On a July day in 2007, a large bus pulled into Logan, Iowa, population 1500. Inside were Chris Dodd, a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, his wife, two daughters, and campaign staffers. Senator Dodd was running for president. And as the title says, he also brought along his good friend, Paul Simon. Multi Grammy recipient, two time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, performer who has sold out arenas around the world, Paul Simon. He had his acoustic guitar and the ability to play some of the most iconic songs of his career to anyone who wanted to listen. On this date, the venue was the home where my Aunt Lois lived, across the street from the county courthouse. How did my 80 something year old Aunt become the hostess for this musical performance? Well, it’s quite a tale.
Some of the blog readers are outside the U.S, so a little political background is in order. Every four years, when we elect a new president, Iowa becomes the center of the political universe. It is in the Midwest, and as the Iowa Corn Song says, it’s “where the tall corn grows.” It also holds the first contest in the long primary season, where political parties select their nominees. Most states have an election, but Iowa uses a caucus system. This means that registered voters gather in February and form groups based on who they will support. Discussion follows, tallies are made, and participants can change their preferences. At the end of the evening, winners are declared in both the Democratic and Republican races. Since it is an early test of who the favored candidates are, it is important to do well in Iowa.
The caucus system means that candidates need to get to know the voters in the state. Commercials and flyers aren’t enough. Iowans expect to see the candidates, hear them speak, and ask them questions. So politicians like Senator Dodd spend a lot of time in the state, and start a year or two ahead of the caucus. In the summer of 2007, he was in a crowded field on the Democratic side. To set himself apart, he organized a River to River trip on his campaign bus, going from the Mississippi on the east to the Missouri on the west. It was part of the Missouri swing that brought him to Logan. And bringing Paul Simon along increased attendance at his events, and generated a lot of free publicity.
How did my aunt become the hostess? She was very active in the community, and our family has lived in the county since the 1850’s, so the roots are deep. Politically astute and with relative and friends too numerous to count, she was a natural fit. She also liked to entertain. There aren’t any videos of her event, but Youtube still has a few of Mr. Simon performing at the Iowa State Fair and in two other towns. He is friendly, shares fun stories about his career, and plays songs people of a certain age will know: Mrs. Robinson, with the words changed for Senator Dodd, The Boxer, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. He also mentions that the first performance by Simon and Garfunkel was at a college in Davenport, IA, and they threatened not to pay them because they thought they were booking comedians, not musicians, and they weren’t funny. I guess it all worked out for them even after that rough start.
So the bus arrived, Paul Simon played for the assembled guests, food was served, and then they got back on and went to the next stop, the much larger city of Council Bluffs. I’m sure a good time was had by all, and that it was amazing to hear a free concert from Paul Simon. Although some of our local family members were able to attend, those of us a little farther away missed the whole thing. I remember my mom saying something about Lois having Chris Dodd stop by, but nothing about the music. Since I only live about 45 minutes away, I would definitely have made the trip.
A few months later, I saw Aunt Lois and asked her about the whole thing. She said the campaign asked her to be the hostess, and they offered to provide the food or pay for it. She agreed to host but was happy to do the food herself, which didn’t surprise me. The biggest problem was probably finding time on her social calendar to fit it in. When we got to the part about the musical guest, I mentioned that he was a musician I had listened to and appreciated for years. She said she didn’t really know who he was when they asked her to host, and neither did any of her friends, but lots of people had told her he was famous. And he did “sing pretty good.” Yes, I’ll bet he did.
When the Iowa caucus results were tallied in January, 2008, Senator Dodd came in last. And he didn’t get any delegates, so it was almost worse than last. The surprise winner that evening was a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, who went on to win the presidency. The most recent caucuses were somewhat controversial because it took a long to time to count the results. And other states complain every four years that Iowa has too much influence on the process. I for one hope the caucuses stay in our next door neighbor state because we get to interact with the candidates too since we are so close by.
My Aunt Lois remained busy, interested in politics, and lived on her own for many more years. We have great memories of Fourth of July holidays at her house. She died in her sleep at the age of 95- a long life, well lived. And her former home remains in the family, where her sister, my Aunt Marge now resides. How lucky we are to still have extended family nearby. A trip to Logan will be on our agenda as soon as we can all safely gather again. And who knows? Maybe another candidate will stop in with a famous musician. I won’t miss the next one!