Clip: Rembering Dirk Dirksen
Punk producer thought everyone could be a star
Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
Monday, December 4, 2006
They buried the pope of punk over the weekend.
Many of the neighbors who rose to eulogize Dirk Dirksen, the
69-year-old former operator of the Mabuhay Gardens, the historic San
Francisco punk rock club, knew him only as the crinkly eyed character
who gave cooking lessons to the kids on the block at the rec center
across the street from where he lived and who died in his sleep two
"He had a way of touching so many different people in so many
different walks of life," said retired Fire Department Capt. Bob
Manning, who worked with Dirksen as a community organizer in the
Mission District and knew nothing of his past life as the snarling,
sarcastic ringmaster of a circus of the damned that ran seven nights a
week, 52 weeks a year for 10 years.
A decidedly ruly mob overflowed an antiseptic funeral chapel in the
Outer Mission on Saturday morning. They filled the pews, lined the
walls and stood out in the lobby, craning necks over shoulders, saying
goodbye to the somewhat strange but rather wonderful man who always
urged them to live their lives "onward and upward."
"He was a man in a penis nose telling us it was better to throw
popcorn than beer bottles," said his friend Ron Jones. "Dirk knew
everybody had a place on the stage of life -- as long as you went on
and off on time. You had to remember there were other acts waiting,
even if they suck."
Filmmaker Bruce Connor read some of Dirksen's trademark stage
announcements: "Tonight's band may not be the best, but you are one of
our lesser audiences ... Is that the best you can do to get attention?
... Quiet, animals."
Dirksen was one of the people who really made San Francisco San
Francisco. He presided over the Fab Mab, as it was known to one and
all, with the bemused tolerance of a cranky uncle who had seen it all
and was surprised by nothing.
He saw his little corner of Broadway as a reincarnation of a Berlin
cabaret or Montmartre theater. He wasn't just selling over-priced
drinks to the unwashed masses; he was making theater and everybody was
in the cast.
"He loved you for who you were and who you wanted to be," Jones said.
Night after night, four bands trooped across the tiny stage in the
seedy former Philippine supper club. As many as 10,000 bands may have
played the Mabuhay.
It was where Neil Young jammed with Devo and Robin Williams opened for
the Ramones. It was the high point of their career to thousands more,
who never went any further up the ranks than the stage at the Mabuhay.
From the very beginning, when he started presenting late-night
performances by the female comedy theatrical troupes, Les Nickelettes
in 1974, Dirksen envisioned his enterprise as a television show
waiting to be broadcast.
He videotaped every performance, long before videotape was routinely
available. But he started in show business as the producer of a famous
early live television experiment in Los Angeles, "Rocket To Stardom"
-- a 12-hour live remote broadcast from a car dealership featuring
amateur and semi-professional talent -- and he never really stopped
thinking of himself as a television producer.
He and his lifelong partner, Damon Molloy, have operated a video
service, Dirksen-Molloy Productions, ever since he left the nightclub
business, that has produced storytelling videos on everything from a
third-grade girls' basketball team to poetry readings by handicapped
adults to senior swimmers' water ballet. Dirksen thought everybody
should star in their own movie. He wanted to be the producer.
He was recalled as the man who taught the Latino neighborhood kids
cooking in weekly classes at the Recreational Center for the
His older sister remembered him as a young boy in war-torn Germany,
playing in his neighborhood after air raids left the street destroyed,
making castles out of craters with his imagination.
Another friend recalled Dirksen encouraging him to finish his book by
phoning him every morning. "I'm going to work this morning -- what are
you doing?" he would say.
It wasn't a crowd full of big time music scenesters and there wasn't a
lot of musical star power at the memorial, unless you count an
impromptu reunion of the all-female punk rockers, the Contractions,
guitarist Mary Kelley seated on a chair, drummer Debbie Hopkins
playing softly on a modified kit and vocalist Kathy Peck sobbing her
way through the sing-along folk song, "Down In the Valley."
Peck previously recalled Dirksen coming over every day, after her pet
Chihuahua was diagnosed with diabetes, to give the pooch its shot
because Peck couldn't quite handle it herself.
He was a surly curmudgeon all right, until he got around animals or
In the end, he couldn't even afford to pay for his own funeral.
Benefits are in the process of being organized to help pay his debts.
But Dirksen was an honest man and they rarely do well in the music
business. But, of course, his video and life partner Molloy made sure
it was all caught on tape.
"No one is ever going to do anything like that for you ever again,"
Molloy told them.