Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Politiburo Election

After an hour-long class at Bill Graham Auditorium for Election Inspectors, filling us in on new wrinkles in the grotesquely baroque process that is involved in running a San Francisco precinct, we were asked to walk a few blocks to a battered set of rooms at 240 Van Ness to pick up our supplies for next Tuesday's election.

After a twenty minute wait with a mixture of ordinary folks and lunatics (rather like a Muni bus), and having the bizarre fellow below trying to sell me real estate...

...I was finally given a huge "rice bag" filled with ballots and supplies by a charming young woman dressed as a witch for Halloween.

As for advice, ignore the Chronicle and the Guardian and this week's egregious issue of SF Weekly, and check out my friend Willie's recommendations on the city propositions (click here). They are cheeky, intelligent and I agree with every one of them. As for the Mayor, District Attorney and Sheriff, none of the incumbents have any serious opposition, which gives the entire affair a feeling of late Soviet Politiburo. Kamala Harris certainly doesn't deserve another term and neither does our photo-op mayor.
My suggestion is to vote for NONE of the incumbents. It seems to be the only protest we have left to us.

Monday, October 29, 2007

H. Brown Runs for Mayor

Every Friday evening, for the better part of the last three months, most of the candidates for mayor have been meeting in Civic Center Plaza for a Candidates Collaborative Debate. It's been something of a circus each week, with disruptive exhibitionists like George Davis the Nudist and Grasshopper Kaplan the Maniacal Taxi Driver vying for attention, not to mention a few planted crazies in the tiny audience.

Last Friday was to be the 11th, penultimate edition and through a convoluted series of backstabbing among the "collaborative" and just plain fate, I ended up playing the "moderator" for friend and candidate h. brown while the rest of the candidates decamped to Castro and Market for a "road" edition. For an account of that "debate," check out today's article in Fog City Journal by clicking here. For an account of why this was a crappy deal, check out SF Willie's take by clicking here. Also, you can read the questions Willie asked me to put to the candidates, which turned out to be extraordinarily helpful. My favorite was "4. What programs will you implement to give SF’s rich people something useful to do?"

I'll let h. brown tell the story of what actually happened on Friday evening:
"I was at the end of my rope. Not ready to quit, mind you. That’s not the way my family operates. But, when the entire 2007 San Francisco Mayoral Candidates Collaborative announced that they were giving up the vigil under the Mayor’s balcony, I figured my lone appearance there would go pretty much unnoticed. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

You don’t need a bulldozer when a tea spoon will do. While everyone around me screams of more people and press and gaudier presentations, my retort has always been that simple weekly portraits of the individual candidates in front of a microphone with City Hall and the Mayor’s balcony in the background was all any campaign for the office needed. That’s always been my view of the value of these Friday debates. No matter how badly the rest of your campaign was going, you could always get together with your fellow competitors for an hour and a half each Friday after work and try to entice the Mayor to join you. That, and the few pictures.

With, of course, global distribution. Which, most of the people reading this take for granted as a natural right and which I as a senior citizen am simply and totally blown away by."

h. writes of being extremely discouraged, but he decides to show up anyway, and continues:
"It was like Christmas. Since week 1 I’d been pushing the Mayor’s Office to set us up with a small stage and a sound system and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, as I lugged Eileen’s amp into Civic Center was the cutest little stage. Oh, maybe 12X15. The deck was at least a full inch of plywood and it was mounted on a heavy metal frame complete with rails around 3 sides. Stout stairs rose to the platform at the back of the left side and they too had rails. What a thing of beauty.

Tony D. and I grinned broadly and walked all around it looking for signage telling us to stay the hell off of the structure. There was none. I carried the little portable amp with its new mic and cord up and did a check. All worked perfectly. It was hard to believe that the first week the other candidates bailed from the vigil, a perfect happenstance stage appeared. I was sitting on the edge of the stage waiting for Michael Strickland when I noticed Newsom’s spokesperson, Nathan Ballard standing a few yards away talking on a cell phone.

Why do officials leave City Hall and walk across the street to talk on cell phones? For two reasons. The first (we’re talking about Michael Cohen) is to smoke a cigarette. The second, believe it or not, is because it’s illegal to do campaign business in City Hall and many of them actually take that seriously. Anyway, I took the opportunity to meet the guy whom I don’t believe I’d ever actually been introduced to.

“Hey, are you Nathan Ballard?” Of course he knew who I was. Gavin’s handlers are pit bulls and they take no chances. I’m enjoying the hell out of watching his rise from a front row box seat. I asked Ballard if they’d put the stage out there for the Collaborative and he didn’t say ‘no’. Later we figured out that it must have been set up early for the next day’s huge peace march but whatever, it sure was a sweet set-up. Hell, maybe Ballard was there because he thought we’d put up the stage. He was probably phoning to have us busted when I called out to him. Tony D. said later that when he went by to walk his dogs, they had a fence up completely surrounding the whole structure. Anyway, Ballard spoke and I appreciated that."

H. continues:
"I told Ballard that he should get me 5 minutes of film with the Mayor just to tweak my ‘comrades’ who had deserted the siege to go to the Castro (where they drew 20 people). He looked and scratched his chin and pondered and I got Mike Farrah (Senior Adviser to the Gavster) headed out to his family on the other side of the stage and got him on film too. Farrah is probably the best balanced person working out of Room 200."

All of this was being filmed, by the way, and you can see the Google Video of all 53 minutes by clicking here. The "debate" starts at about 12:30 minutes into the Google video and it's essentially a series of monologues by h. brown that are funny, thoughtful, profane and outrageous in about equal measure. It was an unexpectedly lovely evening, and a pleasant little crowd.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Magic Flute For Families

Along with nine performances of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" this fall, the San Francisco Opera company is offering two matinee performances of a condensed, English version of the opera at steeply reduced prices, and they quickly sold out.

In the eyes and ears of a number of people, including myself, the kiddie version is superior to its more serious, adult counterpart for a number of reasons. The English translation by the former "New Yorker" music critic, Andrew Porter, is a marvel of wit and clarity, and the boring German dialogue has been thrown out in favor of the story being narrated by Papageno, the comic birdcatcher. In the person of baritone Daniel Belcher, the concept is a triumph, not only because his voice is beautiful but he's genuinely funny onstage, improvising up a storm.

Best of all, this isn't a dumbed-down, patronizing version for kids. The abridgement has been put together by the opera company's Kip Cranna and the young director Yuval Sharon, and they have kept all the grandeur and silliness intact.

Plus, the young Russian conductor who was to have led the performances was "let go" after the final dress rehearsal because music director Donald Runnicles didn't care for her inconsistent tempos, so he jumped in to conduct it himself, which resulted in a musical triumph.

Also scoring a personal triumph was Jeremy Galyon (above), an Adler Fellow apprentice, who took on the difficult role of Sarastro with ease and confidence. It's a role he should soon be singing all over the world.

My favorite moment was hearing a self-possessed seven-year-old boy, sounding like a precocious child from a Saki short story, pronouncing calmly to his mother as they were walking out of the opera house, "That was the greatest thing I have ever seen." If the intention of this production was to create an instant convert to opera of an "artistic" child, then this was definitely mission accomplished.

Building a Tank for Peace

A quartet of young men were hastily assembling a wooden tank on McAllister Street Saturday morning for that afternoon's anti-war protest march.

Grandmothers Against The War had decided to meet at the entrance to the Main Library, where they were planning their next move over a trash can.

From most accounts, the march was a success on its own terms, particularly the huge and spectacular "die-in" at Market and Octavia Streets. I wasn't able to join in because I was onstage at the Opera House for a "Magic Flute for Families" performance during the afternoon (see the post above).

For some wonderful photos, click here to get to Fog City Journal's account, click here to get to dozens of photo accounts at indybay, and click here for some great photos from Kurt Rogers at SFGate.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Peace or Perish

While the criminal, murderous, kleptocratic regime of Bush/Cheney continues along on its disastrous path...

...what is almost even more disturbing are the enablers such as local Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, whose only achievement since becoming Speaker of the House last year has been to humiliate local Congressman Pete Stark, who last week denounced the president's priorities and then was made to publicly apologize for telling the truth.

Then you have the great wire photo from this week of a Code Pink protester getting her made-up bloody hands next to the frighteningly evil Condoleezza Rice's helmet hair. (Check out Princess Sparkle Pony's "Flash Hairdo Alert" by clicking here.) This affronted all the conservative commenters on blogs like SFist who were miffed by "the aesthetics" of this "lack of decorum."

Meanwhile, the Bush/Cheney regime, in league with Israel and the most rabid of its supporters, are doing everything they can to start a nuclear war in Iran, whose only hope of not being attacked at the present moment is former KGB chief Vladimir Putin of Russia. The attack is certainly not being held up by any sane voices in American government.

There will be yet another anti-Iraq-War protest march on Saturday the 27th, starting at San Francisco's Civic Center and ending at Dolores Park about a half-mile away. The boring speeches start at 11AM and the actual march sometime around noon. It probably won't do any appreciable good other than standing up and being counted, but it's heartening to be with others who are similarly horrified by the international disaster we are perpetrating.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Third Lady

In the basement lounge of the San Francisco Opera House, there is a ping pong table for anybody's use between onstage scenes.

Mozart's currently running "The Magic Flute" has a number of children in the cast, along with adults running around in wacky costumes.

The Third Lady is being sung by the Australian soprano Katharine Tier (above) and her ping-pong games with the boys of "Magic Flute" are one of my favorite surrealist moments backstage.

The late Ingmar Bergman made a movie version of the opera in 1975, and he was famously quoted as saying, "making the film was the best time of my life: you can't imagine what it is like to have Mozart's music in the studio every day." Actually, I can, since we seem to be performing the show every other day and the music bores its way into your brain in a way that's insidious. Thank Isis and Osiris that I happen to love it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

CIA With Special Guest Torturers

For bizarrely eclectic bookings, no place really competes with Bill Graham Auditorium in the Civic Center...

...which hosts everything from Mayor Newsom's dog-and-pony-show, "Homeless Connect"... Microsoft product launches along with the occasional rock concert.

Sunday morning I walked by one of the great accidental pieces of signage ever (above). "Interpol" is an indie rock band out of NYU and "Liars" is an indie rock band originally out of Cal Arts. Together they are a double-bill made in paranoid heaven.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Arise, People of Russia

This week's program at the San Francisco Symphony consists of three bombastic pieces of music, and if you like that sort of thing (and I do), it's outrageously fun.

First on the program is Liszt's "Totentanz," a demented set of variations for piano and orchestra on the "Dies Irae" theme that was played hell-for-leather by the Quebequois pianist Louis Lortie (above right).

Lortie returned for Beethoven's 1808 Choral Fantasy, which starts off as a piano and orchestra exercise that is strange enough it could be mistaken for early Liszt, which then morphs into a chorus-and-soloists ode to the power of music that sounds like a warmup for the finale of the 9th Symphony.

The conductor was the 80-year-old Kurt Masur, who used to be the music director of the New York Philharmonic in the 1990s and is now the Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I'd only heard him conduct once before in a wretched traversal of Britten's "War Requiem," which I walked out on midway, but he was in better form for last night's program.

The second half was Prokofiev's great movie cantata, "Alexander Nevsky," with its monster chorus and patriotic evocation of Mother Russia defending itself back in the 13th century from invading Germans. The 1939 Eisenstein movie was made as a propaganda piece to warn Germany not to attack yet again, and Prokofiev fashioned the concert piece out of his movie score later that year.

In 1988 at Davies Hall, there was an almost definitive performance of "Alexander Nevsky" under the baton of Libor Pesek (bring him back, please!) with the legendary Polish contralto Ewa Podles, and though Masur and mezzo Nancy Maultsby weren't in the same league, the performance was still completely thrilling. There are further performances Friday and Saturday night, and a matinee Sunday afternoon. This is some of the best music Prokofiev ever wrote, and hearing it live is a treat not to be missed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

At The Asian 1: Fashion

Two new exhibits installed by the great Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto have just opened at the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center.

One of the exhibits is dedicated to modern Japanese fashion and it's a stunner.

Japanese fashion designers exploded into worldwide consciousness in the 1980s, and I first saw their work in a 1988 Irving Penn art photo book about Issey Miyake.

After the first shocked reaction of "they can't be serious," rather like seeing one of Frank Gehry's buildings for the first time, the pleasures provided by these modern designers can sneak up on you.

Kenneth Baker, the art critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, isn't convinced. In his review of the two Sugimoto shows, he ends by writing, "I consider Sugimoto a great artist - and connoisseur - but he loses me when his interest turns to contemporary Japanese fashion...Though diverting in their strangeness, and occasional elegance, the costumes arrayed here, with a handful of Sugimoto photos, distill the rage for novelty that has infected all the modern arts, mainly to their detriment."

Sugimoto had free rein to select about 30 dresses from the legendary Kyoto Costume Institute (click here for their digital archive), and he features the work of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, and Tao Kurihara.

The gorgeous black-and-white photos, by the way, are by Sugimoto himself and are being used courtesy of the Asian Art Museum.

The show is definitely worth checking out, especially since there are two, beautifully printed brochures, with great photos and graceful writing, that come with the price of admission.

At The Asian 2: History

Alongside the "Stylized Sculpture" fashion exhibit, Sugimoto has installed a show that's been traveling around the world for a few years, called "History of History."

It's an artfully displayed show of antiquities mixed in with a few modern photographs and artifacts, which are all owned by Sugimoto himself, who is obviously not in the "starving artist" category.

The entryway is filled with fossils, ranging in size from tiny to huge, and a large red fossil with vegetation (not pictured) may be my favorite object in the entire museum.

Sugimoto loves to play with "meta" ideas in his photography, such as photographing Madame Tussaud wax figurines of historical characters and somehow making them look bizarrely real. However, he's a good and simple writer who avoids nonsensical art writing, and again the brochure he and the Asian have produced describing all the works is wonderful and free.

I don't mean to pick on Kenneth Baker at The SF Chronicle, because he mostly avoids the worst of art-speak in his essays, but in his review of the exhibit he does give us sentences like this: "An array of proto-Noh theatrical masks, of folk origin, awakens the thought of any single facial disposition as a visible sliver of ineffable spiritual and human possibility." (For the whole thing, click here.)

In conjunction with these two shows, there's also a three-film series curated by Sugimoto on $5 Thursday evenings at 6:00 PM in Samsung Hall. It starts off tonight, Thursday the 18th, with a legendary erotic film from 1973 called "The World of Geisha" directed by Tasumi Kumashiro, which was banned for its sexual explicitness. Next Thursday the 25th it's "The Face of Another," the weirdly fabulous Kobo Abe/Teshigahara/Takemetsu follow-up to "The Woman in The Dunes." November 8 features Suzuki's "Tokyo Drifter," a 1960s mod gangster film that's almost pure fun.