Monday, June 30, 2008

Gaylandia 1: Saturday Torsos

The Gay, Etc. Pride events have mutated from a march and Sunday gathering at Civic Center into a whole month's worth of activities and rainbow flag waving and film festivals and what have you.

The event is particularly ruthless about its Civic Center plaza real estate, closing down the underground garage for the whole weekend and kicking out the weekly farmer's market on Sunday.

On Saturday, it wasn't very crowded, except in this little parking lot on Grove Street across from the main library where Latin go-go boys looked to be enjoying themselves as much as those who were ogling them.

Adding to the general sensual ambience was one of my favorite local street people, whose face is getting more grizzled with each year, but whose torso wouldn't look out of place on one of the gyrating dancing boys.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The End of The Season

The final concerts of the "regular" San Francisco Symphony season took place this week, and I started feeling a bit sorry for the hardworking musicians. Not only do they play nonstop every week from the beginning of September until now, including tours and a "special MTT festival," but they are now slated for a month of "Summer in the City" pops concerts in July before starting the entire process all over again this September. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

The guest conductor was David Robertson, who is all over the place these days, as Music Director of the Saint Louis Symphony, conductor of this year's Ojai Festival honoring Steve Reich, and leading the London's BBC Symphony Orchestra. His program was Eastern European, my favorite kind of music for some reason, starting with "Mi-Parti" by the recently deceased Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. It was a perfect curtain raiser for the season's finale as there were "aleatoric" sections in the score where the players were asked to improvise sound for stated periods of time, as the conductor slowly spelled out "one, two, three" with his fingers.

The major, rarely heard, piece on the program was the Czechoslovakian composer Leos Janacek's three-part tone poem based on Gogol's bloody tale of Cossacks, "Taras Bulba." (I remember being terrified by the 1962 Yul Brynner/Tony Curtis movie version as a child.) Janacek is my other favorite twentieth-century opera composer along with Benjamin Britten, and it's always a major treat to hear his music played live. As Michael Steinberg writes in the program notes, "His language is that of an artist who can be unpredictable to the point of hovering on the edge of eccentricity, but whose discourse is entirely logical, lucid, and persuasive."

The second half of the concert featured Dvorak's cello concerto with a young Alisa Weilerstein giving a good, theatrical performance by all accounts. I couldn't stay because my back had given out on me and I was threatening to go into major coughing fits besides. So I followed my own advice to sick concert patrons and crawled home to bed rather than making everyone around me miserable.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gods Behaving Badly

Two bizarrely complementary musical theatre pieces have been playing all June in San Francisco, one being the Wagner opera "Das Rheingold," which is all about Gods behaving badly, and Cole Porter's brilliant, rarely seen 1950 musical, "Out of This World," which is also about Gods behaving badly.

"Das Rheingold" at the San Francisco Opera is in a new Francesca Zambello production that's lively and colorful. The cast is uniformly good, and in Stefan Margita's case as Loge the Fire God, he's just plain great, as is the orchestra under Donald Runnicles. I don't have anything interesting to say about the opera, since truth be told, Wagner leaves me cold (it tends to remind me of bad sex, for some reason), but click here for an interesting essay by Patrick Vaz who actually saw this production in its slightly different, previous incarnation in Washington, D.C.

Across the street from the Opera House are the offices of the 42nd Street Moon organization, who have been presenting rare 20th century musicals in concert for the last 15 years. Their current performing location is at the Eureka Theatre in the Embarcadero Center, and their final production of the season is one of the finest I have seen from them.

"Out of This World" is Cole Porter's follow-up to his masterpiece, "Kiss Me Kate," and the musical score is comparably great. The problem has always been with its book, which mixes up up Jupiter, who wants to commit adultery with a mortal (again), his jealous wife Juno, and their wild, sexy children ranging from Mercury to Venus. There have been various attempts at rewriting the book, a la Bernstein's "Candide," and this production uses artistic director Greg MacKellan's pastiche of a number of earlier attempts that is almost completely successful. His use of a 1950s movie star as the mortal Helen adds an extra layer of humor that is beautifully exploited, and it works well with music and lyrics that stretch the concept of "risque" to its very limits. The same-sex episodes are also very well done and even manage not to feel anachronistic.

The cast in "Out of This World" is also uniformly good, with a wonderful star turn by Darlene Popovic as Juno (it was originally written for Charlotte Greenwood). The music director Dave Dobrusky on piano is joined by the wonderful musician Nick DiScala who plays the flute, clarinet, and alto sax on various songs, and manages to make it feel as if there is an entire orchestra onstage.

The show is in its final weekend and I'd actually recommend it over "Das Rheingold," which you can see when it returns as part of Wagner's complete "Ring" cycle in a few years. This is the final weekend for "Out of This World," and though the houses are pretty well sold, you can call (415) 255-8207 to see if there are any tickets for tonight, Saturday or the final Sunday matinee.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


A small parade wound through the Western Addition neighborhood down McAllister Street to the Civic Center on Saturday for a "Juneteenth" celebration.

This is a semi-official holiday in about half the of United States commemorating June 19, 1865, when the Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and officially announced the emancipation of the slaves.

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, which was supposed to take effect on January 1, 1863, but that did very little to change the daily lives of slaves for the next couple of years.

In some cases, news of the Proclamation didn't even reach outlying territories such as Texas for years, so that June 19, 1865, when the news was announced, has been a day for barbeques and celebrations in Texas ever since, and an official state holiday since 1980.

The San Francisco parade, the first in my memory, was a homemade affair...

...with classic cars weaving down the road, people in wheelchairs, and even an equestrian unit.

The cops and parking control people were not particularly helpful, as they decided to let all the cross-traffic go by during the traffic lights, which you could tell irritated many of the participants.

Still, it fit in with the theme of having to wait endlessly for a little justice.

Heck, they are even being co-opted by Wells Fargo, the "diversity" bank.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bill Wolf in Oaxaca

The memorial party for Bill Wolf at the Bucheon Gallery, which I discussed in the previous post (click here), was attended not only by friends, lovers, family, and a few perfect strangers like myself, but also by Bill's dog Felipe (above).

After a few trips to Oaxaca, Mexico as a tourist with his lover Russell, Bill fell in love with the place and accepted a job offer from the local art museum in Oaxaca in 1991.

Instead of hanging out with the American expatriate community, Bill jumped into the life of Mexico and Oaxaca with wholehearted abandon, continuing to create artistic communities, but also bringing a San Francisco artistic hippie fag consciousness with him.

He realized early on that the SIDA (Spanish for AIDS) education was still in its infancy in Mexico so he left the museum and got a job with the federal government's State of Oaxaca SIDA education program.

He sickened of the bureaucracy and ended up joining with the mayor's wife and creating his own organization called "Frente Comun Contra El SIDA," which even opened up three nonprofit stores to sell condoms.

The stores were eventually shut down during the horrible clash in 2006, between the citizens of Oaxaca and their state government, run by a remarkably evil fellow named Ulises Ruiz.

The "Common Front Against AIDS" also received visits from government goons, smashing windows and making threats, and the group was eventually shuttered.

Bill Wolf died of lung cancer that mestasticized and he kept his condition secret from everyone, but he spent the last year of his life putting together his own "CHORNOLOGY" of his art, theatre, and political projects on the web.

Click here to check it out. The pictures alone are amazing, but the wider world it depicts is completely fascinating.

And Felipe, a "Roof Dog of Oaxaca," even has his own autobiography on the site, which is definitely worth reading (and you can do so by clicking here).

Friday Art Party 3: Love and Death

The final art party was at the Bucheon Gallery on Grove Street next to Citizen Cake, which was a memorial party for the recently deceased theatre director, artist, and health educator Bill Wolf (1947-2008).

I never met Bill during his 20 years in San Francisco, but it turned out that his life had intersected a number of friends in profound ways over the years.

By the end of the evening, the conclusion that he was one of the most interesting, influential, and just plain generous artists that San Francisco has ever known was inescapable.

Bill grew up in an Evangelical family in Sanger, near Fresno, and when his family learned about his gay sexual orientation in the late 1960s, he moved to Seattle.

There he joined and created a number of theatrical troupes, including The Ensemble Street Theatre Company.

He also met Russell Ellison (above, in Wolf's Super8mm magnum opus, "Rocket to Mars"), and the two spent the next 39 years as a loving couple.

The duo came down to San Francisco in 1971 at the invitation of a friend to act in a legendary theatrical disaster near Union Square called the "Dr. W.C. Waterhorney Traveling Medicine Show," and though the show wasn't a success, they decided to stay in town.

What came across during the reminescences at the party was that Bill Wolf was the hub of an amazing number of projects and adventures, from building floats for everything from the Columbus Day Parade to building sets for "Boogie Nights" era porno films to creating organic artistic communities that changed the lives of everyone involved.

His support of other artists was another theme that sounded throughout the evening, including an inspired parody of Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party" art installation called Maria Manhattan's "Box Lunch."

In 1975, AAA Productions created the first full-length Super-8mm sound film called "Rocket to Mars"...

...starring all of their friends, lots of miniature models, and awesome sets...

...which looked sort of like "Queen of Outer Space" meets "Forbidden Planet" under the influence of Carmen Miranda.

Half of the cast, who hadn't seen the movie in 20 years, were at the Bucheon Gallery on Friday evening, where they were able to watch themselves caught in a flickering wave of time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Friday Art Party 2: Landscapes and Commerce

The Reaves Gallery just moved from upper Market Street near the Castro District to Gough between Fell and Oak Streets in the Hayes Valley...

...and on Friday they had an opening party...

...which was filled with glamorous looking people (click here for their website).

The inaugural show featured the paintings of Blair Bradshaw and the gallery's curator, Matthew Frederick (above left)...

...who specializes in exquisite California landscapes.

Kimo and I didn't stay long, however, because we were both feeling poor and there was yet another art party in the neighborhood to check out.