So I asked the salesgirl “Who was that man
Between the doberman and Bruce Lee?”
She said “Just a local hero”
“Local hero” she said with a smile
“Yeah a local hero he used to live here for a while”
Bruce Springsteen, Local Hero
Jersey girl and I found ourselves in Red Bank yesterday where we stumbled, quite unexpectedly, across a couple of culturally iconic locales.
Red Bank is a small New Jersey town on the Navesink River, North West of Asbury Park and North East of Freehold, which in 1904 was the birthplace of one of the greats of American music, Count Basie.
Born William James Basie, the man that would come to be known the world over as the Count was taught to play piano by his mother and, by his early teens, was already performing around the local area (including Asbury Park).
Eventually, he moved to Harlem and began playing with the Bennie Moten Orchestra with whom he continued until 1935 when he formed his own jazz outfit, The Count Basie Orchestra.
The Count would become a legend in Jazz and Big Band circles and achieve world fame as a musician, band leader, and composer. This was perhaps in small part due to the attentions of one John Hammond (a familiar name to all Springsteen and Dylan fans) who had heard Basie’s band over the radio and travelled from New York to Kansas City in 1936 to check out Basie and his Orchestra.
Hammond was impressed enough to record the band, a recording he later described as, “the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I’ve ever had anything to do with”. This was the beginning of Basie’s rise to national prominence.
Over his long career, Basie worked with some of the very greatest vocalists of all times; Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, and Sarah Vaughan.
While wondering around the town cente, we came upon Red Bank’s lasting monument to perhaps its greatest son. In 1984 (the year the Count died) the Carlton Theatre on Broad Street was renamed the Count Basie Theatre in his honour. Many acts have played there, including Tony Bennett, Al Green, the great George Carlin, Boz Scaggs, Counting Crows, Brian Wilson, The Asbury Dukes, and Jon Stewart. It was the last venue James Brown ever played and has been the location of several of Springsteen’s surprise guest appearances over the years.
We hope to catch a show there in the not too distant future.
The second Red Bank icon (and the only other that I know of) is filmmaker and comic book geek, Kevin Smith. My wife and I are both huge fans of his indy movie Clerks which was shot in the area. And I personally am also very fond of Chasing Amy, a large portion of which was filmed right on Broad Street in Red Bank.
All of this came into focus for me when we stumbled across Kevin’s Comic book Store, ‘Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash’ (also on Broad Street).
For those who are not aware, Smith plays the character Silent Bob in many of the movies he has directed or written (Clerks I & II, Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Mall Rats, and Dogma to name, well most of them actually). He also wrote the movie Jersey Girl (which, surprisingly considering the title, I have not seen).
The Secret Stash store also doubles as the set for a show about (you guessed it) comics and geek culture called ‘Comic Book Men‘. Smith and his geek friends talk all things geek for half an hour and as we arrived outside the store, we discovered that the show was taping right then.
Two minders stationed outside told us we could go in during taping but we’d have to fill out and sign waivers and cover up our T-shirts (which featured other peoples’ artworks that could not be shown on TV without their permission). We decided that all sounded like a bit too much trouble so we opted to come back after taping and wandered off down the street for some dinner.
When we returned an hour later, the minders were gone and we had a quick look around Kev’s Kingdom (pretty standard comic book store with a lot of Jay and Silent Bob merch and memorabilia as one would expect).
As we were leaving, I also snapped a quick pic of the building across the street which was used as Ben Affleck and Jason Lee’s artist studio in Chasing Amy (weird that Affleck, who played a comic book writer and artist in that film, is now Batman).
Here’s a scene from the movie showing not much has changed since 1997.
And that was our strange little day in Red Bank. I found a lot of weird connecting threads which led me to write this somewhat amorphous piece. NJ never seems to let me down on that score and I do love the little adventures Jersey girl and I always seem to have together.
Words and images (except where otherwise credited) are my own.