In the previous post to my website I mentioned Amanda Nowinski’s column “Electric Habitat.” Well, I remembered that there is one in the same issue as the “This Old House” segment. Amanda asked me to publish it to my site as she doesn’t have a proper archive set up yet. I’m posting it for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I met Amanda through her column. I contacted her about it via email in the fall of 1999, just when I had started working at Revolution Magazine. I was on the office floor on my own, in a cubicle, with a phone and a computer. There was really no other staff in the first week. My boss, the publisher, walked me to the cubicle on my first day and said, “There’s a phone and a computer, get us some music for the CDs that will come free with magazine.” When I hear the words, ‘free’ and ‘music’ in the same sentence I am instantly motivated.
I was always good at blagging free records from labels — and giving them a write up in return too — so this was familiar territory for me. Here’s a discogs page that lists most of the discs I licensed. I’m also posting this piece ‘cos Mandy is a single mother of two, beautiful, little girls and sometimes you gotsta give your friends a hand up. This is something I learned from the lyrics of house tracks from Chicago, New York, New Jersey and Milan. For example, Joe Smooth once sang,
“When the angels from above
fall down and spread they wings like doves
As we walk hand in hand
we’ll make it to the promised land”
And all the hands in the room raised up with a cheer as the DJ smoothed Joe Smooth into Fast Eddie’s “Acid Thunder” and the crowd went wild. I also believed, under the influence of acid house evangelism, that if you didn’t harbor thoughts of empathy for your fellow wo-man and then act on them that, as Farley Jackmaster And The Shy Boyz once said, “You ain’t really house.”
Anyway, within that first week I decided to email Demanda Knowitallski, probably to split hairs about some trainspotty detail that she had overlooked — or, more accurately, sensibly omitted. To my surprise, after the initial bit of slight indignation on her part and my petulant response (I can’t remember the exchange exactly, though it’s probably sitting in some labyrinthine maze of servers at NSA HQ, and I know I was always good at petulance) we became fast friends fast. We knew a gang of the same people and were both fond of disco dancing (I’ve always loved a bit of a cavort).
I also always loved befriending locals, as San Francisco, with its many streets named after Irish immigrants, seemed like a home from home. These immigrants came to the new world to escape colonialism and starvation (cue solemn fiddle music, and a dude softly intoning in a mid-Atlantic accent, “while wafts of fog float over a stone cottage in Conneeeemarrraaa”). I felt welcome as I walked along Geary Street, O’Farrell Street and took buses along the virtually unpronounceable O’Shaughnessy Boulevard (unless, like me, you learned Irish Gaelic in primary and secondary school, and knew that the name related to the act of startling monsters in Scottish lakes. Think about it). I also marveled at why a city would be named after some Paddy (Mick in US vernacular) named Daly.
The Electric Habitat column was always a hoot, as evidenced below, and being a big, silly, ol’ record nerd I appreciated that Amanda didn’t indulge that adolescent, male proclivity. The column was always about the sheer fun of hanging out with friends with some loud beats knockin’ off the walls and rockin’ all y’alls. So here is “Electric Habitat” from September 6th, 2000. It deals with the evils of eviction and the funk, the former is still with us and worse than ever, and the latter is a necessary evil that seems to have been voided out of the bowels of the city now.
Electric Habitat September 6-12 2000
Part One, Me-victed: I fly through the city at high speed, Sunday, 5 AM, slumped drunk in the back of a cab. Streetlights glare obnoxiously through the fog: I squint and roll down the window — just in case. The cab driver turns back to me with an extra-wide, super-wrong grin — I am the prisoner of desperately unwanted chitchat. “Had a rough night, eh? Any special occasion?” On cue, the floodgates of inebriated self-pity break through, forcing tears to shoot, rot trickle. I blow my nose on a flyer and take several minutes to articulate the words. “Evicted — me today.” He drops the fucking smile and peers at me from the mirror, his hands grasped tightly on the wheel. “Oh, wow. Sorry.” Now the hostage of my snorting, sobbing buzz kill, he cranks up the Kenny G, and we start to fly even faster.
And I just can’t get a grip, I feel far too sorry for myself at this moment, and all those bottles of cheap beer have swollen my inner drama queen to mammoth proportions. Why me? What if I become homeless? What if I die of an ulcer because of this? And who the fuck will come to my funeral? Will it be a rave? Will anyone cry? And as if the cab driver has read my genealogical road map, he takes me on a cruel, high-speed tour of my life. We zoom past the run-down Fillmore flat where I found my first lay, the hospital on Divisadero where I was born, my old elementary school, and endless buildings, street corners, and sidewalks that I know better than the back of a crumpled up Muni transfer. And finally, we reach my home, which is officially no longer my home.
I stagger up three flights to my flat, search my bedroom floor for stray Tylenol PM pills, gobble them down, and reread the letter I left tacked to my wall: “Dear Amanda, How are things going? I hope everything is fine. I am writing to you today to inform you that because of personal reasons, I will be moving back to San Francisco later this year. I am informing you because I plan to move into your unit.” “Fuck everyone,” I mutter to myself before falling into bed, still attached to platforms, drag-queen eyeliner, cigarette smoke, and booze. I pass out with the lights on and wake up at noon feeling utterly pathetic.
Part Two, And Your Ass Will Follow: Some people taste as if their tongue has been dipped in funk (vegans and crack heads in particular), but those who actually got the funk normally taste all right. And sure sometimes it’s nice to get funked, but normally it’s better to do the funking yourself. It’s a lot more powerful that way, and you know, sometimes funkin’ someone up the ass on the dance floor is the right thing to do. What I’m trying to say is, let’s stop funkin’ around, and uhm, well. All right. Yes, I’m about to talk about a funk club.
Last Thursday night, two days before the arrival of the evil letter, my life was buzz kill free, and I was feeling quite funky. Met a friend for an early cocktail at The Top before heading to Nickie’s for, yes, a funk night and discussed plans for huffing glue in public. We concurred that huffing in brown paper bags at uptight restaurants and sophisticated house clubs has the power to convey an urgent social message: and what, bitch? I’m not pretending that I’m classy. “This city needs it, man,” my friend said. “Huffing is the only answer, the only way to break it down.”
After devising an itinerary for our Huff Magic Tour (look out, Valencia Street!), we eventually did it — we got completely funked up. After all, it was P-Funk tribute night at WhatDaFunk, DJ Motion Potion’s (a.k.a. Robert Kowal) weekly night. The Potion and his guests dig into the roots of modern groove music with artists like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, the Bar-Kays, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Kool and the Gang, Slave, Chaka Khan, Prince, Rick James, and of course, the Driver of the Mothership, George Clinton. And on the decks that night was none other than Rickey Vincent, the KPFA “History of Funk” DJ and author of “Funk: the Music, The People, And The Rhythm Of The One.” Clearly, few people know their funkistory like the man. Several pints and 40 minutes of P-Funk later, my friend turned to me and said, “Damn, I think I’m too funked to huff.” We agreed that the sacred music of George Clinton is not conducive to the use of inorganic inhalants, so we sat back and watched the non-sceney crowd of laid-back funkers get their grind on instead.
Part Three, The Funk Gets Deeper: Later that night, outside the Guy Called Gerald show at the Justice League, I found myself in the company of a bunch of loud-talking, native San Franciscans: Toph One, Mark Herlihy (of Future Primitive Sound), Foxxee, DJ Buck, and Justice League owner Michael O’Connor. We shouted about whose high school dances were better, why being born in Concord doesn’t count, and why the word “moted” (S.F. slang for getting clowned or feeling stupid) needs to be used at all times. But mostly, we bitched about why we’re sick and tired of the city’s real-estate crimes and how few of us can afford to live here anymore — the same conversation that thousands of people in S.F. have every day. But, by the time I was home in bed that night I remember having one foreshadowing thought: I wonder if they have rent control on the Mothership?
WhatDaFunk Thursday at Nickie’s BBQ: 460 Haight St. (415) 621-6508; www.nickies.com. 9 p.m.-2 am. Info on DJ Motion Potion: www.motionpotion.com. Come-Unity has moved! Sept 6 marks the party’s move to Space 550, 10 p.m. – 5 a.m., 550 Barneveld, S.F. (415) 550-8286; www.come-unitycom. House with residents Simon, Jeno, Garth, and Cosmic Jason. Special guests for Sept. 6 include Markle, Jonah Sharp, DJ Anna, Clay, and Gavan. Spoken word performance by Michael Franti (Spearhead). Proceeds will benefit a friend in need. Send comments or tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.