A Bridge Too Far
Although Mayor Brown's feel-good speeches may reinforce the ideal vision of San Francisco -- our very own shimmering citadel oasis, twinkling in the American desert! -- his grandiose words also direct attention away from a controversy that threatens to lay asunder our community, ripping a chasm as wide as the Golden Gate itself. The subject: the official song of the Golden Gate Bridge. Local news outlets have revealed but a fraction of the quagmire surrounding the issue. This space will outline the entire grisly tale, which includes broken dreams, power-drunken bravado, and the 1973 cop show Toma.
It all began at the annual luncheon of the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau, where a video was played to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bridge. Broadcaster Charles Osgood pulled out a banjo and began plunking out a version of the "Blue Danube Waltz," improvising new lyrics about the bridge. In the ensuing mirth that followed, Golden Gate Bridge District Director John Moylan turned to former mayoral press secretary Noah Griffin and suggested Griffin write a song about the bridge. Griffin, a columnist for the S.F. Independent, scratched his chin.
After all, he was an aficionado of songs about San Francisco.
He had belted out tunes at the '06 quake survivor events, and 60 of his poems had been published. The opportunity to write a song about the only bridge that mattered?
Griffin whipped up lyrics and collected a team. Local musician Bob Voss -- whose credits include the theme song for Toma, a cop-show precursor of Baretta -- contributed a heroic dinner-jazz melody, ably crooned by Griffin himself. The finished anthem -- "The Bridge: Golden Gate" -- was circulated among Griffin's politico friends. Although its status as official song of the bridge had yet to be approved by the Golden Gate Bridge District board of directors, Mayor Brown immediately proclaimed it the official bridge song of the city.
But the ditty has created a dichotomy that echoes an earlier city song snafu. According to Griffin, the city charter was amended in 1984, on a motion by Warren Hinckle and Quentin Kopp, to change the official song of the city from Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart ..." to Jeanette MacDonald's more rollicking "San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate)," a tune out of the 1936 Clark Gable film San Francisco.
Bennett's song was rechristened the official city ballad, and voters leaned back with an exhausted sigh. Perhaps the city would reach the millennium without another soul-torturing song controversy.
Such was not to be the case.
Griffin showed up at a Golden Gate Bridge District meeting with his briefcase full of thank you notes, thinking his song was a shoo-in. CDs were pressed. KABL's Jim "Dating Game" Lange was spinning it in regular rotation.
Then Griffin's world fell apart when seventysomething dance instructor Jean Anderson -- who offers movement classes to infants for 50 cents a head -- stood up in the meeting and belted out a song her mother, Irene, had written about the bridge back in 1934. Anderson wasn't about to let a whippersnapper like Griffin push some slick song through City Hall without at least acknowledging her momma's tune. Other songsmiths soon came forth, demanding their efforts be heard.
A perplexed Bridge District board is now forced to delay its decision on an official bridge song indefinitely. Bridge District official John Kress says more proposals are filtering in from around the world, and the process could extend past November. Any readers who harbor secret desires to write the official song of the bridge can send their titles or suggestions (the Dead Kennedys' "Moon Over Marin," perhaps?) to Slap Shots, c/o this paper, where they will be professionally reviewed and forwarded.
During this purgatory, Griffin has kept busy by producing a video of his song. When asked if he has considered writing a song for the Dumbarton Bridge, he replied, "We'll have to get Dumb and Dumber on that one!"
The Table of Voices
A hundred or so people file into the paint-chipped former chapel inside Alcatraz Prison, some of them still burping complimentary wine from their Blue and Gold ferry ride. They're here to attend a forum as part of the Bread & Roses event titled "Forgiveness and Reconciliation: An Interactive Panel Discussion About Violent Criminal Behavior." Behind the table of microphones hangs a large banner of a rose. No bread in sight.
Panel moderator is artist/activist Richard Kamler, looking dapper in a bright maroon scarf, his reading glasses sliding down his nose. Kamler introduces the others on the dais: Bill Ernst, who was sentenced to two life terms for driving drunk and killing two people, and, through the compassion of the mother of one of the victims, was able to get his sentence reduced to manslaughter; Frances Luster, a San Francisco probation officer whose son was murdered several years ago, and who has talked to the killer's parents and relatives; Brenda Johnson, whose son was also killed, and who visited her boy's murderer at San Quentin; and Michael Marcum, assistant sheriff of San Francisco, who spent several years in prison for killing his father, and who now creates programs to bring perpetrators and victims together.
As each panelist speaks, the room is intensely quiet. It takes a special kind of bravery to participate in such a panel. These are wounds that will never heal. Luster takes out a photo of her son, a handsome young man in a white tuxedo, and leans it against her bottle of Calistoga. Marcum says that most perpetrators of violent crimes don't think about what they do. If their victims' families talk to them face to face, "the impact is immediate." He also adds, "Don't look to the criminal justice system to solve these problems."
As panelists recount their lives, audience members nod often, or shake their heads at some point made. These attendees comprise the Bay Area's prime export -- sensitive, financially secure white-wine liberals. This is why they're here -- to get a quick hit of compassion, perhaps make a mental note about contributing some cash, high-tail it downstairs for the jazz concert, and then it's back on the boat for dessert. During an open Q&A segment, a man stands up and notes that since 1984, 22 prisons have been built in California, but only one institution of higher learning. One woman sitting in a lotus position, wearing a Russian hat, reminds everyone of an important recent conference convened by the Dalai Lama.
There are no clear-cut solutions discussed, because it isn't that easy. One thing is immediately apparent: Everyone is on the same side. We all want to stop crime. But one can't help but think this panel would be more effective if it were hosted in an actual working prison, where incarcerated criminals could witness first-hand the strife that violent crimes create. The most conflict seen the entire evening was a moment when Brenda Johnson wanted to say one more thing, but was cut off as the panel ended. As a heartless, jaded journalist, I guess I expected more for my free ticket.