Northside SF  

The Final Word
By Bruce Bellingham

Not only are these times that try men’s souls, many of us are remanded to the slammer because we can’t raise the bail.

Mama said there’d be days like this.

Or did she? I used to pester her with questions about what it must have been like to be a teenager, growing up as a Scottish immigrant in the Great Depression. She did not reveal too much. I was amazed to hear Tony Bennett in an interview say, “The Depression days were great – everyone looked out for each other.”

My mom did talk about the infamous 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles and friends, which sent much of the country into a panic, believing that an invasion from Mars was underway, ray guns and all. Why Martians would want to invade New Jersey was never made clear. But there are nice places in the Garden State – good joints for hot dogs and root beer even before Snooki arrived on the scene. As for Martians sneaking into the neighborhood, it seems there were arguments over immigration even back then. My mother said her family gathered solemnly and apprehensively around the radio on that Halloween night all those years ago as Welles intoned reports of imminent doom.

“We’re in God’s hands now,” my grandfather told his kids gravely. Not exactly cheerful reinforcement. Radio was so powerful. Just like YouTube or iTunes are today.

Yes, radio has kept some of its cachet; it’s done better than the print media have in this cyber-frenzy. That’s why it grieves me to read that KUSF-FM (90.3) radio has been taken off the air to make room for KDFC-FM (102.1), the only classical music station in town. KDFC will be in the hands of the University of Southern California. I was a fan of KUSF. College radio is really the only freewheeling style of broadcasting that is left. Sure, there are a few stations that get away with mild insurgency, but college radio has a special tone of harmless anarchy. Sharon Anderson, who writes for this paper, worked in college radio in Michigan. She counts those days among her happiest. I count my radio days in San Francisco as providing me many happy times, too. But that was a long time ago.

In recent times, the big, syndicated radio shows have been mostly infected with right-wing pitchmen and pitchwomen. Jack Swanson, who programs KGO-AM (810) and KSFO-AM (560) radio stations – where Rush Limbaugh can be heard – told me, “If the left wing could bring me the ratings the right wingers do, I’d have a left-wing station on right now.”

I’m not sure what those political terms really mean. Gore Vidal described America’s political landscape as a country with one party with two right wings.

There have been calls for these strident players of the airwaves to tone down the acidic rhetoric since the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Many say they’d like to see more civility in our national discourse. President Obama even suggested that Republicans and Democrats in Congress should sit together for his State of the Union address. I think it should have gone further for the purpose of reconciliation. They should have sat in each other’s laps during the speech. Just picture Barney Frank sitting on Jim DeMint’s lap.

There should be more civility in San Francisco, too. Barnaby Conrad III, noting that Enrico’s has closed on Broadway, a street that also has a lot of trouble with late-night violence, calls for a renaissance there that encourages sitting on people’s laps.

“I’d like to see the street lined with art galleries, cafes, and a movie theater that only shows Jean-Luc Godard films,” says Barnaby. Yes, very civilized. Fanciful. And very unrealistic.

Truth is, there is trouble ahead for many of us. Times that try men’s souls. I only wanted some stories from my mother about the Depression. I really did not want to live the experience for myself. I find it is far too uncivilized.

Bruce Bellingham also writes for the Marina Times. Talk to him:

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