Arts + Letters

Press-Democrat Staff on Surviving the Fires and Winning Pulitzer

The North Bay fires were national news mere hours after they ignited early in the morning of October 9. The dawn sun, glimmering wanly through the pall of smoke cloaking Sonoma and Napa Counties, illuminated the smoldering ruins of hundreds of homes. No relief was imminent: the hot, dry winds that had sent the flames howling from Calistoga to Santa Rosa continued unabated, and the forecast was for more of the same.  This was a natural catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina—possibly worse.

Retiring Cal Bands Director Robert Calonico’s Many Musical Lives

Robert Calonico hasn’t been leading a secret life, but his nocturnal activities might shock the thousands of students who’ve played under his baton. During his four-decade career as a band director, including a 28-year reign as Cal’s director of bands, which is rapidly coming to an end, Calonico has quietly maintained a thriving practice as a top-shelf saxophonist and clarinetist. 

A Tour of the Gourmet Ghetto with “the Balzac of Berkeley”

L. John Harris, food writer, filmmaker, Gourmet Ghetto fixture, has been called the “Balzac of Berkeley.” But on a recent drizzly morning, he could have passed for Proust as he stood outside the original Peet’s, describing the caffeinated madeleine moment he had at the shop nearly 50 years before.

“It was a house blend, mostly likely a French roast, and it reminded me of coffee that I’d had in Europe,” he said. “We’ve all had food epiphanies that flood us with memories. This was one of those for me.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Cal Celebrate 50 Years Together

When the Alvin Ailey dancers are in the house, Zellerbach can feel more like a church than a theater. When the doors open, the audience members file in like parishioners. Some are regulars, while others are first timers, but when the curtain comes up it doesn’t matter. Young, old, student, professional, black, white, devout, secular, right, left; the differences between them disappear during the rapturous gospel of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Maker’s Mark: The KALX Origin Story

The radio station we now call KALX began life as an oddity in the basement of Ehrman Hall, a dormitory on Dwight Way. It had at its disposal a collection of records, mostly classical, a couple mics, a cheap recorder, and a Corina cigar box containing the most basic of mixing boards. The year was 1962.

This was not a sanctioned operation. It was not a political statement. It was barely even art. Radio KAL was, in fact, the work of geeks; driven, visionary, persistent, highly resourceful geeks.

Westering: Seamus Heaney’s Berkeley Year

The poem was originally titled Easy Rider. Westering, as it is now known, is probably the first poem Nobel Laureate in Literature Seamus Heaney wrote in Berkeley, after arriving here from Belfast in 1970 for a stint as a visiting professor in English. The poem’s original title evokes the 1969 film of the same namestarring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson. In it, the trio motorcycle east from L.A. through the nineteen-sixties America of new styles, hair lengths, music, political activity, and sexual behavior.

Roots Music: The Beginnings of Rolling Stone

The 50th anniversary of iconic rock magazine Rolling Stone arrived in November, and the party was long and loud. Origin stories have festooned the magazine and its website; a coffee table book appeared in May; Joe Hagan’s biography of cofounder Jann Wenner, Sticky Fingers, was published in October; and an HBO documentary is scheduled for November. To keep things interesting, Wenner announced that he plans to sell his company’s stake in the magazine, prompting a round of retrospective articles in The New York Times and elsewhere.

From the Winter 2017 Power issue of California.

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