Animals: Cormorants – probably Double-Crested but can’t confirm.
Quotes: “ You failed to lather me.”
“Two in the pooter, one in the shooter.”
SIARPC: Grampa Weekday
I woke up in Oakland.
I love the concept that the first line of a novel is the most important one and that some authors spend inordinate amounts of time honing that first line. I think, “I woke up in Oakland,” sets the appropriate tone. Gritty, probably a private detective type story. Maybe, if I’m feeling full of myself a Raymond Chandler-esque tale of black-outs, dissolution, shameful urges given release, murder of course, and the tantalizing yet futile possibility of redemption.
Regardless, I got the hell out quickly. I woke up before the band, masterfully manipulated public transportation to my own ends and was in San Francisco by 10:00 am. What will follow is going to be a description of a near perfect day for me in what could easily become my favorite city in the union. If you want to hear about the show skip to the end. It went well. There, now you don’t have to do anything. Geez.
I started walking in the vague direction of Fisherman’s Wharf, (never made it there and I think I’m happy about that) and walked through Jackson Square. I guess. I never saw a square as such but guess what happened? Awesomeness happened. I walked by a gallery that had an original printing aquatint of one of John James Audubon’s birds in the window. I looked up and it said it was a rare maps gallery. Maps are like butter in my world. Sexy, whole-milk, grain-fed, organic butter being slowly spread on a fresh New York everything bagel by Wynona Ryder, who for some reason is wearing one of my button down shirts buttoned not at all. And this place also specializes in Audubon? You do realize that only around 200 editions of the original prints were ever created and only 170 complete editions exist now? Of course you do. So I went in and ask the nice, important looking lady behind her computer, feeling like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, about the Audubons. She went through the different editions they had prints from. I dropped a few casual remarks to indicate I was not a dilettante and then I told her there was no way in hell I could afford anything in the place but that JJA was a hero of mine. So she told me to look around. Before the birds though; oh the maps were glorious. Antique maps of SF and amazing astronomical maps that I would kill to look at every day in my bed-chamber. And fuck me gently with a chainsaw, but I have never gotten to see the Audubon birds so close. The detail down to every feather was stunning. Now I can tolerate the use of “like” in every single sentence, but I truly abhor the over use of the word “literally” that has swept the vernacular like kudzu covered zebra mussels. So when I say this place was literally breathtaking know that my heart was pounding like a 13 year old with x-ray specs at the Farrah Fawcett red bathing suit photo shoot.
After that, an hour chilling, drinking amazing coffee and eating a sandwich with slices of pear, avocado, radicchio, and other delicious shit all up in it. I sat at a window and watched SF walk by then meandered up to Coit Tower. I’ve never been but I loved the murals inside. Go WPA and go heroic paintings of the working class! And in case you’re feeling cheap, a sensation I’m intimately familiar with, it’s totally worth the 7 bucks to go up the tower. Oddly enough, every single person working there was off-the-boat Irish. I’m good with that, got to have a conversation about the Clancy brothers and secretly get a little tingle from their brogue. I must have spent a couple of hours up there hanging out, talking to loved ones on the telephone, enjoying the fact that almost everyone who walked by talked in another language, or at the very least with a heavy accent.
Eventually I wound my way back to the North Beach area. I went into a store called Aria where I bought a page from a French scientific treatise on birds from 1750 (if the guy was telling the truth – I don’t really care) and several “clinkers” for my kids. The semi-crazy proprietor said they were 300 year old carved spheres found in the bottom of canals in the Netherlands. Their usage ranged from bottle stoppers to children’s toys. He wasn’t sure why they all ended up in the canals. I love the feel of actual physical history in my hand. And boobs. But that’s neither here nor hair here.
And then finally to the City Lights Bookstore. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Kerouac/Ginsberg Howling at the Road school of literature, but I love the shit they stirred up. It pleases me that there was a time when well-considered words could have earth-shaking impact. Kind of like people rioting at the premiere of “The Rite of Spring.” How awesome is that? I bought a book and then travelled across the street to a bar called Specs, which has the reputation for being a local haunt amidst the intense touristy-ness of the neighborhood. If you’re reading this you should go there. A Wavy Gravy doppelganger greeted me as a brother. The place is filled with impossibly faded and dusty ephemera of the best kind. A stuffed mongoose fighting a cobra!* A Kinky Friedman flag, carved whale bone things, skulls, a presumably decommissioned torpedo. My favorite part, and a sop to those who miss all the poop-talk was the ceiling of the bathroom stall was glass circles set into the sidewalk above you. So yes, you get the illicit thrill of creating bodily shame while unsuspecting innocents walk above you. I loved the whole place because I got to watch people with secret connections and shared affection interact. Obviously booze and bars can be destructive entities but in places like this there is a shared community that I adore.
Then I had to bust ass because I was pushing my luck to get to the club in time for load-in.
We were playing the Elbo Room in the Mission District. It was kind of hipstery I guess, but the upstairs room where we played was super cool. Because dragons. Floor to ceiling gold dragons on either side of the stage; that’s pretty much all you need in any club. There was also a sweet King Tut sarcophagus head hanging in the corner over the stairs. Good stage, good sight lines, Ok sound. However, I was well tuckered from my day in the city so I just sat in the stinky green room through the first band. Tired or not I hate just sitting staring at mold multiplying so I got up to explore the neighborhood. And one freaking block away I see a marquee with the name Withered Hand in lights. I go up to the haughty ticket taker and ask when he goes on, and she says haughtily, (which is how I knew she was haughty) that he had just finished. So while I was sitting there with my thumb up my butt I could’ve have seen the guy who made my favorite album of the year so far. You see people? That’s why sitting down is for suckers. The one time I do it and this is what happens? Lesson learned.
This was a Tuesday and we’ve never played SF before, and even though we knew pre-sales were good it was astounding to see a packed house. People kept shouting, “Thanks for coming to San Francisco!” like we weren’t already thrilled to just be there. They danced and sang along, we talked a lot about Patrick Swayze. It was a great show.
* Rikki Tikki Tavi is my favorite thing Chuck Jones ever did. You know let’s have a moment of silence for Mr. Jones. Genius.
Tomorrow is San Jose’.