07 Nov 2011

Diary of a Billsticker – San Francisco, USA

07 Nov 2011

This was to be my final poster run before leaving the USA on my way back to New Zealand. I’m writing this some months afterwards and so I can’t even remember which poem posters I was carrying, but there would have been about ten different Kiwi poets involved and two or three Americans.

Perhaps the attached photos will show the poets. Maybe I was carrying some Patrick Connors (a Canadian poet) posters as well. Anyway, I’d like to think I was and it always makes for a perfect day to be putting up posters. Besides I do like the Canadians because they were with us at Passchendaele and they do possess a reasonably sensible health care system and government (from the looks of things).  They’re generally not too imperialistic either and that always makes for good neighbours. Canada can’t be bad, because Lindsay Lohan wasn’t born there.

I stayed pretty close to downtown and San Francisco is quite easy to get around. It’s a great place to walk and loaf about and there’s always a lot going on, you could be fully occupied all day by just watching what people are up to. Everyone knows this city is, and always has been, a tremendously energetic place in terms of the great music, literature, theatre, poetry and everything else that it has produced. It is a very expressive centre and has often adopted a lot new ideas before other places. I don’t know, one is always in a ‘holiday mood’ when visiting other places anyway, but San Francisco just seems to me to be a city with a bounce in its step. The people seem colourful and outgoing and opportunity is in the air. I wonder if the prescription rate for anti-depressants is down here compared to other cities?

It is a city for extroverts and there’s plenty of opportunity to get things ‘off your chest’.  It’s probably harder to be self-obsessed in a place like San Francisco where the culture seems to largely about pulling people out of themselves and getting them involved in their surroundings.

The world owes this city a huge debt, as most of us have at one point or another felt a lot better after hearing some of the music that has been recorded or written here. Strangely enough, it is also a centre for many international financial institutions as well and then Silicon Valley is nearby. There are a lot of immigrants and this also makes for colour, expression, and new ideas.  The whole area flows with creativity.

I walked the area known as ‘The Tenderloin’ to put up the posters. This is a kind of well worn in and ‘informal’ neighbourhood that is famous for Miles Davis once having recorded a live album at a local club.  Now, if that album were recorded in Gore, I’m here to tell you it would have sounded completely different.  I think The Tenderloin is also the area where Lenny Bruce was arrested at another nightclub because he used the right word at the wrong time. Bill Graham, the promoter who changed for all time the concert industry in America, was from San Francisco too and the music he promoted changed the culture in a substantial way. Then you have the best bookstore in the world on Columbus Avenue: City Lights Books. Lawrence Ferlenghetti, the owner, published many of the ‘Beat Generation’ writers and went to court several times for obscenity because he dared to print what was on everyone’s minds.

In the harbour is Alcatraz, once the world’s grooviest prison and home to Al Capone and many others. Steve McQueen drove a Ford Mustang in an irreverent fashion around the steep streets of San Francisco in the movie ‘Bullitt’ and Levi Strauss jeans were ‘born’ here.  This is where Janis Joplin got her big break and Owsley Stanley started ‘cooking’ LSD in commercial amounts and turned the world on.  The Grateful Dead played in the parks for free and Carlos Santana saw B.B. King playing a live gig and was himself set on a course.  The Beatles started and ended North American tours in 1964 and 1965 at the Cow Palace, a local venue. Their set was twelve songs long and I bet their entire gig was shorter than some Carlos Santana lead breaks. San Francisco is where ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine was founded…. And the list can go on and on.

So, I was happy to be putting up poetry posters and the people in The Tenderloin will stop and talk to you and it just made for a couple of very nice days for me.  I’ve thought a lot in my life about the difference an environment can make to a person’s creativity and how that creativity can be bought to the fore and nurtured. Obviously one of the problems in creating say, live music in New Zealand, is that the potential audience isn’t really that large and for everything that people say about the internet (and they say plenty), it is usually harder going to make a living out of the Arts in Aotearoa than it is in lots of other places.

When you get to a place as exciting as San Francisco it really makes you ponder these things. I’ve seen world class talent go awry and askew in New Zealand because of the real lack of rewards and then I’ve seen people make some really bland music (and writing) and reap relatively large rewards because they appeal to ‘middle New Zealand’ by being bland and barely moving an inch.  They continually say what the person before them has said. There’s not much room in New Zealand for many ‘niches’ and I don’t reckon that’s good for us and sheep and cattle get boring after a while.

So I guess you could really, really say I enjoyed my time in San Francisco and it’s always a privilege to be putting up poetry posters.

Thank You!

 

Keep the Faith,

 

 

Jim Wilson

 

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