Sometimes I try to pinpoint my weirdness. I want to know where it all started. Is it some sort of biological predisposition that has left me susceptible to the culturally abnormal? Or maybe I’m a product of my environment? I am no scientist or sociologist, but I want to talk about the latter; growing up in a place smack dab in the middle of Pittsburgh and Cleveland…the city of Youngstown. While not exactly living in a small place, I always looked at the near Cleveland, as some sort of artist paradise, a place where fledging weirdos ruled the land and couldn’t be bothered. This a bit of a distorted vision but it guided me through my youth.
Youngstown is a strange place. It was the murder-capital of the United States in the 90s and has a reputation as a kind of rough-and-tumble city. That isn’t far from the truth but as a kid, the place isn’t exactly an amusement park of excitement. I suffered from extreme boredom and found myself looking for outside sources to alleviate the monotony.
My story starts in an era dominated by vhs rental video stores and cable television. If you are from Northeast Ohio, you had WJW (channel 8) where Big Chuck and Lil’ John hosted b-movies and paraded bizarre skits. I have a surreal memory of being about dick-tall, watching these two Clevelanders introduce the original King Kong, with Faye Ray. Holy shit; my life was forever changed. I was lucky enough to be an adolescent in an age where local personalities and television hosts were still on the air. It was before everything was sterile and digitized.
Besides finding myself lost in local television, the video rental industry was booming. I found myself lost in the cover art of horror movies at a place know as First Row Video. This place was inadvertently (or maybe purposefully) slanging out trash culture to the public. It was amazing. They had every Lucio Fulci and Herschell Gordon Lewis movies on display, and even a standup, life size, cardboard cutout of Leatherface, to promote Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I dare you to find a place like that in 2015! The closest you will get is a replica video store in some oddballs basement that lives in the middle of nowhere.
To escape Youngstown, one often found themselves in Cleveland. By chance, I was a young kid visiting Cleveland with my mother during the Sex Pistols reunion concert. This was in the Flats, back when things were still popping off in that area. We just sat on a park bench and watched all the crazies walk by. I was forever changed. I wanted more. It was the manifestation of things that only previously lived in my head. These people looked like the characters from many of the 80s horror movies I had repeatedly watched and obsessed over.
These are all defining moments that I experienced before even reaching puberty. I could go on and on, but these events are signifiers of why I am me. I love being from Ohio. One day I may inevitably return. Many people think I still live there. I do not.
I want to be a historian of the things I love. I have a passion for Rust Belt culture. That’s why I started this website. I want this stuff to be recognized, preserved, and remembered. There is an obvious bias towards Ohio. You will find many posts on this website about Cleveland, Youngstown, etc. Rust Belt Hammer will be two years old soon, having started in January of 2014. This website is my baby, and it’s nice to watch the little fucker blossom into something beautiful. I have had some amazing guest writers but handle most of the day-to-day posts myself. The site now has 130,000 views. I have no desire for Rust Belt Hammer to be hip or fashionable. This is a site for outsiders doing outsider art that is important to the region where I am from. I like to keep things simple. Why complicate something organic? This is the Rust Belt Hammer Manifest
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