Wednesday, 31 August 2016


I don't think I've ever been recommended a gig by a waitress in a UK greasy spoon before. It's a different story in the diners of San Francisco. Strictly speaking it was Owen who got the heads up. Inspired by his Wipers t-shirt our Mission brunch was served with a reminder that Swans were in town soon.

As we took our first ride on the BART, SF's underground railway, I told Owen about the San Franciscan eccentric Frank Chu. He'd been brought to my attention by my mate Wayne and remarkably I'd spent four days in the city before I remembered him.

You should Google him and read his Wikipedia page for more details but essentially he's a guy who wanders round the downtown each day carrying a different placard with ever more bizarre messages. Such as the title of this blog. He's unsuccessfully campaigned for the impeachment of several US presidents as he believes they're using mind control techniques to hoodwink people into believing he's not a superstar in a, seemingly infinite, number of galaxies. One particular example was the time his part in the animated feature WALL-E was denied him due to the destruction of the entire Gorgon galaxy.

I continued speculating on Frank Chu as we wandered down Market and right there and then....who should we see? What a coincidence. I almost jumped for joy.

We headed back to the modern art museum and Owen got us in for free again for which I thank him again.

There's so much in there and it's such a pleasure to spend an afternoon with the collection. There were works by Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra, Diane Arbus, Nam June Paik, John Baldessari, Joseph Beuys, Jasper Johns, David Smith, Man Ray, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Ad Reinhardt, Eadweard Muybridge, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vito Acconci  (not the wanking one), Sam Taylor Wood, Rineke Dijkstra, Ansel Adams, Franz Kline, Frida Kahlo, Marcel Duchamp, Wilfredo Lam, and, our old favourite, many many more.

We started off where we'd finished up the day before. Abstract expressionism in the form of Sean Scully's Round & Round (above) and Ellsworth Kelly's Yellow Relief With Black (below). The Kelly section sprawled impressively across several rooms.

Sylvia Plimack Mangold was a new name to me but her dark and eerie View of Schunnemunk Mountain stopped me in my tracks. Far easier to identify a Jackson Pollock but his Black & White (Number 6) was no less impressive for that.

Fernand Leger's Deux femmes sur fond bleu is a gorgeous piece and suggested we were hitting the more figurative, and European, part of the collection.

Alexander Calder is neither of those things but he's a truly exceptional talent. The room full of his mobiles and the adjacent outdoor sculptures were possibly the two busiest in the museum.

Very much at the other end of the scale to Calder's peaceful sculptures is the iconic Eddie Adams photograph Viet-Cong Officer Executed. One of the world's most famous photos Adams is said to have regretted taking it.

I took a snap of Robert Arneson's California Arts mainly because it was so indicative of the city and the state. Edward Hopper, probably my favourite American figurative painter, seems to represent the whole country. I've seen so many Hopperesque sights in the last fortnight to finally set eyes upon his Intermission seemed apt.

Spotting a Lynette Yiadom-Boakye across the room was also like catching up with an old friend. I don't know her but I've seen, and been impressed by, her work before. Both in London and Seattle.

Ralston Crawford's Vertical Building is a masterclass in the beauty of simplicity. Its clean lines and architectural forms satisfied me greatly.

I like Dorothea Tanning too but after posting her Self-Portrait to Facebook my friend Alex had what can only be described as a very strong reaction and began imagining horrific events in the style of Stephen King. I still think Plimack Mangold's painting is creepier.

The Aerial Gyrations of Charles Sheeler had us back on safer grounds and we closed out the museum for another day and headed back down to the bay.

At Mijita in the ferry terminal we ate burritos. I went frijoles y queso and washed it down with a Mexican Coke. With a few dollops of salsa picante it was muy delicioso.

We strolled along the Embarcadero for a bit and then headed in and up, mostly up (there were a lot of steps) to Coit Tower. On the way signs warned us not to feed the neighbourhood coyote. A fed coyote, we learnt, is a dead coyote.

The Coit Tower was left to San Francisco by a wealthy benefactor of the same name in order to beautify the city she lived in and loved. Although it had closed for the day its position, loftily perched atop the hill, afforded panoramic and mighty fine views all round Frisco.

From there we headed down to North Beach. Another quick look in City Lights and a 'swift half' in Vesuvio before taking the BART back to the Mission.

There was a guy back on 17th & Valencia who'd set up an old video games console in the trunk of his car and was offering people free games of Super Mario Bros. The 'music' from it a strange counterpoint to the bustling streetlife of the district.

The Mexican we'd eaten earlier had felt more like a starter so we were wanting more. We tried one of the many local taquerias and, judging by the many certificates on the wall boasting of salsa awards, it was a good choice.

I was defeated by my chile relleno though and not because my appetite had been destroyed by accidentally opening the cubicle door to a man with his pants down taking a dump. It was just too hot for me (the burrito, not the dump). I'm not normally such a wuss but this bad boy had the beating of me.

The Casanova bar was churning out 80s hits and was convivial enough until the very drunk guy who'd moved in next to me started being annoying. Swinging from friendly to aggressive, sometimes several times in one sentence, he asked me three times in a minute where I came from, offered to buy me a drink, and told me he didn't care much for 'English chaps' but that 'English chaps' are tough. Clearly things weren't about to improve for him, or us, if we stayed for another so we popped across the road to Blondie's.

The drunk dude had done us a favour because Blondie's was great. Mostly down to Kenya B and his tight-as-you-like band. Ripping through numbers by Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and, er, Tony Toni Tone they had funk, chops, charm, and wit. The drummer was a joy to behold. Grinning and goofing around like a Hanna Barbera cartoon beaver.

Towards the end of the night they were joined by a rapper for a funktastic rendering of Rapper's Delight and a simply filthy Snoop Dogg jam.

Best of all was their take on Ice Cube's It Was A Good Day. Not just because it's a great song but because it had, indeed, been a very good day.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Down on Mission Street.

Simon left to fly to the UK. It was sad to say goodbye to such a funny and generous friend but we'll soon catch up again in London.

I strolled across town and bade farewell to Anna who was driving down to LA. We'll catch up there in a couple of days.

Owen and I ate in a diner (Lori's again) and headed over to the Museum of Modern Art. The door pressure was $25 but because Owen works in a museum he got us in free. I don't cultivate friendships for these benefits but they're nice little side effects. Gives a whole new meaning to friends with benefits.

The museum was ace. Brilliant. Spacious and modern c/o Swiss architect Mario Botta with a lovely shop, a sculpture garden, and a section devoted to fonts and typefaces where I could've parked Owen for a week.

Fans of Sonic Youth will no doubt be impressed by Gerhard Richter's Zwei Kerzen but there were also works by Cindy Sherman, Martin Kippenberger, Juan Munoz, Luc Tuymans, Ai Weiwei, Jeff Wall, Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, Andreas Gursky, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Philip Guston, Richard Artschwager, David Hockney, Sol LeWitt, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Anish Kapoor, Richard Long, Willem de Kooning, Cy Twombly, and many more. Some of my personal favourites are pictured below starting with the Richter.

Ed Ruscha's 60 Watts wasn't anything like his pop art gas stations and looked more like the poster for a horror film.

Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park #67.

I was spellbound by Gabriel Orozco's Samurai Tree.

Richard Prince is a guy whose work rarely makes it to the UK. Here's Tell Me Everything.

On the 7th (yes - SEVEN) floor you're greeted by Jeff Koons' Large Vase of Flowers and the garden contains Ellsworth Kelly's Stele I.

You can listen to the music of Philip Glass or check out Jim Dine's Yellow Painting. British sculpture is well represented and, below, I've taken a photo of Guglie by Tony Cragg.

Duane Hanson's Policeman wasn't to be the last of the day but more of that later.

I thought Valley Streets by Wayne 'the cake guy' Thiebaud particularly stunning. Chuck Close's hyper realist Self-Portrait is almost beyond comprehension. That's a watercolour ffs.

Roy Lichtenstein's Figures With Sunset pays homage to Dali, Picasso, and Leger. It's huge - and it's beautiful. A different, more prosaic, beauty can be found in Bernd and Hilla Becher's Forderturne, Beligien, Frankreich. They're big faves of mine.

Untitled by Sigmar Polke is one of the highlights of a German collection better than any I've seen in Europe (including Germany itself) and from the balcony you can gaze out at skyscrapers - which, I'm starting to realise, never gets old.

Three hours and we'd barely done half of the place. The museum closed and we took an Uber to our new airbnb. The driver got pulled over by the San Francisco police for driving in the transit lane. It soon became apparent his documentation was out of date and the cop issued him with a court summons. Both cop and cabbie asked our opinion. Never have we perfected the innocent abroad quite so effectively.

Checking into 17th & Valencia on Mission it became obvious that the owner was something of a tree hugger. The WiFi codes were Grateful and Optimism. Another option, a neighbouring apartment I guess, was big_fat_dick!

It was a nice enough place though and close to all the action. We popped into Amnesia for bluegrass night, a couple of beers, and a chat. The Vivants were playing. They were pretty good but I'd have preferred something a bit more old timey.

We saw posters announcing Julia Holter was playing the Mission district. I love Julia so I was a bit disappointed that her gig is the day we leave for LA.

In the 500 bar Aussies loaded up the jukebox with Tom Petty and sarcastically thanked us for founding their country. I told them I wasn't on that particular job so no need.

There was another Brit there with her American friend. We'd had a few but our compatriot was pretty sloshed. She was on her way to Nevada for Burning Man so, I guess, her holiday will continue in similar vein.

As, no doubt, will ours.