"And I can see them shining
Through the Willows and the Pines,
The lights of Cincinnati
Oh, so many miles behind,
I could build myself a new life
And make it on my own,
But the lights of Cincinnati
Will keep calling me back home."
-"Lights of Cincinnati," Scott Walker
I invite you to join me on a detour to my hometown and the place where I have spent the better half of my summer: Cincinnati, Ohio. While the name may not set off any bells and whistles, I'm feeling inspired enough to break this three month hiatus and share a lesser known, but very distinctive musical history.
While rummaging around at Half Price Books, crown jewel of second hand bookstores, I came across a mix CD labeled Deary Me Records, the name of a Cincinnati punk-rock label from 1995. Mezmerized, I bought the CD and tended to it before any of my other purchases. What turned out to be a nifty, if slightly scratched little time capsule broadened the contours of my mental map where I chart the city's music history, beginning with the legends of King Records and culminating in the great indie rock scene that exists today. After some family and friends affirmed the coolness of my clearance purchase as well as the ceaseless creative output of this city, I decided to dedicate a few blog posts to the lyrical landmarks of Cincinnati.
A city so much smaller than New York City--1/26 of the population size to be exact--doesn't lend itself to the same endless supply of song references, but I was surprised by the number of name drops that do exist. And yes, they extend beyond a "what's up" from Sir Mix-A-Lot and the T-H-U-G roll call from Cleveland neighbors Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony. Oh, and that annoying but aptly-titled tune, "Cincinnati, Ohio," which provides the low point of every visit to Great American Ballpark.
The man who wrote the lyrics above was an overseas sensation in the UK, though he hailed from the midwestern city of which we speak. Scott Walker--and no, not GOP presidential candidate #387 --was known for limit-pushing lyrics in the late 1960s at the same time he bore his soul and penned "Lights of Cincinnati." On this rare occasion he traded in bawdy for the ballad, reminiscent of the songs which propelled him to fame as a teen idol in the 1950s. With one of the most stirring baritones in pop music, Walker delivered a sincere expression of the heart--teetering between longing for a loved one and yearning for a particular place.
This post serves as the introduction to a miniseries on my hometown, and in the spirit of summer's melancholy as the season draws to a close, is a nod to Walker that his sentiment is alive and well in me.