Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 2, 2018 (photo by Alan Messer)

There it was again, just the other day — descending from the supermarket store speakers like a friendly angel; adding a subconscious spring to each shopper’s step with its perky piano-driven promise of “southern kisses” and sneak-on-out romance; blessing each purchase of Entenmann’s Glazed Pop-Ems and Plumpy’s Frozen Calamari with the same cheerful upbeat plea for love beneath sun and stars (or back there“behind the chandelier”) that took it to the Billboard Top Twenty chart in 1979.

Even those patrons of the Neptune Shop-Rite who immediately matched “Romeo’s Tune” with its composer and performer Steve Forbert might not have realized that not only is the veteran music maker “Alive on Arrival” and deliriously active on multiple creative fronts — he could very well be the next guy in the checkout line, having become a full-time Neptune resident some 17 years ago (and prior to that, a frequent flyer to our fair Shore, thanks to the presence of a longstanding Juliet to his Romeo).

For the Grammy nominated native of Meridien, MS who’s a proud inductee of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame — and whose voice retains its honeydrip willow-weep drawl in conversation (and its fine-grain belt-sander blues-grit in concert), the area served by The Coaster is more than just a place to hang one’s figurative hat. Having written and recorded hundreds of songs since the release of his debut LP a full four decades back, he’s seen his works covered by the likes of Rosanne Cash, James Maddock, Carolyne Mas, Marty Stuart, and Keith Urban — and his established presence on the Asbury Park scene has granted him the local-dude cred to put forth such tunes as “Strange Names (North New Jersey’s Got ‘Em),” “My Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl”— and “Sandy,” a 2013 single that name-checked the communities devastated by that selfsame superstorm (and ended on a hopeful note of rebuild and restore).

Then there was Highway of Sight, the 2011 exhibition (and its 2015 sequel) that commandeered Cookman Avenue’s Art629 Gallery for a intriguing look at an altogether different facet of the musician’s art — a first-rate collection of photographs, showing people and places from one man’s ongoing road trip through the space and the spirit of a blacktop-laced continent. And it was Asbury Park that played a significant part in one of Forbert’s most famous extracurricular endeavors, when he took the stage at the old FastLane to sing Little Richard songs with Cyndi Lauper, then fronting the band Blue Angel — a lark that led to his appearance as Cyndi’s tux-clad beau in the mega-heavy rotation video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

While he still practices his “glorified hobby” as a lensman, Forbert harbors no illusions about a pursuit in which “you’ve gotta be William Eccleston to be able to do a proper photo book” — and it’s the pursuit of his first and foremost muse that brings him back to the Asbury stage on Friday, August 3, when he pays a visit to the Circuit-side staple Wonder Bar in the midst of a northeastern tour with his band, The New Renditions.

It’s actually a rare full-combo gig on the home front, for a performer whose local appearances in recent years have ranged from duo sets at McLoone’s Supper Club and featured spots at Light of Day concerts, to holding down the Stone Pony SummerStage all by his lonesome, as an opener for Johnny and the Jukes. Backed by an “all Jersey people” organization — Jesse Bardwell (mandolin, guitar), Caleb Estey (drums), Todd Lanka (upright bass), and George Naha (lead guitar) — Forbert promises a retrospective that ranges from the earliest times of his 40-plus years as a troubador, to a preview of his latest album.

Continue reading


Williams Honor (Reagan Richards, Gordon Brown) is among the acts of Asbury Park’s musical past/ present/ future convening at the Wonder Bar on Saturday, March 31, as Jersey-legend soundscribe Bob Makin (below, with daughter Bekah) celebrates the 30th anniversary of his go-to column MAKIN WAVES.

(Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park, March 29, 2018)

“I was introduced to The Sounds of Asbury Park in the summer of ‘78, when Lord Gunner played my friend Kelly’s parents’ annual Labor Day Beach Bash,” wrote Bob Makin some years back, in a retrospective series of articles. “My old man tried to turn me onto Springsteen a couple of years before, but I thought Bruce was ‘a big, hairy werewolf with a sore throat’.”

“Little did I know I would become a music journalist, inspired by Springsteen, the Asbury Park music scene and my entertainment editor dad.”

Thirty years after that pivotal summer when he published his first music dispatch — and in a writing career that approaches the threshold of its fifth decade — the veteran reporter is Makin Waves once again, with an all-day bandfest that celebrates the “pearl anniversary” of his column by that name; in the process paying tribute to generations of music makers here in the seaside city that so electrified his Selectric way back when.

Continue reading


cliff Rob_wall Originally published on May 11, 2014

To hear Cliff Galbraith tell it, he might just be the only guy ever to conceal a business text behind a comic book — an act that turns a time-worn cliche on its ear, even as it reinforces the fact that the New Jersey based comics creator keeps up with the latest titles by Gladwell and Ben Horowitz “like they were Game of Thrones.”

With two self-published Crucial Comics titles in circulation, and lordship over a pair of buzz-generating commercial websites, Galbraith could already be said to have enough on his drawing board. But it’s his newly minted status as co-founder of a growing empire of ComiCon events that’s got the veteran cartoonist hitting the books over such topics as subcontracted security, guest accommodations, and the sweet science of customer service.

Cliff and his partner in the Con game — fellow Red Bank, NJ resident and “popculturist” authority Rob Bruce — recently wrapped a successful fourth edition of their Asbury Park ComiCon, a “relatively small” two-day extravaganza that drew some sought-after star talent and thousands of fans to the salty Jersey Shore resort. Just weeks from now, they’ll be doing it all again, during a first-ever New York Comic Fest that commandeers the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY for a single Saturday on June 14.

Sponsored by the pair’s online outlets 13th Dimension and  Monsters and Robots, the spring 2014 events represent a quantum leap forward from the “microscopic” bowling-alley origins of the first Asbury Park gatherings. At the same time, they remain manageably scaled affairs designed to “promote the people who create comics,” in an age when the major conventions have been effectively hijacked by the entertainment conglomerates behind the top titles, publishers and properties.


Continue reading


View15Mountain Madness: John Little, Katrina Ferguson, Eva Kaminsky and Michael Zlabinger star in New Jersey Repertory’s world premiere of A VIEW OF THE MOUNTAINS, Lee Blessing’s follow-up to his Pulitzer nominated A WALK IN THE WOODS.  (photo by SuzAnne Barabas)

Back in 1988 — at the tail end of a Cold War that proved pretty fertile fodder for highbrow drama and low-blow satire alike — a playwright by name of Lee Blessing crafted a two-hander that wore its message of human engagement on its sleeve, and took it all the way to Broadway.

A nominee for both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize — and adapted to TV with its stage cast intact — A Walk in the Woods placed a passionately principled young American arms negotiator named John Honeyman (Sam Waterston), and a wry and worldly old Soviet named Andrey Botvinnik (Robert Prosky), in a neutral-ground setting far from the brinksmanship and blustering of the conference room.

Here in 2014, John Honeyman lives again; not as a John Le Carre sort of weary warrior called back in from the cold, but as the man-out-of-time figure at the center of A View of the Mountains, a follow-up (of sorts) to Woods — as well as a scenario that trades the 20th century arms race for its millennial equivalent (the weapons-grade rhetoric of the amped-up, ramped-up “national debate”), and the sardonic Soviet for a more homegrown antagonist: Honeyman’s Republican son from his first marriage.

As seen in a world premiere engagement currently on display at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — where previously produced Blessing scripts have included Eleemosynary and WhoresMountains finds the Honeyman character (John Little, adding another role to his gallery of patriarchs in crisis) living with his heiress second wife (Katrina Ferguson) and a teenage son named for the play’s Andrey character (Jon Erik Nielsen platooning with Jared Rush), in an upstate New York retreat framed as a sparsely appointed and highly stylized simulacrum of the real world.

He’s also contending with a conflict that goes beyond mere daddy-issue angst: estranged son Will (Michael Zlabinger) is now a United States Senator who’s been short-listed for the running mate slot in the next presidential election — a resolutely right-wing rising star whose entire career is based on a complete refutation of the father who neglected his original family way back when. Under the direction of Evan Bergman (Saving Kitty, Jericho), things really come to a head when the veteran negotiator turns blackmailer; threatening to rattle a long-fogotten skeleton in the junior Senator’s closet unless he does nothing less than withdraw completely from public life.

Put aside any thoughts of the father-son thing being at the heart of this one-act piece, however — the play packs a thermonuclear punch in the person of Gwynn (Eva Kaminsky), the young pol’s campaign manager wife, and a stridently one-stop generator of negative energy who scans for listening devices, tests food and drinks for poison, threatens to beat and tie up the other characters, treats even her husband with contempt and basically makes the darkly ambitious Lady Macbeth look like dear Little Nell. Blessing writes here with needle-sharp pen and the most slash ‘n burn sort of character dynamics — and Kaminsky takes ownership of the proceedings with a love-to-hate performance that matches the author’s anything-but-subtle style.

The playwright, who made the opening-weekend trip from his California home to downtown Long Branch (on a particularly grim week marked by a leaper’s suicide from the neighborhood’s 500-foot radio tower), spoke to your upperWETside Control Voice prior to the first preview.

Continue reading

9/17: ‘Fake Dave’ Gets Real on River Road

DaveCicirelliGotta Fake It to Make It: Author and Middletown native Dave Cicirelli kicks off the campaign for his just-released FAKEBOOK,Thursday at River Road Books. 


His adventures include being attacked by a rabid coyote, abduction by an obscure doomsday cult — and forced labor on an Amish farm, as a result of his having toilet-paper’d the farmer’s buggy (he also managed to impregnate and run off with the farmer’s daughter).

He’s Fake Dave Cicirelli, and beginning in October 2009 the real Dave Cicirelli chronicled his ersatz odyssey in an epic series of Facebook posts, keynoted by the sudden announcement that he was quitting his job as a successful and award-winning art director in NYC, in order to embark upon a soul-searching westbound walking sojourn. By the time that the Facebook version of Dave returned to Intercourse, PA “to adopt the Amish way of life…leaving the world of facebook with a heart full of sadness,” he had amassed hundreds of new friends and even a stalker or two — while an increasingly isolated Real Dave was laying low from the world in his former family home.

The River Plaza native tells his double-life story with double-edged candor and humor in the memoir Fakebook: A True Story. Based on Actual Lies, just released today, September 17 by Sourcebooks — and on Thursday evening, September 19, the first-time author comes to River Road Books in Fair Haven for a 7:30 pm reading and signing appearance that promises to reunite the real-world Dave with several of the Facebook friends who played a part, consciously or not, in the social media saga. Your upperWETside correspondent talked with Cicirelli about playful lies and rippling repercussions, before Oprah or Jon could get to him. Read on…

Continue reading

2/14: Pinsky’s Jazzy Samurai Song

PinskyFormer US Poet Laureate (and Long Branch native) Robert Pinsky returns to the Monmouth University stage on February 15, with a words-and-music performance entitled PoemJazz.  (Photo by Eric Antoniou) 

In an interview that appeared almost four years ago on our since-skyfallen Red Bank oRBit site, Robert Pinsky waxed rhapsodic about Long Branch, the seaside city of his youth; telling us “In the Golden Age, you could have a Ballantine’s and a Max’s hot dog when Max’s was on the boardwalk side of Ocean Avenue. When there was a Long Branch boardwalk! Pizza at Freddie’s or Nunzio’s, clams at Danny Maher’s. Crabbing at Pleasure Bay, the circus at Flanagan’s Field. Tea dances at Red Bank Catholic.”

Pinsky — the internationally renowned, Pulitzer-lauded author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry and essays on art — was briefly back on his old turf for a reading appearance at Monmouth University, and a preview of his 2009 book Thousands of Broadways; a meditation on the “Dreams and Nightmares” of small town American life. The man who produced what for many is the definitive translation of Dante’s Inferno — and who served for an unprecedented three terms as Poet Laureate of the United States — had visited Monmouth U previously (even giving the commencement address one year). But when he stepped out onto the stage of the Pollak Theatre that March, he may not have realized at the time that he’d be making the West Long Branch campus a habit.

For a formidable figure who earned a doctorate in philosophy (in addition to many major awards and fellowships), Robert Pinsky has remained an approachable advocate for the role of poetry in mainstream 21st century life. It’s a mission that’s seen him consent to appearances on The Simpsons and The Colbert Report — and a calling that’s seen its purest expression in the Favorite Poem Project, in which Americans from all walks of life were recorded reading and discussing the works of verse that have meant the most to them.

The past few years have seen Pinsky — a genuine jazz aficionado and amateur saxophonist — step up his schedule of appearances in which he performs his poetry to the accompaniment of live jazz musicians. It’s a mode of expression that the Laureate has branded PoemJazz, and it’s an attraction that returns to the Pollak stage on Friday, February 15.

The 7:30pm performance is a followup to a 2012 event at Monmouth, in which Pinsky was joined by the New York-based double bassist Ben Allison. Since that time, Pinsky has released his first words-and-music CD, also called PoemJazz — a set that finds the poet collaborating with pianist Laurence Hobgood on an array of compositions that range from the intensely musical “The City” and the Pinsky favorite “Samurai Song,” to a rendition of the 17th century Ben Jonson verse “His Excuse for Loving.”

Pinsky — who’s jammed live with a variety of instrumentalists, and in settings ranging from duo to quintet — will be rejoined by Allison (as well as by guitarist and Allison bandmate Steve Cardenas) for Friday night’s fricassee of verse and vibe; an event that promises to recall some of the best sonic experiments of the Beats (minus the bongo’d cliches), while custom-crafting a zone that’s pure Pinsky perfection.

Your upperWETside correspondent had the tremendous honor of conducting a virtual interview with America’s pre-eminent ambassador of the spoken word, a few days prior to the Monmouth stopover….and it’s all here, at the flip of a pixelated page…

Continue reading

6/27: An Author Looks Back to the Future

Award winning tech and business journalist Jon Gertner visits the Little Silver Public Library on Thursday evening, June 28, to discuss his book THE IDEA FACTORY: BELL LABS AND THE GREAT AGE OF AMERICAN INNOVATION. (photo by Leslie de la Vega/ Penguin Books)

There were those primitive computer-printout images — representations of Snoopy or Abe Lincoln, composed entirely of X’s or punctuation symbols — that our Aunt Shirley brought home from her job at Bell Labs; surely the god-damnedest thing that a circa-1966 kid had ever seen.

There was that oddly shaped tower outside the mirrored box of the corporate complex, a War-of-the-Worlds colossus standing starkly out from the cabbage patches, egg stands and petting-zoo farms of Holmdel. Then, when we got a bit older, there was the sneaking suspicion that this inscrutable center for arcane and eldritch research had more than a little bit to do with nearby Gravity Hill — as well as a lot to do with the eventual reconfiguring/ defusing of the locally famous “mystery spot.”

It’s not at all hyperbole to suggest that in its heyday, Bell Labs was where The Future took shape.

The list of accomplishments claimed by the Murray Hill-based research and development arm of AT&T included some of the genuine building blocks of modern life (transistors, lasers), game-changing milestones of the Computer Age (the UNIX system, C programming language, Information Theory) and a whole lot of landmark work in the fields of radio astronomy, fiber optics, solar cells and satellite communications.

Close to home, its local connection — both via the company’s major presence in Monmouth County, and the caliber of people it attracted to this once relatively sleepy corner of New Jersey — impacts our lives in ways that are as here-and-now as the handheld mobile device that you’re probably reading this on, and as shrouded in wonder as the very origins of the universe.

In the years between 1925 and the breakup of the old Bell System companies in 1984, Bell Labs was there on the frontlines of every significant sea-change in the ways that information is collected, stored, processed, organized, and transmitted. In fact, the work done here in Monmouth was directly responsible for at least two of the seven Nobel Prizes that Bell researchers were awarded in those six decades  — an era that nationally known science/tech and business writer Jon Gertner brands The Great Age of American Innovation.

A longtime contributor to The New York Times Magazine and currently an editor at Fast Company, the Maplewood resident has been touring the northeast and appearing on TV/ radio/ web outlets in support of his first book, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. It’s a flurry of activity that brings Gertner to the greater Red Bank Green — a community with its own significant link to the Labs legacy — for an in-person appearance at the Little Silver Public Library on Thursday evening, June 28.

Continue reading

Notes from the Crane, 11/11

In an interview we did with her a few years back, Marjorie Conn told us, “When I first moved here, and I didn’t know anyone, I picked up all the local papers to get a sense of what was going on — and the minute I walked into the Stephen Crane House I knew immediately that it was where I wanted to do my thing.”

Her “thing,” as it turns out, was a brand of theater that was personal and political, confrontational and conversational, intimately cosmic and engagingly guerrilla — like, FRINGE, as in Provincetown Fringe Festival, the quirky quasi-underground brand she cultivated for years in the place that Norman Mailer called “a spit of shrub and dune.”

Ousted from her P’town stomping grounds in the name of upscale rents, exiled like an emperor to the Elba that is Asbury Park, the self-described “Conn Artist” set about doing that aforementioned “thing” in such hermit-crab haunts as restaurants, art galleries and retail establishments — finding her most comfortable berth at the historic Crane House, the circa 1878 cottage whose old dining room and kitchen regularly play host to poetry readings, film screenings, intimate concerts and writers’ workshops (and from which this very blog issues forth into the world).

It was at the Crane that the playwright and thespian introduced local audiences to her dynamite one-woman show Miss Lizzie A. Borden, a character portrait that we observed “took an axe to everything you’ve ever assumed about the infamously accused (but indisputably acquitted) figure of Yankee legend — illuminating a person who lived a life far beyond the morbid quatrain of the familiar rhyme.” Her many other projects at Crane’s crib have even included an original musical about the relationship between President Franklin Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and her longtime friend Lorena Hickok.

This Saturday, November the Fifth, Marj Conn and the Provincetown Fringe Festival in Asbury Park commandeer the Crane for their third annual Short Play Festival, an evening of original playlets collected under the beach-umbrella title By the Beautiful Sea.

Continue reading