Liner Note #25

Thanks everyone who voted in our reader poll or who made a donation during the “lobbying” period! I hope you been enjoyed the bonus posts triggered by the donations this past month. In today’s liner note, Daron and I have various fun videos, history notes, we talk a lot more about New Jersey, and so on, and we look at the poll results, too! If poll results bore you, the short version is this: you guys are awesome.

First, though, the recent chapters have a lot of people asking me where Daron’s “really” from.

The answer is not as simple as I would like it to be.

Those of you who participated in the Google hangout back in April or who watched the video of it heard me say some of this before.

I was born in New York City, moved to Englewood when I was kindergarten age, and then to Union County (first Clark, then Scotch Plains) when I was in fourth grade. (We didn’t stay long in Clark because it turned out to be a Ku Klux Klan town smack in the middle of New Jersey. No, I’m not kidding. A mixed-race Chinese FIlipino Irish Welsh family did not go over well there.) We spent our summers in Point Pleasant and Ortley Beach when I was younger, and then later in Seaside Park, where friends had a house. (I have not heard if the house survived Hurricane Sandy. It was very old. It was on N Street, on the bay side, walking distance from the Park Bakery.)

Now, I could’ve done the “easy” thing and made Daron from where I was from. But I always pictured him as from south of Scotch Plains, closer to the Shore. Not too close, however. As I wrote in a comment to someone earlier, “I couldn’t make him from Asbury Park because of the Springsteen association and there’s too much of a music scene there, and it couldn’t be Point Pleasant–or even Monmouth (I meant Long Branch), where the beach sucks but at least there’s a beach–because neither of those would have been BORING enough.”

When I first started creating Daron’s character, I think I had Tom’s River in mind. I have cousins in Tom’s River and we visited them sometimes when I was a kid. But later, as the story developed, I needed a certain kind of setting and Tom’s River wasn’t quite it. My godparents lived in Brick, and we spent a lot of time there, too. There are parts of Daron’s family’s house that resemble parts of theirs.

I got my drivers license in 1984 and spent the next two summers driving all around New Jersey, often with my little brother in tow, looking for obscure comic books. I was trying to complete my collection of every issue of Legion of the Superheroes, dating back to their first appearance in Action Comics in 1958. (I got close, only about 6 issues missing.) The other thing I was doing was scouting for where Daron was from. This was in the days before Mapquest or GPS, and the directions we got tended to be sort of half-assed on the phone from the owner of the comic book store who sounded like maybe he didn’t get out much.

The thing is, it’s difficult to stay lost for very long in New Jersey. Because of the way the major highways cut across the state, you are pretty much never more than a 20 minute drive from either the Parkway or the Turnpike (or Route 1 in some spots) and there are signs that point you toward them even when you’re 10 miles or more from the on ramp. Once you are on any of those highways, you know which way to go. So it was easy to hop in the car and simply drive around until we found what we were looking for. (Also, paper maps did exist back then.)

The comic book stores tended to be in these little “main street” sorts of downtowns, not in the shinier, bigger malls or even strip malls. There used to be dozens and dozens of these independent shops, full of box upon box of used comic books.

The upshot is, not only did I spend 13-14 of my formative years living in New Jersey, I saw a lot of Jersey towns.

I am pretty sure I eventually found the place Daron was from. What I haven’t found is the notes (back when all notes were actually written on paper) that say where. Maybe I thought I wouldn’t forget something like that. The only town name I did find in actual notes was Holmdel, but I don’t think it was Holmdel (or Aberdeen) because I don’t think either of them has a downtown like I’m picturing.

I could be wrong, but I’ve tried using Google to look around, and neither Holmdel nor Aberdeen now seems like a fit. I don’t think it was Perth Amboy (too big). Wherever it was, it had to be south of Perth Amboy and either north or inland (or both) from Seaside Heights.

Looking at info online now, I think there’s a good chance it was Red Bank. I needed a suburban town with a downtown at least two blocks long, with a shoe store, a musical instrument shop, and a bar in a second floor space that had live music a few nights a week. (For comparison, downtown Scotch Plains had the shoe store and the music shop, but no bars. Westfield had the bars but no music shop.)

I’m open to suggestions from those of you from New Jersey as to where to look, though!

NEXT, you’re going to want to know where Jonathan’s from. I have gone back and forth as to whether he should be from South Plainfield or Piscataway, and he lives in Edison now, while his parents are somewhere like Princeton Junction. Both South Plainfield and Piscataway have some areas where rich families live, and both are north of where Daron’s from, so it could be either. South Plainfield should not be confused with Plainfield, which is where Stanley Jordan (the guitar player) is from, but which in the 1980s was sort of a mini-Newark, crime-ridden and plagued with urban ills of the time. (No idea what it’s like now.)

Anyway, suffice to say it’s possible Daron’s from Red Bank, and if that wasn’t it, then maybe we have to say we’re looking at a fictional amalgam of Tom’s River, Brick, Holmdel, and Scotch Plains, since they clearly all played a part in my psyche. That’s ultimately what fiction is, after all: it’s telling a story about something that feels true even if it’s a made-up tale.

However, you’re correct to note that a TON of the historical stuff in DGC is real. Every venue the band plays on this tour was a real place. They seem especially mythic, though, in that the vast majority of them have been torn down, imploded, or demolished. The Garden State Arts Center is still there, however. It’s now called the PNC Bank Center, but it still has the concrete UFO roof. (I hear tell that they crack down on the underage drinking there, now, though.)

I can’t remember now if I put this in an earlier liner note or if I only talked about it on the Google-hangout chat, but the itinerary the band follows for this tour basically follows almost exactly a tour that The Cure did. It’s mostly their 1987 tour, with some of their 1989 tour added on. (They ended that 1989 tour with a show at Great Woods. I was there. Although I enjoyed the show, it was clear they were TIRED.)

The point behind using the Cure tour dates isn’t to make an obscure Cure homage, though, so much as I wanted a realistic schedule for a band touring at that time period in those size venues. That meant keeping even the quirks of their schedule like the straaaangely seemingly out of the way leg to Bloomington, Minnesota (which I explained as Carynne getting confused, but I don’t know the real story of why the hell the Cure went that way) and also the playing of two shows in one week in New York City. They played Madison Square Garden and The Ritz and I had forgotten why.

I looked it up later, thinking maybe the Ritz was a promo show for a radio station or something, but it turned out that was the charity show The Cure played trying to prove that they were not anti-Arab. Their very first song, “Killing an Arab” is a song-lyric retelling of Albert Camus’ 1942 existentialist novel “The Stranger.” People being people, they were never able to accept the song was about a piece of French literature and not some kind of screed against Arabs. Recall that this was in 1980, well before either of the US Gulf Wars. By 1987, the band was actually pretty horrified to learn that the song was supposedly being PLAYED by racist DJs AS IF it were a call to kill Arabs. After this was brought to their attention, they had their record company sticker their albums with a warning to US radio stations not to play the song. (Here’s a link to a New York Times article about the stickering:

Smith and the band wanted nothing more than to put the accusations behind them, so they played this charity concert arranged by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to benefit Palestinian and Lebanese orphanages.

So, I thought, what charity could Daron & Co. play instead? It’s been a while since Mills was really present in the story, and it’s about time for him to get very involved, so it was to be for a pet project charity of his that they would do. However, complications ensue… you and the band will find out more as that comes up. But anyway, that’s how we ended up with two shows in the same city at two totally different venues.

All the references being made to other bands on tour in 1989, the Grateful Dead, Paul McCartney, et cetera are all real. They would have all been crisscrossing paths at the various venues. In fact, if you want to see a really interesting compilation of who was on tour in 1989, how’s this for a weird Internet thing? Check out

As far as I know, the Naked Raygun show the guys go to see in the city was a real show, too–I can’t even remember where I found the reference to who was playing in New York City on that night. The RAPP Arts Center was a real place. Here’s a blog entry about it: Rapp Rapp They Called it The Rapp.

AFAIK, the RAPP (lord knows what the acronym stood for) was a multidisciplinary arts center, featuring avant-garde theater/performance art, dance, music, and visual arts. In addition to performance and gallery spaces, it also offered some living and studio quarters for artists–a college friend of mine knew a young writer who actually lived on the premises. The Center’s 19th-century building had formerly been a Catholic school (all-boys IIRC), and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York still owned it–which caused some problems when the Church disapproved of the RAPP’s presentations. From time to time the RAPP would host rock shows.

RAPP stood for Redeemer Arts Performance Project, by the way, because it had been the Holy Redeemer School.

Okay enough history, now, something fun:


If it sounds kind of familiar, we used the original song as a chapter title back in post #94.

A commenter on a recent post made me realize, hey, some folks might, in fact, not know the difference between “Sweet Love” and “Real Love.” Daron is a huge fan of Anita Baker. Ziggy loves her and Jody Watley (AND Paula Abdul, and Sade, and Toni Braxton. Ziggy loves his songstresses.) So, herewith:

Speaking of videos, the song title and video I had picked for a recent chapter (“This Town”) did not work out. The video was pulled before the chapter even went live (I had prepped it to post a few days before) and so I went looking for a replacement and briefly I could not find it. It turned out this was because I had somehow mixed up the Bangles and the GoGos. In fact, enough other people had mixed them up that there were references seeming to confirm my incorrect attribution, including a song lyrics website that has the correct lyrics, but which has them on a page with promo videos of The Bangles. So for a short period of time, there was a smarmy Bangles song (“My Town”) in place of The Gogos “This Town.” And for a short while there, though I thought I had imagined the existence of the song. But no. It was real. Phew.

Daron says he wants to make a list of movies about New Jersey. Okay. D. All yours.

Okay, so the thing about New Jersey, and I did not realize this until I moved AWAY from there, is that it’s really hard to explain. New York gets all the attention. New Jersey gets all the crap. Literally. When I was growing up, the big thing was “Superfund” which was some kind of government program to pay for the cleanup of toxic waste, right? Well what did they find out when they went around trying to tag sites for Superfund cleanup? First of all, just about every bit of occupied land between New York and Philadelphia had toxic levels of crap (it was regularly called “Cancer Alley” when I was growing up), as well as every town that bordered any of the rivers because of all the industrial waste that had been dumped for decades into the water. Not only that, the places where towns tended to build schools, parks, and athletic fields? Tended to be where the plots were large and cheap, i.e. landfills and places where factories used to be. So anywhere you were sending your kid to school or to play or to camp probably had soil full of lead, dioxin, mercury, you name it. New Jersey has more Superfund sites than any other state even though by area it’s one of the smallest.

So you have toxic land everywhere and all these people who are freaking out about how they moved OUT of the city to get away from the “pollution.” Hah. (Try putting less bug-and-weed-killing poison on your lawn, too, will you buddy? Nah.)

This explains the background stuff that made the Troma films THE TOXIC AVENGER and CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH absolute New Jersey classics.

However, it being the land of quiet and conformity (all the weirdos gravitate to the cities), there is nothing to do in the suburbs but shop and watch TV. Or play sports (or watch them on TV). And if you have no money, you don’t shop, you just hang around the mall because that’s better than hanging around at home watching TV. And if you can’t actually make it to the mall, because you don’t have a car or the money for gas, you hang around at the convenience store. So covering those bases you have Kevin Smith’s two Jersey classics CLERKS and MALLRATS.

(Folks tell me me and ctan should watch Smith’s third “New Jersey Trilogy” movie, Chasing Amy, too. Apparently, it even involves comic book stores, as mentioned above. Haven’t gotten around to it, but it’s on the list. Okay, and now someone else told me Kevin Smith is from Red Bank. Jeez.)

If you want something slightly more recent (2004), I recommend HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE.

Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, there’s even a film set in the 1980s.


  • mb says:

    Huh. I could equally see Jonathan being from Cherry Hill or Haddonfield- whenever a student tells me they’re from NJ it’s usually one of the two. (When I tell them I grew up in Sussex County they act like I just told them that I am secretly a homeless moonshiner and have fed their actual prof to my pet bear. Admittedly, Sussex is the cultural hellspawn of Italy and Appalachia and makes the Shore look sophisticated. To wit, another big NJ movie: as I teenager I worked at a camp down the road from where the original Friday the 13th was filmed.)

    • ctan says:

      Cherry Hill has some possibilities… When I write Jonathan’s story we’ll find out more. I know his family’s got money but I’m not sure what kind. Unlike Bart’s family, I don’t think they’ve been moneyed for long. I think his father was some kind of scientist who hit it big, maybe an early computer guy from Bell Labs who went into industry and got unexpectedly wealthy, cashed out and “retired” early only to be bored and decide to get back into research or teaching. I’ll find that all out when I sit down to write it, probably.

  • Sheeri K. Cabral says:

    IIRC, Red Bank has a boardwalk and a beach…it’s where Kevin Smith is from, though, so it had to be boring enough for HIM, I guess it could be boring enough for Daron.

  • Sheeri K. Cabral says:

    (hah I should read all the way to the end before posting! but yeah you should definitely watch Chasing Amy, if only for the same-sex content).

    • ctan says:

      Grin. Far as I can tell, Red Bank’s “boardwalk” is a walkway along the shore of the river. The nearest beach isn’t until you get to Sea Bright, about 10-15 miles away.

      I am highly amused to discover the Kevin Smith connection, though, yeah. I wonder if I should send him a copy of the book?

  • Andrea says:

    I was convinced Daron was from my area, but apparently I was far off, since I was thinking Bergen county (Waldwick area) I may not be from the 80s but there were a lot of things you mentioned that fit the town (with maybe the exception of the driving distance from the shore, but still not super far away)

    • ctan says:

      There are parts of Bergen County that would fit the bill, too. I lived in Englewood from when I was 4 until 9 years old or so. 🙂 Somehow I always pictured him as being from further south. (Maybe because if he’d been too close to NYC he would’ve run away from home…)

  • Madison itself is a little to high end but I think Belleville might work. A little low rent, close to Newark and was repopulated by white flight after the riots.

    • ctan says:

      Hm, it’s a thought if he was a little closer to the city. I know it has to be somewhere south of the Parkway/Turnpike interchange in Woodbridge, though.

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