Why Kevin Smith’s Films are so Important to New Jersey and Pop Culture

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Red Bank, New Jersey’s very own Kevin Smith is a man in the film industry who has eschewed the need for introduction. His first major film project Clerks consistently ranks amongst the elite as one of the greatest independent films ever made. The movie also sparked an entire connected universe in which many of his films also take place including Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II, and the upcoming Mallrats 2. The films feature a cast of many memorable characters, including the dynamic duo that appear in each of these films, Jay & Silent Bob (Silent Bob played by Smith himself).

Smith also frequently references his Garden State roots when speaking to various media. All of the previously mentioned films take place in or near Monmouth County and mention real places in the area. Chasing Amy features a few shots of Red Bank’s Broad Street neighborhood, and Clerks was filmed at a convenience store he worked at in Middletown. His currently running show, AMC’s Comic Book Men, is filmed inside Smith’s own comic book store, Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank.

Out of all places Smith could choose to set these films, he chooses the ordinary suburban New Jersey region where he grew up. New York City always makes a decent film setting, so does LA, or even another major city like DC or Miami. Still, his film characters are distinctly suburban New Jersey-esque. Why did he choose to do that? Well, he’s often said he bases parts of his characters’ personalities off of his long-time friends from New Jersey. To me, he goes with setting his characters here because it’s what enables him to tell his story in the most realistic, yet funny ways possible, and that’s never a bad thing.

Smith’s success and notoriety as a filmmaker has only contributed to New Jersey having a more prominent role in media. Since Clerks emerged and made suburban New Jersey a prominent film setting, many other shows and movies have popped up featuring the state. For example, the show House was set in Princeton, and the Die Hard film series’ main character John McClane famously calls himself “The 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey” in the film  A Good Day to Die Hard. Smith’s artistry helped pave the way for New Jersey to no longer be considered as just a dirty landscape between NYC and Philadelphia in media stereotypes.

It’s not to say that New Jersey hasn’t had its fair share of garbage representation in the media, either. Shows like Jersey Shore have certainly created negative sentiments toward the state, but many of them haven’t stuck. The Jersey Shore fad has come and gone. Why didn’t they stick? Because shows like Jersey Shore have no substance to them. A show like that is one an audience member can sit back, mindlessly consume, and move on. Shows like that provoke no thought in the viewers’ minds. Smith’s works, however, do deliver something real for audiences to enjoy and to think about. His works treat viewers to a mix of outlandish and goofy moments, smartly-crafted jokes, and serious and thought-provoking scenes all within the confines of a single film.

So, Mr. Smith, I thank you for your labors. Your works have inspired countless aspiring filmmakers to pursue their passions and they have also given New Jersey in a positive media presence in pop culture.

To close, I’ll say this, “I wasn’t even supposed to write this today!”.

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Product Spotlight: Shear Revival – Asbury Park NJ

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Most of my previous posts here have consisted of locations, brick and mortar places to visit, if you will. This time, I’m writing about an excellent line of men’s grooming products you can acquire either online or in select stores near you. What company makes these products, you ask? Well, that company is a superb Asbury Park-based company called Shear Revival.

Shear Revival is a company that uses natural ingredients to make their products. They offer a variety of great items such as both water and oil-based pomades, beard oil, shave oil, after shave, and even their own wooden combs. This is no chemical lab-based pomade that you buy at just any old store. You can apply these products and know they’re formulated to help you maintain healthy hair.

Mitch, my good friend and barber that I’ve mentioned on here before, introduced me to Shear Revival’s products. One day, as I strolled into Calabrese’s Barber Shop for another cut, Mitch suggested that I try out Shear Revival’s new Crystal Lake Water-based Pomade. After the haircut was finished, Mitch applied some Crystal Lake to my new cut, and I couldn’t have been happier with the result. I have been searching for something like Crystal Lake my whole life.

Shear Revival's Crystal Lake Pomade

Shear Revival’s Crystal Lake Pomade

As someone who personally isn’t a fan of oil-based pomades, I have been using water-based ones for a number of years now. Water-based pomades only stay in your hair until you decide to wash them out, as opposed to the oil ones taking a while. I’ve tried many other water-based pomades like Layrite, Shiner Gold, Uppercut, etc. While those pomades are also great products, I never liked how they made my hair so rigid and stiff. Crystal Lake doesn’t give your hair that look. Rather, Crystal Lake gives your hair a smooth, natural look that you can easily re-style throughout the day without making your hair appear greasy or full of product. I can run my fingers through my hair, and the hair will move with my hand and not stay stuck in one place, as opposed to other water-based pomades.

In short, Shear Revival is a local company that is bringing fantastic men’s grooming products to the consumer market that include all-natural ingredients to give your hair a healthy look that you can re-style throughout the day. Since I’ve started growing my beard again, I can’t wait to get my hands on some of their beard oil.

*All images taken from Shear Revival’s Website

Click Here for Shear Revival’s Website

Jack’s Music Shoppe: A Wholesome Garden State Record Store

Jack's Music Shoppe exterior - photo courtesy of Sound And Vision

Jack’s Music Shoppe exterior – photo courtesy of Sound And Vision

Right across from Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, you might see another storefront that once appeared in another Kevin Smith film. Jack’s Music Shoppe, a location featured briefly in Smith’s Chasing Amy, is a one-stop shop for all aspects of music.

I’ve gone to Jack’s for a number of years now. I always consider it a treat to visit there, and it’s great that a music store has such a prominent presence in a thriving downtown neighborhood.

Jack’s has it all. Vinyl, CD’s, DVD’s, and even sells musical instruments. Their selection of both new and used music is very thorough and fairly priced. While Jack’s is a great place to indulge in everything music, I’m not writing this blog post to solely praise the store’s vinyl selection or anything like that. Jack’s is a rare breed of quality music shops that are a prominent fixture in the community.

Anyone can acquire music over the Internet. Point, click, and in some cases, actually pay for the music to be downloaded directly to your device’s memory. Jack’s is one of those few places in the world that decide to say “NO” to the digital age and they do so with class. There’s just something different and better about purchasing a physical copy of your favorite music and taking it home with you.

Jack's interior facing the front entrance - Photo courtesy of The Lavender Luxury

Jack’s interior facing the front entrance – Photo courtesy of The Lavender Luxury

For a budding vinyl collector, Jack’s proves an excellent place to acquire a few staples you’d need as a base for your collection. They have a great selection of old, used records in the back where you can find some classic albums for less than even 5$. I acquired many a Zeppelin and Springsteen albums there when I began collecting.

From there, I moved to the front of the store where they featured all the new vinyl records. I bought a good chunk of many of my modern albums from those racks. Amongst those records, you won’t find the watered-down, substance-less pop and dance music that you’d find at the Urban Outfitters’ vinyl selection down the street. Jack’s is a great shop dedicated to real music and spreading it to the customers.

** OUT OF STATE POST ** Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Uniondale, NY

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Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum exterior – photo from Islanders Point Blank

Now many people would expect a guy that blogs about how great New Jersey is to be amongst the most rabid of Devils fans. Instead of an article about a place on Long Island, perhaps I would be writing something about the Prudential Center. While I probably will write something on Prudential Center and its role in Jersey culture later on, I wanted to make sure I wrote something about one hockey arena that I truly love beyond all the rest.

Coliseum interior during a New York Islanders game - Image taken from Islanders Point Blank

Coliseum interior during a New York Islanders game – Image taken from Islanders Point Blank

Indeed, I am not a New Jersey Devils fan. I didn’t get into sports until later in my teens, and as a result, I did not grow up with any particular teams like my father did. If my father had it his way, I’d be a fan of every single Philadelphia team. If my friends had it their way, I would be wearing Devils or Rangers jerseys. Thankfully, when I decided I would be a hockey fan and follow the NHL, I had the luxury of selecting a team outside of any external influences.

It all began when my good buddy Mitch (see the post about his workplace here) and I became friends. At the time, I had a budding interest in hockey but hadn’t selected a team to call my own just yet. I was originally torn between the Devils or the Bruins. Bailed on the Bruins because I wouldn’t be able to go to many home games and I didn’t choose the Devils because I didn’t feel like I connected with them as a franchise. Instead, my friend Mitch, who is originally from Long Island and a lifelong New York Islanders fan, was one of the first people who really talked to me about the sport. I learned most of my basic hockey knowledge from him and he happened to reference the Islanders a lot to help me understand.

I quickly began doing my homework on Islanders history and almost instantly felt a strange, indescribable connection to the team. While the Islanders are a very regional team with most of their fans hailing from Long Island, I did not have a geographical connection to the franchise. With the exception of Mitch, most of my friends are Rangers and Devils fans. However, something inside me told me to instinctively hate the Rangers and I already had a natural apathy toward the Devils. Thus, my Islanders fandom began.

I remember my first game at Nassau Coliseum. Mitch and I decided to spontaneously purchase tickets for an Islanders home game against the Buffalo Sabres and thankfully the Islanders won at my first home game. This was the first time I set foot inside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. While some consider it a dump, others consider it home, I consider it something else entirely.

From the get-go, you can tell the Coliseum has had better years. Compared to a modern facility like the Devils’ Prudential Center, this place is ancient history. It just looks old, but not old in a decrepit way. It looks old in a respectful, classic fashion, at least in my opinion.

I feel Nassau Coliseum is a rare symbol of classic, old-time hockey that has survived into the 2010s. Many great, old NHL arenas have either been vacated by the league or demolished to have a new facility built to house the team in its stead. The Islanders are one of the teams that never had to relocate over the decades. They stayed in their old-time hockey facility and they continued to bring a wealth of tradition along with them. This building remains as it was when the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships in the early 1980s. I’ve got to tell you, just being and Islanders fan and looking up at the rafters and seeing all the banners and retired number hanging from the rafters, you can almost picture yourself jumping up and down in one of the seats as Bob Nystrom scored that overtime goal 1980 to claim the first Stanley Cup of the Islanders Dynasty. Nassau Coliseum is one of the last original arenas to have housed true hockey greatness.

Bob Nystrom just after he scored the overtime goal that won the Islanders their first Stanley Cup championship and began a legendary sports dynasty.

Bob Nystrom just after he scored the overtime goal that won the Islanders their first Stanley Cup championship and began a legendary sports dynasty. – Image taken from Newsday

While the Islanders have certainly faced dark eras in franchise history, each era did have players that made the games exciting. The original lineup featured storied Islanders alumni such as Eddie Westfall and JP Parise. The pre-Dynasty era began introducing the pieces needed to create the perfect team such as Potvin, Gillies, Trottier, Bossy, Nystrom, and Smith (the 6 names and numbers hanging from the rafters). Later on, the team saw some dark periods as the once-mighty franchise began a decline. Still, players like Pat LaFontaine and Ziggy Palffy added excitement and gave the fans someone to really cheer for.

This season, unfortunately, is the last season this old-time hockey powerhouse will host an NHL franchise. The Islanders will be moving to the more modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season. Thankfully, this current season is not a dark one for fans to leave with a sour taste in their mouths over. The team has seen tons of success this year. Captain John Tavares leading the league in points, goaltender Jaroslav Halak has already set two single-season franchise records, newly-acquired defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have revitalized the team’s defense, and we’ve seen plenty memorable moments along the way during the venue’s final NHL season.

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, while the time you and I have had together has been short, it has been very sweet. Thank you for housing a multitude of great hockey players and for being a place I could visit and feel instantly at home. Perhaps, the old Coliseum Magic will return this season and grant the Islanders one more Stanley Cup Championship to celebrate as the franchise says a bittersweet goodbye and moves westward.

Asbury Lanes: More than Just a Bowling Alley

Image taken from Asbury Park Sun

Image taken from Asbury Park Sun

Asbury Lanes certainly sounds like a bowling alley, doesn’t it? Well, it is a bowling alley, but it is also so much more than that. In the past few years Asbury Lanes has also emerged as a major national venue in the underground music scene.

Image taken from Favorite Sights and Sounds

I am the Avalanche live at the Lanes. Image taken from Favorite Sights and Sounds

Attending a show at the Lanes is a unique experience, especially when one visits for the first time. The center lanes are replaced with a stage while artists set up their merch stands right near the front door. The cooks fire up the grill that offers a surprisingly wide variety of food and the bartenders prepare for the 21+ crowd to head their way as soon as the doors open. In a matter of hours, the Lanes becomes something entirely different than its original purpose.

Asbury Lanes bar

Asbury Lanes bar

I first attended a Lanes show last year to see Into it Over it’s headlining tour. Due to how intimately close the stage is to the audience, it’s not uncommon to find your favorite artists hanging around the venue as if they were another face in the crowd. I had the chance to meet Evan (Into it Over it) outside the venue before his show went on. We talked about the area (Evan being a New Jersey native) and other things like that year’s then-upcoming Skate and Surf Festival. I even got to show him the tattoo on my arm of Into it Over it’s first album cover and he showed me that he had the same tattoo on his wrist. It was a really awesome experience getting to connect with my favorite artist like that.

Evan Weiss of Into it Over it live at Asbury Lanes. Image taken from Speakimge

Evan Weiss of Into it Over it live at Asbury Lanes. Image taken from Speakimge

The show began with fantastic performances from support acts like A Great Big Pile of Leaves and The World is a Beautiful Place. During these acts, I started exploring other areas of the lanes and realized how using a bowling alley for shows provides a really great venue dynamic. The kitchen and the bar were both in the back of the venue and largely separated from the rest of the place. I ordered a classic New Jersey pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich and bought a couple beers without any crowd interference. The Lanes allows both rabid fans and casual listeners the space they need to do their thing.

Due to the Lanes small size, I also had the chance to fight my way to the front of the crowd when Into it Over it took the stage to close out the night. I remember Evan placed the power strip for his pedal board down in front of the monitors, looked at me, and said “Guard this with your life”. Safe to say, I complied.

The show ended following Into it Over it’s set. Everyone piled out to the small parking lot outside the venue and went back to their respective lives. Certainly, I can say that attending the show at the Lanes was the best musical experience of my life. Due to me splitting time in various parts of the state, I’m not always around the Asbury Park area to catch a show. Next time I’m in the area, I’m definitely going to stop back there and catch another show.

10th Street Live: Where New Beer and New Music Collide

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(Image taken from 10th Street Live Website)

Just off Kenilworth Boulevard, you’ll find a street between 11th and 9th Street aptly named 10th Street. On this street, sandwiched between suburban homes and a small industrial complex, you’ll find a bar called 10th Street Live. Like beer? Like craft beers you probably won’t find at many other bars? Like live music? This place has all of it.

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(Image taken from NJ.Gov)

Back in high school and early into my college career, I played in an indie-rock band that frequently played 10th Street Live after it opened. At the time, the place was a brand new establishment. Due to some guys in the music scene working there, we were offered plenty of slots on various nights.

Much like Crossroads, this place is one of those staples in the Central Jersey music scene. Almost any band that’s played Crossroads has also played at 10th Street Live. While both provide a place for local artists to play their hearts out on stage, they are both very different places.

Crossroad’s alcohol selection caters much more to the casual drinker, as they offer a wide variety of beer ranging from the common to a few not-so-common along with their distinctive menu that offers a taste of New Orleans-style dishes. 10th Street Live offers an in-depth selection of craft beers paired with an excellent menu that caters to a broader market.

Walking in to 10th Street Live, you’ll find a dimly lit venue with modest bar décor that features a large stage against the back wall. Though the lights may be dim, they create a more intimate atmosphere that fosters a friendly social environment. I noticed that even those who came alone found conversation with others by the end of the night.

10th Street Live’s food is also seriously good. I highly recommend their French fries, as they taste fresh and carefully prepared. They do not taste like someone dumped a plastic bag into a deep fryer. Additionally, their menu of unique sandwich combinations is something to be explored as well.

Along with unique food items, the bar also features a wide variety of beers that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the area. Every time I’ve been there, the drink selections have changed, which is always a treat for craft beer aficionados. Not to mention, the bartenders are also very friendly, personable people and are willing to explain the new selections to patrons at any given moment.

This venue, however, is more than just a bar with craft beers and good food. 10th Street Live plays a large role in perpetuating the thriving Union County indie music scene, and has now been doing so for years. The last time I played there with my old band was about four years ago. When I visited there again this past month, it felt as if the place never changed. The crowd was full of positive energy, the people were just as friendly, and the music was just as good, if not better. There is a scene erupting in this region where people are attending shows just for the sake of attending them to hear excellent musicians play quality music. For a great late night entertainment experience that differs from the rest, mark this place on your list of places to go.

10th Street Live website

10th Street Live Facebook Page

Calabrese’s Barber Shop: Where Classic Style Meets Quality Craftsmanship

cbbs(Photo Courtesy of Yelp!.)

Situated amidst Keyport, New Jersey’s Front Street Neighborhood, amongst all the antique shops, tattoo parlors, and eateries, lies Calabrese’s Barber Shop – a modern establishment with a true, classic atmosphere that stands out amongst other places where people simply go for a haircut.

Once opening the door, first-time patrons may feel the impression they’ve just stepped back in time. The old time country music playing on the radio, classic-style barber chairs, the antique cash register, and a display case featuring a mini museum of vintage and antique barbering products all contribute to Calabrese’s Barber Shop’s authentic and timeless atmosphere that many other shops try to replicate and rarely succeed.

I first visited the shop about two years ago when my friend Mitch introduced the place to me. At the time, he had aspirations to become a barber himself and was learning tricks of the trade from shop owner, Chris Calabrese. Fast forward two years later, and now Mitch is a licensed barber giving excellent haircuts at Calabrese’s Barber Shop.

Some might ask, beyond the shop’s design points, why is it a unique place worth visiting? Well, from my personal experiences there, I’ll explain.

As I started frequenting the place more often, I realized Calabrese’s Barber Shop is not just a place where people just sit silently while getting their haircut and leave. The reason this place is a true classic barber shop is due to the fact that it also holds a strong community presence. It is not uncommon for many people in the community to pop open the shop’s door just to say hello. The barbers and regular patrons are very friendly people that create a welcoming environment for any first-time customer.

Now, there’s one aspect I haven’t quite touched on just yet: the actual haircuts. The three barbers there: Chris, Ben, and Mitch are all professionally licensed barbers with a lot of experience under their belts, so any apprehensive customer can leave their pre-haircut anxiety at the door. Customers can ask for a variety of both classic and modern cuts and walk away more than satisfied with the outcome.

The shop also carries a selection of excellent hair products, mostly manufactured by Layrite and Asbury Park, NJ-based company Shear Revival. These are the products they will use to style your hair, which you can purchase yourself to get the same style at home.

To sum this all up, Calabrese’s Barber Shop is, in my opinion, the best barber shop in the area. Friendly, highly-skilled barbers put all their effort into giving customers the best experience possible. For a real authentic barber shop, look no further than here.

Calabrese’s Barber Shop Facebook Page

Shear Revival Website (subject of future blog post!)