Tag Archives: San Francisco Chronicle

New Tales of the City

“When I first got off the bus years ago, I had the strangest feeling that I’d come home.”
—Laura Linney as Mary Ann Singleton in Tales of the City

Oh, yes, Mary Ann, in this you are not unique. The first time I was in San Francisco, I had exactly the same feeling.*

And now, thanks to Netflix, we’re going home again.

“inspired by the books of Armistead Maupin, the new Netflix Limited Series Tales of the City begins a new chapter in the beloved story. Mary Ann (Laura Linney) returns to present-day San Francisco and is reunited with her daughter Shawna (Ellen Page) and ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross), twenty years after leaving them behind to pursue her career. Fleeing the midlife crisis that her picture-perfect Connecticut life created, Mary Ann is quickly drawn back into the orbit of Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis), her chosen family and a new generation of queer young residents living at 28 Barbary Lane.”

Tales of the City had its start as a three-times-a-week serial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Author Armistead Maupin mixed real and (mainly) fictional characters to capture the essence of San Francisco in the 1970s.  Maupin succeeded in doing for The City what Tom Wolfe failed to do for New York in Bonfire of the Vanities, probably the most overrated novel of the late 20th century. The column became must-read material, and a cult was born.

The first novelization of the serial was published in 1978, followed by five more volumes published at two-year intervals, with three more books released after a 20-year gap.

In 1993, Channel 4 (UK) turned the first book into a superb miniseries, which was shown on PBS in the US in early 1994. Here’s the trailer:

Good news! That original series is currently streaming on Acorn.

The new series will be released on Netflix on 7  June  2019.

Bonus Track

The great Laura Linney makes an uncredited appearance in this video for the also-great Aimee Mann. Watch closely, and see if you can spot her.

* Granted, I also had exactly the same feeling the first time I was in London, and the first time I was in Paris. Never had it in my own hometown,  though, for some reason….

Furthur — The Magic Bus May Roll Again



”Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven!”

It was 50 years ago that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters made their famous cross-country journey from Kesey’s ranch in La Honda, California, to New York, dispensing joy and LSD to anyone they met along the way.  (Acid was legal in the United States until 1966). They made the trip in a psychedelically painted bus named “Furthur”.

The Beatles had arrived in the US a few months earlier, Andy Warhol’s  13 Most Wanted Men mural proved too edgy for New York World’s Fair officials, who covered it with silver paint,  and Bob Dylan released The Times They Are a-Changin’.   The possibilities seemed limitless.

It didn’t end well.


Furthur Then

After an arrest for marijuana possession the next year, Kesey faked his own suicide and hid out in Mexico for eight months, then returned to the States and served a five month sentence in a county jail. After that, he moved back to the family farm in Oregon, where he spent the rest of his life. There were apparently several “descendents” of the magic bus, but the original Furthur eventually wound up in a swamp on the farm.

Ken Kesey stands next to the overgrown Merry Pranksters bus on his Oregon property months before his death in 2001. Photo Brian Davies, AP

Ken Kesey stands next to the overgrown Merry Pranksters bus on his Oregon property months before his death in 2001.  Photo by Brian Davies, AP

Now a non-profit organization called the Furthur Down The Road Foundation is raising money for the restoration of the bus. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about the situation.

“Click City” — A New, and Maybe Better, “Tales of the City”?

In the tradition of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, which it published as a serial back in the 70s and 80s, the San Francisco Chronicle has launched a new serial called Click City.

From the Editor’s Note:

It’s been more than 30 years since The Chronicle published Armistead Maupin’s fictional Tales of the City serial, which depicted freewheeling San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, the city is much different: It has become the epicenter of a worldwide digital and cultural revolution.

With that in mind, The Chronicle is launching a new serial, Click City, which…will follow a multitude of quirky characters with San Francisco as the canvas.

The story will explore modern themes, including the struggle to connect with others when technology makes us both more and less connected than ever.

The serial, by novelist Heather Stallings, will continue in Datebook Monday through Saturday this week before settling into its normal schedule – Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Here’s Click City, Episode 1: Trying to Cracking the Code. It’s off to a strong start.

After The Chronicle printed his serial, Armistead Maupin compiled the columns and published them as a book. I loved the original Tales of the City, both the book and the resulting PBS miniseries.

But after the first volume, Maupin dragged the story out through nine (9!) increasingly unreadable books. In one of the series, he had all his characters spend the entire book literally wandering around in the woods, and in 2007, after a gap of 18 years, he revived the series with a book called Michael Tolliver Lives that was so smug and self-satisfied that I really wish I’d never read it. Sad ending after a fantastic start.  Imagine that Dickens had followed up A Christmas Carol with A New Year’s Tale and A Valentine Story and An Arbor Day Romp, all with the same increasingly uninteresting characters and lame plots. (Sorry, Tiny Tim.  Didn’t catch that until after I wrote it).

Here’s hoping Click City doesn’t meet the same depressing fate.