May 102012

Like a Hurricane

I’ve got a terrible sense of geography. If I haven’t been to a place—and even this isn’t a sure thing—there’s a good chance I don’t know much about where it is in relation to other places. Two of my interests have given me at least some awareness of places around the globe. Baseball has made me conscious of the spring training locations of major league baseball teams in Florida and Arizona as well as minor league towns. Songs can also give me a sense of place. As with baseball’s spring training outposts, off-the-beaten track locations noted in songs I like sometimes become my primary (or even sole) association with that location.

I had to drive about 70 miles north of my house today for work, to the town pictured above. I don’t think I passed this building, but I couldn’t get a particular song out of my head: Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” about Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, who was imprisoned in what was then called Rahway State Prison. Prior to doing business up there, the ONLY associations I have with Rahway, New Jersey involve that prison, both through the Dylan song and the old TV documentary Scared Straight. I don’t care how much business I will ever do in Rahway the song “Hurricane” will always be the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the town’s name.

Is there a song you associate with a specific town you’ve actually been to above all other associations you might have with that town?


  17 Responses to “Rockin’ Geography”

  1. tonyola

    In 1985-1986, I spent several months doing environmental work in the Asbury Park, Long Branch, and Redbank areas of northeastern coastal New Jersey and I got to know the region very well, including innumerable runs up to Newark, Edison, and even into New York City. I can’t help but think of Springsteen songs when I remember those places.

  2. ladymisskirroyale

    I can’t drive the I5 in NorCal without thinking about being “stuck in Lodi again.”

  3. The Fountains of Wayne song Laser Show reminds me of Norwalk CT (Mrs cdm’s hometown) because they list a bunch of towns on the same Metro North line as Norwalk (Bridgeport, Westport, Darian). It’s the same train line that is in the background of the stage of SNL during the musical guest segment (as has been pointed out to me on several occasions).

  4. This song by Boston punks Sorry always makes me think of my time living in that city (though I usually have their considerably more muscular 2nd album re-recording, which isn’t on YouTube, in mind). Actually, thinking of that time and place is usually what brings the song to mind, as it’s unlikely I ever just happen to hear it without putting it on myself:

  5. trigmogigmo

    The last two songs that close the first Dire Straits album — “Wild West End” and “Lions”, great songs — put me in the mind of London like nothing else.

  6. ladymisskirroyale

    Ah, Norwalk. We lived in Westport for a while and used to go to South Norwalk for eats (great bar/pub with pressed tin ceiling and boxing photos – can’t recall the name). Mr. Royale did his student teaching in Norwalk and dj’d at Barcelona in SoNo. Maybe we ran into you at Stu Leonard’s?

  7. diskojoe

    I always think of “Fly Into The Mystery” by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers when I cross the Salem-Beverly Bridge, since the original version mentions Beverly:

  8. Jonathan’s got a number of those for me: “Rte. 128 when it’s cold outside”, and the like. Also, seeing college girls girlin’ it up on the streets of the Boston/Cambridge area always brings to mind, “Put down your cigarette/ And drop out of B.U.!”

  9. Stew Leonard’s is almost enough to make me want to move there.

  10. misterioso

    Mod, interesting your association of Rahway with “Hurricane” since Rahway isn’t actually mentioned by name in the lyrics. (Dylan does mention “Rahway prison” in his Bruce homage/pastiche/sendup “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” from the Wilburys’ record.) But whenever I have driven through or near Paterson I think of “Hurricane,” because “in Paterson that’s just the way things go…”

    And whenever I drive past the exit for Mahwah I of course think of George Harrison’s stirring tribute to it on All Things Must Pass.

  11. diskojoe

    Also, everytime I go to a Stop & Shop, I wonder if those Brits who put “Roadrunner” on the UK chart or covered it (like the Sex Pistols) ever knew what it is.

  12. I was thinking that was the case – that it wasn’t mentioned in the song. My uncle and grandfather were into boxing when I was a kid. Somehow I became aware of the name of the prison.

  13. South Jersey started getting Stop & Shops maybe 10 years ago. I’d never seen one before that time.

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    It was enough for us to make us move away.

  15. Zevon’s “Desperados Under the Eaves” always reminds me of the couple of nights I spent at a $50/nt motel under the flight path to LAX. Faded orange stucco, dirty pool and shady shit going on in the courtyard, the AC unit fighting a losing battle with the heat, brown palm trees and a liquor store IN the reception area. It wasn’t the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel but Zevon must have dried out there at least once.

  16. Happiness Stan

    I think we could imagine what they were like – I’ve just looked at them on Wikipedia and they don’t seem very far removed from how I’d thought they would be. We had supermarkets over here although it would be a few years before we started getting great big out of town ones.

    I can still remember the excitement of hearing that song (particularly the faster one from the Modern Lovers album, it was a double A side with the slower one on the other side) on the top twenty countdown on Sunday night – I don’t think it was on the general Radio One playlist, so that was the only chance to hear it – in amongst all the other dross in the chart at that time.

  17. Happiness Stan

    I was in the process of breaking up with the Laura Nyro fan I wrote about not long ago and decided to just take off for a week and just drive around until the money ran out. I ended up for the first time in Blackpool and stayed the night in a bed and breakfast where I was the only guest. The landlady insisted on opening the bar, and played “Perfect” by Fairground Attraction, which had just come out, over and over and over again. I hadn’t thought much of it before that evening, but for me that song is now forever associated with Blackpool.

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