Name: James Cotter

Where do you live?

Montclair on the best street in town, Cloverhill Place. We are a neighborhood of educators, journalists, correction officers, contractors, lawyers, artists and musicians who are multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Plus, we have a great block party.

When did you move there? Last century, 1988. I’ve been here for 35 years, my God…

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Red Bank, near the shores of the mighty Navesink.

How do you make a living? OR What is your everyday passion?

I have a lot of jobs. I’ve been a history teacher for 27 years. I also work as a writer and researcher for two television shows: Talking in Circles with Clint Black and Austin City Limits: Country. I’m mixed up in all sorts of volunteer and community groups, including the July 4th Parade Committee, the Cloverhill Place/Grove Terrace Neighborhood Association, Protect the Vote Montclair, and YMCA Adventure Guides (go Thunderbirds!).

I spend a lot of time organizing, fundraising and programming with the weirdos and malcontents at Radio Free Montclair, a local station dedicated to community engagement, music, stories and conversation. We stream 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

My everyday passion is my family: my brilliant, kind wife and our two joyous, feral sons. 

Coffee, tea or … ? 

Is there a beer option? Brooklyn Lager please. Victory Pils is awfully refreshing on a summer afternoon. If you twist my arm I’ll even drink a Rolling Rock. But cheap coffee will do in a pinch. 

What’s your idea of a perfect weekend day? 

Let’s have an old school Montclair weekend. Ray’s Luncheonette for breakfast. A stroll through the Farmer’s Market. Soccer games in Brookdale Park with the kids. Grab a sandwich for lunch at Nicolo’s. Browse the shelves at Montclair Book Center (and dig the record crates in the basement). Ice cream at Applegate’s. Happy hour with the gang at Tierney’s. Catch a movie at the Clairidge. Dinner with my wife at La Rocca (formally Giotto, so that counts as old school). Night cap at Jake’s.   

What’s your favorite local restaurant? 

I can be found most afternoons at Ray’s Luncheonette. Angie, her mom Mrs. Flores, her husband Alberto, and the family make incredible food. Shout out to Egan’s, Halcyon, Pineapple Express, Turtle + the Wolf, Falafel Hut, Café Giotto and Ani Ramen (I see you pork buns). 

What’s on your nightstand? 

There’s a certain point in the year when I am so far behind on reading the stack of New Yorker magazines that collapse is imminent. That’s where I’m at with the nightstand. The tower teeters about 20 issues high, so I need to be merciless with what articles I read (anything by Jill Lepore) and what I ignore (anything about math). Buried under that pile is a copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan that has travelled with me on every vacation over the past 10 years and remains unread. 

What are you listening to? 

I am an insufferable music snob. I will happily argue the relative merits of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation versus Sister. I believe the Damned were far more influential than the Buzzcocks (I will fight you on this…). Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is more cohesive than Blonde. A sadder song than Weyes Blood’s “Picture Me Better” has never been written. Todd Rundgren’s production on XTC’s Skylarking is flawless. Ovlov’s “Land Of Steve-O” is a perfect, noisy pop confection with an awful song title. Billy Stewart’s version of “Summertime” is definitive. 

What are your current indulgences? 

My 1969 Volkswagen Bus is a fickle beast, a coughing, sputtering block of metal with no discernable end to its myriad mechanical needs. I have removed the engine in my driveway three times in the past 18 months, cursing its dropped valves, overheated heads and smoking rings. I have wrestled alternators from its gaping maw, mended weeping fuel pumps and coaxed choked carburetors back to life. It has been a jerk to me, it has burnt my forearm and it has busted my knuckles. But I adore it and I will indulge its every whim like a star crossed lover. 

What talent you would most like to have? To sing like Sam Cooke. Also, to over-share less in local blog profiles. 

What’s the worst-kept (or best-kept!) secret about Montclair?

There’s no secret that volunteers make the whole idea of Montclair possible. The rank and file who do the hard and often unheralded work of Montclair Mutual Aid, Out Montclair, Human Needs Food Pantry, the PTAs, Bike/Walk Montclair, the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, Friends of the Howe House, Montclair United Soccer, the Northeast Earth Coalition, Montclair Make Music Day, Montclair Bike Bus, Montclair Helps, among many, many others deserve all the praise and support you can give. 

What do you hope they say about you at your funeral?

What a lucky guy. He had everything he wanted.

One reply on “Baristanet Profile: James Cotter”

  1. Congratulations James for a tribute well deserved. You are a community good will hero, role model and a cultural artist/preservationist. Thank you for all that you do!

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