The release of a new Bruce Springsteen album always inspires me to reflect on my musical background and the rich local musical heritage of my hometown. I grew up about ten minutes from Bruce Springsteen’s hometown of Freehold, the town of “My Hometown.” My hometown was also about twenty minutes from Bon Jovi’s hometown. Therefore, (like many NJ residents) I have always felt a strong kinship with their stories and understanding of their music.
In my early twenties, I decided to mark the release of each new Bruce Springsteen album with a visit to a local, mom and pop record store, Jack’s Music in Red Bank. This was a personal decision that I felt would be a suitable way to honor the legacy of Bruce’s music, by supporting the local business people he describes in his songs, but also a way to honor the important role local music shops took in my own development as an artist.
It’s no secret local mom and pop stores, especially those that sell records and books, are struggling to compete against online behemoths like Amazon and other retailers. Therefore, my personal goal to support Jack’s in this way felt like a small, but important moral salute to independent business and commerce.
Thinking back on my history with Jack’s music reminds me of why independent music shops are so important. My hometown and Jack’s are both located on our local train line in Monmouth County that runs from New York to the beaches. As young as thirteen or fourteen, I would get on the train in my hometown and go to Red Bank alone to shop for music at Jack’s.
Back then in the early 1990’s, Jack’s was located across the street from its current location, and the walls were lines with cassettes. They also sold instruments so I could replenish my reeds for my saxophone. I remember thinking then how cool the employees were. I clearly recall purchasing a Roberta Flack tape and one of the employees engaging me in a conversation on my musical tastes; he was shocked by the musical maturity and eclecticism of my tastes for my age.
I had been lucky when I was very young to be mentored by a talented flutist who took me to Harry Connick Jr and Billy Joel concerts, but also introduced me to Chopin and movies like “Impromptu” about Chopin’s life. She also brought me to Philadelphia to hear her friend an organist play Bach’s concertos. She broadened my tastes in music and inspired me when I was very young to begin listening as much as possible. Therefore, as a young girl I was beginning a collection of Roberta Flack and the Eagles and Pink Floyd, but also Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin, all of whom I listened to obsessively at night while also trying to compose on my keyboard.
In addition to Jack’s, my hometown was home to a short-lived record shop that eventually relocated to Freehold. The owner there was kind enough to loan me records not available at my local library when I was a kid. He would also chat with me about the records, and greet me with knowing smiles of understanding when I walked in completely stoked after having listened to some Aerosmith or Pink Floyd or Rolling Stone albums. I can’t underestimate the importance these interactions had in my love for music, inspiring me to study music and music theory throughout high school, playing alto saxophone and baritone sax in the concert bands and singing in the choirs.
On the weekends throughout high school, I worked at a local restaurant at night, busing tables, washing dishes, and working coat check. We had a live piano player who played standards like Cole Porter, Sinatra, Ellington. This music was the background for my work, and I also talked with my older coworkers about these songs and artists, while they encouraged me to listen to artists like Elvis Costello and Dramarama. I’ll never forget him playing “Summertime” and my innocent love for this song; it was not for many years that I would learn its role in the much more complicated opera, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
Musical interest is, of course, not declining, only the methods and modes of music. Young people are just as passionate, obsessive and interested in music as they were when I was younger; they also socialize online to discuss their interests. Of course, through Itunes there is the possibility for them to quickly and broadly expand their musical knowledge. These benefits of the online musical market cannot be understated.
Still the decline of personal interaction in the market for books and music is sad, and I wonder if my generation is really on the borderline of understanding this history. As another Springsteen album is released, and I think about the downloads, I wonder about the people I met at Jack’s in my youth and how they inspired me. How can we ever say the benefits of the online music market outweigh those of human interaction in person?
My current book project, though not a literal manifestation of these interactions, certainly has roots in these experiences. In “The Home Run that Tours America,” the characters see the song “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield as a mystery that can unlock the history of their town. They respect and look to their neighbors, friends and others for clues to this song’s role in American history. I wonder if I had not grown up in such a rich, local musical scene, would I have grasped such musical, political and social nuances?