A Prophet, honored in his own town, returns the favor: On February 7, a
gaggle of journalists and hardcore Prophet fans toured the Bay area by bus,
then were treated to a smokin’ live set from the Prophet band, abetted by
musical guests Roy Loney, John Doe and Kelley Stoltz.
Text and photos by Barry St.
We were somewhere around
Broderick on the edge of the Haight when the drugs began to take hold.
Actually, it was just a communal bottle of Southern Comfort and some cookies,
but more about that later. It was almost 7:30, and a cheerful, anticipatory
group gathered outside the bus at the corner of 18th and Capp
Street, wondering what the evening held in store. We were the 60 odd, and
not-so-odd souls lucky enough to score a seat on Yep Roc’s big promo tour
launching Chuck Prophet’s new release, Temple Beautiful, based
entirely on San Francisco
and places special to him. The ‘temple’ was a short-lived punk venue located in
the old Reverend Jim Jones’ People’s Temple building where Chuck saw his first
underground music shows after moving here in the early ‘80’s.
Yep Roc Records Project Manager
and event organizer, Martin Hall, clipboard in hand, checked off names as we
piled aboard. He had to make some tough calls about who would actually be among
the fortunate to get a seat, and said later he was probably the most hated man
in the city that night. Most guests were fans that entered online, with a
couple of press flunky’s and a cameraman. After the passengers got settled, he
introduced our tour guide for this musical mystery tour, KFOG personality,
Peter Finch who took over the mic. As our merry group pulled off into the
warmish San Francisco night, he highlighted what lay in store, and apologized
that Chuck himself couldn’t join us. We were then greeted by the disembodied
voice of Chuck on the little monitors above our heads, welcoming us aboard,
then presenting a video he narrated about the album, with shots of various
locations and snippets of each song accompanying them. His inspirations covered
everything from his years living in and loving the City, to historical
characters and events going back to Barbary Coast days. It entered my mind that
in those days, we would have probably been slipped a ‘Mickey Finn’ and woke up
on a ship the next morning, far from land and being handed a mop to swab the
deck or manning a bilge pump below.
The beauty of San Francisco and
the Bay area has long been an inspiration to the romantic and poetic, as well
as boasting a reputation for its weirdness, pure outrageousness and
individualism, dating back to early Spanish settlers and the original ‘49’ers.
It’s also a place where social outcasts, eccentrics, musicians and artists have
long flocked to feel ‘normal.’ Some are lodged in the national consciousness,
others only in local legend. Although, in recent years, due to sky-high rents,
many have been driven across the Bay to Oakland, where a vibrant new scene has
grown. That said, we’re not like the rest of the country and damn proud of it!
As the video rolled on, we
realized we were on the Bay Bridge, heading out of the City. No one could guess
where we were headed, but minutes later we exited onto Treasure Island. We were
paying a visit to the inner-illuminated, 40 ft. light sculpture from Burning Man, called Bliss Dancer, standing there with an eye-popping view of the City
behind it. We disembarked and gathered around the statue, watching it slowly
change colors – red, to blue, to green or purple. Someone downloaded an app to
control the colors and gave it a test drive, to the delight of the crowd. No
one knew that the art piece was even there. Chuck just wanted us to see it.
After clambering aboard, we headed back into town. Peter told us an anecdote
while on the bridge of how, years ago, Chuck, kayaking under said bridge, came
upon a floating bale of weed, which he later turned over to friends and was
able to finance his first record. Peter also mentioned that even though the
album has its San Francisco theme, the city’s name is never used in any of the
songs. Interestingly, Chuck still plays his old Fender Squire Telecaster that
he was given when he joined Green On Red back in 1984 at the age of 18.
Soon, we were cruising down Haight Street,
where we viewed a mural at the intersection of Octavia, and then we pulled up
across from the Central Haight Market, where we were told Janis Joplin bought
her Southern Comfort when she lived nearby. Peter told the driver to pull over,
jumped out, and ran across the street, returning soon with a bag and someone in
tow. He held up a big bottle of the syrupy liquor and presented to us famous
music writer and critic, Joel Selvin! The bottle was opened and passed back for
us to all have a symbolic slug from.
Selvin took over the tour
duties, regaling us with stories from those halcyon music-scene days; pointing
out a tiny park Jimi Hendrix once played in, and about Paul McCartney’s visit
to the Airplane house, where he turned them onto Sgt. Pepper, and they turned him on to DMT. He had borrowed Frank
Sinatra’s jet to fly up from L.A. Selvin related the story of how he was
actually on the scene that fateful night the Temple Beautiful
caught fire and burned down.
Next, we wound up the torturous,
winding road to the top of Twin Peaks, where, we were told, the album cover
shot was taken. Like tourists, we filed out to the overview, taking in the city
lights splaying out far below. Suddenly, guitars started strumming from behind
us, and, as we turned, there was Chuck, wife Stephanie and James DePrato
serenading us with “Temple Beautiful” from on top of a rock wall! This was very
unexpected, and our little troupe was dee-lighted to say the least. Afterwards,
Chuck and Stephanie joined us on the bus, James driving their car back down.
The mic was handed over to San Francisco’s punk
sweetheart, of Avengers fame, Penelope Houston, who presented a Top 10 List of
what Chuck was most fearful of going wrong with the evening. The Southern
Comfort helped the laughs come easier on a few of those. Soon we were rolling
down 16th Street, to the ‘heart of the heart of the city,” where
Chuck pointed out where the Albion Bar used to exist, and the basis for his “I
Felt Like Jesus” song, which played over the system next. The bus ambled on
down 16th to China Basin, where the old Seal Stadium once stood, and
Willie Mays played his first local baseball games. We ended up by AT&T
Park, at Willie Mays Plaza at King and 3rd, where we tumbled out and
gathered around Willie’s statue near a stand of giant palm trees, to hear Chuck
and duo play “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat.”
Reboarding, we hit the freeway enjoying some
musical selections that Chuck had been inspired by over the years; The Flamin’
Groovies “Shake Some Action,” Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Want To Dance,’ Garland
Jeffreys “Wild In the Streets” and Fast Floyd’s “Frog Legs Man.” Before we knew
it, we were back where we departed from and told that it was finally party
time, to large hoots from the passengers!
We were led down the street and
into a small building, with a funky, arty anti-room, with a half a dozen
battered bikes sticking out of the wall, reminding me of the Ant Farm’s
Cadillac Ranch on old Route 66. The next
room offered a table of food, (mostly hotdog things) and a keg of San Fran’s
finest beer, Liberty ale. Very cool autographed posters from Mission of Burma,
Joe Strummer’s Mescaleros and others lined the walls. The building was a band
rehearsal spot, also rented out for parties. The spacious back room was already
pretty packed from those denied a bus seat, but welcomed to the party.
On the small stage, Chuck and Stephanie joined
the rest of the band and lit into a scorching rendering of “Castro Halloween,”
lighting up the audience. Being that this was the release day for the album,
most attendees were hearing it for the first time. After a few more songs, he
brought up ex-Flamin’ Groovies vocalist Roy Loney to join in on “Temple
Beautiful” and then, to the delight of the crowd, launched into “Teenage Head,”
“People People” and “Slow Death.”
After a break, Kelly Stoltz
joined the band for a few numbers, then Stephanie Finch strapped on her guitar
and sang a couple she and Chuck wrote for her album, Cry Tomorrow, “Don’t Back Out Now,” and “Tina Goodbye.” Finally, John Doe stepped forward and played.
It was closing in on the midnight hour after a couple more from Chuck, but the
crowd demanded an encore, so Chuck and company complied, rolling out a personal
favorite from his youthful days down South in Nixon country (Whittier), Iggy’s “I’m Bored,” for the
Not one sated soul stumbling out
onto the littered South of Mission street that night was feeling anywhere near
bored, as the music was great and the band (and guest members) was flying high.
Temple Beautiful is certainly a fine
recording, but I was really struck by how damn dynamic the songs were live.
Chuck and James, both stunning guitarists, were on fire that night. I’m pretty
sure that most of the attendees felt smugly self-assured that they had just had
the privilege of participating in a bit of San Francisco history themselves. An
event that scenesters who heard about it afterwards would be saying to
themselves, “Dag! I wish I could have gone to that!”
The whole thing had come to fruition
slowly as Chuck discussed with the label something to do on the release date.
The usual, pedestrian, release party was trotted out, but Chuck said “Naw, this
isn’t my first record,’ and ideas were floated and finally, the guided bus tour
idea was hatched, then fleshed out, involving many friends and colleagues to
pull it off. After all, this was Chuck’s love letter to his adopted hometown, and as he put it, “this record was
made in San Francisco, by San Franciscans about San Francisco!”
Probably the only thing more they could have
done to put a fine point on it, the proverbial cherry on top, was to have
waited one more week and held it on Valentine’s Day.