The 2013 Major League Baseball season is over. My Los Angeles Dodgers are the 2013 National League-West Division champs which means we get to keep playing baseball this week.


I am excited, but I’m not pouring the proverbial champagne over my head quite yet. The Dodgers have won the West 12 times in my lifetime (’74, ’77, ’78, ’81, ’83, ’85, ’88, ’95, ’04, ’08, ’09, and ’13).

That distinction has taken them to the World Series 5 times in my lifetime (’74, ’77, ’78, ’81, and ’88). And, of course, they’ve gone home champs twice in that same span of time, in 1981 and again in 1988.

That’s not bad, but that does mean that 7 times in my life the Dodgers have won the West but lost in the playoffs before making it to the World Series. I remember each of those losses well (especially ’85).

We’ve done a great thing this year, and that makes me happy. We have great pitching and an offense that has shown themselves capable of producing. We also have no shortage of exciting examples of the magical, the kinds of things that make many a baseball fan into a hopeless romantic. But we’ve still got quite a road ahead of us.

I’m optimistic. But I also know we’ve still got some work to do before its time to celebrate.

I’m just glad we get a chance to do that work.

Friday Five: Sam Cooke

If you don’t know who Sam Cooke is, I almost don’t want to tell you. Or maybe it’s more like I can’t. Whatever I would try to say wouldn’t be enough.

I can say this: Music is, in many ways, my religion. And even though my first instinct after typing that is to qualify it because it must be some sort of exaggeration, after a few seconds I realize it’s not. Music–more importantly, my music–has informed my worldview, it has informed my values, and, it remains, my spiritual community.

Sam Cooke is one of the gods of my religion. In a pantheon of many gods, he is the sweetest. That position is framed by his multiple significances: his timing; his role in creating popular music; his beautiful voice; his political commitments; and his tragic story.

I can’t tell you what you need to know (to feel) about Sam Cooke. But I can share five of his best songs with you.

5. “Chain Gang” (1960)
One of his biggest chart hits, this song has so much going on. There is a soul and R&B foundation, where the gospel elements are clear, but so is the material need for salvation that is part of that genre. The workmen chorus part of the song is, I think, key to its success.

4. “(What a) Wonderful World” (1960)
A lovely pop hit, clearly intentionally crafted for a teen audience. And yet how far it rises above that commercial project! Few artists can do that. Sam Cooke almost always did.

3. “Cupid” (1961)
The arrangements on this song have always fascinated me. They seem to bring together the various genres that were popular at the time, for both blacks and whites as well as youth and adults. The rhythm of the guitar and drums also have a very characteristic sound that would form the base of many hits throughout the decade.

2. “You Send Me” (1957)
This song is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded. It’s that simple.

1. “A Change Gonna Come” (1964)
As the story goes, Sam Cooke wrote this song after he heard Bob Dylan’s “Blowing’ in the Wind,” a song he heard as addressing the changing tide of race relations in the US. Cooke’s explicitly racially-conscious song is one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. From the heart-wrenching string arrangements, to the brass and percussion sections that are musically suggestive of a marching and emergence, there is a flawless background to his beautiful lyrics and stellar vocal performance. The song was recorded in 1963, but released as a single in ’64, just after Cooke’s untimely death. It’s proceeds went to Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.


“Out of Many, Uno”

A piece I wrote was released today on the University of North Carolina Press (UNC) Blog.

In “Out of Many, Uno,” I draw some connections between the history of Latinos in San Francisco–the story of my book, Latinos at the Golden Gate (published by UNC Press)–and the larger, unfolding story of the 21st century United States.

While the political emergence of Latinos surprised many in the mainstream media, it’s been a closely watched process for those who study the nation’s second-largest racial/ethnic group. Mexican American and Puerto Rican voters have played decisive roles in particular local elections for generations. And, for the last decade, in a handful of states that have traditionally served as “gateways” for Latin American migrants to the United States—California, Texas, New York, and Florida in particular—a statewide candidate who ignores Latino voters does so at their own peril.

These local and regional patterns are now playing out at a national level. On a near daily basis we are peppered with evidence that the political establishment is refocusing its future efforts on attracting more Latino voters. In addition to tailoring their messages to Latino audiences (like this 2011 DNC video for the Obama campaign), they are also increasingly concerned about their image among Latino voters. As one conservative put it: “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you.”

As with most “new” things, however, the mainstream United States still has a lot to learn about this growing segment of its population. Perhaps the most common misconception that remains, even in this period of increasing attention, is the belief that there is naturally such as thing as a “Latino.”

To read the entire piece, visit the UNC Press Blog.


Friday Five: Chicago

The rock band Chicago gets a bad rap among my generation, largely because of their string of 80s soft rock hits with tenor Peter Cetera at the helm. Those songs (like “Say I’m Sorry” and “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration”) were hard to avoid if you were alive in the 80s. Even now you can hear them walking into offices around the country.

But Chicago (who started playing together in 1967 as “Chicago Transit Authority”) was more than the fluff we like to hate. Before producer David Foster and lead singer Peter Cetera helped define the saxophone driven arrangements of the 80s ballad, they were a tight rhythm and brass driven band, an interesting blend of rock, jazz, and R & B. With guitarist and vocalist Terry Kath (who died of a self-inflicted gunshot) as one of the band’s front men, Chicago had a string of early 70s albums that are more than worth a listen.

5. “Does Anybody Really Know What Times It Is?” (1969/1970)
Sung by Robert Lamm, this song has many forms depending on the album you find it on. Featured first on their debut album (Chicago Transit Authority), the album version is a little long but a nice journey. It wasn’t released as a single until after the second album came out.

4. “Colour My World” (1970)
Part of the same suite as “Make Me Smile” (below), this ballad really spotlights the beauty of Terry Kath’s voice. It’s a simple song, reminiscent of a high school dance, but Kath takes it somewhere else. (My uncle–a self taught guitarist whose been playing music my whole life–plays the song, and sings it just as well. You could say I have a soft spot for it.)

3. “Beginnings” (1969)
Another Robert Lamm tune, the album version is almost 8 minutes long. It shows off a lot of their strengths, especially in drums.

2. “Make Me Smile” (1970)
From their second album, this James Pankow song is one part 1 of a 7 part suite that lasts 13 minutes. With vocals by Kath, it’s a great, meaty rock tune.

1. “Saturday In The Park” (1972)
From their fifth album, this song is hardly my favorite but I can’t help liking it. When I was a kid I remember hearing it on the radio regularly and, most memorably, in a commercial for Magic Mountain. It makes me feel like the seventies. It makes me feel like I’m a kid wearing striped socks pulled up to his knees, drinking a Slurpee in an East L.A. park in summertime.

“Hispanic Heritage Month”

This weekend my family and I visited one of our local Barnes & Noble stores. The kids love books and, in suburban-landia, this is often where we go.  The free air conditioning wasn’t bad either.

At the front of the store was a “Hispanic Heritage” table, offering some books in celebration of Latino Heritage Month, which begins today. There were a couple of Spanish-language novels, two books on the pope, a handful of translations of popular fiction and non-fiction not written by or about Latinos, and a small handful of books by and about Latinos. Whether or not this was a work-in-progress or not, I couldn’t say, but there was room for about five more stacks of books (using the other table as an indicator).

When I saw this video from the House Republicans this morning, it reminded me of my B&N adventure.

We have a long way to go…

Friday Five: The Pixies

I wasn’t a fan of The Pixies in my youth. Where I came from all alternative music was thought of as “white music,” and so it wasn’t something we gravitated toward. (Ironically, heavy metal–which you might think of as just as white–had so many Chicano spaces within it that it wasn’t thought of the same.)

Anyway, I do like The Pixies now. More importantly, they are one of the favorite bands of my wife. And today is her birthday!

These five songs are not five songs. There are six in this list. Furthermore, they aren’t presented in any particular order. For that matter, I can’t even guarantee that they are my wife’s favorites. She picked them, but she doesn’t like labels like “favorite” or phrases like “of all time.” Plus, she’s not one for hierarchies, even of the musical sort.

So here are six of the songs by The Pixies that my wife likes a lot:

“Where Is My Mind” (1988)

“Hey” (1989)

“Is She Weird” (1990)

“I’m Amazed” (1988)

“La La Love You” (1989)

“Here Comes Your Man” (1989)

Friday Five: Little Junior Parker

Within the general popular culture, Little Junior Parker is one of the least recognized architects of rock n’ roll music. He is not forgotten by critics and historians of the sound. Here’s five of his best.

5. “Pretty Baby“: Songs like this give you a sense of his importance to the sound of rock n’ roll and R&B music. The sounds reminds me of Little Richard and Elvis in one.

4. “You’re My Angel“: His first hit, for the Modern Records label. No YouTube link for this little gem; clicking on the title takes you to Spotify.

3. “Mystery Train“: This song became a hit for another Mississippi-born artist who also recorded for Sun Records.

2. “Feelin’ Good“: If you’ve heard any number of R&B and rock tunes in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, aspects of this classic will sound familiar. Parker actually recorded the tune as “Feel So Bad” as well, so it’s a familiar sound of his. I wonder how it sounded on first listen?

1. “Next Time You See Me“: What a glorious performance on a glorious blues number. Parker died the year before I was born and, yet, with this song he has always been a part of my musical life.