"Singer/songwriter." To many of us the words conjure up the nightmarish moment when your local watering hole is taken over by self-indulgent, humorless hacks forced to frequent open mikes because working musicians can't stand them. Or worse, dewy-eyed adolescent "poets" like Jewel. But to some, like Tom Erikson, a singer/songwriter is just someone who writes a song and sings it, well.
Erikson's "San Francisco Song Cycle," which began in 1996 at the Paradise Lounge and has popped up here and there all over town ever since, is based on the loose notion of a musical round robin or a down-home hootenanny. Musicians sit around together, drinking booze, taking turns at the mike, and contributing to each other's work when they see fit. It's a provocative and challenging environment for a real artist -- interesting enough to draw out old veterans like Romeo Void's Debora Iyall and the Tubes' Bill Spooner -- but it's also uniquely rewarding for an audience. Because the atmosphere is so casual and intimate, production and showmanship take a back seat to the song itself; at "Song Cycle" 's best, a frequently heard favorite will suddenly take on a life of its own.
Erikson has captured many of these unique moments on the first San Francisco Song Cycle compilation. The laid-back, acoustic temperament of this two-CD anthology is disrupted early on, just after a sprightly melody from Cindy Lee Berryhill, by an irreverent spoken-word piece by King Missile's John S. Hall about "real men" who jack off with sandpaper. Smatterings of homey conversation, between musicians and onlookers, set the stage for a raucous sing-along of "no one gives a damn about your band," led by Adam Elk. Thelonious Monster's Bob Forrest, American Music Club's Daniel Pearson, and the Mekons' Sally Timms and Jon Langford make appearances, as do local favorites like the Old Joe Clarks' Mike Coykendall, Victor Krummenacher, Stephen Yerkey, and Jim Campilongo. "San Francisco Song Cycle" celebrates its first CD release at the Noe Valley Ministry on Saturday with Mare Winningham, Bob Wiseman, Ed Haynes, Jane Hardaway, Monica Pasqual, Kate Schrock, and many more performing at 7 p.m. Admission is $10-12; call 454-5238.