South Bay Live Now!
By Gary Singh
MUCH BALLYHOO is thankfully coming across the table in San Jose these days about finally bringing a live music mind-set back to the entire South Bay. Not just downtown San Jose, but everywhere. An extremely diverse cabal of folks congregated in the new San Jose City Hall last week for the second meeting of South Bay Live, a grassroots effort to establish this part of the Bay Area as a happening place for everyone, not just kids, and not just rock & roll. This is important. Sure, there are probably more pressing issues for some folks, but it is more than overdue to completely transform this place into a live music destination—a locale that national touring bands want to show up at. And a place that local upcoming talent can brag about.
Normally I would never bludgeon to death the same old nostalgia, but since the issue is finally erupting again, and since it's now long ago enough that many folks weren't around to experience it, allow me to take you back to a time in San Jose when that exactly was the case. It's history that just needs to be freakin' reiterated and put in the books.
You see, about 1991, there was a thriving alternative music scene in downtown San Jose and several people at this meeting, myself included, circulated the discussion right back to those days. The scene was organic. It grew by itself. Sure, you had the same governmental agencies and farmer's town bureaucratic quagmires that exist now, but the scene literally arose from the bottom up. It brought downtown out of the porno district that it was a decade earlier.
Yeah, punk rock, heavy metal, roots, reggae, blues and acid jazz is what got people to start going downtown again. It was the music. And it wasn't just for kids. You'd see 60-year-olds at the Cactus Club, Ajax or Marsugi's. You had people from San Francisco and the East Bay coming down here to see shows. Back then, I remember seeing No Doubt play at Cactus Club when they were nobodies. I also saw some French dudes called Les Thugs play at Marsugi's in front of maybe 40 people. They are now being called the best rock band ever from France. And at Ajax, a unique bohemian haunt where businessmen and punks intermingled with no problems whatsoever, you could listen to zonked-out jazz on a regular basis.
Every telephone pole in downtown San Jose was decorated with homemade fliers for all the shows, and the bands actually promoted the hell out of their stuff instead of assuming the clubs would do it all, which is the scenario now. And the musicians all supported each other, ten thousand times more than they do now. Even if you didn't particularly care for your friend's band, you would still show up, pay to get in and just be there for support.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying this part of the social spectrum is all there is when it comes to live music. If someone wants to go see Dvorák's Ninth Symphony or Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps in downtown San Jose or Palo Alto or wherever, they should be able to go knock back a few cocktails afterward at 11pm at an upscale venue like any other civilized city. Nightlife should not be solely just for kids and bohemian types. It should be for everybody.
Even the politicians are saying that live music, across the board, is the way to go. Finally! It seems like San Jose is always about a decade behind on pretty much everything.
The sad irony of it all is that one person at the meeting suggested that we need a model of how to make a live music culture work in San Jose. A model? What are you fucking talking about? Fifteen years ago we already had it. And don't you forget it.