Pop Philosophy

Rehearsal spaces; Lucky Strike; song contest deadline

Check's in the mailAs of last Wednesday, Downtown Rehearsal is officially no more. The Third Street building's former manager and new millionaire Greg Koch confirmed on Thursday that ownership of the building had passed to JMA Properties. "I no longer own any property in San Francisco," Koch wearily stated.

Throughout the week, persistent rumors had suggested the sale wasn't going through: that JMA wasn't happy with the shape of the building and that Koch was changing details of the deal. But Koch denied any such problems with a laugh that said he was pretty damn happy the whole situation was over.

"The final tenant [who had refused to leave] is gone and all the furniture has been cleaned out," Koch stated. "You should've been here Monday -- if worn-out couches were gold, we'd be ... well, even better off."

Why bother squeezing blood from a stone when you can get cash? At the beginning of October -- suspiciously close to the time when 400 Downtown Rehearsal bands found themselves in need of spaces -- two of the remaining rehearsal buildings raised their rents by nearly 40 percent. Mikel Delgado, who plays in local indie rock bands Wussom*Pow and the Little Deaths and rehearses at Rocker Studios, says she questioned owner Johnny Rocker about the unusual timing.

"He said it didn't have anything to do with Downtown," Delgado says. "It was just to pay for his own rent increase but I have no way of knowing if that's true." Unfortunately, calls to Rocker were not returned.

According to several musicians who rehearse at Secret Studios (all of whom wished to protect their secret identities), owner Happy Sanchez was a bit more forthcoming. At the start of the month, Sanchez told his tenants that his lease would be up in 18 months and that he wouldn't be able to afford the new one. Naturally, Sanchez decided to rip off his current tenants in the meantime. If the bands couldn't afford the increase, he was sure other artists could.

Calls to Sanchez and his manager Tony Perez were also not returned.

Puff DaddiesBack in 1981, the Rolling Stones caused a huge fuss by taking tour sponsorship money from Jovan perfume. Today it wouldn't even warrant a news story. From the Monks hawking Gatorade to Mentos packaging breath-tingling tours to the MP3 site Riffage.com owning the Great American Music Hall, music and advertising are mucho en flagrante. So it's not that much of a surprise to find that Lucky Strike is sponsoring the Band-to-Band Talent Search.

What is rather odd is how the company is going about doing it.

Since earlier this year, Band-to-Band has been holding regional contests in 15 different cities, including San Francisco. Here's the catch: Much of the decision-making is left up to the audience, and votes can be placed at any time of the night, with or without having heard the other bands. So the winner isn't necessarily the best band; rather, the winner is the band that can bring the most people in to vote for it. And who ultimately benefits from this huge influx of people? It couldn't be the company handing out free cigarettes, could it?

Perhaps I'm being rather paranoid about Big Tobacco (a phrase that, for me, conjures up cartoon images of plants with big, brown feet). Perhaps parent company Brown & Williamson is truly intent on supporting local music. Perhaps the fact that the contest finals (Wednesday, Nov. 22, at the Great American Music Hall) are free has everything to do with magnanimousness and nothing to do with finding new cigarette customers. Perhaps I should ask Steve Kotteck, representative for B&W.

"The intent of the platform is to promote Lucky Strike and give increased exposure to the bands," Kotteck says.

And is it true that all the bands that perform must sign a contract stating that the winners will say nothing negative about Lucky Strike or the tobacco industry in public for the next 18 months?

"That's normal with any consumer products," Kotteck says. "We don't say they have to smoke or say positive things about cigarettes."

Does Ali Shafta (of finalists Human Life Index) care about his verbal rights?

"We don't talk onstage," Shafta says with a shrug.

Ammiano likes RomanoThere are only a few more days left until our political songwriting contest ends. All songs about the presidential, supervisorial, and/or propositional races must be received by Oct. 20. Winning entries will be printed Nov. 1; prizes include nifty promo T-shirts and gacky promo CDs. (See "Live Free or Get High," Pop Philosophy, Oct. 4, for further details.)

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