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