By Daniel J. McGraw
Last week the powers-that-be in Cleveland announced they were abandoning “Cleveland Rocks” as their city slogan. I am intrigued any time I see people out of their element—in this case, wealthy corporate types attempting to figure out which ad campaign might get the young and bearded shoe-gazers with backpacks to come to the youth hostel on West 25th.
The ad agency they hired from Kansas City came up with a new slogan: “This is Cleveland.” The agency wouldn’t disclose what “this” refers to (there will be some grand anointing this spring), but I would assume it will be anything that the people paying them want “this” to be. That’s how the ad game works, and it seems like the ad firm is playing it well, because they can create multiple “This is…” ads and everyone who has a hand in paying them will be kept happy.
I thought of how the Twitterverse and trolls on cleveland.com will have a field day with this: pictures of the Ariel Castro house or drunken Browns fans or abandoned buildings with the headline “This is Cleveland.”
Enough of this positive crap about how we are hardworking and unpretentious and as good as those great people on the east coast.A random sampling of Plain Dealer comments shows the true talent Clevelanders have in these matters: “This is Cleveland: There’s Always Next Year”; “This is Cleveland: Experience the Futility”; “This is Cleveland: Where Shrinkage is a Plus”; and “Cleveland’s Hot: Even Our Rivers Burn.” Not exactly intellectually clever, but good enough to hold your own in bar conversation.
As far as intellectualism, Samantha on Facebook wrote a comment on the new ad campaign that is insightful on so many levels: “As a linguist, I can say that the unknown referential is a bad idea. Without a specific context it evokes self-reflexivity which only serves to represent Cleveland as a faux-existential poorly crafted sentence fragment.”
But enough of the jokes. I thought about what might be better than a boring, boosterish campaign brought to us by the chamber of commerce. Enough of this positive crap about how we are hardworking and unpretentious and as good as those great people on the east coast. How we are cool enough to have shops with fair-trade coffee and gluten-free scones. I wanted nothing like that.
Because these are the facts: They called us the “Mistake on the Lake” for so many years, and made fun of us for those “Full Cleveland” leisure suits in the 1970s. The nation thinks it is funny how our pro sports teams stink and we haven’t won any championship since 1964. Fumbles and Drives and Shots and Red Right-88s. Oh yeah, and along those sports lines, how our football team owner gets closer and closer to the federal pen.
The national news about Cleveland is job loss and abandoned houses and bodies in the basement and algae blooms and our poor schools. And when the national media does drop in for their positive stories, the theme is usually “it is not as bad here as we thought it was going to be.”
So I think it’s time to market ourselves as being pissed off and unconcerned about what the rest of the world thinks of us.
And here is my new slogan for that purpose: “Cleveland: Because, Just Because.”
Cleveland’s own polka king Frankie Yankovic had a hit with “Just Because” back in 1948. But Elvis also recorded it in 1954, and Brenda Lee had a small hit with it in 1958. There are Spanish-language and country versions of it as well; in fact, it was written by a Texas hillbilly band in the 1920s. So it moves between genres quite well.
The title has a fitting smart-ass element to it, but the lyrics are even better. The song is about a guy whose girlfriend treats him like a chump, makes fun of him, and spends all his money—so he gets pissed and gets rid of her and moves on. That is Cleveland these days, isn’t it? We’ve been pissed on long enough, haven’t we? Read the lyrics yourself and decide if “This is Cleveland”:
Just because you think you’re so pretty,
And just because your momma thinks you’re hot,
Well, just because you think you’ve got something
That no other girl has got,
You’ve caused me to spend all my money.
You laughed and called me old Santa Claus.
Well, I’m telling you,
Baby, I’m through with you.
Because, just because.
Get Machine Gun Kelly to do a thug rap version, Honeybucket to do bluegrass/country, the Chardon Polka Band for accordion with attitude. Cheetah Chrome can do a loud and snotty punk version, Eddie Levert from the O’Jays can give us a soul version, Eric Carmen can go all the way—and get DJ Kishka in there.
Then there’s the True Missionary Baptist Church clapping and swaying. The Cleveland Orchestra. The North Coast Men’s Chorus. Actors from the Playhouse Square stage. Bill Miller from the Mr. Stress Blues Band.
And after they are done singing and playing, have them look at the camera and say: “Do you know why you should come to Cleveland? Because, just because.”
But wouldn’t it be more fun to just tell the rest of the world you’re sick of them and have been for awhile and you have to let off some steam?This would get attention because it is weird and funny (at least in my mind). And sometimes the best way to get someone interested in you is to pretend you don’t care about them. So we do sort of a nice version of FU to the rest of the country in a song, and tell them we don’t really care if they come here or not. And that’s why they will.
Look, I know this will never fly. Eighteen months have already been invested in “This is Cleveland.” I’m sure they’ll have some clips of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the West Side Market and people eating cabbage rolls at Sokolowski’s and Ohio City hipsters drinking craft beer, with the claim that this is authentic Cleveland. Same stuff, different verbiage.
But wouldn’t it be more fun to just tell the rest of the world you’re sick of them and have been for awhile and you have to let off some steam? We can tell the world that “baby, I’m though with you,” but we might let them come by if they’re nice. That would be fun. It’s how real people act. That is Cleveland.
Daniel J. McGraw is a Lakewood freelance journalist and author.
Photo Bob Perkoski