July 6, 2011

An Ode to Container Ships.

Incidentally, the latest Felice Brothers album, Celebration, Florida, contains an ode to container ships. Despite my fascination with container ships, my favorite song on this album is Honda Civic, which became our accidental theme song in our Chevy Malibu during our recent road tripping adventure through Florida.

This album may or may not be named after the actual town called Celebration, Florida -- the Disney concept town located a stone's throw away from the Disney theme parks. (Incidentally, we did not get a chance to visit Celebration on our trip through Florida - despite our best intentions.)

The Disney people did massive sociological research before settling on the design they believed would capture the "ideal" American community. What is the American ideal of community you may ask? Well, according to this extensive Disney research it is as follows: old-fashioned exteriors, homes close to the road so that neighbors are more likely to interact, and a congenial old-fashioned downtown area beside a tranquil lake. No effort was spared in this creation. World famous architects were brought in to design major buildings: Phillip Johnson, Ritchie & Fiore designed the Town Hall; Michael Graves the post office; Cesar Pelli the 1950s style movie house; and Robert A.M. Stern the health center.

Perhaps Disney was onto something. The first 350 home sites sold out before a single model was even complete. Enthusiasts applaud Celebration's friendly small town feel, where new neighbors are greeted with home-baked brownies, each home is fully hooked up to all the others by an elaborate intercom system, town events are well attended, and children can walk carfree to school -- all without being a gated community as town spokespersons are eager to point out. On the other hand, detractors are quick to describe the town's atmosphere as "contrived" and "sterile." The stringent rules, including the town's insistence that all window treatments facing the outside must be white, only add fodder to the fire.

The town's detractors may have had a lot more to say when in November 2010 the body of a man was found in his home in Celebration, Florida. He had been strangled and beaten with an axe. It was the town's first homicide in its 15-year history. While the culprit was soon apprehended, the incident came as a complete shock to many of the municipality's 10,000 residents. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen in Celebration -- a crime-free, family-friendly throwback to a way of life that's more imagined than actual, according to Disney's vision.

According to Pitchfork, "it's unclear whether the Felice Brothers knew of that crime when they named their fourth album Celebration, Florida, but certainly that dark spot on the town's sunny exterior adds a bit of sensationalism to these songs, which examine the dark side of American spectacle." While Pitchfork gives this album a rather diluted review, calling the Felice Brothers "overeager in their experimenting" - I still think that it is well worth exploring.

And perhaps just as the Rough Guide to Florida authors encourage readers to stop by Celebration to determine for themselves whether this town's homogeneous blandness reflects an evolutionary stage of the American Dream or if it represents a touch of Big Brother or even some sort of smug cult - I would encourage Felice Brothers' listeners to re-acquaint themselves with some of the classics that made the Felice Brothers so appealing in the first place, including the much loved Roll On Arte and see if this experimentation is in fact over-eager or a welcome change.



Rough Guide to Florida

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