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. Feed your soul. Keep listening.
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The Soul of California




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Now displaying: 2016
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....

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?

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….

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. 


May 4, 2016

Long one of the hottest issues in California and indeed the US, immigration has been an integral part to the Golden State’s success. Hysteria and ignorance have characterised the immigration debate and led to draconian exclusions of the “other”. Ironic given that immigration is part of America’s DNA….

In this 31-minute podcast (of two) San Diego-based scholar Justin Akers Chacón discusses the history of US-Mexican relations, starting with the non-honoured agreement of the US-Mexican war and continues through to the Bracero programme and the modern era. He discusses the maquiladoras, the enormous assembly plants on the US-Mexican border, as well as how undocumented workers were able to work and pay taxes with a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) and the detrimental economic impacts of deporting undocumented workers. 

In it, Akers Chacón challenges the widely-held perceptions, and discusses  justice (NAFTA for capital, but not for labour), immigration’s positive economic impacts and the imbalance between short-sighted politicians and the quest of large multinationals for cheap labour. 

Episode two will be released around 20 May and include policy formulation in an election year, the initial milestones and the decreasing impact of the United Farm Workers. 

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 


Apr 25, 2016

In this 13-minute podcast, Samantha Schoech of Independent Bookstore Day (April 30) shares with us the origins of the day, how they learned from the vinyl industry about keeping declining media relevant, her favourite place to read, her desert island five and taking the day to a global audience.


Next month, immigration with Justin Akers Chacón in two episodes.

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 


Apr 11, 2016

Grant Lee Phillips has been a staple on the California, and indeed the national, music scene for the last two decades. Fronting Grant Lee Buffalo in the 1990s, he ventured out on his own in 2000 and has just released The Narrows, his eighth solo adventure.

In this 41-minute interview, Grant-Lee discusses a few tracks off of The Narrows and songwriting more generally (min. 9). He then reflects on the recent passing of Merle Haggard, the influence of the Bakersfield sound (min. 14) and the musical differences between Nashville (his current home) and Bakersfield.

Grant-Lee recounts his first brushes with the entertainment industry as a 13-year old magician in the night clubs of Stockton, just off Route 99, getting ideas across in his music, mixing up performances and closes with the influence that California has on his work.

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 


Apr 4, 2016

Without John Muir (1838-1914), Yosemite Valley as the world knows it (Apple users included) may not be as pristine as it is today.

Muir, born in Scotland, grew up in the US and eventually made his way to California, where he fell in love with Yosemite. Over the course of several decades, Muir changed the way that America looks at nature, spurring the creation of the environmental movement and the designation of countless national parks. 

In this 37 minute episode, Mary Colwell, author of John Muir - the Scotsman who saved American’s wild places, discusses Muir’s life, works and legacy. She covers Muir’s austere, religious upbringing and touches on his inventions and adventures (min. 4) and then considers the increasing role of religion in the current environmental agenda, particularly in Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Russia (min. 7). Mary continues, summarising Muir’s scientific theories, his advocacy work and disappointment over the Hetch Hetchy dam (including a meeting with Ralph Waldo Emerson, min. 17).

Finally, she closes the interview (min. 28) with how the book came about and her upcoming 500 mile walk from the west of Ireland to the east of England for the curlew bird. 

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 


Mar 17, 2016

In this episode (29 minutes) David McLaughlin discusses Pope Francis’s controversial canonisation of mission founder Junipero Serra, which sparked protest from Native American groups about Spain’s ill treatment of indigenous populations. 

He also touches upon disease, fire and earthquakes, and the rebuilding of the missions. David closes with a description of a few of his favourites.  

Coming up in April,  the BBC's Mary Colwell on John Muir, Justin Akers Chacon on immigration and musician Grant Lee Philips on his latest album, The Narrows

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

Mar 3, 2016

In this first episode (28 minutes) of two, David McLaughlin of the California Mission Resource Center tells the story of the Spanish Missions. These 21 missions, dubbed the the King’s Highway, served the dual purpose of protecting Spain's military interests along the California coast as well as converting the indigenous populations to Christianity. 

McLaughlin provides the historical context, the balancing of military and religious purposes, mission layout, architecture and daily life as well as the differences between the Franciscans and the Jesuits in the running of individual missions. 

The second episode, to be released around March 20th, will discuss Pope Francis’s controversial canonization of mission founder Junipero Serra, which sparked protest from Native American groups about Spain’s ill treatment of indigenous populations.  McLaughlin also touches upon disease, fire and earthquakes, and the rebuilding of the missions and closes with his favourite missions.  

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 

Feb 18, 2016

In this second episode (27 minutes), we discuss Chandler’s ups and downs with Hollywood and his indirect role as crime fiction’s leader. Williams shares some of the stand out moments (and archival gems) in writing Chandler's biography as well as his favourite on-screen Marlowe. 

Next time, California’s Spanish Missions.

Thanks for listening, subscribing and sharing. 


Feb 5, 2016

The Big Sleep, Farewell my Lovely, the Long Goodbye….novels which constitute an integral part to the canon of crime fiction, all penned by Raymond Chandler. Chandler, a US citizen brought up in the UK, had a number of professions before taking up writing at the age of 44. Chandler churned out a number of novels, introducing the literary world to the character Philip Marlowe, private detective.  

Tom Williams, author of A Mysterious Something in the Light, spent six years researching Chandler’s life and provides an intimate look into Chandler’s life, his stories and his influence. 

In this first episode (28 minutes) of two, Williams provides the context of Chandler’s writing, giving an exhaustive overview of Chandler’s complex personal life, his relationships and his increasing alcoholism, which led to his sacking and launched his writing career en vrai. Williams also discusses Los Angeles’s state of corruption during this time, which served as an important backdrop for Chandler’s writing. Williams also touches on how Chandler developed and wrote his novels. 

Episode two will be aired about 20 February, covering Chandler’s relationship with Hollywood as a screen writer and his role as torchbearer for crime fiction, with his essay "The Simple Art of Murder".  In addition, Williams discusses how he became involved with Chandler’s work, the thrill of going through Chandler’s archives in Oxford and at UCLA, Chandler and the development of Los Angeles and his favourite on-screen Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould).  

Thanks for listening, subscribing, sharing.


Jan 21, 2016

The 6th street bridge is dead! Long live the 6th street bridge! 

Photographer Kevin Break has been photographing downtown LA’s bridges for over 20 years. As the iconic 6th street bridge is being demolished, Break provides listeners with a history of the dozen bridges that span the LA River, comments on the replacement bridge and reflects on its eery silence and the unexpected nature in the concrete-lined river. He shares the logistics of going into the river and why 2am is the best time to shoot photos. He ends with how the Jesus Wall came into existence, the impact of going digital and the importance of archiving….26 minutes.

Next month - Tom Williams on crime fiction writer Raymond Chandler. 

Thanks for listening, subscribing, sharing.

Jan 11, 2016

In this second episode on electric mobility (19 minutes),  industry expert Chelsea Sexton talks about the fear of a limited range, lessons from Silicon Valley, the politics of electric mobility, low oil prices, the evolution of batteries,  fixing incentives, and the potential bubble in the industry. 


Watch out for the next show with photographer Kevin Break on LA’s iconic 6th Street Bridge, scheduled to be released in the coming days. 


Jan 4, 2016

In this first of two episodes (24 minutes), electric mobility expert Chelsea Sexton talks about the state of play in the sector. She gives us a brief background how she became involved through her time as a sales rep for GM and the ill-fated EV1 project, which was the main protagonist in the cult documentary film “Who killed the electric car?”.  

Chelsea discusses how she and her cohorts went from pot stirrers with a goal to save the first cars and then embarked on a quixotic journey to make them part of today’s mix. That journey has taken them from the consumer’s enthusiasm (and anxiety) to some company’s full embrace (i.e. Tesla and Nissan) or minimalist compliance-based approach. At the forefront of the electric mobility debate, she argues that the industry is still misjudging the market.

The second episode will air just as the North American International Auto Show kicks off in January and will discuss the current déjà vu environment in which she feels the industry finds itself. 

Jan 4, 2016

In this 19-minute episode, we take a look at some of 2015’s best stories, reflections and outtakes. We have (in the following order): 

  • Dave Alvin’s first songwriting lesson (at 13 years old) from Big Joe Turner
  • Susan Shillinglaw on why John Steinbeck is still so read today
  • Friends of the LA River’s Lewis MacAdams on the river’s state in the 1980s and how he became involved in restoring it
  • Chelsea Sexton on electric mobility about how the walkman was the precursor to the smartphone (and how consumers would never have asked for the technology if companies didn’t invest in innovation)
  • UC Berkeley’s Gray Brechin on how mining technology contributed to the development of San Francisco
  • Architectural critic Alan Hess on Palm Springs as a mecca of the emerging recreational economy. 
  • EPIC’s Rob DiPerna on his "best place on earth”
  • UCLA’s Ehrhard Bahr on why many of Germany’s intellectuals chose Los Angeles over New York during World War II 
  • Architect Donald MacDonald on the "bridge aesthetic" of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges
  • Peter Case reflecting on his early days in San Francisco and his thanking Lawrence Ferlinghetti for his contribution to Case’s education
  • UC Berkeley’s Richard Walker on the development and use of pesticides on citrus trees in the 1870s
  • Thomas Oesterdiekhoff on composer Harry Partch’s early influences which led to Partch's very atypical musical journey
  • Photographer Kim Stringfellow on the alternative history of California’s water wars as one drives up the picturesque Highway 395. 

This is just a taster of the many eye-opening stories and reflections of the Soul of California’s guests over the course of 2015. 

Enjoy them and feel free to download the complete interviews.

Have a good 2016.