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Setting Times stories to music: From Springsteen to Nada Surf

August 10, 2013|By Kari Howard
  • Jacqueline Suskin writes a poem for a customer at her Poem Store at the Hollywood Farmers Market.
Jacqueline Suskin writes a poem for a customer at her Poem Store at the Hollywood… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)

The Great Reads had a lovely arc this week: Two were by reporters at the opposite ends of their careers, both having their first-ever Column Ones (the retro print name for the feature).

Kate Mather is one of the Times’ young talents, and she proved she has a great eye for an offbeat story with Monday’s Great Read about Southern California's "celebrity bears."

And Paul West tweeted this about his profile of politician Cory Booker, which ran Wednesday: “my 1st-ever Column One in LAT and end of my daily journo run since 1973.”

Bookends like that make me happy, because they honor our richness of experience -- and also give us hope for the future.

And because my mind inevitably veers to music, I started trying to figure out the youngest singer I listened to this week, and the oldest.

Youngest: the freakishly gifted Jake Bugg, who was 18 when his first album was released. (Now he’s an old man of 19. I always laugh at the lyric on one of his songs: “I’m an old dog/But I learned some new tricks yeah.”)

Oldest: the incomparable Johnny Cash, who was 64 when “Spiritual,” the song for Tuesday’s Great Read, was released.

They were born 62 years and two days apart, and I love them both.

Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I’d like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read/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-song combo!

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Monday’s Great Read:

Bad news bears

On a mid-November day in 1933, seven men and a woman crowded around a pickup parked near Big Bear Lake, wooden crates stacked high in the bed.

The cargo came from Yosemite National Park, part of a pilot program that officials hoped would flourish in the forests of Southern California. The containers were opened and the group waited, a camera at the ready.

Then came the bears.

“One bear leaped from the open door of its cage, charged at the camera and when within a dozen feet of it, suddenly sat down and quietly studied the strange contraption,” a Los Angeles Times article reported, “allowing plenty of time for a picture before it scampered off into the woods.”

The six black bears that tumbled out of the crates and into the wild that day weren’t just any animals. Along with 21 others sent south from Yosemite, they were the forefathers of the bears that roam the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains today.

Everyone knows Southern California’s celebrity bears: Glen Bearian, whose appetite for frozen Costco meatballs helped him earn 10,000 Twitter followers, and Samson, who fancied avocados and splashing in Monrovia’s Jacuzzis.

But these bears might just have mischief in their DNA: Their ancestors earned a one-way ticket south with high jinks of their own that exasperated wildlife officials — and entertained tourists.

#storysongs combo: “Just Like Honey,” by Jesus and Mary Chain. Are they under-appreciated because they were too shoegazing onstage? Unfair!

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Tuesday’s Great Read:

Argentina's 'slum priests' focus on helping over converting

They call the slums villas miserias, or little cities of misery. Instead of names, most have been assigned numbers by the Argentine government. Father Carlos Olivero lives in a small concrete church in the middle of Villa 21-24.

On a recent gray afternoon, he sat sipping yerba mate in a cold meeting room at the drug rehabilitation center he runs nearby. He was in a contemplative mood. A young addict he knew had died the day before.

“He was 24 years old,” Olivero said. “We all loved him. Things like this happen all the time here.”

Olivero is part of a line of “slum priests” who have worked for decades in the sprawling shantytowns worlds away from the tango salons and Parisian cafe culture of the other Buenos Aires.

He has scuffed work boots and dirty nails and hears confession from dealers and hit men. When residents spot his trashed 4x4 bumping down dirt roads, they call out his nickname: “Charly!”

He spends most of his time addressing practical rather than spiritual problems. That means navigating governmental bureaucracy, helping immigrants obtain state identification cards and finding beds to get addicts off the street.

“If we don't get people a home, it's insane to think about other kinds of lives for them,” Olivero said.

#storysongs combo: “Spiritual,” by Johnny Cash.

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Wednesday’s Great Read:

Cory Booker: Just the kind of politician Jersey likes

Under a tent on a vacant block in one of Newark's poorest neighborhoods, Cory Booker is riffing on the carbon footprint of vegetables.

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