The Sounds of Silence

Why the Bay Area has stopped producing big-time rock bands

The attack on Biafra is an extreme example of a subtly manifested force that retards celebrity throughout the Bay Area: the deeply ingrained suspicion of any musician who makes a comfortable living playing music.

Kevin Cadogan, guitarist and founding member of Third Eye Blind (now leader of local band Bully), has lived in the Bay Area his whole life. San Francisco, he explains, is "still stuck in this strange place of being a capitalist and being a Ben & Jerry's capitalist. Where you put out a Cherry Garcia flavor and that's supposed to make it OK to make money."

Hollywood doesn't share San Francisco's hang-up about wealth, Cadogan says, which is why so many Bay Area bands catch the first southbound U-Haul as soon as the ink dries on the major-label contract. "It's much easier to live in L.A. and not get shit for making a lot of money doing music. No one [here] likes a musician that makes money; we're supposed to be descendants of clowns and minstrels."

Trapt: Angry and cuddly, at the same time.
Chris McCann
Trapt: Angry and cuddly, at the same time.
The Pattern: On a wing and a small scale.
Andrew Paynter
The Pattern: On a wing and a small scale.

Further stanching San Francisco's inferno of fame is its otherwise laudable humanist philosophy that either everyone deserves to be up on a pedestal or no one does. For Biafra, it's a sign of a healthy skepticism toward stardom. "San Francisco people," he says, "would rather be human beings than buy into celebrity culture."

But according to Mark Eitzel, the "everyone's a star" ethos makes this area a weird place to be a public persona. "When I used to go to parties, I'd sit there and they'd say, 'What do you do?'" he explains. "And I'd say, 'Musician.' And they'd say, 'Well!Yesterday I took a long walk down Mission Street ....' And they'd go on and on and on listening to themselves speak.

"People move to California to be celebrities," he says. "And they try to be one in San Francisco. But you can't be someone here. ... It's complicated. I really love it. I hate it, too, at the same time."

Another problem, according to pop artist Chris von Sneidern, is that San Francisco's aging would-be groupies have started spending time elsewhere -- like in their own apartments. "I think people are into a little bit more of an adult bag here," says von Sneidern, who is currently contemplating a move to Seattle. "I think it's just about nesting."

The dark reality is that this city is never going to get a cavalcade of musical stars. Clowns and minstrels are great, don't get me wrong, but a scene with too few celebrities is as bad as one with too many. Can't we just have a couplepaparazzi-attracting rockers within our city limits? Come on -- it'd be fun! A little flash! Bad sunglasses! Awful outfits! You'd love it, I swear.

As it stands now, our only hope for holding onto the handful of recognizable icons we do have lies in the "big in Japan" factor, whereby local performers like Eitzel and Chuck Prophet get all sorts of slobbery attention abroad, and then come back to their low-key, invisible lives in San Francisco to recharge.

That we get to keep our celebrities local because it's difficult for them to learn the languages in the places that truly love them seems a little sad. But hey, whatever works. And if you stars have a better plan for your own retainment, why don't you meet up at Doc's Clock to discuss it?

I've got a date who's dying to meet you.
-- By Chris Baty

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