We are the dead

 

Yesterday, I visited the grave of a US President. I had not set out to do that, it just kind of happened. I was spending some time in Princeton, just wandering around with my trusty camera and decided, on a whim, to visit Princeton cemetery.

There I discovered many interesting people interned within the grounds. The biggest surprise was Stephen Grover Cleveland 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Cleveland was the only President ever to be elected to two nonconsecutive terms. He was also the only President thus far from the great state of New Jersey.

His grave in Princeton (surrounded by his loved ones) is a fairly humble affair considering the high office he held.

Cleveland

So humble, in fact, that it neglects to even mention that he was President.

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I did a little research and decided that this was a President that, in most regards, I could have gotten behind.

Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans on libertarian philosophical grounds. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism. As a reformer Cleveland had such prestige that the like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called “Mugwumps“, largely bolted the GOP presidential ticket and swung to his support in the 1884 election.   – Wikipedia.

Cleveland was far from the only historically significant person burried in that place. I spent a couple of hours nosing around the tombs and found several other persons of interest.

Aaron Burr

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Burr was a colonel in the Revolutionary War, Vice President under Jefferson, and famously fought a duel with Alexander Hamilton (in New Jersey, where conviction for illegal dueling didn’t carry the death penalty). Hamilton died of the wound he recieved from Burr. Interstingly, the duel was fought on the very spot where Hamilton’s eldest son was also killed in a duel just a few years before.

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Sylvia Beach

Beach was an American-born bookseller/publisher who actually lived most of her life in Paris. There, between the two World Wars, she became a highly regarded expatriate figure. She founded the famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and published James Joyce‘s controversial book, Ulysses. She was also a supporter of Hemingway in his early writings.

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William Drew and Maria Louisa Robeson

Paul Robeson was a famous Princeton-born African American singer and civil rights advocate. A huge influence on such artists as Harry Belafonte and Sydney Poitier. He was highly regarded in Australia where he came in 1960 to tour and, whilst there, performed for the workers at the construction site of the Sydney Opera House. This was the first ever performance at the Opera House.

His father, William Drew was the minister at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in Princeton and he and his wife are buried there.

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George Gallup

Gallup, creator of the Gallup Pole, was a pioneering statistition and journalist. His monument is strange in that I could not find his name upon it. His family members were all reresented but where I expected to find George’s name there was only this;

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As I continued to explore, I discovered there were, among the tombs, a large number of Princeton University Presidents and Professors (not such a big surprise) as well as quite a few Civil War Generals and other high rankers (even a Confederate Brigadier General).

I looked for a long time for the stone which marks the resting place of Helen Dukas who was for many years Albert Einstien’s personal assistant but was unable to locate it.

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Cemeteries are always interesting places but, for me, this one was particularly fascinating. I left feeling very pleased that I’d taken the time to get properly aquainted.

 

 

©2017

Fall on me

 

Looking past the drops on my window

 

Old man out walking in the rain

Your jutting chin protruding way

Way out

Past the bill of your flat cap

Good thing you thought to bring your brolly

Else that chin would be a waterfall.

 

 

Words are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

They just stand back and let it all be

 

I had a job, I had a girl
I had something going mister in this world
I got laid off down at the lumber yard
Our love went bad, times got hard
Now I work down at the carwash
Where all it ever does is rain
Don’t you feel like you’re a rider on a downbound train

Springsteen, Downbound train

 

“The America of Poets”

The above phrase was coined by the poet and critic Randall Jarrell about New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 to 1963). Williams was, in my opinion, one of the greatest poets America has yet produced and he spent almost his entire life in the town where he was born (Rutherford NJ).

In that regard, he reminds me of another great New Jersey wordsmith writing in the American idiom, Bruce Springsteen whom, despite his frequent tours and travels, cannot quite seem to stray too far from the town of his birth for any great length of time.

That is not the only similarity the two great men share in common.  Both have used their work and talents to explore the minutiae of everyday peoples’ lives. The comedian John Stewart once famously said of Springsteen “When you listen to Bruce’s music, you’re no longer a loser, you’re a character in an epic poem… about losers”. This assessment could just as easily be applied to Williams.

The epic poem Paterson, written in five volumes over a period of twelve years, was Williams’ ode to that Northern Jersey city and its people. Joycean in its scope, Paterson is built around the modernist poet’s philosophy no ideas but in things.

I take this to mean that the seed is there in the commonplace situations and mundane moments of ordinary life, that there is no need to create grand poetical ideas; the poetry resides in the world around you.

An example of this can be found in his simple work The red wheelbarrow;

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

In focussing on the very ordinary, Williams allows us an in to the poetic beauty and simple grandeur of the everyday.

This sort of greatness in the small things approach has come to be a hallmark of Springsteen’s work also. There is a no ideas but in things element in songs such as My hometown:

I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand
Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man
I’d sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town
He’d tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown

Both men have been deeply touched by the lives of everyday folk and both have striven to express the simple nobility to be found in unremarkable lives. Williams, in his poem Pastoral, conveyed his admiration for those who can only abide:

Meanwhile,
The old man who goes about
Gathering dog lime
Walks in the gutter
Without looking up
And his tread
Is more majestic than
That of the Episcopal minister
Approaching the pulpit
Of a Sunday.
These things
Astonish me beyond words.

Both Williams and Springsteen were of mixed heritage (Springsteen Irish, Italian, and Dutch and Williams English, Dutch, and Spanish) and both have struggled with bouts of depression – a condition which, I believe, lends insight and compassion to the efforts of poets.

Williams was a not insignificant influence upon the beat poets and was mentor to Alan Ginsberg who, like Williams, hailed from Northern New Jersey. The beat poets were, in turn, an influence upon the very counter culture which, indirectly, birthed Springsteen.

I have found, in the works of both men, my personal entrée into the heart and soul of New Jersey; perhaps America as a whole. Certainly, as an immigrant coming to this land to build a new life, the America I am longing for is the America of Bruce Springsteen and William Carlos Williams.

William Carlos Williams is as magically observant and mimetic as a good novelist. He reproduces the details of what he sees with surprising freshness, clarity, and economy; and he sees just as extraordinarily, sometimes, the forms of this earth, the spirit moving behind the letters. His quick transparent lines have the nervous and contracted strength, move as jerkily and intently as a bird. ~ Randall Jarrell

 

 

©2017

 

 

 

Dancing in the streets

 

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This Sunday past, Princeton held its forty-seventh Communiversity Arts Festival. This is one of the largest and longest running street festivals in the USA. I arrived fairly early and watched with interest as those involved prepared for their big day.

A large section of Nassau and Witherspoon Streets were closed to traffic around 11 am and stalls and stages began to appear with remarkable alacrity. Soon the entire area was thronged with people and the festivities got quickly underway.

Here are some of my impressions of the day.

 

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This was the scene around 11.30. The crowds had not yet arrived.

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Parts of the University were being utilised too. This is the lawn in front of Nassau Hall.

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The guy in the white tux cracked me up.

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Members of the medical profession were, of course, in attendance.

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I wasn’t the only one recording the event for posterity.
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Apparently, the tiny woman wearing a microphone on her nose is the Mayor of Princeton.

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Princeton a capella groups were performing under the arches.

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Many balloons were lost over the course of the day.
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After a day of near perfect weather, the sky began to turn ominous and a chilly wind kicked up. This was only at the very end, however, and failed to dampen most peoples’ enjoyment of a pretty great festival.

All images are my own.

©2017

The Swamps of Jersey

 

“This is Newark, New Jersey . . . This is Newark, New Jersey . . . Warning! Poisonous black smoke pouring in from Jersey marshes.” – Orson Welles Mercury theatre production of The War of the Worlds (1938)

 

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The Swamps of Jersey

We might have a competition on our hands here if we restrict ourselves solely to the shenanigans of lawmakers working in or around the state capital, Trenton. Lord Cornbury, New Jersey’s first Colonial governor, was famous for taking bribes and filling key posts with relatives. He also happened to enjoy dressing like a woman. One of Cornbury’s most recent successors, Jim McGreevey, appointed a former Israeli naval officer named Golan Cipel to oversee the state’s homeland security interests—not, it turned out, because he was qualified for the position (which foreign nationals aren’t actually allowed to fill), but because he and McGreevey were allegedly having sex. When Cipel (who denies the affair) threatened to sue McGreevey for sexual harassment, the married governor resigned and came out of the closet.

Newsweek 2010

 

 

I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey….

 

And my machine, she’s a dud, out stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey…

 

An Iron Maiden riot in the swamps of Jersey thirty years later

“You were crunching on glass,” said Tony Kingslow, a 15-year-old who was part of the Teaneck group. “It was just a mess. Bottles everywhere, glass everywhere, you saw rags with blood on it. You couldn’t believe that happened.”

As they continued walking, Mulligan and his friends saw a burning, overturned car.

“There was a huge circle of people around it, throwing everything and anything in the fire,” he said. “We hung out until we were almost hit with some flying bottles.”

News reports alleged that concert-goers threw bottles at firefighters responding to the car fires.

 

“A heavy black fog hanging close to the earth . . . of extreme density, nature unknown. No sign of heat ray. Enemy now turns east, crossing Passaic River into the Jersey marshes.”

 

Image is my own.

Local heroes

 

Tonight I’m layin’ here
But there’s something in my ear
Sayin’ there’s a little town just beneath the floodline
Needs a local hero
Somebody with the right style
Lookin’ for a local hero
Someone with the right smile
Local hero local hero she said with a smile
Local hero he used to live here for a while

Springsteen, Local Hero

 

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In many ways, this blog is about dreams coming true. After finding each other in this vast ocean of humanity and then being forced to live a world apart for over five years, Jersey girl’s and my dream of being together finally came to pass last month.

And last night another dream came true.

As a special Birthday treat, Jersey girl took me to Asbury Park to see the world premiere of ‘Just Before the Dawn’, a new documentary about the history of the local music scene and in particular the jam club known as the Upstage.

After the movie (which screened at the Paramount theatre), there was to be an Upstage style jam session featuring some former E Street band members including David Sancious, Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez, and Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter.

I was really looking forward to seeing these E Street legends play and was thrilled by rumours that Little Steven (Van Zandt) might join them up on stage.

We arrived in Asbury about an hour and a half before the show and, after a quick pit stop (burgers and a couple of beers at the Anchor’s Bend, conveniently situated in the Convention Hall), we joined the queue that was now snaking through the Grand Arcade. After a small wait, we got inside and took our seats in the balcony with a good view of the stage and screen. There was a lot of equipment on the stage and I realised this was going to be a bigger jam than I’d imagined; all the better.

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The movie was great. I’m not going to write a review but it was thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking in equal measure. I’ve covered many of the events that the movie focused on right here on this blog but this was different. These were the experiences of people who lived these events so it was fascinating for me to see how their recollections added to the historical tapestry.

After the movie, the thing we’d been half expecting was announced, “Little Steven is in the house!” Uproarious applause, then, “Southside’s in the house!”

I was ecstatic. Two of my idols! Then the curtain went up on the show and those in the know were already cheering with delight. Jersey girl was looking at a certain guitarist in the back behind Stevie. “Wow, he looks like – wait – is that?”

“SPRINGSTEEN!!”

The man himself – fresh from his well-documented celebrity cruise with the Obamas on Geffen’s mega yacht – had made it back to Jersey for this most special of nights. The crowd, predictably, went wild and we were treated to a night of raw musicianship from some of the very best in the business.

Highlights for me included a spirited rendition of The Band’s classic ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ and David Sancious and Marc Ribler executing a perfect performance of the Hendrix standard ‘Voodoo Child’. It turns out keyboardist Sancious can shred on a guitar like a boss.

The real Boss also managed some primo shredding and, though he chose not to dominate the proceedings, certainly made his presence felt.

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It’s obvious from the photos that we only had our phones with us to capture the event. Jersey’s phone is slightly better than mine and so the closer shots come courtesy of her.

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I’m sure that, in the days ahead, there’ll be a plethora of wonky videos shot on smartphones capturing every aspect of the evening. Like, for instance, these…

This night was a real ‘I was there when’ moment if ever there was one. Just one month in New Jersey and the magic’s already sparking.

Springsteen, Southside, Steven, Sancious, Mad Dog and more at Upstage Jam.

Words and images (with the exception of pics 6 & 7 by Jersey girl) are my own.

©2017

Kingdom of days 6

 

Stone

 

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Princeton was to see the amazing photographic exhibit on display at one of the many museums to be found there, Morven House. Six of the most prolific Springsteen photographers, his sister Pam Springsteen included, in a combined exhibition showing some of their finest portraits of The Boss.

This exhibit runs until May 21st and I highly recommend it. There are quite a few shots that I personally have never seen before and there’s the added draw of seeing some familiar classics printed large and in high quality. The setting is somewhat incongruous, a colonial house full of Revolutionary war relics and fine art paintings and sculptures but the available space is used well and I geeked out for a happy forty minutes or so.

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Speaking of art, it was a bad day to be a monument in Princeton. A band of jolly japers were going about putting googly eyes on statues and monuments, sometimes to devastatingly humorous effect.

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Literally Hitler?

 

Not all of the monuments suffered this ignoble fate, however.

 

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We next visited the Princeton Chapel. This is a very deceptive name for a place that looks like a medium sized Cathedral. Inside, it is quite beautiful and we sat for quite some time listening to some invisible organist play eerie music fit for a Vincent Price Horror movie.

 

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For the rest of the afternoon, we simply wandered around the grounds enjoying the sights and imagining what it would be like to attend such an institution. Though, I did make a little side quest to the Princeton Record Exchange, which I found to be excellent indeed, lots of treasures to be had for a very reasonable price.

 

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Once Jersy girl had finished with work, we were all ready to head for home. I was impressed by how willing the kids had been to spend eight hours on their feet just sightseeing but now they were definitely done and happy to pile back into the car. I felt tired too but my batteries had certainly received a full charge from the sights and, more specifically, the ambience of this impressive town.

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2017