Brave Exhibitions

1. In New York, we could only buy wine and spirits at liquor stores. In Iowa, we can buy it pretty much anywhere: grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, wine stores, wherever. Quality varies widely, needless to say. We rank the wine shopping hierarchy in Des Moines as follows:

Ingersoll Wine & Spirits > Hy-Vee > Dahl’s > Wahlgreens > Quik Trip > Casey’s > Kum & Go

2. Heresy alert: Critics around the world are falling all over themselves to praise Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new disc, Push the Sky Away, as a moody, atmospheric masterpiece. But me? I think it’s slow, boring, and proves just how important ex-member Mick Harvey was to the Bad Seeds.

3. My other biggest musical disappointment in 2013 is Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse. I adored their last two albums, and their 2012 EP State Hospital boded well as a preview for the new disc, but it really fell flat for me upon arrival. I read one review that compared the new record to Coldplay. I wouldn’t argue with that assessment, though I consider it a terrible insult.

4. Grand Mal’s Binge/Purge is one of my favorite records from the time I spent in mid-1980s Washington, DC’s musical underground. You can nab a copy here. Don’t be put off by the heinous album cover, a poster of which used to adorn my bulletin board at the Naval Academy, much to our visitors’ horror.

5. Still the best children’s book ever: Jerome.

6. Still the most terrifying version of the tired Charles Dickens classic: Richard Williams’ A Christmas Carol (1971). See especially 5:58 and 16:40.

7. As a native South Carolinian, I am very good at cracking pecans by hand. There’s some brute force involved, but also some finesse, and it is deeply satisfying to end up with two perfect pecan halves in hand without any mechanical assistance. I bought some pecans at our indoor Winter Farmer’s Market a couple of months ago, and one afternoon was particularly pleased by the perfect pecan I extracted. I went to the living room to show Marcia and share my accomplishment, hand held out in front of me. Before I could say a word, she grabbed one of the pecan halves, popped it in her mouth, and walked away. Show Off FAIL.

8. How much money do state and federal governments spend on signs that are essentially universal, such as “No Littering” or “Bridge Freezes Before Road” or “Keep Right Except to Pass.” How about we save a ton of tax dollars and eliminate all of these and other stupid signs by just having acceptance of a driver’s license include a signed attestation the the recipient understands that all bridges freeze before all roads, that littering is a no-no, that the left lane is reserved for passing, etc.

9. This post cleared about half of my office whiteboard.

Pink Flag at Map Ref 41 N 93 W

Wire have been one of my favorite bands since the late 1970s, and their latest album, Change Becomes Us, has been earning heavy spins on household and car stereos hereabouts since its issue last month. It’s one of their finest discs ever, hands down. For longtime Wire fans, this one has been a particular treat, since it returns to song sketches crafted in the aftermath of their 1979 masterpiece, 154, but only issued in fragmentary or raw form on the live Document and Eyewitness, released when the quartet dissolved for the first time as the ’80s dawned.

With a new Wire album out, I loaded up a bunch of their older tracks — including their remarkable 154-era single “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W” — onto the car iPod when Marcia and I drove down to Asheville, North Carolina last month to visit family. “Map Ref” came on somewhere in Tennessee, and Marcia looked at the title on the dashboard display and asked “Is that a real place, and have you looked to see where it is?” As a hardcore map geek, and a 30+ year Wire fan, I was embarrassed to admit that I had not, so I asked her to use her Smart Phone to look it up and see where it was.

Imagine our surprise when Marcia discovered that the point described by those latitude and longitude coordinates was about 100 miles from our home in Des Moines, down near Centerville, Iowa! When we got back here after our holiday, I did a little research and discovered why lyricist Graham Lewis had picked that point: here’s the story.

For those who know me or have been reading my writing for more than the past ten minutes, it should come as no surprise that I immediately resolved to visit this location, since that’s how I roll. A little Google Earth research showed me that it’s actually a bit to the northwest of Centerville, on the opposite side of Lake Rathbun, where Marcia and I had vacationed for a weekend last summer.

Map Ref 41 N 93 W as Graham Lewis might have first seen it

It appeared to be in the middle of a pasture, about a mile from U.S. Highway 34. I could see that a tree-lined creek bed ran from the highway nearly to the “Map Ref” coordinates, but unfortunately, where the creek crossed under Highway 34, there appeared to be a large production facility of some sort, likely a pig enclosure based on its size and shape from above. That means people, and people means trouble for the casual trespasser. I could also see a dirt road to the west of the creek that got relatively close to the spot, so hoped I’d be able to sneak down that.

Either way, I wanted to get there, and this weekend seemed the ideal time to do it, as Marcia was away in Portland, Oregon, visiting her sister, and spring had actually finally made its first sustained appearance in Iowa. I decided to mark my visit for posterity’s sake, and originally considered placing a geocache there, with my e-mail address in it, so that if any future Wire geeks arrived on the designated spot, they’d be able to share their accomplishment with me. But then, as I thought about it longer, I decided that directly announcing my trespassing tendencies was probably not the smartest course of action.

So instead, I decided to leave a Pink Flag, in honor of Wire’s seminal debut album, which also serves to this day as their website address.

I left Des Moines around 7:00 Saturday morning, and by 9:00 AM, I’d reached the nearest point on the highway to “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W”, and was disappointed to discover that the dirt road approaching the designated spot was barred by a locked, heavy-duty gate, necessary to keep the cattle behind it from venturing onto the roadway. Much of Iowa is corn, soybean or hog country, but this sector is cattle country, which means there is a lot of hardcore fencing, little of it easily crossed. Shucks.

The land did have a little bit of rise and fall, though, so I was able to pull my car down into a little gully beneath the roadside power line and behind some scrub trees, where I hoped no one from the hog enclosure across the way would notice it during the half hour or so it took me to get to the map reference point and back. I walked southward down the east bank of the tree-lined creek for about half a mile, trying to keep out of the sight lines of anybody in the farmhouse on the hill to the east of me, until I reached a pasture that was surrounded by a barbed-wired topped fence. I skirted the fence east to a point about 150 feet north of “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W”, trying to find a way to get over it, until I noticed what it was there to contain: another couple of dozen cows . . . and a bull who seemed to be watching me on behalf of his farmer owners.

I decided that this mission had gone far enough, and that attempting to climb a barbed-wire fence, place the flag, take photos, and then outrun an enraged territorial bull probably crossed the line from “entertaining adventure” into “reckless stupidity”. So I placed my flag on the north side of the fence, saluted the bull, and considered my work done. I left the flag behind . . . I don’t know how it will fare in the Iowa weather, but maybe some other Wire fan will find it, someday, and know that someone who cared was there. Here’s the photo:

Pink Flag at Map Ref 41 N 93 W, give or take 150 feet.

Pink Flag at Map Ref 41 N 93 W, give or take 150 feet.