What happened in Cleveland during the early-70s to make it such an insanely creative spot?
Alot of things came together in one place and one time.
1.) It was a unique generational window. Charlotte Pressler, a poet, writer and prominent figure in the scene, described it best in her piece, 'Those Were Different Times.' I quote the first few paragraphs:
"This is a story about life in Cleveland from 1968 to 1975, when a small group of people were evolving styles of music that would, much later, come to be called "New Wave." Misleadingly so, because that term suggests the current situation, in which an already evolved, recognized "New Wave" style exists for new bands to aim at. The task of this group was different: to evolve the style itself, while at the same time struggling to find in themselves the authority and confidence to play it. And they had to do this in a total vacuum. The whole system of New Wave interconnections which made it possible for every second person on Manhattan's Lower East Side to become a star did not exist. There were no stars in Cleveland. Nobody cared what these people were doing. If they did anything at all, they did it for themselves. They adapted to those conditions in different ways. Some are famous. Some are still struggling. One is dead.
"There are questions I would like to know the answers to. Why, for example, are so many of the people in this story drawn from the same background? Most of them were from middle or upper-middle class families. Most were very intelligent. Many of them could have been anything they chose to be. There was no reason why they should not have effected an entry into the world of their parents. Yet all of them turned their backs on this world, and that meant making a number of very painful choices. First, there was the decision not to go to college at a time when the draft was still in effect and the Vietnam War was still going on; and several of these people were drafted. Most of these people did not marry; those that did generally did not have children; few of them worked jobs for very long; and the jobs they did hold were low-paying and dull, a long ways from a "career." Yet they were not drop-outs in the Sixties sense; they felt, if anything, a certain affection for consumerist society, and a total contempt for the so-called counterculture. The Sixties drop-outs dropped in to a whole world of people just like themselves but these people were on their own.
"You can ask, also, why they all turned to rock 'n' roll. Most of these people were not natural musicians. Peter perhaps was, and Albert Dennis, and Scott Krauss; but John Morton and David Thomas and Allen Ravenstine and Jaime Klimek would probably have done something else, if there had been anything else for them to do. One can ask why there wasn't; why rock 'n' roll seemed to be the only choice.
"I would like to know too the source of the deep rage that runs through this story like a razor-edged wire. It was a desperate, stubborn refusal of the world, a total rejection; the kind of thing that once drove men into the desert, but our desert was the Flats. Remember that the people who did this music had an uncompromising stance that gave them no way up and no way out. It was the inward-turning, defiant stance of a beleaguered few who felt themselves to be outside music, beneath media attention, and without hope of an audience. It seems that the years from 1974 to 1978 in Cleveland were a flash point, a quick and brilliant explosion, even epochal, but over with and done. No amount of nostalgia can bring those years back; they were different times. Still, I can't imagine living any other way than the way I learned to live in Cleveland during those years. We found it hard, in 1975, to imagine that anyone would live to see the year 2000. It's not that hard to imagine it now. What's become hard to imagine - but then why would we want to recapture it? - is the timeless, frozen, quality of life as we lived it in 1975, in the terminal landscape of Cleveland, with our drivenness, our rage, and our dreams of breaking through."
2.) Cleveland was, in the early 70s, a nexus for all music. Record shops competed for the new and cutting, for the complete and final word. Almost everyone I can think of who was in a band was working in a record store. Not only the college radio stations but even local commercial FM stations played radical music. So the "scene" in Cleveland was compact, informed, tough and protected from any threat of fame or acceptance.
3.) We were the Ghoulardi kids. It's been suggested by any number of us that the Cleveland/Akron event of the early 70s was attributable in large part to his influence. I was ten in 1963 when he went on air and 13 when he left Cleveland in 1966. After him I believe that I could only have perceived the nature of media and the possibilities of the narrative voice in particular ways. Describing how he devastated the authority of the media, and of the Great and the Good, how he turned the world upside down, would take too long and would be too hard to translate - a dumb slogan or two, some primitive blue screen technique, and a couple firecrackers for 90 minutes on the TV every Friday night, how unsafe could that be? You have no idea. He was the Flibberty Jib Man.
4.) Don't dismiss the power of The Velvets. Yes, it was a big deal. It changed lives. Every underground band in Cleveland in the early 70s could do Foggy Notion, for example - all that unreleased stuff that would later appear on bootlegs - but we learned from cassettes recorded at Cleveland appearances. Doing Sweet Jane was such a rube thing to do it came to be a litmus test for naffness - like doing Smoke On The Water or something. Bands from AKRON would do Sweet Jane!