The Sounds of Silence

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

What happened to you, San Francisco? You used to be the epicenter of musical culture, the pulsating beacon of righteous noise, the kind bud in the bong of rock. More than almost any other U.S. city -- certainly any of your size -- you delivered band after band into the national consciousness, and not just any old musical acts, but quality ones. People moved to the Bay Area just to breathe our aroma of rockitude, to absorb the fog-buffed fame, to walk where the great ones had once trod. From the '60s acid-rock rebels to the '70s punk upstarts to the '80s new-wave weirdos, this town thrived. The list of the city's successes is long and luminous: Jefferson Airplane, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Avengers, the Dead Kennedys, Flipper, the Tubes, the Residents, Romeo Void, Faith No More, and Imperial Teen, not to mention East Bay natives like Primus, Green Day, and Rancid.

Now there's nothing -- unless you count Train, which you probably shouldn't, and Third Eye Blind, which you probably should (and take a bath afterward). What went wrong? Is it the water? Does it have anything to do with Willie Brown's hat? Is there anyone out there?

If you talk to our scenesters-about-town, you'll find that they think the dot-com bubble has burst and the art scene is booming again. But where are the rock stars, those boys and girls who'll remind the rest of the country that we're still here on the left side of the map?

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.
Blackalicious: Tastes great, less bohemian.
Blackalicious: Tastes great, less bohemian.
Gillian Welch, er, Jello Biafra.
Eric Tadson
Gillian Welch, er, Jello Biafra.
Mark Eitzel: Drunk and unmolested.
Johnny Buzzerio
Mark Eitzel: Drunk and unmolested.
Mark Eitzel: Drunk and unmolested.
Johnny Buzzerio
Mark Eitzel: Drunk and unmolested.
Mark Eitzel: Drunk and unmolested.
Johnny Buzzerio
Mark Eitzel: Drunk and unmolested.

To find the answer, we ventured out into the wilds of the Bay Area music scene. We unearthed one local band that should be famous but likely won't be; another that shouldn't become big but just might; a blueprint for rock success from the hip hop world; and the real reason why we may never be blessed with stardom again.

What Do These Kids Have Against the Letter "E"?

"Their chances are very, very good," says Sean Demery, Live 105's program director, when asked about the band Trapt's possibility for mainstream success. His comment should be good news for San Francisco rock fans, because even if the Los Gatos-bred group now resides in Los Angeles, it's not often that one of our own makes it into the national spotlight. Trapt's new, self-titled record is about to come out on Warner Bros., one of the biggest labels in the world. The quartet's set to tour the country with industrial/metal icons Filter, and loud-rock radio stations across the nation are lining up to play its songs. So what's the problem?

The problem is that Trapt is very, very bad. Worse yet, the extent of its badness -- and that of the music industry as a whole -- is what might make the group successful. Is the world thirsting for the combination of bombast and blue-eyed blah that Trapt offers? Would Metallica sound better if it were fronted by a dude from *NSYNC? Do we need another reason to hate Limp Bizkit? The answer to these questions, apparently, is yes.

Over the past few years, the Bay Area music scene has seen rougher times than a blind bull-rider. The closing of the Downtown Rehearsal space in October 2000 left 500 bands in the lurch, while venues continue to shutter their doors. Between the dearth of places to practice and the lack of places to play, it's nigh on impossible for local groups to develop a sound and a significant audience. Even if they do come up with something original, they can forget about help from radio.

"It all has to do with widespread corporate control and the general lack of competition in radio these days," says Jason Jackson, former editor in chief of "With the absolute bottom line now focusing on restricting costs instead of developing quality programming, you wind up with groups of stations being programmed en masse."

To get on the air, bands need cash -- and lots of it. According to a recent article by Eric Boehlert, labels have to pay independent promoters about $250,000 to get one song played on rock radio. Live 105's Demery puts the figure between $100,000 and $500,000. (Labels pay these "indie" promoters to get songs added to playlists; the promoters then pay the stations for telling them which songs have been added. The government is looking into putting an end to this dubious pay-for-play process.) And that money doesn't even guarantee that the single will be a hit.

Anthony Bonet, booker for the Bottom of the Hill and a member of local act A Night of Serious Drinking, blames more than just the industry for the Bay Area's lack of musical prominence: "The artists aren't stepping up to bat, the audiences aren't stepping up to bat, and the clubs are hiding behind the profit motive." Bonet believes artists have embraced amateurism as a stylistic device, refusing to raise themselves to the level of competence needed for national success. "Like Orwell said, 'In the coming age, there will be a mistrust of excellence.'"

Audiences have also grown more closed-minded, taking fewer chances on unknown quantities and supporting local acts less often, according to Bonet. In the mid-'90s, he approximates, there were two dozen bands that could sell out the Bottom of the Hill and other small Bay Area clubs. Of those artists still around today -- the Mr. T Experience, Pansy Division, Tarnation's Paula Frazer -- most are lucky to draw 200 people on a Friday night.

The clubs have become more conservative as well. "The Hemlock is a perfect example," says Bonet. "It was really poised to be a great new space and do something with the intimacy of it, but they went straight for the 'hip new place.' There's no songwriters' night; there's no showcase night; there's "Fuck you if you're a new band.'"

Even successful musicians are part of the problem. For example, you won't find S.F.'s Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind hosting a songwriters' night anytime soon. He roasted the local scene in a piece for 7x7 magazine earlier this year and is known for his "Fuck you, Frisco" attitude -- which, Bonet says, groups have to have to succeed. "The bands who make it big are the bands that don't give a shit about the Bay Area."

Take Trapt, for instance. The quartet formed in 1997 while in high school in Los Gatos; its members dropped out of college to move to L.A. at the beginning of last year. "That's where the labels are and that's where the producers are," Trapt singer Chris Brown says. "In the Bay Area, it's like you have to know somebody or your manager has to know somebody."

Apparently, the proximity helped, as Trapt was the subject of a major-label feeding frenzy in the summer of 2001. Warner Bros. scout Damon Booth recalls via e-mail what drew him to Trapt: "The lyrical and melodic hooks reminded me of what I loved about rock bands like Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins growing up: fight songs about the mediocrity of mainstream society. In Trapt's case, sprinkled in with powerful break-up and love songs also."

Is Trapt's music powerful? Try whiny and loud, and not in a good way. When asked about the band's influences, Brown reels off the usual suspects -- new-metal acts like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Dredg (names that make English teachers cringe), as well as classic-rock icons Genesis and Pink Floyd. "Like, Phil Collins is a big inspiration to me," he says, apparently without irony.

One thing that sets Trapt apart from its peers is that Brown sings rather than rapping or screaming. He delivers his lyrics in a pinched fashion, sounding like Journey's Steve Perry with a bad case of constipation. At times his voice trembles as if he were in a boy band -- a similarity made clearer by his cute bob haircut and his onstage hand gesturing, which seem planned to appeal to the 12-year-old girls andboys in MTV's Total Request Liveaudience. Trapt's true genius may be in playing both sides against the middle: Its persona is one of non-threateninganger.

As for Trapt's lyrics, they're abominable -- banal riffs on the horrors of adolescence. (Take this line from "These Walls," I beg you: "Please help me because I'm breaking down/ This picture's frozen and I can't get out of here.")

Am I too old to appreciate Trapt? To find out, I checked out the band's all-ages show at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. Opening for Florida's Nonpoint, Trapt didn't exactly take the crowd by storm. About 200 people watched politely, giving a wide berth to one of the least inspired mosh pits I've ever seen. After the set, I queried some of the assembled throng.

"I didn't like it," said John Nelson, who appeared to droop noticeably from the weight of his hair gel. "It was too corporate."

Elder statesman Mike Herringshaw agreed, saying he would "definitely not" buy Trapt's record. "I prefer a little more realism."

Young Tyrone Rivera liked the group well enough, but said, "I didn't like the drummer. He was too like Aerosmith -- too experimental."

I headed off, relieved that maybe Trapt -- with its big-label bucks, crossover game plan, and cuddly frontman -- isn't the Bay Area's musical messiah after all. Inside my car, I turned on the radio, searching for something experimental -- you know, like Aerosmith.
-- By Dan Strachota

This Band Should Be Your Life

Scarfing chips and salsa at Juan's Place, a budget-priced Mexican joint in Berkeley, guitarist Andy Asp and vocalist Christopher Appelgren of the Pattern turn heads when they drop soundbites like "our manager" and "video on MTV2." But when curious diners look up, they usually frown in nonrecognition and hastily return to their food. That's how it is for the Pattern -- a band whose sound is turning heads both overseas and within the music industry, even if it hasn't earned much distinction in the U.S. or its Bay Area home.

"I heard one A&R person at Columbia call our music 'small-scale rock,' meaning I guess that we sell records on a small scale," says Asp, whose group is often lumped in with other rock-revivalist acts like the Strokes, the White Stripes, and the Hives. "She said, 'Small-scale rock will be the new ska.'"

This prediction worries the guys a bit, especially because the Pattern has one of the best chances in the Bay Area to overcome the region's recent mainstream-success drought. All the pieces seem in place: The Pattern's sound is currently in demand, it has valuable industry connections, and it's developed a following among international taste-makers. But these advantages are the very qualities that may prevent the talented quintet from making it big, particularly if the rock wave goes the way of the short-lived '90s ska movement, in which a slew of similar-sounding bands rose from the underground, gained hype-heavy support from the industry, and then vanished into obscurity.

"The timing couldn't be more right when it comes to what's big in music right now," says Jordan Kurland, the Pattern's manager and the producer of the high-profile S.F. Noise Pop festival. "But at the same time, there's a lot of skepticism in the industry about the rock revival. I don't think radio has room for 10 more artists like this."

As Kurland points out, the Pattern was playing its punk-influenced, British Invasion-inspired rock long before the members ever heard a Strokes song. Also, unlike other bands in its genre, the Pattern boasts true punk roots, its members having spent time in the PeeChees, Nuisance, and the Cuts. Though the Pattern -- Asp, Appelgren, guitarist Jason Rosenberg, bassist Carson Bell, and drummer Scott Batiste -- originally intended to play only barbecues and parties, the group quickly outgrew those venues, soon emerging as the Bay Area's major "new garage" delegate.

Unfortunately, according to Michael Aczon, a local entertainment lawyer and professor in San Francisco State University's Music/Recording Industry Program, the band's unique standing in the local indie scene may not be enough to guarantee greater success. (In fact, when the Pattern was featured on Live 105's recent local bands weekend, neither it nor any of the other chosen artists garnered enough listener votes to get into regular rotation.) "It's hard to break a band with radio now," says Aczon. "If bands have to do it another way, then they have to gig. But the same company that owns all of the Clear Channel radio stations is also the gatekeeper to gigging. So what bands have to do is go out and find their audience."

As Aczon points out, finding an audience often means leaving the local arena and breaking out first in other parts of the country -- or even the globe. "It's like the Bay Area doesn't embrace you until you're big somewhere else," he says.

That's just what the Pattern did in the United Kingdom, though achieving popularity there was something of an accident. Before Kurland even became the band's manager, he passed a burned CD of some Pattern songs along to Dick Green, the former co-owner of Creation Records, the label that thrust Oasis upon the unsuspecting world. Green's new imprint, Wichita Recordings, liked the Pattern so much that it released the group's first EP and helped book two U.K. tours.

But while the Pattern regularly sells out 600-person venues in England, the band's recent S.F. release party for its first full-length, Real Feelness, drew about 250 people to Cafe Du Nord. The fact remains that more people in anonymous English cities care about the Pattern than in the act's hometown.

Appelgren isn't too concerned. "It seems like a lot of bands are taking this approach that you need to go make yourself an English phenomenon, then come back to America with all this credibility," he says. "That works more for the music industry than it does for fans. You're able to get more attention from the industry, which gives you the opportunity to reach people."

The Pattern has certainly attracted the attention of the right people, but like its popularity in Britain, its industry connections arose more from circumstance than from a grand plan. The group didn't pursue Kurland -- it simply sent him a CD-R in the hopes of playing Noise Pop (the band was accepted for the festival both in 2001 and this year). And though its new album came out in England on Wichita, Real Feelness was released in the U.S. on Lookout!, the prominent indie label that Appelgren runs and where Asp works as bookkeeper, and which launched the careers of Green Day, the Donnas, and the Mr. T Experience.

The Pattern's newest connection is Shepard Fairey, the poster artist responsible for the "Andre the Giant Has a Posse" phenomenon. A fan of the band, Fairey proposed the Pattern's "Fragile Awareness" single be his first music video, and the act handed Fairey the reins. The Pattern plans to deliver the resulting product -- startlingly professional, with hip, edgy animation -- to every music-video venue and see what happens. (An older, more amateurish video for the song has already gotten rotation on MTV2 in the U.K.)

"We don't know if the video will be the thing that does something for us," Appelgren says. "In a perfect world, the fact that it looks really good might be enough to get attention. But we're realists about everything."

Perhaps the Fairey video will be the piece of Pattern outreach that finally gets the attention of U.S. audiences. Or it could be the group's British press and industry connections that ultimately hand it the key to success. At a moment when the covers of both Rolling Stone and Spin are trumpeting the return of rock, the time is right for the Pattern.

On the other hand, if the supply of "small-scale rock" bands outstrips the demand, the Pattern's indie ethos and punk background, while admirable, could ultimately make it too small-scale. Though the "Fragile Awareness" single seethes catchy pop energy, most Pattern songs (and live shows) project a hard edge that may alienate the band from MTV and radio. Recent breakout rockers the Hives, the Strokes, and the Vines all gained fame with major-label backing, and the Pattern's devotion to Lookout! could leave audiences just as unconcerned about the band as Asp and Appelgren's fellow diners at Juan's Place.

Asp and Appelgren concede that the Pattern has a chance at fame, but the two also maintain they're not willing to compromise just to make it big.

"I'm a little bit elitist about our success," Asp says. "We know we sound weird, and we're not gonna give it to the heartland. But there are cool kids in every town, and if we can bring a little bit of fun to a boring place, that's a lot more gratifying than trying to go for the golden ring. Maybe that's not elitism so much as, well, small-scale rock."
-- By Nancy Einhart

Local Hip Hop Acts Shift Shapes and Units

With chart positions and first-week sales as much a part of hip hop culture as dis wars and sample spotting, debating which rapper is going to blow up next isn't just a topic for the A&R reps -- it's a pastime for the fans. But armchair oracles looking to pick out the Bay Area's next big thing are confronted with a challenge: There's no single definition of success. If S.F. rock acts despair of ever hitting the big time and local electronic musicians resign themselves to seeking recognition overseas, Bay Area hip hop artists have learned to play the game, authoring several different rule books along the way.

That's not to say it's all gravy. On his new album Grit & Grind, Oakland's E-40, the self-proclaimed "most underrated rapper in the game," laments that "everybody wanna use my slang." He's got a point: In a recent article called "Fact or Fiction? Who Keeps Stealing From the Bay Area," published on the Web site of local hip hop writer Davey D (, T-Kash details how artists here have coined phrase after phrase, only to see them claimed by better-known rappers. The allegation suggests that the region's hip hop community, once a force to be reckoned with nationwide, has lost some of its clout, even if its influence carries on.

Roberta Magriny, a publicist at Jive Records who handles legendary Oakland rapper Too $hort, agrees. "In the last few years, hip hop became so mainstream, the Bay Area sound became isolated. It never grabbed onto the pop market on the national level. The sound is regional, the stories are regional, and when hip hop became such a pop culture phenomenon, they couldn't keep up with those numbers."

The glory days of Oakland's gangsta rap may have faded -- even Too $hort left for Atlanta some years ago -- but its purveyors continue to mine a sizable vein. E-40's Grit & Grind, released in June, has already sold nearly 160,000 copies, according to SoundScan. While Too $hort's records don't go platinum anymore, he still sells hundreds of thousands of copies of each release. Also, by not making videos or spending money trying to get radio play, he yields a healthier profit than many acts with heftier advances. But what about younger artists who can't rely on a lengthy track record?

Oakland hip hop originated with rappers selling tapes out of the back of their cars -- the kind of DIY ethic that once defined American punk rock. But Davey D charges that many artists abandoned this self-reliance once acts like Paris and Digital Underground achieved national recognition. "[Rappers] didn't establish other foundations for themselves, unlike rock acts, which always had the club circuit and college radio to fall back on," says Davey D. "Here the rappers were just like, 'It's KMEL, and that's it.'" With corporations like Clear Channel (which owns both KMEL-FM [106.1] and its one-time competitor, KYLD-FM [94.9]) streamlining the industry, hip hop acts without access to huge promotional budgets can't gain airtime -- even E-40, with a solid fan base in the Bay Area, rarely makes it onto local commercial radio.

But airplay isn't the only measure of success, argues Domino, the producer and general manager of Hiero Imperium, the label behind the Hieroglyphics crew (Del tha Funky Homosapien, Casual, Pep Love, and Souls of Mischief). "On the surface, radio's the easiest way to judge things. But we sell the Fillmore out in advance, and we don't have videos on MTV -- and outside of late-night mix shows, we don't have anything on KMEL or KYLD."

Most of the Hieroglyphics artists were signed to majors in the '80s and early '90s (thanks in part to Del's cousin, Ice Cube), but they eventually fell out with their respective labels. Hiero Imperium rose from the ashes of the contracts. "We've been in the game, we've been on the majors, and we've figured, for us, this is how we nurture our product and nurture our groups," says Domino. Thanks to a combination of touring, Web merchandising, and word-of-mouth, "We've made more money since we've been independent than when we were on majors. People are like, 'What happened to y'all?' Well, actually, we're doing better than we were -- it's just a different type of success."

But some local acts are still pursuing the well-trodden path to stardom via the majors. Blackalicious, after respectable sales on British indie Mo' Wax and its own label Quannum, finally signed to MCA -- as did its labelmate DJ Shadow. While Shadow has enjoyed greater column inches in the press, Blackalicious is moving more units. This discrepancy shouldn't be surprising: Shadow has pursued the slightly bohemian, instrumental path he pioneered on 1996's Endtroducing, and Blackalicious has tailored its sound to a broader appeal. "They definitely have a lot of college kid, conscious hip hop sort of fans," says Tom Sarig, the vice president of A&R who signed the group to MCA, "but we tried to make them more appealing to mainstream black folks this time -- and at the same time keep their progressive artistic vision alive." Working off the major label's dime, Blackalicious has the advantage of having a video with consistent airplay on MTV2. But the group's other methods are no different from the Hieroglyphics crew's: The duo toured with established stars such as Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, and Public Enemy, and held onto that ultimate intangible, credibility, partially by simply keeping the Quannum logo on its CDs. "I love their brand," says Sarig. "I think it only keeps their cred going."

While many aspects of the hip hop recipe for success parallel those of hard-working rock musicians -- touring, reputation, and Internet presence -- rap artists may elevate their chances thanks to hip hop's collaborative culture. Quannum's cachet relies on not just Blackalicious but also Shadow, Lyrics Born, Lateef, and the Solesides legacy; likewise, Hiero's large membership strengthens the label's brand. And where rock groups typically have to break up to form supergroups, rap musicians' constant collaborating helps them increase their exposure exponentially.

San Francisco's most promising hip hop artist, Dan Nakamura (aka Dan the Automator), has worked in many unusual configurations: as a producer of beats for Dr. Octagon, a partner in Handsome Boy Modeling School alongside Prince Paul, a member of Deltron 3030 with Del and Kid Koala, and, most notably, one of the masterminds behind Gorillaz. The latter band -- fronted by cartoon characters and backed by Nakamura, Blur's Damon Albarn, and ex-members of Cibo Matto and Talking Heads -- has sold 5 million albums worldwide. MCA, betting that Nakamura is ready for the spotlight, recently signed him to a solo deal.

"After Gorillaz I felt like he's ready to make an album that is hisrecord, a Dan the Automator record," says Sarig. True to his MO, a Dan the Automator record means Dan-and-friends, according to Sarig: "He's doing a track with Beck, he's doing a track with [Rage Against the Machine's] Zack de la Rocha, he's got all his friends doing some vocals. And then some of the tracks will out-Fatboy Slim Fatboy Slim."

Retaking the charts by besting British rave music is hardly a conventional path to rap stardom, but perhaps Nakamura is simply illustrating the secret strategy of Bay Area hip hop: shape-shifting, thwarting expectations, and making up the rules as you go along. Rock star wannabes take notice, and learn.
-- By Philip Sherburne

There Will Never Again Be a Next Big Thing From San Francisco, and It's All Your Fault

I am on a date in the Mission. My companion is a bike mechanic/singer who has recently moved to San Francisco, and I am trying to impress her with my knowledge of the local scene.

When we walk into Doc's Clock, I know immediately I've picked the right place. Singer/songwriter Mark Eitzel is sitting at the bar, wearing a hat and waving his arms around in a way that suggests he's been here awhile. We grab a barstool, and I lean in to casually share the news.

"There's Mark Eitzel," I tell my date with near-paternal civic pride.

The young lady cranes her neck to get a look, then turns to me, a quizzical smile on her face. "Who is Mark Eitzel?"

I turn back to my beer, and the moment passes. A few minutes later, though, we are interrupted by a group of guys behind us who are nudging each other and murmuring something in the direction of the woman at my side.

"Gillian Welch, it's Gillian Welch," they whisper, their eyes widening.

Now this is just plain sad. Apart from the vintage farmer's dress she's wearing, my date bears as much resemblance to the altcountry warbler as I do. But here are these well-intentioned San Francisco music fans, nodding and smiling, looking like they're one beer away from asking my Gillian to autograph their pecs.

The whole scene makes it painfully clear how malformed San Francisco's relationship is with its celebrity musicians. Bring in a vague impersonation of a Nashville singer, and she's mobbed by yahoos. Meanwhile, our local treasures sit idly by, drunk and unmolested.

How did we get this way? I've seen documentaries; I watch cable TV. I know that back in the day, San Francisco was densely populated with the kind of bright and shining stars drug-addled teens traveled thousands of miles just to have sex with.

People sometimes ask me, "Who will be the next big thing out of San Francisco?" And I say, "Ha! You will never again have a next big thing. You blew it." And then they weep on my shoulder and rail against ridiculous Bay Area rents or thinning performance venues or the removed distance from the entertainment industry. But these are all just excuses.

The real problem is us. We drive all our famous musicians away because we are San Francisco and that's the kind of exclusive, celebrity-hating jerks we've become. And if that means we have a hard time impressing dates, well, maybe we should have thought about that before we chased all the glamorous people out of town.

Longtime Bay Area resident Jello Biafra can tell you some stories about San Francisco's ambivalent relationship with fame. The former Dead Kennedys frontman and Alternative Tentacles honcho has been credited as one of the forefathers of punk. These days he keeps a busy schedule of spoken word performances around the country. His thanks for his hard work? In 1994, he was viciously attacked at Berkeley's Gilman Street club by assailants shouting "Sellout!" and "Rock star!"

" [San Francisco punk fanzine] MaximumRocknRoll had been on a campaign that success equals celebrity equals evil, and using me as the prime whipping boy at the time," Biafra remembers. "That may or may not have been connected."

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."

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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