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March 22-28, 2006

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Phaedra

Photograph by Michael Amsler
Jeffrey Kahane

The Bohemian's Best of the North Bay 2006

Culture: Writers' Picks


Local Hero
Jeffrey Kahane
Best World-Class Pianist and Maestro We Are Really Going to Miss
The tears have already started. When the current season of the Santa Rosa Symphony comes to a close with a major "farewell concert" of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Rachmaninoff's Symphony no. 2 on May 15, the renowned and accomplished pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane will pack up his baton and leave Sonoma County for Los Angeles. New conductor Bruno Ferrandis heads up the 2006-2007 season.

When Kahane arrived here from L.A. 11 years ago, the musical community could not believe its good fortune. Not surprisingly, those who've never had the chance, or seldom took the opportunity, to see Kahane at work with the symphony, are snapping up tickets for the final few events of the season. The next big event, the four-part "Russian Titans Festival" (March 25, 28, 30 and April 1) is drawing heightened interest in part because it stands as the beginning of Kahane's final stretch in Santa Rosa.

The symphony will survive without him, certainly, in part because of the incredible success of his tenure here, during which time the Santa Rosa Symphony has been launched to world-class status. The next weeks and months belong entirely to Jeffrey Kahane, as we try to find the words to say goodbye—and thank you. —D.T.

Photograph by Jason Baldwin

Best Bad Public Art
This item will probably offend someone. Very possibly, the offended party will be the potentially-uptight spirit of someone named Laura Griffith Huffine; possibly it will be her family. I apologize in advance.

Actually, I don't even know who Laura Griffith Huffine is, or was, even after hours of research and attempts to find out. What I do know about Laura Griffith Huffine is this: On a stretch of lawn behind the Burbank Theater on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus, there is weird hunk of rough-hewn rock, a four-foot tall obelisk, with a big metal handle on top. From a distance, it resembles something Wilma Flintstone might carry as a handbag. Up close, it resembles . . . a very strange memorial to someone named Laura Griffith Huffine. Her name is carved in the rock on the southern face of the structure. Close inspection of the thing's upper parts reveals a round metallic plate, a little like a sundial, with that metal handle spanning the disc. Around the edge of the plate are the 12 signs of the zodiac. The whole thing rests on a small slab of concrete. It's remarkably weird, and while I won't go so far as to call it ugly, I can give you the names and phone numbers of people who have.

Students at the JC have been walking past the thing for some 60 years, and if anyone remembers who the woman was for whom the curious memorial was constructed, they aren't making themselves easy to find. Was Laura Griffith Huffine a professor of . . . astrology? Unlikely, since that wasn't a subject taught by most junior colleges in the 1940s. Was she a beloved student whose devotion to reading horoscopes inspired a generation of astrological scholars? Perhaps.

In the absence of any information to the contrary, I like to believe she was the first person to ever ask, "What's your sign?"

(Then again, maybe the Zodiac disc has nothing at all to do with Laura Griffith Huffine as a person. Perhaps it's just a coincidence. Maybe Zodiac symbols were the big fashion statement in memorial obelisks back in 1948.)

Regardless, there it is: the Laura Griffith Huffine Memorial Zodiac Slab Thing, an enduring and curious public art mystery. I just hope that, wherever Laura Griffith Huffine is and whoever she was, she's having a good time knowing that, because of that oddball piece of rock, we're all thinking about her today. With any luck, our Laura H. is getting a big kick out of this. —D.T.

Photograph by Gabe Meline

Best Post-Show Super Hyphy Haul
Pulled up to the Phoenix Theater and had to be whisked inside since the cops shut down the front doors—no ins, no outs—and the crowd was packed like sardines inside. E-40 was electrifying—I never thought that a song like "Captain Save a Ho'" would stand the test of time so well, and "Tell Me When to Go" ended the set in a flurry of people jumping on stage in a huge party. After it was all over and the lights came up, the crowd dispersed, leaving discarded miscellany on the floor.

Here's what gets left behind at an E-40 show:
1. A dirty purple handkerchief.
2. A battery.
3. A broken belt.
4. A broken pair of cheap sunglasses.
5. A pair of faux silver hoop earrings and a solitary ugly fake gold earring.
6. A lapel pin with an image of a woman on an Exercycle and the Pointer Sisters lyric "I'm about to lose control and I think I like it."
7. A five dollar bill
and . . .
8. Yes! It's a pair of thong underwear with the phrase "Gutta or Nothing" printed across the crotch! —G.M.

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Celebrity Lawyer
Len Tillem, of Len Tillem and Associates in Sonoma, is by all accounts an excellent lawyer. His law firm specializes in the fields of estate planning, personal injury, elder law, trust administration and Medi-Cal planning. Len and his team are in high demand. He knows his stuff and has a reputation for delivering the goods. They say he is generous. He contributes to his community in countless ways.

Whatever.

What people like best about the renowned North Bay attorney—and what they remember the longest—is his voice. It's a very distinctive, very New York City voice. It's an over-the-top voice, a too-big-to-be-true voice. Within the space of a simple statement or a short question, his voice travels up and down the musical scale and back again, hitting most of the notes before ending with a flourish. "Good MORNING! HOW are YOU today?" It's a wonderful, a delightful voice. It could be the voice of a beloved cartoon character, the smart one in a pack of Brooklyn street dogs, maybe, or perhaps some sort of an animated bacterium, an opinionated, super-funny bacterium. That would be funny.

The effusive Tillem has, thanks in large part to his voice, become widely known around the Bay Area with his highly rated radio show, broadcast Saturdays and Sundays from 4pm to 7pm on KGO 810-AM. His signature greeting—"What are you calling a loy-yah for?"—has become a strange catch-phrase across the Bay Area, and probably not because there's anything particularly brilliant about those seven words so much as the fact that it's really, really fun to try and talk like that.

Short of defending an infamous criminal on national television, Tillem has actually demonstrated a textbook strategy for how to become a celebrity lawyer. Starting out in the 1970s in Brooklyn, he worked his first law job as a public defender. He moved west, and after years of practicing law in California, started answering legal questions on the air. That was over 16 years ago, on Napa-based KVON 1440-AM. He eventually moved on to KSRO 1350-AM in Santa Rosa, and was also heard in Lakeport and Fresno before committing his radio personality to San Francisco's KGO, with its million-plus listeners up and down the state. Now he is the Dr. Dean Edell of call-in law shows, answering people's panicky questions about whether or not they should sue so-and-so for this or that. What makes the show so entertaining, aside from the whole voice thing, is Tillem's natural blend of in-your-face interrogation and calm, compassionate common sense. After listening to Tillem for a single hour, the world seems like a better, less chaotic place, one full of nice people with interesting voices. Sounds good to me. —D.T.

Photograph by Nina Zhito

Best Use of First Amendment Rights on 100 Percent Cotton
Actor and artist Damian Lanahan-Kalish doesn't dress to impress; he dresses to depress. Or at least that's what his press release says. The slogans on his Sharpie-pen emblazoned T-shirts, however, make for pure sartorial splendor. Every day, for the past three years, Lanahan-Kalish has been graffitiing provocative catchphrases on T's and wearing them in public. His intention is to engage passersby in a dialogue, meaningful or otherwise, thus completing each conceptual art endeavor. "A lot of days I don't really want to deal with it," laughs the affable Lanahan-Kalish, who adds, "I try not to say anything I can't defend."

Concepts explored in black ink across the artist's T-shirted torso include: "I'm Ashamed to Be White"; "I Do Drugs and I Vote"; "It's Nothing Like I Expected"; "I'm Ashamed to Be an American"; "I'm Weak, I'm a Delicate Little Flower"; "I'm Ashamed to Be Male"; "The Terrorists Have Won"; "I Love Palestine"; "Cocaine!"; "I'm not Really All That Impressed with the Dalai Lama"; "This Shirt Was Made in a Sweatshop"; "At Least Ronald Reagan Is Dead"; "I Often Feel Like I'm Not Living Up to My Potential"; and "I'm Not Really Very Attracted to Skinny Blonde Girls."

"Originally, it started out as a concept about fashion," he says. "I can't really dress myself, so I was trying figure out what dressing nicely is for. It's either to get people to talk to us or to be interested in us, or at least to express positive aspects of ourselves. My concept was to do antifashion, which originally were all expressions that were negative about ourselves, things that fashion is supposed to be hiding that also expresses 'zero money' and concept."

For all his conceptual pranksterism, it's surprising Lanahan-Kalish hasn't taken a tip from Magritte and scrawled "This Is Not a T-Shirt" on a shirt. "I just want to be heard," he says. "Like any artist, I want a way to be heard and not go insane. You can't keep it all in." But you can wear it. —D.H.

Best Place to Author Walk and Talk and Stalk
Had you been in Corte Madera's Book Passage on a sunny summer afternoon a couple of years ago, you might have noticed a familiar face serving espresso in the bookstore's cafe. Patrons could have sworn they recognized the attractive Latin woman dispensing cappuccinos and scones, and one customer finally said, "You know, you look just like Isabel Allende." The woman graciously laughed and smiled, and said, "Oh, I hear that all the time." Of course, it really was Allende, the bestselling author of The House of the Spirits, Paula and My Invented Country, who also happens to be a great friend of Book Passage's owner, Elaine Petrocelli. On another day, I ran into Gail Sheehy (author of Passages) while perusing the shelves, and during the third weekend of August, when the bookstore hosts a travel-writing seminar, you can't help but bump into Tim Cahill, Simon Winchester and Jan Morris. Naturally, these chance meetings aren't the only ways to meet legendary authors at Book Passage; the store hosts some 400 readings a year featuring local favorites such as Anne Lamott and international superstars like Salman Rushdie, Bill Bryson, Nick Hornby and beyond. Almost all events are free (except for the occasional fundraiser, like a benefit for New Orleans flood relief last September with Amy Tan, Robert Olen Butler and Jane Hirshfield that would have been worth paying for in any circumstance). Ultimately, what's so wonderful about Book Passage isn't just the chance to hear and meet well-known authors, it's the opportunity to be part of a thriving literary community. And, yes, perhaps drink a coffee made by Isabel Allende. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 415.927.0960.—M.S.

Best Speed-Metal-Induced Philanthropic Giveaway
It was planned as a bicycle-parts sale to clear the house of greasy derailers, frames and handlebars piled everywhere, but when I rolled up to the announced Santa Rosa location on Humboldt Street on the scheduled morning, the plan had changed. "Basically," I was told, "we woke up, made a pot of coffee, smoked a bowl and threw on some Slayer. We just said, 'Fuck it, let's give it all away,' so take whatever you want." —G.M.

Best INNER Stargazing
The Planetarium at Santa Rosa Junior College is more than a place to sit back in relative temperature-controlled comfort and watch projected facsimiles of the night sky on a perfectly shaped ceiling. The SRJC Planetarium is also a great, entertaining alternative to alfresco stargazing on those nights when icicles are hanging from horizontal surfaces or rain clouds are obscuring the wonderful wicked dance of the cosmos. To keep the interest of repeat customers (and do not doubt that there are folks who show up for every new planetarium program), the SRJC science department has been producing an increasingly creative series of public programs. Currently up and running is a program titled "Lord of the Rings" (through April 9), which takes a close look at Saturn, the multiringed planet and the Greek god. Beginning April 14, the show switches to "Seven Wonders." A pepped-up excursion through the so-called seven natural wonders of the world, the show takes a sudden leap to the skies with a trip through space and time, exploring the seven most mysterious ancient wonders of the stars. Tickets are cheap ($5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors), and shows take place Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and 8pm, and on Sundays at 1:30pm and 3pm. SRJC Planetarium, SRJC, Lark Hall, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.527.4465. —D.T.

Best Frightening Arachnid Discovered by a Sonoma County Spider Scientist
Everybody jump up and down and wave all eight legs! It's time to celebrate the beauty of evolution, which despite recent rumors to the contrary, continues to be in full, glorious, operation. Nine brand new species of the murderous (but sweetly named) assassin spider have recently been discovered in Madagascar, brought to the world's attention by a team of intrepid spider hunters lead by Petaluma's own Dr. Charles E. Griswold. An associate curator at the department of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Griswold's the kind of guy whose family photos include shots of him dusting massive spider webs with corn starch (the better to see them with, my dear) while deep inside enormous caves in China. The new species of assassins, the discovery of which reveals a lot about how all spiders are evolving, was named for its tendency to sneak up on, kill and eat other spiders (not that real assassins, historically speaking, have demonstrated a tendency toward cannibalism). Griswold, who recently headed off to Australia to search for more creepy-crawlies, can be seen talking more about his love for arachnidae on the Academy of Sciences website at www.calacademy.org/research/curators/griswold.htm. —D.T.

Best Place to Pretend You're in Paris, Sans Existential Crisis
Too cheery to host any self-respecting Sartre, Camus or de Beauvoir wannabes, but just parfait for Francophiles who want to surround themselves with the charms of the French life without the existential overhead, Cafe Society is jam-packed with colorful merchandise that delights in the Eiffel Tower, Ella and Louis, and the Champs Élysées. This cafe-without-a-kitchen serves up a well-foamed cappuccino and simple French staples, like ratatouille and quiche. The coffees come with a tiny chocolate wrapped in patina-colored paper that's been stamped with the cafe's logo, an Eiffel Tower with wings that clearly takes its inspiration from the feathered helmet symbol of Gauloise cigarettes. Yeah, sure, if brooding is that important, sit outside with a copy of L'Étranger, a tartine and a Gitane, and philosophize about why the people inside seem to think they can't gain entrance without a silver laptop. Cafe Society, 1000 Main St., #100, Napa. 707.256.3232. —B.A.

Best Place to Spot a DeLorean
Riding down Main Street in Napa a few weeks ago, my boyfriend spotted a car that looked an awful lot like a DeLorean out of the corner of his eye. We drove past too quick to be sure, but later on, I confirmed it. Paul Slack has happily called the stainless steel sports car his for just three months. He bought the immaculate 1982 car on eBay, after giving up on the only two DeLorean dealerships in Texas and L.A., where the price tags start upwards of $29,000. Only 3,000 of the cars were made before John DeLorean's company folded when it was discovered that he was selling cocaine to finance his company. "This is my daily driver now, but hopefully that'll change," says Slack, who has already put 4,000 miles on the car. Asked if any time travel occurs when he reclines into the cockpit-like interior and shuts the gull-wing-style doors, he says, "It only takes you back to 1982. There must be something wrong with it." It's often parked outside of Bloom Creative Hair Design and Art Gallery, which Slack owns with his wife. 1519 Main St., Napa. Monday-Saturday, 9am-7pm. 707.251.8468. —B.A.

Best Mythos in Stucco
In 1984, vineyard owner Jan Shrem got together with SFMOMA to hold a design contest for his new winery and residence in Calistoga. Not surprisingly, architect Michael Graves, who rocked the '80s with such playful designs as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, took the cake with a monumental pink-and-yellow stucco affair that incorporated mythological design elements to reflect the winery's name, Clos Pegase. The Crete-inspired architectural whimsy leaves an orange-tiled portico at the main entrance open to the sky, so that when it rains, we are reminded of how Pegasus' hooves released the Spring of the Muses from Mount Helicon, which watered the gods' vines and transformed nine of Zeus' daughters into the muses.

Adding some levity to the massive winery are the negative spaces: elongated semicircle cutouts and geometrical forms carved out of the walls. Making this into the ultimate postmodern playground, modern works by Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, Robert Morris, Francis Bacon and others are all jumbled up with fussy, serpentine altar columns from 17th- and 18th-century France and Spain. Meanwhile, visual references to Bacchus are everywhere. Topping it all off is Michael Scranton's hammered-steel sculpture Wrecking Ball, forever tempting fate as it remains poised to obliterate the Reserve Room. And that's where modernity and the fear of total destruction come back to bite us. But relax. On the way out, the giant bronze Thumb by César reminds us that, hey, everything's still hunky-dory. Or is it? Clos Pegase Winery, 1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga. Open daily, 10:30am to 5pm. Free tours at 11am and 2pm. 707.942.4981. —B.A.

Best Moldy-Oldy Gringos
What do we talk about when we talk about "oldies"? The Cure is not oldies. Talking Heads is not oldies. I'm talking about the doo-wop, she-bop tunes that've been long dropped from the airwaves by the sky gods of Clear Channel who could no longer wedge the '50s into their marketing pie charts. But late one night I discovered perhaps their last local refuge on the FM dial—on a (mostly) Spanish-language station. There they were, a couple of old gringos (who could be mistaken, from photos of them posted on their funky website, as a splinter group from ZZ Top) spinning the real thing—Paul Anka, Little Richard, Gary U.S. Bonds! Maybe it was the novelty that kept me listening, because I'm not all that crazy about the genre. But the guys that have hosted the Duke and Banner Show for 10 years on KBBF just seemed to be having a good time. In between spinning the suicidal caterwauling of yesteryear's teenage angst, they horse around with noisemakers and banter about the week's news, reading straight from the local newspaper, including items featuring "Hispanics in the news!" So who let these jokers in? The key may be that their corny jokes are the most Inglés you'll hear on the bilingual community radio station. Their annual "turkey list" of the "worst songs ever recorded" can be difficult to endure. But it is almost a comfort in the wee hours, knowing these guys are still out there doing uncanned radio, though, indeed, it might be only me and some guy named Hank listening to them. 'The Duke and Banner Show,' KBBF 89.1-FM. Fridays, 10pm to 1am. —J.K.


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