Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Monday Malady Strikes the San Francisco Civic Center!

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Good Evening:

One whole heck of a lot of people must have had The Friday Flu on this Monday morning. Normally, people come down with The Friday Flu, that peculiar debilitating malady that lasts only as long as it takes to call in sick, and that peculiar debilitating malady that normally only strikes on, well, um, you know, Friday. But the weather wasn’t so nice on Friday, and much much nicer on Monday.

I did go to work on Monday–and stayed there for eight hours–but I had to run a few errands on my lunch break and took the opportunity to practice my 30 Shot technique (probably a good time to re-mention that I know I didn’t invent it, just like to use it for street photography) and capture the scene around the Civic Center.

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Even those who did not call in sick still found the time for business lunches, uh, picnics that maybe just maybe lasted just a little longer than one hour.

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And believe it or not, San Francisco is not just a city of leisure. We do work hard here. Honest.

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Vonn Scott Bair

Vintage Street Car Logo Samples (Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters)

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Good Evening:

If you awaken in a strange city that you’ve never seen before, and if you see what look like 50 foot long hard candies rolling up and down the street, you woke up in San Francisco and you are looking at our vast collection of vintage North American street cars. They are colorful.

Can’t deny it; some of the old time logos of San Francisco’s vintage street car system, maybe designed by someone in the office during the 1930s who dabbled in painting during his or her spare time, have a certain character lacking in some the more professional designs I see today.

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See what I mean? Here’s a shot of the Dallas:

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By the way, do you also see what I mean about the candy-colored paint jobs?

Vonn Scott Bair

The Artists Leave Their Mark (Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters)

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Good Morning:

And good Heavens, your faithful correspondent has gotten old, hasn’t he? Don’t know if the people who create San Francisco’s magnificent murals call themselves artists, muralists, painters, or taggers. Do know that they do like to leave their mark, and they do like to leave it artistically. All pictures taken on 26 April 2014 with a Nikon D40 DSLR, unedited.

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Vonn Scott Bair

The Instant Art of Instant Abstract Art: Orange Series, 24 April 2014.

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Good Evening:

I’ve published plenty of posts devoted my Grey Series, my Blue Series, and my White & Blue Series–not to mention The Instant Art of Instant Abstract Art. But I’ve published very little (if anything) devoted to the color orange. I blame the muralists. Come on, people! You live in the home of our beloved orange-and-black San Francisco Giants! You live in the city where Hallowe’en is the biggest annual holiday! Why so little orange?

Then I found a nearly-100-foot-long mural on the side of the Food Co. grocery store on Folsom Street.

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Now that’s more like it.

Really–blue? That’s a Dodger’s color.

Vonn Scott Bair

On Top @ The Bottom: The San Francisco Music Scene, 2014. (Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top)

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Good Evening:

In the 1990s, San Francisco became home to a variety of underground clubs that took over vacant buildings in industrial areas such as SOMA (South of Market). Underground club = unlicensed + unregulated + only one exit + zero fire extinguishers = deathtrap; in other words, one of my favorite places to listen to new music at the time.

(Optional reading: one of the earliest known uses of the word “deathtrap” in San Francisco referred to a short-lived building fad in the mid-19th Century–steel houses. They were advertised as unburnable, which was true. Unfortunately, when a fire did strike an entire city block, the steel houses melted, sealing the doors and windows shut, turning into ovens and roasting the trapped inhabitants.)

The Line on McAllister of Fans Waiting to See Lana Del Rey

The Line on McAllister of Fans Waiting to See Lana Del Rey, Bill Graham Civic Center in Background

Sometime in early- or mid-1993, I passed on attending a show with a few friend at one such venues featuring a pair of Berkeley bands. The following day, I really got the abuse. Aside from the fact that the two bands tore the house down (figuratively), my friends overheard the lead singers talking to each other after the show. Both bands had just signed with major labels and had major-label debuts coming out in late 1993 and early 1994, and their major-label debuts were going to hit the tops of the charts and stay there throughout 1994. This talk did not impress me at all; after all, the music scene in San Francisco was huge, I mean huge, no, I mean huge at the time and lots of bands were signing contracts, and lots of bands knew, they just knew their major-label debuts would sell huge numbers of CDs.

I did not feel at all impressed.

The singers: Billie Joe Armstrong and Adam Duritz.

The bands: Green Day and Counting Crows.

The albums: Dookie and August and Everything After.

Yeah, I kinda missed a good show.

Forward to 2014.

Recently, one of the city’s local free weekly papers hosted a town hall meeting to debate the question, is the San Francisco music scene dying? The overwhelming opinion: no. The San Francisco music scene is dead. We have hit bottom. The number of musicians is down, the number of bands is down, the number of venues is down, the number of rehearsal spaces is down, et cetera et cetera et cetera. This represents a pretty sad decline for a city that for a few years became the center of the music world. Specifically, circa 1968-1972, when 2400 Fulton Street among others became the homes of bands like the Jefferson Airplane. It might surprise outsiders that a city this young could feel nostalgia, but ’tis true.

But San Francisco still goes crazy for music when it can. I had the opportunity to reflect upon this when Lana Del Rey (currently on top of the music scene, at least in the US) came to town last week for a 75-minute gig at the Bill Graham Civic Center. It’s not that we no longer care about music; look at the length of that line. The funny thing is that these folks missed out.

Lana Del Rey Signing Autographs Behind the Civic Center on Hayes Street

Lana Del Rey Signing Autographs Behind the Civic Center on Hayes Street

That’s Lana Del Rey minus her public ultra-cool ultra-hip persona, not acting like a superstar on top of the music world (picture taken with an iPhone 4, unedited). Instead, she looks more like the organizer of a night on the town for a bunch of friends attending their 10-year high school reunion. See the guy with his right arm raised, revealing a big wristwatch? That’s her head underneath. The folks waiting in line in front of the Civic Center missed out on a chance to meet her when she was just being herself, hanging out with people who were temporarily her friends.

So San Franciscans haven’t given up their love of music.

But have we given up on making music?

I don’t know about that.

I believe that partly because I am very much a contrarian. In January 2009, I made a big investment in the S&P 500 because everyone else was abandoning stocks. In January 1982, I moved to San Francisco despite the fact that the city had just lived through one of the worst decades of its existence–specifically, I moved to San Francisco 8 days before the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. I also believe in the music scene because like the city as a whole, our entire arts scene (not just music) has booms and busts; we are definitely busted now, so maybe the next boom is just around the corner.

And I believe that partly because I keep hearing music in the strangest places.

Like outside my window at 5:30 p.m. today.

Four Musicians Walking to Rehearsal, the Saxophonist Entertaining a Young Lady

Four Musicians Walking to Rehearsal, the Saxophonist Entertaining a Young Lady

I heard a saxophone and knew I would want my camera. I saw these four gentlemen walking in one direction, and a rather attractive redhead walking in the other direction.  The saxophonist also decided that she was rather attractive and began performing to impress her. She kept walking. But still…

I can’t tell you which band will lead the San Francisco Renaissance, not can I tell you when it will begin. Humility is good for me; in 1993, I thought D’Cuckoo was going to rule the world, not some angst-ridden or punkish kids from the East Bay. But there is a reason the Phoenix is so significant to this city. We just keep rising from the ashes.

Vonn Scott Bair

Sunset from Turtle Hill, 20 April 2014 (Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top)

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Good Evening:

Wind rising, temperatures dropping–what are these folks doing on the top of Grand View Park, also known as Turtle Hill? (all pictures totally unedited)

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Oh, this must be why they assembled:

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Grand View/Turtle Hill became quite popular at sunset over the weekend. I came here after attending the Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. I didn’t know that much about her work, but the similarities between some of her paintings and some of my photographs astounded me–can I sue her for plagiarism 90 years before the fact?

Here are two shots of the same scene, the first using the Nikon Landscape Mode, the second using the Dusk/Dawn Mode.

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Finally, the reason we stayed and shivered:

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We applauded.

Vonn Scott Bair

The View from the Artist’s Garret (Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top)

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Good Evening:

From now until at least the end of September, you can count on Golden Gate Park hosting something, anything, many things on the weekends. Today is both Easter throughout the world and 420 Day in North America, so the park hosted a huge number of celebrations of both events, including everything from small family picnic gatherings to big concerts. Some folks managed to combine both.

At the end of the day, people had to walk home from Easter and/or our biggest cannabis holiday. That meant walking down Haight Street, which means walking past my home.

A genuine, honest-to-God Artist’s Garret on top of an Edwardian, on top of the street.

Bicyclist Heading Home, 20 April 2014

Bicyclist Heading Home, 20 April 2014

420 Celebrants Heading Home, 20 April 2014

420 Celebrants Heading Home, 20 April 2014

It does give one a new perspective.

One thing that does mildly irritate me about outsiders’ perceptions of San Francisco is the common mis-perception that we are all a bunch of wild-eyed church-burning atheists. To mis-quote the late great Herb Caen, fercrynoutloud. I mean, come on, folks, look at my city’s name. That’s Spanish for Saint Francis. Thanks to the large populations of people with Irish and/or Italian and/or Hispanic ancestry, San Francisco has a large Catholic population. Oddly, people don’t notice.

Microbrews and American Spirits, 20 April 2014

Microbrews and American Spirits, 20 April 2014

These two are Irish sisters who live in different apartments in my Edwardian (one moved to the US many years before the other). They made up the third (I think) group of partiers on our front steps today. Twas a grand day indeed of warm weather and clear skies, and I look forward to a fun time in my town this summer.

Vonn Scott Bair

Tree-Toppers (Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top)

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Good Evening:

Actually, I do not know the correct name for these machines, but I’ve seen them used by tree toppers so often for trimming trees that I have named after the people I’ve seen using them to get to the top of trees up to fifty feet tall. In addition to tree toppers, other utility workers use them to access overhead lines.

Howard Near 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 19 April 2014

Howard Near 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 19 April 2014

Vonn Scott Bair

The View from 525 Golden Gate (Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top)

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Good Morning:

Working at the San Francisco PUC headquarters at 525 Golden Gate Avenue, one can easily feel on top of things–literally. Here are some recent top-down shots, some coming from yesterday.

San Francisco City Hall During the Last Big Storm, 31 March 2014

San Francisco City Hall During the Last Big Storm, 31 March 2014

Lining Up for the Lana Del Rey Show at Bill Graham Civic Center, 18 April 2014

Lining Up for the Lana Del Rey Show at Bill Graham Civic Center, 18 April 2014

Dumpster in Redwood Alley, 31 March 2013

Dumpster in Redwood Alley, 31 March 2013

Civic Center Lunch Trucks (Bride & Groom in Crosswalk), 18 April 2014

Civic Center Lunch Trucks (Bride & Groom in Crosswalk), 18 April 2014

Federal Building Plaza During Lunch, 18 April 2014

Federal Building Plaza During Lunch, 18 April 2014

No Matter How High We Build, The Sky Remains on Top, 18 April 2014

No Matter How High We Build, The Sky Remains on Top, 18 April 2014

Vonn Scott Bair

Monuments of Golden Gate Park (Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

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Good Evening:

Taste in monuments sure has changed over the course of a century. Golden Gate Park hosts a large variety, and most are fairly mundane statues honoring various types of artists:

Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key

Goethe & Schiller

Goethe & Schiller

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

…which makes me wonder why statues to artists are, um, well, not exactly artistic.

I prefer the simplicity of the modern style.

Entrance to AIDS Memorial Grove

Entrance to AIDS Memorial Grove

Simple, serious, solemn.

But one of the old-fashioned monuments does appeal to me, because the firm of Cebrian & Molera (Jo Mora, Sculptor) brought a little sense of humor to their 1916 effort.

Cervantes and His Two Greatest Fans

Cervantes and His Two Greatest Fans

Presenting the great Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, but not just the great Cervantes; Jo Mora also included Cervantes’ two greatest admirers, Don Quixote de la Mancha and his trusty squire Sancho Panza.

Have you ever read The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha? I have, and not as required reading for some class; I read the book just for the heck of it–and a heck of a good heck it was! Considered by some the first Western novel (great way to start an argument) or the first modern novel (yeah, I’m one of those annoying types who insist that The Tale of Gengi by Lady Murasaki was the first novel overall), DQ does deserve its reputation as one of the greatest books ever, and still reads very today. If you ever have nothing to do and a week to do it in, you would do worse than to read the first and third books which make up the canonical version.

Because that’s what Cervantes wrote. He didn’t write the second book. The second book, a.k.a. Part Two, was a spurious version written by someone using the pseudonym Avellaneda. That sort of plagiarism was winked at/ tolerated/ legal/ encouraged back then, and Cervantes had no recourse but to recruit his friends the good Don and Sancho to serve as um, well, uh–book critics, skewering the “second book” at every opportunity.

Literature used to be very strange.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Efficiency & Trust of the Saxophone, 13 April 2014

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Good Afternoon:

At first, it all seemed so very “meta:”

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Just a tip basket on the railing of a footbridge next to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park (Georgia O’Keeffe fans, rejoice–the retrospective is excellent). No musician, no artist, no writer, no poet, no actor, no mime. Just the tip basket. Busking as conceptual art, I thought; ingenious!

Then the saxophone made itself heard.

I leaned over the railing and observed this gentleman:

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So he was collecting tips from two different locations, and trusting that no one would swipe his earnings from the bridge. Impressive faith in humanity! However, I observed that the tip basket had grown full, and remembering the Social Experiment in the Office (Part I here, and Part II there), I chose to serve my fellow artist by adding a dollar of my own and lowering the basket to him using the twine taped to the basket’s handle.

“Wait, wait! Don’t lower it yet!”

This came from a 20-ish young lady with dark brown hair. She fetched a dollar bill of her own from her purse, added it to the pot, and then gave me permission to lower the basket.

“Not yet!”

This came from another 20-ish young lady with dark brown hair. She fetched a dollar bill of her own from her purse, added it to the pot, and then gave me permission to lower the basket.

This time I did succeed in lowering the basket. The saxophonist expressed his thanks for our help and offered to play requests for his supporters.

I moved on, having chores to run, plays to write, scripts to mail, acting to practice, et cetera. Could not help but wonder, though: had I accidentally conducted my own accidental social experiment?

The unanswerable question: would the young ladies have contributed to the support of live music in San Francisco had I not made an effort to present the musician with all of the money that he earned?

Honestly, I have no idea.

Vonn Scott Bair

Riddle of the Day! 13 April 2014

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Good Evening:

Examine closely the objects in the picture below.

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From left-ish to right-ish, top-ish to bottom-ish, they include:

  1. Two (2) tote bags;
  2. A manila envelope containing 2013 receipts;
  3. My 2013 tax returns;
  4. A packet of computer screen wipes;
  5. One (1) box of vegan broth cubes;
  6. My cell phone, nattily attired in an official WordPress cell phone cover;
  7. A collection of recent photographs;
  8. My point-and-shoot camera;
  9. A grip so I can use my cell phone as a video camera;
  10. One (1) bag containing my electric shaver;
  11. One (1) package of gourmet organic chocolate;
  12. One (1) box of anti-gas pills;
  13. One (1) stapler;
  14. Two (2) pens;
  15. Actor’s makeup (foundation);
  16. Dental floss;
  17. A set of paper dominos;
  18. A backup flash drive for my DSLR camera;
  19. One (1) bag of cough drops;
  20. One (1) Mexican professional wrestling lucha libre mask;
  21. and Two (2) boxes of tea bags.

 

Now here is your riddle: what do they all have in common?

The answer: at approximately 1:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, they all fit inside this:

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What’s in your bike messenger bag?

Vonn Scott Bair

The Instant Art of Instant Abstract Art, 12 April 2014 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument)

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Good Afternoon:

I won’t write that the Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park is one of San Francisco’s smallest, except that um, well, uh, the Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park is one of San Francisco’s smallest:

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That’s pretty much the entire park.

(And I need to stop right now to post a message to WordPress: whatever the admins are doing to this website, please STOP DOING IT. I have now experienced my fifth involuntary logout just to write the first four lines of this post–I have not yet inserted any images. I’m sorry to write this about one of my favorite websites, but–good grief, there’s involuntary logout NUMBER SIX. No, wait: now it’s seven.)

In addition to the monument, six eucalyptus trees were planted nearby in her memory, and one in particular interested me because it gave me the opportunity to practice a common theme of mine, Instant Abstract Art. Essentially, I take a closeup shot of an object until you can no longer tell what it is–all that remains are lines and colors. Such as these pictures of the bark:

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Vonn Scott Bair

 

On the Threshold of Theater (Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold)

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Good Evening:

On occasion, one aspect of theater stands out from most other forms of the arts.

Sometimes, you can’t possibly know how the story will end.

The Set of The Two Chairs, 5 April 2014

The Set of The Two Chairs, 5 April 2014

You can skip ahead to the end of a short story, a poem, or a book. In big-budget movies, you already know what will happen even before you fork over your $10-12 (plus the price of popcorn). I haven’t seen the latest James Bond yet, heck, they might not have even filmed it yet, but I probably already know that the dude will still be alive at the end (and somehow, I don’t think that’s a spoiler alert). In low-budget movies, you can’t take for granted that you know how they will end, so they offer a similar experience to theater. Sometimes a good television show will throw a huge surprise at you, so that also counts as a similar experience.

But when you sit in your chair on the threshold of the world premiere of a play, you can’t possibly know how it will turn out before the end. As the above picture shows, you can’t even know what you might see on stage. A movie set in New York City? You probably won’t see the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s just not real. Theater hasn’t these constraints (unless the show wants them), and therefore has greater scope for invention, even though it operates under severe physical constraints. Theater is invention grounded by force in reality.

The above photograph of the set of The Two Chairs (world premiere this month at Bindlestiff by the Performers Under Stress) is a good example. As it happens, I had to opportunity to read the entire script before the show, and still had no idea what to expect. Sometimes happens with the classics, too: Yale Rep once staged a spectacular version of The Tempest featuring eight Ariels.

The Two Chairs is a two-hander (two actors total) about confession, power, domination and control. Both actors did very well on the night I saw the show, but Duane Lawrence has now amazed me in two consecutive plays; he can do astonishing things just by arching a single eyebrow. And that’s another advantage of the theater over other art forms; its sheer visceral nature. Those are real human beings on a stage and sometimes they are only a few feet away from you. Or even less; in one show, my character had a death scene that went slightly awry and my head ended up on an audience member’s foot. CGI just can’t me the same feeling; after a while, let’s face it, it’s just more computer stuff.

Theater: it’s just plain real.

Surprise yourself and check out a play and let it surprise you.

Full disclosure: I know the director and cast of The Two Chairs (the SF theater scene is both big and small; everyone knows everyone). Even so, I still feel good about recommending the show.

Vonn Scott Bair

Oakland: On the Threshold? (Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold)

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Good Evening:

Downtown Oakland, California used to be dead.

As recently as last year, I could walk the entire length of Oakland’s Broadway from the 12th Street BART station to the intersection with Grand Avenue on a weekend day without seeing another walker at all; maybe a few people working in a fast food restaurant, but that’s it. I would not see another person on the streets until I reached Grand Avenue. Even then, I would not really encounter much humanity until I reached Lake Merritt. If the legendary Paramount Theater did not have a show, downtown Oakland on the weekend was emptier than a scene from some big-budget post-apocalyptic alien invasion/incurable virus/zombie rampage flick.

Sunday afternoon was different. Very.

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I had to pick my way through a large assortment of people hanging out in what has become an honest-to-God neighborhood. The area around the intersection of Broadway and Grand has–in less than twelve months!–become a destination, with a multitude of coffee shops, restaurants, a few galleries, and even a nightclub jam-packed with people at 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday (making it a “dayclub?”). Sunday!

Downtown Oakland has begun to look like San Francisco.

Even San Francisco-style murals have begun to appear.

Something has always held Oakland back; for example, the three biggest problems in that city are crime, crime, crime, crime and crime (and yes, I can count). I mean, “Crime in Oakland, California” has its own Wikipedia entry. But there does exist one factor that can push Oaktown over the threshold from “underrated with great potential” to “seriously freaking awesome.” Rents.

In the entire San Francisco Bay Area, you will find two types of rental markets: reasonably unreasonably high rents…and San Francisco. Oakland happens to fit in the former category and right now, it has begun to attract the kind of people who can no longer call San Francisco home, or who would have called San Francisco home if they could have afforded it. Oakland could become the kind of artists enclave that San Francisco might cease to become.

Oakland even has dance troupes that will board the BART trains and perform for money.

That used to be a San Francisco thing.

Vonn Scott Bair