Chuck Prophet simply did not know what to do.
He'd seen his city overrun with tech workers babying themselves, billionaires passive-aggressively fighting regulation and menus full of artisanal toast. But when a jury decided that officers did not use excessive force in the killing of Alex Nieto -- a killing involving between 48 and 59 bullets shot into his body -- Prophet says, "I never dreamed I would be in the middle of a war. A real culture war."
And so the San Francisco songwriter sat in his small SOMA studio with his friend, Kurt Lipschutz, and started strumming a single, minor-key chord. The words came to him from somewhere else, the song writing itself:
Alex Nieto was a pacifist / a 49ers fan
He left for work one day at 4:15 / never made it home again
"Alex Nieto's death is the result of gentrification," Prophet told me Tuesday, two years after Nieto's death, echoing a recent piece by Rebecca Solnit that placed Nieto's killing in the context of modern-day San Francisco. "It's directly tied to someone feeling threatened by a 49ers jacket and thinking it represents a gang. What gang are we talking about? What gang goes after young white people walking their dog? That's just ignorance."
Prophet has a personal stake in the changing face of his city -- his 2012 album Temple Beautiful served as a historic love letter to San Francisco. But like many other artists, he can't find much that's positive in the boom of the past few years.
"The real damage is when things come in waves. That's when it really rolls over people, historically," he says. "The first wave, when we first became Startup City USA, was really different. This time around, these young programmers, they're not content to eat at the Olive Garden down in Cupertino. They want the cool stuff -- they want Dolores Park, they want the food trucks. They want our culture. That's the major difference."
Not that Prophet, who recently organized an all-star concert at City Hall covering the city's vast musical history, would cram his song for Alex Nieto with such context.
"With songs," he says, "it's not journalism. You wanna say as much as you can with as few words as possible."