Whatever

Virtual sausage

0

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sometimes it’s almost too much. You’re driving home in the middle of the night, country roads, nothing but static on the radio, sky full of stars stretched out before you, big balls of rain tapping into the windshield, small and large animals darting across the road in the beam of your headlights, graceless, confused. And you think, It rains without clouds now! Large blocks of ice are crashing through roofs in Southern California. San Francisco is the new Seattle. My friend Steve the Turkey Hunter in Maine says winter never came there this year.

How are you supposed to tell the difference between awake and asleep? This is an important distinction for operators of motor vehicles. People ask me: "When did you know?" And I just look at them because it’s all I can do, like a deer in their beams, like, Know what?

I can’t help it, personally. My mind returns and returns to the contemplation of antimatter, the uncertainty principle, and quantum chicken farming in general. Life keeps getting funner, and funnier. For example: the popular misconception that the world won’t likely come to an end in any of our lifetimes. Um, that depends, Mr. and Mrs. Physicist, does it not, on your definition of words like life, and time, and doo-da? Where, exactly, does the world happen? Out there somewhere? And how do they get all that juice to stay on the inside of Shanghai dumplings?

Huh?

I do have a new favorite dim sum restaurant out on Taraval near

19th Avenue

, but that’s little consolation under the stormy stars,

Valley Ford Road

, middle of the night. Think I’ll pull over and have a nervous breakthrough.

Oh, now I get it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarghhh!

Next thing you know: venison sausage. Next thing you know: homemade hot Italian sausage. The Chicken Farmer is standing outside next to his or her mailbox, waiting for the mail, wondering how human beings, the animals that invented sausage, can still find it necessary to believe in god. Or something. Let’s see, we can turn pigs into pork, pork into sausage, and so on — milk into butter. We can make airplanes and air mail and post offices, and one still craves … what? Answers? Spirit? Church?

But we have the Internet! Just like that, I can receive an e-mail from my friend Rube Roy in Ohio saying, "I mailed you some sausages. Go stand by your mailbox."

Personally, I don’t need any more information than that. The sausage is in the mail. The coals are glowing. The chickens are looking at the Chicken Farmer like, Well, what’s in it for us?

Answer: grass. There’s a lot of grass around my mailbox, and they can’t get at it. You talk about your symbidiotic relationships. I love to graze, but I don’t particularly like grass. I prefer eggs, and sausage. So, while I’m waiting for the mail, I’m basically mowing the lawn with my hands, throwing it over the fence to the chickens, and they’re going to town, converting green into yellow, healthier, tastier eggs for tomorrow’s lunch, for me, with sausage.

What’s in it for Rube Roy? Well, he gets to be, very fittingly, the first official inductee into the Cheap Eats Hall of Fame. Are you kidding me? He made and mailed me about five pounds of meat — a long string of venison sausage, a short, fat string of hot Italian, and three sticks of spicy, smoked, dried whatever-the-fuck. Soppressata?

It’s delicious, whatever it is. I’m chawing on some right now, writing this. And I still want to tell you about my new favorite dim sum place too, but that’s probably a story unto itself, soupy enough to sink me to the bottom of this column and off the page, into your lap. Where, with all due respect, I don’t know if I want to be, so let’s save that for next week and stay for now with the Cheap Eats Hall of Fame.

You want in, send me something. By e-mail. To eat!

In the meantime, so Rube Roy doesn’t get too lonely, I’m going to take this opportunity to also induct a couple other inductees, that philosophy-talking piano student who hand-delivered to me an order of North Carolina barbecue, hush puppies, and sweet tea. And this Red Cross worker in Seattle (Ketchup County, or something like that) who sent me a big bottle of barbecue sauce. I don’t know. She works for the Red Cross. The bottle says Jones on it, and it’s fantastic.

So if your name is Jones, and you live in Seattle, and you gave blood, I love you. On ribs, especially, but you also go good with meatballs. SFBG

 

Drugs of choice

0

› steve@sfbg.com

San Francisco is home to a wide variety of drug users, from the hardcore smack addicts on Sixth Street to the club kids high on ecstasy or crystal meth to the yuppies snorting lines off their downtown desks or getting drunk after work to the cornucopia of people across all classes smoking joints in Golden Gate Park or in their living rooms on weekends.

Drug law reformers come in similarly wide varieties, but most have a strong preference for first legalizing the most popular and least harmful of illegal drugs: marijuana. That’s how medical marijuana got its quasi-legal status in the city, and why San Francisco hosted the huge state conference of California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws conference that began on 4/20.

But while hundreds of CA-NORML attendees were eating lunch and waiting to be entertained by iconic marijuana advocate Tommy Chong (a session that was cut short by a hotel manager because too many attendees were smoking pot; go to “The Day after 4/20” at www.sfbg.com/entry.php?entry_id=392 for the complete story), across town another unlikely legalization proponent was speaking to a circle of about two dozen people gathered in the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.

Norm Stamper, the former Seattle police chief and a cop for 34 years, is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers advocating for the legalization and regulation of all drugs (go to www.leap.cc for more info). Although Stamper also spoke at some NORML conference events, he differs from that organization in at least one key respect.

“Tomorrow I’m going to say something that will piss off NORML,” Stamper told the group in the Mission District April 21. Namely, Stamper argues that it is more important to legalize hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines than the more benign marijuana.

While NORML focuses on personal freedom and the fact that marijuana is less harmful than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, Stamper blames drug prohibition for the more serious public health and economic costs associated with harder drugs. In particular, prohibition hinders addiction treatment and quality control of drugs both of which can have deadly results.

“I do think drugs should be rigorously regulated and controlled,” Stamper argued, noting that there are many different visions for the postprohibition world even within his own organization. Stamper prefers a model in which all drugs are legalized, production and distribution systems are tightly controlled by the government (as they are now with alcohol and tobacco), addiction issues are treated as medical problems, and crimes associated with such addictions such as theft or spousal abuse are treated harshly.

But he also said that he’s open to other ideas and definitely shares the widely held view among drug-law reformers of all stripes that the $1 trillion “war on drugs,” instigated in 1970 by then-president Richard Nixon, has been a colossal failure and an unnecessary waste of human and economic capital.

“We should have created a public health model rather than a war model in dealing with drugs,” he said. “Whatever I choose to put in this body is my business, not the government’s business.”

And that’s one area in which Stamper would agree with Chong, who sang the praises of his favorite drug to a packed auditorium: “There’s no such thing as pot-fueled rage, is there?” SFBG

See “Students, Drugs, and a Law of Intended Consequences” on page 15.

San Francisco International Film Festival: Week two

0

WED/26

*Art School Confidential (Terry Zwigoff, USA, 2005). Pulpy with a deep noirish cast, this second collabo between Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff and cartoonist Daniel Clowes jumps off the artist’s scathingly on-target Eightball strip of the same name, taking aim at misbegotten would-be genius Jerome (Max Minghella), on campus with a serial killer on the loose, and painting Clowes’s comic exposé even blacker. Jerome’s hilarious and progressively unsettling trajectory through the art school con is studded with such delicious characters as condescending, failed-artist instructor John Malkovich, haughty art history teacher Anjelica Huston, wiseacre friend Joel David Moore, and graduate burnout/washout "guru" Jim Broadbent. 6:30 p.m., Kabuki (Kimberly Chun)

*The Wild Blue Yonder (Werner Herzog, Germany/England/France, 2005). Herzog’s latest dispatch from the reaches of inner and outer space orbits around found footage from NASA, mesmerizing underwater-camera work by Bay Area Grizzly Man player Henry Kaiser, and supposed space oddity Brad Dourif, furrowing his brow with all his might and telling tales of aquatic constellations elsewhere and environmental devastation on his adopted planet Earth. This elegiac, doomsaying and at times pixieish riff on Herzogian themes of hell- and heaven-bent exploration, vision quests, survival, and a certain rootlessness finds the auteur delving further into his Grizzly technique of piecing together a compelling narrative from whatever he can find in his cupboard. 7:30 p.m., Castro (as part of "An Evening with Werner Herzog") (Chun)

THURS/27

See You in Space (J??zsef Pacskovsky, Hungary, 2005). Hungarian writer-director Pacskovsky’s latest is another whimsical contraption of crisscrossing multiple story lines that sigh and shrug over the human condition. An astronaut stuck in orbit grows desperate as (back on Earth) his wife leaves him for a suave magician; a macrobiologist stalks, woos, and wins a virginal African refugee; a young hairdresser edges toward romance with an elderly client; a criminal psychologist finds herself attracted to a jailed murder suspect. Sprawling cross the globe, these alternately sardonic, fantastical, and silly threads are united by a sense that obsessive love is as unavoidable as it is inevitably disappointing. 4 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 8:45 p.m., and May 4, 5:45 p.m., Kabuki (Dennis Harvey)

*The Shutka Book of Records (Aleksandar Manic, Czech Republic, 2005). A Roma town in Macedonia stuffed with self-proclaimed champions is the setting for this weirdly joyful film, which is far too bizarre to be anything but a doc. Here’s some of what you’ll see: the "most powerful dervish in the world"; Mondo Caneish interludes (one word: circumcisions!); a woman known as "The Terminator" whose stock-in-trade is exorcising evil genies; break-dancers and boxers; exceedingly competitive Turkish music fanatics; and a young butcher named Elvis. My head was about to explode after I saw this film … but in a good way. 1:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/30, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki (Cheryl Eddy)

The Sun (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Italy/France/Switzerland, 2005). Third in a planned quartet of features about figureheads of 20th-century totalitarianism earlier ones focused on Hitler and Lenin; the fourth is yet to be announced this latest by Sokurov (Mother and Son, Russian Ark) focuses on Emperor Hirohito (Issey Ogata) at World War II’s end. The first half is as claustrophobic and tedious as the emperor’s underground bunker. Things get more interesting when he emerges to meet with the occupying forces’ General MacArthur (Robert Dawson) and sheds his age-old status as a living god a move that lets the Japanese people off the hook while allowing a bookish, mild-mannered monarch to finally live like a human being. This is a fascinating situation as well as a key historic and cultural moment. But The Sun is heavy going; seldom has a subject generated so little of Sokurov’s trademark metaphysical poetry, despite some striking moments. 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/29, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; and May 3, 7 p.m., PFA (Harvey)

FRI/28

Executive Koala (Minoru Kawasaki, Japan, 2005). It all starts so promisingly: An overworked koala, who is a celebrated executive in a pickle company, spends his time away from the office in bed with his doting human girlfriend. When she turns up dead, the cops come after him, causing our marsupial hero to question his assumed gentleness and his past. But this ridiculous Japanese comedy fails to build upon its initial setup; once the novelty of a guy in a koala suit wears off, so does the enjoyment. 10:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki (Jonathan L. Knapp)

SAT/29

*The Descent (Neil Marshall, England, 2005). What’s worse than being trapped underground? How about being trapped underground with creepy cave dwellers creepy, hungry cave dwellers? And maybe, just maybe, losing your mind at the same time? Believe the hype: British import The Descent is the scariest movie since The Blair Witch Project, thanks to a killer premise, flawless pacing and casting, and Dog Soldiers writer-director Neil Marshall’s unconcealed love for the horror genre. 11:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/1, 4 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

*Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (Stanley Nelson, USA, 2006). Nearly 30 years after the deaths of more than 900 people in the Guyanese jungle, Nelson’s deeply affecting documentary replays Jim Jones’s final, twisted address: "We didn’t commit suicide we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." That speech sets in motion what the doc tabs "the largest mass ‘suicide’ in modern history." Using a remarkable cache of vintage footage, as well as candid interviews with Peoples Temple survivors, relatives, and other eyewitnesses, Nelson examines the massacre with a journalist’s eye. Why the tragedy happened may never be explained, but seldom before has the how of Jonestown been so clearly delineated. 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/30, 7 p.m., Intersection for the Arts; Mon/1, 7 p.m., PFA; and Tues/2, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

*Wide Awake (Alan Berliner, USA, 2005). Documentary filmmaker Berliner (Nobody’s Business, The Sweetest Sound) takes his celebrated self-scrutiny to dizzying heights in this portrait of the artist as an insomniac. The subject is specific, but it’s readily apparent how sleeplessness touches Berliner’s life and work. As his trademark virtuosic montage editing flashes by (like many heralded avant-garde filmmakers before him, Berliner meticulously constructs scenes and meaning from the detritus of film history), we realize the extent to which artistry can be tied to neurosis a message unusual in its candor and transparency. 5:45 p.m., PFA. Also Sun/30, 4:15 p.m., Aquarius; and Tues/2, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki (Max Goldberg)

SUN/30

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, USA, 2005). Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is both an inspiring, idealistic teacher of history and a long-suffering addict of crack and cocaine in this challenging character study. Aside from a laughable reliance on stroking his scruff to convey existential angst, Gosling is largely up to the task of playing the bipolar lead, but the swaying narration of his character’s downward spiral feels shapeless. Still, the scenes in which Dan and a knowing student (Shareeka Epps) guardedly discuss immobility, race, and life in Brooklyn avoid the histrionics that mar typical teacher films, making Half Nelson a powerful, if overly ambitious first feature for writer-director Fleck and writer-producer Anna Boden. 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 9 p.m., Kabuki (Goldberg)

TUES/2

*Backstage (Emmanuelle Bercot, France, 2005). Emmanuelle Seigner convincingly plays and sings as sexily imperious Euro-pop goddess Lauren in this headlong remix of All about Eve, Persona, and the psycho-stalker genre. She commands hysterical worship from her fans, few being more hysterical than suburban teenager Lucie (Isild Le Besco). Improbably, the latter manages to insinuate herself into the spoiled, neurotic, rather awful pop princess’s inner circle as new confidante, servant, and toy. But if Lauren is a mess, Lucie might well turn out to be the much sicker puppy. Nasty fun, smartly directed. 7 p.m., Kabuki (also with Zoom! party at Roe, 9:30 p.m.) (Harvey) SFBG

Occult classic

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Harry Smith is a folk hero. Smith’s masterwork, the definitive, meticulously edited Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), was the bible of the ’60s folk movement that spawned Dylan, Baez, Fahey, and others. To discover it is to stumble into a forgotten, marginalized world, a portal to as Greil Marcus put it in his book about Dylan’s Basement Tapes "a weird but clearly recognizable America."

Compiled from scratchy 78s of the late ’20s and early ’30s and split into three two-LP volumes Ballads, Social Music, and Songs the collection seamlessly mixes country with blues, Cajun dances with fiery sermons. Tales of murder, suicide, plagues, and bizarre hallucinations wander alongside familiar characters from American mythology: Casey Jones, Stackalee (a.k.a. Stagger Lee), and US presidents and their assassins. These figures regularly appear in American stories and songs from the Anthology and elsewhere becoming recognizable but, like all great folk heroes, constantly evolving and remaining a mystery.

And so it is with Smith. A grand self-mythologizer, Smith told contradictory stories about his life: Born in 1923, in Portland, Ore., to an occult-obsessed teacher and a salmon fishery worker, he claimed his mother was the Russian princess Anastasia and his father, Aleister Crowley, a British writer, painter, and famed Satanist. Smith dabbled in many different art forms. In addition to editing the Anthology, he recorded Native American tribal rituals, the first Fugs album, and many of Allen Ginsberg’s recordings. He was also a prolific filmmaker, painter, writer, and all-around eccentric.

Smith’s friends Ginsberg, Jonas Mekas, and Robert Frank among them tell stories about a mad trickster genius on amphetamines with an encyclopedic knowledge of old music and art, fascinated by alchemy and anthropology, constantly begging for money, always experimenting with some new project. As a filmmaker, he worked solely in the abstract. His early films from the ’40s and ’50s (released in 1957 as Early Abstractions) are protopsychedelic: Colorful, hand-painted geometric shapes bounce and morph into one another.

His great cinematic statement, however, is 1962’s Heaven and Earth Magic. An hour-long exercise in black-and-white animation, it appropriately comes with a disputed history. Mekas claims the initial print was in color and projected with a special apparatus that Smith designed and then destroyed, tossing it out the window onto the streets of Manhattan.

Whatever the reality, what survives is strange, unique, and frequently wonderful. White cutouts from old catalogs, advertisements, and religious texts float and pirouette through the all-black frame. A loose story emerges of a Victorian lady who loses a watermelon, visits the dentist, and travels to and from heaven. Its mystical and historical imagery is impossible to fully grasp without years of study or, perhaps, Smith’s brain.

It’s clearly the work of a man who saw the world differently than most of us do both because he could and because he wanted to. Smith died in 1991, shortly after accepting a Grammy for Anthology. This screening of Heaven and Earth Magic complete with a live score by local avant-pop outfit Deerhoof should demonstrate what Smith himself surely knew: He was an American original, an artist difficult to categorize and impossible to ignore. SFBG

Heaven and Earth Magic

(Harry Smith, USA, 1962)

April 27, 9:45 p.m., Castro

Lesley’s turn to talk

0

Lesley Gore is in town this weekend, singing at Brava Theater Center. I recently had the chance to call the ‘60s teen queen who is forever linked to classic pop hits such as “It’s My Party” and the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me.” Today, the richness of Gore’s voice is a bit duskier, as evidenced by the new CD Ever Since. Whether reminiscing about a certain mega-producer or discussing fictional movie imitations of herself, this lesbian icon – a heroine to queer zine-maker and artist G.B. Jones, amongst others – is refreshingly honest.

Bay Guardian: Can you tell me a bit about meeting and working with Quincy Jones?

Lesley Gore: It’s extraordinary that a man of his distinction – even at that point in his career he was well accomplished – could put himself in the shoes of a 16-year-old kid. That is his art in a way, knowing how to make people comfortable and get the best from them. There may have been a 14-year difference between us, but he never talked down to me.

Quincy not only thought it was important to do well in the studio, he thought it was important to perform well onstage. He’d often call me on a Friday and say, “Lil’ Bits, meet me at Basin Street [in New York] at 8.” We’d go see Peggy or Ella or Dinah Washington. He’d say, “Listen to this opening number – this is what an opening number should do.” He took mentoring seriously. He wanted me to understand.

The bar was set high for me. I worked with some great producers, such as Quincy and Bob Crewe [the astrology-obsessed mastermind behind the Four Seasons, Music to Watch Girls By, Disco Tex and His Sex-o-Lettes, and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”].

BG: One little-known Quincy production that I love is The Amazing Timi Yuro.

LG: Timi Yuro was on the very first tour I did in England — Timi and Trini Lopez and Brooke Benton and Dion [DiMucci] without the Belmonts. I fell madly in love with “What’s a Matter Baby.”

BG: Joan Jett and others have covered “You Don’t Own Me.” Are there any particular versions you enjoy?

LG: I rather liked Joan’s interpretation. Dusty [Springfield] covered that record almost minutes after it came out.

We could put a song in the key of G and it would be comfortable, but if Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck he wouldn’t be happy. He’d raise it to the key of A so I’d sound younger. That’s why my [early] recordings are so poppy and bop-y.

This [new] album [Ever Since] is letting my voice do what it does without forcing into a range where I have to bleat all the time. That’s how the combination of old and new can make wonderful sense.

BG: Did you feel a kinship with or especially admire any other singers from the era of your biggest hits? I’m a Dusty Springfield fan.

LG: Who wouldn’t be? I did actually come to know Dusty when I was living in LA during the ‘70s. She did a song of mine called “Love Me By Name.” But she didn’t just do a song – she annihilated it. She invited me to the [recording] session; Joe Sample was the piano player.

They are doing a musical [Dusty] of Dusty’s life. Vicki Wickham, who was Dusty’s manager, is a dear friend of mine, and they consulted her.

BG: A favorite song of mine by you from that era that hints at what you do now is “What Am I Gonna Do With You.” Would you agree with that?

LG: Isn’t that a great song? That was co-written by Russ Titelman, who worked with [Eric] Clapton. When I get to expand my show, songs like that, and “All of My Life,” and “The Old Crowd” – which was written for me by Carole King and Gerry Goffin – are the songs that I’m looking at including within it.

We’ve stripped the songs in the show down to rhythm section and voice, and it’s clear what holds up and what doesn’t. It’s fascinating. “Judy’s Turn to Cry” has completely erupted for me as a new song after taking out those strings and horns and bop-y things. Without horns, “Maybe I Know” has a groove. It’s like re-singing them [the older songs] all over again.

BG: How did the writing of “Out Here on My Own” [sung by Irene Cara on the Fame soundtrack] come about?

LG: When my brother [Michael] started working on Fame he asked me for lyric writers. Much to my shame right now, I didn’t consider myself one. I was friendly with Peter Allen, and through that, Dean Pitchford and Michael got together. My brother was living in Manhattan and one afternoon I was up at his apartment and he played me the melody to “Out Here” and described the scene. When he first played it for me I knew what the title was. I was at my friends Carole Hall’s and Leonard Majzlin’s flat — I stayed indoors for 48 hours and knocked out the lyrics and became part of the Fame family. It was a very liberating step. It means a lot to me in that sense.

BG: What did you think of the movie Grace of My Heart, and of the character played by Bridget Fonda [a Gore facsimile]? Did they wholly miss the mark? Did they have the right spirit?

LG: Actually, nothing rang absolutely true in that movie. I think they were trying to exploit my character. The actual history is that I didn’t know I was gay until after college. So whatever they put in the movie was more of a projected scenario than a reality. Certainly, the [Fonda character’s] affair with the PR person is their own storyline.

They asked me to write a song [for the movie], and it wasn’t a completely pleasant experience, to be totally honest. I realized they asked me to do it so they could exploit my name. They sent me a track that had pretty much already been written. I felt the need to doctor it, and the changes made it better. Then they had the lack of decency to pretty much not invite to the [movie’s] opening.

I love musical movies and I’d like to see more of them made. But it took a lot of people’s lives and distorted them. They glued together scenarios — I think the lead [male] character is supposed to be Brian Wilson? Still, I’d rather have a bad version of a movie musical than no movie musical. And I think the idea of pairing different people [in the story] could have been a good one.

BG: Any hints about what you have in store for San Francisco?

LG: I’ll hit the stage with the band that helped me create the new album. You’re gonna get a show we’ve been doing steadily for 4 or 5 months – it’s grown in dimension, and everyone is going to have a great time. I expect they’ll go from laughter to tears as well. People may have to turn their hearing aids up — but that’s what friends are for.

BG: As someone once wrote –

LG: [Laughs] Exactly.

Occult classic

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Harry Smith is a folk hero. Smith’s masterwork, the definitive, meticulously edited Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), was the bible of the ’60s folk movement that spawned Dylan, Baez, Fahey, and others. To discover it is to stumble into a forgotten, marginalized world, a portal to — as Greil Marcus put it in his book about Dylan’s Basement Tapes — "a weird but clearly recognizable America."

Compiled from scratchy 78s of the late ’20s and early ’30s and split into three two-LP volumes — Ballads, Social Music, and Songs — the collection seamlessly mixes country with blues, Cajun dances with fiery sermons. Tales of murder, suicide, plagues, and bizarre hallucinations wander alongside familiar characters from American mythology: Casey Jones, Stackalee (a.k.a. Stagger Lee), and US presidents and their assassins. These figures regularly appear in American stories and songs — from the Anthology and elsewhere — becoming recognizable but, like all great folk heroes, constantly evolving and remaining a mystery.

And so it is with Smith. A grand self-mythologizer, Smith told contradictory stories about his life: Born in 1923, in Portland, Ore., to an occult-obsessed teacher and a salmon fishery worker, he claimed his mother was the Russian princess Anastasia and his father, Aleister Crowley, a British writer, painter, and famed Satanist. Smith dabbled in many different art forms. In addition to editing the Anthology, he recorded Native American tribal rituals, the first Fugs album, and many of Allen Ginsberg’s recordings. He was also a prolific filmmaker, painter, writer, and all-around eccentric.

Smith’s friends — Ginsberg, Jonas Mekas, and Robert Frank among them — tell stories about a mad trickster genius on amphetamines with an encyclopedic knowledge of old music and art, fascinated by alchemy and anthropology, constantly begging for money, always experimenting with some new project. As a filmmaker, he worked solely in the abstract. His early films from the ’40s and ’50s (released in 1957 as Early Abstractions) are protopsychedelic: Colorful, hand-painted geometric shapes bounce and morph into one another.

His great cinematic statement, however, is 1962’s Heaven and Earth Magic. An hour-long exercise in black-and-white animation, it appropriately comes with a disputed history. Mekas claims the initial print was in color and projected with a special apparatus that Smith designed and then destroyed, tossing it out the window onto the streets of Manhattan.

Whatever the reality, what survives is strange, unique, and frequently wonderful. White cutouts from old catalogs, advertisements, and religious texts float and pirouette through the all-black frame. A loose story emerges of a Victorian lady who loses a watermelon, visits the dentist, and travels to and from heaven. Its mystical and historical imagery is impossible to fully grasp without years of study — or, perhaps, Smith’s brain.

It’s clearly the work of a man who saw the world differently than most of us do — both because he could and because he wanted to. Smith died in 1991, shortly after accepting a Grammy for Anthology. This screening of Heaven and Earth Magic — complete with a live score by local avant-pop outfit Deerhoof — should demonstrate what Smith himself surely knew: He was an American original, an artist difficult to categorize and impossible to ignore SFBG

Heaven and Earth Magic

(Harry Smith, USA, 1962)

 

April 27, 9:45 p.m., Castro

Mapping The Descent

0

› cheryl@sfbg.com

What’s worse than being trapped underground? How about being trapped underground with creepy cave dwellers — creepy, hungry cave dwellers? And maybe, just maybe, losing your mind at the same time? Believe the hype: British import The Descent is the scariest movie since The Blair Witch Project, thanks to a killer premise, flawless pacing and casting, and writer-director Neil Marshall’s unconcealed love for the horror genre. Here we present a flowchart of The Descent‘s predecessors and influences.

THE SHINING Any Kubrick fan worth their Grady girls impersonation will recognize The Descent‘s visual — and thematic — nods to the classic. Let’s just say that anytime a car is creeping along a mountain road and shot from above, whatever’s at the end of that road can’t be good.

¤

DELIVERANCE The greatest of all outdoor-adventure-gone-awry films is duly honored here, right down to one character’s Burt Reynolds–<style wet suit. However, The Descent focuses on female friendships, not male bonding — and the unfriendly natives ain’t playing no banjos.

¤

ALIEN Two miles underground, as in space, no one can hear you scream — except monsters and your fellow explorers, who may or may not have your back, no matter what you thought at the beginning of the journey.

¤

DOG SOLDIERS Marshall’s 2002 chiller is also about a group of people caught off guard by unfriendly freaks of nature: army blokes who encounter a pack of werewolves deep in the Scottish woods.

¤

THE CAVE This 2005 also-ran is included here only because it’s a vastly inferior, PG-13 version of the same basic story: spelunkers on a downward spiral. Despite its smaller budget and unknown British cast, The Descent is far more memorable, not to mention way gorier.

¤
AND THE REST Unless you’re too terrified, claustrophobic, or grossed out to pay close attention while you’re watching, keep your peepers peeled for homages to Apocalypse Now, Carrie, The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, the Lord of the Rings films, and Nosferatu.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>

THE DESCENT

(Neil Marshall, England, 2005)

April 29, 11:30 p.m., Kabuki

May 1, 4 p.m., Kabuki

 

The L word: Lesley

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I hear car horns behind the voice of Lesley Gore on the phone, which makes sense, since the woman who sang "It’s My Party" and "You Don’t Own Me" is in New York. The Big Apple is also where Gore first learned how to hit the charts, with no less a tutor than producer and arranger Quincy Jones. "It’s extraordinary that a man of his distinction could put himself in the shoes of a 16-year-old kid," Gore says. "That was his art, in a way. There may have been a 14-year difference between us, but he never talked down to me."

Anecdotes about Q figure in Gore’s current live performances, which also makes sense, since the girl who sang "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" and "Judy’s Turn to Cry" in the key of A "If Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck, he wouldn’t be happy" is now a smoky-voiced woman working in jazzier, Jones-ier realms on the new CD Ever Since (Engine Company). "Quincy would often call me on a Friday and say, "Lil Bits, meet me at Basin Street at 8"," Gore remembers. "We’d go see Peggy [Lee] or Ella [Fitzgerald] or Dinah Washington. He’d say, "Listen to this opening number this is what an opening number should do." He took mentoring seriously. He wanted me to understand."

To understand Lesley Gore, you could check out Susan J. Douglas’s excellent Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, a rumination on pop culture that makes it easy to place 60s girl pop records by Gore and others on a continuum that led to the feminist revolution. Or you could just check out the music. Far from a crybaby, Gore paved the way for the rebellious likes of Joan Jett. "I rather liked Joan’s interpretation [of "You Don’t Own Me"]," ‘]," Gore says. "Dusty [Springfield] also covered that record almost minutes after it came out."

Ah, Dusty. Gore and Springfield had things besides talent in common, even if it’s taken decades for the news to come out in print. "I did actually come to know Dusty when I was living in LA during the 70s," Gore recalls. "They are doing a musical [Dusty] of Dusty’s life. Dusty’s manager, Vicki Wickham, is a dear friend of mine, and they consulted her."

One musical has already drawn material from Gore’s life for material, though her thoughts about Allison Anders’s 1996 movie Grace of My Heart aren’t fond ones.  "Actually, nothing rang absolutely true in that movie," she says. "The actual history is that I didn’t know I was gay until after college," she says.. "So whatever they put in [the movie] was more of a projected scenario than a reality. They asked me to write a song [for the movie], and it wasn’t a completely pleasant experience. I realized they asked so they could exploit my name. Then they had the lack of decency to pretty much not invite me to the [movie’s] opening." Needless to say, Gore’s memories of working with what she calls "the Fame family" and copenning Irene Cara’s "Out Here oOn My Own" are happier.

As for today, the woman who has recently helped soundtrack The L Word and host In the Life is ready to hit the road for San Francisco with her band. ""Judy’s Turn to Cry" has completely erupted for me as new song, after taking out those horn and strings and boppy things," she says, discussing the "stripped-down" approach she takes to new tunes and classic hits. "You’re gonna get a show we’ve been doing steadily for 4 or 5 months for months it’s grown in dimension, width, and height, and everyone is going to have a great time. Some people may have to turn their hearing aids up, but that’s what friends are for." (Johnny Ray Huston)

LESLEY GORE

Sat/22Sun/23, 8 p.m.

Brava Theater Center

2781 24th St., SF

$35$40 ($60 with includes Gala afterparty)

(415) 647-2822

www.brava.org

For a Q&A with Lesley Gore, go to Noise, the sfbg.com music blog. 

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April 19-25

Aries

March 21-April 19

Every once in a while, we enjoy peeping a bout of WrestleMania on the ol’ tube. While watching muscley long-hairs body-slam each other, we thought: That’s just like Aries. Totally getting their asses kicked by insecurity and other crappy feelings. Bounce back by shifting your relationship to whatever’s got you down.

Taurus

April 20-May 20

Pluto and Venus are square-dancing in the sky, producing really intense interpersonal encounters throughout the zodiac. And you, spawn of Venus, are no exception to the drama. Devise some sort of creative way of checking in with yourself. It’ll really help you handle the frustrations we promise are headed your way.

Gemini

May 21-June 21

Gemini, if anything or anyone comes around trying to sell you on an opportunity for growth or new beginnings in your emotional realm, you damn well better take them up on it. All of this affirmative activity can easily morph into scattered mental energy, so keep your head screwed on tight and say, “Hells yeah.”

Cancer

June 22-July 22

We’re here to make sure you’re not focusing too hard on those fears of yours, Cancer. Obsessive attention may make the scary little bastards come to life — and then what? If you understand that you already have everything you need, you won’t feel so grabby toward others.

Leo

July 23-Aug. 22

We see you asserting boundaries that you would rather not assert, Leo, while mired in situations you would rather not be in. A rather shitty week, perhaps, but the success you will have in these challenging scenarios should bring you a great amount of pride and, yes, happiness.

Virgo

Aug. 23-Sept. 22

Virgo, you’re going to have to buck up and extend yourself toward your relationships. Especially your sexual relationships. They need every bit of effort you can sink into them. Consciously invest in your passion and what is personally true for you; avoid investing in your compulsions.

Libra

Sept. 23-Oct. 22

It’s one of two heavy things, Libra: Either you’re processing a very deep loss, or you’re coming to terms with the need to make some seriously deep behavioral changes. Maybe a little of both? Either way, it looks like a hellish week. Balance your daring actions with reflection and care.

Scorpio

Oct. 23-Nov. 21

Lookit you, Scorpio, no control at all. That must suck — a control freak such as yourself, up shit’s creek with no paddle in sight. However, this glorious lack of control actually offers you the opportunity to stop vying for control! Think about it. Stop trying to impose your will, and cultivate emotional and physical presence instead.

Sagittarius

Nov. 22-Dec. 21

Sag, a little aggression and a little initiative are like a day in the sun. You feel all healthy and virile and whatnot. But too much aggression and initiative is like you overstayed your welcome on the blazing shores of life: You feel drained and crazy and have a higher chance of catching cancer. Take it easy this week.

Capricorn

Dec. 22-Jan. 19

Capricorn, if we could blindfold you and make you fall backward into our waiting arms, we would. Because this week is all about trust exercises. And we know how much you hate trust exercises, so we want to make it fun for you. Because shit is currently stressful, and the best way to get through it is not to analyze but to trust.

Aquarius

Jan. 20-Feb. 18

Aquarius, the good news is that your heart is open. Good job! Some people have to spend tons of money on self-help books and trips to India to achieve the state you’re currently in. The bad news is that your brain is manic and trying to make decisions prematurely. Only make promises when you know you can keep them.

Pisces

Feb. 19-March 20

Pisces, it’s okay to be trusting. You’re going to have to be in order to accomplish what we’ve assigned you this week. First, you’ve got to invest yourself in what matters most to you, things that reflect your actual needs. Next, you’ve got to communicate verbally in a way that’s productive. Then take yourself out for pie. SFBG

Daniel in the lion’s den

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The first time I heard Daniel Johnston’s music, I’d ordered a tape from K Records, having little idea what to expect. What arrived in the mail was something very different from Let’s Kiss and Let’s Together and other happy home- and handmade cassettes distributed by the label. Yip/Jump Music presented a more tortured brand of raw expression.

daniel2 -- small.jpg

Over the years Johnston has played solo and with bands, and recorded for a major label as well as several indies. He’s inspired an excellent tribute album (Dead Dog’s Eyeball, on Bar None) by Kathy McCarty, and now, Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a winner of the 2005 Director’s Award at the Sundance Film Festival. As Feuerzeig’s movie begins a local run at the Lumiere Theatre, producer Henry S. Rosenthal – who some may also know as the drummer of Crime — agreed to talk about it.

Bay Guardian: The Devil and Daniel Johnston begins with some uncanny self-recorded footage of Johnston from 1985, in which he introduces himself as “the ghost” of Daniel Johnston and refers to “the other world.” How did you and [director] Jeff Feuerzeig get that footage?

Henry S. Rosenthal: Part of Daniel’s mania is his obsession with self-documentation, and as you can tell from his early Super-8 films he’s funny and creative. He loves comic books — that’s his world. As for the footage, it’s as if Daniel was creating this voluminous archive knowing that someday someone would put it all together. Clearly that task is beyond him, but creating the source material is something he’s devoted much of his life to. Was he doing it consciously? Certainly — but it’s part and parcel with his illness.
Daniel has a sense of posterity that is uncanny. He recorded all of his phone conversations with Radio Shack equipment. All of that was there for us to go through.
We didn’t understand the magnitude of the archive until we went to the house and found Hefty bags filled with hundreds of tapes. He’s kept a cassette recorder going for every second he was awake for 15 years.

BG: I was surprised at the wealth of early footage of Johnston – his home movies are a hoot. Did Feuerzeig do anything to treat or restore that footage? Also, is Johnston still as interested in self-documentation today as he was while growing up?

HR: All of the texture that you see in the early films — the snowflakes as we call them – stems from mold eating the films. When we found the films they were in a shoebox in a closet being eaten by mold. We sent them to the same restoration facility that Martin Scorsese sends things to. We transferred them twice over two years, and when we went back to watch the footage, the snowflakes or mold had advanced considerably. Those films will eventually be consumed. The fact we could preserve [some of] them means they’ll exist in the future.
Daniel no longer walks around with a cassette recorder. That was part of his manic phase, and he isn’t theoretically having manic phases anymore — he is under the influence of psychotropic medication. Now he puts that manic energy into his music and his art.

BG: His devotion to recording is very Warhol-like.

HR: It reminds me of Warhol’s filing system with the boxes. Warhol just kept those empty cardboard boxes that he’d put anything in. Then they’d be taped up, numbered, and sent to storage. Later, they found so many important documents mixed in with his junk mail. I can’t say it’s effective, but it’s good for posterity. At least you know things are chronological.

BG: Feuerzeig’s rock docs – both this and Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King – allow the parents of the “rock stars” to have their say. Is that something you like about his approach? Obviously in Johnston’s case it’s necessary to have his mom in the film since she plays such a major role in his early recordings.

HR: The Mabel of the movie is a mellowed Mabel. She’s not the Mabel of Daniel’s youth. She’s also not the Mabel of today because she’s unfortunately deteriorated considerably. She’s blind and has had hip replacements and has trouble walking. She’s in frail condition.
The parents are great. Both Jeff and I like old people. There aren’t enough old people on the screen in general. In Jeff’s films, the parents play a key role in the lives of the artists. Jad and David [Fair, of Half Japanese] lived at home during their early creative years. There’s that great scene in The Band That Would Be King where the parents talk about Half Japanese’s first record negotiations at the family home, and about Jad going downstairs and getting Coke – the drink, not the drug.
These people lived at home and the parents are a big part of the story. In Daniel’s case, they’re an even bigger part in terms of decisions they’ve made for him.
Different people view [Daniel’s parents in the movie] differently. We showed the film to an audience of psychologists, and many saw the parents as heroic for choosing not to institutionalize Daniel. Many others saw them as making a big mistake.

BG: The movie talks about aspects of Johnston’s art, such as the eyeball imagery that dominates his drawings. I’m wondering about his early identification with Joe Louis and also the recurrent references to Casper the Friendly Ghost in his lyrics. Has he said much about any of that?

HR: Casper’s always occupied a central role in Daniel’s life. You may recall the sequence [in the film] where Daniel is sent to Texas to live with his brother and he turns his brother’s weight bench into a recording studio. Sitting right next to that “recording studio” was a Casper glass. In one of Daniel’s audio letters he talked about how lonely he was in Texas and that his only friend in the world was his Casper glass.
We found an identical glass on eBay; [Daniel] helped us art direct many of the recreations in the film.
I liked Casper as a kid, but I never thought about it until Daniel asked — “How did Casper die?”

BG: Can you tell me a bit about the decision to not have Johnston interviewed in the movie? It seems as if others talk about him, but he rarely directly addresses the viewer.

HR: We filmed hours and hours of interviews with Daniel, and the sad fact is this: Daniel is not able to host his own film. He’s sick and he can’t tell these stories. He doesn’t remember them, and when he does, he doesn’t tell them right. You can’t draw Daniel out. He says what he wants to say when he wants to say it. He can’t host the movie like R. Crumb hosts Crumb.
When journalists travel all the way to Texas to interview Daniel, they are shocked and frustrated to discover that he’s a mental patient. People want to believe that it’s an act, or that he’s putting people on.
If we had relied on Daniel’s interviews to drive the film, there would be no film. It wasn’t until we unearthed the archive that we realized that Daniel narrated the film, but in real time, as it happened. We don’t have to have Daniel reminisce – [because of his self-documentation] we can be there during his manic phases and see him babbling to Gibby Haynes, or swimming in the creek while talking about baptizing people.

BG: How and when did you become a Daniel Johnston fan? Do you have a favorite song or album? I know you’ve referred to this movie as a 6-year labor of sorts, so could you also give me a bit of background in terms of its creation?

HR: I think I came to Daniel through Half Japanese, whom I met through my friendship with Bruce Conner. Bruce was on Jad [Fair]’s mailing list. Jad would send Bruce packages of records — when you get something from Jad, it’s mail art. Then Bruce had a party in the late ‘70s and brought them [Half Japanese] out and I met them.
My favorite album of Daniel’s is the Jad Fair-Daniel collaboration, which has been reissued under the name It’s Spooky [originally on 50 Skidillion Watts records; now available on Jagjaguwar]. It just doesn’t get better.
Jeff and I met in Berlin [at the Berlin Film Festival] in 1993, when he was there with his film about Half Japanese. I felt like he had made that film just for me. I knew I was the only person in the room who knew who the band was. Everyone was convinced this was Spinal Tap. We talked about our love of Daniel and how there should be a Daniel Johnston film. It seemed impossible. He [Daniel] was dormant at the time. It wasn’t until 2000 that he began emerging again. That’s when we seized the moment.

BG: You are producing Bruce Conner’s sole feature-length film, a years-in-the-making documentary about the Soul Stirrers. Can you tell me a bit about that movie, and about your other involvements with Bruce via the film and his Mabuhay Gardens photos of your band Crime?

HR: We met during the punk rock years and became friends then. Bruce asked me if I could produce a reunion concert of the original Soul Stirrers. I knew nothing about filmmaking at that time. We decided the event was so important it should be documented. We looked for people to film, and that’s kind of how I got tricked into being a movie producer. Twenty years later, that movie is still the albatross around my neck. We are making slow progress on it, believe it or not. It’s not dormant and it’ll emerge one day.
It’s priceless archive footage that we’ve shot, because all of our protagonists are dead.
Bruce definitely got me started in this profession – though I hesitate to call it that, I don’t know what it is – and as I sharpen my skills with other filmmakers on other projects we’ve continued to collaborate.

BG: Do you see any links between Devil and Daniel Johnston and documentaries such as Tarnation and Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt?

HR: The movies that most often get mentioned in relation to ours are Capturing the Friedmans and Crumb. Those are either stylistic or content pairings that people are making. There’s validity to all of them.
Tarnation I enjoyed, though I didn’t think it was a great film. It bogged down, but it was interesting. The high point of the movie for me was the early footage where he [Jonathan Caouette] was impersonating his mother — that’s what stands out in my mind. When Tarnation came out, we were done with this film, so Tarnation exerted no influence. We were curious to track it because it relied heavily on a person’s obsessive self-documentation. But I think that the materials are handled with a completely different sensibility.
Crumb deals with an artist who you could say has interesting personality disorders. I’m not going to say Crumb is mentally ill — he’s nowhere near where Daniel is. But like Devil and Daniel Johnston, Crumb is a monograph about an artist.
Capturing the Friedmans will forever remain the most astounding archive of found footage ever stumbled across.

BG: A review of Devil and Daniel Johnston in Film Comment claims the movie makes a virtue of Johnston’s “self-defeating” eccentricity, and asserts that the movie fuels “mad genius” myths while ignoring Johnston’s influences. What do you think of that kind of criticism?
HR: I completely disagree. Daniel’s influences are discussed throughout the film. They’re all over the walls of his garage – comic books, Marilyn, the Beatles, he’s a sponge of pop culture and everything else. He has art books devoted to da Vinci and Van Gogh. He sucks from everything and it gets spewed out through his filter. He doesn’t assign value to things – to him, everything’s the greatest. He has the biggest collection of Beatles bootlegs I’ve ever seen. To Daniel, Ringo’s solo albums are as great as Sgt. Pepper’s. Wings albums are as great as Beatles albums.
He listens to Journey, Rush – whatever garbage, he processes it. And yet when you engage Daniel on a topic when he’s conversant and catch him in a lucid moment you can have the most erudite discussion. He can critique every panel Jack Kirby ever drew.
There’s that shot [in the film] when you’re in a basement and seeing his work materials, and you’re seeing Warhol’s Marilyns. I wonder how many other teenagers in Westchester at the time were cutting out Warhols – probably none. Daniel’s always been plugged in and sought out the most interesting things going on.

BG: What does Daniel think of the movie?

HR: You can imagine what this movie would mean to a narcissist of Daniel’s proportion. Of course, he likes the film — but he’s very funny. He told Jeff when he saw it that he liked the colors.
We did take the time to shoot 16mm film and we took hours to light and compose shots.
The aesthetic of the film is a huge part of it. If we had this movie with a camcorder it wouldn’t have given the subject the weight it deserved. That’s why this movie cost a million dollars.

Cocky bull story

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Erich von Stroheim and Orson Welles were early, defining examples of the film director living like a work of art larger than life, a wee bit self-destructive, and as entertaining as their movies. Yet looking, acting, and smelling like a great filmmaker doesn’t necessarily mean you are one.

Nicholas Jarecki’s The Outsider manages to just about completely avoid that troublesome issue. It leaves no doubt, however, that subject James Toback is a maverick, an auteur, and an original. The leap implied is that these inherently neutral designations imply quality, even greatness not just, as Roger Ebert is noted as saying (in perhaps the closest the film comes to a critical evaluation), that anything of an off-the-beaten-track, personal nature is bound to be more “interesting” than whatever the studio assembly line spat out last weekend.

No argument there. But it would be ignoring what really does grab one’s lapels about Toback’s work to suggest (as The Outsider does) that he must make great films because they’re unlike anyone else’s. In fact, the reason he’s been worth following for three decades or so is precisely because his work is often obnoxious, crackpot, and uneven at best and ouch-bad at worst. Toback’s moments of garishly questionable judgment are sometimes world-class ones you can’t forget.

After major druggy high jinks at Harvard and penning an infatuated book about Dionysian football legend Jim Brown, Toback wrote 1974’s The Gambler, in which all his influences (the first being Dostoyevsky) and themes (“race, sex and risk”) are laid out. It was about an intellectual (James Caan) driven by compulsion into gambling debts and other excesses that invite criminal violence pretty much the quintessential Toback plot, someone notes in The Outsider, and one he’s happy to confirm as quasi-autobiographical.

A similar scenario went into hyperdrive in 1971’s Fingers, his first and still best directorial effort. Recently remade as the French film The Beat That My Heart Skipped, this electric genre-mauling had frequent collaborator Harvey Keitel bouncing off the walls of his inner Dr. Jekyll (concert pianist) and Mr. Hyde (psychotic mob enforcer). It remains crazy in a good way. Which could not be said of the international intrigues Love and Money (alas, there’s no footage of him wrangling on-set with Klaus Kinski) and Exposed. The latter featured unlikely corn-fed Midwesterner Nastassja Kinski’s encounters with terrorism, fashion modeling, and a Rudolf Nureyev struggling to convey blaze-hot heterosexuality in a uniquely constipated way. Like his friend Norman Mailer, Toback often regards women with a combination of Penthouse slobbering and Freudian horror; it’s too bad the documentary doesn’t ask any of his more recklessly messed-around actresses for their two cents.

It’s a mighty spotty oeuvre. His more commercial stabs (The Pick-Up Artist, Harvard Man) are just poor entertainment; a smart screenplay for Bugsy was undermined by the wrong star (Warren Beatty) and director (Barry Levinson). The Big Bang was a look-who-I-know cocktail party masquerading as philosophical inquiry. Highly “personal projects” Black and White and Two Girls and a Guy gave Robert Downey Jr. way too much rope while giving me cause to repeatedly bang my head against the wall. Many of these films are playing at the Roxie in conjunction with Jarecki’s portrait. Knock yourself out.

At times The Outsider is more revealing than flattering toward its subject as when Downey calls the subject a “genius and retard.” If one might argue he doesn’t merit either extreme, it’s Toback’s oft-simultaneous hitting-and-missing that makes him so hard to dismiss. Or maybe it’s just the 100,000 micrograms of pure LSD-25 he says he never quite recovered from. That does explain a lot.

THE OUTSIDER

Fri/7 through April 13

Fri., 7 and 9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 3, 7 and 9 p.m.; and Mon.–Thurs., 6:30, 8, and 9:30 p.m.

For information about the “James Toback Retrospective,” see Rep Clock.

Roxie Cinema

3117 16th St., SF

$4–$8

(415) 863-1087

www.roxie.com

www.outsidermovie.com

Intelligence

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CHEAP EATS “Did you hear about the barn swallows in Minnesota?” Earl Butter said, while we were waiting for our waffles.

“This reminds me,” I replied. “This idea that there are more alive people now than dead ones where did you get it?”

“Late Night,” he said.

“David Letterman?”

“Yeah.”

“Ah.”

“Actually,” he said, “I heard it somewhere else too. Why?”

“No reason,” I said. “Fact-checking.” I checked myself. “After-the-fact fact-checking.”

“Well, about the barn swallows

“What are your sources?” I said, before-the-fact fact-checking, for a change.

“Public television.”

“What show?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Some nature show.”

Our waffles came. On paper plates with plastic forks and knives. They came with two eggs apiece, over-easied into neat little triangles, and meat. Sausage for me of course, and Spam for Earl. You can also get bacon, or some kind of veggie patty ($4.75).

There was butter already melting into the waffles, and, to my amazement and delight, and surprise, given the paper and plastic and overall fluorescent lighting of the little joint, the butter looked like butter. “Can I get more butter?” I asked the guy. Partly this was a fact-checking maneuver, and partly I wanted more butter. I knew I did, without tasting, because I always want more butter.

He smiled and went to get it for me. Sweet guy. Great place. New favorite restaurant. I already knew that, but maybe you want hard evidence.

“About the barn swallows,” Earl Butter said, halfway done eating, and I hadn’t even started.

On the radio: Forum, with Michael Krasny and a panel of tweedy-sounding indie rock “experts” boring the world to death with Noise Pop blah, blah, blah, making it, blah, blah, sincerity, blah, passion. Get off the radio and dance, dudes.

Guy comes back with a little paper bowl full of real butter, and I could of kissed him, speaking of rock ’n’ roll. This was all I needed to know, and knowing it, little plastic knife in hand, I buttered and buttered my golden, crispy waffle, which was starting to get cold. Which is perfect because then the butter really sets there. Speaking of cold, hard facts. It doesn’t disappear into the waffle. It globulates. Waits, looks back at you, existingly. Then, finally, melts into your tongue. Hot damn!

“Can I try a piece of your Spam?” I said.

He gave me a whole slice. It was pretty good, a lot better than I expected. Would you believe I’d never eaten Spam before? Well, I have now eaten Spam. It’s pretty good.

The sausage was chicken apple sausage and this is my only bone to pick with the place. What’s up with the fancy-pants sausage? The name of the joint is the Little Piglet Café, you got pork this and pig that all over the menu, little piggy visual touches all over the walls and all around the paper-hearts-in-the-shape-of-a-heart in the window in the door . . .

The big sign outside over the window, which drew me to the place in the first place, Ninth Street between Bryant and Harrison: Waffles, Soups, Boxed Lunches, Daily Specials, Hot & Cold, Little Piglet Café, real cute picture of a pig. I don’t get it. What’s up with the chicken sausage?

“Barn swallows,” said Earl Butter.

It’s still my new favorite restaurant. I mean, waffles, eggs, and meat for under five bucks, and with real butter, are you kidding me? Plus the coffee is coffeehouse quality, and there are enough other good-looking things on the menu to keep me coming back for weeks and weeks without even repeating myself: Cajun meatloaf sandwich, barbecued pork with “pig sambal” (whatever that might mean), roasted peppers and avocado salad with pineapple vinaigrette.

Is this a Hawaiian theme I’m picking up on?

“Home Depot,” said Earl Butter.

“Huh?”

There’s a Spam can dispensing candy canes, and a picture of Jessica Simpson setting on a can of tuna fish.

“They figured out how to open the automatic doors and get inside,” he said.

“Who did?”

Little Piglet Café

Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

451 Ninth St., SF

(415) 626-5618

No alcohol

Takeout available

MasterCard, Visa

Quiet

Wheelchair accessible

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, all right already

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SONIC REDUCER In the best of all music fans’ worlds, an album will grow on you like lichen, excessive body hair, or a parasite à la guinea worm, only with more pleasure and less arterial spray, I pray. You like it more and more as you play-repeat-play. It starts with an ear-catching opening track or appetite-whetting overture, as that well-worn pop recipe goes, and builds momentum until track three or four. That one should sink its little tenterhooks into you and refuse to let go until you listen to it once again or upload it to your iPod or whatever musical delivery system serves the addiction.

That analyzed, it’s amazing how some bands, like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, can go from compulsively listenable to annoying with one album, Show Your Bones (Interscope). Too bad because the YYYs still stand out, like a slash of smeared red lipstick, as one of the few female-fronted groups to emerge from that much hyped, new-rock New York music scene of the early ’00s. That barely sublimated burden of representation, the YYYs’ association with the Liars and the more artistically ambitious NYC crew, as well as the heightened critical expectations after the strength of 2003’s Fever to Tell hasn’t helped Show. Once the flurry of screeching, obscuring noise and rockabilly riffs are stripped away and the songs are spruced up in the studio, the poppier YYYs sound deathly similar to peers like the Strokes at their most singsong (“Dudley,” “Mysteries”). O’s slight lyrics are exposed as the slender vehicles they are her piercing tone, which cut through the distortion in the past, simply seems affected.

Even when O toys with teasing double entendre on “Cheating Hearts,” confutf8g the act of taking off a ring with a sexed-up strip (“Well I’m / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off / And she’s / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off / And he’s / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off / And we’re / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off”), the story doesn’t go anywhere beyond the (again, repeated) lines “Sometimes / I think that I’m bigger / Than the sound.” The entire enterprise gives up the reheated, ego-stroking aroma of Zep knockoffs like Heart. That wouldn’t necessarily be bad, if those commercial rock invocations seemed to serve more than an ego that seems “something like a phenomena, baby” (see the key fourth track, “Phenomena”). This album feels like a grandiose, strident, ultimately airheaded mess all Show, no go.

“Fab Mab” flap

I was a humongoid Flipper fan back in the day, but, truthfully, I wasn’t thinking too hard about the imminent “Fab Mab Reunion” show featuring the SF dadaist-punk legends and Mabuhay Gardens regulars the Dead Kennedys, the Avengers, and the Mutants. The reunion part of the show’s name brought out ex-DK vocalist Jello Biafra, who issued the statement, “No, it is not a Dead Kennedys reunion. Yes, I am boycotting the whole scam. These are the same greedmongers who ran to corporate lawyers and sued me for over six years in a dispute sparked by my not wanting ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ sold into a Levi’s commercial. They now pimp Dead Kennedys in the same spirit as Mike Love suing Brian Wilson over and over again, then turning around and playing shows as the Beach Boys.”

I was curious about the pimping notion. The idea can’t help but cross one’s mind with the crowded pit of punk reunion shows (including the Flesh Eaters; see “Zombies Are Back!” page 35), all within spittin’ distance of each other in the past few years. So I spoke to Flipper drummer Steve DePace, who put together the “reunion” after the band’s first performance after a “10-year hiatus” (Bruno DeMartis sitting in for the late Will Shatter) at a CBGB’s benefit last year. Following that, they answered a request to play LA’s closing Olympic Auditorium. “I thought to myself, in the spirit of the funnest days of my career back in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Mabuhay Gardens when that scene was flourishing and that club served as the hub to the punk rock scene that developed in SF what if we were to do a show with that vibe?” says the 49-year-old exanimation industry project manager, who now lives in LA. “What are the bands around that are still playing from back in those days?

“Listen, Flipper is not making a ton of money,” he continues, adding that Flipper has reformed because they still have a passionate audience. To DePace, the most famous of those Flipper fans was likely Kurt Cobain, who wore his homemade Flipper T-shirt on TV and magazine covers. Of course, there were no official Flipper shirts, he says. “Back in those days we were not into the commerce,” he explains. “No one thought about selling merchandise nowadays it’s the biggest thing. People gobble it up.” Just keep feeding.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

April 28 and 29

Warfield

982 Market, SF

Call for time and price.

(415) 775-7722

“Fab Mab Reunion”

Sat/8, 9 p.m.

Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

$25

(415) 346-6000

GET A LOAD OF HIS DOWNLOAD

After supporting his buddies the Shins and finding inspiration on Fleetwood Mac’s Future Games (Reprise, 1971), ex-Califone side guy Eric Johnson made one of the loveliest, most underrated indie pop LPs of 2005, Spelled in Bones (Sub Pop). Images of blood injury (the legacy of cutting his head open as a five-year-old and, later, one auto accident too many) crop up, as does a ref to that distinctively northern Midwestern “land of sky blue waters” from the old Hamm’s beer commercial. Johnson’s obviously comfortable listening in the past, judging from these items in the iTunes library on his new computer:

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Bizarre/Straight/EMI)

Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde (Columbia)

Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies (Rhino/WEA)

Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy (WEA)

Meat Puppets, Meat Puppets II (SST/Rykodisc)

Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells a Story (Polygram)

Kelley Stoltz, Below the Branches (Sub Pop); “Favorite thing I’ve heard this year so far.”

T. Rex, The Slider (Rhino/WEA); “I listen to it when I clean house.”

Fruit Bats play Mon/10, 8 p.m., the Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. $10–$12. (415) 771-1421

MORE, MORE, MORE

Dada Swing

Italy’s punky musical absurdists swing through town once more, after last year’s power-packed Hemlock and Cookie Factory dates. SF experimentalists the Molecules also reunite. Fri/7, 9:30 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $7. (415) 923-0923

Levi Fuller

The Seattle musician makes moody folk songs with a bleeding edge; check his second album, This Murder Is a Peaceful Gathering (Denimclature). Jean Marie, the Blank Tapes, and 60 Watt Kid also play. Thurs/6, 8:30 p.m., Hotel Utah Saloon, 500 Fourth St., SF. $6. (415) 546-6300

Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani

The Trieste trumpet-player and Bollani back up their recent album, Tati (ECM), while collaborator, drummer Paul Motian, remains in NYC. Enrico Pieranunzi fills out this il Jazz Italiano bill. Fri/7, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness, SF. $25–$51. (415) 621-6600, www.sfjazz.org

SUPERLIST NO. 813: Bling it on

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Grills, plates, slugs, pullouts — whatever you want to call them — the gold tooth phenomenon, once a staple of hip-hop culture, has now become fashionable among indie rockers, parents, and high schoolers of all ages and races. Though the American Dental Association has strongly advised against bringing the bling to your gum line, as long as Oscar-winning rappers are dropping $30K on their choppers, the golden craze will surely blaze on. Caps are removable, can be made of yellow or white gold, silver, or putf8um, and usually come in two settings: solid, which covers the entire tooth, or open-faced, which has a square cutout to expose the normal tooth. Most grill shops specialize in custom designs and will cater to whatever your fancy might be — whether it’s grilling your teeth into white gold vampire fangs with diamond tips or etching your dog’s name into your caps with emeralds, rubies, or sapphires. Though we can’t vouch for the quality of a gold tooth, and prices may vary depending on the griller at each of these jewelry stores, we can certainly point you in the right direction for getting your pearly whites to shine through all that Bay Area fog.

Bling Master Jewelry (3746 San Pablo Dam Rd., El Sobrante. 510-669-0457, www.blinggoldteeth.com) has just the thing for your bling. On the Web site you can check out various designs of four-cap and six-cap grills in 14-karat yellow or white gold with diamond-cut settings. Service prices range from $80 for two 14k caps to $900 for six 22k caps.

For more than seven years, EJ Jewelry (2605 International, Oakl. 510-434-0700) has set polished grills into the smiles of folks all over the Bay Area. The glass cases within this bustling shop display a selection of open-faced and diamond fronts. One yellow gold tooth will cost you $20; a white gold tooth goes for $25.

Located on a gritty SoMa corner, Gold Teeth (986 Mission, SF. 415-357-9790) offers a twinkling assortment of gold caps and bars, adding luster to the dingy posters plastering its walls. Inside, you can get your grills cast in putf8um or 14k, 16k, or 18k gold and get your favorite stone inlay for $40 and up.

Gold Tooth Master (10623 International, Oakl. 510-636-4008), in East Oakland, has posters of rappers flashing their glistening fronts covering the peach-colored walls. Two display cases flaunt an impressive collection of fangs etched with various letters and designs. A 14k gold cap starts at $20, and dental gold costs $50.

A giant set of golden incisors grafed to the storefront of JC Jewelry (1940 Broadway, Oakl. 510-763-5556) welcomes visitors as they set foot in this boutique, located just off the 19th Street BART station in the heart of downtown Oakland. Here you can buy or trade gold teeth and even get repairs done for $25. Your options for grills include a solid or open-faced cut with diamond initials or gemstones ranging from rubies to sapphires.

Koko Gold Teeth (4838 International, Oakl. 510-533-2345, www.kokogoldteeth.com) gives you the most bling for your buck. Choose from an astounding array of beautiful designs and features. If the heart-shaped caps with rubies don’t have you salivating, then the jagged 3-D bars with diamonds will have you forking over your rent money in no time.

The original Mr. Bling Bling (1836 Geary, SF. 415-928-5789, www.mrblinggoldteeth.com), which is also the sister shop of Koko Gold Teeth, is crammed into a row of shops across the street from the Fillmore. Like Koko, this pocket-size store offers customers gold and silver fronts in a variety of diamond-fanged cuts and designs. Get there early because business tends to boom once the local high school lets out for the day.

Mr. Bling Bling Jewelry (13501 San Pablo, San Pablo. 510-215-0727) specializes in making repairs to damaged caps in need of a "bling-tastic" makeover. The store will also brighten your choppers with a tooth cast in yellow or white gold for $25.

Grilling at Nomad Body Piercing (1745 Market, SF. 415-563-7771) has gotten off to a slow start, due in part to its employees still trying to perfect the gold cap craft, but you can have your mouth cut in yellow or white gold for $25. Or you can just get your tongue pierced.

Tom’s Jewelry (693 E. 14th St., San Leandro. 510-430-8087) is a hop and a skip from the San Leandro BART station. Here you can get your plates filled with 14k and 18k gold, dental gold, and putf8um, as well as with different cuts and engravings with shimmering diamonds and colored gems. *

{Empty title}

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Dear Andrea:

My boyfriend has not been coming during vaginal sex. I finally asked him if we hadn’t given him enough recovery time between go-rounds and he said yes. Thing is, it happens when we haven’t had sex in a day or so. I want to let him be the expert on his own penis, but I also worry that he’s not telling me about a problem.

He initiates sex often, even when I think he’s probably still too soft from the last time and should wait. I’ll suggest fooling around more, etc., but it’s frustrating to be constantly saying "no" and "wait" and "how about a blow job first?" Up to this point it’s been fantastic, and though I gained a few pounds over the holidays, I am dieting and he claims to find me attractive.

Love,

Unwilling Expert

Dear Ex:

Of course he finds you attractive. However much of that horrible green bean and Campbell’s soup casserole you may have consumed back in December has nothing to do with it, or with anything, really.

I think letting him be "the expert on his own penis" is an excellent plan; why don’t you do that? If he tries to accomplish "intromission" (sex books don’t really use words like "intromission" anymore, do they?) and he’s not quite up to it, surely he has the good sense to wait a few moments without any advice from you? And if he does get it in there and can’t come, does he simply flail away until the morning alarm goes off, or does he give up after a while, allowing you to step in with a heroic blow job to save the day?

It’s not that I want you to be a passive recipient of whatever passes for sex chez you, far from it. It’s just that you’re overthinking this. If you really believe he might be concealing some secret shame or unnerving health problem then ask him about it, but not while he’s actually in the process of using the penis he’s supposed to be the expert on. Never works.

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

I can only orgasm from vaginal penetration and usually do so between one and five times. I rarely come during oral sex; I can probably count the times on both hands in the past 20 years. I feel like I’m disappointing my boyfriend — he says most women he’s been with come this way and thinks it’s a little odd that I can’t. Is this psychological in some way or is it just the way my body works? I don’t know if this matters or not, but I was sexually molested by an older female when I was eight. I’m way past it, but not sure if it may have something to do with it. I’d like to understand my own body and not feel like the odd woman out.

Love,

Backwards

Dear Back:

Nobody’s ever satisfied! It’s true, as far as it goes, that far more women can climax easily from oral sex than from intercourse. It is also essentially meaningless. Most of those women spend at least some small proportion of their free time bellyaching to girlfriends or sex advice columnists that they can’t come from intercourse, anyway.

If your long-ago abuser did do something oral sex–like to you then it is certainly possible that your body just doesn’t want any truck with it, and who could blame it? You could consult a therapist but do be careful — it sounds as though you have made your peace with the events of your childhood, and it may be best, in the long run, simply to leave that particular hornet’s nest alone.

There are reasons neither physiological nor directly related to the abuse that could explain why you don’t come from oral sex. The most common is probably the sort of stage fright to which many people, particularly women, are prone: Being the center of attention is so much more awkward than pleasing someone else, and, omigod, what if he wants to stop already and I still haven’t come, will he start to resent me? In a word, no, he won’t, but try to convince your shyest innermost teenager of that. Your particular partner isn’t helping matters much when he opines that it’s "odd" of you, either. Odd is as odd does, whatever that means. You have my permission to tell him that you understand that it’s unusual in his experience and so on but bringing it up again is not helping and he is welcome to shut up. Well, leave the last part off, if you like. That was just me.

Do keep in mind that not everybody likes everything and sometimes it’s just that simple. If that doesn’t satisfy and you want to know whether your body to can respond to oralish stimulation in the absence of stage fright, try a trickle of warm water in the bathtub or, if you’re up for more, a pulsing showerhead. Water is like a tongue, sort of, but it never says anything to make you feel bad.

Love,

Andrea

Sex on the brain? Interviews for San Francisco Sex Information’s spring training start this Saturday and they fill up fast. If you want your chance to be a know-it-all like me, sign up now at http://www.sfsi.org/training.

Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.

 

 

 

Vainglorious

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"You sound like such an old fogey when you go on about ‘the club kids.’ And how you do go on," hissed a perfectly middle-aged acquaintance sporting a ginormous fun-fur cap with big floppy ears sewn on. Oof. It was bad enough I was frittering my nightlife away at yet another no-host-bar art opening while half my friends were at the GayVN Awards (the "Oscars of gay porn") in LA, another bunch were rocking out at South by Southwest in Austin, and the rest were sunning their itchy waxes in Miami at the Winter Music Conference. But old fogey? What the heck’s a fogey? Isn’t it a talking rooster?

My first fightin’ instinct was to read the poor queer back so far she’d need a history book just to take a shit. "And you use Raid for hair spray, byotch," leapt to my quivering lips. But my yawp was too stuffed full of free hors d’oeuvres to get barbaric, and besides, she had a little point.

Mmm … this Belgian endive–smoked crab salad canapé is delicious.

Whether owing to political parallels, restless scene malaise, or just a primal yearning for glamour, the kids who scraped their way into Bush I–era seminotoriety using only the power of platforms and a killer makeup kit have somehow staged a resurgence. (Whatever else it was, the last decade of club life was decidedly unglamorous. Big pants, little purses, and sideways haircuts on everyone is not glamorous, peeps.) So many sort of famous freaks are squeaking out of the woodwork, it’s like Night of the Living Drugged or something.

"We’re baaack!" squeals the outright leader of SF’s club kid renaissance, Astroboy Jim. "If you’re gonna bring ’80s music back, you better make room for the club kids with it." Already his Endup monthly Revolutionary has shipped in the likes of Lady Miss Kier, Amanda Le Pore, Cazwell, Corey Sleazemore, and Tommy Sunshine (that licentious LA messy-mess with a bullhorn, Alexis Arquette, predictably flaked), and it certainly helps that his resident DJ is old-skool Manhattan heartthrob Keoki, who — owing to a 1993 Club USA Tour incident involving two seven-foot-tall drag queens, an unmarked white van, and a supermarket snack tray — will always be known affectionately to me as "baloney fingers." Don’t ask.

But it isn’t all tired-smile retread — Astroboy’s made room for supastars of a more modern ilk as well. This weekend’s Revolutionary is cohosted by Jeffree Star, a mesmerizing creature who owes his outsize fame wholly to the Internet, specifically MySpace. Microsoft can make you famous! With five million profile views a month, this "living mannequin" is second only to that other fabulous fame-for-fame’s-sake strumpet Tila Tequila, featured this month on the cover of one-handed frat-boy mag Stuff, who clocks in at eight million. Many of you are raising your whoop-de-do eyebrows right now. Would that Jeffree had eyebrows left to raise with you! He’s a gorgeous little sprite, and already his fame’s had a dark side. A couple weeks ago some haters hacked into his profile and spewed violently sickening homophobic bit barf all over it, forcing Jeffree to alert the FBI and pull a Salman Rushdie, hiding out at an undisclosed location. She’s wanted! SF is the only safe place for Jeffree’s curiously immobile face, it seems.

Also at Revolutionary this week, red-hot ‘twixt-vixen Miss Guy, best known for fronting gender-thrash legends the Toilet Boys (and backing everybody else), will rock the wobbly tables, providing a vital link from late-’80s VIP hoo-ha through late-’90s nihilistic indoor pyrotechnics to the virtual fabulism of the present. Viva los kidz, because we sure as hell ain’t going away yet. *

REVOLUTIONARY

With Jeffree Star and DJs Miss Guy and Keoki, Sat/1

First Saturdays, 10 p.m.–6 a.m.

The Endup

401 Sixth St., SF

$20 ($15 before midnight)

(415) 646-0999

www.theendup.com

www.jeffreecuntstar.com

www.myspace.com/missguy

So Sic

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Rock giveth and rock taketh away. Hearing loss — give or take a pound of flesh, hunk of hair, chunk of gray matter, or a tooth or two — seems like a fair trade when there’s so much pleasure to be gleaned from the volume and insight, good drunks and bad trips. And Mike Donovan (Ropers, NAM, Big Techno Werewolves, Sounds of the Barbary Coast, Yikes) and Matt Hartman (Henry’s Dress, Total Shutdown, Cat Power, Coachwhips) of SF’s downlow supergroup Sic Alps are here to remind you of the upside of rock’s stubbly downside. They’ve been there, done that, heard it, and are "embracing the damage," as Donovan puts it.

No damage today though: Sic Alps and I are tucked into Hartman’s Spartan, tidy bedroom — small Who photo on the wall, Kit Kat bar on the stereo, pink-cheeked stuffed animal on the pillow. It’s a sane, sober scene. He’s fiddling with his laptop, preparing to play unmastered tracks from the duo’s sorta super, four-song, vinyl-only, home-recorded EP, The Soft Tour in Rough Form, on mt. st. mtn. The April 15 release is just the first roughed-up pebble in what will likely become a Sic avalanche of music. Judging from the tunes jetting out of the speakers, their rumble parallels that of Royal Trux and Ariel Pink, high on the Who and Soft Machine rather than the Stones and AOR, pushed through a crusty filter of Led-en tempos, prickly fields of distortion, and solid walls of respectful disrespect. "Love the Kinks, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and then I run out of names. Those are the three heavies," Hartman says. "The Beatles are pretty good. You heard those guys? They’re not bad."

If we were all scarred by the music we loved at a certain impressionable age, then you can trace Sic Alps’ top 10 scrapes to Donovan’s Hall and Oates cassettes and Hartman’s Kiss records.

"I remember posters on my wall — the Police, the Doors, the Stones — those 11-by-17 posters you got at Sam Goody," Donovan recalls. "At 18, my friend Nick turned me onto Can, the Fall, and that was it …"

"I was not that hip," Hartman drawls. "I had some cousins who for Christmas bought me Bad Company’s first record when I was listening to Sabbath-Ozzy-Scorps–Iron Maiden–Priest-they-all-rule — that kind of thing. I gave it a five-minute courtesy listen, and I was, like, ‘Ffttt, whatever, dude.’ But I think I still have the record, because now I can listen to it. It’s kinda cool. It’s got some riffs."

The late-afternoon sun is stumbling toward the horizon, and the twilight of the rock overlords is falling on Hartman’s Potrero Hill house. We contemplate the record needle and the damage done as his laptop plays the Stooge-y "Speeds" and the Anglo death rattle "Making Plans." Half the yarns Hartman tells are off the record — "I have been around, that’s true. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s worth its weight in feathers!" he says — but no matter. Between low-pressure name-drops, the Sic Alps story emerges, like the pop kernel peeking out from beneath the tissue of noise, sleigh bells, and recorder on the Sic Alps song "Arthur Machen."

"The unofficial story is that you just e-mailed me and you’re like, ‘I’m in your band, dude,’" Donovan says, lounging on Hartman’s bed. Donovan first formed the mostly conceptual group with the Hospitals’ Adam Stonehouse in 2004, inspired by obscurist labels like Hyped to Death. "Adam brought his aesthetic, just kind of destroy rock ‘n’ roll," Donovan remembers. Erase Errata’s Bianca Sparta briefly joined, Sic Alps put out a "Four Virgins" split single with California Lightning, recorded the as-yet-unreleased Pleasures and Treasures album, and then fell apart.

Donovan’s pal for all of a decade, though never a bandmate, Hartman had witnessed one of the two Sic Alps shows in the Bay Area. "It was, like, ‘Oh, I wish I thought of that.’ At its core it was pop music, but it had all these other layers to it, where it was like just a little dark, a little deranged. There was something unhinged about it," he says now. "Whether it was an unusual chord progression or just a really, really inappropriate guitar tone. I always find it more interesting if something sounds kind of broken."

Shortly after they started playing together — with Donovan on guitar and vocals and Hartman on drums and other instruments, sometimes at the same time — the pair decided to perform last November at Ocean Beach, loading the drum kit and their "freestanding tower of sound" into Hartman’s creaky Volkswagen Bug. "Surfers did come up to us when we were setting up, and they were, like, ‘Are you guys going to play out here?’ They were like, ‘Awesome!’" Donovan recalls happily.

Still conceptual but steadily gaining visibility, the band is preparing for its first extensive US tour — with recordings by Tim Green, a track on a comp on Japan’s 777 Was 666, and a cassette on Animal Disguise Recordings on the way. So perhaps it’s time for the Alps to trade the Bug for their "power animal," a Volkswagen bus. After all, they have already selected the cover art for their debut: that of a rotting bus with the band name spray-painted on its spotted rump. "There’s something about this," Hartman says, gazing at the image on the laptop. "It’s made in the ’60s, a little rusty but still kind of beautiful and gets the job done." *

SIC ALPS’ SOFT TOUR RELEASE PARTY WITH OCS AND BULBS

April 14

Peacock Lounge

552 Haight, SF

Call for times and price.

(415) 621-9850

HEAR YE

A FIR-JU WELL

Acid-drenched Southern boogie rock? The Atlanta combo did well at SXSW. Wed/29, 9 p.m., Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. Call for price. (415) 503-0393

LORDS OF ALTAMONT

He’p! Farfisa organ and jet-black hearts. LA’s motorpsychos celebrate their latest Gearhead LP, Lords Have Mercy. Fri/31, 9 p.m., Annie’s Social Club, 917 Folsom, SF. $7. (415) 974-1585

NO DOCTORS

The Bay Area avant-rock transplants keep those "T-Bone" joints coming. Le Flange du Mal and Clip’d Beaks also perform. Fri/31, 9 p.m., Hotel Utah Saloon, 500 Fourth St., SF. $6. (415) 546-6300

SLOW RUNNER

Frontperson Michael Flynn is said to have won a John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship at his Boston music school. The New Amsterdams also play. Fri/31, 8 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $12. (415) 474-0365

CARNEYBALL JOHNSON

Ralph Carney whoops it up with Kimo Ball and Scott Johnson, giddily breaking out the swing, Dixieland, jazz, and pop in honor of a self-released EP, Extended Play from 12 Galaxies. Sat/1, 9 p.m., Argus Lounge, 3187 Mission, SF. Call for price. (415) 824-1447. Also Sun/2, 2 p.m., Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. Free. (415) 831-1200

Don’t deregulate cabs

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It’s not a great time to be a San Francisco taxi driver. High gas prices are taking cash directly out of drivers’ pockets, and fares haven’t kept pace. The only thing that seems to be solid is industry profits: According to a December 2005 city controller’s office report, cab companies have been making healthy returns even in bad economic times.

The way the companies make money, of course, is by leasing cabs to drivers, who are independent contractors. The "gate" — the cash the driver has to pay for the right to use a legal, properly permitted cab — runs about $91 for a 12-hour shift. That’s a lot of money to collect in fares before the driver makes a single penny, and it’s one of the reasons why driving a cab is less attractive today as a long-term occupation. Each year, the United Taxicab Workers union says, up to 25 percent of the city’s drivers turn over, meaning that one out of every four drivers has less than a year’s experience.

It’s possible the situation will take a turn for the better this spring, if the city moves forward with a plan to require cab companies and permit holders — who have the lucrative license to lease out their cabs to other drivers for profit — to help pay for health insurance for the drivers. It’s also possible things will get substantially worse, if Sup. Fiona Ma manages to win approval for legislation completely abolishing city controls on gate fees and allowing cab companies to charge drivers whatever the market will bear.

What the cab industry needs is more regulation, not less. In fact, it’s astonishing to see a San Francisco supervisor who is running for state assembly propose such a Bush-style deregulation plan that would enrich a few at the expense of many.

The Taxi Commission is slated to discuss the health insurance plan March 28. There are several options for how payment would be allocated; ideally, the drivers, permit holders, and cab companies would all pick up a share. But the Health Department has concluded that a working plan is possible — and the commissioners and supervisors should make sure one is put into action as soon as possible. *

Making a splash

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"One, two, three, four – squeeze your butt, Paul! – seven, eight," coach Suzanne Baker says into the microphone, pacing the poolside deck and counting the beats to a techno remix of "Another One Bites the Dust."

The members of Tsunami Tsynchro are in the water doing leg splits in the air. The first time they try it, legs bash into heads. "OK, OK, I can fix this," says Baker. She has them add more space by pushing off each other’s shoulders with their feet. They practice the new move repeatedly. "Again. Under. Again. Under," Baker commands.

Tsunami Tsynchro is the country’s first – and right now, only – male synchronized swimming team. It grew out of the Tsunami Swim Team, a gay and lesbian masters team, started two years ago as a synchro team for gay men (though it now includes several women).

They practice twice a week, today holding their underwater positions with the help of empty milk containers. "The bottles force you to find your body mass," Baker explains as they work to mobilize their bodies. The team is preparing its technical routine, a 90-second display of its most difficult moves that will be performed at this summer’s Gay Games in Chicago, where Tsunami Tsynchro will compete for the first time, alongside all-women’s teams.

It will be a big summer for the team, but it could’ve been bigger. In August the XI Fédération Internationale de Natation World Masters Championships are coming to the United States for the second time ever, but the Tsunami team isn’t allowed to compete. When the Bay Area hosts the FINA Championships at the Stanford Aquatic Center, the nation’s first male synchro team will be just a Caltrain ride away from the bleachers, but a lot farther from being permitted into the pool.
Image problems

Synchronized swimming combines rigorous physical exertion with the demands of polished performance. During routines, swimmers can’t touch the pool’s walls or bottom at any time. They spend a good portion of each routine with their heads underwater and bodies vertical, being judged on how high their legs reach. Coach Baker compares performing a synchro routine to "having to race a 400 individual medley in swimming, holding your breath every third lap, and smiling the entire time."

Stephen Houghton comes to the team with a history of Iron Man competitions and a seven-day stage race across the Sahara desert. He says synchro is tougher, and credits his one advantage not to his years of endurance sports but rather to his ballet training as a kid. "It gave me flexibility, and the ability to count to eight. You’d be surprised how many men can’t count to eight."

Underwater, the swimmers have to do more than count and hold their breath; they also have to control their heart rate. "If you’re pumped up and excited, you burn up all your oxygen," says Stuart Hills, a brown belt in tae kwon do and a former competitive swimmer. "You have to get into a relaxation state."

Pool time can be perilous too. Complicated lifts can lead to injury – bloody and broken noses, for example, and one bad incident involving a knee splintering a set of goggles. But during the routines, the difficulty of the sport has to melt away from the performance. "It’s tough," Hills says, "but you’re supposed to make it look easy."

Image is key to synchro – in a couple of ways. On the one hand, swimmers are judged by the attitude they project during routines; on the other, they must fight the image problem that has hindered their sport’s mainstream acceptance.

Synchronized swimming is a sport almost defined by the mockeries made of it, including the classic Saturday Night Live skits involving a pair of male synchronized swimmers, one wearing floaties. You’re more likely to find synchro on Comedy Central – in movies ranging from Austin Powers to Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part I – than on ESPN. That’s made Tsunami Tsynchro’s quest for acceptance all the more difficult.

"This is really the last area men haven’t been able to compete [in]," says Bob Wheeler, one of the team’s founding members. Unlike female-dominated sports such as figure skating and gymnastics, synchronized swimming has no male or mixed category. "You don’t have many young boys doing synchro," Baker notes, "so they don’t see a need to make a category yet."

Beyond gender bias, there are other barriers to creating male synchro teams. In general, new synchro teams are not started very often because it’s an expensive sport. The underwater speaker system cost the Tsunami team $3,000. Synchro teams also have fewer swimmers than most swim teams, yet they need more attention and more pool time to hone their routines, so each member must pay more in coaching and pool fees. And in order to develop and practice routines, all the team members must be present.

"This is in no way an individual sport," says Baker.

If new synchro teams are rare, new male synchro teams are even more elusive, the white tiger of aquatic sports. It’s not a sport in which men find it easy to participate. When Wheeler created his Match.com profile, he debated whether or not to put down synchronized swimming as one of his hobbies. As it turned out, Wheeler began dating Kurt Kleespies, a longtime swimmer, who’s now the newest member of the team.

Officially, men aren’t welcome under the sport’s highest guidelines. Though they are allowed to compete domestically under US Synchro rules, FINA, the worldwide governing body of aquatic sports, doesn’t allow men to compete at an international level.

"In theory," Baker admits, "women shouldn’t compete directly with men." At the Olympic level, she says, the rule makes sense since men have the capacity for greater strength. But at the masters level, she argues, the genders are much more evenly matched. Most women competing at the masters level have been longtime synchro swimmers. The men are almost all beginners. And when they’re starting out, she says, men face several significant barriers: "Women tend to be more flexible. Men are denser and therefore less buoyant. These guys are all trained swimmers…. They were sinkers from the get-go."
No men allowed

More than 8,000 international masters athletes will hit the Bay Area in August for the FINA championships in swimming, diving, water polo, and – for women only – synchronized swimming.

Because of the FINA rule, the World Masters Championships can’t allow men to compete. "We are all for people competing in whatever sport they want to compete," says Anne Cribbs, chair of the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee and executive director of the FINA championships. She supports male participation in the sport if approved by FINA, but can’t permit it in international competition until it’s officially accepted.

Not so long ago, the rule seemed poised for change. "In 2000 I thought it might happen," says Don Kane, competition director for synchronized swimming at the World Masters. Five years ago a proposal was brought before the FINA General Conference to allow men to compete. It was passed by the FINA Congress, but then overruled by FINA president Mustapha Larfaoui, from Algeria, and FINA executive director Cornell Marculescu, from Romania, who cited a lack of male teams. Or, as Kane suggests, concerns by "male-dominated cultures."

The prospects for men competing internationally are not bright in the immediate future, Kane surmises. At the Athens Olympics, Larfaoui had the FINA rules changed so he could run for office again, and Kane doesn’t foresee the synchro rules changing under his command.

As for the Tsunamis, "we thought about registering as a female team and trying to pass as women," coach Baker jokes. She turns serious, though, saying, "These guys are doing a lot of hard work. They should be allowed to compete."

The team is hoping to put on an exhibition routine, though they’ll need FINA permission even for that. But Tsunami board member Brad Hise is optimistic about their chances, saying, "This is the Bay Area; men do things here that people don’t typically associate with us."

Synchro is a sport of physical challenge, artistic movement, jazzy music, gender conflict, and international cultural clashes. And one more thing, says Stevens: It’s also a sport of total surprise. "People disappear underwater, and you think, what will they do when they come up?"

www.basoc.org/pr_032405.html  www.sftsunami.org

Paige two

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I WAS TURNED  on to my new favorite restaurant, Jodie’s, by Satchel Paige the Pitcher’s dad, Mr. Paige the Pitcher. Indirectly. Mr. Paige the Pitcher ate there with a friend, and then raved about it to Satchel Paige the Pitcher, who told me. "It’s a tiny place. Six seats. A counter. The guy working it’s supposed to be a character."

 "What kind of food?" I said.

 "He said they have everything."

 "Like what?"

 Satchel Paige the Pitcher called Mr. Paige the Pitcher on the phone (this was months and months ago, when Satch was visiting from Thailand), and asked him what kind of food.

 "They have all kinds of stuff, Satchmo," his dad said. "You wouldn’t believe it."

 "What kind of stuff?" asked Satchel Paige the Pitcher.

 "Everything."

 Satchel pressed. "Like what?" he said. "For example."

 And here’s what Mr. Paige the Pitcher said. He said, "Hamburgers."

 We got a big kick out of that. We’re easily amused. And I made a mental note: "Jodie’s – everything, even hamburgers." And I underlined hamburgers three times, mentally, and filed it between my memory of raisin pie in the backseat of Grandpa Rubino’s Buick and how I know how long to cook the spaghetti. I need a better filing system.

 Months passed.

 Then my brother Phenomenon told me he’d been to a great place in Albany – Jodie’s.

 "Oh, yeah? Cool. Did you try the raisin pie?" I said.

 He said, "Huh?" And he told me how to get there, but the first time I tried, I couldn’t find it, to give you some idea how small of a hole-in-the-wall this is. It’s on Masonic Street just south of Solano, across from the BART tracks. The second time I tried, first thing in the morning after we got back from Idaho, there it was and there I was, wrapping myself around a barbecue omelet with hash browns and an English muffin. Guy down the counter, only other person there, was taking care of my coffee needs, and his.

 The overall feel of the place is reminiscent of Ann’s Café, RIP. Check your attitude at the door. Everyone’s friends. And Jodie is putting on a show. He showed me the menu, but he was quick to point out that that wasn’t everything. "What’s not on there," he said, pointing to the menu, "is on there," and he gestured over his shoulder to a wall full of oddball specials printed out on little paper signs. "And if it’s not on the menu and it’s not on the wall, then I keep it up here," he said, pointing to his head.

 I hope he has a better filing system than I do.

 What I really wanted was fried chicken, but Jodie only makes fried chickens on weekends, so that left me with only a couple hundred things to choose from. Really the decision was easy. As I might of mentioned last week, I’d been eating barbecued chicken, beef, and pork all weekend in Idaho, so, by way of a change of pace, I went with the barbecue omelet. Off the wall.

 You can have it with beef, pork, or "American" sausage, whatever that means. I got pork. The sauce on top of the omelet, a homemade tomato- and vegetable-based concoction, was delicious. The hash browns were delicious. Everything was great.

 But it wasn’t fried chicken, so I had to go back on Sunday morning, bright and early, because Jodie told me it goes fast.

 Hey, happy 40th birthday to Grandma Googy-Googy, who lives up the hill from Jodie’s, runs past it every morning, and was supposed to meet me for breakfast all sweaty and shit, but showed up showered and s weet-smelling instead, ruining everything.

 She did let me taste her sausage, and it was delicious and all, but God damn I love fried chicken for breakfast. Only they don’t have waffles to go with it. You can get it with pancakes, eggs, or French toast. Nine bucks. Your call: white meat, or dark. And here’s where Jodie blows the chicken farmer’s mind. In a good way: White meat is the breast, and dark, against everyone else in the world’s worser judgment, is a leg, a thigh, and a wing. For this, if it was up to me, I’d award Jodie the Nobel Prize in Physics, or Peace, or both.

 But it’s not up to me, so I’m going to give him a carton of eggs the next time I see him. And a waffle iron for Christmas because pancakes are good, but they’re not waffles. As I’ve pointed out time and time again.

 Jodie’s. 902 Masonic Ave. (at Solano), Albany. (510) 526-1109. Tuesday-Sunday: 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; closed Monday. Takeout available. Credit cards not accepted. No alcohol. Wheelchair accessible.  

 Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).

When is enough?

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Can you define premature ejaculation?

Only in my own sexual encounters. You get to define it in yours. “Premature,” like “sexy” or “boring” is a highly personal judgment call. Whether we’re counting in seconds, minutes or hours, if an ejaculation occurs sooner than a man or his partner would like, (if its arrival is greeted with “Oops” rather than “Ah” by either one of them) then that one might call it premature.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: two young guys fall in love. They are both virgins. Neither have had recent transfusions or are IV drug users. They maintain a monogamous relationship. Assuming they are aware of safe-sex practices such as condom use, must oral sex be avoided? Do they face the same high risk of AIDS as people who have had active sex lives?

Virgins and people with long complicated sex histories do not face the same risks. Being gay in and of itself is not a risk factor, nor is contact with healthy semen. If you are as described above and you are asking me to asses your risk of catching or transmitting AIDS, I’d call it extremelyunlikely. But I would have said the same 2,000 years ago to a young Jewish virgin when assessing her risk of being pregnant with a future religious leader also. Each of us must decide for ourself what activities are worth whatever risk we assign them. (When it comes to our own sex life, it is rarely hypothetical!)

I am in a terrific, very sensual and sexual relationship with a great man. Everything is working well and it looks long-term. There’s only one minor glitch, and I’m not sure if I’m just being overly sensitive. My lover is horny for me practically daily, or even more, but he also masturbates regularly. It’s not as if he stops paying attention to me. He says he just masturbates because he likes it. In fact, he has been known to do so several times a day even on days we make love. My problem? I think I’m jealous of him playing with himself. It’s as if jacking off is as much fun and as important as making love to me. Should I just stop worrying about this or what?

Even if, on a secret satisfaction scale of 1 to 10, he assigned jacking off a higher rating than making love to you, what could you do about it? His masturbating doesn’t seem to affect desire for or sex with you, presumably he’s not likely to abandon these practices, so should you stop worrying about this or what? When given a choice, I’d go for no worry over worry every time.

I’m always looking for new ways to put some zing in my marriage of almost 25 years. Whenever I suggest something even a little bit sexy like going to a private hot tub place or trying out some mentholated massage oil, my husband’s response is usually, “C’mon, we’re too old for that kind of stuff.” What do you think, Isadora? Is there some particular age when a person is too old to try out new and potentially pleasurable things?

Yes —after death. Until and right up to that point, of course not. My response to your husband would be “What do you mean we‘re too old, Grandpa?” What he seems to be telling you is that he’s feeling old. You might suggest a physical checkup, some reading on aging bodies and minds and frequent reassurances that you still find him a desirable playmate — no pressure to perform, only to come on out and play.

Is there a polite way of letting someone dear to you know that his or her standards of personal hygiene are not as you would like them to be?

If there are, “Yo, stinky!” is not one of them. One method might be offering a suggested explanation at the same time you pose the problem: “You smell different than you usually do. Are you using some new shampoo or skin cream?” When questioned, you might then reluctantly admit that no, you really can’t say that you do like it, whatever it is, and you prefer whatever he/she used before. Another approach is to praise the obvious: “I am really turned on by the scent of your body when you step right out of the shower” or “Let’s take a bath before we go to bed. I love the feel of our not-quite dry bodies bumping together under the covers.” Being told what pleases, one can infer what does not. When all else fails, be loving, gentle, apologetic for any hurt feelings, but direct nevertheless.*

SF’s economic future

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Sometime early this spring, while most of Washington, D.C. was watching the cherry trees bloom and thinking about the impending Iran-contra hearings, a few senior administration officials began discussing a plan to help domestic steel companies shut down underutilized plants by subsidizing some of the huge costs of pension plans for the workers who would be laid off.

The officials, mostly from the Departments of Labor and Commerce, saw the plan as a pragmatic approach to a pressing economic problem. With the steel industry in serious trouble, they argued, plant closures are inevitable — and since the federal government guarantees private pension plans, some companies will simply declare bankruptcy and dump the full liability on the taxpayers. Subsidies, they argued, would be a far cheaper alternative.

But the plan elicited sharp opposition from members of the Council of Economic Advisors, who acknowledged the extent of the problem but said the proposal was inconsistent with the Reagan economic philosophy. The problem, The New York Times reported, was that “such a plan would be tantamount to an industrial policy, an approach the president has long opposed.”

For aspiring conservative politicians, the incident contained a clear message, one that may well affect the terms of the 1988 Republican presidential debate. To the right-wing thinkers who control the party’s economic agenda, the concept of a national industrial policy is still officially off-limits. In San Francisco, the ground rules are very different. All four major mayoral candidates agree that the city needs to plan for its economic future and play a firm, even aggressive role in guiding the local economy. The incumbent, Dianne Feinstein, has established a clear, highly visible — and often controversial — industrial development policy, against which the contenders could easily compare and contrast their own programs.

The mayoral race is taking place at a time when the city is undergoing tremendous economic upheaval. The giant corporations that once anchored the local economy are curtailing expansion plans, moving to the suburbs and in many cases cutting thousands of jobs from the payroll. The once-healthy municipal budget surplus is gone. The infrastructure is crumbling and city services are stressed to the breaking point.

By all rights, the people who seek to lead the city into the 1990s should present San Francisco voters with a detailed vision for the city’s economic future, and a well-developed set of policy alternatives to carry that vision out.

But with the election just three months away, that simply isn’t happening. Generally speaking, for all the serious talk of economic policy we’ve seen thus far, most of the candidates — and nearly all the reporters who cover them — might as well be sniffing cherry blossoms in Ronald Reagan’s Washington.

“San Francisco’s major challenge during the next 15 years will be to regain its stature as a national and international headquarters city. This is crucial to the city because much of its economy is tied to large and medium-sized corporations….The major source of San Francisco’s economic strength is visible in its dramatic skyline of highrise office buildings.”

—San Francisco: Its economic future

Wells Fargo Bank, June 1987

“In San Francisco, you have the phenomenon of a city losing its big-business base and its international pretensions — and getting rich in the process.”

—Joel Kotkin, Inc. Magazine, April 1987

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IN MUCH OF San Francisco’s news media and political and business establishment these days, the debate — or more often, lament — starts with this premise: San Francisco is in a bitter competition with Los Angeles. At stake is the title of financial and cultural headquarters for the Western United States, the right to be called the Gateway to the Pacific Rim. And San Francisco is losing.

The premise is hard to deny. If, indeed, the two cities are fighting for that prize, San Francisco has very nearly been knocked out of the ring. Just a few short years ago, San Francisco’s Bank of America was the largest banking institution in the nation. Now, it’s third — and faltering. Last year, First Interstate — a firm from L.A. — very nearly seized control of the the company that occupies the tallest building in San Francisco. The same problems have, to a greater or lesser extent, beset the city’s other leading financial institutions. A decade ago, San Francisco was the undisputed financial center of the West Coast; today, Los Angeles banks control twice the assets of banks in San Francisco.

It doesn’t stop there. Los Angeles has a world-class modern art museum; San Francisco’s is stumbling along. The Port of San Francisco used to control almost all of the Northern California shipping trade; now it’s not even number one in the Bay Area (Oakland is). Looking for the top-rated theater and dance community west of the Rockies? San Francisco doesn’t have it; try Seattle.

Even the federal government is following the trend. A new federal building is planned for the Bay Area, but not for San Francisco. The building — and hundreds of government jobs — are going to Oakland.

In terms of a civic metaphor, consider what happened to the rock-and-roll museum. San Francisco, the birthplace of much of the country’s best and most important rock music, made a serious pitch for the museum. It went to Cleveland.

For almost 40 years — since the end of World War II — San Francisco’s political and business leaders have been hell-bent on building the Manhattan Island of the West on 49 square miles of land on the tip of the Peninsula. Downtown San Francisco was to be Wall Street of the Pacific Rim. San Mateo, Marin and the East Bay would be the suburbs, the bedroom communities for the executives and support workers who would work in tall buildings from nine to five, then head home for the evening on the bridges, freeways and an electric rail system.

If the idea was to make a few business executives, developers and real estate speculators very rich, the scheme worked well. If the idea was to build a sound, firm and lasting economic base for the city of San Francisco, one could certainly argue that it has failed.

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NOT EVERYONE, however, accepts that argument. Wells Fargo’s chief economist, Joseph Wahed, freely admits he is “a die-hard optimist.” San Francisco, he agrees, has taken its share of punches. But the city’s economy is still very much on its feet, Wahed says; he’s not by any means ready to throw in the towel.

Wahed, who authored the bank’s recent report on the city’s economic future, points to some important — and undeniable — signs of vitality:

* San Francisco’s economic growth has been well above both the national and state average during the 1980s — a healthy 3.67 a year.

* Per-capita income in San Francisco is $21,000 a year, the highest of any of the nation’s 50 largest cities.

* New business starts in the city outpaced business failures by a ratio of 5-1, far better than the rest of the nation. * Unemployment in San Francisco, at 5.57, remains below national and statewide levels (see charts).

San Francisco, Wahed predicts, has a rosy economic future — as long as the city doesn’t throw up any more “obstacles to growth” — like Proposition M, the 1986 ballot measure that limits office development in the city to 475,000 square feet a year.

John Jacobs, the executive director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, came to the same conclusion. In the Chamber’s annual report, issued in January, 1987, Jacobs wrote: “The year 1986 has been an amusing one, with both national and local journalists attempting to compare the incomparable — San Francisco and Los Angeles — and suggesting that somehow San Francisco is losing out in this artificially manufactured competition. Search as one might, no facts can be found to justify that assertion.”

Wahed and Jacobs have more in common than their optimism. Both seem to accept as more or less given the concept of San Francisco as the West Coast Manhattan.

Since the day Mayor Dianne Feinstein took office, she has run the city using essentially the policies and approach championed by Wahed and Jacobs. Before San Franciscans rush to elect a new mayor, they should examine those strategies to see if they make any sense. After nearly a decade under Feinstein’s leadership, is San Francisco a healthy city holding its own through a minor downturn or an economic disaster area? Are San Francisco’s economic problems purely the result of national and international factors, or has the Pacific Rim/West Coast Wall Street strategy failed? Is the economy weathering the storm because of the mayor’s policies, or despite them? And perhaps more important, will Feinstein’s policies guide the city to new and greater prosperity in the changing economy of the next decade? Or is a significant change long overdue?

The questions are clear and obvious. The answers take a bit more work.

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SAN FRANCISCO’S economy is an immensely complex creature, and no single study or analysis can capture the full range of its problems and potential. But after considerable research, we’ve come to a very different conclusion than the leading sages of the city’s business community. Yes, San Francisco can have a rosy economic future — if we stop pursuing the failed policies of the past, cut our losses now and begin developing a new economic development program, one based on reality, not images — and one that will benefit a broad range of San Franciscans, not just a handful of big corporations and investors.

Our analysis of San Francisco’s economy starts at the bottom. Wells Fargo, PG&E and the Chamber see the city first and foremost as a place to do business, a market for goods and a source of labor. We see it as a community, a place where people live and work, eat and drink, shop and play.

The distinction is far more than academic. When you look at San Francisco the way Wells Fargo does, you see a booming market: 745,000 people who will spend roughly $19.1 billion on goods and services this year, up from $15.4 billion in 1980. By the year 2000, Wahed projects, that market could reach $229 billion as the population climbs to 800,000 and per-capita income hits $30,000 (in 1986 dollars), up from $18,811 in 1980. Employment has grown from 563,000 in 1980 to 569,000 in 1986. When you look at San Francisco as a place to live, you see a very different story. Perhaps more people are working in San Francisco — but fewer and fewer of them are San Franciscans. In 1970, 57.47 of the jobs in San Francisco were held by city residents, City Planning Department figures show. By 1980, that number had dropped to 50.77. Although more recent figures aren’t available, it’s almost certainly below 507 today.

Taken from a slightly different perspective, in 1970, 89.17 of the working people in San Francisco worked in the city. Ten years later, only 857 worked in the city; the rest had found jobs elsewhere.

Without question, an increase in per capita income signifies that the city is a better market. It also suggests, however, that thousands of low-income San Franciscans — those who have neither the skills nor the training for high-paying jobs — have been forced to leave the city. It comes as no surprise, for example that San Francisco is the only major city in the country to post a net loss in black residents over the past 15 years.

The displacement of lower-income residents highlights a key area in which San Francisco’s economy is badly deficient: housing. San Francisco’s housing stock simply has not kept pace with the population growth of the past five years. Between 1980 and 1984, while nearly 40,000 more people took up residence in the city, only 3,000 additional housing units were built.

Some of the new residents were immigrants who, lacking resources and glad to be in the country on any terms, crowded in large numbers into tiny apartments. Some were young, single adults, who took over apartments, homes and flats, bringing five of six people into places that once held families of three or four.

But overall, the impact of the population increase has been to place enormous pressure on the limited housing stock. Prices, not surprisingly, have soared. According to a 1985 study prepared for San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth by Sedway Cooke and Associates, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in 1985 was $700 a month. The residential vacancy rate was less than 17.

Housing is more than a social issue. A report released this spring by the Association of Bay Area Governments warns the entire Bay Area may face a severe housing crisis within the next two decades — and the lack of affordable housing may discourage new businesses from opening and drive existing ones away. When housing becomes too expensive, the report states, the wages employers have to pay to offset housing and transportation costs make the area an undesirable place to do business.

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WAHED’S WELLS FARGO report shows a modest net employment gain in San Francisco between 1980 and 1986, from 563,000 jobs to 569,000. What the study doesn’t show is that the positive job growth statistic reflects the choice of the study period more than it reflects current trends. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, San Francisco experienced considerable job growth. By 1981, that trend was beginning to reverse.

According to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher David Birch, San Francisco actually lost some 6,000 jobs between 1981 and 1985. The study, commissioned by the Bay Guardian, showed that the decline occurred overwhelmingly to large downtown corporations — the firms upon which the Pacific Rim strategy was and is centered. Since 1981, those firms have cost the city thousands of jobs. (See The Monsters that Ate 10,000 jobs, Bay Guardian DATE TKTKTK).

Some of the firms — B of A, for example — were victims of poor management. Some, like Southern Pacific, were caught in the merger mania of the Reagan years. Others, however, simply moved out of town. And no new giants moved in to take their places.

What drove these large employers away? Not, it would appear, a lack of office space or other regulatory “obstacles” to growth: Between 1980 and 1985, San Francisco underwent the largest building boom in its history, with more than 10 million square feet of new office space coming on line. In fact, the city now has abundant vacant space; by some estimates, the vacancy rate for downtown office buildings is between 157 and 207.

The decision to move a business into or out of a city is often very complicated. However, Birch, who has done considerable research into the issue, suggests in the April 1987 issue of Inc. magazine that the most crucial concerns are what he calls “quality of life” factors. Quality-of-life factors include things like affordable family housing for employees; easy, inexpensive transit options and good-quality recreation facilities and schools — and good-quality local government. In many cases, researchers are finding, companies that need a large supply of “back office” labor — that is, workers who do not command executive salaries — are moving to the suburbs, where people who are paid less than executive salaries can actually afford to live.

“Today the small companies, not the large corporations, are the engines of economic growth,” Birch wrote. “And more often than not, small companies are growing in places that pay attention to the public realm, even if higher taxes are needed to pay for it.”

For the past 20 years, San Francisco has allowed, even encouraged, massive new highrise office development, geared to attracting new headquarters companies and helping existing ones expand. In the process, some basic city services and public amenities — the things that make for a good quality of life — have suffered.

The most obvious example is the city’s infrastructure — the roads, sewers, bridges, transit systems and other physical facilities that literally hold a modern urban society together. A 1985 report by then-Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas suggested that the city needed to spend more than $1 billion just to repair and replace aging and over-used infrastructure facilities. Wells Fargo’s report conceeds that that city may be spending $50 million a year too little on infrastructure maintenance.

Some of that problem, as Boas points out in his report, is due to the fact that many city facilities were built 50 or more years ago, and are simply wearing out. But wear and tear has been greatly increased by the huge growth in downtown office space — and thus daytime workplace population — that took place over the previous two decades.

To take just one example: Between 1980 and 1984, City Planning Department figures show, the number of people traveling into the financial district every day increased by more than 10,000. Nearly 2,000 of those people drove cars. In the meantime, of course, the number of riders on the city’s Municipal Railway also increased dramatically. City figures show more than 2,000 new Muni riders took buses and light rail vehicles into the financial district between 1981 and 1984. Again, city officials resist putting a specific cost figure on that increase — however, during that same period, the Muni budget increased by one-third, from $149 million to $201 million. And the amount of General Fund money the city has had to put into the Muni system to make up for operating deficits rose by some 737 — from $59 million to $102 million.

The new buildings, of course, have meant new tax revenues — between 1981 and 1986, the total assessed value of San Francisco property — the city’s tax base — increased 767, from $20.3 billion to $35.8 billion. But the cost of servicing those buildings and their occupants also increased 437, from $1.3 billion to to $1.9 billion. In 1982, San Francisco had a healthy municipal budget surplus of $153 million; by this year, it was down to virtually nothing.

The city’s general obligation bond debt — the money borrowed to pay for capital improvements — has steadily declined over the past five years, largely because the 1978 Jarvis-Gann tax initiative effectively prevented cities from selling general obligation bonds. In 1982, the city owed $220 million; as of July 1st, 1987, the debt was down to $151 million.

However, under a recent change in the Jarvis-Gann law, the city can sell general obligation bonds with the approval of two-thirds of the voters. The first such bond sale — $31 million — was approved in June, and the bonds were sold this month, raising the city’s debt to $182 million. And this November, voters will be asked to approve another $95 million in bonds, bringing the total debt to $277 million, the highest level in five years.

The city’s financial health is still fairly sound; Standard and Poor’s gives San Francisco municipal bonds a AA rating, among the best of any city in the nation. And even with the new bonds, the ratio of general obligation debt to total assessed value — considered a key indicator of health, much as a debt-to-equity ratio is for a business — is improving.

But the city’s fiscal report card is decidedly mixed. For most residents, signs of the city’s declining financial health show up not in numbers on a ledger but in declining services. Buses are more crowded and run less often. Potholes aren’t fixed. On rainy days, raw sewage still empties into the Bay. High housing costs force more people onto the streets — and the overburdened Department of Social Services can’t afford to take care of all of them.

What those signs suggest is that, in its pell-mell rush to become the Manhattan of the West, San Francisco may have poisoned its quality of life — and thus damaged the very economic climate it was ostensibly trying to create.

MAYOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN’S prescription for San Francisco’s economic problems and her blueprint for its future can be summed up in four words: More of the same. Feinstein, like Wells Fargo, PG&E and the Chamber of Commerce, is looking to create jobs and generate city revenues from the top of the economy down. Her program flies in the face of modern economic reality and virtually ignores the changes that have taken place in the city in the past five years.

Feinstein’s most visible economic development priorities have taken her east, to Washington D.C., and west, to Japan and China. In Washington, Feinstein has lobbied hard to convince the Navy to base the battleship USS Missouri in San Francisco. That, she says, will bring millions of federal dollars to the city and create thousands of new jobs.

In Asia, Feinstein has sought to entice major investors and industries to look favorably on San Francisco. She has expressed hope that she will be able to attract several major Japanese companies to set up manufacturing facilities here, thus rebuilding the city’s manufacturing base and creating jobs for blue-collar workers.

Neither, of course, involves building new downtown highrises. But both are entirely consistent with the Pacific Rim strategy — and both will probably do the city a lot more harm than good.

Feinstein’s programs represent an economic theory which has dominated San Francisco policy-making since the end of World War II. In those days, the nation’s economy was based on manufacturing — iron ore from the ground became steel, which became cars, lawn mowers and refrigerators. Raw materials were plentiful and energy was cheap.

By the early 1970s, it was clear that era was coming to a close. Energy was suddenly scarce. Resources were becoming expensive. The economy began to shift gears, looking for ways to make products that used less materials and less energy yet provided the same service to the consumer.

Today, almost everyone has heard of the “information age” — in fact, the term gets used so often that it’s begun to lose its meaning. But it describes a very real phenomenon; Paul Hawken, the author of The Next Economy, calls it “ephemeralization.” What is means is that the U.S. economy is rapidly changing from one based manufacturing goods to one based on processing information and providing services. In the years ahead, the most important raw materials will be ideas; the goal of businesses will be to provide people with useful tools that require the least possible resources to make and the least possible energy to use.

In the information age, large companies will have no need to locate in a central downtown area. The source of new jobs will not be in manufacturing — giant industrial factories will become increasingly automated, or increasingly obsolete. The highways of the nation’s commerce will be telephone lines and microwave satellite communications, not railroads and waterways.

IF SAN FRANCISCO is going to be prepared for the staggering changes the next economy will bring, we might do well to take a lesson from history — to look at how cities have survived major economic changes in the past. Jane Jacobs, the urban economist and historian, suggests some basic criteria.

Cities that have survived and prospered, Jacobs writes, have built economies from the bottom up. They have relied on a large number of small, diverse enterprises, not a few gigantic ones. And they have encouraged business activities that use local resources to replace imports, instead of looking to the outside for capital investment.

A policy that would tie the city’s economic future to the Pentagon and Japanese manufacturing companies is not only out of synch with the future of the city’s economy — it’s out of touch with the present.

In San Francisco today, the only major economic good news comes from the small business sector — from locally owned independent companies with fewer than 20 employees. All of the net new jobs in the city since 1980 have come from such businesses.

Yet, the city’s policy makers — especially the mayor — have consistently denied that fact. As recently as 1985, Feinstein announced that the only reason the city’s economy was “lively and vibrant” was that major downtown corporations were creating 10,000 new jobs a year.

Almost nothing the city has done in the past ten years has been in the interest of small business. In fact, most small business leaders seem to agree that their astounding growth has come largely despite the city’s economic policy, not because of it. That situation shows no signs of changing under the Feinstein administration; the battleship Missouri alone would force the eviction of some 190 thriving small businesses from the Hunters Point shipyard.

San Francisco’s economic problems have not all been the result of city policies. The financial health of the city’s public and private sector is affected by state and federal policies and by national and international economic trends.

Bank of America, for example, is reeling from the inability of Third World countries to repay outstanding loans. Southern Pacific and Crocker National Bank both were victims of takeovers stemming from relaxed federal merger and antitrust policies. In fact, according to Wells Fargo, 21 San Francisco corporations have been bought or merged since 1975. Meanwhile, deep cutbacks in federal and state spending have crippled the city’s ability to repair its infrastructure, improve transit services, build low cost housing and provide other essential services.

To a great extent, those are factors outside the city’s control. They are unpredictable at best — and over the next ten or 20 years, as the nation enters farther into the Information Age, the economic changes with which the city will have to cope will be massive in scale and virtually impossible to predict accurately.

Again, the experiences of the past contain a lesson for the future. On of San Francisco’s main economic weaknesses over the past five years has been its excess reliance on a small number of large corporations in a limited industrial sector — largely finance, insurance and real estate. When those industries took a beating, the shock waves staggered San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the economic good news has come from a different type of business — businesses that were small able to adapt quickly to changes in the economy and numerous and diverse enough that a blow to one industry would not demolish a huge employment base.

But instead of using city policy to encourage that sector of the city’s economy, Feinstein is proposing to bring in more of the type of business that make the city heavily vulnerable to the inevitable economic shocks that will come with the changes of the next 20 years.

THE CANDIDATES who seek to lead the city into the next decade and the next economy will need thoughtful, innovative programs to keep San Francisco from suffering serious economic problems. Those programs should start with a good hard dose of economic reality — a willingness to understand where the city’s strengths and weaknesses are — mixed with a vision for where the city ought to be ten and 20 years down the road.

Thus far, both are largely missing form the mayoral debate.

For years, San Francisco activists and small business leaders have been complaining about the lack of reliable, up-to-date information on the city’s economy and demographics. The environmental impact report on the Downtown Plan — a program adopted in 1985 — was based largely on data collected in 1980. That same data is still used in EIRs prepared by the City Planning Department, and it’s now more than seven years out of date.

In many areas, even seven-year-old data is simply unavailable. Until the Bay Guardian commissioned the Birch studies in 1985 and 1986, the city had no idea where jobs were being created. Until SFRG commissioned the Sedway-Cooke report in 1985, no accurate data existed on the city’s labor pool and the job needs of San Franciscans.

Today, a researcher who wants to know how much of the city’s business tax revenue comes from small business would face a nearly impossible task. That’s just not available. Neither are figures on how much of the city’s residential or commercial property is owned by absentee landlords who live outside the city. If San Francisco were a country, what would its balance of trade be? Do we import more than we export? Without a huge research staff and six months of work, there is no way to answer those questions.

Bruce Lilienthal, chairman of the Mayor’s Small Business Advisory Commission, argues that the city needs to spend whatever money it takes to create a centralized computerized data base — fully accessable to the public — with which such information can be processed and analyzed.

A sound economic policy would combine that sort of information with a clear vision of what sort of city San Francisco could and should become.

What would a progressive, realistic economic development platform look like? We’ve put together a few suggestions that could serve as the outline for candidates who agree with our perspective — and as an agenda for debate for candidates who don’t.

* ADEQUATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING is essential to a healthy city economy, and in the Reagan Era, cities can’t count on federal subsidies to build publicly financed developments. Progressive housing experts around the country agree that, in a city under such intense pressure as San Francisco, building new housing to keep pace with demand will not solve the crisis alone; the city needs to take action to ensure that existing housing is not driven out of the affordable range.

Economist Derek Shearer, a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a former Santa Monica planning commissioner, suggests that municipalities should treat housing as a scarce public resource, and regulate it as a public utility. Rents should be controlled to allow property owners an adequate return on their investment but prevent speculative price-gouging.

Ideally, new housing — and whenever possible, existing housing — should be taken out of the private sector altogether. Traditional government housing projects have had a poor record; a better alternative is to put housing in what is commonly called a land trust.

A land trust is a private, nonprofit corporation that owns property, but allows that property to be used under certain terms and conditions. A housing trust, for example, might allow an individual or family to occupy a home or apartment at a set monthly rate, and to exercise all rights normally vested in a homeowner — except the right to sell for profit. When the occupant voluntarily vacated the property, it would revert back to the trust, and be given to another occupant. The monthly fee would be set so as to retire the cost of building the property over it’s expected life — say, 50 years. Each new occupant would thus not have to pay the interest costs on a new mortgage. That alone, experts say, could cut as much as 707 off the cost of a home or apartment.

* DEVELOPMENT DECISIONS should be made on the basis of community needs. A developer who promises to provide jobs for San Franciscans should first be required to demonstrate that the jobs offered by project will meet the needs of unemployed residents of the city. Development fees and taxes should fully and accurately reflect the additional costs the project places on city services and infrastructure.

Land use and development decisions should also be geared toward meeting the needs of small, locally owned businesses — encouraging new start-ups and aiding the expansion of existing small firms.

* ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT programs should encourage local firms to use local resources in developing products and services that bring revenue and wealth into the city instead of sending it to outside absentee owners and that encourage economic self-sufficiency.

Cities have a wide variety of options in pursuing this sort of goal. City contracts, for example, should whenever possible favor locally owned firms and firms that employ local residents and use local resources. Instead of just encouraging sculptured towers and flagpoles on buildings, city planning policies should encourage solar panels that decrease energy imports, rooftop gardens that cut down on food imports and utilize recycled materials that otherwise would become part of the city’s garbage problem. (Using recycled materials is by no means a trivial option; if all of the aluminum thrown away each year in San Francisco were recycled, it would produce more usable aluminum than a small-to-medium sized bauxite mine.)

Other cities have found numerous ways to use creative city policies to encourage local enterprise. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, for example an economic development agency asked the U.S. Patent Office for a list of all the patents issued in the past ten years to people with addresses in the Twin Cities area. The agency contacted those people — there were about 20 — and found that all but one had never made commercial use of the patents, largely for lack of resources. With the agency as a limited partner providing venture capital, more than half the patent owners started businesses that were still growing and expanding five years later. Some of those firms had actually outgrown their urban locations and moved to larger facilities out of town — but since the Twin Cities public development agency had provided the venture capital, it remained a limited partner and the public treasury continued to reap benefits from the profits of the businesses that had left town.

* CITY RESOURCES should be used to maximize budget revenues. For example, San Francisco currently owns a major hydroelectric power generating facility at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park. A federal law still on the books requires San Francisco to use that facility to generate low-cost public power for its citizens; that law, the Raker Act, has been honored only in the breach. That means every year PG&E takes millions of dollars in profits out of San Francisco (the company is based here, but very few of its major stockholders are San Franciscans). The last time we checked, San Francisco was losing $150 million (CHECK) in city revenue by failing to enforce the Raker Act and municipalize its electric utility system.

Meanwhile, PG&E continues to use city streets and public right-of-ways for its transmission cables at a bargain-basement franchise fee passes in 1932 and never seriously challenged. Other highly profitable private entities, like Viacom cable television, use public property for private purposes and pay highly favorable rates for the right.

Those ideas should be the a starting point, not a conclusion for mayoral debates. But thus far, we’ve seen precious little consideration of the issues, much less concrete solutions, from any of the candidates.

The mayor’s race, however, is still very much open, and the candidates are sensitive to public opinion. If the voters let the candidates know that we want to hear their visions of the city’s economic future — and their plans for carrying those visions out — we may see some productive and useful discussions yet.*

Learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube with the easiest method, learning only six algorithms.

The I-Hotel interviews

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Many lives ago, I remember standing in the back hallway of the International Hotel trying to fathom why it was that this funny, run-down place with these very sad, old, alone men had become the focal point of an enormous array of the concerted power of the state, city and business interests from across the world. And it was not easy then, and it is not easy now, because we were looking at the problem of progress, in some strange sense, and the sadness of one generation, the evils of one generation, seeking redress in another generation. Most of the residents of the I-Hotel were Filipino men who had come to work in the fields of the Central Valley, and had been refused the opportunity to bring over wives or sweethearts, had stayed perhaps too long and had lost their families, lost their wives, lost their sweethearts, lost anything except their companionship with each other, and their attachment to this funny place that they called home, that was not much of a home, but it was all that they had. And so the landowners that owned that prime piece of real estate in downtown San Francisco were being chided for taking away a precious place, which they looked upon as a rundown flophouse, from people who had been cheated of their lives by other landowners, hundreds of miles away. And if there’s any lessons to be learned, it’s the lesson that we are all connected, each to the other, and that everything we do has consequences, not only for ourselves and our immediate family and friends, the people who live in our immediate neighborhood or our city or our state, but across the world, across the century.

Richard Hongisto
Member, San Francisco Board of Supervisor; former San Francisco sheriff

I think that a larger population of voters in San Francisco have begun to see — in part from the I-Hotel — that we can’t continue to Manhattanize the city without destroying our quality of life. And I think that is in part responsible for the passing of Proposition M and other efforts to control density in our city.

We just have to keep pursuing the legislative remedies to prevent the destruction of existing housing stock and replacing it with higher-density construction, and to prevent the conversion of existing low-cost housing into high-profit commercial space and so on. We’ve done some of that already, but I think we can continue to do more. One of the things we need to do is get the right person in the mayor’s office, to get the right Planning Commission in there, which is one reason I’m supporting Art Agnos, because he’s the only person in the race who supported Proposition M.

I wouldn’t let my photograph be taken knocking down a door [if I had to do it over again], because the photograph was completely misunderstood. I was knocking the door panels out of the doors, so the minimum amount of damage was done to the doors, because we were hoping we could get the tenants back in. When we started to do the eviction, the deputies from my department started to smash in the whole door and the door frame, and ruin it. And what I did was I took the sledgehammer and said no, do it like this — just knock out one door panel, and that way if the tenants can get back in, they can take one little piece of plywood and screw or nail it in over the missing door panel. So I showed them how to do it and I got photographed in the act. The photograph has been attributed that I was running around smashing down the doors in hot pursuit of the tenants, when in fact the opposite was the truth.

I think that as a result of the fact that I refused to do the eviction immediately, and then getting sent to jail and sued — I had to spend about $40,000 in 1978 out of my own pocket to defend the suit — I think we made a real effort to forestall the eviction and give the city a chance to take it over by eminent domain and save the building for the tenants. It did not work out in the end, but I’m glad that we gave it the best shot.

Brad Paul
Executive director, North of Markert Planning Association

Well, let me just start by saying that I was there the night that it happened. It was pretty horrifying to watch people, basically, that I was paying — because I’m a taxpayer and they were police officers, paid by the city — to beat people up around me, and I saw people right in front of me have their skulls split open at taxpayers’ expense, so that this crazy person from Thailand, Supasit Mahaguna, could throw all these people out of their homes.

In retrospect, we’ve learned about the important role that nonprofit corporations can play in owning houses and there was a thing called a buy-back plan, which people thought was a scam. Today, you would think of something like a buy-back plan as just a normal way of buying residential property protection. I can’t think of any residential development ten years ago owned or operated by a nonprofit corporation. Today there are lots.

The eviction — I think people paid a very dear price for that. A number of those people are dead now, and I’m sure that the threat of that eviction didn’t help. A more recent case is 1000 Montgomery. The eviction of those people, I think, led to the death of one of the older tenants there. I think that’s one of the sad losses of things like the I-Hotel and 1000 Montgomery and all of them. I don’t think government officials pay enough attention to that when they make decisions on whether or not to let somebody do these things.

But for myself, I’d have to say that there were a number of things that I was involved in ten and 12 years ago that made me decide to do the kind of work I’m doing now. And I’d say one of the single things that had the biggest effect on me was being there that night and watching that, and saying we shouldn’t allow this to happen — that we need to all see that it never comes to this again.

Quentin Kopp
State senator, third district; former member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors

To me it was an unusual episode, and I’m not sure that it was a lesson of any kind. I don’t think it’s been repeated, has it? You know, I’m a believer in property rights, so it’s a difficult issue. On the other hand, I became convinced that there was genuine justification for maintaining the hotel for those who lived there and had an attachment to it. It was a collision of property rights versus feeling sorry for people who would lose their lodgings, lodgings to which they had become accustomed and attached. If I were the property owner, I would be indignant about the way the city treated me …

the tactics that were used, and the litigation — the litigation was horrendous.

Now, the broader social issue I would characterize as preservation, obviously, of low-income housing for a minority group, the Filipinos. [But] if the city had such a robust concern, sincere concern, then the proper act for the city was to condemn the property — to take it and preserve it …

for the people who lived there. But the city was not forthright, the city did not set out to do that — the city tried to strangulate the owner into doing that, by reason of, it’s what I consider a bit cutesy a legislative move — a political move.

So what have we learned? Well, I don’t think that anything has been learned, and not simply because this is sui generis (which is the Latin term for one of a kind that lawyers often employ), but because the city doesn’t have a consistent policy for preserving this kind of living space.

Richard Cerbatos
Former member, San Francisco School Board, San Francisco Board of Permit Appeals

Speaking as a Filipino American, I saw an attempt to destroy a cultural link within the Filipino-American community. It was clear there was an established community living there. The use of the hotel in that general community formed a network and a lifestyle that was identifiable for older Filipino men. The access to the cheaper restaurants in Chinatown, the ability to hang out and speak their language in pool halls — this was all proposed to be destroyed in one big demolition permit. They were in a community where some of their cultural values were intact, and the only thing that kept them intact was the fact that they were close to one another.

I think those sensitivities now are clearer to the general community. I still think there are areas of Chinatown where they’re still going to have to fight this battle….

We’re seeing this: That we can’t allow people to be displaced purely in the name of bigger and better developments, and namely, bigger and better profits. With Prop. M, we’re seeing some attempts at this, and I think the first evolution of this was the I-Hotel.

As far as my sensitivites go, my thing is, through just having lived through it, this was the first time that anyone took on the developers the way they did. There have been later battles, but that was the first one that became known to everyone city-wide. If we are going to put some control on growth, we can use these lessons.

Ed Illumin
Member, I-Hotel Tenants Association

The first eviction notice was posted in December of 1968, so we’re talking about an almost 19-year battle, here. Actually, a 19-year war, because there were little battles in between. But it comes down to the city and various segments of the Chinatown community and the developer, Four Seas, arriving at an agreement on the development for that lot that would include some replacement housing — affordable, low-income replacement housing. I mean really affordable and priority for those apartments going to former tenants of the I-Hotel, and those elderly and disabled. A number of [tenants] have died since that time, so really we’re talking about maybe a dozen or 16 people who are still around to taste the benefits of this long, long war. Some justice, even though it’s late, has arrived and I would say that we finally won the war. It was a long struggle, 19 years, but people will get a chance, if they live long enough, to move in on the 20th year, which is 1988, when the construction should be completed.

It certainly wasn’t positive for the Filipino neighborhood. There are remnants of Manilatown, but to a large extent that neighborhood was destroyed. There was a lot going on there, and the I-Hotel was the heart of the community in that area. The positive thing about it was that it kept the Financial District from encroaching into Chinatown. The Filipinos and the Chinese have had a long history of living together, co-existing, and I think it was pretty much a sacrifice of the Filipino community there to make sure that Chinatown was preserved.

Chester Hartman
Fellow in urban planning, Institute for Policy Studies; lawyer for I-Hotel Tenants Association

In a sense, I think the International Hotel, the tremendous interest and support that the eviction attempt generated over so many years, was a kind of a coalescing and symbolizing of resistance to changes in San Francisco — changes being obviously the downtown corporate world taking over the neighborhoods. I think the fact that so many people came to the aid of the hotel residents, even though they weren’t successful in preventing the eviction, was pretty much a strong building block in developing what has become an extremely strong housing movement in San Francisco, one that really has become very effective in influencing candidates and people in public office, and in getting some laws passed.

So that’s one important lesson — that sometimes victories take a while, and take different forms, but all these struggles are connected. Another, I guess, is really how long it takes to get any results — the absurdity of having a totally vacant lot there for ten years, at a time when people need housing so badly. The fact that a private developer like Four Seas is able in essence to hold on and do nothing with its land when there’s so much need for housing in the Chinatown-Manilatown area says a great deal about … the relationship of city government to private developers.

Curtis Choy
Producer, “The Fall of the I-Hotel”

About the eviction night itself — and I just have a dim recollection now — I remember being very numb, and the fact that I was hiding behind a camera made it easier, because I had something between me and the event. I think I’ve spent a lot of time getting it behind me and if I haven’t seen my own film for, say, half a year it scares the hell out of me to look at the eviction again. I feel hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

What can I say about lessons? It was almost, I shouldn’t say, it was almost worth that eviction, but I mean, that’s the only thing you can get out of something like that — I mean, basically, they killed half those guys by throwing them out.

The potential for revolution in the country was still in the back of our minds in the early ’70s. And here we were trying to use the system, trying to play ball with the system, and it sort of set us up for yuppiedom. It was sort of our last hope to get something together, and we had invested 12 years or so in the struggle. There was kind of a little mass depression that stuck, and that same kind of high energy has never come back.

Sue Hestor
Attorney, San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth

In retrospect, one of the issues that we should have raised and litigated was the lack of an adequate environmental review of the project. We’ve learned a lot since then, and I don’t want to say that people that were involved at that point made a wrong decision, but in 1987 that would be one of the first issues that would be raised.

Secondarily, I think what we learned is how the physical destruction of a building makes it very hard to keep the issue alive — after a while, the hole in the ground becomes something that has to be filled, and the focus of attention drifts away. It’s really striking how when you lose the building, it’s more than just a symbol — it’s the motivating factor in people’s lives.

Allison Brennan
Organizer, San Francisco Tenants Union

They [the city] could’ve taken the building by eminent domain and they didn’t do that — they didn’t want to do that. I mean, the issue is not so much what they could do to prevent it, but why they didn’t prevent it in the first place. And that is basically because San Francisco has very little interest in preserving low-income housing. Its interest, and the interest of most of the people from San Francisco, are in getting rid of low-income housing, “cleaning up” poor neighborhoods, and turning them into nice middle-class neighborhoods, and that’s the stated goal of most city legislation — poor people aren’t what we want.

I think that probably the most important thing that came out of [the I-Hotel struggle] was that, while we don’t have a real good situation for tenants in San Francisco, I think consciousness was raised, among at least a lot of tenants about the situation which tenants are in. And I think that to a certain extent, on a national level, the elderly are getting somewhat better consideration than they did previously.

Gordon Chin
Director, Chinatown Neighborhood Improvement Resource Center

I guess the lessons of the I-Hotel have to go back to 15 and 20 years, to the genesis of the issue. I personally think the I-Hotel symbolized a lot of very key development issues — housing issues, tenant empowerment issues — that gained a national reputation back starting in the 1960s. In some respects, it highlighted many of the particular facets of the housing problem very early on: the need to maintain and preserve existing housing; the threat of commercial and downtown developments; the encroachment into the neighborhoods; the issue of foreign investment and the role that can play in development encroachment; the critical importance of tenant organizing and tenant organization with a support base in the larger community; the need for diverse ethnic, racial, sexual, lifestyle communities to work together on an issue of mutual concern — in this case, Chinese, Filipino, white, all different kinds of people supporting the I-Hotel tenants and getting involved in the issues as they evolved over the last 15 years.The I-Hotel experience has had a positive effect on these issues in San Francisco, and probably across the country. ….

It was a very critical time for the city, and this is going back to the early ’60s, with the previous United Filipino Association, the International Tenants’ Association, the whole bit. You had a lot of environmental movement activity….

I think that’s the I-Hotel’s importance, not just what happened back then. It was the whole evolution of the issue, even after the demolition, when the focus then became — well, we’ve lost the building, but the fight must continue in terms of making sure whatever is built on the site becomes new, affordable housing — not just housing but affordable housing. And it’s culminated in the most recent development plan for the project, which has gained pretty wide-spread support. I guess part of the whole recollection, reflecting back on the ’60s in general, [is that] the I-Hotel was very symbolic of the whole movement — Vietnam, everything.*

Interviews for this story were conducted by: Nicholas Anderson, Heather Bloch, Eileen Ecklund, Mark Hedin, Craig McLaughlin, Tim Redmond and Erica Spaberg.

So much flesh, so little personality

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Madonna. At Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, Monday, July 20th.

During the encores of the first of her two spectacular shows at Shoreline Amphitheatre last week, Madonna, the fantasy idol of American youth, finally asked the musical question lurking in the shadows of her extravagant performance. When the saucy Ms. Ciccone sang “Who’s That Girl?,” the title song of her forthcoming movie and just-released soundtrack album, she made the riddle of her career explicit. But after more than 90 minutes of relentless razzle-dazzle, after Madonna had revealed so much of her flesh and so little of her personality, the question should have been, why do so many people care?

Clearly they care a lot. Over two nights, nearly 40,000 people trekked to Mountain View for their close encounter of the absurd kind. This “Material Girl” made them willing to part with huge chunk of their disposable income for the privilege of watching her cavort through 16 entertaining but uninspiring production numbers masquerading as songs. The largely post-teen concertgoers paid up to $22.50 for an unscalped ticket, before service charges, and had the chance to fork over ten bucks for a slick program, $16 for a T-shirt and untold pocket change for food and drink from Shoreline’s amusement park-style concession. Scores even hired limousines to carry them to the show.

The power of Madonna’s appeal should be the envy of movie and pop stars alike. Even the most charismatic screen idols don’t attract so many people to one place at one time, and only a relative handful of music performers ever develop such commercial appeal. By successfully straddling both pop culture realms, Madonna doubles her draw. She is no ordinary icon.

How does she pull it off when she’s such a transparantly ordinary talent? The quick answer is that she sells sex, but her current show is remarkably unsexy. Nearly every song was punctuated by lacivious moves, from bumps and grinds with her male dancers (including salacious routines with a boy who looked less than half her 28 years) to teasing masturbatory gestures. And the foundation of her costuming — the black merry widow corset with gold sequined breast tips and twirling tassels — was part Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot and part Gypsy Rose Lee. But Madonna’s precisely programmed dancing was little more than a second-rate rehash of Flashdance (from the same choreographer) and her attire came off like a dress-up game, not a seduction. Nor was the secret of her appeal in the music. The seven-piece band and three back-up singers, under the direction of Madonna’s co-producer Patrick Leonard, was loud and punchy, rhythmically sharp and note perfect. But the musicians, shunted to the sides of the elaborate staircase set, were beside the point. Their routine neo-disco grooves varied little throughout the night and only a few of Madonna’s songs, such as “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Like A Virgin” and “Holiday,” get beyond the busy beats with catchy melodic hooks.

No, Madonna must send other kinds of messages to her fans. In “Papa Don’t Preach,” her big hit from True Blue, she seemed to be picking up a social cause, defending a pregnant teenage girl’s freedom of choice. Presented in concert, however, the song became an overcrowded bandwagon for a mishmash of socio-political themes. Giant projected images of clouds in a blue sky gave way to those of thunderstorms, the menacing face of a surgeon, the entrance to a giant cathedral. A nightmarish Monty Python-style slide montage hinted at the horrors of abortion and careened through bizarre juxtapositions culminating in a giant blowup of the White House, then Reagan’s face, the faces of happy, healthy children and, finally, the words, SAFE SEX.

Whatever Madonna was trying to say in “Papa Don’t Preach,” her fourth song in concert, was quickly forgotten in the onslaught of MTV-style production numbers that followed. Indeed, the show was little more than an overblown “live” music video, full of silly props and simplified physical interpretations of the songs.

At the center of it all was a vaguely attractive young woman who projected nothing of her real self yet represented a kind of between-the-cracks liberation from the creeping conservatism of the 1980s. After all the dressing up and stripping down, nothing of the performer’s inner nature was revealed. But “Madonna” represented the freedom to act out the most outrageous fantasies without fear or guilt. During “Like A Virgin,” a New York Post front page was projected on the huge screen with the headline “Madonna: I Am Not Ashamed.”

She can be a material girl, a party girl, an innocent harlot in red lace undies and a black leather jacket, a rebel without a cause clothed by Frederick’s of Hollywood. She takes a stand against post-feminism by strutting, leaping and groveling on the stage, declaring that if there’s going to be any exploitation in her career, she’s going to control it. She confounds the objectification of womanhood by adding more layers. One of the few female role models that the mass media has coughed up in pop music during this regressive decade, Madonna is merely making the most of it, and making over her image in as many ways as she can within the narrow range of options. She leaves it to her fans to create their own answers to the question, “Who’s that girl?”*