With the recent fad for books dishing the French superiority complex, let's remember that no long list of transgressions is needed to prove our own cultural stupidity. Not when Chuck Prophet is a cult hero in Europe but just a rumor of a critics' fave in the United States. The San Francisco-based singer and guitarist doesn't seem too bent about the whole thing. "I'm just now getting the hang of it," he says of his relative notoriety overseas, "though sometimes it does seem like a long way to travel just to eat some smelly cheese."
What we've missed is not the mere aesthetic experience we'd expect Euros to appreciate, but rather a ton of heart and melody. Prophet's work since his 1990 solo debut is grounded in his singular approach to singer-songwriter classicism. Take the title track of 2002's No Other Love, a pit-in-your-stomach gorgeous silhouette of a ballad composed of little more than strings and Prophet's thick croon; or last year's roomy Age of Miracles, his seventh album, stuffed with literate pop-rock that manages to make use of a sampler as tunefully as it does guitar. This is music to rehabilitate the word "eclectic" from its abuse by interior decorators.
Prophet first eluded us back in ye olde 1980s, when his adolescent band Green on Red helped found LA's Paisley Underground scene. "I don't think about it much, but when I do, I have to quickly take my medication," he says of the band's decade-long run. "Some people considered Green on Red a group of juvenile buffoons -- others considered us one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands in the world." Then there was "alt.country": in the late '90s, while we were we were pumping overrated Wilco, Prophet was busy putting out record after rootsy, rangy record. "How can I dis a scene that has heated debates over the best version of a Townes Van Zandt song?" the ever-philosophical tunesmith says. But Prophet doesn't deserve to have to be so good-humored in the face of indifference, and the Euros shouldn't get to gloat.
Prophet plays Friday night at the Starry Plough (9:30 p.m., $12 at the door, 3101 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-841 2082) with Jug Free America. Be there or be a dumb Yank. -- Andrew Marcus
From old world Africa to new world America, art has served as one of the connecting threads of the black experience. Mills College recognizes this connection with four new exhibits, illustrating the range and scope of African and African-American expression. The show includes quilts based on traditional culture; Yoruban crowns, coronets, stools, and fertility symbols; Traci Bartlow's Oakland hip-hop photos; and a remembrance of Keba Konte's longshorewoman mother, created on the side of a shipping container. Opening reception is 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday), and the exhibit runs until August 7. Mills is at 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. Mills.edu -- Eric K. Arnold
Go to Your Room
A Girl's Life is a feature-length documentary by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Dawn D. Valadez about the experiences of girls aged nine to thirteen, shot over a period of four years in the East Bay. That theme is being revisited by the same artists in a new set of four video installations at Oakland's Pro Arts Gallery adapted from the longer doc -- the stories of Esmeralda, Ariana, Rosie, and Isha -- and arranged into separate rooms, each devised by the four subjects and containing a multitude of such personal artifacts as dolls and fashion accessories. A Girl's Life opens Saturday at Pro Arts (550 2nd St., Oakland) and runs through July 26. ProArtsGallery.com -- Kelly Vance
Local DJ crew Subscience has been "waiting patiently to unleash something special" for its second anniversary, and now that day has arrived. Imagine more than forty drum 'n' bass, grime, techno, dancehall, and hip-hop and breaks DJs and groups making egg-drop soup out of your ears, including some from across the bloody Atlantic! Egad! Headliners include 30HZ, the Bristol crew who put an entirely new spin on bangers & mash; drum 'n' bassheads Genome, Sharp, and Method One; and garage-techno wizard Baobinga. MCs will be represented by Manny Vibes, MC Souljah, and Ax1om; and various local selectas. It all goes down until 5 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning at the Noodle Factory (1255 26th St., Oakland). $10. -- Eric K. Arnold
Culture Spy - February 19, 1:45 PM
What the Fork - February 15, 2:00 PM
Culture Spy - February 15, 10:30 AM
Culture Spy - February 12, 5:45 PM
What the Fork - February 8, 3:57 PM