Sunday, September 21, 2014

A return to The Stone Pony (with Jody Joseph Band)

 Sunday, September 21, 2014

Baby carriages and grand parents crowded this historic music venue, shoulder to shoulder, as if coming to a grammar school talent show, watching kids climb up onto the stage to fill the shoes of people like Bruce who had made this place famous, belting out pop tunes they had learned as music lessons. Some were so small you could put them in a tea cup and still have room for cream, big voices trying to fill the air, shrill voices of yet to mature into what they will eventually become, management seeing this as a kind of pre-school American Idol, while the ghosts of the big acts clung to the walls with the lines of guitars, not quite cringing, but clearly puzzled.
This was my first time through these doors since the glory days when Hank and I came here to catch the aftermath of the Bruce era, when all the lesser bands like Salty Dog tried desperately to cling to the coattails of the boss to make their own mark on the world, and never did. I had forgotten what it looked like inside until I got there again, and then in a flood of recollections, I remembered where I’d sat and how I’d felt, and sort of felt that way again, except that I felt older, and slightly put out by movie cameras trying to capture this thing being done here, this music miracle being enacted in a place where music had been born.
Nothing makes you feel older than being confronted with succeeding generations, and to be hit over the head with the geriatrics of middle class America in a place that had done its best to reject all that suburban tripe – this place always the enclave of the suburban rebel, complete with its thunder road outside. But instead of switch blade lovers on the circuit with girls promising to go under the boardwalk to unbuckle their jeans, we got kids. This was no Blues Brothers reunion movie, although Jody Joseph, the teacher and the band leader (who haunts these roads in the shells of burnt out Chevrolets) had found a way to blend two aspect of life, and seemed to symbolize that dramatic change from when I was last here, this Jesus-freak revolution that had turned rockers into religious fanatics, and one-time cutting edge into family-friendly, and for this night, created a strange mixture of feelings in me as if robbing that cutting edge that this place always created for me, by turning it into a school auditorium which just happened to be decorated with rock emblems.

This is a somewhat unfair comparison since top rock acts still come to this place, and people still pay good money to get in. Last week, it rocked with a Bruce tribute band while we stood outside in the rain. More big bands with cutting edge sounds are scheduled for the near future. But having come for children’s night, I find it hard to get back what was lost.
Jody’s band when it finally took to the stage as one of the two professional acts following armature hour also brought me back in time to when cover bands were in vogue. Jody Joseph’s band was not all cover, but they performed only one original during this night of nostalgia. Their act – especially with Jody dressing up for Fleetwood Mac songs, and Janis Joplin tunes – also brought back that era when costume was part of such acts, sometimes to make up for lack of musical talent.
This was not the case with Jody Joseph.  She had plenty of talent – her voice as good as any I’d heard over the long years.
Vocals carried the band, despite a few break out songs such as one cover of Santana. And the cover material was everything you would expect from a classic bar band, one of those hard-working, under appreciated night-after-night groups that played every club from the Chatterbox in Seaside to Dodd’s in Orange when I was on the circuit, all with the hopes of somehow ending up here, in this magic place, where someone important would take notice.
This was not Jody Joseph’s first musical venture into the theater of absurd. The band had been part of my friend Sid Bernstein’s schemes about a decade ago, another bit of musical nostalgia. Sid often wrapped me up in such schemes, and I loved him dearly for it, recalling his effort to exploit Sinatra’s legacy in Hoboken, and my meeting him by accident a few times in the city (once when David Peal sought to exploit him). I once brought Sid back together after 30 years with the Rascals, who he had managed 30 plus years before.
Sid was always on the hunt for talent, a new Beatles he could bring to the public eye, and was always telling me about his plans whenever I called him or met him, or when he sought me out for a story.
So it was no surprise that he would gravitate to this place and make use of it, and those who still clung to the ghosts that haunt this place.
The children’s hour, however, was not one of his schemes, but could have been, as the band and its remarkable singer tried to raise money to film a documentary about the healing power of music. They were even giving away the band’s CDs if people donated to the cause.

As if to get the feeling of old age out of my head, I stayed on for the next band to perform, “The Machines,” which only furthered this feeling since the band leader with his super whitened teeth looked too much like a member of the Tom Hank’s created band, “The Wonders,” from the movie “That Thing You Do.” The band had the audacity to even play a cover version of a Bruce song, a daring move, but one fully appreciated since the loud music helped drive out the grand parents and baby carriages, and made the club seem like a rock club again.

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