60. My home town

 

Now I don’t know what it always was with us
We chose the words, and yeah, we drew the lines
There was just no way this house could hold the two of us
I guess that we were just too much of the same kind

Springsteen, Independence day

 

My Springsteen Odyssey Part 2

We left Asbury Park heading west and, just forty minutes later, were rolling down South Street in Freehold. This was a very big deal for me (and the source of great amusement for Jersey girl), we were travelling down the street where Bruce Springsteen had spent his formative musical years!

In moments the house where he lived, and which he has documented in both song and monologue, would hove into view. I already knew, thanks to the marvel of google Earth, what the house looked like and so, when I spied it, felt strangely like I’d already been there.

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The left side of the house was the Springsteen home. I believe the window at the top was the young Boss’ room (I have no idea why the traffic cone was there).

Google, however, could never convey the emotional impact of actually standing in a place of such cultural significance.

The first thing that strikes the visiting fan is the complete lack of any acknowledgment that the great man had ever lived there. I’d expected a small plaque at the very least. Instead, there is just a very tired and untended looking duplex. No Graceland this.

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Me (obviously) looking very pleased with myself in front of the former Springsteen abode.

You’d think a cash-strapped borough like Freehold would have kenned that they could spin some much-needed tourism revenue by buying up the former Springsteen home and turning it into, say, a museum.

No such notion seems to have occurred to them, which I’m actually kind of glad about. There’s something unspoiled about it as it stands and it probably more accurately represents the man’s ideals that it remains someone’s home.

It was so moving to be standing where so many of the events that formed the writer and performer had transpired. Both of Springsteen’s beloved grandparents (on his father’s side) died in the house.

When Bruce was about fifteen, an unknown shooter fired a bullet through the front door narrowly missing the boy as he was walking up the stairs to practice his guitar.

The Kitchen out back was the scene of all those late-night confrontations between Bruce and his dad. And, after the family had deserted Freehold (leaving their musician son behind) for a new life in California, Bruce moved his band mates into the house to live rent free for the remainder of the lease (this would have been Steel Mill, I think).

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The back door behind which Springsteen’s father would be waiting to have one of those ‘talks’.

All of these events swirled about my head there in front of the modest abode. Almost everyone who walked by as I stood there were Hispanic, so I guess the blue collar credentials of the neighbourhood remain intact.

Just up the road from the house is Saint Rose of Lima, Springsteen’s old elementary school. Again, over the years, he has spared no detail in the telling of his life under the iron rule of the Catholic nuns who ran this school.

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Despite professing no love for his old school, Springsteen came back to play a charity concert in the gym many years later. There is a wonderful bootleg of the concert known as Freehold night that is well worth tracking down.

We had somewhere else to go before the day was over but, on the way out of town, I spotted the Freehold Elks Club. This has the distinction of being the first venue where Springsteen ever performed a paying gig (he earned $5 I believe). I thought it worth a photo.

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Our next destination was a place outside of Freehold called Colt’s Neck. This is the area the Springsteen’s currently call home. I wasn’t sure if I should post this pic, but since I found my way there via publicly accessible information, and since the property also has a commercial recording studio attached, I figured it was probably not too big a sin to include it.

The Band is currently touring the River in Europe, so we knew that Springsteen wasn’t there, but it was nevertheless a thrill to see his house (the scene of those wonderful Seeger session recordings). I guess I’m still the same fanboy I’ve always been. It’s the one part of me that refuses to grow up but that’s not such a bad thing I suppose.

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Yes, that really is the actual house right there near the road.

I have to thank Jersey girl for all her patience and good humour as I dragged her around New Jersey on my fool’s errand. You have to love a woman who can put up with such silliness.

Words and images are all my own.

©2016

59. Heroes

I say better than the glory roads of heaven better off riding
Hellbound in the dirt, better than the bright lines of the freeway
Better than the shadows of your daddy’s church
Better than the waiting, baby better off is the search

Springsteen, Iceman

My Springsteen Odyssey Part 1 

We were back home for just one day before we were off again, this time to Lavallette. Actually, Jersey girl’s aunt’s summer house was just to be our base, this was going to be all about Springsteen. I’ve written about my previous visits to Asbury Park but on those occasions, I was never quite organized enough to do the proper ‘pilgrimage’ I’d always intended. This time was going to be different.

I had several points I wanted to hit and I’m happy to say that, with my Jersey girl’s help, I managed almost all of them. Every self-respecting Bruce fan knows the pivotal role that Asbury played in the history of the E Street Band.

After leaving his hometown of Freehold, Springsteen found his way to the shore, living in various locations in and around Asbury Park. It was at the now famous coffee house and jam club, the Upstage that Springsteen first wowed Asbury Park’s musical community with his Clapton like guitar licks.

“Drifting into the dawn above Cookman Avenue, the Upstage was like an ark for the Jersey Shore’s musicians and other renegades-a world bathed in black light and strobes, where the rhythm of life revolved around the club’s day-for-night schedule.

Without looking up, Bruce let loose a long, soaring run up the neck of his guitar. The sound razored the smoky air. He kept going, his fingers spidering across the frets, chasing melodies, doubling into harmonies, reversing direction and then leaping skyward again. Heads swiveled. Conversations stuttered to a stop. Within moments, all eyes turned to the guitarist, his face still hidden by the curls draped over his face.”

Peter Ames Carlin ‘Bruce’, page 63

It was also the place where he met future E Street band mates Garry Tallent, Danny Federici, and David Sancious at the Jam nights up on the third floor.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes also trace their origins back to this tiny but oh so important club.

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It was a strange sensation to stand outside that sadly decrepit building with such a prestigious history. Back in 2009, the place had been bought for 1.1 million by Richard Yorkowitz, a local antique dealer, who had been intending to keep it as a venue. Sadly, Hurricane Sandy put paid to his good intentions and he was forced to sell (at a considerable loss) to developers with plans to turn the property into apartments. To this point, no such development appears to have commenced.

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It looks like nothing but behind that shuttered door lies the staircase that some of the East Coast’s greatest rock legends climbed to their destinies.

The next spot on the Springsteen road map was the Wonder Bar. This was the venue where Springsteen first heard Clarence Clemons playing with his then band the Joyful Noyze and where the two met afterward (many believe they first met at the Student Prince but that’s actually another part of their story).

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Speaking of the Student Prince, this is now a popular pizza restaurant called Porta. Italian speakers will know that this means ‘door’. I find that fact fascinating due to the (apocryphal?) story that both Springsteen and Clemons have told over the years regarding the first time The Big Man jammed with the band. The story goes that Clemons arrived at the Prince in a storm and, as he opened the door to enter the club, it was blown clean off its hinges and down the street.

Clarence Clemons insisted the story was true. The thunder, the lightning, the gale force winds blowing across the Jersey Shore. Just another late-summer Nor’easter.

“I swear on a stack of Bibles that that door blew off its hinges,” Clemons told me a few weeks before his death in June 2011. “I swear on two stacks of Bibles. And it was a sturdy door. The front door. The wood one with the lock, so when you close that door the place is closed, okay? A big, heavy fucking door. And when I opened it, it blew down Kingsley. Tumbling north, toward the Wonder Bar. That really happened.”

Peter Ames Carlin ‘Bruce’, page 152

I wonder if this legend played any part in the naming of Porta?

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The famous door.

On the boardwalk itself are several Springsteen touchstones, from Madam Marie’s booth to the spot (sans phone booth) where the famous Hungry heart single cover photo was shot.

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You know the cops finally busted Madam Marie, for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.

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Then there’s the famous casino and carousel house. The casino gets a mention in 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and the Carousel house was the venue for Clemons last ever performance with the E Street Ban before his untimely death.

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At the opposite end of the boardwalk from the casino lies the Convention Hall. Remarkably, Springsteen never played there once before the mid 90’s. It has since become his go-to rehearsal space before tours.

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The somewhat ‘lived in’ foyer of the Convention Hall.

The Paramount theatre which also shares space in the building has hosted many performances by The band.

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Probably the most famous venue connected to the Springsteen legend is the Stone Pony on Ocean Avenue (part of the famous Asbury Park circuit). There’s little one can say about the Pony that hasn’t been said a thousand times.

Legend has it that in the days when Springsteen had just made it big, he would jump behind the bar and serve drinks to the patrons. Legend also has it that his bar skills left a lot to be desired but who’s going to complain when The Boss is your barman?

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Next stop, Freehold!

 

Words and images are all my own, except for the Hungry Heart cover.

©2016

58. Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

 

Everything dies, that’s a fact…

On the way home from our stay in Cape May, we just had to stop off for a peek at the subject of one of my favourite Springsteen songs, Atlantic City. AC is the Vegas of the East (and easily one of the tackiest places on Earth). Jersey girl had of course been there before but this was to be my first visit.

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Image; Columbia Pictures

I had an idea of what the place would be like (mainly based on movies like The King of Marvin Gardens and American Hustle) but nothing could prepare me for the reality.

We drove into the casino area and found a park easily enough. We were only two blocks from the boardwalk but what an education those two blocks proved to be.

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Looks OK from a distance.
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Still OK…
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Uhmm…

For a start, tackiness here has reached an unprecedented level, one I had previously been unaware could credibly be achieved. For another thing, whole vast complexes are empty and shuttered. When I asked Jersey girl about it she simply told me the entire city was basically bankrupt. Well OK then.

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Tacky.
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Empty.

Then we hit the boardwalk. It’s like someone gave a random seven year old an architecture degree and about a billion bucks and just said “do whatever you feel”. This is one of those times it’s best to mostly just let the pictures do the talking.

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And back to tacky.

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Seriously, don’t even ask.
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Fake facade, hmm, tasty.

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I’m gonna go with not!

It wasn’t all dreadful, some original buildings still struggle to maintain their positions among the modern rubbish. This was my personal favourite..

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There were also the boardwalk cats who were the most charming people we met there all morning.

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Lady feeding the gulls next to the sign that reads “please do not feed the gulls”.

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At this point things started to get a bit – trippy.

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Trump is now apparently using his distinctive hair as a logo. Now that’s brand recognition.

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By this juncture (our eyes burning with images that could not be unseen), we’d had our fill of the land of a thousand T shirt concessions. The sun had finally made an appearance and we were becoming uncomfortably warm. It was time to bid farewell to this ticky tacky wonderland.

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A small glimpse of what the Atlantic City beyond the casinos and boardwalk actually looks like.

Words and images used are my own, except where otherwise stated.

©2016

57. There’s a place out on the edge of town sir

 

My father’s house shines hard and bright it stands like a beacon calling me in the night
Calling and calling, so cold and alone
Shining ‘cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned

Springsteen, My father’s house

 

Cape May Part 2

Cape may has a classic lighthouse set a few miles out of town and, in a perverse moment, we decided to climb it. We couldn’t have chosen a more immediate method of discovering just how out of shape we were.

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The moment we began the long twisting climb I knew this was going to be tough. There were 199 steps winding up the 150-foot high structure and believe me, we felt every one of them. The staircase itself is cast iron and I was imagining how each one would feel as I bounced down them after my imminently impending heart attack.

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OK, I’m exaggerating a little maybe, but that really was one steep climb and both of us ‘felt the burn’ (in our outer thighs in this instance). The views were worth the effort but we were both pretty happy to be back on the ground after the somewhat less torturous descent.

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The view from the top of the wetlands bird sanctuary.

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Jersey girl, very happy to be heading in a downwardly direction.

Whilst at the top, I’d spotted an interesting structure on the beach. It appeared to be an old WWII coastal defense bunker and so – being the incurable history geek that I am – I, with Jersey girl in tow,  headed over to check it out.

It was indeed as I’d suspected a gun emplacement from the Second World War, this one was known as Bunker 223. These things were built to withstand both naval and aerial bombardments and so were configured with a good many interesting angles for shell and blast deflection.

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To my mind, this makes for interesting photographic possibilities. We were fortunate enough to be there when the tide was out, so were able to get up close to the structure, most of which now lies, iceberg-like, beneath the sands. Unfortunately, the entire visible complex has been sealed up so no chance to get inside but I just loved the evocative silhouette.

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I guess that about wraps it up for Cape May.

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At this point, I’d just like to mention what a pleasure it was to stay at The Candlelight Inn in Wildwood. Our hosts, Wanda and Mike, could not have been friendlier or more accommodating and Mike is one hell of a cook. His breakfasts are something to behold.

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Next stop, AC.

Words and images used are my own.

©2016

56. Living in a doll house

 

Cape May Part 1.

Nearly twenty years before Charles I of England lost his head in an argument with his parliament, there were already European settlers living at the site of the town now known as Cape May, NJ.

Another two hundred years or so would pass before the town became the seaside resort destination still popular to this day. Walking its streets, one could be forgiven for thinking the place much younger than its near 350 years.

Most of the existing architecture is of the Victorian period which inaccurately dates the town to that time. This is because almost all the original buildings burned down in the great fire of 1878.

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Congress Hall

Once the original wooden building was rebuilt in brick and renamed Congress Hall, the grand edifice above became an exclusive hotel and was even the summer White House of 23rd President, Benjamin Harrison for the duration of his term. Several other Presidents also stayed there over the years, which is part of what lends Cape May its air of stately grandeur.

The other features that lend grandeur are of course the famed Painted ladies, those Victorian houses that the town is famed for.

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Jersey girl and I spent a wonderfully relaxed day wandering around among these painted beauties. It seemed like every corner we turned revealed a new and stunning vision to be photographed and admired.

This visit we covered a lot more ground than on the previous occasion and I got to see some truly fine examples of Victorian splendour.

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As I’ve said before, the entire place resembles a town full of life sized dollhouses. I never thought such a thing would appeal to me, but I must admit, I find the entire cape irresistible. I’ve simply never seen anything quite like Cape May.

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Words and images are my own.

©2016

55. The amusement park rises bold and stark

 

There’s a crazy mirror showing us both in 5-D
I’m laughing at you you’re laughing at me
There’s a room of shadows that gets so dark brother
It’s easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love

Springsteen, Tunnel of love

 

Jersey girl and I have spent the past two days down on the Cape May peninsula. This area holds a special place in our hearts as it was the first place we ever travelled to together. This was Jersey girl’s birthday gift to me – to return to the Candlelight Inn in Wildwood and revisit all the haunts of that first magical trip.

In the end, we did a lot more besides. It will take a couple of posts to cover it all, so I’m going to focus on Wildwood this time. The Wildwoods, as North and South Wildwood are known, constitute one endlessly fascinating place.

For my non-American readers, the nearest analog I can think of is Blackpool in the UK. It is a seaside summer holiday destination; part town, part amusement park. This lends the town a fairly surreal quality. It presents as a place where the fun never stops but, come the off-season, the image begins to fray.

We arrived on the cusp of the season during a period of particularly bleah weather and the entire town felt desolate and empty. It was, in fact, the epitome of an off-season resort.

I guess I’m kind of perverse because I loved it. I’ve always been attracted to faded glory and to looking behind the facade. Wildwood offered so many opportunities for my lens that I was in shutterbug heaven.

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The Boardwalk was just beginning to wake up (the summer season kicks into gear this coming weekend) but I must confess, this was how I really wanted to see it. When not dressed in the summertime crowds it reveals its true nature and all the bright colours in the world can’t hide the crumbling, rusted reality. I don’t know why I find that so beautiful; too many Nick Cave songs growing up?

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For your larger dogs.

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Behind the facade.

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Faded beauty.

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Next stop, Cape May.

 

Words and images are my own.

©2016

54. This is the life for me

 

The way she kisses so tenderly
The way she gives her love to me
I been felt by the graces and angels up above
The little things my baby does
The little things my baby does
The little things my baby does
That make me love her

Springsteen, The little things my baby does

 

There are so many things I forget in the months between visits. Because I still see her every day that we’re apart on Skype, I begin to view the image on my computer as her. That’s not her, not the whole of her at least. When I have her before me again, that two dimensional image unfolds into raw reality, before my eyes.

Suddenly she becomes everything that can’t be translated by the interplay of photons, electrons and phosphor. Her magnetic scents, her velvet tactility, her coastal changes, are all so much more vivid than mere memory can hold. I see in that instant that I can have her mind at a distance but not the totality of her.

This fact is the great intensifier, the match to the pyre from which we rise each time anew. Constant rebirth has been the defining trait of our life together; both a blessing and a curse. It could be argued that it keeps our love fresh – and there is some truth to that – but that is balanced by the strains of long separation.

When the day comes that we are permanently together in the same place, there will no doubt be a period of adjustment, the swinging pendulum will describe a much smaller arc and that may, at first, seem strange. If this proves to be a challenge, I have no doubt that we will meet it. The list of challenges we have already had to overcome to make it this far is long. Who in a committed relationship would say different?

For now, we are here; together. She continues to set my world on fire with every touch of her hand and tilt of her head. What more could I ask of life?

 

©2016