"What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?" - Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995)
Back in January Forbes came out with a list of the 20 most "miserable" cities in the US (minimum population of 245,000), and came up with a "misery index" based on violent crime rates, unemployment, inflation, local sales tax, weather, local political corruption, and sucky sports teams. Some of the cities on the list have been miserable a long, long time, while others are somewhat debatable in their misery.
I've always had this thought that misery leads to good music. I can think of a few artists that created tremendous music while they were depressed or miserable, and then when they became happy, they really started to suck. For instance, Bob Dylan's 1975 classic Blood on the Tracks, which is one of my favorite albums of all time, was written while Dylan was going through a separation from his wife. Then look at Dylan's 80s output. Not so hot.
Since I have been pretty miserable lately, I thought I would run down the Forbes misery list and match the city with musicians who came out of or are currently living in that city, regardless if the artist is miserable or really fucking happy.
City of Brother Love. 5th largest city in the US with a metro area of 5.8 million people. 10.6% unemployment. Ranked 15th most violent city the US in 2009. $600-$800 million city budget deficit. 7% sales tax. Cold winters. Except for the 2008 World Series won by the Phillies, the city has not had a sports championship since 1983. And the fans are notoriously loyal, but surly - they boo freakin' Santa Claus!
I know that Philly has a tremendous hip-hop/rap scene. And jazz legend John Coltrane was born there. But I am going to focus on some punks that made my miserable teenage years a lot more bearable.
The Dead Milkmen - Life is Shit.mp3
Buy: Beelzebubba (1988)
On the southern end of Lake Michigan, population around 100,000. (I guess there is a metro area to qualify it for this list, but I can't find its population. I always figured that Gary was practically a suburb of Chicago.) Unemployment rate of 15.5%. Was second in homicides per capital in 2008. 6% sales tax. $34 Million in city debts. Friggin cold winters with wind blowing off Lake Michigan, and lots of smog blowing in from Chicago and other industrial pollution in the summers. Do they follow Chicago sports? One word: Cubs. Or Notre Dame football? Miserable. At least there is the Colts to the south.
The only musician I can come up with from Gary is Michael Jackson, and the rest of the crazy Jackson family. I don't have any Michael Jackson or Jackson 5 mp3s at my disposal. And then there's that crappy "Gary, Indiana" song from The Music Man, which I had to play in high school.
Although this musician is from Virginia, here is a bad-ass song about hard times in Gary's state.
Scott Miller - Sin in Indiana.mp3
Buy: For Crying Out Loud (2009)
Where you stop to pee on your road trip from Chicago to New York. 570,000 residents in the metro area (Youngstown has a metro area?). Trying to reinvent itself since the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s, and still working on it. 14.1% unemployment. 6.5% sales tax. Can't find much data on recent crime rates, but in the past it wasn't good. And according to Forbes, "Youngstown's favorite son, former Congressman Jim Traficant, is considering running for Congress again after serving seven years in prison on bribery, racketeering and tax evasion charges. Needless to say Youngstown ranks high on our corruption metric." Being close-ish to Cleveland, I'm assuming they cheer for such miserable teams as the Browns. Though the Cavaliers are a hell of a team, and Ohio State to the east isn't so bad either.
Holy crap! I just learned that Dave Grohl was born in Warren, OH, part of the famous Youngstown metropolitan area. Fuck yeah!
Foo Fighters - Good Grief.mp3
Buy: Foo Fighters (1995)
Here's a track from a compilation of songs about the history of America, complied in part by supreme court justice Janet Reno (no shit). Matthew Ryan (not from Youngstown) delivers a brilliantly bleak vocal performance in describing the misery of the post-World War II rust belt.
Matthew Ryan - Youngstown.mp3
Buy: Song of America (2007)
Edit: thanks to reader Tualla for telling me that the song "Youngstown" was originally written by Bruce Springsteen and is from The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995).