Skip to content

Category Archives: Cali

Jesus is My Homeboy

Delivering a keynote in San Diego, this coming Thursday (March 20), at “The Sacred & The Profane,” a conference at San Diego State University.


Ted Neeley in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. The Messiah as don’t-harsh-my-mellow SoCal dude.

Official Blurb:

In Case of Rapture, Car Will Be Driverless: Waiting for the End of the World in ’70s Southern California

In this lecture, equal parts personal essay and cultural critique, Dery—now a godless leftist—takes us on a Proustian flashback to his days as a teenage fundie—a Jesus Freak caught up in the “born-again” religious fervor that swept Southern California in the ’70s. Excavating the SoCal history of that mutant strain of ad-hoc Christianity that Harold Bloom calls “the American religion,” he’ll deliver a fire-and-brimstone critique of the paleoconservatism, flat-earth fundamentalism, and deep-dyed anti-intellectualism that have made San Diego, throughout much of its intellectual history, not only a theme-park mirage in the Desert of the Real (“America’s Finest City”) but a Mojave of the Mind.

At the same time, Dery attempts to consider the “situated knowledges” and “lived experiences” of that lost world through his 15-year-old eyes and through his cynical, unbelieving 48-year-old eyes—to cast a gimlet eye on the creepy cultism and gape-mouthed credulity of the ‘Jesus People’ movement and acknowledge the fact that it brought him closer to a transport of metanoiac rapture than anything since.
No glossolalia for this boy, but I did have a few Theresa-of-Avila moments of spiritual ecstacy. One thing I really want to nail is the ineffable hippie sweetness of those lost times, exemplified by Ted “Jesus” Neeley’s infinitely sad gaze in Jesus Christ Superstar, a far cry from the BATTLECRY/PASSION OF THE CHRIST right-wing pugnacity of the gen-whatever alt.Christianity of our moment…


When: 11-6:15. NOTE: I go on at 5:00 PM. For further details, contact Nathan Leaman (619.886.8109).

Scripps Cottage
English and Comparative Literature
Arts and Letters 226
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Drive | MC 6020
San Diego, California 92182-6020


(From the official website): “Sacred & Profane: Meditations on a World in Translation

Salman Rushdie once wrote, “human beings do not perceive things whole; we are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capable only of fractured perceptions.” In this interdisciplinary conference, we invite original works that explore the way we construct meaning out of historical, theoretical, and literary works.

Panels will include an interrogation of sacred texts, ranging from holy words to canonized works; the past as a sacred text; profane texts, which may challenge our definitions of literature as well as our tolerance for profanity; and issues involved in the process of translation, from one language to another or one time period to another. We invite submissions from visual artists that interpret or explore these topics.”

If you drop by, be sure to tug on my sleeve. I’ll be milling around aimlessly afterward, hoisting a margarita with faculty, grad students, and you.

Satan’s Fetus Stalks the Suburbs

We interrupt the unending torrent of comment spam (“Hello people, your site is best! Nice site look this: teen lesbians showering!”) to flog our product.

The latest, insect-themed issue of the cultural quarterly Cabinet is in bookstores and on newsstands now, and includes my essay on the ginormous Jerusalem Cricket, which is, in fact, neither a cricket nor from Jerusalem. (As Linda Richman used to say on Saturday Night Live: Discuss.) Titled “Armies of the Night: Satan’s Fetus Stalks the Suburbs,” the article is at once an overheated exegesis of the J.C. as myth and symbol, an eco-political critique of SoCal sprawl, and my attempt to exorcize the post-traumatic stress engendered by a nocturnal confrontation with one of these grotesque animals, an experience no Californian who has run across a J.C. in the dead of night will ever forget. (The Jerusalem Cricket, a.k.a. Stenopelmatus, ranges widely west of the Rockies but is ubiquitous in California, where sprawl’s encroachment on the insect’s habitat is giving rise to more and more confrontations between the insects and shocked-and-awed suburbanities. )


Look upon me and know fear, puny mortal: Jerusalem Cricket on the prowl. Photo copyright Takwish. Contact photographer at takwish at gmail dot com.

Here’s a teaser…


Crossing La Linea


Southern California freeway sign.

As mentioned earlier, the Sept./Oct. issue of Print magazine includes my feature on Mexican-American visual culture.


Photo courtesy Sal Rojas.

Last summer, I interviewed cholo, Chicano, self-styled “pocho,” and expatriate Mexicano illustrators and graphic designers in L.A., San Diego, and Tijuana; this article draws on those interviews, as well as an extensive conversation with the brilliant Chicano cultural theorist Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, well-known for his seminal essay on rasquachismo, a sort of Mexican-American bricolage. (I may post some excerpts from that interview—or the whole tamale, if there’s any interest.)

bigote con fondo chilo (2).JPG

“Bigote con fondo chilo,” courtesy Jorge Verdin.

The visuals, from nortec designer Jorge Verdin, stencil artist Acamonchi, and hardcore tattooist-to-the-stars Mister Cartoon, are too cool.


Stencil-art graffiti, Acamonchi. Courtesy Acamonchi.

Keywords: Mexican-American, Chicano, cholo, pocho, rasquache, rasqauchismo, mestizaje, graffiti art, stencil art, East L.A., San Diego, Tijuana, nortec.


In Search of Ancient Astronauts


Tomorrowland rocket ride, Disneyland, circa 1960. Courtesy The Imaginary World. © Dan Goodsell 2005.

My essay, “In Search of Ancient Astronauts: A Requiem for the Space Age,” appears in the new Cabinet magazine, issue 18.
Key Concepts:
Ray Bradbury, “Rocket Summer,” aeronautics workers in Southern California in the ’60s and ’70s, Tomorrowland, children’s books on space travel, Willy Ley, Chesley Bonestell, Lester Del Rey, the Apollo moon missions, NASA snafus, “space migration,” rocketeer theology, the Jetsonian church architecture of Robert Des Lauriers, Cape Canaveral and the high-tech sublime, mummified astronauts.


Paradise Lust

Believe it or not, people are still having sex. The religious right’s jihad against sexual expression hasn’t put a lid on the American libido.
Erotic wallpaper, Sandstone Ranch, 2004. Photo: Darren Smith.



sunshine noir.GIF
Sunshine/Noir: Writing From San Diego And Tijuana, edited by Jim Miller, is out, and I’ve got a lengthy essay in it, titled “Loving the Alien: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become Californian.” It’s an autobiographical rumination on the ontological migraines I suffered as a palely loitering lit geek, growing up among San Diego’s Malibus Barbies and Earring Magic Kens.


Read Zeppelin: Davis Does Zoso

Erik Davis: hermenaut; bearded Led Zep exegete.
Photo: Mindstates II website.

In Led Zeppelin IV (33 1/3/ Continuum International Publishing Group), Erik Davis manages the neat trick of making Robert Plant’s cosmic-dirthead lyrics sound like outtakes from The Mabinogion. (This, remember, is the man whose idea of rock poesy is “I got my flower/ I got my power/ I got a woman who knows” (“Dancing Days,” Houses of the Holy).)


National Psychogeographic

My essay, “Dead Seas: The Psychogeography of Southern California,” appears in the new Cabinet.

This is the latest in a series of essays I’ve been writing about growing up in the San Diegan suburb of Chula Vista, in the late ’60s and ’70s.