The place that Cody Diekhoff considers most like home is a place that's seen better days, but it's no less beautiful to him. It's a place that's hurting, weeping on the inside. The jobs are gone, but the people - his people, his family and his dear friends - aren't going anywhere. They stick with the sorry outpost as it loses its paint, as the wood in its stores, taverns and houses starts to rot, getting closer to a more formal death. The people remain there, committed to their roots, for the best reason they can ever think of. They remain there because that's where they're from and that's where they'll die. They stay there because then people will know where to visit them when they've died. They will be buried in the ground, surrounded by everyone who ever loved them the best, or loved them unconditionally. They will be surrounded by other gravestones, with the same last name on them, and there will be a peacefulness there, in that shared association. They will always have their roots, set in place, even in death - or especially in death.
Diekhoff, who writes and performs under the name Chicago Farmer, is steeped in rural environments, those earthy places where everyone rises early and the whole family still sits down to a big dinner and a big supper, with fresh milk, fresh bread and scripture readings before or after eating. These are places of clean souls and dirty hands, of big love and prideful manners. These are God-fearing people, even if they curse the man upstairs for bringing too much or too little rain to their fields. He commemorates these honest folks in his songs, making them sound as if they have worked for an earned every last cent and every last embrace they've ever received. He writes the way that Norman Rockwell would have written, had he written folk songs, albeit with fewer drug references.
Diekhoff sings his Midwestern songs with a reverence that makes them feel like old spirituals. They grab you with a firm handshake and they laugh heartily, inviting you in, no, insisting that you'll stay for dinner, that it's no imposition whatsoever. They are relentlessly dogged and they sound like kissing cousins to the songs that Neil Young put on "Harvest" and "After The Gold Rush." He sings for the working class and for the soldiers. He might even dig electric cars, but he thankfully chooses not to sing about oil. He sings about his dog, as a deployed man, fearing he won't return, asking someone to tell it, "I enjoyed the walks outside." It's enough to make anyone - even someone impartial to the creatures - to break up a bit. On "The Village," which might be his best song to-date, Diekhoff sings, "You'd better save up your voices, people, by and by/Oh I was in the Delta/Oh, I was in the Delta/And people felt ya and the way you feel/I heard the bells a-ringin'/I heard the bells a-ringin'/And people were singin' bout the way that they feel/Couldn't make out the language/Couldn't make out the language/But it sounded like anguish was the way they feel." It's meant to play out like a gospel song heard in the churches or one drifting out of the fields of the Deep South and yet it just feels the signature of a man who's felt some of that almighty pain. It's a tale of the broken heartland, sung by a man who can't help but stay in it.
*Essay originally published April, 2011