Friday, May 20, 2016

Talking 'bout The Edge of the World


- by Denise Sullivan

I'm a beach person. Maybe it goes back to when my people came here by boat, in the early 20th Century, and set up business at the water's edge. Born on an avenue named after the sea, the story goes my parents met at San Francisco's public beach and I took some of my earliest steps there. Of my not-so-many teenage accomplishments, I took most pride in holding what I think was the land speed record of 30 minutes by Mustang, from high school parking lot to Sunny Cove in Santa Cruz. As an adult, I've lived life either blocks away or on a bus line to the water. Being landlocked in the center of town here as I was for eleven years was a bit like my time served in Atlanta and on the East side of Hollywood: I saw very few sunsets, but my skin caught a much needed break. Though following a decade on the Westside of Los Angeles and a few years back at the beach where my family story began, I've been able to remember who I am, and am comfortable wearing the scars of a weather-worn Californian who knows her Coast, from Del Norte to Coronado.

David Evans, better known to the world as musician the Edge, was born outside of London, England, though his parents hailed from a coastal town in South Wales. The family moved when Evans was a babe in arms to Dublin, the Emerald Isle, where he formed a band with schoolmates Paul Hewson, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. (during the same window of time I was burning up the highway). Our generation was taught, by rock itself and the previous generation's missteps, to tear up the rules and start again. U2, for their part, did it their way, and in a big way, joining spirituality and romance with a post-punk sound that rubbed against the grain of the movement's nihilistic and apocalyptic profile. Edge was a guitar innovator and key architect of the sound of U2, who'd come to be identified as earnest, naive, over-arching, dramatic, and populist, mostly owed to singer Bono's undeniable charisma and confidence. Occasionally humorous (though not enough), in their years as a top name in rock 'n' roll, they've collaborated with artists the likes of Salman Rushdie and Wim Wenders, sat at tables with world leaders, and used their name to do good, raising money for Africa's hungry with Live Aid and Ireland's jobless with Self Aid and for worldwide human rights with Amnesty International. Bono co-founded the One and (Red) campaigns to ease poverty and disease, and the Edge created Music Rising to support musicians post-Katrina. Most recently, the band lifted its voice against terrorism in Paris.

Supporting all manner of progressive causes, a list of the band's good works would be exhaustive; they are peerless, though their lofty aspirations toward creating a better world have made them easy targets, especially Bono because, well, he's Bono. Nevertheless, to many of us who came of age in the immediate post-punk era, U2 are like family; we cringe at the mistakes (Zooropa, Pop, the Apple debacle), are rightfully cynical and rebellious of power (in this case theirs), and are pretty much willing to kiss and make up when they deliver good work (All That You Can't Leave Behind). Here in San Francisco, U2 are as beloved as they are maligned. Howie's radio show at KUSF where I was also a DJ, brought them to our attention. By the time they played their first gig here, we and they were so excited for the show at the Old Waldorf, they had no choice but to play "I Will Follow" twice. I realize this likely happened in other major cities, but I also know that U2 formed lifelong friendships during these early, heady days in fabled, psychedelic San Francisco. Many years and tours later, fans have come and gone and the Edge is dad to five (mostly grown) kids of his own. For more than 20 of those years, he's made his life with a California girl which still pulls him close proximately, if not philosophically, to our mythological Golden State and our mysterious ways at the edge of the world. Unlike Bono who we know is Bono, Edge seems like more laid back rock royalty, a member of the worldwide human family and brotherhood of musicians from Little Richard and George Harrison to Ravi Shankar who claimed California as their adopted home, then wished to be left alone. But lest it be forgotten, Edge is in an entirely different class of stardom as a member of the band whose world tour grosses broke all existing box office records. He keeps residences not only in his country of origin and here too, but in New York and France, and probably elsewhere. As of December of last year, the 150,000 acres he acquired above Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains has been cleared for development.

Last Friday, the Los Angeles Times ran an engaging overview of the "environmentally sensitive habitat" dubbed Sweetwater Mesa which Edge purchased in 2005 at a cost of approximately $9 million. Since getting caught up in the predictably messy permitting process and fighting the usual obstacles one does when they propose to build on and thus alter the California coast and its natural resources, Edge has reportedly employed 60 lawyers and filed 70 reports to negotiate the deal. The process was a financial and mental drain for Edge who claimed he didn't know the acreage and his building plans would be so highly contested. And yet, he persisted, waging micro-battles with the permitting agency and his Malibu neighbors, a rockstar against the locals (he wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last).

Countless Californians and other off-shore investors get tangled up in paperwork with the California Coastal Commission, which as it is now well-known, was coming apart from the inside out, culminating in the ouster of its Executive Director, Charles Lester, earlier this year. Created in 1972, with its mission to "protect, conserve, restore, and enhance the environment of the California coastline," the California Coastal Commission grew out of the controversies generated by the planned coastal community in Sonoma County, The Sea Ranch. Since then, in simple terms, the Commission serves as a regulating agency for all construction on the coast and is composed of a 12-seat board of appointed members, including some handpicked by Governor Jerry Brown. In the midst of the Commission's recent upheaval, the voting block which previously swung against Edge's proposal for his Sweetwater Mesa project suddenly moved to a unanimous in-favor status. The new Commission also recently pushed through another long-stalled project in Newport Beach where wetlands are at risk. This is not good news for average working Californians who enjoy their open space and public beaches.

A casual outsider might observe, judging from our largely breathtaking and untouched coastline, that the Commission has by and large done a hell of a job with their mission to protect and conserve over the last 40 years or so. But as the forces of greed and development at the cost of environmental and human wellness escalates here and worldwide, even the California Coastal Commission cannot resist a more pro-business, less benevolent model of operation. Since the dramatic change of tone and leadership, the Commission's critics contend that the Governor's own legacy as an environmental leader is at stake. As for Edge's stake in it, closer to home, a conversation on my Facebook page sunk to the dreaded lesser of two-evils defense when an otherwise lovely person positioned him as the ultimate nature steward thereby forcing friends, fans, and foes of the band and the land to choose: who'd you rather have on the mesa, the Edge and his groovy reclaimed wood family compound, or some square developer with his ticky tacky boxes on the hillside? I was relieved when an environmental lawyer friend finally weighed in and ended the thread with some real talk by noting that a rock star's second, possibly third 12,000+ square foot home is not only environmentally unsound, it's "obscene."

For those of us who've enjoyed the California Coastal protections put in place during our lifetime, insurance that our state would remain the glorious place for people from all over the world to enjoy, make pilgrimage, and sometimes decide to call home, we can be assured that our children's children will not enjoy the wildness and the freedoms of unspoiled vistas that we once did. This is by no means the fault of the Edge, that I know for sure. But please, no more words on the lesser of two evils, nor how much he cares for the environment and the little people who championed him and his band here oh so long ago. Don't mind us, we just live here, make our lives here, always did, and will likely be working here for wages until we die. Some of us contribute to our own little piece of the world, though we don't own a piece of the rock. But enough already with the righteous rock star jive: I would've followed U2 'til the end of the world but the bloom is finally off the rose. I was hoping that by the time I'd written this out, my mind would've eased some, that I would've at least found a thoughtful or inspirational quote from their own songbook to end with, but I remain blinded by rage and audibly pummeled by a dumb-ass song by an even dumber band: My beach. My sun. My sand. My surf. Go home.

And then I remember to thank God I'm alive, and in love, and able to notice these things. And that I live by the sea and that it's enough for for me. Because, well, it has to be.

Denise Sullivan writes about music and gentrification issues from San Francisco for DWT and her most recent book is Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop.

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At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well-written and interesting post! Thanks for it. It's dismaying when someone who should know better does something especially selfish and destructive at other people's expense, and especially at fragile nature's expense. Just another superinflated ego, in this case with his moral 'edge' long since dulled and rusty. Fuck 'em all, I say, these gentrifiers (too good a name for them; call 'em desolationists) and others who blow lives apart for no reason other than they have the power to do so. Really, fuck 'em. Any way you can.

At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Denise Sullivan! Your post was forwarded to me in LA by an inland friend in NY who had heard me rant on the same topic with the same argument, but far less eloquently. So many come to CA from places where beaches can be owned and instead of learning something about the necessity of commons, some still feel entitled to build on the mountain tops or block access to the beach. Almost all lose, but by buying the whole regulatory apparatus, not just a vote, Edge has won, a huge loss for the rest of us. What hypocrisy! That level of hubris must have been incubating a very long time.

At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece, Ms. Sullivan.

If someone is douchey enough to preen across stages worldwide going by the pseudonym "The Edge," it's probably a safe bet that they'll end up being a garden-variety asshole in the end. I would've put money on it. (Same as for Bono, who was always overrated, in my opinion.)

Again, great piece.

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's get this straight, guy buys property on a mountainside and then wants to build a family compound. State and local regulators and local community give him all this crap about "viewshed" and he acquiesces to their stupid demands and downsizes his plans to meet "their" demands and he still gets crap about it. Where were these people when the property was for sale - shoulda bought it but you didn't. I could only be that some of these people were busy chasing people off of their "beach or surf" area. Once again this is the crap that's ruining this country.


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