2003 Best of
Names & Faces
For this experiment, various San Diegans were taken into custody and relieved of their innards, which were studiously poked and prodded. Our scientists detailed the makeup of local conspiracy theorists, comic book geeks, political hacks and even some matron and patron saints.
Best conspiracy theorist
If you can believe that our leaders have delayed the return of American hostages to win an election (Iran-Contra), you should also be capable of believing other, less-lauded conspiracy theories. San Diego's Boyd Graves says the U.S. government created HIV in a lab from 1948 to 1978 to eradicate blacks in America and Africa. He also says he himself has taken the antidote, patented by the U.S. government, and he is healed. As Graves fights with the U.S. District Court over legal technicalities, he continues to send out mass and frequent e-mails to the media arguing his point; when one reporter asked to be taken off the mailing list (after the reporter had written a story on the theory), Graves responded hotly via mass e-mail that AIDS isn't just a story-it is his life.
Best songwriter/ex-wife beater
If you haven't seen the film biopic of Tina Turner's life with him, What's Love Got to Do With It?, then you're missing out on developing the same overwhelming bias against San Marcos resident Ike Turner that most viewers surely came away with. And whether that despicable character, portrayed astonishingly by Laurence Fishburne, was accurate or not, the Ike we know and love to hate is, today, quite different. Clean and sober (for a more than a decade now), Turner was featured in a mid-'90s interview with a local weekly newspaper. Sounding mostly sane and sober-yet still giving readers flashes of his legendary temper-in that piece, Turner made nice with his public demons by publicly introducing himself, so to speak, to San Diego. Since, he's been spotted periodically-and without incident-playing or just attending local blues festivals, shows or other happenings. Recently, he lent his forever-tarnished-but-charismatic star in support of Beehive, a musical about '60s rock and soul singers (including ex-wife Tina), which is ending its run at the Theatre in Old Town in January 2004.
-Will K. Shilling
Best political activist to avoid if you're a scumbag
Mel Shapiro is on a roll yet again. He's helped changed the face of CCDC, San Diego's downtown redevelopment arm, by pointing out the business conflicts of Robert Ito, an architect, and Reese Jarrett, a developer, both of whom recently fled from the board. His political roadkill includes former councilman Byron Wear, and he's not done yet. A numbers man, Shapiro isn't afraid to burrow into the miasma of documents at City Hall and beyond to track his political prey. He's also exposed the true colors of the majority of council members on the city's powerful Rules Committee, which recently rejected Shapiro's proposal-backed by the City Attorney's office-to close a loophole in the state's open-meeting law that permits secret meetings by members of the Ethics Commission.
-John R. Lamb
Best pro-active radio DJ
While there are certainly other radio DJs in town hosting local music shows, none are as involved in the San Diego scene as 91X's Tim Pyles. Easily one of the most visible people of the local media bunch, Pyles is practically omnipresent at area events, always with a ready smile and an open invitation for San Diego musicians wanting airplay to approach him. Whether performing on-air duties as one of the host's of 91X's Loudspeaker, presenting a monthly local music showcase at the Casbah, spinning specifically new tunes on Tuesdays at The Whistle Stop, or any of a number of other activities, Pyles enthusiasm for music is impressive as well as contagious. There is no denying that Tim Pyles is one of the lynchpins of our music scene.
Best co-opting of an R. Crumb comic
Thinking they'd like to enter it in the California quarter design contest, creative folks Victor Payan and Perry Vasquez took R. Crumb's "Keep on Truckin'" dude, gave him a sombrero, sandals, dressed him in traditional Mexican worker garb and depicted the little guy stepping merrily across the U.S./Mexico border. Hence the Keep on Crossin' movement was born. The freely traversing dude (who's been immortalized on a patch) has been spotted hanging out with Zapatistas in Chiapas and even did a stint at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown. Vasquez said that he and Payan's creation isn't meant to spawn a political movement, but instead promote dialogue. As the wonderfully cryptic/poetic Keep On Crossin' manifesto puts it: "Our crossing will be a sign to other crossers that the time has come to cross. We will cross at intersections. Anywhere we cross will become an intersection by the act of our crossing. We will look both ways before crossing, and then, with the positive momentum of humanity, we will cross."
Best attempt at ubiquity by a chef
Here's an experiment for you: Google your favorite local chef and the name of their restaurant. Now Google "Bernard Guillas" and "Marine Room." Chef Bernard Guillas is the San Diego chef, and his name shows up on just about every short list for every occasion. The man has a website (www.chefbernard.com) and a new line of spices (Chef Bernard's Blend). Can his own show on the Food Network be far behind? (Let's hope so.) He may be a bit of a media whore, but then again, his über-involvement may stem more from his preternatural energy than from a proclivity for publicity. And besides, who better? He is a darn nice guy and sincerely passionate about food and restaurants.
Best straight-shootin' politician
OK, she hates being labeled a "politician," but San Diego Councilmember Donna Frye has no peer here. She hugs, she cajoles-but when she's ticked, oh boy, she'll train her eyes on you over her reading glasses, leading to a distinctive shrinking feeling. If you're scum or simply out to screw the city, Frye will figure you out and filet you, leaving your disemboweled carcass to bake in the blistering heat of political purgatory. But if you're someone who looks out for the city's disenfranchised and seeks the truth, Frye will ride shotgun to support your cause. Of course, there's always that persistent constant drumbeat about running for mayor, too.
-John R. Lamb
Best original cover band leader
Yes, it's no contradiction in terms. Adam Gimbel, as the founder of Rookie Card-a band of revolving players culled together by the local gadfly-musician-entrepreneur-does actually play and record his own songs. In fact, Rookie Card's debut EP, First Day of School, even garnered a San Diego Music Award nomination for XXXXX. But even Gimbel has to admit, his natural talents are not just in capturing the silly and the satirical within his own, original music, but in the enthusiastic interpretation of other artists, as well. Arguably, Gimbel has performed some of the funniest, cleverest, wittiest cover sets and/or songs in the past year in San Diego. From a Yiddish-centric reworking of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" as "Santa Claus," to anchoring a one-of-a-kind Rawkaraoke bill with the cast of Hedwig & the Angry Inch, to a spot-on, nearly 10-minute reading of the Rugburns classic "Dick's Automotive," Gimbel and his band aren't faithfully trying to recreate the experience of anyone else when they cover an artist. They just want to joyfully explore the line between clever and stupid, like some sort of experiment, where This is Spinal Tap meets Rock Star in the local underground.
-Will K. Shilling
Best new political voice
He won't tell us his real name, but says he's getting used to being called Bob. From its inception roughly a year ago, Bob Ugly has hosted the Ugly Morning Show on Free Radio San Diego 96.9, which, unless you live, work or spend time driving around within a three-mile radius of Golden Hill, you've missed out hearing the smartly opinionated Mr. Ugly, who imparts some of the funniest and most intelligent progressive political commentary around, blended with a selection of old and new pop-punk tunes. FRSD is a pirate station, a thorn in the FCC's side, but so far Ugly and crew have been able to fend off the feds. Unfortunately, at publication time, FRSD has gone into hiatus-two months, they say-due to a forced location change. But we can think of no better way to kick off an election year when FRSD hits the airwaves in January.
Best chef with whom to vent
Many of Michael Stebner's opinions are strictly off the record, of course. Let's just say they have to do with San Diego, restaurants, diners, critics, chefs and, occasionally, politics, the environment, and everything else. Stebner has a tendency to fly off the handle, but he flies in good and admirable directions. He also puts his money where his mouth is, donating a great deal of time to Good Faith Organic Farms of Jamul. He cook lunches at the farm for their open houses, and hosts special "Good Faith" dinners at his fantastic Nine~Ten restaurant (the one and only recipient of a five-fork CityBeat review in 2003, by the way).
Best political friend of developers
No contest here. If you're lookin' to slap together a stucco box in the middle of pristine wilderness, then look no further than county Supervisor Bill "Build 'em Faster!" Horn. This self-anointed local Prince of Property Rights (read: Stay off my land, bureaucrats!) has no qualms about advocating for more freeways, more development and fewer taxes, even while nearly a quarter of San Diego County burned to a smoldering crisp. Never mind that the box might sprout up on a densely shrubbed valley slope or a view-smashing ridgeline. And fire protection? Ugh, just another tax-and-spend scheme meant to screw the property owner out another 30 bucks a year! Nosiree, if you have the political will (read: cash), Horn's got the political stomach. Checks and credit cards accepted.
-John R. Lamb
Best darned dedicated doc in da West
Earlier this year, Dr. Dick Wheelock celebrated 50 years as a practicing physician, and while many of his colleagues have long put down their stethoscopes, preferring to spend their time golfing, Wheelock is still hard at work. For the last dozen years, Del Mar's original town doctor has been devoting himself to providing health care to those that have no means to afford it. St. Leo's Medical Clinic of Solana Beach's Eden Gardens asks for only a $5 fee of patients, and will waive it if necessary. It's first come- first served at the clinic, where Wheelock and his gang of volunteer doctors, nurses and specialists help hundreds of mostly migrant workers and their families every month. Wheelock also has a large extended family of surgeon-friends who donate their time, as well as a relationship with Scripps, which donates the room for surgical procedures and hospital stays free of charge. St. Leo's clinic is open two mornings a week, but the good ol' doc spends hours of his own time every week organizing the community's medical do-gooders to help those that need it.
Best scream therapy
Diminutive acting teacher DJ Sullivan laughs loud, and laughs a lot. And nothing quite makes an acting student feel better about that punch line they just mangled. (Fun fact: DJ was featured in all four Attack of the Killer Tomatoes movies, and is one of the commentators on the recently released DVD.) Her classes feature no extended discussions of technique or meditation exercises, just week in and week out of getting up on stage and letting it all hang out. While some workshops ask for a lot of money up front, or charge a monthly fee, DJ asks for just $25 a week. No show, no dough. She gives out hugs liberally (real grandma hugs, not those Hollywood "Oh, so good to see you, babe" neck strainers) and her students study with her for years. After all, what else are you going to do with acting experience?
Best local musician to talk to after a show
This is a hotly contested category, because, despite a highly insular indie-rock scene full of shoegazers and introverts, San Diego musicians are also well-known for their salt-of-the-earth accessibility. Unlike their spotlight-hogging cousins to the north, local musicians seem to understand why their fans love coming to their underground shows so much-it's the music, sure, but it's also the fact that you get to talk the artist, buy them a drink or even have them buy you a drink, after the show. No one embodies that spirit more than tireless fan-lover Steve Poltz-he of the once-lived-with-Jewel-and-wrote-her-only-good songs fame. The thousands privy to his home phone number have been entertained by his personal, always quirky answering machine messages for about a decade now, and Poltz shows no signs of losing his amorous relationship with The People.
-Will K. Shilling
Best administrator in education
Tracy Thompson's lucky not to be in jail-or dead. The ex-Aztec football star will be the first to tell you he was nearly just another victim of the mean streets of Southeast San Diego. Football got hold of him, though, and carried him through a scholarship at San Diego State University. It was there he chanced into an aid's position in the county's Juvenile Court and Community Schools program. It was a match made in heaven. Knowing the kind of kids he was working with, Thompson rose quickly through the program. Today he is the principal of dozens of JCCS programs throughout the county. "It's funny," he says. "Now I'm dealing with a lot of the kids of guys I used to go around in gangs with." Many of those parents aren't doing so well, he says, but in his old neighborhood he's given an element of respect not afforded to many people in his position.
Best bicultural cartoonist as lightning rod
The daily comic strip hasn't made headlines in years. These days, Doonesbury is an institution, sure, but few progressives actually get, let alone appreciate or support publicly, Gary Trudeau's oblique humor. Lalo Alcaraz, however, is one syndicated daily cartoonist who can still appreciate the politics of former agit-propagators like Trudeau-and yet still bring the mind-funking radicalism of border culture and Pacific Rim postmodernism to the daily funny papers. This, of course, has brought him and the Union-Tribune-which picked up his daily slice of "bicultural" barrio life, "La Cucaracha," earlier this year-mucho grief. When one of his characters made an obviously goofy and obviously obvious Freudian slip regarding the Nazi ancestry of then-candidate Schwarzenegger, the caca really hit the fan for "La Cucaracha." The paper and Alcaraz were both deluged with hate mail and worse. The nicest thing said during the furor was from U-T editor Karin Winner, who claimed that if the offending strip, "had it been brought to my attention," she "would have stopped it from running." Just how Alcaraz manages to slip his dangerous and subversive satire past his local editors remains a mystery, but look for his addition to the local funny papers to perk up the water-cooler conversations during the coming presidential elections.
-Will K. Shilling
Best elected flop artist
He pooh-poohed the downtown ballpark while campaigning, then embraced it like his own child after he entered office. He grumbled about spending public money to keep the Chargers in San Diego, then endorsed funding attorneys into the six-figure realm to keep the Chargers in San Diego. He opposed spending money for the only fire-and-rescue helicopter in town, then screamed "Hypocrisy!" when others tried to scrape the money together to keep it here. Yes, we're talking about the one and only Mayor Dick Murphy. While we recently learned that his favorite jacket color is yellow, that shouldn't give people the impression that it says something about Murphy's decision-making abilities. He frequently reminds us that he's a former judge and attorney, so we'll just leave you with two words: "reasonable doubt."
-John R. Lamb
Best non-use of a metronome
Unassuming pianist Doug Strock of Encinitas even dismisses his own jazz piano noodling as "background music." His debut Piano Dreams has a halting, thoughtful style that is more than a little reminiscent of a rhythm-deprived 7-year-old floundering through a recital. The sounds Strock strings together, however, are achingly heartfelt and sincere, unfailingly perfect in their gentle dissonance. Strock starts the slow burn with his first track, the original "Melantha," and follows it up with what is possibly the least-swinging version of "Summertime" ever recorded. Never in a rush to get to the next bar, or even the next beat, the style can be maddening at first, but liberating in the end, as Piano Dreams proves that we are more than just slaves to the beat. Stop and smell the chords.