Friday, July 22, 2016

Go See Ghostbusters This Weekend or the Terrorists Win: Why White Dudes Should Support Leslie Jones

A sad-face emoticon popped up on my phone recently. It came with a text from my girlfriend, who wanted to know if I could step out of work to talk. When I called, she answered the phone crying.

“It was just so mean,” she told me, sniffling back tears at the end of her story.

My girlfriend works as a dancer, and her picture had been used in an article about an event where her company performed. Press coverage usually makes an artist happy, but my girlfriend made the ultimate internet mistake: she read the comments. The nasty, mean-spirited ones about her body that follow women around on the internet like emotional drones, lobbed by people far removed from their consequences.

Leslie Jones quit Twitter a day or so later, the victim of a well-publicized campaign of racist harassment.

And that’s when I realized I would have to go see the new Ghostbusters, no matter how bad the trailer, or that hideous theme song remake, made it sound. It was my civic duty as a non racist — otherwise known as decent — white person. But the Facebook feed wasn’t so thrilled.

My cheesy attempt at reparations was met with derision by a family member, who equated my newfound support for Ghostbusters with a lack of support for free speech. He called me out for contributing to that current political bugaboo “P.C. culture.” The suspension of Milo Yiannopoulos, Jones' heckler-in-chief, from Twitter showed a clear double standard, I was told. And besides, actors and public figures are fair game for trolling: “people who can’t take the heat should get out of the kitchen.”

Most people wouldn’t cry free speech to defend the rights of assholes to call black women apes, but my family member’s core message wasn’t that far from the mainstream. The Atlantic and The New Yorker have both featured lengthy articles that worry if today’s youngsters might be too sensitive. One of my professors at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism said the entire class should read Brett Easton Ellis’ Vanity Fair essay Generation Wuss, in which he dubs millennials over-sensitive, passive-aggressive sissies. (Confidential to Vanity Fair, and cq: typo, graf 6, final sentence, get at me if you need a ce).

There is some truth here. We live in a time when people are constantly asserting the right to define their own identities, and keeping up with current standards does take occasional self reflection — witness Larry Wilmore’s surprise on The Nightly Show when he learned that “tranny” is considered a slur.

But a simple solution exists for the P.C.-beleaguered: just don’t be an asshole. Treat people how you would like… well, you know that one. And remember that sometimes words really do have consequences. Free speech rights have never been absolute; think fire in a crowded theater or threats of violence.

Sure, the consequences of nasty rhetoric might seem far away from behind a computer screen, but they were real enough when my girlfriend called crying, and you can bet Jones knew her career would suffer if she stayed away from Twitter too long — witness her swift return.

People may argue that Twitter posts and internet comments should never lead someone to cry, but the “I ain’t afraid of no trolls sticks-and-stones” argument ignores the real problem. Jones' case exposes a vile, racist underbelly of American culture — and that is what we need to stand up against. As Ijeoma Oluo points out in The Guardian, Jones was deliberately targeted because of her race, gender and failure to live up to traditional standards of beauty. Women, and especially women of color, are attacked more frequently in the public sphere simply because of who they are. This constant online terrorizing leads to a world where “free speech” really means more speech for me, because I’m better at hogging the microphone. 

And that’s why I’m urging all decent white people to hand the microphone — and the prominence that comes with success — to Leslie Jones, and a corny Ghostbusters remake this weekend. Because I don’t want to live in a world where the trolls, or the terrorists, win. 

I’ll see you there on my next day off, posted up with some stale popcorn, my girlfriend and a happy-face emoticon.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Two weeks in Thailand

Every time I poop I pray it goes down the tubes. Few things are more embarrassing than clogging the toilet at your girlfriend’s parents’ house. The plumbing in this part of Thailand isn’t too bad, but it isn’t great either. I have a close call around day seven.

Dian’s parents own two properties in Bueng Kan, which is at the very northernmost tip of Thailand. One of them is in town, and the other is down a twisting dirt road surrounded by rubber and banana trees. The area, at least according to Lonely Planet, is a mishmash of Thai, Isan, and Lao culture. The trappings of South East Asia are apparent everywhere. New cars sit in driveways next to old, crumbling buildings. Rickshaw motorcycles, regular motorcycles, stray dogs, slow pedestrians, road side food stands and an abundance of buddhist temples painted in brilliant reds, golds, and greens clog the landscape. Cars drive on the left. Most signs are written in Thai. Very few people speak English.  

The nearest airport is in Udon Thani. It’s a two and a half hour drive. We stop at the Thai version of Home Depot along the way. There is a small restaurant that serves an excellent spicy ground pork attached. Their coffee comes with a side of tea. Our bellies and the truck are full as we climb back in, with a heavy row of bathroom tiles in between us. When we reach “the jungle house,” those tiles jab us in the ribs as they bounce up and down on the road. We hold the ceiling handles and the tiles as tight as we can, passing wooden shacks decorated with hammocks, chairs, and tarps, and a clear view of the Mekong River. Directly across the river is Laos.

There aren’t a whole lot of what you would call “attractions” in Bueng Kan. On Friday we visit the Thai/Lao market. Vendors set up stands and blankets on either side of a black, paved road for about half a mile. Pedestrians and motorcycles amble through, bumping each other casually. Scooters and motorcycles are treated more like an extension of self than a tool. I see one scooter that has two girls on it; one of them is staring at her phone and driving with her other hand. The other sits crosslegged on the back eating noodles.

The smell of fish, dust, and gas all mix together into one, pungent aroma. The stalls sell T-shirts, CDs, DVDs, kitchenware, souvenirs, and a wide variety of food products: vegetables and corn, both fresh and cooked, fried insects, hot noodles, cold noodles, pork, including pigs hacked up and hauled to the market in a bucket, blood dripping out from the base of their necks and hooves, and rats, some cooked on the end of a stick and others sliced open and spread out, like a frog dissected for biology class.

The most interesting find is the tubs of baby chickens. One man has a stall with two bins full of brightly-colored chicks, with pink, green, red, and yellow hair that would look at home on a punk rocker. He scowls and crosses his arms when I take the photos, but the image is too curious to resist. Later we are told this is some kind of labeling system.

Dian and I buy nothing at the market. We follow her parent’s example and stick to “clean” vegetables from places like Tesco.

The other local place of interest is called Wat Phu Tok. It’s a network of rickety, wooden staircases that circle around a mountain. Some people call it the “Stairway to Heaven.” It was, the story goes, built by a monk named Ajan Juan, and the seven levels of stairways represent the seven stages on the road to enlightenment. Walking up the steep steps to level five is a good leg workout, and rewarded with a break at a buddhist prayer space. The custom is to stop, remove your shoes, and enter the alcove to bow and pray to the golden buddha statues. If a monk passes you on the mountain, you’re expected to bow briefly. The monks wear bright, orange suits that wrap around their body and expose the shoulder. They shave their heads and wear sandals for shoes.

Level six is terrifying. The staircases give way to a small, wooden deck with a tiny handrail that hugs the side of the mountain. The boards creek under your feet. Sometimes they bend down as your weight shifts on them, tempting a view at the thousands of open feet beneath you. We instinctively lean towards the wall of rock, gripping it with our hands as we go around. The view is incredible though. It’s exhilarating, beautiful, and frightening all at once. The pictures don’t do it justice.

Level seven turns out to be a disappointment of shrubs crowded over unmarked paths.

Other than that, our time passes more or less peacefully, with lots of errand running and occasional family drama. We sip blended coffee drinks in sidewalk stands and eat fish, cooked whole with the skin peeled back, under tarps on the bank of the Mekong. We head to Udon Thani for some official business and eat at a place that offers “rice with spit in sauce” and sells a hideously-sweet “San Francisco Ice Cream.” Then we go to see the famous “dancing orchid.” It doesn’t dance. In the afternoon we stop by a place that gives excellent boat tours in the morning. We get out of the truck and gaze out at the water under the hot, midday sun.

“Yep,” I say. “They probably give some nice boat tours.”

The drive back to Bueng Kan is long and rambling. We pass more small towns than I can count, miles of Thai countryside, and a few 24 hour karaoke bars that probably have a little more to offer than karaoke. We stop for directions at least eight times.

On Thursday we visit the local senior center. Dian is duly dragged up in front of the crowd to sing. Twenty rows of mostly women, dressed in red and pink clothes that flow down to their knees under the roof of the open-air building, clap in all the wrong places. Then they do a group dance, and we watch a very long presentation by three, younger pink-shirted ladies about… something in Thai.  

Later the pink shirt ladies attempt to teach the seniors to dance. They do this with a small foam alphabet pad. The seniors are called up three at a time and then walk up and down on the pad, attempting to put their feet in the right places. It isn’t clear if the instructions are bad or the old folks just can’t follow them. This goes on for about an hour and we wander off to amble down the dirt road to the corner. A stray dog thinks maybe we have some food.


When we get back they are still foam padding. Dian’s mother wants us to watch some more. She wants Dian to figure out how the lessons work. Dian has no idea.

“They are literally just walking up and down, Mom,” she says.

The two of them have an argument that would send half the room under a table if they could understand. We leave.

Tomorrow we take a road trip to Bangkok. It’s a 10-12 hour drive. Our hotel is right next to the airport. The website depicts a comfortable, clean, modern hotel. It will, probably, have good plumbing.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dia de los Muertos, Weeping for the Mission and Don Cooksey

The word on Mission streets this year was that Dia de los Muertos is officially played out. The Mexican holiday/arts and culture celebration used to be one of the few times that people in the Mission forgot about neighborhood politics and partied together. Burners painted their faces, gave puppet shows and danced in the park, while working class families and long-time Mission residents built altars in honor of loved ones who had passed away, and everyone came together for the street procession at dusk.

Not so this year. The Examiner ran a front page article about neighborhood concerns over how large the event had grown, which featured the rather unfortunate quote, "They just don't want white people involved." SFist encouraged its readers to "try not to ruin Day of the Dead this year," and, most importantly, the Mission Cultural Center's art show for the holiday focused on themes of eviction and gentrification. It was titled "Weeping for the Life and Death of the Mission District," and the opening was held at the same time as the procession.

It was sad to see something that used to be a fun, low-key neighborhood event get caught up in land-use politics, but it wasn't surprising. This is, after all, San Francisco. And the complainers did have a point. Rene Yanez, a long-time Mission resident and one of the key figures behind bringing the Dia de los Muertos event to San Francisco, is currently fighting an Ellis Act eviction. 

But none of that stopped us from going. Quite frankly, we had lost too much this year not to go. 

We stopped by the park early to avoid the crowds, where we built a small altar. It could have been the daylight hours, or because some artists chose not to exhibit this year, but the altars seemed smaller and less impressive than in the past. Maybe all of the best people were over at the Mission Cultural Center. Their opening proved to be the most memorable part of the evening. That's not doing it justice. It was brilliant. 

There were over 50 artists who created altars for Weeping. One of the most intense was a monument to the hundreds of women who've gone missing in Ciudad Juarez. Their faces lined the wall in the small room where the altar was placed, and a documentary played on a screen at the back of the room. Other altars dealt with issues of class, loss and culture, and some were simply well-planned traditional altars in the style of the holiday.

The most memorable, were the ones dealing with the ongoing class struggles of the Mission. An entire row of altars was dedicated to businesses and cultural icons of the neighborhood that have closed, or been forced to move, in recent years. These remembered places like Discolandia, Modern Times Bookstore and Encantada Gallery. City College of San Francisco was honored with an altar due to its ongoing accreditation struggles, and an altar created by Linnette Morales and Claudia Arenas used prominent symbols of the new economy to mourn the "tech takeover" of the neighborhood. It featured a skeleton sporting the fuzzy, pink mustache of a Lyft car, a cutout of a Google bus running over a street vendor, and a traditional alter candle that had a slightly pixelized image of Mark Zuckerberg's face.

After seeing the exhibit, Russell Howze and I walked down 24th St. to get back to my car. The streets were crowded, and the event was clearly much larger than it used to be. Russell observed that instead of a crazy march with torches through Balmy Alley, it was now a horde of bridge and tunnel folks lined up to watch. 

Is the event's popularity really such a bad thing? 

Not necessarily. Just because something is popular doesn't mean it isn't good – things often become popular because they're good. But there is something kind of unseemly about watching so many white, upwardly-mobile people celebrate a Mexican holiday, at the same time that their presence is pricing out the artists and Latino population responsible for the festivities.

The crowded streets of 24th proved too much for us, and we cut through an empty Balmey Alley to get back across Potrero. When we reached my car, I opened the trunk and pulled out a fuzzy pink mustache, which I attached to the front of my car with zip ties and carabiners. It was almost time to go to work.

I went to the park to remember some of the people and things I lost this year. A sampling of them are memorialized below, in no particular order.


CELLspace was a collectively run community arts center on Bryant St. I was a member from the fall of 2000 until the spring of 2007. During that time I lived in a small box in the ceiling, sat through hundreds of hours of ritual theater, called 911 more than once, and had some of the best times of my life. I also worked like a dog. The story of the rise and fall of Cell is told in a previous post on this blog, "An Obituary for CELLspace." To remember Cell, I brought an old T-shirt, and Russell Howze brought some "Long Live Cellspace" flyers.

Juan Cardenas

Juan was one of the nicest people who ever worked at the Circus Center. His hugs, smiles and handshakes were genuine, and he was always there with an encouraging word for a struggling performer. I typically ran into him on those late nights at the circus school when I would stick around to practice my act for upcoming gigs. He never once complained about having to clean around me. His death at the hands of a hit-and-run driver was tragic, and criminal.  I didn't have anything to leave for Juan, but Dian drew a lovely card for us to place on our altar in his memory.

Don Cooksey

When I was a kid, I thought of Don Cooksey as an eternal bachelor – he was always at our house instead of his own. Don loved pizza, had an intense stare, and played a mean hand of spades. In later years, after I grew up and moved away, Cooksey started a family of his own, but he'll always be a part of ours too. I didn't have much to remember Don either, but I wrote his name down on a piece of paper, and taped a Marlboro cigarette to it.

Victor Ayala

Victor was a good friend, a skilled electrician, and someone I used to call "the most feared man at CELLspace." He was famous for coming down from his room at 3 a.m. and screaming at event producers about the mess they made. Victor was a bit of a nut, be he had a sweet side too – I used to always talk him into taking me on late-night Burger King runs after a long night house managing at Cell. To remember Vic, Russell brought some flyers with his photo, and I brought a pack of Marlboros. Hopefully, he will share them with Cooksey.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An Obituary for CELLspace

CELLspace, community arts center, closed its doors at the end of 2012.

During the late '90s and early aughts, there was no better place to see the Mission District’s artistic, multicultural vibe than CELLspace.  San Francisco prankster Chicken John was known to decorate the 10,000 square foot warehouse as a Las Vegas casino; the Flaming Lotus Girls created their first large scale fire installations in the CELLspace metal shop, and during Carnaval, the space would burst at the seams from the ritual drumming, colorful rattling costumes and sheer number of teenagers involved in groups like Loco Bloco and Danza Azteca.

Michael Sturtz was so impressed by CELLspace that he named his industrial arts school, The Crucible, after their art gallery.  

“The name was inspired by the Crucible Steel Gallery, which was the CELLspace gallery at the time,” he said.  

Burning Man’s Arts Advocate and Community Events Producer Steven Raspa held his first interactive art exhibit in that gallery.  "Cell has played a vital and significant role in the underground creative community in the Bay Area for many years,” he said, adding that he could recall, “numerous mad-capped happenings that defied explanation.”

Most people who went there, went to those mad-capped happenings: all-night dance parties that began with a yoga lesson and ended with the Extra Action Marching Band, literary events with David Byrne, beats from Bassnectar when he was DJ Lorin, breakdancing competitions, mechanical bull riding, hip hop theater, live chainsaw massacres, puppet circus suppers, blindfolded transcendental meditation workshops, and youth hip hop nights where gang members from the Nortenos, Surenos, Westmob and Big Block all danced together.

And it all began with a window in the bathroom.

Jonathan Youtt, Justin Bondi and Tryntje Rapalje were living in a dusty, illegal unit attached to a warehouse screen printing business, in what was then called the North East Mission Industrial Zone.  It was a lively apartment, with live music, puppet shows and independent film nights.  In the quieter moments, they would gaze out the bathroom window and watch the T-shirts dry.  They would imagine a better world.  A world with art.  A world with community.  

It was 1996 in San Francisco.  A time when you could still find a room in the Mission for $300, and the dotcom boom hadn’t turned empty warehouses into prime real estate.  When the screen printing business moved out, the dreamers moved in.  They signed the papers on the Spring Equinox.  

The early years at Cell were marked by chaos and construction.  Dave X was known to test his flamethrowers behind the building on Florida St., Jojo La Plume created an open craft loft in the homemade mezzanine, and the Sisterz of the Underground offered free breakdancing lessons for aspiring b-girls on the main space floor.  On some days, you might have seen all three happening at the same time.

This writer first walked through the doors in the fall of 2000, looking for a place to practice juggling.  Tamara Li, one of only three employees — in a space open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. — said, “for something like that, you could just pick a couple of chores off the chore board.”

Jonathan Youtt pointed out that CELLspace was never just about Burners.  When some local youth were discovered painting graffiti on the outside of the building, they were encouraged.  Those walls later hosted many great street artists, like Swoon, Spie, and Joel Bergner.  Joel Bergner painted his first outdoor mural, “De Frontera a Frontera,” on 2050 Bryant, for which he won Best Public Mural from Precita Eyes in 2004. 

“We were the only community space for a while that would even touch youth [programming], and youth hip hop shows,” Youtt said.  “We provided a place for the Third Eye Movement, United Playaz, and other groups to organize against Prop 21,” a 2000 ballot initiative that made it easier to try juveniles as adults.    

But it wasn’t all playa dust and b-boys.

The caretaker system — where members traded “20 hours” of work in exchange for cheap rent upstairs — led to burnout, and monetary theft.  The space was run by collective consensus, which involved painfully long meetings.  One irate member could freeze decision making, and some meetings ended in screaming matches and tears.  And there were constant problems with the city.  The building at 2050 Bryant St. was never meant to be a public space; bringing it up to code proved to be a nightmare.  CELLspace was temporarily closed by the police or fire departments so many times that some members lost count.  

During these shutdowns, CELLspace had to look outside of its doors to bring in money, and that led to an expansion.  Jonathan Youtt convinced the owner of an empty warehouse and parking lot out back to let Cell have fundraisers there.  A group of members envisioned a flea market for the Mission, run with the CELLspace ethos in mind. This writer insisted it would never work.

The Mission Village Market grew to be Cell’s biggest moneymaker, and rivaled the Alemany Flea Market as a destination for vendors.  Mission Urban Arts — a Cell-founded after school program — used the extra building to teach breakdancing, DJing and other skills to Mission youth, and the bike-education group The Bike Kitchen taught their first free workshops at the Mission Village Market. 

With two buildings, in-house youth programming, official 501c3 non-profit status, and an eventual Place of Entertainment permit in 2005, the once kooky warehouse space had grown up.  But as CELLspace became more established, the culture changed.  The space relied less on volunteers, artists and live-in caretakers, and more on paid staff.  Collective consensus gave way to weekly staff meetings, and monthly board meetings, as nonprofit status required by law.  

During this transition, most of the original members left.

“In the '90s it was, live there for nothing, work your ass off,” said Russell Howze, a longtime CELLspace member.  But by the time Howze quit volunteering in 2005 he said, “the culture of making art for participation’s sake was pretty much gone.”

Despite changing the guard, the space appeared to be thriving.  

Cell’s 10th birthday party in 2006 was attended by a who’s who of Mission nonprofit workers, and politicians like Tom Ammiano and Chris Daly.  But later that year, CELLspace lost its second building to make way for a housing development, and was forced to close the Mission Village Market.  Cell had to move all of it’s programs into one building, and the needs of the competing programs clashed.  Tension grew between the events department and the staff who ran the youth program, leading to subtle accusations of racism on both sides.    

Grants helped to cover the loss of income from the market, but a lot of the money was wasted.  After one of the larger grants was received, the staff were given cell phones (no pun intended) for conducting CELLspace business.  Within one year, they would have no business to conduct.

“Essentially, large amounts of money were mismanaged, one grant in particular from DCYF (Department of Children Youth and Families). Money was spent on things it shouldn’t have been, there were gang dynamics in place — it became a high risk situation in some of the decisions that were made, programmatically and financially,” said one former employee who preferred to remain anonymous.  

In early 2007, employees who argued about the direction the space was going were let go, beginning with this writer.  Later that year, paychecks for employees of Def-Ed, the Adult Art Education Program and Mission Urban Arts started bouncing.  After months of assurances, waiting and mystery from the admin, everyone was laid off.  Classes were cancelled, events business fell off, and a locked door at 2050 Bryant St. became the norm.  

Helen McGrath, the former Programs Director, was heartbroken to tell the 200 kids in Mission Urban Arts that the program would end, and didn’t want to let CELLspace close.  McGrath, Lizbett Calleros, and former Board President Dorian Johnson reached out to older members and formed a small coalition of volunteers to save CELLspace.  

“Dave X and Dorian Johnson really gave it a go,” said Howze, who also came back to volunteer after the crash.  But in 2009, the fire department told CELLspace that even though they had a Place of Entertainment permit, they would now need a separate Place of Assembly permit.  That meant construction, and Cell didn’t have the money, or the volunteer base to get it done.

The space limped along for years, but by the end of 2012, the landlord was fed up with Cell’s inability to pay the rent on time.  2050 Bryant St. was given to new management and officially became Inner Mission on January 1st 2013.  Inner Mission is the first ever Bcorp entertainment business.  A Bcorp is a new type of corporation that places a higher emphasis on sustainability, ethical sourcing and equitable treatment of employees, but still operates on a profit model.  

Russell Howze and Jonathan Youtt saw the transfer of CELLspace from a non-profit community center to a for profit entertainment business, as another symbol of the Mission district’s gentrification, and the decline of the arts culture in San Francisco.

“In the long run, the spirit had moved to Oakland,” Youtt said.

Dave X was less forgiving.  He felt that the space could, and would have survived, if more people had pulled together to finish the final construction project for the POA — an enclosed exit in the back.

“In the end it went down not because it was getting shut down by the cops or whatever, but it closed because of our own incompetence,” he said.  

CELLspace is survived by a warehouse arts culture that moved to Oakland, and a crew of former volunteers and employees, who, despite being spit on, shot at, bankrupted and worked until they couldn’t see straight, will miss it dearly.

CELLspace will be remembered with a private memorial service on March 21st — which would have been Cell's 17th birthday — at Inner Mission, 2050 Bryant St.  7 p.m. until whenever.

Post your corrections, remembrances, rants, raves, diatribes and essays in the comments.

Thanks for reading,
—Devin Holt

Monday, January 21, 2013

6 Black Power songs (and one bonus video) for MLK Day

In his lectures at City College and SF State, music historian and author Ricky Vincent likes to point out that, "you can learn about the ideas and arguments of black identity by listening to the music."   So today -- in honor of the MLK Holiday -- we're taking a little trip into civil rights music history.

First up: Say it Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud -- James Brown
In 1968, civil rights activists were running out of national leaders.  Huey P. Newton was in prison (the case was later dismissed), Malcom X had been assassinated, and on April 4th, Dr. King was shot while standing on his motel balcony.  In this environment, black musicians and artists became de-facto spokesmen for civil rights.  James Brown stepped up to the plate with, Say it Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud!  

For more on this, check out the excellent documentary The Night James Brown Saved Boston.  But for now, let's just watch James do what he did best:

2. The Revolution Will Not be Televised -- Gil Scott Heron
Perhaps one of the most borrowed phrases in hip hop history, the poem has been sampled, remixed and referenced by artists like KRS One, Public Enemy, Common and even Snoop Dogg.

Gil Scott Heron's message of non-commercialism and commitment to the cause is still relevant today, perhaps even more so.  "The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox, in 4 parts without commercial interruptions..."

3. The Message -- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
James Brown's legacy didn't end in the 60s.  He was also a direct inspiration for the artists who created hip hop.  Pioneers like Kool Herc rapped over James Brown's funky beats, and the original b-boys danced to the "breakdown" section of James Brown records.  But until The Message dropped in 1982, hip hop was known more for rocking parties than political consciousness.  

Ironically, Flash himself never wanted to do the song.  He thought the beat was too slow, the gritty street tales were too depressing, and that people wouldn't dance to it.  According to Dan Charnas in The Big Payback, the The Message was conceived by Sylvia Robinson at Sugar Hill Records, who did an end run around Flash to Melle Mel when he turned her down.

4. You Must Learn -- KRS One and Boogie Down Productions
While he never received the mainstream recognition that Public Enemy did, KRS One was an important figure in the early days of conscious hip hop.  The Temple of Hip Hop founder is considered by many -- including Grandmaster Caz -- to be the greatest live emcee of all time.  Known as "The Teacher," among hip hop aficionados, his raps focus on storytelling and education, but still rock the house.

5. Fight the Power -- Public Enemy
No way could this list be complete without a shout to PE!  While they got in a little hot water over some of Proff Griff's comments about Jews (he later said the tape was doctored), the group defined the political hip hop sound throughout the 80s and 90s.  Chuck D played the professor, Flava Flav mocked the minstrels of old, and Griff brought that militant feel to their stage shows.  

These days Chuck D is known more for his books -- and Flava more for his tv show -- but here they are at the height of their fame.  

6. The Coup -- Dig it
Ok, I admit it, I added this one partly to get some Bay Area up in here.  But the city that brought you the Black Panthers is well served by Boots Riley and company.  Known for funky hooks, marxist lyrics and killer DJ Pam the Funktress, The Coup proves that not all hip hop on the west side focuses on guns, drugs and misogyny.  Here they are with a track from their first album, Kill the Landlord.  Tell 'em Boots!

Bonus video:  I Have a Dream
And, of course, the one ring to rule them all.  If you've never seen the whole thing, it's worth all 17 minutes.  Rest in Power Dr. King.

Did I miss something?  Let me know in the comments section.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Periodic Update #1

Welcome to the JDH Blog.  A blog written by a chronically underemployed circus performer who dreams of writing in his old age.  An old age you can almost see from here.  It sends the occasional postcard that says, I’m broke, or, You should have gotten health insurance.

Anyway, I’m glad you’ve come to visit and I hope you’ll stick around for a while.  If you want the “greatest hits” check out 24 Hours on Muni parts 1 & 2 from June, or Sneaking Into Outside Lands from August.  For something you can digest in five minutes try The 10 Most Annoying Things About San Francisco, also from August.  If you can’t stand pictures of gross things you should probably avoid A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Burning Man.  The archives can be accessed by month in the box on your right.

I’m taking a short break from the blog to concentrate on fiction writing.  Don’t worry though, I’ll be back before you know it.  I would plug some of my upcoming adventures, but then a better writer than me might steal them.  After all, if we don't have our own ideas, what do we have?

Peace and Blessings,

“If I couldn’t be me, who would I be?  I damn sure wouldn’t be a sucker MC.”
--Too Short

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Curmudgeon's Guide to Burning Man

Are you sick of new age hula hoopers rambling about theme camps and playa dust? Rolling your eyes at all those EPIC Burning Man posts?  Recently, my favorite grumpy lesbian asked me to explain the desert cult people.  According to her, “they get that sickeningly glitter pony glow in their eyes and revert to ambiguous fluffy descriptions like ‘it’s just the playa man, everyone is happy and lovely’--BARF!”

So for all you grumpity grumps out there, here is the straight poop on Burning Man.

The Man
A very large stickman.  Gets burned on Saturday.  This means something, or maybe it doesn’t.  Fun times.

The Playa
The festival site.  A vast expanse of dust and sunshine in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.  Hot during the day, cold at night, and prone to four hour dust storms.  Imagine you’re in the worst place you’ve ever been camping.  Now go and look for somewhere much, much worse.  You might end up here.

Attendees, or “participants.”  Burners come in all shapes and sizes, but lean heavily towards Wonder Bread.  If I had to guess, I would say the average person at Burning Man is a thirty something white male that didn’t party enough in college and spends the rest of his year chained to a keyboard.

Buying, selling, and all corporate advertising are strictly prohibited at Burning Man, with two exceptions.  The Center Camp Cafe has coffee, and ice is sold in a few places.  This might bring you closer to your neighbors, or it might make you really, really wish you had remembered the toilet paper.  

Sex, Drugs, and Techno
If you don’t care about things like basic hygiene or sleep this will be the best part.  For the true curmudgeon, sexual relations at Burning Man will be the same as anywhere--everyone else will be having a lot of it.  And if you don’t like techno you better get some bad-ass earplugs, or spend all week at Death Guild Thunderdome.

The Art
Going to Burning Man for the art is kind of like reading Playboy for the articles.  Playboy really does have good articles, but we all know you just wanted to see Kim Basinger naked.  

Burners love to give everything a cute name.  It makes life easier and can turn sitting in traffic into a spiritual experience.  Which is good--because come Sunday, that’s where your ass will be.  Sitting in traffic.  Oh, excuse me, Exodus.  

Common Terms
Every community has it’s lingo.  Here are a few things you might hear and what they mean.

Black Rock City = Yet another name for the festival site.

Radical Self Reliance =  Bring your own stuff.

The Gift Economy =  Give that stuff away to people who didn’t bring their own stuff.  

MOOP =  Matter Out Of Place  Trash, basically.

Is this your first burn? =  Pretty sure I’m cooler than you.

Is your back sore? =  Would you like a massage?

Would you like a massage? =  I want to sleep with you.

Are your legs sore? =  I’m a creepy middle aged guy with no pants.

What not to do
I’m all for letting your curmudgeon flag fly, but it won’t win you many friends at "the burn." Avoid asking questions like:  
Why is it ok to sell ice, but not water--what about water that used to be ice?
Why would I pay 300+ dollars and volunteer at an event thrown by a for profit corporation?
When was the last time you washed that?  

You might be tempted to point out that bringing a crapload of drugs, water, and your car to the desert is fun, but has very little to do with “survival.”  Or that dubstep sounds like two robots taking a shit.  Or that dancing is defined as “moving rhythmically to music” and therefore very little dancing happens at Burning Man.  Don’t do this if you want to get laid.

What’s the point?
Why endure massive dust storms, six hour traffic jams, and a third of the Bay Area’s douche bag population?  Why drag a week’s worth of water, food, and clothes to one of the world’s least hospitable campsites?  The truth is, there are as many reasons as participants.  But where else can you find a free coffee shop that will only serve you if you get spanked, ride a giant flaming scorpion or play in an abandoned shipwreck in the middle of the desert?  I go because Burning Man reminds me that all art--like life--is temporary.  So you better enjoy it while you can.

See you on the Playa,