Monday, March 2, 2009

New Jersey: You know, all the mocking hurts…

Having grown up in a suburb of one of the nation’s largest cities, I understand and respect the plight of New Jersey. Try as it might, it will never be New York City,, just as my home of Orange County will never be LA. Well I’m here to say that there’s not a thing wrong with that, and New Jersey’s got the musical chops to back that up.

Seriously, Ohio will never be New York either, but you don’t see them getting the constant ridicule that the Garden State has heaped upon it… Connecticut is tiny, and boring, and oddly sterile, but why pick on them when everybody laughs at the countless ‘what’s that smell? It must be Jersey!’ jokes. Just remember New York, the next time you’re going to drop a snark-bomb on your neighbors to the south, how many football teams would you have without New Jersey and it’s stadiums?


One, and it would be the one in Buffalo that can’t manage to win a Superbowl. So show a little respect already…

Alright, the lecture is over. We’re all ready to show Jersey the respect and admiration it deserves… hey… What’s that smell?

I kid because I love… In all fairness, I’ve never actually BEEN to New Jersey. I’ve SEEN it from across the Hudson River, and I’m comfortable with the soul-crushing weight of living in the shadow of a major metropolitan city that has more people, power, and influence than many other whole nations… Logically I can assume I’d feel right at home there. Besides, they really do have a pretty impressive array of native musicians, but more on that later. It’s Wiki-time!

-New Jersey boasts the highest population density of any state un the union. Suck it, forty nine other states…

-New Jersey natives Dionne Warwick, Connie Francis and our solo artist honoree share the same birthday, December 12th… Creepy, party of three…

-New Jersey is broken up in to two metropolitan areas. The greater New York metro area, and the greater Philadelphia metro area. Meaning New Jersey as a whole is nothing more than a giant suburb.

-Some people may see that as an insult. For me it’s cozier than a giant afghan throw… The suburbs kick the ‘urbs ass…

-New Jersey is the center point of the Boston to Washington megalopolis.

-Megalopolis is one of my favorite new words. I think it shall be the name of the world I build when I make slaves of the invading robot hordes.

-The Palisades are a line of steep cliffs on the lower west side of the Hudson River. If you happen to find yourself in New Jersey and are looking to end it all, I suppose it’s one of the better places to go…

-Around 180 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, New Jersey bordered North Africa. The pressure of the collision between North America and Africa gave rise to the Appalachian Mountains. Around 18,000 years ago, the Ice Age resulted in glaciers that reached New Jersey. As the glaciers retreated, they left behind Lake Passaic, as well as many rivers, swamps, and gorges.

-This is precisely why the North African nation of Mauritania falls a close second to New Jersey in per capita usage of Aqua Net.

-The capital and largest city in Mauritania is Nouakchott, which is native Arabic for Newark.

-New Jersey has the second highest median household income of any state in the union. Suck it, forty eight other states that aren’t California

-If an artist or band recorded but one song of note, they’re from New Jersey. I cite Joey Dee, The Happenings, Labelle, Dean Friedman, Joan Weber, Tommy Leonetti, The Knickerbockers, Looking Glass, Bob Crewe, Gary Wright, and Monster Magnet as examples.

-The above mentioned Looking Glass of ‘Brandy’ fame were the answer to a trivia question that earned me the respect of a room full of people much older than myself at a Christmas party some twelve years ago. The question was ‘Who sang ‘Brandy’?’ and the answer, which only I knew was… well, I’ve kind of spoiled it… The answer was Looking Glass…

Before moving on to the selections, I must take a moment to honor those artists who were not fortunate enough to make the list. If only a few of you would have come from a Dakota…

- Blues Traveler
- Spin Doctors
- Skid Row
- The Four Seasons
- The Misfits/Samhain/Danzig
- Fifth Dimension
- Fountains of Wayne (Named for a New Jersey hardware store)
- Dramarama
- The Smithereens
- Regina Spektor
- My Chemical Romance
- Whitney Houston
- The Shirelles
- Kool and The Gang
- The Rascals
- Lesley Gore
- Blondie (Very nearly the honorable mention choice. It pains me to list them here)
- Gloria Gaynor
- The Isley Brothers
- Lauryn Hill
- Eddie Rabbitt
- George Clinton, galactic commander of Parliament-Funkadelic

With a list like that, who could our selections possibly be?

Solo Artist: Francis Albert Sinatra
You don't have to like Sinatra to respect Sinatra, but if you don't like Sinatra you're out of your friggen' head. I mean seriously, what's the matter with you? The man is a freakin' legend over here... Sorry... The Chairman makes me get all Italian-American-Stereotypey...

From his early days singing along with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, to the Vegas Rat Pack sets, Sinatra was on top of the world. Later in life he became as much a statesman for music as he was a performer, the whole time doing it his way. He performed duets with Bono, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, and a score of others, always outshining them all in his own magical way.

Many, many of Sinatra's tunes are well known and well loved the world over. My favorite Sinatra tracks however are the lesser known, funnier tracks. Songs like Lean Baby, where Frank sings about a girlfriend who really needed to eat a good meal, or The Coffee Song off of the Ring-a-Ding-Ding album where Frank opines 'You meet a girl and later find out she smells just like a percolator, coffee pickles way outsell the dill, they've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.' Frank also showed his comic genius on stage in Vegas playing off of Dean, Sammy, Joey, and the brother-in-Lawford during the classic Rat Pack days. I don't think enough people respect Sinatra for his comedy since it was so overshadowed by his magnificent voice.

Here's Frank singing and riffing with another best-of-a-stater Louis Armstrong...

Band: Bon Jovi
Nothing defines New Jersey for a non-New Jersian like the dichotomy between our best-solo and best-band selections. While the above Francis Albert is one of the enigmatic figures in the history of recorded music, these guys put out an album called Slippery When Wet, and made blow drying and hair spraying an art form for men everywhere. There are few 'supergroups' in the history of Rock & Roll that inspire more 'What were we thinking??' than Jon Bon and friends. Still, in spite of all this overwhelming evidence showing how guilty all of us should feel for owning a copy of Cross Road, a lot of this stuff is undeniably good.

Man it hurts to type that...

There are few artists that I consider guilty pleasures, mostly because I feel no shame about by love for The Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, Speedwagon, or Motley Crue... I'll play them loud, and play them proud, but for some reason, whenever Bon Jovi comes on I feel the need to turn down the stereo and roll up the windows... I fully admit, the problem isn't the Jovi, it's all me...

Here's one that should be cranked until the neighbors call the cops. Wherever you may be, you should pop this one in the car stereo and turn it to eleven on your way home tonight. You KNOW you own it...

Honorable Mention: Bruce Springsteen
The duality of New Jersey continues to addle my already well-muddied brain with the inclusion of the artist who is likely the most synonymous with the state itself. Sinatra is a legend, Bon Jovi rocks my particular brand of socks, but no one eats, breathes, and sweats Jersey like The Boss.

Why is this such a departure you ask? Quite simple really, while I wish I could quit my Jovi addiction and move on to more hip and happening things, I have a 100% opposite opinion of Springsteen. Try as I might, I just really don't like him all that much. Don;t get me wrong, there's exceptions to the rule... I enjoy Glory Days, and fun tracks like Pink Cadillac and 88 Channels but Nothing On are worth occasional enough play to warrant a 'Oh Yeah! I remember THAT song', it's just that Bruce and the kids from E Street have never shown me enough to purchase so much as a greatest hits collection.

That being said, again New Jersey reminds me that I'M the one with the problem, and in spite of my personal lack of enjoyment, I have to respect Asbury Park's golden boy, even if I could go a thousand lifetimes never again hearing Born in the USA and wouldn't mind...

Here's another Springsteen tune I enjoy well enough... You know, there's probably a dozen songs I can get down to, which makes we wonder why I hold The Boss to such a high standard. Hell, I'll talk up an artist like Spin Doctors who only put out one good album, and I dump all over a legitimate R&R HoF'er... I seriously need to re-examine my Springsteen issues... Maybe I'll do that while listening to Dancing in the Dark... After all, Courtney Cox likes it

After a few rounds of therapy to deal with my deep-rooted anti-Bruce hysteria we'll reconvene here for New Mexico, a state that'll give me one more chance to honor marginal artists before tackling the gut-wrenching challenges the big apple throws my way...

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