Growing Up Jersey: Musicians

Words of wisdom from Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Frankie Valli, Dionne Warwick and more.

Bruce Springsteen

Musician, songwriter
Born: Long Branch (1949)
Raised: Freehold

Bruce Springsteen in concert.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

“Our House was old and soon to be noticeably decrepit. One kerosene stove in the living room was all we had to heat the whole place. Upstairs, where my family slept, you woke on winter mornings with your breath visible. One of my earliest childhood memories is the smell of kerosene and my grandfather standing there filling the spout in the rear of the stove. All of our cooking was done on a coal stove in the kitchen; as a child I’d shoot my water gun at its hot iron surface and watch the steam rise. We’d haul the ashes out the back door to the ‘ash heap.’ Daily I’d return from playing in that pile of dust pale from gray coal ash.”—From Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

Patti Scialfa

Singer, songwriter
Born: Deal (1953)

Illustration by Raul Arias

“Senior year at Asbury Park High school—it’s springtime, you’re done with school really… Two of my girlfriends, Allison Prager and Robin Jefferies, and I would go straight to the art department, not to homeroom, and we’d say to our art teacher, ‘Give us a Magic Marker, we’re going to make a sign and hitchhike to New York.’ He was like, ‘Don’t tell me this! I can’t be any part of this!’ An hour later, there we were, side of the road, with a big piece of cardboard with the words NEW YORK written on it.”— NJM, October 2004, as told to Joe Bargmann

Jack Antonoff

Musician, songwriter, producer
Born Bergenfield (1984)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Silbert.

“My most vivid memory of growing up in New Jersey is feeling so safe when I’d come back from a trip to New York City. And I mean that not so literally. Safe to try ideas. Safe to dream. There’s something about New Jersey that made me feel safe to want big things growing up…. The real, lasting impression is my love for suburban culture. I call it the shadow of the city. It’s that culture that forces you to dream and want to get out. And it’s only when you get out that you realize it was all there to begin with.”—As told to Denise Quan, fall 2017

Patti Smith

Musician, songwriter, poet, author
Born: Chicago, Illinois (1946)
Raised: Pitman, Deptford

Photo by Roberto Serra

“I drew, I danced, and I wrote poems. I was not gifted but I was imaginative and my teachers encouraged me. When I won a competition sponsored by the local Sherwin-Williams paint store, my work was displayed in the shopwindow and I had enough money to buy a wooden art box and a set of oils. I raided libraries and church bazaars for art books. It was possible then to find beautiful volumes for next to nothing and I happily dwelt in the world of Modigliani, Dubuffet, Picasso, Fra Angelico, and Albert Ryder.”—From Just Kids by Patti Smith. Copyright 2010 Patti Smith. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Dionne Warwick

Born East Orange (1940)

Illustration by Raul Arias

“For me, Sterling Street [in East Orange] was like living within the United Nations—every race, creed and color lived on that street. We all walked to school together and had sleepovers at everybody’s homes. We did everything normal children did at that time: We rode bicycles, skated. We played tennis and baseball and kickball and dodge ball—all the ballgames you could play. That was at Oval Park in East Orange, which is still there. I was nothing special as an athlete, then or later, at East Orange High School.

“When I was growing up, music was always around me—my mother was a member of the Drinkard Singers, a gospel group that my aunts and uncles were also in; she had seven brothers and sisters. My father didn’t have a group; he sang in the church like everybody else. There was always gospel music in the house.”—NJM, December 2010, as told to Tammy La Gorce

Joe Walsh

Musician, songwriter
Born: Wichita, Kansas (1947)
Teen years: Montclair

Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella

“There were lots of Italians, there were black people, there were Jewish people; we all got along great. The only fights were us against another high school because they were messing with our cheerleaders at a football game, and we were state champs.”—NJM, July 2012, as told to Melinda Newman

Max Weinberg

Drummer (The E Street Band)
Born: Newark (1951)

Photo courtesy of Joseph Marzullo/

“When I met Bruce Springsteen in August of 1974, he asked me where I was from. Back then, if you were a musician and you lived close to New York and you were asked where you were from, most guys said, ‘New York.’ I think New York was the response Bruce received from the 60 or so drummers who auditioned for the E Street Band. But I told Bruce I was from New Jersey, and he had a smile on his face and quietly said, ‘That’s good.’ It was always about New Jersey for me, and the same goes for our band. We’re a Jersey band. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band happened in New Jersey.”

On cutting his musical teeth in New Jersey: “It seemed as though you couldn’t go 150 yards without hitting another club on Route 35 all the way from the Driscoll bridge in Sayreville to Sea Girt. As a young musician during the ’60s, I had plenty of places to hone my craft. There was the Mustang Lounge, the Captain’s Garter and the Thunderbird Lounge, to name a few…. Back in those days, you were an athlete or you were in a rock ’n’ roll band. I was happy to be in a rock ’n’ roll band.” —As told to Ed Condran, fall 2017

Frankie Valli

Born Newark (1934)
Given Name: Francis Stephen Castelluccio

Photo by John Russo

On the neighborhood mobsters: “These guys wore the best clothes I ever saw in my life…. I used to dream about wearing a suit like that. All their shirts were handmade.”

On why he didn’t follow their path: “I never wanted to be owned by anybody. And I’m saying the truth—some of my closest friends were found in the trunks of cars.”—NJM, December 2007, as told to Melinda Newman

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