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From Olympic athletes to film stars to an economic expert: Meet this year’s most fascinating folks.



Natalie Coughlin

Thomas Horn

Mariya Koroleva

Adam Mansbach

Missy Park

Camaron Ochs

Robert Reich

Merrill Garbus

Stephen Bishop

Dennis Allen

Kristian Ipsen




Courtesy of O’neill 365

Natalie Coughlin: Going for the Gold, Again

Local swimmer has sights on her third Olympics.

Natalie Coughlin has spent her entire life getting up before dawn to be the first one in the pool. The East Bay–raised swimming legend readily admits that she traded in a lot of typical childhood experiences—sleepovers, high school dances—to focus on being the best in her sport. Looking back, she wouldn’t trade her 11 Olympic medals in for memories of “a regular childhood.” Coughlin really didn’t have a choice: Her competitive drive and championship instincts are built into her DNA.

“It’s always been in my nature to be extremely competitive and not just as a swimmer,” says Coughlin, who has just completed a training session for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. “In elementary school, we had to do soccer in P.E. one day, and I wasn’t very good. That drove me crazy. I went home every day and kicked a soccer ball at the side of the house until I could play well enough to compete.”

Now 29, Coughlin is getting ready for her third trip to sport’s greatest stage. These days, her predawn swim is accompanied by a regimen of mat Pilates, weight lifting, and physical therapy on the surgically repaired shoulder that went under the knife after the Beijing Games. The complex training schedule is a lifelong work in progress, one that Coughlin is constantly fine-tuning.

“One thing that is remarkable about Natalie is that she sees the journey as more important than the race,” says her coach of 12 years, Teri McKeever, who is head coach of the entire Olympic women’s swimming team this year. “One thing that she does better than anyone I have ever worked with is to fine-tune every part of her training, to be reflective on her performance and constantly find ways to improve.”

Cutting into a braised mushroom at Gather restaurant in Berkeley, Coughlin talks about the pressure she felt preparing for the past two Olympics, in Athens and Beijing.

“In 2004, I was the rookie and needed to prove myself beyond my college success. There was a lot of pressure because it was assumed the race was mine to lose,” says Coughlin, in a tone that’s not a bit cocky but more matter-of-fact. “Fortunately, things worked out.”

By “worked out,” Coughlin means she brought home two gold medals, one silver, and one bronze. In 2008, she won another seven medals, including a gold in the 100-meter backstroke—the first woman ever to retain the gold in that event.

Coughlin is intensely focused on preparing for London but is not as stressed as she was before the 2008 games. Perhaps she has less to prove. But she’s also had experiences outside of swimming that have given her life more balance. 

The year after the Beijing Games, Coughlin married her high school sweetheart, Ethan Hall, in an elegant but relaxed wedding in Napa. She laughs when asked if her competitive sensibilities turned her into Bridezilla.

“It had never been my dream to have a fancy wedding,” she says. “All I wanted was to have good food and fun. I was able to hand off all the planning and enjoy myself.”

Coughlin has also used her athletic success and supermodel looks to become a 24-karat celebrity: She posed in a painted-on racing bikini for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and appeared on the reality show competition Dancing With the Stars.

“Going on that show gave me something to focus on outside of swimming,” says Coughlin. “I had always wanted to learn to dance, but to rehearse for five or six hours every day, just as a hobby, would make me a crazy person,” she says, laughing. “It only makes sense to do it if you know that an audience of 20 million people will be watching.”

She raves about Dancing With the Stars as a learning experience, clearly thankful for the friendships she made with her dance partner, Alec Mazo, and friendly interactions with such random celebrities as Chuck Liddell, Kelly Osbourne, and Tom DeLay. However, after Coughlin was “voted off the island” halfway through the season, she admits that her competitive spirit did take a hit.

“I became very self-conscious for a few days. It got in my head,” she says, laughing. “I would cry to my husband, ‘America hates me!’ ”

Coughlin gives her husband credit for coaching her through the disappointment of having to watch Donny Osmond take home the show’s Mirror Ball trophy. Hall, three years older than Coughlin, has been a steady and reassuring presence in Coughlin’s world since they met on a swim team in high school.

“Ethan fully understands what it takes to succeed at this sport. He can be my coach on the road, if Teri isn’t there,” says Coughlin, adding that she and Hall would like to open a swim school someday. She would also like to become more involved with Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program, championing nutrition and healthy eating to children.

Coughlin’s own vegetable garden is built into her three-quarter-acre hillside property in Lafayette. She grows kale, radicchio, carrots, snap peas, lemons, limes, and other produce—much of which shows up on her dinner table, feeding her literally and metaphorically.

“Gardening is a good hobby, a complement to my goals. It feeds my passion, and it’s meditative,” she says. “I find it so peaceful to be in the garden, to watch how things are progressing.”

Her coach says that Coughlin’s hobbies, passions, and interests will lead her to success in life long after her Olympic glory days have passed. “Natalie will find success on whatever path she chooses,” says McKeever. “I can see her running a swim school, becoming a food expert, or being a great PTA mom.”

But first, they have London, and Coughlin is putting her game face on again. She still has goals to reach: She is one medal shy of the record for most overall medals in women’s Olympic swimming. But when asked what she expects from the 2012 Games, Coughlin presents an almost Zen approach.

“I did not see my swimming career lasting this long,” she says. “Whatever happens in London is icing on the cake.”

Speaking of cake, she doesn’t want any when the dessert menu comes. It’s time to get back to training. ­—Peter Crooks

Natalie’s Best of Picks

Diablo Foods: “I shop there all the time: It’s ridiculous how much food I buy at Diablo Foods. But they have a wonderful selection, and it’s just a great, locally owned grocery store.”
Lafayette Reservoir: “I like the rim trail for a serious workout: The hills are steep and the view is amazing. But the paved trail around the water is great too, especially for walking my dogs.”
The Edible Schoolyard: “Alice Waters is my hero. I’ve been getting more involved with this program, which teaches kids so much more about healthy eating. It promotes such a positive way of building conversations around food.”



sony pictures

Thomas Horn: Rising Star

The kid’s got talent.

Thomas Horn describes watching this year’s Academy Awards at home in the East Bay with his family as “an exciting, totally emotional experience. I couldn’t believe how many people I know who were involved with the nominated films.”

Horn, the 14-year-old star of Best Picture nominee Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, has had many such pinch-himself moments during his swift rise from East Bay ninth-grader to Hollywood insider.

Just 22 months ago, Horn came home from school to find a phone message from an L.A. casting agency. Producer Scott Rudin had seen Horn’s impressive appearance—and $31,800 win—that summer on Jeopardy Kids and wanted him to audition for the screen adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-selling 2005 novel.

Horn had zero acting experience beyond a fifth-grade play, yet he beat out more than 3,000 young actors for the chance to play the film’s lead character, Oskar Schell, a precocious, insatiably curious nine-year-old boy grieving the loss of his father in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Horn was on-screen in nearly every frame, and his performance was praised by critics and audiences,
especially in the emotionally charged scenes he shares with his fictional parents, played by Sandra Bullock and (in flashback) Tom Hanks. Horn says he surprised those who know him, and even himself, with how fully he embodied Oskar’s grief, even though Horn was only three years old on 9/11, and first saw TV footage of the attacks on the movie set.

“My friends couldn’t believe I could portray such a serious, troubled character,” says Horn, who invited his classmates to a screening of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater.

Whip smart and articulate beyond his years, Horn says he loved the “fascinating crash course in acting” he received during the seven-month shoot in New York. He also bonded quickly with fellow East Bay native Hanks. “He made me feel comfortable by telling me stories about growing up here,” says Horn. “[Hanks] said that at one point, he lived on a houseboat in the Oakland estuary,” a fact Horn loved hearing since he lists among his favorite local pastimes canoeing in the estuary “because it’s such an interesting, serene area where industrial buildings meet calm water.”

When Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was released in January, Horn told the San Francisco Chronicle that, despite his talent, he wasn’t sure he’d continue to pursue acting, “unless just the right script came along.”

At least one already has. Horn will spend the summer in Alabama filming Space Warriors, about kids at NASA’s wannabe-astronaut training camp.  

After a whirlwind winter of red-carpet premieres and interviews, Horn says he’s glad to be back to being a regular high school student, albeit one who knows Hollywood glitterati on a first-name basis. “Life really isn’t all that different now. I get recognized occasionally, but I still just get to be myself. That’s how I want it.”  —Jessica Zack


Courtesy of USAsynchro.orgMariya Koroleva: In Sync

Synchronized swim star is London-bound.

Mariya Koroleva has spent most of her life in the pool, and her hard work has paid off. The Walnut Creek–raised synchronized swimmer was recently named to the Olympic team for the London Games in July.

“It’s crazy to think about how much time and hard work has gone into this whole experience,” says Koroleva, 22, who will complete her senior year at Stanford after the Games. “I’ve never had a summer vacation, and I did not have a social life in high school.”

Koroleva, who was born in Russia, moved to Walnut Creek with her family when she was nine years old. She started synchronized swimming programs at Larkey Park pool, and the sport soon took over her life. However, she was not able to compete in Junior National Championships because she did not have U.S. citizenship.

“At age 14, all my friends were making those Junior National teams, and I was afraid I was being left behind,” says Koroleva. She became a U.S. citizen in 2007. “It was so exciting to become a citizen and thrilling to finally be able to compete at the highest level.”

In 2008, Koroleva went to St. Petersburg to compete against Russia—the world’s dominant country in the sport of synchronized swimming. She’s looking forward to returning to London this month: That’s where she qualified for the Games during the Olympic trials in November. Between now and then, Koroleva and her competition partner, Santa Clara swimmer Mary Killman, will work on their technical and free programs, as well as maintaining their mental focus.

“In synchro, just a small mistake will cost you everything. You have to be on top of your mental game all the time,” says Koroleva. “At the Olympics, everything is magnified so much: It’s once every four years. And for most athletes, it’s once in a lifetime.”  —Peter Crooks


Open Road Media

Adam Mansbach: Kids’ Book Author

Hilariously profane best-selling bedtime story.

Adam Mansbach is best known as the author of the quirky smash-hit quasi-children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep. But he’s also released a number of other books, including Angry Black White Boy, a satire that has been taught at more than 100 universities and high schools, and The End of the Jews, which won the 2008 California Book Award. Diablo sat down with the 35-year-old Berkeley resident at a Gourmet Ghetto café to discuss his career and his odd leap to stardom.

You’ve become famous for your satirical children’s book. How did you come up with the idea?
It was, I guess, two years ago at this point; my daughter was two. Putting her to bed took forever, and I sort of staggered out of her room one night after probably a two-hour process of trying to get her to go to sleep, and jokingly posted on Facebook, “Look for my upcoming children’s book, Go the F**k to Sleep.” I didn’t intend to write it, saw the words in print, and realized that I did know how to write it. I wrote it about a week after that, read it to people at parties and stuff, consistently got good enough response that I contacted my friend Ricardo to do some illustrations, and took it to Akashic. They’re not exactly in the business of publishing obscene fake children’s books. Johnny Temple, the publisher, is a friend of mine, and Johnny thought it was very funny but he was sort of on the fence because for a while, there was this pervasive fear that maybe this was just funny to us, like maybe we’re just [bad] parents. But he showed it around and got a very enthusiastic response.

It was such a hit that you ended up moving up the publishing date several months. Now, that book has outsold all of your other books, right?
Oh yeah, like in the first week. My previous books have routinely sold dozens of copies [laughs]. No, I mean, Angry Black White Boy, previous to this, was the best-selling book I’ve done, and I’ve probably sold 15,000 copies of that, which is respectable. We’re up to about 600,000 in the United States on this one.

Does that bother you?
I’ll take it, you know what I mean? It gives me the freedom and the sort of financial security to not have to chase stuff I don’t want to do. And conversely, a lot of doors have opened for me in terms of the work I do want to do and the work I already have done. In the immediate wake of Go the F**k to Sleep, I sold my next novel; I did a two-book deal for a couple of thrillers; I sold a TV show.

Mansbach’s next novel, Rage Is Back, is due out in January 2013.  —Justin Goldman


Mark Estes/Estes PhotoMissy Park: Woman Power

Stylish entrepreneurialism.

Fit and 50, Missy Park stands in front of a pull-up bar in the fitness area of the Title Nine headquarters in Emeryville. She’s going to do an impromptu pull-up to demonstrate her “evangelical” belief in the transformative power of training, sports, and fitness.

“It affects how [women] carry themselves,” says Park, as she slips off her shoes and grabs the bar. “If a woman thinks, ‘I can master my body and this new sport,’ it gives her all kinds of confidence in the boardroom, in the courtroom, or in negotiating the child-care schedule with her husband.”

Park does an easy pull-up. The founder of Title Nine, the apparel company named for the landmark 1972 federal law, Park is wearing her usual sporty skirt and tee—this one reading, “Skirt the Rules.”  

The South Carolina–raised Park grew up in an era when girls weren’t encouraged to care about being strong. Attitudes began to change in 1972. That’s when Title IX gave girls and young women equal opportunity to participate in school athletics—and sparked an explosion in girls’ sports at all levels.

Park, who played basketball at Yale, moved to the Bay Area in the 1980s. While working at the North Face, she realized big sporting goods companies weren’t catering to women’s specific needs, such as making comfortable sports bras.

In 1989, Park’s “naive 27-year-old self” decided to start a business that carried, among other things, high-quality bras. The timing was perfect. Title Nine was one of the first companies to sell fitness apparel designed for women.

Today, it operates 19 retail stores in the Bay Area and elsewhere that sell activewear, casual clothing, shoes, and accessories. Another line, Bounce, sells lingerie and everyday bras.

“The great lessons of sports you learn are public success and failure,” she says. “There are opportunities for little failures that you can quickly recover from. That’s the idea of resilience.”  —Martha Ross


Brandi Maclaren

Camaron Ochs: From Lafayette to Nashville

A little bit country.

Two years ago, Camaron Ochs was working at a Stanford research lab. Today, she is living in Nashville, rubbing elbows with bigwig music execs, and writing country songs for RPM Music Group.

Ochs’ voice is beautiful and her songs effortless. Anyone would think she has been writing music all her life—but she hasn’t. Growing up in Lafayette, she sang with Contra Costa Children’s Chorus and formed an a cappella group at Campolindo High. But the tunes on her 2010 debut album, Heartforward, were the first complete songs she ever wrote (with help from collaborator Jason Shafton). “I had written fragments and tried playing guitar at college,” says Ochs. “But I was starting a craft I knew little about.”

Her CD release party sold out. No small feat for a DIY album recorded “ninja style” at the homes of family and friends. KFOG even began spinning her single, “You Were Late.”  

“I didn’t have a radio, so I had to run down to my car and catch it midsong,” she says. “It was nuts. The station I’ve been listening to since I was a kid played my song and said my name. Nobody was around. I had to yell and dance by myself.”

After a stint of writing some catchy country songs in Los Angeles, Ochs caught the attention of Scott Siman (former manager of Tim McGraw and signer of the Dixie Chicks). This year, she moved to Nashville to write full-time for Siman’s RPM Music Group. She’s already signed a single-song contract for new country artist Maggie Rose. “It’s a lot easier and more freeing to write songs for other people,” says Ochs. “Your ego isn’t wrapped up in it. You can take on a different character.”

Is there another Camaron Ochs album in the works? “People keep asking me if I’m going to be a songwriter or an artist. But I can be both,” she says. “I’m going through a growth period. There are so many influences that if I released an album now, it would be all over the place. But it’s still churning in my subconscious.”  —Hannah Craddick


AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Robert Reich: Economics Guru

Economic expertise from the Beltway to Berkeley.

Turn on any news show, and you’ll hear pundits on the left and on the right say that the biggest factor in this year’s presidential election is the economy. We sat down with UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor during President Clinton’s first term, to ask about the nation’s economic pulse, his thoughts on the election, and the ideas in his new e-book, Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong With Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It.

Let’s start here in the East Bay. How long have you been in Berkeley, and how does it compare to DC?
Six years, and I love it here. What’s not to like? There’s a wonderful sense of community but at the same time extraordinary diversity. The beauty of the Bay Area knocks me out. I love the university. The students here are every bit as good as the students I have taught at Harvard and Brandeis. We have a little house within walking distance of campus near the Gourmet Ghetto. Life is good.

Do you think the rest of the country appreciates Berkeley? Bill O’Reilly disregards Berkeley’s credibility by calling people here “loons.”
First, count the number of Nobel Laureates from here, and consider the impact of Berkeley’s research on the economy. Then, consider the reach of our authors and thinkers, and the extraordinary accomplishments of our alumni. You have to conclude that this is one of the nation’s treasures. [UC Berkeley] is the best public university in the country, if not the world, by almost every survey.

As far as Bill O’Reilly is concerned, I pay absolutely no attention to anything he says, except when he calls me a communist [which O’Reilly did, on his April 23 show]. He won’t return my calls or requests to debate.

On your website, you present short videos that explain complicated issues such as trickle-down economics and tax rates. You manage to boil down these incredibly complex topics to five or six key points in two minutes.
It is very important to tell the truth clearly and accurately, in a very short time frame. The idea that the rich need tax breaks, when more of the nation’s income and wealth is concentrated at the top than in any time in 30 years, is ludicrous. The idea that corporations need tax breaks to create jobs, when most people don’t have money to buy what corporations produce, is ridiculous.

These lies need to be rebutted, or people start to believe them—particularly at a time like this, when so many people and families are frustrated and anxious and seeking answers. If they don’t understand the truth, they fall to the demagogues who wield blame as if it were an answer: blaming immigrants or gays or foreigners or government or unionized workers.

It is dizzying to consider that 400 individuals in the United States have more combined wealth than the bottom 150 million people in the country. However, many people favor the argument against income redistribution—that it’s not fair to take one person’s money and give it to another.
Well, how do you think [those 400 individuals] got their wealth? Are they smarter than half the population or did they work harder than 150 million people? Of course not. They got their wealth because the dice are loaded in their favor. The deck is stacked.

Mitt Romney earns $20 million per year and pays lower than 14 percent in taxes, puts a huge amount of it in an IRA, and has legal specialists to figure out how to do that. At the same time, most Americans are working harder than they have ever worked, with less security than ever, barely getting by. The average American has little stake in this economy.

So, we are not talking about redistribution or theft. We really need to ask, What are the rules of the game? How can we make the rules fair enough that a much larger percentage of the population has a shot? We did it in the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s. Prosperity was broadly shared. Now, a tiny percentage of Americans are getting almost all the gains. It’s not only unfair, it’s unsustainable politically and socially.

You got a lot of buzz from a recent tweet about Mitt Romney’s statement that the unemployment rate should be no higher than 4 percent. You responded that the last time it was 4 percent was when you were secretary of labor, and we got there by raising taxes on the rich and investing in education and infrastructure. Is that the secret to fixing the economy in 2012?
Yes. Broadly speaking, there are two economic theories. Republicans have spent 40 years putting forth trickle-down economics: Cut taxes at the top, put this massive concentration of wealth at the top, and the benefits trickle down to the rest of us. We’ve seen that it does not work. Since the 1980s, when Reagan cut taxes on the wealthy, the median wage has not budged. Since Bush cut taxes on the wealthy even more, it resulted in even lower wages and fewer jobs.

The other philosophy is to invest in people, and then let the benefits percolate up. You invest in people’s skills, education, capacity to link up through first-class infrastructure, and people are able to be more productive. That puts money in their pockets, and not only can they buy things, but there is enough money to have good schools, better infrastructure, and safety nets for people who fall out of the system. You end up with a virtuous cycle where everyone does better, a rising tide that lifts all boats. And the rich do even better with a smaller slice of a rapidly growing economy than a thick slice of an economy that’s barely moving. The rich would do better with a smaller share in a society that is united and capable of making bipartisan decisions than a large share of a society that is bitterly divided.

What do you say to people who feel that Washington is broken beyond repair?
The biggest enemy to our democracy is cynicism. People do have time to be engaged, if you think about how much time they spend watching television, on their iPads. But people think they won’t be able to make a difference. People say to me, “I’m powerless,” but it’s not true. Every progressive social movement in this country started with a few people and succeeded because of their tenacity.

People have got to become engaged and mobilized. Politics should not be considered a dirty word. Even if we elect good people to go to Washington, nothing good comes out of Washington unless good people outside Washington are effectively organized and mobilized to effect good things.

Election day is not the end of the fight; it is just the beginning. This is well-known and well understood, but we seem to have forgotten. There’s a famous quote from FDR, in the election of 1936. A constituent said to him, “I want to vote for your reelection, but if you are back in office, I want you to do this and that.” He turned and said, “Ma’am, I want to do all of that—but you must make me.” He meant that even the president is powerless to effect change over the din of the special interests unless the vast majority of Americans are forcing a progressive change.

What is your take on these new Super PACs? Are they toxic to democracy?
We don’t know yet, but they could be. Particularly the ones that are misnamed social welfare organizations. They are, under the tax code, not- for-profit organizations, and they don’t have to disclose their donors, and there is no limit on how much their donors can spend. That’s a terrible message. It means that big corporations have no limit on giving, for example, to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which then turns around and runs ads against any progressive running anywhere, convincing the public that up is down and down is up; right is left and left is right.

I am chairman of a national organization called Common Cause, which was started by a Republican, John Gardner. Common Cause is dedicated to getting big money out of politics. The importance is much larger now than ever in my lifetime. As Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “We can have a democracy, or we can have a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. But we can’t have both.”

On a conservative talk show, I heard economic commentator Larry Kudlow say that the most important first step for a Romney administration would be to extend the Bush tax cuts. Obviously, you disagree. So, how important is this presidential election?
It is a critically important election. Again, we have never seen such a massive concentration of income and wealth; at the same time, we have an economy suffering from a lack of demand from the middle. We have a democracy teetering on the edge of being dysfunctional because of it. I can’t imagine a more dangerous combination.

On top of it, you have a more extreme right wing than we have seen in 60 years, some would say since before the New Deal. The extreme right has just booted out Dick Lugar from Indiana; he was the last moderate Republican. The Republican Party has not been this extreme in my lifetime.

If you had a crystal ball, who do you see winning the election in November?
If the economy continues to improve even slightly, Obama will be OK. Romney is not a good candidate. He’s an empty suit. And people can smell it.

If the economy really sinks, Obama is in trouble. The other factor is the Super PACs. If they raise over a billion dollars, which is possible if you include the Super PACs and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, they could just inundate the country with lies. Think of a giant swift boat.

How do you think President Obama has done in his first term?
History will tell. I think he compromised too much. Giving up on the public option in health care. Not tying the bank bailout to the banks, not insisting that the Glass-Steagall act be resurrected to control Wall Street, and not stimulating the economy nearly enough when he had the chance.

Having said that, he faced the most right-wing Republican Congress we have seen in recent history. It’s easy for me to talk from 3,000 miles away, but I have served in Washington, and I know how difficult those jobs are. It’s entirely possible that he did everything that he could.

How often does the president call asking you for advice?
I don’t hear from him often. He asked me to come to Washington to consult generally about the economy. If I hear from anybody, it’s from an assistant. His chair of the Council of Economic Advisors [Alan Krueger] is someone I hired when I was at the Labor Department.

Looking back at your own contributions in Washington, which achievements are you most proud of?
The two things in terms of being secretary of labor, legislatively, are implementing the Family and Medical Leave Act and raising the minimum wage for the first time in many years.

I was also a pain in the butt to the White House in terms of sounding the alarms about widening inequality and trying to keep Clinton’s eye on what was happening to the middle class and the poor.

Those are hard jobs, being in the cabinet—18-hour workdays, six and seven days a week. I did that for five years, and you never know at any given time how you are doing. You just do the best you can. Even if you can shift the ship four degrees in the direction it should be heading, you will affect the lives of tens of millions of people.  —Peter Crooks


Chloe Aftel

Merrill Garbus: In the Loop

Cutting-edge music star.

A few years ago, Merrill Garbus was making bedroom recordings on cassettes. Two years later, Garbus and her Oakland-based band, Tune-Yards, made the 2011 Best Album lists of Time Magazine, the Village Voice, and Rolling Stone.

Whokill is the album causing the fervor, and it is the perfect backdrop for the colorful Garbus, whose creative spirit channels a Beat Generation mind-set, with Meredith Monk–style voice alterations.

Garbus is known as the “Lady of Loop” for using looping effects to experiment with rhythm and melody. She also plays ukulele and packs a voice that snarls and purrs in any register.

“I start by working with the looping pedal and experimenting with rhythm and melody,” Garbus says about songwriting. She has received considerable attention for her use of technology, a fact she takes great pride in. “Women are often the last to be asked about their grasp of technology,” says Garbus.

Garbus’ music is hard to define. To date, it has been classified as pop, rock, R&B, soul, indie, danceable, percussive, fascinating, stand-alone, cultic, and, well, weird.

Garbus’ improvisation continues onstage, where every night is different and the loops “sway” according to the mood she carries into the performance. In the editing room, she snips and mutes with “as little intellectual pondering as possible,” even ripping out visual frequency patterns and letting the sonic result remain untouched.

What won’t be sacrificed is her vision, which she hinted contains dark holes; holes she’ll now fight through in front of the very public eye of impassioned critics who love or loathe her work. Drastic change will likely always rule her world, and most recently includes additional band members and writing for a classical vocal ensemble.

“I think we’re in an age when a pop musician can also be respected in other more traditional or classical worlds. And that’s just one reason I’m very happy to be a musician in this time,” she says.  —Lou Fancher


Courtesy of Stephen BishopStephen Bishop: Hot Actor

Big-screen breakout.

Moraga-raised actor Stephen Bishop took acting classes at Diablo Valley College but never imagined he’d wind up in a summer blockbuster.

“Acting was one of those things that felt natural to me, and my instructor at DVC was encouraging me to stick with it,” says Bishop, who plays a brave lieutenant battling aliens in the action-packed Battleship. “But I told him that I was going to be playing baseball professionally.”

Bishop, a graduate of Campolindo High, did play professionally in the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves organizations, before breaking into the movies in the 2003 film The Rundown, starring East Bay native Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. That hit action-comedy was directed by Peter Berg, who continued to cast Bishop in subsequent movies Friday Night Lights, Hancock, and Battleship.

“These are humongous films,” says Bishop. “I think Battleship had a $200 million budget: So you walk out on the set, and it is beyond incredible. It was fun to work on something that big.”

Bishop’s stock as a dramatic actor skyrocketed last fall when he starred opposite Brad Pitt in the Oakland A’s feature, Moneyball. Bishop had a ball playing veteran slugger David Justice and filming scenes at the same Oakland coliseum that he visited many times as an East Bay baseball fan. He laughs when asked if he’s living his childhood dreams, on-screen and off.

“From the inside looking out, I just see work: I’m off trying to get the next job,” says Bishop. “But it is fun to think about when I was a teenager, sitting in a theater on the edge of my seat, watching Return of the Jedi or Ghostbusters or The Karate Kid. It’s kind of surreal to realize that now, some kid is going to be doing that watching me. I feel humbled and blessed to be in this position.”  —Peter Crooks


Tony Gonzalez

Dennis Allen: New Coach on the Block

The silver-and-black have a new field boss.

The Oakland Raiders’ new head coach, Dennis Allen, has a big task on his hands in 2012: to get the Raiders back into the postseason for the first time since the team’s 2003 Super Bowl appearance. Allen, the former defensive coordinator from the Denver Broncos, is the first Oakland head coach with a defensive background since John Madden led the classic Raiders teams of the 1970s.

“Offensively, we’re in pretty good shape,” says Allen, when asked to assess his new team, which has finished 8-8 the past two seasons. “Defensively is where we need to turn some things around, do a few things differently. You need to be able to score points to win games, but to win a championship, I think defense is the essential key.”

Allen, 39, is the youngest head coach in the NFL this season and is one of several new faces in the storied team’s organization. Owner Mark Davis inherited the team when his father, the legendary Al Davis, passed away last fall. And new General Manager Reggie McKenzie has been brought in from the Green Bay Packers to run football operations.

“There is renewed energy and enthusiasm with the team and within the building, and that’s exciting,” says Allen. “The Raiders have been an exciting franchise, but things can get stale when you’re doing the same thing year after year.”

The one thing that hasn’t changed, and a force Allen is counting on when the season kicks off at home against San Diego on September 10, is the support of the Raiders’ fans.

“The Raider Nation is the best fan base in the NFL and maybe in all of sports,” Allen says. “I’m looking forward to getting into the Coliseum and stepping out on the field on the opening Monday night of the season.”  —P.C.


David Elkinson/Stanfordphoto.com

Kristian Ipsen: Diving Force

Flying and flipping for glory.

Kristian Ipsen always loved the water; it’s just that he got bored swimming back and forth. So when he saw the diving board, he knew that’s where he wanted to be.

“Even on my first days of diving practice, I had no fear,” says Ipsen, 19. “I just wanted to fling myself from the board and try different flips in the air.”

The Clayton-raised diver found his calling early, and it’s paying off. Last August, Ipsen was the first Stanford male diver to win an NCAA championship in 82 years, when he won the three-meter springboard competition at the National Diving Championships. Not bad for a freshman. Ipsen took his spring quarter off from Stanford to focus on an even bigger goal—going for the gold at the 2012 Olympics in London.

To make the Olympic team, Ipsen will need to finish first or second in some intensely competitive trials in mid-June. He will compete both as an individual diver and as part of a two-man team, with Texas diver Troy Dumais.

“I have been working really hard for a long time, so hopefully [the Olympics] will work out,” Ipsen says. “I’m confident that I can make the team. But if it does not work out, I’ll be excited to get to compete for Stanford again and get back into my studies.”

Ipsen credits his parents, owners of Skipolini’s Pizza restaurants in Concord, Clayton, and Walnut Creek, with his down-to-earth approach to the intense competition required for Olympic-level diving. “I was lucky enough to have parents who kept me grounded. They wanted me to be well-rounded, more than anything,” says the De La Salle High grad.

Noting that, Ipsen is still fiercely competitive when it’s time to dive from the three-meter platform, flip through the air, and enter the water, sans splash.

“I do the best when I just block everything else out,” he says. “I just get in my own bubble and go do my dive.”  —P.C.

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