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My Visit to Asbury Park, NJ
Liverpool lies on the west coast of England. This city of 445,000 was famously known as the home of the Beatles. They perfected their trade first as the Quarrymen and later as the Beatles. Deftly covering American Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues and originals , they played gigs here and Hamburg, Germany. The most famous venue for them was a converted air raid shelter known as the Cavern Club. From 1961 to 1963 they performed 292 times at this club, before they went out and conquered first England, and then the world. The popularity of the Beatles and other bands from Liverpool greatly contributes to the city’s tourism industry. A rebuilt Cavern Club with the original stage is a pilgrimage destination for thousands of Beatles fans every year.
Growing up in Massachusetts in the 1970s and 80s, I was a fan of most classic rock ‘n roll including the Beatles. But when I heard the music of Bruce Springsteen, it spoke to me in a way that made me stand up and pay attention. As I grew the music grew with me. Now, it is the only rock ‘n roll music I play. It is the soundtrack of my life.
Bruce grew up in the central New Jersey borough of Freehold. In the late 1960s, he played in a band known as the Castilles. As he grew older he moved to various residences on the Jersey shore (including a surf board factory) and honed his rock ’n roll craft in the neighboring city of Asbury Park at such clubs as the Uptown and Student Prince. His early music is packed with references to this city, its boardwalk, people and culture. Even though he has been all over the world, he lives in on a farm a few miles away in Colt’s Neck and can still be seen occasionally on stage in the clubs of Asbury Park. This is his home.
So when my wife and I got an invitation to our nieces wedding on the Jersey shore last April, I checked to see how close we would be to Asbury Park. Like the Beatles fans who flock to Liverpool, I had wanted for years to see the city that influenced the music I loved, Seeing that the wedding would occur in a neighboring town, my wife and I set out to visit the city.
What I first noticed was that we were about 35 years too late, I was prepared to see a seedy area especially around the boardwalk. But what I saw was a city struggling, like most, to present a pleasant environment for their inhabitants and tourists. I did not see many of the things that Bruce wrote about in early songs like ”Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”, “Night” and “Born to Run”. This was not the rock ‘n roll city I had imagined. Of course I was there on a Saturday afternoon and as the attached pictures show most of the people on the boardwalk were older.
Running parallel to the boardwalk are two streets, Kingsby and Ocean. which form a racetrack shaped oval known as “The Circuit”. On any given weekend night in the early 1970s, this was the place to be seen. Young man would drive around this in their classic American muscle cars with music blaring and their girlfriends next to them. In concert in 1978, Bruce dedicated his classic song ‘Racing in the Street” to the “people out riding in their cars” and “burning half the gas in the United States between stoplights down there” As I drove my Acura around Kingsby and Ocean 33 years later,(amongst the minivans and SUVs), I could have been on any main street in any city in urban America, I knew that I had changed immensely in the intervening years, Bruce is now 61 years old and there was no way Asbury Park could be the same as he described it back in the mid-1970s.
In the early seventies Bruce and the band practiced in a garage at the corner of E Street and 10th Avenue in nearby Belmar. This location gave the band its name and the title to one of his greatest songs “10th Avenue Freeze Out“. I wanted to see this street and after visiting Asbury Park, I had no preconceived notions, but the area was nothing that I had imagined. The neighborhood is a beautifully maintained area of large homes and multifamily residences. At that intersection is the Belmar Public Library. On the corner, on the library’s beautiful, well maintained lawn, is a small white obelisk which indicates the street.
As we drove back to our hotel to get ready for the wedding, my thoughts ran to a song that he had written a year earlier, when he had been the last musical act to perform at the old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. This tune is, on it’s surface, about the stadium, but like most of his songs, can be taken on many levels The song is called “Wrecking Ball” and is the title song of the new album he released a couple weeks ago:
‘Now when all this steel
And these stories
Drift away to rust
And when all our youth and beauty
Have been given to the dust
When the game has been decided
And we’re burning down the clock
And all our little victories and glories
Have turned into parking lots
When your best hopes and desires
Are scattered to the wind
And hard times come
And hard times go……
Just to come again’
My visit to Asbury Park left me with this impression. In 1978, I was an awkward high school senior. Since then, a lot has changed in my life. It was naïve of me to think that nothing would’ve changed about the city. While the music is still relevant to me to this day, it is not 1978 anymore and never again will be.