In the early 1990s I wrote two cover stories on spoken word for the San Francisco Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and started performing in clubs and cafes such as Cafe Babar and Paradise Lounge. I also helped found Wordland, the Antifascist Spoken Word Ballroom, a vibrant but short-lived bonanza of poets and rappers in the old Women's Building in San Francisco's Mission District.
What drove me from journalism into spoken word was, as I wrote in July 1991 in the S.F. Weekly shortly after the conclusion of the Gulf War and still under President George H.W. Bush: "Who could have sanely reported the gassings of Auschwitz in the clean, government-approved fourth-grade-reading-level, emotionally neutral voice of the mainstream journalist? How many times can one step over the scarlet, swollen hands of shit-covered doorway sleepers and hear their weak cries for food before beginning to cry along with them? One learns things as a journalist only a poet can tell."
San Francisco spoken word was a cultural product in search of a business model, and we were artists in need of adult supervision. After a while it wasn't the same. I quit just like you quit a band.
But recently, at the conclusion of a Media Alliance panel on editing, a woman came up and said she remembered a performance at the Sacred Grounds coffeehouse in the early '90s where I did this piece she still couldn't get out of her head, "Men at Work."
I said I really ought to record that for Salon, and this is it.
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