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Setting Times stories to music: From Van Morrison to Queen

October 19, 2013|By Kari Howard
  • DJ Severe (Lanier Stewart) mixes music while fans arrive at Dodger Stadium as the Los Angeles Dodgers play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS.
DJ Severe (Lanier Stewart) mixes music while fans arrive at Dodger Stadium… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

So this week they announced the latest crop of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees. And of course one of my favorites, Nirvana, is a lock.

But our pop critic Randall Roberts gives these grim odds for a band I like even more, the Replacements: 25 to 1. Justice must be served to one of the best songwriters of the last 30 years, Paul Westerberg. Start lobbying the voting members now.

It would be cool to create our own Hall of Fame here at The Times, with the writers behind the most legendary Column Ones (the retro term for Great Reads). And if we did, Bella Stumbo would be on it.

If you're not already aware of the L.A. Times Past blog on Tumblr, start following it now. Every week, it's doing a Throwback Thursday to Great Reads of the past. This week, it was Stumbo's profile of the Coors family from 1988. Read it and be in the presence of a writer with caps-lock attitude.

I love how fellow staffer and L.A. Times Past caretaker Matt Ballinger described the way the story ran in print (yes, a time when everything was only in print):

"You’ll experience the bold, traditional flavor of old-school American newspapering: This 1988 Column One jumps three times. And that’s only the first of two parts! (We’ll bring you the thrilling conclusion next Thursday.) Until then, read responsibly."

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-song combo!

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

Monday’s Great Read:

Ousted vendor is no longer a no-ware man

When Rick Lopez packed up the sodas, chips, gum and candy on his final day, he knew he was leaving a lot behind.

There was the security guard who helped him set up shop in the morning and would give him a ride home in the evening, the judicial commissioner who raved that his egg salad sandwich was the best in town, the attorneys who arrived early for the freshly brewed coffee — and even the old, dilapidated Long Beach courthouse itself.

For two decades, Lopez was a fixture there, running the cafeteria and snack bar through a state program that gives blind vendors priority in government buildings.

But when all the judges, bailiffs and clerks moved down the street to a gleaming new courthouse this fall, Lopez didn't make the trip. State officials told Lopez there was nothing they could do to keep him in Long Beach, but they could transfer him to another location. The new courthouse was built by a public-private partnership and developers were given the right to lease out the food stalls as they pleased.

Taking his place would be a food court with chains such as Subway and Coffee Bean.

Lopez was crushed. A courthouse is often a place where some of life's sad and dire dramas play out. But for Lopez, it was also a place where he and a regular cast of characters found ways to bond.

As he walked away from the old courthouse for the last time, he cried.

#storysongs combo: "Tears Are in Your Eyes," Yo La Tengo. I'm trying to hold myself to a once-a-month limit on using this wonderful band in the combo.


Tuesday's Great Read:

Cockroach farms multiplying in China

This squat concrete building was once a chicken coop, but now it's part of a farm with an entirely different kind of livestock — millions of cockroaches.

Inside, squirming masses of the reddish-brown insects dart between sheets of corrugated metal and egg cartons that have been tied together to provide the kind of dark hiding places they favor.

Wang Fuming kneels down and pulls out one of the nests. Unaccustomed to the light, the roaches scurry about, a few heading straight up his arm toward his short-sleeve shirt.

"Nothing to be afraid of," Wang counsels visitors who are shrinking back into the hallway, where stray cockroaches cling to a ceiling that's perilously close overhead.

Although cockroaches evoke a visceral dread for most people, Wang looks at them fondly as his fortune — and his future.

The 43-year-old businessman is the largest cockroach producer in China (and thus probably in the world), with six farms populated by an estimated 10 million cockroaches. He sells them to producers of Asian medicine and to cosmetic companies that value the insects as a cheap source of protein as well as for the cellulose-like substance on their wings.

The favored breed for this purpose is the Periplaneta americana, or American cockroach, a reddish-brown insect that grows to about 1.6 inches long and, when mature, can fly, as opposed to the smaller, darker, wingless German cockroach.

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