When I first moved to Hoboken, I did not like my new "home". I'm not sure if it was the culture shock of coming up from "the shore", having to get a day job and pay rent for the first time, or the fact that my railroad apartment room felt more like a hallway for my three room mates. Nothing against my roommates. I could not have been luckier in that regard. Maybe it was that I had moved away from my friends. The first bar I went to was the Elysian. An old blues bar with $1.50 beers and decades of dust compacted in its antique corner moldings. It was me, the bartender and two old guys sitting at the bar. We watched basketball and they started to tell me stories of old Hoboken. It was 1996 and I was starting what has been a love affair with the town that has been my home for the past 18 years (with a brief stint in JC Heights). (Squid's Note: The Elysian is now a beautifully restored high end French Bistro)
It's not hard to get a Born and Raised (BnR) Hobokenite to tell stories of how things used to be in town. The stories vary. Good. Bad. Scary. Funny. Sometimes they are scary to me and funny to the teller. They are something I can not get enough of, though. I've worked for the City of Hoboken for 15 years, both in City Hall and at the Municipal Garage. Not every one offered a friendly face right away to the new "yuppy", "college" kid. It took some patience before most "cumps" started "tellin' me something" about "back in the day". One man that did offer a friendly face as soon as I met him was Freddie Moret. As one of his friends recently put it "If Freddie didn't see you doing anything wrong, then to him you did no wrong". Freddie Moret loved to tell stories. During the many rides home he gave me, we would talk about Hoboken, old and current. He had a real love for his hometown, the people in it, and the people he worked with. Well, most of them anyway. He would give you the shirt off his back. A genuine, no nonsense, stand up guy, as are many I have met here. They are one of the reasons I love this town. Freddie was a shining example of the "whaddya you need", "I got it", blue collar, Hoboken guy. A family man who could operate any piece of heavy machinery and would be the first on the scene of a storm or other emergency. He once went into a burning building to help in a rescue. He was not a fireman. Freddie passed away last week while on a St. Francis trip to tour churches in Italy. A stunning event that reminds me that our time is finite. I lost a friend and co-worker. Hoboken lost a great worker, citizen, and "Born and Raised" Hoboken guy.
When I moved here, stick ball was still being played on sidewalks and families and friends were still gathering on their stoops. You could almost smell Sunday's gravy/sauce in the air, and not just when the St. Ann's feast was going on. One of the things I love about Hoboken is that old school, small town culture, where families, extended families, stay in the same town, even the same building. The idea that your hometown is your Home town, for life. Families gathering weekly, if not more, for a meal, or to be more accurate, for macaroni and meatballs. "Aunt" Lena Reilly was one of those matriarchs for many a family member and friend in Hoboken. The meatballs may have been literally handed to you, but they were always delicious and just part of "enough food to feed an army". They tasted the way they were supposed to, the way that you had eaten them all your life, like family. That Hoboken small town, old school, family culture is something I feel that I long for even though I was not a part of it. Aunt Lena passed away over this past weekend. An example of a time going by, an open door for friend or family or friend of the family to come hang out, "eat something" or just sit for a few cans of Budweiser. An era that proved that in everyday life, family was held and stayed closer and more dear than anything else. Generations in the same town, building on the culture that was left them.
I moved into my sister's apartment back in '96. She was studying fine art at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Hoboken was cheaper than Manhattan and right across the river. Another thing Hoboken had to offer was its arts and music community. The yearly art studio tour would boast studios all over town, with 720 Monroe (the Levelor building) And Neumann Leather filled from top to bottom with artists. Artists and other creative characters lived in loft spaces and old converted manufacturing spaces. One of the last of which, at 721 Grand, where my band Davey and the Trainwreck and Nipsey practice, is closing at the end of this month. You could see live music at the Love Sexy, the Whiskey Bar, Scotland Yard, the Shannon, and Boo Boo's. And then there's, recently named Rolling Stone Magazine's #3 Rock club... Maxwell's. I moved above Maxwell's in August of 1998, and have been there ever since, enjoying countless shows, hosting countless after parties and making countless friends. It has been part of my identity. "Hi, I'm Dave. I live upstairs". I can not tell you how many times I've said "I live above Maxwells'". I've been honored and lucky enough to play on that stage many times, both opening for heroes of "indie rock" and nights filled with Hoboken musicians. I can't thank them enough. The back room of Maxwell's, filmed in Bruce's "Glory Days", was a place for rising, debuting, and established bands to play in front of an intimate 200 person capacity crowd. It saw bands like Nirvana, the Flaming Lips, Wilco, Queens of the Stone Age, the Black Keys and so many more on their way up and the established acts like the Melvins, Beck, the Buzzcocks, David Byrne, Dick Dale, Jonathan Richman, Junior Brown and so many more once again prove themselves in a small room with Great sound. Maxwell's not only gave bands a place to play, they gave them dinner and most of the door. Something I have never encountered or heard of at any other club. Maxwell's announced it is closing on July 31st, this past week. And with it goes a "key stone" in the foundation of Hoboken's music community. A destination whose closing is important enough to warrant coverage by Billboard, NPR, the New York Times and the list goes on. Local bands large and small, National acts and every band in between have one less great joint to play in the New York area. Sorry Stone Pony, but New Jersey just lost its best music venue.
Hoboken will survive, time moves on, change happens, but what is rising seems more like an anywhere USA high end mall, complete with sports bar, food court and bouncy castle. It could just be the reddened eyes I'm currently looking through talking. While voting in the recent primaries, an "old Hoboken" poll worker said to me "You really have become a real Hobokenite". I replied "if only every one that moved here did". Maybe then the Hoboken culture I came to love would have a better chance of surviving. Again... Reddened eyes...