The following was written for National Public Radio in response to their request (for listeners) to answer the following question: What music has changed your life? This post first appeared in October 2007.
Growing up in Akron, Ohio, working-class rock-and-roll music seemed to find its way into nearly every home—ours was no exception. And while Dylan, Springsteen, and Mellencamp permeated the airwaves, the one song that stirred me to my soul (and still does to this day) was written and performed by a singer and band that fell just short of national stardom status—Midwest Midnight by The Michael Stanley Band.
Stanley once said that Midwest Midnight was, “…the most honest song I’ve ever written,” and it was the first song that spoke to me about my hometown—or at least that part of the country that I called home. Stanley’s anthem left me feeling that there was no denying who I was or where I was from—no matter where I chose to live following my high school graduation in 1978.
It’s funny how one can know the words of a song by heart after all these years and still only possess a vague notion of the song’s intended message—such is art. Today, the lyrics of Midwest Midnight are still abstract to me and at 47-years-old, I would have thought this little mystery would have been solved by now. Perhaps I really don’t need to know what Stanley was trying to say because his song has woven its way into the fiber that defines me, which is understood, but not necessarily articulated.
Living in the wide-open spaces that straddle the Wyoming and Montana border, I consider myself a Westerner now. And while my taste in music has expanded exponentially over the years, every now and then my MP3 player will select Midwest Midnight in the shuffle mode and I’m instantly taken back to the world of Northeast Ohio—its overcast skies, industrial skylines and its proud, working-class ambience.
Excerpt from Midwest Midnight
Why can’t she see what she’s doing to me
If that bandstand girl only was here
And I’m living the dream, getting lost on the screen,
doing Presley in front of the mirror…
And I’m hanging around, getting high on the sounds
of the ladies and electric guitars
Cross a double yellow line to who knows where
with six sets of glory a night in some bar…
Ten thousand watts of holy light
from my radio so clear…
Bodies glistening, everybody’s listening
as the man plays all the hits that you want to hear.
Postscript: Michael Stanley passed away on March 5, 2021 after a short battle with lung cancer. His last performance was in March of 2020 at the Akron Civic Theatre just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Here’s a video of Stanley singing another early song and a favorite, The Rosewood Bitters, recorded in his basement on April of 2020.
In 2019, WKSU’s Amanda Rabinowitz interviewed Stanley for his Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement Award. LISTEN HERE for the interview.