I lived in an area of San Francisco bounded by Russian Hill and Nob Hill, next to North Beach, a nice spot with views of Alcatraz and Coit Tower. By 1989 I was exploring every other part of town on my motorcycle, seeking out bars in the Mission, rehearsing the band in a wretched basement in the Tenderloin, and checking out places and happenings in the Haight and Western Addition, as well as crashing parties in mansions in Pacific Heights. I was a fresh-faced skinny kid in a jean jacket, raising little suspicion as a strange interloper waltzing into a party well underway. That felt safer than sitting around a table with people doing drugs or even hard liquor.
One adventure I took on was being an extra for the TV show Midnight Caller, set in SF. I didn’t know I’d be there all day and all night, mostly standing around. They stuck a beret on me and had me sketching on a pad for a shot in Ghirardelli Square. Another scene had me standing around in a crowd outside a brick building. It was the 80s- everything was a little slower, fewer cars on the street. I was broke, yuppies dressed like lawyers, everyone else dressed like Bill Cosby. Entertainment industry personalities, as always, were glamorous and the presentation futuristic, the hair was big and awful, the clothes were drooping and loose, and no one had a cellphone. I haven’t looked, but I’m sure I do not appear anywhere on camera. When they called for “action,” I was giving it my best.
Another extra on the set was a lady that ended up my friend for the day. I got her phone number, and we started seeing each other now and again. She lived on a sketchy street in SOMA, where the buildings were not up to code, probably cottages thrown together quickly after the 1906 earthquake. She was married, and her husband was abusive and violent. I was just young and dumb enough not to run straight away from that situation.
One day I rode out to Golden Gate Park, where she was taking her horse riding lessons, English style. The riding gear and the horse is a striking if not cliched image, which stuck in my mind. I was writing about anything on my mind at the time, trying to learn how to put together songs. In the basement, Flying Color obliged my request to play the repeating riff that makes up “Ride Away.” We jammed on that dirge for a spell, and it wasn’t long before I left the group. The rest of the song came afterward.
Walk into his empty life to save him, and you’ll have to trade him for your own
Put your happiness at stake for his sake, and it’s your mistake you’ll have to live with
Watch them ride away
If challenged to deconstruct my lyrics, I see that whenever I’m pointing at someone else in song, the idea makes just as much sense directed toward myself. A good design works well no matter which way you plug it in or pick it up.
Piano: Khoi Huynh; Bass: Pete Straus; Drums: Derek Ritchie; The other stuff: CvS
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Chris von Sneidern is a musical artist living in San Francisco.