NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - John E. Williams hasn't lived in New Jersey for 20 years, but it wasn't hard for him to recall his teenage years growing up in New Providence and put them to song.
"I wanted to write a song about growing up and all the teenage angst," Williams said by phone from the Washington, D.C. area, where he now lives. "I had some rough teenage years. Like most kids, I was trying to figure out my own worth. I thought about how I felt then. I came back to shoot the video and it brought me home more than I realized."
The result was a music video called "South Street," which opens with a quick shot of "Friendly's" and hits spots on South Street that are well-known to New Providence residents.
Former resident John E. Williams sings about his teenage years growing up in New Providence
"I got up in the morning, went outside on my deck and it was done in 20 minutes," Williams said of song he wrote two years ago.
It's the first single of an album "Abandoned and Heartbroke" that is expected to be completed by the summer. There are five songs on the album so far, but none as personal to Williams as "South Street."
"I think that John Lennon wrote his best songs when he was in pain," Williams said. "Help! was written by Lennon when he was fat and miserable. There is a lot of truth in creating art that at least gets it out of your system. I was a bullied kid. I was skinny and I didn't have a lot of self-esteem. Now that I have it out of my system, I never have to sing about that part of my life again."
Williams' catharsis has led to fulfilling a longtime dream of producing an album. The graphic designer and cartoonist (he was a cartoonist for the New Providence High school paper) is well on his way to completing "Abandoned and Heartbroke. "Williams took "South Street" to his friend, David McKittrick, who wrote the guitar solo in the middle and is the co-author of the song.
"He wrote the middle part, which absolutely brought the song to another level," Williams, now 50, said. "It's the heart of the song. I tweaked the lyrics and slowed it down. The icing on the cake was when my friend Dave wrote the middle part."
The video has become more personal for Williams since one of the guys he grew up playing music with as a 15-year-old, Kenny Cadmus, passed away last May.
"He was the first guy I played music with," Williams said. "We were in our first band together when we were 15. He was a real character and loved by a lot of people in New Providence."
Since he wrote the song, Williams is amazed at how many people he runs into that are from New Providence, or nearby in Berkeley Heights.
At the end of the song, Williams asks: "Since you last saw South Street, who did you turn out to be?"
"I didn't want it to sound whiny, so I asked the question so it wouldn't just be about me," Williams said. "One person wondered why anyone would write a song about New Providence? It could be a song about anybody's hometown."