Friday, October 31, 2014

Al Bum’s Halloween

Oct. 31, 1980

The ghosts haunt; they fly by night and come to scream and howl; they bang on things; they rattle their chains.
There is a thrill in the air, as well as a chill, shivering down children’s spines as they stumble down concrete paths invading door after door with masks on and baskets, and an unquenchable thirst for excitement.
It’s the same now as it was when I was a boy when me and Dave darted out from dark places formed by the crisscross of street lamps.
I dressed up at a bum one year, something Leonard and Craig would never let me live down once they caught me on the street. Both of them signed my grammar school year book “to my favor Al-bum.”
For a while it was funny, but it eventually wore thin, and for a time I came to hate them, but even that faded, and it never stopped me from dressing up when Halloween came around.
Dave always dressed up as a ghost; I dressed up as a hobo. And we continued to invade houses in our neighborhood with a paper bags until we started to hear the whispers behind us as the doors closed saying, “They’re a little old to be trick-or-treating.”
Even then we laughed, and developed another strategy, attaching ourselves to groups of kids so we didn’t stand out as much. They appreciated having larger kids around because by that time, other larger kids didn’t dress up at all, but slunk around in shadows waiting for groups of kids to come along so they could grab the bags from the smaller kids and run away. Dave and I scared them off, only a few times getting into a fight that attracted so much attention, these kids fled fearing someone would call the police.
We kept our costumes simple – not like today where they cost a fortune to buy.
We figured if we wanted to rot our teeth with candy, we weren’t going to go broke doing it.
Tonight is Halloween. I’ll be going off with my girlfriend to see my best friend’s band play, although I’ll still look out at the kids on the sidewalks, and wonder just how safe they are – this being a much more violent time than when I grew up, and with far fewer people like me and Dave to dress up as ghost and bum to fend them off.  We hear all the talk about razors in apples and people with guns, and I wonder if perhaps I would trade my hobo outfit for one that resembled a cop’s. Maybe I won’t think too much about it, especially with the crew that hangs around the band. I’m sure most of them will dress up, and I’m even tempted to do so myself, certain that I can find a ragged pair of jeans and some old coal dust from down in the basement.
I’ll probably get drunk anyway.
But I know my costume is my memory, which swirls around me, wrapping my present in its arms, keeping me whole wherever I am, filled with the echoes of Craig and Leonard shouting, “Hey, Al Bum!”

Mischief night

Oct. 30, 1980

It’s the day before Halloween, a day that meant real trouble when I was young – not for me, but for every single car window within blocks of my house I could lay a piece of soap on.
We called it goosey night; elsewhere people called it mischief night.
But over the years, I’ve seen the tradition fade from the somewhat maniacal passion we put into the evening’s festivities.
Halloween itself was supposed to have been the wild night, the night before All Soul’s Day.
But society found ways to clean up the wild holiday so that eventually a new night evolved in which we could let out our wild spirits.
Yet in my travels, I found some places never expanded the transition, and the idea of a night for mischief seemed as alien as some of the characters that showed up at people’s doors begging for treats.
In Portland, mischief night was still Halloween, keeping with the tradition that ghosts and goblins let loose prior to All Soul’s Day, so that trick-or-treaters were often intermingled with mischief makers like me. But even at that it is tamer than what I’m used to back east, and only those from my part of the country recognize the difference, or are even aware that mischief night ought to be on a different night than Halloween.
People in the southwest seem to know nothing of this primitive habit, and look on me with shock and dismay when I mention it, asking why anyone would so such an uncivilized thing as that.
And to tell you the truth there is no way to explain the exhilaration I’ve felt fleeing down a dark street, staying in the shadows street lamps cannot illuminate to the pop, pop, pop of leftover fireworks and the raised voices of angry people trying to find out where we went so they could ring our necks.
Or the smug pleasure we felt walking to school the next day when we saw red-faced people scrubbing soap or wax off the windshields of their cars. Sometimes, a besmirched store display would go all the way into the Christmas season uncleaned, giving us a good laugh each time we passed knowing that those marks were ours.
We were leaving our mark on the world, getting our small piece of immortality.
Something people today seem not to understand, even though many of them grew up in the same place and time as I did.
Knowing all this, I’m still debating whether or not to move my car to some “safe” location, seeing myself red-faced in tomorrow’s cold scraping soap, wax or worse off my windshield.
When I was younger and on the other side, I saw it all as right and proper – and important ritual I had to do each year on this day.
I was telling people I existed, even if they didn’t know exactly who I was.
These days, I’m still trying to leave my mark, not with a bar of soap, but in other ways, and these days, I want people to know exactly who did it.
Still, I feel the urge to get some soap. If I do, I’ll start with my own car.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Museum to the Icon of Asbury Park

October 19, 2014

His face stares back at us through the window so that we might never forget who he is and what he’s done, this icon of Asbury Park to whom so much is attached – the fingers clinging to his shirt tails so that something can survive here when so much else has not.
This place is like a church with images of holiness we feel even though we are separated by class and time, having never met this savior from the streets, and likely never will, but rubbing shoulders with those who have, high priests of this new religion who lead us through the litany, a never ending passion play in which their god has not yet been crucified and perhaps may never, leaving this city – this place from which he sprung – to be sacrificed instead, while he tries real hard to keep his hands clean, a combined Pilot and Christ, over whom we rub our own hands and ponder out own guilt.
And when let into this new chapel of love, we look upon his apostles in their various poses, guitars instead of crosses, a saxophone, the notes of which we hear just by looking, and the highest of priests giving us a brief and sad tour of this Nazareth by the sea, and how like Jerusalem of old, awaits the invasion of Roman legions, and the desecration of the Philistines who will build their own chapels on the foundations of musical places of prayer, and will change money in their need to make this place over into something other than it was, with this one last holy place to testify to what went on before the walls of Jericho fell.
Luck and antiques brought us back to Cookman on Sunday to find the music museum open and a display of official E-Street Band and other photos as well as band photos from nearly every facet of Springsteen’s career.
We had passed the store front a number of times during previous trips, but it has always been closed, leaving us to peer in at unexplained memories. We came to this place on this day only because of a last minute reluctance to leave Asbury Park so soon – and as we always did during our visits to Cape May, we took one last stroll, hoping we might find some bit of magic we missed. In Cape May, this stroll usually allowed us to see dolphins or butterflies absent earlier in our visit.
Finding the museum open, we went in, and became drenched in nostalgia for a time, place and performances we had no living memory of. The museum was displaying photos taken by the official photographer of The Stone Pony – which included a number of pictures taken at Clemons’ night club in Red Bank.
The photographer was even on hand to talk about the history of these clubs and the history of Bruce.
I had seen the photographer earlier at The Stone Pony when the Jody Joseph Band had played along with students – as it turns out – from a school run out of this very museum.
I had a number of questions – one of which involved the physical look at The Stone Pony which seemed different from what I remembered during my visits in the 1970s.
And for good reason.
The place had changed hands several times, even owned by Dominic Santana, who I knew as the owner of Hardgrove CafĂ© in Jersey City. He apparently got overwhelmed running The Stone Pony and sold his interest to a developer who has since gobbled up nearly all the sacred music institutions in Asbury Park, either to knock down – as was done with the Fast Lane, Student Prince and other less noted places, or to use as a sales pitch for the condos destined to fill every square inch of what had once been a working man’s seaside amusement city in a monopoly city fathers granted because they were too inept to deal with the problems they were elected to solve.
The developer currently owns the Stone Pony, the Wonder Bar, and large chunks of the historic boardwalk. Because of the name recognition of the Pony and Wonder Bar, the developer has invested into upkeep on the buildings – including addition of a doggie outdoor area at the Wonder Bar where dog owners might get drunk while their dogs romp around.
At the Pony, the developer added a canopy to the front door, and raised what had once been a very leaky flat roof. None of these changes, however, guarantee the bar’s survival, but the developer will squeeze out of them all possible good will, after which they will likely also vanish, once public attention is turned elsewhere. One plan would move all such institutions up onto the boardwalk so as to make even more vacant land available for even more condos so that the city fathers can collect even more taxes and drive real estate prices so high working people can no longer afford to live in Asbury Park in an upscale version of the old song, “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
This conversation with the photographer also dispelled a popular myth that Bruce had purchased The Stone Pony to save it – when Upstage Club still rots only a block from the museum.
The photos in the museum were well worth looking at, giving image to what I had only heard or read about, a physical reality to a world that once was but can never be again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dark morning

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I hear the rain before I see it, this dark October morning, a week or so before my world converts again to Day Light savings, and I feel the rain before I hear it, a heaviness on my chest that stirs me out of sleep and my usual dreams of the deep sea. Like John Lennon, I am the son of a sailor – though it may be the only thing we have in common. I am also the grandson of a boat builder and so feel the tides rise and fall inside of me, sensing the change of seasons just before they arrive.
Drenching rain like this at this time of year always marks the real shift from the lingering warmth to the edge of bitter cold, a harsh fact of life I have come to accept if not quite welcome, since I need one to realize how special the other is, the cold to make me understand the tenderness of warmth.
And yet, my best moments near the sea do not come with bright sun and intense heat, but with the moody gray of heavy clouds and the lonely cry of seagulls bemoaning the change, as they begin their long search for food.
This is midweek, and so I will not see the sea for several days, yet already know a chill air will greet me, if not gray skies.
I ache to walk near the edge of the water, risking the cold kiss of the waves as they consume the sand near my feet – and like Madam Marie, trying to predict which one will come closest and if I will have time to escape the hissing touch of the water when it comes.
Here in the real world, everything is slick, the headlights illuminating dull pavement so that the streets do look as if paved with gold, wet now, but destined in a short time to grow slicker with ice, a risky proposition in a place where people do not handle adversity well.
In the dark of early morning, I feel the madness of the planet, and see people who have given up all civility in order to get somewhere ahead of everyone else, even if it isn’t worth getting there. The radio newscasters report collisions and crashes now instead of mere accidents, because they have ceased to be accidents at all, but the careless aftermath of careless acts of careless people I have to steer around, and like with the waves, predict how close they will come before making contact.
We are all invisible in the dark, shadowy shapes hutched over steering wheels, peering out into the dimness ahead, trying to get some place safely. I keep thinking of my father, who sailed through an atomic cloud as a seaman, and later died of cancer – and wonder if there was a connection, and if he felt the same sense of being lost as I do on mornings like this – and the same sense of impending change.
The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 came in stark sunlight with extremely blue skies, and so I have come to dread sunlight, knowing that disaster can strike even when I can see for miles and miles the way I could that day. Perhaps it is because we assume we are safe when we can see all, and make no similar assumptions on dark mornings like this, when we are overly cautious and thus manage somehow managing to avoid being hit by the waves – the instincts of a son of a sailor more acute in foul weather, when the chill of the air gives warning.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cat people of Ocean Grove

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Leave it to us to stumble over the cat people of Ocean Grove during our last stroll there before making our way home last weekend.
And for them to have migrated there from our neighborhood in Jersey City was even more remarkable.
We were making our way down into the side streets off the beach for a glimpse of the Victorian era houses that lined either side when we came about Barbara and a number of others pulling weeds and cutting back the grass where it encroached on the sidewalk.
Their Victorian was as big and magnificent as those to either side of it, but in sadder shape, and with multiple cats in every window.
Although Barbara’s family had moved from Griffith Street in Jersey City in 1959, she still recalled fondly growing up there.
“It was as good place to live and go to school,” she said.
She and her family still come back to tend the family graves in the cemetery on Garfield Avenue.
“It’s a wonderful place,” she said, referring to the graveyard. “We like wandering the paths afterwards.”
She inherited the house when her parents died and it’s been a struggle ever since.
“We just can’t keep up with it,” Barbara said, testifying not just to how exclusive Ocean Grove is with its wealthy families and its expensive bed and breakfast places, but also to the plans for nearby Asbury Park which has delusions of grandeur as the city father’s dream of turning the hold vacation of the working class into something exclusive, if not as push as Deal, then at least, upscale as Long Branch, where people like Barbara (and for us that matter) would not be welcomed.
“We have volunteers helping us fix up the place,” Barbara said, suggesting that she may have had some warning from the city, and openly pointed out neighbors who object to having the house become a haven for local stray animals – especially cats.
“We’re thinking about moving to Delaware,” she said, one more migration of the working poor from a state that caters to the super rich and the extreme needy, the wealthy new population raising property values to the point where ordinary people can’t afford to live here, or pay the taxes if they are like Barbara and got their house free and clear – this also the future of Asbury Park once the new development moves in, city fathers rubbing their hands in anticipation of getting new revenue from the condos.
This won’t affect Ocean Grove much, since it is historically a religious community and has already become an enclave too exclusive for the working poor to afford. But in Asbury Park, where building after building has been demolished in an economic game of musical chairs, old families may be driven out one by one along with the iconic institutions the city fathers are too ashamed to maintain.
Bruce Springsteen’s line from “Provin all night,” came to mind then: I’m working real hard to get my hands clean,” showing the struggle to fit in with this new world full of clean hands.
But Barbara’s hands are covered with dirt from hard work, something that seems very alien to the new world this place has become.
Yet as poor as these people were, they insisted we live with something from their garden, and loaded us down with tomatoes and plums, which we at later at our first meal back in Jersey City.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bruce comes into his own

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Listening to one of a number of Bruce Springsteen concerts on my way south to Asbury Park over the weekend, I continued to ponder just how he made the leap from wholesale imitation of other performers as he did during the Steel Mill days to his emergence as a fresh and innovative voice with the release of his first album with the e-street band.
Music reviewers and biographers have been kind to him in saying that he was in this or that performance mood when writing songs, when in some cases, Springsteen’s bands simply changed lyrics and aped other people’s performance nearly note for note. Some performances were so close to the originals, it amazes me that the bands he imitated didn’t take note. Despite his early success with the public, Springsteen sounded like the bands that he was influenced by, often adding his own lyrics to other people’s productions and coming away with a reputation as a prolific song writer.
Bruce actually followed a well-established pattern traced back to countless eventually great song writers before him, including Bob Dylan, who spent a good portion of his early career aping Woody Guthrie.
It was clear that Bruce struggled to find a voice of his own, and clearly saw the limitations of Steel Mill, using the incident at the swim club as an excuse to seek a new direction, despite the overwhelming musical prowess he and the other members displayed.
Graham’s offer to back the band during their trip to San Francisco combined with Steel Mill’s popularity must have put a real scare into Bruce and motivated him to look beyond Steel Mill. While kinder biographers claimed Bruce risked losing the rights to his songs if he went with Graham, in truth, these largely weren’t his songs to sell, and a national spotlight at that time would have exposed that fact, even if the audience was willing to ignore how familiar these tunes were.
The question for me was how did Bruce manage to transition from a song writer that basically revamped other people’s tunes to become one of the great song writers of our generation.
In fact, it appears, he never did. He simply got better at disguising the root of his music.
This is not to say that all of Springsteen’s music came from already existing songs, but rather that his tunes appear to take off of what he heard, especially as a backup way of writing new songs when he could not come up with a hook of his own. But he never did this so obviously as he did during Dr. Zoom or even the Bruce Springsteen Band – such as with the Stone’s song Happy, that the band played as original.
Part of the disguise had to do with production. Steel Mill for all its incredible musical ability was way too raw, exposed by its straight forward approach with little place to disguise the roots of music so when they played a Cream-like song, it sounded like Cream or a number of other lesser known bands Bruce was enamored with.
But remember, this is nothing new for rock and roll. Nearly all emerging bands sound like their predecessors. Even some of the root bands of the 1960s like The Beatles, the Stones, The Who or the Kinks, owed their sound to Elvis, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and others. And until that ludicrous lawsuit filed against George Harrison over “My Sweet Lord,” it was an accepted practice. Even later, some bands such as Abba depended on other people’s songs for their own hits. It is hard to tell the difference between “Waterloo” and its predecessor, “Build me up Buttercup.”
But one huge difference between Springsteen and all the other was Bruce’s ability to imitate whatever he heard.
He is a musical chameleon. He becomes what he hears.
Even after he broke up Steel Mill, he continued to sound like his root material, although his sound softened and became more defuse. Instead of sounding like Cream, Santana, Allman Brothers as he did with Steel Mill, he began to sound like Bob Dylan and especially Van Morrison – someone he clearly modeled his new persona on. But it was clear from this point, Springsteen’s lyrics were not yet as good as those of those he imitated.
Seeking out more complex production such as he discovered with Joe Cocker and James Brown, Bruce was able to better disguise his root material, and at the same time, took one giant step closer to finding his own authentic voice. Of course, he still hadn’t brought together the right combination of musicians either and the horn player for Dr. Zoom – a more or less temporary band – lacked the soul he needed to equal the kind of musical models he was drawing from. Clemons’s arrival on the scene gave the suburban Bruce what he most lacked at that point, real and legitimate soul that rivaled people like Van Morrison and James Brown, and did something that helped draw attention away from Springsteen weak point: original tunes.
Again, this is not to say Springsteen lacked original tunes. But he seems to have fallen back on old habits of adapting other tunes by older or contemporary artist. So that some songs played during his late 1980s tour hinted or even more openly showed the influence. One appears to be a tune developed out of Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, only without the hook. “Ties that Bind” and at least one other song seemed derivative of  Joe Jackson’s “Is she really going out with him,” while “Raise the Cain” echoes Tom Petty’s “Refugee” (though it is hard to tell which of these came first), and there are even some hints of “Eve of Destruction,” in Springsteen’s “Badlands.”
To be fair, other bands also borrowed from Springsteen such as Thin Lizzy in their big hit, “The boys are back in town.”
Despite all of the accolades Springsteen received early and even later in his career for his song-writing, his music doesn’t seem particularly original, and his real innovation came with production and his eventual brilliance at writing lyrics.
Clearly influenced by Bob Dylan, Springsteen’s early efforts were extremely weak, pale imitations of what Dylan did.
Dylan had a knack for hitting a nerve and somehow finding depth in even the most simplistic surface lyrics. Springsteen didn’t achieve this until he started writing songs about his own life and what went on around him, as he became the herald for the unsung suburban generation, the way Dylan had for the urban hipster.
Springsteen captured our angst in a way no one had before or since, part of the reason we still cling to him even as the suburban existence we lived comes to an end.
Like Woody Guthrie, Springsteen has captured and immortalized a place and a way of life that is bound to fade, kept alive only in his songs and poetry, which will allow us and future generations to look back at what transpired – even those people whose lack the suburban experience. His Asbury Park will remain alive and vibrant long after the developers have plowed down the working class Asbury Park and short-sighted politicians turn it into a playground for the rich.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Salvation in Asbury Park?

October 8, 2014

We’ve become obsessed with Asbury Park – so much we rescheduled our annual trip there instead of Cape May.
We’ve only deviated from Cape May twice in 25 years, once going to Atlantic City (in 1995), a dreadful mistake since we traded a historic city for one that was dying. This came even before it became obvious to the gambling industry that the casino experiment was bound to fail, and that dependence on any single mode of economics drains the life blood from a city (a lesson the developers in Asbury Park should take to heart before going down that same unfortunate road in hoping to build condos where amusements once existed).
The second time we didn’t go to the shore at all, a worse mistake since this is a ritual we need in our lives, allowing us to close out one year, refresh, before plunging into the next.
Going to Asbury Park is slightly different from going to Atlantic City since we already know the city has been ransacked and its history held hostage by a developer who has little or no respect for what Asbury Park once was except as a marketing tool for future development that will – like all new development – totally change the character of what the place is, and so make it unacceptable for those who live and breathe the air as it once was or may still be.
This is a conscious manipulation by a developer who has bought up all the sacred icons of the music scene, and hopes to broker it into a successful campaign to attract what city planners everywhere call “walking wallets,” young professional with a lot of money to spend but not much in the way of culture.
Artists have always been used as shock troops for redevelopment – although in most other places less consciously than in Asbury Park. Artists move into dying neighborhoods because they rents are cheap, make them safe and attractive for the clueless professionals who are attracted to the bohemian lifestyle, and then price the artists out. In Asbury Park, the process is conscious, a takeover of The Wonderbar, The Stone Pony and even the once public convention hall as a lure to the next generation that will eventually drive out those artists that have lived their lives here or have come here seeking to collect the threads of former greatness.
We are no different. We seek the music because it is part of the history of our lives, and what threads we find are part of a fabric in which we played a part – if not here on this particular holy ground, then connected to it by threads that are weaved to other threads that go all the way to the core of where we were at the time when real greatness happened here.
And in coming here, we encounter those artists and others with still closer attachments, people who have lived in the shadow of The Stone Pony, or even inside it, for a generation, and have collected its relics to display, and to bring people in to admire and to provide some kind of buffer against the inevitable exploitation that developer intends. They live with the hope that the developer will eventually “do the right thing” when history shows developers never do.
SOAP (Save Our Asbury Park), an organization of big and small musical stars, lacks the real political wherewithal to take on the developers, or the expertise in property rights needed to block the ambitious plans in order to exact the necessary give backs and assurances that The Stone Pony, the Wonder Bar and the character of the Asbury Park won’t vanish once the developer has gobbled up the whole city and turned it from a mecca for music to an exclusive mecca for the wealthy – which is what condo development means.
This is all about money and power. And Bruce Springsteen and his friends are finding out the way John Lennon did, how popularity even wealth does not always equal political power. Springsteen, of course, gave up the fist in the air revolutionary rhetoric after the disaster at the swim club, and is learning apparently the next lesson in how artists can be used for the absolute wrong purpose. (This is a lesson to Springsteen about just how vicious Monopoly is played when it comes to developers).
Even in this shadow of doom, I’m drawn to this place, hoping to collect enough pieces of the mosaic before the bulldozers and wrecking balls completely demolish any sign – such as the building around the corner for the old Student Prince slated for demolition over the next week.

These memories here are part of a personal history that anyone growing up in New Jersey during the years when Southside, Bruce and others rode the waves not just to fame and fortune (although that happened, too) but into immortality, and the fragments of their passage have become monuments as solid as the stone statue mounted in Sunset Park and our going there is very much a pilgrimage in which we hope to wash ourselves the healing waters of its sound, and perhaps find salvation.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An angel sings at The Saint

Sunday, October 12, 2014

We met Meg outside The Saint just after 7 p.m.
Meg serves as bartender, juggler, and inspiration for the Asbury Park venue, and when she told us that Erica of Eric and Erica sounded like an angel, we believed her and hurried inside.
We had come late and so caught only two of the last songs Erica performed.
She was using a 20-chord push button autoharp, a slightly more difficult instrument to play that its leaver 16-counterpart, but she handled it well, and was accompanied by Eric (I presume) on the drums, a suburb and gifted drummer.
Indeed, her voice was like that of an angel, but no so saccharine as to be unbearably sweet, filled instead with powerfully emotional undertones.
I did not realize that she was part of a larger performance until Sean Hayes got onto the stage with the same drummer, and then later, asked her to get back up on stage to sing harmonies behind him.
Hayes, who hails from Durham, was stunning, showing a diversity of performance that made him seem like several performers, not merely one, opening with a performance of minimalist guitar work that was aided by deft and sympathetic drum arrangements, and also well placed harmonies by the drummer at intervals.
Hayes sounded a little like James Taylor, but a James Taylor with a whole lot more soul, and when he decided to rock, the whole room rocked with him.
At one point, he put down his electric guitar and took up an acoustic and the whole mood changed, especially when the drummer temporarily abandoned his skins to play a basic, but mood-rich lead behind Hayes.
The fullness of the duo’s sound was partly due to the drummer’s ability to fill in spaces with his skins that the guitar did not fill.
At one point, Hayes took up a midi, and filled the room with some prearranged background to which he sang alone.
The most moving moment came when Hayes talked about a song he had recorded and released some years ago about a man, wrongly convicted, who had spent 40 years on death row, and how that many after many years, had finally come to see Hayes in San Francisco. He was 92. Today, he’s 97, and the longest living survivor of death row in the nation.
A local Asbury Park band called “The Flow” played Saturday’s late show. The band included bass, drums, keyboard, electric guitar two lead singers and three back up singers.
The guitarist and drummer were over-the-top great with chops that made The Saint come to life, even though for the most part, the band played cover material.
The guitarist looked a little like Carlos Santana, and seemed capable of playing any style, and along with the drummer gave the band real edge.
But the real star was the female lead, a dominant, sexy upfront character that had a voice to match; her range was remarkable, ahs she took on some seriously difficult songs with ease, including a song by Adele.
The band suffered some technical difficulties that muted her for the first song, but once she got started, she was the center of the it all, dealing out songs like a card shark always keeping the ace up her sleeves.
The night also had its share of rude people who in the middle of one tender ballad decided to talk at the top of their lungs. Like Jim Morrison once did at a now very famous concert, she told them to shut up.
If there was anything wanted from the night it was the band’s holding back on any serious funk – even though it was clear from what they did play that they had the chops. I kept wanting the bass player to turn up the treble and really go out it. Also, the band played only one original song, and I would have liked to have heard more.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Springsteen: a shy man, really.

October 4, 2014

My co-worker, a former reporter for the Asbury Park Press, says he’s seen Springsteen a few  dozen times during the early years – once or twice at some converted supermarket, several times at the Sunshine Inn, even at the Stone Pony, though he recalls most of the times from the Student Prince.
He even remembers seeing Springsteen sitting on the side during a folk rock duo performance on the Port Pleasant boardwalk, the day after the swim center disaster.
“They were doing things like Simon & Garfunkel, and were apparently raising bail money for one of his band mates busted the day before at the swim center,” he said. “They often performed to raise bail for somebody.”
People, my co-worker said, were always buzzing about Springsteen, and how he was bound to be somebody big someday, not only was Springsteen a prolific song writer, but had an amazing stage presence.
 But once off the stage, the dynamic Springsteen vanished and was replaced by someone completely different, a shy, almost recluse that you would not take much notice of if you didn’t know who he was and what he could do on stage.
My co-worker, a seasoned reporter, thought he knew people, but never saw anything like this before.
Of course, my co-worker being from Freehold, could not escape the awe that most people from that part of the planet had for Springsteen, similar to how people in Liverpool must have felt about The Beatles. One of their own had made it big and had done something significant, rising up out of these streets, a guitar hero, a spokesperson for the working class, a musical god of the ordinary people.
My oldest and best friend never saw Springsteen before or after he made it, but her former husband – who worked as a stage hand for bands like Pink Floyd – apparently got up close at some point. But since he’s passed on since, he cannot tell me if he was as awestruck as everybody else about meeting him or what Springsteen is really like once the lights grow dim and the amps are turned off.
I understand the need for people to have heroes, especially local people who they may have rubbed shoulders with or walked along the same boardwalk, or perhaps passed without knowing. Most of the really great are rarely appreciated in their own life time and gain status with death they lacked in life. Some even deserve it.
The fact that Springsteen has kept his place in music for 40 years suggested that he has validity that will only increase with time – perhaps because he never steps down off the stage, and so we never really get to see the wizard behind the curtain. I’m fascinated with the world out of which he rose, and the culture of the band life that allowed him to become who he is, some glimpse of the magic that took place in this place, Asbury Park.

(note 10/11/14: I learned after I wrote this that the swim center was a fundraiser for a late band mate that got busted down south. And since the swim center was a bust, Springsteen and others had to continue to seek ways to raise funds. I don't know the outcome. But it sounds like something Springsteen would do. He tends to be intensely loyal to his friends.)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bringing it all back home (Asbury Park)

September 27, 2014

I embrace the here with open arms, this history my history, not one of my ancestors – no grandfather and grandmother honeymoon in Cape May, but the roots of this primitive ritual called Rock & Roll by which I still live my life – an ageless back beat more firm in my consciousness than even the rise and fall of tides, yet tided to the movement of waves the way the moon it, part of some greater and more mysterious cause and effect that cannot be measured with sextant or metronome, yet beats firmly in my heart, a syncopated symbiotic rhythm I can’t live without.
I feel this place in my bones, a constant vibration that gives meaning to each step I take, and I hear a hum in my ears like the aftermath of a long night’s electrified music.
I am electrified, too, and need this place even though it is not my place to need, its history tied to a history I experienced elsewhere which has long vanished from those places I knew it best, and so I cling to what is left here the way a man might cling to the remains of a sinking ship, knowing that if I let go I am lost forever, knowing that rock & roll is in the air I breathe, and without it, I ceased to exist, if not the rock & roll that took place here, then music elsewhere to become what it became here, and as with other such special places like the marker at Bethel, this place retains some magic I need and ache for, inside and out, and so I drench myself with this place the way a pilgrim might with holy water from some sacred fountain, chanting lyrics like prayer, seeking a god or some greater spirit I secretly suspect does not exist, yet must exist for me to exist, and in that is the paradox.

What is lost cannot be found and yet, we cannot cease to search for it, for our lives are bound up in this quest and like Odysseus, we are always trying to find our way back home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cow Punk and more at the Saint

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The moment we heard the banjo from behind the curtain at The Saint on Saturday, we knew we should expect something different.
We already knew anything was possible at The Saint, especially with so many bands scheduled.
At it turned out, the night was particularly diverse from hardcore punk and something I perhaps misnamed Cow punk to a mingling of genres.
Casino Sundae opened the night with a very serviceable rock and roll, mostly original pieces that had just enough variety that you could easily spend a night with it as the solo band and not get bored – with lead vocals by the guitarist and backup by the bass play that provided a surprising amount of comfortable harmony.
For me, hardcore punk (as opposed to Heavy Metal which I struggle sometimes to tell a difference) is a dead art form. It sole purpose as far as I’m concern was to rescue rock from the soppy doldrums of the early 1970s the way the Beatles rescue Elvis a decade earlier from sappy characters like Pat Boone. But listening to punk rock today is like being forced to listen to The Ventures after having been exposed to Pink Floyd.
Music has just come too far since the 1970s for Punk to seem anything more than a novelty – even though no one would question the musicianship of the Game Day Regulars – they are fabulous musicians – far exceeding their primitive, almost indigestible ancestors, even making the genre listenable for me, if only for a few songs. But if you have a taste for that sort of thing, they’re your cup of tea.
The Amboys, on the other hand, was clearly a diverse, sometimes hardcore pop/rock/country band that delved into punk just enough for me to think of them as cow punk – although the term clearly falls short of defining just how good they are. They had a country flavor and a distinct respect for melody that separated them from anything really punk, drawing from a number of genres that includes rock, rock-a-billy, punk, and mainstream pop. Their sound was surprisingly fresh, and you could easily start out envisioning yourself walking along a country road only to find yourself falling off a cliff as the very competent musicians rocked the house down with their set at The Saint.
Had they been the last band, I would have gone home ecstatic.
They, however, were followed by The Vansaders, a stunning, powerful and charismatic band that literally stopped my breathing at points in their set, changing the rhythm with a wide variety of songs, none of which failed to impress, from power pop to power ballads, or just straight out knock-you-over rock and roll, playing with emotions as they switched from slow to fast and back again, weaving complex melody lines only to perform starkly simple yet remarkably moving songs as a counter balance.
And it is clear that this is a band destined for something great, filling the stage and the club with the kind of presence I could only image the great bands of Asbury Park’s historic past had. I could have listened to them all night, and though it was way after midnight when they finished their set, I still wanted more.