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Tag Archives: midwest

Alone Among Iowans

Things took quite a different turn during my time in Iowa City: After playing a great house concert at the incredibly beautiful appartment of our friend Mark Moen, Tish got on an airplane and flew back to Texas to play at a benefit concert for her old friend and musical companion Troy Wells. Troy played with Tish in New Mexico in the 80s (he was the one who replaced Dave Magill) and then again from time to time in recent years. Presently he is facing some serious health problems, so the concert was meant to help him pay his medical bills.

Tish and Troy, ca. 1982

In the meantime, Tish’s old friend Bob Vanderbeek was kind enough to host me in his appartment on the ninth floor of a swanky highrise in downtown Iowa City. I had been looking forward to finally meeting Bob on this trip, and I sure had a wonderful time with him and his two dogs. Iowa City is a  pleasant and interesting college town, so my three days spent there further improved my already positive view of Iowa.

With friend and part-time flatmate Bob Vanderbeek. But frankly speaking: Who cares about the guys in this picture, with Tish looking sooooo gorgeous?


State By State (25): Iowa

Iowa is one of those states that Americans from other parts of the country love to make fun of, mostly on the grounds that it is boring, flat and full of corn fields (the “Fields of Opportunity” from the state line sign, I suppose). As a matter of fact, even Iowans joke about their state, and nobody does it more eloquently than the writer Bill Bryson, author of famous books like “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and “A Walk in the Woods”. When I happened to read the first lines of “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America”, one of his lesser known titles, in a book store in Vermont, I just had to buy the book on the spot. Since then Tish and I often entertained ourselves in the car by reading to each other from the book. Sometimes I had to laugh so hard, I could hardly keep on driving.

Bryson starts out his book with a ten page ramble on how boring his home state is. There’s plenty of clever lines like this one: “To reach anywhere of even passing interest from Des Moines (The capital of Iowa and Bryson’s home town. AS) by car requires a journey that in other countries would be considered epic.” We sure enjoyed the funny read, but I must say that personally I liked driving through Iowa a lot. For one thing, it’s not nearly as flat as Bryson and everybody else always says. Plus I find corn fields much more pleasant to watch than strip malls (Einkaufsmeilen) and gas stations, which is all you get to see from the road in large parts of, say, New Jersey. Having had to spend large parts of their life driving through corn fields obviously causes people like Bill Bryson to have a different opinion …

(Written in Hamburg, Germany, August 6, 2012)

State By State (24): Minnesota

Here comes another state having a mere cameo appearance in our little road movie: Minnesota, the “Land of 10.000 Lakes” was our third biggest state of far (after Michigan and of course Texas), but we only got to see a small corner of it on our way from St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin to Iowa City, Iowa. On top of that, the biggest event on that stretch remained unnoticed: When we crossed the Mississippi in St. Paul, for the second time on our trip after New Orleans, I was asleep, and Tish once again payed more attention to the road than to things like rivers and state lines.

By the way: If you think that everything in Minnesota is more or less Swedish, you’re pretty right.

(Written in Hamburg, Germany, August 4, 2012)

State By State (23): Wisconsin

Time for some political talk again: Some weeks after the sad turnout of the referendum on gay marriage that we had to witness in North Carolina, we happened to be in Wisconsin, when that beautiful state was the site of yet another depressing vote that attracted strong national attention. What had happened was that some scary republican governor, who goes by the name of Scott Walker (which of course in itself is an offense to the real Scott Walker) had been trying, among other things, to deprive the public workers in Wisconsin of their right to collective bargaining (Tarifverhandlungen, more or less). This caused a stream of protest, which lasted thoughout the year 2011 and eventually lead to Walker having to face a recall election (Referendum über den Verbleib im Amt). But instead of taking advantage of this comfortable opportunity to get rid of this creep, the Wisconsinites confirmed him in office, making him the first governor to politically survive a recall election. Another chance for a positive political signal in these dreary days gone by.

Apart from that disappointment, our short time in Wisconsin (home of squeaky cheese and the great Marvin Dykhuis!) was great. Tish’s show in the little town of Fort Atkinson, where our new friend Bill Camplin does a great job at running the “Cafe Carp”, gave me the chance to meet the wonderful writer Bill C. Malone in person, author of what is probably the best book on country music ever written (“Country Music USA”) and of many other titles (check out his latest one on folk musician Mike Seeger).

With Bill C. Malone and his wife Barbara in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

The concert at the festival theater in St. Croix Falls was easily one of the most enjoyables on the tour: great audience, beautiful theater and Tish in excellent shape. And the stage there was definitely the biggest one that I had been singing on so far.


Here’s Scott Walker with his phantastic version of Jacques Brel’s “Jackie”:

(Written in Hamburg, Germany, August 4, 2012)

More Tales From The Windy City

So far I have talked about art and baseball in Chicago, now it’s time for a few words on its architecture, which of course is amazing. While Tish got some rest at our charming hotel in Oak Park (home of Ernest Hemingway), I did a self-guided tour of the architectural highlights of The Loop, as they call their downtown. Most of all I enjoyed seeing the older highrises, like the art deco style Carbide & Carbon Building from 1929 (see picture above), but of course I also had to take the elevator ride up to the skydeck of the Sears Tower – after all it’s still the highest building in the western hemisphere. Technically it’s not the Sears Tower anymore, though. Some stupid company bought the name rights in 2009 (but I won’t do them the favor of mentioning their name). It was fun to look down on 412 meters of nothing between me and the ground.

And then there’s “The Bean” (or “Cloud Gate”, as it is officially called). There seems to a law that every tourist visiting Chicago has to take a picture of his own reflection on the seemless steel exterior of this sculpture by Anish Kapoor. And who are we to disobey the law?

Another thing you can do with The Bean is taking pictures for a quinceañera in front of it:

Finally: the Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. Does it look familiar to you, even though you have never been to Chicago? That’s probably because you, just like me, watched a lot of episodes of the TV series „Married with Children“ („Eine schrecklich nette Familie“). Check out the first shot of the title sequence!

(Written in Hamburg, Germany, August 4, 2012)

Go Cubs Go!

To most Europeans, baseball is an eternal mystery. We don’t understand the rules, we don’t know any of the teams nor players, and we have a hard time understanding where the fun in watching that sport lies. I tried to get into it a little more during our trip, but didn’t get very far, mostly because I couldn’t find anyone who was willing to do the tedious work of explaing those complicated rules to a complete novice („Just look it up on Wikipedia!“) .

So we were not very well prepared when we finally got a chance to watch a live game in Chicago. Unfortunately it didn’t take place at the old stadium Wrigley Field, but instead at the rather sterile U. S. Cellular Stadium. The good part was that we got to see a local derby (or crosstown rivalry, as I think they call it in Amercia), a game between the two Chicago teams, the White Sox and the Cubs. From what I read about this rivalry, the Cubs are the underdogs that are losing most of the time, which of course made me think of “my” local soccer team in Hamburg, the FC St. Pauli, who hardly ever wins a game against the other Hamburg team, the HSV (we did though in 2011, and Tish and I were there!).

So with our sympathies slightly on the Cubs side, it was cool to see them gain one of their rare victories against the White Sox (and note: at the Sox’ stadium, which once again reminded me of that glorious day in 2011). On the other hand, the final score of 2:1 tells you that with only three runs this wasn’t one the most exciting games in baseball history. And as for the crosstown rivalry, it seems that baseball lovers are much more relaxed and less fanatical about this kind of thing than German soccer fans. I leave it up to you to decide whether that’s good or bad.


A visit to the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at the phantastic Art Institute of Chicago gave me the opportunity of a close-up encounter with one of my favorite paintings.

In the meantime Tish studied the details of another classic American work of art:


Many years ago the band Television Personalities released a song called “Lichtenstein Painting” that I have always loved: