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San Francisco Year Zero: Political Upheaval, Punk Rock and a Third-Place Baseball Team

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San Francisco is a city of contradictions. It is one of the most socially liberal cities in America, but it also has some of the nation’s worst income inequality. It is a playground for tech millionaires, with an outrageously high cost of living, yet it also supports vibrant alternative and avant-garde scenes. So how did the city get this way?   In San Francisco Year Zero, San Francisco is a city of contradictions. It is one of the most socially liberal cities in America, but it also has some of the nation’s worst income inequality. It is a playground for tech millionaires, with an outrageously high cost of living, yet it also supports vibrant alternative and avant-garde scenes. So how did the city get this way?   In San Francisco Year Zero, San Francisco native Lincoln Mitchell traces the roots of the current situation back to 1978, when three key events occurred: the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk occurring fewer than two weeks after the massacre of Peoples Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana, the explosion of the city’s punk rock scene, and a breakthrough season for the San Francisco Giants. Through these three strands, Mitchell explores the rifts between the city’s pro-business and progressive-left politicians, the emergence of Dianne Feinstein as a political powerhouse, the increasing prominence of the city’s LGBT community, punk’s reinvigoration of the Bay Area’s radical cultural politics, and the ways that the Giants helped unify one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the nation.   Written from a unique insider’s perspective, San Francisco Year Zero deftly weaves together the personal and the political, putting a human face on the social upheavals that transformed a city.  


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San Francisco is a city of contradictions. It is one of the most socially liberal cities in America, but it also has some of the nation’s worst income inequality. It is a playground for tech millionaires, with an outrageously high cost of living, yet it also supports vibrant alternative and avant-garde scenes. So how did the city get this way?   In San Francisco Year Zero, San Francisco is a city of contradictions. It is one of the most socially liberal cities in America, but it also has some of the nation’s worst income inequality. It is a playground for tech millionaires, with an outrageously high cost of living, yet it also supports vibrant alternative and avant-garde scenes. So how did the city get this way?   In San Francisco Year Zero, San Francisco native Lincoln Mitchell traces the roots of the current situation back to 1978, when three key events occurred: the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk occurring fewer than two weeks after the massacre of Peoples Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana, the explosion of the city’s punk rock scene, and a breakthrough season for the San Francisco Giants. Through these three strands, Mitchell explores the rifts between the city’s pro-business and progressive-left politicians, the emergence of Dianne Feinstein as a political powerhouse, the increasing prominence of the city’s LGBT community, punk’s reinvigoration of the Bay Area’s radical cultural politics, and the ways that the Giants helped unify one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the nation.   Written from a unique insider’s perspective, San Francisco Year Zero deftly weaves together the personal and the political, putting a human face on the social upheavals that transformed a city.  

54 review for San Francisco Year Zero: Political Upheaval, Punk Rock and a Third-Place Baseball Team

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alvin

    An appealingly weird book about three aspects of a very weird year in San Francisco history: 1978. I don't follow baseball, so I can't speak to Mitchell's coverage of the Giants. I can happily report that his encapsulation of the horrific events of that year's November (when the mayor and Harvey Milk were assassinated only days after nearly the Jonestown massacre) was both pithy and perspicacious. My favorite part, though, was the section on the city's nascent punk rock scene (where you would've An appealingly weird book about three aspects of a very weird year in San Francisco history: 1978. I don't follow baseball, so I can't speak to Mitchell's coverage of the Giants. I can happily report that his encapsulation of the horrific events of that year's November (when the mayor and Harvey Milk were assassinated only days after nearly the Jonestown massacre) was both pithy and perspicacious. My favorite part, though, was the section on the city's nascent punk rock scene (where you would've found me in 1978), a zany, hyper-political, and wildly creative subculture thriving on the fringes of the city in dingy dives and low-rent apartments. Well worth a read!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Flick

    Three little books—SF Giants 1978 season, punk rock in SF 1978, and terrible November 1978—mass murder in Jonestown, Guyana, followed by murders of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in City Hall. They don’t really compliment or explain each other, except it proved to be, as the author states in his title, “San Francisco Year Zero.” Unfortunately, he has little to say about the fundamental changes coming and how the events of 1978 reset the clock in San Francisco. The parts about the Giant Three little books—SF Giants 1978 season, punk rock in SF 1978, and terrible November 1978—mass murder in Jonestown, Guyana, followed by murders of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in City Hall. They don’t really compliment or explain each other, except it proved to be, as the author states in his title, “San Francisco Year Zero.” Unfortunately, he has little to say about the fundamental changes coming and how the events of 1978 reset the clock in San Francisco. The parts about the Giants are a mind numbing recitation of statistics of players no longer remembered (he could have picked footballs’ feeble 1978 49ers, 2-14, last in the NFC West and even worse than the Giants, but greater glory in the years ahead); the parts about punk rock are a mind numbing recitation of a tiny, insignificant moment in San Francisco music—Disco would have been a better choice, centered on hometown Sylvester and Trocadero Transfer and Dreamland in SoMA, I-Beam in Haight-Ashbury, and the City disco in North Beach; and the parts about the November murders are too short, undeveloped, and skip over the outcome of the trial and riots, defeat of the police. To make the year-zero case requires more about the years that followed—and how they followed from what happened in 1978. Disappointing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Allan

    Some interesting stories, but SO repetitive. I wanted to put it down many times, but forced myself to slog through and finish it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    An excellent evenhanded look at 1978, and the effects of that year in the history of San Francisco. Highly recommended

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    On the surface, this book combines three of my favorite things in life: San Francisco, punk rock, and baseball. And while I enjoyed learning a few new bits and pieces about the city a few years before my birth, and really enjoying some of the more broad-stroke love notes to the City that were peppered in throughout the book, my overall takeaway is very similar to Erik Larson's "Devil in the White City" where I claimed he really wanted to write a book about the Chicago Fair where he had to pepper On the surface, this book combines three of my favorite things in life: San Francisco, punk rock, and baseball. And while I enjoyed learning a few new bits and pieces about the city a few years before my birth, and really enjoying some of the more broad-stroke love notes to the City that were peppered in throughout the book, my overall takeaway is very similar to Erik Larson's "Devil in the White City" where I claimed he really wanted to write a book about the Chicago Fair where he had to pepper in some serial killer to make it marketable. Mitchell is clearly a die-hard Giants fan, and I think much of the book is a means of contextualizing the Giants stats and day-to-day performance but setting it within the backdrop of the political upheaval, assassinations, and the burgeoning punk scene. It's especially hard to accept claims which imply that much of the city wasn't paying as much attention to what all was happening in Jonestown because the Giants were playing so well. If he'd devoted as much time and energy to capturing what was going on politically or musically, or even in the progress of Jonestown and how it resonated back to San Francisco as he did to baseball, this would have been a far more compelling read. All that is to say, in the end I'm glad I read the book, I did have to push myself to keep reading from time to time, and my recommendation comes with about a half a shaker of salt. If you're in it for primarily the punk info, this isn't the book for you - pick up "Gimme Something Better" or "Punk '77" but if you are interested in both the inner workings of how Dianne Feinstein ended up becoming mayor in addition to Bill Madlock's slash line in July of 1978, this is a good look at the city on the whole.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alex Annear

    Quarantine book #1! Enjoyable overall, and a good source of facts and context for a fascinating part of modern San Francisco history. Mitchell rehashes many of the same topics as David Talbot in Season of the Witch, such as the Jonestown tragedy and the stories of Harvey Milk, George Moscone, and Dan White, but adds punk rock and the Giants to the mix. I can’t say I found the story of the 3rd-place 1978 Giants very compelling aside from learning about the big names, but the story of punk in the Quarantine book #1! Enjoyable overall, and a good source of facts and context for a fascinating part of modern San Francisco history. Mitchell rehashes many of the same topics as David Talbot in Season of the Witch, such as the Jonestown tragedy and the stories of Harvey Milk, George Moscone, and Dan White, but adds punk rock and the Giants to the mix. I can’t say I found the story of the 3rd-place 1978 Giants very compelling aside from learning about the big names, but the story of punk in the city was great, especially with all the first-person narrative Mitchell gets from the people that were there. My adoptive city has a sordid, scary, turbulent, and sad history, but seeds planted in the late 1970s, like Dianne Feinstein’s conservative (for San Francisco), pro-development blend of leadership, and the Giants’ foothold in the city after being in danger of moving to another city, absolutely contributed in making the city what it is today.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    1978 was a crucial year in the history of modern San Francisco. The city was rocked by violence (the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone and the Jim Jones Massacre). Punk music was in its infancy. The Giants were almost good for part of the season. The author, who lived in SF during this time, provides an illuminating narrative of these events and their impact on the San Francisco I live in today. Some of his conclusions seem a little far-fetched, but the nonetheless, this is a 1978 was a crucial year in the history of modern San Francisco. The city was rocked by violence (the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone and the Jim Jones Massacre). Punk music was in its infancy. The Giants were almost good for part of the season. The author, who lived in SF during this time, provides an illuminating narrative of these events and their impact on the San Francisco I live in today. Some of his conclusions seem a little far-fetched, but the nonetheless, this is an essential read for anyone wanting to learn about a dark time in the history of SF and its subsequent rebound.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul Weinstein

    If this book provides anything, it’s the truism that all politics is local. Only in 1978 (or 2020) San Francisco is Dianne Feinstein not a bonified progressive-liberal politician. But this book isn’t about Feinstein. Ostensibly it’s about George Moscone and Harvey Milk. The author's premise is that the tumultuous year of 1978, in which Moscone & Milk are assassinated, combined with the Jonestown massacre, the rise of punk rock and the unlikely success of the San Francisco Giants, defined a new er If this book provides anything, it’s the truism that all politics is local. Only in 1978 (or 2020) San Francisco is Dianne Feinstein not a bonified progressive-liberal politician. But this book isn’t about Feinstein. Ostensibly it’s about George Moscone and Harvey Milk. The author's premise is that the tumultuous year of 1978, in which Moscone & Milk are assassinated, combined with the Jonestown massacre, the rise of punk rock and the unlikely success of the San Francisco Giants, defined a new era for the city. To put another way, the rise of a post-hippie, counterculture gave birth to today’s modern San Francisco. But what of the that hippie aesthetic? What of the Black Panthers in Oakland? Or of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, students from San Jose State University and their Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics? Or the Occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans in 1969? What about culture? Why not 1971 with the beginnings of California (local, seasonal) cuisine with Alice Waters in Berkeley? Or with the growing influence of Napa wines, starting with the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976? What of Silicon Valley and the influence of tech companies (Apple, 1977) in bring computers to the masses? Or of Feinstein, the AIDS epidemic and the 49ers of the 1980s? On proving that 1978 redefined San Francisco, this book fails. It fails to provide an introduction of the political players, outside of Moscone & Milk. As such it does a disservice in not examining the motives of Dan White, Diane Feinstein, Willie Brown and Jerry Brown, among others, let alone their impact in the years to follow. As for culture, the book’s focus is strongly skewed to San Francisco proper and not of the Bay Area as a whole (San Francisco / Oakland / San Jose), which partly explains its lack of interest in other cultural or political events of the time. The only way to read this book, is, as autobiographical. Of a boy, the author, who in 1978, at the age of 10, learned of punk rock, cemented a life-long following of the San Francisco Giants and started to become politically aware. Had the author stuck to that simple premise, this book would have been much better off for it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Luigib

    Liberal view of San Francisco from an east coast transplant who moved out. I think this was more of Mitchell's perspective than a historical accounting. Page 74 "Because it (Candlestick Park) was built for baseball and football....." Actually, Candlestick was completed in 1960 and was built exclusively for baseball. The centerfield football seats started in 1970 and the Candlestick was still being completed in 1971 when we were able to sneak through the construction for the Pirates-Giants playoff Liberal view of San Francisco from an east coast transplant who moved out. I think this was more of Mitchell's perspective than a historical accounting. Page 74 "Because it (Candlestick Park) was built for baseball and football....." Actually, Candlestick was completed in 1960 and was built exclusively for baseball. The centerfield football seats started in 1970 and the Candlestick was still being completed in 1971 when we were able to sneak through the construction for the Pirates-Giants playoff. Page 213: "Freezing property taxes (Prop 13) meant that the state had to cut programs, thus pushing costs down to the state level." Actually, property taxes go directly to the counties. So if property taxes are capped- similar to rent control because property taxes were pricing out senior homeowners- only the counties suffered a loss of revenue If money was lost at the state level, it was only indirect. You interviewed Joe Dirt at AT&T? Really? Joe hasn't seen a game in 15 years. He sits outside 100% of the time- next to Cheese. Did you even go inside the ballpark yourself?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Weiss

    Interesting history of local politics, baseball and music. My memories are slightly different. Living in the east bay and having ten years of Giants baseball before the Athletics came to Oakland. The Oaks and Seals were gone. Willie Mays was everything. We didnt know the New York Giants and for my friends Willie Mays could do no wrong. McCovey and Cepeda were great but were not great outfielders but could hit and play 1st. Went away to college when the team deteriorated. When I came back and got Interesting history of local politics, baseball and music. My memories are slightly different. Living in the east bay and having ten years of Giants baseball before the Athletics came to Oakland. The Oaks and Seals were gone. Willie Mays was everything. We didnt know the New York Giants and for my friends Willie Mays could do no wrong. McCovey and Cepeda were great but were not great outfielders but could hit and play 1st. Went away to college when the team deteriorated. When I came back and got a car my wife and i had weekend season tickets at Candlestick beginning in 1978. That was a fun season. Living in the east bay, all we heard was only one team can survive. I made a choice to support the Giants due to memories of Willie Mays. San Francisco politics are always followed. Grew up with Chronicle. Admit i had forgotten some of the details of City Hall. Music choices were made before punk rock so i knew nothing about that era.

  11. 4 out of 5

    H

  12. 4 out of 5

    Danielle DeLancey

  13. 4 out of 5

    Massimo

  14. 5 out of 5

    John Dimoia

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  16. 4 out of 5

    Don Gorman

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jay Hinman

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tiger Cosmos

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike Staresinic

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dave Jordan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Walczak

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rahul

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tori

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tamar Chalker

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

  26. 4 out of 5

    David

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jake

  29. 5 out of 5

    Scott Freeman

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kayce Basques

  31. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  32. 4 out of 5

    Kris

  33. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  34. 5 out of 5

    Elliot

  35. 5 out of 5

    Will Lennon

  36. 5 out of 5

    Mark Wallace

  37. 4 out of 5

    Jorge

  38. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

  39. 5 out of 5

    Juneko Robinson

  40. 5 out of 5

    Jay Dougherty

  41. 4 out of 5

    Chris Huff

  42. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne

  43. 5 out of 5

    Dada Vinci

  44. 5 out of 5

    Ted Storey

  45. 5 out of 5

    Eddie

  46. 5 out of 5

    Zak

  47. 4 out of 5

    Monica

  48. 4 out of 5

    David

  49. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  50. 4 out of 5

    DJ Yossarian

  51. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Hoobin

  52. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Dowd

  53. 5 out of 5

    Scott Boyken

  54. 5 out of 5

    Aaron O'Hearn

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