Setting Times stories to music: From Searchers to Jagwar Ma

Setting Times stories to music: From Searchers to Jagwar Ma
Father Bernard Kenvi hoists a Muslim child into a truck in Bossemptele as much of the Muslim population flees the area under threat of violence from mostly Christian militias. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

I just saw one of the Great Reads soundtrack bands, Jagwar Ma, at a quintessential Southern California spot: the Santa Monica Pier.

Have you been to the Thursday night twilight concerts there? It's an evening to make you smitten with Los Angeles.


First, have a picnic on the beach. Watch the sun go down and the lights on the Ferris wheel start glowing. And sure, you could stay on your blanket and listen to the show, but if you want to dance, climb up on that old wooden pier.

I had already seen Jagwar Ma at Coachella this year (so that makes two quintessential Southern California spots), and this young Australian band with an old Britpop vibe knocked me out with their puppylike enthusiasm. They seemed a little more subdued on this outing, but the crowd loved them – even if the people around me were so young they looked puzzled when the band covered Nirvana's "No Apologies."

And the concerts are free. Still bummed I missed Cayucas, but I'm planning another outing before the summer ends.

Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I'd like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read (or, as they're known in print, Column One) -- maybe they'll buy your eye and you can settle in for a good weekend read. And you'll also get the songs that inspired me while editing the stories, or reading them later if my fellow editor Millie Quan ushered them through. A story soundtrack!


Jesus Burgers offers Isla Vista food for body and spirit

Angela Boyd bounced on the balls of her feet as the smell of sizzling meat pierced the ocean breeze. The 19-year-old and her friends were about to celebrate her birthday in Isla Vista, but they were making a pit stop at the Jesus Burgers house.

Music, laughter and clinking shot glasses coming from nearby apartments on Del Playa Drive announced another Friday night in Isla Vista, the hard-partying neighborhood next to UC Santa Barbara.

But at this apartment, students were throwing burgers on the grill for a higher purpose: It was time for some missionary work.

Christina Perez, 24, a graduate of UCSB and member of Isla Vista Church, which doles out the free burgers, walked up to Boyd and began a casual conversation about anything but church — birthday plans, how she was getting home.

Boyd humored her. She knew what Perez was after.

"I see it in your eyes," Boyd said. "And I want to go to church."

"We have one at 4 on Sunday," Perez said.


Behind them a group of students spilled out of an apartment across the street, "Turn Down for What" blasting through the windows.

The two exchanged numbers and promised to text each other. Then Boyd joined the flow of college students out for a night on the town.

#soundtrack: "Come Save Me," by Jagwar Ma. A different kind of being saved, but the theme of unrequited love works. Here they are in the pouring rain at Glastonbury.


Tuesday's Great Read:

The Great Read held because of an overabundance of news.


In this group, she's just Gloria Molina, quilter

Women filed into a classroom at an East Los Angeles community center. Some came alone, some in groups of two and three. Most were Latina and edging past middle age. They hauled tote bags full of fabric and rolled suitcases holding sewing machines.

One of them was Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, toting her own bundles of material.

As one of the "five kings and queens" who run a sprawling county government, Molina is among the most powerful women in Los Angeles. She wrestles weekly with issues including abused children slipping through the cracks, overcrowded and aging jails, and how to spend a $26-billion annual budget.

In the board room, Molina is known for the candid, sometimes caustic commentary she levels at county employees and fellow officials. Former Sheriff Lee Baca was a frequent target of her ire: On various occasions, she accused him of “stealing” resources from communities in her district by cutting back sheriff's patrols, and she publicly urged voters to oust him over abuses in the county jails.

But on this Saturday morning, she was relaxed, even playful, and focused on a different kind of mission: showing 35 or so women how to piece together a new pattern for a quilt.

It was the monthly meeting of the East Los Angeles Stitchers, TELAS for short, a group that Molina and a few friends founded three years ago to share their love of quilting with a larger, particularly Latina audience.

#soundtrack: "Needles and Pins," by the Searchers. The Ramones do a great cover, and someone pointed out a cool Tom Petty one. Here they are on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.


In a decaying resort area, a pot war erupts

Transients hole up in the old cottage resorts where vacationing families once came to fish and swim. Rotted docks and pier pilings litter the lake's shoreline.

Much of this city, in fact, and others nearby in Lake County, looks as if it was plucked from Appalachia — with weeds and unpaved streets, stray dogs and backyard marijuana crops.
But across the water in the county seat of Lakeport, civic and business leaders talk of bringing back tourism, of planting more vineyards instead of weed.

They are tired of the hot August stink, when every neighborhood patch is in full bloom. They are tired of the thuggish out-of-towners, the stream diversions and the violent crime.

Last year, residents successfully pushed county supervisors to ban marijuana growing on parcels smaller than an acre and limit most rural spreads to six plants.

Pot growers organized and forced a June ballot referendum to rescind the law, losing by fewer than 500 votes out of 15,000 cast.

Now those who hope to preserve marijuana cultivation are taking their case to the voters again — in the form of competing initiatives.

A coalition of growers and activists is pushing a plan that it says would promote reasonable, regulated and limited growing of medical cannabis. Hippie grower Ron Kiczenski says their measure would ensure that a few established farmers dominate, keeping prices high and most residents out of the market. His proposal would establish marijuana growing as a human right.

And opponents of both are gearing up for battle. In this forgotten place of both stunning beauty and deep-set poverty, between Mendocino and Napa counties, residents in November will sort out an existential crisis at the ballot box.

#soundtrack: "Green Grass," by Bill Withers. A pretty biting song about the rich and the poor. Even though it's about a different type of grass, the theme works for the story.



A plea for peace: Conflict in the Central African Republic

The militia fighters were hunting for Muslims when they found the father and son at their home in this mud-brick town. They shot the man, then turned their guns on the 10-year-old boy.
A willowy figure in a black robe rushed up. On his chest was a large red cross.

"You can't be so inhuman," Father Patrick Nainangue pleaded. "Why do you want to kill this boy?"

The boy would soon be a man, they answered, and he would take up arms against them. Nainangue stood his ground.

If they wanted to kill the child, he declared, they would have to shoot him first.

One of them swung around and pointed his gun at the priest.

#soundtrack: "Beams of Heaven," by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Now this is a FIERCE gospel singer. She played her own guitar and rocked! Click here if you want to see a brilliant performance by her on another song.


If you have ideas for story soundtracks of your own, tweet the title and artist to @karihow or @LATgreatreads with the hashtag #soundtrack.