The 10 Biggest References to the Hudson Valley, NY, in Pop Culture, Music, and Movies in 2011

Poptional Reading delivers the biggest references to our region in 2011



It’s written somewhere in the blogger handbook that all years must end with some sort of top-ten list. And so, as in year's past, I bring you the biggest references to our region this year.

10. They Might Be Giants’s Authenticity Trip

This barely made it on to the list because They Might Be Giants isn’t the most mainstream of bands, and the reference they make isn’t on a proper album — just a collection of B-sides and rarities. But the song “Authenticity Trip” makes multiple references to one of our hometown heroes: Ichabod Crane, the creation of Washington Irving, whose stories took place all over the Hudson Valley. Operative lyrics: Tonight Sleepy Hollow’s just a few miles away/With dramatic re-enactments and an overnight stay. I can only imagine that they’re referring to the Horseman’s Hollow. Maybe they heard about it when they played the Tarrytown Music Hall a couple years ago. Hear the reference at 1:41 below.

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visit from the goon squad cover photo

9. A Visit from the Goon Squad’s Pulitzer Win

Okay, so A Visit from the Goon Squad came out in 2010 (read my review of it here), so it really should’ve been on last year's list. But 2011 was the year it won the Pulitzer Prize — and deservedly so. The novel is a series of semi-related stories about people involved in the music biz, including Bennie, a character who lives in the fictional Valley town of Crandale. Too many other authors believe that the music industry (the musicians, the fans, the live gigs, etc.) lives and dies in the city, so I was grateful that author Jennifer Egan acknowledged that yes, people in the ’burbs are musically aware, too. But even without the local love, the book is pretty terrific and completely deserved to win.

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8. How I Met Your Mother’s Hurricane Hangout

I know I've written about How I Met Your Mother in this space before, but I really appreciate how the show takes the time to get its geographical details right. In an episode about Hurricane Irene, the main characters, who live in New York City, can’t decide if they want to stay and hunker down in their apartments or flee to a weekend house in Westchester. Their dithering about it delayed them so long that the mayor closed the bridges and they couldn’t leave, but it turned out okay — they were fine... though the house in Westchester was hit by a tree. That seems to be pretty close to the way the hurricane experience actually played out around my area. We spent so much time worrying about our city friends and their evacuation zones, but they never lost power and we were stuck without electricity and a lot of heavy clean-up.

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7. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s (Not-So-Positive) Shout-Out

Jay-Z and Kanye West are two of the biggest names in hip-hop. So when they teamed up for their album Watch the Throne, naturally everyone was excited... until they rapped about Westchester. No, they didn’t mention our rolling hills, good schools, or big houses; rather, they talk about one of the most horrible incidents to happen here in recent years: the death of Danroy “DJ” Henry. (During a brawl at a bar in Thornwood, Henry was shot and killed by police.) Jay-Z, who reportedly owns a house in Scarsdale, begins the song by saying, “This is to the memory of Danroy Henry/Too much enemy fire to catch a friendly.” You can see more below, or click here for my thoughts about the song.

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6. HBO’s Tragic Recreation

Continuing in the vein of horrible incidents playing out on the pop-culture stage, this year HBO made a documentary dubbed There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane. It’s about Diane Schuler, the wrong-way driver who caused a fatal accident on the Taconic Parkway returning from camping in Parksville (read my thoughts on the issue here). Authorities called it the worst accident the area had seen in three-quarters of a century. While it couldn’t answer the most pressing question of the case — why? — the documentary did shed some light on what had happened that day, and it got generally favorable reviews from critics.

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5. Conan O’Brien’s Character Reformation

If you’re a fan of Team Coco, you’ve undoubtedly kept tabs on one of his most beloved recurring characters: The Masturbating Bear. (Hey, I don’t come up with these things, I just report them!) Unfortunately, a desire to break new ground for his show (and possibly legal issues with NBC) has kept O’Brien from employing many of his usual characters on his new show. But when he did a one-week stint at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, he took the time to catch up with some of his old characters. And the Bear? According to O’Brien, he’s been living a quiet life in Westchester County, making a living as an insurance adjuster, and commuting to work from the Philipse Manor Metro-North station. Take a look.

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x-men mansion

4. X-Men: First Class [Exaggeration]

Of all the superhero teams, the X-Men are closest to our hearts: They keep their HQ in “Salem Center,” Westchester County. Whenever a new X-Men movie is released, I get most excited about seeing how they interpret my hometown. This time, my heart raced at the title card that read “Westchester – 1944” — only to be disappointed upon the realization that the Englefield House (an Elizabethan manor in Berkshire, England) was the stand-in for our fair estates. Next time, X-Men filmmakers, bring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to the real Westchester (and, um, invite me to lunch).

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pan am ticket to playland

3. Pan Am’s Covert Operation

The scene: An innocuous park bench. A stealthy G-man gives orders to a Pan Am stewardess. She’s been seeing a guy — one who just so happens to have UN connections — and the feds want to know where his sympathies lie. How does he suggest she can get him to open up? By taking him to the one place where he can really let his guard down: Playland. He even gives her the admission tickets.  

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suburgatory image

2. Suburgatory’s Imaginary Suburb

The show begins with an overprotective father moving his daughter out of the big, bad city and into Chatswin, a fictional town with a 914 area code (read my initial reaction here). In order to make it a true fish-out-of-water tale, though, Suburgatory indulges every opportunity to make the metro suburbs appear as Stepford-y as possible. Matt Zoller Seitz nails it in Salon: “The ‘typical suburb’ we’re seeing bears little relation to any ‘typical suburb’ anywhere in 21st century America that I’ve ever visited. The hedges and lawns are immaculate. Almost every resident is white. The high school is immense, its facilities handsome and new. The men are mostly metrosexual fussbudgets, one of whom is a strapping blond dude who hangs out by a swimming pool with a Bluetooth device clamped to his ear. All the women look like they’ve been recently exfoliated and tanned in a booth, and both mothers and daughters have implants... I don’t think this show is about what it says it’s about. I think it’s really about a privileged entertainment industry family that makes a mint with a successful show, moves to Beverly Hills and hates it at first, but ultimately fits in fine.”

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martha marcy may marleneElizabeth Olsen photograph by Jody Lee Lipes © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

1. The Hudson Valley’s Myriad Cults

The Hudson Valley is known for its apple-picking. And its beautiful scenery. And its... cults? If you’ve gone to the movies this year and spotted a reference to the Valley, it might have been in a fringe-religious context. Two movies are the major proponents of this theory: Higher Ground and Martha Marcy May Marlene. In the first, Ulster resident Vera Farmiga made her directorial debut telling the story of a woman who begins to question her devout Bible-studying community when her marriage begins to fail (read my thoughts on this movie here). Filming took place in many Valley locations — especially Kingston. The cult is less defined Martha Marcy May Marlene, but it’s clearly in the Catskills. Martha flees the community and heads to her sister’s more materialistic society, nestled on a lake in Connecticut. Both main characters have to discover their places in the world — and in the Valley (read my review here).

See you next year!

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About This Blog

Marisa LaScala

Marisa LaScala
Elmsford, NY


Associate Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come back and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at www.popmatters.com, where she is a staff writer.

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