Cedar Valley Chronicles

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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.

  • Transgender Explained

    • Posted on Nov 08, 2015
    Here's this morning's (11-8) Courier column.   I really had never understood what "transgender" means until I met Ellen Krug and read her book Getting to Ellen. I found it utterly engaging and clear, and can't recommend it highly enough.  

    Ask a roomful of people what “transgender” means, and you’ll get mostly blank stares.People might know “transgender” as the “T” in “LGBT” for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people, but haven’t the faintest notion what it actually means.  

    As a child I had heard of Christine Jorgensen, the American GI who underwent gender transformation in the early 1950s.  For weeks her “case” caused consternation worldwide, since she underwent experimental sex-change surgery in Denmark.  She may as well have arrived from another planet.    

     Of course we all know that Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn, who declared “For all practical purposes, I am a woman.” She’s currently the most well-known transgender woman ever, the most successful at publicizing her journey.   
    “Normal” men and women find gender changing freaky, downright bizarre.

    Yet it happens, and we’re small-minded to condemn the Caitlyn Jenners of the world for their choices.  To transgendered people, it’s life and death.  And when you listen to what they’re saying, they’re right.  

     As the bard declares, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophies.  Open-minded curiosity is a better attitude.   

     So I’ve felt curious about “transgender,” but mostly ignorant.  
    Then I heard Ellen Krug, whose 2013 memoir “Getting to Ellen” details her long transformation from male to female.  “Ellie” spoke on a panel at a writer’s conference at the Marion Public Library I attended last month, and we spoke briefly afterwards.  

    She was funny, engaging, articulate, and passionate about her journey.  

     She made so much sense speaking as a woman on the panel that I bought and read “Getting to Ellen.” 

     For anyone who’s curious, or who has struggled with the real and profound issue of gender identity, Krug’s book offers the perfect introduction. 

     Krug writes conversationally, with wit, energy, and such personal honesty that I felt only admiration. It’s full disclosure on every page. 

     As a seven-year-old boy he learned graphically that boys and girls were different.  He felt different too.  He found himself drawn to females, not by attraction, but by identification.  Ed, the intelligent seven-year-old, knew that he wanted to be a girl.  
    Those who believe that Ed Krug made a choice to become female need to read “Getting to Ellen.”   She in fact had no real choice.   

     Instead, Ed Krug chose only to deny and avoid his sense of being female. For  decades.  

     Born in 1956 in New Jersey, his family relocated to Cedar Rapids when he was 11. A very bright guy, he eventually graduated from Boston College Law School, then became a high-powered lawyer known as “Killer Krug.”  He succeeded at outwitting, outthinking, and outprosecuting other lawyers, and became a respected and feared attorney.  

     Oh yes, along the way he married Lydia, his childhood sweetheart.  They adopted two children and lived happily, but not ever after. 

     After five years in Boston, Ed and Lydia Krug moved back to Cedar Rapids.  Ed joined another law firm and continued his successes.  Yet he felt nothing but angst.  

     Depressed, even suicidal, numbing himself with alcohol, Krug realized that he couldn’t go on living a false life.  He tried dressing up as a woman and even “passed” as female at times.  But it didn’t change anything.     

     That word “authentic” comes up as a critical life goal in “Getting to Ellen.”  Living a false life offers nothing but psychological hell.     

     Gradually, with massive fortitude and perseverance, Krug began admitting that he could not live inauthentically.  Finally, after divorcing Lydia and undergoing serious medical procedures, she became Ellen in 2009, and completed the surgery in 2010.  

     Though she regrets the years of pain and indecision and hurt, she hasn’t for a moment regretted becoming herself.   

     We can only cheer.   


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  • REVISED AND UPDATED: Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association Photo Essay

    • Posted on Oct 30, 2015
    October 30, 2015 

    Here's a revised version of my photo essay on the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association that I published here on October 20.  This version includes captions for many of the photos, and the essay portion has been revised as well.  

    Again, thanks to all the guitarists for permission to photograph them and
    thanks especially to BRENDA SCOTT, instructor for "The Photo Essay" course at the Bryan Peterson School of Photography for her very helpful comments and suggestions on each of the photos, and for developing the idea of the photo essay.  It's the perfect genre for writers who also love photography.   

    Playing Real Good For Free

    Why does anyone perform solo for free, as a vocalist or instrumentalist?  It’s stressful, time consuming, and of course doesn’t pay bills.   

    For those who play for free—as street musicians, open mic performers, non-paying charity background musicians, and house concert entertainers—making music inevitably becomes its own reward.  They keep their day jobs, but at least a few of them are in the world as amateur performers.   

    Amateurs play because they love making music, both for audiences and by themselves.  It gets them into a flow they can’t easily find doing anything else.  In contrast, being a professional means a whole different set of pressures and deadlines that interfere with just making music their own way, on their own time.  Besides, professional freelance musicians struggle to make a living from music.  Most of them are better off monetarily with a steady day job of almost any kind. 

    Most cities and towns support several amateur musical ensembles--choral groups, municipal bands, senior musicians, and any number of smaller ensembles who play regularly, and who rehearse often enough to make it part of a weekly schedule. They take pleasure in ensemble playing and play real good for free, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell.    

    In Cedar Falls Iowa, a lively group of amateur acoustic guitarists has been meeting monthly for “Song Swap” gatherings since late 1999, where anyone who shows up with a guitar can perform one song for an appreciative roomful of fellow players. Unlike the ensembles, they’re mostly solo musicians, happy to perform alone or occasionally in a small group with funky names like “The Enablers,”  “Uncle Chuck and his Imaginary Band,” “Three Blind Mice,” and my favorite, “Old and In the Way.”      

    It’s called the “Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association,” or CVAGA, (pronounced “SeeVAYgah” and it was started by two amateur but accomplished guitarists, Rick Vanderwall and Rick Price.  They had grown tired of playing by themselves, and found that their playing and enjoyment improved markedly when they joined a group of listeners who were also players.   A small group at first, together they decided:  
    • no dues
    • no membership rules; whoever shows up is a member,  for that night anyway
    • a board, which meets twice a year 

    Vanderwall and Price did develop a written constitution, for tax purposes, which specifies what happens to money they collect from contributions and fundraising concerts.   

    CVAGA does hold one piece of property in common:  a complete and relatively sophisticated sound system, which is available for qualified members to “check out” and use, as long as they take care of it and return it to the organization’s rented storage facility.   

    Over the years the group has grown to 70-plus members, and members are often called upon to perform for a variety of events as volunteers. 

    Some members perform at least weekly for open mics, and their playing inevitably captures genuine passion and commitment.  Many of them play their own songs with a few covers thrown in, and others perform mostly songs from singers and players they admire and seek to emulate.  

    Players receive a boost in confidence from CVAGA Song Swaps, and certainly from the regular opportunities for performing that grow from the friendships they form with fellow guitarists.  

    Clearly, CVAGA has become a vital part of the musical scene in Northeast Iowa.  Listeners and fans agree:  They play real good for free.   

    Taken in September and October, 2015 
    Camera: Sony a77ii
    Lenses: Sony 16/50mm, Tamron 16/300mm
    Finished with Lightroom 5, Photoshop CC  

    Bob Long in Shop 1  

    Bob Long in Shop 2
    Bob Long makes extraordinary custom acoustic guitars in his workshop in Waterloo, Iowa.  He has built over 70 guitars in his workshop. He estimates that forty to fifty CVAGA members play various versions of “Long Guitars” ranging from acoustic cutaways to jazz/classical to dreadnought and auditorium models.  He’s also a guitarist, and he and his wife Jovita were popular performers for several years in the Cedar Valley.  

    Jovita Long with Checker and the Blue Tones 
    Married for 36 years to Bob Long, Jovita sings blues, rock, jazz, and fusion vocals with equal aplomb, and often performs with a beloved local blues band, “Checker and the Bluetones.” 

    Rick Vanderwall with admirer at Artapalooza

    Rick Vanderwall with Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews at Artapalooza
    Rick Vanderwall co-founded the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association, and has been one of its guiding lights from the beginning.  He often emcees performances, and serves as the organizer and all-purpose guitar enthusiast for the group.  He performs regularly as a one-man show and occasionally with “Three Blind Mice.”  

    Rick Price at Song Swap, 9-3
    The other CVAGA co-founder, Rick Price, has been improvising finger-style 12-string acoustic guitar instrumentals since 1975, and regularly performs at a variety of venues and events.  

    Karla Ruth and Deb Niermann at Song Swap 
    Karla and Deb have sung together as a duo for ten years. They perform Karla’s songs for large and appreciative audiences.  Karla has made three CDs, and continues writing and performing to the delight of her fans.  

    Uncle Chuck, Perry Miller, and Jay Robertson at Artapalooza 
    Perry Miller and Jay Robertson perform often at Jameson’s for open mic, and Jay also performs regularly with a variety of other musicians, being a superb lead guitarist on both acoustic and electric instruments. Perry hosts Open Mic nights at Jameson’s and performs with a variety of groups as well.  

    Uncle Chuck at Artapalooza 
     Raconteur, singer, songwriter of very funny and much-requested songs, (“Sail Cat,” “I Like You Just the Way You Are,” “Already There,” are among well-known songs) Uncle Chuck delights audiences wherever he performs, which is often. He has made several CDs of his original songs.  

    Mike Morris at Jameson’s 

    Raldo and Friends Rehearsing 
    Raldo and friends from Outside 
    Raldo Schneider, another popular and well-known singer-songwriter has been performing around the Midwest at a variety of functions for thirty years. He has created one LP, three cassettes, and six cds of his songs.   

    Brothers Gors at Jameson’s 

    George, Jim, and Paul at Jameson’s 

    Phil Watson at Song Swap, 9-3
    Phil Watson is half of the “Phil and Travis” duo, who perform regularly in the Cedar Valley, with Phil playing lead and Travis playing rhythm guitar.  

    Barb Waters at Song Swap. 10-1

    Kim Nicholson at Song Swap, 10-1  

    Marty Drilling at Song Swap, 9-3

    Song Swap 10-1
    The “Song Swap” meet has become an enduring tradition for CVAGA members. They meet the first Thursday of every month, and every attendee performs one song.  The skill levels range from beginners to semi-professionals.  They perform acoustically for just each other, with no sound system, no electric instruments.  All manner of songs are encouraged—both covers and originals, old and new.   It’s a friendly and appreciative group that offers an encouraging monthly performing venue.   

    Eli Smith at Song Swap, 9-3
    Eli is among the younger members of CVAGA. His father Corey brings him, and members know that players like Eli are the future of CVAGA.   If Eli becomes a passionate devotee of the guitar, some of the credit surely goes to CVAGA.  

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