Publications
All Those Glittering Notes: The Music of Richard Thompson Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

richard-thompson(San Diego Troubadour May 1, 2018)

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My favorite sentences in my favorite jazz book ever come from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. The lines arrive near the end when author Stanley Crouch is at his summarizing best; he notes that jazz, a performer’s art, involves “navigating a landscape in which spontaneous creation whizzes by in layered stacks.” He quotes the great bebop drummer Max Roach: “Jazz is about creating, maintaining, and developing a [musical] design.” Jazz was designed—forget, for the moment, by whom—to maximize its players’ skills as improvisors, often at what seems like the speed of light. Whether it’s such standards as the calm “Stormy Weather” or the blustery “’Round Midnight,” good jazz men and women push themselves and their ensembles to create, maintain, and develop the music—bend expectation with surprise, follow the uncommon riff or abrupt turn where it wants to go.

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Fanfare for an American Maverick: Ruth Crawford Seeger Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

15SEEGER2-master675(San Diego Troubadour February 1, 2018)

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Say the name, and the action is clear: Xerox, to copy; Google, to search; Maverick, to go it alone. The latter (the refined term is eponym) comes by way of Samuel Maverick, an early twentieth-century Texas drover who refused to brand his calves. Without a burnt-flesh insignia, cowboys couldn’t tell one cow from another. But, since Sam so hated impaling animals and upset the cattle business because of it, we honor him with an Americanly distinct word.

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Rejoice! Secularism Won! Why We Can Never Celebrate Print E-mail
Articles

noel-neill-atom-man-vs-superman(The Truth Seeker January 31, 2018)

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Flying home from Washington D.C. to San Diego on a new American Airlines plane, I have, privileged American individual that I am, my own TV screen on the back of the seat in front of me—inane movies, dopey sitcoms, time till landing. The welcome-image is a grinning, competent woman, fifty-ish, professional, sartorially regal, with non-lustful red lipstick, tartar-blasted white teeth, a blue-and-red striped artificial silk scarf tied jauntily around her neck, white shirt, smart dark blazer, and a winged ID badge—Abigail.

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In My Heart, I Hate It: Little Italy Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20180117(San Diego Reader January 17, 2018)

Like you, the Little Italy I love has always been its sumptuous food and sensual people, both of which, despite the gentrifying nouveau riche takeover of late, remain as present and prosperous as ever. That Little Italy is alive in Mona Lisa Italian Foods, the tang of Parmesan, the toasty fume of fresh-baked sourdough, the nasal snap of balsamic vinaigrette dousing a saucer of EVOO. It's alive in the cannoli, the crispy-shelled, ricotta-filled, sugar-fairy pastry, just out of the freezer at RoVino (shoehorned next to The Waterfront) and served by two generations of homegrown cooks, the Tarantinos.

On the other side of the cannoli are Rosalie Tarantino and her nephew Tom, the fifty-two-year-old owner of RoVino. The pair love parsing their shared history, all things Italian except the family meatball recipe. Rosalie, her features still fine-boned at eighty-four, has the face of a beloved kept in an oval locket. She, like Tom's mother and Tom's daughter, and his brother's daughter, are all Rosalie Tarantino. Of course, their friends and neighbors know by sight and sound who is whom. But this naming tradition is like a bulwark against the risk that their ethnic claim may be vanishing.

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Death & a Return to Wholeness: Joe Garrison's "The Broken Jar" Print E-mail
Criticism

22426581 368017880304136 934533691096048969 o(San Diego Troubadour November 1, 2017)

Few composers push so many musical moods onto their listeners—shifting from ecstatic to brooding on a dime—as much as San Diego’s Joe Garrison does. He interrupts his pieces with silence only to shock them awake with sonic surprise. His unconventionality is twin-engined: sound’s nature to vanish before us and music’s design to take us somewhere. We do get somewhere but Garrison stops regularly for coffee like a night-driving trucker. He loves studying the territory’s map, momentarily pondering the road he went down—and then, shifting gears, heading off in a new direction.

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The Reliably Spiritual Author Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

willner 02(Pacifica Literary Review Summer, 2017)

In Langston Hughes’ story, “Salvation,” from his autobiography, The Big Sea, he tells us that “going on thirteen” he was saved from sin—saved, “but not really.” At a special children’s meeting in the church, charged with the expectation that he would “see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul,” Langston waits while the minister asks the “little lambs” to come forward. Many do; a few hesitate. Most go to the altar. And there, by their voluntary presence, they are saved. But not Hughes and another boy, Westley. Neither budges; Langston is not feeling it. But, it’s hot, and the hymns keep insinuating, and the preacher keeps intoning, and the flock keeps expecting, until Westley finally capitulates: “God damn! I’m tired o’ sitting here. Let’s get up and be saved,” he says to Langston, and so Westly goes to the front of the church. And he is saved.

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Between Indifference & Hope Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20170628(San Diego Reader June 28, 2017)

It’s decision day in the City Council chambers, Two Broke Girls vs. Billions. Call it a classic smackdown between local architectural preservationists who want to save any Spanish Colonial Revival building (and think someone should pay) vs. the downtown developers who can’t wait to erect residential towers (and have investors ready and willing to foot the bill). It’s early April, and the horseshoe room is packed, its 53-year-old semi-gloss teakwood a kind of paean to the past. Backrow perched, I think of Pete Wilson’s wily quip from 1975: “The future of San Diego should have as much of the past in it as possible.”

I think as well that each city-adjudicated, skyline alteration rehashes our city’s core ideological battle—the geraniums of George Marston (guard the green) and the smokestacks of Louis Wilde (grow the gray), nearly a century ago. The way the pro-housing, pro-job, pro-business “special interest” typically wins is to outspend, out-own, and out-promise opponents, one 40-story, 282-unit glass spire at a time.

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