The San Francisco Street Food Festival was another success this year. Dozens of vendors with original, unheard-of creations, such as deep fried mac and cheese on a stick, black pea paste pancakes, and Korean quesadillas. Then there was the comfort foods we've grown accustomed to, like creme bruleé, shrimp rolls, and pound cake. Photographs by Mabel Jimenez.
In "Keith Haring: The Political Line," which opens today at the de Young Museum, we get a detailed overview of the political motivations that drove Haring's artwork. We also, of course, get Haring's artwork, and — thanks to a symposium today from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — a live discussion about Haring himself. Held in the museum's Koret Auditorium, the symposium features three artists who were close to Haring (Jane Dickson, Gil Vazquez, and Fab Five Freddy) and Julia Gruen, director of the Keith Haring Foundation. Haring passed away in 1990 at age 31. His work is just as ubiquitous today as it was decades ago, and the symposium lets us hear those who knew the private side of an artist whose public persona was as well-regarded as the distinct figures he drew on subway stations, building walls, people's bodies, and even traditional canvases.More
Between the parental cruelty of Matilda and the homicidal confectioner of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl is responsible for generations of whimsical nightmares. James and the Giant Peach, in which the hero's mummy and daddy are gobbled up by a crazed rhinoceros, is no different. Undeterred by rhino rampages, the Bay Area Children's Theatre has set James' struggles to a kicky musical score courtesy of Tony Award-nominated songsmiths Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The musical, directed by Nina Meehan, is tailored to budding young theatergoers with colorful costumes, comedy, and of course, giant bugs. The show is recommended for kids ages 4 and up — this is Dahl, after all.More
At this point, MGM’s 1939 The Wizard of Oz is so inextricably tangled up with L. Frank Baum's novels that any new adaptation of his work inevitably references the visual motifs, characterizations, and music of Victor Fleming's film.
Despite its distributor's best efforts, Christian Petzold's Barbara was not nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Oscars -- and even if it had made the cut, it probably wouldn't have bested Haneke's Amour.
Living in the bubble that is San Francisco, sometimes the southern part of the country falls off the radar. For some, eating at Brenda's French Soul Food is about as southern as we get. For Dixie-enthusiasts, or anyone who simply enjoys a good movie or two, prepare for the Castro Theatre's double feature of Gone With the Wind and Django Unchained. Both Oscar winners, each film shows the history and heart of the South, no matter how dark or uncomfortable to watch. Thought-provoking and moving, the two features are as well-crafted as they are significant. Films aside, kicking back at the Castro Theatre with a little popcorn might be one of the best ways to unwind after the holidays.More
"We're kind of in our Joan Didion phase," says David Lowery, co-founder of Cracker, when asked what inspired the band's new California-centric double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield. The singer-guitarist is taking a break from his office at the University of Georgia, where he teaches music business classes when he's not writing, recording, or touring North America. "You know, we're writing little nonfiction essays that are semi-geographically based. I'm kind of joking." A beat. "It's also kind of true."
People might not associate Lowery, who also founded Cracker's weirder cousin/predecessor, Camper Van Beethoven (biggest hit: "Take the Skinheads Bowling"), with elegant literary journalism. And while the new record, out Dec. 9 on 429 Records, probably won't change that, it does stand to introduce a new generation of fans — namely, the young'uns lapping up all things Americana right now — to a band that's been blending country twang and often-goofy, punk-spirited rock 'n' roll for the past 24 years. (Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven will team up, for the 10th year in a row, for a two-night stand at The Independent in the days between Christmas and New Year's Eve, Saturday, Dec. 27, and Sunday, Dec. 28.)
Berkeley to Bakersfield, the band's 10th studio album, is also without question the most narratively cohesive project Cracker's released to date — at times both a love letter and a harshly realistic vision of the Golden State as it leads listeners through an archetypically East Bay landscape of punks, hippies, and an undercurrent of radical politics (on disc 1, Berkeley) before zipping down 5-South until we meet bikers, beer, and miles upon miles of farmland (disc 2, Bakersfield).
Interestingly, after 24 years of merging the rock and country sides of Cracker's split personality, Lowery says he and co-founder/guitarist Johnny Hickman found themselves, in the spring of 2013, with "two distinct batches of songs that would never quite blend. So we put a little high concept in there. And that meant we had to narrow the songs by a little bit ... but it was an interesting thought experiment to break it into two parts.
"We did want to bring it together somehow, so then that became: How do you tie Oakland to Bakersfield? With a junkie. With a sad junkie song," he says referring to "Almond Grove," a banjo-fueled map of a downward spiral that anchors the Bakersfield disc.
You don't have to be from California to appreciate this record. But if you do happen to hail from either the East Bay or the San Joaquin Valley? Cracker is basically daring you not to like this album.
Berkeley sees Lowery and the band (Hickman and the others are the original lineup, recording together for the first time in 20 years) as young punks — bumming around town, dropping such a thick layer of location-specific references that on paper it'd read like a welcome pamphlet.
"Let's buy records at Rasputin, let's see a show at Gilman Street, an anarchist rally at People's Park..." implores Lowery with an unabashedly earnest, youthful urgency before the shout-along chorus on "Beautiful," hurling some of us (hi!) down a memory tunnel to an adolescence spent bumming around Telegraph when there was nothing else to do. Piedmont Park, San Pablo Avenue, Jack London Square, and the MacArthur BART station all figure elsewhere on the album.
Maybe most notably: In a year full of musical takes on tech-bubble gentrification, with varying degrees of success, Lowery manages to issue perhaps the most scathing indictment of new money San Francisco we've heard yet — in a song called "El Cerrito" whose lyrics he took from a cab driver. From the track's opening:
"Walking down the street in San Francisco just the other day / wondering what has happened to the freaks the hippies and the punks / everybody's squeaky clean, they look and dress and act the same / I don't give a shit about your IPO, I live in El Cerrito."
Later, Lowery laments techies' "bullshit claims to change the world, making Wall Street bankers even richer," and declares, "It's not that we don't like the rich, it's simply that we think this kind is boring."
"That song is, almost verbatim, taken from a rant that I got from a taxi driver one time when I was going from the S.F. airport to Albany," says Lowery. "That's why it's so specific with names of places and buses ... I was doing research, trying to see when the San Mateo Bridge was built, everything."
And while writing countrified Central Valley songs for Bakersfield was fairly straightforward — despite many of the songs' dense layers of pedal steel (by Matt "Pistol" Stoessel), guitar work, keys, and vocals, including two tracks in which Hickman takes the lead to great success — capturing the spirit of Berkeley was a little more difficult.
"We wanted a combination of punk rock, and then these semi-funky backbeats and bass parts, and then political songs," says Lowery, going over his thought process. Figuring if they were going to do it, they might as well do it right, the band did the bulk of the recording at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley — hanging out at coffee shops and bookstores and seeing a show at Gilman when they weren't working.
That time probably helped solidify the record's obvious rejection of the "tech-will-save-the-future" church espoused by so many of the Bay Area's newer residents — but it's not like Cracker needed much help. Since 2012, Lowery has been one of the most outspoken critics of internet piracy, services like Pandora and Spotify, and pretty much anything else that he sees as undercutting artists' rightful profits from their work.
On his blog, The Trichordist ("Artists for an Ethical and Sustainable Internet"), he posts near-daily updates and musings on the music industry and the ways its new technological paradigm is gutting the writers and performers on which it relies. On the day of this interview, for example, Lowery — who holds a B.A. in math from UC Santa Cruz — posted a mathematical breakdown of the ways "the relationship between the fan and the artist has been broken by completely disconnecting compensation from consumption," based on Spotify's royalty payments and Billboard's new rubric system (counting streams as opposed to purchases).
Berkeley to Bakersfield is, of course, far from being a strictly DIY effort. The day of its release, the record appeared on multiple streaming sites because, says Lowery, the band is still under an old contract, but also because "that might be what's best for Cracker now. Camper Van Beethoven, other niche artists, not so much."
"I wouldn't call myself a streaming hawk. I'm actually kind of agnostic about it," says Lowery. "But it's a very strange business model. You have to be on every single platform. Like Netflix makes House of Cards, or Orange Is the New Black — in music, those would have to be on every single channel all the time."
In an ideal world, what would the fix be? "I think you have to have some opt-outs," he says. "A number of years ago we were passing laws about exploitative contracts that said, 'Okay, after 35 years [artists] get their work back.' Some kind of legislative intervention that allows artists to file with the record label and say, 'Hey, this thing doesn't work for me.' It's really complicated. But look, this isn't going to sort itself out."
"The music business right now is so fucking crazy to me," says Lowery with a laugh. "When I first got signed to Virgin Records, the two main music promotion staff people came out to [Camper Van Beethoven's] show in downtown L.A. and were high on mushrooms, completely out of control. And when we did [the Status Quo song] 'Pictures of Matchstick Men,' they loved it, and they decided that should be a single on our album. There was no market research, no data, this wasn't 'Let's bring together the smartest minds in the business,' they just did it because they were high on mushrooms.
"And you compare that to the record [Cracker] just released? If you go on Amazon right now it's pretty cheap, because there's a co-promotion. And that came out of research about the [demographic] of our audience, and it was timed for right before Christmas, and that's just the digital world we live in. ... I mean, it'd be awesome if the Amazon people came to our show high on mushrooms. 'Do something where you drink reindeer blood!'
"No, look, music has always been interesting because it's fantasy sports: Anybody can do it ... and on the one hand the internet is great for that, it eliminated a lot of the gatekeepers, which is awesome. Creatively, it's kind of a golden age just for being in a band and putting your songs out there," he says. "But it's a lot tougher to monetize it. And I'm afraid, when you start talking about how bands have to know the [demographics] of their audience, that those who are the most business-savvy are the only ones who get popular.
"And," he offers pensively, "what would that have meant for Captain Beefheart?"
At the outset of 2012, the lead singer of Against Me! — the Florida anarcho-punk band that built a following throughout the aughts on raw, anthemic songs that were as emotional as they were political — should theoretically have been on top of the world. White Crosses, the 15-year-old band's new record, was its most commercially successful to date. Instead, a few months later, Laura Jane Grace — up until then known as a man named Tom Gabel — came out as a transwoman, revealing that she'd been struggling privately and painfully with gender dysphoria for more than a decade, and announced plans to begin a physical transition.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues, released in January of this year, grapples directly with the challenges Grace faced prior to and during her transition; unsurprisingly, it's also the most intensely personal record she's ever written. In the year since its release, Grace has become perhaps the most visible transperson in music, a role she's readily embraced. We caught up with her by phone as she was taking a break at the band's studio in Michigan, ahead of her solo show at Slim's this Sunday, Dec. 28.
How did this tiny solo tour come about?
I think it's important to start and end the year doing what you really love to do, on a positive note, so I'm ending the year playing a show and starting the year with one. I'm also trying to work out a new approach in these shows — a way to tell a different story with the songs that are already there. It's a work in progress; I'm kind of figuring it out as I go along.
I read that you're working on a memoir. Did the different style of show come out of that?
Yeah, that's hitting the nail on the head. I spent the last year and a half going through old journals and transcribing them. And on average, these days, 100,000 words is a good-size book. When I got everything together, I had a million words. So I have the task of trying to whittle it down. And that's been hard to do in a sitting room environment, because it's the exact opposite situation to being on tour, which is what so much of the story is about: that kind of energy, being on the road and playing every night. So my new approach to the memoir is to figure it out on stage.
Do you think coming out has changed how you present yourself on stage? Are there female performers you've really looked to or admired?
It's all mental. I spent so long feeling like there were these huge mental blocks — because what I've always admired in other performers, male or female, is being totally free and totally yourself up on stage. That translates to an audience, and that's what it should be about. Being an artist up onstage and feeling like you're completely not able to be yourself, it weighs into every aspect of what you're doing — thinking about how I'm gonna say things, what I'm gonna say. I'm not having an existential crisis up there anymore.
It's been more than two years since you began transitioning. Did anyone's reaction particularly surprise you?
I didn't have any expectations going into it, it was kind of a blind leap. But it definitely did surprise me just how incredibly supportive and accepting people have been. For example: Rancid, who were heroes growing up, and they were the last band on my bucket list to tour with. Then we got to do it in 2011, right before I came out. After, I was really worried that it would change that relationship I'd forged with these people I looked up to. Then we played this festival somewhere in Europe, and I saw Lars [Frederiksen], and he takes me aside and lets me know nothing's changed, he's asking me what pronouns to use — just being the most fucking in-tune and accepting person you can imagine. And Matt Freeman was like a father figure, he gave me a big hug, asking, "Do you need anything from us? How are you holding up?" They couldn't have been fucking cooler, and it meant the world to me.
On your web show, "True Trans," you went around meeting trans people from all different backgrounds. It's really touching, but it also got me thinking about how quickly you seemed comfortable becoming a spokesperson for transpeople.
I think the thing people forget with that, is that was a real situation, and the benefits of doing it were immense to me. Obviously what anyone sees has all been edited down, but that experience of traveling around and connecting to people was immensely helpful to me at that point.
In terms of being a figurehead, I do having the benefit of having played in a band — you have to do press around records, you do interviews. So the reality of going into transition was, I had no real choice of whether or not I wanted to embrace that. It was, I know the way interviews are gonna go, I know people are gonna focus on this whether I want to or not, so what's the best thing that I can do with that platform?
What do you think would have helped you when you were younger?
The biggest life-changer in terms of just having resources would be the internet. I remember going to the public library, trying to find books that were relatable, and not finding a single fucking thing. I think the first time I read about someone "transitioning" was in Sports Illustrated, an article about Renée Richards, the tennis player, and it was like, "She used to be a man!" You know, something very sensational. I was probably 18 before I heard the word "transgender." And Naples [Florida], where I was living at the time — I mean, I have friends who still live there who are transgender, and they have to leave the state to get the prescription they need for HRT [Hormone Replacement Therapy]. It's 2014. That's fucked.
You're living in Chicago, and your wife is still in Florida. What can you share about your relationship with her and with your daughter?
I've lived in Chicago for over a year, and I'm separated from my wife. Relationships are complicated, but I'd hate for anyone to infer that it's exclusively because of transitioning; that's not fair to anyone. My daughter's amazing, I love her, obviously. She's going to Montessori school, and we're gonna go do Christmas in Florida with grandma and everything.
I know she's young. Do you explain things to her about your transition? Does she care?
You know, as long as you're there and you love them ... she's aware of what I'm going through, even if she doesn't understand it. She still calls me Daddy, and that's fine. I am her dad. There are some moments on playgrounds with [kids teasing], but whatever. I think she knows I could still kick anyone's ass if I needed to, so ... [laughs].
You self-produced Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Did that come out of how personal those songs were?
If we had the chance to work with [producer Butch Vig and engineer Billy Bush, who worked on White Crosses] again, I would have felt comfortable doing that — they're friends. But that wasn't possible, and I wasn't gonna go into some stranger's studio and work out what I was working out in front of some engineer. There was definitely a cocooning, building up walls. And also [self-producing] was kind of to prove myself in a way.
You mentioned you're working on a live album. Are you writing new material as well?
This past year, book stuff occupied so much of my time that I wasn't taking time for songwriting. But recently, when we got back into the studio, it was just boom — I felt this total creative burst, so I have been writing a lot of songs lately. Moving forward, you're always thinking about your next record — where do you go from here? It's not like I'm gonna put out a record that's "Oh, but this is an even deeper true story [than TDB]"... You're not gonna get any more dramatic than that. So I'm taking the approach of writing some really fun songs, just fun to play and hear at a show. I think it's okay to do that.
If you could go back and give the teenage version of yourself any advice, what would it be?
I would've reassured myself to be a lot more confident about the way I felt. I think it would have served me a lot better if I'd just accepted myself — I would've been a lot nicer of a person for a few years. Regrets are stupid, but if I regretted anything, it'd be that I spent a lot of years traveling through a lot of beautiful places, and I was just miserable the whole time. That's not the case anymore.More
In the beginning it was, of course, Ohlone Indian. Then it was Spanish-Ohlone. Were there Russians? It was Italian. Then it was Irish and German. As far as we can tell, the Mission District was never Chinese, but this is San Francisco, so why shouldn't it have been? It was Mexican, and then it was Salvadoran-Guatemalan-Honduran-Peruvian. All of the above contributed lesbians to the Valencia microclimate. Now, some would say, it's restaurant-hipster. So the San Francisco City Guides walking tour of the beloved, embattled, contradictory, and grimily beautiful area, Murals and the Multi-Ethnic Mission, is well-titled. It tromps through alleys, admires Victorian (is that an ethnicity?) homes, and traces the visual traditions of all these groups and more in the famous and numerous wall paintings perfect for visiting family and friends, no matter where they're from.More
Founded by Mark Argent, a self-described "tech-worker vegan turned conscientious-heritage carnivore," Gaucho Mark's is a Brazilian steakhouse and juicery offering San Francisco's first-ever beef juice cleanse.
If any junk turns up at todays craft fair, dont blame the artists what you consider crap might very well be, to a middle-aged Midwestern dad on a soul journey, a nice enough driftwood dreamcatcher. Instead, blame Giant Robots Eric Nakamura, Crafty Wonderlands Cathy Pitters and Torie Nguyen, Etsy vice president Matthew Stinchcomb, and Craft Magazine editor Natalie Zee Drieu. These people are the guest judges of Bazaar Bizarre. They decided which artists and designers got to participate and which did not, making the event safe for the ever-growing subculture that prefers handmade indie goods, which Bazaar Bizarre has been championing since the first fair in 2001 in Boston. Along with more than 100 vendors, the event features artist-staffed DIY booths and the Swap-O-Rama, where you can unload your old clothes and then tweak your new upcycled fashions with the help of DIY experts.
Dec. 12-13, noon, 2009