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Let's Get Physical 

Bus Station John spins rare vinyl into golden opportunities

Wednesday, Apr 26 2006
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"You can be a mess here," DJ Bus Station John says as the bartender serves up another round at Aunt Charlie's Lounge. Having helped revive the sleazy and sexually charged gay club scene in San Francisco, one that nearly died almost a decade ago, he should know.

It's been just over two years since Bus Station John started "The Tubesteak Connection" at Aunt Charlie's, a porn-ish weekly of hi-NRG and disco curiosities that began as a showcase for John's enviable collection of late '70s and early '80s gay bar and bathhouse beats. Today his party is a yardstick by which others are measured, also marking its dive-y venue as the epicenter for Thursday night frolicking. "It brought a whole new crowd to the Tenderloin who would never normally come here," says bar manager Joe Mattheisen, adding that the place is regularly filled to capacity come midnight.

Since then, John has helmed two other disco-heavy club nights — the larger and more sexually aggressive "The Rod" at Deco Lounge (every second Friday of the month), featuring a tongue-in-cheek wet jock strap contest, and the early '80s New York City soul-laced "Double Dutch Disco" at the Transfer (every third Saturday of the month). The Bus Station trinity is coveted for both the music and the crowd it attracts. His scrappy and nerdish patrons are refreshingly prone to cruising and getting smashed. But what ultimately makes his events unique is a hard-to-pull-off retro vibe that abstains from irony. His mixed following (well, "[m]ixed only in the sense that it's a mixture of all kinds of queers," as he bluntly puts it) come to enjoy the music, to get loaded at a deliciously sordid locale, and, well, to maybe fuck another boy.

By his own admittance, John doesn't think of himself as a normal DJ. "I don't have the skills ... I'm not Mr. Beat Scientist, or whatever," he says. In lieu of seamless sets, he's more of a mix-tape-ish guy, with no kind words for the new mash-up sound. Instead, he'll break out the most oddly beautiful disco and new-wave rarities this side of time-traveling capabilities. Club promoter and writer Marcia Gagliardi gushes, "[H]e is truly old school — and it extends to his value system, too ... a total cream puff of a guy, with disco sprinkles on top."

Having lived in San Francisco since 1987, John has seen the city go through everything from AIDS to dot-com hedonism to today's Internet-ification of the one-night stand. "There are very few old-school gay dive bars left; they're dying out everywhere," he pines. He blames the downward spiral on the dawn of the Internet age, where the proliferation of personal ads substitutes for in-person flirtation. John's clubs bring back that old personal touch.

It's a touch that extends to his coveted record collection, the source of which he's notoriously tight-lipped. Award-winning DJ Jefrodisiac admits, "I've never ... heard a San Francisco DJ and thought, 'I wish I had those records,' except for Bus Station John, period." John is also quiet about where he gets his splendid porn collection, pages of which he uses for flyers and as a garnish for the walls and bar tops at his clubs. The late '70s, handlebar-moustache-heavy images work twofold, setting a tone for not only the era but also helping typically rigid hipsters to loosen up. And although the scene he attracts is typically frequented by chic and wrinkle-free throngs, John equally cherishes the rare moment when generations collide, when "someone my age or older comes up and says, 'Oh my God, I haven't heard this in 20 years. Thank you.'"

About The Author

Brock Keeling

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