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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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Now displaying: 2017
Nov 20, 2017

In this 38-minute podcast, Joe Lewis shares with listeners Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) the man, the social worker, the Director of the Watts Towers and pioneering arts advocate and activist. Known for his work with the vernacular, read “junk”, which started in 1965 using debris leftover from the Watts Rebellion, Purifoy worked steadily out of Los Angeles, spending the last 15 years of his life in Joshua Tree. Purifoy took debris, mixed it with the vernacular and social issues, and created unique and powerful works, reverberating far beyond the desert. 

Lewis describes the influence that the Watts Rebellion had on Purifoy (min. 2), his standout pieces (min. 4), starting of the Foundation and his “studio” (min. 9) and the role of the natural elements in composing (and decomposing) his work. Joe then continues with how it worked in a “proper” museum, surround by white walls (min. 18), special memories (min. 22), his need to go out to Joshua Tree (min. 29) and how the Foundation deals with the elements to preserve his work and legacy. 

Feted by the art world, including at LACMA, Purifoy’s art transcends what has been termed “Junk Dada” - there is something intensely relevant in our times about inequality, mass consumption and polarization.

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Nov 10, 2017

Dana Johnson talks about a different side of Los Angeles, one that is under the radar and usually on the other side of the tracks. In this 38-minute podcast, Johnson discusses the changing nature of LA and the suburbs of West Covina where she grew up, the portrayal of a different LA in film (min. 10), her writing style and schedule (min. 12), how she teaches (min. 19), her first job (min. 22), white-dominated pop culture (min. 23), who writes history and the wonderfully moving history on one Biddy Mason (min. 29). Dana closes it out with her top three picks on an island or having a coffee....

Throughout our chat, Dana challenges the status quo in the perception of minorities and provokes us to think about what white-dominated culture means to minorities, who writes it and to whom does it really belong. Class is also part of the equation - just look at the Dodgers of 1980....Garvey, Smith, Sutton, and Baker. 

Next up: Junk Dada in Joshua Tree - Noah Purifoy’s Legacy with Joe Lewis

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Oct 26, 2017

In this 39-minute podcast, Stephen Provost (pronounced Provo), author of  Highway 99 - California’s Main Street, takes listeners down one of American's first highways. 

Stephen starts out with how California led the way in highway building and the adaption of signs and traffic safety and then moves on to the construction of the mythic Grapevine and the Ridge Route and its dangerous driving conditions, After discussing the influence of William Mulholland on California’s water (min. 8), we then cover the burgeoning roadside vernacular and its culture impact, from gas stations, to “auto courts” and to restaurants (min. 15). 

After discussing the influence of the cruising culture around Modesto, where George Lucas and Harrison Ford got their start (min. 15), we move onto street signs and arches (min. 20) and its legacy, being forced for compete with California’s other (more scenic) highways (min. 25). We close discussing the financial impact that being bypassed left (min. 29), its demographic (min. 31), as well as Stephen’s recommendations to visit places along Highway 99 (min. 34).  

Next time: Award winning novelist Dana Johnson. 

Feed you soul. Keep listening. 

 

 

 

Oct 18, 2017

In this 43-minute podcast, Earle Labor gives an extensive overview of Jack London, starting with his two mothers and two fathers and the hard life that he had as a kid (“poverty made me hustle”). Earle then discusses ultimate vs. immediate happiness and the havoc that it wreaked on his life (min. 4) and also argues that London had a substantial “seeking” drive, which took him to the ends of the earth and to the extreme (min. 10). 

We then examine his writing methods (1,000 words a day regardless), his relationship with Sinclair Lewis for plots and the influence of Carl Jung on his “primal” work. After discussing London's health and how his lifestyle impacted it (min. 25), Earle recounts the process of writing the author's biography (min.28) and the shock of opening up a safe on a cold January day in 1975 to see a neat stack of Charmian London’s diaries - all 60 of them. We then close with his reflections on the JL Scholar community (min. 36), Earle’s desert island three and whether film versions come close to the original writing (min. 38). 

All through it, Earle demonstrates his nearly 60 years of love for his career as a Jack London scholar, as a great storyteller, and comes off as one hell of a Southern gentleman.

Cast of Characters 

Parents - William Chaney - likely his biological father; John London - the "father" who reared him; Flora Wellman, his biological mother;  Flora Prentiss - the one who reared him, an African American and a former slave. 

Family - Bessie London - Jack London's first wife, with two daughters, Becky and Joan. Charmian London - Jack London's second wife. Anna Strunsky - his true love, who he did not marry.  

Next up:  Highway 99 - California’s Main Street 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Sep 3, 2017

In this 37-minute episode, Michael Dear, author of Why Walls won’t Work, takes us through the evolution of the US-Mexico border from quaint and lacklustre demarcations to its current full-fledged military industrialisation. 

Michael talks about the rise of borderland mentalities (min. 4) slowly etched into those living in that region, the intertwined economies along the border (min. 10), its militarisation after 9/11 (min. 11), just how ineffective walls are (min. 17) and the “portfolio” of options.

We then continue discussing not only the supply of drugs, but the slow change in US government thinking that indeed there is a demand challenge (min. 23).

As part of the LA School in urban planning, Michael shares his views about the 2024 LA Olympics (min. 26), the city’s challenges around traffic (min. 28), but also that given all of those, it still works relatively well. He closes up with his favourite places in the Golden State (min. 35).

Feed you soul. Keep listening. 

 

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. 

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