A Proud, Gay-Friendly City

Every year or so, some national publication prints an article about the large gay and lesbian community in Columbus.  The most recent one that I can remember is this piece from the New York Times.  The pieces are always earnest and respectful, but underneath there is always a tone of, well, astonishment.  Deep down, you know the writer is wondering:  how can it possibly be that this football-crazy Midwestern town is not only tolerant of gays and lesbians, but actually gladly welcomes them in politics, the arts, business, and every other aspect of the community?  That reaction is insulting, really, but it is the kind of response we in flyover country often get from our friends on the coasts.

These articles, I think, miss something about the character of Columbus that makes the city’s openness to gays, lesbians, and people of every other sexual inclination perfectly understandable.  Sure, Columbus is a college town, with the kind of liberal attitudes associated with that reality, and the fact that some of the largest businesses in town are fashion retailers like The Limited and Abercrombie & Fitch undoubtedly has an impact.  The fact is, however, that Columbus has been gay-friendly for as long as I can remember, since well before The Limited and A&F grew to their current size and prominence.

I think the real reason Columbus welcomes gays and lesbians is that Columbus is that Columbus welcomes everybody.  In reality, very few people in Columbus are from Columbus originally.  Most of us moved here at some point over the past few decades, when Columbus grew rapidly into the largest city in Ohio.  This city doesn’t have old-line blue bloods who have lived here for generations, turning up their noses at newcomers and trying to exclude people from community affairs.  We all came to Columbus because we liked it and saw opportunity here, and we’re proud that our town is one of the few growing communities in the Midwest.  If you want to come to this city to join in the boom and contribute, however you can, to making Columbus an even better and more vibrant place to live, why should we care one whit about something that is none of our business, like your sexual orientation?  The people of Columbus are just glad you are here.

So come to our fair city and notice, if you must, the openly gay and lesbian couples who freely live their lives here.  But don’t act like Columbus’ attitude about such matters is surprising, because that reaction says more about you than it does about Columbus.  This city has been a proud, gay-friendly city for a very long time.  You just haven’t noticed.


Obscure Bands And Great Songs: The Trashmen And Surfin’ Bird

In the early ’60s, before the British invasion, American popular music was wide open.  You had Elvis and Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chubby Checker, Connie Francis and Lesley Gore.  You had girl groups and boy groups and novelty songs.  And, emanating from somewhere deep in the American psyche, you had this odd, guitar and drum-oriented sound called surf music.  The surf sound started on the West Coast and rolled east until it reached Minnesota, of all places, and produced the classic 1963 hit Surfin’ Bird.  (And then, unfortunately, surf music was bastardized and stigmatized for decades by the limp tunes of the Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach movies, only to be revived by the awesome, crushing sounds of Dick Dale — but that is another story.)

Surfin’ Bird was recorded by The Trashmen, a band that started in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It was The Trashmen’s only real hit, but what a hit it was!  It probably had the most insultingly stupid lyrics ever heard on a piece of American popular music, incessantly repeating “the bird is the word” until switching to “papa oom mow mow” mid-song.  (It must have driven parents nuts to hear the inane lyrics blasted from a cheap 45 record player, which undoubtedly was part of the song’s attraction.)  The singer was some improbably gravelly voiced guy who sounded like he was having an awfully good time singing nonsense.  And the backing was just loud ashcan drums, with barely perceptible guitar, pounding out a quick-step beat that made you want to move and dance.

Surfin’ Bird is one of those songs that, once heard, is never forgotten.  Every so often it resurfaces, so that its silliness can reach another generation of the young at heart.  And the video below, where the song was badly lip-synced on some Dick Clark-hosted music show, is classic in its own right.