Simone Felice is a wonder. In 33 years, he seems to have experienced enough highs and lows to fill a few lifetimes, and he still manages to radiate the kind of sunny, loving air one would expect only from someone who has remained innocent of the depth and variety of pain the world has to offer. He came to prominence on the music scene as the drummer and rabble-rouser of the Felice Brothers (“prominence” being a term used loosely here as there are some still ignorant of the glory of the Brothers), given to off-kilter rhythms, whiskey-fueled antics and declarations such as “All ya’ll didn’t think there was any more churches left in New York City, did ya? This is the Felice Brothers Scumbag Church where you can fuck your cousin in the bathroom.” But even in the midst of the backwoods anarchy of the Brothers, the softer light in Simone still came shining through when he’d take the helm on songs like “Your Belly in My Arms” and “Mercy”.
When tragedy struck, not for the first time in Felice’s life, in the form of the still-birth of his daughter in the winter of 2008, instead of becoming hardened by the experience, Felice seemed only more determined to spread love. He bid bon voyage to the Brothers as they continued to tour, write and record and began to work on his own project, the Duke and the King, with longtime friend Robert “Chicken” Burke. What came out of holing up in a cabin with “Bobbie Bird” was an album, Nothing Gold Can Stay, that, true to its title, delivered musical poetry celebrating the beauty of the world – however painfully fleeting – and garnered Felice and Burke copious and effusive praise. Taking the show on the road, Felice and Burke continued to evolve their songs into ever more joyful noise.
Seemingly incapable of sitting still, Felice has now begun performing solo, has finished his fourth book and has just launched a website to keep the world apprised of his further creative endeavors. (One of the happy surprises of the new site is the affordable availability of The Big Empty, the eponomously-titled album of the band Felice started with younger brother Ian in the autumn of 2001, shortly after 9/11 and a few years before the formation of the Felice Brothers.)
Full disclosure: Simone Felice has become a sort of idol of mine. The dichotomy he personifies between dirtbag mountain boy and warm poet delights me, and the poetic prose of his books affects me in a way that writing hasn’t done since I was a susceptible teenager. But the clincher to his idolhood came when I messaged him via his MySpace page to ask if he could help direct me somewhere I could acquire a copy of his limited-edition novel Hail Mary Full of Holes and received a reply that not only affirmed that he could send me a copy from his own barn, but was also one of the kindest, warmest missives I’ve received from just about anyone, let alone an artist I had admired from afar.
This beautiful video was shot at the Olana State Historic Site near Felice’s home in upstate New York. The postmark on the envelope that carried my copy of Mary to me tells me that it was mailed the day this was filmed.
Incidentally, it was my enthusiasm for the Felice Brothers that led me to the music of their former-brother-in-law-and-still-brother-in-other-ways, A.A. Bondy (and it was a little write-up in the excellent and sadly now-defunct No Depression magazine that led me to the Brothers), who shares with Simone and the Brothers not just a talent for stripped-down, honest music, but also the trait of being just a damn nice person.