Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)


So-Cal boy Chuck Prophet has long
embraced San Francisco as his home, and Temple
is his ambitious paean to the little city by the bay.  Each song is based on a bit of San Fran
history, some events more notorious or infamous than others. Prophet comments,
“this record was made in San Francisco, by San
Franciscans about San Francisco!”
Cheeky Chuck also refers to the residents as “San Francentrics.” This fact
shouldn’t deter potential listeners from hither and yon, afraid they won’t get the insider insights, as the songs are just stories about things, like most
songs. The title refers to the short-lived, early ‘80’s punk venue that was
like a little auditorium in the old Jim Jones’ People Temple building, where
Chuck saw his first punker shows after moving here. (I have fuzzy memories of
the place and catching a show with Young Marble Giants in their only stateside
tour.) His band gathers together players like Tubes and Journey drummer Prairie
Prince, bassist and performer Rusty Miller, and guitarist James DePrato. Wife
and singer Stephanie Finch provides vocal backup and Flamin’ Groovies legend
Roy Loney lends his voice to the title song. Additional cello, flute, violin,
woodwinds and piano embellish several numbers. Long-time collaborator Klipschutz
is co-writer on this project with him, the jelly to his peanut butter, one
could say. Chuck himself is a pretty down-to-earth guy with a down-home touch
to his music.



The “Temple Beautiful” song takes
a page from the Groovies’ playbook, as more of a late ‘50s rocker than a punk
flavor. Likewise, “Little Girl, Little Boy” delves into some greaser rock and
Jerry Lee piano pounding.  The tunes
rocks nicely, but doesn’t go much farther lyrically than the title, but this
duet with Stephanie commemorates their first meeting. A real puzzler for me is
what’s happening in “Who Shot John.” 
City streets like Montgomery, Jackson and Eddy are referenced like
characters, and ‘Fatty walked the plank,’ who I’m guessing is Fatty Arbuckle,
who got tangled up in a career-wrecking episode at the St. Francis Hotel over
the death of a girl he was partying with (but was later acquitted). No matter,
it’s a nice, buzzy ballad. “The Museum of Broken Hearts” is a touching ballad
of the terrible AIDS epidemic that swept the City, as well as all the lost and
lonely souls that end their grief with a dive from the Golden Gate Bridge to
the cold Bay waters below. A song that is a true personal homage for Chuck is
“I Felt Like Jesus,” looking back at his favorite dive bar he and many friends
would gig at on the weekends, near the end of his Green On Red days. The energy
displays the obvious sweet memories of bygone times, punctuated with some nice
Long Ryders-type guitar runs, a rolling piano and chimes.



More local lore is exposed on
“White Night, Big City,” when the town exploded after disgruntled ex-City
Supervisor Dan White was acquitted for shooting Mayor George Moscone and gay
rights champion City Supervisor Harvey Milk. Eating Twinkies made him do
it.  Other songs spotlight local
luminaries, such as in “Willie Mays Up at Bat,” (name-dropping blimp-breasted
North Beach stripper Carol Doda) bolstered by some prog-rock guitar wailing,
and “Emperor Norton in the Last Year of His Life.” You MUST research him on
Wikipedia. He was a much beloved local loon who proclaimed himself emperor of
the United States and was treated as such by the population. “The Left Hand and
the Right Hand’ touches on the goings-on at the infamous Mitchell Brothers’
X-rated porno theater, between brothers Jim and Artie Mitchell, with the former
later fatally shooting the latter.



The standout track on the album is
“Castro Halloween,” celebrating the extravagant and outrageous street parties
that used to go on, before some unfortunate shootings a few years back. Being
that there are 3 guitars played on this, I don’t know whom to credit for the
gorgeous George Harrison-esque guitar solo gliding throughout, but it’s a
dazzler. Speaking of Harrison, who once visited the Haight-Ashbury in its
hippie heyday, it seemed a glaring omission to not touch on those love and
drug-fueled days, which San Francisco is perhaps best known for, and the famous
Dance-Concert ballroom music scene sprang from.



Temple Beautiful is the product you expect from this highly
original and creative artist. It succeeds in its goal of telling some stories
of this unique and singular city, as well as rolling out a dozen solid songs.
Chuck takes this act on the road for a West coast tour, then to Europe later
this month, stateside again for a short tour, then back to Europe. He’ll be our
cultural missionary abroad, bringing with him some rockin,’ racy stories for
the natives, about how it all went down in the foggy Baghdad By the Bay. Just don’t
call it Frisco!


DOWNLOAD: “Castro Halloween,” “I Felt Like Jesus,” “The Left Hand
and the Right Hand” BARRY ST. VITUS


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