The Last Black Man in San Francisco

complicated love/hate relationship with the place

last black man in San FranciscoWhen I was in Indiana, the youth director of my church had recommended the movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco to the teens in our charge. As it turned out, my wife and I had seen it at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany a couple of weeks earlier.

I hadn’t written about it, partly for time, but mostly because I was stuck in describing it adequately. The IMDB posting says, “A young man searches for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind.”

Rotten Tomatoes (93% positive with critics, 84% positive with audiences) is more descriptive: “Jimmie Fails [Jimmie Fails] dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont [Jonathan Majors] Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.”

Looking at the reviews, I’d agree that it is fresh, original, poetic, an aching portrayal, well-acted, “leaning into its ambiguity, humanity and a quizzical moodiness.” More than one critic notes the “complicated love/hate relationship with the place he calls home that makes [director Joe] Talbot’s love letter to the city so riveting and rewarding.”

So you get the sense of loss, a metaphor for the current housing shortage in the city by the bay. It’s perhaps confusing at first, these skateboarding buddies, one who wants to do upkeep on property not presently his.

Eventually, the story by Fails, Talbot and Rob Richert makes sense to me. There are some great performances by Danny Glover as Montgomery’s blind grandfather, plus Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, and Finn Wittrock.

My friend David Brickman says it’s the best movie of the year so far, and he may be correct.

You probably won’t find The Last Black Man in San Francisco in theaters at this point. If you watch it on pay cable or on DVD/BluRay, you might well find it challenging but, I hope, rewarding.

Georgia on my mind

key lime pie

midnight in the garden of good and evilI’ve been to Georgia twice. The first time was to Atlanta in 1995. The city was/is a sprawling entity. On one particular 10-line highway, we repeatedly saw cars exiting to the right, crossing three or four lanes quickly, usually directly in front of us.

What made it worse was that it was the year before the Summer Olympics, so there was plenty of construction everywhere.

I was there with my girlfriend, now my wife, visiting friends of hers. We also got to see part of the Martin Luther King Museum. Our visit to CNN involved sitting in on some program we have on a VHS tape, and nothing to play it on!

My second Georgia was to the coastal city of Savannah, in 1998, for a work conference. It’s the oldest city in the state and had some interesting historic structures. It was particularly proud of its connection to the book and then-recent film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

But the best part is that my father drove down from Charlotte, NC to hang out with me. We both arrived on Saturday night, and the conference didn’t formally start until Monday morning, so we walked around the city with some of my friends, eating key lime pie or recalling tales of my growing up.

He LOVED the city by the Atlantic Ocean and said he’d like to move there someday. Unfortunately, he died less than two years later.

Songs about Georgia:

Oh, Atlanta – Alison Krauss
Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight and the Pips
Georgia on My Mind – Ray Charles
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia – Vicki Lawrence
Jug Band Music – the Lovin’ Spoonful

GA Georgia. Historic abbreviation: Geo. Capital and largest city: Atlanta.

GU Guam, an unincorporated organized territory of the US, Capital: Hagatna (Agana); largest city: Dededo. How the United States Ended Up With Guam

For ABC Wednesday

Book review: The Library Book

“The people of Los Angeles formed a living library.”

Library Book.Susan OrleanThe Library Book by Susan Orlean is initially about a fire at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in April 1986 that incinerated over four hundred thousand books.

Why was I not familiar with this story? Maybe because it took place around the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

The book is about the development of the LAPL, which, invariably, reflected the growth of the city itself. Orlean describes the various characters who have been the city Librarian, some of them quite colorful. This discussion inevitably gets into gender roles in employment.

The Library Book gets into the history of libraries generally, how and why they developed, and for whom. We see the value of books and other things libraries collect, and the awful power of book burnings.

But it is mostly about the 1986 fire. Was it set by Harry Peak, a struggling actor, whose ever-contradictory stories frustrated the investigators? Was he even at the scene of the the fire, or not?

The book delves into the investigation of arson. Was the library fire set? Breakthroughs in technology makes clear that some of the fires that investigators thought were deliberately set may not have been.

It is so much about recovery, how, after the librarians there mourned the losses, the community came together fire, forming “a human chain, passing the books hand over hand from one person to the next, through the smoky building and out the door.

“It was as if, in this urgent moment, people, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created for a short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.”

Ultimately, The Library Book is a love letter to Susan Orlean’s mother, who taught her the wonder of libraries. That joy is contagious.

As one Goodreads writer noted, “It is in many ways a tribute to libraries and librarians and what they stand for and the importance of the library now and in the future.’

If you like your books linear, the structure of The Library Book may be a little frustrating, as it bounces among the themes. But it did not bother me at all. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. The Library Book is a lot of things, just like a library.

Jesus Sought Me: Luke 19

Come down from that tree!

Zacchaeus tree.Palestine_Jericho
Zacchaeus tree in Jericho, Palestine
Now it’s the second day of Triennium, so it’s Tuesday. No, wait, it’s Wednesday. We left on Monday, got here on Tuesday. It WAS Wednesday.

The scripture of the day was Luke 19, specifically the first ten verses, and the theme of the day is Jesus Sought Me. After breakfast, there are discussions with our group of 18. We were joined by a couple of women from Connecticut, who were their entire delegation.

Jerry, the pastor, led the discussion about Zacchaeus, the tax collector. It was a despised profession because they only made a real profit when they overcharged those who owed money. And he was the chief tax collector in the area, so he was particularly loathed

Verse 3: He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. The first “he” was Zacchaeus. But Jerry opined that the second he was NOT Zaccheus but Jesus and that Jesus was short.

Ha! That dovetails with my working theory that Jesus was not only height-challenged but homely as well, which I shared with one of our visitors afterward.

The broader message was that Jesus picked that unlikely guy, deciding he needed to stay at Zacchaeus’ house that night. The crowd grumbled, “Why is Jesus hanging out with THAT dude?” Zacchaeus declared he’d give up half of his possessions to the poor, and if he cheated anybody, he’d pay them back four times the amount.

The message continued later that morning in the small group discussions. I was probably older than the instructor and there was only one other person over 40. The rest appeared to be older teens or in their early twenties. I enjoyed the intergenerational interaction.

I should explain the worship services. It’s in a hall that holds most of the 5000 people attending the conference.

The session started, always, with what they called “The Energizer”, doing various exercises to pop music from a variety of artists, including Taylor Swift and BTS, the latter which thrilled my daughter. I thought it was, in the words of Frank Zappa, “enforced recreation,” but I was clearly in the minority.

Our group showed up closer to the start time of the worship services, but the Energizers started slightly before the scheduled time. The kids in our group would try to get there early.

There was a band who sang and played a folk/gospel/rock amalgam. They were quite good. The lyrics to the songs, all but one of which were unfamiliar to me, were shown on a couple of screens. It’s usually not my cuppa, but most of the songs were pretty good.

The sermons during the week, from five diverse speakers, were good across the board. They spoke of an inclusive, rather than exclusionary God, a God that would welcome even a tax collector.

While no specific political statements were made, it was clear that the speakers were cognizant of a certain rhetorical disconnect out of the District of Columbia.

By the time we got to Woodstock

one of the greatest moments in popular music history

Woodstock posterThe Woodstock Music & Art Fair took place August 15 to August 18, 1969, on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York owned by Max Yasgur. Over 30 acts performed over the sometimes rainy weekend in front of at least 400,000 concertgoers.

I didn’t get to go to “one of the greatest moments in popular music history,” though I surely wanted to. However, my friends and I saw the movie that was released in March 1970, fairly early in its run. And then we watched the three-hour movie AGAIN, back when theater owners didn’t care if you did that.

The second time, I remember looking at the purple of the light projecting onto the screen as Sly and the Family Stone was performing. And I wasn’t even TAKING anything – really!

The soundtrack to the movie was released on May 1970. I surely bought the 3-LP set before the summer was out, and played it incessantly. A second album of two LPs came out the following year, a lesser collection.

Some artists did not appear on either set, because their record label wouldn’t allow it, or because they didn’t think they sounded good enough, or because the artist wanted an album of just their music.

In 1994, Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music a 4-CD set with additional tracks came out. In 2009, Woodstock 40 Years On: Back To Yasgur’s Farm, a 6-CD collection was released.

I thought I’d pick some artists not represented in the first two albums. This proved to be more difficult than I thought. I found three “complete” sets of one artist that ran from 30 to 75 minutes.

Day 1

Sweetwater – Look Out or Two Worlds
Bert Sommer – Jennifer
Tim Hardin – If I Were a Carpenter; more Tim
Ravi Shankar – Evening Raga

Day 2

Quill – Waiting For You
The Keef Hartley Band – Spanish Fly/ Think it Over/ Too Much Thinking/ I Believe in You; to my knowledge, the band has never been featured on any Woodstock recording, nor were they featured in the film.
The Incredible String Band – The Letter
Grateful Dead – part 1
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Born on the Bayou/ I Put a Spell On You/ Keep on Chooglin’
Janis Joplin – Try/ Ball and Chain

Day 3

The Band – full set
Johnny Winter – full set
Blood, Sweat & Tears – full set

Oh, what the heck: two songs about Woodstock

The song – Joni Mitchell
Who’ll Stop the Rain – CCR; John Fogerty on the musical legacy of the concert