Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Double Duty

“Look, Ma!  I made the papers!” This week, I filed stories for my hometown’s two daily newspapers, The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner. The milestone (or over-achievement) is significant to me because I have wanted to be a hometown reporter since at least since the age of nine and definitely since I was a teenager, editing my high school paper, though I fell into music journalism as a career. I’m pretty sure what my journalism teacher would have to say about making the move to cityside reporting, though he’s no longer here to say it, nor are my university media studies professors who sent me out into the world to work as an independent reporter, while finishing my senior year.

Honoring skateboarder Pablo Ramirez, who died on April 23. Photo by Kevin N. Hume for the Examiner.

I’m thinking of my own youth, age, and the cycle of life because it’s been a season of terrible losses for my communities and in the world; some have hit closer to home than others, but it was the death of 26-year-old skateboarder and musician, Pablo Ramirez, that really opened the floodgates of grieving for me (and in those moments, I tend to write).  Following his story to the top of Twin Peaks, I had the privilege of speaking to his mother, Loren Michelle, and learned more about his life. They are the subject of my column, SFLives, this week wherein I also tried to shed some love and light on The City’s beloved skateboard community.  I’m so grateful to have had the sense to follow my nose on this story, and for the photos by staff photographer Kevin Hume that accompany it, and especially to the Pablo Ramirez Foundation.

The piece for The Chronicle is about another San Franciscan,  Patrick Marks, a longtime Bay Area bookseller, who made the leap to opening his own store, The Green Arcade, at the same time online bookselling began to rise.  Ten years later, his business is alive and well, serving readers of all kinds, but particularly those who are eco-conscious or interested in utopian futures.  Anyone who reads me regularly knows about my interest in the preservation of small bookstores.  Covering Patrick and the Green Arcade was a chance to celebrate one of the best in the business. That it coincided with my return to the Chronicle Datebook section after a 20-year hiatus (I think the last story I wrote for them was about Soul Asylum hitting the charts), is an aside, but it’s a reason enough for me to celebrate: The Chronicle has been Northern California’s newspaper of record since 1865; it’s the paper I grew up reading.

Patrick Marks at The Green Arcade. Photo Michael Short, special to the Chronicle.

I see now that one of the things I was reminded of by following the story of Pablo, attending his memorial, speaking to his mother and stepfather and the people around them, was how important it is to pause. To breathe. To reflect on and appreciate what we have, to express gratitude for the people and the beauty and the love and the life and world around us — right now. I’m grateful to do work that I truly love. I appreciate not not only yours and others, but my own life. And I’m exhausted. Last night I filed a third story about legendary muralist Juana Alicia which will publish soon in the digital CurrentSF where I am also a frequent contributor (though I’m mostly there to compliment the images of award-winning San Francisco photographer, Ekey Kitpowsong).

My horoscope this week said I would be recognized for my work, particularly if I work in publishing. I shook my head like I do and laughed it off (while secretly hoping someone of power and influence, my own neighbor or maybe even my dog would take notice). And then I got it: Yesterday’s papers might be lining your trash bin, but I can still celebrate me and you and us today. Thank you to Pablo and Patrick and Juana Alicia for keeping me on my toes, inspiring me to stay in the game. “Life is beautiful.”

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Keep On Pushing, San Francisco News, What Makes A Legend, You Read It Here First, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cyndi Lauper: She’s Still So Unusual

Photo1 - (courtesy WeTV and Kinky Boots)Though I never owned  She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper in the ’80s (it was what we called “too commercial” for my taste), I was certainly happy to revisit it in its 30th anniversary vinyl edition, and hear it as the watershed in women’s recording it was.

By the time Cyndi Lauper made her solo debut in the fall of 1983, the year had already delivered some of ‘80s culture’s greatest hits: Michael Jackson had performed the moonwalk on the Motown 25 TV special; Sally Ride was the first woman to fly into outer space, and a black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was crowned for the first time ever. Madonna was still a yet to be, in the process of defining herself on a debut that just skimmed the radar. Lauper however was fully formed, comfortable in her own skin and clothes, wrote her own songs and had enough chutzpah to take others’ songs and make them her own. She was also an extraordinary singer, then and now, her voice an expression of pure joy and an assertion of her freeness…

READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW AT BLURT ONLINE: 

Filed under: Reviews, vinyl, What Makes A Legend, Women in Rock, Women's rights, , , , ,

What Makes A Legend: Darlene Love

Classic Track: “He’s A Rebel”

Born Darlene Wright in Hawthorne, California, and christened Love by Phil Spector, Darlene was a member of the vocal group the Blossoms and an A-list singer on the talented but wily producer’s sessions. Knowing in his bones the Gene Pitney song “He’s a Rebel” would be a hit,  instead of crediting the Blossoms, Spector rushed it out as the Crystals who were signed to his Philles label. Love was also the secret weapon on the Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans singles, “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others Hearts”, and “Not Too Young to Get Married.” Her unmistakable tone with no-nonsense, girl group attitude has backed-up Elvis (she and the Blossoms were part of the ’68 comeback special), Sonny and Cher, Papa John Phillips, Little Steven Van Zandt and his boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Career Highs: We’d have to ask her what she thought of singing on Cheech and Chong’s “Basketball Jones” or if her turns as Danny Glover’s wife in the Lethal Weapon movies were thrills to her, but we loved them. Maybe her heart sang when she headlined her own one-woman show, Portrait of a Singer, or when she went to Broadway as Motormouth Mabel in the musical adaptation of  the John Waters story, Hairspray.

Career Low: Going uncredited on all the Spector productions (she eventually won a lawsuit that helped her collect on some unpaid royalties).

Essential Listening: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is the song for which she’s probably best known outside of “He’s A Rebel”;  you can also hear her every year as background vocalist on the seasonal hit, “The Monster Mash.”  “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” are Love’s other great shots in the spotlight.  Her hits are all compiled on The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love and Da Do Ron Ron: The Very Best of the Crystals, issued by Sony/Legacy Recordings.

And if you like that you’ll like: “Lord, If You’re A Woman” (“give a sister a hand”), tells a story about someone who’s been had and if you have been, you’ll say amen.

What She’s Doing Now: Darlene Love took her rightful place in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame when she was inducted on March 14, 2011. On March 2, 2014, she accompanied director Morgan Neville onstage at the Academy Awards to accept the Oscar for Twenty Feet From Stardom, a documentary about the lives of background vocalists. As part of her acceptance speech, Love sang a portion of the Gospel classic, “His Eye on the Sparrow,” in acknowledgement of how music and faith carried her through the hard times.

Watch the action: Love With Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 2009

Filed under: Arts and Culture, film, Gospel, Roots of Rock'n'Soul, What Makes A Legend, , , , , , , , , , ,

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