This, my friends, is the beautiful America.
This, my friends, is the beautiful America.
It’s often easy for us on this side of the Atlantic to forget that America is a beautiful country. It’s even easier for us to forget that it is also home to some of the sweetest, kindest and most intellectual people you’d ever be likely to meet. Don’t scoff it’s true. The same goes for Belgium. Hey, I’m being serious here!
You see, America is so distant from us, such a mind bogglingly huge place for us to comprehend, that we have simply had to condense it into something small and manageable. For most people over here, America begins with New York and ends with California, with Texas somewhere in the middle. Ok, perhaps that’s too much of a generalisation, but I think you know what I’m talking about. We have this strange kind of mythical place in our minds, filled with skyscrapers, yellow taxi cabs, neon lights and rednecks with bad teeth that want to butt fuck you at any opportunity. Oh and let’s not forget the billions of children running around with guns shooting each other because they didn’t do their maths homework. It’s all so alien to us and, quite frankly, unbelievable. After all, where I’m from, maths homework was always copied from somebody else on the bus going to school and the closest thing we had to a weapon in our bags was a vinegar-treated conker!
Of course, we all know there’s more to America than that (don’t we?) but it’s easy to forget, if only because the news perpetually repeats the same kind of images over and over again. Trust me when I tell you, America has a lot going for it — and no I’m not just talking about giant food portions and free refills, although that is a plus. One of the things it has going for it is that it knows how to do small towns properly. When you spend some time in a large American city, like New York or Chicago, you get the impression that everything’s running at a thousand miles an hour. Like a music video, everything’s quickly edited and everything happens in the blink of an eye. American small towns are different, there you get the impression that time has simply had enough. It’s not that it’s stopped, it’s just that it’s too lazy to carry on and would rather hang around and scratch it’s arse a bit. If your car breaks down in Chicago – you can have another one within an hour. If your car breaks down in Springville, NY, then you’d better hope the Greyhound bus turns up tomorrow afternoon or you ain’t going anywhere for the next week.
I’ve been to Springville NY, it’s a great place. It’s main street is called, well, Main Street and it has a couple of little bars — one even has a dartboard! — a charity shop, a local diner and a hardware store. There’s also a church where local people get married and an old folks home, where the townspeople leave their parents to watch Oprah and die peacefully. On the outskirts of town there’s a large hypermarket, an electrical store and a series of fast food restaurants. Oh and I nearly forgot the bowling alley. It’s true, it’s not the most culturally scintillating town in the world, but it has a lot of charm. Springville NY is surrounded by cornfields, pine forests and steep rolling hills. It’s a beautiful, quaint little place where people just go about their daily lives, hoping that the floods don’t hit this year. There are Springville’s all over America. Small, independent communities, a world and a half away from the bustling metropolis’ that America prides itself on. These are the type of towns Garrison Keillor and Richard Russo write about — and I would recommend both authors to you wholeheartedly — where nothing much goes on apart from the ordinary, but it’s the ordinary that makes them special. These are the blue-collar towns where, as Keillor put it, "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average." This, my friends, is the beautiful America.
Or the Whale’s Light Poles and Pines could very well be an audio equivalent of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon or Russo’s Mohawk. The beautiful album cover acts as a gateway into a world so wonderfully crafted and so utterly beguiling that you could easily fall in love with it at first glance. The band is your bog standard Americana folk rock line up – complete with pedal steel guitar, accordion and banjo – but the music they create is so much more than the sum of its parts. The musicianship is exceptional and the songs are impeccably arranged and structured. If you have a gander at their myspace page you’ll quickly realise that they look like a bunch of science teachers engaging in a bit of extra curricular activity. That shouldn’t surprise you though, because only people with stroky beards and flowery dresses could have the patience to craft something so meticulous. Let me tell you, they have worked wonders. One listen to Fixin’ To Leave and you’ll be looking to hug someone.
Or the Whale may live in the Bay Area of San Francisco, but their music belongs to the country as a whole. This is the sound of a mythic America, where dreams can be followed, where lives can be changed and where friendship means everything. Light Poles and Pines is an album to fall in love with and for all the right reasons. It’s as American as Mark Twain and every bit as charming and nostalgic as his writing. Prepare to have your heart warmed.
Words : Damian Leslie