By GWEN OREL
In “Friends and Neighbors” we spotlight interesting Montclairites doing interesting things. Some of them you might have heard of, others you might not. Answers have been edited for space. Got someone you think we should write about? Drop a line to email@example.com.
Originally from Concord, NH, Warren Zanes is a rocker who made three records with his brother Dan Zanes in the band Del Fuegos in the 1980s, and has released four solo albums; he’s served as vice president at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and executive director of Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. Zanes’s authorized biography “Petty: The Biography” was published in 2015. You could call him Dr. Zanes however, as Zanes earned a Ph.D. in Visual and Cultural Studies from the University of Rochester, and teaches classes on popular music at New York University. He’s lived in three houses in Montclair — his current house is called The House That Lives. Built in 1922, it is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Zanes’ cat Tuna licked the plastic covers of his record albums while Zanes spoke to us. His cat Brandon, who disappeared for a few days, prompting Zanes to post about it to a Montclair Facebook group, hid upstairs. Brandon, who is all black, had been inadvertently tiled in to the floor of an upstairs room, but a small hole showed an eye visible.
How did you end up getting a Ph.D., after years of being a musician?
I moved to New Orleans and got a job as a bicycle mechanic. [It was at] the prompting of my girlfriend, all I had going was music, and she gave me the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” talk. I looked on a map, found the university icon, and the closest university to my apartment was Loyola University Jesuit School. I went to the admissions office and I said, “Can I take a few classes without applying?” They looked at me and I said, “I’m just trying to keep my relationship together.” I might be the only Ph.D. who never applied to undergrad.
What made you stick with it?
I took some classes, and I stayed awake. I think a lot of people have that experience whether it’s listening to music or looking at a painting or reading a book and feeling like they don’t have a way to talk about them. I like talking about art and I was surprised at the number of artists who couldn’t talk about art. At the same time before I finished my Ph.D. I signed a record deal, so it almost didn’t happen.
When did you move to Montclair?
I lived in Cleveland [home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] for two and a half years, and then I actually commuted to Montclair. I would go two days one week, three days the next and it was a brutal one to commute that much. There are more overcast days in Cleveland than in Seattle. If you’re looking to cultivate seasonal depression couldn’t get better.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been freelancing. At present I’m working on a Johnny Cash documentary with director Thom Zimny, who does a lot of stuff with Bruce Springsteen. I’ve also been doing some coffee table books with Garth Brooks. We’re just finishing up the second. A lot of people don’t know that he’s the biggest selling solo artist in the history of pop music. Above Michael Jackson, above Elvis.
Do your sons want to be rock and rollers?
They play. I don’t push it, but musical theater has been a big part of both of their lives. They’re way more into Broadway than anything else. They taught me about musical theater. I’d never been to a Broadway show until Lucian was in “On the Town” at Hillside, and then there was a revival on Broadway.
When I did the hostory of the Warner Bros. book, some of the most important records were comedy. Some of the most important albums were cast albums. These albums were huge, but people would rather talk about James Taylor or Alice Cooper when they’re telling the history of a label, which I don’t think they should. Because the musical theater form is so emotional, there’s more of a capacity for people to be in a place where they can experience otherness without resisting it. Things like homosexuality, AIDs, Hispanic life, things that may not be in the mainstream.
You found this house in an open house, you said; what do you love about going to open houses?
My youngest, Pierro, every Sunday that he’s with me, we go on to Realtor.com and find out
what the open houses are. We’ve gone to as many as eight in a day. Our goal is to see every house in Montclair. Pierro and I walked into this one not intending to buy it, but just fell in love with this house. This is house number three. I can still remember when Pierro walked in and his face, he was filled with wonder. The reason it was called The House that Lives is that it’s not so big you would have spaces you don’t live in. A single woman, Edith Bogue, lived here. And in the yard, there’s an Edith Bogue magnolia. This is the farthest north that a southern magnolia survived. The Van Vleck gardens have the other Edith Bogue magnolia. I get help from them when I need tree
MEET THE NEIGHBOR
Hometown: Concord, New Hampshire.
Children: Piero, 13; Lucian, 15.
Left or right-handed: Right.
Pets: Tuna, 7, and Brandon, 3, cats.
First job: Picking strawberries.
Last job: Working on a Johnny Cash film.
Hobby: I’ve been skateboarding with Piero a lot, so I’m going to say skateboarding.
Favorite vacation spot: There’s an eco resort on St. John that I love.
Today’s earworm: “Send in the Clowns.” The Judy Collins version.
Favorite drink: I’ve been sober 24 years, so my favorite drink is water.
Favorite dessert: Strawberry rhubarb pie, The Pie Shop. I went down there on my birthday, I didn’t even really know them. My son, in line, was talking about the fact that it was my birthday. By the time we got to the front of the line they had an apple pie with Happy Birthday on it and would not let me pay. Those are the kinds of things that do happen in Montclair.
Favorite condiment: Sweetened condensed milk.
Hero(es): Tom Petty.
Last TV show watched: We don’t have a television. The last movie I watched was Les Blank’s “Gap-toothed women.”
If you could meet anybody, alive or dead: George Washington. I just listened to the presidential podcast and Washington sounded like a great dude.
If you were not you: I try to tell my kids, don’t bank on dad’s luck. I waltzed into things.
I said I’d never: trim hedges. But I trim my hedges. When you’re in a punk rock band, and traveling in a band, and you see a guy trimming hedges, you know you’re never going to be that guy.
But I’m him.