4th of October, Asbury Park

Bruce Springsteen
Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ
4 October 2005

:::chasing the myth::::

Faded romanticized Asbury. Playing the KISS pinball machine in the arcade off of the Casino. Riding the carousel, princesses in Converse high-tops. Walking down the ancient grey splintered boardwalk in fog and sun. The Palace rising ahead of you at that turn – it really DOES exist! – of Kingsley and Ocean and other street names you murmured like a mantra, of the ferris wheel rising behind it all.

Except that I am not sure if that last memory really exists or it is burned into my brain from a million imaginings that occurred long before I ever saw Asbury Park for the first time.

93 asbury-park-tilly-2-thumb
Photo by Zoe Strauss. Used with permission.

I was 10 in 1974 so there was no way Asbury could exist as more than fairy tale. It was the hometown we were all trying to escape so by rights we should have shunned it, not embraced it as some kind of magic kingdom. At a time when it seemed like we had nothing else to belong to, when we had no memorable past of our own, the New Jersey in Springsteen’s songs was a legend we could cling to and try to make ours. So silly, because at that time we were busy making our own history every second of every day.

And now, and now, when you come down Asbury Avenue to Ocean and Tillie is gone and the Palace is gone and with each successive visit you watch the Casino slowly disintegrating, like a sand castle at high tide, I don’t know where to place my memories. Asbury in the 80’s was dirty and dilapidated and dangerous when I first came down here at age 15, chasing maps and legends, and not some hidden jewel of a ruin in the jungle. We cared because he made us care. His gift of elevating the mundane to sacred gave us hope on so many levels.

The years of surprise Shore club appearances aside, most of us are not carrying authentic memories of him in Asbury. We carry the memories he gave us. They were so vivid and heartfelt they became ours. The place and its spirit (and spirits) spoke to him and infused his music and sensibility.

All of this is what I was thinking about when Springsteen played “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” at the pre-tour rehearsal/benefit show on October 4 at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park. “Sandy” is not my favorite song. It doesn’t even make my top 50. I don’t even think it’s all that good and believe that its status in the pantheon is slightly overblown because it has the words “Asbury Park” in the title. Hearing it played in its namesake should have been, I imagine, deeply meaningful. Maybe I can be cynical because I have those memories; I know plenty of folks who would kill or die to remember what the Boardwalk between Convention Hall and the Casino looked like before it was all torn up, closed down and shuttered. But even then it was past its prime.

Do I take it for granted? His sense of place of is one of Springsteen’s most powerful gifts. And as I get older, I feel like I didn’t pay enough attention to what did happen. I wish you could know that in 20 years you would long for every detail, every dumb and mundane thing that happened: drinking Jack Daniels for breakfast on the train, giggling madly at everything as the stations sped by; of sitting up all night at the donut shop on Sunset and Main after a show at the Pony or the Fast Lane, when our ride back to the city didn’t materialize and the first train home was 5 a.m., dragging ourselves to the NJ Transit station in greying gently silvering light, too tired to talk. Of the Clash at Convention Hall, our own Woodstock; of driving the circuit in someone’s mom’s car and flirting with the bikers parked in front of Mrs. Jay’s; swimming in the ocean at Long Branch (NEVER at Asbury); and the trains, always the trains, we were silly New York girls so cars were a luxury and a rarity.

All I can think is: do I remember it right? Do I remember it well? Is it worth remembering? Is it important to remember?

The greatest most overpowering memory that flashed in my mind while “Sandy” was being played: all of us, fast asleep on the train after another minor adventure, with your leather jacket as pillow or comforter, sprawling across two seats, set face to face, attracting leers and stares equally made of disapproval and envy. It’s not a memory that has anything to do with Springsteen specifically, but I wouldn’t have had it without him, because we wouldn’t have been drawn to this place without his words.

And now, tonight, another one, a vision to access from the memory banks in 10 years, feeling grateful that the Shore is an hour away and not six hours on a plane, of walking up to the ocean pre-show through a vague salty mist, my boots ringing solid footsteps on the boardwalk as I approach the theater, where I get to sit and listen to him play the songs that a such a large part of who and where I am today.