Nothing pounds your brain into thin gruel quite like six hours on a plane. Here’s what I can remember from my trip to San Francisco for the Paul Williams tribute at Litquake.
“I wasn’t sure if you were being serious,” remarked my friend Wes as I entered his home, his gaze cocked downward at my electric blue sneakers. Prior notice had been sent out regarding the color of my footwear so I’d be easier to spot amongst the throng waiting for rides at the airport (Wes’s wife Erica was ultimately tasked with retrieving me). I guess this could speak to Wes’s suspicious nature. More likely it speaks to my infamous inability to project authenticity. Still, who would lie about such a thing? What’s to gain from giving your contact false clothing information, especially on the eve of a transit strike? Yeah, just look for the guy in the Big Bird costume. Contrary to popular opinion I did not want to spend my nights in San Francisco sleeping under the Golden Gate Bridge.
That night I had pizza from some generic pie place that didn’t totally offend the Brooklyn pizza snob in me. In fact, it was pretty darn good. Of course I had to go Hawaiian on the toppings, because pineapple is a fruit whose nutritional value is obviously not dulled by layers of molten cheese and slices of ham.
This fanciful dog is typical of the kind you see in San Francisco. You can’t really tell from this angle but he’s wearing a Darth Vader sweater vest.
Bay Area Rapid Transit was officially on strike as of this day, so I caught a ride with Erica over to Amoeba Records, a.k.a. music obsessive mecca. I forgot how overwhelming that warehouse can be. The clearance section for rock CDs alone is the size two regular record stores. The clearance section for rock CDs is so big I actually got physically tired flipping through its racks. Didn’t find anything revelatory in that archive but elsewhere I found cheap as dirt copies of the MC 900 Ft. Jesus disc with “If I Only Had A Brain,” the Angry Samoans album with the graphic head injury on the cover, and some CD-ROM the Meatmen put out in the mid-nineties. Bought all those along with as much Rocket From The Crypt I could carry. Then I walked across the street with my unshowered self and used the facilities at Whole Foods. I looked beyond homeless but the employees remained cordial. They’ve probably seen worse.
“We’re taking you to this place where you’re gonna have the goddamn biggest sandwich of your life!” said Erica after my Amoeba excursion. The eatery in question is called Deli Board and while I’ve had bigger hoagies or grinders or whatever you wanna call ’em the bastard I ordered (the Zeke; turkey, sprouts, and some other yaz) was mad big n’ tasty. For reasons unknown Wes and Erica both saddled me with their complimentary pickles; not one to waste food, I stuffed the green spears in my pockets and they became my go to snacks for later in the day.
Riding around San Francisco via car is like being on a roller coaster that never gets out of its moderately-paced introductory speed as you cruise up and over utterly ridiculous inclines and around unbelievably sharp curves. It’s one of the neater urban experiences you can have here in the States. Have they already based a Grand Theft Auto on San Fran? If not, they should. Talk about character. Now, this is all coming from a passenger’s perspective. I remember actually having to drive around the city in 2009 and my stress levels piloting a rented vehicle were definitely at Code Morton Downey, Jr.
There is street art all over San Francisco. This Ghostbusters / Simpsons mash-up spaketh (bespoke?) to me.
Dinner (all anyone cares about is food, right?): I met my former Crawdaddy! editor Angie Z in the Mission District for Thai at Thai House 530. Amazing chicken pad thai at that joint, and we managed to get a window seat so we could pretend to be zoo animals for all looking in. It sounds like I’m dissing that table but I’m not; we sat there long after the bill was settled because it was cozy and chill. Topics of conversation included NBA superstar Larry Bird, deceased humorist Michael O’Donoghue, and the Carrie remake (Angie endorses it).
While waiting for Angie to arrive before our meal I was standing around the corner of 18th and Valencia, just minding my own business and probably looking like an out of towner via my trusty Mets cap. A couple rounded the corner; the male, a trim slightly graying gentleman, was deep in explanation with accompanying hand gestures until my sneakers caught his gaze.
“Ooooh,” he said quietly. “Look at those shoes.” His face snapped up to look at me. “I like your shoes!”
“Oh, thanks.” What about the rest of me, big boy?
A subplot I have neglected to mention until now is the fact Wes and Erica were in the midst of preparing to move to Oregon during my stay at their humble abode. Saturday morning they left; luckily three other people live in that house, so it wasn’t just me and the carpet for the rest of the weekend. Two of these residents, Josh and Scott, are guys I know from those years in college I had myself convinced I was the next Mr. T Experience waiting to happen. We all spent a good chunk of this morning waxing nostalgic about the Central Florida punk scene of the Y2K era. We each have our little victories to still brag on (Scott and Josh’s band got on a Sex Pistols tribute album; my band opened for the Nobodys…sure, I had already quit / been canned, but I’m counting it). Josh’s girlfriend Tav cooked a fine brunch of eggs and hash browns and thirty-five pounds of bacon which was all delicious and insured I’d be nice and logy for the rest of the day.
I tried to take a nap before the Paul Williams tribute at Aquarius Records but I was too nervous about having to speak there. Solved this problem by walking to Walgreens and purchasing a couple Mountain Dews. Old habits die hard.
If I were smart I would have gone to Aquarius an hour early so I could thoroughly dig through their stacks. Alas, I am not in Mensa, and I only gave myself fifteen or twenty minutes before the Paul Williams thing to peruse. Aquarius isn’t a terribly big space but they do have tons of totally oddball stuff you gotta take your time to consider. With more time allotted I could have come to better conclusions about the Chinese and Finnish rock sections I flipped through. I also found a copy of Move Back Home by the Queers in the used section but immediate memory failed as to which edition of this album I already own (the original or the deluxe bonus track edition).
Came pretty close to buying the vinyl reissue of the Last House On The Left soundtrack until I remembered I had to transport the thing clear across the country. Potential breakage via clumsy packing and/or airport mishandling scared me off.
My friends have excellent taste in decor. I have near excellent taste in haircuts and Army jackets.
The tribute itself, “Paul Williams’ Greatest Hits,” went pretty well. I felt a little weird speaking because I think I was the only orator who hadn’t known Paul personally, but it seems like I did okay. No one threw rotten garbage at me. I just briefly talked about why Paul Williams is important to me personally and also our culture as a whole. There’s a slight chance I wasn’t speaking anywhere near the microphone for most of what I was saying but I think Aquarius was small / quiet enough to hear anyway. Thanks again to Denise Sullivan for inviting me out to participate in this event. Still honored and humbled to have been included.
We (the speakers) all got V.I.P. passes to Litquake’s after party, so we went to check it out. Open bar at a funky night club is cool, but not as cool as the cheap Mexi-Vietnamese tacos Powered By Pork were selling on the street outside. I was in fusion heaven. Aside from that, the highlight of this after party had to be hearing a few Clem Burke stories. Apparently the drummer from Blondie gets it done, by which I mean he doesn’t ever take no for an answer. So if you think you’re gonna be able to keep Clem Burke out of your son’s bar mitzvah, well, think again.
Super early flight home. Watery orange juice is $4 and change at San Fran’s JetBlue terminal. Worst part of the trip by far.
Thanks again to my hosts in San Francisco and all who came out / met up to party. Be back soon.
I’ll be speaking at this thing tomorrow night. Come celebrate the legacy of Paul with us. Thanks to Yasamine June for making the cool poster. I’d be more loquacious but my brain is stunned from several hours of flight.
I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be speaking at this year’s Litquake Festival as part of their tribute to Crawdaddy! founder Paul Williams. Swing by San Francisco’s Aquarius Records at 8:30 P.M. on 10/19 to hear a gaggle of us rhapsodize Paul and his remarkable contribution to rock criticism. I don’t have any other details about the event at this time but I’ll be sure to update as they trickle out. I also can’t tell you how long I’ll be in fabulous San Fran but hopefully long enough to see some of you jokers from the other side of a coffee/chowder table. Can’t wait. Viva San Fran, viva Paul Williams.
Lookout! Records, the California-based independent record label that helped usher in the modern era of pop punk as we know it via such bands as Green Day and the Queers, has closed down after twenty-five years of operation. Somewhere, the laces of an anonymous teenager’s black Converse high tops have become irreversibly knotted out of frustration and sadness.
Founded in 1987 by friends Larry Livermore and David Hayes, Lookout! Records quickly aligned itself with San Francisco’s East Bay punk clique by issuing discs from that scene’s giants (Crimpshrine, Operation Ivy, et al). The signing of a nascent trio named Green Day in 1988 would prove to the be label’s wisest business decision; when that group exploded onto MTV seven years later, their first two efforts for Lookout! became an unexpected revenue goldmine. Of course, by that time, Lookout! Records had also cemented its reputation as the underground’s premiere purveyor of pop punk, having released pivotal albums by such melodically-inclined outfits as Screeching Weasel, the Queers, and the Mr. T Experience.
Things behind the scenes at Lookout! were not always as upbeat as the records they pressed; a legal kerfuffle nearly broke out in the mid-’90s after Screeching Weasel front man Ben Foster began publicly taking Livermore’s business ethics to task RE: the group’s 60/40 contract (which in fact favored the band). At the brink of lawyering up, the label decided to simply re-sign Screeching Weasel to a contract where everything money-wise was clearly spelled out. Around the same time, Larry Livermore sold his stake in the company, although he would always remain the figure most closely associated with that iconic eyeball logo.
Livermore’s departure marked the beginning of Lookout!’s decline as new management had apparent difficulty handling monies. Dodgy bookkeeping was the complaint most often leveled at the label as one flagship act after another jumped from Lookout! to competitors such as Asian Man and Fat Wreck Chords. Such maneuvering always hurt, but no blow proved bigger than Green Day’s July 2005 decision to pull their first two albums from their former home over alleged unpaid royalties. Lookout! Records would never fully recover from the defection of their poster band (and only seven figure generator); just a year later, the label ceased issuing new releases to focus on selling their storied back catalog.
Lookout! Records was to me in the ’90s what Stax was to kids in the ’60s. It was just a goldmine for all who loved snot-nosed Ramonesy junk. They released the three best Queers albums (Beat Off, Love Songs For The Retarded, Don’t Back Down), the two best Screeching Weasel albums (Boogadaboogadaboogada!, Anthem For a New Tomorrow), every Donnas album I’m embarrassed I don’t own, the only Mr. T Experience album I wasn’t embarrassed to own (Everyone’s Entitled To Their Own Opinion), and the best-sounding thing Furious George ever recorded (the Goes Ape! EP). I can’t think of another record label I ever consciously, or even subconsciously, pledged my allegiance to like that.
That said, it would be a stretch to say it’s a shame Lookout! is finally folding after x amount of years. They had a nice little dynasty for probably three times longer than they thought they would. Also, if you’re sitting on two Green Day records and you still can’t manage to pay Pansy Division on time, well, your business license should probably be revoked anyway.
Then again, what do I know about running a record label? Diddly squat. I just snap up what they poop out. Who knows, maybe a couple of those Pansy Division albums cost several million clams to make.