Power Trio: 3 Great Songs from Ohio

 

I BECAME OHIO’S ambassador when I moved to Tucson.

I grew up in the Buckeye State and hadn’t really given it a second thought. But, upon arriving in the Arizona desert and telling people where I was from, I was met with everything from giggles, to squints, to one coworker claiming, “I couldn’t even find Ohio on a map.”

It became clear my home state needed more love (this was back before it became a mecca for electoral votes every four years), so I took action. All those state history classes were finally paying off.  I used every opportunity to inform folks they ought to be kissing Ohio’s ass.

“Nice stepladder,” I told the office repairman replacing a fluorescent light. “That was invented in Ohio, you know.”

“Seven presidents! We had more presidents than any other state. Even the fattest one! Taft got stuck in a bathtub once.”

“Hey,” I said to the woman next to me on a flight. “It’s a common misconception, but the Wright Brothers were from Dayton, Ohio. Not Kittyhawk. If it wasn’t for Ohio, we wouldn’t be on this plane.” She looked kind of like she wished she wasn’t.

“Neil Armstrong!”

“Dean Martin!”

“Thomas Edison!”

“Phyllis Diller!”

“The ATM Machine!”

“The Barcode!”

“Pop-top soda cans!”

“The Fuzzbuster!”

“The ice cube tray!”

I’d like to think people were swayed by this Buckeye patriotism. Maybe Ohio was no longer just some Midwestern nowhere. Maybe it was now also “Birthplace of Annie Oakley!”

I saved my most passionate lobbying for Ohio’s music. Ohio Music sounded like as big a misnomer to West Coasters as Ohio Champagne. As a rock critic for a weekly paper in Portland, Oregon, I soon set the record straight on Ohio: rock ‘n’ roll/barcode heaven.

Ohio giveth and she taketh away.

See, we gave the world musical geniuses like Lil’ Bow Wow. But we took Dimebag Darrell when he was shot to death, onstage no less, in Columbus.

I told people the 90s were really the state’s musical gilded age. Nine Inch Nails! Bone Thugs-n-Harmony! The Breeders!

Sure, without Ohio there would be no 70s new wave like Devo or 00s blues rock like the Black Keys. But our 90s scene glows a little brighter.

Here are three songs I’d turn potential converts to:

 

1. Guided by Voices, “Official Ironmen Rally Song”

The crown jewel of Ohio rock bands.

Dayton’s Guided by Voices (GBV) began as a weekend hobby akin to beer league softball. The members didn’t gain notoriety until their mid-30s after recording a string of insanely catchy lo-fi albums that went unreleased.

I discovered the band after seeing a video for “Official Ironmen Rally Song” on 120 Minutes. The tune didn’t make sense to a teenager still getting over grunge. But the video did the impossible: It made scuzzy, mullet-heavy Dayton seem cool. This video and the accompanying album, Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, had more to do with me going to college at the University of Dayton than anything academic. Great plan, dude.

Like everyone in town, I have a bunch of GBV stories. Their rhythm guitarist once tried to kick me down a flight of stairs at a bar. One of their many drummers was the entertainment editor at the newspaper that let me be music intern. At the newspaper, I interviewed one of GBV’s many, many, many bassists.

Guided by Voices are so Ohio it hurts. Like all genius things in the state, they were concealed behind status quo Midwesterness. Ohio’s blanket dullness pushes its outliers atop a pedestal: its pop song writers, its ice cube trays, its overambitious state ambassadors.

 

2. Brainiac, “Go Freaks Go”

I did not have an older brother growing up. The closest thing I had was my buddy Terry’s older brother, Randy. Randy once lived in a van in Florida. He told us what heroin was like. He let us borrow a Misfits box set.

But his biggest brotherly contribution was offhandedly mentioning how this band, Brainiac, was the craziest thing he’d ever heard. This statement carried considerable weight since a Butthole Surfers record played in the background. “Check out their song ‘Go, Freaks, Go’.” But I had to wait since song downloading was still in its infancy.

Speaking of the olden days, I had a college radio show. I’m pretty sure most universities have ripped down their radio towers in favor of podcasting apps. I had a show on Flyer Radio 98.1 FM. Brainiac turned was fromDayton, so our station had their records.

On my first show I played “Go, Freaks, Go” and was floored by how weird it was. I would call the station when I was off duty and request it. I couldn’t hear the tune enough. It was cockeyed and catchy and spoke to me. This is what I wished Sonic Youth sounded like.

Leave it to Ohio again. After leading the world in stepladder creation, we also spearheaded pent up weirdness. It’s in every Ohioan, but held way down low. Knowing dudes like Brainiac probably lived a few miles from my dorm told me it was okay to be strange and confident and creative. Three things that have served me well in life.

 

3. Afghan Whigs, “Gentleman”

I remember this number being kind of popular during grunge’s heyday. I was too busy with Soundgarden and Alice in Chains to notice. Looking back, I’m shocked I didn’t jump onboard. The Afghan Whigs were from Cincinnati and put out a albums on Sub Pop. Talk about a band custom-made for grunge-era me!

I was a grown man before I caught the Whig bug. This is by far the sexiest song to come out of the 90s alt rock extravaganza and I think it sounds better having discovered it ten years too late. Like a lot of things in Ohio, it didn’t get the attention it deserved at the time, but has a wealth of historical staying power…not unlike William Howard Taft’s unfortunate bathtub incident.

 Listen to The Official Weeklings Power Trio Playlist on Spotify.

About Patrick Wensink

Patrick Wensink (@patrickwensink) is the author of the bestselling novel Broken Piano for President and the essay collection Everything Was Great Until it Sucked. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Oxford American, Salon and many less-reputable sources. He lives in Louisville, KY.
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One Response to Power Trio: 3 Great Songs from Ohio

  1. I read about Taft getting stuck in the White House bathtub when I was a kid, and it is still my all time favourite fact about anything. Apparently (according to Wikipedia) he ordered his aides to use butter to dislodge him, because butter was his solution for everything. It would make for a far funnier biopic than ‘Lincoln.’

    Anyway, Ohio also produced Foxy Shazam who are fucking incredible.

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