The SF Chronicle has run a major story today about me, my new book Darwin's Universe, and my one-man musical "Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert," which I am going to perform at the Jewish Center of San Francisco on March 26th.
Coming back to play a show in San Francisco is a homecoming for me, almost forty years in the anticipation. Ah, the sixties in San Francisco. What a time to be alive! I was living a triple life. First, I was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. Second, I was a writer for the Berkeley Barb, under the pen name "Harpo" (my silent voice). And third, I was a standup performer--known as Captain Contraceptive--doing satirical monologues in golden sneakers, black tights, and a maroon velvet, silk-lined cape. My partner, a jazz musician, accompanied me on a priceless Amati bass fiddle. On upper Grant Avenue in the City, we played The long-gone Coffee Gallery every weekend.
One of my favorite places in Berkeley was Moe's Books. You could not only find eclectic reading at very affordable prices, but there was the pleasure of Moe's company. I used to hang out at the cash register just to listen to him comment on the passing scene. Moe was always very kind and encouraging to me, as a fledgling writer and performer, and expressed regret that he couldn't get to North Beach to see me onstage. One day, he said, "Why don't you do your act here in the store? I'll get another act, we'll rig up a stage area, and make an event out of it."
Of course, I was delighted, and Moe was as good as his word. He teamed me with an esoteric neo-classical guitarist who was known in somewhat rarified circles of guitar afficienados -- a most unlikely double bill, which I think tickled Moe's love for the absurd. The guitarist was clearly not amused to be sharing the stage with Captain Contraceptive and Billy Pill. Which added to Moe's delight.
At about this time, Moe was interviewed by a local newspaper for a profile of him and his store, which was a beloved local fixture (still is, thanks to his daughter Doris.) In the article, the writer referred to Moe as "a balding intellectual." When he showed it to me, he pretended to be outraged.
"Balding intellectual? Out of all the ways they could have chosen to describe me they settle on 'balding intellectual?' What the hell is that? Who the hell do they think they are? Will no one speak up for balding intellectuals?"
So Moe declared that he was founding a new organization, to add to the many that were always springing up in Berkeley, making the landscape an alphabet soup of abbreviations and acronyms: The Society for the Defense of Balding Intellectuals. Or, as he preferred to abbreviate it, S. F. D. B. I.
About a week before the gig, psychedelic-style posters started appearing in the store and around town. They read, enigmatically:
S. F. D. B. I. PRESENTS THE CONTRACEPTIVE AT MOE'S BOOKS.
On the appointed night, the place was packed and the show was a success. Moe even paid us. We both knew he didn't have to. It was so much fun we would have done it for free.
My Darwin musical is fun, too, according to Penn and Teller and the late Stephen Jay Gould, who were among fans of the show. We're selling out fast, so pounce on a couple of tickets before they're gone.