At the turn of the last century, alternative weeklies made of pulped paper lived in boxes on American street corners, informing Generation X about all the goings-on in town. Summer Burkes’s “Dilettante” (that’s me) became one of the Internet’s first “Web-exclusive” nightlife columns in the late ’90s.
Before social media blew up, the newspaper nightlife columnist lived in the big city and told you details of the parties and performances you missed, or didn’t remember, or couldn’t get to from suburbia. And I fell into being one of those as my job. Really it was about the piles of free CDs, let’s be honest.
I migrated from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to San Francisco, California in 1996, and settled in the Mission District. Scoring an internship at the Bay Guardian in 1997, I climbed the arts-editorial ladder to become Local Music Editor and Associate Calendar Editor, and our Online Editor eventually gave me a column in cyberspace.
Then the Bay Guardian moved me, as “Dilettante,” to the front page of the printed A&E section in early 2000, where I basically retained a journalist’s tiny perk-filled salary to do the most spectacular things happening in the best city on planet Earth.
The events in these “Dilettante” columns I’ll post weekly in my portfolio took place in the Bay Area, California from the years 1997 to 2001. The Bay Guardian was a nationally-acclaimed bastion of ethical news — the last remaining independent family-owned alternative weekly paper in America.
There was a whole thing about how the rival paper, corporate-bought SF Weekly, tried to destroy the SFBG with no regard for the Fourth Estate rule about a two-paper town being the key part of a functioning democracy, but we won’t get into that here. The Bay Guardian is now physically gone, along with most weekly print media, but thankfully it still lives online.
Twenty years ago this week, every week: “Dilettante” will be republished here for fun, for recent history’s sake, and for the featured artists in the column who may appreciate new hotlinks. I’ll also add bonus photos and fresh introductions to each installment.
The quantum leap in tech makes twenty years ago seem like an eternity. Friends used to find each other by calling from a land line and then gathering at a designated place at a certain time. Then during “Dilettante”’s reign, cell phones became omnipresent. The online community blossomed out of nowhere to give us the world in the palms of our hands.
Now, in the digital age, surveilled at every turn, a body can long to find a Xeroxed punk show flyer or put a dollar in a jukebox to play a song again. We all feel a little … dematerialized.
“Dilettante” offers a glimpse into the Bay Area just before life made the big split into meatspace and cyberspace. Before sentences were short, before emojis existed, before anybody but Prince talked in numbers and sigils. Sometimes these articles show me out as having been rather cynical, wet behind the ears, wordy, and/or limboing under deadline — so please excuse the brashness of my hyperactive adrenaline-filled youth. These 20-year-old pictures of the City ain’t photoshopped.
San Francisco has been a freak stronghold throughout modern history. In 1997-2001, this writer was a fly on the analog wall when the dot-com wave roared and crashed into the Fourth Estate, nearly obliterating it.
first “Dilettante” post: Honky Tonk Heaven
Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.