Borders are bogus, nationalism is more vacuous than racism, and this juvenile ‘my state is better than your state’ bullshit is, well, just that, juvenile bullshit. Which is to say that if the 13 original colonies were reclaimed by Johnson’s sovereign England and towed back across the Atlantic and everything north of Toledo and south or west of Cincinnati burst into flames and then sunk into the ocean, the Union would be preserved, more perfect-er than ever, in the great state of Ohio: USA #1, America fuck yeah, U Can’t Touch This, one nation under a screaming red, white and blue eagle on the hood of a Camaro airbrushed on a T-shirt stretched across huge fake titties, everything-proof, my dad can kick your dad’s ass, infinity plus one, forever and ever, Amen.
I wasn’t born in Ohio, I didn’t go to school there, I’ve never even lived in Ohio. I’m fucking Canadian, for God’s sake. This is the noxious, life-changing power of rock’n’roll: a dubbed tape of the New Bomb Turks’ !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! record wormed it’s way into my ear when I was 16 and a mere six months later I dropped two hits of acid and hitched a ride to Antioch in a tiny pickup truck emblazoned with Miller High Life logos. We drank warm Budweisers, crashed on the floor of a dorm room a friend was squatting in, and I learned an important life lesson: when you come down, you will always wake up in Ohio. Two days later, we headed to Alaska but Ohio stuck in my head. It struck me as cheap, simple, welcoming, with a pleasing emotional pluralism: a great place to feel bad in good company.
Ohio’s r’n’r history is rich: the Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Guided by Voices, Brainiac, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Gaunt, Buffalo Killers, Times New Viking, Grafton, the Breeders, Geraldine, James Gang. But for me, the heart of rock in roll is not in Cleveland but in Athens, and in one bar–the Union–and one little known songwriter–Jason Frederick. His bands–Spiveys, the Means, Love Story in Blood Red, Lacerati, Cool Devices, RIBS–each have a worshipful (if small) cult following. For all my youthful fetishization of Guns n’ Roses, the only band tattoo I’ve committed to is a sketch from a Means T-shirt on my right bicep, a design that brings unmitigated joy to the eyes of Old Rocker Dudes at least three times or maybe twice a year. Why? Jason’s voice sounds like a purring puma, Jason’s voice sounds like a chipper/shredder, Jason’s voice sounds like a puma being slowly lowered into a chipper/shredder.
Live, he’s… engaging: “You are a cocksucker. I take that back, that’s the wrong word. You don’t have the guts to suck cock, you’re a fucking coward. It takes a lot of balls to suck cock, it takes a lot of balls to stick your balls in some guy’s asshole. You’ve got neither of them, you’ve got bad opinions, you’ve got no taste but… you’re here. So thanks for the ten bucks.” Lyrically, our bread is his bread–alienation, self-loathing, stagnation, bafflement at our modern world–but he approaches bile, vitriol and despair with unprecedented enthusiasm, even pluck.
He opens his greatest song “Ohio” crooning jauntily like Jonathan Richman “Oh come and get it, California, come and get it at the count of three / I’m broke up like a leper, I’m soaking on the one / come and get me, come and suck me off, there’s almost nothing left.” “Ohio” pegs, for me, a certain doomed youthful arrogance–crawling to the gas station for two orange Powerades, your hands shaking, pushing one of those cold plastic bottles into your eye socket, praying for guidance, swearing to change, promising to leave… and somehow winding up at the counter with a 40 of Icehouse and a pack of Camel Lights and drinking yourself into a sad malty rage because fuck you, this town needs me: “This town’s a bitch, man, the likes of which you’ll never see again / but you better be careful how you speak it her / you’ll never know when you’ll be coming crawling back some who knows when.”
It gets better; it gets worse: “When I get home tonight, I’ll write your will out on the shower wall… in come/ oh la la la la la la la.” The chorus is, of course, “Ohio’s getting older, if you listen you can hear it dying.” Because, you see, Jason hates Ohio. Jason loves to hate Ohio. All hail Ohio.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.