In small-town America, Stuart Stubbs met Meg Remy for a breakfast of pancakes, gender equality, Bruce Springsteen appreciation and the need for conscious pop music
To amplify the serenity of Hudson, New York, take the train north from Manhattan for two hours. It’s a gentle and idyllic journey; an elongated descent into upstate living, where there’s nothing to look at except for trees to your right and the great, still Hudson River to your left. The thrill of the city is muted as soon as you pass Yonkers, after twenty minutes or so, and yet Hudson itself seems quieter even than all that silent countryside in between.
Hudson’s train station doesn’t have platforms – first you need to make sure you’re in the front two carriages that stop in line with a freshly painted, wooden building, then jump down onto a small metal stool and skip across the tracks to safety. I arrive on a Wednesday afternoon, the day of the week when everything in town is routinely closed, restaurants as well as shops. Even my hotel is only semi open – when I arrive I’m told not to leave the building without my key card: it’s how I’ll be able to get back in the front door once the one member of staff (Paul) leaves for the day in an hour’s time. It’s 4pm. On my way up the street I pass one convenience store with a sign in the window that reads Open From 11 Most Days. It’s closed. Arriving in an American town as dead as this one feels particularly strange due to how cute it is. The painted railway station looks like a terminal on Main Street, Disneyland: a quaint look that covers the town over, each colonial building perfectly individual and skewed. Take the kids out of Disneyland, though, and it’d feel eerie to say the least, and so Hudson initially feels like the chocolate-box town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – the one where all the children have been kidnapped and a new face in town could easily feel like the curtains have eyes. Cynicism and paranoia will have you believe that, but quiet though it is, Hudson is simply the kind of place that you never envisage when you think of smalltown America – a sleepy, liberal community, fuelled by the arts and what appears to be the optimum amount of gentrification. Here, if a shop front doesn’t belong to a gallery it’s an antique shop or a thrift store or a furniture emporium. There’s a five-dollar record store that also sells junk, a bar that doubles as a bookshop, a vegan pizza parlour and an opera house that is out of proportion with everything else, even if this is technically a city (America’s first, so Paul tells me). There are no chain stores at all, the occasional building flies the gay pride rainbow flag and when I do finally see a human being they’re driving past the single storey, one-offender-at-a-time-please police station, waving at the officers outside, who wave back as if they’re great friends. If that sounds like a lie, wait until you hear this – one homeowner on Warren Street has erected a colourful, handmade sign in their front window that reads Sleeping Cat Theatre. They’ve then hooked their front curtain behind a chair on which – obviously a favourite spot – their cat is asleep. I presume they’ve done this just because. So when Meg Remy tells me that Bruce Springsteen and Isabella Rossellini have holiday homes here, I get it, just like I get it when she tells me that Hudson is her favourite place to play on her way to New York City, perhaps her favourite place to play anywhere. “I don’t like playing in the city,” she tells me at local dive bar and DIY venue The Half Moon, “so if I have to go there for a show I make sure I book a show here either the day before or the day after. It’s my treat to myself.”