As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. We’ll post the story behind the story for each song on 13 here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next 13 weeks.
Here is the story behind TMA Cool as related by Allen Kitselman.
The song “TMA Cool”
In 1967 and ‘68 I was a skinny little white boy living in Morristown, NJ—a middle-class suburb of New York City. The War on Poverty had been declared and I found myself part of the great experiment at the age of six.
Project Fresh Air was a program where inner-city kids were taken for the summer to live with a suburban family. I’m not sure what the point was for the inner-city kids, except to give them a taste of the world they were being denied by their circumstance. For middle-class suburban kids like me it was a real eye opener.
My counterpart in Project Fresh Air was a young black kid almost exactly my age. His name was Terry M. Adams. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment in The Projects in Patterson, NJ with his mother Wilhelmina and his five brothers and sisters. He preferred to be called “TMA Cool,” thus the song title.
The Projects were an absolute Hell hole. My mother, my 15 year-old sister, and I would travel there at start and the end of the summers of ’67 and ’68 to pick-up or drop-off TMA. For a kid like me, raised in the Davy Crockett-Disney-sheltered-white-middle-class American world of the late ‘60s, seeing the Projects was terrifying; and with time, transformative. This was my first view of how breathtakingly hard the world could be.
I have never forgotten the view into the lives of these people I was afforded by my forward-thinking mother. At the time, I hated the experience. TMA and I didn’t get along—competing like jealous brothers for my parents’ affection. As a 6 year old, I couldn’t understand what the experience was giving me other than grief.
The song is about the way I look at the TMA experience in the rear view mirror of life. I think a lot about TMA and what became of him, about our personal trajectories through life, and about how I wish I could have a few moments with him as an adult to compare notes and wish him well.