Because I was without television and internet for a few days, I was not yet aware of just how extensive the devastation from Sandy has been. Today I delved into a torrent of images and reports, and have come away feeling both lucky and guilty. There were people who were going about their business on Sunday who today are dead or homeless. My adopted home state of New Jersey has been hit particularly hard, but people here are doing their best to carry on. In that spirit, here's a playlist of songs about the Garden State or by artists who hail from it.
Bruce Springsteen, "Atlantic City"
This is one of my favorites off of the Boss's dark and disturbing Nebraska album. It's a fitting song to start with, since it concerns a town that's taken some of the worst hits from Sandy. The song is about a guy at the end of his rope, who's about to do something horrible for money (the song implies it's a contract killing.) The key lines, "Everything dies baby, that's a fact/ But maybe everything that dies some day comes back" seem especially relevant today, amidst the loss of life and debris.
Chuck Berry, "Can't Catch Me"
New Jersey is an easy place to knock, especially since the only view a lot of people get from it is on the alienating and ugly New Jersey Turnpike. The all-time rock n' roll guitar great Chuck Berry gives my state's most famous road a hectic, fun treatment.
Fountains of Wayne, "Leave the Biker"
Little known fact: this band is named after a now sadly defunct store in Wayne, NJ, selling bird baths and the like. This is one of my favorite songs about liking a woman who's into "bad boys," which pretty much describes my early romantic history in a nutshell.
Yo La Tengo, "Autumn Sweater"
These indie rock greats call Hoboken home, a city that has suffered worse than most in the storm. I always bust this bittersweet indie rock gem out this time of year, and it's feeling especially appropriate this November in regards to recent events.
The Shirelles, "Mama Said"
"Mama said there'll be days like this" indeed. Sidenote: New Jersey produced an amazing number of top shelf doo-wop and R&B acts in the 1950s and 1960s.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, "Dawn (Go Away)"
Speaking of doo-wop, Frankie Valli was born and raised here in Newark. He also happened to sing one of the peppiest songs about classism ever to hit the charts. His girlfriend Dawn is from a much better background, and he basically tells her to leave him for someone who will give her a better life.
Whitney Houston, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
Speaking of Newark, Whitney Houston also came from Brick City. Granted, this apotheosis of 80s synthesized musical cotton candy does not sound much like the tough streets of Newark. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this song, other than as an evocative document of a time when hairspray and shoulder pads dominated the nation and mediocrity held sway.
Tom Waits, "Jersey Girl"
Few songs get me as misty-eyed as this love song with a broken nose. It was the love of a Jersey girl that brought me to this place I've grown to care about so much to begin with, after all.