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Smash the Past

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Matt Ipcar

Goldrush Chic: Edward Schienke and Anna Rockwell at Smashing.

A 10-part party says farewell to the century

By Michelle Goldberg

Alot of people have predicted that a lot of things will end in the year 2000--computers, for instance, or the world. Most likely, when the clocks have ticked, the champagne popped and the Prince songs played, nothing much will have changed. But at least one cultural scourge may really be wiped out in the new millennium.

A few local optimists are hoping that come the new year, the black smog of retro chic will mercifully lift from our collective consciousness so that we can look, finally, toward the future. In hopes of helping nostalgia beat a retreat, promoters Kylen Campbell and Erich Schienke have begun Smashing, a free 10-part farewell-to-the-past party.

Each monthly bash will be devoted to one of the decades of the 20th century. The hope is that by the time Smashing is over, San Franciscans--like abused children who relive their traumas in therapy, wallow for a while and then finally move on--will have gotten nostalgia out of their systems once and for all.

"I want to impress upon people not to look back anymore. The '90s are so full of different retro movements, and to me they're all lame," Campbell says. Still, he's fully aware of the irony of throwing retro parties with the aim of killing retro. "Nothing less than the deepest irony would do. Nostalgia and retro are absurd, so we have to answer with something even more absurd."

Thus we had the spectacle on a recent Sunday night at the San Francisco Brewing Company, a gorgeous turn-of-the-century North Beach tavern, filled with a dozen or so people in Gold Rush drag and a few dozen who weren't sure quite how to dress for a party celebrating the 1900s.

Men wore monocles and thin, curled mustaches; women wore Edwardian dresses, corsets, ringlets and huge feathered hats. Suzanne Ramsey played old songs on the piano, but others weren't quite sure what to do. After all, what exactly did young bacchants do for fun 100 years ago besides drink, play cards and roll about in brothels?

The fact that even a dozen people had period getups for the time, though, shows that in San Francisco every decade has its partisans. Therein, of course, lies a second Smashing irony--in order to make these parties work, Campbell and Schienke have had to entice precisely those people who would prefer to live in the past forever.

"We're enlisting the services of people who aren't going to say goodbye to retro," Campbell notes. "Each one will definitely attract its own scene." Smashing should get easier and more lively as the decades progress. Most people, after all, have a far better idea of how to dress for a '20s party, a '40s party or a '60s party. The whole thing will culminate in a huge free party on New Year's Eve.

Annie Coulter, a local costume designer who often works with the Space Cowgirls, was probably the most perfectly outfitted person at Smashing. With her genuine turn-of-the-century floor-length dress, lace gloves and red curls spiraling down behind a big, elegant hat that belonged to her grandmother, she could have been a regal madam or a mayor's wife.

But while Coulter wanted to celebrate San Francisco's wild, "shit-kicking piss-and-vinegar" Emperor Norton epoch, she's not bothered by Smashing's death-to-retro raison d'être either. "I like to look both forward and back," she says. "I'll start designing costumes for the year 2000. It's a healthy thing for young people to throw off the influences of the past and surge forward."

The next Smashing party, Teens! Ragtime and Dada, takes place April 25 at the San Francisco Brewing Company, 155 Columbus. For more info, call 415.789.7690.

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From the April 12, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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