Through ToledoWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo’s legacy in song ain’t exactly “New York, New York.”
There is the infamous “Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio” by Randy Sparks, an unflattering portrait of boredom and condescension. “You ask how I know of Toledo, Ohio/Well, I spent a week there, one day,” Sparks wrote.
British rocker Elvis Costello has also written about Toledo, in a song named after the city: “Do people living in Toledo/Know that their name hasn’t traveled very well?”
There is a mention in a song by bombast purveyors Yes, in “Our Song,” but at least it’s positive: “Toledo’s got to be the silver city/In this good country.”
Need more for your iPod? There is “Mean Ol’ Toledo” by Detroit’s The Soledad Brothers, Toledo-inspired instrumentals by George Benson, Spyro Gyra and Art Tatum, and a few side-of-the-mouth mentions in a dozen other songs.
The latest addition to this ignoble tradition comes courtesy Greg Laswell, on his CD “Through Toledo,” in which the Glass City becomes a melancholy metaphor for a slightly depressing stop on the way to something bigger.
To lachrymose piano chords that evoke John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Laswell sings: “Another hum drum grey day … I’m not sure I belong here anyway … Yeah I figure one day I’ll snap out of this … Yeah one day soon I’ll take that drive out.”
The twist is that Laswell is not singing about Toledo at all; he is singing about his life in Long Beach, California. Toledo is just the atmospherical setting for his depression and sense of restlessness. “I wonder if this rain passed to Toledo,” he sings.
In Laswell’s song, Toledo becomes a lyrical device to describe pensive transition, a place that’s sort of, kind of good enough for now, but is a means to an end. It’s brain drain set to music. Laswell discussed the metaphor during a May 24 phone interview.
“As I was working on the album, close friends of mine were moving to Toledo for a job; that was their path to New York,” he said. “As I sat across from them at the table and they told me they were leaving, I asked, ‘Why?’ They had a great life, great friends. They looked at me and said, ‘To be where we want to be, we need to go through Toledo.’
“In that moment, those words struck me, and I wondered, what is my Toledo? What do I have to go through to get where I want to be? I loved the sounds of the words
together, they were symbolic, and that was the only song I could name the album after. I named the album before I wrote the song.”
So how are his relocated friends doing? Are they still looking to move from Toledo?
“Actually, they fell in love with the place, and have adopted a son,” Laswell said. “They go to Ann Arbor sometimes, where I’ve played. I think they’ll be in Toledo for awhile.”
Laswell said he has been through Toledo twice and toured the area.
“I’ve visited my friends there twice and I’ve played Ann Arbor and Dayton,” he said. “Whenever I see the city limits sign, I smile.”
Laswell said he often hears from Toledoans.
“I get more e-mail from Toledo than anywhere,” he said. “People discover the song and want to share their thoughts.”
Laswell, who is finding success with a dreary and mirthless cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” may have set the new standard for writing a song about Toledo. Finding a way to tap into a community’s identity crisis as a metaphor for West Coast restlessness isn’t easy.
Laswell has to stop here on his tour, right?
“Absolutely,” he said, laughing. “We’re working on those plans now.”
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.