Local Heroes 2

 

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

 

 

 

Meet me in the city

 

Disruption

 

He failed to make an appointment

In a dream

And walked around all day feeling

There was somewhere else

He was meant to be

There was no admonishment

But he couldn’ shake the f e e l i n g

He’d broken with the protocols

Flouted his responsibilities

And walked off the reservation

 

 

His disquiet made him a bear all day at work.

 

 

 

©2017

 

 

 

 

 

Into the fire

 

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Throw the babies overboard

 

There are monsters children

Not in the closet

Nor under the bed

They live in the crumbling hearts

Of empty men

The souless ones

The incomplete

They know nothing of love

All consideration ends

Beyond their own skins

They live to consume

Growing fat

On the miseries of those they

Starve

And you, dear children

Are hapless pieces

In a game without rules

Shoved about the board like human shields

And when idiot strategies fail

It is always you who ruined the game.

 

 

Words are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

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

Synchronicity

 

 

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Noun: synchronicity

  1. The relation that exists when things occur at the same time

  

   I’ve always experienced a lot of synchronicity in my life. It comes and goes like the ocean tides. Often it manifests in small seemingly insignificant things like, for instance, a few weeks ago, I mentioned to Jersey girl that as much as I enjoyed the American beers I’d sampled, I had yet to find ‘the one’, a beer that I could think of as my old faithful as it were.

   That conversation took place on the day I wrote this piece in which I reference Frost’s The road not taken with its famous lines;

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
   That very afternoon, while perusing some of my favourite blogs, Frost’s poem came up again (sadly, I neglected to bookmark the blog and can’t remember now whose it was).
Then, later that evening, we stopped off at the liquor store where I came across this little gem.
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I, of course, had to give it a try and yes, it is now ‘the one’.
   As I said, a small thing but still noteworthy. I treat synchronistic moments like these as signposts which tell me if I’m on the right path and headed in the right direction.
   My most recent piece of synchronicity also revolved around a poem (and a lyric, though, sadly not a beer). I had just finished writing the text of my blog post on William Carlos Williams and was looking for a title and song to go with it (I generally take the blog title from the accompanying song clip rather than the piece itself – just a strange quirk of mine).
   I’d included several quotes from poet and critic Randall Jarrell in the piece and, as the post was also about Springsteen, decided to use his song Jungleland to accompany the piece.
I wanted to use the lyric The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all as the title for the piece but had a feeling I’d already used it in a previous post.
   I went back to find it and, sure enough, I had used it on this piece essentially about my relationship to poetry. In the post, I reference the poem The Death of a Ball Turret Gunner – a piece that had had a strong impact on me in my youth – by none other than Randall Jarrell.
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   In a sense, the two posts were spiritual kin and yet, I’d had no idea until that moment that the Jarrell I’d been quoting in the one had penned the poem in the other.
   There are lots of little synchronistic threads woven into this larger one. For instance, Jarrell wrote two children’s books which were illustrated by Maurice Sendak. And Sendak wrote the very first book I ever borrowed from a library, Where the wild things are. That book’s visual style was a massive influence on my future interest in illustration.
   Even the fact that Williams and Robert Frost both died the same year I was born (just a month before, in Williams case) seems synchronistic to me. Actually, several of the people I would come to admire chose the year I was born to depart this existence; Kennedy, C S Lewis, Aldous Huxley – all three on the same day mind you, Patsy Cline, Jean Cocteau, and Édith Piaf.  All died that year.
   I don’t know what broader significance any of that might have, but I can say that the knowledge of it has shaped my world view in small ways and large.
Words and 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.