feel, is to talk about the connections between them. What really interests me are the anthropological systems, how humans organize themselves and how we share dreams. That interests me a lot. *

AMERICAN UTOPIAS

Fri/16-Sat/17, 7:30pm, $30-$35

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF

www.ybca.org

 

Swimming solo

2

esilvers@sfbg.com

LEFT OF THE DIAL As rock ‘n’ roll narratives go, it’s a rather familiar one: Singer and bandleader who has achieved moderate success with one full-band sound announces that he’s been repressing his true musical instincts for far too long, decides to go solo, and puts out an album that’s a sonic 180 from what fans are used to. History tells us that this is either the moment when stars are born (Michael Jackson, Lou Reed), or the moment when everyone goes, “Oh, maybe the other band members are responsible for way more of the stuff I like than I previously realized?” (Hall, without Oates).

Birds & Batteries frontman Mike Sempert doesn’t seem overly concerned about this fork in the road. For one, when the singer-songwriter began teasing new songs out into the world last month in anticipation of releasing his first solo effort, Mid Dream (out May 6 on Blue Velvet), it became clear that longtime fans of his old band — a San Francisco staple of the last five years that blended Sempert’s husky vocals and Americana influences with an indie electro-pop danceability (aka plenty of synth) — weren’t going to be upset. Far from it: While the album is a clear departure from the heady, airy detachment of Birds & Batteries’ oeuvre, the element that brought those songs down to earth — the understated soulfulness of Sempert’s vocals and songwriting — has emerged in full force on Mid Dream.

 

A richly introspective album written and recorded in the months before Sempert left the Bay Area for LA last year (to be with his now-wife — SF music scene doomsdayers, calm down), Mid Dream is equal parts wistfulness and hope, uncertainty and a surprised sort of satisfaction about growing up; in other words, it sounds exactly like those rare, heightened moments when you can actually feel one chapter of your life coming to an end and another beginning. Stripped bare of synthesizers and most other electronic elements and loaded up on melody, wall-of-feeling choruses, and ocean imagery, the album also serves as a kind of coming-out party for Sempert’s love of ’70s folk-rockers like Tom Petty, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman. Sempert will play these songs for the first time on home turf at the Rickshaw Stop May 14.

“I always had two personalities that I was exploring with Birds & Batteries. Initially it was this merging of the folk-Americana-singer-songwriter thing with the synthy art-pop stuff,” says Sempert. “But I’d gotten to a point where I wanted to zero in more on a sound, and instead of taking my singer-songwriter stuff and trying to adapt it, I just started putting those songs to the side…so I’ve had this stack of songs I wanted to try developing for a while.”

After a few years in a row of hustling full-time in B&B, the timing felt right last year to take a breather and consider the pile, he says. “That’s a hard-working band, and we had a lot of good times and successes, but frankly I got pretty burned out…especially with the kind of ‘take over the world’ thing we were trying to do. I got married, I moved to LA; it just felt like time to focus on making music for the right reasons and from the heart, without a big agenda.”

To be clear, that shouldn’t be read as a dig at his old bandmates — two of whom, drummer Colin Fahrner and bassist Jill Heinke, he invited to make up his current rhythm section. Sempert emphasizes that the entire record is a family affair of sorts, with regulars from the Bay Area folk scene and many an Oakland friend-band — including Sonya Cotton, Kacey Johansing, Emily Ritz, Andrew Maguire, Anton and Lewis Patzner, and more — adding backup vocals, strings, percussion; the list goes on. Sempert gives an extra-special nod to TaughtMe songwriter-engineer Blake Henderson, who helped him shape his vision for the record.

“I had so much help, so many supportive people around me in the songwriter community in the Bay Area,” he says. “Honestly, at the beginning of deciding to make [the album], I was just thinking ‘I bet my friends will like this.’ And for this one, the idea of just getting to share it with them — that was enough.”

Mike Sempert (CD release)
With Farallons and Kacey Johansing
Wed/14, 8pm, $20
The Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF
www.rickshawstop.com

 

What kind of person looks at a massively expensive three-day music festival whose inaugural year was widely considered an organizational failure and public relations nightmare, not to mention one that cost the city in which it took place thousands of dollars, and says “Hey — I want to be in charge of that next year”?

Dave Graham, it turns out. As the CEO of the brand-new BottleRock Napa Valley — a festival now in its second year, spanning May 30 to June 1, with headliners OutKast and The Cure, but, as Graham emphasizes, one owned and run by entirely different people than those responsible for last summer’s debacle — Graham has gotten used to answering the question: Why the hell would you want to take this on?

“For one, I had an amazing time last year,” says Graham, a Napa native and entrepreneur. “I was born and raised here, this was just the coolest thing that I’d ever experienced, and I couldn’t believe it was going on in my own backyard.” He noted what mistakes had been made, he said, and when the chance arose to invest in a partnership for 2014, he saw an opportunity to make something great. The only problem(s)? A boatload of debt, and the task of trying to find investors for this year’s festival in a community of merchants still stinging from 2013. Then there was the fact that, at the time of signing on in January, Graham and his partners had less than three months to book a lineup.

“It’s been challenging, to say the least,” says Graham. “Once we bought the rights to the name BottleRock, it was difficult, and understandably so, for people in the music industry, creditors, and just the general population to understand that we had zero to do with the mess that was created last year, and that we had no obligation to make a bad situation better…but we’re committed to doing just that. The main thing was, we just wanted to keep it local.”

Time will tell whether or not Graham and his team succeed in winning back the hearts of Napa residents and business owners. Given the time period they had for booking, the lineup they pulled off is pretty impressive on its own — if a little ’90s-tastic, stacked with alt-rock staples like Cracker, Weezer, Third Eye Blind, and Blues Traveler. But hey, if your idea of a good festival is getting super nostalgic with a slightly older set over a nice glass or two of pinot noir (note: nothin’ wrong with that) and you have the dough to spare (single day: $149), it’d probably be worth your while to see what else the new guys can pull off.

BottleRock Napa ValleyMay 30 – June 1
$149 and up (way up)
www.bottlerocknapavalley.com
 

Two other shows you should probably go to this week: San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls, who make some of most unpretentiously happy, jangly, beach-brat garage pop you’ve ever heard, are headlining The Chapel Thursday/15. And A Minor Forest, SF math rock veterans who made lots of people very happy when they got back together last year, will be there Saturday/17.

In case you hadn’t noticed, The Chapel’s bookers are killing it lately. And despite lots of angry internet buzz about noise complaints from The Chapel’s neighbors — let’s be real, our reaction over here was something like “If you rent an apartment next to a music venue on Valencia and then complain that there’s music coming out of it, you are everything that is wrong with everything, please leave,” — a representative from the venue says there’s really no news, nothing to get up in arms about.

“The Chapel had the normal, required Planning Commission ‘look back’ hearing [May 8] where they make sure the business is in compliance with Planning conditions,” Patricia Dedekian, a manager at The Chapel, told us. “There was only one neighbor who has done 99 percent of the complaining and he appeared at the hearing. We passed the hearing with flying colors, with unanimous support from the Planning Commissioners.” Still, you know. Support your local venues. It’s not hard to do when they’re putting on several rad shows a week.

Jazz jams in Brisbane

0

By Jeff Kaliss

arts@sfbg.com

Sunday evening is bringing a nearly imperceptible chill to the warm air off the bay, flowing through the open doors at the 7 Mile House on Bayshore Boulevard. Dennis Cummings, the roadhouse’s attentive food and entertainment manager, has just taken a dinner order from a quartet of jazz players, who are bringing their first set to a close with a Brazilian bossa, “Chega de Saudade,” translated in our language as “No More Blues,” and neatly matching both the benign springtime climate and the sentiment of the smiling, seated fans, some of whom are already munching through their plates of lumpia, quesadillas, or salpicao steak.

While visionary bebop alto saxophonist Andrew Speight, bassist Michael Zisman, and keyboardist Ben Stolorow repair to the rear of the establishment to consume a complimentary meal during their break, drummer and session leader Vince Lateano walks the floor with a small tip bucket. “I always preface my solicitation with, ‘Are you enjoying the music?’,” Lateano reveals. “And I’d say, 80 percent of the time, even people who aren’t there for the music will want to put something in.”

That includes the venue’s many sports fans, who’ve been eyeing the bank of large-screen TVs behind the bar, where the San Francisco Giants have tied the Atlanta Braves in extra innings. There’s always been lots to do at the 7 Mile. Travelers have been dropping in ever since the property was developed as a stagecoach stop a century and a half ago, seven miles south of San Francisco’s Union Depot and Ferry House. By the latter part of the 20th century, it had become something of a trucker and biker bar.

More recently, trumpeter Al Molina came in en route to his home and studio in nearby Brisbane and convinced current co-owner Vanessa Garcia to let him establish the venue’s first successful jazz night, on Tuesdays. When fellow horn man Dave Bendigkeit began sitting in on those sessions, he had a sense of the place’s historical diversity.

“I saw, there are people here just for the jazz,” Bendigkeit recalls. “But there are people here just for the food, people that had no idea there was music until they walked in the door, and people here for the sports. I’ve been brought up to read the audience and try to make ’em happy. But how you gonna read this room?” A couple of weeks after starting his own weekly Monday gig with his Keepers of the Flame band earlier this year, Bendigkeit realized, “We should just do what we want, and everybody’s happy.”

What’s making jazz fans happy at the 7 Mile is also the continuation of a high standard of jazz in an accessible and supportive setting — something that’s become harder to find in the Bay Area over the course of the past decade. The Sunday sessions are dubbed The Doghouse Jazz Jam, in recognition of their origin at the erstwhile Dogpatch Saloon on San Francisco’s Third Street. Speight, Zisman, Lateano, and others had been jamming there since escalating rents closed down Jazz at Pearl’s in North Beach in 2003 (where Lateano had served as de facto music director) due to escalating rents. The Dogpatch attracted a dependable crowd of mostly middle-aged jazz fans, who were dismayed last year when owner Mike Apicelli, himself a devoted jazz buff (he rang a ship’s bell behind the bar for every good solo), decided to retire and sell to new, younger entrepreneurs. Thus, Sundays were transplanted to the 7 Mile, where frequent Dogpatch visitor Molina was already hosting “Jazz On the Mile: The Horace Silver Project,” every Tuesday.

“At Dogpatch, Apicelli and Bob and Jim [bartender Brown and doorman Yarbrough, respectively] were family, and it’s like that at 7 Mile, with Dennis and Vanessa,” testifies Lateano. “And they’ve totally warmed up to having jazz music. When I first started playing there, [Dennis] just appreciated the musicianship, and the more he heard, the more he started to understand it, especially the Horace Silver stuff, because I think of all the jazz, Horace is closest to R&B.”

“When I try to do too much rock, attendance is down,” notes Cummings, who plays electric bass. “But when I go with jazz, R&B, and blues, attendance is up.” He’s expanded the 7 Mile into seven-days-a-week music bookings in a variety of genres, including karaoke, blues, R&B, and some rock. “But I figured out that my favorite night to work was Tuesday, because they’re into the music, they’re older folk who come for the music and respect the musicians, buy entrees and wine, and tip well.”

Younger folk, including families with kids, find themselves grooving to the spirit of the music — even if the kids are multitasking with the crayons provided by waitstaff and their parents are keeping watch on the home teams, whose touchdowns and home runs sometimes coincide with a pyrotechnic drum solo. In the tradition of jazz, younger players are also invited to stand alongside the veterans during the second set, and to converse with them during breaks. It’s the sort of learning experience which reminds Lateano of his own youth in Sacramento: “There are older guys, and you get up there, and you’re scared to death. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

On Mondays, singers are welcomed and ably supported by the Keepers of the Flame. “Usually, I’ll sing a song myself, it breaks up the total instrumental thing,” says bandleader Bendigkeit. “I’ll try singing one or two funny songs like ‘I’m Hip’ or ‘Cloudburst,’ and then I’ll say, ‘Now here’s a real singer.’ I think it creates a bridge for folks who might want to join us.”

Tuesdays, in addition to serving as a showcase of joyful Latin-tinged jazz composer Horace Silver, are a vital opportunity for bandleader Molina “to stretch myself,” to read through his carefully prepared and rehearsed transcriptions, and to keep company with his peers. “All these musicians grew up during that period of the ’50s and ’60s, when jazz was king,” says Molina. “We create the same kind of environment that was going on in those times.”

Cummings notes that there’s considerable cross-pollination over 7 Miles’s jazz program. Molina guests at Sunday jams (as he did at the Dogpatch) and on Mondays, and Lateano serves both as leader on Sunday and drummer on Tuesday, and will be subbing for the formidable Akira Tana next Monday. He hopes there’ll even be hopping from jazz to R&B, and in the opposite direction. It seems like the right place for that sort of thing to happen.

“That’s the thing about Vanessa and Dennis, they understand the importance of longevity,” says Bendigkeit. “And I have no instructions of ‘you gotta play this way’ from either of them. I can’t say it enough times: these people actually get it.”

Stony lonesome

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Prison should be the most natural setting for film noir, as that’s where most of the genre’s protagonists are headed (if they don’t get bumped off first), and where many of them have already been. But it’s had spotty representation onscreen, with time served either skipped over in the narrative (how many pulp fictions start with a hard-luck protagonist just getting out of long-term for what’s sure to be short-term freedom?), or dominating entirely.

This spring’s edition of “I Wake Up Dreaming,” the recurrent Roxie noir showcase programmed by Elliot Lavine, has a number of notable titles dealing with the claustrophobic consequences of crime-not-paying. What’s even more notable this time around is the cross-pollination with Lavine’s other Roxie perennial, the series of Hollywood “pre-Codes” made in an approximately five-year window between the advent of “talkies” and the 1934 arrival of more rigidly enforced, censorious industry standards toward potentially objectionable content. Their peaks separated by about 15 years, pre-Codes and noirs shared a taste for hard-boiled dialogue and seamy situations, so their programmatic overlapping here feels right.

Two of the strongest entries here were released at least a decade before the arrival of anything that might legitimately be labeled noir. Daintily titled Ladies They Talk About (1933) is a rip-roaring original Women in Prison exploiter, with the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck as a moll who sashays into the hoosegow after enabling a bank stick-up. Getting two-to-five in San Quentin’s women’s ward, which here is like the world’s saltiest sorority, she quickly identifies her allies and enemies while spurning the visits of a childhood pal turned crusading DA (Preston Foster) — when she’d ratted on herself to prove “I’m on the level now” to him, he had the noive to actually charge her with the crime. That bum!

Another enduring star who came in with the sound era, Edward G. Robinson, gets all of Two Seconds (1932) to recall what got him to the electric chair — though that translates into a still-trim 67 minutes’ screen time in Mervyn LeRoy’s drama. The first half is a gem of snappy patter as the headliner and a terrific Foster play construction-worker roommates — Robinson the penny-pinching plodder, Foster the one always ready to blow his paycheck on booze, broads, and the horses. Yet it’s the former who’s taken for a chump’s ride by dancehall girl Vivienne Osborne, whose personality goes from Jekyll to Hyde the moment she’s manipulated him into an unholy matrimony. You can guess what happens — she’s already murder just to live with. As a none-too-bright lug who can’t get a break, Robinson gets a serious acting workout here, even if the climactic pre-execution Big Speech smacks overmuch of writing for Oscar’s sake.

Several rarities that verge on horror come from before and after the semi-official, immediately post-World War II noir era. Miracles for Sale (1939) was the final feature for director Tod Browning of Lon Chaney Sr. and Freaks (1932) fame. It stars Robert Young as a professional “magic” debunker investigating murders connected to an alleged witchcraft circle. Even so, this slick comedy thriller provides scant outlet for Browning’s love of the macabre.

Even less frequently revived are three early 1960s chillers: Erstwhile Incredible Shrinking Man Grant Williams plays a psychiatric patient and serial killer in The Couch (1962), Robert Bloch’s first screenplay after Hitchcock adapted his novel Psycho. The Hypnotic Eye (1960) has tall, dark, and handsome Jacques Bergerac (who married Dorothy Malone and Ginger Rogers) as a hypnotist whose prettier subjects tend to grotesquely disfigure themselves. Two on a Guillotine (1965) is a sub-William Castle gothic with the punishingly perky duo of Connie Stevens and Dean Jones having to spend an inheritance-earning week in the inevitable haunted house. They’re all terrible, but have a certain creaky charm.

Holding up very well indeed is 1949’s The Window, a rare genuine independent production of the era to achieve major recognition. As opening on-screen text announces, it’s the story of the boy who cried wolf — updated to a modern NYC tenement, where little Bobby Driscoll is testing the patience of his parents and playmates with his constant fabrications. Thus nobody believes him, of course, when he witnesses a real murder. Once his homicidal neighbors catch wind of him, our grade-school protagonist becomes prey himself. Criminal child endangerment was far from a typical story element in those days, and with its still-tense chase finale amid crumbling condemned buildings, The Window presented such a novelty that it won a (rather generous) special Oscar for Driscoll, who was usually seen in the more wholesome environs of Disney films like Song of the South (1946) and Treasure Island (1950). Yet soon after, adolescent acne would kill his acting career. Ironically echoing this famous role, the by-then heroin-addicted ex-con was found dead in an abandoned 1968 NYC tenement at age 31, his body found by playing children.

Other “Dreaming” highlights include a glossy 1947 double bill showcasing talented Warner Brothers star Ann Sheridan, the better being The Unfaithful, though Nora Prentiss has the virtue of being partly shot in SF. As sleepers go, though, two vintage “Bs” may rep the series’ best discoveries. Perhaps the program’s least likely inclusion is Angels in Disguise (1948), a later entry among the Bowery Boys’ nearly 100 juvenile hijinks. This one is a spoof of tough urban crime dramas, and a surprisingly good one, complete with shadow-heavy noir imagery and hard-boiled voiceover narration. As ever, the scene stealer is rubber-faced beanpole Huntz Hall.

From 1957, Death in Small Doses (“The picture that crosses the forbidden territory … of THRILL PILLS!”) rips the lid off amphetamine abuse among long-distance truckers, with future Mission: Impossible and Airplane! (1980) star Peter Graves as an undercover federal investigator. What makes it unmissable, however, is the supporting turn by none other than Chuck Connors (1979’s Tourist Trap, 1973’s Soylent Green) as perpetually hopped-up boarding-house hepcat “Mink.” If scene-stealing were a crime, Hall might get life without parole, but Connors would merit the chair. *

“I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014”

May 16-26

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.roxie.com

 

Sisterhood of rhythm

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE The Mother’s Day weekend premiere of Sarah Bush Dance Project’s reconceived 2011 Rocked by Women was a tenderly raucous, often humorous celebration of an overly sentimentalized holiday. Bush looks at the education of a “girlchild” in the “not-so-promised land” by paying tribute to the mothers who raised us physically. But it was pioneer “mothers” — the feminists of the 1970s, the lesbian activists of many decades, artists and entrepreneurs like Olivia Records and Club Q — who made us the women we have become. Their legacy, Bush realized, was in danger of being forgotten by the current generation of women for whom the battles had been fought. Molded into a convincing piece of dance theater, Rocked by Women is a joyous and self-effacing acknowledgement of prices paid and gains won.

Just as music energized the civil rights movement of the 1960s, feminism in its earlier and later stages drew inspiration from talented musicians who started the women’s music movement. Bush drew on that rich heritage and shaped Rocked‘s three parts around contributions from two generations of songwriters such as Holly Near, Cris Williams, and k.d. lang, as well as Janet Jackson, Tracy Chapman, Missy Elliott, and Bikini Kill. Julie Wolf also contributed music arrangements and wrote original songs.

Rocked derives its impressive energy as much from music as from dance. Yet Natalie Aceves, Krystal Bates, Joanna Gartner, Bianca Mendoza, Juliann Witt, and Bush performed with an intuitive grace, passion, and an almost delirious delight at the choreography’s lush physicality. Much like works by Dance Brigade (Bush’s home company), Rocked contains personal material that also feels universal, speaking to those who don’t fit into given norms, and who have had to struggle to become who they are meant to be. Using contact improv, disco, jazz, and hip-hop in an almost narrative way, the individual dances comment on the songs but do so from a distance. At its best, Rocked became a weighty yet explosive expression of the power of an indomitable spirit and embracing courage.

The show opened and closed with Near’s iconic “Mountain Song.” At first, a trio of kicking “babies” are cuddled by their mothers. It ends with the dancers facing the audience in a sing-along about the unstoppability of women who refuse to have “their dreams taken away.”

Each of the work’s movements explored a different aspect of growing up. In “Her Childhood,” the dancers engaged in circle games and playfully sculpted a mountain from their bodies. One of them triumphantly climbed it. They also donned masks cut from fashion magazines and tugged and pushed their bodies in an attempt to reshape them. Here, ballet’s preoccupation with perfection came in for a kick or two. The choreography had a sense of humor but you couldn’t miss the underlying pain and rage.

The emergence of a young girl’s sexual identity permeated the whole piece and resulted in a number of awkwardly tender duets. In one, the group’s smallest dancers, Mendoza and Bates, discover each other’s differences: Mendoza is Latina, Bates African American. Second movement “Her Adolescence” brings group pressures and rejections, driving and exploring of sexual identity; the choreography veered between plaintive and painfully funny. With Jackson’s “Control” providing the beat, the ensemble performed impressive unison hip-hop that opened into individually athletic feats. It was followed by a dancing-with-“boys” number as an awkward, one-sided groping session. In “Gossip,” teens entangled themselves in yards and yards of telephone lines. For Chapman’s “Fast Car,” they built themselves into a monster automobile that, predictably, crashed, leaving Mendoza stunned and bereft. In an achingly lovely courting duet, Mendoza gently reaches towards Aceves who keeps turning away.

The third movement — “Herself” — opened with a video of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and rather unfocused dancing on stage. The pace picked up with mock taiko drumming to recorded drum. Another playfully confrontational scene involved a boom box, one set of headphones, and Mendoza and Aceves’ different musical tastes. They come to a meeting of minds and take it from there.

The tribute to Club Q, as both a sanctuary for lesbians and a place for fierce dancing, is wonderfully evoked by Bush’s own fierce dancers. It ends in dreamy slow dancing duet for Witt and Bates. Choreographing anger is not easy. When Bush interrupted the lovers, her danced fury felt like an arrow shooting straight at them.

While Rocked‘s documentary clips are convincingly integrated into the stage action, earlier uses of video — shadowy images, dancers sitting as if in lecture by Judy Grahn, crawling from beneath the screen — are not telling enough. That needs rethinking. But Rocked is a warm, skillfully created, and generous show that just might become a Mother’s Day tradition. * sarahbushdance.com/rocked-by-women

Getting the Kink out

2

joe@sfbg.com

The spotlights shone down, the athletes tussled, and the crowd screamed.

The toned and tattooed female wrestler tackled the topless, tanned, blond wrestler from behind, pulling her down like a tumbling tower. The mat thumped. Cheers erupted. In a sudden reversal, the tanned wrestler gained leverage with her right arm and slammed the tattooed fighter’s shoulders onto the mat, giving the blond the win.

What happened next was definitely not standard wrestling fare.

The tanned wrestler, triumphant, digitally penetrated the tattooed fighter. Her moans silenced the crowd, who listened, rapt. The fight wasn’t sport, but porn, America’s real favorite pasttime. Ultimate Surrender is just one of San Francisco-based studio Kink.com’s 30 or so paid subscription porn websites, including Fucking Machines, Everything Butt, and Hogtied.

But a new series of proposed state laws threatens the state’s porn industry, and the freakiest city on the West Coast may soon say goodbye to its highest profile porn purveyor, Kink.com, which for years has operated out of the historic Armory building on 14th and Mission streets.

The situation raises a question: Is Kink.com breaking up with San Francisco? If legislation requiring condoms on-set in porn and stricter state safety requirements become law, Kink.com CEO Peter Acworth tells the Guardian he has no choice but to leave California entirely.

“We can’t do business under those circumstances,” Acworth told us. “We can’t make a product that can compete.”

The tussle between pornographers, porn actors, and state lawmakers is a crucible where worker safety — and the right to choose how that safety is implemented — may soon be decided. Caught in the crossfire, freaky and sex-positive San Francisco stands to get a whole lot less kinky.

 

ECHOES OF LOS ANGELES

California Assembly Bill 1576 would legally require condom use while shooting porn, mandatory STD testing, and pornographic studios required to hold health records of their talent. The bill cleared the Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment just last month, the first step on a short road to gaining the governor’s signature.

Assemblymember Isadore Hall (D-Los Angeles), sponsored the bill, and the day it cleared committee he was triumphant.

“For too long, the adult film industry has thrived on a business model that exploits its workers and puts profit over workplace safety,” Hall said in a press statement. “The fact is, adult film actors are employees, like any other employee for any other business in the state. A minimum level of safety in the workplace should not have to be negotiated.”

The concern is largely over HIV infection on the sets of porn studios, and two parallel statewide efforts are working towards safety on porn sets. The state bill is the first, and the second is the renewed vigor in enforcing longstanding California Division of Occupational Safety and Health regulations.

In the early 1990’s, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted a bloodborne pathogens regulation, and DOSH adopted a similar regulation soon after. DOSH’s standard requires employers to take measures to prevent employees’ eyes, skin, and mucous membranes from coming in contact with blood and “other potentially infectious materials,” including semen and vaginal secretions.

To some industries, the standard mandates rubber gloves and goggles. For the porn industry, the DOSH regulations are a moratorium on porn stars ejaculating on each others’ faces, deeming facials a workplace hazard. That standard porn finale can have life-changing ramifications.

“In 2004, there was a big (HIV) outbreak in the industry,” Eugene Murphy, senior safety engineer at DOSH, told the Guardian. “It was demonstrated HIV was clearly contracted on set.”

These infections mostly occurred in Los Angeles, once the center of the porn universe until Measure B arguably changed that. Los Angeles voters mandated porn studio condom use in 2012, and two years later, LA newspapers reported many pornographers have relocated to Las Vegas to escape the regulatory requirements.

The statewide pushback on porn is largely driven by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, whose President Michael Weinstein has smiled for the cameras alongside Hall and other lawmakers every step of the way.

DOSH began its part in the porn crackdown in Los Angeles, but Murphy was charged with looking into San Francisco’s Kink.com, where Acworth is chafing against the idea of mandatory condoms.

 

RUBBERS REBUFFED

Acworth said he used to believe condoms should be mandatory for performers. After the porn set HIV infections in 2004, Kink.com buckled down.

“I attempted to run the business as condom mandatory for about a year,” Acworth told us. He even pronounced their necessity in an interview on CNN. But there were complications.

“There was pressure from the models themselves because of the chaffing issues,” he said. Porn performers have echoed those sentiments as well.

In an interview with entertainment site Nerve, popular porn star James Deen (see “Dick and smile,” 7/31/12) said he had no problem with personal condom use, but women he’s worked with often complained of chafing.

“I was talking to a girl about it and she was like, ‘Dude, I’m in pain everyday and constantly swollen,'” he told Nerve. “Condoms are intended to be used on an average-sized penis for average sex, and we have entertainment sex, for anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours.”

The condom effort tanked at Kink. Acworth said he withdrew the policy after listening to his performers’ wishes. The studio does adhere to 14-day HIV tests, and condoms are available in a “double-blind” agreement, by which actors can purportedly safely ask for condoms and not fear retaliation.

Despite those efforts, Kink was later awash in condom controversy. Earlier this year, DOSH fined Kink $78,000 in violations connected with the alleged on-stage HIV infections of two actors in 2013, one of whom alleged that a shoot continued despite one actor having a bleeding cut on his penis.

Acworth adamantly asserts the HIV transmission happened in these actors’ personal lives, and says the issue is used as a wedge by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to push a political agenda. The Guardian attempted to contact the foundation but did not hear back by press time.

Regardless, Murphy said, DOSH is pursuing regulatory requirements around bloodborne pathogens at Kink, and the enforcement of those regulations is not tied to the whether the initial HIV infection case was verified or not.

“My concern,” Murphy said, “is whether there is a healthy and safe workplace.”

 

COMMUNITY TIES

Acworth came to San Francisco for the reasons many do: he wanted a place to be weird, or in his case, kinky.

He wanted a new home from which to shoot his leather porn site, Hogtied.com. New York City was big, but at the time (the ’90s), he felt San Francisco had a more established leather scene in the Folsom Street Fair and leather shops like Mr. S.

“San Francisco,” Acworth said, sitting across from us in a leather bondage chair, “appeared to be more geared up.”

Although not universally loved within the BDSM community, the studio is popular in San Francisco. Part of the credit may go to Kink’s recent revitalization of one of the largest spaces in its 200,000-square-foot historic brick fortress: the Drill Court.

The vast, arch-roofed space was outfitted with modern sound proofing for the benefits of performers and neighbors, but its life as a performance space is not new. In the 1920s, boxers traded blows under its lights, and history may repeat itself, Armor Community Center Sales Manager Quincy Krashna told us.

He’s in talks with Golden Boy Promotions (boxer Oscar De La Hoya’s company) to bring prize fighting back to this historic space. In recent months, the Drill Court played host to a massive New Year’s Eve party, a Game of Thrones-themed dance night and cancer fundraiser, and even an evangelical medical conference, where missionaries offered free dental and doctor checkups to the public.

“The Holy Spirit was truly present at this event,” a doctor from the program, Building Bridges, wrote on the program’s website.

Even bigger changes could be in store. Last month, Acworth filed an application with the city to convert most of the historic Armory into office space, what he called a “last ditch” plan in case the state condom ban passes and Kink decamps for Nevada.

“This move represents an insurance policy,” he told us.

In a public May 11 letter to Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Acworth asked the foundation for a truce: “I am reaching out to you and AHF, in the hopes of a day where we may sit across the table from one another and agree on common goals and strategy on protecting performers as opposed to continuing this battle.”

As he notes in his letter, if pornographers lose this battle, the companies may relocate. If Acworth finds himself uncomfortably bound and gagged by new regulations, his safe word may be: Nevada.

Income gap

4

news@sfbg.com

It seems like San Francisco may surpass itself as the city with the highest minimum wage in the country, as labor activists and business groups are each pitching their own fall ballot measures to raise wages for the lowest paid workers.

The city’s current minimum wage of $10.74 is the highest in the country, but that still isn’t enough, according the labor activists, not in the city with the most expensive rent in the US and one of the largest income gaps.

“We have the highest growing gap between the rich and the poor, and the economic disparity is so high right now,” said José Argüelles of Young Workers United. He said the raising the minimum wage “isn’t the whole solution, but it’s part of it. Folks working full time in San Francisco should be able to afford to live in San Francisco.”

But sometimes even working full time in San Francisco isn’t enough to live here. A 2012 study by the San Francisco Department of Health found that even in the most inexpensive neighborhoods of the city, one would have to work 3.4 full-time minimum wage jobs to afford rent in a two-bedroom market rate apartment. In the priciest neighborhoods, one would have to work up to eight full-time jobs to afford rent.

All of this is occurring at a time when minimum wage debates are taking place across the country. President Obama has suggested raising the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour, although Congress has been less receptive. Here in California, the state minimum wage of $8/hour will rise to $9/hour this July, and $10/hour by 2016.

The San Francisco ballot measure favored by labor activists is an initiative to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2017, with a sliding time frame depending on the size of the business. Proponents of the measure, dubbed the Minimum Wage Act of 2014, are just beginning to collect the necessary 9,702 signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and a recent poll found that 59 percent of likely voters supported the increase, while only 36 percent were opposed.

Business groups are usually the first ones to object to higher wages, but the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and other small business-leaders are working with Mayor Ed Lee to craft their own, albeit more watered-down, ballot measure to increase pay. Despite their efforts, the $15/hour initiative took them by surprise and they are “outraged,” according to a statement released by the Chamber.

“This initiative is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to influence the outcome of the consensus-building process that will begin this week under the leadership of Mayor Ed Lee,” Chamber President Bob Linscheid said in the statement.

But many small businesses actually want to see the minimum wage increased, said John Eller of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of the labor groups sponsoring the $15/hour initiative.

“What we heard when we talked to small businesses was that big money is coming in to buy up properties, that prices are getting jacked up, and that they are getting displaced, just like the residents of San Francisco,” Eller said. “But genuine interest in San Francisco, supporting young people, getting people out of poverty, and dealing with displacement were the themes that kept coming up.”

The business community wants to see the higher minimum wage phased in over a longer period of time and supports a more “moderate” wage, although an exact rate has not been decided, according to an email sent by Henry Karnilowicz, president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations. Other concessions that business leaders ask for include a separate, lower minimum wage for tipped servers and new hires in-training.

Raising the minimum wage “is about being fair and being reasonable,” said Karnilowicz. “It’s not true that small businesses are making a fortune, and I’d hate to see a big Walmart or Target coming into town to take their place.”

But Argüelles says that including special exceptions and a piecemeal law is a step in the wrong direction.

“In the past, San Francisco has led the way [with fair labor laws],” he said. “I think we can set a higher standard than that.”

Opponents to raising the minimum wage often claim that doing so hurts jobs and the economy, but a study from economists at UC Berkeley says otherwise. Unemployment in San Francisco has dropped since the last major minimum wage increase, and businesses absorb the extra labor costs through reduced employee turnover and improved efficiency.

The study also found that affected workers are largely adults and disproportionately women and people of color, two groups for whom the income gap is especially vast.

A measure qualifies for the ballot in one of two ways: either by garnering enough signatures through the initiative process, or being placed on the ballot directly by the mayor or a group of four or more supervisors. As of now, it seems plausible that San Franciscans will have two minimum wage measures to choose from this year, one from signatures and another from Mayor Lee.

On May 7, the Chamber released a press release stating that it’s seeking a single, consensus measure rather than two competing ordinances. Labor activists also hope to see one measure, Argüelles said.

There are no details yet on what Lee’s minimum wage ordinance would look like, if he sponsors one. There’s potential for a compromise between labor activists and business leaders, meaning one ballot measure with wide support. Otherwise, it will likely be one measure pitted against the other.

The deadline for Lee to submit his ordinance to the Department of Elections is June 17.