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Jill Burgeson: Non-Conformity & Being The Change Agent

Special To Topanga Journal

She’s not that tall but bright, bright-eyed, witty and strong-willed. She entered Topanga Table with a wide smile and a huge presence. Seriously, her personality took up the whole space. Yet she was soft-natured and humble. It was readily apparent how she rose to become VP of Marketing at Fender Guitars. Her career hasn’t been above the fray of discrimination in the workplace though. Her story is at once beautiful and shocking. 

Jill Burgeson said she is the breadwinner of her household. Her husband stays at home with their daughter. She said, “This dynamic is surprisingly rare. I’m a couple of years older than him. We were both in advertising. Before we got pregnant, we talked about how we wanted one of us to raise her. We saw a lot of people have to do nannies. We waited to have kids until I was in my thirties. We thought let’s just be deliberate and make some choices here and make some sacrifices.”

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

The Burgesons planned ahead. They saved her husband’s entire salary for a year. They lived in smaller places. They didn’t take as many vacations, so that one of them could stay at home.  They decided that would be him. She said he was less passionate about his career than she was. That’s the way it always was, recounted Burgeson.

“It has always been hard. Some days I can get really resentful. Some days I feel like why can’t I go to the beach today and hang out with everybody? Why can’t I make the school play? That can be really hard, especially as a Mom. I walked into a party one time here in Topanga.This Mom looked at me. She said, ‘Oh your daughter does have a Mommy.’ I respect both sides. If both people have to work. If the Mom stays home. If the Dad stays home. But come on, have some thought about it.”

“And because I was a girl, I always felt like I had to keep proving myself over and over again.” Jill Burgeson

But let’s roll back the clock to the beginning. Let’s see how this powerful woman began. She got started in a small town about two hours south of Buffalo, New York called Allegany. She thought then the only options for a career for women were teachers, nurses or to be a mom. Initially going to college to be a teacher, she decided she didn’t have the patience for that field.  

“It didn’t feel progressive. It didn’t feel interesting to me at all,” said Burgeson. “I ended up going into business. I knew that was always exciting. My Dad has his own business too. When I got into that I fell into marketing. I was fascinated with how it all works. How advertising works. How you can take something that is seemingly simple, or even boring, and spin up an interesting story about it and get people to want it. There’s something cool about the psychology of all that.” 

Her first job was as a marketing assistant. Two years later she landed a position at an advertising agency in New York. It was the kind of job where everyone worked late hours, but her co-workers became the best friends of her life.

When asked had she encountered discrimination or the glass ceiling in her work experience, she had an intriguing answer. Burgeson said she was recently on a panel with similar topics on feminism. One such topic was how do biases we don’t notice influence our work lives? 

“I was always pretty young looking,” said Burgeson. “And because I was a girl, I always felt like I had to keep proving myself over and over again. Every time I’d walk in a room, it was like ‘Oh that’s cute. How can we help you?’ And I had to say ‘No, I’m in charge here.’ Whereas I would see other people it would be assumed, guys especially, they were in charge. On the East Coast when I worked there, guys would be treated differently, because they would be taken golfing or out drinking with the boss.” 

Work related golf and drink outings are not a cliché. This is where most of the deal making is done in business. Recent studies show golf in the business world is less about ability and more about being on the course where decisions are made. According to one recent survey by Statistic Brain, 90 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs play golf. CEOs who regularly play golf are paid 17 percent more on average than those who do not. Dysfunctionally, only 22 percent of US golfers are female.

“I remember going out for drinks for the first time with the bosses on the East Coast, I was like oh I’m in. I’m one of the gang now. But it was just me and all the guys, because you have to push your way into all that. You weren’t automatically invited to those things above and beyond work.” 

Burgeson recalled how that’s where a lot of things happened in the work world for her. She could bond with her workmates and become friends with them. Having to push her way into that, also having to go outside of her comfort zone of vulnerability of being feminine to being tough. During that time period she was coming up through things was the mid to late 90s to early 2000s. This would be what some would remember as the grunge period of music, when Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were big, not when they first emerged, but when they hitting it big. We had guitar distortion, angst and anguished vocals and lyrics. Along with that came stocking hats and combat boots for fashion fads.

“I don’t think my vulnerability and femininity was welcome in the workforce at that time,” said Burgeson. “I think that has certainly shaped how I have approached things. I’m still like, no crying at work. I’ve still been shaped by that mentality. I felt like it was a sign of weakness. But now I think it is a sign of passion. It’s OK. Men can and should cry. It’s OK.”

Women are so often told to shut down the waterworks in a business setting. Crying for people in general is empowering, according to psychologists at the American Psychological Association (APA). Most people feel relieved after crying that was due to stress from interpersonal relationships and anxious or sad thoughts, according to the APA.

But the glass ceiling is very humiliating, degrading and sucks the power from you. Burgeson recounts just such a moment.

“I’ve been told to sit in a room and help ‘dress’ the room,” Burgeson said. “They told me ‘oh hey we need another girl in here. You fit the part. You’re in here.’”

Burgeson recounted how she has always tried to warn other people, the people that are coming up through and have straight talk with them. 

“I did some things like that. Looking back I should’ve said no. I didn’t really know any better. I don’t like to conform to rules. I’ve been told even by women I need to play the game, play the part,” said Burgeson.

According to a study, based on the results of a survey of more than 70,000 employees from eighty-two of this study’s participating companies, three trends that disadvantage women were clear: Women experience a workplace skewed in favor of men; Women of color, particularly Black women, face even greater challenges; Women and men see the state of women—and the success of gender diversity efforts—differently; men have a more positive assessment that often clashes with reality. 

Burgeson said she has noticed things are changing for both sexes somewhat. She has noticed a movement for boys that it is OK for them to cry. Before there was a thing about women being too loud. Now it is OK for women to be dynamic, she said.

“Before it was if you were a women you were being assertive or bitchy. Now there is a little bit of an over correction stage where people are saying everybody can say whatever they want,” Burgeson said. “It will probably balance out at a certain point.” 

Over the last five or six years Burgeson has been brought into places where she’s a change agent. She said it is awesome, fun and exciting but also a challenge. She was working at PMG as key strategist hire. PMG is a recognized leader in the digital advertising industry based out of Austin, Texas. 

“It’s a Texas based agency run by all guys,” said Burgeson. “I helped bolster the women leadership. So I think the women were like oh my gosh, yeah. There is somebody else doing this, and we can talk to her.”

The next phase of Burgeson’s career was her dream job. She was offered a position as VP of Marketing at Fender Guitars. 

“I’m stoked. I’ve always wanted to work in music,” said Burgeson. “This is such an exciting time to be in music. Everything is changing. One of the challenges I’ll be facing there is how do we tell the story of this iconic brand in a modern way within the digital world?”

“Fender knows close to 50 percent of those buying guitars are women today,” said Burgeson. “So they know they need to change. They know they need to study their audience better. They’re really excited and interested in doing that. I can’t wait to help them do it.” 

In ten years Burgeson hopes that she can remain within the music industry. She thinks now honing in on marketing and music she feels that is where the next chapter of her career.  She hopes to lead something major, something interesting. 

“What I always like to do,” she said. “I always try to take on roles I know I can bring them something but also I’m going to be learning a lot as well. I would say as long as it keeps my brain on fire, and that I can actively make a change and make a difference, I will feel fulfilled. Music to me is a personal passion.”

No one else will set boundaries for you, this passionate leader warned the next and previous generation. You have do it yourself. Every single day there may be one more phone call you can take, or one more email or meeting, but at five or six o’clock just stop doing it, she said.

“If you need to get home, whether you have children or not, the only person that’s going to let you do that is you,” said Burgeson. “That’s one thing I’ve realized over the years and have made room for. Being a woman in the work place and with a child, I really have to check myself when I walk through the door. Being tough, on, direct, and driving things all day, I love that. If you carry that exact same energy home with you, It can be really hard on relationships. You need to let someone else decide what’s for dinner. Just stop being the one in charge for a second, or balance it out a bit. Be an equal partner when you get home.”

Burgeson’s story is a mind-blowing Salvador Dali painting. She has swept the advertising world by storm and unlocked the creativity and imaginations of a whole new generation of musicians. Influential yet vulnerable and even shocking that such strength and beauty can be taken advantage of so callously. Yet wonderfully inspiring that she can channel her vulnerabilities and sensibilities into a powerful career trajectory where very few women have traveled. 


Fender Play:

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Topanga Mercantile: A Love Story

Special To Topanga Journal

The following is a love story. When she first saw him, Dinah Englund fell in love with Tom Vogel. He was a candlemaker, and of the opposite political party. He grew up with structure, she in a boundary free environment. He was born on the East Coast, she on the West. Vogel is a hard facts kind of guy. Englund, the daughter of Cloris Leachman, believes in the universe. Somehow these two are soulmates. The one thing they have in common is an incredible attention to detail in the creation they make together and in the journey on their love story.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

“I knew I had to find a way to hook him,” Englund said. “I knew it had to be with candles. It took me a year and a half to figure it out. Then I finally came up with this idea. What if we made candles in vintage containers? He thought that was a good idea. That’s were the whole thing started.”

” What if we made candles in vintage containers? He thought that was a good idea. That’s were the whole thing started.” Dinah Englund

Englund recounted how the pair built their business from her kitchen where it grew into a tiny 10 by 12 shed in the back of their place in Topanga when they moved in together. Vogel fixed the shed up into a candle shop so they could work out of it. 

“When we had large orders we’d have the table out in the backyard, so we could put the inventory there while I was making candles inside the shed,” said Vogel while the romance of their first days there was in both their eyes as they laughed. 

“We decided we needed to go somewhere else. We wanted to be here on the boulevard, but we couldn’t,” said Englund. “It just wasn’t happening. No matter how I tried. Then we ended up in a beautiful place. It used to be Ribbit Nursery. Then it became Old Canyon Ranch. There was this beautiful building someone had put there that looked like a glass house. But it was in the middle of nowhere.”

Englund recounted how they shut that place down, and they ended up in someone’s garage. That’s where Vogel renovated a two car garage into another candle studio. That worked out well for awhile. Englund kept trying to get their candle shop on Topanga Canyon Boulevard without success. Finally the middle space on the ground floor across from the General Store opened up. 

“I kept thinking I don’t want to be in the ghetto. I don’t want to be down here. I want to be up there,” said Englund pointing across the boulevard. “I started waking up at night saying oh my god. I see the whole thing. As you know this whole center, people kept trying to make it happen, but it just took us pouring in a lot of our own money, and we kept throwing festivals and not taking no for an answer until it became a really pretty place.”

The couple broke through a wall in their shop and are building a candle bar in the space next to theirs. Customers can come and create their own candles with scents and be creative or zenful and bring that energy home with them. The shop has been completely renovated. It is bright, airy and full of every kind of candle to suit whatever need. 

“It was much more of a movement than just having a shop,” said England. “I think it is the most beautiful commercial real estate in Topanga. Tom makes all the candles here.  We’re pushing the whole bar back. It is going to be a candle bar where you can come and make your own, put your fragrance in, choose what you like and have a master teach you. We can book events there. We’ll have Topanga Mercantile there which is a lot of beautiful local artists. I like to curate beautiful things.”

The candle bar can be for an individual, or an event like a birthday party where you can rent out the whole place. Participants can make candles and drink wine, or tea and coffee, during festivities. Also along the way the couple have been throwing candle making classes. Vogel has taught Shimon, who is the Justin Bieber of Japan, how to make candles.

Prior to this version of Topanga Mercantile, there was a previous Topanga Mercantile in the history of Topanga. Englund tells us of its past. 

“Where Coast and Canyon is now is where Heyoka Hideout was. Then it was Dust and Fog. Now it’s going to be changed over to something else. That was the original Topanga Mercantile,” said Englund. “ We didn’t know that until a woman came in one day with a postcard of the original Topanga Mercantile.”

The original Topanga Mercantile was a store that sold a little bit of everything. The washed out picture on the postcard showed a couple of chairs, a couch, lamp, sconce, rug and plates, as though they were selling a little bit of everything, said Vogel. That version of Topanga Mercantile existed in the 1970s. 

“Saturdays and Sundays we always have teas, tonics and live bands,” Englund said.

“Colin Hay, the lead singer from Men At Work, came down and sang with this famous Latino band that was here. The place went crazy,” said Vogel. 

“Topanga is going through another sort of Renaissance,” said Englund. “We hit here on the ground floor.”

“I’d like to emphasize prior to what we’ve done here, this place was a disaster. It was ugly,” said Vogel. “There were homeless encampments. So nobody came here. Dinah saw there was potential. She had the balls enough to say OK, we’re going to move in here. We’re going to slowly start putting in our own money and time. Everything you see here that’s not brick or mortar, has been done by Dinah and I with our money to beautify it. We love Topanga as a community.”

After the conversation had progressed for some time, the topic of feminism came up. When asked if she was a feminist, Englund first asked what is a feminist? So a basic definition of feminist was given: women should have equal opportunity as men in the workplace, in the arts and under the law. 

“I don’t even know why we are still having this conversation,” said Englund. “Everybody should be treated equally. That’s all there is to it. You can call yourself whatever you want, but at the end of the day everybody should be treated the way everyone wants to be treated, fairly. I don’t know that a label-”

“Unfortunately that’s not happening. That’s why there’s discussion and movements,” said Vogel.

“I hope the people who have the energy to make that happen can. I don’t live in that world. I choose not to. I’d rather create my own existence. That way I don’t have to answer to or be told what to do. I don’t like being told what to do, probably because I have so many brothers,” said Englund. 

Of all the interviews for this issue, it was a light in much darkness that England hadn’t really experienced that much discrimination in her lifetime. She had chosen to create a world for herself that didn’t include labels or the influence of those who chose to hold her back. Even reaching far back in her story, she is a free spirit. It’ll be a good day for women when there are more stories like hers.


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Topanga Symphony: Charnofsky Destined To Be Among California’s Classic Guitar Icons

Special To Topanga Journal

The Topanga Symphony had a guest classical guitarist for their summer performance at the Topanga Community Center. Jordan Charnofsky, principal guitar for the LA Opera Orchestra, played a beautiful composition from 1939.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

Here in the Canyon Charnofsky performed Guitar Concerto #1 in D major, Op. 99 written by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 – 1968) on the eve of World War II. This composer was Jewish and from Italy. He became known during the 1920’s. His works were soon banished from the Italian airwaves, even though he was a well-known and revered in Italian music. His musical performances were canceled. Hatred of Jews stoked by Mussilini was the impetus for Castelnuovo-Tedesco to emigrate from Italy to the United States, specifically to Hollywood. There he scored over 200 films including: The Loves Of Carmen, And Then There Were None, Time Out Of Mind, Superman (1948) and The Prince Of Thieves.

“There has long been since the symphony’s original performance the idea in critics circles that this symphony possibly had an unfinished feeling, or was much like a tone poem. A tone poem is descriptive or rhapsodic and often describing certain elements in nature, like The Pines Of Rome.”

While still in Italy in 1932, Castelnuovo-Tedesco met Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia. They were at the Venice International Society of Contemporary Music where this meeting inspired Castelnuovo-Tedesco to write Guitar Concerto #1 in D.


Charnofsky played with such depth of feeling. He is surely destined to be among California’s long remembered classical guitar icons. He has accompanied the Opera greats like Luciano Pavarotti, Juan Diego Flores and Bryn Terfel. When he finished his breathtaking performance, he was greeted by a standing ovation.


The Topanga Symphony also broke down into a brass quintet performing a composition by Jerome Kessler himself. He is the Topanga Symphony’s conductor and Music Director. He has written numerous compositions for orchestra, voice, cello and ensembles. He’s also the director of the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra and a cellist. This particular piece was Andante and Scherzo for Brass Quintet and was the work’s world premiere. This was a beautiful melody for Brass. The Scherzo in particular was well executed by the quintet.


During rehearsal prior to the performance, Kessler had worked out certain bars with different sections of the orchestra: first violins, brass and the bird like flutes in Dvorak’s Symphony #8 in G, Op. 88. He was mostly conveying ideas like pianissimo, telling the instrumentalists they couldn’t possibly be soft enough in certain sections. This group readily took to his instructions. By performance time, Dvorak’s symphony was vibrant and alive when necessary, pianissimo. The original intent of the symphony was clear. There has long been since the symphony’s original performance the idea in critics circles that this symphony possibly had an unfinished feeling, or was much like a tone poem. A tone poem is descriptive or rhapsodic and often describing certain elements in nature, like The Pines Of Rome.


Originally the idea this symphony was a tone poem was meant as a slam against Dvorak. The early critics of his day said it was too strongly grounded in loose intervention. He was writing music that was going against the current strain of his time. Music of his day was not happy or vibrant. It was darker, moody and tragic. But there is also something deeper, possibly more hidden in why the composition sounds the way it does. Dvorak was invited to Russia by Tchaikovsky prior to composing the work. In deciding which symphony might be performed for a subsequent visit to Moscow, Dvorak decided a new composition he was working on would be the one, this was Symphony #8 in G. He was also considering ideas of life during the time he was composing this work. He was considering appreciation of nature and beauty, and the joys of life. It also calls up pastoral images. Plus it is very lyrical. These are all elements of a tone poem. The influence of his Czech and Slavonic music roots are also evident in this work. Also Beethoven and Brahms were the precursors to this work. And as they were precursors for Dvorak, he too was the catalyst for late 19th Century music.


The Topanga Symphony is made up of both professionals and amateurs. Topanga is one of the few towns where a person can go to a professional theater performance in the afternoon and a professional level symphony performance that night just a few steps away. We’re a town of just over 8,200 people, according to the latest census. It is a Bohemian place with a lot of talent nestled inside this Canyon. What a treat to get to have the sun set behind the Canyon mountains outside the window while we listen to the sounds of Dvorak, Kessler’s own compositions and Charnofksy’s classical guitar.


The Topanga Symphony will return November 11 for their fall performance.



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UPDATED: Topanga Canyon Blvd Closures Again This Weekend

UPDATED October 1, 2017 2:11 p.m.: The contractor assigned to complete repairs on Topanga Canyon Blvd this weekend has finished work early. Topanga Canyon Blvd will be open for regular traffic tonight, said Tim Weisberg, Public Information Officer for Caltrans to the press.


September 30, 2017: The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced it will close a four-mile section of Topanga Canyon Boulevard (State Route 27) in both directions this weekend for repairs. A four mile section of the Canyon road will be closed from 9 pm to 5 am on September 30 and October 1.

“This weekend’s repairs are intended to limit the potential threat of slides, and prevent rocks and other debris from falling into lanes of SR-27, leading to further closures during the next rainy season,” said Weisberg in a statement about the closure.

Caltrans is working to repair damage from the June wildfire that burned more than 50 acres and temporarily closed Topanga Canyon Blvd at that time. This same section of highway was again damaged by severe winter storms in January due to rock and other debris slides.

This weekend’s work will include putting in place a temporary rock fall fence, installing netting to catch rocks and falling debris and making other necessary repairs to slopes along the Blvd damaged in the wildfire.

The closure area will be closed to bikes and pedestrian access in addition to vehicles.

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