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.
RSS Feed Subscribe in iTunes
The Soul of California



All Episodes
Now displaying: Page 2
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.




Dec 18, 2015

For this second episode (27 minutes) on the Business of Food, Professor Richard Walker discusses the history and continued use of pesticides (the concept of gas chambers was started in the fields of California) and the describes the variety of available fruits and vegetables thanks to the State's melting pot of nationalities. 

Dr. Walker continues with the logic of growing rice in the desert (there is none, except that it is a best seller in Japan), the agricultural lobby's inordinate influence in water allocation rights (Governor Jerry Brown’s multi-billion dollar tunnels project) and closes with why the drought has caught so many off guard. 


Dec 4, 2015

California is a world leader in agriculture. Take note, this is not about farming, this is agricultural capitalism and it is relentless. 

The State's growers take the finding of markets, killing pests and turning out a variety of food that is the envy of the world very seriously.  Nearly endless water rights and labour standards right out of Steinbeck (the harvest gypsies of the 21st century) have allowed these growers to profit enormously. 

In this first episode of two (26 minutes), UC Berkeley Professor Richard Walker walks us through the State's climactic trump cards, the industry's early application of technology in the 19th century and how it has adapted to current technology to increase production through apps, GPS and other means.  He closes this episode with a discussion of the role that genetically modified organisms play, the tendency to have smaller companies and the key role that immigrants play in the industry, putting food on the table not only in the United States, but around the world. 

Episode two, to be released around 20 December, will discuss the history and continued use of pesticides, the variety of fruits and vegetables thanks to the State's melting pot, the logic of growing rice in the desert, the agricultural lobby's influence in water allocation rights and why the drought has caught many off guard. 

Dec 2, 2015

In this episode, EPIC’s Rob DiPerna discusses the split in the community between those favouring logging and those against it.  He details the Headwaters “deal” reached between the US government and Maxxam and its consequences. 

Rob also walks us through some of the challenges in being “certified”, specifically for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and how the private sector’s regulation is not always what it seems. Finally, he takes us through the work that still needs to be done in the forests and shares with us his favourite place in California (no surprises here, but it’s very specific).

Nov 20, 2015


For this first episode of two, Rob DiPerna of the Environmental Protection Information Centre (EPIC) provides an introduction and thorough overview of logging issues in Humboldt County, particularly the Headwaters Project, which saw the Houston-based investor Maxxam hostilely acquire long-established local company Pacific Lumber in 1985. Maxxam’s takeover involved the raiding of Pacific Lumber’s pension fund and the accelerated destruction of the some of the oldest trees on the planet - 10 metres in diameter, 30 meters in circumference and over 2,000 years old.  

In this 27-minute podcast, DiPerna walks us through the politics around the industry, the technological advances, sustainability issues of clear-cutting the redwoods (and replanting them), the protest movement and its methods, which included cat and mouse tactics and tree-sits (one of which lasted for two years), and closes with discussing the rift in the community over the issue.   


A bit of vocabulary, which may help… 

HCP - Habitat Conservation Plan   

THP - Timber Harvest Plan 

BLM - Bureau of Land Management (federal level government agency)

CAL FIRE - California Department of Forestry and First Protection (state level government agency)

Nov 9, 2015


Harry Partch - who created musical instruments from scrap and completely dismantled the 12-tone system that Western music is based on - was not your average mid-twentieth century composer wandering around the Golden State. 

To discuss Partch’s influence, impact and his own instruments, we are pleased to have as the SoC’s guest Thomas Oesterdiekhoff, the Director of the Musik Ensemble in Cologne, Germany, whose company produced Partch’s Delusion of the Fury in Cologne and at New York’s Lincoln Centre for two sold-out performances. 

In this 15-minute interview, Oesterdiekhoff sheds light on Partch’s atypical upbringing, and his obsession with tone that led to creating his own tonal system. Creating an entire array of instruments using hubcaps, bottles and shell casings, Partch penned a number of brilliantly chaotic noise ensembles that push the boundaries of music that has been termed “unclassifiable”. Oesterdiekhoff describes how he and his team meticulously rebuilt a new set of instruments and how a trained musician threw out all of his/her knowledge to relearn Partch’s system. With 52 players and instruments on stage, half of which are moving around, no conductor, and a cast dressed up as hobos, Delusion of the Fury is one rare blend of music and theatre and demonstrates the genius that welds them together in ways unimaginable.

Oct 27, 2015

With thirteen solo albums, three Grammy nominations and one brush with death under his belt, Peter Case is back with 'Highway 62', his new album on Omnivore Records. 

In this twenty-minute discussion as Case makes his way up California's Highway One, he talks about his new songs and his (song)writing more generally, the making of Highway 62 and the musicians who played on it (Ben Harper and D.J. Bonebrake, among others), connecting with the audience, the differences between northern and southern California and obtaining some of his education at City Lights Books.

Case is just embarking on the first leg of a US tour in November, with the second leg early next year. 



Oct 14, 2015

This second episode with UC Berkeley's Gray Brechin includes Mono Lake's near-death experience and how Dr. Brechin and his colleagues used the public interest doctrine in the early 1980s to save it. He then discusses the West's water wars, the dismantling of large projects, Governor Pat and Jerry Brown's legacies, bullet trains and his favourite place.

Gray Brechin is the author of Imperial Dreams: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin and Farewell, Promised Land - Waking from the California Dream, both published by UC Press.

Oct 6, 2015

UC Berkeley Professor Dr. Gray Brechin gives a history lesson of San Francisco's "Imperial Dreams", drawing on the model of Ancient Rome. He discusses the immense environmental impacts that mining and logging had on the city's contado (Italian for hinterland). He argues that the technological advancements in mining played a key role in warfare and of all things the skyscraper, and that thanks to fracking California's attitude to new energy less resembles leadership and more one-foot-on-the-accelerator-one-foot-on-the-brake. 

Dr. Brechin shares the large and uncomfortable role that UC Berkeley (and the wider UC Regents) had and still has in the development and delivery systems of nuclear weapons, lifting Ernest Lawrence to heroic status, while largely ignoring the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer. 

His three wishes include Prop. 13 reform, investing in public education and that the digital generation puts down their devices long enough to see what's really going on. 

He closes this first part with the real danger under which Californians place themselves in their built environment, sharing among others, the real risk of fire in the next big earthquake, repeating San Francisco's catastrophic experience of 1906. 

Part two, to be aired later this month, will include Mono Lake's near-death experience and how Dr. Brechin and his colleagues used the public interest doctrine in the early 1980s to save it. Other themes include the West's water wars, the dismantling of large projects, Governor Pat and Jerry Brown's legacies, bullet trains and his favourite place.

Gray Brechin is the author of Imperial Dreams: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin and Farewell, Promised Land - Waking from the California Dream, both published by UC Press.

Sep 24, 2015

In this second episode with Lewis MacAdams, Founder of the Friends of the LA River, the discussion turns to the River's best spots (including canoeing), FoLAR's advocacy regarding the 6th street bridge and his best and worst experiences.  He goes on to discuss his art, his book The Birth of the Cool (to be an HBO series) and LA's East Bank as the next SoHo. Lewis closes up the conversation by sharing the importance of a sense of humour in the face of so much adversity.

Please note that after the brief introduction, the episode begins with Lewis discussing progress of his 40-year artwork, which partially repeats the closing of the first episode (approximately three minutes). 



Sep 16, 2015

Lewis MacAdams, Founder of the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), has looked the impossible in the face and stared it down. Taking on the Quixotic campaign of transforming the LA River, which Wim Wenders described as violent and dangerous in the 1980s, MacAdams and his Friends have been speaking on behalf of the River for thirty years. They have created a critical mass to transform the former "flood control channel" created in the 1930s back to its natural state. 

A major victory took place just a few weeks ago when it was agreed to take out eleven miles of concrete of the 52-mile long river, giving nature its first real opportunity to recover after nearly four generations.

In this first of two episodes, MacAdams provides an extensive introduction to the LA River. He recalls throwing himself in front of bulldozers (minute 7), the role of the adjacent communities (minute 13), his preferred bureaucracy and champions such as LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Governor Jerry Brown (minute 17) and a progress report after 30 years of his intended 40-year artwork (minute 23). 

Throughout our talk, MacAdams shows humour, humility, honesty and an improvised creativity. He and his team have shown resilience and fortitude that has been to the LA River's advantage. 

The next episode will air in late September and cover the best spots on the river, its architecturally stunning bridges, Lewis's best and worst experience, whether FoLAR is cool and the concept of LA's East Bank as the next SoHo.






Aug 24, 2015

Through her multi-media projects on the Salton Sea, Highway Five, the State’s never-ending saga of water distribution and currently the Mojave desert, artist Kim Stringfellow has doggedly uncovered the complexities and little-known history in California’s hinterland


In this 35-minute interview, Kim discusses her major projects, her development as an artist and her 100-mile view in Joshua Tree (!), providing interesting insight into some of the characters, players and issues that not only impact California’s periphery, but have implications for the rest of the Golden State.

Aug 10, 2015

Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger, Fritz Lang, Thomas Mann, Arnold Schoenberg - names which heavily contributed to Germany’s 20th century intellectual history. What unites these cultural giants is their choice of exile during the rise of Adolph Hitler - Los Angeles.


The Soul of California is pleased to have UCLA Professor Dr. Ehrhard Bahr on the programme, author of Weimar on the Pacific - German Exile Culture and the Crisis of Modernism. In this 35+ minute interview, Dr. Bahr covers a range of topics including the circumstances in which these writers, artists and musicians came to the United States, their reception once they arrived and the ups an downs of being in exile while their own country Germany was being led into hell.


Dr. Bahr discusses the role of Los Angeles in German cultural history, from the salons which were an extension of life in Berlin to the strained relationships between some of these pivotal figures and their difficulties in representing Germany in their adopted land.

Jul 8, 2015

The Golden Gate and Bay bridges have not only heavily contributed to the iconic San Francisco skyline, they serve as a collective engineering and aesthetic tour de force.


Architect Donald MacDonald, whose work continues on the redesigned Bay Bridge, gives an extensive overview of both bridges and thier places in San Francisco's history. Covering the politics and the financial history of each bridge, MacDonald moves on to discuss seismic measures, environmental impact, the "bridge aesthetic" (design) and how some cities are branding themselves through their iconic bridges. 



Jul 8, 2015

Just east of Los Angeles, Palm Springs became and has remained the home of the architectural movement known as Desert Modernism.

In this 50-minute podcast, Alan Hess sets the movement in the historical context of post-World War II America and the rise of the recreational economy, describes the design and structural/material aspects which distinguish it from other movements and then covers the region's topographical and climatic conditions, the movement's core architects such as Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, William Cody, E. Stewart Williams and William Krisel, as well as how desert modernism has managed to maintain its allure over the years. 



Jun 5, 2015

John Steinbeck, one of American's literary giants, is the author of amongst others, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck highlighted the plight of America's workers who migrated west to California in the 1930s, drawing not only critical acclaim, but also intense criticism from landowners and politicians. 

Dr. Susan Shillinglaw, Director of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, reflects on his miniscule handwriting, his love for the natural world, his eye for detail and the one item that epitomises Steinbeck's soul for her. 

This 50-minute podcast includes Steinbeck's 1962 Nobel Peace Prize speech, discussing the role of the writer and the importance of literature. The speech is generously made available by Swedish Radio. 

Jun 4, 2015

In this 40-minute interview, "barroom guitarist" (and Grammy Winner) Dave Alvin discusses a range of topics including recording Big Bill Broonzy songs with his brother Phil, his first songwriting lesson from Big Joe Turner, sneaking into L.A's Ashgrove Club as a kid and his close relationship with musician Chris Gaffney.

Along the way, Alvin gives listeners a glimpse into his songwriting technique and production stye, his love of ghost towns, "shining buckles" in Nashville West, his recording future and what makes California so unique.

A very personal, honest, funny and touching portrait of one of California's, indeed America's, leading musicians.

« Previous 1 2