Chinatown lured us back with its promise of cheap shit. Even some Lip Shit. Passed on that. But we did buy some of the I HEART SAN FRANCISCO-type memorabilia; you can justify it when you’re disguising it as a kid’s t-shirt purchase. We also went to the Eastern Bakery for something called a butter and cream roll which reminded me of the old mock-cream donuts, but was far better. Also those old prawn crackers…fantastic…
Back to our new favourite diner for our new favourite pizza.
We’re winding down a week in San Francisco. I can still get lost here easily enough but you find some version of yourself pretty easily, you pop up anywhere else and it’ll do. Navigating downtown, or the central city or whatever you want to call it – “Town” as I always do, wherever I am – is a breeze. It’s the suburbs and other districts…that’s when you have to pack the map. Not only that it’s even better if you can follow it.
I was out to the Mission District to meet up with my friend Sylvie Simmons. She of the great Leonard Cohen bio and a charming set of uke songs on her debut album, she of the Americana column in MOJO, and long before that the first person to interview Guns N’ Roses, the one to help in getting bands like Motley Crue up and over the line, back when music journalism meant something. She’s a lifer, has to be one of the longest serving and has always been one of my favourites. Pick a name – almost any name in music, she’s not only written about them, she’s possibly still friends with them. She has a fantastic reputation, great ears and a killer set of stories.
I’ve written about meeting and getting to know Sylvie and how I already knew and loved her work – we met last time I was in San Fran, cold-called and then off out to meet her the next day. A cup of tea and stories about the Cohen book she was – back then – still working on. And stories about the L.A. metal scene in the late 70s and into the 80s and stories about, well, everyone and everything…
Since then she’s been to New Zealand, and ended up staying a night with us. She’s been a Facebook friend too – we’ve kept in touch. This visit provided a chance to get some of this – her history, music history that she’s walked in and around and written up – down on tape as I recorded a wee yarn for my podcast.
Sylvie’s working on a new book now – which is great news. The bad news is she can’t tell you what it is. She did tell me – but I can’t tell you either. Anyway, trust me – it’s good news. It’ll be a great read. She’s got a book of short stories on the way too and another album. So we talked all that up and talked about anything else too.
Then I was off down the road to get caught up in luchador masks and to visit a string of great bookshops. And I found this cool café – Pig & Pie. They sold records and Scrimshaw beers, also a kickass pulled pork roll.
Picked up some great fake right wing propaganda too…
After that I dazed out – enjoying the stroll and kinda got lost, couldn’t work out where to go or where to go to get to somewhere else…and as I realised I was stuck in the heart of The Mission – not such a bad place to be of course – the song Past The Mission by Tori Amos flashed up in my head, I played it over and over; the version from an old VHS tape I had where she sits provocatively at the piano and the lead singer from Tool joins her to croon the tune.
Funny how music works, how it pops up to either calm or agitate. True story – I am a nut. And so my music-brain does a Word Association-type thing and to chill out from hearing a refrain of Past The Mission in my head as I’m thinking I’ll never get past the mission I switch-up and suddenly hear the strings of Morricone’s Mission score, and then Gabriel’s Oboe comes to me, circles as the theme, calms me as I retrace my steps. Hey, I’m a fucking goon. But I know that (and now you do too – if you didn’t already).
So I’m back at the Pig & Pie for another Scrimshaw as I hook up an Uber. I’m out. Finally.
Here I am – mildly freaking out at one point, a song on a maddening loop in my head, all directions lost. And the fix is to go and have a pint of a craft beer and use the free wifi to hook up a ride. That ride arrives and the car carries me in silence. I stare out the window at everything being fascinating. Next to a huge emporium promising the very best of value there’s a row of tents, makeshift/full-time housing for a few in the home of the free and the land of the brave.
Will be back at the Mission next time for another cuppa with Sylvie I’m sure. And to look
again at those masks and all the great poetry books – so great to see so many interesting poetry volumes on American book shelves, all the things you barely ever see at home – even in the serious shops. Amazing selection of graphic novels too – I bought the new one about Daniel Johnston (and it’s shit-hot, must-read if you’re a fan) but I could have bought two dozen more titles…
We’ve been staying in a lovely part of town – apparently Robin Williams had a house round the corner, Sean Parker – the Napster guy (Timberlake played him in The Facebook Movie) has his house down the street too, currently shrink-wrapped in that re-building bubble-tape. And we walked past Sharon Stone’s house – or what is apparently her house – on our mission to the beach. My sister-in-law’s birthday and she wanted a picnic and to watch the sun go down under the Golden Gate. We carried a coffee-table down and some IPAs, some cheeses, crackers, those sorts of things, bubbly, pastrami, and on the blue-tooth speaker I flicked on the score from the Brian Wilson movie and as that helped set a scene as the champagne popped (“I’m a cork on the ocean…”) we talked about how a Dennis Wilson biopic – possibly from the point of view of his Manson involvement – would be a goer. Would Father John Misty play him perhaps? We watched a few stray boats. Saw the sun go down. Oscar ran and tumbled and giggled and posed for photos and had all of the joy of a holiday-boy up late and without shoes as the warmth of the sun lapped at all of us even in the wind. As the wind was no real distraction, let alone deal-breaker, as it is at home…
We were carrying the load back up the hill when the cop car arrived with its swimming lights of red and blue and a megaphone proclamation to take all cars immediately or face lock-up and towing; they close the gates after the sun goes down and they want the riff-raff out.
“This”, our host told us, “is America: You watch the sun go down and its gorgeous, you have friends and family and wine and great music and food and it’s happy and lovely and free and calm and you have great conversations and you think of how lucky you are. And then a big cop car drives up and ruins the fucking mood man”.
It was a great last day and night in San Francisco. We slept just a few hours before making it to the airport bleary-eyed. Next stop – fleetingly – Seattle….
To read Tour Diary # 1 – The Streets of San Francisco click here
To read Tour Diary # 2 – A Great Day To Turn 40, No Poo at The Zoo…click here