‘Do you want to come to the show?’

Mark Fantino and Richard Butler at Chouquet’s on Fillmore.

Mark Fantino and Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs at Chouquet’s.

FIRST PERSON | MARK FANTINO

It’s Tuesday, and I’m halfway through working a typical lunch at Chouquet’s, at Fillmore and Washington, when in he walks. Immediately I ask: “Are you Richard Butler?”

Turns out, I know him well. He’s the lead vocalist of The Psychedelic Furs, one of my favorite rock bands. A benefit of being a record collector who scrutinizes every detail and reads all the liner notes and lyrics on all the records that shaped my life is that I have names memorized, as if they are all old friends who’ve seen me through thick and thin. I’m remembering the adage that we should know the names of the people who changed the world, or at least made it a better place.

So there is something profound about welcoming him by name instead of: “Hey, aren’t you that guy from The Psychedelic Furs?”

Richard Butler formed The Psychedelic Furs in 1977, citing David Bowie and Roxy Music as influences. But Butler’s unmistakable smoky, raspy vocals were a unique asset right away. His songwriting has been compared with Elvis Costello and Nick Cave: as more like three-and-a-half minute short stories than just pop songs.

“Pretty in Pink,” released in 1981, would later inspire John Hughes’ 1986 film of the same name, with the band appearing prominently on the soundtrack. But the band had a slew of other smash hits including “Love My Way,” “The Ghost in You,” “Sister Europe” and “Heartbreak Beat,” to name but a few. There’s also a slow acoustic guitar and cello song not well known called “Torch” from the 1989 Book of Days album. It was on the playlist I was playing at the restaurant that very afternoon. I kept hoping it would come on randomly while he sat there with his little glass of Bordeaux.

I tried to leave him alone, which is the way I usually try to treat celebrities. But he figures so prominently in my life, and I had to thank him for that. I tell him my record collection would be unrecognizable without his contributions and ask him what he’s doing on Fillmore Street.

He says he’s playing that night at the Fillmore Auditorium. He’d probably just finished a sound-check and decided to stroll up Fillmore. I liked that about him: While many musicians might just hunker down somewhere nearby, he went for a stroll on our street to check out the sights.

Then he asked me: “Are you working tonight?”

I said no.

He said: “Do you want to come to the show?”

I jumped at the chance. He put my name in his phone. And I was on the list for the sold out show.

Immediately I rang up my good friend and neighbor of 18 years, Trent Berry, a gifted musician in his own right whose band Sonamo’ will be playing at the Boom Boom Room on August 17. Trent is a huge Psychedelic Furs fan; he has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything the group has ever done. He couldn’t believe my luck and of course he dropped everything to come with me.

Any chance to go to the Fillmore Auditorium is a good one. We have no shortage of great musical venues in this city, but the Fillmore is truly a monumental place. And such a classy joint, too, with greeters saying “Welcome to the Fillmore” as you walk in, the strange tub of free apples, which I’ve never seen anyone dare take, and the great wall of framed posters chronicling the ages.

Richard Butler and The Psychedelic Furs onstage at the Fillmore Auditorium on July 25.

Richard Butler and The Psychedelic Furs onstage at the Fillmore Auditorium.

The show was wonderful. The band played an 18-song set to an energetic and appreciative crowd ranging in age from 18 to 50 or so. Highlights for me were two of my favorite songs from the band’s catalog: “President Gas” written in 1982 and not specifically about anyone, though it seemed very prophetic to everyone in the room that night, and “All That Money Wants.” The audience was in full rapture during “Ghost in You” and “Love My Way,” and of course the whole room sang along to “Pretty in Pink.”

What a gift The Psychedelic Furs gave to our culture with its incredible body of work over 35 years, and what a gift to San Francisco that midsummer night.

I will never forget what an honor it was to be invited there by Richard Butler himself.

  • Amy White

    Way cool! very well expressed the elements. I appreciate you writing this article