Inside the Savage Nation

He adored beatniks, trolled the streets of North Beach in a beret, and was once Timothy Leary's gatekeeper, and now he packs a gun.

"I would have liked nothing better," he says of his one-time academic ambitions. He blames reverse discrimination. "I soon found out just how corrupt the academic world was. It was a case of 'white men need not apply.'"

(Much later, in 1997, he filed a reverse-discrimination lawsuit against his alma mater after being rejected in his quest to become dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. This, despite the fact that at the time, his "journalism" credentials consisted solely of two years as a radio talk-show host. He later dropped the suit. But it didn't keep him from disparaging the winning applicant, China expert Orville Schell, as someone "whose claim to fame was managing an organic cattle farm" and "who was certainly no more qualified than I was.")

To his former North Beach pals, he had begun to change. Cherkovski recalls that in the mid-'80s, during the first wave of the AIDS epidemic, Weiner went around passing out leaflets that bemoaned sex in the city's gay bathhouses. He had staked a name for himself in the '70s with such titles as Earth Medicine — Earth Foods and Weiner's Herbal, both of which remain well-regarded contributions to the literature of herbal healing. But with his 1986 book Maximum Immunity, in which Weiner called on the gay community to accept the blame for the AIDS crisis, both his interests and his tone had shifted.

Stephen Schwartz, another of his old colleagues, contends that Weiner's behavior became "increasingly bizarre," and believes that his resentment over his being rejected in academia had a profound affect. By the time his Immigrants and Epidemics tome was turned down for publication — the other catalyst in Weiner's transformation — his ex-associates say he was a different person.

"I remember one day sitting in the Caffe Trieste and him screaming at me from out on the sidewalk about how I was nothing and he was something. I had to call the police," Schwartz says.

Once he landed on the radio, word spread quickly in North Beach circles that Michael Weiner had become Michael Savage.

Cherkovski recalls one of the first times he heard Savage. "I was driving home from Sonoma, flipping through the dial, and what he was saying was so utterly shocking, and sad, that I actually had to pull over to the side of the road to compose myself," he says.

Savage delights in aggravating the chums from his beret-wearing days.

After bolting KSFO for Clear Channel's KNEW three years ago, a huge likeness of him sprang up on a billboard on a building at Vallejo Street and Columbus Avenue, a few steps from his old hangout at Caffe Trieste, where it remained until recently.

"I told them [the Clear Channel advertising people] to put it there," he confides, with typical in-your-face impishness. "I thought that would make a great spot for my picture."

He is just as willing to throw barbs at "San Fran Sicko," a city whose streets he frequently walks in the evenings to decompress from high-octane hours at the microphone. "I really do love this city," he insists. "I just can't stand the vermin who are prominent here. The left-wing scumbags are the only forces you ever hear about." They most assuredly include the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, whose members he chides as "a bunch of narcissistic egomaniacs who think they're bigger than they are." Their antics, he says, are why "much of the country" thinks of San Francisco "as a relatively sick place." Yet he claims such disdain isn't personal. Even after deriding "Any Twosome Newsom," he confesses that he likes the mayor "on a personal level."

With Michael Savage, that could be a blessing or a curse.

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