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The Soul of California

Let them share.....That's the goal. Let the leading thinkers, writers, academics, artists and activists talk about their work and the influence of California on that work. In these podcasts, I hope to bring out the myth and the ethos that is not only a leading administrative entity in the United States, but also the world. No commercials, just content. Keep listening.
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The Soul of California
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Aug 17, 2017

In this 65-minute interview, writer Luis Rodriguez discusses his nine lives, going from being a barely pubescent gang member in East LA and the San Gabriel Valley, to being shot at, doped up and finding redemption through the arts, literature and his own writing. After all this, he sets an example to others facing the same temptations and challenges that he faced. 

Our discussion touches on how the arts saved his life and the cultural starvation facing many inner city communities (min. 2), the influence of black awareness on his thinking (min. 7), whether politicians really understand urban challenges (min. 18), decriminalisation (min. 24), and his prison experience (in a cell next to Charles Manson, min. 24). 

We then continue with how Luis became interested in writing and his own approach (min. 34), including his reading of two poems (about his mother and a sonnet about our country) from his 2016 poetry book Borrowed Bones (min. 40). He then recounts receiving the title of Poet Laureate at the Central Library in Downtown LA, which served as a refuge during his teen-age years. Luis closes with the two things that he would have told himself as a teen-ager with the benefit of 45 more years of experience (min. 56). 

From the initial question of whether he is surprised to be alive, Luis shows honesty, humility and insight, with a touch of humor.

Next up - UC Berkeley’s Michael Dear on why walls don’t work. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Jul 27, 2017

In this 39-minute podcast, Jim Harris of the Santa Monica Pier Corporation provides listeners an insight into the history and ongoings at one of the US’s most iconic structures. 

After touching on its original purpose (treating sewage), Jim and I discuss the true and not to true stories such as the Route 66 and the origins of Popeye (min. 7), and city politics and gambling ships (min. 18). We then change tack and touch on its considerable star power in troubled financial times (min.23), the tug-of-war with mulitnationals on the pier (min. 26) and weathering financial storms, 2008 and in the future. 

Next up: Luis Rodriguez - the Poet Laureate's nine lives

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Jul 14, 2017

In this episode, TC Boyle discusses the impact that humans have on their environment, citing the Channel Islands, the Galapagos of North America. We then take a tour d’horizon covering writing (min. 12), his historical fiction (min. 20), the disappointment of Hollywood for writers and his tenure as a professor (min. 22). 

We continue, referring to humans as species with The Tortilla Curtain as an example  (min. 34), grandiose huis clos experiments (min. 36) and close it up with books and technology (min. 39), escaping to a desert island, his advice to himself as a 20 year old (which he didn't follow) and his favourite place in California.

Coming up - the Santa Monica Pier, LA’s Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez, and UC Berkeley's Michael Dear on why walls don’t work. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

May 2, 2017

94 years young - Betty Reid Soskin sparkles with insight, humility and at times giddiness as to what she has been able to experience.

In this 40-minute podcast, Betty discusses moving to Oakland when Calvin Coolidge (!) was US President and tells life as she experienced it - the unpleasantness of racism in her community (including death threats) and the eventual change in her neighbourhood’s attitude. She grins with pride in recounting her work as a National Park Ranger and what she has been able to witness over the course of her long life. She equally discusses some of her most intimate moments when asked about her uniform. 

The subject of two documentary films and with a book being released next year, Betty is keeping very busy and is a role model and an inspiration to us all. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Apr 3, 2017

As a 19-year old, Clayborne Carson went to the March on Washington, which some in the civil rights struggle deemed a  “picnic”. That aside, the March dramatically affected him, turning Clayborne into an activist, based out of Los Angeles. 

Moving from activist/journalist to a Stanford professor, Clayborne went on to publish the papers of Martin Luther King. In this 43-minute podcast, he discusses MLK’s most precious speech in his opinion and how the papers are released. Clayborne covers the struggle in the 1960s, various styles and the importance of rhetoric, but also potentially more important organization skills. He also reflects on the Black Panther movement (Huey Newton’s archives are also at Stanford) and the applicability of the 1960s struggle with Black Lives Matter.

Throughout the podcast, Clayborne is reflective, humble and dauntingly knowledgeable about the last 50 years in the struggle of African Americans.

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Mar 14, 2017

Chuck Prophet’s new album “Bobby Fuller died for your sins” was just released to very solid reviews. In this 30-minute podcast, Chuck describes the album as California Noir, and discusses a few of the album’s standout tracks. He then touches upon his recording and writing style and his collaboration with the poet klipschutz and many others. 

Chuck also lays out the cultural tapestry that is San Francisco and how that culture shaped him in his formative years. Finally, he offers advice to himself as a teen-ager and closes with his desert island five (okay, three, one of which is depressingly brilliant and the other he characterises as a gateway drug, upon which the floodgates open to about 20) and wraps it up with the importance of staycations.

Honest, humble and grateful to his cohorts, Chuck Prophet delivers.

Next time: Clayborne Carson of Stanford's Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute.  

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Mar 1, 2017

Judy Baca shares a life in the arts that began when Spanish-only speaking Baca drew and painted as a way to communicate. In the early 1970s, she worked in LA's parks with rival gangs, spearheading the first wave of mural painters in the 1970s. Since then, her work and influence went viral - inner cities awash in murals, leading to more engaged youth and offering them an alternative in the face of life's challenges. 

In this 52-minute podcast, Judy also discusses the wall project that she painted with her colleagues in a flood control channel and how the idea grew to draw far wider international acclaim. Judy also examines the role that alternative (minority) histories can play in setting the record straight and empowering those who feel marginalised. She closes with what she has learned over the years and what the Judy Baca of today would say to the Judy Baca just starting out in her professional life and her two favourite murals. 

Next episodes: SF rocker Chuck Prophet and Clayborne Carson of Stanford's MLK Research Centre. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

 

Feb 17, 2017

In this 36-minute podcast, former Secretary of Transport Norman Mineta recounts his response to the 9/11 attacks. 

His day started innocuously enough in a meeting with the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and finished in a bunker, deep below an empty White House. It was there that he gave the orders to ground the more than 4,600 planes at that time in US airspace.    

Secretary Mineta continues with the policy changes after 9/11, particularly the role of the government in regulating security at US airports (previously in private hands) and also the role that the private sector made, whether it was GE in mass producing scanning equipment, Disney for dealing with long lines or Marriot for its hospitality. 

Upcoming podcasts include LA muralist Judy Baca, Clayborne Carson of Stanford's Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute and rocker Chuck Prophet, who just released his new album 'Bobby Fuller died for your sins'. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Feb 9, 2017

Norman Mineta has lived the 20th century. Born in San Jose, Mineta’s life was typical of a Japanese-American family, at least until World War II. For his being a “non-alien” of Japanese descent, Mineta and his family were interned first at Santa Anita racetrack and then in Wyoming. 

He brushed off the initial discrimination of his early years to become one of American’s most decorated public servants, with roles as San Jose’s Mayor (during the early days of the tech boom), as a Congressman representing Silicon Vally and later as Secretary of Commerce under Clinton and Secretary of Transport under George W. Bush.  

In this 52-minute episode, Secretary Mineta speaks directly about his early life experience, particularly  as an internee and as the object of intense discrimination, closing with a very poignant memory of then Captain Ronald Reagan, who oversaw the burial of a decorated American soldier of Japanese descent. It was President Reagan who finally put a line under history in 1988, apologising to those interned and compensating them. Put the kettle on and have a listen - it’s definitely worth it and frighteningly relevant today. 

Next time: Secretary Mineta recounts his role overseeing American air space on 9/11. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Jan 27, 2017

Bassist Nathan East has been keeping busy - contributing to 2,000 albums over the last 35 years, touring with Clapton for decades, contributing 25% to jazz quartet Fourplay - all starting from humble beginnings at Christ the King Church in San Diego, where he first picked up a guitar with four strings….

In this 28-minute podcast, Nathan discusses how he got started with the bass, writing songs, being the front man, collaborating with his son, how 'Reverence' came about and his desert island five. 

Throughout the interview, he shares  some of his  “pinch me” moments, whether it’s on stage at the Apollo at 16, Barry White’s .357 Magnum on the recording console, Al Jarreau and 200,000 others in Rio, or in the studio with many of the greats since the early 1980s. 

Next time: Secretary Norman Mineta - interned during World War II for being a “non-alien” of Japanese descent - his story frighteningly parallels the current atmosphere. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Jan 19, 2017

We’re all guilty of it, cruising for parking, hoping for a free space. But what’s the downside?

In this 33-minute podcast, UCLA’s Donald Shoup gives us a rundown on parking’s catastrophic inefficiencies, highlighting poor policy and planning and the outright injustice of the entire sector. 

Donald shares how he became involved in the sector, the actual cost of a parking space ($20,000+ for surface, $30,000+ for underground, even up to $80,000!), LA’s revolutionary “adaptive re-use” policy allowing for dozens of buildings to be refurbished (creating a real estate boon) and the policy of required spaces for restaurants and shopping malls. 

With candor and subtle humour, Shoup advocates introduction of paid parking, the use of revenues locally and the end of the broken model of “each apartment must have two parkings spots”. 

Next time: bassist Nathan East, Clapton’s bassist, 25% of the Jazz quartet Fourplay and session player on 2,000 (yes, 2,000) albums talks about starting out in a San Diego church, on stage at the Apollo at 16 and his new album Reverence.  

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Jan 9, 2017

In this 20-minute podcast, Wild Records founder Reb Kennedy shares his experiences in starting an East LA-based record label from scratch. Reb discusses his approach to finding promising, yet struggling and immature bands and turning them into proper acts. Over the course of the last 15 years, Reb has played a number of roles with his label’s musicians - manager, producer, agent, mentor, psychologist, surrogate father (and mother). 

The podcast includes snippets of "Broke his heart" by the Rhythm Shakers in the intro and "Silhouette" by TJ Mayes in the outro…..For the entire offering, check out wildrecordsusa.com. You won't be disappointed. 

Next episode - the High Cost of Free Parking. UCLA’s Donald Shoup, Parking Guru, reveals the issue’s enormous indirect impacts and offers some remedies. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Dec 16, 2016

This 32-minute episode takes a look back at a few of this year’s best stories and reflections.

 In the following order, we have: 

  • Shelly Spiegel-Coleman on the need for a dignified and humane approach to the treatment of illegal immigrants and their families; 
  • Sabrina Fendrick of Berkeley Patients Group on the domination of women in the cannabis industry; 
  • Emily Burns of Save the Redwoods Alliance on how carbon is measured in giant Sequoia and Redwood trees.
  • Alan Hess on William Pereira’s reputation among the East Coast elite and how he was “Hollywood’s version of an architect”; 
  • Magnus Torén of the Henry Miller Library on the development challenges of Big Sur - “it’s being loved to death”; 
  • multi-instrumentalist Louise Goffin on why the piano is her favourite instrument. 
  • Daniel Ostroff on how he inadvertently started collecting Charles and Ray Eames;
  • Jon Christensen on Reyner Banham and why living in LA is actually better than visiting it. 
  • Justin Akers Chacon on the irony of how drastic immigration legislation had a dramatic economic effect in some towns; 
  • Samantha Schoech of Independent Bookstore Day comparing books with the vinyl revival and the staying power of paper books.
  • Grant Lee Phillips recounting his salad days as a 13-year old magician in bars and clubs off of Route 99; 
  • Mary Colwell on John Muir’s theory of glaciers as to the real reason why Yosemite is so spectacular; 
  • Tom Williams on “catching a glimpse” of his subject when reading a series of unreleased letters from Raymond Chandler to his childhood friends;
  • Kevin Break on the peace, quiet and bustling nature of the LA River at 2am. 

Next episodes include US parking guru Donald Shoup and Reb Kennedy of Wild Records. 

Thanks for listening to the show this year. Please don’t forget to leave a review. 

Have a good holiday and a great new year. Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Nov 28, 2016

 

Here is the latest SoC podcast on bilingual education with leading proponent Shelley Spiegel-Coleman of Californians Together. Shelley and her colleagues are fresh from an electoral mandate to implement bilingual education all over the Golden State, the first State in the nation to offer a Seal of Biliteracy. 

In this 30-minute podcast, she recounts how Californians Together began, language as an asset (min. 9), Proposition 58’s roll-out (min. 13) and responding to the English-only movement (min. 18). Shelley then discusses the implications of a potential clampdown on immigration and the need for people to be seen as humans, not numbers,  (min. 22) and closes with how bilingual education is actually carried out in the classroom (min. 27). 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Nov 16, 2016

With Proposition 64 passing, marijuana is legal in California. In this 39-minute podcast, Sabrina Fendrick of Berkeley Patients Group gives listeners a history of the century old “Reefer Madness” stereotypes, runs us through the changes in legislation (min. 7), the economic aspects, both the freeing up of the criminal justice system and the potential boom to the State, with estimates of up to $100 million in taxes and the potential advent of a tourist increase (min. 11). She then details the specifics on the issue of medical research and the push/pull between Washington, DC and individual states (min. 16).

Sabrina also provides an overview of the US Government’s scheduled drugs and where marijuana sits in the line with other drugs (min.19), famous users (Carl Sagan used marijuana daily), what the US can learn from the Netherlands and Portugal (min. 26) and why women dominate the cannabis industry (min. 29).

Next time, Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, Executive Director of Californians Together on bilingual education. Why do so many Americans seem so allergic to foreign languages?

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Oct 24, 2016

In this 25-minute podcast, Dr. Emily Burns of Save the Redwoods League discusses how scientists can now measure the carbon content of Redwood and Giant Sequoia trees, and how these trees hold much more than previously thought.

Emily explains how the teams, consisting of scholars from Humboldt State University and UC Berkeley, have been able to examine one tree’s history all the way back to 474 AD through its rings. She also explains the technique of measuring carbon in a tree (min. 10, not for those with Vertigo), the restoration of forests  (min. 14) and how Sacramento is including the forests as a tool in its climate change policy, economically incentivising forest owners to significantly reduce or halt the cutting down of forests (min. 16). The Redwood's resilience to environmental conditions (and to climate change) is another major benefit going forward.  Emily then closes with her favourite type of tree and trail. 

 

Next time:  Sabrina Fendrick of Berkeley Patients Group on marijuana legalisation. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.

Oct 13, 2016

The Transamerica building in San Francisco, Los Angeles International Airport, Pepperdine University, UCSD's Geisel Library, even master planning the city of Irvine, William Pereira’s buildings are littered all over California. A career embedded in the mid-20th century at a very special moment in history - the creation of a suburban metropolis in one of the most modern cities in the world. 

In this 45-minute podcast, Alan Hess returns to the Soul of California and discusses the variety of buildings which defined Southern California mid-century (min. 7), Pereira's background in Hollywood and his garnering of an Oscar (min. 10), Irvine’s masterplan (min 15-25), his legacy and the LA County Museum of Art (min. 29-40) and closes with his favourite building. He makes a convincing case for Pereira's legacy, comparing him to other "forgotten architects" (Green Brothers for the Craftsman style and Rudolph Schindler) who were all but forgotten after their deaths, but have since been elevated to the Pantheon of architecture. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Sep 21, 2016

Magnus Torén of the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur provides listeners with a deeper undestaning of Big Sur - one of the most mythic places in California. 

In this 42-minute podcast, Magnus discusses hitchhiking down the coast to Big Sir in the late 1970s, the work of the Henry Miller Library (where "nothing happens" - min. 2), how Miller first arrived in the area and some of his writings specifically about (min. 5-10), Miller's relationship with Emil White and Emil Schnellock and some of the outstanding letters that the Library holds (min. 11). Magnus also explains the indebtedness that contemporary artists have had to Miller's work - Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are just a few of those who have played the Library's very intimate stage (min. 16).

Magnus then turns towards contemporary challenges, notably gentrification (min. 23). "It is at risk of being loved to death." Whereas Big Sur used to be an artist colony (and served as a refuge for those hiding from the House Un-American Activities Committee), it has now been gentrified. Traffic and skyrocketing house prices are two of the biggest issues that challenge the preservation of the area's cultural and natural values. He closes with discussing the Esalen Institute, the Zen Monastery in the hills and his own oral history project (min.. 31). 

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

 

Sep 13, 2016

Lindsay Hatton's novel Monterey Bay takes on a lot - Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck and the founding of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. She squarely takes on that history and legacy, delivering an enjoyable and thought provoking examination of character set against the tapestry of the Monterey peninsula.    

In this 28-minute podcast, Lindsay talks about the novel's setting, her many summers working at the Aquarium, the meticulous use of archives for material and takes a look at the close friendship, indeed bromance, between Ricketts and Steinbeck.

While sticking to the historical script between the marine biologist and the novelist of The Grapes of Wrath, she throws caution to the wind and provides an alternative creation of the Monterey Aquarium.

Lindsay also discusses the craft of writing, the loneliness in the work and the stark contrast in nearly "performing" for an audience. She also touches on her next novel and closes with her favourite place in the Golden State (it's not where you think).

Next time, Magnus Torén of the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. 

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing and please don't forget to leave a review. 

 

Aug 4, 2016

In this 39-minute podcast, singer-songwriter Louise Goffin discusses the release of her latest album The Essential Louise Goffin, Volume 1, reflecting on the choice of songs and the origin of several of them. She then discusses the songwriting process generally, her favourite instrument, sharing the same profession as her parents, performing recently in front of 60,000 in Hyde Park and her desert island three....

www.louisegoffin.com

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing....

We're taking a short break, so see you next time in September. Have a good one.  

Jul 19, 2016

Here is episode two of the interview with Eames scholar Daniel Ostroff, author of An  Eames Anthology

In this 21-minute podcast, Daniel talks about what separates an Eames piece from pseudo designers (and why there is no serious threat to copyright infringement), Apple and “good design”, how Daniel’s poor choice of rented furniture in a high profile industry led him to become an avid Eames collector, some of the standout archives that he perused when writing the Anthology (“toys and games are preludes to serious ideas”) and the couple’s film philosophy and their use of it in their work. He closes with if he had the choice of just ONE Eames piece, what it would be.… 

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

Question, comment, show suggestion? thesoulofcalifornia@gmail.com

Next month, singer-songwriter Louise Goffin, the offspring of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, is very much her own woman. Louise discusses her new album, songwriting, her favourite instrument and her recent performance in front of 60,000 at London’s Hyde Park.

 

Jul 4, 2016

Charles and Ray Eames are a couple that left an indelible mark on modern design. Based out of Los Angles for the majority of their careers, the two worked on all things design and in a considerable amount of media, whether it be wood, wire, film or toys. Those in Los Angeles are able to see their 1949 masterpiece Case Study House #8, which sits today on a bluff overlooking the ocean. 

Film producer and agent Daniel Ostroff began an unsuspecting relationship with the work of Charles and Ray Eames when a colleague suggested that his newly-found office was in dire need of better furniture. After the purchase of an Eames desk, Daniel began not only filling an office and a house, but curating a collection of their work. 

In this 31-minute podcast, Daniel walks us through the philosophy of the couple, the importance of doing something that you love, the very equal input of each them (min. 7), their reinterpretation of plywood, the KAZAM! Machine and leg splints during WW2 (min. 12), the thinking of Case Study House #8 (min. 21) and its longevity compared to other “starchitects”, and closes with the influence of Charles’s visit to Germany. 

Episode two will be released around 20 July and include Daniel's falling into a career as an Eames scholar, some of the stories around his access to archives in writing An Eames Anthology, how he views their films (as a film producer himself) and which one Eames piece he values the most….

eamesoffice.com

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

Jun 19, 2016

As California enters the 21st Century, it is in real need of a “Re-Coding” - making it ready to maintain its Top 10 global economic position. UCLA Institute for the Environment and Sustainability's Jon Christensen discusses this "Re-Coding", the importance of not only financial muscle and political will, but also cultural adjustment, particularly in light of climate change. With an ageing hardware/infrastructure, software in the form of new policies and a change in behaviour are required. Jon also reflects on how Governor Jerry Brown has changed, leading the charge on climate change and also reveals which piece of infrastructure should be done away (hint - it’s several hundred miles long).

In this 41-minutes podcast, we also discuss the lasting power of the UK’s Reyner Banham, the guru of architecture critics, and his seminal book, Los Angeles - The Architecture of Four Ecologies (min. 21). Jon also touches on the Friends of the LA River and Frank Gehry’s proposal for the river (min. 27).

The interview concludes with the challenges of gentrification (min. 31), how LA can learn from San Francisco about creating and maintaining networks (min. 35) and Jon’s favourite place in and book about California.

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

In July's podcast, modern design duo Charles and Ray Eames with scholar Daniel Ostroff.   

Jun 3, 2016

The city of Bakersfield served as an unlikely centre of a new kind of country music, one tinged with electricity, which catapulted musicians Buck Owens and Merle Haggard to international acclaim. 

We take a different approach for this show and interview a practitioner - Dallas Good of the Toronto-based Sadies. The Sadies have cross-polinated a number of styles, creating their own unique brand of contemporary music, which draws upon 60s garage rock, psychedelia, surf, roots and of course country. The Sadies have collaborated with the likes of Neko Case, Andre Williams, John Doe and Neil Young. 

In this 12-minute podcast, Good discusses the influence of musicians Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. He also reflects on the importance of the Fender Telecaster and Mosrite guitars in the music, and pays homage to Don Rich, Roy Nichols and Clarence White of the Byrds and to the lesser-known session player Alvino Ray, considered to be the father of the pedal steel guitar. The interview fades out with a portion of the song “The Trial” from The Sadies.  

Next episode, "Re-Coding California" - urban development and its challenges in the Golden State with UCLA's Jon Christensen. 

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

May 20, 2016

In this podcast, Akers Chacón discusses California’s draconian Prop 187, the United Farm Workers change in tactics and discusses policy improvement in an election year. He continues with a commentary on the  European refugee influx, integration and language acquisition, the value of bilingual education and the influence of Marx in bringing about change in immigrant neighbourhoods. 

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

Next month, the influence of design team Charles and Ray Eames and Re-Coding California - infrastructure needs for the 21st Century. 

 

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