A few weeks ago, I was driving out to Long Island to scout some airports while listening to the Howard Stern Show on Sirius-XM. During a replay of an old interview with Eddie Murphy, Stern and Murphy began commiserating over having grown up in the town of Roosevelt, Long Island – and I suddenly realized his old home address wasn’t far from where I was.
I decided to go have a look.
As I think I’ve mentioned here before, I’m a big Howard Stern fan. Growing up in Massachusetts, my first adolescent impressions of New York City came from the pages of Mad Magazine and in movies like Ghostbusters; in my early teen years, it was from the Howard Stern Show.
Whether running for governor, talking a suicidal caller off the GW Bridge, closing down Fifth Avenue for a book signing, or interviewing every strata of the city’s population, from celebrities and politicians to strippers and the homeless, the Howard Stern Show was as intrinsically New York as The Late Show with David Letterman – even if its host rarely ventured into the city.
For Stern fans, Roosevelt, Long Island, is infamous. Stern’s family moved there shortly after his birth in 1954. Soon after, Roosevelt would be the first of many Long Island towns to go through a period of blockbusting, in which real estate agents convinced white property owners that a growing minority population would ultimately devalue their property, and to sell at a loss.
Stern’s parents, both staunch liberals, refused to move on philosophical grounds, and soon found themselves among the few white families remaining in Roosevelt.
Growing up in what became a primarily African-American community, Stern was frequently subjected to racial hazing and violence, and came to dread leaving his house. An annual summer gig as a camp counselor became a much sought after escape, and Stern often mentions it as his only happy childhood memory.
I’m always curious to see where people grew up, because I believe that one’s home (street, town, school, etc.) plays a role second only to family in one’s development. I turned off the highway at the next exit and headed toward Roosevelt, which, in 2010, marked its 20th straight year of being on the state’s list of lowest achieving schools.
I turned onto the block, and there it was…
The house that created Howard Stern:
Stern visited the house for a 60 Minutes profile in 2006 and was startled to realize he remembered nothing of his old neighborhood. “I grew up here, but I really blocked it out…I call it the house of horrors…This town was a horrible place to live. It was a nightmare.”
According to online real estate records, the house was built in 1955, which means the Sterns purchased it new. I have no idea which window might have been Stern’s, but I’ve scouted enough 50′s split-levels to know both were probably bedrooms.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to realize that Roosevelt played a huge role in creating the Howard Stern persona that first hit the airwaves back in 1977. His sense of humor and self-abasement, disgust for hypocrisy and moral superiority, unyielding attacks on adversaries and critics, and voyeuristic fascinations all make sense when you picture Stern as the lone outcast, struggling to survive the hell that was Roosevelt.
Thinking back, I was actually listening to Howard Stern the very first time I came to New York City in October ’95, when my parents drove me down for a Mad Magazine art auction (I was listening secretly on my Walkman, of course – at 13, my parents would have killed me). Stern was doing some live bit on the street, and I remember being amazed once again that this was the sort of thing you might run into living in New York.
Mad Magazine. Howard Stern. God, by all “expert” accounts, my mind should have been warped beyond recognition years ago. Thing is, I was also listening to Stern the second time I visited New York, for my interview at Columbia University – and things worked out pretty well on that front. Perhaps just a bit more proof that the environment you grow up in matters a helluva lot more than the movies you watch and the stuff you listen to.
Love him or hate him, thanks to Roosevelt, Long Island, the world has Howard Stern.
PS – If you have any doubts about Stern’s interviewing talents, just listen to his chat with Bill Murray – as always, Stern asks all the questions you want answers to, and I guarantee you’ll listen right up to Part 4.