Wednesday, February 04, 2009

On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City

on the lower frequencies

On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City by Erick Lyle

Erick Lyle is not boring. Among the long list of things he is, or has been, you will find: a punk, a drummer, a writer, an advocate for homeless rights, a homeless person, an activist, a squatter, and a commentator on National Public Radio’s This American Life. Whether you love, love to hate, or love and hate the counterculture in this country, this collection of Lyle’s writing is sure to do something for you. Simply put, this book is for punks and for squares.

A Secret History covers the San Francisco underground during the 1990’s and the beginning of the 21st century from Erick’s distinct and reflective point of view. This is a portrait of the lives led by everyday people in the Mission District during the rise and the fall of the dot-com era. His coverage is personal, political, hilarious, gut-wrenching, heartening, infuriating, evocative, and uniquely eloquent. His writing is not neutral, bland, or aiming for the fabled “objectivity” that mainstream journalists tend to strive for.

Many of the entries in this memoir revolve around a donut shop in Erick’s neighborhood that, as its giant sign boasts, is “Open 25 Hours” a day. This shop, “a flourescent-lit utopia for lowlifes,” once dubbed San Francisco’s “epicenter of crime” by a hyperbolic local television news story, is arguably one of the most important “characters” in this book. Erick describes the legendary 25th hour in the following excerpt…

“In the long night’s at Hunt’s over the years I would, however, come to see the 25th hour not as a time, but as a PLACE. It was a destination that could only be reached after too much fluorescent light and coffee and donuts.”

Lyle is able to perfectly capture the way that the dumpiest spot on the block can often take on an almost mythical importance to the people that live their lives around it. There are places that command a certain kind of respect. It’s based not on the market real estate value or how many well-to-do types can be counted amongst the regulars. It’s a respect based on sheer staying power, and on the history carried in its smoke stained walls and under its grimy tables.

Amos Oz said, in a November 1, 2007 L.A. Times article, “I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality. I believe that imagining the other can be an antidote to fanaticism.” He was trying to encourage Americans to read books from other countries in order to better understand other cultures. It could be easily argued that the counterculture is another country. This book is your ticket.

Erick Lyle will be doing a reading and signing at the Olympia Timberland Library on Saturday, June 28th at 3 p.m. in the library’s meeting room. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

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