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 Café 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.