Category Archives: San Francisco

Tom Verlaine & band @ Slim's SF – 17-Jun-2006

While down in San Francisco last week I saw Tom Verlaine and his band (Fred Smith, Louie Appel, Jimmy Ripp) at Slim’s. Tom looked good if (as always) a bit gaunt, and his band was top-notch. I really enjoyed the show, which combined his cool approach with some real rock and roll heat at times – some nice interplay of guitars with Ripp, and a solid rhythm section. Only recognized one old song, not that it mattered much; it was about the playing.

Here’s a recent article with a good interview with Verlaine.

Alley Cats

A nice set of photos from December, 1965 is up at Julie Baker Fine Art and a story on the photos is at SFGate.

J.G. Ballard Conversations – RE/Search

The latest RE/Search project is now available, a book of conversations with author J.G. Ballard! Pick it up at an independent store near you, or get it from the RE/Search website.

I’ve read about 100 pages, and what I think is most interesting so far is the notion that Americans are choosing belief and the irrational in increasing circumstances. I’d say Bush’s latest comments on ‘Intelligent Design’ are just the latest in this trend. Is it a reaction to the speed-up of technological change? Or is this just playing politics? I don’t know…

What the Dormouse Said – John Markoff (2005)

The dormouse said ‘Feed your head!’ and it seems that plenty of folks were busy doing just that during the period chronicled by John Markoff in his new book What the Dormouse Said, subtitled ‘How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.’ Markoff covers the period from about 1960 through 1975 in the Bay Area, especially at several Stanford labs. The strands that come together here are early LSD use (apparently triggered by one Myron Stoloroff who began evangelizing in the mid-fifties), Doug Engelbart’s efforts to ‘augment’ human intelligence with computers, and the community/anti-war efforts of one Fred Moore, who helped get the Homebrew Computer Club up and running.

Lots of other interesting characters & events flow through, including Stewart Brand, Jobs & Wozniak, est, Acid Tests and much more. I felt the book could have used just a bit more editing, as I found a few repetitions and a rushed ending, but still a good history of the time.

Bill Joy has a lengthy review/article on Markoff’s book in the MIT Technology Review, August 2005. Here’s one bit with Joy’s take on the drug angle; the question is whether it would have happened without them…

Some who read Markoff’s book may feel nostalgic for the drug culture that developed alongside the personal computer, but I do not. For me, the stories about drug experimentation are sad stories of a quest gone awry. The promise was that LSD and other drugs would expand our creativity. But like other abused substances, including alcohol and, now, in America, even food, they have largely brought us personal tragedy. In the end, drugs such as LSD and marijuana give most users, not new creativity, but merely the personal and temporary presumption of the new, and at great personal cost.

Chris Sorrentino's Trance

On Tuesday night I moseyed on down to The Booksmith for the reading by Chris Sorrentino of his new book Trance, a wide-angle look at the SLA/Patricia Hearst case. Sorrentino said he pretty much concentrated on those aspects that interested or amused him most. He read a scene of Hearst’s father going down to the supermarket, musing on the SLA’s demand that he fork over lots of money to feed the poor (which he did).

I asked Sorrentino what he thought about the spate of books that have come out in recent years on the late sixties/early seventies (on Hearst and the Weathermen). He said that he thought it was probably a pretty reasonable time for younger people to be interested in the history of American radicalism, and that now enough time had passed that we could start to remove the sentimental aspects of earlier histories.

Update: Here’s a funny little story by Michael Scharf on Sorrentino’s visit to Portland (a few days after SF, I believe).

Elliot Sharp & band @ Cafe du Nord, 25-July-2005

Tonight was a ‘blues jam’ with Elliot Sharp, Henry Kaiser, Shelley Doty, John Haynes and Miles Boizen down at Cafe du Nord. I caught half the first set and all of the second. Good stuff. “Crossroad Blues” “Do the Doo” “I’m Glad” and more, with a little improv cacaphony thrown in, and some gnarly guitar.

"We Jam Econo" on the Minutemen

I got to see the documentary “We Jam Econo” on the early 80s band the Minutemen (d. Boon, Mike Watt, George Hurley) tonight at Yerba Buena Center (it’s on all week to July 28, so check it out!). Consists of interviews, most notably with Watt, interspersed with live footage of the band from various shows. It’s an inspiring blast of the DIY spirit, three smart guys who cared and fought and created.

“It’s so much different now – the culture for music, and if you’re a young person, so much easier to be in a band. It’s so funny when people talk about the ‘good old days,’ you know? Because in a lot of ways they were lame-ass…. Nowadays you’re kept in your place more by your mind, more by the herd mentality, than actually having the materials and wherewithal to do things.” – Mike Watt in the film.

Keith Schieron, the film’s producer, was on hand after the screening to answer some questions. He said a DVD release should be out later this year or early next, and it will have two discs with a lot of extras (like the Minutemen videos, three live shows, more interview material). Sounds awesome – a must-have!

Update: A bit more on the Minutemen: funny enough, a NYT op-ed piece by Sarah Vowell ran on Saturday, July 23, that touches on We Jam Econo. Here’s the link to “Lock and Load”:

Then there’s the story of their album “Double Nickels on the Dime,” a jab at Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55.” Watt recalls, “We said, ‘Well, we’ll drive 55 and be crazy with the music instead of crazy with the cars.'”

And more: I saw the Minutemen play a couple times on the east coast in 1985. The first time was at a club in New Haven, in April that year. I remember seeing some guys starting to set up the instruments for the Minutemen’s set, and for some reason it took us quite a while to realize that it was d. Boon and George Hurley out there doing the setup. Boon had shaved his hair, while George had the classic look with the long front locks hanging down. I think it was Thurston Moore in the film who recalls that George kept drumsticks in stuck into his socks, and that image came right back into my mind. The show was good, but I don’t remember lots of details. I do remember Boon handing out bumper stickers that said something like “U.S. out of Central America” and he told us to stick them on any Cadillacs we came across.

Then I saw them again in October at Irving Plaza in NYC. This was a big show; the place was packed. It sticks in my mind as one of the more joyous rock shows I ever went to; the crowd was in love with them, and they were having great fun. Boon and Watt were together musically and I seem to remember a few spots where they’d lean on each other physically during the show, just seeming like a dual pillar of strength.

It was an awful blow when we heard soon after that Boon was dead.

Jared Diamond @ Long Now, 15-July-2005

Jared Diamond, UCLA professor and author of Guns, Germs and Steel and more recently Collapse spoke at the Long Now gathering tonight. I haven’t read the book, but I got the sense that he covered his main points in the talk (I thought GG&S was on target), with tales of Easter Island collapse and Japanese re-forestation.

Most interesting to me were his points about the difficulties that a society might have in responding to a threatening problem. Beyond simply anticipating or identifying it, he said two important points were: 1) whether the elite (rich) of the society are exposed to the problem or if they’ve insulated themselves and 2) whether the society has the capability to question and re-assess its own core values. Diamond says he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ – certainly there are reasons for hope that we can make it through a period of great change in terms of the basic resources (especially energy) that we have available to us on this planet.

We Jam Econo! film on the Minutemen

Perhaps my favorite band from the early eighties, from San Pedro, the Minutemen, is the subject of a film now playing at extremely cool venues around the world! It’s titled “We Jam Econo” and I can’t wait to see it!

For locals, the screening list shows it playing in SF at the Yerba Buena Center, July 22-31. Check it out!

Boredoms @ the Independent, 19-May-2005

I’ve never seen a small band with three drummers before…

Yes, it was good. Very intense and tribal feeling to it, with the three drummers pulsing along. The non-drummer (Eye) had some new tech I’ve never seen before. At the beginning and the end of the show he used these two handheld lights that acted as a user interface to make sound – something about their position and speed – each one triggering different effects – great to watch him swing these lights around in the dark. Mostly he was doing things with keyboards or this ‘scratching’ box that he had (not sure if it was manipulating an actual CD or more likely just a file), like a small turntable. Made me think that perhaps a Can show in the early seventies would have had a similar feeling.