A surrealistic ballad about a literally apocalyptic traffic jam? You know it has to be set in New Jersey. “Transit,” from singer-songwriter Richard Shindell’s 2000 album “Somewhere Near Paterson,” is a rush hour epic set on the New Jersey highway system.
In the opening verse, when Shindell calls the merge from the Turnpike “murder” and says the drivers were “touchy as hell,” you just know this won’t end well. “Somewhere near Paterson, everything slowed to a crawl,” he sings, even more ominously.
Everyone is “bobbing and weaving, flashing their highbeams/Flipping the bird, screaming obscenities.” And in some of mass insanity, the drivers caught in the traffic jam all miss their exits and end up plunging into the Delaware Water Gap. “Was it some kind of vortex?” Shindell asks.
But then his attention shifts, back to the nun who was casually mentioned changing a tire in the second verse. She didn’t get back on the Highway to Hell, but made her way to a state penitentiary, where she sang with her choir (“With the interstate whining way off in the distance”).
This is as beatific as scene as the earlier portion of the song was horrifying. “They poured out their their souls … they poured out their hopes for what’s left of eternity,” Shindell sings, with the music intensifying.
And there you have it: Jersey heaven and Jersey hell, both vividly depicted in the course of a six-minute song.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.