Driving in Iowa

It is almost as easy to get a drivers license in Iowa as it is to get a weapons permit, so just about everyone has one. Since Iowans don’t like to have their freedoms and liberties infringed, there’s also no pesky government inspectors to tell you how to take care of your own vehicular properties. So to keep things running smoothly, here are some helpful rules of the road that they didn’t teach you when you took drivers education in seventh grade:

  • It’s better to decide which way you want to turn before you get into the middle of intersection.
  • You don’t have to turn the wheel the same way you turn your head when looking at the scenery. It’s just corn, anyway.
  • That whirring sound you hear is nature’s way of telling you: “Get some new tires.”
  • Just because the road is narrow doesn’t mean you should always drive down the middle of it.
  • You do not have to prove how nice you are by letting every single car through at the four-way stop.
  • It’s better to stop the car before you take a behind-the-wheel selfie, no matter how cute you look.
  • Dragging your muffler along behind you does not make you a Low Rider, though it sure sounds cool.
  • The pile of deer on your hood should not be taller than your windshield.
  • The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, not a random series of swerves
  • Slow and steady does not win the race. Ever. But what’s your hurry, anyway?

Iowa Olympics: The Decathlon

Ten grueling events designed to test your strength and stamina as an Iowan:

1. Cinema Huddle: How close can you sit to the only other people in an otherwise empty theater?

2. Public Personal Reveal: How many gross intimate medical details can you share with a stranger in ten minutes?

3. Outdoor Voice Inside: How far can your awesome story be heard across a quiet restaurant?

4. Four Way Gridlock: How many other cars can you wave through while backing up traffic at a four-way stop?

5. Market Meander: Who can cover the greatest random chaotic distance between two booths at the Farmers Market?

6. Charity Charade: How many donors can you attract for your really bad idea? (Bonus points for securing State funding!)

7. YP Professional Pad: How many fantasy items can you get on your “Young Professional of the Year” resume?

8. Mondo Modesty: Who can proudly shout “Iowans are humble and don’t like attention” the most in public?

9. DSM Debutante: Who can nab the most photo appearances in the society pages of JUICE and DSM Magazines?

10. Two Inches of Terror: Who can take the baldest tires at high speed onto 80/35 after dusting of snow?

Shopping Tips for Iowans

Iowans are very friendly, but the weather and the geography here keep them from gathering in large public venues very often. This can cause problems when they are forced to congregate in a confined space, like a shopping mall at Christmas time, or the Farmers Market in Des Moines, because they are often unsure how to act. Here are some tips to help native and captive Iowans alike navigate this treacherous time of the year:

  • Do not ride escalators side by side, then stop to gawk as soon as you step off the moving stairs. This will cause a pile-up.
  • Walk in straight lines, and not in random serpentine patterns, suddenly changing course, with your arms out. Traffic will flow smoothly this way.
  • To look at something shiny, step to the side instead of just stopping suddenly in the aisle, raising both arms, and shouting “Wow!”
  • No one else likes your children as much as you do. Especially when they act like that. Just leave them in the car, with a window cracked.
  • While testing out the feel of a new hunting rifle, try to avoid pointing it at other shoppers.
  • No matter what, your truck is not nice enough to park across three spots, one of them handicapped.
  • This is probably a bad time to tell the Chick-Fil-A clerk about your medical history and recent test results, no matter how nice he is.

Iowa Rhymes: The Poet’s Corner

“On Landing at DSM”

We flew above the clouds.
We could not see the ground.
We saw some hills as we went up,
then none when we came down.

“Iowa Longevity”

We’re healthy folks ’round here,
a fact the world affirms.
We work hard, sleep lots, and live in
a place too cold for germs.

“Eating in Iowa”

The diet here is great,
our plates are quite the sight:
with corn and pork and milk and bread,
our food is always white.

“The Road Trip”

We drove off to the North.
I-35 was closed.
And somewhere just outside of Ames,
we sadly sat and froze.

“Iowa’s Greatest Lake”

Those Minnesota lakes?
The best I’ve ever seen!
But this Clear Lake, I’m sad to say,
is either ice . . . or green.

“Practical Politics”

So we sent Joni Ernst
to D.C.’s hallowed halls,
because she knows her way around
a pair of porky balls.

“The Other Maytag”

I ate the Tenderloin,
I ate the Snickers Pie,
but if you make me eat that cheese,
I think I might just die.

“Know Your Audience”

Bruce Braley thought he’d run
for Old Tom Harkin’s seat.
He made a “stupid farmer” joke,
then harvested defeat.

BLANGA: It’s Krankschaft!

Some years back, English singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Pond created a brilliant online reminiscence of The Glory Days of British Glam Rock, to which he was a first-hand observer and participant as a music-loving youngster. While he certainly recognized and appreciated the visual and sartorial excesses of the era, he also nailed a key tenet of what made the music itself so special, and I quote him on this topic, below:

[Glam’s] main identifying mark wasn’t the clothes worn or the name of the singer (Larry Lurex anyone?) but the rhythm of the music. A very basic tribal four on the floor pervades glam rock, sometimes played on the floor tom tom a la Gary Glitter/Suzi Quatro, sometimes the whole band just stomped along on the beat like Slade or T-Rex, but this was rock n’ roll, pure and simple.

That same type of stomping mighty tribal beat — amplified by amphetamines — also underscored the work of pioneering space rockers Hawkwind, who at the peak of their powers merged thunderous, monolithic rhythms (courtesy Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister on bass and woefully under-appreciated drummer Simon King) with science fiction storytelling and free-form squalls of synths and horns and guitars, creating a style that’s come to be known, in certain musical circles, as BLANGA. (Full disclosure: Steve Pond and I both played long-ago roles in the creation and dissemination of that descriptive musical term, documented here).

While glam largely shifted into the purview of mildly embarrassed nostalgia in the aftermath of the punk cataclysm of 1977, Hawkwind soldier on to this day, still dishing out the BLANGA, still widdling the synths, still in search of space. Steve Pond himself went on to craft a fascinating musical career that orbited between the twin touch poles of Glam and BLANGA, working for many years with erstwhile Hawkwind frontmen Nik Turner (in Inner City Unit) and Robert Calvert, whose Pond-fortified backing band was called Krankschaft. And now, long after Calvert’s untimely death in 1988 and a long series of personnel-driven fits and starts (documented in this brilliant Pete Frame-style family tree), 2014 finds the former glam kid and space-rocker fronting a new three-piece incarnation of Krankschaft, and issuing the band’s excellent third album, fittingly called Krankschaft Three.

The album’s brilliant artwork (courtesy one Dr. Foxon; see example below) explicitly makes the BLANGA connection in an apt onomatopoeia inspired by two fist-fighting robots, and Krankschaft Three should no doubt appeal to the unreformed, badger-loving, caravan-camping crusties at the heart of historic Hawkwind fandom. (I count myself as an honorary member thereof, so that’s in no way an insult!) But, oh, there’s so much more to this album than just the BLANGA, and I hope that it gets a fair hearing from fans of, as Pond wrote, long ago, “rock n’ roll, pure and simple,” because this is a shining example of the form, delivered with style and zeal.

Bassist Alex Tsentides and drummer Kevin Walker both make their Krankschaft recording debuts on this disc, and they are a crackerjack rhythm section throughout, driving each song with their propulsive playing, often creating a sense of some sentient perpetual motion machine, hammering against its housing in a display of pure kinetic enthusiasm. Pond serves as quadruple threat here, rocking the guitar riffs, laying on rich layers of synth and sequencer squiggles of all shapes, sorts and sizes, leading his comrades in the shouty singalong choral bits while taking the lead vocal turns on the verses, and penning six of the eight great songs on the album. The trio work fantastically well together, and the clarity and punch of the recording puts you smack in the center of the formidable energy they create, front row for the riffs, middle seat for the melodies, strap in, hold on, blast off!

The two cuts not penned by Pond include a previously-unrecorded Robert Calvert number called “The Day of the Quake” and a reclaimed ’70s gem from the long-forgotten Nebula called “Come Fly With Us.” These two lost lambs are seamlessly herded into the sonic and lyrical arc of the record, which loosely chronicles the tale of three friends who travel in time from the early ’70s to the future, bringing “rock n’ roll, pure and simple” with them, much to the dismay of the Engrish-spewing multinational marketing and manufacturing conglomerate, Kranky Corps. For those of you who remember how much fun it was to purchase albums in the ’70s to relish all of the posters, stickers, and other swag that fell out once you tore off their shrink-wrap skins, I heartily encourage you to buy a physical copy of this disc, because Krankschaft remember those days fondly, too, and they’ve been more than generous with the masterpiece graphic design goodies you’ll receive in exchange for your hard-earned dosh.

What ultimately makes this record so absolutely successful are the ways that Krankschaft deftly weave disparate elements together in ways that clumsier, less accomplished bands are never likely to achieve. There are crunchy riffs by the bucketful on Krankschaft Three, but they’re balanced by equally memorable melodies. There’s a well-developed narrative arc that links the songs, but every one of them stands strong alone, completely realized works in their own right. There’s evocative, soaring synths sparkling across the open spaces above the dense metronomic rumble of a nuclear-grade power trio magneto. And there are some serious social themes (is it surprising that the three mates from the idealistic ’70s find themselves thinking “I hate this future we’ve been sold?”) that are delivered with such a sense of good will and flat-out fun that you just want to put this thing on endless repeat and relive the journey, over and over and over again.

At least that’s what I’m doing today. And probably tomorrow, too. And then for some time after that. And then some more. If you’re a fan of “rock n’ roll, pure and simple,” (and who isn’t, really?), then you owe it to yourself to strap on your jet back and zip over to the nearest Kranky Corps outlet near you to score a hot-off-the-press copy of Krankschaft Three. We may hate the future we’ve been sold, but this album celebrates and modernizes the best of our musical past, and that makes the present a much better place to be.

Click on the battling BLANGA Bots to score your own copy of

Click on the battling BLANGA Bots to score your own copy of “Krankschaft Three.”

Concision

Rob Madeo has long been one of my favorite bloggers, first at Albany Eye (although I didn’t know it was him writing at the time), then when we shared column space at a certain Upstate New York newspaper blog portal (both of us left on unhappy terms), then on his current Keyboard Krumbs blog. I don’t read newspapers anymore (alas), but I click to him every morning while I drink my coffee to see what he’s got to say.

Why do I like his writing so much? Well, first, I guess, is that as he documents “the fascinating world of a middle aged American man,” I see a lot of things that have relevance in my own life, as a U.S.-bred gentleman of a certain age. We also have some shared experiences in the pros and cons of being public bloggers, and we both lived in Central Nassau County, Long Island in the ’70s and ’80s, so we did some of the same stupid things in the same stupid places during our stupid teenage years.

But more important than that, I have always admired Rob’s ability to say what he wants to say effectively, yet concisely. As a writer, I find his brevity to be inspiring, as he communicates in terse, active prose, getting in, getting it done, and getting out. And that’s not easy: the famous saw about “sorry for the long letter, I did not have time to write a short one” is true, especially for someone like me, as I’ve never met a subordinate clause or parenthetical phrase I don’t like, I tend to write with rhythm and alliteration in my head so will actively add words to accent a verbal riff I’m enjoying, I love semi-colons and adverbs and qualifiers, and I’m rarely content to use one word where seven will suffice.

This is a problem in blogging, because for the most part, we are all our own editors, and we like to let things fly before our keyboards have cooled down from the frantic pounding required to get words from brain to screen. When I wrote for newspapers, I grew to appreciate the discipline associated with word counts, as it forced me to chop and shape things differently, and to seek the keeper nuggets embedded in the matrices of my florid, verbose flow.

I was a slow and late adopter of Twitter as a result, since I can barely say “hello” in fewer than 140 characters most of the time. (I am trying, though, as evidenced by my 1,550+ tweets here). When I launched my “Five by Five Book Review” series a few months back, it was with something of a conscious intent to make them brief(er) by forcing them into a 25-sentence rubric that lent itself to more frequent posting. But as I look back through the six pieces in that series that I’ve written to date, I note that the mean length per article is about 950 words (the longest was 1,200 words), which means my average sentence in the series has 38 words in it!

38 words per sentence?!? That’s kind of obscene, isn’t it, verging on James Joyce territory? (Probably no surprise that I love the Irish madman, and have enjoyed satirizing him). I think as a course of discipline in 2015, I might have to create a new series of short articles, intentionally writing with punch, forcefully cutting to the chase, and deftly editing the extraneous from my usual epic verbal emanations.

I’ll know where to go, at least, when I need a look at how it’s done. So thanks, Rob, for the regular reminder about where the soul of wit really resides!