By Don Baird
Published: April 17, 2008
Since I returned from London I’ve been staying mostly in the household of my best friend Joey in the lovely Noe Valley, where the fertile residents of this quaint neighborhood can’t seem to breed fast enough or enough, for that matter. Seriously, every Saturday on 24th Street it’s like a fucking baby fair – double strollers even, toddlers wearing outfits that cost more than one of my paychecks, mothers power-pramming, as they say in England, combining exercise with pushing a baby stroller (sounds like a good idea, looks disgusting and a bit cruel) and a general sea of proud reproducing parental faces smiling and happy and just itching to talk childbirth, pre-school waiting lists and infant movement classes or yoga for children. It’s frankly sickening, and I’m not totally sure why I feel this way, but I do.
It’s certainly not envy. I have no desire to reproduce at all and never have, kind of part of the whole being a homosexual thing. I just think I find it vulgar to create more people on a planet that is overpopulated and run by idiot war-mongers and gradually being depleted of its natural resources by civilization’s greed, the hunger for power and the unrealistic ideals and expectations society carelessly places on people and our environment. That means every stroller being pushed by new parents will usually evolve into soccer moms across America who all have to drive SUVs when everyone knows it is just plain going to kill us all in the long run, but they just don’t care.
That’s why I hate the constant baby parade, the status race of parenthood, the introduction of children into a world of classist stratification that will undoubtedly continue to propagate hatred and tension based on shallow concepts and superficial values, and money or the lack of it, and a total disregard for the bigger picture and the scary future they’ll be bringing their little trophy babies into.
At Joey’s place I’ve always enjoyed the fact that their household is sort of the complete antithesis of your average Noe Valley home. The chaos isn’t necessarily looming in the future as much as it is an everyday way of life there. There are basically four roommates in total, but due to extenuating circumstances, that number has reached more like six recently, with a plethora of interesting interlopers like myself dropping in at all hours of the day or night to take up part-time residence in the kitchen, the heart of the household. In order to do this one must clear a spot for themselves, usually by doing the dishes. This usually endears you to all of the roommates as the massive pile of dishes always seems insurmountable to people who actually live there. Clean dishes will always be met with a cheery smile and perhaps an invitation to hang out in someone’s room or even stay in someone’s room if they aren’t home.
Mr. A, one roommate hadn’t been present for almost two weeks it seemed, and since I have known him a long time, I was allowed to use his room to sleep or watch TV occasionally. It seemed Mr. A had not only been absent for awhile but had also failed to pay his rent for almost two months, causing everyone else to not pay their’s as well, as no partial amounts would be accepted by the landlord who would visit early in the mornings with angry threats to take action against them if he didn’t get the rent. Everyone knew that Mr. A wasn’t paying his rent because he had developed a horrible gambling addiction and would lose his money in casinos you had to take BART to get to. He also would not admit this to anyone, even himself. He was putting everyone’s tenancy in peril and was in complete denial, like a movie on Lifetime.
Joey is the master-tenant, and the brunt of this situation always falls on him. He has to be the bad guy, police man, the negotiator with the angry landlord, the one who finds a quick replacement for the tenants who skip out without paying. And should the household fall apart, he stands to be the one who has the most to lose, the one who will get an eviction on his rental history and likely never be rented to in this town again. Because that is how it works here in this soul-sucking city of San Francisco: one eviction and you are quite possibly fucked for life.
And people wonder why there are so many homeless people here. Many of the visitors like myself are often homeless, as it is not an unusual condition here in our fair city. However, the bulk of people stopping by this house of dreams seem to be visitors Joey meets on Manhunt.net, Men4now.com, and other online cruising sites. Having known Joey for almost 20 years now, I was aware of his “dating” proclivities but was rather surprised to witness first-hand the sheer numbers of gentlemen he entertained, and the number of times I would be banished to the kitchen whenever the doorbell rang, and of course, how many of these visitors were people I know. What can one say, he is definitely in demand, though this was during a period of separation from his boyfriend who is now happily back in the picture, and it’s not like the other roommates, Mr. B and Mr. J, who are a couple, don’t have a fair amount of visitors too, and some very interesting and unusual ones at that.
One such visitor, and I don’t know exactly which occupant he was visiting but I had met him before on the street one night and chatted with him until he started yelling at the voices in his head and I set off in a different direction, had pulled up a chair at the kitchen table where I was writing on a laptop computer. He began to tell me that awhile back his “girlfriend” (said and often repeated in that way to assert his heterosexuality in an arena where young “heterosexual” men have sex with other men based on who has drugs, cigarettes, a warm place to hang out and access to straight porn) stabbed one of his testicles with a syringe in a fit of rage and he eventually saw a doctor about his injury and the doctor told him that because of this wound his testicle would slowly start to break down and whither away to nothing and there was really little they could do about that. I questioned the doctor’s prognosis with a smirk, saying there should be something that could be done, and he continued to tell me that another doctor said that the only chance he had to save his testicle was to masturbate excessively. I burst out laughing and almost said to the compact and well-built street urchin that by all means he should start right now if it would save his precious testicle, but before I could stop laughing he continued to tell me that he could only really masturbate if he was on meth, so giving him some meth would save his testicle, and I guess provide a lovely floor-show right there in the kitchen. I was really almost rolling on the floor laughing at that point and hoping that someone in the house was overhearing this. I told him I didn’t have any meth and questioned his ability to masturbate without it. “Are you sure you can’t? If it were my testicle I’d sure as hell be trying to save it, drugs or no drugs, right now! I mean, what if this leaves you infertile?” I was cracking myself up now. He silently departed shortly after, but on another occasion did something considerably more than masturbate for a small amount of drugs with someone else in the household. This one has an unusual capacity for conspiracy theories, and as I said before, voices.
One night when I was on my way to Joey’s after work, I met a charming young man and we got to talking and found we had a lot in common. I wanted to invite him over but didn’t feel that was OK, as I am just a guest there at Joey’s. After mulling it over, I decided to phone Joey and see if it would be okay to have someone over. He said it would be fine. Mr. A was still missing, so I could use his room and all would be fine. So we went over there and hung out for awhile only to be told by Mr. B, in his charming and comical way, that he had a friend over who had just prior to our arrival made plans to actually turn a paying trick in Mr. A’s room. So we got dressed and retired to the kitchen to chat and Mr. B’s friend answered the door and quietly slipped his guest past us and into the room.
We stayed in the kitchen chatting and wondering if his friend had an hourly rate or what, because we were hoping to get back in the room for more fun, but they seemed to be staying forever. Eventually, Joey invited us in to his room, but then he had a creepy guest show up who we didn’t like so we left and found our original room unoccupied and carried on there some more. This guy was really nice and didn’t seem freaked out over the unusual household dynamics at all. In fact he quite took to it very well. Eventually he shared with me very matter-of-factly that he has a bipolar disorder. I give him credit for putting that right out there. In fact I much prefer that to the several I’ve met who didn’t reveal that for weeks or even months into knowing them. Everyone who met him thought he was great. Mr. B was being extra charming, hilarious, quick-witted and charismatic this night, a very cordial and engaged host. In fact much of the levity and humor in the household, even in its darker moments comes from Mr. B’s presence there. Later that day, Mr. B told me that the reason his friend and his trick took so long was because the trick recognized my voice and knew me and didn’t want to leave and be discovered, because I was sitting right there in the kitchen. I asked who it was, but like a good hooker, he never disclosed the trick’s identity. He still hasn’t.
At one point I left the Noe Valley house for a few days to give them a break from me, and when I returned there was a new interloper in the kitchen, a guy I knew a little bit from here and there. It seemed the plan was to move him in and move Mr. A out, and the new guy would eventually take over the room. In the meantime Mr. Chef, we’ll call him, established himself in the kitchen, both cleaning and cooking a lot. I felt a bit like I had been replaced, but not for long.
The new guy is very amiable, and I learned that he is from the same hometown as me, Medford, Oregon. We lived just two roads away from each other. We started sharing memories of home, like what grade school did you go to and stuff like that, and in a few days time we discovered a point in common that kind of chilled us both to the bone. It seems that a man my mother dated when I was about 10 or so until she learned that he was married and dropped him, was indeed the same man who brutally murdered Mr. Chef’s mother’s best friend. Mr. Chef said, “Lets not talk about Medford for awhile.” It was genuinely weird.
One of the hard parts of dwelling in the kitchen is the distinct lack of a place to physically lie down. I had been staying there for about five days and I was writing on the laptop and I kept hearing what distinctly sounded like workmen doing something on the roof, like re-tarring or clearing the gutters or something. A strong gust of wind seemed to produce footsteps across the roof of the flat at several points in the day. Just off the kitchen is Mr. B and Mr. J’s room, and they had a couple of guests over in their room and I heard the workmen again, and I said, “Hey Mr. B, is there some kind of work crew fixing something on the roof right now? Don’t you hear them? I’ve been hearing them for days.” There was a long pause and Mr. B replied, “No, but I think its kind of cute that you do.” There were audible snickers coming from the room and Joey comes in the kitchen and says, “Honey, maybe you better lie down and get some sleep OK?” in a wicked nurse kind of tone. “OK, you bitches.” I lay down in Joey’s room and got some much-needed sleep. When I woke up and rejoined the household activities Mr. J kept asking me about my new friends.
“What new friends? Who are you talking about?” “The ones on the roof,” he said. They still tease me about that.
At press time the entire unpaid rent situation had still not been resolved, and the landlord had seemingly given up trying to collect it every morning. The state of the household seems to be stuck in limbo, but the food is good, the visitors are amusing, the place is cleaner than ever and the number of current residents is…. hard to say, but I’ve found it to be a warm and nurturing place to visit for quite some time. Home is where the heart is, and in spite of the chaos and uncertainty, I heart this one and hope nothing but the best for it.
|By Don Baird
Published: November 9, 2006 SF Bay Times
Boy, what an eventful and interesting week in the news it has been here, just as Election Day rolls into place. Is it always like this near Election Day? I suppose politicians and political parties do tend to like to stir things up a bit, especially if they think voters will be swayed by certain events and revelations coming forth through the media at this time. I know that the police tend to make more arrests for various offenses like drunk driving, drug dealing, and soliciting during this time. It seems that overall vice patrol is always stepped up during election time, and one should also bear in mind that once convicted of a felony, you forfeit your right to vote, even after paying your debt to society.
In 11 states a convicted felon loses his right to vote forever. In other states you must petition the governor for the right to vote again seven years after you’ve completed your sentence and can prove you are a productive member of society. I was completely unaware of this. There are a number of offenses that constitute a felony, not just murder, rape, and grand larceny. There are many felonies to be committed, some in cars, many involving controlled substances and specific types of assault, there are even possible felony charges relating to playing bingo. The point is, a person can end up a felon much more easily than you might think, and once that happens, your right to vote is taken away and can only be regained through a lengthy petitioning, a daunting legal process like most any legal process, seemingly designed to put you off of your original intent by way of misinformation, tedious confusing forms, and lengthy waits for approval by a variety of authorities at every step of the way.
Believe it or not, I know a few people who are convicted felons, and a few of them are really trying to regain their right to vote, a civil right that is stripped from their life for one indiscretion, and one for which they paid their debt to society. I just found this fact very interesting and assume that most people, like myself, probably didn’t know that a criminal record can keep you from voting in this democracy. Hell, I thought prisoners probably just voted by absentee ballot or something! Well, I didn’t actually think that, but I didn’t know how the right to vote was taken away so completely, even after paying your debt to society.
All this is so ironic really when you consider the man creating policy in this country is a felon. DUI is a felony in some cases, and desertion from a military post is definitely a felony, if not actually treason. But I believe for some reason or another (“Don’t you know who my father is?”) he was pardoned for rather than convicted of these crimes. Funny, huh? Well, our world got even funnier this past week, hysterically funny, tons of hearty irony included. I love that!
The recent situation involving Pastor Ted Haggard, a male escort and the purchase of crystal meth, just fucking rocks! I love it! Isn’t it always the ones who squawk the most about the sins of homosexuality who end up being big ole secret fags! You just gotta fucking love it! This man, a husband and father of five, the senior pastor of the New Life Church and the President of National Association of Evangelicals who speaks with the President and his advisers every week, has been forced to resign both of those positions and has, at first, publicly denied having sex with accuser Mike Jones as well as doing crystal meth. Later he admitted to only having a massage and buying some crystal meth but not taking it.
Mike Jones has asserted that they’ve been acquainted for three years, seeing each other about once a month for sex and that the Pastor has definitely done drugs in his presence, only after asking him about meth and being told that it enhances sexual activities. That’s when he asked him to get some, a recording Jones saved from his voicemail which can be heard on YouTube or any of the main online news sites. Mike Jones apparently had an ad on the popular online escort site Rentboy.com, where all the escorts you and I know can be found.
Jones is also a personal trainer and claims to have stopped escorting presently and at the age of 41, stands as proof that escorts of more advanced years can actually make a go of things in that field. It’s never too late for an interesting career in escorting, and who knows, you may even topple a televangelist empire and affect the vote in the next election. Democrats could take over the House of Representatives, ending the Republicans’ most hideous stranglehold on congressional power—all because of you!
Just think of it! You can go from a modest escort to gay hero, lots of media coverage and plenty of interviews, though I would hope you all
It’s always good to try to learn from others mistakes. You and I know that, but when do you think politicians and evangelists might learn to do the same? Maybe if Haggard would have thought a bit about Jim Baker or even President Clinton when he felt the urge to sex up a male escort and ask him to score crystal meth, he would have restrained himself from answering to the forbidden call of the love that dare not speak its name, especially in church, a church were general assembly is not necessary to discuss homosexuality as it is written in the Bible that it is forbidden, so said the good pastor in one of his sermons.
This incident is doing much to tarnish the squeaky clean image of the Christian religious leaders, who wield one huge amount of political power in this nation, a sure sign that this nation is totally in trouble and that the masses are shockingly manipulated, and as my mother would say, “maybe just a little bit retarded.” I bet all the Catholic priests that are costing the church so many millions of dollars in lawsuits from all the children they molested over the years are breathing a sigh of relief, like this will take the pressure off them for a bit. “Let them shoulder this for awhile, after all, we used to feed them to the lions (and we’re really sorry about that), so they can handle a bit of heat for fucking boys…er, I mean men…the sex thing.”
Watching Haggard being interviewed and lying and delivering sermons to his flock and what not reminded me that I have seen him on TV before. I watched him a bit while flicking through the channels and I got a distinct perv vibe from him, like I often do about religious leaders, especially the ones on TV. His beady little rat eyes and that pinched up face and arrogant manner that asserts his closeness to god is far better than most others’ closeness to god could ever be, adequately creeped me out. But there was something perv-y about him, like he’d be one of those johns with a very specific thing he’d want every time, like my escort friends often tell me about, like wanting to be diapered or treated like a fuck-hole, or perhaps be worshipped like a craven idol or maybe he can only come with his face buried in same-sex ass. I bet he’s one of those types—probably the rimmer. There’s nothing really wrong with that by no means, unless you’re Ted Haggard, that is.
And can you think of a worse last name for a gay man?
I sincerely hope you all rocked your vote as much as this man possibly did without even knowing it. Things might be looking up after this election for a change.
|By Don Baird
Published: February 22, 2007 SF Bay Times
I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify that it was pure coincidence that I picked up the electric clippers and shaved my head bald at approximately the same time that Britney Spears marched into a salon in Southern California and gave herself the buzzcut heard ‘round the world. Unlike Ms. Spears, I have sported a shaved head numerous times, so while it is hardly a news-worthy occasion for me, I can confidently say it looks much better on me, and it doesn’t signal quite the dramatic cry for help that it did for her. In my case, a cultivated comb-over would be the likelier cry for help, and I can guarantee that isn’t going to happen. Certain of my friends have promised to stage an intervention with the first signs of that Trump-like hair-don’t.
But what about Britney? What the fuck is going on in that feverish bald head of hers? I started to recall all of the major female stars over the years who have sported the bald look. The first two who come to mind are Sinead O’Connor and Skin, vocalist for Skunk Anansie. These two women of rock are naturals for this hair style; they both look exquisite this way, and it became their trademark. Other examples of bald female stars would be Demi Moore and Natalie Portman, but they were both inspired to shave for movie roles, as were Jeanne Moreau, Barbara BelGeddes, Vera Miles, Carla Gravina and Silvana Mangano in Five Branded Women, a war drama from 1960 that always intrigued me as a child. Then, of course, there’s Melissa Etheridge, who appeared bald in a performance on the Grammy awards ceremony, but she was bald as the result of chemotherapy, a valiant personal statement of her battle with breast cancer.
I have read on the British Britney Spears Web site that the singing star recently lost her aunt to breast cancer, and there is speculation that Britney shaved her head to raise awareness for a cancer charity who helped her aunt prior to her recent death. But nothing was said about this to the press, nor was anything mentioned about hair extensions causing her a great deal of pain, another speculation for why she chose the drastic do.
But so far the only reason given by the troubled star for shaving her head is the one-inch-away-from-crazy statement, “I don’t want anyone touching me. I’m tired of everyone touching me.” If that one hasn’t been heard up and down the halls of psych wards everywhere, I don’t know what has. The fact that she made the statement to a person in a tattoo parlor as she got two small and very common, run-of-the-mill tattoos (c’mon, a cross and a pair of pink lips, how lame are those choices for the modern superstar with all that money? Angelina Jolie wouldn’t be caught dead with ink like that, now would she?) kind of seals it. The girl is losing her mind
Apparently the salon where Britney took her haircut choice into her own hands when a liscensed cosmetologist refused to do it, immediately put the star’s hair and empty can of Red Bull up on ebay for auction but it was immediately removed, and the salon owner created a site called buybritneyshair.com to sell to any interested bidder, provided the minimum bid starts at $1 million. I really gotta wonder why such a huge star as Britney would just pop into a hair salon called Esther’s Haircutting Studio in Tarzana, California for this. Couldn’t she have anyone in the upper echelon of Hollywood hair take care of her hair needs secretly and with an army of security warding off all the committed paparazzi? As it is, we have filmed footage of the shocking event on every channel, not to mention proof at last that the drapes do match the carpet—shaved! And what primes the paparazzi better for moving in for the kill than an aborted stay at a rehabilitation center? Britney was returning after a less than 24-hour stint at the Crossroads Centre in Antigua. Prior to this she was seen in New York getting very girl-on-girl cozy with a bunch of strippers in the famous nightclub, One, strutting around in borrowed bikinis and what not, and just prior to that she reportedly tossed her cookies all over her very own SUV. Rehab seemed the logical next stop for the divorced mother of two.
Speaking of motherhood, it really surprises me that those two children haven’t been stripped from her custody by this point. She’s been living and running around the world like a young, single jet-setter. Where are the children? Who has been taking care of them and why haven’t the authorities made any decided motions to investigate this situation more closely? I remember another musical star about 12 years ago who repeatedly lost custody of her infant child based on pure speculation and little to no proof that she was an unfit mother, and that was Courtney Love. She had to tirelessly prove herself to authorities to re-gain custody of Frances, and she even lost custody again just a couple years back. I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened to pop princess Britney. If those kids are her greatest love and finest achievement, as she told Matt Lauer in her weepy interview last year, then where the hell have they been while she was flashing her shaved head and cooch coast to coast? Others would have been crucified for less, it seems. She’s already been spotted out nightclubbing again in a wig most drag queens wouldn’t wear.
I’m not hating on Britney. I think she is young and very mixed up, as mixed up as one might expect a person who has been chasing superstardom from the age of 6 to be. She’s clearly having a very serious meltdown, and it’s a wonder it hasn’t happened sooner.
|By Don Baird
Published: October 26, 2006 SF Bay Times
For the first time in over ten years Diamanda Galas played a couple of San Francisco shows last week at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She has been ambitiously playing many dates across Europe and the US recently. The scope of this tour is astonishing because she isn’t just performing one of her works in every city, she’s planned separate and distinct shows for every date. The incredibly driven and talented vocalist/composer/pianist has used her seven octave vocal range and extensive knowledge of religious ceremony, ancient text, the AIDS epidemic, dementia, death and classical to avant garde music for composition of multiple operatic works of unequalled intensity and emotional scope. They deliver messages of rage, pain, sadness, injustice, anger and fearlessness with an otherworldly sense of power to a world that won’t listen or likes to forget, and never acknowledge their atrocities and abandonments.
Galas is an artist that cannot be ignored, handling the truth and truths of victims that shall not be forgotten as her vocalizations not only give life to a multitude of spirits, souls, people, demons and the lost, but all of their unsettled, victimized, raw emotions, their stories, what fate has left them with and the sound of their pain, the noise of their affliction, the voices in their heads, the screams they heard, the screams that were unheard, haunting the history all but wiped clean of genocide, haunting the future with cast-off pariahs littering the streets because the human race has progressed so very little and learns nothing from what they’ve endured over and over again.
This is the scream of Diamanda Galas, the one and only artist who can literally give voices to ghosts so that they may finally be heard, the incredible virtuoso whose developed instrument defies the confines of the average voice and can sound like more than several people simultaneously, children, sirens, whispers from near death, men, women, the insane, the guilty, the condemned, the tortured, the dead who were never allowed to rest, robbed of life and then robbed in death. The sounds she creates can make your mind whirl over the impossibility that one human could produce it. It’s as if she channels spirits who use her as a host in the trance-like state, but you know that’s a cheap notion. She knows the how and why of every single sound she makes. There may be some supernatural forces at hand, but she’s not turning over her finely honed tools to any force other than her classically trained unparalleled self.
She has taken vocalization into bold new territory and as far as I know she’s alone—completely. Nobody does what she does, there are no other artists she even begins to compare with, and no genre that can contain the breadth of her body of work and its intensity, commitment and depth. Political issues have been at the genus of many of her greatest works, like the Plague Mass, which addressed AIDS when so many leaders and our government wouldn’t utter the word. Then she explored dementia and other mental illnesses as a sort of continuation of the Plague Mass, with The Vena Cava, yet the work stood on its own as one of her more revealing, visceral, searing and creepily humorous works, and again it dealt with another disease related situation that America has consistently failed to properly address..
Her choice of work to present in San Francisco this week was Defixiones, Will and Testament: Orders from the Dead, a harrowing and painful piece based on texts related to the Armenian and Anatolian Greek Massacres of 1915 and 1922 by the Turks during which genocide was actively implemented and entire cultures were raped and nearly destroyed, people were degraded to nothing, starved, tortured, slaughtered, drowned, burned, forced to walk to their deaths in the deserts, and more unspeakable horrors. It struck me as completely unusual and frightening in itself that I had no knowledge of this event in history. I had heard or read nothing of these holocaust-like events.
Diamanda yet again had chosen a topic that needed to be acknowledged, like AIDS, only this situation came from the early part of the last century, and considering current world events and modern terrorism, new relevance just rolls forth from these texts. The Defixiones is, in performance, so undeniably evocative of the original victims and the time period in which this horror was endured. With the sparse black stage with just a piano in the center and two stations on each side stage and a center ramp ending with two microphones at the ready for the Diamanda-is-really-getting-the fuck-down-and-brutal portions of this poignant and complex, multilingual retelling of a forgotten time and crime against humanity. From the opening readings in total darkness and the incidental drone of traditional Greek instruments punctuated by industrial strength percussions so jarring you’d bolt upright in shock, the story unfolds and huge projections of photographs of headstones and victims of starvation and masses of dead bodies near roadsides would barely make their grave impression, then would wave away like flames and fade into another huge image, then fade into flames then to black.
I had seen Diamanda three times before, once with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin when they made a great record together and toured with it, and the other two times were with her solo on piano singing her interpretations of some old standards. I had never witnessed her perform one of the more major works like the plague mass or this one, and as I expected, this was worlds away from the other shows, a different beast entirely, and one that completely dumbfounded and mesmerized me. This is when that voice is showcased at its heights and depths of resonant power, at its most inhuman, at its most simultaneously intricately layered. It is practically hallucinatory, trance-like, even occasionally soothing like a lullaby, a brief doze that you’ll soon be ripped out of by vocals that lick and lap like searing flames, or wail in multiplied vibrato the loss of a thousand lovers, the hysterical and sporadic voice of a woman mourning the death of her child, an entire race of people being robbed of their past, present and future, threatened to be fucked with even in their death. She hadn’t even hit the center stage yet.
When that occurred I was really taken by her incorporation of physical movement to such magnificent effect. Genocide is pretty difficult to effectively put across in a game of charades, but her every motion exuded the devastation, brutality, torture and the rage and power the victims could only reserve and concentrate for their graves, the will to curse those who dared a final desecration upon them, a desfixione. Of her vocal performance at the center stage, it’s difficult to describe the complexity of this assault. It was like nothing I’ve ever heard before. There aren’t a lot of artists in the world who specialize in extended vocal technique. In fact, I can’t think of any this side of those throat singing people. And extraordinary as they are, they are just a one trick pony compared to the prowess and infinite catharsis of this original and unique performer, so concentrated yet infinite. I could list a thousand words right now, but likely couldn’t capture it all.
Two final thoughts occurred to me on her curtain call. Elegant and Maria Callas. I also can’t believe I failed to say a thing of her incredible piano playing—yet another monumental talent that can leave you utterly speechless. I finally caught the definitive performance by a talent of no compare. I’ll never miss a chance to see her again.
|By Don Baird
Published: October 27, 2005, SF Bay Times
It’s not often when I get to see two of my favorite bands in the same week. Though each band inhabits their own particular and unique point on the broad spectrum of the rock and roll curve, and they hail from literally opposite ends of the earth, both of these performances had me grinning ear to ear. I felt totally ecstatic, screaming approval, jumping up and down and knowing exactly where rock and roll lives in all its exalted, burning soul-stirring glory.
The first show I attended was the absolutely sold-out return of Oslo phenomenon Turbonegro, touring in support of possibly their best record to date, Party Animals. After a two-year absence from San Francisco, this band’s fan base was out in full force and seemed more concentrated than ever. There is an organized Turbonegro fan club called Turbojugend with chapters all over the world. Members of Turbojugend wear leather and/or denim jackets with a patch on the back that bears their insignia, a drawing of a traditional leatherman’s cap (think Tom of Finland or Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones) and below that the particular chapter of Turbojugend they represent.
I saw people from Tokyo, Berlin, Fresno, Seattle, Sacramento and more, many of them wearing sailor caps or leatherman caps, some with the distinctive eye make-up sported by Hank the vocalist. The members of the fan club formed a large boisterous mass in the middle of the crowd and would often sing in unison a line from “I Got Erection” with the woh-ooh-oohs in place, which really started to fire up the ready-to rock-crowd. The lights soon went down and the band members sauntered onstage to some recorded intro music, something orchestral and bombastic which reminded me how bands used to do that a lot more a long time ago—and I think it’s cool. They were all wearing uniform-like outfits, each in its own way splashed liberally with some homoerotic accessories or themes like a sailor suit, leather pants, dog collar, metallic helmet, military trench coat, bandanas, eyeshadow, lipstick and more. I really like a band that takes a bit of pride in their appearance, even if it’s gay pride. When it was time for charismatic vocalist Hank to enter in his usual caped, harnessed Viking warrior freak drag with a walking stick, out walks a midget dressed like him and takes center stage, soon to be chased off by the real Hank, walking stick ready to beat the little impostor. The band tore into “All My Friends Are Dead” and the place exploded into jubilant people-passing-over-your-head motion. I knew we were in for a show.
Hank was in rare form, introducing nearly every song in his usual antagonistic, sarcastic and geographically specific way. “So good to be here on the West Coast tonight. I’m really stoked. Are you stoked?” All delivered in his best faux American accent. It seemed there was nothing he could say or do that wouldn’t be met with overwhelming cheers and laughter. At the end of their second song their backdrop, a black curtain with the party animals logo dropped down to reveal some colorful and weird ass mural that looked like Diego Rivera meets Viking warriors in an inter-planetary video game. I love it when the backdrop of a stage is released and dramatically reveals a new background and mood.
Hank was pattering on about something he likes to do in San Francisco and said “You should all do what the great Grace Slick did here and sell your body to the night,” introducing perfectly their song of the same name and one of my favorites for its hilarious line “Everywhere, every body fix your hair and sell your body to the night.” I loved the snide desecration of a SF rock icon, as well as his comment about San Francisco opening your Golden Gate as he shook his ass at the crowd. During that song they set off some confetti cannons filled with white confetti and fake Turbonegro money with band members’ pictures on them, but it looked totally real. I love confetti cannons. I want one.
The band played a very inclusive set, hitting every single highpoint of their legendary career with pretty astonishing precision and undeniable skill and spirit. At times four of the six members would be standing in a row with guitars, and there’s much to be said for the sheer power of numbers. At the far end of the stage one member traded off guitar and key boards throughout the set and I was watching him closely during his keyboard forays and he was fucking insane, gesturing to people and making all of these strange movements and conversational body language. It wasn’t like he was responding to a voice in his head but more like a cocktail party up there. It was totally cracking me up. Hank also tried to teach the audience how to say motherfucker in Norwegian before a great version of “Don’t Say Motherfucker, Motherfucker.”
The band left the stage and returned for the encore in all new all denim outfits and did a blistering version of “Ride With Us,” which included the additional repeated line “When everybody hates you,” and the midget reappeared in all black and a party animal mask holding up a sign that read the same. It was just like the Ramones used to do with a guy in a pinhead mask and a sign reading “Gabba gabba hey.” I thought it was sweet.
They closed with “Final Warning,” then performed some little line dance to some traditional Norwegian polka sounding music and said goodnight. I love a show with a big finish.
As far as rock shows go this one really captured the excitement and feel of some of the first concerts I ever attended when I was 11. Some might call it cheap thrills, but I’ve seldom witnessed such a happy crowd exiting a show. Turbonegro fucking rule.
The other show I caught this week was The Gossip at Bottom of the Hill, which I had been patiently awaiting for some time now. I was curious to see how the band has weathered their first line-up change with a new drummer, plus I wanted to hear their new material as their next LP isn’t released until Jan. 11—which seems like a fuck of a long time from now. I arrived one song into their set to the sold-out show and dug in as far as I could. The place was packed and the crowd was very, very exuberant. Vocalist Beth Ditto looked beautiful as ever and her voice was strong and urgent, and eliciting screams of joy and approval from the crowd in that completely natural way, sometimes several times per song. I’ve always said it about her; she has one of the most compelling voices in rock. When she gets really unhinged and belts it out hard it’s fucking spiritual. Beth Ditto makes me glad to be alive. Pure talent, total soul; it just doesn’t get much better than this.
However, this show was kind of a revelation to me in a new way. Brace the guitarist really came to the fore in his performance. No doubt he’s been an appealing guitarist all along, but I’m certain I get a bit lost in my focus on Beth. For this show he was totally blowing me away. He’s got a really deep instinctual style and the new songs progress into a somewhat newer vein, flirting conspicuously with a more rhythmic or danceable feel, and he can carry that groove solidly. Of course Hannah on drums seems to provide a pretty solid framework for it all; in fact she’s quite a good drummer and seems to be happy and acclimated in the line-up. She is also a babe, no doubt setting hearts a flutter all across the nation.
Their last song was the title cut from the upcoming album Standing in the Way of Control and we are talking about a blistering, white-hot anthem just waiting to be embraced by the cool youth nation. This song rule—you’ll be hearing it for certain. They returned for an encore of “Yesterdays News,” in which Beth led the audience in a sing-along of shocking clarity—this was a place filled with committed fans.
I stopped by the merch table and couldn’t resist buying a shirt because it said “Last night the Gossip saved my life,” a fine sentiment proven many times over by a great band.
By Don Baird Published: March 3, 2005 SF Bay Times
The Electric Eel Shock boys are a rowdy bunch. I caught a show a couple weeks back at Bottom of the Hill that was so incredibly good, I wandered home afterwards thinking that if every rock show was just half as good as that I would be ecstatic all the time. If every band brought such boundless enthusiasm, frenetic energy, pure showmanship and unbridled love of rock and roll and screaming guitar heroics to the stage like Electric Eel Shock did that night, to a half-capacity house no less, the world would be a better place. The Japanese power trio certainly put a spring in my step all the way home and then some, and it really got me thinking about what it was that this band did that set them apart—what were the fundamental differences between them and a handful of bands I’ve seen lately whose live shows paled in comparison? I first heard of Electric Eel Shock from MTV’s You Hear It First, a music/news segment that profiles a new band or artist on the verge breaking big. I believe I had seen two artists profiled previously, something wanky like My Chemical Romance and Fefe Dobson and then this odd Japanese band. I gathered from the segment that they had caused quite a stir with an appearance at South by SouthWest—the Austin, Texas music conference—and the accompanying footage was low quality, but I could see that these three guys were chaotic and unhinged, hyperactive and intense, but I wasn’t getting a very clear listen to their music. The rest of the segment was a short interview with the three members who speak very little English (but sing lots of it) and tried to explain that they divide their time in the day between making rock and roll and fishing. I liked that. Shortly after that I saw they were playing a night at Kimos on Polk Street, and so I went to catch them but they had already played their set when I arrived so I had to be satisfied with purchasing their CD, Go America! from two Japanese girls at their merchandise table. I brought it home quickly and found it was enhanced and included some live footage and a music video, and I was totally spellbound with the music. This was some hard shit. Punk rock fury, glam touches all over, and thunderously precise heavy metal riffs release and collide into catchy songs—yet the usual angst, evil and darkness inherent to those styles seems to have vaporized into an effervescent, unfettered kind of fun that courses through this disc like a fat balloon full of whippets to your brain. Yeah, it’s that good and it is inexplicably rock and roll, alive and well and living in Japan. So I immediately started singing the praises of Electric Eel Shock to friends here and there and playing them liberally in my DJ sets, only to learn that a lot of people were already hip to them and had even witnessed the magic live and were bonafide fans of this incredible Japanese band. EES apparently spend a great deal of time touring the states and Europe regularly, winning fans everywhere they play with their trademark over-the-top live sets, which draw comparisons to the Stooges and other seminal Detroit garage-band era staples. They clearly love American culture, music and movies. They claim to be somewhat unknown in Japan. I was thrilled when I saw they were coming through town again and I vowed I wouldn’t miss them this time. I arrived to the club just as they were going on and I was shocked that the place wasn’t even half full. The crowd was definitely in-the-know and very attentive, seeming familiar with the songs, informed grins that kind of said, “Yeah, we’re here and totally knowing that this band is the shit!” This stance quickly gave way to infectious head-banging, dancing and bigger smiles as the band dug into their set with a deranged fervor—delivering exact renditions of the songs from their record, note for note. Then they’d give it a more improvised turbo-charged maniac solo treatment midway through, and each time they tricked it up like that. It was like the guitarist became a surgeon, methodically peeling back a layer of your brain or performing some form of trepanation (putting a hole in your skull) to produce a euphoric state—all done by micro sonic guitar surgery to maximize your pleasure. This band took you places. And while they did so, they appeared to be expending more energy and throwing every ounce of their physical beings into their performance. This truly is an amazing thing to behold, and when considering what it is that set this show apart from many others, that aspect is key. I love it when a band just explodes into motion; bodies whip so hard guitars bounce off of them, bending back from the knees till their back hits the floor, jumping up on the monitors with guitars held over head, manipulating squeals of feedback from the guitar, playing with it held behind the head, turning the guitar neckside down and pretending it’s a jackhammer, attacking it with karate chops and just pounding and jerking the riffs out with emphasis and passion and moving all over the stage as opposed to staying in a designated place. Even the drummer was his own kind of Wildman—adding to the vocals occasionally, hitting things so hard cymbals were falling, at times drumming with two sticks in each hand. I hear he can swallow drumsticks too. They seemed especially proud of the drummer, drawing attention to him after almost every song. They played out a brilliant final song and left the stage only to return quickly with definitely the best version of Sabbaths’ “Iron Man” I have ever heard, arranged to alternate between two different speeds. They continued with three more songs and during the elongated, dramatic, feedback pulsing conclusion, the bass player pushed his instrument to his side and ran up the side wall of the stage and flipped back to a standing position in that Kill Bill/ Crouching Tiger, Hidden Motherfucker style of impossible martial acrobatics. It was completely cinematic and magical—I was speechless. This band kicked out a performance of unyielding power like their entire lives depended on it. You just don’t see much of that at a Postal Service show, now do you? No one in the Polyphonic Spree ever gets fully airborne either I bet
Here’s another from the Beat This Archives at SF Bay Times–Published May 1, 2008 about Thee Oh Sees, still SF’s best band
I went out to the Eagle Tavern last Thursday night, a spontaneous decision rather late into the evening, and found the place pretty packed with a boisterous indie-rock-in-the-know crowd. Then it all came to me that the headlining band, Thee Oh Sees, were indeed the very band I had been reading about all over the Internet and some in the local press throughout the week. The group’s latest record, The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In, was getting rave reviews all over the place, hence the extra large turnout, but as the night went on I could tell that this was a band with a strong local following, these people knew the material and responded to the band with reckless enthusiasm.
Something good had been brewing for awhile here, and until now I had been oblivious to it. This wasn’t the first time Thee Oh Sees had played the Eagle, and it definitely wasn’t the first time the band’s leader John Dwyer had graced the stage in a number of other band projects, including Yikes, The Coachwhips, and Pink and Brown.
Come to find out, Thee Oh Sees have put out seven records since 2004, including a double album. They have also changed their name five times, from Thee Oh Sees, The Oh Sees, The Ohsees, OCS, and Orinoka Crash Suite. I also just learned that John Dwyer was the mastermind behind a strange electro-hardcore homo-industrial outfit called Zeigenbock Kopf, who put out two really abrasive and odd discs that got a little play at The Eagle by their DJ’s. I also found out he played guitar in the very primitive punk rock band The Hospitals. It makes me wonder when this John Dwyer person ever sleeps.
When the band took the stage they looked unassuming and happy enough, three guys on bass drums and guitar and one girl on vocals and tambourine.
Dwyer, the guitarist, pulled his instrument way up high on his chest and close to his face and just let loose with an electrified crunchy barrage of dirty bluesy/garage-y guitar genius driven by an energy and zeal that was almost other-worldly, steeped effectively in feedback, reverb and fuzzed out garage guitar glory. It was clear in just moments that we were witnessing a musician who was long due for stardom, and his time may just be starting right now.
I loved the way he pulled his guitar up high and peered down its top edge like it was a gun, aiming down at his effects pedals or into the audience. Every move he made was a pure indication of a person driven by an overwhelming urge to make music, like this monster talent was being channeled through this average looking guy, turning him into a maniac, a flurry of motion and reverberance. He was clearly on fire. As was the other guitarist, I believe he was playing a guitar instead of a bass, actually, and was also an enthusiastic spire of motion, even when he just clapped along with the drum beat.
The drummer was more than a steady player himself whose performance became more pronounced and notable as the show went on. Brigid the female vocalist was far more physically subdued onstage, but she had a never-ending smile and a sparkle in her eyes that further conveyed a band that was really having fun and perhaps finally getting noticed for it. The vocals are almost always delivered in double layer male/female unison and oddly distorted, sounding kind of primitive like a fuzzy radio signal or speaker-phone or something, yet at the same time kind of down-home-y like old Carter Family records.
The crowd was literally going nuts, all trying to be as near to the stage as possible and dancing wildly. It was just on the good side of total chaos, a far more rambunctious nature than I would have guessed. The band whipped through many songs and several moods and qualities from elongated grooves punctuated by glorious crunchy fuzzed out guitar riffs, to shorter, faster punk rock numbers with shrieking feedback and drums beaten harder than usual. All of this was replete with layers of sound created via reverb and echo and various guitar effects and treatments or mistreatments, you might say, but at any rate John Dwyer can play the dickens out of his guitar, that was quite clear. As soon as the show ended I raced back to the merchandise table and bought their latest disc. It has turned out to be even more of a revelation than their show.
You can really see the careful construction of this disc while listening to it, but a certain lo-fi production quality actively defies its complexity. It might take a few listens for it to sink in that this lo-fi raw and rough sound is hardly as primitive as it seems. That in itself is an achievement. When the multitude of layers of sound begin wrapping around each other, when traditional rockabilly and surf-style guitar is swathed in reverb or texturized with static or distortion, when a hillbilly sounding tune gives way to a wailing wall of feedback that plays like a guitar solo gone to hell and back until it starts to sound like human vocals…but wait, those are vocals, one male and one female layered on top of each other and sounding like they are delivered from the bottom of well. All of the sounds created here travel and are transformed and treated and shaped into another layer, and the overall depth, weight, growl or ethereal qualities are fucking magical. They can sound haunted and foreboding and creepy, as well as childlike and folksy, and as ass-kickingly unhinged as the most psychotic garage-rock. Each song unfolds sonically in ways that are mind-blowing.
Thee Oh Sees also prompt a number of stylistic comparisons. You can hear a bit of the primal rockabilly of the Cramps and some of the instrumental meanderings of a host of garage and psychedelic acts like The Seeds or even The Great Society, or the more contemporary pared down blues of acts like the White Stripes or The Black Keys. And hey, those aren’t dirty words either, just because they’re popular, and I can think of a lot more bands they bring to mind, like The Oblivians, The Dirtbombs, The Gories, Mr. Airplane Man and more.
Specifically one now defunct local band kept coming to mind again and again while I listened to Thee Oh Sees, and that band is the very revered and missed Zen Guerrilla. Some might not agree and think the two bands are worlds apart, but it seems to me that these are two bands that definitely go well beyond the elementary sum of their parts into a creation of a powerful sonic structure, a miasmic monument or wall of sound using oddly treated vocals, lyrics that are difficult to make out but definitely convey a certain emotion, and guitars that fearlessly go off the map and around the world and provide no excuses or justifications because they don’t need to, and drums and bass that burn, searing it all together, some of the rockin-est manic mad visionary shit you’ve ever heard, a new monster that takes on a life of its own.
I definitely urge anyone who likes Thee Oh Sees to pick up any of the back catalogue by Zen Guerrilla. You won’t be disappointed. But do pick up Thee Oh Sees – they are probably the next great San Francisco band. Who was the last greatest San Francisco band? There have been a few I really liked, but they failed to get the national attention they deserved, like the incredible Dirty Power. Or was it one of those bands that claimed to be from here but none of us had ever seen them play around town once, like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? I really don’t know. Who was the last great San Francisco band?
That is, before Thee Oh Sees?