On Sunday, March 24, 2019, the music world lost one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met. I say music world because although Joe Incagnoli (better known as Joe Harvard) had become an Asbury Park legend when he moved to the city in 2001, he was already a legend in Boston, and one who played a major role in the career of many bands who went on to become household names.
Joe did indeed graduate from Harvard. He studied archaeological anthropology and graduated cum laude. If that surprises you, it probably means you never had a conversation with him. He was almost always the smartest guy in the room. According to his obituary, he worked as Assistant to the Director of the Peabody Museum and accompanied the Comprehensive Survey of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the central Arabian desert before realizing his true calling was a return to music.
Joe became active in the Boston/Cambridge music scene and was one of the founders of the Fort Apache Recording Studio. This is where his legendary status began. Not only did bands like The Pixies, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Morphine, Buffalo Tom, and Throwing Muses all record there, but in a write-up in the East Boston Times-Free Press after his death, John Lynds connected the dots a bit further.
“One can argue that without Eastie’s Joe Harvard the world may have never heard The Pixies,” wrote Lynds. “Without The Pixies and their influence on later artists like Kurt Cobain one can also argue there would have never been Nirvana and without Nirvana the grunge explosion of the early 1990s that defined a decade would have never occurred.”
Joe also helped give them a place to play when he brought rock bands to the Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub - a venue in Cambridge that is still going strong today. When he moved to Asbury Park, he did so long before the city’s revitalization took place. He was there when music was still the only thing bringing people to the town. I first met Joe when he worked the sound at The Saint. It seems like he wound up working the sound at nearly every club in Asbury Park at one time or another, but I’ll always remember those days at The Saint. As a music writer, I was often in the club on weeknights to catch a touring band coming to town that nobody knew. More times than not, you could count the number of people in the audience on one or two hands. It was during those nights that I got the chance to talk to Joe and get to know him a bit.
Later on, I ran a monthly music series called “Twisted Covers” that featured artists covering a pair of songs by a particular artist each month and doing an original tune. Joe was one of three or four artists who were the backbone of the series. It didn’t matter who the artist for the month was, Joe would come to play and bang out his covers and it was always one of my favorite sets of the day.
He would go on to bring his own long-running series - “The Long Weekend Variety Show” - to Asbury. The series began at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge in early 1989 and became the place to be on Monday nights. In Asbury, the show bounced around at a few venues and never reached the same level of popularity that Joe hoped it would. Nevertheless it still managed to roll on for about three years and was co-hosted by his soulmate and partner, Mallory Massara (shown below).
During his time in Asbury Park, he played solo shows, band shows, and performed with acts like Dub Proof, Cockwalkers, Velveeta, Mimi Cross, Keith Monacchio, and numerous others over the years. He wrote a few articles for my former publication, Upstage Magazine, and authored “The Velvet Underground and Nico” as part of the 33 1/3 series. I’ll never forget how proud I was to see the book in a bookstore in Toronto. It reportedly has gone on to sell over 100,000 copies and be translated into six languages. He co-founded and was the program director of the Media Center @ Ballard, where he taught music and technical skills to economically disadvantaged youth. His last burst of creativity in Asbury was the gARTen he founded in 2015 from an empty lot between storefronts. He persuaded the powers that be to let him create a black light community art garden/gallery dedicated to found objects and “trash art.” It was here that friends and family gathered on March 24, 2019 for a candlelight vigil (click here for a photo slideshow by Kristen Driscoll Photography to remember Joe.
“I think Joe’s biggest impact on Asbury Park is far larger than his musical impact, or artistic impact,” said Mallory Massara. “Bigger than the gARTen or The Long Weekend, or any band... I think his biggest impact on our city by the sea was his ability to bring people together. I remember a time when the music and art scenes in the area where scattered and divided. But Joe flowed seamlessly in all the circles. By doing so, musicians from vey different worlds met. Artists started going to his shows, and therefore being introduced to bands, and other artists they would not have otherwise seen. And over the course of decade, bit by bit, person by person, we all came together to make one cohesive community with one thing in common - Joe Harvard.”
Joe had battled a number of health issues over the years, but the one that finally beat him was cancer. He was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer in late 2018. On March 8th, he posted on Facebook that he was stopping the chemo treatments as they had stopped working and the side effects were increasing. He said he was focusing on pain management. When he eventually left the hospital, it was clear that his days left were limited, but thankfully he was no longer in pain.
“Joe wasn’t verbal once home from the hospital. But when he was in the hospital, he would have moments of panic and fear,” explained Massara. “One of his biggest concerns was that he wouldn’t be remembered. That is when I would read him the stories and comments everyone was posting on social media. He would laugh, he would cry, he would comment with his usual wit, and I think felt reassured that he would indeed be remembered.”
Friends from all over wondered if he was able to see the tributes. That question was answered when he posted, “News of my death have been greatly exaggerated” on March 21. Even while facing death, Joe was still able to give us a good laugh.
It’s been years since I last saw Joe manning the sound booth at The Saint, but I still picture him there. Just as I’ll always remember him wearing an Upstage Magazine t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off, handling the sound at one of our benefits. Joe always supported my ventures. I did not know him nearly as well as many others, but we both had a love of music and art that gave us a connection that I will always cherish. Most of all, we were both dreamers. I think Joe’s legacy to me is that if you dream it, you can make it happen.
R.I.P. Joe, thanks for all of your support over the years. - GW
A tribute album is in the works. If anyone would like more information, email us and we will put you in contact with the right folks.
Next are thoughts about Joe from friends, musicians, and music fans.
“I don’t know if I can really put into words what I miss the most about him. We had such a deep and enduring effect on each other, it’s like asking someone what they would miss most about their heart if it stopped beating. But I think the best way for me to answer this that everyone can relate to is, his energy. That electricity that he had and that would light up any room he was in.”-- Mallory Massara
“Joe’s impact on Asbury, I think, was felt wholly by strangers that we will perhaps never meet. The family walking the boardwalk who stopped to listen, play and sing along with him. The couple getting ice cream and stumbling upon the Art Garten. He brought his artistry to the streets and connected with people.
"I will miss mostly just calling to chat with him. The band mates I have from playing with Joe all plan on keeping his music alive and we can all still play together and that’s truly a gift that Joe has given us."
“If it wasn’t for Joe, I would have never dreamed of playing a drum kit that was literally fit into a big old school yellow suitcase. My first time playing The Stone Pony with Joe, he gave me the suitcase and said here’s your drums. Everything you need is in there. I think we freaked the soundguys out a bit when they realized we didn’t have an actual drum set. That became the first long weekend drum kit when it started at O’Tooles on the boardwalk. Joe had a way taking everything out of its element and somehow when all the pieces and players were there he made that his pallet and that’s when you realized that the genius of essentially abandoning the plan and logic in general was how everything and everyone was on their toes and at their best.” -- Greg Wilkens
“In honor of Joe, and the fondness I had for him, I’m going to share some thoughts that have been in the forefront of my mind since I learned he was stopping treatment. We were both doing sound in AP and were mostly on each other’s periphery but his brilliance was palpable every time our orbits intersected. I can’t remember when he arrived in AP because it seemed like he was always there. He was a lynch pin in the resurgence of AP. I remember thinking once 'He wrote a book? I don’t know anyone that wrote a book.' Many years later when the Pixies played the pony summer stage I witnessed how stoked the band was to be seeing their pal Joe who they, unbeknownst to me, made records with. Another layer of Joe revealed."
"He was a renaissance man and his mark on AP is indelible. What I really wanted to share was the time I ran into him in the parking lot of the Wonder Bar before a shift when he was loading out after lending his talent to a fundraiser. We said Hi and we commenced in trading some sincere pleasantries when he asked if I wanted to smoke a bone. Of course I accepted because to not would have been impolite. What followed was a encounter that I cherish because I got to really meet Joe. The one on one Joe. He was reserved, kind and almost soft spoken. I got to see the Joe that those that are blessed to be close to him see. He made me feel that even though we weren’t close, we were close in that moment and that moment was special. I walked away uplifted and thankful I got to know the man behind the myth."
"As we all grieve it’s okay to have a happy thought and even flash a smile because there’s solace in knowing Joe won at life. He did it right till the end. His legacy is cemented and he will live on in all of us that he touched and are better for it. I hope he knew that and it brought him some comfort.” — John DiCapua
“Recently I’ve heard a lot of folks say, “I didn’t know Joe as well as...” or “I only met Joe a few times...” Here is my take on that. The folks I know who met Joe at one of my benefits briefly, talked kindly about him for months after.
They remembered him years later when I posted a photo or tagged him in a post. He had an impact like no other I’ve seen. Joe left a mark on everyone who met him.” — Sheli Monacchio
“Joe Harvard's impact on the town of Asbury Park can't really be stated loud or long enough, to reach all of the people he directly or indirectly had an impact on. From being a part of the foundation of the singer / songwriter scene in the mid 00s, to all of the art galleries, installations, exhibits as well as the gARTen on Cookman Ave to being a sound man in every venue in town, to the critically acclaimed yet sparsely attended weekly Monday night showcase The Long Weekend, to his volunteer help with CATSbury Park, Joe Harvard had a tremendous impact on bringing Asbury Park to the musical / art / culture hub that it has become. Asbury Park today wouldn't be what it is today without people like Joe Harvard."
"What I'll miss most about Joe was his quirkiness & individuality. No one else on planet earth could be Joe Harvard besides Joe Harvard. Having played with him in a band for many years, he would never play the same song the same way twice. He may nail the feel or the sound or the tone, but each time he ever strapped on his guitar or lap steel, we knew we were in for a fun musical adventure that could go off the rails at any second, which in my opinion makes a band interesting and somewhat dangerous quite frankly. I'll miss his musical talents, I'll miss the sound of his voice, I'll miss him digging though his notes, looking for chord changes of a song we haven't played in months that we have to play 'Right Now'. Mostly, I'll miss his creative spirit and will do the best to keep that close to me in any creative endeavors I partake in moving forward."
"Joe was just a kind, caring, gentle, easy going type of cat who did his thing regardless of what people thought. There was a time when he was 'banned' from doing shows in AP, so he got whatever permit you need from the town to perform on the boardwalk & the 'one banned man' youtube series was born of Joe traveling with his gear to different parts of the boardwalk and his interactions with all walks of life while he played music in the open air for everyone. I'm so glad that stuff will live forever online because its wonderful documentation of Joe and his personality and what he was all about. ”-- Kenny Pete
“When I think of Joe‘s influence on Asbury Park, I am reminded of the roundtable at the Algonquin. Joe Harvard was like a lightning rod for artists, writers, musicians, and connoisseurs of the arts. His life was unscripted and lent itself to great exploration and experiences, not just for himself but for all those in his orbit. Joe was generous in giving others opportunities to express themselves creatively. He tore down the walls between artist and audience, making art accessible to so many people, who I am certain were forever changed by their association with Joe.
"I am still having trouble grasping that he is no longer with us, but what I will miss the most is the unconditional love I felt from him and the sense of belonging I always felt in his presence.
"Joe was an important part of my life even before I knew who he was. For many years, I have worked with an amazing multi-talented, singer songwriter, and artist by the name of Peter Himmelman. The last time Peter Himmelman played The Saint, he was accompanied by an Israeli rock band called The Flying Baby. Peter is known for his extemporaneous, one of a kind, live performances, and this Saint show was off the hook! Joe was the sound guy that night, and every step of the way, went toe to toe with Peter. Joe was so moved by that experience, that he wrote a wonderful article about it that eventually found its way to me through another friend. As soon as I read Joe’s words, I knew he totally 'got' the genius of Peter Himmelman, and from that moment I just knew that I had to meet Joe. A few weeks later, I saw he was on the schedule for a late night set at Twisted Tree Café. I did not know much about Asbury at that time, but made my way to the show in the middle of the night. I videotaped some of my favorite footage of Joe that night (which is shown below). We were immediate friends and were blessed with more than 10 years of friendship.” — Ellen Berman
January 4, 1959 - March 24, 2019
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.