Round XXI - My Continuing Adventures As a San Francisco Entertainment Journalist

April 2003 - This month:

An interview with comedienne Margaret Cho!

The Pretenders at The Warfield!

Subdued and somber greetings, SF Herald readers. It seems rather frivolous and odd to be writing about entertainment when a week ago today, war was declared against Iraq and we have already sustained casualties and had POWs captured. I offer you this interview and show I covered with more than a bit of trepidation. I don't profess to be a political journalist, nor do I aspire to be. But it would be a grave disservice to the community and to myself to pretend I don't give a damn and do business as usual. This new era of journalism on the front lines being brought into our homes ... and the up close and personal effect of watching the attacks and seeing those frightened faces hour after hour is startling and shocking, almost numbing. Even more so, when our own James Dylan is stationed in the army in Georgia. His beloved new bride Leia is fighting in Kuwait and one cannot begin to imagine what either of them are going through. Whether you're for or against this war ... and I am still somewhat ambivalent about all the pros and cons ... no one can deny the impact the reality of it has on all of us. I send prayers to everyone involved and their families and loved ones.

A few thoughts:

On the SF anti-war protesters, especially the young kids: get the hell out of our streets, stop incapacitating our city and small businesses and get a job. If you don't like the war, go to Washington D.C. where someone in a position of power will pay the least bit of attention to you. You are making a mockery of your cause. No one cares what you are doing here, except the people you are hurting and pissing off.

On celebrities trashing the President (who I still believe is just instructed to say and do what he is told by his strategically chosen staff ) after war has been declared: The war is on, folks. No turning back the clock. Let's just do what we have to do to get as many of our men and women back in one piece as quickly as possible - and do the most we can for the oppressed people we have now committed to help liberate from this inhumane regime.

On the Oscars, which I do believe should have been postponed, but of course, I watched: Yea, Steve Martin. Good fine line walking between the serious and the absurd.

Yea, Adrien Brody ... good, effective, heartfelt acceptance speech. Nice make-out kiss with Halle Berry. Shame on you, Michael Moore. Not helping the morale of the troops or your cause doing it from that podium. Big "thumbs down" for Eminem refusing to perform his song Lose Yourself from 8 Mile. Yo, you had an opportunity to bring a genre of music and a great, life-affirming song to the masses on a global level at the most crucial time in recent history. You turned your back on an audience of millions that is largely ignorant of what you represent, at a time when it would have made the most impact in a positive way. You could have made out with Barbra Streisand! You blew it. Plus it was the only song that didn't suck (besides U2). You suck! - the show must go on...

She's a Very, Very Complex Person ... The Pretenders at The Warfield, March 1, 2003

Pop music lesson 101: How to begin your career at the top of your game and never falter: Release a brilliant debut album. Have a completely unique voice, look and sound that is instantly recognizable and never goes out of style. Put a killer band together and take the industry by storm. Weather personal losses like band members OD-ing, marriages failing, etc. Release consistently strong albums and write consistently great songs. Transcend trends. Blend musical genres and still maintain your individuality. Raise kids, live your life, stay under the radar and re-surface with a new album that is every damn bit as good as your first. Mix it all up on that same stage with the same mix of fierce intensity and beauty that defined the original, and...

Ladies 'n gentleman, please welcome Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders! This ain't no kiss-ass review, boys 'n girls, she seriously still kicks ass. I was at that Warfield show back in 1980 and I can safely say this one was even better, kids. Martin Chambers is still powerfully pounding the skins, yelling out at one point, "Who was here twenty years ago?". The rest of the band is new, and Chrissie's 110 minute assault/lullaby mix of two decades worth of the best of the best had the sold-out 30/40 something crowd going nuts from the get go.

Wearing her trademark black tank top, tight jeans over her slim frame and bangs still covering her eyes, Chrissie defied her age a with an ageless battle cry, "I feel fucking great, how 'bout you?!" after a letter perfect "Message of Love". Her voice couldn't have sounded greater. She still uses that vibrato to haunting effect on old songs like "Talk of The Town and "Kid" off her historic debut album and new ones like "Nothing Breaks Like A Heartoff her stellar new album Loose Screw. She teased and snarled her way through favorites like "Preciousand her new reggae-flavored single "Complex Person", where she croons,I'm a mixed-up, fucked up singer of a song. "You want to have a body like this before you're fifty, ride a Harley backstage after every show!" she proudly yelled out. And although she dug down into that guitar as hard as she ever did on most songs, she appeared just as comfortable taking it off on songs like "Brass in Pocket, flirting with the front row and shaking that still shapely ass of hers. You go, girl! I mean, woman. (One probably doesn't want to piss Chrissie off.)

Ms. Hynde seemed to be having trouble with her monitors, but that did not diminish her performance one iota. Switching guitars at one point, she ran back to her microphone and playfully shouted, "Shut the fuck up!" while the audience howled back in appreciation.. She gave a shout out to recently deceased Joe Strummer. Before her new song "The Losing, she offered up some Hynde philosophy from years of experience, "It's only when you lose everything that you become a real person." And she was not without a controversial comment - or ten. About the impending war, "Bring it on! I hope the Muslims win! We deserve what we get! Fuck this economic bullshit!" Hmmm... To each his ... or her ... own. What is clear is this fifty-something rock mama has earned her permanent ownership of a substantial piece of the rock pie ... and still shows no sign of slowing down. Greatness is greatness, no matter what you might season it with. I'm pretty certain there's a place in pop heaven with her name on it, next to some other heavy hitters.

Cho-Zen One - An interview with Margaret Cho

For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution. And our revolution is long overdue!" At the closing of her last one-woman tour-de-force, "Notorious C.H.O.," San Francisco native Margaret Cho embodied the spirit of self-help gurus like Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil... sort of. "I urge you to love yourself without reservation, and each other without restraint," she preached. "Unless you're into leather." The 34 year-old comic has evolved into an R-rated prophet, using the pain of a past fraught with weight, race and sex discrimination, bad relationships, alcohol and drug addiction, to lead us down the happier trails of her life today. About to embark upon her new Revolution Tour , which will be filmed as both a concert and as a Truth or Dare styled documentary called Belle Du Tour . Cho began performing stand-up comedy while still going to Lowell High School in San Francisco. One of her first regular gigs was at a club called The Rose & Thistle on Polk Street, located above her parents' bookstore. Paperback Traffic. Her home was not an idyllic one, she says, and when high school did not provide the type of nurturing and attention she sought, Cho turned to stand-up comedy. "I felt so invisible all the time, like I was in the background and needed to be seen," says Cho, who lives in Los Angeles. "It was so odd for Asian-Americans to even approach entertainment. It wasn't about fame or fortune, necessarily. It was about finding myself. So many of us find ourselves on stage."

Cho's previous concert film, I'm The One That I Want, chronicled her experiences as the star of the 1994 sitcom All American Girl, the first to feature an Asian-American TV family. Network brass, she says, accused her of being too fat, too Asian, not Asian enough, and too old-looking, among other things. Her then-boyfriend, Quentin Tarentino, berated her for "losing her voice". She was so intimidated that she lost 30 pounds in two weeks and burst a kidney. When her show was cancelled after one season, she spiraled into a haze of alcohol, drugs and sex to mask the pain of what she felt was an abysmal failure. Now clean, sober, and at a comfortable weight, Cho's journey to self-esteem has become one of the cornerstones of her comedy. "I finally realized that I literally thought about nothing else for 20 years, and that made me sick," Cho says. "I used all my intellect and all the gifts I'd been given: my humor, my passion. It was all lost to this strange obsession with the body that was so beneath me. I was wasting away. It was the way I'd defined myself. When I got that, it was an instantaneous decision. I still fall back; it's a disease that I keep in check. Some days I don't feel as beautiful as others, but I don't care anymore."

What Cho does care about is her work: reaching the masses with her take-no-prisoners brand of comedy, which is often delivered in shades of deep blue. Coming from a young Asian-American woman, the not-so-straight lines pack an even greater punch. Her characters are so dead-on; she literally becomes them, especially when hilariously impersonating her mother. She has a fiercely devoted following of gay, straight, and all ethnic and gender persuasions. The ubiquitous Ben Fong-Torres, former senior editor of Rolling Stone magazine and a prominent member of the Asian-American community, has closely followed Cho's career." I think of her as an Asian Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, or Sandra Bernhardt," Fong-Torres says. "Comics who take chances, break down walls, tell universal truths while they make you laugh." As a recent guest on The Wayne Brady Show , Cho appeared as a flamboyant hoochie-mama, referring to herself as "The Abominable Ho-Woman" and sounding blacker than her African-American host. "It's like changing identities. I think I transcend race," Cho says. "I listen to a lot of hip-hop, but all my friends are black drag queens." She has a newfound sense of respect for her abilities. "I have more excitement and self-confidence about what I do now, about being an artist. It's a coming of age, ultimately, coming into my own power," she says. "The work takes a long time, putting together a one woman show that's cohesive and makes sense.

The initial rush of discovering the germ of this thing you're going to do, that's the greatest. But the editing and re-writing takes the biggest part of your heart. I make a big effort to get to that golden place." Speaking of matters of the heart, Cho says she recently got engaged, to a German man she describes as "a performance and graphic artist, a writer, a genius." It has taken her completely by surprise. "I never thought I would marry, I just didn't think it was in my life path," Cho says. "I don't think it's everyone's job to hook up. There are people in life who aren't necessarily meant to partner, and I always assumed that was me."   Cupid's out-of-left-field bow and arrow has taught Cho an unexpected lesson or two. "My fiance and I are lifelong friends who were always in other relationships that weren't the right ones," Cho says. "One day, we had this accidental meeting, where we realized we were miserable with where we were. It was time to stop the charade, to actually go for it, and we just sort of ran away. It was very unfortunate to both of our partners, and it was hard on a lot of levels. Real love is dangerous, the most terrifying thing you could ever encounter. But it's so good now. We could never go back."

They've set the date to coincide with the first break in her tour, June 13. "Friday the 13th, my 'holy-day'," Cho says. She and her beau will take part in a traditional Korean ceremony, but also plan to do their own "performance art, crazy people ceremony" in which they will exchange blood instead of rings. Shades of Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie ? "We're actually going to do a transfusion, not in a vial," Cho says dryly. "We'll be lying in gurneys." Might this avant-garde union beget mini-crazy people? "Absolutely not," Cho says. "I look at children and feel no pull toward them, no desire whatsoever. Actually, my fianc≥e and I have seen some very interesting personal ads of 50-year-olds that like to wear diapers. So we're thinking of adopting one of these guys. A baby by choice." Obviously, personal happiness has in no way diminished Cho's capacity to be a firestarter. "In the past, a lot of my material was about the problems in my life, the choices I was making," Cho says. "Now that I have a settled quality, a real serenity inside in the way that I live, it's affected my work in a very positive way. I'm in a space with my parents now where it's not parental anymore, we're just in life together and it's really extraordinary. I have the luxury to look outward at the world and see what I have problems with out there. The fire can't be extinguished, it's just re-directed."

One of the issues that currently gets Cho's goat is frivolous law suits. "It's so ridiculous!" Cho exclaims. "Obese people suing McDonald's or that woman who sued Pirate's Booty for getting the fat grams wrong. It's all insanity, they're just not spiritual enough or something. People are so litigious. No one is willing to take the blame or responsibility for their actions!"  Cho is an advocate of all minority rights, especially in the gay community, which represents a large portion of her fan base. "I don't understand the laws against adoption for gays. They have the same rights and abilities to parent as heterosexuals. They show even more incentive that the child will be cared for," she says. "You don't have to take a test to be parent, but you have to take a test to be a driver. Maybe we should have a test for gays to drive!" Cho, who has been very open about her sexual exploits with both men and women, doesn't believe in labels. "I don't consider myself straight, gay, bisexual," she says. "I am a lover of all people, of all human beings. I have had very fulfilling romantic relationships with people of all genders, including gay men. Some involved sex, some didn't. I will retain that for my life. I think more people are that way; they just don't talk about it." Cho first true love is her last. "I want to be a comedian. That's my job. I don't ever want to lose sight of that and get so serious that it's not funny anymore. But after an hour and a half, there's that key moment when it's not about being funny; it's about being strong. That's part of the whole show too. It's all part of who I am."

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