David Byrne at 80/35. Juice file photo.
You know who likes writing about Iowa? David Byrne
Published on July 16th, 2013 | by Joe Lawler
There was a third blog from David Byrne about his time in Des Moines during 80/35. You can read about the first two here. This blog goes more in depth, and while it’s generally positive it’s not entirely so.
“Later, I have a chat with some of the others in our group about Des Moines as maybe an ideal place to grow up or raise your kids. I got very mixed reactions when I advocated this idea. The town isn’t particularly hip, but I sort of counted that as a factor in its favor—kids would have to discover what they thought was cool for themselves. Or make it up. Or come to the conclusion that trends does not a life make. I did stop at a cool coffee shop (Smokey Row), and two cool restaurants (Proof and HOQ), and there’s the custom bike shop (Ichi Bike) I visited and such, but overall it doesn’t seem a place in thrall to trends.”
So we have some cool stuff, but we’re not trying too hard. Or maybe not trying hard enough. In the post Byrne discusses doing some research into this idea and Des Moines, emailing back and forth with a professor at the University of Chicago over whether Iowa’s history has helped it survive better than other mid-sized cities.
He ends up discussing Iowa’s resistance to the Know Nothing Party, communistic colonies like Icaria, Amana, and New Buda, our history with state-controlled alcohol and some background on African Americans in Iowa.
Basically, Byrne put together a digest version of a Ken Burns documentary on Iowa. And our music scene? “Not sad or desperate.” So… a compliment?
“The Grateful Dead cover band (Dark Star Orchestra) playing by the riverside the other night, and one or two of the bands playing before us were all vaguely jam bands, so there may be some cosmic mind altering activities going on here and there, but it doesn’t seem to be sad or desperate the way music scenes can be in some towns—they’re often a creative reaction to hopelessness and a sense of frustration.”
How many musicians traveling through Iowa (or any city?) spend this much time reflecting on what they saw? I doubt Justin Bieber was emailing professors at MIT about some cool new tech he saw in Des Moines. It’s pretty awesome that we sparked this much thought from a pioneer in music.
It’s probably the comic nerd in me, but I can’t help but think about the musings of another UK resident, Alan Moore. Moore is best known for writing “Watchmen,” “From Hell,” “V for Vendetta” and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” great comics that were adapted into crappy to only somewhat crappy movies. But Moore has also done a lot of writing on his hometown, Northampton, a kind of dreary English town that Moore has turned up all kinds of interesting historical tidbits on. When I was in England and said I wanted to visit Northampton, the people I talked to reacted kind of like some of the tour mates Byrne mentioned talking about Des Moines with. “Really? There?”
You’ve heard of the Amana Colonies, but while reading Byrne’s post I’ll bet you Googled (or at least wanted to) Icaria and New Buda. That was what I did. An outsider opened my eyes to things in my own backyard that I’ve probably driven by multiple times and never gave a thought to.