Margolin, Rinder look at California and creativity
By Lou Fancher
Assigned a formidable, pretentious task -- articulate the past, present and future of art and culture in California -- Malcolm Margolin and Lawrence Rinder attempted to skirt the subject ... and failed.
Instead, a jovial conversation shared with a sold-out audience at Berkeley's Brower Center on March 4 had Margolin (Heyday Books publisher/founder) and Rinder (Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive director) recalling the Bay Area's colorful arts' history and singing a one-size-fits-all tune for California's cultural future.
Repeatable happiness, they suggested, has been, is, and likely always will be the unifying element defining California as a wellspring of creative energy. Layered with a kind of Wild West rebelliousness, a buccaneering spirit threads its way through the multiple strands composing the state's cultural landscape.
Margolin played the comic storyteller, delighting the audience with his grandson's favorite knock-knock joke ("knock, knock," "who's there," "cows say," "cows say who," "no, cows say moo") and describing a strawberry he was once too afraid to eat while participating in a research project involving taking LSD for six consecutive days.
But giving in to prompts from Rinder, Margolin was at times poetic as he described the arc of his life in graceful sweeps that seemed like metaphors for a surreal wilderness adventure or a trip to the moon.
He described his childhood in Boston as a "daydreamy kid, building castles in the air" to becoming a young man who thrived on New York City's energy. From there he succumbed to California's lure, arriving in a VW bus in 1968 with a wife and a plan to start a family, his constant companions being imagination and a certain blind faith that "life is more beautiful than we deserve."
"We settled into Berkeley to stay a while. I guess 44 years have passed," he said, laughing.
Margolin said he was drawn like a magnet to the story of the Ohlone Indians soon after his arrival, but he found researchers' notes dry and unsatisfying, leading him to envision the world he captured in his book, "The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area."
"I realized hunting was more like wooing," he said. "The skill wasn't archery; it was in stalking, in deer psychology."
Margolin said the Bay Area in the 1980s was magic, with "deep hanging out" philosophies and people attached to each other and to the land in ways unlike the "brittle ideologies, orthodoxies, dogmas that we carry around today."
Rinder, asked to describe how imagination illuminates his life, said voluminous reading and the California landscape provide balance.
"I keep one foot in the mind and one foot in nature," Rinder said.