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Pomona Pair Mix Alt-Pop, Entrepreneurship and Environmental Activism

Skylar Funk Boorman ’10 and Merritt Graves ’10 have spent their years since Pomona successfully combining their love of music with the fight against climate change. Their outlet is Trapdoor Social, a band self-described as “Los Angeles Alternative Energy Rock and Sustainability Activism.” They recently released their second album and have been touring, doing shows throughout the Midwest and West Coast. The music videos for their alt-pop songs from their first album “Death of a Friend,” which featured Death Cab for Cutie’s well-known drummer Jason McGerr, have drawn large viewership online and play on the radio.

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Boss Guy marks three decades on KSPC

John Stout starts this night’s KSPC (88.7 FM) broadcast the same way he has for the last three decades: “Good evening and welcome to the show. This is Boss Guy in Claremont with music from the late 50s, 60s, and 70s.” He jumps right in, begins taking requests and sits back to enjoy the music. Pomona’s campus radio station has hosted the The Boss Guy in Claremont show since the fall of 1983, and though much has changed since then, John still lugs eight boxes of records and CDs to the station every Sunday for his show, which lasts from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. (Afterwards, John hosts the World’s Music Without Boundaries show from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m.). The station's crew reaches beyond students: Stout is part of a group of community members who fill key slots in the station's schedule, offering a mix of music -- ranging from polka to a show devoted to movie soundtracks -- that might not find a home on commercial radio. Here, Stout talks about how it all began, what it’s like to host radio and how it felt to recently reach the milestone of 30 years on the air.

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Class explores the influence and importance of Radiohead

Pomona College English Professor Kevin Dettmar is teaching a Critical Inquiry (ID1) course this semester about Radiohead as a way to “test-drive” the idea of writing a book about the influential English rock band.  “I thought the full-immersion experience of an ID1 would be a great way for me to do all the reading, think through the questions and issues,” says Dettmar, who has three times previously taught a freshman seminar on Flashpoints in Rock ‘n’ Roll History.

In class, students discuss Radiohead’s lyrics and music, the meanings behind them and how the songs affect listeners. They’ll look at Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49 and its influence on Radiohead, as well as band’s effect on debates over such issues as climate change.

okcomputer1Says Dettmar: “When I heard OK Computer (1997) for the first time, the experience was powerful enough to convert me back into a rabid music fan. There was something both utterly new and at the same time so familiar about the sound of that record…. It sounded like the music I’d been waiting for all my life.”

Dettmar knows that the class has to work to stay away from becoming merely fandom. The professor recalls a conversation following a session devoted to analyzing the song “Paranoid Android.”

“I maintained that it was the first time that the band had achieved real greatness, real transcendence. A student came up after class to talk about the fact that, after all that analysis and discussion, he still really didn’t like the song. I think that’s huge: again, fan and critic are two very different jobs.”

The class, meanwhile, has its own fans. “I love getting together and just discussing music from an academic perspective with my peers,” says Grace Lamdin ’17. “He knows how to lead thoughtful discussions—and I really want to own his entire iTunes library.”

Dettmar, who wrote the textbook Think Rock, also has a forthcoming entry in the 33-1/3 book series on Gang of Four’s Entertainment! View a sample from the book here.

Andrew Hoyem ’57 keeps type tradition alive

The latest issue of Harvard Magazine highlights Andrew Hoyem ’57 and his San Francisco-based Arion Press  which, the article notes, is “now the only full-service letterpress left in the United States.”

Although facets of traditional bookmaking linger—some letterpress printing here, some hand-binding there—no other workshop houses the complete process, from the casting of type to the trimming of covers. … Contemporary publishing favors open access; recent advances in the technology of reading offer many text formats, not the perfection of a single one. Data suggest that Americans read more now than ever before, but how they read is increasingly unmoored from paper’s physical aspect.

And yet the book persists, with something of a second wind. Today, Arion Press leads a growing group of small Bay Area–based publishers placing a fresh emphasis on physical type and centuries-long tradition, revivifying the old arts at the heart of screen-age creativity. Users of the iPhone might forget that Apple’s early rise in design-based computing drew from the traditions of typography, but the press has not: it is among the leading custodians of that craft and one of the few remaining producers of cast type.

More about Hoyem: PCM archive article

Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander shares showbiz career tips at Pomona College

Jason Alexander


With his frequent firings and penchant for workplace naps, Seinfeld sidekick George Costanza would be the last person you’d turn to for career advice. But the man who became famous playing the role for nine seasons on the comedy? He’s golden.

Spending most of Monday at Pomona College, actor and director Jason Alexander impressed students with his candid, detailed advice in a career Q&A and in an afternoon teaching session with two introductory acting classes. “He was very frank,” said Rishi Sangani ’15, a Seinfeld fan excited about the chance to see Alexander in person. “He didn’t hide the truth at all.”

At the lunchtime session sponsored by the Career Development Office and Smith Campus Center, Alexander said students interested in showbiz careers are facing “the best of times and the worst of times.”

On the one hand, there are few gatekeepers – anyone can grab a camera and get to work. “No one can keep you from doing what you want to do,” he said. But the downside is “there’s so much product it’s very hard to be compensated for your work because they all have so many options.”

“If you do something brilliant, it will cut through, it will give you a name,” said Alexander, who won a Tony in 1989 for his role in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. “But getting that thing to break through is incredible hard right now.”

The answer? Start now. College students should already be building the community they want to work with, he said. “Don’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity”

“Go out and do it. It’s not rocket science. You’ve been watching TV and movies since you were this big.”

Alexander  encouraged the students to clarify their thinking and be more specific about their aims and the roles they want to play. “Actors tend to think of themselves as spaghetti thrown against the wall. Whatever hits, whatever sticks, I’ll do that,” he said. “If you want to be on stage … focus there. If you want to be on television … focus there. Give your ambitious life a little bit more of a laser focus and head that way.”

Narrowing your vision, he said, can give you a better sense of definition and purpose.

When Shani Paul ’16, a media studies major, asked how she should go about pursuing summer opportunities in New York, he pressed her for more detail about what she wanted to do. When she said her dream was to direct TV dramas, he suggested she seek out production companies and pursue any opportunity that will get her  the chance to watch the director at work. Or, he suggested, consider a summer film school. Or just start directing something now. “Find a piece of work and go direct it,” he said. “Make stuff.”

Alexander recounted a time early in his career when he became “crippled by stage fright” and was “too afraid to tell anybody.” He finally confided in his acting teacher Larry Moss, who refused to coddle him.

“He went, ‘Get over yourself. All you do is tell stories. Tell the … story,’” Alexander recalls. “After that, it got progressively better.”

Later in the day, Alexander spent two hours with students in Basic Acting classes taught by Professor Betty Bernhard and Visiting Lecturer Janet Hayatshahi. Afterward, students gathered to get their pictures taken with the actor.

“He definitely challenged my opinion about what real actors are like and what they do,” said Ben Brostoff ’14, adding that he was impressed that Alexander didn’t rely on mood and feeling. “It was very challenging,” added Tori Gaines CMC ’13, who acted out a scene while Alexander offered tips. “He expected detail right away.”

The glow from Pomona’s Skyspace reaches all the way to Sweden

Pomona College Museum of Art Director Kathleen Howe this summer set off for Sweden, home of the northernmost Skyspace created by artist James Turrell ’65, for the first-ever international gathering for owners and caretakers of these sought-after windows to the sky. At each of these Turrell creations, which now dot the globe from Argentina to China to Pomona’s own Draper Courtyard,  openings to the sky and shifts in ambient light create fascinating perceptual changes as the sun sets and rises. But the gathering near Stockholm offered something extra.

On a July night in the far north, Howe and 35 others watched in awe as the Skyspace light show went on for more than two hours in the long, lingering twilight. At quarter till midnight, when the show was over, “it was still light enough to walk home through the woods,” recalls Howe.

"Dividing the Light" -- copyright James Turrell. Photo by Florian Holzherr

“Dividing the Light” — copyright James Turrell.
Photo by Florian Holzherr

Pomona’s Skyspace – and the College itself — took on a special glow as well during the three-day gathering.  Griffith Observatory Director Edwin Krupp ’66 gave the keynote on archeoastronomy, the study of how past civilizations observed the starry skies, and Howe witnessed he and Turrell entrancing a tableful of attendees with their Pomona tales.

Howe, too, got the chance to address the group, noting the Pomona Skyspace’s unique role in campus life.  While some Skyspaces are in private hands and others only accessible during limited hours, Howe detailed the public and accessible nature of Pomona’s “Dividing the Light.” She described how classes use it, and told of families with kids gathering for the nightly light shows and of how she arrived at the campus Skyspace one dawn to happen upon a woman with tears streaming down her face as she sang a hymn beneath it. She told how students time their study breaks to the Skyspace’s color chime and how a student described it to her as “Pomona’s piazza.”

Attendees of the Skyspace gathering “were really taken with the sense of it being part of a living community and a living part of the community,” says Howe. Perhaps Turrell was taken most of all. When her presentation ended, “he got up and gave me this enormous bear hug.”

More about James Turrell
More about Pomona’s Skyspace

25 years of wine and jazz with the Thorntons

The U-T San Diego went big with its coverage of John ’53 and Sally Thornton’s 25 years running Thornton Winery and its Champagne Jazz Series. According to the piece by George Varga, the couple’s “impact as cultural and community philanthropists in the San Diego area has been enormous.” With their Temecula winery, the article notes, the pair “helped to put this wine region [located between San Diego and Riverside] on the map.”

The piece quotes jazz musician Dave Koz:

“I grew up in Los Angeles and I’d heard about Temecula, but had never been there until we first played at Thornton in 1992,” said Koz, whose June 22 and 23 concerts at the winery both sold out in advance. “Back then, they were pretty much the only game in town. Now, Temecula has become quite a destination for Californians and people from all over the world. And Thornton, with its unique combination of music, wine and food, is the granddaddy of it all.”

The Summer of Turrell

The master of light and space delivered the remark with a smile. “I have a business of selling blue sky and colored air,” James Turrell ’65 told a group of arts reporters after they had previewed his long-awaited retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But if he counts exhibitions as sales, business is extraordinarily good this year. While Dividing the Light, Turrell’s Skyspace at Pomona College, continues to attract students, alumni and visitors to Draper Courtyard, celebrations of his work are popping up from coast to coast. The centerpiece of the “Turrell festival,” as LACMA director Michael Govan calls it, is a trio of major museum exhibitions in Los Angeles, Houston and New York. LACMA’s James Turrell: A Retrospective is a five-decade survey, composed of 56 works, including sculptures, prints, drawings, watercolors, photographs and installations. “This is the largest exhibition of works by this artist assembled anywhere at any time,” Govan says. And it will have an unusually long, 10-month run (ending April 6, 2014), so that the expected thousands of visitors can experience the artist’s mind-bending installations as he wishes—slowly, silently, and singly or in small groups. As the museum director reminds guests, “The slower you go, the more you get.”

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When Brubeck played Pomona


This noteworthy letter from Andrew Hoyem ’57 appears in our spring issue, which will soon hit mailboxes and appear online:

When the great jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck died on Dec. 5, 2012, a day short of his 92nd birthday, some members of the Class of 1957 reminisced about their having sponsored a concert by the Brubeck quartet in Little Bridges 58 years earlier.

This was mainly the doing of our classmate Marvin Nathan, who was a big fan of Brubeck and had gotten to know the members of the quartet the summer after our freshman year, in 1954, when the musicians had a three-month gig at Zardi’s in Hollywood. Nathan went to the club nightly during the vacation and returned to college full of enthusiasm for the new style of jazz played by Brubeck. Marvin recounts: “That Christmas I gave the four of them their first matching set of ties, handkerchiefs and cuff links, which, I think, they wore at the Pomona concert.” He made the arrangements directly with Brubeck, and a committee of the Class of ’57 was formed to produce the concert. Brubeck was the first to play college dates, lifting jazz out of smoke-filled clubs. Those were simpler times: no agent or manager or record company was intermediary. We just asked Brubeck, and later, for another concert sponsored by the class, Andre Previn; they said yes, turned up with their sidemen and played and got paid.

But paying the musicians required a paying audience. Steve Glass ’57 and subsequently professor of classics at Pitzer College, recalls that early ticket sales for the Brubeck concert were going slowly. His classmate and future wife Sandy was in charge of publicity and she was worried. In those days, West Coast/Cool Jazz was a relatively arcane phenomenon. Then, shortly before the concert, the Nov. 8, 1954 issue of Time magazine had Dave Brubeck on the cover, only the second jazz musician to be so featured (after Louis Armstrong), and the place was packed.

For the program I drew caricatures of the musicians: Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (alto sax), Bob Bates (bass) and Joe Dodge (drums). Marvin Nathan wrote the notes. Reflecting on the concert, he writes: “We caught the group at its acme, in the wake of the remarkable recordings of Jazz at Storyville and Jazz at Oberlin, which, for my money, are the two greatest albums Dave and Paul ever did.”

Marvin left Pomona after two years to study jazz saxophone at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music but decided the instrument should be left to the likes of John Coltrane and instead became a humanities professor. All of us amateur promoters remained jazz aficionados. Why, just this morning I refolded my fedora into a pork-pie hat and set off looking the hepcat I wished to be.
— Andrew Hoyem ’57

Another Oscar connection for Pomona

Alexandra Blaney ’09 was an associate productor for Inocente, which last night won the Academy Award  for best short documentary. The film tells the moving story of a homeless 15-year-old undocumented immigrant in San Diego “who refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be caged by her life.”

Blaney watched the awards show and cheered from afar in New York, where today she was back at the office of Shine Global (where she has worked for two and one-half years), happily working amid the post-Oscar buzz. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls asking about showing it all around the world,” said Blaney in a quick phone interview with PCM, mentioning a new call from South Korea. Though the film might seem very specific to the U.S., Blaney notes it’s really “a universal story about immigrants and refugees in every country.” 

 In an online interview for the PRIZM Project, Blaney explained how she made her way into the documentary film world:

I never thought about film as a career option until my last year of college. I double majored in international relations and history with a focus on Latin America and always found myself drawn to the cultural aspect of politics especially as manifested in social movements. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina where there is actually a pretty vibrant independent film community … When I returned to the US for my last year of college I took a Latin American documentary film class where I was introduced to political documentaries and the Tercer Cine (Third Cinema) film movement of the 1960s-70s which decried the Hollywood model of film as mere entertainment and business. Over the course of that class, as we watched and studied documentaries by Lourdes Portillo, Fernando Pino Solanas, Fernando Birre, and Patricio Guzman, I became more and more convinced that I should work in film and documentaries. Specifically, I wanted to work with a non-profit documentary film production company and was determined that if one did not exist I would found one. Luckily I found Shine Global, which was doing the exact type of work I wanted to do.

 Read more on Hollywood and Pomona:
Jim Taylor ’84 wins Oscar for Sideways
Chinatown at 30 (with Robert Towne ’56)
Pomona’s Hollywood Timeline
The Duke on the Quad