Revolution

I’m reblogging this post, not because I felt it was particularly well written but because I have added a substantial number of photographs since I first published it.

Runaway American Dream

IMG_4192 The Battle of Princeton Monument.

This great State in which I now live, was the crossroads of the Revolution. More battles were fought over New Jersey soil than over any other of the thirteen colonies. Places like Trenton, Princeton, Springfield, and, Monmouth were the sites of some of the most crucial battles of the struggle. Trenton and Princeton are where the tide finally turned in favor of the patriots.

Not four miles from where I type this, is a place where Washington stayed while his army was camped at White House, just down the road (sadly the house burned down in the 1960s but a commemorative sign still marks the spot).

Six miles in a different direction and you find Solitude House, High Bridge. This was another house where Washington (and his wife Martha) is known to have visited as well as General Lafayette, Colonel Charles Stewart, and Aaron…

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When the leaves come falling down

 

 

Come Fall

 

I can feel its fingers

In the morning air now

The frequency shift from green

To gold

 

Leaves that set themselves on fire

And leap headlong from the trees

The frantic, erratic activities of squirrels

Who (all at once) feel the clock ticking down

 

It’s in the faint silvered mist

that is gone by eight

In the dew that catches the rising sun

Just so

 

And in the evening’s twilight

There’s a new heaviness to the air like

Gravity is increasing to pull the leaves to earth

I love this time best of all

 

Soon will come the scent of wood smoke.

 

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Words and images are my own.

 

©2017

 

93. Streets of your town

 

Time flies. I’ve been living here in New Jersey now for six full months. So much has happened in that time that I’ve barely had time to write about it. I’ve attended two weddings (both of them mine). I’ve had the opportunity to show my son around my new home before reluctantly waving him off at Newark Airport. I’ve seen the Boss play in a small theatre in his spiritual homeland of Asbury Park, and I’ve spent a lot of time in my favourite city, New York.

So, you may be wondering how it’s all going? Did the great romance stay strong after the yearnings of distance dissipated? Does domestic bliss live up to the dream? Are we still even talking after all those years of Skype conversations?

I’m happy to report that the answer to all those questions is a resounding YES. If I’m honest, there wasn’t even a breaking in period. I just slipped right into the chaos that is a house full of hormonal teens and over-excitable dogs as if this had always been my life.

Not that there haven’t been trials and tribulations along the way, it’s just that they have all been external. The relationship is our rock and is what gets us through said trials.

I love the tiny town we live in. It is the sort of place most people aspire to; quiet, friendly, and safe. I’ve never lived anywhere quite like it. The town mayor married us under the trees across the road from our kid’s school. I have daily conversations with the crossing guards (on the morning walk to said kid’s school) in which I’m kept all up to date with  the local happenings.

By chance, I met the town’s (amateur historian), Joe a few months back. Over several conversations, he’s filled me in on some of the more fascinating aspects of the town’s history. This town was incorporated in 1926 after a referendum which was conducted on my Birthday (a fact I consider a good augur). One of the two town churches dates back to the 1750’s and is among the oldest in the county.

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I’m a huge history buff (as I’m sure you’ve already worked out if you’ve been reading this blog) and living among so much of it has been a thrill I haven’t experienced since my time in the UK.

And then there’s this one other thing.

I mentioned this is a tiny town – more a village really. The population is well below 2,000 and yet it now has two Australians among its inhabitants. I first met Michael at our elementary school on one of my earlier visits. I’ve always enjoyed walking the youngest to school and, when she was younger, I’d usually pick her up too.

One afternoon, as I was waiting for her to emerge, a chap approached me and said, in an unmistakeable Sydney accent, “you’re from Australia too, right?” His kids and our kids had been talking and I’d been pointed out.

You may not find this that unusual, after all, there are thousands of Australians living in the US. That at least was my take at first as we chatted about where we were from and what had brought us to this distant part of the world (in both cases the love of a Jersey girl).

Then he asked me exactly where I was born, I told him Darlinghurst in Sydney and he immediately said, “Me too! Which hospital?”

“It doesn’t even exist anymore,” I joked and he exclaimed, “Saint Margaret’s? Me too!”

What are the odds that two men of a similar age, born in exactly the same place, should both end up married to women from New Jersey and both wind up in the same tiny village?

I was reminded of all this as I was walking to the Post Office this morning and Michael came running by me in the blistering heat (mad dogs, Englishmen, and people from Sydney). We have not become friends (despite the obvious impetus we have towards it), contenting ourselves with mild pleasantries whenever our paths cross. I think the strangeness of the situation is something we both find a little too unsettling.

I’m aware I went a little off topic there but the anecdote was too strange for me not to include it and I’ve been mulling it over since I got back from the Post Office.

 

 

 

Words and image are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

Revolution

 

 

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The Battle of Princeton Monument.

 

 

This great State in which I now live, was the crossroads of the Revolution. More battles were fought over New Jersey soil than over any other of the thirteen colonies. Places like Trenton, Princeton, Springfield, and, Monmouth were the sites of some of the most crucial battles of the struggle. Trenton and Princeton are where the tide finally turned in favor of the patriots.

Not four miles from where I type this, is a place where Washington stayed while his army was camped at White House, just down the road (sadly the house burned down in the 1960s but a commemorative sign still marks the spot).

Six miles in a different direction and you find Solitude House, High Bridge. This was another house where Washington (and his wife Martha) is known to have visited as well as General Lafayette, Colonel Charles Stewart, and Aaron Burr. It was also the house where two important loyalist prisoners were held for a period of time during the war, John Penn, the last colonial governor of Pennsylvania; and his chief justice, Benjamin Chew.

 

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Solitude House from the front.

 

 

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And from the side and rear.

 

The house belonged at the time to the nearby Union Iron works which produced cannon balls and musket barrels for the American troops.

 

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The Fort, Long Valley.

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Long valley (originally German valley until the outbreak of WWI made all things German distasteful to American sensitivities), one county over, features a house once nicknamed ‘the Fort’ where both British and American troops were stationed at various times. There is also the ruin of a Presbyterian church where the minister famously donned an American uniform at the pulpit and declared, “there’s a time for preaching and a time for war!” He then marched out of the church and joined the Continental army.

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Also very near to where I write, the small hamlet of Annandale features two buildings which could not more perfectly illustrate the situation which afflicted the country at the time of the revolution. First is the Vought House built in 1759 which belonged at the time of the Revolution to a family of German origin who remained loyal to the German born King of England. Not ten minutes walk away stands a building* which was once a tavern owned by a man named Thomas Jones, an avowed patriot.

 

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The Vought house.

 

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The former Jones Tavern from the rear.

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And from the front (upper storey is a later addition).

Jones Tavern was a local recruiting post for the Hunterdon County militia and Jones himself was one of the officers who procured and hid the boats that Washington used to cross the Delaware and attack Trenton.

One night, Vought’s son, john, and about 25 loyalists broke into the tavern and severely beat Jones for his rebel allegiances. This did not go over well with the Provincial Congress of New Jersey when word of it reached them. And it led to the Vought house being surrounded by militia and to Christopher Vought, John’s father, being placed under arrest. His son escaped but later surrendered. The two spent five days to two weeks in prison for their troubles and, soon after, fled to join the British. They were captured in the battle of Two Bridges and the family went into exhile in Nova Scotia.

About 20 miles from here, the British, lead by famed Commander Cornwallis, launched a surprise attack against the American garrison at Bound Brook. They were attempting to capture the entire Continental contingent but failed to seal off all escape routes and so were unsuccessful in their main objective. The American reinforcements under Major General Nathanael Greene reoccupied the fort as soon as the British had left.

Monmouth County, about fifty miles South East of here, provided raiding grounds for the infamous Colonel Tye. Tye (whose far more impressive real name was Titus Cornelius) was an escaped negro slave who joined the Royal Army to fight against the Americans.

The British Earl of Dunmore had declared that all black slaves who left their rebel owners and fought for the King would be granted their freedom. Tye escaped his Quaker owner in Colt’s Neck, Monmouth County just a day later (quite coincidently) and took the announcement when he heard it as a fortuitous development. He joined the British soon after.

His first taste of action was at the battle of Monmouth near Freehold (where, in the American ranks, the woman who came to be known as Molly Pitcher wielded her rammer at the mouth of her wounded husband’s cannon).

Serving with the Ethiopian Regiment, Tye managed to capture Captain Elisha Shepard of the Monmouth militia. Soon after he was leading raids all over Monmouth County and up towards New York, operating out of a coastal fort at Sandy Hook.

New Jersey is rich with such stories and much of that history is still present in the stone and plaster of buildings found all over the State. You can still see the depression in the wall of Nassau Hall, Princeton, where one of Hamilton’s artillery balls impacted it during the Battle of Princeton. And at nearby Morven House, a piece of bullet riddled wall has been preserved to remind us of the ferocity of that desperate conflict.

Many of the old battlefields have been subsumed by urban sprawl but you can still walk parts of the fields at Princeton, Bound Brook, Red Bank, and Monmouth. I found Princeton particularly evocative and deeply moving. Men fought and died all over New Jersey and the other twelve colonies to win freedom from a foreign oppressor. The Great American experiment found new hope in the blood, mud and freezing snows at Trenton and Princeton.

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Princeton Battlefield.
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The Clarke house, where General Mercer lay dying for nine days after being bayonetted by the British for refusing to surrender at the height of the battle.

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Though I loath war, I dearly love the ideals and the vision that those men (and women) were willing to sacrifice life and treasure to secure. It fills me with a strange pride to be surrounded by so many reminders of that idealistic and, conversely, brutal time here in my adopted home.

 

* I have visited this particular building many times and it plays an undocumented but important role in my own and my wife’s story.

 

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

 

William, it was really nothing

 

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Yesterday we did something I’ve been wanting to do since 1999.

The first time I ever became aware of the Great Falls in Paterson was while watching an episode of the Sopranos. It wasn’t a terrific recommendation for the place as it featured in a scene where a pair of Junior Soprano’s hoodlums throw a small-time crook named Rusty Irish off the footbridge above the falls. That said, the location itself looked pretty amazing and it set my mind to wondering where the place might be and what it would be like to go.

 

Many years later, when I met my girl and came to New Jersey for that fateful first visit, one of the places she suggested we might go was the falls in Paterson. I looked them up online and was startled to see that I actually already knew of them. We laughed about the Sopranos connection but, in the end, never got to Paterson.

We didn’t get there on any of my four subsequent visits either despite talking about it often. Somewhere among all this, I discovered the great American poet (New Jersian, actually) William Carlos Williams and his epic poem Paterson. This only made my desire to visit the place that much stronger.

Then, not long before relocating here, I saw the Jim Jarmusch movie, Paterson. This movie really blew me away in a totally quiet way. It is (as I believe I’ve written here before) Jarmusch’s love letter to poetry. The movie is lyrical, poetic and visually languid. And at the heart of it are the falls. I fell in love with this movie and have been trying to organize a trip to Paterson ever since.

 

And yesterday we finally made that trip.

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This single shot encompasses imagery from both The Sopranos and the movie Paterson.

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It’s an odd feeling when you arrive somewhere for the first time and find it utterly familiar. Having seen the area around the falls portrayed on screen, I felt like I was reliving a past experience. It was like the movie Groundhog Day and weirdly, almost on cue, as we walked towards the most familiar part of the falls, a big fat groundhog appeared just to belabor the metaphor.

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It’s a very strange place in many ways. The falls themselves are impressive and utterly beautiful. The gorge through which they fall is the result of a ten-story high lava flow which travelled here from some 50 miles away 190, 000,000 years ago. The entire Passaic river drops 77 feet through this gorge which makes the falls, by volume, the second largest East of the Great Mississippi (second only to Niagara Falls).

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All the structures surrounding the Falls, however, are in poor repair and there is a sad air of decrepitude permeating the viewing areas. You’d think a tourist draw like this would warrant some investment on the part of the city but Paterson seems to be one of the poorer cities in New Jersey and perhaps there simply aren’t funds available.

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It’s a real shame but we can be hopefull that at some future date perhaps this situation will change. The Falls aren’t going anywhere.

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After we’d finished viewing the Falls, we drove out through the center of town. Again, the sense of déjà vu was strong. Our route mirroring the bus route driven by Adam Driver in Paterson (A man named Paterson who Drives a bus in Paterson played by an actor named Driver – Ah Mr Jarmusch).

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As that movie reflected, the town is indeed poor with a clear and very open drug problem. We saw dealers working the corners in broad daylight right in the center of town but it is also amazingly vibrant in a way I’m sure William Carlos Williams would appreciate.

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I left Paterson inexplicably elated, looking forward to a future return. My wife was just happy we got clear of the place without getting car-Jacked.

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Words and images are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

Love is a battlefield

 

1983 was a strange and unsettling year in my life. I was 20, living in Canberra (the capital of Australia, where I’d grown up), and working in my first adult job as a visual merchandising manager in an upscale department store. I’d not long before returned from the UK and I was feeling rudderless, to say the least.

I was also putting myself back together after the implosion of my first serious relationship. I was pretty much a basket case in 1983.

One of the things that kept me at least partly grounded was music. I wouldn’t say my musical tastes were particularly refined at that time but I was passionate about the music I liked and was an avid watcher of MTV and the like.

For at least a period of that year, one song and video dominated the airwaves. Pat Benatar’s, Love is a Battlefield seemed to be playing every time you turned on the TV, switched on the radio, or walked out your door. It wasn’t quite my sort of thing but the title and theme of the track resonated with my still broken heart and so I paid it more attention than I might have ordinarily.

I remember being struck by the way the video interrupted the song with dialogue (something that had never been done before). The angry father yelling after his fleeing daughter, “if you leave this house now, you can just forget about coming back,” may have been a tad corny but it stuck in the head and came to define the song. So much so that, listening to the actual track on the radio sans the dialogue, felt – odd.

As I said, the song itself wasn’t quite my cup of tea but it got lodged and in some weird way came to represent that very unsettling time for me. In all the years since, whenever I’ve heard that track played, my ears prick up and a strange flood of conflicting emotions resurface.

Now, here I am living in New Jersey. Canberra is a long way away and 1983 a long time ago. Both time and place could not be more different to my current life and circumstances.

I’ve witten several times on this blog about Clinton, a small town I love one over from my new home. It’s a gorgeous place with a very American every-town feel.

That’s probably why, in 1983, Pat Benatar traveled there to film those crucial domestic scenes for her video.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a small piece in our local press where people were reminiscing about the day Ms Benatar filmed Love is a Battlefield in their little town. Really? Of course, I needed to check this out for myself.

 

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So, yesterday, Jersey girl and I went over to Clinton and wandered around a part of the town we’d thus far neglected. It was as picturesque as most of the rest of the place and it didn’t take us long to identify the house from the video.

I have no idea how it was selected but this house was chosen to be the family home from which Benatar’s rebellious character flees (an amusing scenario considering she was 30 years old at the time of shooting*). It has changed very little in the succeeding 34 years.

 

 

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The house today.

 

 

 

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Image: Chrysalis Records

 

 

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Image: Chrysalis Records

 

It was a very strange feeling looking on from the street – almost like stepping into the video. I half expected to see Benatar standing by the tree waving up at her kid brother in the window (the tree’s still there but no Benatar).

It was also a little like stepping into my own past. Those mixed emotions began to reemerge as soon as I caught sight of the house and grew as it drew closer. It’s amazing how music and its associated symbols can tap into those strong emotions and pull us backwards through time.

I never could have imagined, all those years ago, that I’d one day be living just a few miles from such an iconic locale.

 

 

*Equally amusing, the song and video were used in the movie 13 going on 30 – you can’t make this stuff up.

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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.

 

Count Basie

 

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.

 

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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).

 

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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).

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Here’s a scene from the movie showing not much has changed since 1997.

 

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Jason Lee (loved him in My Name is Earl) hanging out in Chasing Amy (Image: Miramax)

 

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.

 

Encourage an artist

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise credited) are my own.

 

©2017