Monday, March 16, 2015

Lovefest at the Stone Pony


Monday, March 16, 2015

I hadn’t expected to walk into a lovefest for white men, young and old, when I booked the tickets for Tramps Like Us at The Stone Pony.
We had heard the Springsteen tribute band sound check last fall just after finding Clarence Clemons’s memorial bench on the boardwalk, and took it as a sign that we ought to catch the act the next time it came to Asbury Park.
We missed Springsteen himself due to a severe ice storm that kept us prisoners in Jersey City while he did a 90 minute set with some old friends at the Paramount Theater a month ago.
So a tribute band was the best we could accomplish with the first warm day after the frost had passed.
Like our first time hearing the tribute band, it rained the whole day of our coming.
“How come every time we play here it rains?” said founding member and Springsteen-tribute-artist Mark Salore from the stage that night.
The rain casts Asbury Park into a gray haze. This was no deluge like one visit we made here, but a heavy mist to light rain that helped sweep the last of the previous snow storm out to sea.
By lovefest, I don’t mean “gay,” like you would find up the street at the Empress Motel.
This was a lovefest of mostly white men of every age, weight, fully-haired or balding, macho or not, gathered on the dance floor before the stage with wives, girlfriends, or in packs of friends, mostly working class, many wearing t-shirts and baseball hats, work boots, or thin leather jackets trying to look cool.
Yet for all the gathered testosterone, these men were infinitely polite (unlike the unruly packs that had gathered in the same space like fall for the Grateful Dead tribute band). These men moved with the grace of alter boys, and for good reason, because the Stone Pony for them had become a church, and their was a not-so-quiet reverence we felt the moment we came through the door, but which become all too evident the moment the music started, and these men began to sway – some raising fists in the air in tribute to the some unseen god evoked in this place by this band, some even casting “the finger” to one of the many oppressors that they face in their lives – here finding a hero (I’m no hero that’s understood) of a working class, New Jersey life that they could find in no other performer, songs filling the room with tales of their own lives and struggles, their voices chanting out words they knew as well as the singer did, having lived with them for decades – especially those icon tunes from the early albums such as “Born to Run” or “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
This band and the singer their paid tribute to sang songs about what it is like to live and die as ordinary people in a place as ordinary as New Jersey – songs filled with angst of growing up in a place that other placed mocked, songs filled with every day issues that seemed unworthy of other singers, but had been made into myth by a man who had started his career out, not just in New Jersey, but in here, in Asbury Park, and had played on this stage for people just like these people.
In a year in which “black lives matter” became something of a theme, this moment in The Stone Pony took on ironic proportions since in some ways Springsteen’s songs are about how much white lives also matter, and how unheralded most lives are, white or black, man or woman.
But it is true that most of the men in that room – except for the staff – were white, but that’s where the similarities stopped, old and young chanting the same religious theme of their own lives as the musicians landed on touch stones of songs they knew would evoke the most reaction.
This was the 25th anniversary of the band, and some of the older members got up to play a few songs, too. And since this year was also our 25th anniversary – recalling a wedding filled with white men and women, and a rock band filled with friends who had accompanied me through this long perilous journey of being white, working class and from New Jersey – I felt the pang of this performance, too.

Plenty of women accompanied the men in his room, but they seemed just a little baffled by the mood, as these men gathered in this primitive ritual, thrusting fists, fingers even beer bottles in the air in their defiance of the hard life they have lived – especially during songs like “Bad Lands,” while the women seemed equally confused as men rocked them during the ballads, men singing to their women words that were not their own, but seemed to sum up their lives better than words they could come up with on their own,. And few moments in my life made me understand what the attraction was, how Springsteen had captured more than just a moment in time, or a place, or even a feeling, he had captured a way of life that was rapidly evaporating. New Jersey would never be the same. These working class men were of an era that was vanishing before our eyes, and the men in that room, old or young, fat or muscular, rich or poor, all connected to that last string of words that kept the memory of theirs lives alive, giving them immortality that they knew they could not achieve for themselves.

1 comment:

  1. It looks like my last comment didn't post.

    It is very disheartening to see women being outcast as mere accompaniment and being "baffled." We can understand and relate to Springsteen's music as much as any man, maybe in different ways, but we have worked, struggled, and fought for survival in the working world. And we certainly know the power of the words in his songs.

    Maybe you noticed the men more because their voices are louder? Or maybe because more of them were hammered and more outgoing than the women?
    I don't know. But I'm sure if a woman wasn't there as a fan, she could have let the brother/husband/friend have a man's night out rather than be dragged along.

    In fact, from where I was, most of the women were in groups of women, or had brought their man, not vice versa. But that was just front row, which might not have been the group of actual fans, unlike the men at the back bar who weren't even paying any attention to the show, those were probably the real fans because obviously they're the men. Okay, now I'm being sexist. Yes, almost all the men were deeply into the music, but so were the women.

    Do not exclude nearly half if not half of the fan base. It is very disappointing from a Springsteen fan. Especially after you say "how unheralded most lives are, white or black, man or woman" and then proceed to contradict that statement only for women.