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.”

 

 

 

 

 

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

No Literary Work Here, Not a Chance

Sometimes I write.  Well, most times I write.  Daytime.  Nighttime. And often at the crack of dawn. Very rarely am I up in the middle of the night, though if I’m working on something strong, it’s been known to happen. What I write is not always for publication and it’s not always for you to know, though occasionally, I will publish work that is outside of the square boxes that keep writers locked in and gatekeepers busy doing the ticking.  That box labels me a journalist, a columnist, a music critic, an arts reporter. And yes, I know it’s so confusing but I also review books and films and write extensive profiles of people. Can you imagine that I also have dared to write about politics?  Please don’t fret, it’s usually just personal and local though occasionally it reaches out into the world. Crazy, I know! Here’s the thing and you might not be ready for it, but heck, I’m about to tell you anyway: I write writings of all kinds, occasionally sacred and other times sordid (as are most matters for hire, which means I get paid for those pieces).  Sometimes I volunteer my time (the pros call it pro bono work. I call it writing). What I’m getting at is the list of themes and assignments is long and frankly, a little unbelievable so I’ll spare you the details, partly because so many of my subjects have crossed over to the other side: They can’t testify for themselves, but among the living, I can tell you that most all the customers report satisfaction. Generally, I specialize in “difficult to categorize” “unwieldy” and “marginal” subjects, though there is one kind of writing to which I lay no claim though have been accused of lately and that’s poetry. Actually some “friends” told me the work, published here and there and most recently in a chapbook, The Rakish Tam, could be called such a thing. I disagree with them.  I am a writer, plain and simple.  Writers write.  So go ahead and call me what you like, just know that square boxes and categorization are not for me.  If you care to learn any more about what all my fussing is about, you can send a self-addressed stamped envelope the size of a notebook eight dollars — six for the book and two for postage and handling — to keepon.keepon.pushing@gmail.com and you can decide for yourself.  Or not. Though while we’re here: Limited edition reprints of my first chapbook, Awful Sweet, are also available at the same cut-rate. And with that, I thank you for leaving your preconceived ideas about writing in the 20th Century, and as ever, for reading: Because while I’m happy to give away everything on these pages for free for use in classrooms and homes throughout the world, I’m not as happy to post everything I write on the worldwide web for no compensation and a whole lotta unsolicited feedback. Which is why you won’t find anything remotely literary here. Not at all.

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, California, Editorial, Freedom Now, gentrification, income disparity, It's Personal, Poetry, police, Sunnyside Up, You Read It Here First

Back On The Chain Gang

Dear Readers,

It’s an unusual post where I want to send you away from my site and toward another, but that’s the case this evening…As it happens, I’m back on the rock ‘n’ roll beat and want to point you to a couple of publications where my work is now playing:

Last week, a group of former colleagues launched No Recess! a music and culture site that aims to bring you some good reading on rock ‘n’ roll, resistance, and whatever else they feel like.

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Check my contributions, a column titled What Are We Gonna Do Now? and subtitled Rock and Resist or Rollover.  I also contribute a book review of the new autobiography by the Band’s Robbie Robertson.   And here’s a film review of I Called Him Morgan), and a news brief (an item on John Hurt Jr.)

I’m also filing a monthly column over at Tourworthy.  My first piece is on the Latino psychedelic soulsters with a message, Chicano Batman.   I hope you’ll look deeper into these new publications and lend them your eyes (and ears) as they keep you up-to-date on the sounds that matter, on the music that’s making a difference. As ever, thanks for reading!

Filed under: Protest Songs, rock 'n' roll, video, You Read It Here First

New Ebook, Shaman’s Blues

shamans_bluesWhat was meant to be a short, between books project is now officially a new ebook, Shaman’s Blues. As an author from traditional publishing and as a person who spends much of her energy as a books advocate and activist, it’s a strange twist that my own title is available through that infamous bookstore-eating electronic channel. Let’s just say it’s an experiment for this writer and others like me: We’re in processing of discovering whether it’s possible to earn a living from our books instead of owing our publishers infinitely. Whether it’s possible to do that, as I’ve heard some writers have done, remains to be discovered. The good news in all this is a hardcover edition of the book will be available October 1 at independent booksellers and libraries (ordering details will appear here soon). And if you’re a traveler or fan of e-reading, Shaman’s Blues is available to you at no cost, beginning Friday August 22-Sunday August 24. For now, please visit the Blooming Twig/Sumach-Red blog for a taste of what you’ll find inside. And thanks for taking a chance on Shaman’s Blues.

Filed under: Book news, Books, California, Jim Morrison, Poetry, Protest Songs, You Read It Here First

Ron Franklin is Gasoline Silver

If you listen closely to Ron Franklin’s music, you may experience space and time jumping the tracks. It can happen when he switches from an electric rhythm guitar blast and picks up a lonesome slide lead, or when his wrangly, whisper-from-the-past vocals kick in, then choogle off into the distance. Shifting into another dimension, you may hear contemporary imagery and language brushing against old time themes, and a definite restlessness, rustling through his sensory-laden lyrics that echo the music and travel together in perfect unity—original but familiar; inviting but opaque, heavy but with heart.

Franklin’s self-titled set for Alive Records, City Lights for the Memphis International label, and a limited edition special pressing of Blue Shadows Falling, are demonstrations of the lengths he’s gone for a song. Schooled by Memphis music greats from Willie Mitchell to Jim Dickinson, learning from the hands and words of Otha Turner, Arthur Lee and Solomon Burke, Franklin’s a man of history, just now coming of age with Gasoline Silver, a thoroughly modern, electric album and band. With classic song styles that recall the Doc Pomus-inspired sound of the city, Ron Franklin stands alongside the timeless, gypsy souls of rock’n’roll—the Heartbreakers, Patti Smith and Suicide—and comes up swinging. With his poetry of the street, and southern R&B bona fides, he is readymade for the great rock’n’roll shakedown.

Franklin’s enigmatic stories, about blue devils, hill country picnics, and girls lost to footprints in the snow, are rooted in real life, then spun into musical universes of their own. Occupied by  different cars, different characters, and different versions of the American dream or nightmare, every verse is as right for a country night as it is for urban lights. Like time travelers passing in the night, sometimes the worlds collide and connect up, a little like the way real life and its players begin to reveal themselves: Stranger than fiction stories, unfathomable coincidences and outcomes impossible to predict. His surreal yet believable subjects concern a certain kind of dream and dreamer, the ones with romance and melody in their hearts, and trouble in mind. Franklin refuses to check his intellect or his wit at the door when he sings,  “There are no free refills for the taking / There ain’t no four winds that blow strong,”  as he does in “Dear Marianne,” an epic that speaks to the betrayal of the Americas, late 20th Century-style. And yet, riding side by side with his realist is a seeker and eternal optimist, stoking the fire of “Black Lightening.” To hear him sing “If you don’t see me tonight, I’m underneath the stars so bright / Listenin’ to that black smokestack lightnin’ blow again,” is to travel to where the black smoke is rising and the train whistles blow, manifesting a space where the images are as real as the record and the player on which they’re spinning.

See and hear Gasoline Silver live on the West Coast, June 14-22. Check local listings for details.

Filed under: Concerts, Solomon Burke, You Read It Here First, , , , , , ,

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