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by Jialin Luh on Aug 24, 2007
Babylon: in Jamaica, this term is an all-encompassing euphemism for oppression and those who oppress. Take it from Jamaican native Sean Stewart, proprietor and mastermind behind Babylon Falling, a newish joint in the Tendernob district. With an overarching theme of Revolution, this shop houses a unique and winsome combination of books, toys, skate decks, clothing and collectibles that provides one more reason to love San Francisco.
Unlike some of the more outwardly anarchist institutions around, this place is more than accessible to anyone with an open mind and a thirst or curiosity for knowledge and culture -- you don’t need to be an extremist of any sort to feel at home here.
Open for a little over two months, Babylon Falling is already growing roots among the Tendernob community. Speaking with Stewart, who is engagingly charismatic and enthusiastic, it is easy to see why he and his shop have won over the neighborhood. After moving from Jamaica to New York, Stewart relocated to San Francisco to realize his vision of Babylon Falling.
“There is a history of resistance in the Bay Area,” Stewart said. “It’s more politically sympathetic. Even if people aren’t radical, they’re willing to explore radical themes.” In a word, Bay Area citizens are more receptive to revolutionary ideas. Additionally, “In SF more so than New York, there is a culture of supporting independent stores,” said Stewart. “People realize the importance of independent versus big box stores.”
As for the particular neighborhood, Stewart thought Babylon Falling would fit right in with Kayo Books, Huf, Brand Fury and Argonaut Books without stepping on anyone’s toes. Choosing this location “underscores the fact that we’re not trying to cater to or preach to a specific audience,” he said.
It’s true; Babylon Falling is not aimed at the politically minded only. Though everything in the space somehow ties in with the theme of “revolution”, this encompasses anything from writing style or plots in fiction (i.e. the works of Hunter S. Thompson and Don Delillo), to subversive artwork and clothing (t-shirts and customized Vans), to toy collectibles, DVDs and even genuine Jamaican coffee. The set up of the store makes great use of the light, open space vacated by an architectural design firm and creates an inviting setting to sit for a while and peruse.
The large majority of Babylon Falling’s offerings fall in the book department and it’s all superbly organized. On the left side you’ll find a substantial selection of fiction, comics and graphic novels, and books on art and design, photography, music and media. V for Vendetta, Subway Art, Fucked Up and Photocopied, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop – A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and Banksy’s Wall and Piece are just a couple of the titles available.
Earlier this week when I stopped in Stewart was admiring the latest addition to his trove: signed books by renowned artist David Choong Lee. On the other side of the store, books are also organized into sections: World History, African American studies, Native American studies, Mexico, Cuba, Latin America/Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe/Russia, Labor, Current Affairs, Biography, Politics, Political Theory, Philosophy, etc. Of course you’ll find the requisite Zinn and Lenin readers, but there’s so much more to explore here.
Bringing up the rear of the store is a rack of T-shirts by Proletariat, Listen Clothing, Com-Raid and Jask Clothing Company. Although pickings are slim for women, Stewart does have plans to fortify the selection of ladies’ wear. The hot pink Higher Law by Jask featuring screened black and white tanks was my favorite but is currently only available in men’s sizes. Shirts by Proletariat have been a big hit and there are a few to pick from for the ladies.
In the toy department, Babylon Falling’s unique selection includes Series 2 of Blow Up Dolls by Jamungo. Get your mind out of the gutter -- these are not absurd perverse masturbatory aids, but 3.5-inch collectible vinyl figures featuring artists Dalek, Meomi and more. These unlabeled goodies have heads shaped like bombs.
For $6 a pop you can begin your collection of Lord Crumwell’s Oddfellows – 3-inch quirkily rendered PVC figures of Edgar Allen Poe, James Joyce, Andy Warhol, Gandhi, Malcom X and more. Rock-poster-artist-turned toy designer Frank Kozik’s 8-inch Mao and Lenin Dunnys are cheekily grand. For those of you who don’t know, a Dunny is a limited-edition vinyl figure with two long upright ears not unlike a rabbit and serves as a canvas for artists to render. Skate decks by Kozik declare “The future is stupid” above a grinning Ronald Reagan.
Expect to see some interesting events at Babylon Falling in the near future. Not too long ago, a couple from the neighborhood came in and pitched Stewart the idea for a performance art show replete with wire sculptures and a classically trained ballerina doing her thing over the backdrop of an Afro funk/early Punk soundscape. Thus the store’s first event after the grand opening, Kittens of Dysfunction was conceived and came to pass with a warm reception. The next event is set to take place in October: the opening for an installation by local artist Robert Bowen of Zero Friends Collective. If you like subversive takes and plays on pop culture characters be sure to check it out.
I am of the school that promotes supporting local establishments. While it’s true that most of the volumes so neatly situated in Babylon Falling can probably be purchased at some chain bookstore or Amazon, supporting this independently owned revolution-themed shop comes easy when considering what it adds to the neighborhood and the genuine intention behind it. Stewart’s intention with Babylon Falling is to contribute to the community by provoking thought and discussion. Has he succeeded? Stop by and give him your two cents.
by Jialin Luh on Aug 24, 2007
image courtesy of Babylon Falling
Photo credit: Jialin Luh
Photo credit: Jialin Luh