OK Then

Frank Chu: the man, the myth, the "Experience."

It is a dark and stormy night.

I've always wanted to begin a column that way, but seriously, it isa dark and stormy night -- a Thursday night, to be precise, and about a hundred of us have gathered to witness the spectacle that is the "Frank Chu Experience" at 12 Galaxies, the Mission District venue named after Chu's cryptic signs. Chu himself is there when we arrive, sitting at the bar, eating a burger and fries and sipping a Budweiser.

He is surrounded by hipsters who have come here to pay tribute to him, though he seems more or less oblivious to that fact. Dozens of his signs are hanging everywhere, and local artists are showing works about him or inspired by him; portraits and photographs adorn the walls; someone has even made a lifelike 8-inch sculpture of the man. In a few moments, bands will take the stage, one of which, Society of Rockets, was named after a phrase that appears on a Frank Chu sign; another act, Addison, recently organized and played at Chu's birthday party. There is a cameraman from KRON 4 News taping everything. It's something of a circus, a "Frank Chu Experience" indeed. My friend Erick sums the whole thing up nicely: "What a schizophrenic's heaven: 'The monkeys in my head will have their message heard.'"

Of course they will. It's plastered all over the walls. What it means is another issue entirely.

In a town full of protesters, Frank Chu is San Francisco's most accomplished, at least in terms of gaining attention. Now 46, the diminutive Chu stands about 5 1/2 feet tall, and his hair is short and combed to the side, jet black but for a few patches of gray. He always wears dark sunglasses, even at night, and one of two sport coats, the blue one or the beige one, over a white button-down shirt. It is estimated by those who have visited his home that Chu has close to 100 unique protest signs, which are printed for him for free by a company that gets to stick its logo on the back of each, because you couldn't ask for a better billboard.

On any given day you can find Chu in the Financial District or at Fisherman's Wharf, in the Marina or the Mission. He doesn't scream or chant or cause a ruckus; he just walks around, protesting ... something. Something having to do with 12 galaxies, which is the only phrase that appears on every single one of his signs, above and below an untold number of other strange words and phrases such as "Faulkner," "cuxigoncial," and, my favorite, "inordinate languishing." Chu says he started protesting on Oct. 16, 1999, but people who know him indicate that it was much earlier than that, more like the early '90s. According to Chu, before he began protesting he worked as an accountant. At one point in his life he attended UC Berkeley, and he earned an associate degree in business administration from Cal State Hayward. But that's all in the past. Today he lives in an apartment in Oakland, watches a lot of TV, is supported primarily by his family, and walks countless miles each day hoisting a sign.

In recent months, Chu has taken to riding the bus to Redwood City two or three days a week to visit the scene of the Scott Peterson trial, where he wanders around the parking lot of the courthouse trying to get into the background when news teams film their daily reports. He's often successful, which means that if you watch local news you've likely seen him standing placidly behind a reporter, staring into the camera, holding his sign. Chu's loitering has intrigued the gaggle of media personnel there, many of whom have befriended him, hence the KRON 4 guy.

"No, this is for the Peterson camp," the cameraman explains to me when I ask if KRON is covering tonight's event. "We see him every day, and none of the other photographers believes that this is happening."

That is, they don't believe that someone has named a nightclub after this man's strange vernacular, and they certainly don't believe that that nightclub throws the occasional party celebrating said man, that it donates a portion of the proceeds from the art auction to him, that it lets him eat and drink for free whenever he wants. But it does. Still, that doesn't stop some people from suspecting that 12 Galaxies is exploiting Chu. Adam Bergerson, the club's co-owner, doesn't see it that way. "It's a fine line," he says. "I'm constantly fighting the public perception of, 'You're making fun of him.' But I just dig the dude. We're good to him; he's good to us."

At about 10 o'clock Society of Rockets takes the stage, although not before letting Chu have the mike for a few minutes: "Concubines, second wives, uh, orgies, top secret, Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, 12 galaxies, perverted prejudice, telepathic scientific ...." All right, let the music begin!

Formerly the Shimmer Kids Underpop Association, a fine collective of psychedelic indie folks, the Society has morphed ever so slightly in the wrong direction. The nonet, which includes players on accordion, theremin, trumpet, and keyboards in addition to the typical guitar-bass-drums thing, has taken the edge off what I remember to be a whimsical, mysterious sound. In their better moments, the musicians remind me of the Muppets' band, all enthusiasm and flair; for most of their set, however, they play boring, innocuous jangle-pop. (For what it's worth, Sunset Homes, the band's new album, is far more enjoyable than its live show.)

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

Around The Web

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
San Francisco Event Tickets
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.