N.J. Weighs Official State Song

The Associated Press
Friday, August 24, 2007; 3:37 AM

TRENTON, N.J. -- For 47 years, Red Mascara has dreamed of his song "I'm from New Jersey" becoming the state's official song. He's repeatedly come painstakingly close.

The song has received legislative approval seven times, but the bills have never made it into law, leaving New Jersey the only state without an official ditty.

Now 85, Mascara _ a frequent presence at the New Jersey Statehouse, where he lobbies lawmakers and doles out candy to make friends _ is worried his dream is slipping away.

"Please do it while I'm living," Mascara said. "Let me experience the pleasure."

Despite Mascara's persistence, a state senator has proposed New Jersey adopt the Bon Jovi hit "Who Says You Can't Go Home" as its official song. Jon Bon Jovi is from Sayreville.

"That song, it brings tears to my eyes," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat. "The guy's been all around the world and he picks New Jersey to hang his hat."

The Garden State is not without its symbols.

The violet is the state flower, the eastern goldfinch the state bird. The red oak is the state tree. New Jersey even has a state shell _ the knobbed whelk.

But while Colorado celebrates "Rocky Mountain High," Georgia venerates "Georgia On My Mind" and "On Wisconsin" rings through America's Dairyland, New Jersey has failed to adopt a song, despite bids to do so dating to 1794, when then-Gov. Richard Howell wrote a song used by troops heading off to help quell the Whiskey Rebellion.

Mascara's melody passed the Assembly in 1966, 1968, 1971 and 1980. It cleared the Senate in 1982. It passed both chambers in 1972 and 1979, but wasn't signed into law, with two governors declaring it simply was not popular enough with New Jersey residents.

"It's made me feel bad," Mascara said of his near-misses.

To him, Bon Jovi's song doesn't cut it. It never mentions New Jersey.

"If you have a song about New Jersey, you should at least say `I'm from New Jersey and I'm proud about it,'" he said, referencing the opening line of his song, which features barbershop-style vocals backed by marching band music.

But Lesniak said Bon Jovi's song says it all with lyrics such as, "These are my streets, the only life I've ever known, who says you can't go home."

"I don't think it's that bad of an idea (to have a Bon Jovi state song), no disrespect to Bruce," Lesniak said.

Bruce, of course, is Freehold native Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey's other rock icon. In 1980, the Assembly approved making Springsteen's "Born to Run" the state's unofficial rock theme, but the Senate never followed.

While "Born to Run" is considered a rock classic and Lesniak is a Springsteen fan, he pointed to lyrics such as, "It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap. We gotta get out while we're young."

"That's not exactly fitting for a state song, you know," Lesniak said.

Adopting Bon Jovi's musings about returning home after a life on the road would be a great way to promote the state, Lesniak said. The tune has already been used in television ads promoting New Jersey tourism.

Others say a song may not be the way to do it.

"It's a nice thing (a state song), but it's certainly not at the top of my legislative agenda," said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat.

Mascara, a chemical plant retiree, wrote his song in 1960 after then-Gov. Robert Meyner mentioned he was disappointed New Jersey lacked a song. Both men were from Phillipsburg, and Mascara said they knew each other.

"If the governor were walking down the aisle at a convention, marching down the street in a parade or making his entrance into a hall, it would be appropriate if the name of the song being played were `I'm from New Jersey'" said Mascara, whose real first name is Joseph, though he goes by the nickname stemming from his former hair color.

Lesniak isn't dismissing Mascara's song. In fact, he remains a co-sponsor of legislation to make it the official state anthem, but said Bon Jovi's song is now more fitting.

"Nice guy, great guy," Lesniak said of Mascara, before adding with a chuckle, "but he doesn't have a number one hit."


On the Net:

Red Mascara's Web site: http://www.njstatesong.com

Bon Jovi's Web site: http://www7.islandrecords.com/bonjovi/home.las

New Jersey Legislature: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/

© 2007 The Associated Press