And so it begins…

The 2022-23 academic year begins today at the Claremont Colleges.

Maybe it’s the historian in me, maybe it’s the incessant storyteller, maybe it’s the habit that helps compensate for the middle-aged memory, but my annual “tradition” is to mark each new academic year in the context of my life (and my time).

And so, this is my 21st academic year as a full-time, tenured/tenure-track professor. Overall, it’s my 33rd consecutive year in higher education (including 4 years as an undergrad at Claremont McKenna College and 8 as a grad student at UC Berkeley).

I’m grateful for every single one of those past years, and even more grateful for the ones still ahead. I feel so lucky to be a professor, and to work in a place that is structured to embrace each year as a new beginning.

What I feel the most grateful for are the relationships––the short ones that last for only a class; the ones that have lasted for 20-30 years; or the many, many others in between. Relationships with other people have been the best part of life, and certainly the best part of my job.

For those of you reading this now who fit into any one of the above categories, all I can say is “thanks.” And no matter where you are, or whatever calendar you live by, we are all learners. Happy new beginning to you!

REVIEW: The Beatles: Get Back (2021)

I wanted to share some thoughts on Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back. The boy and I watched all three episodes (each on the day of their release) last week and the quick review is: we both loved it.

If you’re a fan already, it’s made for you with love and respect. It’s a massive film, clocking in at about 7 and a half hours. Aside from a few lulls in the first episode, it’s so compelling that it feels like it moves fast. I can honestly say it left me wanting more.

Jackson doesn’t just re-edit the story of the boys in January 1969 from an archive of some 60 hours of unseen footage. He also re-edits the story we “know” of The Beatles in this period, what we now know as the last year of their time together as a band.

I want to offer just a few quick thoughts only because I feel like so many of the reviews I’ve read, watched, and listened to in the last few days are so different than what I felt/thought after watching. So here it goes…

The elephant in the proverbial room of this film is the hindsight that comes with us knowing The Beatles were about to end as a group. The original cut of this footage by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (released in 1970 as Let It Be) made this it’s story. 50 years later, we’re still fascinated by this running debate of who (or what) broke up The Beatles.

Jackson answers this question by diffusing it as a question, and that’s part of the beauty of this film.

There are surface ways his film engages the question. I walk away from it thinking the most direct answer to that question is Paul. Paul is asserting a greater leadership and his leadership isn’t really a collaborative one. Paul has a vision and he’s not really patient or skilled enough to bring the others aboard on that vision. When he can, it seems to satisfy him but where he can’t, it frustrates him further.

If Paul is to blame, then it’s for all the right creative reasons. He was growing into an artist with his own vision apart from the rest. The other beauty of this film is that we see the same thing happening for each of the other three.

George is on fire as a songwriter during these sessions. He’s going home three nights in a row and coming back with songs that will be among his most enduring. John is playing with his own vision, one that includes Yoko. For him, the film seems to present the roots of the story we know of the next (and last) decade of his life. Even Ringo is branching out. In one of the most memorable scenes, we see him sharing the start of what will become “Octopus’s Garden” on the piano (!!) with George, who offers him some song writing theory.

The point is each of the young men are developing into their own artist and for each of them that growth meant each moving away from what was.

Jackson’s recut makes the question of their break-up seem like a narrow and simple question, like the thinking of a child. It assumes The Beatles were supposed to not break-up. What we see in this almost eight-hour glimpse into the band is a story of positive growth. That growth (growing up?) will end the band, but it also births the rest of their creative careers.

Some pressures are pulling the band apart. The classic pressure the original film suggested was Yoko Ono. This cut diffuses that story. Yes, Yoko is hanging around (almost attached to John) for the recording sessions. But so are other partners and any number of other people (including a Hare Kirshna disciple). The experiment of filming their making of an album (which is also part of the story of this new film) created anything but a hermetically sealed environment for these sessions.

The film should make one question why we’d focus on Yoko above or before any of the others who are there. In some subtle ways, Jackson’s cut suggests the entire “Yoko is to blame” argument comes from the racism inherent in a larger society weighing in on John’s choice of partners. Their relationship was more news than Paul’s or Ringo’s (or even the crazy one we know of George), and the film suggests some reasons why.

Jackson also includes footage that frames the real “break-up issue” for the band, namely, the lack of a manager and the about to emerge disagreement over who the replacement one should be. Episode 1 frames its narrative partially around the death of Brian Epstein. We hear George say they are now without a “father.” The boys are mourning, and not doing so in any healthy way. You can hear that in their inability to really talk with each other but you can see it, too. John and Ringo are 28, Paul is 26, and George is 25 but they all look like shit! Drugs, drinking, and smoking (so much smoking!) are taking their toll in visible ways at this time.

The lack of Brian Epstein shows its presence in a host of negative ways, including the chaos of a project being re-written as it’s playing out. Jackson also lets us glimpse into John’s enthusiasm after meeting with Stones manager Alan Klein. The whole band even breaks to meet with Klein, unfortunately off-camera. Fans know there would soon be a split over who to make their new manager, and Jackson shows that story progressing over these days.

What we see a lot of in the film is how each of the “boys” are becoming “men.” This isn’t a simple story, not at all. Like the destructive things they’re doing to their bodies, and their inability to each speak like grown-ups with feelings, it’s a growing up while also tripping over their own malformed adulting skills. Here’s where we should be sympathetic to them. After all, they went from pubescent boys to global stars, never getting a chance to develop in a “normal” way. The kind of masculinity each carries is one most of us can recognize, but few of us would really know.

But each is growing nonetheless. They’re starting to make lives with new lovers and kids. They’re becoming less reliant on each other and more on themselves and these new families. And all that is natural and expected. And it leads to the end of the band as they built it.

This film is fun. If you love The Beatles you get to see some amazing stuff. As a glimpse into the creative process of the most influential writing team in popular music, it is more than amazing, it’s precious. (And we get to see Billy Preston and the formidable role he plays in this creative process.) But it’s also a really gripping (and, at times, sad) study in fame, growing up, and masculinity.

And I can’t wait to watch it again.

Querida Familia Latina

Below is a letter signed by more than 200 Latinx artists, writers, and leaders——people like Salma Hayek, Rita Moreno, Edward James Olmos, Eva Longoria, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Sandra Cisneros, José Andrés, and Dolores Huerta.  Printed in the New York Times and major Spanish-language newspapers like La Opinión, El Diario, and El Nuevo Herald, the group writes to all members of la familia Latina and all people of conscience as we collectively face the racial violence and fear of our present moment.

This is moving. This is necessary. This is leadership.


Querida Familia Letter
August 16, 2019

Querida Familia Latina,

If you are feeling terrified, heartbroken and defeated by the barrage of attacks on our community, you are not alone.

We have been smeared by political rhetoric and murdered in violent hate crimes.

We have been separated from our families and have watched our children caged.

We have been targeted with mass shootings and mass ICE raids meant to terrify us, squash our hope, and break our spirits.

But, we will not be broken. We will not be silenced. We will continue to denounce any hateful and inhumane treatment of our community. We will demand dignity and justice.

Though real pain and fear are sweeping through our communities, we remain powerful. The indignities and cruelty we have endured will never change the truth that the contributions we make to this country are invaluable. Our humanity must be respected. And, we won’t stop organizing for ourselves, our children, and for the soul of this nation.

To our allies who feel our community’s pain, we need you. We cannot make change without your voices and action. We call on you to speak out loudly against hate, to contribute your resources to organizations that support our community, and to hold our leaders accountable.

We ask you to join us in building a better country where we are all safe and valued.

May we turn this time of despair into a time of action. May our love for one another be the guiding light in these dark times.

With our deepest love,

(Signed by over 200 actors, musicians, artists, activists, and labor and civil rights leaders, including José Andrés, Gloria Calderón Kellett, María Teresa Kumar, Sandra Cisneros, Dolores Huerta, Edward James Olmos, Rosario Dawson, Salma Hayek Pinault, Jennifer Lopez, Diego Luna, Ricky Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nathalie Molina Niño, Janet Murguía, Rosie Perez, Teresa Romero, Gina Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Roselyn Sánchez, Tanya Saracho, Bamby Salcedo, Carmen Perez, Tony Plana, Wilmer Valderrama, more)

Friday Five: March 1969

5. “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
Tommy Roe was more than a one-hit wonder. He had eight gold records and two number one pop hits——”Sheila” in 1962 and “Dizzy” in 1969. That’s an interesting spread considering the evolution in pop music in that time period. This song sat at the top of the charts for four weeks and sold more than two million copies in the US. It became a chart topper in the UK and Canada, too. I hope he’s still living off some of that success today.

4. “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose” by James Brown
James Brown was making some amazing music in the late 60s and early 70s and this hit is no exception. It hit the top of the R&B charts in March 1969. It has that soul groove that just sounds like the soundtrack for young, urban, Black folks on the move. Without many words he manages to communicate heaps of meaning when placed in the context of the moment.

3. “The Weight” by Aretha Franklin
I love that Aretha is covering songs that haven’t even been out that long and hitting the charts as she does. The Band released “The Weight” in August 1968 as the first single from their debut album. It started to make them a known entity in the world of rock but it didn’t do much in the US (it peaked at #63). Aretha released it the next spring and went to #3 on the R&B charts with her cover. It might be The Band’s signature tune, a reflection of their rural storytelling lyrics and, in the original, the raw beauty of Levon Helm’s voice and the group’s exquisite musicianship. Aretha makes the song her own, aided by her sheer force and presence, and the guitar work of the legendary Duane Allman behind her.

2. “Time of the Season” by the Zombies
I wasn’t alive in 1969 but this song makes me think I can feel what it was like to have been. The bass and off beat clap got it going on. Add the guitar riff, vocals, and keyboard, and you’ve got quite a little sample of psychedelic pop. It peaked at #3 in March 1969.

1. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension
Talk about feeling like the 60s. Although this one is more contrived than the other. It’s a medley from a broadway production about hippies sung by an African American vocal group. I’ll leave it to somebody who was around back then to explain the rest. It peaked at #4 in March 1969 and reigned at #1 for six weeks between April and May. The Beatles would finally knock them out of the top spot with “Get Back.”

Daddy Reads: 3.18 and 4.18

I’m a little behind in my posts on what me and my littlest have been reading. March was a busy month with our spring break trip to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, and April always has the typical busyness of the season, so here’s a two-for-one.

The Tower of the Elf King; The Quest for the Queen; The Hawk Bandit of Tarkoom; Under the Serpent Sea; The Mask of Maliban (The Secrets of Droon #9-13) by Tony Abbott
We continued to work through The Secrets of Droon series, although at a slower rate than in the past. Some of that reduced speed was due to my efforts to move us on to something more interesting, and some of it was just due to our trip and a few other things, that reduced our reading. In any case, we continue! We completed five more books in the series in these past two months.

We’ve reached the end of the books we own and so it’s the library from here on out. I suppose it’s a wonderfully good thing that she likes something as much as she does this series, and that it motivates her to check out more books from the library (even if neither one of those has been a problem for us to begin with). In any case, I’ll remind myself to be glad about it while I bemoan the content of what it is we read.

For those who are interested, the books took a slightly more interesting turn with the temporary defeat of the book’s main evil doer Lord Spar. It had to be done, in order to shake up what had become a rather repetitious story format. We’ve now moved on to a series of other ne’er-do-wells, the introduction of each offering new (and convoluted) information expanding what we know of the land of Droon. This is becoming it’s own repetitious format, which was further interrupted by bringing some closure to one of the overarching stories, the quest to free Queen Relna from an evil spell and reunite her with her magical daughter Keeah. Spoiler alert: evil Lord Spar has returned in the thirteen book. Alas, it was only a matter of time.

Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley
In an effort to connect my little to something of a higher quality, we also read Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley. This is a real deal chapter book. It’s got lots of characters; it is written and high level (probably suited to late elementary/early middle school kids); and it has 43 chapters. This is the first time we’ve read a book of this length and complexity.

I love this book. It’s odd, funny, and deeply intentional when it comes to the messages. My favorite part is the way she develops girl/women characters; they are central to everything in the book, and they are diverse and interesting and exceedingly human. This is the best young people’s book breaking the traditional gender bias of young people’s literature that I have ever read.

You want proof of my love and admiration for Remarkable? This is my third time reading the book. I read it to my son and, later, to my second daughter. Each of them has also read it once or twice on their own afterwards, too. It’s a testament to the quality and creativity of the book.

It looks like Remarkable has been a game changer for my little one. She was reluctant to read it because it was taking us away from Droon. We started mixing in a chapter a night while we read a reduced load of our latest Droon book. In time, we started skipping Droon now and again to read more Remarkable. She got hooked pretty early, and it started to become something she looked forward to doing. Once we finished, she took pride in the fact that this is the longest book she’s ever “read.” She also had that satisfaction that comes with reading something that you just know is meant for kids older than you.

Today we will begin reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I’m so excited to do so, in part because I’ve never read it myself.

Dodgers 2017

We lost the World Series. I’m sad and disappointed in the outcome and, at the same time, so grateful for being so sad and disappointed.

Every spring for as long as I can remember I’ve  hoped and wished the Dodgers would end the season as World Series champs. Sometimes it happens. But most of the time it doesn’t. And those many times when it doesn’t you don’t stop being a fan as a result. If that were the case Houston wouldn’t have had any fans left to enjoy this, their first championship.

When you’re a fan you’re in it for the long haul. You ride the drama of every pitch, every hit, and every game along the way. When you’re lucky, you get more joy than disappointment.

It’s hard to feel like this year wasn’t more joyous than disappointing. It was without a doubt the most fun I’ve had in a Dodger season since 1988. It wasn’t just the steady march to the postseason (well, steady except for that mid-August to September slump) it was the way the Dodgers came together as a team and gave me more fun afternoons and evenings than I can count.  The walkoff wins; the dominating pitches; the sheer energy of a young team having fun. It was all a blast.

These past few weeks I was telling everyone how amazed I was at how affected I was by every game, the wins and the losses. It was a physical experience for me and, to an extent, for my whole family. What a wonderous thing to rise so high and fall so low all on a bunch of grown men trying to hit a ball with a stick!

That’s what brings us back each time. It’s not just the possibility that this year might be our year, it’s the journey to find out whether it is or not.  I wish I was celebrating a World Series win right now but I know what I feel will eventually fade and leave me right back where I started—in love with the Dodgers and ready to enjoy the ride to find out.

Hats off to Houston. And hats off to my Dodgers. It was a hell of a year and a hell of a series. Even better—next season is only 5 months away.



No, not that 45. Today is my 45th birthday. It’s also the day after graduation for what has been an extraordinarily busy year. I feel like it’s been a really wonderful one, though.

On the personal side of life, things couldn’t be better. I feel like I need to focus more on reflecting on that, but when I do I’m just massively appreciative. My kids are healthy, loving, and brilliant. My wife and I are frequently overwhelmed but we make a great team.  We were lucky enough to move last summer, enjoy some special trips, and watch three amazing people grow up a little more.

Work has been crazy. I served as department chair this year and, while there is some satisfaction in the work I’ve done as a result, it is pretty demanding. It made it hard to be the kind of teacher I am used to being.  At the same time, this year also involved stepping into a new position as mentor to a group of 11 amazing first-years (now sophomores!!). They’ve really made my year fulfilling in ways I can’t even express yet.

I got to present my new work on Vietnam to a non-academic audience.  I got to bring some of that work together in a public history exhibit–my first time ever doing that kind of work.  As I continue to work on the book, I also got funding to put together a public stage performance based on the oral histories I’ve collected.

In short, I feel lucky, fortunate, even blessed.

Reaching 45 is less traumatic than I thought it was going to be. I’m solidly and undeniably middle-aged, but that’s nothing new. I feel productive and unproductive at the same time, the challenges of midlife and masculinity. On the plus side, Sinatra was 45 when he left Capitol Records and started Reprise and he put out a whole bunch of great albums then.

So I got that to look forward to.

They Made it to 2017

Happy 2017!

As we meet the new year, it’s time for me to revisit my annual “They Made it to ____” post. This post is meant to recognize the careers of three entertainers who are still with us but, because of advanced age or the passage of time, are kind of forgotten. As I’ve said in the past, I think of it as a chance to think “I didn’t know s/he was still alive” before I read their obituary.

A lot of the names I’ve written about in previous years are still around.  Folks like Carol Channing (95), Hal Holbrook (91), Little Richard (84), and former “Lollipop Guild” member and oldest living “Munchkin” Jerry Maren (96) deserve some mention here.

There are also quite a few noteworthy stars who are making it to their 80s and 90s and also still maintaining some presence through media, social media, or even their continuing work.  Betty White (who turns 95 later this month) probably tops the list . Carl Reiner (94), Dick Van Dyke (91), Jerry Lewis (91),  Max Von Sydow (87), and Bob Newhart (87) come to mind. When screen legend Kirk Douglas passed the century mark last month it was also well represented in the news.

So, let me spotlight three Hollywood stars (or “former” stars) who you might be surprised to know are still with us.

Olivia de Havilland (100)
I’ve written about Olivia de Havilland in previous years but I feel she still too big and too applicable to my goal here not to include yet again. Simply put, she just might be the oldest bonafide “star.” de Havilland is one of the stars of the legendary film Gone With the Wind (1939). She won two Oscars for Best Actress–for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949)–and starred in such classics as Captain Blood (1935) (with Errol Flynn, whom she starred with eight times), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and the campy disaster classic Airport ’77 (1977). She was even best friends with Betty Davis! When she turned 100 last summer there wasn’t much mention of her, I suspect because her stardom is such a distant memory to the present generation. Heres to hoping she makes it to 101.

Henry Silva (88)
Noted character actor Henry Silva is still with us. One of Danny Ocean’s original eleven in the Sinatra-led classic Ocean’s 11 (1960), Silva actually began his Hollywood career as an unbilled player in the Viva Zapata! (1952) before gaining admission into the legendary Actor’s Studio. He was in classics like The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Cinderfella (1960) before leaving the U.S. to start in a slew of “international” films. In addition to television, he also played a tough guy in a lot of movies in the 80s and 90s, including Dick Tracy (1990) and Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (1999). Silva will turn 89 in September.

Doris Day (92)
Singer, actress, and and animal activist Doris Day is 92. [There is some dispute about her birth year. While Day “officially” lists her year of birth to be 1924, a birth record for her has been found listing her year of birth as 1922. The reclusive Day has done nothing to clarify the situation. Of course, it would have been common for stars in her time to lie about her age for the purposes of advertising. Her studio might have committed to a later birth at some early point to make her younger than she was.] Doris Day was a multifaceted talent who was also one of the biggest box-office draws in cinematic history. She acted alongside legends like Carey Grant and Rock Hudson and graced the screen in films like Pillow Talk (1959), Send Me No Flowers (1964), The Thrill of it All (1963), and Teacher’s Pet (1958). Her last film was in 1968. Though I’m not sure she ever “officially” retired, she did in fact do so, at least from Hollywood. She started her animal activism in the early 70s and has been a notable figure in that movement since.  Because of her reclusiveness, I’m not sure many folks know she’s still around. Day will turn 93 (or 95) later this spring.

Here’s to a healthy 2017 for us all!

Friday Five: November

Fall is in the air. Thanksgiving is around the corner. Here are five songs from five albums that were all released in November.

5. “The Girl is Mine” (Michael Jackson)
Thriller was released on November 30, 1982. This duet with Paul McCartney was the first single released from the album. It’s not quite what you’d expect from what would become the biggest selling album of all time. In some ways it’s a homage to the Jackson of the 70s.

4. “You’re No Good” (Linda Ronstadt)
This is the first track on Linda Ronstadt’s breakout album Heart Like a Wheel, released in November 1974. Ronstadt was one of the most successful performers of the 1970s, and there’s lots of reasons why. When I listen to some of her work (like this song, a reinterpretation of an old R&B tune) I’m surprised she’s not more well-known today.

3. “Bombtrack” (Rage Against the Machine)
The self-titled debut album of Rage Against the Machine was released on November 3, 1992. This is the first track. I remember when a friend first put this CD in the player and pushed play. It’s a memorable opening for a band that would become a voice for some of the best parts of my generation.

2. “Thinking of You” (Tony! Toni! Toné!)
One of my favorite albums of the 1990s was released on November 19, 1996. The fourth album of Tony! Toni! Toné! is something of a comeback album, with rumors of their break up bolstered by their individual success behind of host of hits in the interim. The sound they captured was a homage to 60s soul wrapped up in a 90s way. It’s best felt in this song, the first track on the album.

1. “Candy Man” (Roy Orbison)
A year before Roy Orbison died, a bunch of music stars (ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Waits) and a killer back up band (including the great Jim Burton) accompanied the legend in an evening of his greatest hits. Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night aired on Cinemax in early January 1988. In December Roy would die. A year later, in November 1989, the album of this historic evening was released.

Friday Five: Boo!

Happy Halloween!

It’s a testament to my wife that my kids get more excited for putting on their costumes than they do eating candy. It’s a testament to their father that they know Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well as anything by Taylor Swift.

Here’s five more songs they’ll know by the end of the weekend.

5. “Monster Mash” (Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers, 1962)

4. “Dead Man’s Party” (Oingo Boingo, 1985)

3. “People Are Strange” (Echo & the Bunnymen, 1987)

2. “Halloween” (The Misfits, 1981)

1. “Werewolves of London” (Warren Zevon, 1978)