Asbury Park can claim Bruce Springsteen, and let Hackensack and Jersey City duke it out over Frank Sinatra. But Red Bank, N.J., is all about Count Basie for music . . . and Kevin Smith for all the rest.
"They come for Kevin," says owner Jack Anderson, whose Jack's Music Shoppe appeared in Smith's movie "Chasing Amy." "Not so much for Bruce, but definitely for Kevin." (As for Basie, who was born here, the town offers an annual free jazz and blues summer festival and a theater is named after the legendary musician.)
Director Kevin Smith poses with his comic alter-ego at his Red Bank store.
(Ming Chen For The Washington Post)
Though raised in nearby Highlands and now settled in Los Angeles, the 34-year-old screenwriter and director -- whose films include the 1994 indie flick "Clerks," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma" and this year's "Jersey Girl" -- spent 10 years living in the close quarters of Red Bank, a speck less than 15 miles from the central Jersey coast and about 3 1/2 hours by car from D.C. He also owns a comic book store on the main drag, named after his tight-lipped alter ego, Silent Bob (full shop name: Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash). His production company, View Askew, is stationed here. And the movie-shooting locales -- plus memories -- of his early films are as embedded in the landscape as the slow-moving Navesink River and the power-washed brick buildings of downtown.
"Most people's view of New Jersey is what they see when they fly into Newark -- the oil refineries, the turnpike, the factories. But when they come here, they say, 'My God, this doesn't look like New Jersey. It's so cute,' " says Smith. "There's a reason we call it the Garden State, and this town is fully representational of that."
Perhaps that's why Smith doesn't mind when he has to return home, as he did on a recent July weekend for a family affair -- and to play tour guide to a visiting reporter. The meeting place, of course, was Stash.
Unlike most comic book stores, this one is also part museum and part pilgrimage stop. Among the stacks of X-Men and Monkey Man is a veritable Smithsonian of Smith & Co. memorabilia. A mannequin of Silent Bob and his sidekick, Jay (aka Bluntman and Chronic, or Smith and Jason Mewes), seated in their superhero-stoner mobile and dueling with laser swords, takes up a chunk of the back room. A giant Jesus statue gives two thumbs up. Glass cases display behind-the-movie-scenes souvenirs, including a "Dogma" script, Silent Bob's long, heavy black coat and candid Polaroids of Ben Affleck, who's starred in many of Smith's films.
But this is also a business, and so shill it does: You can buy "Clerks" T-shirts, "Jersey Girl" posters, "Chasing Amy" shot glasses, Silent Bob action figures. But even cooler than the molded-plastic dolls is real-life Walt Flanagan, who pops up in Smith's movies and mans the counter.
On this Monday, though, Smith is also working the floor -- straightening the merchandise, conferring with Walt, greeting customers -- before leaving the near-empty store for a drive and a bite in town, voice-over commentary included.
"I used to eat here all the time at the Broadway Grill. There was a mini-scandal when the Broadway Diner opened up down the street," Smith says, hogging most of the two-lane street with his rental SUV. "It's funny because neither one is on Broadway."
Smith commends the grill for its Great White Way theme (lots of posters and such) and well-prepared food, but he favors the '50s-themed diner because "Jersey diner food is different than any other diner food, except maybe Baltimore's."