Signs of a Downturn in Silicon Valley: Traffic and Andy Warhol

Hey folks. Apologies for not posting over the last few days. I’ve been in Northern California since Monday, shuttling back and forth between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I know the blog beast is hungry and must be fed.

A few quick observations and thoughts:

1. The recession is definitely having an impact on the Valley. I know this because I took a reading of one of my most reliable indicators of the area’s economic health: traffic patterns on Route 101.

Yesterday, I left Palo Alto at 5pm to head back to SF. I was dreading the ride home because typically, during this rush hour time, with numerous bottlenecks slowing traffic down to a crawl, it takes about 75 to 90 minutes to reach the city. But miraculously I cruised up the highway and made it to SF in just under an hour. Clearly, economic activity has dropped. And faster commutes is one of the silver linings.

2. Culture thrives during a downturn. Last night, I attended a film screening and music performance at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts called “13 Most Beautiful . . . Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests.” The program featured 13 screen tests from Andy Warhol of various groupies and a few celebrities, including Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed and Nico.

Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, formerly of Luna and currently with Dean & Britta, performed music they composed for a selection of Warhol’s four-minute, silent film portraits.

The concert/performance sold out on a Tuesday night. I didn’t have a ticket but got one after they released a few tix before show time. One fun factoid: The image above is of Mary Woronov, a Factory girl who ended playing the principal in the cult classic movie Rock ‘N Roll High School!

It was a pretty cool performance. The music was great and provided a creative counterpoint to the film images appearing behind the musicians. I think the films show Warhol’s talent for making celebrities out of ordinary things and people. i.e. a Campbell’s soup can.

FYI: I am also gearing up for my big Stanford talk today. Hope to see you tonight!

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3 Responses to “Signs of a Downturn in Silicon Valley: Traffic and Andy Warhol”

  1. Lee Musser Says:

    Can you expand on why you feel culture thrives during a downturn? I am not saying I don’t agree with you, but I was just curious how you were backing that up.

  2. alittleclarity Says:

    I’m with you, Spencer (and sorry I missed you). Traffic was down; and when I was in SF a couple of weeks ago, we walked right into restaurants in the financial district where previously we’d always had a wait.

    Maybe worth checking the coffee shops on Sand Hill Road and reservation back-log at French Laundry?

    Anyway, hope the trip was very successful — and sunny.

  3. Spencer Ante Says:

    Hey Lee, great question. One reason that culture seems to thrive during a downturn is that rents go down and it makes it easier for artists to pursue their passions. Also, tough times make people resourceful. Think about the birth of skate boarding or hip hop.

    Skateboarding took off in southern california in the 70s when kids began skating in empty pools of foreclosed homes.

    And hip hop busted out of the South Bronx when African American kids were trying to do something creative with limited resources. All they needed was two turntables and a microphone, and some electricity, which they often got by hacking into the power lines on the street.

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