You can also view this here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070630032027/www.agouti.com/feature.aspx?id=74 and you used to be able to view it here: http://www.agouti.com/feature.aspx?id=74.
I’ve recently relocated to San Jose, the town in which I grew up, and long-held suspicions are accurate: San Jose is the weirdest large city that I have ever seen.
For starters, there is no local music scene here. Well, I mean there is, but after spending numerous evenings in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, it’s quite a drop-off coming to the South Bay.
San Jose isn’t a cultural wasteland by any means, but as far as music goes, it’s no leader, either. So what is it about here that keeps people from wanting to see live performances of independent artists? The answer is quite simple.
Growing up in San Jose, I figured that the whole world was like it was there. But after enrolling at Cal State Hayward in 1993 at the tender age of 17, I was in for a rude awakening. There were mean, pissed-off people everywhere! And I don’t just mean Jerry Falwell. People didn’t trust each other. They never smiled. Any word that ended in “s” suddenly ended in “z.” However, local music prospered.
Turns out that Hayward is the other extreme in a lot of ways, but the point was clear: You can’t have a scene without angst. And you can’t have a scene without insecure 20-somethings that are just searching and crying out for an excuse to get drunk.
It makes sense if you think about it. When you see a show, look how many people aren’t even there to see the band. They’re there so they can say the next day that they were there. The band doesn’t care as much as you think, because they paid a $6 cover for the pleasure of being there, and the band gets their cut regardless of how much attention these over-stimulated barflies pay.
So what does this have to do with San Jose and why they suck? Well, that’s just it. They don’t suck, and that’s the problem, from an indie-lover’s point of view. You see, San Jose is such a positive place, with low crime and great social services (see, there is a connection after all — stupid Libertarians), that everyone is happier there than in the rest of the Bay Area. I didn’t realize it until I left and came back, but San Jose has a lot of small-town charm for a large city. It comes across as subtle initially, but it eventually beats you over the head when you realize it.
For example, let’s take the men’s locker room at my gym. It’s like being locked in an AM radio tuned to the sports talk station. No one cares that everyone’s naked. They’re just talking about how the Miami Heat will do with Shaquille O’Neal or the San Francisco 49ers are screwed with Tim Rattay or whatever. It’s never-ending and entertaining.
Let’s contrast this as I reminisce of my gym in Hayward (the same gym, just a different location). The first thing you will notice is that all eyes are on the floor. No one says a word unless they are on their cellular phone, which is about as bad as it could get anywhere. The only thing worse than an inane conversation is half of an inane conversation. The vibe is completely different. I hesitate to use the word urban. Instead I will just say that it sucks.
But, you say, there are lots of bars in San Jose, and there must be at least some places for bands to play. Well, yes, that’s true. Let’s discuss venues first. I can name seven places in the South Bay that I have seen shows, but two of them are The Tin Can (that’s the San Jose Arena to you, or even the HP Pavilion to Carly Fiorina) and Shoreline Amphitheater, brought to you by the San Francisco Chronicle, or whatever it’s called. The Agenda Lounge no longer does live music, and The Cactus Club has been closed for years. That leaves The Quarter Note, The Gaslighter and The Blank Club. There’s no support for potential alcoholic 20-somethings because there just aren’t many of them. They are too busy being productive members of society. Imagine that.
No, that’s not nothing, but it is seven. Considering more than 900,000 people live in San Jose alone, that’s pathetic. I’ve been to at least 30 places in San Francisco, a city with a smaller population, but also a city with a lot of troubled individuals with personality problems. Yeah, that’s politically correct enough.
But it’s not San Jose’s fault. They (I can’t say “we” — only half of my life has been lived there) are well-adjusted and friendly. What’s up with that?
So how do these other bars stay in business if they don’t have live music? Well that’s easy. They get the clientele that every city has — the white trash. San Jose has some of the least-dramatic and unassuming white trash that I have ever seen. It’s uncanny. Having tended bar at some of these places, I have to say that if Japan had white trash, they would be as polite as San Jose’s. It’s really unfair to refer to them as trash because they give white trash a good name. But they wear the 1992 Smith Family Reunion T-shirts and sport the mullets all the same. There’s no mistaking what they are, but it’s still baffling how congenial they are!
So where does the typical white trash go? They relocate to Contra Costa County. I swear, they have the most insecure citizens I have ever seen. Don’t believe me? Look at how many SUVs and five-bedroom houses there are in Walnut Creek or Pleasant Hill. San Jose is modest enough to have minivans and three-bedroom houses.
I fear for their future because San Jose continues to blow up buildings that once held manufacturing jobs, but maybe the city will enter an age in which tech workers are the new white trash. I guess only time will tell.
So it’s nice to be back in San Jose, the city where being indie means being goth.