Okay, people, I get it. San Francisco is cooler than San Jose. Believe it or not, I actually agree with you. You guys have a thriving art scene and people flock to you from all over the world. What’s not to love about that? You’ve worked hard to make that happen, and that’s something to be commended. Hats off to ya.
However, I, and I’m sure many other folks, would really appreciate it if you’d stop making fun of San Jose. That’s right, we know what you say about us behind our backs – and, more often than not, right to our faces. We’ve tried to be polite and ignore it, but it’s time someone stood up for San Jose and said: knock it off, guys. It was okay at first, but now that we’ve become the default punchline for every lazy crack about how much worse living in the Bay Area could get, it’s time to push back a little. Though we take a lot of shit for just existing, many of the stereotypes about San Jose’s art and music scene just aren’t true. Yes, it has one, and it’s pretty rad.
I was lucky enough to come of age at a time when San Jose’s music scene was in its big bang — local bands and venues popping up and shutting down and popping up again. I was more or less unaware of what the rest of the Bay Area thought of San Jose’s scene, because as long as I had been a participant in it, it had been nothing less than utopian.
After being accepted to SF State, I moved to San Francisco. Almost as soon as I arrived, I started to run into some sad stereotypes about San Jose: San Jose is so lame. Why would anyone want to live there? OMG, you’re FROM there? I feel so sorry for you.
After a while, I started to buy into it. How can you not fall under the spell of San Francisco? The sweeping vistas, the distinct neighborhoods, the sparkling lights of the bridges over the bay at night make most other places, including suburban, San Jose very much included, look like complete crap.
Then living in San Francisco caused me to go broke. I moved back in with my parents but held out hope that one day I’d stumble upon a Craigslist ad for a cheap apartment in the city and would get out of San Jose once and for all. Then I got a job on the peninsula and found a place in Santa Clara that, despite the fact that it isn’t the apartment in the fog I was so sure I’d get back to, I’ve grown to absolutely love.
I’ve been back for about three and a half years now, and the scene is still here. It’s not like it was back when I was a kid (is it ever?), and I’m not going to pretend like it’s some hidden gem that everyone else is missing out on, but seriously: it’s much better than most people assume. I’m mad at myself for buying into the notion that San Jose is for losers who aren’t cool enough for San Francisco. It’s not that our scene “sucks” compared to other cities, it’s just different. More informal. More, dare I say, DIY. Doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Most people are shocked to learn that we have any kind of music scene, but that’s understandable: not only does San Jose’s median age make the idea of it having a “scene” of any kind seem improbable, the one we have isn’t really visible to the naked eye. It’s pretty free-form and casual. It exists in established downtown venues, but also in odd corners of town like college campuses, store stock rooms and peoples’ backyards.
But most people who make fun of San Jose don’t know this, because most people that spend so much time trashing SJ have never actually been here. For those of you confused about what San Jose in general is actually like, here are the 6 things you need to know about us before you open your fool mouth again:
1. It’s not that far away. Whenever I come into the city for an interview, my interviewees are routinely horrified and embarrassed for asking me to meet with them on account of how “far” I had to drive to get there. It’s not that far, guys. I mean, I get it: SF is 49 square miles and everyone travels by foot, bike or bus. If you’ve lived in the city for a while, any journey past the Daly City border must seem like some historic exodus. But if you are driving at a reasonable freeway speed at a normal time of day, the trip from central SF to the South will take you a little less than an hour. It’s not an unthinkably long trip to take for a meetup with friends or a show from a favorite band. Just make sure to avoid 101 during rush hours and you’ll get out with your sanity intact.
2. We’re a city. Like I said, we’d really like you to stop talking about us like we’re you’re embarrassing trailer-dwelling neighbors. We’re not some backwater town; we’re the third-most populous city in California and the 10th in the nation. Admittedly, most of it is suburban tripe (strip malls and fast-food joints for days), but from what I’ve gathered from all the eye-rolls and pained looks I get upon revealing my hometown, most people seem to be under the impression that San Jose is full of illiterate rubes who can’t afford to live anywhere else and corporate drones who are content to settle in the suburbs. Sure, we’ve got some of those, but we don’t want for local color…
3. We’re weird. We’re not weird in the way that Berkeley or SF is weird. You expect weird from them. San Jose’s brand of weird is incredibly subtle: it’s seeing a man on a bike weaving around the Pruneyard parking lot with a live pigeon balanced on his head, then texting your friends about it and finding out that they’ve seen him, too. It’s watching two trainers lead a pony across the street while you wait for the light to change at Hamilton and Meridian. It’s that girl who sets her boombox down on the corner of Moorpark and Winchester and just dances for traffic for hours (haven’t seen her for a while; anyone know if she’s still doing her thing?).
4. Everyone knows everyone. For being one of the biggest cities in California, it feels pretty damn small. Everywhere you go – every restaurant you eat at, grocery store you run to, show you check out, you will see someone you went to high school with, someone your cousin went to high school with, that dude your best friend made out with that one time, that one guy that accidentally whacked you in the face while you were standing on the fringes of a mosh pit when you were 16. Be nice to everyone because you’ll be seeing them on a near-weekly basis for the rest of your life if you live here.
5. Our public transportation sucks. Don’t even talk to me about how MUNI sucks. The prevailing wisdom in the valley is that if you want to get anywhere, stay off of VTA. The light rail isn’t bad, but the buses are. If you are even a minute late, sucks to be you: in the outer burbs, wait times between buses hover around 30 minutes.
6. We have Mexican food and it just might be better than yours.
I mean, let’s be real for a second: given the opportunity to move back up to San Francisco, I absolutely would. But I would still complain about how expensive it is, bitch about how BART service cuts off so early for a region with such vigorous nightlife, and I would still miss the cohesiveness of the San Jose scene. SF’s and Oakland’s scenes are rich and diverse, but, to me, they’ve never had quite the same coziness I found in San Jose.
In closing, I’d like to propose a mid-year resolution for all of us: first, let’s just stop hatin’ on each other, plain and simple. Second, let’s make a vow to support our own music and arts scenes in the coming months, and support others as well. Think your neighborhood is lame? Make it not lame! In order for a scene to survive, you have to go out and participate in it more than once in a while. Go see your friend’s band on a Wednesday night. Venture into the next area code to check out a venue you’ve never been to. Pick up your local weekly, open up to an events calendar, and close your eyes and point. Or heck, start your own band! Open a venue! And when you do, send your press releases to me so we can cover it here at The Bay Bridged.
Curious about what San Jose sounds like? Check out a compilation of South Bay bands below, provided by Make a Scene San Jose.