The grounds were still wet, and there was a power line down in the middle of Stillman Avenue in Bergenfield, NJ. The train passes by every half hour or so, making everyone talk just a little louder than usual. I’m greeted at the door by a young man, his mother and their cotton puffed dog, Kiwi.
“Melissa! It is so good to see you,” says Dylon Haviland, the son of George Haviland.
“It’s good to see you, too,” I said as we reached in for a long hug. In that instant I know I have arrived at a place where I’m welcomed and comfortable.
I walk in and Marianne Haviland greets me, as well.
“It’s good to see you, Melissa. Go downstairs. George is practicing,” she told me.
Even before walking through the door, I am already feeling warm because of the music that’s being played on an electric guitar downstairs. I finally head down, and I am greeted with a big, warm smile.
“Hey Melissa! Nice to see you, kid,” he says to me as he’s strumming away on his guitar. He was practicing music to be played at his church that coming Sunday.
“Hey Havs! It’s nice to see you, too,” I said setting down my camera on his couch.
He sets down his newest guitar, his so-called child, and joins his son and I on the couch. We start with small talk, catching up, asking about his wife, Marianne, as well as his son, Dylon, 19. He tells me about how work has been going as the district supervisor of music at North Bergen High School as my eyes are wandering around his guitar collection, when he asked me if I still played.
“Here and there. I’ve been busy with school and work. When did you first start to play, again?”
Haviland, or “Havs” as everyone calls him, tells me he began to play in the 2nd grade, quit in the 3rd grade, started again in 4th grade, quit in 5th, and began playing again in 6th. By the time he was in 7th grade, he was playing at parties and bars until his freshman year of college.
Havs went to North Bergen High School and graduated in 1976, where he played in the jazz band and sang in the chorus. He also starred in their musicals that were Broadway hits like “Mame” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” During this time, he was still playing in local bands, up until he began his college career at what is now known as New Jersey City University.
While at NJCU, Havs began to study classical guitar, and sold all of his electric guitar equipment. I have always known that he was talented, but from hearing all these stories, I think he could’ve been a rockstar.
Havs was approached by “Kool & the Gang” to play with them because they were looking for a “white guitarist,” but it never worked out.
He was also hanging out with rock stars like Michael Bruce, one of the original guitarists from the Alice Cooper band.
“I was at his apartment, and I picked up a guitar. I played a major 7th chord, and he asked me what that was. I was confused. He asked me to show him how to play it. I gave him a lesson while staring at all of the gold plaques he earned from Alice Cooper, and thought there was something wrong there,” he says to me.
He then became a part of a band called “Cobra” that according to him was good instrumentally, but not as strong vocally. He says they would be in the recording studio for hours and would leave “sounding like Queen.”
Cobra used to back up the band “Twisted Sister” right before they made it big at what he said was “a hole in the wall on Route 46.” They wanted to go on tour and dreamt of stardom, but Havs was always realistic, and wanted to graduate from college.
Haviland went from wanting to be a rockstar to being more “practical,” he said. He graduated from college in 1981, and began teaching preschool right after. He was also auditioning for metal bands, rocking his mullet after getting rid of his afro. He then began to teach in elementary schools, all while studying at Manhattan School of Music in New York and Berklee College of Music in Boston. He finally moved up to the high school and became the band director, where he led the marching band and wind ensemble to win national awards. During this time he was playing in off Broadway shows and in jazz bands.
Havs played in a band named “Peyote” at Starland Ballroom with his friends, but for the last 7 years he has been playing for his church. He says it took him 30 years to realize that this was why God put a guitar in his hand.
At first Haviland attended Catholic church, and was going to Catholic school. When he got to college, he started going to a Baptist church with one of his friends. He has always been very religious, and even began the Bible Club at North Bergen High School 1992.
Havs often intimidated people when it came to being a teacher. Former students like Danny* and Christopher Camizzi agreed that he is always energetic.
“I only had him for 2 years, and it was kind of like being on the football team. Or like a Sour Patch commercial. First sour then sweet,” said Danny.
Danny said that he had never experienced anything like that before. He also said that they used to play sports with the Bible Club, but Havs wasn’t as religious in class. He did see them say prayers during club meetings.
Havs said he always wanted to help people because that’s what he likes to do.
“He was always there for you, not just for school , but anything you needed. He goes the extra mile for anyone,” said Camizzi, a former student of Haviland who is now a teacher in the North Bergen School District.
Haviland’s son has heard some of his rockstar stories. He always told Dylon that he realized he wanted to help people. Dylon is even attending NJCU to study music education, like his father.
As far as age and health, the 57 year old Havs said he is in the best shape he has ever been. He said he used to think about retirement, but changed his mind. He wishes to continue to work for 10 more years. He works out when he can, and he reads scriptures before he goes to bed. He said really enjoys playing for God and helping people.