Friday, 2 July 2010

If You're Looking For Folk, You Should Probably Just Skip to the End

I've been a bad blogfather this week, neglecting my folk duties and keeping you in the dark for way too long.

Luckily though, those silent days were not spent in vain. I've been in San Francisco, a city that sits directly above a folk fault line, and I happen to have brought a little bit of the stuff back with me.

San Francisco is one of those cities that does exactly what it says on the tin. Every street you walk on could end up on the front of a postcard and everything is exactly how you imagined it would be. I realised this straight after I crossed the Bay Bridge and the first things I saw were a tram, a bum and lots of men in cut-off jeans. The streets all have vaguely familiar sounding names (Filbert, Leavenworth, Hyde) and there's something naturally poetic about them, not least because in the rougher parts people have actually scratched poetry into them. Well, maybe not always poetry, but definitely some of the finest crafted obscenities that I've ever read on pavement.

My Mum and I had driven up north to take care of my sister's two cats while she was on holiday for a few days. Having my brother-in-law teach me how to use a syringe to give insulin shots to their diabetic kitty added to the bohemian, street-life nature of my trip (waking up with cat pee on the duvet, maybe not so much).

Really, come on, honestly, how is it not possible to fall in love with this city.

On my second day in the Big SF, I drove north to visit some friends in Marin Valley, and somewhere between the GPS screen and the rear bumper of the car in front of me I suddenly looked up and realised I was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Now look, before you read on, know that I was born in Hong Kong and then raised in Singapore, New England and old England. I have a German father and a British mother, I spend most of my year straddling Bristol and San Diego and have a lot of difficulty deciding whether to write 'tyre' or 'tire'. I generally consider myself a bit of a world traveler, and I'm not exactly proud that the first thing I did when I rolled onto the Bridge was to shriek at the top of my lungs with the delight of an eight year-old girl. Too bad the windows were open, giving fifty pedestrians or so the chance to point with confusion at the young man in the red Jeep pumping his fists in the air and saying 'woo! woo!' too himself in high falsetto.

That's probably the least of my worries considering this is what I look like when I drive:

Despite my embarrassing car habits I finally arrived, and my American friend, her American friend and our mutual English friend spent the day visiting seal sanctuaries, holding our breath through tunnels and carving up and down the California mountainsides.

The rest of my trip I spent with my dear mum, a San Fran-aficionado in her own right. We visited uni campuses, got lost in the Tenderloin and took cheesy pictures by the bay. Standard Mumstuff really, and we had a lovely time, though our decision to leave the car at home really took its toll on the walk back from the bus stop. San Francisco Hills: 1. Confidence in own fitness: nil.

So, now, to thank you for putting up with what must have been the blogging equivalent of someone showing you their boring holiday pictures I have finally staved off the perplexing world of html long enough to present you with a song about San Francisco. All week long, fragments of The Decemberists' 'Grace Cathedral Hill' have been drifting through my mind, snagging on road signs and landmarks and reminding me that the best folk is the kind that you can go out and touch and walk all over.

San Francisco is such an amazing place, it's no surprise that so many people write songs about it. This week, your assignment is to go out there and find me more songs about cities. Where do you live and which folkies have brought out the best (or worst) in those places? I don't care if it's New York or New Zealand, I just want to hear the songs that make you citysick whenever you're away.

For me, there's now one thing I know for certain: San Francisco is one of the greatest cities on Earth, and I'll be visiting my sister and American friends again very soon. Next time, though, I'll try to remember to roll up the windows.

Grace Cathedral Hill-The Decemberists


  1. Luke, this is so funny for me to read this, because this is EXACTLY -- and I do mean EXACTLY -- how I felt when I visited San Francisco for the first time in 1998 when I was just a couple of years younger than you: right down to the street names seeming vaguely familiar. And look at me -- I ended up living here. Be careful!

    PS: Next time you come I'll take you to the Mission so that you can have O Valencia (also by the Decemberists) in your head the whole time:

  2. Anonymous6.7.10

    top entry, really funny and like how you managed to find a song to tie in with it.

  3. Another Anon8.7.10

    Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

    "In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed in the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral...... "

    So so evocative. Not nearly so glamorous as San Francisco of course....... but we all have our own charms.

  4. SD Res8.7.10

    When you write about San Francisco sitting directly above a fault line, and that you "brought a little bit of the stuff back with me" ........ does that explain why San Diego had two earthquakes yesterday?????

  5. I can do you one better. I know ANOTHER SONG about Grace Cathedral, though I think I prefer yours.

    Mark Kozelek's Grace Cathedral Park:

    I was, at one time, and remain a hugh Kozelek fan.

  6. Oh, I also got married at Grace Cathedral and attend services there. It's awesome.