So it happened: After a year of back-and-forth between the East and West Coasts, I returned permanently to Sacramento at the end of summer. On Sept. 3, I began a new job as Senior Editor at Sactown Magazine, a great regional bimonthly to which I first contributed earlier this year. The timing couldn’t be better for all involved, and I’m stoked to be back home working with my new colleagues.
My first feature story for the magazine arrived on newsstands this weekend: a profile of the essayist and author (and Sacramento native) Richard Rodriguez. I really like this story (see above) and think you will, too; Richard is a fascinating guy, and Sactown is doing great work from cover-to-cover. I’ll get the link here as soon as the story is available online. If you’re in or around Northern California, shoot me a line and I’ll let you know where you might find the new issue near you.
I am terribly late posting this, but hey: It was a total thrill contributing to the Slate Book Review this summer, when I had the opportunity to write about consumer-finance guru Clark Howard’s new book, Living For the Long Haul. Hint: It’s really good!
Howard, the syndicated radio and TV host, has spent the last 25 years dispensing money advice and consumer counsel to his growing legion of followers. His is a one-stop shop of investment tips, bargain deals, rip-off alerts, and seemingly endless hacks for maximizing every dollar you make. I’ve listened to his radio show off and on for a few years now, and from the start, I admired his emphases on accountability and frugality. I liked to think of him as a demigod sent to save the middle class from its buy-now-pay-later self, just as long as they could A) get used to the nasal lilt of his voice and B) suck it up enough to put his insights to work for them. He was Moses parting the Red-Ink Sea. [...] If you didn’t already know Howard’s brand or his previous best-seller, Living Large in Lean Times, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of Leskoesque late-night-infomercial foolishness, not the work of the most reasonable man in media.
I had a lot of fun with this, and Nate Powell’s illustration is awesome, too. Check out the rest here…
A year ago tomorrow, 12 people were killed and dozens more wounded when a man opened fire on a theater full of late-night moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. A month after the massacre, I traveled to Aurora to report on the aftermath. The primary focus of the trip was to better understand how and why Americans live with the omnipresence of violence in our daily lives. Today, I wrote for The Awl about what I found. The answer in Aurora, if there is one, might be embedded in 150 years of history, crystallized by Harper’s Weekly contributor Theodore R. Davis’s 1867 observation about the frontier Indian tribes: "It is, to be sure, a hard thing to say, but there is safety in extermination alone."
Two words signified the promise of cataclysmic violence that reinforced Davis’s perception—his very consciousness—of America as an idea. "Extermination alone," the resolution necessary to uphold the idea. "Extermination alone," such a "hard thing to say" that nevertheless will be said as some rational outgrowth of experience. The irony is even more inseparable: "Extermination alone," so as to peaceably subdue the Great Plains. "Extermination alone," so as to hurry the territories into the more respectable, civilized, white-man’s dystopia plaguing the postwar East.
Read the rest at The Awl.
I highly, highly recommend this weekend’s extraordinary Sacramento Bee expose about Carissa Carpenter, a would-be studio mogul who has spent the better part of two decades persuading people to believe she had the juice to build a multibillion-dollar entertainment resort and production facility in the region. She didn’t, she doesn’t and she never will.
Filmmakers and officials in Sacramento have known about Carpenter for a while. She’s distinctly symbolic of the phenomenon I often picture vis a vis the Kings: A city that has struggled desperately to reconcile its imagined self with its real identity. That struggle is reflected in the saga of someone like Carpenter, who has managed to charm some of the region’s most impressionable leaders and unscrupulous developers alike, and who claims to be on a first-name basis with George Lucas. It’s a story of a reeling psyche in a small, choppy pool better known as the Sacramento film community.
The Bee’s story took me back to 2003, when I first learned of Carpenter as an undergraduate studying journalism at Sacramento State University. My final piece for my advanced reporting class covered the film scene — or the fragments of a film scene — growing up, like me in Sacramento. It was never published. I revisited that piece today and present it as-is (or as-was) below.
I’m sure that despite Carpenter’s unrelenting delusions, plenty else has changed in 10 years. But plenty else has not. I enjoyed looking back on the other side of the story of filmmaking in my hometown, which is like any place else: Some people talk, some people do.
Jason Molina, the leader and architect of the bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., has been on my mind a lot since news of his death emerged on March 18. He died a few days before that during a protracted hiatus from recording and touring. In 2011, fans, friends and peers helped raise money to support Molina’s long and ultimately unsuccessful recovery from alcoholism. I wish I had known then, and I wish I had contributed. I also wish I’d known how much his songs would possess me over the last month and a half, because I might have held off revisiting them for a while. As it stands, 45 days after Molina’s death, I cannot silence them.
Oh, to be Rob Thomas this morning.
Six years after the writer/producer’s cult-darling TV series Veronica Mars was canceled by network executives at the CW, Thomas’ attempt to reboot the series as a feature film has become a historic success at the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter. In just 11 hours on Wednesday, the movie project reached its $2 million funding goal, prompting Thomas and the show’s star Kristen Bell to issue their gratitude on Twitter and Kickstarter. As of 9 a.m. PDT, the Veronica Mars film had pulled in $2,672,000 from just more than 44,000 backers, with 29 days still remaining before the campaign ends.
Now comes the real work. And not the pre-production, either, nor the filmmaking, nor the imminent power struggles at a Warner Bros. front office that has given Thomas its blessing to pass the hat to fans while showing a steadfast aversion to spend any more of its own money on the Veronica Mars property.
Now come the rewards.
At last, The Fresh Wars is finally up and at ‘em at Slate:
"I think it’s meaningless, almost, now," says Mark Crumpacker, the chief marketing officer with Chipotle. "You could claim that something very heavily processed was fresh, I guess. I don’t think there are any rules around ‘fresh.’ You can just say it with impunity. And I think lots of people do."
So maybe "Is it fresh?" isn’t the question we should be asking ourselves as we lose the tortilla, slice up freshness, and muddle through the trenches of fast-food trends. Instead, amid the varying strategies, we have a much more basic and far more crucial determination to make: What does fresh even mean?
And the rest. This is a wild one! I hope you’ll check it out.
Today at the Classical, I’m privileged — and not just a little saddened — to chart the fall and rise and fall and imminent disappearance of my beloved Sacramento Kings:
The Kings’ futility runs much deeper than the usual peaks and troughs associated with the NBA, because the Kings’ near-win over the Lakers was the closest Sacramento ever got to reconciling the city’s imagined self with its real identity. Instead, we developed a perspective on winning from losing, made all the worse by having no other pro sports team to balance the anguish. Long-suffering Boston Red Sox fans had two Celtics dynasties; White Sox and Cubs fans had the Bulls, if they wanted them. Outsiders like to recall the Kings’ upswing as a heady, bittersweet marvel of civic renaissance, but believe me: There is nothing bittersweet about Sacramento and its Kings. It is all bitter.
And the rest…
I’ve mostly been staying out of the awards-season muck, but I couldn’t help this one. From the fine folks at Slate:
Oscar bait is an art form, a state of mind, a business model. Its yield includes some of recent American cinema’s most resonant triumphs (Titanic, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Social Network) and some of its most wretched garbage (Nine, The Lovely Bones, the last decade of Halle Berry’s career). Oscar bait is the only reason that grown-ups have anything at all to watch in a movie theater anymore, with four months of awards season compensating for the other eight months of craven superhero franchises, anemic romantic comedies, and whatever Adam Sandler wipes off his shoe. For all the media hand-wringing about television usurping film’s grip on our culture’s imagination, no one complains about Breaking Bad losing an Emmy to Homeland the way they still yelp on and on about Crash thwarting Brokeback Mountain for a Best Picture Oscar.
And the rest…
A well-known principle of mathematics tells us that a negative quantity multiplied by another negative quantity results in a positive quantity. When applied to advertising, however, the principle proves slightly more complicated. Take for example the relationship between "rapper" Pitbull and "beer" product Bud Light, which recently yielded a TV commercial of such grave, aggressive inauthenticity that one can only wince for all involved — even for Pitbull himself, behind whose sunglasses, if you look carefully, you can make out the gleam of plump, bulb-like tears. But repeated viewings and forensic breakdowns of the spot actually transmute the quantities, giving us marvelous new insight into their stupidity.
This morning at the grocery store, I felt my ear canals pool with blood as a woman protested to a turkey-section attendant about the condition of the birds on display. She had not ordered her turkey ahead of time, apparently, thus relegating herself to the poultry rummagers to whom this attendant had been assigned to provide counsel and aid. Nothing he could say, however, could assuage this woman’s distress that she might, on the eve of Thanksgiving, be sold a frozen turkey. "It’s not fresh!" she shrieked, white knuckles choking the handle of her shopping cart, eyes darting up and over and beyond the massive product. "It’s not fresh! It’s frozen!" Broken but not unbowed — not unlike his English — the attendant carried on with his argument until "It’s not fresh!" gave way to "It’s fresh?" and finally a 15-pound-or-so turkey landed at the bottom of the woman’s cart. *
In my new piece at Slate, meet the competitive lockpicker behind one of Kickstarter’s most troubled projects:
"They worked beautifully," Towne recalls today. "I had people walking up to me holding a pick in their hand saying, ‘I haven’t been able to really understand what happened in a lock until I used this pick. And then, after about half an hour of this, people started walking up and saying, ‘Ah, this one snapped.’"
The first few snapped picks didn’t bother Towne. They were delicate. It happens. "But then," he says, "pick after pick after pick after pick kept coming back snapping."
And then everything snapped.
And the rest…
The election’s almost here, which means it’s time for a wave of political filmmakers and producers to cash in. My latest from Bloomberg Businessweek:
“When you look at box office returns,” says Andrew Marcus, director of Hating Breitbart, “especially for films that have political content, I think there is a huge audience that feels underserved. 2016 really shows that. The market is so tuned-in right now.”
And the rest…
Here’s something new via the fine folks at The Awl:
The fact remains that these are postmodern exercises in American image worship, handmade and preserved the same way for 50 years by skilled workers under the auspices of a league for which every snap, every pass, every hit, every fumble wields sumptuous visual portent. And from the fetishized brutality of "NFL: Moment of Impact" right down to the ageless satire of "Football Follies" — Sudden Death Sabol’s reminder of the flaws rife within his beloved game’s glossy veneer — these workers uphold an equally ageless duty to make a viewer feel football. This is not broadcasting. This is filmmaking. This is art.
And the rest…