Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Great Garden State

Happy Sunday y'all! (It is still Sunday, right? ... oh, but just barely...)

I decided a bit last minute to attend the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony tonight. I had been hemming and hawing about going but ultimately, heck ... Jon Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny at the same place ... I couldn't possibly resist.

Also, I love the venue - the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Its truly a world-class facility ... unfortunately, like the Prudential Center a few blocks away, its struggling a bit to survive in a bad economy, in a city with some serious challenges and in the shadow of the greatest city in the universe.

I must say, though, for what is seemingly a small organization (both in terms of dollars and staff), the Hall of Fame people put on a nice event (albeit a bit on the long side, clocking in at about 3 hours.) As a NYer though, I learned a whole lot more about New Jersey tonight ... for instance, did you know these three things are made in the great Garden State ... M&Ms, Les Paul Guitars and the game Monopoly?!

I knew the music would be fantastic ... they had LaBamba and the Hubcaps, with a couple of Asbury Jukes thrown in, as the "house band" for the evening. They started off the event with Gary U.S. Bonds doing a rip-roaring performance of his 1960s hit "New Orleans" .. you gotta know that Jonny must have been dancing in the back to that one!

The evening was full of surprises for me as very little had actually been announced. Hosting the event was Avery Brooks who, after some opening words, introduced a great video tribute to New Jersey, set to ... of course ... "Who Says You Can't Go Home." It was fabulous actually.

And the hits just kept coming -- author Toni Morrison was there to induct Paul Robeson, Carol Higgins Clark inducted F. Scott Fitzgerald (everyone knows him for "The Great Gatsby", but did you know that he wrote the short story that was made into the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?), legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin was there to induct Carl Sagan (La Bamba's choice to play "Fly Me to the Moon" while Buzz took the stage was CLASSIC!), former NYC Mayor David Dinkins was on hand to speak about inductee Althea Gibson and ... I just about fell out of my chair when Yankee great Yogi Berra came out to give his thoughts on his friend and inductee Phil Rizzuto.

But, by far the biggest applause of the evening was for ... wait ... no, not Jon (though there was no shortage of screams and cheers) ... but for four-star General David Petraeus, current Commander of U.S. Central Command. And damn, the man is IMPRESSIVE ... and well-spoken. Furthermore, I have no idea how he doesn't lean one way considering all the ribbons he has on his uniform! Anyway, he was there to talk about Lt. Brian Brennan, a New Jersey soldier who was horrifically injured while in Afghanistan who has made nothing short of a miraculous recovery. It was maybe the highlight of the evening and I don't think I was the only one with tears in my eyes. Regardless of your politics and thoughts on the war, there are men and women who fight and die for our country everyday.

After that very poignant and powerful presentation, Southside Johnny came out and totally rocked the house with his classic "I Don't Want to Go Home." After a few other honorees and a video of great actors from New Jersey (you'd be surprised!!!), the moment had come for Jon's induction.

Governor Corzine introduced Jon with some extremely nice comments about not only Jon's commitment to New Jersey, but his values as a human being. I always laugh when I hear or see Governor Corzine -- he used to call my old office (when he was still heading up Goldman Sachs) and I'd always give him the run-around (at my boss's request, of course) when he wanted to talk to them ... LOL. And now he's the frickin' Gonvernor of New Jersey. Anway ....

So, Jon came out and made some comments. He was actually quite funny and the longer he spoke, I swear the more his "Joisey" voice came out. He, of course, was charming and gracious just as we'd expect him to be.

You can tell his love for New Jersey when he speaks about it ... he said that he had just been walking around Magazine Street in New Orleans and in some little shop, this woman behind the counter (who after a few minutes recognized him) yelled out "Hey. Jersey!" As Jon joked ... you don't hear that about any place else ... can you imagine someone saying "hey! Connectictut .... or yo! Vermont ... or rock on (complete with hand gesture!) - New Hampshire?!" It was just absolutely hysterical the way he said it.

[So, I believe my friend JerzyJovi got the whole acceptance speech on video ... maybe if I'm really nice, she'll let me post it! ;-) ]

The evening closed with two tunes from Southside ... first "This Time Its for Real" (which you may recognize from the fan club show in Sayreville) and then SSJ's signature show ending "We're Having a Party" ... which Jon and the rest of the inductees and their families joined in on stage. Jon looked really relaxed (or maybe he's just exhausted from last night and running on fumes.) I did wonder if anyone was there with him as he came back out on stage still holding his award. He set it down on the front of the stage and just continued singing. LOL

Well, Jon. Congratulations on your induction. You not only represent New Jersey well, but serve as a great role model for people all over the world.

P.S. Oh, I forgot ... and there was this great moment when they brought Yogi out at the end and Jon totally bowed down to him. Well, Jon Bon Jovi might not like baseball as much as football, but he knows a true superstar when he sees one!