2012 - %3, April

Then: Booze, Oysters, and "Gilded Vice." Now: Mother Jones

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

If you happened to be in downtown San Francisco on the eve of the 1906 earthquake and were in the mood for booze, seafood, and other vices, you couldn't do much better than coming to the future home of Mother Jones. Today, our building on Sutter Street houses other respectable outfits including an upscale bakery, Loehmann's, and Craigslist. But back before the great fire obliterated it exactly 106 years ago, this spot epitomized the city's old, seamy ways.

In 1877, a couple of Canadian brothers, Frank and Jesse Gobey, opened Gobey's Saloon in the Rose Building at 228 Sutter Street. When Frank Gobey died suddenly at age 56 in 1895, the Chronicle stated that his bar and restaurant was "a notable gathering place for the inhabitants of the 'tenderloin,' but as it was always conducted in a quiet and orderly manner it was never the scene of any trouble." Whether the reporter did not wish to speak ill of the dead or was being sarcastic isn't clear, but it seems that Gobey's was anything but staid.

Future home of Mother Jones: Gobey's Saloon is the door on the left.  : San Francisco Public LibraryMen could enter Gobey's Saloon via the door on the far left. Women and their chaperones had to sneak in the back. San Francisco Public LibraryJust a year before Frank Gobey's death, the saloon was the site of a celebrated incident following the annual "big game" between Stanford and UC Berkeley. As football fans packed the bar, a young swell shot and wounded Stanford player Louis "Brick" Whitehouse and another patron. When the reporters arrived, Gobey was heard telling his staff to "say nothing to no one" about the shooting, much to the chagrin of the police. In 1895, Gobey's was found to be serving counterfeit champagne, though only the distributor was charged. In 1897, Jesse Gobey was accused of running a nickel slot machine, but was let off.

Other unsavory goings-on at Gobey's were hinted at in the press. "There are upper and rear rooms at Gobey's that could make strange and starting revelations if gifted with speech," The San Francisco Call winked.

In a July 1893 article titled "Pitfalls for Women. Scenes of Gilded Vice and Squalid Sin," Call correspondent Marie Evelyn recounted a tour of saloons with a male colleague identified only as "Mr. Y." At the time, the city's many drinking establishments were considered off-limits to proper women, yet female companions could enter by way of the "ladies entrances" usually hidden in plain sight. Once inside, patrons could retreat to private, locked booths where men might lead women down "the flowery paths of vice," as Evelyn put it. "Small wonder if a weak woman's moral sense grows confused when such perversions are allowed by law," she wrote.

Evelyn's descent into the intemperate underworld concluded at Gobey's: 

"What a change from those wretched bars," I could not help saying with a sigh of relief; "this is quite respectable by contrast."

"Yes?" replied Mr. Y in a tone of mild interrogation, "you make a distinction between gilded vice and squalid sin? Those rooms have not doors with bolts. If you look through the curtain you will see what nice women are passing in and out to rooms at the back that have doors."…

"These dens look rather like the staterooms of a first-class steamer," said Mr. Y. "Don't you think we should be about right in calling this a cabin passage to the lower regions, and the squalid saloons a steerage one?"

Ladies: San Francisco Call"Nice women are passing in and out to rooms at the back that have doors." San Francisco CallHer account is echoed in Clarence E. Edwords' Bohemian San Francisco: "Gobey ran one of those places which was not in good repute, consequently when ladies went there they were usually veiled and slipped in through an alley." At a police commission meeting in 1900, Gobey's lawyer "contended that the best people of the town, men with their families and all who wanted a little privacy, patronized these places." Perhaps he wasn't entirely exaggerating; as Edwords adds, "the enticement of Gobey's crab stew was too much for conventionality and his little private rooms were always full."

Gobey's was also credited as the source of the oyster loaf (sorry, New Orleans*)—a thick hunk of crusty bread hollowed out and stuffed with breaded and fried oysters. Noting that San Franciscans who had emigrated from the Atlantic seaboard had a "hankering for succulent and enormous bivalves," a 1926 article in The San Franciscan explained that "after a night with the boys, they felt the urge to placate the lady of their heart with a tid-bit and the Chinaman at Gobey's saloon thought up a oyster loaf." (The dish was also rumored to be an ideal "peacemaker" for delinquent husbands to offer to annoyed wives: "The deliciously flavored steam ascends like sweet incense until it reaches her rigid nostrils, and then her stern features relax into something like a smile.")

The ladies' entrance to Gobey's likely opened onto Mary Lane, one of several alleys behind the Rose Building. One of them, the serendipitously named Clara Lane, may have been an even more colorful (and tragic) site than the saloon:

May 1867: The owner of a building on the corner of Sutter and Clara Lane writes the Daily Alta California to clarify that an illegal liquor still had not been found on his property, but in an adjacent building. He insisted that the alleged distiller claimed to be setting up a "vinegar factory." 

August 1884: Eleven-year-old Philomena Fry falls into Clara Lane while trying to pick some flowers from a window box three stories above.

April 1886: An item in The Call reports that "Wallace McCreary, an old-time opera singer, allowed his feelings to overcome him about 8 o'clock yesterday morning and took a tumble from a second-story window in the rear of the building occupied by Sam Sample's saloon, on Kearney street. McCreary landed on the stone pavement of Clara lane and sustained a severe contusion on the back of his bead, but nothing of a serious nature."

January 1887: A man who absconded with another's five-gallon can of gasoline is apprehended in the alley and positively identified as "Smoothy, the cocaine fiend." The same month, one Clara Mason of Clara Lane is admitted to the hospital for "an overdose of strychnine self-administered."

Clara Lane: David Rumsey Map Collection Cocaine fiends, falling bodies, and stabbings: Just another day in Clara Lane David Rumsey Map Collection

April 1887: Sixteen-year-old George Murphy survives being shot at after a quarrel with some men leaving the Fern Leaf Saloon. The suspect makes his escape down Clara Lane to Sutter Street.

November 1887: The Call briefly recounts the tale of Celso Garcia, a bootblack who said he'd been cut on the nose when "Arvilo Venartiar, a tamale peddler, had entered his house at 6 Clara lane and started in to carve him and his wife Maria up because Venartiar's attentions to Garcia's daughter did not meet the parental approbation."

January 1888: Carrie (Clara?) Mason of Clara Lane is reported to have been hospitalized "suffering from a dose of chloral hydrate." The Call notes, "This is the second time within a few months that the woman has attempted to solve the problem of how much chloral it would take to kill her. Abusive treatment on the part of her husband is stated to be the cause of her attempted suicide."

September 1904: A newspaperman is attacked while walking down Clara Lane late at night. The Call reports: "He was cut over the left eye, across the bridge of the nose and over the right ear. The wounds were apparently inflicted by a dull instrument."

The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed 490 square blocks of the city, including this stretch of Sutter Street. Gobey's reopened nearby, but was said to be a shadow of its former self. Clara Lane became Claude Lane; Mary Lane is now Mark Lane. Smoothy the coke fiend and trigger-happy football fans have been replaced by 9-to-5ers and shivering tourists. But the MoJo building still has a rear door, possibly in the same spot where the ladies' entrance to Gobey's once welcomed anyone looking for a drink, a date, or a bite of oyster loaf.

* The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Brett Anderson convincingly counters this crusty claim: "There is proof New Orleanians were eating sandwiches called oyster loaves and peacemakers before Gobey’s ever hosted its first scene of gilded vice and squalid sin.

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Review: "Capricornia," by Allo Darlin'

| Mon Apr. 16, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

TRACK 2

"Capricornia"

From Allo Darlin's Europe

SLUMBERLAND

Liner notes: Australian-born Elizabeth Morris celebrates her Queensland roots on Allo Darlin's captivating second album, presenting a bouquet of silky 12-string guitars, buoyant beats, and wistful harmonies.

Behind the music: Morris relocated to London in 2005, bought a uke, and formed a band that took its name from market sellers' morning greeting. The quartet were soon stars of the twee-pop scene.

Check it out if you like: The Go-Betweens, Camera Obscura, and especially iconic Brit-popsters Tender Trap, with whom Morris used to moonlight.

The Emergence of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum

| Mon Apr. 16, 2012 2:43 AM EDT
Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel

There's this weird thing that happens when you finally get to see a musician perform whose songs you know by heart and have listened to for over a decade. It's especially weird when that musician gave up music after an emotional crisis, leaving only those songs for you to connect with, divorced entirely from their creator and perhaps made more special for being tied up in all that existential turmoil.

Last week, when Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum played two sold-out nights at the Fox Theater in Oakland, the experience was similarly complicated for many of the thousands of diehard NMH fans who excitedly tapped their feet to songs it's safe to assume many of them have cried to now and again. But the experience was palpably important: The man had, over the years, begun to matter as much as the music. 

Mangum's reclusiveness was legendary: Slate descibed him as indie rock's Salinger.

In a rare interview in 2002, Mangum told Pitchfork that "a lot of the basic assumptions I held about reality started crumbling" after the release of the much-revered 1998 classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. "I had this idea that if we all created our dream we could live happily ever after," he said. But when his dreams came true and his friends were still unhappy, he apparently "realized that I can't just sing my way out of all this suffering."

So Mangum decided to drop out of the music scene entirely. As the years went by, his withdrawal became legendary: Slate described him as indie rock's Salinger, while Pitchfork called him its "most reclusive man." Fans resigned themselves to a future of listening to Neutral Milk Hotel only in recorded form, or in the form of overly emotional covers by their musician friends. His music became instantly nostalgic.

Then, a few years ago, Mangum began slowly creeping out of his self-imposed exile. In October 2008, he played a surprise show in Brooklyn. Over the next couple of years, he played a few benefit concerts and a couple more surprise sets. Last January, Mangum announced a fall tour, and the floodgates opened: Since then, he's appeared on the show Parks and Recreation, played at Occupy Wall Street, released a box set, and added dozens of tour dates—including a set at any recluse's worst nightmare, the ultra-hypefest of Coachella. No one's quite sure why Mangum decided to come out of hiding; he may be touring, but he's still not talking. (We have a sneaking suspicion some of his coming-to-terms has something to do with his 2007 marriage to Astra Taylor, the writer and filmmaker who directed the philosophy-docs Zizek! and Examined Life.) 

At times, the show felt like a business transaction between fans and a reluctant idol giving us exactly what we wanted.

In any case, after so many lean years, it was virtually guaranteed that the faithful, long-suffering fans of Neutral Milk Hotel would come out full-force. Sure enough, Mangum packed the Fox, a historic 3,000-person theater recently restored to its 1928 grandeur. It's a strange venue for an acoustic set—you're very aware of the smallness of the lone performer—yet Mangum managed to fill the yawning space with just a guitar and his voice, remarkably unchanged after a decade. Really, almost everything about him seemed unchanged: same plaid shirt, same chin-length hair, same floppy messenger hat. The songs, too, were unchanged. His performance was technically near-perfect, and though it was missing the scratchy layer of lo-fi nostalgia present in the albums, he played out all of his "hits" in succession, exactly as everyone would like to hear them. 

And therein lay the problem, if you could call it that. Mangum—whose diehard fans, according to Will Butler of the East Bay Express, "five years ago really truly believed they had about as much chance of seeing...as seeing Elliott Smith"—showed virtually no indication of emotional growth, or, for that matter, emotion. It was almost as if the last decade of self-imposed exile hadn't happened. He smiled, plowed through his most-beloved songs, and graciously provided encores. At times, the show felt like a business transaction between fans and a reluctant idol giving us exactly what we wanted.

Beforehand, a friend had commented of Mangum's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: "It's kind of weird that a psychedelic folk concept album about World War II could connect so personally with so many people." Looking around, it was clear that the members of this crowd had all connected really personally with Mangum's music at some point in their lives. But any connection with Mangum himself perhaps had been too imaginary for too long, and maybe it was time to put that to rest. His music remains, unchanged and all the better for it. 

 

Click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

Sorry, Haters: "Girls" Lives Up to the Hype

| Sat Apr. 14, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

I'll admit I was skeptical of my colleague Asawin Suebsaeng's review of Girls, the highly anticipated new HBO series, even though I'd never seen the show. While Swin called it "as profoundly bland as it is unstoppably irritating," the show (which premieres on Sunday night) has been hailed by feminist critics as the best thing on television today. I wasn't sure whose opinion to trust until I remembered that Swin recently called 21 Jump Street "pop art" and gushed that American Reunion was an "enjoyable" romp whose "gross-out gags are calibrated with just enough creativity to bypass genre banalities." 

"Hipsters are really going to like this show," Swin sneered. I'm not sure how many of the half dozen MoJo interns who gathered for post-work beer and a sneak preview of Girls the other night would identify as hipsters, but we were all girls and we all found the show highly watchable.

The most perplexing part of Swin's dismissive review is his insistence that Girls isn't doing anything new. Claiming the material has a "deafening familiarity," he accuses the show of relying on "tired tropes" and "recycled pathos." If so, I'd like to see the shows he's been watching. It's one thing to argue that the jokes fall flat; it's another to deny that the show's pushing the envelope at all. In the laundry list of issues taken on in the first three episodes—"passionless sex, STIs, casual abortions, boring boyfriends, gay boyfriends, drugs, money woes, body image"—Swin conveniently overlooks what the show is doing that's novel and exciting. Let's break it down:

"Lockout" Enters the So-Bad-It's-Good Movie Pantheon

| Fri Apr. 13, 2012 9:47 AM EDT
Guy Pearce: preparing to massacre his talent agency after seeing the final cut of his new movie.

Lockout
Open Road Films
95 minutes

Lockout is by far the best movie ever made about a disgraced ex-CIA agent—who's taken the fall for a crime he did not commit—who reluctantly infiltrates a supermax space prison—that's been overrun by 497 cryogenically-frozen prisoners—in order to rescue the president's leggy blonde daughter—who's been taken hostage during her liberal humanitarian space mission to investigate prisoner abuse—from a pair of Welsh-Irish-Scottish sibling archvillains, as said space jail hurtles towards earth's atmosphere. It's also likely the best movie ever made that takes place in the year 2079.

And that's about the nicest thing anybody can say about it.

Where to begin? The movie, conceived and executive produced by action maestro Luc Besson (The Professional, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element), should have been awesome. Need I remind you that it's about rescuing the president's daughter...in space? Pulling off such a premise should've been foolproof precisely because all a filmmaker has to do to make a movie better is tack on the words "in space" to the end of the title:

Leprechaun 4: In Space

Muppets from Space

Lost in Space

Dogs in Space

Vegas in Space

Schindler's List in Space

No luck. The premise isn't tackled with any playfulness or irony, the delightfully dumb satire isn't consummated, the dialogue is plain weird, and the relatively bloodless action looks like silly outtakes from the Max Payne 3 game trailer. What should have been an exercise in intentional, glorious cheese somehow—in the hands of directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger—instead plays out as...unintentionally glorious cheese.

MoJo and the Magnum Foundation Join Forces to Showcase Documentary Photography

| Wed Apr. 11, 2012 5:05 AM EDT

It's with exceptional excitement that I can finally squawk about the Mother Jones/Magnum Foundation partnership. This is a big step towards building out the awesome photojournalism and documentary photography for which Mother Jones has become known, to our website.

In partnering with the Magnum Foundation's Emergency Fund, Mother Jones will be showcasing 10 photo essays through the year, giving a platform to projects documenting underreported stories from around the world. It's a partnership that makes sense: the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund helps photographers complete documentary work that may otherwise not see completion. And upon completion, Mother Jones helps give an audience to the work.

Karen Mirzoyan shot our first project, The Unrecognized Islands of Caucasus, an appropriately complex project that examines the tangle of unrecognized lands in the Caucasus region. Mirzoyan's work goes beyond straight, expected documentary photography, which he smartly realized wouldn't do justice to such a complicated region, to a story with so many contours. The photography varies in tone and style to match the chapter of the story being told. Mirzoyan incorporates pieces of his notebooks he kept while working on the project. It's a very intimate look at the people of the Caucasus, their relationship to their homeland -- and to each other. Really, it's an amazing body of work. It's exciting to get to run it on MotherJones.com.

We will be bringing a new photo essay from the Magnum Foundation partnership to MotherJones.com each month. And we will be running at least one Emergency Fund project in print. My heart still lies with the printed page, so for me, that's an important component of this partnership. Thanks for taking a look. This is just one step to help expand our commitment to documentary photography. We hope you enjoy it.

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"Girls": What the Hell Was HBO Thinking?

| Wed Apr. 11, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

When watching HBO's new, hotly hyped Girls, one thing is clear from the get-go: Hipsters are really going to like this show. Which is to say that it is as profoundly bland as it is unstoppably irritating.

The central character is an unsympathetic victim of First World Problems who mumbles her way through a Brooklynite's perdition of unpaid internships and missed orgasms. In its first three episodes, the comedy series establishes a new low for the premium cable network, even surpassing John From Cincinnati in its level of sheer unwatchability.

Girls, which premieres Sunday, April 15 at 10:30 p.m. EST, focuses on the twentysomething Hannah (played by series creator Lena Dunham): an aspiring essayist who's barely written anything, a college graduate who hasn't accomplished anything, and an English major who hasn't earned anything. Accompanying her on her road-to-nowhere is Marnie (Allison Williams), the classically beautiful roommate who somehow has nothing but patience for Hannah. Rounding out the cast of poorly dressed stereotypes are Jessa (Jemima Kirke), a promiscuous, free-spirited Brit who thinks conventional dating is "for lesbians," and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), a Sex and the City-worshipping virgin.

And with this, the creative team behind Girls throws everything at the wall (passionless sex, STIs, casual abortions, boring boyfriends, gay boyfriends, drugs, money woes, body image), in an effort to see what sticks. But due to tired tropes and failed attempts at dry humor, nothing does.

Bear in Heaven: I Love You, It's Cool

| Mon Apr. 9, 2012 9:08 AM EDT

These days, there's no shortage of Brooklyn-based bands playing music in a familiar vein of gauzy, techno-inflected indie (not to mention plenty of bands with the word "bear" in the name), but Bear in Heaven's work nevertheless makes an impression. The band has gone through several iterations since frontman Jon Philpot released a collection of solo recordings as Tunes Nextdoor to Songs in 2003, and the current lineup features Philpot on guitar and vocals, Adam Wills on guitar and bass, and Joe Stickney on drums. After releasing 2010's Beast Rest Forth Mouth to widespread acclaim, the band took a couple of years to make their third full-length, I Love You, It's Cool—but the time paid off in a rich album that explores various configurations of electronic sound within the structure of carefully arranged songs.

The spacey swirls of "Idle Heart," for example, might get lost in themselves if not for the brisk beat and rhythmic bass that they loop around. "The Reflection of You" starts with a burst of distorted sound and flutteringly high synths that give way to deeper, more sustained tones as Philpot sings "if you could get next to me I would have nothing left to prove"; towards the end, his high, echoing voice gets deeper and ominously distorted as he repeats "dance with me." "Sinful Nature" is another song that starts out dance-y—though lines like "you're let down by God/you're let down by boring strangers" don't exactly connote a night out at the club. On "Kiss Me Crazy," a similar combination of staccato electro beats and sustained undertones makes Philpot's longing palpable as he sings "so go ahead and kiss me crazy."

Ultimately, Bear in Heaven's problem is less sounding like someone else than sounding like themselves: Though there are a few standout tracks, songs run into one another at times, and the album's cohesion occasionally crosses into simple sameness. But with repeat listens, of what initially seems like a 44-minute block of swirling, stuttering synths with occasional anthemic bursts start to emerge. (If you prefer your electronic music monotonous, though, Bear in Heaven's got something for you, too: in March, the band previewed the new album by slowing it down 400,000 percnt to produce over 2,700 hours of drone—112 days worth—and putting the whole thing online.) They're on tour through the spring and summer across the US and Europe; check them out if you're looking for electropop that's more measured and thoughtful than most.

Click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

Review: "Sweetheart," by M. Ward

| Mon Apr. 9, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

TRACK 4

"Sweetheart"

From M. Ward's A Wasteland Companion

MERGE

Liner notes: Campy yet heartfelt, "Sweetheart," a charming departure from M. Ward's usual brooding folk rock, features actress-singer Zooey Deschanel in a soaring duet blending '50s teen pop, Beatlesesque guitars, and grand production flourishes à la Phil Spector.

Behind the music: Matthew Stephen Ward of Portland, Oregon, has been a busy lad over the last decade, playing with Deschanel as half of She & Him and joining My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst in Monsters of Folk.

Check it out if you like: John Vanderslice, Bon Iver, and other old-school-style troubadours for modern times.

"Sweetheart" isn't online yet, but here's "Primitive Girl," another song from A Wasteland Companion.

 

 

Want to Stop Rape? There's an App for That.

| Fri Apr. 6, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

So, April is Sexual Assault Awareness month—a good time to consider the following: You're stranded at a party one late night. The last bus has left, you're miles from home, and now, a creepy stranger has you cornered at the bar. What would you do?

Get your smart phone out.

That's according to a new app called Circle of 6, which won the White House "Apps Against Abuse" technology challenge last November. Released in March by The Line Campaign, an organization that creates dialogues around sexuality, relationships, consent, and sexual violence, and ISIS, a social and mobile media nonprofit, the app marries social networking with sexual assault prevention. While Circle of 6 is being marketed mainly toward college students, it's gained broader support: In just two weeks since becoming available at the iTunes store, 20,000 people have downloaded the app.

The Circle of 6 app isn't for everyone—you need an iPhone, for one, and some nice, supportive friends—but it could help teenagers and twentysomethings talk about abuse and sexual assault. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the US have been raped at some point in their lives. More than half of female rape survivors of all ages reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40 percent by an acquaintance.

Here's how you use it: Download the app (it's free but currently only available for iPhone). Invite six people you trust to join your "circle." Then, next time you're feeling unsafe out late or stranded in an unfamiliar place, press the car icon. This will text your GPS location to your circle and ask them to pick you up. And if you find yourself stuck in an uncomfortable conversation? You can use the app to ask the people in your circle to call with a distraction. The app also lets you program a local hotline or emergency number.

Behind the app is Nancy Schwartzman, a filmmaker and violence prevention activist. Inspired by the stories of friends who've had to make some "hard choices"—whether to stay the night at a party, walk home alone, or take a ride with someone they might not know very well. And that's for men, too. The app's look is intentionally colorful and game-like—so it can be used openly. And even if men aren't using the app for their own safety, Schwartzman says, they can still use it to help friends in need. "Guys will realize prevention is stepping in and being on call."