Kissing the single life goodbye at Hershey tonight with Bruce

Tonight marks my 39th Bruce Springsteen show.

I actually bought tickets to numbers 39 and 40 during the most recent onsale, then the fiancé and I decided that we couldn’t miss that much school and gave the Hershey Park tickets to my parents.

Then a bit of a family emergency struck and we realized we weren’t going to make it to the Mohegan Sun show, and my parents, knowing what Bruce has meant to me, offered us the Hershey tickets back. The fiancé now couldn’t make it on a weeknight, so it’s me and my dad making the drive tonight.

Which I think serves as a great bookend to a certain era of my life.

My journey with Bruce shows began eleven years ago in Richmond on the Rising tour. My brother had suggested that we get my dad Bruce tickets for Father’s Day the year before, but we never managed to get our acts together on that. And his birthday was in February, so the following year, I found excessively over-priced secondary market tickets (I didn’t know any better yet!) for behind the stage in Richmond. My brother couldn’t go, my mother didn’t want to on a school night, and so dad and I went alone.

I was still in school. We left after my last class of the day, driving down in my father’s car, joking that as we arrived in his BMW convertible, I looked like his midlife crisis wife or girlfriend, not his daughter. We listened to a compilation of songs I had put together based on recent setlists and I remember my father joking that we were passing “the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.” And I asked him what song he most wanted to hear that night. He named “For You,” which we knew was a long shot.

I was in one of many rough patches that year.  I had fallen out with my entire crew when my best friend of the last six years and I stopped talking. It was that relationship, not a boyfriend, that inspired Beyond the Palace a few years later. That’s the one relationship in my life that left a permanent scar. And even now, it aches to remember that loss. It was necessary to cut each other loose, but I was lost after that for a very long time.

But something in me clicked that night when the lights went down. For the first time, I felt something that fed that “hunger you can’t resist” that Bruce sings about. I know the people who haven’t felt that are shaking their heads at me, but the ones who have are nodding. And I know they’re out there because I’ve met them over the last eleven years. I’ve made some amazing friends because I discovered that there were other people who felt the same loneliness that I was engulfed in and who felt it lessened with each show. They are the rabid fans who can pick themselves out in the videos, who were there when I danced on stage in Charlottesville, who read Beyond the Palace and who wanted desperately for me to be Laura, not understanding that the reason they connected with the book wasn’t because I was Laura, but because I was Ben.

At first, it was me and my dad because it was our thing. My brother had annual ski trips with him, but the concerts were mine. My Uncle Mike joined us from time to time and started being my date to shows dad couldn’t make it to. He was the “real fan” in the family, with more than 200 shows under his belt, and I remember his friends quizzing me on lyrics and classic shows on the drive up to Shea Stadium in 2003 before deeming me worthy of the ticket my uncle shared with me. I treasure the memories of my shows with him as much as those with my dad. It created a bond between us that is unshakeable, and he is responsible for some of my favorite concert memories and a few key scenes in Beyond the Palace as well. And he claims that it’s in his will that I inherit his Bruce collection, because I’ll appreciate it more than my cousins could.

Uncle Mike in his “Born to Run” shirt, holding me as a baby

In 2008, I was in another of those impossibly rough patches. I was drowning at school, and it was just months after we lost my Uncle Jules, to whom Beyond the Palace is dedicated. He gave me a typewriter when I was eight years old and told me I should be a writer. And losing him hit the whole family with the destructive force of a hurricane. I did a double header of shows that August, going back to Richmond with some friends and then skipping the first day back at school for teachers to go to Hershey Park with my dad. And as was now our tradition, we picked the song we most wanted to hear. We had luck with “For You” at that first show, and even “Santa Ana” in 2005, which will be the song my dad and I will dance to at my wedding, as the “giants of science” line has always reminded me of him. But that night was my 20th show, dad’s 10th, and somehow we hadn’t seen “Jungleland” yet. And at the opening notes that night, I began to cry. It was one of the most cathartic moments of my life. It was the first time in a long time that I could believe things would again be okay. And my dad put his arm around me without saying a word; without needing to, because he understood.

As this most recent tour began, for the first time since March 6, 2003, I don’t feel that deep-seated need to be at as many shows as possible. Maybe I’ve grown up a bit. Maybe it’s because I finally have found that connection that Bruce has always said the characters in his songs are seeking.

Or maybe it’s just been too long since my last show and I’ll come home tonight and cry because my Mohegan Sun tickets are gone. I’ve warned the fiancé that that is a distinct possibility.

Thank you to my mother, for giving up your ticket to let me go with dad tonight. It’s my last show that I’ll attend with him while I still bear his last name. And while I’m sure there are more shows in our future, there’s something magical to me in getting to go to this show with him.

And Bruce, if you’re reading (hey, a girl can dream, right?), the song I want to hear most is “Sandy.” It’s what my parents will walk me down the aisle to next month as I begin this next chapter of my life.

Thank you everyone who has been a part of this ride, and I can’t wait to start the next stage, where I can introduce you to my new husband at shows!  And I’ll see you all further on up the road.

Bring on your Wrecking Ball–Two weeks early!

Christmas came way early Sunday night in the form of the new Springsteen album leaking more than two weeks before its release date.

Not that I really know from Christmas, being Jewish, but it sounds better than saying Hanukkah came early. And it really was more like Christmas because I got all of the songs at once, as opposed to the E Street Radio and Backstreets.com Chinese-water-torture-Hanukkah method of playing one new song a day until the album comes out.

So a mere ten minutes after I got the first message containing the link to the album (which was AGONIZING because the little status bar SAID I only had to wait six minutes. I swear, between that and the Ticketmaster “Your wait time is 15 minutes” message, I’m going to stroke out the next time I get an inaccurate wait time for something online), I was listening to Wrecking Ball. And even though it turns out that my next door neighbor IS, in fact, alive and well (which, in his case, means angry and bitter), I cranked it. Because that’s what you do when you listen to new Bruce.

And in case you’re not tech savvy enough to have the album yet (or don’t have friends like mine who will send it to you—I won’t name names, but you know who you are, and thank you! <3), or if you’re just DYING to know my take on it because I’m the girl who literally wrote the book on being a Bruce fan, I’m going to break it down, song by song for you.


1. “We Take Care of Our Own”

Okay, you’ve already heard this one. And if you haven’t, you’ve been living under a rock, and if that’s the case, how are you reading this blog? I’m not going to go into WTCOOO though, because you either already get it or you already think it’s a “Yay America!” song for you to pump your fist to in concert while you pat yourself on the back saying, “We DO take care of our own! Go us!”

And you wonder why I’m so misanthropic. People are idiots.

2. “Easy Money”

The second song on the album is the first real clue that this isn’t your typical Bruce album. You couldn’t take this song and slap it onto any other album and make it fit. It’s a country song. And while I normally hate country music, I get where he’s going with this one. Maybe he eased me into it with the Seeger sessions and all, but I’m already finding myself singing along and dancing a little to this. Granted, I’m dancing like a drunk chick at a country show, so it’s not something you’d WANT to see. But it kind of makes me want to buy a cowboy hat and some boots.

3. “Shackled and Drawn”

Eesh. It’s a country album isn’t it? Oh crap, Bruce went country. And he’s kind of yodeling. I’m never going live this down with people who already make fun of me for being obsessed with him, am I? I don’t even think I can make the folk argument that we could with the Seeger sessions. This is country. And I like it. It’s got a good beat to it. And it’s catchy. Even with the gospel-y background singers. And the yodeling. Do you think they make stiletto cowboy boots?

4. “Jack of All Trades”

I have a feeling this is going to be the bathroom break song of the tour. (Assuming he doesn’t bring “Mary’s Place” back that is.) It’s not bad. And lyrically, it’s one of the strongest on the album because it has a seriously poignant message about the current state of the economy and what’s happening to people who are losing their ability to earn a living. The problem is that it’s just too slow. It kind of reminds me of “Devil’s Arcade” in that it SHOULD be a great song. The story of it is fabulous. But musically, it’s a slow waltz. Like I could picture it being the song for a music box that you wind up and there’s a little animatronic Bruce and Patti waltzing across a darkened stage. It feels like “Cherry Blossoms” off of the Horrible Crowes’ debut album Elsie—it just drags the party down too much. I like it, but I don’t think this is going to get much airtime on my iPod.

5. “Death to My Hometown”

Love it. It’s got that folksy-country feel to it that most of this album has, but I think that this one is going to rock live. It has a passion to it that I haven’t felt on this album since the opening track. There’s a solid beat, and I can picture Bruce making his angry guitar face when he’s declaring that they “brought death to my hometown, boys.” 

Although from 2:15 to 2:35, Bruce kind of channeled the Grateful Dead’s “Throwing Stones” and I definitely started singing “So the kids they dance, they shake their bones, while the politicians throwing stones, singing ashes, ashes all fall down,” then was like, oops, wrong song… But I like that one too, so it works.

6. “This Depression”

This one is going to get old fast. Mostly because the confession-depression rhyme is repeated WAY too much. I could see this song fitting on The Rising or Magic pretty easily. It’s not as good of a story as “Jack of All Trades,” but it doesn’t stop the album like that one does. I’ll keep listening, but I think this one is a throwaway for me so far.

7. “Wrecking Ball”

On first listen, I was super disappointed by the title track. Partially because I was at Giants Stadium the second time that he played it, which was the show that the live released version and video were recorded at. And the album version lacks the passion, the fire, the spirit, the—well, the Bruce-ness of the live version. This one sounds like someone’s grandpa telling a story. I half expected him to add a verse saying, “Sonny, when I was your age, I had to walk ten miles to school every day, barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.”

But then I really thought about it. Because in its original form, this is the one song that doesn’t fit in on an album about the economic injustice of the country right now. The original was a fun rocker to close the last shows at the Meadowlands with. So why on earth would Bruce pick THAT song as the title song of the album? Then I understood the grandpa-ish feel of the new version. It makes it more neutral, less about Bruce in Giants Stadium. I think I still prefer the live version, but I get what he’s going for here. And maybe the real album version, not the leaked mp3s will sound a little thicker and a little less tinny.

8. “You’ve Got It”

Hey, I remember this song! It used to be called “All or Nothin’ At All,” was a lot faster, and was on the album Human Touch. Wasn’t it?

Bruce, I love you. But that’s NOT the album to be pulling outtakes from.

9. “Rocky Ground”

I have a feeling most Bruce fans are going to HATE this one. It actually manages to combine Bruce, gospel, and rap in one song. I’m not big on gospel or rap, but this is kind of cool. And even if you hate it, you’ve got to appreciate that Bruce can branch out instead of just producing the same album over and over again in different forms. (And for that, I like this song way better than “You’ve Got It,” which seriously does feel like a recycle.)

10. “Land of Hope and Dreams”

After a dozen years of playing this one live, it was an interesting choice to put on the new album. And in the first thirty seconds of the song, I worried. A lot. Because the gospel thing at the beginning did not work for me. But a studio LOHAD was worth the wait. It feels pure and redemptive and better than it’s felt live in years. And that last recorded solo from Clarence brought tears to my eyes.

I also kind of wondered at the lack of a song for Clarence on this album. Terry Magovern got “Terry’s Song.” Danny Federici got “The Last Carnival.” But listening to “Land of Hope and Dreams,” Bruce doesn’t need to tack on a song for Clarence. Because Clarence really WAS the biggest man you’ve ever seen. He got to play on his own goodbye song. And I think that’s the most fitting tribute to him that there could ever be.


11. “We Are Alive”

Okay, ignoring the Zippity Doo Dah riff that comes in at about 1:45 (…and at 2:45… and at 4:30…) and the weird foot stomping in the middle of the song, this one is kind of cool. Yeah, it’s more Seeger than E Street. But I like the lyrics. Even though I do picture Snow White’s animals cleaning the house while whistling this one.

So there you have it. It’s a VERY different album. And as several people who have heard it before have said, E Street it isn’t. (Wow, I just turned into Yoda there… sorry.) But even though it’s not Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town, I think new Bruce music is like sex. Even if it’s bad, it’s still new Bruce music, which is better than no new Bruce music. And this is far from bad—it’s just trying something new that will take a little getting used to.

Just don’t judge me if you see me at shows next month rocking a cowboy hat and boots. A few more listens and you may be doing the same!

Springsteen tickets go on sale today: Game on.

I’m not exactly an athlete, but today is opening day of the one sport that I’m a pro at.

Yes.

Springsteen tickets go on sale today.

Game on.

To the non-competitive fans out there, I know it doesn’t sound like much of an athletic activity, but trust me, it requires months of preparation, mental agility, cat-like reflexes, and the patience of a Buddhist monk.

If you’re smart like I am, you’re in constant training. There’s no off-season when you’re serious about getting Bruce tickets.

The preparation starts with location and a credit card. For any given tour, there are certain cities that are likely to get concerts. It’s important to anticipate which of these are within a reasonable driving distance (a twelve-hour radius is acceptable on your own, more if you have a second driver going with you), and to make sure that you’ve bought enough stuff with your credit card to rack up the mileage points to enable you to travel to the shows outside of that reasonable radius. I recommend charging all concert tickets on mileage credit cards, because then your tickets work toward your travel goals as well. This stage of the training process can take years, but if you’re an chronic shopper like I am, you can make training fun.

Next, you need to take up yoga. This is the part that’s hard for me. I’m not a patient person. If I’m going to work out, I want to run and lift heavy things. (Yes, like running toward sales and carrying shopping bags loaded with shoes. Shut up. I work out for real. Jerks.)

You see, to deal with Ticketmaster, you need yoga. Because Ticketmaster is the single most evil corporation in the history of the world. It’s a little-known fact that it has been around for hundreds of years, since LONG before you were able to buy tickets online, or by phone, or even in a kiosk (which was before my ticket-buying time). I actually have a theory that Ticketmaster was single-handedly responsible for the Kennedy assassination, the Holocaust, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (which started World War I), the Indonesian tsunami, George W. Bush, and the Microsoft corporation.

Seriously. The root of all modern evil.

And it’s apparently an unbreakable monopoly since the Live Nation merger, so there’s no way around dealing with them.

But you need yoga because it’s imperative that you are able to keep calm when dealing with Ticketmaster, even when you get the dreaded error message that tells you that there’s a problem processing your order when you pulled the exact seats that you wanted (GA, in my case—if it’s not the pit, it’s not perfect!), and you get thrown back into the queue, then told there are no tickets available.

Normally, when this happens, I turn into the Incredible Hulk. Literally. I turn green, sprout massive muscles, and run around smashing everything in my path yelling, “SARA MAD!” But with yoga’s meditation techniques, I’ve been able to control my anger to the point where I only turn slightly green, grow muscles that don’t destroy my clothes, and am able to grit my teeth, tell Ticketmaster to go do something that isn’t anatomically possible for it to do to itself, and keep hitting refresh, hoping that that tickets that an error message screwed someone else out of will pop back up for me to buy.

Trust me, without yoga, the cost of repairing the swath of destruction wreaked by Ticketmaster rage far exceeded the exorbitant Ticketmaster fees. And that’s saying something.

You also need to be prepared to type in the randomly generated “codes” that Ticketmaster provides to ensure that you’re human. And which are also the primary source of amusement for Ticketmaster employees other than causing system errors after giving you great tickets. One time the randomly-generated code said, “Nice try, loser,” right before saying there were no tickets available. Another time it said “No Bruce for you.” And another one said “ham sandwich.” (Okay, that one MIGHT have been random. Or it could have been a subtle jab at me because I’m Jewish and onto Ticketmaster about orchestrating the Holocaust.) But the more practice you have at reading and rapidly typing in those infuriating codes, the better your ticket chances are.

In order to get tickets to multiple shows (and let’s face it, I’m going to be at multiple shows on this tour), you sometimes need to perfect the art of being in multiple places at once. Tickets for both Philadelphia shows go on sale at the same time tomorrow (from ComcastTix, which is like Ticketmaster but with a less reliable website. Fail.). If you buy for one show, the second one will be sold out by the time you finish your purchase. I recommend cloning yourself and training your clone to buy tickets. However, I’m on a teacher’s salary and since it apparently costs $50,000 to clone a dog (and since cloning people isn’t legal… yet… muahahaha), that option is out for me. So if you can’t afford a clone, or have issues with playing God, you need a partner. I, for example, will be forced to rely on a less trained helper (my dad) to get tickets for the other Philly night. Pray for me. (Just kidding, daddy! I have faith in your abilities! But please try hard!)

And it’s wise to remember that buying tickets is a marathon, not a sprint. Because I’m not JUST planning to go to shows in New Jersey, which go on sale today. Oh no. I’m getting up early on a Saturday to buy my tickets for the DC and Philly shows tomorrow.

But even once I get my tickets, it’s not time to rest yet. It’s just time to start training to buy my tickets for the second US leg of the tour, which hasn’t even been announced yet.

And time to start training for pit survival–If you don’t condition your legs and bladder, that’s an uncomfortable experience. Worth every second of it, but uncomfortable all the same.

Good luck fellow tramps!

Let the ticket-buying begin!

It’s only rock and roll… but I love everything about it!

You know how the mystical entity known as they “they” always say that as soon as you stop looking for something, you find it?

Well, it finally happened for me.

Yes, boys and girls, that most amazing, magical thing that could possibly happen to a person happened to me on Friday night.

No, I’m not talking about love. I’m single and probably will be for life unless they eventually make it legal for a crazy cat lady to marry her seventeen cats. Which in some states, might actually happen before gay marriage, but that’s a topic for another blog and another day. (For the record I have no cats. I hate cats. Which is why it’s truly horrible that my destiny is to become a crazy cat lady. Pray for me.)

So what happened to me on Friday?

Only the best and most wonderful thing that can happen in my world!

I went to New Jersey to see the Gaslight Anthem. And I wasn’t looking for it, I wasn’t expecting it, hell, I wasn’t even THINKING about it. But it happened.

Bruce Springsteen popped up on stage at a show that I was at in Asbury Park.

And I was front and center.

Okay, slightly off to the right of center. But close enough.

Several very reliably sources told me that he was there that night before he came out on stage.  But I was relying on Bruce’s own dictum to “Trust none of what you hear, and less of what you see,” because I had been burned by rumors before.

Of course, I probably should have been able to guess that Bruce would be there, because Friday was just one of those incredible, too-good-to-be-true, perfect days when the stars all align and everything works out exactly as it should.

There were no hiccups on the way to Asbury Park at all. The ICC is finally open in Maryland, shaving half an hour off the time it takes to get there. And even Delaware cooperated! Worst-state-in-the-union Delaware got its act together in time for my trip to Asbury Park. Somehow, in what can only be described as a Festivus miracle, the road work that has been going on since the dawn of time in Delaware seems to be FINISHED.

And even more miraculous, the toll plaza of doom that always caused traffic to slow to the point where you actually start moving backwards has been replaced with a high-speed EZ Pass. Granted, I’m sure when I eventually get to hell (and trust me, that’s where I’m going when I die), the gates of hell will look nothing like Rodin imagined and will instead be the exact toll plaza that used to ruin all road trips through Delaware, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Seriously, after Friday, I’m thinking about letting Delaware remain a state when I take over the world. The state clearly read my earlier blog about my plan to revoke its statehood and is making the changes necessary to ensure its survival. And I respect that effort.

And thanks to those changes in Delaware, we made it to Asbury Park in record time, even with a Superman-style stop along the way for Lynnlee and me to change out of our road-trip yoga pants and t-shirts into the glamorous rock and roll goddesses you see at a show. Seriously, we walk into the rest stop as Clark Kent and we emerge as Megan Fox. It’s amazing what a little glitter eyeliner, mascara, and cleavage can do.

Which is also probably how we managed to make it to the very front of the pit, despite not being the first people in line, but I don’t question these things. When the stars align, you let it happen. (Ana, that was for you!)

Of course, even in my rock goddess mode, I feel a little out of place at a Gaslight Anthem show. Mostly because I’m neither fifteen years old, nor do I have approximately 863 tattoos. Seriously. The band might sing about “your hightop sneakers and your sailor tattoos,” in “Old White Lincoln,” but they seem to have left out any mention of the skulls, mermaids, song lyrics, and the one really freaky tattoo that I saw on some girl’s chest that looked EXACTLY like my dead grandma.  Seriously.  It scared me.

And with how tightly packed that pit was, I’m really glad tattoos aren’t contagious because I’m pretty sure I would have caught a whole lot of them from the people around me. Piercings too. Like I didn’t know you COULD pierce your eyelid or chin dimple or pinky finger. But I learned Friday night that apparently there is nothing attached to your body that can’t be tattooed and/or pierced.

I’m also pretty sure that I now have internal bleeding from the moshers. I’ve never understood the appeal of moshing. Like I’m happy to dance at a show. And I understand the appeal of wanting to be as close to the action on stage as possible. But I’ve never felt the need to hurl my entire body at the people around me as hard as is humanly possible for the sake of showing my enjoyment at a concert.

I guess I’m just weird.

Especially considering that the old Asian couple behind us were seriously getting into it. They were there with their teenage daughter, and I felt sorry for her because I was positive that when the moshing started, they were going to yank that girl out of there faster than you could pierce an eyelid. But Asian dad was moshing like a pro. Like he actually was. And I think I even saw Asian mom crowd surfing at one point.

But I forgot all about the moshers and crowd surfers and the chick who was busy trying to tattoo the Gaslight Anthem logo onto the back of my shoulder when Brian Fallon told us that he had a Christmas gift for us. And somehow, collectively, the entire audience’s Bruce-dar went off.

I think Lynnlee still has nail marks in her arm from how hard I grabbed her.

It was only one song. And it honestly had nothing to do with why I was there that night, because the Gaslight Anthem is unequivocally my favorite band in the world after Bruce. But it was one of those moments that absolutely shifted my outlook on everything.

Clarence is still gone and none of us mere fans have any real idea of how Bruce is going to handle that for this next tour. Hell, we don’t even have a hint of what the next album is going to be called or any confirmed US tour dates. Just a promise that they’re coming.

But whatever happens, I’m ready.

Because when Bruce shows up to play in Asbury, all is right in my world.

And so, with a hoarse voice, massive internal moshing injuries, and a half-finished tattoo that looks like the one Steve-O got while off-roading, I return to my normal, non-rock goddess life, to await the new year of albums and concerts and touring, oh my!

But after Friday night, I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring.

In the words of the Gaslight Anthem, “Bring it On”…

RIP to the King of the World, Master of the Universe–the Big Man, Clarence Clemons

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Clarence Clemons died Saturday night.

Which is a sentence that I hoped never to have to write. And to be honest, if there was anyone out there who could defeat death, I’d argue that Clarence would have been that guy.

My younger readers are scratching their heads trying to figure that out right now.

Well kids, gather ‘round. It’s story time.

Yes, Clarence Clemons was that guy who played on the new Lady Gaga album.

But if that’s all you know him for, Gaga herself would be ashamed of you. Because she didn’t pick him randomly to play on her album. She picked him because he was the best of the best. The Big Man. The King of the World. Master of the Universe.

And when the Boss himself introduces you that way, it means it’s true.

I spent Saturday night in a state of shock, listening to old Bruce albums on vinyl and trying (unsuccessfully for the most part) not to cry at the sax solos.

And there are a lot of really great eulogies out there online already, most of which made me cry as well. But I’m not here to make you cry today. That wasn’t Clarence’s goal on stage. He wanted to make us smile, as he said in numerous interviews. So in that vein, I’d like to talk about why Clarence was just so awesome.

I’ve blogged before about how I got into listening to Springsteen and how I started kind of late.  But I think I always had a vague awareness even before I chose to listen to the music that Bruce’s saxophone player was called “the Big Man,” both because my father called him that and because that was how Bruce referenced him in so many of the live versions of songs that provided the background soundtrack of my childhood.

My first real recognition of Clarence’s importance to the music however, came when I had just started listening to Bruce in college. My boyfriend at the time had told me that he’d heard a Bruce song on the radio and thought of me. I was skeptical. While I liked the guy (the boyfriend, I mean—I already LOVED Bruce), his musical awareness was…um…lacking. Which I learned when we were in the car one day and a song came on the radio and my boyfriend exclaimed, “Change the channel! I REALLY hate the Eagles!”

The song was “Sultans of Swing,” by Dire Straits.

So when he told me that he’d heard a Bruce song, I wasn’t sure he was right, and I asked which song it was. He didn’t remember. I asked how he knew it was Bruce then. And he told me that he would “know that saxophone anywhere.”

I later figured out that the song he’d heard was the Detroit Medley, which Bruce didn’t write. But he was right. Clarence’s sax on that was unmistakable.

Clarence didn’t become the stuff of legends to me, however, until I raided my father’s and uncle’s bootleg collections about a year later. I absolutely devoured those old cassette tapes, playing them in the car, one after another, and I would often drive extra laps around the block once I’d reached my destination just to finish whatever song or story was playing.

But while the music was what hooked me, what I loved most about those tapes were the stories. And the very best of the stories always involved Clarence. So rather than me butchering them, I’m going to let Bruce tell them himself here. It was hard to narrow down, but these are my three very favorite Bruce/Clarence stories.

Story starts at about 2:12
“The E Street Shuffle” from the Bottom Line, 8/15/75

Story starts about about 4:45 
“Growin’ Up” at the Agora 8/9/78

Story starts at about 2:40
“Growin’ Up” from the Capital Centre 8/26/84

Yet to truly appreciate the magnificence that was Clarence Clemons, I think you had to see the band live. Granted, I didn’t start going to shows until 2003, but I feel blessed that I got to see Clarence perform in a full twenty E Street Band shows. And while I honestly don’t think there is a way to explain the magic that was a Clarence solo if you didn’t get to experience it live, one of my most special concert memories is of one of those solos.

At the end of the Magic tour, I went to two shows back-to-back nights, Richmond and then Hershey Park. I skipped the first day back at school for teachers to do so, claiming that I was *cough cough* sick (which, as anyone who knows me well knows, means that Bruce is playing somewhere on the east coast). My dad went with me to the second of the two shows and on the drive up, we asked each other, as we always did before a show, what song we most wanted to hear that night. We’d had some pretty awesome luck with that game before, as my dad had said “For You” the night of our first show, which we heard, I’d said “Santa Ana”—with the caveat that I knew it would NEVER happen—the night that he DID first play it in Philadelphia on the Devils and Dust tour, along with a few other winners.

But that night, my dad said “Jungleland.” It was my twentieth Bruce show overall and my fourteenth E Street Band show, yet somehow I had never heard “Jungleland” live. And I remember nodding when my dad suggested that particular song and saying, “Me too.”

So I remember the overwhelming emotion I felt when I heard the opening notes to “Jungleland” that night. That year, 2008, had been incredibly rough for my entire family and finally hearing that song, that one song that my dad and I had hoped to hear for the five years that we had been going to shows together, provided this incredible catharsis. I cried through most of the song and my dad just put his arm around me.  And I remember thinking, as Clarence began his solo, that things really were going to be okay. It was the first time all year that I actually believed that was true.

I know I said I wasn’t going to get all sad there (sorry… I failed), so to close out, here are some videos of how I’d like to remember Clarence.

“Jungleland”


“Born to Run”


“Rosalita”


“10th Avenue Freeze Out”

Thank you, Clarence, for all that you’ve given me and the world.

We’ll miss you. But none of us who have seen you play or who have really heard your music will ever forget you or the influence you’ve had on music ever since that change was made up town and the Big Man joined the band.

I’ll always love Bruce Springsteen… but we’re seeing other people too

Every time anyone mentions Bruce Springsteen’s name, everyone who knows me has to call me to tell me. Well, okay, not EVERYONE. The people who know me WELL usually text me instead because they know how much I hate talking on the phone if I’m not driving or shopping. (Don’t judge, it’s an ADD thing.)

For example, when Bruce played the Super Bowl halftime show a couple years ago, I got approximately 987,426 text messages saying “It’s Bruce!!!!!”

Which meant that I spent the entire second half of the game typing “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” approximately 987,426 times.

No, not really. I’m nicer than that in real life. Which is why I actually have some friends. (Yes mom, I have friends. Real ones.)

But that happens every time Bruce’s name is mentioned in conjunction with anything. And while I appreciate that people think of me, it makes me feel like everyone is convinced I’m a crazy stalker fan.

Which I’m totally not.

Stop laughing.

Stop it right now.

I’m not!

Granted, I’ve been to Asbury Park so many times that the bouncers at the Stone Pony know me on sight. And I can find Bruce’s house on Google Maps. And three of the coolest moments of my life were the two times he called me “sweetheart” and the time he pointed at me on the line “where the girls are pretty” in “Darlington County.” And yes, the characters in my first novel meet following Bruce on tour (because they say to write what you know). And I named my dog Rosalita so I could say “Rosie come out tonight” when it’s time to take her out.  And you can see me right in front in this video.

But it’s really not as bad as people think.

In fact, I’m going to tell you a little secret: my current playlist that I’ve been updating and listening to for months now only has two half Bruce songs on it.

(I count a half song as when he guested on someone else’s album, but it’s not his song and he’s just doing some of the vocals/guitar work.)

(And the two songs are Jesse Malin’s “Broken Radio” and the Dropkick Murphys doing “Peg O’ My Heart,” both of which are awesome and you should check them out if you don’t already have them.)

Right now you’re probably asking, “What happened, Sara? I thought that Bruce was all you listened to!”

Well, you thought wrong. Sorry to disappoint. But while Bruce bootlegs make up a huge percentage of my iTunes library, his music makes up a small percentage of what I’m actually listening to these days.

Now okay, that’s subject to change when there’s a new album coming out and/or he’s on tour. But right now, with nothing new officially in the works, he’s not getting a lot of airtime in my house or car.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love him and always will. He was my first musical love, and he’s always going to hold a special place in my heart for that reason. (See my blog post about how I got into his music and what it’s meant to me over the years if you want that story.) But before I got into Bruce, my favorite bands were Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20, and Better than Ezra. I know, I know. Fail on all counts. Even trying to explain that it was the mid-late 1990s doesn’t really justify it. All I can say was that I was a dumb kid who didn’t know any better.  Although I should have, considering the chick on the cover of the first Third Eye Blind album was literally smacking herself in the face like she’s thinking “WTF am I doing on THIS album cover?!?!?!”

And then I met Bruce (metaphorically. Still haven’t really MET him… and I’m 100 percent positive that I’ll make a fool out of myself when I someday do… they’re probably going to need security to pry me off of him. Although I do think that most 61-year-old guys wouldn’t mind getting a hug from me… but I digress). And everything changed. And I’ll admit, for a few years there, he was pretty much all I listened to. It’s like how it always is in your first REAL relationship. You get totally wrapped up in the relationship, spend every waking moment together, and forget all your friends. We’ve all done it. I did that with my first serious boyfriend and I did it with Bruce. Unlike with John, however, Bruce and I have stayed close even once we were no longer exclusive. And I will always love him.

But I think the most important thing that came out of my relationship with Bruce is that he opened the door to the world of music for me. He was my gateway drug. And that may be the only place in the world where you see Bruce compared to pot. But you get the idea.

I was asked recently if I’d listened to the Bruce and Little Steven interview from a few weeks ago yet. And I actually haven’t. In fact, and I’m going to get blasted on BTX for this (the Bruce message board for those of you who haven’t had an all-consuming relationship with Bruce), but I haven’t even watched the Houston concert from the Darkness box set yet. (Don’t worry, I watched the Paramount footage—I just haven’t found the time to invest in watching a full concert yet. I’m sorry. I’ll watch it soon, I promise. Please don’t shun me, BTXers!)

And to be fair, a lot of what I’m listening to right now could be considered to be derived from Bruce. My current playlist’s top artists (based on having more than five songs on the playlist… there are a lot of others on there too) are Jesse Malin, the Gaslight Anthem, Frank Turner, and Fake Problems. Let’s trace the genealogy here: I started listening to Jesse Malin because Bruce guested on his album Glitter in the Gutter in 2007. I started listening to the Gaslight Anthem (who have a million Bruce references on their second album, The ’59 Sound) because Jesse Malin talked them up on Facebook when they were on tour together and because Bruce played with them in London. And I started listening to Frank Turner and Fake Problems because they both opened for the Gaslight Anthem at shows that I was at. And I’m loving every song that I’m listening to.

Will I ever stop loving Bruce? Doubtful. He’s been a tremendous influence in my life and I can’t imagine that would ever go away. But we’re both allowed to see other people now. So if you stop by my house or ride in my car (and in either case, I truly hope I know you… if you’re one of my like six random fans who I don’t know, please don’t suddenly show up in my house or car one day. Seriously. I’m totally pepper-spraying you if you do. Nothing personal. It’s just creepy.) and Bruce ISN’T playing, don’t worry. I’m not going through some weird existential crisis. I’m just experimenting with the other music that Bruce turned me on to.

And to all of my Bruce fan friends, don’t worry, I’ll still see you further on up the road… as soon as he’s touring again.

"If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor, love is the rhythm, you are the music"

Saturday night was about as perfect as they come.

Why?

Because for only the third time in my concert-going life, I got to see Bruce play in Asbury Park. And in my world, that is truly as good as it gets.

If you’re not one of my fellow Bruce fanatics, I know that you don’t understand the significance of this. And you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Here she goes, talking about Bruce again.” But hear me out, I’m going to try and explain it.

Wikipedia defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe, especially…human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine.”

Keeping in mind the one infallible tenet of the universe that Wikipedia is NEVER wrong, I think that music can fall into the category of a religion.

Go with me on this. Picture music as a religion. I mean one of the big religions, not some little weirdo one like that church of body modification (it’s real… bizarre, but real) or a cult like Scientology or Jews for Jesus, but as a real, legitimate religion.

(Note: if you’re easily offended by people mocking religion, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post… And if you ARE easily offended and DO read the rest of this post despite my warning, please don’t post your comments about how I’m a heathen because I’m just going to delete them. Yes, I have that power. Which I suppose makes me the god of this blog. Insert evil laughter here.)

Obviously Bruce is at the center of the particular denomination of musical religion that I practice, but just as Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, I can see the inherent value of other musical messiahs.

So okay, if Bruce is the deity-figure (I’m going to refrain from calling him Jesus—partially because I think that’s going to offend everyone but the Jews (I’m not as worried about offending Muslims because I’m an American Jewish chick… they’re not reading this anyway and if they are, my very existence is already insanely offensive to them) and partially because I’m Jewish and calling him Jesus just gets too confusing), that would make the members of the E Street Band his disciples. If I had better Photoshop skills, I’d do a version of the Last Supper to illustrate this. But my Photoshop skills are, unfortunately, somewhat limited and I don’t feel like wasting that much time. You get the idea.

Then there are the prophets. These are the other musicians who are heavily influenced by Bruce. (And you could probably make an argument that since Bruce was heavily influenced by Elvis, Bob Dylan, and Chuck Berry, among others, they could figure into some Father/Holy Ghost type analogy, but I don’t know enough about Christian theology to really flesh that out.) So in that group would be the Gaslight Anthem, Jesse Malin, Tom Morello, Eddie Vedder, Social Distortion etc. All of them are ABSOLUTELY worth going to see in their own right, but their music/styles contain some elements of the Bruce gospel.

We also have the scholars, who, like biblical scholars, interpret the word of our deity and pass these interpretations on to the masses. Some, like Chris Phillips and Dave Marsh, are established as being the authorities (love them or hate them, the Bruce camp has cemented their position by giving them super exclusive interviews), whereas others learn from these teachings and put their own spin on what they’ve taken from Bruce. You can find these scholars in many places, from BTX to Greasy Lake and everywhere in between. Some are strict and believe that only their interpretation is legitimate, whereas others are more welcoming of new points of view. (Think of the difference between ultra-orthodox Jews and reform Jews—you find the same kind of argument about what makes someone a “real” fan on BTX pretty often.)

I, as someone who has written a book in which the characters meet following Bruce and as someone who blogs about his importance in my life fairly often, fit into the scholar group, although I’m still a novice by most standards. My father was the one who introduced me to Bruce and he was the one who started taking me to shows, and it is a pretty male-dominated scene among the heavy-duty Bruce fans. And in my debut work, Beyond the Palace, I told the story from the point of view of a guy.

Which, of course, makes me Yentl.

(No one but my mother laughed at that, but it amused me. Papa, can you hear me?)

But the best part about travelling to our Jerusalem (Asbury Park) to worship at the holiest of holy sites, isn’t even that Bruce showed up. (Don’t get me wrong, that was absolutely unreal.) No, the best part is the feeling of community among the true Bruce fans at a show. Because I don’t care what people on BTX say makes you a real fan versus a fair-weather fan; when you’re at a show in Asbury Park and the lights have dimmed and there’s even the slightest whisper in the air that Bruce could be there that night, you’re with your family.

That feeling struck me several times Saturday night, well before Bruce took the stage. I had conversations with a whole bunch of different people who had been at the same shows I’d been at, who had the same bootlegs, who loved the same other musicians, and who felt the same things that I felt being there that night. And that sense of community and belonging is the reason so many people go to synagogue or church week after week. It’s to feel a part of something bigger and to be with people who believe in the same things you believe in and have faith in the same things you put your faith in.

No, I don’t literally worship Bruce. I’m actually a fairly observant Jew, and I understand that comparing music to religion is a stretch for those who don’t feel the way that I do. But the reason that I think it’s an apt comparison is that it has given so much to my life and to who I am as a person. And Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre was where I truly felt that I was home. And I can only hope that all of you who read this have a place where you can feel that same sense of acceptance and belonging.

And I REALLY hope that 2011 brings a new tour. Because I’m already eagerly anticipating my next religious experience.

Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey–the REAL Jersey Shore

A couple of times a year, I hop in the car and take the three-and-a-half hour drive to my own personal Mecca.

No, I don’t mean the DSW headquarters or the Stila cosmetics factory (both of which I would LOVE to go to though… road trip anyone?). I mean Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Now I know that when I say any destination on the Jersey Shore is my version of Mecca, you’re immediately picturing steroid-filled, spiky-haired, Ed Hardy-wearing, drunken guidos and their silicone-filled, hair extentioned, whore-y female counterparts. But none of those stereotypes are actually FROM the Jersey Shore. They just migrate there in the summer like really obnoxious birds that you can’t dislodge from your trees no matter how hard you try.

So Saturday night, I took “that drive, cross the river to the Jersey side” to see Jesse Malin perform at the Stone Pony. I’d seen him Wednesday night in the DC area and when I talked to him after, he told me that I should try to make it to the Asbury show. He did tell me that Bruce wasn’t a definite, but that didn’t matter, nor did it matter that in the end, Bruce didn’t show up. Because that’s not why I wanted to go. The truth is that you don’t have to work very hard to convince me to go to a concert (especially when it’s Bruce, the Gaslight Anthem, or Jesse Malin, who are my three favorite live performers), and it takes even less convincing to get me to Asbury Park.

Before you misunderstand me, I feel the need to point out that Asbury Park is still pretty shady. It’s kind of the polar opposite of my other Jersey Shore destination (my uncle’s shore house in Avalon), which is like the Disney version of the Jersey Shore (very clean, very safe, a pain in the ass to get to, and WAY overpriced in every possible way). In fact, if Avalon is Disney World, Asbury Park is Chuck E. Cheese. (Which would make Seaside Heights, where Jersey Shore is filmed the equivalent of the old Wild World Water Park in Prince Georges County, before it became the Six Flags, when it was dirty and disgusting and always had an alarming vomit-to-water ratio in all of the water rides.) It’s gritty, and you’re far more likely to encounter a giant rat than Mickey Mouse (because I don’t care what anyone says, Chuck E. Cheese is a rat).

But to a diehard Springsteen fan, it’s home.

Asbury Park, in fact, despite being a little scary at night (and sometimes during the day), is the ONLY place (other than my uncle’s house), where I can feel like I’m NOT a freak for how much I love Bruce. In Asbury, even on a non-concert day, I’m a lightweight. So part of why I love it is probably because it makes me feel more normal than any place in the DC area ever could.

But that’s not why I go there so often.

And no, it’s not because there’s always the off-chance that Bruce could pop up wherever you are there (which has only happened to me once in the six years that I’ve been going there. I have terrible Bruce-spotting luck. Although he DID stop his car and say hi to me the one time he WAS there at the same time as me—because he CLEARLY loves me too). It’s because everywhere you look, everything you see is straight out of one of his songs.

Granted, it was a little more fun from that perspective back before they started revitalizing the town, but even with many of the major landmarks gone, Asbury Park still holds a special place in the heart of all of the “tramps like us” who were “born to run.”

The funny thing for me is that Asbury Park’s “Glory Days” were long over by the time I was born (nevermind when that was. It was decades after Asbury Park’s heyday, let’s leave it at that). I never got to see the Palace when it was open (although I was there the week before they tore it down, which is when I got the photos that would later become the front and back covers of my first novel, Beyond the Palace).

The Palace, after the back was already demolished, May 2004

By the time I got to the Circuit, the northern end of it had already been closed off by the water plant. Madam Marie was no longer telling fortunes in her shack on the boardwalk (although a year ago, her granddaughter DID do a tarot card reading for me there, which was ridiculously cool, even though I don’t believe in that stuff).

Kids busking outside Madam Marie’s, May 2004

There was no joint underneath the boardwalk where girls could promise to unsnap their jeans (although before the town turned around in the last couple of years, there WAS an abundance of prostitutes who would probably have been willing to act out any Bruce-related fantasy for the right price). And that “giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light” was a poorly paved asphalt lot by the time I got there.

The Casino, May 2004

I described the scene that first greeted me in Asbury Park in a chapter of Beyond the Palace, through the eyes of my two main characters:

Asbury Avenue brought us into the city itself. I had taken over driving after we stopped at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, but Laura told me to pull over as soon as we saw the Palace Amusement complex looming on the horizon, its cracked and peeling green façade rising abruptly out of the flat seaside landscape. Commanded is a little closer to what she actually did. I thought she wanted to get out and walk around, so I looked for a parking lot, but she told me that the side of the road was fine. We had only seen a couple of cars on the road since coming into town, so I obliged. Laura hopped out of the car practically before I brought it to a complete stop. She ran around to the driver’s side and opened my door before I could open it. “I want to drive the circuit,” she said, excitement showing in every curve of her body. The circuit was no longer really a circuit by the time we got there in 2003, as the water purification plant at 8th Avenue effectively closed that end of it, but we had heard Bruce’s stories from concert bootlegs. In the 1970s, four one-way streets formed a sort of hangout/racetrack through town, where girls would “comb their hair in rearview mirrors” and the boys tried “to look so hard.” The Palace was a crumbling landmark from Bruce’s songs, a testament to his city of ruins. But the circuit was where you could still find the Bruce from Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Driving it was something that we knew he had done. And I knew that Laura would want to give me a chance to drive it too, so I had no problem letting her take her turn first.

She pulled the car into drive and took us slowly down Asbury to Ocean Avenue, where we passed the Casino. She had timed her mix almost perfectly. The next song was “Sandy,” which was about the attractions on the circuit and the beach. We made our way past the rotting hulk of the Casino, which had been an arcade with an arm that jutted out onto a pier in better days, but that part had long since washed away. We could see the boardwalk to our right, and the legendary Stone Pony to our left. Past a bizarre, rusted, half-finished high-rise, past Lance and Debbie’s Wonder Bar, which Clarence once owned, past the Howard Johnson’s, orange and space-age looking in its un-maintained 1960s splendor. Convention Hall rose up on our right, by far the nicest building in town, which wasn’t saying much. Facing the end of the circuit, we turned down 7th Avenue to Kingsley Avenue, and again Laura’s mix proved perfect, as the opening line of the next song was about driving down Kingsley and deciding to stop for a drink. Laura looked around in wide-eyed wonder. She drove us down to where we had started and then we switched seats and went back around the same course, this time with me driving. After a full lap, I looped back to park near the Stone Pony so that we could walk around and explore the town.

Laura usually left the top of her car down with the windows up on nice days, and this certainly qualified. Her car had a strong alarm system, and no one could really reach anything with the windows up. But Laura started putting the top up before I could even suggest it. This didn’t look like the kind of town where it was smart to leave anything remotely accessible if you ever wanted to see it again. Not that there was anyone around to steal anything. We got out of the car and I walked immediately around to Laura’s side. It was creepy. We hadn’t seen a living soul yet. It looked like no one had lived there for about twenty years. The only signs of life were a few old, dilapidated cars parked near the Pony.

Laura dug into her purse for quarters to feed the meter and I fished two out of my pockets. Laura inserted one with a dull clink, then peered at it.

“Shit,” she said idly. “Broken.” She looked at me and shrugged. “I’ll move the car.” I looked around. There was a sea of empty spaces and the meters looked older than us. No flashing red lights to show which had expired here. Laura started to climb back into the car, but I stopped her.

“Let’s find a working meter first,” I said. I went to the one next to the one Laura had tried. It was expired. I put a quarter in, but nothing happened. I tried the one next to that, and again, nothing. Laura started to look amused. She tried the one on the other side of the car. Looked at it curiously. Then tried one more.

“They’re all broken!” she exclaimed. “Does that mean we can just park here?” I looked around. Even the asphalt of the parking lot looked older than dirt. Stringy grass sprouted up in large clumps all around and a rainbow of brown and green broken bottles glittered in the sunlight.

“Yeah,” I said finally. “If we get a ticket, I feel like this place needs the money more than we do.” Laura smiled weakly and nodded. I don’t think she had expected it to be quite this bad. We knew it would be fairly rundown, or else Bruce couldn’t have written a song about it that would later be used to describe New York after September 11. But we hadn’t imagined the level of devastation that we actually found there. We didn’t know how dead a place could feel.

I felt disappointed too, but I wanted Laura happy again. “Let’s go exploring.” She nodded again and hooked her camera strap across her body as we set off toward the Palace of “Born to Run” fame. An exceptionally seedy-looking motel stood on the corner of Kingsley and 2nd Avenue. Laura stopped and stared at it. I turned and looked at her while she worked out whatever she was thinking. Finally, a huge smile spread across her face. I turned and looked where she was looking. A battered sign read “The Flamingo Motel.”

“Do you see it?” Laura asked. I looked more carefully. It looked like the sign had fluorescent lights along the looping words once, but if they had been there, they were long gone now. Pink, fluorescent lights, I would assume, to go with the Flamingo part. She watched me expectantly, but I shrugged. I didn’t know what she wanted me to see.

“What if I said ‘Flamingo Lane’?” she asked, hinting. Flamingo Lane? A line from “Jungleland.” Off Born to Run. The two lovers “take a stab at romance” and vanish “down Flamingo Lane.”

“Oh!” I said as I realized what she was getting at. Flamingo Lane wasn’t a street. Disappearing there meant getting a room at this motel. It was one of the many things that both of us loved about Bruce. His songs were poetry. If you didn’t look deeper, Flamingo Lane could be a street somewhere. If you did, the story became a love affair, with the sax solo acting as the un-vocalized verse that represents the culmination of that passion in this little dive motel. But it doesn’t matter that it’s a dump, because to them, it’s beautiful; it’s not a motel anymore, it’s a whole world that they can disappear into.

Laura beamed at me. “That is just the coolest thing ever.” She took my hand and pulled me across the street. “We have to check this out!” But the Flamingo, like just about everything else in town, was closed. Laura’s smile faded quickly.

I did have an ace up my sleeve, even though I hadn’t expected to have to play it that soon. I leaned down to whisper into her ear. “We’re less than a couple hundred feet from where Bruce will probably be tonight.” She smiled again and turned back to face me. She looked at me for just a second too long, her face a little too close to mine. I hesitated. She pulled back, kissed me noisily on the cheek, then turned away to walk down Kingsley toward the Palace. If she had stayed a second longer, would I have had the nerve to kiss her? Would she have let me? Doubtful, but I couldn’t help but wonder. She was halfway down the block before I realized I had better catch up. Maybe she would have let me kiss her. But there were still no guarantees that she would wait for me when anything involving Bruce was at stake.

The Palace, once one of the largest arcades in the country, was hardly more inviting than the Flamingo had been, as it was closed down in 1988. It was hard to believe, but it had gone way downhill since Bruce shot his video for “Tunnel of Love” there. A chain link fence surrounded the building, keeping vandals and teenagers out. There was barely even any graffiti on the peeling, faded paint; almost as if Asbury Park was so deserted that there weren’t even enough people there to vandalize an abandoned building. Instead, only the weather desecrated this once unmistakable landmark of the Jersey shore. Even the words on the street sign at the corner were faded and missing a letter. We walked around the side of the long-since empty building, reading the attractions advertised on the side in reverent silence. Laura stood in the middle of the road to take pictures without even needing to worry about traffic. The only moving car that we saw since arriving in town passed us as we walked down Kingsley toward the lake that separated Asbury Park from Ocean Grove, which was an entirely different universe. Ocean Grove was populated. Booming. Rich. Alive. Yet one block away, Asbury Park was as decimated as if a bomb had been dropped on it. We both turned to look at the car as it passed. It was the first sign of life that we had seen.

I personally thought that would have to be the worst of it. But the Casino had trees growing inside of it. Literally. Trees. The roof was torn off in some storm in the 1980s and never replaced. The carousel, which had once been world-famous, was sold off piece by piece and the space around it turned into a skate park before the entire building was shut down. By the time we got there, it was completely boarded up, and the only windows that weren’t broken were too high to reach with rocks or even BB guns. The remains of the pier hung perilously over the edge of the beach, guarded by a lone “No Trespassing” sign, which I doubted would have been enforced if people who wanted to trespass ever showed up. Nearer to the edge of the pier, only the frame of the roof remained, with big patches of blue sky visible through the broken windows. Plant life was clearly thriving in that end of the building, but the windows were higher there and there wasn’t a chance of getting a peek inside without a tall ladder.

An empty paint bucket stood near some of the lower windows and I turned it over. “What are you doing?” Laura asked. I climbed onto the bucket.

“Seeing if there’s anything inside.” I grabbed the ledge and pulled myself up enough to see inside. She watched me expectantly as I looked in. But there wasn’t anything exciting to report back. I climbed down and shrugged at her. “Do you want to see?”

She nodded and climbed up onto the bucket, but wasn’t quite tall enough to see, so I picked her up. I held her while she snapped a few shots of the inside through the broken window, and when I put her down, we wandered around to the boardwalk side, where an entire panel of windows was missing and the foliage inside was clearly visible.

Turning away from the Casino on the boardwalk, a ramp to our left led up to nowhere. It just ended about ten feet off the ground. I looked from there to the beach and touched Laura’s arm to get her attention. “There are some people, at least,” I said, pointing toward the beach. Laura looked relieved. The beach was pretty deserted, but a handful of people had also played hooky from work (or maybe in a town like this, they didn’t have jobs to skip out of) and were scattered along the shore, enjoying the beautiful day.

Laura had started down the boardwalk and when I looked at her, her jaw dropped open. “Look! It’s really there!” she almost shouted, pointing toward the Convention Center. She was pointing at a tiny white shack, which was barely noticeable, but a serious attraction for a Bruce fan. It was Madame Marie’s Temple of Knowledge. Madame Marie was a fortune teller who supposedly told Bruce that he was going to become famous. Although, according to Bruce, all musicians in Asbury Park received the same fortune, just not always with the same level of accuracy. She was mentioned in “Sandy” as being arrested for telling fortunes better than the police. Her shack, of course, was not open, nor was there any trace of Madame Marie herself, other than the faded lettering on the white walls of the building, which couldn’t have been more than about eight feet by eight feet. But we had once seen a picture of Bruce standing right in front of that spot. Laura traced a finger over the lettering on the side. She looked disappointed. I think she had expected Madame Marie to be sitting inside, waiting to tell our fortunes.

Today, it’s infinitely better. For starters, there’s a working parking system (wait, that’s not actually a better thing for me on a teacher’s salary!). It’s safer, it’s cleaner, there are cute little stores, and it no longer looks like a third-world country by the sea.

And even though the Palace and most of the Casino are now long gone, and Madam Marie has finally gone to a better place, where the cops can’t bust her for telling fortunes better than they do, Asbury Park remains one of the few places that I’ve ever been to where there still IS “magic in the night.” Whether it’s catching a show at the legendary Stone Pony (which I’ve done often enough at this point that some of the bouncers know me—I feel like that’s NOT a good thing when I live three-and-a-half hours away!), spending a summer day down the shore, or even just “driving down Kingsley, figuring [you’ll] get a drink,” it’s a special town. And even if Bruce never DOES show up while you’re there, he doesn’t need to. Because to anyone who’s ever felt a strong connection to his lyrics, just being there provides you with that “moment when the world seems right.”

Which is why I’m going back in a month for the annual Light of Day show. If I find a ticket. (Hint hint, if you’ve got extras!)

Me after Madam Marie’s granddaughter Sabrina read my tarot carts, just before the 2010 Light of Day show.

A band I listen to MORE than Springsteen on a daily basis: The Gaslight Anthem

Every time a new Springsteen album comes out (or an old one is re-issued, as was the case this week), I get asked the same question over and over again by everyone I know: Do you listen to anything OTHER than Bruce?

No. My music library, which is 22.2 DAYS long, is comprised entirely of Bruce Springsteen music and songs that Bruce guested on. That’s all I listen to. Ever.

Come on.  Bruce may be my all-time favorite, but I have almost 300 artists in my iTunes library. And when there isn’t a new album monopolizing my stereo, an average day usually sees me listening to other artists far more than Bruce.

Sacrilege, I know.

But even the best classic rock albums start to feel stale if you don’t give them a break and mix it up with something new. Which is where one of my relatively new favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, comes in handy.

Bruce fans were introduced to the Gaslight Anthem after he played with them on one of their songs in London in 2009. I had heard of them from that, but despite Bruce’s endorsement, I didn’t download any of their songs until I caught “Old White Lincoln” on XM radio and LOVED it. And unlike Bruce’s music, which I didn’t really get into until college even though it had been in the background of my life since I was in utero, it was love at first listen.

So if you’re not already listening to my second favorite New Jersey group, here’s where to start and why you should:

Album to start with: The ‘59 Sound.
The '59 Sound

While I think there are arguments for all three (and a half) of their albums, I think their second full-length album is their most accessible for someone who isn’t familiar with their music yet. The others are equally awesome in different ways, and my vote ALMOST went to their first album, Sink or Swim, because of the song “Wooderson,” which has a Matthew McConaughey-style “alright alright” in the chorus and therefore cracks me up.

But I still think that The ‘59 Sound is the best place to start.

The tracks to start listening to:

“Great Expectations”—I’m not a big Charles Dickens fan (as I explained last week), so I was a little skeptical when I saw the name of the album’s first track, but I was impressed by what Gaslight did with it. Because the song only touches on the novel as a symbol for a failed relationship and the inability to trust after a lover leaves. The narrator, like Great Expectations’ Pip, is writing poetry about Estella, but he also poses the question that I think all people have asked themselves at some point, “Everybody leaves, so why wouldn’t you?”

“The ’59 Sound”—It’s hard to have an upbeat song about a friend dying in a car crash, but in this case, it works. We get another Dickens reference in this one, as the narrator hopes he doesn’t “hear Marley’s chains we forged in life” when death comes, and instead is hoping that his lost friend heard his favorite song at the end. This is the one that Bruce played with the band in 2009, and, despite the serious subject of the lyrics, I can’t watch this video without smiling at how happy the whole band looks to have him out there with them.

“Old White Lincoln”—This was the first song of theirs that I heard. It’s not as deep as the rest of the songs on the album, but it’s a fun, upbeat rocker. And when I’m listening to an album, that’s the first thing that usually gets me listening to it long enough to appreciate the full value of the album. It’s a great song to blast on a nice day with the windows open in your car.

“High Lonesome” and “Meet Me by the River’s Edge”—Because I’m a music nerd, I got all excited the first time I listened to these songs. Why? Because they reference two of my other favorite musicians, Springsteen and the Counting Crows.  Listening to these songs made it click why I felt such a strong connection to the Gaslight Anthem’s music. Yeah, the band members are covered in tattoos and don’t seem like they would have much in common with an English teacher from Maryland, but these guys grew up loving the same music that I love. And they accomplish the same thing with their songs that makes me love Bruce Springsteen’s music: their songs feel like they could be about my life, which forges a sense of connection and shows me that I’m not alone in what I think and feel.

“Cassanova, Baby!”—I’m warning you now, this WILL get stuck in your head. But unlike the Cee-Lo song that Gwenyth Paltrow covered on Glee this week, you won’t WANT to get this song out of your head. (Seriously.  I NEED to get that song out of my head.  I’m going nuts here.  Stupid Glee, I wish I didn’t love you so much!)  It’s got a slight “Born to Run” vibe, with the idea of running all night and dancing on the architecture, but it’s more about having fun than needing to escape. And it’s a great workout song when you need to get motivated.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”—This song is absolutely gorgeous. It’s another one about lost loves, and really drives home the point that some of those relationships never really leave you even after you leave them. All I can say is that if any of the girls in this song are based on real people, they were idiots to leave anyone who could write a song like this about them.

“The Backseat”—this is their concert closer every night, and with good reason. This song is a tough act to follow. Live, it’s epic in a way I can’t really explain unless you’ve experienced it. Like a lot of the other songs on this album, there are references to Springsteen songs, which, growing up as musicians in Jersey, I think are hard to avoid. But the references in this song are thematic more than lyrical. It’s a summer song, reminiscent of the feel of Born to Run (the album, not the song), with a hint of “Sandy” in the line “if you never let me go, I will never let you down.” In concert, I think it’s a really good thing that these guys are now headlining shows, because I would hate to be the band that came on following this song. It’d be like sending another band out after “Born to Run” (the song).

Listen to this album. And when you love it, which you will, check out their other albums as well. Everyone I know who has listened to the Gaslight Anthem, from my students (whose tastes tend to be limited to Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift) to my parents, has wound up loving them. And if you start listening to them now, you’ll be able to say you were listening to them BEFORE they were huge. Which they will be. Because they’re THAT good.

And they have more songs on my current iTunes playlist than Bruce does right now—even WITH the new Darkness release. And in my world, that’s the highest praise there is.

My “little sister” Lynnlee, Gaslight Anthem lead singer Brian Fallon, and me in Baltimore, September 2010

Happiness is a new Springsteen box set

Yesterday was an exciting day. It started like every other day. My alarm clock went off at 5:20am, and I promptly invited it to go do something inappropriate to itself. I took Rosie out, I got ready for school, and I went to work, where I spent approximately eight hours torturing—I mean teaching—the youth of America.

Then when the bell rang at 2:10, I dashed out of school as fast as I could to get to Best Buy.

Because yesterday was the release of the long-awaited box set re-issue of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

In general, I’m vehemently opposed to album re-releases. In most cases, it’s a transparent ploy by a greedy record label to get more of my hard-earned money, and in several cases, it’s made me wind up hating the band when the “special features” that are included wind up being a different album cover and a free mp3. (Cough Linkin Park’s Reanimation cough.)

Even Bruce has been guilty of this in the past. Before iTunes made everyone’s life easier, if you wanted the song “The Promise,” you had to buy 18 Tracks in addition to the Tracks box set. And if you lurk on the Bruce message boards, there are a lot of people who are still bitter about that one, even twelve years later.

I know all of my non-Bruce-fan readers have either stopped reading by this point or else are asking, “Sara, why on earth would you spend $80 on an album from before you were born that you already had? Especially when you’re so Bruce obsessed that you already had most of the outtakes that were included with it!”

If you’re asking that, you need to go listen to the album. Right now. Stop reading and go listen. I don’t care if you do it streaming somewhere or if you pay for the album, but go listen. I’ll wait.

You so didn’t just listen to the whole album right now. I’m a teacher, you can’t fool me.

 Fine, I’ll explain why you need to.

When anyone asks what my favorite album is, my standard answer is Born to Run. And I stand by that choice. But it’s only a partial answer that I give to people who I know won’t get why I have to list two albums. The REAL answer is Born to Run AND Darkness on the Edge of Town. Bruce has often described his albums as a conversation that he’s been having with his audience for the past almost forty years now, and these two albums are a perfect example of this. I tend to rank Born to Run above Darkness when I’m giving the short answer of what my favorite album is, because I love the optimism and hope found on Born to Run. It’s an album full of potential and possibility and the idea that if you want it bad enough, anything is possible.

Darkness is a continuation of that album, but it’s what happens if the characters from Born to Run DON’T make it out of that town that “rips the bones from your back.” If they can’t pull out of that “town full of losers” to win. It’s a more mature album. It still has a lot of the optimism from Born to Run, but it’s a more practical type of optimism. The characters from Darkness have felt more pain than the characters from Born to Run. They’ve tried and they’ve failed, and (despite the advice that Homer Simpson would give) they’ve lived to tell their tale and then pick themselves up and try again.

But in case you still don’t get that this album is one of the most amazing albums ever made, here’s my explanation of why I love it so much:

The opening track: “Badlands”—The only album opening track that’s even in the running to compete with this one is “Thunder Road.” It sets the tone of the album and makes it clear that Bruce is going to make no apologies for anything. It’s a highlight of any live show, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, but especially on the Rising tour in the wake of September 11, it was cathartic, because Bruce was reminding us that “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” The song tells us that yeah, life is hard and doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, but it still can be okay, as long as you can keep faith, and hope, and love alive.

“Candy’s Room”—In the documentary “The Promise,” which is part of the re-release package, Bruce’s wife, Patti Scialfa, said that there isn’t a love song on Darkness. Patti, I’m a big fan of yours too, but I beg to differ. It’s a gritty love song, but still a love song. (No Reno jokes, please.) Candy isn’t perfect, and you could interpret the song as her being a prostitute in the Holly Golightly sense of the world’s oldest profession. And the narrator knows he’s not her best choice because he can’t provide for her the way other guys can. But that’s not going to stop him from trying because he loves her. What girl DOESN’T want that? (Minus the potential gold-digging aspect of it… although to each their own.)

“Racing in the Street”—A personal favorite of mine. And I’m still convinced that whoever wrote the score of Pretty Woman owes Bruce money for ripping off the intro to this song for the music when Julia Roberts and Richard Gere actually wind up kissing each other in bed. Start watching at a minute and 17 seconds. Not that Bruce needs more money, but cut the man a check if you’re going to steal from him!

But Racing in the Street is flat out amazing.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous song, but more than that, it’s about finding something to put some meaning in your life. Because some “guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little, piece by piece.” But some guys “come home from work and wash up, and then go racing in the street.” Love it.

“The Promised Land”—Bruce has often said this is his favorite song of his, and it’s one of mine too. And it’s why I say Darkness IS an album with optimism in it. Because it’s not an upbeat song. In a lot of ways, it’s an angry song. Life isn’t going the way the narrator expected it to. But it’s about getting past all that and finding “somebody itching for something to start.” Because unlike the characters from Born to Run, this narrator explains that he’s not a boy, he’s a man. And he believes in a promised land. And when Bruce tells you he believes in that, it’s impossible to not believe in it yourself.

I could probably write a full length blog post for each of the songs on the album, but I’m not going to (mostly because I want to dive into the dvds from the box set). But if you’re not familiar with the album, go check it out. And if you do already know it, the new box set is epically worth the price tag even without taking all the dvd footage and outtake cds into account. Because the remastering job on Darkness itself is incredible. This is how this album was meant to sound.

And I don’t care how much it’s going to piss off my next door neighbor, I’m listening to it at the volume it should be heard at. And you should too.