Years ago, I ended up in possession of an Idlewild bumper sticker that reads as follows:
support your local poet.
I came across this bumper sticker again the other day. It's an important sentiment that bears repeating. I've already written about how much I love Cincinnati, and how about I think we shouldn't be shy about proclaiming our love for this city. That includes, 100%, the art that is being produced here. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky artists such as Bad Veins, Daniel Martin Moore, Pomegranates, Walk The Moon, and Wussy are producing great music, and it makes me happy that the city that produced The Afghan Whigs, Ass Ponys, Adrian Belew, and Bootsy Collins — the city even Peter Frampton chose to make his home — is still supporting artists who love this city, who want to claim it as their home and make their music here.
Saturday was Record Store Day. We arrived at Shake It Records in Northside just before 9 and joined a line already snaking around the block. When the doors were thrown open, the line moved patiently from bin to bin, gasping with joy when they came across the one they wanted. In addition to the national releases, Shake It had special releases from Wussy, Bad Veins, and Walk the Moon in the bins, testament to their local pride.
Later in the day, after spreading some of our pennies to Everybody's Records across town, I came back to Shake It for an acoustic performance by Bad Veins, and the store was still swarming with eager music buyers. As the show got started, shoppers switched their focus from the bins to the microphones set up near the back of the store. Ben and Sebastien invited the crowd to come closer, asked for requests from their devoted fans. The store was hushed with a reverent silence. A group of high school girls swooned near the Rock/M section; a lanky group of skater kids bounced their sneakers, cross-legged on the floor. A whole store listening.
(Later reports indicate that Walk the Moon also packed the house to the rafters; people were turned away at the door.)
Where last year's Record Store Day in New York felt like sponsored chaos, the mad dash of collectors and fans alike, this year's Record Store Day was a comfort: to see so many people there, to watch people in the act of listening, to see so much local music on display. All of it a big 'ol sign saying "Cincinnati: poets live here, too."
Everything is going to be alright.
* * *
This, obviously, was all happening before I got here. My observations don't cover the full picture: the years these artists spent sweating their balls off just to make it to this point, to get noticed, to get a crowd of kids sitting cross-legged and devoted in front of them at an acoustic show. The record stores busting their humps to stay alive. This city was a city of poets and artists long before I was even born, artists who survived and artists who didn't, artists who moved onto the next thing. I've just happened upon the scene, a straggler kicking a peach pit up a dirt road, stumbling across a band of troubadors in the clearing... This all happened independent of me: I'm just glad I get to be here to see it and throw some coins into the hat.
* * *
The next day I went to the cemetery.
It was a gray day, and the obelisks and mausoleums of Spring Grove — arboretum, historical landmark, and the second largest cemetery in the United States — seemed even grayer for it. I hiked up past "Dracula's Castle" (the Dexter Mausoleum, the neo-gothic monument built by an English immigrant whiskey baron), weaving through 19th century inscriptions, angels, and tree trunks carved from marble. At the top of a hill, I stopped and looked back over my shoulder, the hills of the Queen City blooming behind me in green.
And I saw every ounce of inspiration there before me.
How could this not be a city for poets? And it is: a city of inspired texture and beauty, fringed with green and rolling land rising and falling as it approaches the Ohio River, dotted with the brick chimneys of old factories and the white blossoms of dogwoods and honeysuckle. A city of occasional heartache and loss, a city where things happen, and people leave, and buildings get torn down. But the poets of the city write, about the good and the bad. They write until strings break and the ink runs dry. All we have to do is listen for a while and we'll hear that city, too.
The new Bad Veins album, The Mess We've Made, goes on sale to the rest of the world tomorrow. You can listen to it here for a limited time. (After a day's listen, "Doubt" and "I Turn Around" are personal favorites.) Don't forget to support your local record store all year long. And your local poets.