San Francisco Sublime, Sushi On A Green Day, And Fast Cars With Tracy Chapman…
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I have already told you that I lived in different places on different continents between tours, but I fell in love with California quite easily as you could imagine. It was easy to go up and down the West Coast of the US very quickly when work became available. The two cities I established residencies in were San Diego and San Francisco. San Diego for when I wanted to chill out in the amazing weather, and San Francisco when I wanted to be a night crawler. It was the 1990’s and there was an explosion of creative expression on many fronts, but specifically in Art, Music, and Cinema.
After spending quite a bit of time in San Diego, I got restless and all it took to move to the Bay Area was a kind invite from a girl I met in San Diego to move into her home in San Francisco. The relationship with her would always remain a platonic one, we just became good friends. Not only that, one of the things I loved about California was how laid back and friendly the people were. She invited me to live at her Mothers large rent controlled apartment after only knowing me for a few days. Things always worked out like that in Cali, people were always so open to new, or even unconventional ways of living. It was very communal in many ways, but as we know although I could easily make my way into new groups of people, it was no utopia as some would like to think or imagine from what they see in the movies. Whatever group one would become part of would also quickly inherit the flaws, idiosyncrasies, and burdens of which that group had to bear.
So I was in San Diego and I thought to myself why not take up this invitation to live in Frisco for a good while. After returning from Europe to San Diego, I brought with me two Danish girls, one who I was in a relationship with and her friend, who I also got on quite well with. They wanted to go to San Francisco anyway before returning to Denmark. So we packed up my car and head up to the Bay Area, and booked into a Hotel in the Marina District for a few days. It was a lot of fun walking around the city with two tall beautiful natural blondes on my arms, literally, they were intimating to people that we were in a three way relationship. Brunettes don’t fret, we love you too, it’s the imagery of the situation that was quite amusing. I just went along with their fantasy, although I was only in a relationship with one of them. I vividly remember the two Danes dragging me into a large high end store because they wanted to pick out some cologne for me. They fell in love with one scent and I bought it because I liked it as well. After spritzing some on my neck and wrists, the Danes became overtly turned on and were literally attacking me with nudges from their lips on my neck. I did not stop them and of course continued to play out our sexual tension to their hearts content. They were so erotically charged….there was no way I was not buying that cologne.
After a few days of wandering the city, I rang up my friend Anna, who had invited me to move in with her family, and she said I could come by whenever I wanted. I had the address, but I would see the Danish off at the airport first before going there. I have a thing similar to George Costanza on Seinfeld where I believe that sometimes it was crucial that two worlds did not collide and this was one of them. I wanted a fresh start in Frisco, and it was essential that I send off the Danes in style. So we went clubbing the night before they left and I basically dropped them off for their flight back to Copenhagen on no sleep and I remember them being quite hung over as well. We said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch which still holds true to this day.
So the same day as the girls left for Europe, I went to the address Anna gave me to her home. I was instantly blown away by the location on 20th Street off Guerero, just a half a block from the Scenic Mission Dolores Park and a few blocks from Mission Street. After parking my car, I went to the front door and rang the bell. I could hear Rap Music blasting from the house I was ringing. The house looked beautiful from the outside, one of those row houses that you see in Frisco, thin and tall with ornate woodwork. After a minute or so a black dude around my age opens the door and after looking me up and down and then up and down the street in suspicion he asks me, ‘What’s up?’ I told him I was a friend of Anna’s and she had invited me to stay. He said, ‘ Oh yeah, she mentioned you might be coming by, C’mon in.’ He introduced himself as Jae (Pronounced, Jay), and said that Anna was at work, so I came in and we sat in his room listening to some great Rap Music I had never heard and smoked a blunt. We got to talking and he told me worked at a the Radio Station KMEL which was big at the time for Hip Hop. He was a really cool guy…it was as if we had known each other for a long time. At some point a month later Jae brought me to a party down in LA and I got to meet Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight which was very cool because I was into Death Row Records at the time.
Anyway Jae had many friends of his coming in and out over the next few hours, smoking a blunt with every one…I abstained after the first one I did not want to be toast by the time Anna came home from work. After a few hours she arrived and we were both excited to see each other. She showed me to one of the many rooms in the apartment and said I could stay in there for as long as I want. Anna showed me the rest of the flat there were five large rooms with very high ceilings and it was kept up well. There was no bed in the room I was staying in but I was fine just using a camping pad and sleeping bag on a the hardwood floor. I was easy…I didn’t need much to settle in. I was also curious to ask Anna how Jae had ended up living with them. Anna told me that they had become friends and he came from a crazy home outside the city and he, over time, just became part of the family.
We hung out in Jae’s room for the afternoon to shoot the shit…we were having fun just chillin’. A few hours later Anna’s Mom came home we were introduced. I was a bit thrown off that this was the first time Anna had mentioned to her mom that I would be staying with them. She was real nice about it, when I got her alone in the kitchen a while later I told her I wanted to chip in for the rent…she said “Just give me 100 bucks a month.”, I gleefully agreed. The mother had lived in this house since the 1970’s and thus had cheap rent because of rent control. Anna’s mother was real cool she was a hippie from the 60’s and had lot’s of cool stories to tell about Frisco when it was a really happening place. She recounted the earthquakes vividly and that their house had had been largely spared. She pointed out the buckling of the pavement in the streets and the cracks in the foundations on the street…which I could have missed if I was not being observant. She also told me what it was like to be a hippy in the 60’s in terms of art and music…I learned a lot from her.
I was told to turn my cars front wheels in toward the curb, standard in Frisco, in case the car brakes let go…got it. I was told I might run into Anna’s Uncle who lived in one of the rooms, and they left it at that he was a bit of an oddball. Anna showed me around The Mission, so I could get my bearings in relation to downtown. Jae had friends over a lot and we would have barbecues on the sidewalk just outside the house. Everyone would be drinking and smoking blunts. One of the first nice things I realized about Frisco was that rich people lived next to poor people and most people got along quite well. That is at least in my neighborhood…I don’t know about the rest of the city. Gentrification was spreading like it does in every city and had not hit my area yet. I think today they call my neighborhood, “Dolores Heights”, I heard Mark Zuckerburg lives there nowadays.
Another thing that was fun about their house was they had a large front stoop with a lot of stairs and we would all sit out all day long with the neighbors and just enjoy the nice weather. I know Frisco can be cold and rainy for long periods but it was winter where I came from and it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit almost every day. They would tell me that I lucked out…that this was not normal. Every morning I would walk down the street to my favorite rustic coffee shop called “The Club” and get some brew and then head back and enjoy it on the steps. Also every morning a woman would walk past our house with her dog heading toward Dolores Park and I was intrigued because she looked very familiar to me, but I could not figure out why. After a few weeks It popped into my head, she looks like Tracy Chapman…the dreadlocks and her face. One day I asked her and she said yes…it blew my mind because, years before she had made it big, I had seen her often outside the Underground (The T) in Cambridge (Near Boston, MA), playing her guitar and here she was walking by me with her dog every day on the opposite side of the continent. Small world!
As Anna had a normal job, I would be left during the day to hang out with Jae and his friends. Often I would walk up to Mission Dolores Park and sit there amongst huge palm trees and sun, and write voraciously in my journals. Kids and dogs would be running around having fun, in my opinion the most beautiful spot in the city. There was a guy who would walk around with a rolling ice box and sell those frozen 100% fruit pops and I always got the banana coconut every time. If you sat on the benches at the top of the ascending green landscape of the park you could see the downtown part of the city uninhibited. It was a miraculous site, I often could not believe how such an amazing view could be free.
When Anna would get home we would often wander down to Mission Street to shop or grab a massive burrito at one of the many Tacquerias in the area. The food was cheap and portions massive, but it was a seedy area. A lot of drugs being sold out in the open, lots of homeless people, and gang territories…I felt right at home. Walk a couple blocks back towards our house and it was very safe. If you wanted chill, you got chill….If you wanted action, you could get that too.
So after a while I had begun running into Anna’s uncle, he was a pretty cool guy. He was a big reader and had a crazy good collection of old books. He told me he worked at a pirate radio station in the city. If I wanted he said I could come play the guitar on his show, as I had been playing coffee houses around North America. He also talked about how he was a part of a city artist collective as well as the maker of baked goods laced with pot for the downtown Cannabis Buyers Club. Now this was the 1990’s and pot was not legal anywhere in the US. It was the first medical marijuana dispensary in the country, even though it was not legal to even have such a thing in Frisco or California at that time. I went with him a few times night to the Art Collective on Mission Street and met a lot of really nice people. They were all doing all kinds of artwork…I was once again amazed. Everyone brought tons of amazing food to eat and Uncle would always take the leftovers to our place. There was always 30 or more cooked salmon steaks in our fridge and I would just put them between two pieces of bread and munch away. I was living large!
After we would hang out at the Art Collective everyone would go to a local dive bar nearby, and it was there where I met Bradley James Nowell from Sublime. He was only there one time that I can recall and he had Lou Dog with him, yup in the bar. In the US many states make their own rules depending, in California, in The Mission, In that bar, If you had to bring in your dog, they let you bring it in. Next, remember Sublime was not huge at this point. Bradley and the band were still struggling musicians and hadn’t broken worldwide. I bought him a beer and we went out front to smoke a dube. I remember thinking to myself, Sublime, having seen them live already, where a very good band. With that said I knew many very good bands that never made it. I had no Idea of what was to come.
Uncle also was a bit of a hippy as you could imagine. He would make the Cannabis treats which he called “Mariposa Munchies”. He would extract the THC from pounds of pot in our kitchen, the whole house reeked for days after as if we were a cannabis factory. After making hash butter and the aforementioned treats, Uncle would freeze them until they were needed at the dispensary. He told me i could help myself, but to be careful as a half of one treat would get someone rocked a full would turn you into jelly. I ate a whole and he was right, total body high…unable to move and numb. I asked him if he could get me a sample eighth of the Cannabis Clubs finest as I was just hyper curious to see the quality they were selling. He said he was not supposed to but said he would this once…so I gave him 30 dollars and later that day had a nice bag of kush. Quite cheap for the quality, I remember thinking how cool that the Frisco Authorities looked the other way and let the buyers club go about it’s business, downtown no less…I think he told me and I remember seeing it on Market Street.
Another day Uncle comes in the front door and leaves it open walks to the rear of the flat and opens the door wide out to the back yard. I noticed there was a large box truck parked out front. Next thing I know there are ten people walking through the house with over ripe fruits and vegetables in full boxes and placing them on a large pile in the back yard. All I could think of was what the hell was going on. I asked Uncle what all this was for and he told me it was for his compost garden. Ok compost garden….yah….that’s one serious freakin’ compost garden. Se la vie! Now I got why others thought of Uncle as odd, but he also was a very resourceful guy. One really awkward moment I had with him was one day I ran into him in the hall and asked him innocently what he had planned for the day…He replied happily, “I’m just going to chill out all day in bed.” I returned with the comment “I wish I could do that as well.” He looked as if to hit on me, and said, “Well you can.” It instantly dawned on me that he was talking about being ‘With Him’. I politely said ‘no thanks I have a lot to do today’ as if I was oblivious to his offer. I walked away, no harm no foul and that was the end of that. You see I already knew he was gay, but I’ve had many gay friends, and I surely was not gay. After that we just went back to being friends. Too funny, for me anyway.
One early evening I had made plans with Anna to check out this new sushi place, everyone was talking about how amazing it was. It had only several tables so it was hard to get in and we would have to wait in line…which was fine with us. It was right near where we lived, on a street north of Mission Dolores Park heading towards The Castro. So we get there and there are about 20 people in line in front of us but it was a beautiful evening and the sun was setting colors everywhere. A few minutes later I hear some commotion behind us and walking up to get in line right behind us were the three guys from Green Day. Now you have to remember that they were newly famous and I thought they were going to skip the line. They did not, we got to chat with them off and on for a half hour. It was pretty cool because everyone obviously knew who they were but no one bothered them. I found out that San Francisco in terms of Rock Star worship was much different in San Francisco than it was in L.A. Every other day we were running into famous people in Frisco and people for the most part went about there business. It was quite refreshing.
Another time I got to be an extra in a film Sean Penn was Starring In. They were filming near the small park at the bottom of the hill to North Beach and Chinatown, near the famous City Lights Bookstore. It was just a car driving scene where Sean was in a vehicle with a large camera attached to the front windshield facing into the car. They did the scene a few times and within an hour it was all over. I just happened to be walking by at the right time and next thing you know I’m an extra. It was pretty sweet, I don’t even know what film it was. I should probably check to see if I made the cut. He He! One of the things that I loved about San Francisco is that it is such a walkable city. I walked everywhere from every angle and got to know the city like the back of my hand pretty quickly. I loved walking over the Golden Gate bridge into Marin, breathtaking for sure.
One day I stumbled upon a Blue Angels show over the Golden Gate near the Presidio. I loved how downtown they would shut down the streets in the center for the Bike Brigade to take over…Awesome. I went to the Gay Pride Festival to check it…wow, I said wow…wild! It was fun to catch new breaking bands at Slim’s. Hanging out on Filmore and Haight at the foot of Golden Gate Park. The Tibetan Freedom Festival in Polo Fields. The Botanical Gardens. My first time at The Registry of Motor Vehicles in California to get my Frisco drivers license. The Palace Of Fine Arts Monument, where Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane were all famously photographed in the 60’s. The Albino Alligator at The San Francisco Zoo. Walking “The Sunset District” to hang out at Lands End at Pacific Beach. So much history….so much culture! I could go on and on but you get my drift. If you have never been to Frisco, you must go if you ever get the chance.
Now on to the difficulties and sad memories of my time living in San Francisco. Even though there are things that turn out to problems, they are often quite worthy of recognition because as you know many difficult situations just give one more life experience and that which does not kill only make us stronger. The first problem I encountered was getting half decent sleep when there are lots of drugs being consumed right in front of me. Jae would have his friends over, up all night blowing lines of coke and I wasn’t into that scene anymore. All I had to do any of those nights of snow, was to get up and walk in the next room over and partake and I would of had a great time. I had done so much cocaine over the years, I was bored as shit from it. Not only that I was done with burning my nasal passages…I was just over it. I still run into peeps doing coke off and on and I can have a good time without it and not wake up the next day with regret. I’m lucky that way I guess as so many I’ve known just can’t stop.
Then there was the nights I had to deal with crazy violence. I came to learn that Anna’s Mom had a a boyfriend that was addicted to crack and he kept falling on and off the wagon. Her Mom would tell me he was a great guy, that was trying to clean himself up. Often I would be awaken at three or four in the morning to them in physical violent fights, screaming and glassware being smashed against the wall. I would gauge whether I should get up and beat the shit out of this guy but I was always stunned that no one else had any intention of stopping this chaos. I would always be surprised the next day when I would see Anna’s Mom and she did not look to have any wounds and she would make comments to justify his actions. I think If I had seen bruises I would have killed the guy. I realize now it’s the inner wounds that hurt the most. Again I was always surprised no one stood up to that asshole…I knew when the violence happened that he had to be high on crack. No telling what he would do…I really can’t say to this day if I made the right decision to stay out of it. If it was my mother the guy would be toast. The house would be full of supposed gangstas but they would never intervene.
Against all of this madness, I still found that I had a spiritual experience in Frisco. One night while I was lying in my sleeping bag and the light was still on in the room. I would find myself scanning the bookshelves in my room. I remember spotting a copy of the seminal book by Aldous Huxley…The Doors Of Perception. I took the book from the shelf and looked at the date of publication and found that it was a very rare first edition. I knew of the book before that but had never read it. This was the book that Jim Morrison got the name for his band “The Doors” from. I began to read and I could not stop, I read the whole thing within one day. I remember reading about how because of how plentiful food was to our generations that we tended to avoid spiritual experience. I knew what Huxley was talking about when he described the spiritual journey one would undergo as a result of deprivation of modern comforts. I had been there before in small doses, in large doses when alluding to mind expansion with psychedelics and how the experience could be similar with said deprivation. I know it does not sound fascinating but I recommend the book even to those people who have not indulged in psychedelics as it explains ways to reach these heights without taking drugs and similar methodology used by many cultures around the world.
One of the most bittersweet experiences I take from those days was the destruction of a band that had not even made it famous yet. Sublime was around for several years already throughout California. Although they were from Long Beach, even before they hit the big time they were huge in California. They were constantly gigging trying to get a record deal, and you have to remember that before they blew up in the rest of the country after the death of Bradley James Nowell, they were the quintessential Southern California Party Band. It was twenty five years before the whole Bro movement that we have today, that many find annoying. It was before people were sick of hearing Sublime all day every day on their local radio stations. I got to see them three times before Bradley passed from drugs and alcohol, and before they released there major label debut and blew up across America. I’m not here to defend Bradley’s ideologies, as everyone knew they were all about partying and good times as much as they were about anarchy and other unsavory ideals, it’s not my place. As I said earlier, I got to meet Bradley and Lou Dog when they were in San Francisco for a show and although he was a prickly character he was no doubt a true artist. Bradley and Sublime wrote many of there songs off ideas they got from music that had preceded them. If you had been there you would know that it was not about ripping others off, it was about paying homage to the music that drove them to be musicians. It’s sad that we will never know what could have been, but with that being said there was a lot of great music left behind. I remember the day, hearing that Bradley overdosed in a motel on Pacific Beach in San Francisco. It also saddened me with the rumour that he had copped drugs in The Mission where I lived. Heroin, really shitty to have for a drug buddy. Lou Dog Lived on for several more years. RIP.
As much as The Mission got it’s name from being an oasis of healing and love for centuries before, it was also a fine line or the same side of an eery coin where the angel of death would wait in alleyways and doorstops for people to succumb to their weaknesses and failure to thrive. It was a fascinating look into the microcosmic sub climates of the human mind. Yes, it really was like the movies, the only difference was that the good guy did not always make it out and many of the faithful would find themselves irretrievably in wait for their savior who may have already come.
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