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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Dec 2 1998
People Who Lived When Jim Carroll -- poet, rocker, and recovered heroin junkie -- played the Great American Music Hall last month, he took a few moments to talk about his experiences in the Bay Area. Carroll left New York City in the early '70s to both kick the habit and escape his status as what he called "the token prodigy poet" who had authored the vein-slapping memoir The Basketball Diaries to reams of critical acclaim. He moved to Bolinas in Marin County and rented a house; it was there he met members of the band Amsterdamn, who would later become the Jim Carroll Band and record the 1980 punk classic "People Who Died."

During his stay, Carroll became affiliated with San Francisco's Zen Center, where he met then Abbot Richard Baker. Baker was friends with Earl McGrath, then president of Rolling Stones Records, and encouraged Carroll to sign a contract. "Dick Baker loved 'People Who Died,' " said Carroll. "I signed my contract in the Zen Center." At the time, Baker was also a spiritual adviser to Gov. (now Oakland Mayor-elect) Jerry Brown. "Jerry Brown was having a Cabinet meeting in the next room when I signed my contract with Rolling Stones Records -- I was listening to them talking," said Carroll.

However, he questions the governor's convictions about Eastern religion -- whether he truly possessed the "aura that smiles and never frowns," as the Dead Kennedys put it in "California Über Alles." "Brown was into the Eastern thing in the back of his head, but he was always a Catholic -- there was no denying that," said Carroll. "So he didn't meditate and sit. I remember Allen Ginsberg, when he met him, he asked, 'How long to do you sit?' He said, 'I don't meditate every day. That's just the press. I'm a friend of Dick Baker's, but I'm a Catholic kid.' "

The attention given to "People Who Died" -- at one point, the then-punk-formatted KSAN was regularly playing songs from the entire Catholic Boy album -- extended to the Zen Center, where Carroll met the Dalai Lama. "He gave me these great beads -- I still have them. They're like rosary beads; each one is hand-carved by a monk in Japan. Some were made of ivory, but mine were wood; the more you touched them, the more patina they had. He gave it to me because of 'People Who Died' -- the Dalai Lama liked 'People Who Died.' The beads were all skulls, with each one added to remember a friend who died the year before."

Before heading back to New York City, Carroll moved from Bolinas to San Francisco. "I lived in Pacific Heights," he said. "I bet that apartment costs a lot of money now." (Mark Athitakis)

Which Twin Has the Toni? Recently, we received the following missive from local singer/songwriter Jim Greer, who's not to be confused with Spin magazine scribe-cum-Guided by Voices bassist Jim Greer:

Dear Riff Raff,
I would like to have a trading card series also, except I only have one picture. Please consider letting me have a one-week series. I love you.


Right, right -- and the check's in the mail too, we're sure. Now, we here at Riff Raff central are usually immune to such gratuitous suck-up tactics, but something about Greer's picture rang a bell. So, pulling our massive file of photos of local lowercased singer/songwriter essence, we found that Greer actually does have a little bit of essence in him (and really, who doesn't?), displayed here. As you look at our first dual-photo trading card, ponder the similar coquettish gazes, observe the shoulders-forward stance that seems at once intimidating and yet so, so approachable. It's enough to make us wonder if other musicians have been taking style tips from essence, subconsciously or not. If so, please let Riff Raff know, but be aware that saying you love us -- even if you mean it -- won't influence us. (M.A.)

Alcohol Of the several nightspots having their grand opening on the third weekend of November -- the ridiculous '70s chain-club Polly Esther's, the Chalkers-meets-St. Elmo's Fire bare-brick fiasco of the new McCarthy's, the shrink-to-fit version of New York City's silly '50s-inspired Beauty Bar, and the 23rd and Mission watering hole currently referred to as BAR (read the sign) -- Riff Raff can only sanction BAR because it is what it is. No boas, no gold chains, no gimmicks of any kind. Just booze and pool tables. Sounds refreshing, huh? (Silke Tudor)

Sex and Alcohol After an unbearable month without lager, fish 'n' chips, or Scottish sheep shaggers, the Edinburgh Castle is reopening its doors with a lewd and lascivious reading from our very own Jack Boulware's book Sex, American Style: An Illustrated Romp Through the Golden Age of Heterosexuality. Boulware himself won't be reading, and the people who are reading won't be reading Boulware's words, but they will be reading from his book. Whatever that means, it promises to be a very indecent evening with videos, go-go dancers, and live music by Captain Fatass and Zardoz. Spoken-word performers include Alan Black, Ann Marino, Luke James, Tena Scalph, and Paul Mendoza, while DJ Linton will spin tunes on Saturday, Dec. 5, at the newly reanimated Edinburgh Castle. (Johnny DiPaola)

It's a Benefit As a prelude to the first annual San Francisco IndieFest in January, which will showcase local independent filmmakers, the IndieFest is holding a benefit featuring local bands on Friday, Dec. 4, at the Transmission Theater. The Snowmen, Everybody's Angel, Jolly, Dart, and Joe Buck are scheduled to perform, with KUSF DJs up between sets. The festivities start at 9 p.m.; call 929-5038 for details. (J.D.P.)

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.


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