San Francisco 22nd April 2008


To San Francisco


We are quickly onto the freeway and into the small groupings of hills that break up the city, rashes of bright green shoots spreading amongst the brown scrub. In front of us is a filthy truck with the word suicide written above its rear driver-side wheel and an arrow pointing to where passing him might achieve this end. The Six Flags amusement park drifts by, a jumble of roller-coasters wrestling in a hollow. The desert weeds are blooming along the slopes and verges in wonderful yellows and florescent greens. Electricity pylons run along the ridges above us with their hands on their hips. The road curves smoothly round sandy outcrops and shrub lined arroyos. There is a faint echo of Scotland in the topography but it’s all so much wider. In America one can see the sense of CinemaScope; a peek through God’s letterbox.

Akiva introduces us to the strange delights of Neutral Milk Hotel and conversation peters out. We descend out of the hills onto a vast irrigated plain and the highway locks onto an arrow-straight northern bearing. The only greenery here is artificially produced: Little olive trees, pinstriped fields of spring vegetables – everything perfectly ranked and rowed with a preternatural precision. Power lines march into the distant horizon alongside us as three dust devils spin up from a fallow patch. It is both enlivening and  deadening being constantly in motion. The scenery changes but, locked in the private world of a car, you’re unaffected – there is no interaction with the environment. You don’t smell the world or touch it. It’s all just a very high definition movie. You are remote.

Fingers of sea around the San Francisco hills twinkle in the weak sunlight and we see the long arc of Golden Gate. I imagine signs posted along its walkways reading “Suicide” with the arrow pointing down. I read an article in the LA Times about a picturesque bridge spanning a lush gorge in northern California whose attraction to jumpers is becoming a nuisance to police. A six foot high barrier is proposed. Conservationists object on aesthetic grounds. Psychiatrists are pro-fence. Personally, I’d install a circus-style net below; you can’t rule out pole-vaulters.

I forget things during the show – chords, words, my sense of decorum. Alison, Del Amitri’s computer-boffin website genius calls out for “Evidence”. I feel like a public prosecutor. I discover afterwards she and her sister are pregnant. They are rosy and blooming and their young husbands exude a wary pride. I’m genuinely happy for them. They’re clever people and armed with a wit that will be a great advantage to their children.

Out hotel is the Phoenix, a well-known rock hotel whose rooms are set round a nicely planted courtyard. Exceedingly tame birds flit out from the dense shrubbery in a fever of nest building. In days of yore they used to play a continuous recorded loop of birdsong around the balconies here. A friend of mine was so impressed by this he made his own loop to help him sleep at night. I wonder if years of this transmission has conditioned the local avian population to regard the Phoenix as a sanctuary in the heart of city. Or perhaps they just like the name. I’m sure with a little goading I could have one eating out of my palm. Is this not every performer’s dream? At my next show I will try to ignore the two in the bush and concentrate on the matter in hand.