28 December 2008

What I Don't Get

About this whole Gaza thing... Now it's obviously horrible to be dropping bombs on inhabited areas, and I can't imagine anyone but the most extreme Israeli nationalist being gratified at what's been happening in the Gaza Strip these past two days.

Nearly 300 dead and God knows how many wounded, and it makes you kind of sick even to think about what it must be like living under such an onslaught, but at the same time, I can't help wondering just what Israel is supposed to do. Well, not drop bombs on civilian areas might be a good first step, of course, but overlooked in the understandable abhorrence and outrage over the massive casualties now occurring is the fact that the Hamas government is essentially using its own people as pawns in what's now turned into a very deadly propaganda battle. They've been regularly trying to provoke Israel into attacking them precisely so they can play the victim - to be sure, with this many dead and injured, it's no longer exactly "playing" - but if you're Israel and you have an overtly hostile failed state on your doorstep, from which rockets are regularly being launched into your own civilian areas, just what do you do?

It's not like anyone's accusing Israel of being over-liberal with Gaza and its 1.4 million residents. It wouldn't be too great a stretch to describe the enclave as a prison-state, rather like the Manhattan portrayed in Escape From New York. But another way - actually, not all that different a way - of looking at it is a giant welfare colony in which the occupants are only kept alive by constant infusions of outside aid, aid which they repay in bombs, missiles, and suicide attacks.

Granted, Gaza might be able to support itself, at least partially, if it had access to the jobs and trade outside its borders, but we're not likely ever to find out if this would be the case, since every time Israel relaxes its border restrictions even slightly, Hamas hardliners take advantage of the opportunity to launch new attacks on Israel. The only thing that might possibly appease them would be for Israel to close up shop and disappear, along with its 5.3 million Jewish citizens.

I know several militantly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel people who wouldn't be at all displeased with that outcome, but they're largely the sort who can also be seen calling for the USA to get out of North America. More common, though, are the well-intentioned liberals who only want everyone in the Middle East to live in peace, who can't understand why this doesn't seem to be possible, and refuse to believe that a substantial cross-section of the Arab world will do whatever it takes to make sure this never happens.

That's hardly meant to absolve Israeli hardliners of responsibility; they've kept liberal elements hamstrung for decades with the necessity for coalition politics (worth considering, Naderites and other fans of third parties and proportional representation!), and honestly, it's hard to see where the impetus for peace and/or a two-state solution is going to come from. Here in America, where we're laboring through the final weeks of our own failed state, there doesn't seem to be much we can do except look toward January 20 in hopes that, as with nearly everything else wrong today, Obama is somehow going to fix it.

Home Again

24 days. Three and one half weeks. 576 hours. 34,560 minutes. 2,073,600 seconds. That's how long I spent in California, and I was painfully aware of every one of those units of time as they were subtracted from my life. By the last couple days, it didn't seem to matter anymore, as I had lost the will to live as well.

Perhaps I exaggerate just a bit? After all, although Northern California is not my favorite place to be, particularly not in winter, it's hardly the Gobi Desert or the battlefields of Darfur. It's not even blizzard-wracked Wisconsin or, heaven forfend, the stinkier parts of New Jersey.

And in fact, quite a few joys and blessings were bestowed on me during my time on the Wrong Coast: I got to spend time with my lovely family, I saw friends like Janelle, Kristina, Patrick and Erika, who I only get to see occasionally, and other friends like 327 Dave, Jesse Michaels, Michael Donnelly, and the world-famous Kamala, who I almost never see.

The trip cost me almost nothing, as I stayed with my mother the entire time, which meant I was also able to be with her not only for Christmas, but for her 90th birthday party, which was pretty awesome (I spent most of it sitting at the table with the 80-something mostly Jewish ladies, kvetching about public transportation and/or the lack of it in most American cities. One of them had spent the first part of her life in Brownsville and Canarsie, and we were able to fill a good half hour just reminiscing about the names and routes of the old subway lines in the days before they were folded into the MTA.

The fact that I was waxing nostalgic, almost to the point of teary-eyed wistfulness, about the New York City subway system might give you some idea of how out of place I felt in California, despite having lived there for some 30 years of my life. I couldn't travel two minutes on BART, the Bay Area's laughable (to the point of making you want to cry) excuse for a transit system (the old ladies of course remembered the Key System, which for the first half of the 20th century served the same areas as BART now dis-serves at a fraction of the cost and, believe it or not, with greater efficiency, until it was bought and demolished by a subsidiary of the auto industry) without thinking fondly of far happier times spent on the subway.

Yes, it might be a bit noisy, dirty (though not nearly so much as it used to be) and occasionally chaotic, but the New York subway is also far more likely to get you where you're going (and, not nearly so often the case with BART, which was designed with suburban auto drivers in mind), someplace where you'd actually like to be, in a timely and affordable manner. For instance, if I want to hop across the water to Manhattan, I'll walk a couple minutes to the subway stop, and either pay $4 for a round trip ticket, or, far more likely, use my monthly unlimited ride ticket, which makes the average cost of a round trip to the city something like $2.25.

Not so if I want to go to Frisco. First it's a 10 or 12 minute walk to the station (and my mom lives CLOSE; many people in the East Bay suburbs might have a half hour journey before they can even get on a train). Then it's $7.50 for the fare, with no discounts, no monthly tickets, nothing. You have a quick errand downtown, or just want to meet a friend for coffee in the Mission? You're $7.50 in the hole before you even start. And don't even mention wanting to stay out after midnight. Jesse Michaels, Kevin Seconds and Mike Park were playing a show in Frisco a couple nights before Christmas that I might have liked to go to (fortunately I'd seen the same combo at Gilman earlier in the month), but in addition to the club (Bottom of the Hill) being located a half hour's walk from the nearest BART station, I would have had to leave before the second act was halfway over to avoid being marooned in the crappy streets of San Francisco for the night.

And are they crappy? Yes indeed. Not quite, it's only fair to say, as crappy as they were a couple years ago. The heroin sellers at 16th and Mission are not quite as ubiquitous as they used to be, and in fact I walked through quite a few neighborhoods I once would have qiven a wide berth after dark without feeling particularly insecure. I found myself wondering if a couple years of the rough and tumble street life of New York City hadn't inured me to the less than stellar quality of San Francisco hoodlums, but it's more likely that because New York is in general much safer than San Francisco (let alone Oakland, Berkeley or Richmond), that I'd grown accustomed to being able to walk the streets without being constantly vigilant.

Which may not have been the best idea in some of the places I visited, but as I said, nothing untoward happened. Unless, of course, you count the nagging, low grade squalor that seems to accumulate everywhere - or, I should say, in the handful of places that more than a handful of people gather. Most of San Francisco, especially after dark, is practically deserted, and in those few spots with a semblance of night life - the 16th Street and Valencia corridors being a notable example - have a rather desperate Third World ambience, replete with beggars and junkies and other street people trying to flog bits of scavenged and/or stolen merchandise that they spread across the sidewalks. I found myself wondering who on earth was going to buy a pair of stained green trousers that had been lying - all night? for several nights? - on a 16th Street sidewalk in the on-again, off-again rain mingled with the spittle, footsteps, and tossed cigarette butt of the several hundred drunken roisterers who'd passed that way one or several times (several times being the likelier number, since once you stroll more than a couple blocks, there's nowhere to go but to turn around and walk back again; it's the same in the Castro, Union Street, and whatever else passes for a nightlife district). I mean, not just who's going to buy them, but who would then follow up by putting such a pair of pants on? In fact, I never saw any of the street vendors sell anything, but they seemed quite content to sit there and do their bit to bring a little bit of Kinshasa to Baghdad by the Bay (Herb Caen's old encomium seems far more prescient now than it ever could have in the long-ago decade - probably the 30s or 40s - when he coined it).

Speaking, if only parenthetically, of old San Francisco, I happened to watch The Maltese Falcon on the plane ride back to New York. I hadn't seen it in, oh, at least 20 years, and while I remembered it as a delightful throwback to the classy kind of town Caen was always singing paeans to, Sam Spade's San Francisco revisited in 2008 looked darker and sketchier than I remembered. Not a place I'd be all that keen on visiting, though still a notable improvement over what it is today; if nothing else, the villains were better dressed and spoke far more colorfully.

But before I turn this into a one-dimensional Frisco-bashing session (as if I hadn't already, you might riposte), I want to note a couple curious matters. The first, as I've noted before, is that for many years, I thought Frisco and environs were the bee's knees. They possessed, I'd swear to anyone who listened, the best weather, the best culture, the best food, the best scenery. Why, it even smelled better, I'd insist. So, it's only fair to query, as did Morrissey, has the world changed or have I changed?

Secondly, I know quite a few people, my family included who are very happy living in the Bay Area and are not on drugs (well, most of my family, anyway). I could explain that away by saying that the poor dears aren't well traveled and have never lived anywhere sensible (Detroit and San Francisco, mostly, if that tells you anything). But it wouldn't be as easy to explain two former New Yorkers who had relocated (to Frisco in one case and Berkeley in the other) and never doubted for a minute that they'd done the right thing. New York was too crowded, too harsh, too demanding, they said, though it's worth noting that in both cases their idea of "demanding" was the notion that they should have to get jobs and/or otherwise obtain money to pay for rent, transportation and the like.

Rather than continue with the sniping and the cheap shots, I'll just say that I had to accept that much of this must clearly be a matter of individual perception. California quite literally made me sick - I spent two of my last three days there in bed, unable to eat or even move to any great extent, a mysterious illness that vanished completely the minute I set foot in New York City again - but at one time, it invigorated me and filled me with the desire to do great things (while at the same time promoting the sort of emotional - and yes, often drug-induced - lassitude that made it very unlikely I would ever get around to it). But it is also home to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of happy, productive people, quite a few of whom, hard as it may be for me to believe, are former New Yorkers.

And if I needed further confirmation that at least part of this is all in the mind, I point to the most saliently unpleasant aspect of my time in California: the damp, miserable, all-pervading cold. I swear, to every one of you who emailed or sent a Christmas card with some variation of "Hope you're enjoying your time in sunny California," just be grateful that you were far away at the time, because you might have been throttled on the spot had I been able to reach you.

Yes, the sun did shine occasionally, and I was not unhappy when it rained (they're in the third year of a drought and need the water badly; see, even after all that's happened, I still have a certain bio-loyalty to my old home state), but the one constant factor was the cold. Yes, as many of you pointed out, it gets much colder in New York, but New York is a sensible city where you have winter clothes for when you need them, and once you get home, provided you're not unlucky enough to live in some slum tenement, you will have a warm, heated, well-insulated environment to relax in.

Not so in the Bay Area, where it was a constant (and expensive, for those stuck paying the utility bills) to ever escape the cold. I felt terrible cranking my mother's thermostat up to anything like acceptable levels - enough so that I'll probably have to send her money to pay the extra gas bills I helped run up - but even at 68 or 70 degrees - what is thought of in the civilized world as room temperature - all that's accomplished is that the furnace stays on pretty much constantly and the cold air leaking in from every window and right through the walls creates bone-chilling drafts.

And no, my mother's house is not particularly bad; it was like that in almost every house I visited. The only times during my three and a half weeks that I felt fully warm were a) on the BART, provided I didn't sit near the doors; b) in the shower; and c) in bed, provided I had the full complement of four blankets.

But here's the kicker: when I got back to New York, the temperature was exactly the same - 46 degrees - as it had been in San Francisco when I left. Except in New York, I was warm. I went out wearing my spring jacket with a hoodie underneath and was completely comfortable; in Frisco, I'd worn my heavy winter jacket with the same hoodie underneath, and sometimes an additional thermal fleece - actually, I rarely took the fleece off, even when I was indoors. I may have looked like the Michelin Man, but that's what it took to fight off the cold (even though, as I noted in an earlier post, some of the local nuts and/or drunks were out in t-shirts and shorts).

I mentioned this to my friend Rob, and he said, "Yeah, everyone says that cold affects you way more in San Francisco. Maybe it's because they're surrounded by water." "And we're not?" I asked. Rob, who's lived in Queens, within sniffing distance of the Atlantic Ocean for 50 of his 53 years, just shrugged. "Maybe it's a different kind of water?"

Oh well, here's to everyone being happy on their respective coasts, and here's to me being not just happy, but ecstatic, to be back on mine. Tonight I walked across town and then all the way up from the Village to Times Square just for the sheer joy of seeing people and lights and life and sanity again, and my heart was singing with every footstep. It was noisy as hell, the crowds were - well, they weren't really "crowds," though they would have been seen as such in almost any other "city" in the land - just full of life and energy and - no, actually, they were probably just going to a movie or to grab a late night coffee. What can I say? It just looked like a city is supposed to look, and functioned like a city is supposed to function. I must have been insane to stay away so long, and I am so, so happy to be back home.

16 December 2008

Hunx, Runx, And The Rest Of The Punx

I did manage to get out over the weekend, just as the rain and cold set in with a vengeance, but thanks to having the use of a Zipcar for a few hours, I stayed warmer than I'd been in a while. I looked in on PATRICK HYNES, celebrating his - well, I guess he's getting to the age where I don't need to give an exact number - birthday with his lovely wife ERIKA (the two of them together run LITTLE TYPE MAIL ORDER, and of course many of you will know Patrick from his days as the magnificently pompadoured guitarist of THE POTATOMEN, or, if you can't forgive him for that, as one third of LOOKOUT RECORDS during the 90s glory years.

Patrick was in fine fettle, apart from nursing a sore head as a result of getting beaned during his afternoon soccer match. I stayed longer than I'd intended, which meant I arrived at my next destination, JANELLE BLARG's holiday party, just as everyone was leaving (at least that's what they said, i.e., they swore they weren't leaving just because I'd arrived.

And it wasn't really just Janelle's party, although she gets top billing because she was the one who invited me. Dozens of prestigious East Bay scenesters were also in attendance, and a few even stayed to visit after I'd arrived, though mostly, I suspect, because they lived there. There was, for example, the inimitable HUNX, of GRAVY TRAIN fame, and now fronting his own fast-rising combo, HUNX AND HIS PUNX. Hunx was clad in an authentic 1970s dashiki, of the sort once favored by full-figured African-American women; on Hunx's skinny frame, it looked more like priestly vestments, though perhaps not from any church you'd want your son attending.

Hunx also shared with us his spectacular new video. Here, have a look for yourself:

It's worth noting that the video's awesome animation segments were the work of none other than Miss Janelle herself! This is a multi-talented house party we're talking about, as further evidenced when the elusive RICHIE BUCHER came strolling in. Richie, who you'll know from a long line of East Bay bands, including the immortal SWEET BABY and his artwork on, among other things, the cover of Dookie, is often heard of but seldom seen; his appearance at last summer's INSUBORDINATION FEST in Baltimore providing the first evidence to many of his admirers that he actually existed!

Then, as if Hunx weren't enough, in came RUNX! Otherwise known as MATT RUNKLE, he's the author and artist behind a really cool comic called Runx Tales, which you'd be well advised to pick up first chance you get. Then there was this lady whose name I tragically can't remember just now, but who I'm sure must be a prestigious designer, or will be soon. She had this amazing purse she'd made which I can't really do justice to with words: it was decorated with a series of hanging rings that turned out to have been fashioned from zippers, and that was only the pièce de résistance of her ensemble. I had to pinch myself to remember that we were hobnobbing not in the hallowed precincts of Fifth Avenue but in the nondescript backstreets of Oakland!

Well, there were lots more names and faces I could wow you with, but some of them demand anonymity and others, well, they'll just have to wait because it's really past my bedtime now, even out here on the three-hours-behind West Coast. Oh, but before I go, let me give a further shout-out to my friend KRISTINA (yay!) who was up from Los Angeles and to the new CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (boo! - mostly for the shockingly exorbitant price of admission) that we visited. I seem to recall that at the old CAAS, you could just walk in from the park and stroll around looking at the fish, etc. At this one, they fleece you for 25 bucks (three bucks off if you're an AAA member or came on public transportation, but still) to look at some fish, etc. Ask yourself how many kids from the ghetto are ever going to see the inside of this joint. Museums should be free for all, all the time. On that sour note, good night.

Notes From Siberia

It's probably my karma (now I know I've been in California too long) for complaining about the weather last week, when it was at least getting up near 60F (15C) during the daytime. It was still too cold, of course, getting down into the 30s and 40s at night, but now we're in the second or third day of a typical - at least it's happened most Decembers I can remember - California cold wave where we'd be thrilled if the temperature managed to make it out of the 40s.

This may seem like a minor inconvenience, or even a tropical heat wave, to those coping with blizzards and sub-zero temps out East or in the Great Plains, but what people often don't appreciate about the cold in California is a) it's a very damp, especially bone-chilling variety; and b) because Californians refuse to believe that they don't live on a perpetually sunlit Baywatch set, most houses are paper-thin, poorly insulated (if at all) and heated (if at all) by furnaces that are about as effective as an outsized hair dryer.

So while the cold back East can be wretched, even terrifying and life-threatening, it's usually only a matter of making it from the car or the subway back to your house or apartment where you can be snug and warm again. Whereas in California, you can do for days - weeks or months, even - never really getting warm.

Oh, it's not as though people of dying of exposure in their homes, although I suspect a fair few frail and elderly folks have been hastened to their demise by chronically underheated living conditions. It's more a case of chronic, low-grade misery from which there are few escapes. Some public buildings are adequately heated, of course, and if you've got the price of a ticket you can ride around all day on a warm BART train, but if for some reason you're stuck in the house, multiple sweaters and long underwear are the order of the day, and even then the cold air manages to creep in somehow.

Because of a project I'm working on, I've been shivering in front of the computer for most of the past week and a half, only occasionally venturing out to marvel at the nutty, no, let's be more precise, insane Californians who stroll the streets in t-shirts and shorts despite icicles threatening to form on their bright red ears and noses. I don't know if they are brazening things out for macho purposes, or if they are truly in denial - one such fellow that I saw at BART the other night was clearly drunk out of his mind, but this explanation can't apply to all of them - but they seem blithely unaware that everyone else around them is wrapped up in scarves, hats and winter jackets.

I know that if I stayed here long enough I would adapt to the weather, as I did when I previously lived in California. It took me about two years from the time I first moved here before I no longer felt it necessary to wear a heavy coat in June, and after a couple more years, I could be heard swearing that California weather, and specifically Bay Area weather, was the best in the world.

But ten years in England and two in New York have thoroughly disabused me of that notion. It's true that in New York we're far less likely to get those 70-degrees-in-January days that the Bay Area (very) occasionally enjoys, but on the other hand, we're far more likely to get summers where you can actually strip down to a swimming suit and jump in the ocean without risking hypothermia.

And more vitally, the East Coast seems to have a more realistic relationship with the weather. People know that it gets very cold in winter and very hot in summer, so they and the buildings they inhabit are prepared to cope. In California, they prefer to pretend that it's always good weather and when - as is often the case - it's not, to pretend harder.

Adding insult to injury, by the way, I note that at present it's a full 20 degrees warmer in New York than it is in San Francisco. An anomaly, true, and most likely it will be snowing or worse by tomorrow, but for right now, what I wouldn't give for an extra 20 degrees. Or just a steaming radiator and some snug-fitting storm windows.

15 December 2008


Saw the film Milk the other day and must say that while I've never been keen on Sean Penn and haven't been impressed by anything Gus Van Sant's done in the last ten years or so, both of them deserve Oscars. Penn, especially. I guess I haven't been paying that much attention to his career since, oh, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (and his Madonna period was a spectacle best left completely unwatched), but the guy really can act. Or has learned to do so along the way. Respect.

Since I lived in or near the Castro during several (1972-73 and 1976-77) of the years covered by the film (1972-73 and 1976-77), I was interested to see how accurately it was portrayed. When Van Sant was shooting, I saw some flyers asking for extras to re-enact a couple of the marches and protest rallies, complete with instructions of what not to wear (no designer or brand logos, for example; I'd forgotten that such things barely existed in the 70s and would have been considered mightily outré if they had). And the answer is: yes, they pulled it off pretty well. For some reason I found it especially poignant to see the Diesel outlet at the corner of Castro and Market restored to its original (at least as far back as my memory goes) incarnation as the Bank of America.

I did spot one glaring anachronism: as the marchers in one scene set off down Market Street they pass (and disable) a green and yellow F Market streetcar. The streetcar itself was the right style, albeit unnaturally clean, but in 1978 there was no F Market line. What's more, the spot on 17th Street where the marchers passed it is actually the end of the line, so there would have been no point in disabling the car; the track ends right there, so it wouldn't have been going anywhere.

Minor quibble, I guess. If I were going to quarrel with anything else, it might be with the film's idealization of early-to-mid 70s Castro Street as a romantic, halcyon age, more or less the gay equivalent to the hippie free love 60s, marred only by interference from the nasty old San Francisco Police Department. I guess such harassment did take place from time to time, though I had very little personal experience with it; what really felt like a time warp was the film's portrayal of San Francisco cops taking aggressive action of any kind, even if it was wrong-headed and mean-spirited. The SFPD riot squad charging in to stop some mustachioed hunks from dancing together? It's been decades since I've seen them get that excited about mayhem and murder.

But I think I'm in a tiny minority in feeling that the Castro wasn't all that. Most guys my age who have any experience with or recollection of the pre-AIDS Castro share Van Sant's rose-colored view, and telling them that I personally found it a little sordid, squalid, and tacky elicits blank stares at best and outright derision and hostility from those less inclined to listen to my nay-saying.

Maybe it was the mustaches, and the Marlboro Man clone look that overtook the street by 1974 or so: I found that style singularly unattractive (still do, in fact, despite periodic attempts, not least right here in Williamsburg, to revive it), and as a result spent less and less time there. Castro Street was the main shopping street for the neighborhood, and I also had a post office box at 18th and Diamond, so I had to go there on a pretty regular basis, but I didn't linger or socialize all that much. Some of my roommates did, so I heard plenty of stories, few of them appealing.

Probably because of that I never actually met Harvey Milk, though I'd see him around the neighborhood from time to time. I voted for him, too, though probably more out of left-wing political considerations than gay cultural ones. Revisiting that era by way of the movie brought up mixed feelings: while it was touching to see the difference that it made for young people to have somewhere to go and an ideal for living when they'd been repressed and ostracized in their own families and communities, I felt the same difficulty I'd felt in the 70s with seeing a political movement, identity, or culture constructed largely around who one happened to have sex with.

Very possibly this says more about me than about the gay movement, but while we're on the topic, I have to point out that I feel similarly ambivalent about the whole Proposition 8/gay marriage imbroglio. I have friends who ready to secede from the United States of America over last month's vote in California, or at least to withhold all support from Barack Obama, despite agreeing with him on 90% of the issues, because he didn't embrace the cause of gay marriage.

I, on the other hand, found myself respecting Obama more as a result of that decision. The incoming Prez clearly learned from history: before his Presidency ahd really gotten underway, Bill Clinton had squandered much of his hard-won political capital on the ill-starred gays in the military issue. It's not that I in any way support banning gays from the military, just that it was clear at the time that America was not ready for it (it would hardly be an issue if it were introduced today). Similarly, there will almost certainly come a time, and probably not too far in the future, when some form of gay marriage is unquestioningly accepted.

But that time is not here yet, and the aggressive push for marriage as opposed to the more innocuous-sounding (while accomplishing almost exactly the same purpose) civil unions has actually - at least in my opinion - set the cause back. If California had instituted civil unions instead of gay marriage, it's almost certain that the Mormons and Christian right wouldn't have been able to mobilize enough support for Proposition 8, and a prohibition against gay marriage would not now be part of the California constitution.

The same is true of at least some if not all the other states that have now passed laws specifically banning gay marriage. Sure, these laws can and no doubt eventually will be undone eventually, but it will make things that much harder, and why? All because - again, in my opinion - a few hardcore activists felt it necessary to tweak the noses of traditional Christians by appropriating a ritual that religious people felt - whether rightly or wrongly - to be part and parcel of their own belief system. It struck me as being kind of like the kid who's not satisfied just to come out to his parents as gay, but insists on doing so by showing up at their church in drag on Easter Sunday.

Oh well, what do I know? I'm not in line to get married to anyone of either gender, so it's kind of a non-issue to me. Sure, I would have voted against Prop 8 had I been a California resident, but mainly because nearly all of the wrong people were on the other side. In the meantime, go see Milk if you haven't already and be thankful it's not the 1970s anymore.

05 December 2008

MCMYS East Bay Report

There's got to be an upside to being stranded in the East Bay for three and a half weeks, I kept telling myself, and sure enough, I'd been here barely a day when I discovered that my old friend JESSE MICHAELS was going to be performing down the legendary GILMAN STREET along with fellow legends KEVIN SECONDS and MIKE PARK.

I'm guessing, though I don't know for sure, that Jesse must have played at Gilman during his days with COMMON RIDER, but if so, I wasn't there, so this marked the first time I'd seen him on the Gilman stage since the last OPERATION IVY show almost 20 years ago. As you'd expect, some fellow old-timers showed up to see him, including PAT WRIGHT, who's been a part of Gilman since pretty much the beginning, and could barely contain his delight at having, at age 65, started collecting his Social Security. While others, including the lovely KAMALA, of the KARNIVORES et al., assured me (there were a lot of similar assurances going on among the Gilman old-schoolers) that I "hadn't changed a bit," Pat wanted to know if I too had signed up for Social Security, rather abruptly undoing all the good work by the numerous flatterers.

Also in attendance was AARON THORNS OF LIFE, who's taken up residence on the West Coast for a while, so Next Big Thing seeker-afters can relax for a while when it comes to finding out about that next top-secret show that they're not invited to. Meanwhile, what was happening up on the stage? Well, Jesse, who told me beforehand that his main goal in doing these shows is to "learn how to sing and play guitar at the same time so I can join a band," ran through about an album's worth of brand new songs (new to me, anyway, and I think to the crowd at large) with just himself on vocals and electric guitar. "But Jesse," I'd said, "you've already managed to be in a few bands and do, um, reasonably well..." "Yes," he said, but I want to be able to use the guitar as a composing tool for writing songs." "But it seems like you've managed to write a few songs in your time, too..." But at that point I uncharacteristically shut up, it having occurred to me that there was probably not much point in my trying to tell one of the greatest performers I've ever seen how to conduct his business.

The new songs do sound good, though they seem as though they're not fully developed yet, and would probably benefit from being performed by a full band. Jesse also seemed a little nervous on stage, at least during the opening songs, but relaxed noticeably once he realized that the crowd was totally supportive and was going to let him do whatever he wanted (i.e., no one yelling for Operation Ivy songs, etc.). As it happened, though, there was one magical moment at the close of Mike Park's set, when he came down into the audience to pose for a picture at the end of his set and then suddenly broke into a rendition of what was arguably Op Ivy's most anthemic number, "The Crowd." Jesse was standing just a few feet away, and eyes kept straying toward him to see how he would react, but then just as it came time for the second verse, he edged up to the microphone and started singing, "Drink drink in the badlands..."

Those of you who know the song will be aware that just as he kicks into that lyric there's an inadvertent (or perhaps not) catch in his voice that catapults things into another dimension, and not only did chills resonate up and down my body, but my eyes rolled heavenward until I was staring at the ceiling of Gilman Street. There's something about Jesse's voice when he really nails a lyric that does that to you, and I was reminded of the way DAVID HAYES described the feeling of another Op Ivy song, "Bad Town," where LINT (very creditably handles the vocals until the last chorus, when Jesse comes in with a "No, no no, no" that, as David said back then, was "almost scary."

But last night's magical Gilman moment was short-lived, at least for me: while everyone around me started singing along (just like Op Ivy shows of yore), the guy behind me sang so loud that even without a microphone, he completely drowned out Jesse. I hope it was a very enjoyable experience for him, singing along with his hero that way, but frankly, just for those couple of minutes, I would have rather heard his hero. Oh well. My feeling is that Jesse's headed in a good direction with the new stuff and that there will be more chances to hear him in the coming months.

Kevin Seconds also did his acoustic thingie and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Not sure how much he liked me reminding him that the first time I saw him with his old band 7 SECONDS was more than 28 years ago, but hey, we're all getting along in years, and the far more important thing is that he's still getting out there and playing and making things happen, and from all appearances, enjoying the heck out of it. From the stage, Jesse told a story that I'd never heard, and which I'll have to assume is legit: that back in the late 70s, Kevin and his brother started an American Sex Pistols fan club while, Jesse made sure to point out, "the Sex Pistols were still a band."

Anyway, good spirits and high times all around on a chilly California night. Gilman Street will be 22 years old in a few weeks time. It's an ongoing miracle, and almost singlehandedly makes up for much that is wrong with the world today.