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The Last Laugh Sonny Bono hustled pop both crap and sublime as a promo man in the early days of rock 'n' roll, and did essentially the same with wife Cher in the '60s. In the '70s he became the oddest of variety show co-hosts. In the '80s he became mayor of Palm Springs. And in the '90s he went to Congress, and was surely the member of that august body with the most outre sex and drug tales to tell, which is saying something. Riff Raff finds Bono's career hugely uninteresting, with a lone 2:52 exception, an irresistible solo single called "Laugh at Me." Its genesis -- apocryphally -- was Bono's eighty-sixing from a swank L.A. eatery because of his clothes. (At the time, he typically sported a fur vest.) The song is an echoey, Wall of Sound-ish plea for acceptance, complete with dopey spoken-word introduction ("I've got something I want to say") over a suspiciously "I Got You, Babe"-sounding backing track and all manner of emotive posturing, from defiance to sorrow to indomitability. "Laugh at Me" is often called a protest song, but it's hard to see why. "What do they care/ About the clothes I wear?" is the record's big point. Riff Raff thought the point of hippie sartorial flamboyance was to thumb a nose at American complacency. "Laugh at Me" is instead a sort of Love Song for J. Alfred Schlemiel, voicing the concerns not of American countercultural youth but of a much more unfairly maligned group. On the behalf of every short, funnily mustached, novelty-voiced nudnik in an ocelot vest, Bono roared; for every heart of gold in a clown outfit, Bono howled. His life, his end, his greatest work -- all were laughable, all encapsulated here. (B.W.)

Rave-Up Lowdown Toon Town was to the S.F. rave scene in the early 1990s what Mabuhay Gardens was to the city's punk scene in the late '70s. Back in the '91-92 heyday of S.F. raves, Toon Town organizers were known for innovative production, flawlessly executed. But Toon Town went ghost town in 1992. The original promoter, Diana Jacobs, hoped to ring in 1998 with the first Toon Town party in five years; instead she and her new partners made a rookie mistake with the permit office and bungled the party. Toon Town first made a name for itself in 1991 when Jacobs and Preston Lyttin teamed up with English promoter Mark Heley and DJs Jeno, Doc Martin, and Pete Avila to bring one of the first tribal massives -- huge multiroom raves filled with moon-eyed dancers and DJs spinning house and techno -- to an S.F. warehouse. The monthly Toon Town massives were different from other large-scale productions like Mr. Floppy's and Gathering; the promoters were dedicated to creating unique environments. Back then, every party seemed like a revelation: At any given warehouse the promoters would install amusement-park rides like "Gravitrons," or virtual reality stations, or video phone links. Toon Town prided itself on making attendees feel like part of the production; the promoters wanted to play the music and dance with, not for, the crowd. The event peaked with an infamous 1991 New Year's Eve party; "Psychedelic Apocalypse" was the biggest rave of its time, drawing more than 7,000 into the Fashion Center. Jacobs and her new production team wanted this year's NYE party, planned for a warehouse complex at I-880 and Hegenberger, near the Oakland Coliseum, to re-create that environment. It didn't happen. "Basically what happened is we fucked up," says Jacobs. Parties like Toon Town need lots of permits, and part of securing permits is having enough cash to pay for off-duty cops, fire papers, and the actual space. The promoters were still trying to get all of their ducks in a row by the time the Oakland special events permit office quit accepting applications in early December. The promoters tried to hook up with another (already permitted) party, but the rivals wanted too much money. Finally, New Year's Eve eve hit and the permit office denied a final appeal. "There was no other option but to postpone it to the following Saturday," says Jacobs. The rescheduled party had only one flaw: Only 2,000 attendees -- not the projected 4,000 -- showed up. Now Jacobs is hoping that the disappointment doesn't sully the venerable Toon Town reputation. "We hope people aren't upset because we got caught up in the bureaucratic process," she says. Hardly. A quick glance at S.F. Raves, the Internet bulletin board where club kids post rave reports, suggests that the Toon Town rep lives. Like one raver said about the after-New Year's party: "The music was kickin' everywhere." (R.A.)

Lawyers, Guns, & Money Endings are always the hardest part; sit back while Riff Raff tells the final chapter of two tales started last year but resolved in the last few weeks. First, S.F. multimedia company Colossal Pictures settled a lawsuit out of court with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for an undisclosed lump of cash. As we reported in July, the Cleveland-based museum hired Colossal in 1994 to produce audio and visual pieces using clips of well-known songs and films to accompany museum exhibits. Colossal said the Hall of Fame didn't secure all of the copyright clearances necessary to go ahead with the project. The Hall of Fame said that was Colossal's job. Colossal threatened a $10 million-plus lawsuit; after only two days of mediation the Hall of Fame coughed up a settlement. Now if we could just get those Colossal lawyers to tear into that screwy induction process. ... Next, in yet another burble of washed-up Riff Raff news, a federal judge officially dropped a $2.2 million lawsuit against the Crucifucks, Alternative Tentacles, and Jello Biafra. As reported here last April, a Philadelphia cop was suing the punk triumvirate for appropriating a staged photo of a gunned-down Philly policeman for a record cover. The judge finally dismissed the suit on a point the punks knew long ago: No one in his right mind thought the cops were endorsing the Crucifucks. (J.S.)

Those Zany Punks Fat Wreck Chords, home to punk groups like Me First & the Gimme Gimmes and NOFX, recently received a $250 bill from radio station WRCX in Chicago. Payola? Nope. Vandalism! Last fall, WRCX invited the Gimme Gimmes and several Incredibly Strange Wrestlers (who were touring with the band) to appear on a syndicated morning show helmed by Mancow Muller, the infamous one-time S.F. shock jock (he was the guy who shut down the Bay Bridge for a hair trim) and outspoken rival of Howard Stern. Therein lies the problem. One of the S.F. visitors scrawled the message "Mancow Sucks! Stern Rules!" across the radio station wall soon after the band had appeared in the studio. A masked wrestler who admits to being in the studio at the time of the incident claims that the epithet was, in fact, much shorter. Furthermore, this source says, the message was justified: Mancow was rude to the women wrestlers. But this didn't help the label, which had to appease a program director threatening to never play another Fat Wreck release. Fat Wreck paid for the punk rock shenanigans, but not without trying to turn the payout into a publicity payoff. So far, Howard Stern hasn't returned the call. (S.T.)

The Jazz Man's Songs On Sunday, Jan. 18, Charlie Hunter will return from his new home in New York City for the sorrowful task of performing at a memorial benefit concert for alto sax player, composer, and friend Calder Spanier. Until Spanier's death on Dec. 4, when he was hit by a car on the Bay Bridge, the 31-year-old musician had played with numerous projects, including the Charlie Hunter Quartet. The benefit, which will be held at the Great American Music Hall, will feature myriad musicians who collaborated with and admired Spanier throughout the years: Hunter, Dave Ellis, Kenny Brooks, Chuck McKinnon, Scott Amendola, and many others. All proceeds will benefit Spanier's widow, Madeline Banks, who is pregnant with their first child. (S.T.)

Terra Firma Sometimes it seems that in the future, tags used to classify music and lump disparate bands into tidy taxonomic heaps (drum 'n' bass, ambient, post-rock) will multiply. Every band will have its own genre. The Internet and zines will narrowcast to increasingly smaller groups of fans, making sure that anyone with a noisemaker and a tape recorder can find an audience. Meanwhile, the actual terms will become increasingly precise, with "space rock" giving way to "neo-space rock," and "psychedelic" transmogrifying into "neo-psychedelic." Last April a couple of dozen bands loosely associated with those genres converged on Rhode Island for an underground music festival called Terrastock. The people behind English fanzine Ptolemaic Terrascope, which covers bands modern and ancient who toy with psychedelic compositions and conventions, started the microfestival just to give their favorite groups a place to play. (And to give fans linked by the Internet and fanzines -- not geography -- a place to converge.) This April 17-19 the festival moves to San Francisco, where local booker Kathy Harr and Aquarius Records owner Windy Chien are helping to organize the three-day affair at the International Center (at Franklin and Oak). The lineup includes domestic groups as well as bands from all over the planet (well, mostly England): Bardo Pond, the Bevis Frond, Cul de Sac, Damon & Naomi, Mudhoney (big fans of Ptolemaic Terrascope), Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control, Tom Rapp, Silver Apples, Kendra Smith, and Windy & Carl, among others. The 700 available tickets went on sale at Aquarius last week. As of Monday, 230 had been sold to locals and international space-rock aficionados. (J.S.)

"This is the first song off our new album": Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), Heather Wisner (H.W.), and Bill Wyman (


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