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Our feature writer Nick “NJ” Holden pays respect to Jersey icon 
James Gandolfini a.k. Tony Soprano
Governor Chris Christie called James Gandolfini, who died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 51, “a true Jersey guy”, and while the governor has made some questionable statements and decisions as the head of the state, he really hit the nail on the head. Not only was Gandolfini a true New Jerseyan (born in Westwood, raised in Park Ridge, and graduate of Rutgers University), he took a murdering, lying, cheating, neurotic gangster named Tony Soprano and have him a soul on the HBO show The Sopranos. But he was much more than a gangster on television, for he was a true character actor capable of roles on Broadway and on the big screen.

James Gandolfini first came to prominence as a violent enforcer in True Romance, where he had a memorable (albeit brutal and bloody) encounter with Patricia Arquette. Given his size (6’1”), it would be easy to typecast him as the heavy. But his acting ability and charm won him a variety of roles: a kind-hearted Hollywood stuntman (Get Shorty opposite fellow NJ’er John Travolta), a gruff working-class stiff babysitting a spoiled ad exec (Surviving Christmas), and even the Mayor of New York (The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3). 
I remember watching Zero Dark Thirty in a packed AMC Theater at the Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall, totally immersed in the action, when about mid-way through the movie, Gandolfini pops up. The audience was stunned, whispering in hushed tones “It’s Tony Soprano!”, but stopped once he began speaking. Gone was the heavy bravado and Italian accent made famous every Sunday night and on-screen was a strict but open-minded CIA director inquiring about a compound that may or may not house the most wanted man on the face of the earth. A personal favorite of mine is his role as Woody Dumas, a tough DEA agent with a lisp and unfortunate habit of getting hit by cars in the little-seen horror/action/romance/comedy Perdita Durango, also known as Dance with the Devil from Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia. Acting alongside Rosie Perez and a then-unknown Javier Bardem, Gandolfini manages to steal every scene he’s in while keeping his tongue firmly in cheek among the madness.

James Gandolfini isn’t the only successful Jersey-born actor (Abbott and Costello, Ed Harris, Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson), but he was the first to fully embrace his roots as well as his fame and keep a balance on both. He rooted for the Scarlet Knights and would appear on the sidelines. He produced the documentaries Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq in which he interviewed 10 injured Iraq War veterans and Wartorn. He was also a fixture in the Tri-State area, appearing at dinners, lectures, and other public functions, all the while smiling and keeping his feet planted on the ground. And despite the credit that was showered upon Jersey Shore for revitalizing New Jersey, especially Seaside Heights, The Sopranos was really responsible for putting the Garden State back on the map, using locals in Kearny, Wayne, North Caldwell, and most notably Lodi (the strip club on the series Bada Bing! is actually Satin Dolls). Even after the show’s finale in 2007, fans from all parts of the globe can still see the actual shooting locations and other points of interest via The Sopranos Sites Tour (, an four-hour bus tour. 
So with a heavy heart, the Sexy Armpit and I bid James Gandolfini a fond farewell and extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and co-stars.

Jersey’s Own Soda

I read about Jersey’s Own Soda‘s in a magazine almost a year ago. Since then, my purpose in life has been to taste every flavor. Almost a year has passed and I totally forgot about trying to get a hold of a few bottles. They are only available in a short list of stores in Jersey, so not seeing them in a local 7-11, and not being bombarded with advertisements caused me to easily forget them.
Recently, I remembered to visit the company’s website so I placed an order. Of course, I had to order every flavor they had available. The flavor offering doesn’t consist of the typical fare like Cola, or Orange, nope, all the names are Jersey related. It’s a cool gimmick for myself, and the 16 other people who read this blog, dig obscure beverages, and actually revere this state for some reason. Unfortunately, I was disappointed because these are just bottles of soda with the Jersey’s Own sticker slapped onto them.
After ordering a complete set of flavors, I waited close to 2 months to receive the shipment. The owner explained that there was a glitch in their system or something along those lines. Whatever, it didn’t matter since I was really excited to sample some new sodas. I was under the impression that they might be something special or different than other brands on the shelves. I was definitely wrong, except for one of the flavors, which I’ll get to shortly.
My main gripe with Jersey’s Own Soda is that they are plain old run of the mill sodas. The latest trend in soft drinks is that healthier is in. Many of the companies are touting their use of cane sugar and other natural ingredients in their drinks because of how satanic high fructose corn syrup is. I hear it actually causes you to piss out of your nipples and poop out your nose. What are they thinking using high fructose corn syrup? Shit, they might as well be a frigging store brand like Dr. Thunder or Mountain Lightning.

Here’s a breakdown of the flavors, all imported from New Jersey, and infused with all natural toxins:
Passaic River Punch – the only flavor that impressed me. At first glance, you’ll notice why the name is humorous. Passaic River Punch is a murky green color, almost as if you were gulping down handfuls of water from the polluted river, which is home to many a mutated fish. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this punch, because aside from the random trip to Taco Bell for a cool Baja Blast, I rarely drink soda. And that’s the nearest comparison I have for you. From what I gather, Baja Blast is made up of pineapple and lime flavors and that’s the only guess I have as to what this bold and refreshing mystery flavor consists of.
Route 46 Root Beer – One of the better tasting entries in the collection. This brew was bordering on being too sweet and had subtle hints of Vanilla, just like many of the great Root Beers out there, but I wanted it to be creamier.
Jersey Devil-Berry – The 2nd original flavor of the bunch pays tribute to the Jersey cryptid. I don’t understand why it’s blue though. I would have preferred a blood red soda to rep J.D, wouldn’t you think? Maybe it was cheaper to buy the banned blue food coloring? They should have just used a knock off of Mountain Dew Code Red or even a generic Fruit Punch Soda. Better yet, an angry, devilish soda that tastes like the Fireball candies. But nooooo, that would have been too perfect, right? If you’re thinking this tasted like Pepsi Blue, don’t, because it doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as that crap. Consider this a teeth rotting melange of Blueberry Windex and Raspberry Ajax.
Bada-Bing Black Cherry – A fun fact: In the Sopranos, none of the dancers at Bada Bing were cherries. Regardless, Bada-Bing Black Cherry works ridiculously better as a fun play on words or as the answer to a puzzle on Wheel of Fortune than it does a soda. Unlike hanging out for a night at Satin Dolls, this soda was just medicore.
South Orange – It seems like the soda namers at Jersey’s Own Beverages gave up on the naming process by this point. The home of Seton Hall University also serves as an appropriate name for Orange soda, except this one is the runt of the litter. Not sure if they were trying to go for a tangerine vibe or even a tangelo, I have no clue. The orange flavor was weak and so inaccurate. You are better off grabbing a can of Shop-Rite brand Orange soda.
Jersey’s Own Soda has the cliche phrase that is synonomous with Jersey, “How You Doin’,” printed on the label. I think it’s cool that we’re such a marketable state that we’ve got our very own soda, but for a higher quality soft drink experience, I recommend Boylan’s. They have the popular vote for being Jersey’s best soda, hands down. They’ve been doing it since 1891! Check them out at Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a bottle of their renowned Creamy Red Birch Beer, it’s glorious.

New Jersey’s Great Pop Culture Moments Vol.23: Gene Simmons Comes to Old Bridge


I never thought the God of Thunder himself would grace Old Bridge, NJ with his presence. KISS sings about losing their minds in Detroit Rock City, and meeting girls in the Ladies Room, but apart from concerts, the hottest band in the world have not yet had an intimate encounter with the toxic waste capital of the world, until now.

After catching a glimpse of Gene’s sprawling mansion on A&E’s Gene Simmons Family Jewels, you’d never understand why he would want to leave the place, especially to fly to New Jersey!
GENE: “We’re going to the east coast”
SHANNON: “What’s it called Genie?”
GENE: “Old Bridge, New Jersey”
In the season 4 episode “Godfather Gene,” a friend of the Simmons family, Uncle Tony, asked Gene to be the Godfather of his grandchild. Being the nice, sweet Demon that he is, Gene accepts. When landing in Newark Liberty International airport, the first impression of the state is far from favorable. The industrial backdrop visible from the NJ Turnpike is not exactly an accurate example of how the rest of the state looks. In sum, NJ’s hellish compared to sunny California.
Aside from the areas of the state you’ll see when landing in Newark, there are actually plenty of beautiful towns, gated communities, and mansions here. Uncle Tony clearly lives in one of these ritzy areas. It’s a part of Old Bridge that I’ve never had the privilege of driving through before.

Uncle Tony welcomes Gene and Shannon with a “Welcome to New Joisey.” Here’s the thing about that: If you aren’t from New Jersey then you should be aware that NOBODY talks like that in this state. In fact, somehow, we NJ folks get blamed for the terrible offenses against the English language that New Yorkers and Staten Islanders have committed. I’ll admit, there’s certain idiosyncrasies in the speech of Jerseyites, but they aren’t as prevalent as the rest of the population has been made to believe.

The episode is chock full of terrible Jersey stereotypes, a Soprano’s-esque intro montage signalling their arrival in NJ, and too many bad Godfather impressions to count! It’s also worth noting that Uncle Tony is a not a good representation of males living in Jersey. Not all of us walk around the house pretending to be “Goodfellas” to our guests, and surprisingly, we’re all not living in the past.
Shannon Tweed left NJ with the idea that the women in the state are all backward and still living in “barefoot and pregnant days.” In the episode, the ladies of Uncle Tony’s family served the men, waiting on them dotingly until Shannon helped them turn the tables on the guys. Shannon baffled, said, “Why can’t them come out and get it themselves?” Shannon also stated that “The women’s movement hasn’t hit home there because it’s not welcome…no one opens the door for it.” Shannon, please, take it from a guy who knows first hand, the women here in Jersey are quite independent and you don’t want to mess with them! It’s a safe bet that the producers of the show urged everyone to play up the “old fashioned Italian” angle for the show, but they claim it’s “reality” right?

Tony’s 1st question: “Can you smell my meatballs?”
Residents of California, New York, and Florida are numb to hearing their sports venues, addresses, and local establishments named dropped on TV and in movies. For example, if you’re a life long New York City resident, then it’s no big deal for you to pass by a film crew or to turn on HBO and catch a scene in a movie that was filmed in the building you live in. Although Jersey has a rich history in entertainment, and it’s the birthplace of the earliest films, we’ve never enjoyed the prominence that the aforementioned states have in the media until The Sopranos premiered.
The Sopranos brought several NJ towns, a local ice cream parlor, and an average strip club into the minds of millions of viewers everywhere. It made us feel important. So, when I heard Uncle Tony tell Gene Simmons that “there’s two malls, the East Brunswick Mall on 18 or Freehold Mall take 9 south,” my face lit up. The thought of The Demon stomping around The Sexy Armpit is so cool. Even Shannon paid a visit with the other women to the popular Ciccone’s Italian Deli in Old Bridge.
Of course the episode wasn’t without wacky hijinks. Gene ran into a speed bump on his mission to become Godfather. Tony’s church prohibited Gene from being a Godparent because he’s Jewish. In an attempt to prove himself to the priest who handled the baptism, he not only unleashed all of his religious knowledge onto the priest, but he also frantically served as safety patrol for local school kids. Those kids have no idea how lucky they were to have had the legendary Dr. Love help them into their cars that day! In the end, all the loose ends were tied up and Gene was able to become Godfather. If only Gene spit the Holy water onto the babies head while churning out a bass solo, that would’ve been an awesome ending.

Gene rocking NJ designer Marc Ecko’s Cut & Sew shirt
Old Bridge, NJ is also known for being the town where the metal band Overkill formed, the hometown of Brian O’Halloran, Dante from Clerks fame as well as pop singer/actress Vitamin C.

NJ T-Shirt Tuesday 10: The Sopranos T-Shirts

I woke up this morning…had a T-Shirt idea in my eyes. Allright, so the lyrics to Alabama 3’s Sopranos theme song don’t necessarily translate into a winning blog post joke. But it has been on my mind that The Sopranos has not been represented here on T-Shirt Tuesday. What a crime! One might think that I was roughed up a little by Mr. Silvio Dante in order to keep my mouth shut, but who cares? Do you think I’m going to listen to those guys? Let them try beating me again because I have a mind of my own, one that veers off frequently throughout the day into daydreams where I am a guy named Kevin Finnerty. Jeez, maybe all those beatings have taken their toll! Now fix me a capicola sand. with peppers so we can get down to business, and make sure this room isn’t tapped!

Word has come down that has assembled quite a haul of links to stores that sell Sopranos shirts, hats, and other collectibles. This stuff fell off a truck so it’s hot! Let’s take a look at some of the T-Shirts they’re featuring:
You can find about a hundred different Bada Bing variations on Cafe Press, but this version is from the store Funny T-Shirts from seller “ybiaw.” Next is the Barone Sanitation shirt from Cafe Press seller “strk3.” One of my personal favorite T-Shirts shops is Stylin’ Online. They can be a little pricey at times but they’ve got an awesome selection. This Sopranos shirt they are offering specifically mentions New Jersey! Of course these are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Sopranos tees, so we’ll delve deeper in future posts.