Publications
The Music Is Always There: Reflections on New Orleans Jazz Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

cid 149db1300543fa90cda(Guernica November 24/25 2014)

A Deviant Nature /

That which we call American music, whether it’s pop, show tunes, Motown, country ’n’ western, or any other mixed breed, is seldom wholly original. It is—it must be, to appeal widely—a sound and a style already known to its composer-musicians, and their audiences, before it’s written. The declamatory songs of Bob Dylan in the early 1960s, for example, owe everything to the then-familiar swagger of Woody Guthrie, talking blues, pentatonic Shaker hymns, and backwoods white gospel. These elements the troubadour kept as a foundation even as he evolved and wrote new material based on a lyric élan all his own. Pre-Dylan, Guthrie’s music binds Appalachian hillbilly tunes to topical story songs, which, themselves, owe their fluency to the broad-siders and the balladeers of eighteenth century Scotland and England. And so it goes, way on back. But there is, as always, an exception to the rule. Cultural critic Stanley Crouch argues that African-American gospel, blues, and jazz—styles that standardized the flatted third and seventh, syncopation and polyrhythms, and the chaotic, improvising soloist—are unique in music. In song, Crouch says, there had never been, with African or American music, such tap-rooted anguish as can be found in “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” where the melodic genius lies not on but between the notes.

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Befouled: San Diego's Most Polluted Sites Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20141119(San Diego Reader November 19, 2014)

Beach Trash

Beginning our tour of San Diego’s most befouled spots (air, land, water, sea), we stop first for three summer holidays—Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day—when local beaches turn from sun havens into trash dumps. When party-hardy masses overrun Mission Beach, west of Belmont Park, they leave behind swaths of crap. There, at dawn, Cathy Ives, in her sandals and sun visor, surveys the carnage. She’s a citizen trash-trawler, her and her little red wagon, holiday or not, scouring the beach for the non-biodegradable: Styrofoam and booze bottles (though both are banned); plastic water bottles; torn Mylar balloons; boogie boards that crumble into foam beads, becoming bird or fish “food”; fast-food wrappers for sandwiches; cardboard boxes for pizza; and those little packets of hot sauce. (Predacious gulls pick through the piles or hungrily eye human junk haulers.)

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The Sincerely Held Religious Belief Print E-mail
Articles

boy with bible(New English Review November 15, 2014)

1/

The Hobby Lobby decision, written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Alito and passed by a 5-4 ruling in June, continues to reverberate in American culture like a car alarm that won’t shut off. As most everyone knows, the Court had to decide whether “three closely held corporations [which] provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception . . . violate the sincerely held religious belief [italics added] of the companies’ owners.” Contraception here refers to four of twenty methods approved by the FDA, intrauterine devices or pills that supposedly prevent a fertilized egg from implantation in a woman’s womb, which is defined as pregnancy. To prevent such implantation of a viable embryo is considered by some to be abortion. More important, religious fundamentalists say that once sperm meets egg, an ensouled human life has begun. Ending it, pre- or post-implantation, is murder.

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The Misunderstood, Abused, Victimized, and Writerly Essential Outline Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Dove-MeandtheMoon(TriQuarterly October 21, 2014)

For me, the edgiest of the double-edged questions we’ve all asked a teacher, a colleague, or ourselves concerns the “outline”—first, when do I do it, before, during, or after I write, for which the mordant answer is yes, and second, why do I do it, which is harder to quantify because it suggests that planning a piece may be categorically different than writing a piece, as though the pair are maliciously counterbalanced, feathers and lead. I say malicious because such a myth (writing fun, outlining dumb) invites a more emotional query: Does the outline mean that we must succumb to that which is not writing, as though we’ve fallen from rapture to drudge—Lewis and Clark giving way to the Conestoga wagons?

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The Big Dry Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20140820(San Diego Reader August 20, 2014)

For Gary Strawn, one prime indicator of the menacing intensity of the 2014 drought—and the health of San Diego county’s dozens of streams—is the presence of rainbow trout in the upper reaches of Boulder Creek.

On a mid-morning in June, I, Strawn, and Doug Taylor, the former a riparian volunteer and fly fisherman, the latter, ambassador with the San Diego River Park Foundation, are stepping gingerly through dead or dying underbrush on our way to one of two known trout pools. Strawn and Taylor have been here, in the last couple years, restoring a River Park-owned creekside parcel with native plants and fishes. We are five miles east of Cuyamaca Peak, the site of this stream’s headwaters at Cuyamaca Dam in the Cleveland National Forest.

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Mysteries of the Heart #1-8 Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

at-the-core-19351(Psychology Today Blogs #1-8, March-November, 2014)

Cuddling With Mamie

To introduce myself for this, my first blog at Psychology Today, I’m the author of The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, Hudson Whitman Press, 2014. The book rewinds and unravels my life during and after my three heart attacks.

The core argument of the memoir is a relational one: My recovery, as good as it can get after the damage of three myocardial infarctions, surged once I shared my condition with my long-time partner, Suzanna. In addition, I cut out dairy, ramped up my exercise, and added supplements. A no-oil Vegan and daily walker, I have lost 35 pounds as a plant-based eater, and it’s been three years since my last angioplasty.

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Hopelessly American Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

20140612 114054(An Afterword to Rank 'N' File by John Abel, Summer 2014)

Exaggerate the essential, leave the obvious vague. —Vincent Van Gogh

I admit to struggling with a couple phrases while I tick-tock my way through John Daniel Abel’s latest sad and poignant collection of speaking images. (His previous marvel was The Last Word: Sixty-One American Epitaphs.) The phrases that trouble me are underclass and working-class. Why? Their sell-buy dates have passed. Anymore, such terms as the wealthy, the middle-class (the politicians’ fantasy), the nouveau riche, and other mass descriptors have lost definitional distinction. The problem is, cliché guarantees stereotype: ah, the poor—ignorant, opinionated, desperate, racist, self-abusive. You know the drill. But couldn’t those knee-jerk responses fit any “class”? Aren’t the 1% ignorant, opinionated, desperate, racist, self-abusive?

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