"IF SOME OF THESE PLACE NAMES SEEM A BIT UNLIKELY,
there is a publication called Towns and Municipalities in New Jersey, published by the
New Jersey Highway Department. Like Casey Stengel said, "You could look it up.""
These are the entirety of the liner notes describing "Garden State Stomp" in Dave Van Ronk's 1985 album Going Back to Brooklyn.
Van Ronk (1963-2002), a New York City resident his entire life, was one of the central figures of the American Folk Music Revival in the 1960s, eventually earning the nickname "Mayor of MacDougal Street" for his relevance in the Greenwich Village scene and outspoken cultural activism. His music was deeply rooted in the blues and ushered in a new sound to folk music, and by 1985 had already released 14 albums ahead of Going Back to Brooklyn— a record featuring everything from masterful ragtime instrumentals, to gravely sea shanties, to truly sincere writing.
And yet, stuck right in the middle of the B side, is a tune unlike any other on the album. "Garden State Stomp" borrows the delicate guitar work from elsewhere on the record and pairs it with a raucous, raw, seemingly endless rambling list of place names in New Jersey. In three-and-a-half minutes, Van Ronk unloads eighty locations— and still has time for some relief between verses.
The album, and focal track, were introduced to us over the winter of 2020-2021 by a dear friend who always has a keen ear for the obscure and unusual. As Jerseyans from birth, it was both wildly amusing and struck a deep curiosity; dozens of these lyrical places were completely foreign to us and left us wondering if they even truly existed at all.
And so, we followed the liner notes and looked them up.