You probably were expecting Bruce Springsteen’s name here, or Frank Sinatra’s, or any musician who paid their dues in the Garden State to make it big enough to cross the Hudson. New Jersey is filled with streets named after rock stars, and we tend to mythologize the hometown heroes who sing about surviving the state. I grew up around the interactive Bruce Springsteen museum known as Asbury Park, New Jersey. His tributes to my Jersey Shore home have become the state’s own tributes to him, and the lines blur as to which is which. Is that Greetings From Asbury Park sign paying homage to the town’s historic postcard or to the 1973 Springsteen album? Does it even matter? New Jersey is happy to share its monuments with Bruce Springsteen.
But Bruce isn’t the only act that New Jersey incubated, and we’re even more loyal to the acts who never left us for greener pastures and cleaner recording studios. Asbury Park’s music scene wasn’t frozen in time after his departure to fame. Out of state tourists (yes, we have those) might visit The Stone Pony for its Bruce regalia, but for years, Asbury Park’s music venues were the only establishments that stayed open when hard times fell on the city.
Now, Asbury Park is exploding as the new must-see town on the Jersey Shore, but for decades, it was a graveyard of abandoned buildings, suffering from its own recession. By the time I got there in the 90s, the city felt trapped in time and too caught up in nostalgia to move forward. Whether it was a battle of the bands at The Saint or a psychobilly act at Asbury Lanes, those historic venues and the fledgling punk scenes they showcased would breathe life in Asbury Park when Asbury was still gasping for air.
New Jersey had an impressive roster of early pop-punk, emo, and ska bands that found stages in our dingy bars back in the 90s and early aughts, and the cultural links the state has to these genres still linger. But ska, for me, was a more natural partner for Jersey. Bands like Professor Plum, Inspecter 7, and a fleet of other acts mostly coming from New Brunswick would grace our shores with hyper speed horn playing. Our state’s brand of ska had a knack for laying dismal lyrics on top of erratic tempos. It was a genre that suited a stir-crazy city like Asbury Park, and it sounded great blaring from our boardwalk, our skatepark, and our punk rock bowling alley. Celebrating a life in shambles was an ongoing theme, and at its very pinnacle was a punch-happy song about waiting for death in Keasbey, New Jersey.