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.