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Take a Really Deep Breath

Wednesday, Aug 27 1997
Take a Really Deep Breath
Just as housewives of yore used to "extend" their supply of meat by adding increasing quantities of bread, grain, or sawdust to the ground chuck, it seems that your average daily paper can maintain the illusion of size and interest by tamping its editorial full of nonnutritive fiber. How? By turning its coverage of trifling pop-culture events into epic series -- namely, the Chron's pointlessly drawn-out, sprawling, ineffable succession of Dead Elvis stories from Aug. 11 to 16 (including a special "Elvis Issue" of the Sunday Datebook -- scooped! -- on Aug. 3. We think those crafty editors at the Chron were trying to steal a march on all the national magazines that were planning to put Elvis on the cover to mark the anniversary. We haven't seen any as yet, but we're watching closely) and the Ex's fatty triad on the Season That Falls Between Spring and Autumn and Was Related to a Human Emotion That Is Often Considered the Opposite of Hate. (All right, all right -- Riff Raff will, in the interest of providing lean meat, resort to actually calling this 30-year-old season the Summer of Love.) And though keeping a daily paper's size up is admittedly important -- think of the many household uses for all that castoff newsprint -- standards must be maintained for limiting the amount of filler used in a given product. (At least that's what the FDA says, if not the Newspaper Guild.) Let's inspect, at first, the infinitesimally subdivided subject matter of the Chron's various Presley pieces. (Fortunately, what little meaning they actually contain can readily be gleaned, more or less, simply from browsing the headlines. Therein is demonstrated the simple, consumer-oriented grace of a daily paper.) The litany of subject headings in the Aug. 3 Pink Pages included stories headed "Toasting Bubba," "When Elvis Rocked the Bay," "The Best and the Rest of the King on CD," "Flipping Through the Pages of a Unique Life (A sampling of the more than 150 books written about Elvis)," "Viva, Elvis Presley Movies!," "Girls! Girls! Girls!," "Elvis, Wart and All (Kitschy collection includes Presley protuberance)," "Kiss Me Tender -- My Smooch With Elvis," "The Rhinestone Rocker (You, too, can look like Elvis)," "Memphis Memorializes, Mocks Her King," "Everything Elvis -- a Grand Tour," and "Q & A with ... Elvis?" Riff Raff's years in the biz can attest that such a lineup can only be the product of a crazed editor -- we assume Datebook Editor Liz Lufkin -- with far too many sullen orderees about. Without getting into the actual quality of the various pieces (especially not that of "Toasting Bubba," by the anemic Dave Marsh), one might have thought that the range of subject matter certainly sounds exhaustive. Not so. Beginning just over a week later and continuing over six days, we had the submissions of tireless Chron correspondent Sam Whiting, who went to Memphis and Tupelo to caulk up what subatomic fissures remained unsealed in the great gray face of the Chron's Presley coverage. Monday, on the front page: "The Cradle of Rock 'n' Roll," along with a sidebar of Elvis' vital stats, such as birth weight, offspring, and favorite color. Tuesday: "The King and His City." Wednesday: "A King-Size Wedding" (marriage at an Elvis-themed church), "Father, Son Guard the Treasure" (Memphis fan-family hoards memorabilia), and "Outraged Fans Shut Down Elvis Show." Thursday: "One for the Money, Two for the Food" (an Elvis restaurant). Friday: "The Serious Side of Elvis -- a Search for the Few." And, at last, on Saturday: "Mourning in Memphis." And there you have it -- as low-rent an idea as you can have with a big budget, not so much deftly executed as slowly tortured. And the outcome? Elvis Presley is still dead, and was, truth be known, never closely affiliated with the Bay Area. The Ex's three-parter on the Summer of Love was more tolerable, since it only dragged out for three days. And the first two installments, written by Larry D. Hatfield and Donna Horowitz, actually weren't all that bad; they presented the negative along with the endless, gushing, frothy positive. In other words, they presented the truth. Hatfield's story even quotes the admirably cynical Ed Moose as saying when he arrived in San Fran in 1962, "I thought (The City) was the most egregious example of urban narcissism I'd ever seen. Nobody was doing anything." And: "It wasn't Podunk, but it sure wasn't Paris." Thank you, Moose. Horowitz's piece on an old commune at Olompali occasionally grew twee, but demonstrated that some of those youthful idealists weren't the best parents. (One former child of the commune admitted as much, and said, "My dad and mom turned me on to pot when I was 8." Groovy.) But then, unfortunately, there was that third installment -- the one with the byline that has grown into a pair of hack watchwords: Julian Guthrie. She, too, examined the "phenomenon" of hippie parents, but kept her pitch baby-bouncy. What can these former hippie parents offer their brood? Positive ideology! An open mind toward youthful fashions and hairstyles! A general respect for what it means to be young! Guthrie even dragged a talking head into the "debate" -- one Dr. Mark Levy, who said: "There is a universal need to rebel." They should have saved the doctor's insight for the Aug. 20 story "There's Always Room for Jell-O (Still jiggling after 100 years)." It might not have made much sense, but it would have given the piece some dimension. Granted, from the perspective of proper food labeling, Guthrie's feature meets many of the requirements for filler. It is certainly, as they say, "biologically inert." But why extend journalism into three parts, when a single, concise outing would have served just as well? We suppose the secret is knowing when to stop, as we do now. Whew. (M.B.)

Bang the Head That Doesn't Bang
According to all the amateur soothsayers who dedicate themselves to following trends in the record industry, heavy metal is scheduled to make a big comeback. (That's after the ska revival, before the advance of klezmer, and during the goth resurgence.) Never mind that folks have been saying this for the last five years. It could really happen any day now. Among the evidence: the latest BMG Music Service catalog, in which a section is devoted entirely to metal. In between the rock/pop and Christian categories we now find famous hair farmers like the Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Slayer, and, um, Gwar. The devil music being included in the BMG "Take 11 CDs for the Price of 1" deal is an irrefutable sign of the metal explosion on the horizon. So, it came as no surprise to Riff Raff when Pansy Division was joined onstage by Rob Halford. It also came as no surprise when some marketing genius finally told us that he was putting together a compilation of old metal songs covered by current artists. We wondered what took so long, and who would be bright enough to jump on that crazy gravy train. So far: Members of Me First & the Gimme Gimmes cover Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going to Take It"; Nerf Herder cover Lita Ford's "Kiss Me Deadly"; Jason Falkner of Jellyfish covers Def Leppard's "Photograph"; members of the Posies and Lagwagon cover the Scorpions' "No One Like You"; the New Morty Show cover Poison's "Unskinny Bop"; Mad Caddies cover Skid Row's "Youth Gone Wild"; the Marginal Prophets cover Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me"; and the Tories cover Ratt's "Round and Round," with guest vocals from Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy himself. The album is called Metal Rules: A Tribute to the Bad Hair Days, and is due out Sept. 23. Congratulations to our local luminaries who had the sense of humor and the foresight to get involved. (S.T.)

Selvin Watch: This Time It's Personal
It was a big day for nominal Chron Pop Music Editor Joel Selvin last Tuesday. Not one, but two bylines in the paper the same day! Now, there are some who say that Selvin is about the laziest damn reporter they've ever seen on the staff of a metropolitan daily. (OK, it's mostly just Riff Raff.) But Selvin put paid to such talk with his bracing double play. The first story, given pole position on Page 1 that day, was about the old Grateful Dead house being up for sale; the second, on the front of the entertainment section, was about the Rolling Stones announcing a tour. (From Selvin's point of view, the geezer quotient of the two stories was just gravy.) We imagined him strutting about the Datebook wing of the paper on Wednesday. "Yep," he says, snapping a pair of imaginary suspenders. "Knocked off a couple of articles yesterday. Two of 'em. Stones and the Dead. Just got those puppies together, and there they are in the paper. Yep, two stories ...." That was our thinking, anyway. We didn't realize then that Selvin might have had mischief on his mind. You see, once we read that the Rolling Stones tour was starting in Chicago on Sept. 21, we leapt into action. Chicago's pleasant as hell in the fall, and we couldn't miss the latest stadium-size excursion from the one band in the world -- besides, perhaps, the Spice Girls -- that shouldn't be playing in stadiums. We were in the process of dialing up the old travel agent, when it suddenly struck us what we were doing: making life plans based on information promulgated by Joel Selvin, the Wrong Way Corrigan of rock journalism. We hung up the phone and checked the date. The Stones tour opens Sept. 23, not, as Selvin put it, Sept. 21. We ask readers to be the judge: Was this just another mistake by Selvin (either his 712th or 819th -- we lost count in April -- thus far this year; none of them, to our recollection, corrected by the paper)? Or were there indeed darker plans afoot to lead Riff Raff astray on a Midwestern trip? Stay tuned. (B.W.)

Skirting the boundaries of libel since 1997: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Michael Batty (M.B.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly. No flack, please.


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