trendysomething in somo
Faux underground bands, yoga over peace & a true-life Weeds couple: The real SanFrancisco
When I moved into my SoMo apartment before my senior year of college, a family member aimlessly remarked, "This area feels so much like San Francisco."
The comparison of Houston's gayest, hippest neighborhood to the country's gayest, hippest city was a bit tautological, but since then, I'd been haunted by the urge to visit the City by the Bay. When two friends recently relocated there, I finally had the excuse to hop on a plane.
Before 2010, I'd never even been to California, usually finding myself on vacations visiting family and friends on the other coast. On a trip to California in April, I never even made it to the Pacific coast, so I was determined to finally see the state in its true form.
Up until now, San Francisco existed as a series of myths and fictions: the Golden State as painted by Steinbeck, the assumption of the city as the nexus of American counterculture in the late 1960s and the center of tech booms and busts. With very little facts on which to base my impressions, I had to fly there before I could determine if the city was in itself a lie.
San Francisco can be a tourist trap. I knew I hit rock bottom when I spent three hours waiting in line to see the Rivera-esque socialist murals inside the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. The wait to travel to the top of the building and grab the coveted panoramic view would have been even more torturous had I not been scouted as the only single person in line, and therefore could be crammed onto an elevator without losing sight of an assumed lover.
This frustration with the tourist scene, combined with an unfortunate burrito in the Mission, caused me to do what any dignified twentysomething would do: sleep on the couch until your friends get off from work. After digesting a stream of episodes of Who's the Boss?, I found myself at an album release party for the Terry Malts.
Terry Malts is a self-described derivative band, actually a side project of San Francisco band Magic Bullets. The release was a new height in obscurity: My host's college friend is dating the guitarist, which means that we were privy to the underground album release — which was not in fact a CD release, but the reveal of new songs on cassette tape.
In case you didn't know, cassette tapes are the new ironic, retro affectation of the cool kids, replacing leg warmers and out-of-production editions of Wayfarers. The Terry Malts recorded the tape in a particularly dangerous realm of South San Francisco, and the edginess shows on their debut. Whereas Magic Bullets reminisce on The Smiths, this band takes a page from the Ramones. But it's more washed out, with a lot more mumbling flannel and fuzz — in a word, San Francisco.
Like many local bands, the music's message was laid back, yet as they played, the authenticity of the band's lax vibe deteriorated as audience members riffed about former Magic Bullets band members defecting to their Bay Area archenemy, local indie-pop heavyweights Girls. Gossip spilled on one-time Magic Bullets keyboardist Matthew Kallman and guitarist Ryan Lynch. I wasn't sure if it was the slander or the lingering crush of the burrito, but I left the Tenderloin dive wondering about how plausible the peaceful agenda in SF really is.
I knew that to really delve into the city's stereotypes, I'd have to spend a Saturday in Golden Gate Park. With a few friends, I headed to the "Power to the Peaceful" music festival, which included performers and speakers such as peace poet Michael Franti, punk band Anti-Flag and Outfoxed producer Robert Greenwald. To be clear, I never heard any of the above acts because the hordes of peace-lovers were so numerous and intermittent group yoga sessions, directed from onstage, eclipsed any significant performance.
"Activism" was the primary theme of the festival, although the emphasis seemed to be hanging out on the grass, preferably on a multicolored blanket brought back from a sojourn to Nepal.
During one particularly focused bout of people-watching, I felt a small, yet firm, punch into my back. Turning around, I found a belligerent toddler fighting what looked like his twin. The boys belonged to middle-aged hippie parents peddling "medicated" caramel corn. When a customer would approach their blanket, the peaced-out couple would talk up the delights of their snacks, slipping in a few cliché hippie gems (which I was surprised were even still in circulation).
Yet the couple chose to condone their vaguely violent children, and as soon as a purchaser would desert their blanket, the pair would take off their mellow masks and begin quarreling. From overhearing their squabble, I learned that they had turned to selling marijuana-infused consumables after their home was foreclosed upon. It became apparent that the family was jumping from California cliché to cliché.
The family's descent almost brought a tear to my eye, except that I was really hungry and opted instead to go buy a falafel.
As I passed the Victorian shantytowns on the BART ride to SFO, I couldn't tell if I felt disillusioned by the promised treasures of San Francisco, or if I was just experiencing a bad case of paranoia. In a city that's so rife with legends and nostalgia, it's difficult to distinguish what's really real.