Vol. 1, Issue 5
On My Mind
The new Modest Mouse album, The Golden Casket. The indie rock band’s seventh studio album is the best they’ve put out in a long time. Actually, I didn’t like it on the first listen. It took me a few listens to realize that it’s brilliant. I love music like that, music with layers that you have to pay attention to and give it time to percolate. A few special mentions: the song “Wooden Soldiers,” an almost “King Rat”-esque tune with its pessimistic line, “Making plans in the sands as the tides roll in / Making plans, making plans, making plans...” and the optimistic, repeating end line, “Just being here with you is enough for me…”; the song “Lace Your Shoes,” which hits close to home because it’s about parenthood, with the beautiful line about your child, “Cuz the sunshine pours out of your mouth and eyes / And out onto the floor / And I can't see nothing anymore” (it is like that), and the depressing line, “I can't wait to see you go to school / I hate that this will happen, but I know that it'll happen / Someone's gonna be cruel”; the song “Never Fuck a Spider on the Fly,” probably the best song on the album, with the line that makes me feel seen, “I don't care for politics and it doesn't care for me / I don't like being watched by the TV / Well there's a lot of news, a lot of news, a lot of news, a lot of news / And it all works as a web for you”; and the song “Japanese Trees,” with the wonderful chorus line, “You need a place to go / And I have a place to leave / We'll split the gasoline / And sleep in the back seat / When can we leave? / Why can’t we leave? / When can we leave? / Oh, you've got it figured out / And I'll learn eventually / We ditched our phones in the rest stop bathroom, when can we leave?” Give it a listen. Or several.
Mercedes Blackehart makes handmade, sustainable, all-natural toys. Check out her products here for the little ones in your life.
What’s Up With Me?
Check out my latest articles in Pasadena Now. I broke the story that General Motors purchased a 3-building property in Northeast Pasadena for $49.5 million, and that the automobile manufacturer plans to invest $71 million in the campus and turn it into its West Coast automotive Advanced Design and Technology Center. Read my two stories here and here.
Watch the latest episode of “NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman,” which aired July 16. This episode explores the Pasadena media landscape and features an interview with Andre Coleman, managing editor of Pasadena Now. Watch it here. Check out a promo for the show that Pasadena Media put together here, and read an article about the show in Pasadena Now here. “NewsRap Local” airs the third Friday of every month at 5 p.m. PT on Pasadena Media’s TV channels (32 on Charter Spectrum and 99 on AT&T U-verse) and streaming apps (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and YouTube).
My other show “Well Read with Justin Chapman” is on hiatus this month.
SAVE THE DATE! I will be delivering a presentation about Mad Mike Hughes—the flat earther daredevil rocketeer who launched himself in a rocket and crash landed and died last year—to the Adventurers Club of Los Angeles on Thursday, August 26, 2021. Stay tuned to next month’s newsletter for more details.
They grow up so fast...
Here are some recommendations for great books I’ve read recently:
This is Your Mind on Plants — Michael Pollan
The book takes a deep dive into three plant drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Pollan experimented with all three drugs, wrote about his experiences, and looked at them through historical, scientific, philosophical, literary, and personal lenses. Ultimately, the book asks its readers to reconsider the whole notion of what a drug even is. It’s an important conversation now that the end of the failed and disastrous War on Drugs is in sight.
Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service — Carol Leonnig
This Washington Post reporter takes a deep dive into the federal agency tasked with protecting the president, and documents all the ways it fails that mission. Some anecdotes in the book, such as fence jumpers who somehow make it all the way to and in one case inside the White House while armed, are just stunning. Plus a historical look at the agency from when it was formed after the Civil War to investigate financial crimes for the Treasury Department, to Congress and the American people’s resistance to strengthening the service even after multiple assassination attempts and successes on U.S. presidents, to its recent fuck-ups from the Clinton era to the Biden era.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Quentin Tarantino
Even if you’ve seen the movie, this novelization has enough new information and is told in a new enough way to make it worth a read. The book goes much more in-depth into Old Hollywood and the Manson Family.
Stories to Keep an Eye On
International: The largest protests in Cuba in decades are currently raging across the island. People are fed up with food and medicine shortages, blackouts, inflation, and fallout from the pandemic. During the Cold War, Cuba was subsidized by the Soviet Union. It’s been tough going since then, partly due to the U.S. embargo, partly due to government corruption. When the protests first erupted, the Cuban government shut down internet access and arrested thousands of people. At least one person has died, and scores are missing. After first blaming the United States for stoking the flames of protest, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel finally acknowledged his own government’s shortcomings. The Biden administration is currently reviewing the Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba, and while President Biden is likely to reverse the hardline stance, he is unlikely to return to the Obama administration’s policy of detente and diplomatic relations.
National: It’s almost August, and you know what that means—Trump is going to be reinstated as president, of course! The “audit” conducted by Cyber Ninjas (real name) in Arizona has been completed (stay tuned for the unbelievable [literally] results!), and the voting machines they rendered completely useless and in need of replacement are but a small price to pay for knowing the results of the most secure election in U.S. history that was certified more than half a year ago and thoroughly investigated. But this is no joke—Republican lawmakers in swing states want to replicate what they’ve done in Arizona in an undemocratic attempt to reverse the will of the American people and unseat a duly elected president. This is far from over.
California: Indoor mask mandates are back in vogue! Due to spiking cases of COVID-19 and the more contagious Delta variant and the decline in vaccination rates, we have to take steps backward. It’s almost as if—and hear me out—we shouldn’t have stopped wearing masks indoors right as people were getting together for the 4th of July. What a thought.
Local: The gravestone of Altadena abolitionist Owen Brown will be reinstalled in the hills of Altadena within the next several months. The gravestone was originally lost in 2002 after a previous landowner rolled it down a hill, but it was found a decade later by a local hiker. Owen was the son of abolitionist John Brown, who led a failed slave uprising at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859, widely cited as the start of the Civil War.
Something You May Not Know About Me
I wrote a book about my solo travels across eight countries in Africa that was published by Rare Bird Books in 2015. In Saturnalia: Traveling from Cape Town to Kampala in Search of an African Utopia, I narrowly escaped being locked away in a mental institution, visited an impoverished township that was changing its future with the help of an art-based nonprofit, got into a life-threatening car crash, explored the mystical island of Zanzibar, lived with a group of Catholic priests, witnessed a witchcraft healing ceremony, discovered a pygmy opium den, and chased down riveting stories with a local journalist. One of my favorite authors, Irvine Welsh, who wrote Trainspotting, provided a nice blurb for the book: “The best and most arresting travel books are the ones that also take us on the author’s inner journey. Justin Chapman’s memoir is a perfect metaphor for contemporary American youth, painfully trying to work through its own baggage, and openly and sincerely seeking to engage with the world beyond the USA’s established physical and cultural borders. Don’t miss this one.”
Spotlight on One of My Past Stories
Back in September 2006, I wrote a story in LA CityBeat/ValleyBeat (defunct) about a baseless DEA raid on the first medical cannabis dispensary to open in Van Nuys called Trichome Healing Caregivers (THC), even though that dispensary was in compliance with local regulations. Hundreds of people demonstrated at the federal building on Van Nuys Boulevard to protest the THC raid. Some brought signs with pictures of the DEA agents that had been taken during the raid. Employees on the second floor of the federal building flashed middle fingers through the windows down to the protesters on the street below.
Two months later, in November 2006, I wrote a story in Pasadena Weekly about a medical cannabis dispensary in unincorporated East Pasadena that was out of compliance with county regulations. County officials and the police went after California Compassionate Caregivers, which was the only dispensary in San Gabriel Valley at the time, with a vengeance. One patient who worked near the dispensary expressed disappointment at the prospect of the club shutting down. “It’s just so convenient and the next closest dispensary is in Silver Lake. Where am I supposed to go?” said Ryan Gerlin, who declined to say what illness he treated with medical cannabis. This sign was posted outside the dispensary’s front door:
My, how times have changed. Now recreational cannabis—let alone medical—is legal in the city of Pasadena, the county of Los Angeles, and indeed the state of California. What an absolute disgrace the War on Drugs has been.
Read all of my journalism here.