February 20th, 2006
I was born into a folksinging family, but I was weaned on punk. The Ramones, X, The Pixies, Television -- groups like these formed the soundtrack of my mostly-bleak 20s, and continue to be dear to my middle-aged, rockin' heart.
Unfortunately, I arrived in the Bay Area several years too late to catch the thriving punk scene here in the late '70s and early '80s. But oh, do I hear stories! And all Bay Area punk roads seem to lead to the iconoclastic figure of Dirk Dirksen, who took a failing Filipino restaurant in North Beach called the Mabuhay Gardens and began booking acts there (and at the On Broadway theater). To hear Dirksen tell it -- on the show that airs tonight at 7:30 (and will be repeated on Friday night at 10:30) -- his emceeing style in those days was deliberately abrasive: he incurred the wrath (and beer bottles) of the rowdy crowd so they wouldn't attack the musicians. Talk about a gracious host!
One of the most popular acts booked by Dirksen back in the day was the seminal San Francisco punk group The Avengers. Their lead singer and songwriter, a young Art Institute student named Penelope Houston (my other guest tonight), would head down from school in the evenings to rock out at the "Fab Mab." In later years, Houston would explore a more nuanced, mellow style -- and as it happens, I did get a chance to catch her near the start of this new musical stage, in San Francisco in the late '80s. Since then, in a series of beautiful albums, she's interwoven introspective lyrics and sinuous tunes with lovely arrangements of both acoustic and electric instruments. ... So you could say that, in her career (so far), Houston has recapitulated my own evolution in musical taste -- though in reverse, from punk to folk.
At the end of the show, Houston and her frequent collaborator Pat Johnson treat us to a world-premiere performance of a new song, "If You're Willing." (Not to brag, but with Michael Franti's performance on last week's program, that makes two musical premieres in two weeks!) With guests like Houston and Dirksen, hosting a show is easy -- especially as no one threw any beer bottles at me!
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