Local Heroes 2

 

So I asked the salesgirl “Who was that man
Between the doberman and Bruce Lee?”
She said “Just a local hero”
“Local hero” she said with a smile
“Yeah a local hero he used to live here for a while”

Bruce Springsteen, Local Hero

 

 

Jersey girl and I found ourselves in Red Bank yesterday where we stumbled, quite unexpectedly, across a couple of culturally iconic locales.

Red Bank is a small New Jersey town on the Navesink River, North West of Asbury Park and North East of Freehold, which in 1904 was the birthplace of one of the greats of American music, Count Basie.

Born William James Basie, the man that would come to be known the world over as the Count was taught to play piano by his mother and, by his early teens, was already performing around the local area (including Asbury Park).

Eventually, he moved to Harlem and began playing with the Bennie Moten Orchestra with whom he continued until 1935 when he formed his own jazz outfit, The Count Basie Orchestra.

The Count would become a legend in Jazz and Big Band circles and achieve world fame as a musician, band leader, and composer. This was perhaps in small part due to the attentions of one John Hammond (a familiar name to all Springsteen and Dylan fans) who had heard Basie’s band over the radio and travelled from New York to Kansas City in 1936 to check out Basie and his Orchestra.

Hammond was impressed enough to record the band, a recording he later described as, “the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I’ve ever had anything to do with”. This was the beginning of Basie’s rise to national prominence.

Over his long career, Basie worked with some of the very greatest vocalists of all times; Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, and Sarah Vaughan.

 

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While wondering around the town cente, we came upon Red Bank’s lasting monument to perhaps its greatest son. In 1984 (the year the Count died) the Carlton Theatre on Broad Street was renamed the Count Basie Theatre in his honour. Many acts have played there, including Tony Bennett,  Al Green, the great George Carlin, Boz Scaggs, Counting Crows, Brian Wilson, The Asbury Dukes, and Jon Stewart. It was the last venue James Brown ever played and has been the location of several of Springsteen’s surprise guest appearances over the years.

 

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We hope to catch a show there in the not too distant future.

 

The second Red Bank icon (and the only other that I know of) is filmmaker and comic book geek, Kevin Smith. My wife and I are both huge fans of his indy movie Clerks which was shot in the area. And I personally am also very fond of Chasing Amy, a large portion of which was filmed right on Broad Street in Red Bank.

All of this came into focus for me when we stumbled across Kevin’s Comic book Store, ‘Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash’ (also on Broad Street).

 

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For those who are not aware, Smith plays the character Silent Bob in many of the movies he has directed or written (Clerks I & II, Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Mall Rats, and Dogma to name, well most of them actually). He also wrote the movie Jersey Girl (which, surprisingly considering the title, I have not seen).

The Secret Stash store also doubles as the set for a show about (you guessed it) comics and geek culture called ‘Comic Book Men‘. Smith and his geek friends talk all things geek for half an hour and as we arrived outside the store, we discovered that the show was taping right then.

Two minders stationed outside told us we could go in during taping but we’d have to fill out and sign waivers and cover up our T-shirts (which featured other peoples’ artworks that could not be shown on TV without their permission). We decided that all sounded like a bit too much trouble so we opted to come back after taping and wandered off down the street for some dinner.

When we returned an hour later, the minders were gone and we had a quick look around Kev’s Kingdom (pretty standard comic book store with a lot of Jay and Silent Bob merch and memorabilia as one would expect).

As we were leaving, I also snapped a quick pic of the building across the street which was used as Ben Affleck and Jason Lee’s artist studio in Chasing Amy (weird that Affleck, who played a comic book writer and artist in that film, is now Batman).

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Here’s a scene from the movie showing not much has changed since 1997.

 

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Jason Lee (loved him in My Name is Earl) hanging out in Chasing Amy (Image: Miramax)

 

And that was our strange little day in Red Bank. I found a lot of weird connecting threads which led me to write this somewhat amorphous piece. NJ never seems to let me down on that score and I do love the little adventures Jersey girl and I always seem to have together.

 

Encourage an artist

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise credited) are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

 

Now, the Boss don’t dig me

 

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Surely one of the most amusing relationship dynamics in popular music is that between Bruce Springsteen and the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie (a name which itself would seem more at home on a pop star than a politician).

Christie, a Republican, has for years been on the record as a HUGE Springsteen fan who’s attended over 100 shows and has often been seen bopping in the good seats pretty much any time the Boss has played the Jersey/NYC area.

 

Springsteen, an avowed progressive, loathes everything Christie stands for with every fiber of his being and never misses an opportunity to lambast the Governor over his mishandling of Bruceland.. I mean, the great state of New Jersey.

With the exception of a rare period of détente around the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy (how delicious is that irony, btw?) where the two appeared to mend the battered fence somewhat, the ideological differences have made any sustained relationship impossible.

Not so very long after Sandy, during the, so called, ‘Bridgegate’ debacle, Springsteen appeared on the Jimmy Fallon Show to mock the besieged Governor in song.

 

This must have stung Christie to some extent and in 2015 during an interview for LifeZette, he professed to like Bon Jovi more than the Boss. Then, several months later, he delivered what could only be described as the coup de grace to his tempestuous (and largely imaginary) relationship. In an interview with Sean Hannity, he stated bluntly that he is not friends with Springsteen, only that he knows him. And that he is friends with Bon Jovi.

This didn’t stop Christie from tweeting this little anecdote on the 40th anniversary of Born to Run;

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This fractious situation has been playing out for years now and begs the question, why was Christie so enamored of an artist whose very core beliefs were and remain diametrically opposed to his own anyway?

Some say that the Governor’s great love of all things Boss was just politicking, a way of playing to the stands and showing New Jersians that he is one of them. This, however, does not actually seem to be the case.

Christie’s great unrequited love for Bruce seems to have been very long standing and completely genuine. Recently uncovered emails from the Springsteen listserv archives show the depth of the Governor’s early obsession.

Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 12:32:22 EST

Subject: Brush with Bruce at 30,000 feet

I am mostly a lurker, but now that the holiday craze is over, I have time to sit down and impart my great experience from the last show in Minnesota. My wife and I saw the second Asbury Park rehearsal, 8 of the NJ shows and one in Philly. What a great year. We finished up with “The last show of the Century” entertaining 15 clients at the final show in Minnesota. The show was amazing and everyone had a great time. But for us, the best was about to happen the next day.

We board the 11 am Northwest flight back to NJ the day after the show. My wife and I are sitting in 1st row of 1st class and getting out our books out of our bags and putting the luggage away in the overheads. From behind me I hear a voice say,”I think I’m sitting right back here.” I knew immediately–it was Bruce!

He was by himself–no Patty, no bodyguards–just Bruce, a baseball cap, jeans jacket, NY Times and Minneapolis Star-Tribune. I immediately go off the deep end.

The plane is then delayed 30 minutes on the ground and we have our chance. We walked back to see Bruce, introduced ourselves and told him we had flown in for the show last night and were headed home. He said, “Me, too.” We thanked him for the great performance the night before (and for all the great nights). He was incredibly gracious, we chatted briefly about where we lived, etc., and then said good-bye and went back to our seats (he was in the last row of 1st class).

When we landed in Newark we walked off the plane with Bruce right next to us. I asked him if I could tell him a little story. I told him about the night he played Sandy at the Continental Arena. My 6 year old son Andrew and I were in the front row on tix we won in the KACF auction. Bruce had thrown him a pick earlier in the evening and acknowledged his energy at 11 PM during Land of Hope and Dreams. (He said, looking at my six year old son, “He’s still going?”) He then introduced Sandy by pointing to my son and saying “We’re gonna send you home with a little lullaby.” As I finished this story in the jetway, Bruce said, “That was your little guy?” I said yes and told him how much it meant to my son (he’ll still calls Sandy “his” song) and how much it meant to me. He said he remebered and called Andrew “crazy” with a big grin and chuckle. He told me to tell Andrew he was glad he had such a good time and to come back again. I then asked Bruce if he could sign an autograph to Andrew and his 3 year old sister Sarah Anne (who had also been to 2 shows–one in Philly and one in Jersey). He was happy to do it and signed to both of them. He shook my hand, told my wife to make sure the kids got the autograph and wished us a Merry Christmas. His ride was waiting at the gate and he walked away. What an incredible time for me, a Bruce fan since 1976.

He was everything I hoped he would be if I ever got a chance to meet him–gracious and incredibly normal in a truly extraordinary way. That was my Christmas gift.

Chris from Mendham, NJ

I wonder how Bruce would have reacted had he known who that gushing fan would turn out to be in later years. I’d like to think he’d have been just as gracious. Christie didn’t approach his hero as a Republican but as a fan and a fellow music lover.

True Springsteen fans really should not be surprised by this seemingly contradictory state of affairs. The fact is, politics have nothing to do with music. You can shoehorn political messages into your songs but that’s rarely what people are responding to when they listen. It’s the emotions conveyed that determine how people will react. And your emotions are not governed by your political stripe.

Many of the blue-collar folk who listen to (and draw comfort from) Springsteen’s music are heartland Republicans who, nevertheless recognize themselves in the characters that populate the songs of this unapologetic progressive. Springsteen wouldn’t have it any other way, I’m sure.

The themes that can be found running through albums like Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town are universal. Springsteen doesn’t write about Republicans and Democrats, he writes about Americans and about those elements of our identity that are true for all.

So, though the relationship between Christie and his Boss is amusing on one level, on another it is a pure expression of the unity and inclusiveness that good music holds out to us all. The Governor has never been turned away from a Bruce show and I hope he never will be.

 

 

©2017

 

The Boys from the Casino

 

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The Cold Seas

 

I want to tell you a little story. This story, unlike many of my posts, has a beginning a middle and an actual end. It starts back in Melbourne about a year ago but mostly plays out on a steamy Summer’s night (last night in fact) at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.

Shall I begin, then? Good.

Sometime last year (I forget quite when it was), while I was stuck back in Melbourne feeling nostalgic for all things Jersey, I was reading up on the history of Asbury Park. I was particularly interested in the musical significance of venues like The Stone Pony and the Wonderbar and was getting that familiar itch to be back there.

On a whim, I typed, “Asbury Park bands” into YouTube, thinking, “I wonder if the next E Street Band is slogging its heart out around the traps of AP, hoping a little Bruce magic might rub off on them?”

Almost immediately, I stumbled across some videos of a band called Deal Casino. The first was a live video of them playing a small gig at Porta (that’s the old Student Prince, Springsteen fans). They sounded tight and I was pretty impressed by the songwriting.

Next, I found a number of their recorded tracks and was instantly taken with this one in particular (obviously the Bruce reference helped).

 

I got on iTunes then and found them easily enough (a minor miracle on the Australian version). They had a number of EPs out at the time and so I downloaded the lot and ‘liked’ the band on social media so that I’d be able to keep track of what they were up to.

Jump forward to just a few short weeks ago, me back now in Jersey and newly married. I was aware that the band were about to drop their first album and was fully intending to download it at the first opportunity when, quite out of the blue, I received a friend request from Christopher Donofrio, drummer with Deal Casino.

I accepted, of course, and, almost immediately, got a message from him saying, Hi Tony! This is Chris from the band Deal Casino. We are mailing tickets directly for our record release show because T**********r sucks. Let me know if you’d be interested in coming!”

Needless to say, I was in and so, we purchased said tickets – at a considerable saving – and, just a few days later, they duly arrived (complete with a free vinyl single, I might add).

So, last night, Jersey girl and I jumped in the car and drove down to Asbury Park. The traffic gods were kind and we arrived with time to spare, so we strolled the boardwalk, had a couple of beers at the Beach Bar, and then a delicious dinner at our favourite Cuban restaurant, Cubacan.

As it turns out, we hadn’t had quite as much time as we’d thought, so missed the first support band, Born Cages. We did, however, catch the second band, The Cold Seas and they were amazing. If I had to categorise them, I’d say they fall within the Post-rock genre.

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We both really vibed on these guys and I downloaded all their available recorded material as soon as I got up this morning; really good stuff.

Deal Casino took the stage not long after (I like a band that doesn’t keep its audience waiting around too long) and the gig took off.

 

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Deal Casino are: vocals, guitar – Joe P. Parella,  guitar, keys – Jozii Cowell,  bass – Jon Rodney,  drums – Chris Donofrio. I’m not sure how the band divide writing duties but the songs have a consistency of vision that suggests that it’s mostly down to one member.

The thing that struck me the most about the gig was how dedicated the crowd was. You got the distinct impression that there was a strong core of people present who go to every show the band plays in NJ. Having now experienced them live, I can understand where that loyalty comes from. It all made for a really entertaining experience.

At one point, a large section of the audience suddenly squatted down on the floor during an extended guitar build, only to leap back up as one and go wild at the song’s big crescendo.

 

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Getting ready to jump (image: Jeff Crespi‎).

 

 

Joe really is a very good vocalist and his voice never wavered through what was, in the end, a pretty long night. His command of the stage was impressive and he even indulged in a little onstage Springsteenesque storytelling. And what was the subject of his story? How he came to be inspired by Bruce and the E Street Band, of course.

It transpired that Joe and another member of the band (not sure which) have held day jobs at Porta. I wondered if they knew the significance of that place in the Springsteen legend.

I also have to say that, though every member of Deal Casino is extremely good at what they do, Chris needs to be singled out for special mention here; he is one of the best rock drummers I’ve seen in a very long time. I wish I’d filmed the crazy solo he performed (with a little technical aid from Joe), it was mind-blown good.

 

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that’s Joe holding a snare (or maybe a tom) in the air and moving it about in space as a kind of challenge to Chris who is playing between the kit and the moving target in Joe’s hand – flawlessly, I might add.

 

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Here’s a much better shot of that not taken by me on a crappy cell phone. (Image:Delaney Gerard)

 

So that was my first ever gig at the famous Stone Pony (Jersey girl saw The Gaslight Anthem play the Summer stage several years ago so, for her, only the first inside gig). It seemed very appropriate to be seeing a couple of young up-and-coming bands at the venue that birthed such legends as the Asbury Dukes and Bon Jovi all those years ago.

Oh, I promised you an actual ending to my story.

This morning, I was putting some of my phone pics of the night up on my Facebook page and, literally within moments, Chris posted a comment thanking me for coming. That’s before any of my actual friends had even hit ‘like’ and, even more incredibly, at 9.30 am!

What he was even doing awake so early after a gig like that is beyond me, but I predict that kind of dedication to the fans is going to take this band far. If this show was anything to go by, they certainly deserve to get where they’re going.

 

 

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The Stone Pony wall of fame.

 

Deal Casino’s self-titled debut album is available now.

 

Words and images (except where otherwise credited) are my own.

 

©2017

I wanna be where the bands are

 

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“Before we play a little bit, I’d like to say a few things about why we’re down here tonight. Mainly I’d like to say that I think that the marriage between a community and a company is a special thing, it involves a special trust and even 400 jobs is a lot of work lost in a small town.

“What do you do when after 10 years or 20 years, you wake up in the morning and you see your livelihood sailing away from you, leaving you standing on the beach? What happens when the jobs go away and the people remain? I’d like to say what goes unmeasured is the price that unemployment inflicts on people’s families, on their marriages, on the single mothers out there trying to raise their kids on their own.

“Now, the 3M company, it’s their money and it’s their plant but it’s the 3M workers’ jobs. I’m here tonight to just say that I think that after 25 years of service from a community that there’s a debt owed to the 3M workers and to my hometown.”

Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony; 19 January, 1986. performing a benefit gig for workers from the Freehold 3M plant that was about to be permanently closed down.

 

The Stone Pony in Asbury Park is generally acknowledged to be one of the most important live Rock venues of all time. It is often mentioned by music historians in the same breath as CBGB, Whiskey a Go Go, and the Cavern Club.

And for almost the entire of the club’s forty three year history, it has been closely associated with one rock icon in particular. Bruce Springsteen’s relationship with the Pony is legendary. Following the closure of the Upstage club when he was still living in and around Asbury Park, through all the years of touring, Springsteen has been a fairly regular fixture at the club.

It has been estimated that the Boss has played the Pony stage some 100 times and, with the exception of private gigs to fundraise for his children’s various schools, has never once been billed there.

His first ever Pony performance was on Sept. 8, ’74. Springsteen was jamming with an outfit called The Blackberry Booze Band featuring none other than Steve Van Zandt and Southside Johnny Lyon. Blackberry would go on to become the Asbury Dukes.

 

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Bruce and Stevie, the early days. Picture lifted from the Stone Pony website.

Springsteen’s star was already in ascendance when the Pony opened its doors in 1973 but, even after he had gained considerable fame and recognition with his breakout album, Born to Run, he could still be found hanging around the Pony, occasionally even jumping the bar and serving drinks to customers (by all accounts he sucked pretty hard as a barkeep).

Almost all of his public appearances at the pony have been jams with other artists. These have included: Blackberry Booze Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Clarence Clemons, The Shakes, The Band’s Levon Helm, Joe Grushecky, Soozie Tyrell, Lord Gunner Group, Marshall Crenshaw, Little Steven, Bobby Bandiera, Nils Lofgren, and Jimmy Cliff.

 

 

The relationship has not always been harmonious, however. There was a period from October ’77 until May ’82 where Springsteen shifted his allegiance from the Pony to the Asbury Lanes across town. This reputedly had something to do with fellow E Streeter, Danny Federici getting tossed out of the Pony one night for general rowdiness which apparently did not go over too well with Springsteen.

By May ’82, all was presumably forgiven as Bruce took to the Pony’s stage again with a vengeance, playing 14 Sunday night jams with house band, Cats on a Smooth Surface.

 

 

On June 8, ’84 The E Street Band launched their mega, Born In The USA tour with a warm-up gig at, you guessed it, The Stone Pony. Twelve songs were played that night, including the live debuts of Born in the U.S.A., Glory Days, My Hometown, and Darlington County.

The Pony has not only served as a handy place for Bruce to play, it was for many years a safe haven, one of the few places he could relax among the public without the fear of constant harassment from eager fans. It is an unwritten law around the Pony that you don’t get up in Springsteen’s face. That’s a rare kind of respect.

The Pony also happens to be the place where, back in the early 80’s, Bruce met his now wife and fellow band mate, Patti Scialfa.

 

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The Stone Pony

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

4th of July

 

Well say goodbye it’s Independence Day
It’s Independence Day all boys must run away
So say goodbye it’s Independence Day
All men must make their way come Independence Day

Springsteen, Independence day

 

Our town, like thousands of others around the nation, staged a July 4 Parade yesterday. I didn’t know what to expect, but what I got managed to move me deeply.

Here are just some of my visual impressions of the day.

 

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The Baby Parade

 

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These images represent only a fraction of what was on display. There were, for instance, some 30 individual fire engines at least in the parade from all the surrounding towns (even one from Arizona – the pink one). There was also an amazing sellection of classic cars and vintage John Deer tractors to feast the eye upon.  Sadly, I’m dangerously close to running out of storage space on my WordPress account (not sure what I’m going to do about that) so I was forced to leave a lot out.

The day was remarkably poignant and uplifting in equal measure. I hope to see many more like it.

 

Happy Birthday, America.

 

All images used in this post are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are the dead

 

Yesterday, I visited the grave of a US President. I had not set out to do that, it just kind of happened. I was spending some time in Princeton, just wandering around with my trusty camera and decided, on a whim, to visit Princeton cemetery.

There I discovered many interesting people interned within the grounds. The biggest surprise was Stephen Grover Cleveland 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Cleveland was the only President ever to be elected to two nonconsecutive terms. He was also the only President thus far from the great state of New Jersey.

His grave in Princeton (surrounded by his loved ones) is a fairly humble affair considering the high office he held.

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So humble, in fact, that it neglects to even mention that he was President.

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I did a little research and decided that this was a President that, in most regards, I could have gotten behind.

Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans on libertarian philosophical grounds. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism. As a reformer Cleveland had such prestige that the like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called “Mugwumps“, largely bolted the GOP presidential ticket and swung to his support in the 1884 election.   – Wikipedia.

Cleveland was far from the only historically significant person burried in that place. I spent a couple of hours nosing around the tombs and found several other persons of interest.

Aaron Burr

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Burr was a colonel in the Revolutionary War, Vice President under Jefferson, and famously fought a duel with Alexander Hamilton (in New Jersey, where conviction for illegal dueling didn’t carry the death penalty). Hamilton died of the wound he recieved from Burr. Interstingly, the duel was fought on the very spot where Hamilton’s eldest son was also killed in a duel just a few years before.

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Sylvia Beach

Beach was an American-born bookseller/publisher who actually lived most of her life in Paris. There, between the two World Wars, she became a highly regarded expatriate figure. She founded the famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and published James Joyce‘s controversial book, Ulysses. She was also a supporter of Hemingway in his early writings.

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William Drew and Maria Louisa Robeson

Paul Robeson was a famous Princeton-born African American singer and civil rights advocate. A huge influence on such artists as Harry Belafonte and Sydney Poitier. He was highly regarded in Australia where he came in 1960 to tour and, whilst there, performed for the workers at the construction site of the Sydney Opera House. This was the first ever performance at the Opera House.

His father, William Drew was the minister at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in Princeton and he and his wife are buried there.

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George Gallup

Gallup, creator of the Gallup Pole, was a pioneering statistition and journalist. His monument is strange in that I could not find his name upon it. His family members were all reresented but where I expected to find George’s name there was only this;

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As I continued to explore, I discovered there were, among the tombs, a large number of Princeton University Presidents and Professors (not such a big surprise) as well as quite a few Civil War Generals and other high rankers (even a Confederate Brigadier General).

I looked for a long time for the stone which marks the resting place of Helen Dukas who was for many years Albert Einstien’s personal assistant but was unable to locate it.

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Cemeteries are always interesting places but, for me, this one was particularly fascinating. I left feeling very pleased that I’d taken the time to get properly aquainted.

 

 

©2017

Fall on me

 

Looking past the drops on my window

 

Old man out walking in the rain

Your jutting chin protruding way

Way out

Past the bill of your flat cap

Good thing you thought to bring your brolly

Else that chin would be a waterfall.

 

 

Words are my own.

 

©2017