Four years have passed through the tangled netting of hindsight, but the 2008 election still feels like lightening in a bottle. Now faced with another electoral decision, we voters, couched with the demons of pervasive cynicism, are waiting for reason to catch fire again.
LA-based collective, The Looking Class, has taken up the challenge of reinvigorating our political apathy through an inspired new project that marries the group’s interests in design, art, technology, and social engineering.
The project, entitled Radi-o-bama, is an online mixed media explosion. At first blush, Radi-o-bama is a distribution channel for a flood of free electronic dance mixes in congress with the Obama reelection campaign. But the project also explores music’s ongoing evolution with technology and, because it comes as a response to the election, EDM’s penetration into pop culture.
As with jazz, folk, and rock & roll predecessors, EDM artists have leveraged new-found attention to make waves in the political arena. In this election alone, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of political involvement streaming out of the EDM community—from songified debates produced by The Gregory Brothers to Steve Aoki’s DJs for Obama and even a kitschy anti-Romney single by Devo.
Radi-o-bama is less heavy handed.
“We feel that a lot of the trends that are driving a shift in consciousness are a lot of the same things that opened the way for Obama to become president,” said TLC member Thomas Kelley. “A lot of those same dynamics are coming together [now] to combat him; and we wanted to combat that and put together a positive message that we felt was getting lost.”
The project puts value on the role that the senses play in informing political opinion. In the world of The Looking Class, feelings precede thoughts; and, thus, our political problems stem not from being out of touch with the issues, but from being out of touch with our feelings.
Dance mixes hosted on the group’s site are recombinant structures of EDM that, along with provocative imagery, strive to awaken our slumbering senses. The resulting effect lays the foundation, and serves as a conduit for, the headier conversations and connections that ultimately lead to progress.
“The power of electronic dance music is the power of expression and creativity in the hands of a person willing to accept it and express it back,” said Kelley. “It’s the power of self-discovery.”
“[This] was our attempt to share some [EDM] history both for people who have been following rave music for a long time, for people who know the history or don’t know some of the history, to find new things that they haven’t discovered before,” said Kelley. “It’s ultimately about discovery, about discovering new feelings, and hopefully discovering new ways of seeing our current moment.”
The project’s smattering of potent homemade mixes, twelve in total, draw on over thirty years of American EDM. Averaging four hours in length, each mix gives an encyclopedic lesson in artists and styles of the electro milieu. These mixes are then hosted under cities significant to both EDM history and the current election.
“We wanted to do something positive and challenge anyone who engaged with our ideas to go a bit deeper than we’ve all been asked,” said Kelley. “The EDM history is in a way a parallel to that depth, the idea that there’s a lot more to our present than we may know or want to recall. And we wanted to do it in a context that was broader but also more untrodden.”
Political optimism continues to build because of the coaching and encouragement of loving devotees, like The Looking Class. Borrowing from the adage, the collective embodies the change it wants to see in the world—pushing us to reach the boundaries of a better tomorrow together.
“What keeps us apart is too dangerous to walk away from now. For us to retreat into our crouches and our defenses is not what the moment asks of us,” said Kelley. “This election is a challenge to evolve… [a] challenge for people to think bigger.”
As the election nears, it’s unclear what trajectory we’ll be headed; but provided we take cues from The Looking Class, we’re certain to be on a better path. As they explain online:
“Techno stands as a beguiling outlier of the American future. Just as the Detroit auto industry rose from the ashes of the Great Recession to become a bright spot of economic and technical revival, techno (EDM) has finally reached a critical mass with the mainstream. And as Obama has struggled to find his voice in the narrow corridors of Washington power, lashed every step of the way by an equally powerful code of old resentments, techno reminds the new generation of what is still possible in 2012. It is not just a dream. It is the human spirit motoring at infinity.”
Tourism might be down, but Americans still have a love affair with Hawaii. Only now our interests center on authentic birth certificates and property acquisitions. The Hawaiian culture is so intrinsically tied to its land (which has been slowly gleaned from Hawaiian control) that some preservationists ballyhoo its inevitable extinction. All this anxiety skews people into two camps: advocates and abandoners. In the world of Hawaiian dance, or hula, if you’re not keeping to strict traditions then you’re camp or kitsch or somehow treading on the sacrosanct. So, how do you preserve a culture that desperately needs to evolve? Enter Patrick Makuakane, founder of the Bay area’s most unconventional hula troupe, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. Makuakane’s blend of traditional and contemporary styles with theatrical, non-Hawaiian elements is uncomfortable, but nevertheless innovative. For nearly thirty years, Na Lei has struggled for acceptance in both the worlds of hula and high-minded, avant-garde dance. It now takes on the 21st century, entering into a phase chalk full of media stunts, commercialization, and even Twitter. Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu participates in the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival this weekend with a free, family-friendly offering. If you can’t make it to the islands this summer, Na Lei is certainly the next best thing.
Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu performs July 28 at 1 p.m. (and continues to 2:30 p.m.) at the Yerba Buena Gardens, 760 Howard St. (at 3rd St.), S.F. Admission is free; call 543-1718 or visit http://www.ybgf.org.
Over the last decade, we’ve stood witness to the mammoth rise in popularity of Japanese cultural content—chalk it up to the internet and the ease with which to connect to fans across the globe. Who would have thought, though, that an epicenter for all this noise sits right here in our backyard?
Founded in 2006 by a group of UC Berkeley undergrads, San Francisco-based Crunchyroll is an online fan community and video streaming service. The site offers free full-length episodes and movies of Japanese anime and other English-subtitled East Asian content. For a nominal fee, users can access high resolution, ad-free simulcasts of popular shows an hour after Japanese broadcast. The site has already delivered content to over six million online community members worldwide.
At its inception, Crunchyroll functioned like Youtube—a service driven by users uploading their own videos. High demand and a rise in popularity, however, made the site difficult to monitor, and Crunchyroll soon struggled with the legal hazards of copyright infringement.
Now restructured, with a healthy dose of venture capitalist funds, the law-abiding Crunchyroll has grown into multimedia force. The site continues to offer the best in Japanese content, and has branched into the fields of manga, music, gaming, and sports. It also produces a live weekly broadcast of news and interviews with industry insiders.
With budding partnerships and plans to distribute content across multiple digital spaces, the sky’s the limit for this rising sun.
“Now, you,” said my cousin, Mike, disapprovingly, “I think your lifestyle is absolutely the worst!”
It was about time someone in the family confronted my life choices. Three years had already gone by—long enough for what seemed like a passing fad to solidify into an actual threat. This was the last straw. I had flown in the face of convention, I had alienated my loved ones, and now my membership in the Cult Vegetarian had actually warranted an intervention.
“Look at your diet,” Mike continued, “it’s incredibly dangerous. You eat like a rabbit to maintain your energy. Our bodies aren’t meant to process food this way.”
Vegetarians and lawyers share a commonality in that they’ve heard every dumb joke and every poorly-constructed argument against their case. Mike, a failed stand-up comedian, was an accomplished medical professional—a back specialist whose credits have earned him to the right to proselytize the holy gospel of fad diet du jour. His wasn’t the first argument I had heard for my dietary salvation, but it was certainly the most confrontational.
Why someone’s choice in food warranted a lengthy conversation was beyond me—but, then, my family was the type to have long conversations about food. Hell, we watch the Food Network in between courses. We take more photos of the dessert spread at special gatherings than of each other.
My choice to go veg was based purely on its health benefits. Adult-onset diabetes runs in my family—the disease is one of the most prevalent afflicting Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in the United States—and I thought a change in diet and lifestyle might nip it in the bud. The benefits to Vegetarianism—a decreased carbon footprint and the potential to lower US spending on diabetes in this econ-challenged time—seemed an added bonus. Silly me.
Mike lectured on, which is to say my mind glazed over to the sounds of muted trombones a la Charlie Brown; but somewhere in that mix, Mike mentioned the teachings of Gary Taube and passed along a little red book entitled, Why We Get Fat. (It is, sadly, to his credit that Mike saved this discussion until the self-esteem issues associated with female adolescence had fully matured—which is to say that I could brush the whole thing off as him being an asshole.)
For years now, Taube has been touting the benefits of the Paleolithic diet, which is what some lazily describe as, “Kind of like Atkins.” The diet is different for many people. Like any religion, including Vegetarianism, there are boundaries for what people are comfortable choking down. The main tenants of the Paleo diet revolve around consuming more meat, more dark, leafy veggies, more fat; and less carbs and sugars. The science, which is described in insultingly simple terms in Why We Get Fat (best to read Taube’s Good Calories, Bad Calories), asserts that our bodies have evolved to process meat and fat for energy and that the carb-friendly diets promoted by the National Institutes of Health are flawed and outdated.
It was at this point in the lecture that Mike swayed my boyfriend, Matt, who had been penitently standing by my side, to join Paleolithicism.
The weeks that followed housed what can only be described as the polite discussions of a non-married couple either too self-aware to brawl over such insignificant things as food or too weak because of their respective diets to one-up each other in an argument. Suffice it to say, these food-related tête-à-têtes skirted the line of affective, loving communication.
What bothered me most about Mike’s intervention and the evangelical fanaticism of his newly-recruited disciple was the surety and cockiness of their attacks. It’s one thing to advocate a diet, but does doing so require such personal condemnation? Why must Paleos undermine research promoting vegetarian diets in order to assert their diet as an equal alternative?
You’d expect a high fat diet to increase cholesterol—and the research is about 50/50 on that front—but you don’t expect someone to get a big head over something as insignificant as a salad. I chalk up the chauvinism, and indeed it was, to a hormonal imbalance resulting from the Paleo diet (high fat diets have been linked to a rise in the production of testosterone).
There are benefits to living life Paleo, though. The hormonal imbalance that I loathe, actually benefits the dieter—increased testosterone has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. The Paleo diet has also been shown to cut waistlines (obesity has been linked to diabetes) and lower glucose levels.
Both Matt and Mike enjoyed a noticeable boost in energy and significant weight loss after their conversion. Still, I can’t fully promote the Paleo diet as an across-the-board healthy alternative. Diets with a high intake of animal protein and fat have been shown to prompt conditions that cause kidney problems in diabetics, increase insulin resistance, cause hypoglycemia for those on insulin therapy, and exacerbate an intestinal environment that leaves the dieter vulnerable to heart disease, weight gain, and, again, certain forms of cancer.
There are just too many factors worth considering before jumping aboard the Paleo diet—chief among them are age, gender, ethnicity, income, family history, and lifestyle.
We may never know which diet reigns supreme—this discussion between spoiled children on the benefits of not eating something blathers on. Still, with thirteen percent of the world’s population going hungry, count us both lucky for having more than our foot to shovel down our throats.
The problem with the Summer of Love was that it was an idea too grand for some people to experience the one time. So rather than tumbling through years of therapy, most boomers did the next best thing by inflicting their nostalgic hippie-flashbacks on unsuspecting progeny.
If you were born after 1975, you were probably told tales about San Francisco in the mid-1960s. This was the epicenter of radical new ideas about peace, love, and understanding—this was the place Hollywood recreates every year on some forsaken Busby Berkeley back lot.
Growing up in the church of psychedelia meant facing the cold reality that the people responsible for the breakthrough social change you enjoy are the very people glibly retelling that old knee-slapper about memory of the 1960s and its relation to drug use.
For us, psychedelia is less a state of mind and more an abandoned dream in dayglo and gobbly font. The more tragic in our midst, those with childhood issues or unstructured parenting, even try to recreate it.
In some ways, it’s not fair pitting bands of diverse artistic temperament against each other—it’s like a parent admitting a favorite child. Comparing these particular bands, the Jefferson Airplane and Blue Cheer, is a comparison of rock’s royalty to its underdog (a true Rocky versus Apollo). Both groups are quintessentially San Francisco Sound founders; both faced the plight of schizophrenic band members; and both had a lot of artistic turnover.
But, who was the bigger influence? Who left a lasting impression on us Gen Xers and early Millennials?
Blue Cheer was originally founded in 1966 by Eric Albronda and Jerry Russell. Named after a street brand of LSD, the group amassed a team of uncompromising, rowdy rockers and rose to prominence under the management of an ex-member of the Hells Angels. The band is known in its power trio configuration: members Dickie Peterson, Paul Whaley, and Leigh Stephens. Its first hit, a cover of Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, peaked at #14 on the Billboard charts.
At its debut, the release of Vincebus Eruptum, the band was a hellish, deafening nightmare of everything that had come before. The album, full of distortion and speed rock, was, as author Tim Hills puts it, “the epitome of San Francisco psychedelia.”
The late 1960s saw personnel changes; and Cheer’s sound mellowed from a bludgeoning, over-amped heavy metal to commercial hard and blues rock (a la Steppenwolf or Cream).
The band temporarily split in 1972 after its fifth release, The Original Human Being. By that time, Peterson was the only remaining member of the group’s original configuration, having been joined and then abandoned by Randy Holden and Bruce Stephens.
Though the band was inactive through the 1980s, which was marked by fruitless attempts at a reunion, it wasn’t until Peterson death in 2009 that Blue Cheer’s reign officially ended.
It’s easy to see Cheer’s mark on its successors in heavy metal and blues. The band’s screaming vocals and acid guitar make up the bulk of what we heard from rock in the 1980s and what we still hear today on Sixth Street. At home, the band’s sound echoes through almost every punk and alt metal product from the east bay.
The Reigning Champion
The Jefferson Airplane was founded in 1965 by Marty Balin, who, inspired by bands attempting to merge folk and rock music—acts like the Beau Brummels and the Charlatans—endeavored to create a rock revolution in San Francisco.
Balin purchased a pizza parlor on Fillmore Street, which he transformed into a rock club called the Matrix. He met with guitarist Paul Kanter; and together the duo recruited musicians to form the club’s house band. Signe Toly, Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Peloquin, and Bob Harvey rounded out the original lineup.
The group’s popularity escalated after a series of positive reviews from San Francisco Chronicle jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason; and the band signed with RCA Victor. Personnel changes marred the band early. Peloquin left the band shortly after its formation—dissuaded by the group’s frequent drug use. He was replaced by Moby Grape founder Skip Spence. Spence was later replaced by Spencer Dryden.
The band’s single most influential personnel overhaul took place in 1966, when Grace Slick, then singer with the Great Society, replaced Toly, who left the band to focus on motherhood. Slick brought with her two singles that would become the group’s most well-known hits: White Rabbit and Somebody to Love.
The release of Surrealistic Pillow launched Airplane into the mainstream. The album peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts and spurred an avalanche of copycat artists. In 1967, famed Bay area entrepreneur and promoter, Bill Graham, signed on as the band’s manager—garnering commercial interest for the group. Airplane was invited to perform on Carson’s Tonight Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, and participated in the Human Be-in, a famous day-long Happening in Golden Gate Park.
Despite rampant drug use, interpersonal turmoil, and shifting alliances, Airplane remained prolific and regularly toured. It is the only band to have performed the concert triumvirate: the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and Altamont.
As the group mounted commercial and critical success, its creative direction slowly and awkwardly shifted. Brooding, cerebral love songs were replaced by vitriolic messages and political statements. (An affair between Slick and drummer Dryden influenced the song Lather, which she later performed in blackface to show support for the Black Panther Party. Dryden left the band in 1970 and Slick began a relationship with Kanter.)
After 1970, the band saw another shift towards heavier, improvised music. Songs were longer, disenchanted, and increasingly anti-establishment. Airplane embodied the drug-taking, antiwar ethos of the era with screams, albeit empty ones, of revolution.
Personal turmoil continued to plague the band; and drugs and alcohol ripped through its productivity—curtailing the group’s ability to record and tour. By April 1972, band members had shifted focus to side projects Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna. Airplane never formally split; but still reunited in 1989 for an album and tour. It was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Airplane influenced bands today in a host of different ways: musically, through its choice in instrumentation; artistically, in aesthetic and fashion; and politically, in its constant pursuit of perfection.
The San Francisco Sound was a collusive rock music acid trip into bohemian counterculture. Inherent in the Sound were louder, improvised, and explorative jaunts in chord progression, lyric, and instrumentation. The style was our counterattack to a British Invasion; lead with a screaming charge by forefathers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jerry Garcia.
We wanted to be less commercial. We wanted to be all-American. As a nation, we needed to rebound from the wounds we were inflicting on ourselves socially and unite through some means, in this case, locally, through the chaos of ground-breaking music.
Today’s climate is no different. Our art scene faces a nation wrought with polarizing women’s issues, diplomatic missions to China, banal racism; and it is as diverse and innovative now as it was then.
Blue Cheer stands, at least artistically, as the most influential band to today’s sound. Rage will always be en vogue and Cheer’s brand of euphoric raucousness is truer, rawer, and edgier than that of Jefferson Airplane.
Airplane’ s stark and intellectual sound, once commercialized, disseminated to the masses, and perfected by others, led to what we now think of when we hear someone say “Psychedelic.” The band profoundly changed American art, politics, and spiritual convictions, but much of this was accomplished through its image, excess, and self-indulgence than through its music.
For Airplane, psychedelia, the drugs it required, its constant need for redefinition, and its turbulent lifestyle, was the unfortunate and inherited result of success; and it ultimately led to the band’s downfall.
Living in an extended haze, the froth of a dream filled with free love, drugs, and no consequences, mirrors those watery dreamscapes of Berkley’s early Hollywood. Eventually the cotton candy melts, the champagne goes flat, and you’re left with one helluva mess.
The Gold Dust Lounge Vies For Historical Preservation
By Jessica Hilo
UPDATE: A city commission report released March 16, 2012 found that the Gold Dust Lounge did not qualify for historic landmark preservation. Members of San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission vote on the Gold Dust Lounge on March 21.
History is a funny thing: at once definite; then, one slip of the tongue, one fantastic elaboration, and history, as we know it, changes.
For months now, San Franciscans have heard the dueling sides of an argument between the Gold Dust Lounge, owned by Jimmy and Tasio Bovis, and its landlord, the Handlery family.
The lounge is a dimly-lit Union Square staple, which occupies a humble1100 square feet of valued commercial real estate. It is one of the last Powell street watering holes; and now faces eviction at the hands of a major, anonymous commercial retailer.
The fight to keep or discard the Gold Dust Lounge has become a bar-backed hazarai; with each new cycle of information amassing more media attention, more political support, and furthering divide.
The bar’s quest has collected more than 3,000 supporters online, including celebrity endorsements by sports writer Bruce Jenkins and the band, Train.
Meanwhile, the Bovis family has prepared a local landmark nomination, which it hopes will stall the impending eviction and, at the very least, protect the space from demolition. The nomination argues for preservation on grounds of cultural significance—that the bar serves as a palimpsest of San Francisco nightlife history—and design, in that it contains elements of classic American cocktail lounge design with architectural features that date back to the 1930s.
An aura of mistruths bought into by mainstream coverage has blinded us from seeing what this Gold Dust Lounge debacle is really about: whether the bar is indeed architecturally and culturally significant to truly merit its preservation.
The Long, Convoluted History of the Gold Dust Lounge
A central tenet to the preservation movement headed by the Bovis family is that the Gold Dust Lounge occupies a space that served as scene to historically significant nightlife events.
The Gold Dust Lounge resides within the Elkan Gunst Building, which was erected in 1908 from the ashes of the city’s infamous quake and fire.
In 1918, the space served as the entrance to a longstanding establishment, the Techau Tavern. Though touted as a high-end, family restaurant, the Techau garnered headlines at the wake of Prohibition for the uproarious behavior of its clientele and staff. In 1921, Techau was raided by Prohibition agents, when two undeputized, undercover personnel were served alcohol in its dining room. Bottles of liquor were later discovered in lockers belonging to two Techau waiters, John Antonetti and Richard Bucking. Techau manager, Albert C. Morrison, Bucking, and captain of waiters, V.E. Lardi, were arrested and charged with possession and sale of alcohol. During their trial, Daisy Simpson, one of the undercover agents involved with the raid, claimed the chief investigator, Adam L. Estelle, had entrapped the establishment. Estelle purportedly acquired liquor outside the establishment months earlier with the intent of inducing the restaurant to increase its own supply later on.
Much of the folklore about the Gold Dust Lounge takes root here and projects a series of San Francisco nightlife activities that might not have existed in the space at all.
The Techau Tavern closed shop in 1922 and was replaced by Art Floral Company, a city-serving florist that occupied the space through the end of Prohibition.
The Bovis family asserts that this space operated as a speakeasy; and connected, by way of a secret passage, to the building next door. (The adjoining building happens to house the family’s other bar: Lefty O’Douls.) During Prohibition, this would have connected the Techau Tavern or Art Floral Company with the St. Francis Theater. Sanborn insurance maps housed at the San Francisco Public Library depict the space with ten foot thick concrete walls and no hidden passageway.
Historians associated with the Bovis family also wax poetic over the workings of Art Floral Company. A document prepared by architectural historian Christopher VerPlanck claims the florist operated as both a legitimate business, which may have been affiliated with Pelicano-Rossi Floral, predecessor to San Francisco’s longest-running floral company, Rossi and Rovetti, and as an illegal speakeasy. (This latter statement is based on pure conjecture.) Pelicano-Rossi Floral was located on Kearney Street at this time. Art Floral Company vacated the Gold Dust space in 1935.
Over the next two decades, Gold Dust tussled between owners, but remained a liquor-serving establishment. By the mid-1950s, the space had conjoined with Milton F. Kreis’ signature eatery located at the corner of Geary and Powell streets.
Kreis, a shop owner and restaurateur from southern California, revamped the space, then operating under its former title, the Techau Tavern. This new bar, called Bustles and Beaus, was an ornamental throwback to the heyday of Barbary Coast saloons. Female servers, adorned in netted stockings, were said to have served drinks after sliding down a brass-plated fire pole.
In Gold Dust myth, B&B was co-owned by crooner Bing Crosby, who was said to have installed the tavern’s chandeliers and who commissioned a mural of cherubs and naked women from an MGM set designer. The mural and chandeliers adorn the ceiling of the Gold Dust today.
“I spoke directly with Kathryn Crosby, Bing’s widow,” said Judy Schmid, publicist for the Bing Crosby Estate. “She affirmed my suspicions that Bing’s supposed owning the Gold Dust Lounge is merely an urban myth.”
“Now, that’s not saying he might not have popped in during his lifetime, as he was known to happily grab a drink or two with his fishing, golfing or acting buddies;” Schmid continued, “but no, he was never an owner or investor in the property. Kathryn told me that Bing invested in no pubs, restaurants, clubs or watering holes. Horses, golf, cattle ranches, and the like were more his style.”
“We [also] had our [vice president] of marketing and production look through Bing’s business files from the 1950s through the 1970s,” Schmid said. “We can heartily confirm that Bing never invested in nor owned any portion of the club under any of its names.”
Bustles and Beaus was a bust by the mid-1960s. Jimmy and Tasio Bovis purchased the bar in 1967 and redesigned its interior, in part, to pay homage to the gold rush era. The bar has maintained a tradition of nightly live music, with selections varying from Dixieland jazz, to tinkering piano, and Rock and Roll.
The era of the Gold Dust Lounge is perhaps the space’s most iconic. The bar was seen in the opening shots of Bullitt; and, fittingly, a bevy of celebrities have festooned its barstools, including Liza Minnelli, Cloris Leachman, Lee Marvin, Jack LaLanne, Jimmy Hoffa, Nick Nolte, and Janis Joplin.
“It was a very popular place to go to for our incredible Herb Caen,” said Lee Housekeeper, a spokesperson for the Bovis family, on the venerable Chronicle columnist. “He actually played drums there. He’d stop in for last call or stop in at the end of the evening from whatever wonderful places he was reporting on; and was known to sit in on the drums and play with the house band…Herb was a regular there until he died.”
The Messy and Unforeseen Future of the Gold Dust Lounge
This past December, the Bovis family received a letter of intent from its landlord, which invoked a 90-day termination clause within the Gold Dust’s lease.
The Bovis family recruited Burlingame attorney Joseph Cotchett in filing a suit against the Handlery family on February 23. The suit charges the Handlery family with intentional misrepresentation, unfair competition through misleading advertising, breach of contract, injunctive relief, and financial elder abuse.
The Historic Preservation Commission vetted the Bovis’ landmark nomination in February and ruled to postpone a decision on the case until March 21. Even if they are successful in gaining landmark preservation, said Sam Singer, a representative of the Handlery family, the Bovis’ will still need to vacate or suffer significant financial and legal penalties.
“I think that the Gold Dust Lounge has got a very loyal following, but there’s nothing that keeps the Bovis family from continuing to operate the Gold Dust Lounge at a different location and take that loyal following of people with them,” said Singer. “There [are] many other places they can rent in Union Square [and] in San Francisco. There are many famous San Francisco institutions that are not in their original locations.”
“There are many, many nice bars and wonderful eating establishments around Union Square. This is one of many. It is a nice spot, but it’s not in any way a significant spot,” Singer continued. “Cities—and San Francisco is a major American city—change all the time. That is the nature of major metropolises. And this is another chapter of the history of Union Square.”
For nearly a century, the Gold Dust Lounge has been a meeting place for San Francisco natives and outsiders alike to glimpse at a dream—whether that dream was in ivory linens and top hats; in the bucking wilds of legal impropriety; tangled in the seedy strings of saloon faire; or in the faces of local luminaries as they brushed elbows with the common man.
Like any bar, this is a spot where our realities are escaped; defeated by the companionship of others. We’ve all been spoon-fed egregious facts, exaggerated truths massaged by representatives who have probably recited the script enough times that they bought into it themselves. But what this debate muddles down to is an age-old decision over whether to preserve our formidable institutions or accept the changing tides of our future.
The Gold Dust Lounge, though understandably revered by locals and endeared by celebrities, is merely a collection of quasi-cultural baubles—leftover artifacts of a tall tale housed in a quaintly antiqued jewelry box.
Will we lose the soul and spirit of San Francisco if the Gold Dust Lounge leaves? History belongs to the victors.
Christine O’Donnell’s latest gaffe is an undeniable blow to the G.O.P:
In the spirit of this pre-Halloween treat, here is a list of ten pop culture witches who would make a better candidate choice for Delaware’s senate seat than Ms. O’Donnell.
10. The Witches of Eastwick- fun, fabulous, and connected with gypsies, tramps, and thieves (also known as lobbyists)
9. Sabrina Spellman- a little green, but certainly a people pleaser.
8. Witch Hazel- can take a political beating. And the lady knows how to cook.
7. Hermoine Granger (the Harry Potter reference everyone expects)- Ms. Granger’s mudblood ensures her support of social justice and civil rights.
6. The Blair Witch- already skilled in the use of scare tactics
5. Ursula the Sea Witch- would devise a jazzy platform against off-shore oil-drilling
4. Grand High Witch (the Roald Dahl reference no one remembered)- she’s the leader of all witches on Earth. That certainly gives her sparing cred with Nancy Pelosi.
3. Sarah Jessica Parker (no, not her character in Hocus Pocus)– anyone who can sell ethnic insensitivity at her level of box office success can’t possibly fail in the legislative branch, right? (Rand Paul).
2. Wicked Witch of the West- a technophile (flying monkeys) with her fiscal wits (ruby slippers) about her. Also, a family woman.
1. Endora- because at the end of the day, aren’t all congressmen Darrin Stephens?
In the eighth grade I submitted an annual science fair project that tested for what stressed the body more: mental or physical exertion. The conditions were hardly lab-worthy; I gathered my friends together and staked my affection for a few jumping jacks and rounds on Milton Bradley’s popular toy, Simon. The judges at the science fair, despotic rulers on high from Genentech, were not impressed—dolling out a paltry third place (the last of three rankings given to everyone who participated). Short of conferring the title of ‘Miss Congeniality’ or slapping me upside the face, this was a giant banner of disapproval from the minds I embraced as kin (my mother inviting this idea through years of indentured service in a UCSF laboratory). Needless to say, I found myself exiled with the other misfit toys deep on the island of Arts and have since there remained.
And though I obviously hold no discernible grudges against the scientific community (shove it!), I do feel as if my experiment deserves a second glance. For though the conditions of my research proved that physical strain overpowered all; new evidence reported in the New York Times shows that in this age of mediaddiction, psychological stress can overwhelm and overrun the body.
Take that Genentech. Hell, maturity be damned. I’m a writer. I can’t limit ego-scratching, as much as I can promise watching my salt-intake after a certain age. There are some days when healthy mental habits are simply impossible—even more so when you’re a journalist.
This takes us to today.
With an unimpressive dossier building in Los Angeles, and virtually no room for improvement (outside opportunities in dog walking and homelessness), I resigned hopes of staying in the City of Angels to move back to the clear skies and clean beaches of Santa Barbara—accepting a fellowship with Miller-McCunemagazine.
I walked into what is now my professional home for the next nine months and was given an office uniform fit for a person my age: the cubicle. (And not just any cubicle, but one that invites onlookers the luxury of making my neck hair stand on end. If I was ever intellectually erect, the placement of this cubicle thoroughly ensures creative impotence. ) Still, this was not what caused unbearable stress.
The cubicle, my duct-taped life raft in the tumultuous sea of Journalistic making-it-tude, was besieged today by an apocalyptic infestation of crickets. It isn’t bad enough that we have to endure sweatshop conditions in churning out news soma for the mediaddicts, now I have to nurse belabored creativity from the festering onslaught of bush bodies. And SEO specialists scoff at bloggers’ reluctance to update their sites.
So it seems I’ve been prized with an eternal last place. But there are days when the relentless assembly line of life as a working-wage reporter gives a moment or two of respite. And while undoubtedly cozied next to a glass of wine, and finally updating my blog out of guilt, I’m happy that the chirping of my actual crickets has given way the numbed buzz of metaphorical ones. Even misfits enjoy their island lifestyle.
The first few exits on the freeway, once entered, sprint by. Perhaps it’s the distractions of merging, or the performance rituals of driving in your mid-twenties (rolling down the window, finding the right music, ticking things off an unending to-do list), or maybe it’s the distance between where you are and where you are going—in both a metaphysical and geographical sense. In those brief few meters, I enjoy, if not intrinsically, the sensations of what it must be like to live in Los Angeles—its smoky wind, its autumnal sun, and its noise, welcomed, of course, to steal away precious years from my ignorant, youthful ear drums.
I came to Los Angeles by necessity—which is what I imagine a lot of people say when they don’t want to admit that they like it here. I don’t like LA. Its decay, its intolerable hatred of its own history, its meaninglessness leaves me for wont of inspiration and, at times, severely depressed. This is a dangerous state of being for someone who calls herself a writer, as I’m already tussling with the struggles of my own neuroses—let alone the shackles and sweaty desperation of making ends meet. My drug, if you will, the thing that pulls me up from the dregs, or perhaps in reality shoots me through an escape portal, is comedy. So, one fateful evening of too much light beer, I planned an all-day Steve Martin festival amongst friends. Let me pause to explain the subtleties behind the decision: it’s Steve Martin.
Waiting For the Light to Change
The festival was held at the apartment complex of my friends Matt and Amanda—both former film students, which means (if you, too, are in the industry) that they have probably called you, gotten you coffee, or shared a night with you in a sticky dive bar and judged as you complained about your unemployment check. They live in the valley, which for some reason is likened to a leper colony. As I waited at a light, somewhere near Van Nuys Blvd, I noticed a man in his sixties walking on a raised cement platform above the sidewalk. He was wearing Dockers, a cotton shirt that was too big for him, and, of course, the uniform watch that all men in their sixties wear. Eyeing the curb that separated his cement path and the sidewalk below with the youthful delight of someone three-quarters his age, the man, arms extended, balances himself and walks, placing his feet strategically. Then he tumbles. And the light turns greens. I drive past, having been the sole witness to the scene despite the seven bus patrons waiting at a nearby stop. Last I saw he was crawling on the sidewalk.
Capitalism: A Love Story
I arrive at the apartment an hour late, which in Los Angeles, of course, means I’m on time, and I find Matt and Amanda embroiled in Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (the perfect appetizer for a night of comedy.) One more festival-goer was yet to come, the much-reputed Mike Birkhead—a friend of a friend whose exploits in comic books and
cynicism were larger than life. I wait, toying with Steve’s autobiography Born Standing Up (unwilling to give it back to Amanda who had let me borrow it a week or two before.) “I’m not sure what I meant, but I wanted to use the lingo and it was seductive to make these pronouncements,” I read. “Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.” Genius. That Steve can pen such haunting prose makes him the Bob Dylan of fart joke peddlers. Mike arrives and breathes the first words I’d hear. Anticipation sets in—what will the demi-god say? “I’ll take a whiskey coke.” Genius.
St. Louis? No, Navin Johnson
One of the most intricate elements to Steve’s autobiography was the regretful, intimate, and romantic way he talks about the women who have graced, and truly they have, his life. (Ammunition, I imagine, that makes for a successful wanderlust.) “Mitzi was simply too alluring to be left alone in a foreign country,” he wrote, “and I was too hormonal to be left alone in Hollywood.”
As the festival commenced, with a showing of The Jerk, I learn that Mike, newly unemployed, intends to break up with the girl he has been dating—the girl he, and we, affectionately call ‘Mexican’t.’ Through the movie he wonders, aloud, if he should do this over the phone or in person:
SM: “Lord loves a workin’ man, don’t trust whitey, see a doctor and get rid of it.”
Matt: “Words to live by.”
Amanda: “So are you going to go?”
Mike: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Why are you breaking up with her?”
Mike: “Because I’m unemployed.”
Me: “Well, what if she says that that doesn’t matter?”
Mike: “I don’t give a fuck.”
Me: “Steve Martin has very dark hair.”
Matt: “What? He’s got the whitest hair I’ve ever seen.”
Me: “Well, he’s a silver fox. But, no, look at his body hair to hair ratio. It’s off.”
Mike: “He’s a silverback.”
The movie ends. The festival is off to a knock-kneed start, which I imagine gives it the righteous, comedic reputability it needs to be taken seriously. Mike absconds to Amanda’s room to break up with Mexican’t over the phone. Matt pours another round of whiskey for the festival-goers and puts a few pizzas in the oven (inspired by ‘Pizza in a Cup,’ naturally.) After five minutes, Mike returns to the festival space with the worn, but giddy look of a man who got away with murder. “Sixteenth girlfriend done,” he says, taking a sip from his replenished drink. I feel a pang of guilt for observing, and even promoting through my presence, trespasses unto my kind—which I reconcile through beverage and the comforting thought that this woman has been freed to find someone who wouldn’t break up with her over the phone. I am Susan B. Anthony once again.
Our festival continues in chronological order with The Man with Two Brains, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, My Blue Heaven, and LA Story. Drinks also continue with feverish propensity, which makes for a very uninteresting and improperly documented blog. Suffice it to say, the haze that was the next few movies, and tiresome hours, can only be recalled through the few notes scrawled into my notebook at the time:
Mike: “For Christmas my friends got me a sweater…but what I really wanted was a moaner and a screamer.”
Amanda: “Don’t do that. Wait until I swallow.”
Me: “Christ! Guys! Steve Martinis! How did we not think of this before?”
“Amanda has jungle fever. Mike also has jungle fever but insists it’s not gay…even though he has it for Isaiah Mustafa.”
Cocktail recipe: Scotch and apple juice
Steve Martin blog idea: Men who wear concealer (how deep.)
As the night tears on, I realize, or maybe it’s the self-deprecating writer-character I wear as an accessory who realizes, that I had not accomplished what I had hoped for in this festival. Having found recent employment outside Los Angeles, I suppose I had wanted Steve Martin night to be a valentine to the man who writes valentines to the city—avoiding the unpleasant reality that I might actually miss Los Angeles. Honoring by proxy. As with any moment with promise in meaning, all that I had hoped to infuse or extract that night floated effervescently around and through me.
Rules for a Sgt. Bilko Drinking Game:
Admittedly, our top five movie choices for the festival did not include Sgt. Bilko. It’s a rather lackluster Steve Martin film, despite its funny moments. Still, it was one of few selections available to us on short notice. And being the reckless, half-inebriated, post-collegiate group of adults who threw together a haphazard film night that we were, we decided to turn the viewing into a drinking game. The rules, as forged by us (since an internet search proved fruitless), include:
Drink whenever Steve Martin is in a robe
Drink whenever you find Steve Martin sexy
If Matt finds Steve Martin sexy drink twice (Matt must drink three times)
Drink whenever Chuck Berry is referenced
Drink whenever a military theme is referenced in the score
Drink whenever the unit dupes its superiors
Drink whenever you see Rita Robbins
There are a few missteps to this game. First, contrary to the film’s marketing, Steve Martin appears once in a robe through the duration of the film. Second, that we would punish Matt for his homosexual inclinations runs counter to our real political beliefs—and I’m pretty sure it trudges upon the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. (Mea Culpa, Matthew.) Third, my contribution to the game rules involving the film’s score was tragically underused (punishment for being a band geek.) Composer Alan Silvestri references themes used in other military-inspired movies, but does not directly reference military themes in his score. We got around this with incidental music like Taps and other such revelry.
Taking a Bowfinger
Twelve hours, a package of veggie dogs for me and hot dogs for my compatriots (a reference to Father of the Bride), and Reese’s peanut butter cups (a reference to The Three Amigos) later, we rounded the corner to our final film: Bowfinger.
“You know she’s supposed to be Anne Heche,” Amanda tells me of Heather Graham’s character. As the plot unfolds, and we see young Heather, or Anne as it were, take feminism (as it is imagined by Steve Martin) down a few pegs, a noticeable, heavy weight is placed on the viewers. We’re disinterested, tired, and sober—waiting for the film to end. (Sorry to spit upon everyone in Matt and Amanda’s industry who worked on the film. Sometimes art consumption is as troublesome as art-making.) The movie ends. I manage my goodbyes and drive home.
It takes me a couple days to navigate my feelings on the experience—jostled, too, by more pending deadlines and the insufferable pings of an ice cream truck playing demonically below my window. “Twopence halfpenny and a Joey-twopence halfpenny,” I think, referencing Orwell. “His mind was sticky with boredom. He couldn’t cope with rhymes and adjectives. You can’t, with only twopence halfpenny in your pocket.”
I recreate the drive home in my mind. It is a dazed, blinding, twinkling whir of city lights (easily ignored by the speed in which I moved—both metaphysically and geographically.) My quick year residency has finally given into a fine layer of spiritual calluses. It prevents me from seeing the absurdity, the glamour, and the chaos of Los Angeles at night. My drive happens around me. And I think, “Thanks a yahoo. I’m getting out of this town.”