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Guest Commentary

No bed of roses: Iowa loses the ‘Humor Bowl,’ too

1/13/2016

Wasn’t that outrageous at the Rose Bowl? To recall lyrics from The Music Man and the pool table crisis in River City, “Make your blood boil? Well, I should say.”

No, I’m not upset about the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band making fun of Iowa. What bugged me was when the $2 billion B-2 Stealth Bomber’s big mission was flights over the Rose Bowl Parade route and then the stadium. Talk about wasting tax dollars!

Maybe that’s in keeping with much of the militarization of the nation, which may be OK with Iowans.  But being irreverent when it comes to farmers and cows? No way!

Bad enough to have the Hawkeyes down 35-0 — and then to have the Lelands make fun of agriculture by cow tipping?

Maybe I should have seen it coming. More than 50 years ago, I had sort of a hint about a marching band that might dare to be out of step.

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At Fresno State College in California, I was student body VP, 1959-60, and a group of us “student leaders” had concerns about the lack of a pep band at basketball games. Arthur Barnes, on the music faculty at FSC, met with us. In the course of our conversation I said something like, “Jeeze, Professor Barnes, all we want is some noise.”

His response: “Herb, if you want some noise, set off a bomb.”

In 1963, Barnes went to Stanford to earn his doctorate and direct the marching band. He stayed at Stanford and focused on music and not band noise! Wikipedia and many others give him considerable credit for winning over marching band members by putting them — instead of the music school or athletic director — in charge.

Years later when I was a dean at Drake — in times of severe budget cutting — I was impressed by how the Fine Arts college, more than the rest of us academicians, fought budget cuts because the cuts would affect the quality of their performances. You can’t cut budgets without hurting the quality of the product, and you can’t play fine music if you march only to the tune of the college football factories in our over-emphasis of collegiate athletics.

So, over the years, I’ve thought highly of Dr. Barnes and relish the Stanford band. It was fun to watch the Rose Bowl parade as the LSJUMB ran helter skelter around a corner instead of in close-order drill formation. Yes, students in marching bands have fun and great comradery even when every step on the field is choreographed; they play well together, musically and otherwise. Great for them, but hooray, too, for the whimsy of the Stanford funhouse.

Besides, Iowa got off lightly, considering all in the state that is material for parody.

What about the 1997 game against USC when the Stanford band parodied the low-speed chase as police officers trailed former Trojan star O.J. Simpson down L.A. freeways after the slaying of his wife, or when polygamy was ridiculed in a 2004 game against Brigham Young or against Notre Dame in 1991 when the “drum major” dressed as a nun and led the band with a wooden cross.

It hasn’t been all Roses for the Lelands. Their university may condone irreverence, but not stupidity or worse. In May 2015, after a series of troubling reports and a university investigation, the band was prohibited from performing at away athletic events for a year and required to adopt reforms regarding university policies on alcohol, controlled substances, hazing and/or sexual harassment.

The ban had included post-season games. But here is what Brad Hayward, a spokesman for Stanford, emailed me on the matter:

“… (T)he Band requested approval to attend the Rose Bowl based on [its] progress…in meeting expectations the university had set out when it initiated the travel restriction…and the request to participate in the Rose Bowl was granted.

“…Here is Stanford University’s statement on the matter:

“’… The performance was intended to be irreverent fun, given Iowa’s connection to farming and Stanford’s historical nickname ‘The Farm.’ The script posted on the Band’s Facebook page provides fuller context. We understand that some viewers took offense at the performance, which we regret and which will be the subject of further discussion with the Band’s leadership.’”

So strike up, don’t strike down, the band! CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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