What Do You Know, San Francisco?

via foundsf.org

Checking in from the Bay Area. I’m currently embarked on a massive journey that began in Los Angeles and is ultimately going to wind up in Knoxville, Tennessee. For anyone who loves travel (which is most everyone I know, save for one friend who happens to be a sociologist… go figure*), burning one’s time in front of a computer is hardly a way to make the most of your limited time on the road (or in my case now, rails).

The other morning, an old friend and I were eating breakfast at Eddie’s Cafe in the Lower Haight. She was asking me about my future plans and why I’ve chosen Geography. I was fully prepared to launch into (and bore her with) the usual pretentious diatribe about how big of an umbrella the discipline is, but I immediately just pointed at our surroundings. We were sitting in a soul food diner managed and operated by Korean immigrants. Across the street there was another diner with a Middle-Eastern name, and next door to that lied a front for something fortune telling shop, which has myriad origins but usually traces back to the Roma. And that’s just the beginning.

via aeiseclife.org

No matter how many times I visit the Bay Area, I can’t even begin to comprehend how this city came to be, established itself to be the way it is**, and continues evolving in on this bizarre path. How many ex-hippies (and millennial Phish phans) visit the corner of Haight and Ashbury for the first time and are severely disappointed with what they find? I would guess a lot, unless they’re really into overpriced souvenir shops and Ben & Jerry’s (as delicious as many of their flavors are***) for some reason.

Cities need to expand and contract, and the Bay Area doesn’t really allow for these physical manipulations inasmuch as a other cities tend to spread out and become watered down (not naming names, but you can all fill the blanks).

I have to get moving (again), but just to get these on here, hear a few indispensable “San Francisco” songs from over the past few decades****.

Jawbreaker – “Condition: Oakland”
I rode down to the tracks.
Thinking they might sing to me.
But they just stared back.


Stay tuned to hear Jack Kerouac in there.

American Music Club – “All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco”
The bay’s drunkest and proudest poet laureate who also happened to have a major label record deal at one time, Mark Eitzel, ladies and gentlemen.
“a city built by fire trucks!
dirty old bastards drunk on love
and mean old queens who never forgive
the compromises they made to live”

J Church – “Where the Trains Go”
The late Lance Hahn relocated to SF in the early 90’s, named his new band after the MUNI line he took to practice and work, and proceeded to put out a staggering number of full-lengths, singles, comp songs and splits over the following decade. This is currently my favorite song he wrote during his all-too-brief life.

Liner Notes:

* = I would say this to her face. Please don’t write me angry emails, sociologists. You’re some of my favorite people. WWMVD? (Max Weber)
** = For a good read on what turned San Francisco from “the post-Gold Rush city in the Bay” into the seat of progressive life in North America, check out Dr. Josh Sides’ book Erotic City: http://www.amazon.com/Erotic-City-Sexual-Revolutions-Francisco/dp/B007PM2ND8
*** = If you work for the corporation and want to give me kickbacks for each hit I get on this article, I eagerly await your $0.35 check.
**** = With apologies to an endless catalog of bands including Operation Ivy, Hickey, Geographer, Moby Grape (see Haight Ashbury circa 1968), Dead Kennedys, Flipper, Crimpshrine, going on forever.

The Matty Luv memorial in Clarion Alley (Thanks to Allie S. for the photo).

The Matty Luv memorial in Clarion Alley (Thanks to Allie S. for the photo).

Chips on my Shoulder

I know it’s two in the morning, and I know I have a lot of writing still to get done in the next few days, but I thought I’d share this video of Soft Cell performing “Chips on my Shoulder” on the Oxford Road Show in 1982 because who doesn’t love some synth pop in the middle of the night?

I understand that this requires some explanation. I’m currently transcribing an (amazing) interview I conducted with one of California’s top New Wave record collectors (and perhaps the biggest Marc Almond fan in the state country). It inspired me to take a break and watch a few videos of the twisted and inspirational (and coked out of their fabulous minds) Mr. Almond and Mr. Ball. This video may be the coolest thing I’ve found so far.

Ball, over Almond’s shoulder.

Jean Baudrillard wrote in The System of Objects that we tend to fetishize cultural objects because the moment (time and place) of creation cannot be reproduced. My interviewee (who would be as much an expert as anyone) said that nobody has ever really duplicated the sound and aesthetic that Soft Cell emitted on the “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret” LP. Drugs did have a lot to do with the aura in question (Almond admitted as much, explicitly, in his autobiography Tainted Life), but that is neither here nor there. Now that I think about it, there really isn’t anything out there exactly like this, even three decades on, which is not only a testament to the music’s staying power, but to the permanence of a time and place in the creation of a recording. Also, for some reason, this completely happened, too. If anyone wants to start a flame war in the comments over which half of the 80’s was more interesting, be my guest.

Okay, thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed. I’m going to start posting some newer bands soon, I swear. I also swear I’m going to get these chapters done by the end of this weekend. Let’s see which promise I manage to keep.