For those who don't know, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were in the late '50s and '60s what Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is to the post--baby boomer generation: The Four Seasons was the singing group for people living in New Jersey. Frankie Valli himself grew up in north Newark, in a housing project called the Stephen Crane Village, which was close to where both of my parents were from. My mother grew up just a couple of blocks away on North 7th Street, while my father lived a few miles away in south Newark. My mom and dad were born around the same year as Bob Dylan, but he was never their spokesman: The whole sixties folk scene and after it the hippie, Woodstock stuff didn't really affect them at all. It wasn't just that their upbringing was so different from that of the middle-class rich kids who "tuned in, turned on, and dropped out," it was that they didn't relate to the message at all.
The soundtrack of my parents' young adulthood was simple and it never wavered: early rock and roll. And to them, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were the coolest group in the world. To this day, my mother still doesn't like any of the boomer rock associated with her generation, aside from the Beatles, of course, which transcends all. She loves Chuck Berry, all things Motown, Bobby Darin, and all of the great fifties crooners. My father loved the same stuff, though for a brief period of time he grew his hair kind of long and listened to The Doors. I remember him singing "Roadhouse Blues" and "Light My Fire" really loud in the truck on his way to work. But it wasn't any kind of statement other than that he liked the tunes.
The Frankie Valli mind-set was different; it embodied the values of the hardworking families from Newark and Union, who did everything they could to try to get a better life for their kids. It was the background music of their lives and it spoke about their lives, so it meant a lot to them. And because of that, especially among my Italian friends, it means a lot to us. The sound wasn't current even when I was a kid, but Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was something that bonded every Italian kid in Union to one another. It was like an unspoken thing, probably in the same way old Italian singers like Louis Prima had meaning for our parents because of their parents. There wasn't a sense of rebelling against your parents' music when it came to Frankie Valli--that would be like going against the family. And if there's one thing all Italians know, it's that you never, ever go against the family.
I don't care what anybody says, it's great music. When I was driving around with my friends, we could easily throw in a Frankie Valli tape and listen to it and really enjoy it. My buddy Mike Ciccone and I see eye to eye over this because in both of our houses growing up, Frankie and the Four Seasons was always on and our parents were always singing along. One night when we were about nineteen, we were out driving in Mike's Mustang convertible with the radio tuned to CBS-FM, the great oldies station, when "Rag Doll" came on. We sat there enjoying the harmonies and Frankie's amazingly high voice until the kids who were out with us, sitting in the backseat, interrupted our good time.
"What is this shit?" one of them said. "Get this shit off, put on PLJ!"
My buddy Ciccone was one of those guys who really did not take shit, at any time, from anybody. I will never forget how he calmly lowered the volume and looked over at me, and on cue, we said together: "Frankie Valli is fucking cool, man." There was no way we were going to let anyone talk shit. The others could have gotten out and walked...