I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown
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Former Firestone factory
Scrapbook images of our hometowns mainly only live in our minds. In many instances, these places remain just the way we left them – in memory, at least. However, time marches on, which means that even the characteristics of our old stomping grounds join right in with that parade. In Chrissie Hynde's case, her hometown of Akron, Ohio, seemed to go to hell shortly after she moved on from there, if the Pretenders' "My City Was Gone" is to be believed. In fact, all of its good points had nearly disappeared. "I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone," is how this troubling rearview mirror glance begins.
Hynde's particular stolen mental property is Akron, Ohio. And granted, this is no Norman Rockwell painting small town: it's a big city. Even so, the parts of Akron Hynde loved best had been altered beyond repair during her time away. "South Howard had disappeared," she sadly notes. South Howard Street is the historic center of Akron. When she continues with "reduced to parking spaces," she's referring to how this city center was leveled to make room for an urban plaza highlighted by a trio of skyscrapers and a couple parking decks.
The song picks out these specific examples of negative change, as well as a few more generalized ones. She later sings, "My pretty countryside had been paved down the middle by a government that had no pride." When Hynde left Akron to seek fame and fortune (which she eventually found) in England, it was as though she took a piece of the city's pride with her. This song is personal for Hynde, but in many places it could be almost anybody's lost city story. "The farms of Ohio had been replaced by shopping malls," its lyric states. Sadly, when you've seen one shopping mall, you've basically seen them all. You could be dropped blindfolded in most any mall in America and likely have no idea where you are – malls are just that generic. And is there anything uglier than a strip mall? These are characterless architectural intrusions that ugli-fy any and all towns and cities wherever they take root. These colorless stores are connected Lego-like, and clutter up open spaces everywhere.
Goodyear Tire World Headquarters
Akron, Ohio, is the state's fifth largest city, and is in the Great Lakes region, south of Lake Erie, along the Little Cuyahoga River. Its nickname is The Rubber City, due to its industrial history. In fact, the University of Akron is home to both the Goodyear Polymer Center and the National Polymer Innovation Center. There was a time when all four major tire makers (Goodrich, Goodyear, Firestone, and General Tire) called Akron home, which lead to another nickname: Tire City.
Hynde is a talented and innovative songwriter and musician, and that means the music of her hometown is nearly as important as the way it looks. Therefore, she's just as heartbroken about the way the music in Akron has been dumbed-down, as well. This is especially true in shopping centers, where music-to-shop-to is piped in, instead of music that actually moves listeners emotionally. "And Muzak filled the air from Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls." "Muzak" is the name of an elevator music company. "Elevator music" is characterized by gentle instrumental arrangements of popular music designed for playing in shopping malls, grocery stores, department stores, telephone systems (while, of course, callers are on hold), and so on. Sonically, Muzak takes something beautiful and original, and makes it dull and annoying. [If you are ever cursed to hear, say, a Bob Marley song Muzak-ed, you might just reach out for the suicide solution.] In the same way that mom and pop shops gave way to cloned franchises, much of the music played at these establishments was equally generic-ized.
Some of these Akron changes, however, had nothing to do with the so-called pride-less government Hynde derides. "I went back to Ohio, but my family was gone," she notes. "I stood on the back porch, there was nobody home." After all, it's people – not buildings – that truly make one's hometown home. However, Hynde's family had moved away from Akron, just as she did.
"My City Was Gone" is distinctive for its fat bass line and chugging rock groove. It was originally released as the B-side to "Back on the Chain Gang," a sort of comeback Pretenders single issued shortly after founding guitarist James Honeyman-Scott's death. In a sense, the song might also work as the story of the band. Without his distinctive electric guitar work, The Pretenders just weren't quite the same since Honeyman-Scott's passing.
Author Thomas Wolfe once famously wrote, "You Can't Go Home Again." If home is anything like Chrissie Hynde's Akron, Ohio, you probably don't really want to return there, anyhow.
~ Dan MacIntosh
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