Saturday, February 16, 2019



Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

Steve Trovato has been called a jazz master, a superpicker, and a blues and rock virtuoso. He’s a longtime professor at the Studio Guitar and Contemporary Popular Music Performance Departments at USC.

He’s produced his own albums, created dozens of instructional videos and lesson books, won numerous awards, and been recognized internationally. He plays four or five gigs a week around greater LA.

“Music is what I do. It’s all I do.”

But when we got together recently to talk, he didn’t focus on his accomplishments. He talked about what had made him a musician.

“When I was growing up in New Jersey, we weren’t allowed to talk. Joy, sadness: all emotion was off limits.” There was trauma. There was violence.

He was allowed to play the piano. He got pretty good at it. But at 12 or so, watching bands on Ed Sullivan, he noticed the girls weren’t going crazy for the piano players.

He badgered his father into buying him a $26 guitar. He practiced for 10, 12 hours a day.

“I woke up with the guitar next to me on the bed. I played all day, went to sleep with the guitar, woke up and did it all over again. Week after week, month after month. I practiced like that for at least eight or 10 years.”

He learned to talk and express his emotions, to communicate, through music.


Steve is a friend of mine, I'm proud to say. Getting to sit down and talk with him was a treat.

Thursday, February 14, 2019



Whoops, I see I skipped a week and unintentionally omitted my arts and culture column from Feb. 1st.

Here's how it begins:

I’d been looking forward to “Outliers and American Vanguard Art at LACMA” (through March 17) for weeks.

And let me say up front that if you’re really interested in outliers, I’d suggest “Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond” (available at the Los Angeles Public Library).

Author John Maizels has a heart for the artists, and an ear and eye for the strangeness of their vocations.

As British art historian Roger Cardinal points out in the Introduction, “Maizels writes with equal zest about drawings, paintings, sculptures, assemblages and performances. … However, what matters is not any material variability of scale but the central fact of the omnipresence of the maker within any true artwork. …

“Maizels is quick to show that there is no discovery without context, no context without complexity, and no complexity without the need for empathetic understanding.”

Context, understanding, and empathy are in large part what the LACMA exhibit lacks. For starters, there is little to no information, personal or otherwise, about the bulk of the artists. For that, apparently, the guard informed me, you have to take a tour. But if you have to take a tour, and sign up in advance, why not put that up on the website rather than spring it on the visitor who, like me, likely has a two-hour window?

As it was, I blundered through, overwhelmed by the size and underwhelmed by the fact that the exhibit’s focus on the way outsider art has come to be appropriated and marketed by the avant-garde consistently overshadows the oddness, mysterious apartness and genius of the artists themselves.



Monday, February 11, 2019


Here's the first paragraph of a wonderful review of  Kenneth Garcia's new memoir, Pilgrim River. Garcia is Associate Director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame.

"The wise know there are many paths to God. Ken Garcia’s wildly circuitous route stands as lusty evidence that the Deity is abidingly patient and forgiving. Pilgrim River is not just a spiritual memoir, as the title claims, but an autobiographical narrative that says as much about God’s devotion to the earth’s lost sheep as about the author’s hunt for the divine in a profane yet mysteriously sacred world. In fact, the God of Garcia’s telling is more dance partner than passive destination."

Here's the link to the rest of the review.

And here's one of my favorite passages from the book:

"The Catholic Church--with its seemingly intractable flaws and its resistance to reform and change, yet, simultaneously, with its rich spiritual and theological tradition and its openness to grace, which it strives to mediate to a world in need of it--became a home, a sort of base camp from which I have launched explorations and that I have returned to for rest and sustenance. A home full of flawed people with whom you nevertheless have an unbreakable bond because you are joined in a sacramental family, even when you dislike one another. The Church, like most of us, is a wayward pilgrim in search of holiness and salvation."

A beautifully written story of an ongoing search and ongoing struggle. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 8, 2019


Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

“Leaning Into the Wind” is a 2018 documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, a self-proclaimed “British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist producing site-specific sculpture and land art situated in natural and urban settings.”

Goldsworthy does things like lie on the sidewalk when it rains so that, when he gets up, he leaves a body-shaped dry spot; or covers his hands with painstakingly applied bright red autumn leaves, then dips them in the river and lets the leaves wash away; or sculpts a skinny meandering white line across a stone wall with wool from the sheep who graze the adjacent fields.

You may or may not respond to this. I absolutely do. (Though I may have liked his last film, “Rivers and Tides,” even better). But however you feel about his art, you have to admit that this good man is alive and vital and questing, questing, questing.

He was formed as a boy working on farms: stacking bales, harvesting wild oats, hefting stones. Gathering, cutting, building, stacking.

“There are a lot of contradictions in what I make.” When he was younger, he was more sure of how to describe what he does. But the passage of time, losses, and deaths tend to soften and anneal.

“Now it’s more — nature is everywhere so why even mention it? When I’m working in the city, I’m working with nature. When I’m working with myself I’m working with nature. It isn’t so clear any more.”


Tuesday, February 5, 2019


David "Chim" Seymour/Magnum Images
Tereska, in a residence for disturbed children, after drawing a picture of “home” on the blackboard, Poland, 1948

Talks and Homilies of the Elder Zosima
from The Brothers Karamazov
- Fyodor Dostoevsky -

Young man, young woman, do not forget to pray.

Each time you pray, if you do so sincerely, there will be a flash of a new feeling in it, and a new thought as well, one you did not know before, which will give you new courage; and you will understand that prayer is an awakening.

Remember also: every day and wherever you can, repeat within yourself: “Lord, have mercy upon all who come before me today.” For every hour and every moment thousands of people leave their life on this earth, and their souls come before the Lord – and so many of them part with the earth in isolation, unknown to to anyone, in sadness and in sorrow that no one will mourn for them, or even know whether they had lived or not.

And so, perhaps from the other end of the earth, your prayer for his or her repose will rise up to the Lord, though you did not know them at all, nor they you.

How moving it is for their soul, coming in fear before the Lord, to feel at that moment that someone is praying for them, too, that there is still a human being on earth who loves them.

And God, too, will look upon you both with more mercy, for if even you so pitied them, how much more will He who is infinitely more merciful and loving than you are.

And He will forgive them for your sake.

Children, do not be afraid of men’s sin, love man also for his sin, for this likeness of God’s love is the height of love on earth.

Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love plants, love each thing.

If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in all things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day.

And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.

Love the animals: God gave them the rudiments of thought and an untroubled joy. Do not trouble nor torment them, do not take their joy from them, do not go against God’s purpose. Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are sinless.

Love children especially, for they, too, are sinless, like angels, and live to bring us to tenderness and the purification of our hearts and as a sort of example for us.

Always resolve to take men’s sin and your own by humble love. If you do so, you will be able to overcome the whole world.

A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it.

Keep company with yourself and look to yourself every day and hour, every minute, that your image be ever gracious.

My friends, ask gladness from God. Be glad as children, as birds in the sky.

Thursday, January 31, 2019


Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

David Kipen is a native Angeleno, former literature director for the National Endowment of the Arts, professor, critic, radio personality, and founder of the nonprofit Boyle Heights lending library Libros Schmibros.

But his greatest achievement may the splendid new book he compiled and edited: “Dear Los Angeles: The City In Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018.”

Rather than arrange the entries chronologically, Kipen hit upon a brilliant alternative: “I could start with January 1 and just work forward one day at a time, complementary trying to juxtapose a few passages for each date. One step forward, two centuries back — the perennial, quixotic spectacle of LA forever finding fresh mistakes to make.”

Thus, for any given day, you might get a padre roaming on horseback sizing up prospective mission sites, an account of meeting Greta Garbo at a cocktail party, and, say, on June 2, 1979, screenwriter Michael Palin’s evocative description of the city: “Low, flat, sprawling and laid-back — like a patient on a psychiatrist’s couch.”

The book opens, fittingly, with a passage from Judge Benjamin Hayes who on Jan. 1, 1853, wrote: “I have not yet seen a gold mine!”


Sunday, January 27, 2019




In an attempt, to partial avail, to escape the construction noise at my apartment, I took off last week for the Central Coast.

In Santa Maria I visited with my dear friends Tensie and Dennis and made an abortive attempt to purchase a cemetery plot in the adjacent hamlet of Guadalupe (that it was MLK Day had slipped my mind). However, we had a nice stroll about the graveyard which is surrounded by broccoli fields, the Amtrak station, and the bustle of the little coastal town, with rolling emerald green (from the recent rain) hills and the ocean beyond. I am both thrilled and at peace to think of my mortal remains being laid to rest there.

More to the point, we also had good, deep conversation and a delicious dinner and breakfast and I felt cared for, and restored, in a way that is beyond precious to me.

From there I motored up to Mission San Antonio which is 30 miles or so in from the 101 and breathtakingly beautiful. Though unfortunately in the midst of a military base. And during the day undergoing extremely loud renovation. I stayed two nights and the first night I was there totally alone! The hallway in the wing of former monks' cells where my room was looked and felt exactly like a set from The Shining and since the bathroom was down the hall, made night-time quite exciting.

The second night a large "former law enforcement" guy I'll called Rommell showed up, smelling strongly of alcohol, told me about his divorce, and lurked in the hall pacing up and down and braying loudly into his cell phone for a couple of hours. So that was a different kind of excitement. I had to flee to the church, kneel before the altar, and say the St. Michael the Archangel prayer.

Thus all was well.

After that I drove yet further north to the lovely small city of Monterey. Here I was graced to stay at a guest room in the rectory of the San Carlos Cathedral. I may be biased but to me, this is the most beautiful of all the mission churches I've seen (which is maybe ten, and that includes Carmel, which I also visited while in the area). Lovingly, meticulously, intelligently restored and I got to attend 7:45 Mass both mornings, once with retired Bishop Sylvester Ryan (deLIGHTful man!) and once with Fr. Patrick Dooling, beloved priest of the Monterey Diocese and forever kind and generous friend to Heather D. King.

I also made my way to a couple of gatherings of Monterey-area drunks. As usual, these good, solid, honest, funny, humble, bloodied-but-still-standing folks infused me with courage, strength, cheer and cups of strong, sludge-like coffee. Deep thanks to all at 519 Hartnell Street, as always to Tensie and Dennis, and of course to my dear Father Pat.




Sunday, January 20, 2019


"The logic of power demand[s] that triggers be pulled. It has no room for humanistic concerns and for the reasons of the heart. And how shall one solve this problem? How see that the killing goes on, without inner resistance, without "negative emotional reactions," without a guilty conscience? How transform a painful experience into a pleasant or at least endurable one? How totally adjust the consciousness of man to the logic of power?"

"We dream of peace. This is something new, for in the past we have thought victories more important. What we really loved was the death of our enemies. This is  the secret hidden under the fanfare of military parades and marches. They are liturgies of death, and the fascination they have exercised over us is an indication of how committed we have been to the worship of death."

--Rubem Alves, Tomorrow's Child

"Dragged a black Sgt named Pitt from under flaming Jeep overturned on Hwy. 3. His hands burned off. Kept asking if Jesus would come. 'Will he? Will he?' Over and over, repeating. I told him, By and by."

From the journal of Major Milton Felder, USAF
April 9, 1969
My Lai, South Vietnam"

--Thomas S. Klise, The Last Western

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 18, 2019


I have written at length of Thérèse of Lisieux's famous Christmas Eve conversion.

This year I had a little one of my own! I write about it HERE.

Headed up to the Central Coast for the week--wishing you all peace, hope and joy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


 Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

I spend so much time alone, pondering and praying, that I sometimes forget much of the world holds very different views than I do.

The other day, for example, while talking to a secular friend, I (very unwisely) burst forth with an impassioned description of an essay I was working on.

“It’s about womanhood, and how really the heart of what is best and most glorious about women is their ability to bring new life into the world! You don’t have to be an actual mother, obviously, but the heart of a mother! I can’t get behind this cold-blooded, aggressive fury that seems to be the overriding emotion of today’s ‘feminists.’ ”

Silence. Then — “I can’t say I agree with you. I think it’s fantastic that so many women have been elected to office recently.”

“Well, yes, or rather maybe. Because if they come at their jobs with the same adversarial, power-driven tactics they purport to despise in men, we’re just going to have the formerly oppressed as the new oppressors.”

It devolved from there. My friend thought everything was going to be solved by the new class of warrior women, and I could not be moved from my view of the culture as on every level virulently anti-life.