Okay, folks. It’s serious.
The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma is in such a severe financial crisis that Tom Gaffey has been laid off. You might not have noticed, because he’s still working there every day, but it’s true—he’s been taken off the payroll.
“I need to be back on in about a month,” Gaffey told me yesterday, “or I’m gonna be in trouble. “
On the phone last week, Tom tried to downplay the situation, saying that he’s been through thin times before, back when the Phoenix was a smaller operation. “If I could cover the rent, the PG&E and the insurance, then we were golden,” he says. “But now we’ve got some other things going, and the fact of the matter is that stuff is so cool. The music school, the clinic, the art programs, all the extra stuff we do is just so important and so valid. When you see the clinic on Thursdays, it’s absolutely full, a good long line of people waiting to get in. You can’t deny this is a great program.”
To that end, the only paid employee at the Phoenix right now is music program director Gio Benedetti, and even he’s been cut down to half-pay. Executive director Amber Faur, like Gaffey, has also been officially laid off. Bruce Hagen, board president, explains that both are still working at the Phoenix in a volunteer position, and “they’re working as hard as they ever did, God bless ‘em.”
It just doesn’t make sense. Say the name “Tom Gaffey” anywhere in Sonoma County and an air of beloved reverence is instantly conjured. This is a guy who’s given decades of encouragement to teens who didn’t get support from their schools, their families, their social circles. Who’s said yes to starting a band, painting a mural or realizing some other potential when every other adult has said no. Who’s given years of sincere advice in place of nagging, and provided wide-ranging opportunities to kids who’ve only known closed doors.
So how could something like this happen?
For years, the Phoenix used to be run by Gaffey alone, who in addition to booking shows also oversaw a bunch of kids who hung out after school, played guitar, made art, put on plays, edited films, skated and helped each other with homework. When the theater was saved from being turned into an office building in 1999 by a group of dot-com benefactors, it slowly eased into the Phoenix Theater of today—a nonprofit model where all those extracurricular activities are now official programs eligible for grant funding.
Hagen says the theater had banked on getting some significant foundation grants and major donor grants, “but the word we’re getting is ‘You guys look like a great program, you have a pretty solid organization, but we’re not taking anybody on right now.”
The shows haven’t been doing too well, either. Up to half of the theater’s income once came from door receipts, but the Phoenix was forced last year to be overly cautious about booking rap shows, “and as troublesome as those sometimes were,” says Hagen, “they were very profitable for the Phoenix.” (The long-running series of Super Hyphy shows usually brought in at least $2,000 per month.)
All told, the Phoenix needs about $20,000 a month to stay afloat. In addition to funding, the theater is in need of energetic board members, reliable volunteers and “people with skills in administering a nonprofit,” Hagen says. “Ten years ago, we had a situation where the Phoenix couldn’t exist on the model that it had. And now, we’re in a similar situation where in this economy, we can’t get by unless we have a greater level of support from the community.”
Those interested in volunteering time or skills can get in touch with Hagen directly by emailing him here. As for Gaffey? “I’m fine for a little while longer,” he told me, “but I may have to go out and find a job here real quick.”
For those who’ve been inspired or supported in any way by Tom Gaffey and the Phoenix Theater, helping out is as easy as clicking here and making either a one-time or monthly donation. They’re a 501(c)(3) now, so it’s tax-deductible. Now is the time to help out. Countless people have seen firsthand the benefits to having Tom Gaffey at the Phoenix Theater. If enough of us pitch in, we can rescue one of the worthiest causes in Sonoma County. Every bit helps.
I just got off the phone with Adam Theis, who’s still flying high. Christ, he’s got every right to be. On Saturday night, in the middle of his set with Supertaster at a very tiny and very new club called Coda in the Mission District, someone whispered into his ear that Stevie Wonder had just walked into the room. “The rest of the band soon found out,” he recounted, “and we were all looking at each other like, what the fuck?!”
It’s no small thing, Stevie Wonder walking into the room, especially when you’re a band who’s made a habit out of playing dozens of Stevie Wonder songs. It’s no small thing, either, when at the end of your set, Stevie Wonder starts making his way up to the stage with his bodyguard.
You know the rest: Stevie Wonder got up and sang two songs with the Jazz Mafia at a tiny little club in the Mission District. I mean, after Stevie Wonder sits in with your band, what else is there? Does Theis ever need to play another show in his life? “It kinda feels like that, actually,” he jokes.
Here’s an excerpt of Theis’ written recollection of events:
We chatted with him for 5 seconds and decided on the tune “All Day Sucker” which is a tune we used to play a lot in Supertaster and also with Realistic Orchestra for the annual Stevie Wonder Birthday Tribute that we put on. I have to say that when he started singing the song it was beyond goosebumps…the crowd was going completely insane yet being very respectful, the band was playing better than ever and we honestly had no idea that Stevie would even want to sing with us. He did what I felt like was my favorite version of that song ever. As the tune was nearing a stopping point, I leaned over to Bagale and suggested testing the water by playing the riff from “Can’t Help It,” the hit song he wrote for Michael Jackson. Joe gave me a huge smile and head nod.
It was a little weird when I merged into the bass line from “Can’t Help It,” Stevie was still singing “All Day,” and he kinda froze for a second to get his bearings – I was kinda freaked out because I felt like, “I just cut off Stevie Wonder!!” Crap!!” But it took him literally 2 seconds and BAM! one of my favorite songs EVER came to life on stage live.
After it was all over, Stevie hung around the club, taking pictures and chatting with the band, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. “You’ve got five minutes to hang out with your idol,” Theis explains. “What do you talk about?” By all accounts, though, Stevie seemed genuinely interested in the band, in the San Francisco scene, and in Theis’ recent masterwork Brass, Bows and Beats. And right before he left, he called the whole group together.
“We got in this kind of a huddle, just the musicians, and is voice lowered a little bit,” Theis says. “It was really cool and intimate. He said he liked what we were doing, playing a lot of different styles and taking a lot of chances. He said keep doing it. Do not give up. He said this thing that we did tonight—we did, he said—is really, really important. That it’s what culture is all about.”
Here’s to the Jazz Mafia, to Supertaster and to Coda. And for Theis, a former Santa Rosan who’s done nothing but make a name for himself since he left town, I know he’s on Cloud Nine and probably will be for the next year. “Someone would have to come back from the dead, actually,” he says, “for it to be better than Stevie Wonder.”
Here’s the video:
“He wasn’t one of those people who were the center of attention, but was always one of those people others were drawn to. You know, talented, athletic, funny, compassionate,” says Allen Sudduth. “Bruce was always one of the best and the brightest.”
Sudduth would know. He first met Bruce Barclay in the mid ’60s at Santa Rosa Junior High, and with Sudduth on drums and Barclay on bass, the two locked in step with each other both as lifelong friends and musical partners. Both had known each other in junior symphony and other school programs, but through a series of garage bands with names like the Third Foundation and the Worthy Cause, the two played nonstop at school dances and local venues—even opening for the Buffalo Springfield in Santa Rosa at the Fairgrounds in 1967.
Sadly, Barclay died last year, the result of complications from an auto accident 15 years ago. This Friday, Sept. 25, people from all over the country are flying in—either alumni of Santa Rosa High School or those with a personal connection to Barclay—to participate in a special memorial concert for Bruce reflecting his dual love of classical and rock music, “from the sacred to the profane,” as Sudduth calls it. The first set is classical-oriented with works by Vivaldi, Schumann, Bellini, Grieg, and others; while the second set features songs by Jelly Roll Morton, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix, and yes, a few originals by Bruce Barclay.
“He was a phenomenal, phenomenal bass player,” says Sudduth. “We listen to these tapes that we did in the ’70s and ’80s and we’re just stunned at how good he played. And we kinda took it for granted, I guess. But he was always the rock. He was the guy you could always count on. He played better than anybody.”
The Bruce Barclay Memorial Concert is this Friday, Sept. 25, at Santa Rosa High School. 8pm. $20; all proceeds go to SRHS music programs. For more information, click here.
Last night, for the first time in my life, I watched an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. The daily bulletin announcer at West Beverly High School kept trying to get MC Hammer on the phone, which seemed amusingly out of date until special guest Debbie Gibson showed up at the end. At least Hammer is playing Hardly Strictly for the second year in a row; the last time I saw Debbie was at a Cubs game, leading the crowd singalong of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
There was a scene in the show where Brandon is hot for this girl of really vague Hispanic descent, so she takes him to a Hispanic Cultural Center to test his mettle in the hard ghetto or whatever. (“She’s a straight-A student,” says her friend, “but it’s tough you know, with the gangs, and the drugs.” I believe this show was screenwritten by Lassie.) Some terrible 101.7-FM hard rock music is blaring, and everyone is jazz-dancing in sync, like they’re in Cats. I enjoyed Mick LaSalle’s response in today’s pink section to this guy who questioned plausibility in movies, but this took the cake.
Anthony Williams, a.k.a. DJ Roc Raida, has died. Even if you are not a fan of DJing, watch the clip below to see what the world has lost. I was amazed when the X-Ecutioners came to Future Primitive in S.F. and blew everyone’s mind with their choreographed acrobatics. Lots of people on the West Coast dismissed ‘em as “trick DJs,” and that’s legitimate, but tricks are entertaining and they were entertaining as hell. Rest in peace, Raida.
I look back in weird ways, I guess. I have a compulsive need to chronicle the past, and assemble tidbits, and remind myself that it happened. To remind myself that bands existed. I collect flyers, set lists, broken drum sticks, drawings, strange notes between band members, letters, practice tapes, broken strings. I sometimes present these items to their originators years later, like a mom bringing out the third grade report card again. “See?” I implore, “You ripped this Paxton Quiggly sticker off your bass in the middle of your set at the Highway 12 house in 1995, and you threw it on the floor, and you thought you’d never see it again, but look, here it is! And look, you got an ‘S’ in reading, and your teacher wrote ‘Is attracted to the books of Judy Blume’!”
It’s fine and dandy to be reminded of third grade, but it’d be downright ridiculous to actually go to your third grade classroom again, and cram into the tiny wooden desk seats with all the others you went to school with, and attempt to re-create the magic of watching “Riki Tiki Tavi” for the first time on the 16mm projector. This is how I feel about band reunions. Know your past, and build on it, but don’t rehash old moves.
So. Pavement is reuniting for a tour in 2010. Pavement is one of the greatest bands of the last 20 years, and we should by rights be shitting our pants about this, but how excited can even a diehard fan be with dead weight of Malkmus’ mediocre solo career and Spiral Stairs’ failures in the 10-year interim? Does context not bog down the grandeur of “Stop Breathing”? If the band smiles while playing “Major Leagues,” is it because they love the song, or because they’re getting paid? Is it unfair to read too much into an ex-band’s good time?
There is no concerted band-reunion backlash. This is the summer of nostalgia. Michael Jackson, Woodstock. Pastel-colored T-shirts with white blazers. Reissues, repackages, reunions, retracing. Bands performing classic albums in their entirety. Everyone clawing back ceaselessly into the past, avoiding whatever it is they’re scared of facing. I can understand needing a warm familiar place to reside say, during the Bush administration, but why now? Look around. Now is when we have a smart president and we have these weird artistic opportunities because of the depression and we have this gung-ho spirit of change and hope and possibility, and the best we can do is help the Pixies sell out three shows of a no-surprises song-for-song set of Doolittle, a very good and very old album they recorded over 20 years ago.
Next week’s Bohemian column is on a stellar book coming out on September 29, Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. It’s a collected oral history of a very special time in many people’s lives, my own included, told by over a hundred band members, scenesters, zine editors, promoters, volunteers and old friends who save things like set lists and practice tapes. A mammoth work at 500 pages, it will have an impact on the Bay Area in ways we can only prognosticate, except for one. “Are you ready for the bickering to begin?” I asked authors Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor yesterday. “Oh, it’s already started,” Tudor said. “It started when we began interviewing people.”
I’m a champion of history, which shouldn’t be confused with nostalgia; history is telling stories about an old flyer, while nostalgia is trying to book the same show with the same bands at the same venue all over again. History can also be unsettling, and having events close to one’s life wrapped up neatly into book form sometimes gives the eerie feeling of mummification. I mentioned this to Boulware, and asked, “Why write about all this stuff now? Isn’t it a little too early?” He laughed.
“When you’re too young, you don’t really have a perspective on it, as much as when you’re older,” he explained of most of the book’s interview subjects. “When you’re in your 30s, you’re embarrassed of the stuff you did in your 20s, and you don’t wanna talk about it. But when you’re in your 40s, and you’re talking about something that happened in your 20s, you have a little bit of distance on it.”
In other words, if Boulware and Tudor hadn’t tracked these people down now, who knows what stories they’d have been unable to share? Lots of writers have tackled the Bay Area punk scene and failed; by handing the book’s voice over to the people involved, Gimme Something Better is like being homesick without leaving home, and an epic chronicle that people will be talking about for years to come. I can’t say as much for the average band’s sad-sack reunion tour, where the prevailing feeling is that of watching overgrown children dance for Grandma.
Along with uninteresting bookings like Styx and Rick Springfield, Konocti, which is owned by Local 38 Union of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, has consistently brought the biggest names in country music to the area. Look at the list of performers who’ve played there, and it reads as a who’s-who atop of the country music charts: Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Brooks and Dunn, Faith Hill, Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley all come to mind.
Country music stars are often just as easy to make fun of as leftover arena-rock slop like Lynyrd Skynyrd and KISS, but with Konocti closing, where around here are people going to be able to see them? Toby Keith can’t play the Wells Fargo Center; it’s simply too small. Maybe someone could book him at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, but will he really want to play on a temporary rented sound system in a dirt rodeo grandstand? Konocti had a solid working relationship with these artists, and they kept coming back to the place, as run-down and decrepit as it may be.
Some people say it’s just as well that Toby Keith, a confirmed douchebag, can’t play around here anymore, to which I recall the last time I went to Konocti, to see Trace Adkins. He sang songs about soldiers and mama and workin’ hard and America. To see the fat shirtless guys cheering, the disabled veterans crying, the kids in wheelchairs smiling, the toothless MILFs dancing, and the plumbers, pipefitters and journeymen and their families all singing along was to witness a culture that we too often criticize without understanding.
The bottom line is that a slice of happiness for these people has been lost.
Good morning, absurdity. How did you know to arrive on time, and in the form of Charo?
Her 2002 show at the fair in Santa Rosa is still one of the best five dollars I’ve ever spent, and the passing of time hasn’t dulled her ludicrous sensibility one bit, as evinced by a glorious appearance singing Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” Sunday on the Jerry Lewis telethon. Try to watch it with a straight face. I dare you.
These DJ Shadow Handmade records really are something special. They come in die-cut sleeves with hand-stamped titles. They’re pressed thick with textured, wrap-around covers. And yes, they come Sharpie-personalized and numbered with your name written on the back cover.
Better yet, they’re great mixes. I once saw DJ Shadow at the Fillmore in 2000 spinning a short, dark set that included a nice vocal loop of “Quality Control.” It was cut short by an overflowing bill (try keeping 28 DJs on schedule, including Invisibl Skratch Piklz last show), and a VHS tape of the show was released, but without Shadow’s set. Lost to the gods.
Or so I’d thought. Skratchcon Rehearsal Mix is that set, recorded at home the night before the show, and the unheard second half is killer, based around the Zack de la Rocha collaboration “March of Death.” (Also keen for clicking the cart is Evening Session Mix, the long-rumored Miami booty bass set Shadow spun during one of Mark Herlihy’s Future Primitive Sound Sessions at the Japantown bowling alley in San Francisco.)
If you want to see DJing at its finest, check out the video below of Shadow and Cut Chemist at the Fillmore later that same night, re-creating, from original sources, Double Dee & Steinski’s famous “Lesson” series. It’s almost ten years old, but since Serato has come along and threatened to eliminate this type of skill entirely, it’s more relevant than ever.