Two things that define me: I was born and raised in Oakland, and I love music.
For the first part of my life, this meant trumpet lessons and shopping for records with my dad after school. At 13, I switched to drums and started a garage band with some other music nerds. In junior high, I went to the Cow Palace to see Faith No More, and from then on the floodgates were open. I spent every weekend in the city, haunting San Francisco’s concert halls and all-ages venues.
When I got older, I got a job in radio, started a record label, toured in rock bands, and began writing a music blog.
My obsession with music hasn’t become any less obsessive, and yet I feel like something has changed. The city doesn’t hold the magic that it once did.
Our garage and psych bands are lauded by high-minded internet cognoscenti, but that’s not enough to give us real cred as a music destination. A few eight-point ratings on Pitchfork won’t put us in competition with New York or LA.
Our music scene is good, but it should be great. The whole city needs a kick in the ass. What’s holding us back? Our growth has been stunted by a toxic combination of shitty neighbors, overzealous police, bands that phone it in, and crowds that are too polite to heckle them when they do.
Because I love this city too much to let things slip further, I’m offering San Francisco a music manifesto; a list of guidelines to get us back on track.
Music doesn’t just happen in dark rock clubs.
Parks, plazas, rooftops, and street corners are all great places to catch a performance. San Francisco has a pretty temperate climate. Our outdoor spaces should be teeming with soul singers, indie rockers, and Afro-Cuban jazz bands. The SF Arts Commission should work with hip bookers and promoters to plan free outdoor concerts at lunchtime, after work, and on weekends. Local merchants should support these series, and we as citizens should demand them.
We need specific zoning and enforcement regulations for entertainment districts.
One whiny, loft-dwelling neighbor shouldn’t be able to threaten the life of an established venue. People who move near a nightclub should have to acknowledge that they know what they’re doing. Along with their lease, they should have to sign a contract that says, “If the distant sound of live music bothers my precious ears, I agree to move to Pacific Heights. I promise not to call the police if I hear live music coming from the club that has been hosting shows since the ’80s.”
The SFPD and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control have teamed up to crack down on numerous underground gatherings that include music and booze. Several SOMA venues have been shuttered and DJs have had their equipment confiscated. WTF? Warehouse parties are a crucial part of urban culture. How about we devote our limited police resources to fighting crime?
Everybody and their mom wants to be a rock star. But you know what? Not everybody with a paintbrush gets a spot in the Louvre.
The wheat has to be separated from the chaff. The best way to do that is through a process of brutal honesty. If you go to a show and the band sucks, refrain from polite applause. Instead, try this: cup your hands around your mouth and yell out at the top of your lungs, “Booooo!” (“You suck!” is also acceptable.)
Musicians: The Performance is Key
I know you made an awesome electro-pop space opera masterpiece on your laptop, but that doesn’t automatically translate to a live setting. Get yourself a rhythm section and a mirror, and practice the shit out of your set. Give the audience something to look at. You’re being judged by a crowd of people who paid to see you, so learn to perform before you take the stage.
Go see some live music, for chrissakes.
I know you have to get up early to do yoga and all, but staying out until 11 p.m. and having a few drinks is not going to kill you — especially if you’re under 40. If you want your city to be cool, then you have to make it cool.