Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Presentation: Velvet Underground


A Discussion with Richie Unterberger

Tuesday, 6/21/2022

12:00 - 1:30

The Velvet Underground were one of the most innovative and uncompromising rock bands, mixing poetic taboo-breaking lyrics, experimental drones and electric distortion, and compelling catchy crunchy rock'n'roll. Singer-songwriter-leader Lou Reed, co-founder John Cale, and early singer Nico all went on to establish notable solo careers. Richie Unterberger, author of White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day, discusses their career in a program featuring audiovisual material from their 1966-1970 heyday, some of which was revived by a 1972 concert in which Reed, Cale, and Nico reunited in Paris.

This virtual program is offered as a one-time event only by agreement with the presenter. THIS PROGRAM WILL NOT BE RECORDED. Presented by the Art, Music & Recreation Center of the San Francisco Public Library.

Register HERE

This program is sponsored by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.


Up-tight : the Velvet Underground story / Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga
780.2 ZV548b 2003  

What's Welsh for Zen : the autobiography of John Cale / John Cale and Victor Bockris
780.2 C128a 2000  

Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground / Diana Clapton
780.2 R251c  

The Velvet Underground : an illustrated history of a walk on the wild side / Jim DeRogatis
780.2 ZV548de  

The Velvet Underground and Nico / Joe Harvard
780.2 ZV548ha 2013  

All yesterdays' parties : the Velvet Underground in print, 1966-1971 / edited by Clinton Heylin
780.2 ZV548h  

Seeing the light : inside the Velvet Underground / Rob Jovanovic
780.2 ZV548j 2012  

Notes from the Velvet Underground : the life of Lou Reed / Howard Sounes
780.2 R251so  

White light/white heat : the Velvet Underground day-by-day / Richie Unterberger
 780.2 ZV548un  

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments

The edifice for the toppled statue of U.S. Grant in Golden Gate Park

The early summer of 2020 brought a wave of iconoclasm to America and San Francisco. Locally, the statue of Christopher Columbus on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill was vandalized and preemptively removed. Statues of Francis Scott Key, Junipero Serra and Ulysses S. Grant were toppled. A statue of Manuel Cervantes was also vandalized.

Erin L. Thompson's Smashing Statues examines both the reasons for erecting and toppling public monuments. For Thompson "monuments aren't history lessons"; they come into existence to serve the interests of the powerful in society. She also opines that the vandalism and destruction of these monuments "happens when people who lack the power to change a political regime attack its symbols."

She devotes a good deal of space to the post-reconstruction proliferation of Confederate monuments in America's South. These were transparently commissioned and created as weapons to enforce the violence of segregation and inequality. Thompson describes them as "hatred hardened into marble and bronze." She advocates for their removal noting that it is not enough to add contextualizing language or supplement them with additional artworks as a counter-balance.

But she does present a different perspective on these monuments from John Guess Jr., the CEO of the Houston Museum of African American Culture. He reminds us that they are evidence of past wrongs telling Thompson that "I like to keep the evidence," because "down the road, people might suggest there was never a crime."

It's also an oversimplification to view monuments as only statements made by the powerful. Many San Francisco monuments were actually the result of nationalistic sentiments of immigrant communities who were unsure about their position in society. We have written elsewhere about the statues in Golden Gate Park of Ludwig van Beethoven and Giuseppe Verdi that were the efforts of the City's German-American and Italian-American communities, respectively. The vandalized Manuel Cervantes statue there was likewise commissioned and dedicated by the City's Spanish-American community.

That brings us back around to Christopher Columbus to whom Thompson devotes a chapter. She traces the origins of the myth-making around Columbus (who never set foot in the United States) to the desire of a young nation to sweep away its own problematic colonial origins and search for an alternative hero. America today has a difficult time ascribing heroism to Columbus's actions in the "new world" and places him at the head of a different origin story that resulted in genocide and the destruction of indigenous cultures.

The proliferation of Christopher Columbus statues in the United States resulted from benign intentions. Italian immigrants to the United States found themselves stuck in the margins of acceptable society and were themselves subjected to discrimination. They saw in their countryman Columbus the opportunity to align themselves with mainstream America and began agitating for Columbus Day as a holiday and organizing Columbus Day parades.

The empty edifice of the Christopher Columbus statue on Telegraph Hill.
This was a new edifice dedicated during Willie Brown's term as Mayor (1996-2004) with the participation of representatives from Genoa and Liguria, Italy) 

The statues of Columbus were a natural outcome of these efforts even though the depiction of Columbus was problematic. Thompson notes that there are no authentic portraits made of the explorer. Any representation of his features is guesswork.  

Over time Mr. Columbus became the fulcrum of two equal and opposite impulses. He embodied the desire of Italian immigrants to represent themselves as assimilated, ennobled and fully American. At the same time, indigenous Americans see Columbus as a tormentor who stole their land. The Italians sought the assimilation that indigenous Americans explicitly reject and fight against.

Thompson met with Mike Forcia, a native American activist who struggled for years to have a statue of Columbus removed in St. Paul, Minnesota. The protests following the murder of George Floyd in June 2020 provided him the opportunity to organize a crowd to pull the statue down. This was a criminal act and he was charged with a felony. The prosecutors decided not to press on with the charges if Forcia agreed to perform 100 hours of community service in the interest of repairing the harm and trauma that the statue represented. As he put it: "once it [the Columbus statue] hit the ground, those conversations started happening."

That act of iconoclasm opened up the public sphere to education and dialogue. But this was not due solely to the act of forcibly removing the statue but also due to past presence of the statue. Once the 100 hours were completed and the injurious symbol was removed, the space for continued conversation was diminished.

Thompson brings up the very excellent point that for concerned citizens like Forcia there are not yet established orderly, democratic ways of removing public monuments. But given all of the contention and competing interests in American society it could be difficult to reach a consensus about the fate of our public art and monuments. Smashing Statues is an excellent introduction to issues that underlie this dilemma.

Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments by Erin L. Thompson (W. W. Norton & Company, 2022).

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Using the Dorothy Starr Collection

From the Wall of Library Heroes at the Larkin Street entrance to the Main Library 

Dorothy Starr was the beloved proprietor of a Hayes Valley music store who had a vast stock of sheet music and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook. You can read her biography on our webpage.

What Is Sheet Music?

Sheet music is printed or written music on single sheets, not bound into book form. The most typical sheet music is a single large piece of paper folded and includes a decorative cover.


Over the past 30 years, staff and volunteers have cataloged more than 42,000 records of vocal sheet music into the Dorothy Starr Collection Database. While the collection is best known for its Tin Pan Alley era songs, showtunes and songs from movie musicals, it is far vaster in scope. There are songs in nearly one hundred languages. It includes folk songs and classical music like choral music, art songs and opera arias. Published music in the collection dates from 1820 all the way to 2020.


The main search page highlights many of the features of the catalog records:
You can perform the usual keyword, title and author (composer / lyricist / arranger) searches. In addition to this you can focus on first lines of verses and choruses and the names of films or Broadway shows.

To aid searching, the music cataloging includes the first lines of verses and choruses. It also lists the musical, film, television show or opera that a song was used in as well as the names of people portrayed on sheet music covers. The records also note whether the music includes chord symbols and guitar or ukulele chord diagrams. You can also search for choral music by including standard choral abbreviations like SATB for mixed chorus, SSA for women’s chorus, or TTBB for men’s chorus.

Using The Dorothy Starr Collection

The Dorothy Starr Collection is a semi-archival special collection. Patrons request sheet music from the collection at the Art, Music & Recreation Center reference desk. The music cannot leave the library; we hold collateral ID for any music that leaves the reference desk. We request that the public use our vast songbook collection whenever possible before using the Dorothy Starr sheet music. Bound songbooks are far more durable and will stand greater wear and tear than fragile single music sheets.

Even though we have a large circulating songbook collection, singers are very accustomed to using our reference collections to make personal copies of songs. Whenever we realize that a patron is best served by using the Dorothy Starr sheet music, we make it available to them in exchange for collateral ID like any reference item. We remind the user to treat the sheet music very gently.

Please contact us if you have any questions about the Dorothy Starr Collection or our music collections in general. Phone us at 415-557-4525 or email us at artmusicrec@sfpl.org

Listen to a 1986 interview with Dorothy Starr.

Listen to “Ladies of the Nightclubs,” a program with Janet Roitz and Sean Martinfield celebrating 20 years of the Dorothy Starr Collection at the San Francisco Public Library.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

San Francisco's Hugo Friedhofer

Hugo Friedhofer (1901-1981) is often named as the only native Californian among the famed film soundtrack composers of cinema's golden age with a career that started in 1929 with the advent of sound motion pictures and that ended only in 1974.  

He was born in San Francisco to active professional musicians, cellist Paul Friedhofer and vocalist Eva Koenig.  Hugo Friedhofer studied cello from the age of 13 with his father, but an early interest in art led him to attend San Francisco's Polytechnic High School. He dropped out at age 17 along with a group of fellow pacifist students who protested the firing of an antiwar teacher at the school. 

The Polytechnic High School Orchestra. (The cellists are seated behind the conductor's stand)
source: The Polytechnic Journal December 1917

After this he drifted away from art and towards music and moved to Berkeley where he studied music with Domenico Brescia. A biography of Friedhofer tells of him joining the People's Symphony Orchestra directed by Alexander Saslavsky at the age of 19. That organization only came into being in the fall of 1922 when he was 21; a San Francisco Chronicle article from that time lists Friedhofer as a member of that orchestra's cello section.  

This biography also mistakenly gives the year of his elopement with Elizabeth Barrett as 1920.  Records in the Ancestry.com database show that they were wed on March 13, 1923 in Napa, California. On the license he gave his occupation as "composer" and his employers as the People's Symphony.  Two days after their wedding they participated in a performance by Dilley's Puppets at Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.  Percy Jay Dilley was a commercial artist and puppeteer who was active in North California for many years. Friedhofer composed the music for the show and his new wife performed it on the piano.

There are notices of him performing chamber music in the Bay Area between 1919 and 1922 in the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner and Call. In an interview, he recalled taking his first movie theater orchestra job at theater "in the Polk-Larkin section" of San Francisco. This was likely at the Royal Theatre on Polk Street playing under director Maurice Lawrence, probably as a member of his "Royal Orchestra."

Maurice Lawrence now conducting the Royal Orchestra 
source: San Francisco Chronicle July 11, 1921

In 1924 Friedhofer joined The Artists' Ensemble a small semi-classical ensemble led by Oliver Alberti that performed at the Castro Theater.  Alberti gave him the opportunity to create arrangements for the group. Around 1927-1928 he played in a string orchestra at the Granada Theater on Market Street led by Andrea Setaro. Setaro, who soon moved to Hollywood, wrote backgrounds for silent movies and sometimes asked Friedhofer to make arrangements and contribute passages.

With the success of the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, the first major "talking" picture, work for cinema musicians quickly dried up. Friedhofer took advantage of the arranging and composing skills he acquired as well as his connections in the movie world and moved south to work in Hollywood. At the invitation of another San Francisco composer and arranger, George Lipschultz, Friedhofer joined the Fox Film Corporation in July 1929. He started out orchestrating other composers work, but within a few years became a skilled and prolific composer for several Hollywood studios.

He was nominated nine times for Academy Awards and won an Oscar for his 1947 soundtrack for the best years of our lives. Read some entertaining and insightful interviews with him in Hugo Friedhofer: The Best Years of His Life: A Hollywood Master of Music for The Movies.

Films in our DVD collection with soundtracks by Hugo Friedman include:

An Affair to Remember (1957)

Captain Carey U.S.A. (1950)

Homicidal (1961)

The Letter (1940)

Lifeboat (1944)

The Sea Hawk (1940)


Artists in California, 1786-1940 by Edan Milton Hughes, 3rd edition (Crocker Art Museum, 2002).

Hugo Friedhofer: The Best Years of His Life: A Hollywood Master of Music for The Movies. edited by Linda Danly (Scarecrow Press,1999).

"The Lights of Market Street," San Francisco Examiner (July 11, 1928).

"The Lost scores: The M-G-M Collection and Hugo Friedhofer's 'Body and Soul'," M.A. Thesis by Christa Lorenz (California State University, Long Beach, 2010). [accessed through the Dissertation Abstracts database]

Music and Dance in California, edited by José Rodriguez, compiled by William J. Perlman, 2nd edition (Bureau of Musical Research, 1940).

The Polytechnic Journal (Associated Students of Polytechnic High School, December 1917)

"Saslavsky to Direct Notable Event," San Francisco Chronicle (November 19, 1922).

"Setaro's Score to Be Widely Used: Music for 'Fire Brigade' Makes Hit," San Francisco Chronicle (February 2, 1927).

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Presentation: David Bowie

 A talk and slide show with Richie Unterberger

Author and rock historian Richie Unterberger shows and discusses vintage performance clips of David Bowie. These will span the prime of his career, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. During this time Bowie evolved through a series of surprising styles, from the folk-rock/psychedelia of "Space Oddity" and his rise to glam superstardom in the Ziggy Stardust era to his exploration of blue-eyed soul and electronic rock.

Richie Unterberger is the author of numerous rock history books, including volumes on the Beatles, the Who, the Velvet Underground, Bob Marley and 1960s folk-rock. He teaches courses on rock and soul music history at several Bay Area colleges. His next book, to be published by Taschen in 2022, is San Francisco: Portrait of a City.

This virtual program is offered as a one-time event only by agreement with the presenter. This program will not be recorded.

Wednesday, April 13th
12pm - 1:30pm

Register HERE

This program is sponsored by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

New German Cinema, Alexander Kluge, and Yesterday Girl

Often over-shadowed by two neighboring schools of cinema - Italian Neorealism and French New Wave - Neuer Deutscher Film (New German Cinema) made significant contributions to the artistic and intellectual development of world cinema. Cinephiles are familiar with the names such as Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder for their famous German films, but not many have heard of the director of the 1966 film Yesterday Girl (Abschied von Gestern).

While browsing through our film collection, I made a series of discoveries about a film I had heard of but never felt curious enough to either watch or read up on. Yesterday Girl was directed by Alexander Kluge. Intrigued finally, I learned that Kluge, though not as well-known as Herzog, Wenders or Fassbinder or even Margaretha von Trotta, was central to the emergence of New German Cinema. Apart from being a pioneering filmmaker to the New German Cinema, Kluge is a respected philosopher and writer of fiction.

 To cut a long story short, after the World War II, a group of people felt that current German cinema had failed to reflect the reality of its people’s postwar struggles and aspirations. Kluge, with other like-minded filmmakers and intellectuals, put forth the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962 which declared the death of the old German cinema with a belief in its rebirth. Adapted from his own short story, Anita G, Yesterday Girl depicts the economic and psychological struggles of a young woman of Jewish origin who moves to West Germany from East Germany. 

Yesterday Girl was the first German film to win a major international award bagging the Silver Lion at Venice in 1966. Mr. Kluge would repeat this feat with his next film Artists in the Big Top: Perplexed two years later. 

We have the DVD of the wonderful Yesterday Girl as well as Kluge's later film Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave.  

Films on DVD:

Abschied von Gestern (Anita G.) = Yesterday Girl; written and directed by Alexander Kluge (Facets Video, [2008]) (88 min.) black and white.

Gelegenheitsarbeit einer Sklavin = Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave; written and directed by Alexander Kluge (Facets Video, 2008) (91 min.) black and white.

Reading List:

European Cinema, edited by Elizabeth Ezra (Oxford University Press, 2004).

The German Cinema Book, edited by Tim Bergfelder, Erica Carter, Deniz Göktürk, Claudia Sandberg, Second edition (British Film Institute, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2020).

The New German Cinema by John Sandford (Barnes & Noble, 1980).

New German Cinema: A History by Thomas Elsaesser (Rutgers University Press, 1989).

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Top Fifteen Most Requested Books in the Art, Music and Recreation Center, March 2022

Often rock memoirs top these lists of titles most in demand (think of books like Just Kids by Patty Smith, Life by Keith Richards, or Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon). With by far the longest waiting list of any of our books, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner is not only a rock music memoir as an Asian-American's poignant tale of coming of age through adversity. 

There are a number of other memoirs among current titles including 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by artist Ai Weiwei, All About Me! by writer and director Mel Brooks, The Chiffon Trenches by fashion journalist André Leon Talley, Will by actor Will Smith, Putting The Rabbit in the Hat by actor Brian Cox, Enough Already by actress Valerie Bertinelli.

Worn is an wide-ranging socio-cultural history of clothing. The Method traces the history and influence of this school of acting. The mystery behind a posthumously famous photographer is revealed in Vivian Maier Developed. Camera Man focuses on actor and director Buster Keaton to examine societal and technological developments in the early 20th century.  Dilla Time provides both a biography and musical analysis of the late hip hop producer J Dilla.

Two sports and recreation books complete the list. Blood In The Garden tells the tale of the NBA's rugged New York Knicks of the early 1990s.  Seven Games traces the history of the enduringly popular, but less than rugged, games of checkers, backgammon, chess, go, poker, scrabble, and bridge.

1. Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner (Alfred A. Knopf, 2021).

2. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir by Ai Weiwei, translated by Allan H. Barr (Crown, 2021).

3. All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks (Ballantine Books, 2021).

4. The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by André Leon Talley (Ballantine Books, 2020).

5. Worn: A People's History of Clothing by Sofi Thanhauser (Pantheon Books, 2022).

6. The Method: How The Twentieth Century Learned To Act by Isaac Butler (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022).

7. Will by Will Smith with Mark Manson (Penguin Press, 2021).

8. Putting The Rabbit In The Hat: A Memoir by Brian Cox (Grand Central Publishing, 2022).

11. The Beatles: Get Back by the Beatles featuring photography by Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney, edited by John Harris from transcripts of the original sound recordings. (Apple New York, 2021).

12. Enough Already: Learning To Love The Way I Am Today by Valerie Bertinelli (Mariner Books, 2022).

13. Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife Of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm by Dan Charnas with musical analysis by Jeff Peretz (MCD / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022).

15. Seven Games: A Human History by Oliver Roeder (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022).

See also: