Bay City Roller: Love 'n Haight Near the Golden Gate
Stephan Jenkins
Details Magazine
November 1998
It takes six months to be from San Francisco. Like many U.S. cities, it's a place where people reinvent themselves, but San Francisco is uniquely fertile ground. Big waves hit the shore at Sloat and 47th, where the U.S. ends and San Francisco begins, shaping a no-nonsense surp scene that lived and died before the strip clubs came and went. now North Beach lives again at night culture that's a scene unto itself and providing a beautiful sight for anyone with eyes wide open. The atmosphere is different, too: There's a purity about the city. Salt air comes in from the sea and chills it at night--and good sleeping weather brings big dreams.

My friends and I were drawn to San Francisco by the same impulses the Beats were in the '50s. They made more than a bookmark in North Beach, with City Lights Booksellers and a book. What used to be the punk mecca Mabuhay Gardens is now the Velvet Lounge, and swing bands pull snazzy crowds on Broadway. And although that scene's silly pearls and musty suits strike me as people slapping on their grandparents' fashion statement in order to accessorize some meaning into their culturally anemic lives, I like that they want to get dressed up and dance around in the night.

Scratch a San Francisco scenester and you'll likely find rich parents or a day job at Excite, replete with stock options. But the freedom I moved here for required a vow of poverty. My time living the party life in the lower Haight was interrupted when I had to sublet my room for a year to a chilly German medical student. I slept in the pantry, next to the cleaning products, carefully setting the bleach at one end and the ammonia at the other so that they wouldn't mix and kill me while I slept.

There's a certain dignity to struggling in San Francisco, but it's hard to starve without eating your hopes. The competition to get an opening slot at the Paradise Lounge is so intense that musicians who have never met profess to hate each other. In the words of Puffy, they'd rather see you die than see you fly. As I see it, this is San Francisco's "official" music scene: one big bummer to be avoided. A city that has always valued eccentricity has a scene that's basically a knitting circle of charlatan bass players and hack writers who bitch about one another behind each other's backs. In order to belong, they put a killing mood on people's individual impulses.

The good news about this scene is that it doesn't really matter. The best rave I ever went to wasn't at some trendy club but in the kitchen of a girl's flat in North Beach--two turntables and a hundred people. It was hard dance heaven. So I've stayed in San Francisco, believing in the sounds I hear in my head and making connections with people who do the same. They're out there now: Beth Lisick chronicles the life of a skinny girl in spoken word at Cafe Du Nord. Charming Hostess shocks the Great American Music Hall with hard Bulgarian freak music. Glitter Mini 9's Mauri Skinfill punches out Lilith Fair softness with two-minute hard-rock knockouts on the very doomed Eleventh Street corridor: Watching from the crowd as they tune up, I think there's something beautiful in the struggle to live and make music in the City. And it's comforting to know that I come from such a place, that there are people here who don't care that San Francisco is usually as bleak as the next town and that rock is dead as a doornail. They're the ones who turn this snuff film of a life into The Wizard of Oz. I love these people and I've got props for my town. There's no place like home.

When Stephan Jenkins goes on tour, he leaves his muse in San Francisco.