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Selvin Watch (The Special Edition) When Riff Raff talked to Chron Entertainment Editor Liz Lufkin recently, we were mostly curious about one thing: What does Joel Selvin do all day? Even in his '80s heyday the pop-music critic didn't produce much copy; now it seems that he's hardly ever in the paper. Lufkin was happy to answer, saying an earlier Riff Raff slight regarding Selvin's rate of production was "incorrect." He writes a lot, she said. Fearing we'd wronged him, we did a search of the Chron's on-line archives and discovered that ... Joel Selvin doesn't write very much. He averaged about an article a week over the past year, including news squibs and quickie record reviews. (Lufkin repeatedly urged Riff Raff to compare Selvin's output with L.A. Times crit Robert Hilburn's; we were reluctant -- Selvin's not in Hilburn's league -- but finally did, and discovered that ... Hilburn writes three or four times as much as Selvin.) At any rate, said Lufkin, Selvin has other duties. "He's an assigning editor," she said, noting that he coordinates and edits the paper's free-lance rock writing. Of this, there's quite a lot: The paper's had an empty second pop position since Michael Snyder left in August 1995. "Frankly, it's been a little embarrassing," Lufkin conceded -- but pointed to the extensive free-lance record reviews, music news, and Sunday Datebook features as evidence that the paper hasn't been ignoring rock. Fine -- but union officials say that the paper is breaking contract rules in the process. "You can't use free-lancers to replace or fill in for [union] work," said Chron reporter Carl Hall, a local honcho in the Northern California Newspaper Guild. Nor are free-lancers allowed to get assignments. Hall said that the guild has been protesting the practice in "low-key" fashion but as yet doesn't think that the paper is operating in bad faith. "They are trying to fill the position," he noted. In a second conversation, Lufkin backpedaled, saying that Selvin gave assignments only to staff reporters, and that he merely "looks" at free-lance submissions. This is contradicted by the rock free-lancers the paper uses. Said one: "He'll call you and say, 'Here, do you want to do this?' " Why can't the paper fill the position? You'd think a $50,000-plus-a-year union job covering pop culture in San Francisco wouldn't be considered a hardship posting; and Selvin has said in the past that the paper had 100 strong resumes to work from. Local hearsay is that the paper is intent on not hiring a white male for the job. ("We want a staff that mirrors the community," said Lufkin.) Also, more than one of the applicants Riff Raff spoke with said bluntly that the extravagant cost of living here takes the sheen off the salary. The paper had another setback this week: Evelyn McDonnell, the New York free-lancer the paper flew in for a tryout a few weeks back, told Riff Raff that she has declined the daily's offer of the job. (Lufkin implied that talks with McDonnell were continuing, and wouldn't say whether the paper had a backup candidate.) So it seems that the Chron -- and readers -- are stuck with the geezer-obsessed, factually challenged Selvin. In last week's Datebook, he profiled John Fogerty, and in so doing said that Fogerty's single "The Old Man Down the Road" was a No. 1 hit. Not even close. (B.W.)

What's Wrong With This Picture? If you happen to be passing by the S bin at a record store that would stock such a thing, stop for a moment and look for Boz Scaggs' new R&B/adult contemporary album, Come On Home. Don't buy it; don't even listen to it; just look at the album art. (Riff Raff will not reprint it here, as that might be construed as some sort of endorsement.) What we have is a gritty urban streetside, perhaps circa 1960. In the background, on the side of a run-down building: a poster announcing Boz Scaggs appearances -- "three nites only" -- apparently at Slim's, 333 11th St. between Folsom and Harrison (which Scaggs owns). A partially glimpsed poster off to the right advertises Hank Ballard appearing at an unspecified venue. In a doorway, an Af-Am man with a cigarette slack in his mouth points at a child. In the foreground: a fish-tailed car -- trunk open, with a suitcase inside -- and a pair of black children, one of whom appears to be holding a dollar or a wrapper. The entire image is suffused with a touched-up or doctored feel, even aside from the obvious poster insertions. Whatever it is, there's something downright unnerving about it. Lovecraft-style "non-Euclidian" geometry? A tiny genitorture still superimposed within a taillight? Worn-out scratch 'n' sniff? While Riff Raff can't quite figure out just what's wrong with the picture -- dorky race-and-authenticity subtext aside -- perhaps you can. In the meantime, we'll just be over here, minding our own business, fighting off a case of the creeps. (M.B.)

Three Chords, the Truth, and Controlling Interest on the Board of Directors Last Thursday at the surprise Neil Young show, while several thousand people lined up outside the Trocadero -- a couple of hundred just to use the pay phone (the hippie network, apparently) -- two employees of electronica-pioneering record labels 911 and Om amused themselves by sipping cocktails and arguing over which railroad company boasts Neil Young as a major stockholder. Lionel won over Amtrak. (Young, a model-train hobbyist and father of two, bought Lionel Trains Inc. with his partners at Wellspring Associates in 1995.) We won't tell you which hipster knew that special bit of dinosaur trivia. (S.T.)

Stranger Than Paradigms Class, we have an essay question. Jim Jarmusch's Year of the Horse -- the Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert movie that had its world premiere at the closing of the S.F. film fest last week -- creates an interesting theoretical puzzle. The opening credits of the feature, greeted with cheers by the audience, proclaim that the movie was "proudly" filmed in Super 8. But Jarmusch said after the screening that the music was recorded direct to DAT and remixed digitally. Please explain why it's cool to film the thing crummily, but not record it that way. Extra credit if your answer does not include the phrase "But it's the music that really matters." (K.D.E.)

Don't Ya Tell Henry "We needn't bow our heads in shame because this is the best album of 1975," Robert Christgau wrote of The Basement Tapes on its official release. "It would have been the best album of 1967 too. And it's sure to sound great in 1983." Nearly a decade and a half after even that, the mysterious, impenetrable song cycle -- the famously bootlegged Bob Dylan and the Band practice sessions -- can still entrance. The latest work from Berkeley's Greil Marcus is Invisible Republic, a book-length meditation on the dozens of songs recorded at the Band's "Big Pink" Woodstock hideaway in the months after Dylan's 1966 motorcycle accident. "The uncompleted world of the basement tapes," Marcus writes, "was a fantasy beginning in artifacts refashioned by real people, dimly apprehended figures who out of the kettle of the folk revival appeared in the flesh to send an unexpected message." Marcus reads from the book and answers questions Sunday, May 18, at 7:30 p.m. at Black Oak Books, 1491 Shattuck in Berkeley. It's free; call (510) 486-0698. (J.D.P.)

The Young and the X-less, Part 7 In our continuing series of outtakes from Ecstasy Club ("Destined to be a cult classic"), author Douglas Rushkoff -- who, the back cover informs us, has "lived the GenX life to the hilt as a hacker, raver, and commentator on the new-tech scene" -- hones his "addictively readable" and "hyperaccurate glimpse into the bleeding-edge subcultures that today's young people thrive in." Here, the protagonists smell something fishy. Simply put, Rushkoff's tome may be the best roman à clef study of subculture since Michael Hornburg's Bongwater. (M.B.)

"No," he answered quietly. "This was on a higher plane entirely." Of course it was. It was Duncan's plane, not Margot's or some ET's. "But there was another force there. A dark force. A force connected to the beings that took you, Margot, connected to whoever attacked Pig in the visionquest, responsible for the generators exploding, the police raid, Kirsten's disappearance..." Kirsten's disappearance? No one had called it that until now, and Duncan waited for this repositioning of the event to settle in. "I'm not saying she's working against us, necessarily, but there are connections we can't ignore any longer. If she were here, I'd have no problem confronting her directly. But she's not. Odd, isn't it?"

"What would you confront her about?" I asked, quite surprised that I came so quickly to her defense. It should have been Peter's job now.

"I know it's hard, Zach, considering how you must still feel about her" Duncan said. He knew I didn't still have those feelings, and underscored that fact by pretending I did. I sensed this was for Lauren's benefit -- to raise doubt about the longevity of my affections. "But we have to look at the connections objectively," he continued without missing a beat, pushing a myriad of agendas with every sentence. "Where is Kirsten from? Humbolt. Where is the Air Force base supplying the vacuum tubes? Where is the 707 area code of the number the computer spontaneously called on the visionquest? Northern California. Arcata. Humbolt. What is the connection between Malthus, eugenics, and Kirsten's Grateful Dead? Her play, 'Hand to Mouth' equating feedback loops with cannibalism and limited resources? How does that relate to Margot's aliens, their environmental doomsday message, and the genetics experiments they are apparently carrying out in her own womb?"

Damn, he was good. It was like three seasons of X-files in less than minute.

Riff Raff riffraff: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Michael Batty (M.B.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to mbatty@sfweekly.com, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly. No flack, please.

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