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Rivertown Revival: After Dark!

Photo by Debbie Wilson.

One may quibble the Petaluma River is technically a tidal estuary, but “Tidal-Estuary Revival” lacks that certain Je ne sais quoi that The Rivertown Revival has long enjoyed. The annual riverside music and fun fest is back—in a new and improved “dark mode” with a catchy new moniker to match.

Behold: The Rivertown Revival: After Dark! So, join me in celebrating the Greatest Slough on Earth with two weekend evenings chock-a-block with music, art, food, libations, and $5 weddings! 

Note: This year’s Rivertown Revival happens to land on some auspicious dates: 

Friday, July 19 (my birthday! — come celebrate with me)

Saturday, July 20 (the day after my birthday! — come recover with me)

I’ll be emceeing, officiating weddings, and scanning the crowd for familiar faces with whom I hope to raise a glass! Join me!

The Rivertown Revival: After Dark!

5 pm to 10 pm | Friday, July 19 & Saturday, July 20, Steamer Landing Park, 6 Copeland St., in Petaluma.

Hail, Caesar: The Origin of the Caesar Salad at 100

Origin of the Caesar Salad
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: Francis Ford Coppola's "Caesar!"

Americans are precious about food lore, particularly the origins of their favorite dishes. Tell them that French fries are Belgian or that pasta originated in China, and their eyes widen almost as fast as their belts tighten.   

Entire movies are made from food stories — Netflix’s Unfrosted, the comic origin story of the Pop Tart, comes to mind, and The Founder, a 115-minute movie about McDonald’s starring Beetlejuice. Naturally, these stories should be taken with a grain of salt (or sometimes an entire salt mine). A case in point is the venerable Caesar Salad, which purportedly celebrated its centennial this Fourth of July.

David Burke’s New American Classics: A Cookbook traces the salad’s origins to a particularly busy July 4 evening in 1924, when Tijuana restaurateur Caesar Cardini improvised it table-side to impress his Hollywood clientele. Caesar’s Place (not the grill, nor the palace, for that matter) was a hotspot for movie stars in the 20s who did their Prohibition-era drinking south of the border.

“Prepared tableside, a coddled egg, the pièce de résistance in the creation of a creamy, stick-to-your-ribs dressing, the show came with the shaving of the cheese, the mashing of the anchovies, and the breaking of the egg over the crisp romaine leaves,” wrote collaborators Burke and Judith Choate in 2006.

Et tu, Crouton?

However, as they say, failures are orphans, and success has many fathers. Among the salad daddies is filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, at least by proxy via his brasserie Cafe Zoetrope. Printed proudly atop the North Beach establishment’s menus is a claim that the Caesar Salad was invented there, or at least in the same building. Five years ago, however, Soleil Ho, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, did some sleuthing and deduced that it’s doubtful that the salad was invented in San Francisco, let alone on the premises that would eventually become Cafe Zoetrope.

“The menu ties it to a San Franciscan ‘Caesar’s Grill,’ one of the building’s original tenants, a claim repeated by Chronicle reporter Jim Walls in 1959, though I could find no evidence tying Cardini to that restaurant,” Ho observed. She also pointed to a 1911 classified ad in the Chron archives about a lost purse at Caesar’s Grill, “when Cardini would have been a 15-year-old boy living in northern Italy.”

Caesar's Grill

That said, if Coppola is inclined to make his own foodie movie about an Italian whiz kid restaurateur who innovates a namesake salad in the last days of Barbary Coast-era San Francisco, made with the vision and sweeping scope for which his films are known (like Megalopolis, in which Adam Driver plays…wait for it…Caesar!)… Suffice it say, I’m in.

But hold the anchovies.

Born on the Fourth of July (or Faux Pas July?)

When I met Ron Kovic

In one of my more embarrassing literary moments, Eugene Ruggles, a lauded local poet who haunted the halls of the then-single-occupancy-residence Petaluma Hotel, was behind the wheelchair of his mustachioed literary cohort, famed anti-Vietnam War activist and author Ron Kovic.

Kovic’s memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, had just been adapted into the Academy Award-winning film of the same title directed by Oliver Stone. It starred Tom Cruise as Kovic, who was costumed with an era-appropriate mustache, though unusual for the generally clean-shaven actor.

Suffice it to say, this was a lot of star wattage to unpack in front of Aram’s Cafe circa 1989.

I was familiar with Kovic thanks to Cruise’s film commercials, which I saw on cable TV. This is where I also became familiar with the work of Ernie Kovacs, the innovative 1950s counterculture television comedy pioneer whose shows were re-airing on cable’s Comedy Central. Like Kovic, Kovacs was similarly mustachioed.

One can see where this is going.

So, when I happened upon them near the cafe, Ruggles, always generous (and always, in my experience, a few sheets to the wind), introduced the Golden Globe award-winning Kovic to me in his staccato and slurred pronunciation.

I could make out the two syllables of the last name—opening with a percussive K and hinged on a V—but the vowels were lost on me. The man’s mustache, however, triggered something in my unconscious that bolstered my confidence (I was new to meeting celebrities then). So, I shook the man’s hand, looked him in the eye and sincerely thanked him for his contributions to comedy.

Kovic and Ruggles looked quizzically back at me before continuing down the street.

Moments later, a few paces along my merry way, I realized why.

Happy 4th of July.

(And happy birthday, Mr. Kovic—with belated apologies—and to my brother, who is getting treacherously close to 50!).

Tennis, Anyone? The Inclusive Evolution of a Classic Phrase

Tennis, Anyone?
Photo by Ryan Searle.

As a collector of phrases (well-turned and otherwise), it seemed that “Tennis, anyone?” had grown especially rusty (“Tetanus, anyone?”) and was overdue for a glow-up. The venerable OED described the expression as “a typical entrance or exit line given to a young man in a superficial drawing-room comedy.” Ouch.

No matter, the opportunity to contemporize the phrase with a modern, egalitarian sensibility presented itself with a cover story in the Pacific Sun (a paper for which I’m editor) about local tennis coach Brent Zeller’s mission to take the sense of competition out of the game and replace it with enjoyment for all. And just like that, the perfect headline came to me — the match point just waiting to be lobbed over the net — “Tennis, Everyone?”

My work here is done.

The Art of Being a Sell Out

Sell Out

Please, Someone, Show Me How

As a card-carrying member of Generation X, I distinctly remember the stigma associated with selling out. How could one not? The sentiment was everywhere, foaming from the lips of every artist and musician like a froth of anti-ambition. It was the plot of the film Reality Bites and the de facto ethos of those coming of age in the 90s. But what is selling out?

I looked it up. When it comes to music or art, “selling out” is adjusting creative work to appeal to a broader, commercial audience. For instance, if a musician changes their style to attract more listeners and make more money, longtime fans might criticize them as “selling out.”

It’s the old “I knew them before they were cool” trope from another angle. I’m not cool yet, but I am from Before, and I keenly remember being one of the few guys openly trying to sell out. I had what I thought was an enlightened take on the notion — it was less that I was selling out and more that others were buying in. But they weren’t buying in, try as I might. Sure, I could get gigs as a mid-market journalist, but that wasn’t writing as much as reporting.

Then there was Hollywood. I had some small breaks, but they only amounted to hairline fractures when breaking through in the biz.

But fast forward a couple of decades and a whole new generation is all about selling out, with no stigma, no shame (no shame generally), and smart think pieces about how it is economically necessary. Consider Bouree Lam’s piece in Refinery 29 — the title of which says it all: “Generation Sell Out: For Gen X, cashing in was a sin. But for millennials, what choice do we really have?” This was published in 2018. Old news. So, what’s happened in the intervening six years? Now, everyone is a creative, a maker, an influencer, or something else artist-adjacent, and the market is completely saturated. Also, get off my lawn.

What’s interesting to me is the preponderance of brands with which they work. Kids these days are plugging products. I don’t blame them. I had some product placement in Werewolf Serenade when I needed a local wine brand’s wine cave as a set, so the characters drink and even discuss the wine, which is slightly comic. 

Here’s an audio sample…

It’s not (too) glaring, and it’s a family-owned business, which is probably why I was able to make the deal at all. Ultimately, it was a community thing. Moreover, my co-star and I drank the wine in question, which was awesome. 🍷

If this is considered selling out, sign me up for more. I’ll write you a whole damn movie, and I’ll direct, star, and drink in it.

The Sell Out as a Major Motion Picture

“When an indie filmmaker desperate for funding agrees to incorporate product placement into his movie in exchange for wine, he uncorks a hilarious journey through the vineyards of compromise, creativity, and unexpected partnerships. The Wino — Rated R.”

Remember in 1994, when poet Allen Ginsberg sold his archive to Standford for a cool million? I do. It was 30 years ago this Summer. 

When he passed by our busking act in North Beach circa 95 with barely a glance, let alone a tip, my pal L. called Ginsberg a sell-out. Then, somehow, L. got the old Beat poet to come back and talk with me because I was a fan. The irony we had in the 90s was some good shit.

Sidebar: Here’s a satiric poem: 

I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical naked,
dragging themselves to the
Bank of America to make a seven-figure deposit.
— A. Gin$berg

Anyway, I’m peddling the new movie right now. As I talk to sales agents and distributors, it often comes up that I seem to have willfully and willingly sidestepped some commercial elements — like stars. They point out that my movie has no stars — only the dark night of the soul. 

I tried to get stars but ended up with a constellation of great actors instead. So there. I’m like  Andy Warhol; we’re making our own superstars. I know this is easier to do when you’re Andy Warhol and can count on everyone being famous for 15 minutes. I’m just trying to be famous to 15 people.

“During the hippie era people put down the idea of business.
‘Money is bad.’ And ‘working is bad.’ But making money is art. And working his art. And good business is the best art.”

Andy Warhol

The fact is, there’s a hiccup in my makeup that prevents me from being commercial or producing the kind of material that attracts commercial elements. I have artist DNA—it’s right next to the overabundance of Neanderthal genes and other genetic time bombs. 

It’s not that I won’t compromise — I AM compromised. Because, like you, I suspect, I still believe in art for art’s sake. And that it can pay. So we can make more of it. And that’s almost enough. Almost.

Another Podcast Prototype

podcast

I’ve been mulling the notion of starting (another) podcast. This “trailer” serves as a kind of psychic soundcheck. More later, as I continue experimenting to a format to which I can actually commit.