On Bernal Hill (the view from there)

This March, it will be 15 years since we first left Toronto to move to San Francisco. When we first came here, I was at an emotional abyss. I had tried, and frankly failed to keep my music career for the previous two years. I had slowly started my writing career, doing freelance work for the lovely Impact magazine and a few key features for The Globe & Mail (including an interview with the late Robert Moog and what I believe was the first national feature on Ron Sexsmith). At the time, I didn’t know that I was about to evolve from being a “failed rockstar” (which isn’t to say failed “musician”) to being a writer. I felt like I was getting out of Toronto not a moment too soon. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that Toronto wasn’t the problem, it was me, but at the time I felt, well, embarrassed. Humiliated. Defeated. Once in San Francisco, we first stayed at a temporary, finished apartment in the Wharf district, The Crystal Tower apartments. (I later read that XTC lived at this same building when they were tracking parts of Skylarking).

I wrote poetry. Bloody awful poetry. I played guitar, pretended that my concept album was coming. It wasn’t. I wrote songs with titles like “On Queen Street West (I Did My Best)” and other transparently self-pitying songs like “This Town Hates You” (for some reason I thought Toronto hated me, ugh, what was I thinking?) It felt dark. I was still a social drinker in that period, only now, having been ripped from my broken social scene back home, I was just a drinker. I would advise against this by the way.

A few weeks later, we moved into a rented place of our own in the Bernal Heights district of San Francisco. I played a few shows, I wrote a couple of things for the Bay Guardian. And I met some musicians, like John Moremen, Allen Clapp, Alison Faith Levy and Chris Xefos, with whom I am still friends. I had quit drinking for good by October 1997. A lot of good things happened after that. Gradually, but steadily.

In my new ‘hood, I found this one geographical spot where I could think, plan, reflect (even meditate sometimes). And it proved to be as transformative a place as any I’ve known.
Walking up to the top of Bernal Hill became a daily ritual, a place to hit “reset” and literally look at my future. I was also still new to just “being” in this historically life-changing city. I noted that, from up there, I could see Candlestick Park where the Beatles ended their last U.S. tour, and you could almost see the Cow Palace, the site of the first date on their first U.S. tour. (I didn’t say their first U.S. gig, purists). I picture my hill as the third point in a triangle. Stuff like that resonated with me at the time.

Some days I’d look out over the Mission District, or glimpse the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge, or strain my eyes through the haze toward the UC Berkeley campus, and dream the things I’d do. The things I’d be. I worked out a lot of stuff. San Francisco, and now Berkeley, has really been a great place to live. I love it here.
I’m a lot better now, lots of room for improvement but things are moving forward.  Still,  I’ll never forget those days up on Bernal Hill. A few years ago, I was writing lyrics for The Paul & John and thought it would be cool to capture some of this for one of our songs. The song hasn’t really stuck, and maybe it needs a new tune. And perhaps, these lyrics I wrote were too much “me” for the collaborative spirit that inspires the P&J. Still, I wanted to share them here, since this is, after all, my blog.

So knowing what you now know, go easy on…

On Bernal Hill by Paul Myers © 2012

On Bernal Hill

I could see my world unfolding

But I never knew

What the future might be holding.

From high up there

Where the rained out red clay ridge is

I’d sit and stare

At the tankers and the bridges

On Bernal Hill

Everyday was lost in finding

A life to build

And a lifetime of refining

My point of view

Of a city steeped in history

What would I do?

There was fear, but also mystery

On Bernal Hill

With the solitude to greet me.

On Bernal Hill

Would the city soon defeat me?

On Bernal Hill

I could see my world unfolding

But I never knew

What the future might be holding.

8 Responses to “On Bernal Hill (the view from there)”

  1. great poem about bernal hill nice acoustic guitar have you ever put out a music cd??

    • My old band, The Gravelberrys, did a cd called Bowl Of Globes that I will be reissuing this spring. Probably only as a download. I am finishing (with John Moremen) the debut from The Paul & John, entitled Inner Sunset. Also, I have some instrumental music up on my Soundcloud page (some under the name FLAM!) at , http://soundcloud.com/pulmyears Thanks!

  2. Everyday was lost in finding

    A life to build

    this line speaks to me. It sceams to me, I can feel the pain in my soul. I know what being lost is, I wish to find my Bernal Hill. thank you. I want to listen to the music.

  3. There is so much that resonates with me here, except my transition was from Chicago to NYC. Beautifully written, thank you for sharing.

  4. thats beautiful fella. thanks fer sharing, eh? xo

  5. I liked the line “where the rained out red clay ridge is”. Good meter.

    I’d love to hear the song as well.

  6. Beautiful, Paul! Thanks for sharing. I’d love to hear the song too.

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