SFO3 Diary

While producers talked very seriously about producing and writers talked very seriously about writing, the musicians gathered at the Press Club communicated in their own way -- over cocktails and under the guise of humor. Overheard: "How many lead singers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Just one, they stand there and let the world revolve around them." "What did the drummer get on his SATs? Drool." "What do you call a trombone player with a pager? Optimistic." (S.T.)

Panel: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" Most issues discussed by this writers' panel were of interest -- surprise -- only to writers. Chaos and heckling were sadly lacking; an irksome freak in a black overcoat who'd monopolized questions at other panels merely snickered in the background. Proceedings turned juicy and sensationalist when one audience member asked whether any of the panelists had ever received threats. Jackson Griffith, a senior editor at Pulse, described having a heavy-metal tunesmith he'd lambasted promise him an ass-kicking -- through his publicist. Claudia Perry of the San Jose Mercury News -- no-bullshit tolerant and a quick wit -- described occasions whereby metal and country fans would call her to query: "What does a nigger know about this kind of music?" Billy Jam recalled solicitations from white supremacists calling him a "nigger lover" and from incensed hip-hop fans threatening beatings. Too often we underestimate the endearing loyalty of an artist's adoring public. (M.B.)

The Saturday afternoon writers' forum, livened by the irreverent wit Perry, ended with several panelists expressing contempt for the industry practice of wining and dining the press. Afterward, several writers and editors headed to a SOMA Thai restaurant with Virgin records publicist Wendy Weisberg, who picked up the tab. (J.S.)

Panel: "It's All in the Downbeat (Or Is It the Backbeat?): The Producers Panel" S.F.'s Norm Kerner, owner of Brilliant Studios, began introducing the panelists by saying, "Let's not talk about credits, since they mean nothing," though of course they came regardless. Surprisingly, only two panelists wore sunglasses indoors. The only hint of studio despotism came when Kerner described co-producing albums with bands. "Musicians have to have the ability to believe me when I say a guitar part has to go. If they argue, it's not co-producing." Tinnitus war stories ensued before we broke for lunch. (M.B.)

Transmission Theater A packed house turned out to see the hotly discussed buzz band Train, an earthy outfit whose music was summed up in three words by one onlooker as "little reggae hats." At press time, there was no word on whether the fat cat with the contracts ever materialized.

Next door, on the second stage at the Paradise, one of the area's most truly promising young acts won over plenty of converts, overcoming some vexing technical difficulties. Led by singer/keyboardist Joshua Rifkin, the four-piece known as Mumblin' Jim came across like a buoyant composite of Tim Buckley, the Raspberries, and the Beastie Boys. With their unabashed appreciation of Mike Post-era faux-funk and their cadre of glitter-dusted female fans, Mumblin' Jim put on the best, most infectious set this correspondent saw during the conference. Rifkin's beaming appreciation for his audience's enthusiastic response is exactly what SFO was established for; may his band return next year with a growing success story under its belt. (J.S.)

Slim's There are those who will wear their convention laminate out of duty -- usually business types who realize the importance of knowing who's who. There are those couldn't be paid enough to wear one -- usually cool musician types who think wearing your name on your chest is geeky. And there are those who have always dreamed of wearing a laminate but never got a really good opportunity. A gentleman standing outside Slim's seemed to be just such a man. "Hi, uh, Silky," he said struggling to read my name phonetically. The purple sticker attached to his brown flannel supplied the correct response. "Hi, Bob!" I said. "Now, that's what I like to hear," he smiled, pulling a packet of "Hi, my name is ..." labels out of his back pocket and offering them to passers-by. "No reason the bigwigs should get all the perks," he said in a conspiratorial tone. (S.T.)

Heartbreak I hadn't intended to spend a substantial portion of the evening here, but upon walking in I noticed an epitaph over the bar: "R.I.P. Heartbreak bye bye," with a sketch of a valentine ripped in half. Even more funereal: a sign saying "This is all we have," indicating two or three brands of beer and cider. No one checked my badge at the door or asked for money. Onstage, 45 minutes after their scheduled start, Pink Noise Test fiddled with cables and picked lint off their shirts.

My intentions in staying weren't charitable at first. I wanted to see just how bleak it could get. The sole barmaid scurried about, picking up empties, answering the phone every two minutes, and patiently pointing to the sign above the bar whenever someone ordered something unavailable (as I'd done). Pink Noise Test started playing to the best of their limited ability. I ordered another drink and asked her if they were shutting down soon; she said either "Totally" or "Tonight" -- silly Stockton noise pop interfered -- and went back to work without time to answer my stupid questions. To my surprise, I started having a good time -- not listening to the dumb band, but watching this woman do more labor every 10 minutes than I'd done in the past five years. She was stomping butt in the face of fiscal death, or bankruptcy, or unemployment, or lost profits, or sheer annoyance. Adversity of any scale would do; she was my heroine.

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