Thursday, July 29, 2010

Upstate New York Pride: Nice Essay on The Felice Brothers


As we speak I am on my way home for a visit with my mama.  I couldn't be more excited to see her, but going home always gives me feelings of ambivalence. 

I think it's pretty common for people to find the place where they grew up both attractive and repulsive.  You have fond memories and bad memories, you recapture some moments when you visit, but some are lost forever.  This is how I feel about the countryside of upstate New York.  The name itself is contentious--what really counts as "upstate," anyway?--but you know when you are what I consider there because of a feeling.  It's that small town charm stretched out across the miles in a way that changes it, makes it a little tired.  It's the people, perhaps somewhat stereotypical in their practical dress or their gaudy lawn decor, who tend to their children, their livestock, or their other livelihood.

The top five professions of people I know there are 1. State or Federal Correctional Facilities workers (aka prison guards and the like) 2. farmers (mostly dairy), 3. teachers (SUNY schools have excellent education programs) 4. factory workers (toys, trains, chandeliers, or chemicals) and 5. state troopers or border patrol.

I find my childhood home beautiful and sad, but I don't want to objectify these people or this place.  It's not a simple portrait to paint.  I've found a band of brothers who write songs that feel like home: The Felice Brothers.

The band reminds me of my family--not all technically brothers, or even related--but still a family.  There's Jimmy, a big guy with old school accordion licks and the rasping voice to match, and Ian, who sings about poverty and old boxers with a heart-squeezing clarity.  There's Christmas, who seems to not want to be noticed on bass and Dave who eagerly keeps time on the drum kit.  There's Farley who is big with big hands on a fiddle or washboard, whose gold chains and mic grabbing seem idiosyncratic, but in a fitting way.

They play sad, sad melodies and brawling, stomping ditties.  They drink and dance and sometimes call the whole audience up onto the stage.  The Catskills aren't so different from the Adirondacks, and I think their music settles my spirit when thinking of home.  I'm not their only fan, but I mark myself among the special ones for that.

Please check them out, and I'll say hi to my motha for ya.