Three things I loved in the ’90s: Cubavera cabbie shirts, Mazzy Star CDs, and Chandler Bing — Chandler (hanging up a phone call): “I got her machine.” Joey: “Her answering machine?” Chandler (incredulous smirk): “Uh, no, her leaf blower picked up.” Thanks for the laughs, Matthew Perry. We’ll never forget you.
Now, on with the show.
This Just In!
It’s that time of year again, and here comes “The Nutcracker,” from the Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre, four performances over two days, Dec. 9 and 10, at the Santa Cruz Civic. Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau lands at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center Feb. 12. The talented post-punk outfit Silversun Pickups come to The Catalyst Feb. 10. And acclaimed jazz bassist Linda May Han Oh plays Kuumbwa Jan. 24.
Be sure to check out Lookout’s carefully curated and constantly updated planning guide, Down the Line, for the staggering riches and amazing choices awaiting Santa Cruz audiences. It’s our look ahead at the best shows, concerts and events through the rest of the year at clubs, stages and venues all over the county.
B9: What’s what in the week ahead
Here they are, nine necessary know-abouts for the week ahead. It’s the trick-or-treat B9:
1. In the biggest of pictures, there is only one question worth pondering these days: What is the fate of our species? Santa Cruz’s Meaningful Universe Club may not have answers, but they’re asking the questions.
2. Looking for some intriguing theater? Up at UCSC, you can get a taste of Kafkaesque black comedy aimed squarely at soulless bureaucracy.
3. Soulful Santa Cruz-raised singer/songwriter Taylor Rae returns home to wow the crowd at Moe’s.
4. Longtime Santa Cruzans know the work of the veteran journalist Peggy Townsend. Now, with big success as a novelist, that writer’s voice has found a new venue.
5. What an amazing only-on-the-West-Coast event: Check out the Sea Glass & Ocean Art Festival at the Cocoanut Grove.
6. This might be confusing, but Noname — pronounced “No Name” — is, in fact, a name. She’s a rapper with a taste for sweet R&B, and she’s coming to the Catalyst.
7. I loved Nathan Hill’s epic of-our-times debut novel “The Nix,” and now he’s back in bookstores with a new novel. He’ll be around next week to chat about it.
8. If charisma were gold, punk-rock veteran Henry Rollins would be living in Elon Musk’s neighborhood.
9. The singer/songwriter Jake Smith is known by his moniker The White Buffalo, and, once you hear his robust sound, it all makes sense.
October’s a wrap!
If you missed Halloween on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz this week, then I certainly hope you got to experience Dia de Los Muertos in downtown Watsonville last Friday. If you missed both, well, get out your 2024 calendar now and circle them both in red.
For many years, I’ve been an observer and occasional participant in Santa Cruz’s downtown bacchanalia on Halloween. It’s really an amazing event — two events, actually. During the daytime hours you’ll find families and young children roaming the closed off street on Pacific Avenue, and, after a lull, the adults come out to play.
Even before the pandemic, the Halloween celebration suffered from a reputation for over-the-line weirdness after a certain hour, but the pandemic zapped it even further. This week, though, the energy was back as hundreds of people crammed the streets in inventive, hilarious, classic, elaborate and/or skin-baring costumes. Halloween is, of course, a great American tradition exactly because it’s a parade where everyone gets to participate and the only context in which Winnie the Pooh and corpse brides and murderous clowns and Edward Scissorhands all get equal billing.
The beauty of Santa Cruz’s Halloween is how so decentralized and unorganized it all is. Tuesday night’s street party had a drum circle or a DJ or a live band on every block with hot dog carts and taco trucks in between, and yet it all took a back seat to the human gallery of provocative excess. It was the place to be, and nobody had to buy a ticket.
Last Friday’s Dia de Los Muertos event in Watsonville, naturally, had a much different tone. The family vibe held throughout the evening, and the Watsonville Plaza celebrated the holiday’s uniquely Mexican heritage with beautiful ofrendas, ever-present marigolds and calavera make-up everywhere.
I can’t say with any authority whether Santa Cruz is the best Halloween celebration or Watsonville the loveliest Dia de Los Muertos observance in Northern California. But it’s hard to imagine a similar event that fits its community’s essence so well as either. The afterglow of both events lingers into the (comparatively) humdrum days of November.
Peggy Townsend’s moment
My friend and long-time colleague at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Peggy Townsend, is enjoying a moment right about now. You remember Peggy for her decades-long career at the Sentinel covering everything from murders to bake sales. (She was the ranking editor at the Sentinel the day of the Loma Prieta Earthquake; all her higher-ups were stuck at Candlestick Park for the World Series. Let her tell you that story one day).
These days, Peggy is a novelist and a fine one at that. She’s on the verge of publishing her third novel, “The Beautiful and The Wild” (Berkley), and she’s going to celebrate the new book with an appearance on Tuesday at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Read all about the new book, then read the book itself.
Marcus poetry reading returns
The annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading is upon us again, for the 14th year. And this year, Santa Cruz poet Gary Young hosts a show that features celebrated writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The Indian-born Divakaruni is a leading literary voice of the Indian-American experience, through short stories and novels. She has won the American Book Award and her novels have been adapted into films.
The event takes place Thursday at 6 p.m. — that’s today — at Merrill Cultural Center on campus.
One note of local interest: Because of annual performances of the colorful Indian epic story “The Ramayana” by the Mount Madonna Center, going back decades, Santa Cruz County audiences are likely more familiar with the epic than most American audiences. One of Divakaruni’s most celebrated moments was her novel “The Forest of Enchantments,” which is a kind of feminist spin on “The Ramayana,” told from the point of view of Princess Sita.
Theater at the U
There is an intriguing new play coming to UC Santa Cruz, courtesy of Los Angeles playwright Preston Choi, titled “You Will Get Used To It,” and it deals with something quite familiar to far too many of us — the absurdist black comedy of the modern workplace.
The play will be in production for the next weekend, through Nov. 12, at UCSC’s Mainstage Theatre on campus. The playwright will be on hand the first weekend of the run, engaging with the audience after Friday’s performance, along with UCSC director Rebecca Wear.
Choi’s past work includes a send-up of landmark musicals “Miss Saigon” and “Madame Butterfly.” By his own admission, Choi’s work is centered on “Asian-American/mixed race/queer lives, and the horror of being alive.”
New album news
Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz is giving fans of the great country artist Chris Stapleton a special treat next week. On Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 5 p.m., Streetlight hosts an “early listening party.” What that means is that anyone interested can hear Stapleton’s newest album, “Higher,” in its entirety three days before its official release. All ages are welcome and it’s free.
Earworm of the Week
There simply is no comfortable place to land when contemplating the horrors of what’s now happening in Gaza and Israel. Inhumanity begets inhumanity and the result is ruin and barbarism all to justify more ruin and barbarism. In such moments, I take comfort in a quiet little song that few people know, a song that, in my view, works as a kind of mic-drop in the realm of religion and the afterlife.
If that growing religious group known as the “Nones” — as in “none of the above” — were ever to publish a hymnal, my vote is for this to be the first song. It’s called “God Loves Everyone” and it comes from the gifted Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Along with a beautiful lullaby-like melody, Sexsmith brings forth a God that has no room for dualities of any kind — heaven/hell, good/evil, saved/damned, us/them. All are meaningless distinctions. Being human means being worthy of God’s grace, unconditionally.
Some who are deeply religious may find this song crude and simplistic; it does render most traditional spiritual teachings kinda silly. But others who tend to see organized religion as a realm of division and tribalism may hear it as the only truly convincing theology — “There is no need to be saved/ No need to be afraid/ ’Cause when it’s done/ God takes everyone.” Amen to that.
Santa Cruz County Trivia
What famous American brand name was established by Sebastian Kresge, the man for whom Kresge College at UC Santa Cruz is named?
Last week: A life-long Santa Cruzan named Lorenzo “Larry” Ponza Jr. invented something in the 1950s that is still widely used today in the world of sports. It was the pitching machine in baseball, which Ponza came up with in 1952, followed by several improvements and variations.
That’s all I got, friends. Come at me with comments, ideas, complaints, or thundering insights. Thanks to all Lookout members for your faith and support, and please, spread the word on what we’re doing.