Tag Archives: Iowa

In Memoriam: The Iowa Caucus 1972-2020

We’ve now officially begun another election year cycle, a testament to the privileges of our nation, but one that reflects an increasingly polarized climate where many voters have already cashed out on our great American Experiment. The manner in which we nominate Presidential candidates continues to evolve and mirror the reality of our country–for better or worse–while allowing a much needed discussion about the process itself.

Many voices from this self-reflection wonder if having two small and predominately white states (Iowa and New Hampshire) remains the best first-step for this effort, particularly when much of the divide in America is rooted in the lack of tolerance toward one another. Should we continue to allow two states that don’t accurately represent the demographics of our country the privilege of determining a suitable voice for this critically important effort?

Front and center was the 2020 Iowa caucus. The “first in the nation” state proved to be a complete shit show, mired in chaos from the ineptitude of Iowa Democratic Party leadership, the lack of effective training for local party volunteers assigned with the task of running their precincts and the failure of a smart phone reporting app that was rushed-to-launch days before the caucus itself.

When the dust settled and Iowa was still not any closer to providing the rest of the country with results days after the caucus ended, the calls to initiate changes to the process began ringing with more intensity and with greater resolve.

How was Iowa blessed with their first in the nation status? The answer originated in a different time. It was a world in which the backroom deals of our two major political parties created a process of selection that would be obediently followed for decades, without much dispute.

This began to unravel in 2016 when Iowa caucus-goers seemed to split evenly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The moment our state was unable to declare a candidate’s decisive victory was when those frustrated began to try to learn more about the process, perhaps with the intention to help us dumb yokels provide the results in a manner that was easier to explain and more efficient to report.

In their discovery, they began to learn about the informality of our caucuses. Our process lacked real transparency in terms of how delegates were appointed and it was filled with antiquated methods like raw vote counts and coin tosses. The entire event was hard to understand and even harder to explain among the journalists and reporters who flocked to our state with barely hidden resentment at having to spend the winter with a bunch of hayseeds, flipping quarters between Bernie and Hillary.

It was the Sanders camp that first approached the Democratic National Committee with their apprehension about the Iowa caucuses. The DNC then met with Iowa State Democratic leadership to introduce their concerns and request the first real meaningful changes to our process since 1972. Iowa responded positively to these suggestions, even telling our national party leadership of an aggressive initiative to transition our antiquated caucus process into a digital platform that allowed party members to vote from their smart phones.

When questions about the access and security of such a reporting method arose, state leaders backpedaled and considered a more measured solution. Iowa would implement a paper process for their candidate selection, but enable precincts to report the results of their caucus through a phone app. This app would help calculate the raw votes into appropriate delegate numbers while providing the state party with immediate, real-time results. The paper trail would provide a way to audit and verify the results if there was any uncertainty.

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Iowa Jam: The Grateful Dead at the UNI-Dome 2/5/1978

The word is it was a cold night with a biting wind that brought the real world temperature to around 20 below. The sky was overcast on that Sunday evening in Cedar Falls, Iowa and there was a chance of snow. It was a fairly common winter evening for this college town of about 50,000 residents nestled next to a river of the same name; some even perpetuated the myth that the University of Northern Iowa campus was the second windiest, trailing behind Loyola or some other Chicago-based college.

The Grateful Dead’s winter tour in the early months of 1978 had just played Madison and Milwaukee, making Wisconsin the lucky recipient of the band’s weekend mojo. The University of Northern Iowa was fortunate enough to book the band for the Sunday night in their large athletic arena called the UNI-Dome.

I should note that I am an alumnus of the University of Northern Iowa, so I’m very familiar with the campus and the area itself. I continue to live in the Cedar Valley and enjoy living here.

I’m also a fan of the Grateful Dead, to the point where my family rolls their eyes when I ask Alexa to play the band in the kitchen. But fuck those guys. I’m cooking them dinner and I want to hear “Jack Straw” sometimes while I’m boiling water.

Acknowledging both of these things is important, because it makes me a barely credible source regarding the time the Grateful Dead rolled into Cedar Falls and performed a concert at a regionally iconic venue/sports complex at the same university that let me walk away with a B.A. in Communications after only five completely underachieving years.

While I wasn’t present for the performance, I was very aware of the folklore of the show while attending the university a decade after it actually happened. The recollections were (literal) half-baked musings or suspect recounts of someone how knew someone who had a friend who went to the show.

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Losing Touch With My Mind: Socks, Spacemen 3 and Iowa’s No Fault Divorce Law

I found some socks in my drawer that I didn’t recognize.

With clear mind, I knew that they weren’t mine. I also determined that they weren’t my wife’s that happened to find their way into my sock drawer. They looked familiar, but they weren’t her style. What would she need in a  pair of argyle socks when she didn’t even own a pair of khakis?

I think of socks as a utilitarian article of clothing, something that should relatively match in color the other aspects of the wardrobe, while not distracting from the ensemble through pattern or design.

So, whose fucking socks are these?

I’m happily married now, but there was a time that I wasn’t happily married, albeit to someone different. I know that every divorce is different, but those who have experienced it understand its toll. And part of that is your mind’s ability to block out moments of time in your life while still remembering that there are big gaps in your mind that are still accessible.

It’s unfair to deny yourself your own history, but it’s a defense mechanism that prevents you from ultimately remembering the outcome of that part of your past: the divorce. With a little bit more focus, I remembered how these curious pair of socks was left behind in a bedroom set that I moved with me after the divorce was final. I didn’t think about it at the time, I just threw them in a laundry basket while I removed the shelves from the highboy to make carrying that monstrosity much easier.

The walnut bedroom set was that of my grandmother, so I dutifully wrote it down on my list of things that I felt I was entitled to when we began the process of identifying property ownership. I also put down the musical instruments (except the longhorn bass I bought for her and the SWR amplifier), the memorabilia from various rock shows, my library desk and chair, and, of course, the entire remnants of our music collection. It was easier to identify “her” titles, but I found a bit of resistance when she tried to claim that those records that she actually purchased for me were actually hers since she paid for them.

I successfully pointed out the lunacy of such a claim, secretly worrying that she would be walking away with my rare copy of Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby–a record she most assuredly wouldn’t appreciate.

Thankfully, we compromised on all of this quickly. I was in no mood to communicate with her, let alone barter, and I understood how utterly ridiculous this would all look from the outside.

We would be arguing over records.

Months later, when the collection was secured and transported to my new home, I took time in making sure everything was in its right place. I alphabetized the collection, taking mental inventories of the various artists and putting their catalog in chronological order.

In some instances, it’s harder to do this, particularly if the artist was short-lived, but their posthumous catalog kept growing.

I found this out when getting to the Spacemen 3 section.

Spacemen 3 weren’t together all that long, releasing around a half-dozen records during their actual existence while watching their offerings increase after they broke up, thanks to the introduction of live recordings, demos, and unreleased material.

Should I put For All The Fucked Up Children Of This World before Sound Of Confusion since it features demo recordings from before those sessions, but was released well after the debut? Should I put my copy of Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To ahead of…

Wait a second.

Where was my copy of Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To?

I went through every title in my entire collection again to see if I had misfiled it. All of this must sound incredibly compulsive, but trust me, it is so much easier to find if you suddenly have an urge to hear the demo version of “Feel So Good” instead of the proper studio version. It’s right there, no waiting, no searching.

Several months later, my newly christened ex-wife called me in my new home one evening. I would typically let calls like these go directly to voice mail after discovering that we really didn’t need to communicate, except through lawyers, and that any attempt at rational conversation would just escalate into her screaming at me.

For some reason, I answered the call.

She was moving out of our old house, and that meant we’d need to sell it.

“I found an old Spacemen 3 record in the computer room,” she told me.

“I’ve been looking for that!” my voice blurted with obvious relief. “Can you send it to me?”

It was obvious to her how important this record must have been to me and this clearly gave her some additional power.

“It’s mine!” she shot back.

My head filled with rage as I understood completely what she was doing. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to quiz her on the history of Spacemen 3 (“What’s Sonic Boom’s real name?!”) and point out that she had no clue to who they were before meeting me.

“But I bought it for you,” she fired back, “and now I’m keeping it because I paid for it.”

There were miles between us during this phone call, but I could see her smile with delight as if she were right in front of me. She had me. She began to suggest that I had obtained all of the items I was entitled to. There would be no discussion of additional possessions that I failed to acquire when I moved out.

I could hear her laughing as I sputtered out excuses at how this had turned into a very immature dispute. “What could you possibly want from the 1985 demo sessions by the Spacemen 3?” I desperately asked.

“I’m fucking with you!” she offered after a good chuckle. “I’ll put them in the mail on Monday.”

Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To sits next to the other titles in my Spacemen 3 collection today, a rare title where the incidents around the record are more notable than the music contained within it. It may not be the case for other listeners, but for me, the act of possessing it far outweighs the performance. I’d heard these songs before, and in most cases, much better versions. But if you’re a completist, that’s beside the point.

The original intent of the record was to fill in the gaps, but it turned into a verifiable battle of the sexes. A footnote to a failed marriage as recalled by a stray pair of argyle socks found in my drawer this morning.

30 Years After The Death Of John Lennon

John and YokoOn the morning of Monday, December 8, 1980, John Lennon was photographed in the nude, embracing his fully clothed wife, Yoko Ono. The iconic photograph captured by Annie Leibovitz in the couple’s Dakota apartment would later grace the cover of Rolling Stone’s January 22, 1981 edition.

My Monday morning was dramatically different. I was 14 years old and days were spent in the classrooms of Keokuk Middle School. I was oblivious to the work of Annie Leibovitz, but I was very much aware that John Lennon had recently left his world of domestic tranquility and returned to the career that made him such a recognizable figure among any 8th grader in 1980.

While John Lennon endured interviews and recordings on that day, I endured the breath of our algebra teacher and the watchful eye of Mr. Gaylord, the middle school principal whose mistrust of anyone 14 and under was probably well deserved thanks to the ridicule he endured because of the too-easy ammunition of his last name.

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Wolf Parade – Live In Iowa City

Wolf ParadeWolf Parade at the Englert Theatre

November 18, 2010, Iowa City, Iowa

As I was exiting the Englert Theatre after Wolf Parade’s performance on Thursday night, I noticed a familiar face.

It was co-worker who used to work close to my cubicle.

We gave each other a look of startled recognition, but it was my twenty-something corporate neighbor who stated the nature of his surprise.

“I didn’t know you were an indie rock fan.”

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Glen Campbell – Live at Riverside Casino

Glen CampbellGlen Campbell at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort

September 5, 2010, Riverside, Iowa

It was the smell of active cigarette smoke that made me feel a little unsettled. I suppose that’s a testament to the various laws that have been put in place for the past few years, prohibiting smoking in public places like bars and restaurants.

Public places other than casinos, which are exempt in my state.

I was walking aimlessly around the Riverside Casino, the one-armed bandits providing an endless G note from the continual chirp of electronic sounds.

Finally, I stopped and asked a casino worker to point out where Glen Campbell was playing that Sunday afternoon.

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Back To Back In Black

AC/DC - Back in BlackJuly 25, 2010 marked the 30th anniversary of the largest selling hard rock album in history: AC/DC‘s Back In Black. It was a landmark album for the band in more ways than just total sales. Not only were they following up their biggest-selling record to date, Highway To Hell, but they were following it with a brand new lead singer, a replacement necessitated by the sudden death of their original vocalist Bon Scott earlier that same year.

I remember teenage boys in my school who were noticeably upset by Bon Scott’s passing, but none of them seemed at all concerned that the band would decide to forge ahead with a new vocalist. Looking back now, the very notion that AC/DC was replacing not just a frontman, but a certified iconic figure, seems positively absurd.

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AC/DC Live In Des Moines

ACDCAC/DC at Wells Fargo Arena

Des Moines, Iowa, April 17, 2010

The question is: Do they still have it at this age?

The answer—without hesitation—is: Yes, they do.

This was my first-ever AC/DC show. I won’t bore you with all of the personal drama that it took to get to Saturday night’s show, but let’s just say that after Brian Johnson went all old on me last fall and caused the band to cancel a bunch of Midwestern dates, I’d almost reached a point where I had psyched myself out of all the excitement of finally seeing them.

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Shearwater and Wye Oak Live In Iowa

Shearwater Shearwater and Wye Oak at Gardner Lounge

Grinnell College, Iowa, April 7, 2010

“Excuse me!” I yelled to the young man who was walking through the parking lot where I ended up. “Could you tell me where Gardner Lounge is?”

I was on the campus of Grinnell College, a private and wildly expensive college located in the sleepy Iowa town of Grinnell (population 9,500). There’s not a lot to do in Grinnell, which is why the college uses some of the $45,000 it charges undergrads each year in tuition to bring in top-tier alternative bands for the students’ amusement. The best part about these shows is that they’re free and they occasionally let the rest of us dumb Iowa natives into their exclusive buildings to witness the event.

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Merle Haggard – Live at Riverside Casino

Merle HaggardMerle Haggard at the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort

Riverside, Iowa, July, 10 2009

Part two of Riverside Casino’s Summer Concert Series (don’t worry, I plan to miss Styx and Kenny Wayne Sheppard) featured a living legend of country music, Merle Haggard. Not to be morbid, but there are moments when I consider how much time is left in a performer’s lifetime, particularly when the artist is advancing in age, when dishing out money for a ticket.

Hag turned 72 this spring: young enough to feel secure that he’ll be with us a while younger but old enough to know that quality may begin to suffer with each passing year.

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