New Jersey’s search for a state song takes a bizarre twist

A vinyl single of Red Mascara's "I'm From New Jersey," as recorded by the Chordblenders.

A vinyl single of Red Mascara’s “I’m From New Jersey,” as recorded by the Chordblenders.

It’s a solution only a politician would love.

New Jersey doesn’t have a state song. It is, in fact, the only state without one. But state legislators haven’t been able to settle on one. Now, reportedly, they want to have five.

In other words, instead of having just one song that’s officially recognized but of no particular interest to the general public, they want to have five, and make — well, not everybody, but at least the writers of those five songs — happy.

Actually, this all seems to be about making one guy happy: 92-year-old Phillipsburg resident Red Mascara, who has been trying for 50 years or so to get his song, “I’m From New Jersey,” recognized as the state song. A documentary about his campaign to make the song the state song is in the works. (For an excerpt from the song, go to the 2:50 mark in this video):

Mascara seems like a sincere, likable guy. The problem is, the song isn’t that great. It sounds more like a 1950s high school pep-rally anthem than anything else: “I’m from New Jersey and I’m proud about it, I love the Garden State/I’m from New Jersey, and I want to shout it, I think it’s simply great.”

Thus, the need for the other songs. So, according to a bill that has actually been written and proposed by legislators in our state, who we are paying to do such monumental things, “I’m From New Jersey” would be the state song, while “New Jersey My Home” by Patrick Finley, would be the state anthem; “In New Jersey,” with music by Terre McPheeters and lyrics inspired by a group of Bridgewater fourth-graders, would be the state children’s song; “New Jersey, U.S.A,” by Nelson Trout, would be the state ballad; and “Be Proud to be in New Jersey,” by Mark and Ellen Winter, would by the state popular song.

(This kind of thing isn’t exactly unprecedented. Massachusetts doesn’t just have a state anthem, but also a state folk song, a state ceremonial march, a state patriotic song, a state glee club song and a state polka.)

Here are videos for two of the other proposed honorees. I think you’ll be able to figure out, pretty quickly, why there’s no groundswell of support for any particular one.

So, here’s my suggestion. Make Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl” (popularized by Bruce Springsteen) the state song. Lots of people already know and love it. Yes, it would be an unconventional choice, given that most state songs are bland, cheerful anthems, but we’re an unconventional state, right?

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scott sheldon September 28, 2014 - 3:24 pm

Jay, kudos for writing exactly what I thought when I read the lyrics to the five proposed state songs in the morning paper: None of them, especially the treacly, badly-rhymed Red Mascara song, could be sung without cringing. Although I can’t imagine “got no time for the corner boys” being recited in public-school classrooms, I have to think that a competition, attracting talented professional songwriters, would produce something subtle, powerful, and inspiring.


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