Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mother Jones's Mitt Romney Story

Lots of talk, of course, about Mitt Romney's 47% speech, and now the inside-baseball stories are starting to come out. The New York Times has a piece on Mother Jones, and the Washington Post has another on how the magazine landed the story.

Although Ramparts magazine, from which Mother Jones sprang, isn't mentioned, I recalled Adam Hochschild's comment about its formula for success: "Find an expose that major newspapers are afraid to touch, publish it with a big enough splash that they can't afford to ignore it ... and then publicize it in a way that plays the press off against each other."

I was surprised that the Times thought its own readers would need that much background information on Mother Jones, which has been around since the mid-1970s. Interesting, too, that the article quotes Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos and our author at PoliPointPress.

Nicholas Lemann's remark about Mother Jones is also instructive. Lemann, dean of Columbia University's graduate school of journalism, said it helped that "Mother Jones seems to live in a zone where it’s respected. It’s obviously ideological. But it’s respected."

I don't want to get too fussy about this quote, which was almost certainly part of some larger point. And yes, it's important to note that Mother Jones is respected. But I really do wonder who's NOT ideological in Lemann's sense. Only news organizations that maximize profit for shareholders? Or that subset plus the BBC and minus Fox News? In far too many discussions of the media, the ideology of the modern media corporation doesn't count as an ideology at all.

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West of Eden

I've been dipping in and out of a book I received from PM Press earlier this year called West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California.

The title maps directly onto the main theme of my California Culture course at San Francisco State University. But the connections go well beyond that. Three of the book's editors--Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, and Cal Winslow--served on the steering committee of the California Studies Association during my tenure there. And the volume is dedicated to the late Jeff Lustig, who founded that organization, contributed a chapter to the book, and died this summer. (As the book's dedication notes, Jeff was the "dean of California Studies.") The blurbs are from Rebecca Solnit, Dick Walker, Mike Davis, and Peter Linebaugh. So yes, lots of contact points for me here.

West of Eden covers a lot of ground, but I wanted to mention one felicity that surfaced for me last week. My Grateful Dead research recently led me to the topic of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, the subject of a David Bernstein book published by UC Press in 2008. That book included a great deal of material on the center's co-founder, Ramon Sender, who also helped Stewart Brand organize the Trips Festival. That's an important chapter in the Dead's history, but most of the Dead literature passes quickly over its avant-garde element, including the Tape Music Center's contribution. As Stewart Brand later said, the Trips Festival was the beginning of the Grateful Dead and the end of almost everything else--except light shows, which were also featured there.

I also learned that almost immediately after the Trips Festival, Sender moved to Lou Gottlieb's Morning Star ranch in Sonoma County. There they started a kind of commune, which the book describes in some detail. (The book also includes an interview with Sender, who mentions his visit to Rancho Olompali shortly after the Dead lived there.) Brand went on to produce the Whole Earth Catalog, which raised the profile of such communes and sought to give their residents (and other readers) the tools they needed to flourish.

The back-to-the-land movement coincided with the Dead's move to Marin County and the huge success of Crosby, Stills & Nash, who were also living in Marin and hanging out with the Dead. The Dead, in turn, began downplaying the experimental music associated with their Haight period and started producing albums like American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. And the rest, as they say, is history.

There's much more to say about this book, and I'll probably post about it again as I get to know it better. Just wanted to celebrate those happy accidents that cluster around my favorite research projects.

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Bear House

I took a small contingent by 6024 Ascot in Montclair today. Turns out the house, which was owned by Owsley Stanley, can be had for a mere $1.4 million. Fanatical readers of this blog will recall that Stanley was the Bay Area's top producer of fine LSD in the 1960s as well as the Dead's sound engineer. He frequently housed members of the Grateful Dead here circa 1972.

These photographs don't do justice to this unique property. The home, which dates to the 1920s, began as a log cabin that's still intact, including untrimmed bark on the inside rafters. The master bathroom, with its mind-blowing tile work, is one of the coolest rooms I've ever come upon. The front courtyard and second-story balcony overlooking the pool announce "Party!"

Not everything works in this place. In fact, it's a little like a Grateful Dead concert: funky, uneven, full of peak moments. Check it out, I say.

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