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Celebrate the Holy Fool at the St. Stupid's Day Parade, and foolishness with Les Sans Culottes

Wednesday, Mar 31 2004
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Prepare the squeaky eggs and squirting noses, ready the wheeled persimmons and winged luffas. All Fools' Day is upon us, and a fine time it is. Still unclaimed by commerce and unreformed by politics or faith, it is a day that remains idiotically sacrosanct, the glory of harlequins, discordians, Dionysians, and phookas. Ignore those who would have us believe April Fools were born when French country bumpkins failed to realize the Gregorian calendar had moved their new year three months over; the Holy Fool is endemic to humanity. For ages, Coyote, Raven, Spider, Loki, Clat, Juha, Hotei, Tyl Eulenspiegel, Legba, Br'er Rabbit, and a multitude of others have tracked mud across society's clean white sheets. Amoral, lustful, and typically androgynous, the Fool rejoices in crossing boundaries, mixing metaphors, and bumping uglies between the sacred and the profane. It is unsurprising, then, that the Fools' ministry, the First Church of the Last Laugh, and its congress, the St. Stupid's Day Parade, were born here in San Francisco, a city that so clearly embodies the contradictions, collisions, and peculiar syntheses of the Fool.

This year, Bishop Joey, the secular and seminal head of the First Church of the Last Laugh, suggests we prepare for the high holy day of April 1 by attending the Wes "Scoop" Nisker "Crazy Wisdom Show." This is not simply because Nisker touted the serious foolishness of the St. Stupid's Day Parade in his 1994 book on counterculture, If You Don't Like the News Go Out and Make Some of Your Own, but because Nisker is something of an adept and scholar of the holy foolishness.

Many of us remember Nisker as a longtime Bay Area news reporter and radio personality who always approached current events and counterculture with distinguishing wit and incisive playfulness, but it has been his work as an author and a teacher that has brought Nisker's deeper insights, gleaned from 30 years of Buddhist practice, into national focus. From The Essential Crazy Wisdom, which examines the unorthodox vision of "crazies" like Rumi, Siddhartha Gautama, Mark Twain, Lao Tzu, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Allen Ginsberg, and Lily Tomlin, to the more recent biographical The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boomer: The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation, which equitably details the arc of a generation and suggests that Western science has become a gateway to modern mysticism, Nisker continues to exemplify his chosen archetype: the Fool. Ever keen, irreverent, funny, idiosyncratic, and, ultimately, compassionate, Nisker speaks on Wednesday, March 31, at the Freight & Salvage Coffee House (1111 Addison at University, Berkeley) at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.50; call (510) 548-1761 or visit www.freightandsalvage.com. The 26th annual St. Stupid's Day Parade will begin on Thursday, April 1, at Market and Embarcadero at noon. Bring your socks and pennies; if you don't know why, visit www.saintstupid.com.


Now that you're feeling quite stupid, you are primed for the remarkable silliness of Les Sans Culottes. Loosely translated as "Those Without Undergarments," this Brooklyn-based septet performs picture-perfect Parisian ye-ye -- the sassy, sparkly equivalent of American go-go music -- in French, with a profusion of feather boas, silk scarves, and below-the-belt attitude. Truth be told, only one member, Celine Dijon, has any blood ties to France, but that hasn't stopped Kit Kat Le Noir, Jean Luc Retard, Pascal Blasé, Morris "Mars" Chevrolet, Cal d'Hommage, and the singing style-czar Clermont Ferrand from acquiring ridiculous accents and laudable savoir-faire. In fact, so adept are these Brooklynites at resurrecting the wild, sex-and-popper-soaked world of the 1960s Parisian discothèque that you might forget yourself and light up a cigarette right there on the dance floor and, through the smoke-induced haze, imagine Françoise Hardy and Jacques Dutronc up there onstage, with Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot smirking in the corner. While music this effervescent and visceral hardly requires content, a French-speaking pal assures me that Les Sans Culottes are lyrically quite clever, which might account for the group's staying power. After six years, faux ye-ye might begin to wear thin if it were not rife with some sort of intellectual challenge. And indeed, if the broken-English intros are any indication -- "SOS Elephants" is "a tale about a group of animals escaping from a zoo in Paris. It's part of a long tradition of this, animals taking revenge" -- there's more to Les Sans Culottes than a proliferation of keywords like Balzac and Apollinaire and irrepressible pop music. There's a healthy does of foolishness, too. Les Sans Culottes perform at the Stork Club (2330 Telegraph at 23rd Street, Oakland) on Thursday, April 1, with René Risqué & the Art Lovers and the Proles opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5; call (510) 444-6174 or visit www.storkcluboakland.com. And on Friday, April 2, at the Bottom of the Hill with René Risqué & the Art Lovers and Coco Rosie opening at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455 or visit www.bottomofthehill.com.

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Silke Tudor

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