This past weekend I was in New Jersey for the wedding of one of my sorority sisters. It was a nice time and I was glad to be part of the couple’s special day and catch up with some old friends, but it also meant that my pop culture consumption was pretty limited this weekend. However, you can find inspiration anywhere and my road trip got me thinking about the plethora of pop culture that I enjoy that have a connection to Jersey. I was surprised what a lengthy list it wound up being. Who knew that Jersey had so much to contribute to the world of entertainment? So as we await the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy, here are some of my favorite things with ties to the Garden State:
Probably not the stereotype that New Jersey was hoping to get saddled with, but David Chase’s examination of “connected” men and their families – both of birth and business – really couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. Tony Soprano was a terrible man that did terrible things, but you somehow couldn’t help but root for him on some level. The audience’s acceptance of his moral ambiguity helped open the door for other great shows like Breaking Bad, so for that alone we owe Chase a great debt. I’ll probably always remember where I was during the series finale – we first thought that the cable had gone out – and the ending will continue to be debated for years to come (my take – Tony wasn’t killed). Re-watching the series is on my to do list; I have all the seasons on DVD, but just have to find the time. My favorite episode is an early one as it was only the fifth episode of the series. In “College,” Tony takes his daughter Meadow to look at colleges in Maine and runs into someone from his past. Not as bloody or complex as some of the later seasons, but this was the episode that had me completely committed to the show.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
I mentioned how much I enjoyed the musical Jersey Boys when I went to see it with my mom earlier this year, so it’s not a surprise that they made the list. Though I don’t do with the same frequency that I did immediately after the show, I do often play their music at work, especially if I’m having a bad day. The songs are just so catchy that you can’t help being in a better mood after you hear them. I also enjoy the puzzled looks that people have when they walk into my office and hear Frankie Valli coming through the speakers. Not what you expect someone my age to be rocking out to.
Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I really enjoy the works of director Kevin Smith. Jersey Girl was probably my least favorite, but it was a sweet movie that was primarily a causality of everyone being sick to death of “Bennifer” (it’s hard to believe that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were almost married). His movies can be crass, but they are also clever, smart and a lot of fun. Dogma has some very interesting things to say about religion and Clerks helped to inspire a whole new generation of independent filmmakers. His latest film, Red State, is a scary look into religious extremism and is one of his best movies. My favorite of the bunch has always been Mallrats, which is actually one of his least popular films. Maybe it is the presence of Shannen Doherty, maybe it is because I used to like hanging out at the mall or maybe it is the New Kids on the Block joke that the movie contains – for whatever reason, Mallrats always makes me laugh. His movies are endlessly quotable; just the other day I dropped an “I’m not even supposed to be here today” on someone, who thankfully got the reference. And even as a non-Star Wars fan, I’ve always enjoyed this scene from Clerks:
Kevin Smith the man is also pretty interesting. He can be brash and over the top, but he speaks his mind and stands behind his convictions. I’ve watched a few of his specials and they are always amusing, even if he usually only answers one question from the audience because he is so verbose.
I will admit that I didn’t immediately take to Zach Braff’s movie Garden State. It took a second viewing for the film to really win me over. The quirkiness of the film felt a little forced the first time around – and I’m not sure that it isn’t – but once I went with it I really enjoyed it. I knew Braff from his zany antics on Scrubs, so it was interesting to see him in a smaller and somewhat quieter role as he stars as a man who must return home for the funeral of his mother. Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard co-star and Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory) even has a small part. The film also has a tremendous soundtrack and helped to introduce me to many bands that at the time I wasn’t familiar with at the time, like The Shins and Iron & Wine. The film also features one my favorite heartbreaking songs, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by the amazing Colin Hay.
I don’t think it is possible to think of New Jersey and to not think of The Boss. My love of Springsteen is well documented on the blog, but to not include him in this post would be heresy. He’s never shied away from referencing his home state; odes to Jersey are peppered through his entire discography. If I could figure out where to put it, I would order this map of New Jersey that is based on Springsteen lyrics.
Though he was born in NYC, Stewart grew up in New Jersey and makes frequent reference to it. I was a fan of his before he took over The Daily Show – I am one of a handful of people who actually liked Death to Smoochy – but my admiration of him only intensified afterward. Under his tenure Stewart managed to make a show on basic cable that satirizes the news into one of the most respected and honest sources of political coverage that we have today. It’s still silly and still satirical, but The Daily Show has become a way to hold politicians accountable and to point out hypocrisy. Somewhere, Craig Kilborn is kicking himself for ever leaving the show. Stewart is a smart man and while he is not covert about his political affiliation, he is an equal opportunity offender. I would always encourage my students to watch The Daily Show back in my teaching days and it is one show that I always try to watch. Stewart is the reason for that. Though they have an amazing team on the program – working for them is actually my dream job – it is Stewart’s presence that really makes the show as great as it is. He’s kind of my hero. If you missed his debate with Bill O’Reilly, it’s on Youtube:
Cheaper By the Dozen by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
When I was a kid, one of my favorite books to read was the 1948 book Cheaper By the Dozen. I’m not 100% sure how an older book found its way into my hands, but I re-read it and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes, religiously. The books are biographical and chronicle the Gilbreth family and their 12 children in Montclair, NJ. Their father was a motion study and efficiency expert who often used his brood to determine the best ways to do things. These books were partially responsible for my early desire to have a lot of children, back before I understood how much work having kids really was. Now I’d be happy with just one and even that seems daunting. The books also provide an interesting glimpse at what life was like in the early part of the twentieth century; as a girl, I remember being especially intrigued by their discussion of the Roaring 20s and flappers. Even today, I try to re-read these books once a year and I rarely re-read books so that gives some insight into how much I enjoyed them. And thankfully the book has nothing in common with the movie abomination starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, other than a name and twelve children.
I’ve been a fan of Bon Jovi for almost my entire life; I remember Slippery When Wet coming out when I was in elementary school and it was the only album that gave Madonna and Michael Jackson any competition for our attention. And even at ten years old, I knew that Jon Bon Jovi was very good looking. I’ve liked their music ever since. Their run of hits has been pretty impressive and though Jon can’t hit all the same notes anymore, they were still a lot of fun when I saw them in concert a few summers ago. Play this song on the jukebox of almost any bar and you’ll have people singing along in no time:
So hopefully I have done my extended family in Jersey proud with this post. Now it’s your turn – what is your favorite Garden State inspired pop culture?
This post seems especially poignant given the destruction that Hurricane Sandy caused to much of the East Coast. If you are looking for a way to help, please consider donating to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999.