Setting Times stories to music: From Fatboy Slim to Lily Allen

High-altitude balloon
Members of the Earth to Sky Calculus Club inflate a high-altitude balloon in Bishop, Calif.
(Katharine Allen )

You know when you fall in love with a band and you want everyone else to love them too?

You become a music proselytizer, trying to convert the skeptics. Just give it one listen, you say, sure they’ll see the light.

Sometimes there’s the great satisfaction of making someone a believer. That happened with a friend at the paper and a recent favorite, Matthew E. White. (His “Big Love” is this amazing layer upon layer of funk and gospel, a song that spirals in and out musically and lyrically.)

And sometimes your conversion efforts fail. That’s been the case with the band that provided the soundtrack for Thursday’s Great Read, Mull Historical Society.


Basically the brainchild of one man, a Brian Wilson-type creative (or control freak, as the case may be) named Colin MacIntyre, the Scottish band does some of the sweetest pop out there. But I haven’t won anyone over yet. For years, I’ve been like Prince Charming with his slipper, trying to find the person it fits. So far, no Cinderella.

I’m like a missionary with writers too. (Can I recommend my latest favorite, “Telegraph Road,” by Michael Chabon? Absolutely dazzling writing, and a bonus: It’s about music obsessives.)

And of course I’m like that with the Great Reads.

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!



Monday’s Great Read:

Cross training: Christians embrace Daniel Plan’s mind-body-spirit diet

When Jim Black leads people on a robust walk three times a week on the grounds of the 120-acre Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, he’s got powerful company: God.

The several dozen people who join him have shown up with the same hopes that anyone brings to an exercise plan: They mean to lose weight, ditch inhalers, get stronger.

But at Saddleback, there’s a lot more going on. Pastor Rick Warren is using the power of his church, one of the biggest in the country, to impress upon his followers that their bodies need the same care as their spirits.

After two months on “The Daniel Plan,” Black gave up his diabetes medication. He has given up wheat, dairy and sugar. He recently bought a bicycle. In a year, he lost 90 pounds; his wife lost 40.

“It’s that one scripture: My body is not my own, my body is on loan and someday I’ll have to account for it,” said Black, 48. “I wanted to serve God at a higher level. And I wanted to be able to fit in the seat of a roller coaster and buy one seat on the airplane instead of two.”


Despite a multibillion-dollar industry of programs and books and diet meals and meetings, the secular world has done a fairly lousy job at getting people to lose weight and get fit.

So why not turn to a higher power?

#soundtrack: “Praise You,” by Fatboy Slim. The song fits the story, and so does his name! I’ve always loved this video, so geeky and joyful.


Tuesday’s Great Read:

Teens launch balloons to edge of space, and so the adventure begins

High in the Eastern Sierra, a pack of huskies is howling in the shadow of snow-covered peaks.

Drawn by their song, 10 teenage members of the Earth to Sky Calculus club break from their work and gather on a cabin deck. Before long, they’re howling too.


It’s the Friday night of a long weekend and summer is almost here. A brand-new meteor shower is supposed to peak tonight, and in just a few minutes these teens will release a high-altitude balloon to the edge of space, hoping to record a shooting star.

As the first stars emerge, the students secure the payload — a soft, insulated lunchbox — to the bottom of the balloon. Inside is a low-light camera to record the meteors, an altimeter to measure altitude and a thermometer to gauge the changes along an ascent that could take the balloon as high as 22 miles above ground. Two GPS trackers are mounted on the outside of the payload to help them find it later.

Over the last four years, this tightknit group has launched 53 balloons into the stratosphere. It’s a long-running science project with a twist: part astronomy experiment, part backcountry adventure.

Aaron Lamb lies flat on his back and inflates the balloon with a tank of helium until it grows to the size of a Smart car. He bought the helium for $150 that morning, driving seven hours round trip with his friend Carson Reid to get it.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Lamb says. Reid agrees. For kids who grow up around here, lengthy road trips are a way of life.

As launch time nears, some are concerned that the balloon is lopsided. There is an argument about the formula for measuring circumference. Finally, it’s time for liftoff.

“Five, four, three, two, one,” they chant, and the balloon begins to rise. Reid follows it with a powerful flashlight for a few moments, illuminating the creamy orb in the moonless sky.

There is quiet, and a palpable feeling of collective wonder. Then the balloon disappears into the night.

#soundtrack: “Air Balloon,” by Lily Allen.


Wednesday’s Great Read:

After her mom is murdered at a bus stop, grief counselor finds her strength

LaQuita Suggs always had a fascination with the way people deal with death — even if her mother thought she was a little morbid.

While studying social work in college, Suggs volunteered to go to hospitals to talk to families in the moments after they had lost a loved one. When she later became a counselor, she worked with clients whose grief was sometimes difficult to comprehend.

There were the children whose father had shot their mother to death. In one grim moment, five siblings lost both their parents.

The eldest girl witnessed the killing, and Suggs worked with her to process the grief. Suggs encouraged her to keep a journal of her thoughts. The two did an exercise called the empty chair, in which the client speaks to the space as though it were the lost loved one.

Although Suggs had never experienced the traumatic loss of a close family member like the children, she was confident that her compassion and knowledge could help her clients.

But only through her own grief would she be able to realize her strength in helping others.

#soundtrack: “You Can Get Better,” by Mull Historical Society. See above.


Thursday’s Great Read:

Mark Hall-Patton, expert on TV’s ‘Pawn Stars,’ is the real deal

The gray-bearded man in the red shirt and wide-brimmed Amish hat wades into the crowd outside the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, squinting into the noon-hour light.

Suddenly, the fans are upon him. They know their quarry on a first-name basis.

“Hi, Mark,” a woman calls out. “Can we get a shot with you? My boyfriend’s daughter, she just loves you.”

Another stranger touches his shoulder.

“Mark, we’re huge fans,” says a goateed man, adding breezily, “We just got married last night.”

“Well, after 35 years, I heartily recommend it,” says Mark Hall-Patton, who had run an errand at the shop.

For 10 minutes, cameras whir in the parking lot on Las Vegas Boulevard; people whisper in English, Spanish and Italian, their gaze shining as brightly upon the 59-year-old museum administrator as opening-night klieg lights.

They all want a moment with one of America’s unlikeliest celebrities. Since 2009, Hall-Patton has played a cameo role on “Pawn Stars,” the History Channel’s reality show whose quirky, off-the-cuff bargaining scenes between opportunistic sellers and jaded buyers quickly made it one of cable TV’s most popular programs. Now dubbed into 32 languages, the series has brought Hall-Patton international fame.

On camera, Hall-Patton is the learned authenticator in oversize square glasses who can tell the guy from Tuscaloosa, Ala., whether that Civil War musket his grandmother kept in the attic since the Great Depression is the real deal or a knockoff.

“Mark is the only rock-star museum curator I know,” says “Pawn Stars” creator Rick Harrison, holding a cigarette in his office at the shop. “The guy knows so much stuff; he must have a Xerox machine inside his eyeballs. I’ve got a nickname for him: the Beard of Knowledge.”

#soundtrack: “Got to Be Real,” by Cheryl Lynn. It may be disco, but I love this song.


Friday’s Great Read:

Help for Syria’s maimed falls tragically short

In the living room he helped build, Mahmood sat in a wooden chair, being scolded by his wife. The urine in his drainage bag had just spilled onto the freshly mopped floor.

“Why is it ripping each day?” Auroba asked sternly, exasperation creeping into her voice.

“What do I know?” he said quietly, slumped forward like a child in trouble. His patchy salt-and-pepper beard spoke of an uneven, hurried shave.

“What are you doing to it?” Auroba pressed, as she grabbed a bucket and handed it to him.
Mahmood took the bucket and placed the leaking bag inside without answering.

He’s surrounded by reminders of his former existence as a self-reliant man, a second-generation carpenter: coffee tables, a desk, an entertainment system, built with his own hands. Now, when the 50-year-old finishes his daily coffee, he wordlessly hands the cup to a family member, unable to lean forward even slightly to place it back on the coffee table.

A simple act of independence stolen by a sniper’s bullet.

Sometimes he wishes the man with the gun had finished him off. “There are moments when I want to kill myself,” he said.

#soundtrack: “Helpless,” by Sugar. The guitar chords in this song get my musical tuning fork humming. Especially at the end.


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



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