A conversation with George La Francis about voice and art, or why we should all keep talking.
Lynne McCabe: So as I told you every year, we publish a book in social practice and this year the topic, the overriding issue we are all bouncing of is, ideas of ‘voice’ and this is why I wanted to talk with you. I wanted to ask you a little bit about your experience with the tender transmission project, and the conversations that we had, and them being broadcast, sort of giving you a platform, did it feel like it gave you a platform?
George La Francis: That wasn’t what I set out to achieve essentially when I did this, all I had was some sentiments that I had to convey and I felt that some of them might be of interest to people who either felt the same things that I did or liked to look at a different perspective. And if anyone found something of value in the work then it was worth it. Y’ know I tried to be as self-effacing as possible about it. I tended mostly to what we were discussing, love and certain aspects of love, how I understood it and how I was raised to perceive certain things, and having listened to other peoples contributions I found that, yeah, some things I said were somewhat original. Yet it still managed to fit quite nicely into the mosaic of voices that were part of the transmission”.
LMcC: I know that when I spoke with people, especially yourself, living here sort of feels like an unlistened to part of the city, and your not really heard in this living situation either, so I was wondering did you feel ‘heard’ from having our conversations broadcast?
GLF: I felt it was a very positive experience from the beginning of my participation in wonderland, till the last cymbal crash and rim shot that closed it. I managed to share part of not only my life but also the life of my family and the lives of people I knew. And I was able to put together something very tasty to eat, with the assistance of a marvelous soux (sp) chef. And I was sought out to play music, with people I had never even played with before, never even met before except under the most briefest of circumstances, and from the beginning to the end it gave me a sense not only of renewal but of participation in something that was trying to give people the idea that, yeah, this can be and in someway really is an actual neighborhood. An organism and that all of us are like cells in this organism that we are all participating keeping what’s vital about it going, keeping the beast alive. I felt it issued forth a great deal of positive energy, into the neighborhood unfortunately it didn’t last too long. I crossed the street, came back over here and, dzzzzzzzzzzlep it kinda like dissipated. I just wish this neighborhood could operate like that all the time, it would transform the place. I communicated with several people here, that what made me different also made me special, and that is something I haven’t felt in a long, long time, so nothing but good came out of it.
LMcC: I wondered how you feel about artists coming into this neighborhood, and doing these projects that only last a little bit. It is one of the hardest things when you do these projects, you don’t know whether the experience that we had and shared, that you just talked about is enough…. can it be transformative even over a short period of time? What do you think about your experience in that sort of frame?
GLF: I’ve addressed it previously to you, the sense of the high you get doing something like this in view of kindred souls, you know its not going to last forever, to pretend its going to last forever at that particular moment to yourself, that is to risk delusion, your going to set yourself up for a total come down. That’s it, to make this event into a community, there is the worthy goal and to try to imbue to the rest of the community the spirit this created. I mean we’ve seen societies run by generals we’ve seen societies run by people being conquered, societies run by religious fanatics by all kinds of reprobates. So what’s wrong with a society run by artists? What if we wanted to feed people? Play music for them? Enhance their souls? Do we want the artists to heal people? Heal society? I look at look good doctors, really good doctors, serious clinicians who are really interested in healing the sick as being artists of the highest rank. These are the people who Nietzsche was talking about. Not Nazis. these are the ‘ubermenchen’, the over people, these are the people who should be in charge- who say ‘no I’m not gonna settle for less than what really can be” What did Bobby Kennedy say? “Some people see things that are and ask why? I see things are never were and ask why not?” That’s what this is all about. Art is great. It goes from the inquisitive first “Huh what am I going to be doing with this?” to the declarative “Hey this is probably a good idea” finally the imperative “this is what were going to do.” And that to me is how it should be in the tenderloin. What if we did a little bit of this or a little bit of that? Yes, were going to do a little bit of this a little bit of that. Yes, Lets make it so. hmmmm. Take the bean counters the generals, the religious fanatics and all those kinds of people. Eh, they’ve had their day. It’s our turn now. We can’t muck it up any worse than they can. (Laughter)
LMcC: (laughs) Do you have an idea of how you would sustain the project? I know a lot of people really loved the idea of the radio station and wanted it to be sustained. And we would have loved it to keep it going, but since it was an illegal operation it was kind of risky for us to do that. But I wonder outside of just the form of the radio station and the kind of ad hock community it created, do you have any ideas about how to kind of, capitalize on what we did?
GLF: yeah well there are several ways. One, we can volunteer our booties off and say we are doing it for the higher glory of art or we can try to lobby some people who might be interested in seeing this is a permanent solution to the problems existent in neighborhoods like the tenderloin. If we encourage artistic endeavors and get peoples energy flowing in that direction rather than smoking a crack pipe and shooting needles into their arms, drinking airline bottles of cheep booze.
LMcC: Did it surprise you how much talent there was here?
GLF: NAH. It’s all here. I don’t think anybody know who the hell those people were, I’m no Buddy Rich, yah know, O’Neil Spencer and Joseph Zambon, but I had to do that and that’s something off of my chest. To work with all those people is just a gas, a gas and a half and it shows what we can do. Strangers in the beginning, but in the end people were dancing because everybody, everybody was participating, and you could feel… What did Gene Krupa once say? “Music has a power to charge the universe”. And I though yeahhhh Gene you understand the physics of it doncha? We rearranged the molecules of the night we rearranged the flow of energies. Isn’t that what music did in the beginning? Thousands and thousands of years ago over in Africa. The human voice and people sitting there with a couple of sticks whacking on a log, that was the beginning of music. Villages all over the place heard it, the animals heard it and the universe heard it too because the vibrations were being sent out from the human voices and the drums. To capture a kind of energy in a format that ostensibly speaking posses no energy but you look for it and you find it in the medium, bingo and its there. If you can do that and you can convince other people that not only is this worth while but that they should cut lose with a few of their bucks, I mean this is as important as the black and white ball isn’t it? And I mean everybody can play in this game, if you can paint and if you can draw, if you have soul that you need to express, if you can cook if you can do all these things, get some people to cough up some bucks- give us jobs. Give us all nice little part time jobs doing this and see the neighborhood change we could have or own café’s ye know things like that. I mean we know cooks, we know musicians we know graphic artist we know all kinds of people, people who love to wait tables that’s what San Francisco used to be all the cast offs from the rest of the country, and the world came here . Why not? Why not have an economy? and because there all kind of green orientated anyway the way we do things it speaks well to the future.
LMcC: can you talk a wee bit about how it felt to play drums again after 5 years?
GLF:I was scared I was going to muck everybody else’s work up. I thought that this might be an ego trip, then I thought to myself, no man you exercise every day you keep your hands in fairly good shape and you care about this. You got to care and your chops still have to be there, what did Bill Cosby say, “don’t ever stop practicing because you never know when someone is going to call on you to do something”. I hadn’t played a gig in 5 years, it was worth the wait, I hope to play another one sooner than that. I know that if it made me feel that way and charged me with that amount of positive energy then it must have done the same thing for the people who were sitting there and the same thing for the people who were playing with me. You can’t fake it, its got to be there. The one thing about true art is that you cant fake it, if its not on the canvas, if its not on the page if its not coming out of your instrument, then your fooling yourself more than you are the people. And what did the Bard say, “to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”, and that’s what were looking for, so we can find the truth in ourselves, the truth in the people we play with, and the truth in the people who see our work.
LMcC: there is a lot of artist and art students moving into this neighborhood because the mission is now too…
LMcC: yes, well this is thing right, when artists move in its the beginning of gentrification.
GLF: because people want to move to where the artists are
LMcC: well what’s your idea of how we create an artist community here, rather than displacing them with an imported artist community?
GLF: what we do is we start to sleep with the enemy in a way, we start to embrace some of the tenets of capitalism and we start buying properties so we can maintain rents at a certain level. It can be done, especially in a neighborhood like the tenderloin were you probably have some people who actually want to get out of here, who’d be willing to sell, that’s a thought, and not a bad one at that. Once you own the walls things are possible This is my philosophy; I have some things I like to do and I know some of them have monetary value, now if I could combine all the things I love to do and make enough so I have a roof over my head, clothing on my back and food to eat and little bit of cash in my pocket to take trips to see my family that's all I need and that's all I want. I don’t want anything more I don’t want to own a big fancy house, I don’t want a big condominium doing a book tour and going and the tonight show and seeing all these people and always talking to Katie couric like all these characters, no. I want my art to sustain me, ye know and I if I have anything left over the why not give back to the venues that made it possible for me. Form a collective, lets say I have $50,000 left over well then, god almighty I’ve got my rent paid, in fact I probably buy my own apartment now I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to live for the rest of my life. I got enough food to take care of myself you know all set. I’ll put it back into this kind of community, all you need is one person with a name to start this, on person to bring it to the attention of others, sir Paul McCartney or someone like that, right. Bruce Springsteen or Maya Angelo, someone like that to say, well I’ll be the first to contribute, get the Hollywood community involved; they would love to do something. You know, they’d be people out the I’d be willing to bet you, especially in San Francisco who don’t want San Francisco to be completely taken over by gentrification, why would you come here? why would you stop?
LMcC: is there anything else you want to say?
GLF: yes, we can all use the individual voices we were given by some higher power to give everyone access to our power and for us to get access to a society that everyone in the land deserves to live in and wants to work in.