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Yammer #14

 

Between soft covers
just off the press:
the skin dust of lovers
and my evening dress.

 

Yini Yohans

 

MONDAY, AUGUST 21, 2000

songlines

and patterns

To paraphrase loosely the former president whose face you are most likely to see in a distant Eastern European villagerís shack or an Arab emirís velvet art collection, "Ask not where you can go in your city. Ask instead where your city can go in you."

You would think the streets are ultimately finite and that after twenty years they should be cut, dried, and memorized, but it isnít that way at all. Not long ago I discovered an elegant, topographically, geographically, philosophically correct shortcut that took me to India Basin from the mid-Bayshore flats before Candlestick. Twice more that week the work waves washed me down the same path. I wonder, as I sit at home writing, when I will next ride that road again.

You donít have to be a bicycle messenger to enjoy the patterns and secret winds of the streets and neighborhoods. You just have to feel the beat. I may not be way out on Clement or skirting the hills on Alemany for six months in a row but sure enough, when I do get to some seldom seen sector, I end up back there, day or night, workday or weekend, about three more days in a row.

It all comes down to streets and songs and songs and streets. Bruce Chatwin, who died a couple years ago, was a bon-vivant, adventurous, high society type writer of fictional pieces, nonfiction essays, and hard to sort out combinations of both. Sort of a Neal Cassady for the Paul Theroux, Saul Bellow, Martin Amis set. One of his most interesting books, a study of aboriginal geographic realities in Australia, was called "The Songlines." Songlines are very sophisticated mapping systems used by natives of the continent down under, which base distances and travel instructions on traditional narrative songs handed down from generation to generation. Instead of straight for two miles and left at the 7-11, a songline instruction would be more like, "Head the direction of the big mountain and start singing a certain song; when you get to verse 7, line 4, go right; keep going till the end of the fourth chorus; hang a left and just before you get to the end of the song youíll see Homeyís beer hut on your left.

It wasnít long after I read this book that I was happy to become conscious of my own songlines tied to San Francisco streets. Although not as precise and consistent as the system used by the native Australians, certain favorite songs, snippets, and riffs come up again and again as I ride around town trying to avoid the consequences of some butthead breaking Newtonís laws of physics on my shift.

Every now and then Iím pleased to find I remember all the words to a song that made so much sense standing by the road in 1981. Iím also angered to notice I have ridden a block or two past my destination to prove it! I guess Iíll have to be more careful as I get older and spacier or Iíll find myself groping for the last words of "Tommy" or "Thick as a Brick" as I cruise past Brisbane with a delivery that was destined for Dogpatch.

Streets and songs and songs and streets. Some are trite and obvious: "Mission in the Rain" when itís raining in the Mission, "Aqualung" on Sixth street, and anything by Chuck Berry on Berry. Some make less sense: Why "When Doves Cry" at Beale and Folsom, "Love My Way" at Eighth and Market, Beck songs north of Broadway, Lou Reed South of Market, and Elvis Costello in Pacific Heights? I sure donít know! In the end itís always a San Francisco song in the singing, isnít it?

Steel Monkey

Praise, positivity, invitations and delicate questions can be sent to bjksf@wenet.net. I am too psychologically frail to tolerate criticism or negative feedback of any sort. Iíll let you know when Iím ready for all that!