Riff Raff

Downsized On Wednesday morning, July 15, Annie O'Toole, longtime talent buyer at the Great American Music Hall, was informed by the five partners behind the venue that she would no longer be needed. “I was totally floored,” says O'Toole. “I was told that the board of directors had decided the company could no longer afford me.” According to Claire Brouwer, vice president of Great American Music Hall Inc., the decision is part of a more extensive plan of “corporate restructuring” that includes management changes. O'Toole has worked for the Music Hall for more than 15 years, acting as head talent buyer for the last seven. “Annie was the Music Hall,” says Slim's booker Dawn Holiday, a colleague and a close friend. O'Toole's specific eclecticism, which in the last month alone has brought acts as diverse as the Mekons to Badar Ali Khan to the Music Hall, has been fundamental in shaping the club's nationwide reputation. Moreover, her amiable character endeared her to national booking agencies that could have easily placed their acts in larger venues. “Annie has been doing this longer than either Dawn or I,” says Bottom of the Hill booker Ramona Downey. “She knows more about music than anyone I know.” Brouwer agrees, and says that the club has no intention of changing its booking policy, except that O'Toole won't be there to do it. The new talent buyer, 28-year-old Greg Wynn, has been O'Toole's assistant for the last two years. Although he feels privileged to take on full-time duties at the Music Hall, last week he sounded like a man who had been kicked in the chest. “Everything came down all at once,” said Wynn. Both Holiday and Downey say Wynn has his work cut out for him, intimating that a few major booking agencies have been calling them because they don't feel comfortable putting acts in the Music Hall without O'Toole there. “I have always entrusted Annie with my most sensitive clients, much to the consternation of BGP [Bill Graham Presents],” says Frank Riley, an agent with Monterey Peninsula Artists. “She is such a sensitive and conscientious person. Artists larger than the venue request to play there.” “Everyone will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” says Wynn. “A lot of agencies had really personal relationships with Annie; they're shocked and hurt. I need to let them know that we still want to work with their bands and help them grow.” Brouwer says that she fully understands the strength of O'Toole's work relationships and adds, “We will miss her very much.” (S.T.)

Left! Right! Left, Right, Left! Last week, local weirdo percussionist-about-town Stark Raving Brad, who plays drums and percussion for Undercover S.K.A. and the Marginal Prophets, took his father out for a show. “A late Father's Day,” he called it. Brad figured his dad, who is quite interested in politics, might like to hear some political commentary. Why not, he asked his father, stop in and see Jello Biafra at the Great American Music Hall? When Brad and his pop arrived at the theater, the show was sold out. “No problem,” thought Brad. He figured his father's name might open some doors. See, Brad's dad pulls a little weight around here. Brad's father is state Sen. Quentin Kopp, a fiscally conservative politician with a reputation for just saying no — to bonds, to stadiums, to Willie Brown. Biafra found out that Kopp was at the door and made sure both Brad and his dad got seats. “My dad, to my surprise, ended up liking it,” says Brad. “Jello started with this whole thing about legalizing drugs like cocaine and heroin. I could see that [Kopp] was thinking, 'This is going to be a long night.' But then Jello moved into his usual anti-corporate, America-is-becoming-the-Soviet-Union-a-police-state stuff. [Kopp] was actually applauding at a couple of parts.” When Biafra let up for an intermission around 11 p.m., Kopp, who had an early morning appointment scheduled the next day, decided to leave. Brad figured his dad might want to meet Biafra first. Kopp agreed and Brad took him backstage. It might seem like Jello Biafra, the former singer for the Dead Kennedys, a collaborator in a band called Lard, and, more generally, a left-wing nut, might not have much in common with a guy like state Sen. Quentin Kopp. Turns out they had plenty to talk about. Nineteen years ago, Jello Biafra and Quentin Kopp were both San Francisco mayoral candidates. And 19 years ago, both men lost to Dianne Feinstein. “They hit it off famously,” says Brad. “I was cracking up.” Brad says Jello delivered a line about Feinstein, something like, “If Feinstein took her wig off and lit up a cigar, she'd look like a ward boss.” Brad says his father was amused. Biafra and Kopp talked about politics for about 10 minutes, then Kopp made his exit. Brad says Jello told his dad they should all get together for dinner sometime. (J.S.)

Imaging essence Riff Raff wants to apologize directly to the Bay Area talent coyly know as essence for a huge and glaring oversight. Earlier this year we introduced readers to essence with a saucy black-and-white pic of the singer packing heat in a tank top. “Riff Raff now knows sass sometimes wears an ocelot hat and wields a harpoon,” we wrote. After marveling at the photo for months, we've recently discovered that essence was obviously out for more than sass. Examine the startling pictures above. On the left, essence. On the right, “noted scientist and sensitive woman” Eugenie Clark. We found the second photo in a 1955 issue of Holiday magazine, accompanying a profile about proto-feminist Clark. Clearly, we underestimated essence; we thought she was trafficking in cheesecake. Instead, displaying the kind of keen marketing acumen that took M. Louise Ciccone from Material Girl to Queen of Pop, essence is obviously at once appropriating a feminist archetype and subverting phallic iconography. We salute her. In other essence news, the singer's pleasant manager, Michael Moore, recently relayed enough new artistic achievements to convince us that San Francisco's savviest performer is finally ready for an uppercase letter. First, Spunk! magazine put Essence and her rolling locks on its cover. Moore also promised us that an Entertainment Weekly “profile” on Essence is forthcoming. And last, Essence will return to the Fillmore Auditorium (where we heard she “blew away” a crowd opening for Pat Benatar in March; she's also opened for Hall & Oates at the Warfield) for a special distaff “Fillmore Sessions” on Saturday, July 25. Essence headlines the show with Noelle Hampton and singing soulmate Nefertiti Jones. (J.S.) [page]

High Art Hijinks Soprano Leonie Rysanek, one of the world's most respected opera stars — “the singer with a thousand faces” — died in Vienna a few months back. Despite a long illness, she had recently accepted the position of curator of the Vienna Festival and even appeared in San Francisco — the site of her U.S. debut in 1956 — for the reopening of the Opera House last September. In 1959 she caused a sensation when she stepped into the role of Lady Macbeth after Maria Callas was fired by the New York Met. In 1974 she returned to San Francisco, to play Salome. Riff Raff was delighted recently to receive the following from reader Lois Silverstein: (B.W.)

Being a Super [short for “supernumerary,” a fancy word for extra] at the San Francisco Opera had been a habit of mine in the 1970s. Nightly rehearsals from June through August, and performances September through November, did not deter me from juggling my professional and personal life to accommodate them, nor did being but a faceless part of a “cast of thousands” in operas from Monteverdi to Britten. When I was chosen, however, to be the only woman super in Salome, to be the slave handmaiden to the famous diva, Leonie Rysanek, I was exhilarated.

What was my job? On paper it was merely to hand Rysanek-as-Salome a half-glass of champagne and dress her in a long, white robe. In actuality it was to carry the cup and the robe up a ramp on the half-lit stage to wild and pulsating music, and then to dash up beside the “cistern” for John the Baptist — a pit in the middle of the stage — to the waiting diva, just before her final and illustrious aria.

I met Madame Rysanek at the first whole cast rehearsal. Glamorous, vivacious, gracious, she spoke to me in English. Over the course of our little contact, in the several weeks we worked together as mistress and servant, she never treated me as less than equal. In fact, Madame R- complimented me regularly on how I handled my challenging role.

The Maestro — Kurt Herbert Adler — sat somewhere in the audience. The stage was set. My cue came, and out I ran, up the ramp, to my post, waited for Salome, did my job, and ran back down just as she began to sing. Perfetto — or so I thought. When I reached the wings, the voice of the Maestro bellowed out of the inky blackness of the audience. “Who is that? What is she doing?” Everything stopped, music, singers, light crew, me. “And what is that noise she's making?” My heart pounded. What noise? Sweat instantly turned my makeup to ooze. I clung to the curtain.

“Come out here,” demanded the Maestro. “Get her out here.”
I crept out from behind the black velvet.
“Impossible,” he said. “Get rid of her.” “But,” I croaked, “what — ” “I can't have any distraction. And — stand forward. What is that on your feet? I can't have that on your feet. Thank you very much. But no.”

Oh, the shame, and the disappointment. I turned to stage right, my tail between my legs, not knowing what I had done, when a melodious voice boomed back at the Maestro.

“But, cher, she's fine, absolutely fine. Whatever it was, she'll change it, won't you, my dear?” It was Rysanek. To my aid. “Yes,” I squeaked. “Of course.” “But, Leonie …,” the Maestro rumbled. “No, I want her,” she said — “please,” and she looked at him with those pleading blue eyes, big with passion and conviction. “If you're sure,” he said. “I'm sure. I like her.”

I discovered that the noise had been made by my gum-soled shoes, chosen to keep me from slipping, rather than for chic. In a flash they were traded for velveteen flats, silent and sleek. Dangerous or not, I aimed to glide up that ramp. I slept not a wink that night, nor the next, nor the next. Before every rehearsal, I tracked my every breath, step, arm movement. The dressers checked the slit in my skirt, the soles of my now thin, more-than-silent shoes. I checked the champagne cup, the robe, the hem of the robe, the snaps, every single one. If I made a mistake, Salome herself would be in the mud.

Opening night, there was no mishap on the dark stage. No mishap on the ramp. Nothing on the champagne, the robe, my shoes. When I hit the wings, my heart pounded with excitement, my face flushed with glee. Maestro, so there.

I looked out at my heroine standing in the spotlight, singing away. Her robe, the gorgeous white robe I had slipped over her gown, snapped up there in the pitch darkness, was snapped wrong. One-two-three-four-five — and then seven-eight-nine! Mismatched. Mis-snapped. I almost fell over. I clutched the curtain. I buried my sob. Tears burned my eyes. But no one noticed! What's a snap in the context of Rysanek's power? Salome triumphed over more than Jokanaan that night, and never even considered her gown. And the Maestro? He never called for my head on a silver platter. After the curtain, Madame Rysanek came over and gave me a big hug. “You did great,” she said. “Absolutely great.” [page]

End Transmission After six years, Trance Mission — the highly acclaimed WAMMIE-winning ambient “fourth world” music quartet — has reached the conclusion of their joint purpose. With clarinetist Beth Custer concentrating on her new group 80 Mile Beach and didgeridoo master Stephen Kent composing the score for the up and coming stage production of Shopping Cart Soldiers, the musicians have decided to focus on separate artistic ventures. The group concocts one last percussive batch of techno-primal soup at St. John's Church on Saturday, July 25. (S.T.)

It's a Benefit DJ Shindog, founder of “New Wave City,” and DJ Damon, founder of “So What” and “Bondage A Go-Go,” have finally joined forces for “Ballroom Blitz,” a DJ dance night with nothing but the best white-boy club music, regardless of genre. The promoters say they'll spin the gamut: Bowie to Blur, Pistols to Pulp, OMD to NIN. Tonight's party benefits the SOMA Coalition, one of the groups supporting the South of Market clubs under attack from the neighborhood's growing residential population. Ballroom Blitz will be held at Big Heart City on Friday, July 24. Also, “So What” celebrates its five-year anniversary at the Maritime Hall on Saturday, July 25. (S.T.)

Riff Raff riffraff: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), Heather Wisner (H.W.), and Bill Wyman (

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