Sunday, September 28, 2014

Killing of Asbury Park

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I listened to Steel Mill on the trip south to Asbury Park on Saturday – The Matrix recording from early 1970, not the one from the Sunshine Inn a little later in Asbury Park when Springsteen opened for Cactus and Black Sabbath. Springsteen’s pre-E Street Band music is a lesson in how to find voice, sounding like every other major band until finally, he came up with his own sound. Oddly enough, I was also back on the East Coast when Springsteen got shut down in the famous swim club concert at which he supposedly met Janis Joplin.
Hearing his music as he had played it back then – and the subsequent bands such as Dr. Zoom and The Bruce Springsteen Band helped shape part my reaction to seeing his city in ruins when I got there, even though I had seen it again and again over the last few months.

I recalled the story of the teenage werewolf he told during the 1978 Madison Square concert when he jumped off the Ferris wheel and rushed down Asbury Avenue to the Parkway – leaving Asbury Park by the same route we came by.
Part of my reason for returning each week is to find some icons of the past that might still exist after I-Star and the city did their best to destroy it. Instead of Badlands, we found flatlands – vacant lots the developer plans to turn into luxury housing. Even The Stone Pony and Wonder Bar are at risk.
Had we come more often to this place back when we went to Cape May instead, we could have seen some of what was left. Now, there is largely nothing: a boardwalk void of attractions, a parking lot where the amusement park once stood.
We walked towards the old Casino, passed the building where two weeks ago we saw a groom and bride taking pictures. There were even more bridal parties this week, two side by side filming among the ruins of the Casino, more down the beach, and later in the echoing hall of the casino itself, we saw two brides conversing.
Free of rain and with temperatures over 80, the boardwalk was again full, as people moved up and down between the ruins at one end and the Convention Hall at the other, where a crafts fair was underway, and we paused for coffee. In-between, we got to see many of those regulars – the magician, the portrait artist, the drummer, and the crooner with his tiny guitar. We even got to see Madam Marie’s granddaughter.
Then, we made our way to Sunset Beach, crossing the large open area (that was actually designed to be open) to the waterway, squinting against the harsh sunlight before taking refuge in the side street to view some of the classic buildings such as the Zionist church and the library, before heading across more ruined landscape towards downtown and dinner.
Last week, we stopped in the mall, and wandered through the odd shops, full of crafts and icons from India and elsewhere. This week we ate and then made our way back along the lake to the powerhouse for another walk around the boardwalk, killing some time before we went to The Saint for music.We’ve been visiting a number of the clubs, including The Wonder Bar and The Stone Pony, trying to hear as much music as possible since developers still haven’t managed to destroy that aspect yet, despite knocking down many of the places where Springsteen and others played.
We walked Ocean Avenue back – discovering the offices of the I-Star but did not see Darth Vader, and went back to the Boardwalk to sit and watch as people came passed us, a parade of characters that still cling to this place – and I could not figure out why. During this circuit, we found the monument of SOAP near the convention hall – Save Our Asbury Park – in which some famous people tried to preserve what was left of what had once been one of the great sea side icons.
George Harrison once wrote “all things must pass.” Yet some things fade away naturally. Some die an ugly death. But Asbury Park was murdered.

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