Riff Raff

Selvin Watch (The Special Edition) When Riff Raff talked to Chron Entertainment Editor Liz Lufkin recently, we were mostly curious about one thing: What does Joel Selvin do all day? Even in his '80s heyday the pop-music critic didn't produce much copy; now it seems that he's hardly ever in the paper. Lufkin was happy to answer, saying an earlier Riff Raff slight regarding Selvin's rate of production was "incorrect." He writes a lot, she said. Fearing we'd wronged him, we did a search of the Chron's on-line archives and discovered that ... Joel Selvin doesn't write very much. He averaged about an article a week over the past year, including news squibs and quickie record reviews. (Lufkin repeatedly urged Riff Raff to compare Selvin's output with L.A. Times crit Robert Hilburn's; we were reluctant -- Selvin's not in Hilburn's league -- but finally did, and discovered that ... Hilburn writes three or four times as much as Selvin.) At any rate, said Lufkin, Selvin has other duties. "He's an assigning editor," she said, noting that he coordinates and edits the paper's free-lance rock writing. Of this, there's quite a lot: The paper's had an empty second pop position since Michael Snyder left in August 1995. "Frankly, it's been a little embarrassing," Lufkin conceded -- but pointed to the extensive free-lance record reviews, music news, and Sunday Datebook features as evidence that the paper hasn't been ignoring rock. Fine -- but union officials say that the paper is breaking contract rules in the process. "You can't use free-lancers to replace or fill in for [union] work," said Chron reporter Carl Hall, a local honcho in the Northern California Newspaper Guild. Nor are free-lancers allowed to get assignments. Hall said that the guild has been protesting the practice in "low-key" fashion but as yet doesn't think that the paper is operating in bad faith. "They are trying to fill the position," he noted. In a second conversation, Lufkin backpedaled, saying that Selvin gave assignments only to staff reporters, and that he merely "looks" at free-lance submissions. This is contradicted by the rock free-lancers the paper uses. Said one: "He'll call you and say, 'Here, do you want to do this?' " Why can't the paper fill the position? You'd think a $50,000-plus-a-year union job covering pop culture in San Francisco wouldn't be considered a hardship posting; and Selvin has said in the past that the paper had 100 strong resumes to work from. Local hearsay is that the paper is intent on not hiring a white male for the job. ("We want a staff that mirrors the community," said Lufkin.) Also, more than one of the applicants Riff Raff spoke with said bluntly that the extravagant cost of living here takes the sheen off the salary. The paper had another setback this week: Evelyn McDonnell, the New York free-lancer the paper flew in for a tryout a few weeks back, told Riff Raff that she has declined the daily's offer of the job. (Lufkin implied that talks with McDonnell were continuing, and wouldn't say whether the paper had a backup candidate.) So it seems that the Chron -- and readers -- are stuck with the geezer-obsessed, factually challenged Selvin. In last week's Datebook, he profiled John Fogerty, and in so doing said that Fogerty's single "The Old Man Down the Road" was a No. 1 hit. Not even close. (B.W.)

What's Wrong With This Picture? If you happen to be passing by the S bin at a record store that would stock such a thing, stop for a moment and look for Boz Scaggs' new R&B/adult contemporary album, Come On Home. Don't buy it; don't even listen to it; just look at the album art. (Riff Raff will not reprint it here, as that might be construed as some sort of endorsement.) What we have is a gritty urban streetside, perhaps circa 1960. In the background, on the side of a run-down building: a poster announcing Boz Scaggs appearances -- "three nites only" -- apparently at Slim's, 333 11th St. between Folsom and Harrison (which Scaggs owns). A partially glimpsed poster off to the right advertises Hank Ballard appearing at an unspecified venue. In a doorway, an Af-Am man with a cigarette slack in his mouth points at a child. In the foreground: a fish-tailed car -- trunk open, with a suitcase inside -- and a pair of black children, one of whom appears to be holding a dollar or a wrapper. The entire image is suffused with a touched-up or doctored feel, even aside from the obvious poster insertions. Whatever it is, there's something downright unnerving about it. Lovecraft-style "non-Euclidian" geometry? A tiny genitorture still superimposed within a taillight? Worn-out scratch 'n' sniff? While Riff Raff can't quite figure out just what's wrong with the picture -- dorky race-and-authenticity subtext aside -- perhaps you can. In the meantime, we'll just be over here, minding our own business, fighting off a case of the creeps. (M.B.)

Three Chords, the Truth, and Controlling Interest on the Board of Directors Last Thursday at the surprise Neil Young show, while several thousand people lined up outside the Trocadero -- a couple of hundred just to use the pay phone (the hippie network, apparently) -- two employees of electronica-pioneering record labels 911 and Om amused themselves by sipping cocktails and arguing over which railroad company boasts Neil Young as a major stockholder. Lionel won over Amtrak. (Young, a model-train hobbyist and father of two, bought Lionel Trains Inc. with his partners at Wellspring Associates in 1995.) We won't tell you which hipster knew that special bit of dinosaur trivia. (S.T.)

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