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Born to Run / (by Bruce Springsteen, 2016) -

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Born to Run /   (by Bruce Springsteen, 2016) -

Born to Run / (by Bruce Springsteen, 2016) -

, - , , -. , , , , , - --. , . "Thunder Road", "Badlands", "Darkness on the Edge of Town", "The River", "Born in the U. S. A.", "The Rising" "The Ghost of Tom Joad", . , . --, - . 20 "", "" -. - .

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Born to Run / (by Bruce Springsteen, 2016) -
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2016
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Bruce Springsteen
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Bruce Springsteen
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upper-intermediate
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18:13:13
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Born to Run / :

.doc (Word) bruce_springsteen_-_born_to_run.doc [20.89 Mb] (c: 2) .
.pdf bruce_springsteen_-_born_to_run.pdf [9.56 Mb] (c: 22) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Born to Run

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{include file="engine/modules/cuttext.php?txt=
For Patti, Evan, Jess and Sam FOREWORD I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I. By twenty, no race-car-driving rebel, I was a guitar player on the streets of Asbury Park and already a member in good standing amongst those who lie in service of the truth . . . artists, with a small a. But I held four clean aces. I had youth, almost a decade of hard-core bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians who were attuned to my performance style and a story to tell. This book is both a continuation of that story and a search into its origins. Ive taken as my parameters the events in my life I believe shaped that story and my performance work. One of the questions Im asked over and over again by fans on the street is How do you do it? In the following pages I will try to shed a little light on how and, more important, why. Rock n Roll Survival Kit DNA, natural ability, study of craft, development of and devotion to an aesthetic philosophy, naked desire for . . . fame? . . . love? . . . admiration? . . . attention? . . . women? . . . sex? . . . and oh, yeah . . . a buck. Then . . . if you want to take it all the way out to the end of the night, a furious fire in the hole that just . . . dont . . . quit . . . burning. These are some of the elements that will come in handy should you come face-to-face with eighty thousand (or eighty) screaming rock n roll fans who are waiting for you to do your magic trick. Waiting for you to pull something out of your hat, out of thin air, out of this world, something that before the faithful were gathered here today was just a song-fueled rumor. I am here to provide proof of life to that ever elusive, never completely believable us. That is my magic trick. And like all good magic tricks, it begins with a setup. So . . . BOOK ONE GROWIN UP ONE MY STREET I am ten years old and I know every crack, bone and crevice in the crumbling sidewalk running up and down Randolph Street, my street. Here, on passing afternoons I am Hannibal crossing the Alps, GIs locked in vicious mountain combat and countless cowboy heroes traversing the rocky trails of the Sierra Nevada. With my belly to the stone, alongside the tiny anthills that pop up volcanically where dirt and concrete meet, my world sprawls on into infinity, or at least to Peter McDermotts house on the corner of Lincoln and Randolph, one block up. On these streets I have been rolled in my baby carriage, learned to walk, been taught by my grandfather to ride a bike, and fought and run from some of my first fights. I learned the depth and comfort of real friendships, felt my early sexual stirrings and, on the evenings before air-conditioning, watched the porches fill with neighbors seeking conversation and respite from the summer heat. Here, in epic gutter ball tournaments, I slammed the first of a hundred Pinky rubber balls into my sidewalks finely shaped curb. I climbed upon piles of dirty snow, swept high by midnight plows, walking corner to corner, the Edmund Hillary of New Jersey. My sister and I regularly stood like sideshow gawkers peering in through the huge wooden doors of our corner church, witnessing an eternal parade of baptisms, weddings and funerals. I followed my handsome, raggedly elegant grandfather as he tottered precariously around the block, left arm paralyzed against his chest, getting his exercise after a debilitating stroke he never came back from. In our front yard, only feet from our porch, stands the grandest tree in town, a towering copper beech. Its province over our home is such that one bolt of well-placed lightning and wed all be dead as snails crushed beneath Gods little finger. On nights when thunder rolls and lightning turns our family bedroom cobalt blue, I watch its arms move and come to life in the wind and white flashes as I lie awake worrying about my friend the monster outside. On sunny days, its roots are a fort for my soldiers, a corral for my horses and my second home. I hold the honor of being the first on our block to climb into its upper reaches. Here I find my escape from all below. I wander for hours amongst its branches, the sound of my buddies muted voices drifting up from the sidewalk below as they try to track my progress. Beneath its slumbering arms, on slow summer nights we sit, my pals and I, the cavalry at dusk, waiting for the evening bells of the ice-cream man and bed. I hear my grandmothers voice calling me in, the last sound of the long day. I step up onto our front porch, our windows glowing in the summer twilight; I let the heavy front door open and then close behind me, and for an hour or so in front of the kerosene stove, with my grandfather in his big chair, we watch the small black-and-white television screen light up the room, throwing its specters upon the walls and ceiling. Then, I drift to sleep tucked inside the greatest and saddest sanctuary I have ever known, my grandparents house. I live here with my sister, Virginia, one year younger; my parents, Adele and Douglas Springsteen; my grandparents, Fred and Alice; and my dog Saddle. We live, literally, in the bosom of the Catholic Church, with the priests rectory, the nuns convent, the St. Rose of Lima Church and grammar school all just a footballs toss away across a field of wild grass. Though he towers above us, here God is surrounded by mancrazy men, to be exact. My family has five houses branching out in an L shape, anchored on the corner by the redbrick church. We are four houses of old-school Irish, the people who have raised meMcNicholases, OHagans, Farrellsand across the street, one lonely outpost of Italians, who peppered my upbringing. These are the Sorrentinos and the Zerillis, hailing from Sorrento, Italy, via Brooklyn via Ellis Island. Here dwell my mothers mother, Adelina Rosa Zerilli; my mothers older sister, Dora; Doras husband, Warren (an Irishman of course); and their daughter, my older cousin Margaret. Margaret and my cousin Frank are championship jitterbug dancers, winning contests and trophies up and down the Jersey Shore. Though not unfriendly, the clans do not often cross the street to socialize with one another. The house I live in with my grandparents is owned by my great-grandmother Nana McNicholas, my grandmothers mother, alive and kicking just up the street. Ive been told our towns first church service and first funeral were held in our living room. We live here beneath the lingering eyes of my fathers older sister, my aunt Virginia, dead at five, killed by a truck while riding her tricycle past the corner gas station. Her portrait hovers, breathing a ghostly air into the room and shining her ill-fated destiny over our family gatherings. Hers is a sepia-toned formal portrait of a little girl in an old-fashioned childs white linen dress. Her seemingly benign gaze, in the light of events, now communicates, Watch out! The world is a dangerous and unforgiving place that will knock your ass off your tricycle and into the dead black unknown and only these poor, misguided and unfortunate souls will miss you. Her mother, my grandma, heard that message loud and clear. She spent two years in bed after her daughters death and sent my father, neglected, with rickets, off to the outskirts of town to live with other relatives while she recovered. Time passed; my father quit school at sixteen, working as a floor boy in the Karagheusian Rug Mill, a clanging factory of looms and deafening machinery that stretched across both sides of Center Street in a part of town called Texas. At eighteen, he went to war, sailing on the Queen Mary out of New York City. He served as a truck driver at the Battle of the Bulge, saw what little of the world he was going to see and returned home. He played pool, very well, for money. He met and fell in love with my mother, promising that if shed marry him, hed get a real job (red flag!). He worked with his cousin, David Dim Cashion, on the line at the Ford Motor plant in Edison and I came along. For my grandmother, I was the firstborn child of her only son and the first baby in the house since the death of her daughter. My birth returned to her a life of purpose. She seized on me with a vengeance. Her mission became my ultimate protection from the world within and without. Sadly, her blind single-minded devotion would lead to hard feelings with my father and enormous family confusion. It would drag all of us down. When it rains, the moisture in the humid air blankets our town with the smell of damp coffee grounds wafting in from the Nescaf? factory at the towns eastern edge. I dont like coffee but I like that smell. Its comforting; it unites the town in a common sensory experience; its good industry, like the roaring rug mill that fills our ears, brings work and signals our towns vitality. There is a place hereyou can hear it, smell itwhere people make lives, suffer pain, enjoy small pleasures, play baseball, die, make love, have kids, drink themselves drunk on spring nights and do their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy us, our homes, our families, our town. Here we live in the shadow of the steeple, where the holy rubber meets the road, all crookedly blessed in Gods mercy, in the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, race-riot-creating, oddball-hating, soul-shaking, love-and-fear-making, heartbreaking town of Freehold, New Jersey. Let the service begin. TWO MY HOUSE Its Thursday night, trash night. We are fully mobilized and ready to go. We have gathered in my grandfathers 1940s sedan waiting to be deployed to dig through every trash heap overflowing from the curbs of our town. First, were heading to Brinckerhoff Avenue; thats where the money is and the trash is finest. We have come for your radios, any radios, no matter the condition. We will scavenge them from your junk pile, throw them into the trunk and bring them home to the shed, my grandfathers six-by-six-foot unheated wooden cubicle in a tiny corner of our house. Here, winter and summer, magic occurs. Here in a room filled with electrical wire and filament tubes, I will sit studiously at his side. While he wires, solders and exchanges bad tubes for good, we wait together for the same moment: that instant when the whispering breath, the beautiful low static hum and warm sundown glow of electricity will come surging back into the dead skeletons of radios we have pulled from extinction. Here at my grandfathers workbench, the resurrection is real. The vacuum silence will be drawn up and filled with the distant, crackling voices of Sunday preachers, blabbering pitchmen, Big Band music, early rock n roll and serial dramas. It is the sound of the world outside straining to reach us, calling down into our little town and deeper, into our hermetically sealed universe here at 87 Randolph Street. Once returned to the living, all items will be sold for five dollars in the migrant camps that, come summer, will dot the farm fields on the edge of our borough. The radio man is coming. Thats how my grandfather is known amongst the mostly Southern black migrant population that returns by bus every season to harvest the crops of rural Monmouth County. Down the dirt farm roads to the shacks in the rear where dust-bowl thirties conditions live on, my mother drives my stroke-addled grandpa to do his business amongst the blacks in their Mickey Mouse camps. I went once and was frightened out of my wits, surrounded in the dusk by hard-worn black faces. Race relations, never great in Freehold, will explode ten years later into rioting and shootings, but for now, there is just a steady, uncomfortable quiet. I am simply the young prot?g? grandson of the radio man, here amongst his patrons where my family scrambles to make ends meet. We were pretty near poor, though I never thought about it. We were clothed, fed and bedded. I had white and black friends worse off. My parents had jobs, my mother as a legal secretary and my father at Ford. Our house was old and soon to be noticeably decrepit. One kerosene stove in the living room was all we had to heat the whole place. Upstairs, where my family slept, you woke on winter mornings with your breath visible. One of my earliest childhood memories is the smell of kerosene and my grandfather standing there filling the spout in the rear of the stove. All of our cooking was done on a coal stove in the kitchen; as a child Id shoot my water gun at its hot iron surface and watch the steam rise. Wed haul the ashes out the back door to the ash heap. Daily Id return from playing in that pile of dust pale from gray coal ash. We had a small box refrigerator and one of the first televisions in town. In an earlier life, before I was born, my granddad had been the proprietor of Springsteen Brothers Electrical Shop. So when TV hit, it arrived at our house first. My mother told me neighbors from up and down the block would stop by to see the new miracle, to watch Milton Berle, Kate Smith and Your Hit Parade. To see wrestlers like Bruno Sammartino face off against Haystacks Calhoun. By the time I was six I knew every word to the Kate Smith anthem, When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain. In this house, due to order of birth and circumstance, I was lord, king and the messiah all rolled into one. Because I was the first grandchild, my grandmother latched on to me to replace my dead aunt Virginia. Nothing was out of bounds. It was a terrible freedom for a young boy and I embraced it with everything I had. I stayed up until three a.m. and slept until three p.m. at five and six years old. I watched TV until it went off and I was left staring alone at the test pattern. I ate what and when I wanted. My parents and I became distant relatives and my mother, in her confusion and desire to keep the peace, ceded me to my grandmothers total dominion. A timid little tyrant, I soon felt like the rules were for the rest of the world, at least until my dad came home. He would lord sullenly over the kitchen, a monarch dethroned by his own firstborn son at his mothers insistence. Our ruin of a house and my own eccentricities and power at such a young age shamed and embarrassed me. I could see the rest of the world was running on a different clock and I was teased for my habits pretty thoroughly by my neighborhood pals. I loved my entitlement, but I knew it wasnt right. When I became of school age and had to conform to a time schedule, it sent me into an inner rage that lasted most of my school years. My mother knew we were all way overdue for a reckoning and, to her credit, tried to reclaim me. She moved us out of my grandmothers house to a small, half-shotgun-style house at 391/2 Institute Street. No hot water, four tiny rooms, four blocks away from my grandparents. There she tried to set some normal boundaries. It was too late. Those four blocks might as well have been a million miles. I was roaring with anger and loss and every chance I got, I returned to stay with my grandparents. It was my true home and they felt like my real parents. I could and would not leave. The house by now was functional only in one room, the living room. The rest of the house, abandoned and draped off, was falling down, with one wintry and windblown bathroom, the only place to relieve yourself, and no functioning bath. My grandparents fell into a state of poor hygiene and care that would shock and repel me now. I remember my grandmothers soiled undergarments, just washed, hanging on the backyard line, frightening and embarrassing me, symbols of the inappropriate intimacies, physical and emotional, that made my grandparents home so confusing and compelling. But I loved them and that house. My grandma slept on a worn spring couch with me tucked in at her side while my grandfather had a small cot across the room. This was it. This was what it had come to, my childhood limitlessness. This was where I needed to be to feel at home, safe, loved. The grinding hypnotic power of this ruined place and these people would never leave me. I visit it in my dreams today, returning over and over, wanting to go back. It was a place where I felt an ultimate security, full license and a horrible unforgettable boundary-less love. It ruined me and it made me. Ruined, in that for the rest of my life I would struggle to create boundaries for myself that would allow me a life of some normalcy in my relationships. It made me in the sense that it would set me off on a lifelong pursuit of a singular place of my own, giving me a raw hunger that drove me, hell-bent, in my music. It was a desperate, lifelong effort to rebuild, on embers of memory and longing, my temple of safety. For my grandmothers love, I abandoned my parents, my sister and much of the world itself. Then that world came crashing in. My grandparents became ill. The whole family moved in together again, to another half house, at 68 South Street. Soon, my younger sister, Pam, would be born, my grandfather would be dead and my grandmother would be filled with cancer. My house, my backyard, my tree, my dirt, my earth, my sanctuary would be condemned and the land sold, to be made into a parking lot for St. Rose of Lima Catholic church. THREE THE CHURCH There was a circuit we could ride on our bikes that took us completely around the church and the rectory and back alongside the convent, rolling over the nuns beautiful, faded blue slate driveway. The slightly raised edges of the slate would send vibrations up through your handlebars, creating tiny pulsing rhythms in your hands, bumpumpumpump . . . concrete, then back around wed go again. Sleepy afternoons would pass with our winding in and out of the St. Rose compound, being scolded through the convent windows by the sisters to go home and dodging stray cats that wandered in between the church basement and my living room. My grandfather, now with nothing much to do, would spend his time patiently wooing these wild creatures to his side in our backyard. He could get near and pet feral cats that would have nothing to do with another human. Sometimes the price was steep. He came in one evening with a bloody foot-long scratch down his arm from a kitty that was not quite ready for the love. The cats drifted back and forth from our house to the church just as we drifted to school, to home, to mass, to school again, our lives inextricably linked with the life of the church. At first the priests and nuns were just kind faces peering down into your carriage, all smiles and pleasant mystery, but come school age, I was inducted into the dark halls of communion. There was the incense, the men crucified, the torturously memorized dogma, the Friday Stations of the Cross (the schoolwork!), the black-robed men and women, the curtained confessional, the sliding window, the priests shadowy face and the recitation of childhood transgression. When I think about the hours I spent devising a list of acceptable sins I could spout on command . . . They had to be bad enough to be believable . . . but not too bad (the best was yet to come!). How much sinning could you actually have done at a second-grade level? Eventually, St. Rose of Limas Monday-through-Sunday holy reckoning would wear me out and make me want out . . . bad. But out to where? There is no out. I live here! We all do. All of my tribe. We are stranded on this desert island of a corner, bound together in the same boat. A boat that I have been instructed by my catechism teachers is at sea eternally, death and Judgment Day being just a divvying up of passengers as our ship sails through one metaphysical lock to another, adrift in holy confusion. And so . . . I build my other world. It is a world of childhood resistance, a world of passive refusal from within, my defense against the system. It is a refusal of a world where I am not recognized, by my grandmothers lights and mine, for who I am, a lost boy king, forcibly exiled daily from his empire of rooms. My grandmas house! To these schmucks, Im just another spoiled kid who will not conform to what we all ultimately must conform to, the only-circumstantially-theistic kingdom of . . . THE WAY THINGS ARE! The problem is I dont know shit, nor care, about the way things are. I hail from the exotic land of . . . THINGS THE WAY I LIKE EM. Its just up the street. Lets all call it a day and just go HOME! No matter how much I want to, no matter how hard I try, the way things are eludes me. I desperately want to fit in but the world I have created with the unwarranted freedom from my grandparents has turned me into an unintentional rebel, an outcast weirdo misfit sissy boy. I am alienating, alienated and socially homeless . . . I am seven years old. Amongst my male classmates, there are mainly good souls. Some, however, are rude, predatory and unkind. It is here I receive the bullying all aspiring rock stars must undergo and suffer in seething, raw, humiliating silence, the great leaning up against the chain-link fence as the world spins around you, without you, in rejection of you playground loneliness that is essential fuel for the coming fire. Soon, all of this will burn and the world will be turned upside down on its ass . . . but not yet. The girls, on the other hand, shocked to find what appears to be a shy, softhearted dreamer in their midst, move right onto Grandmas turf and begin to take care of me. I build a small harem who tie my shoes, zip my jacket, shower me with attention. This is something all Italian mamas boys know how to do well. Here your rejection by the boys is a badge of sensitivity and can be played like a coveted ace for the perks of young geekdom. Of course, a few years later, when sex rears its head, Ill lose my exalted status and become just another mild-mannered loser. The priests and nuns themselves are creatures of great authority and unknowable sexual mystery. As both my flesh-and-blood neighbors and our local bridge to the next life, they exert a hard influence over our daily existence. Both everyday and otherworldly, they are the neighborhood gatekeepers of a dark and beatific world I fear and desire entrance to. Its a world where all you have is at risk, a world filled with the unknown bliss of resurrection, eternity and the unending fires of perdition, of exciting, sexually tinged torture, immaculate conceptions and miracles. A world where men turn into gods and gods into devils . . . and I knew it was real. Id seen gods turn into devils at home. Id witnessed what I felt was surely the possessive face of Satan. It was my poor old pop tearing up the house in an alcohol-fueled rage in the dead of night, scaring the shit out of all of us. Id felt this darknesss final force come visit in the shape of my struggling dad . . . physical threat, emotional chaos and the power to not love. In the fifties the nuns at St. Rose could play pretty rough. Id once been sent down from the eighth grade to first for some transgression. I was stuffed behind a first-grade desk and left there to marinate. I was glad for the afternoon off. Then I noticed someones cuff link reflecting the sun upon the wall. I dreamily followed its light as it crawled up beyond the window toward the ceiling. I then heard the nun say to a beefy little enforcer in the center first-row desk, Show our visitor what we do in this class to those who dont pay attention. The young student walked back to me with a blank expression on his face and without a blink let me have it, openhanded but full force, across my face. As the smack rang through the classroom I couldnt believe what had just happened. I was shaken, red-faced and humiliated. Before my grammar school education was over Id have my knuckles classically rapped, my tie pulled til I choked; be struck in the head, shut into a dark closet and stuffed into a trash can while being told this is where I belonged. All business as usual in Catholic school in the fifties. Still, it left a mean taste in my mouth and estranged me from my religion for good. Back in school, even if you remained physically untouched, Catholicism seeped into your bones. I was an altar boy waking in the holy black of four a.m. to hustle myself over wintry streets to don my cassock in the dawn silence of the church sacristy and perform ritual on Gods personal terra firma, the St. Rose altar, no civilians allowed. There I sucked in incense while assisting our grumpy, eighty-year-old monsignor before a captive audience of relatives, nuns and early-rising sinners. I proved so inept not knowing my positions and not studying my Latin that I inspired our Monsignor to grab me by the shoulder of my cassock at one six a.m. mass and drag me, to the gasping shock of all, facedown on the altar. Later that afternoon in the play yard, my fifth-grade teacher, Sister Charles Marie, whod been present at the thrashing, handed me a small holy medal. It was a kindness Ive never forgotten. Over the years as a St. Rose student I had felt enough of Catholicisms corporal and emotional strain. On my eighth-grade graduation day, I walked away from it all, finished, telling myself, Never again. I was free, free, free at last . . . and I believed it . . . for quite a while. However, as I grew older, there were certain things about the way I thought, reacted, behaved. I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand that once youre a Catholic, youre always a Catholic. So I stopped kidding myself. I dont often participate in my religion but I know somewhere . . . deep inside . . . Im still on the team. This was the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a land of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward. It was a glorious and pathetic place I was either shaped for or fit right into. It has walked alongside me as a waking dream my whole life. So as a young adult I tried to make sense of it. I tried to meet its challenge for the very reasons that there are souls to lose and a kingdom of love to be gained. I laid what Id absorbed across the hardscrabble lives of my family, friends and neighbors. I turned it into something I could grapple with, understand, something I could even find faith in. As funny as it sounds, I have a personal relationship with Jesus. He remains one of my fathers, though as with my own father, I no longer believe in his godly power. I believe deeply in his love, his ability to save . . . but not to damn . . . enough of that. The way I see it, we ate the apple and Adam, Eve, the rebel Jesus in all his glory and Satan are all part of Gods plan to make men and women out of us, to give us the precious gifts of earth, dirt, sweat, blood, sex, sin, goodness, freedom, captivity, love, fear, life and death . . . our humanity and a world of our own. The church bells ring. My clan pours out of our houses and hustles up the street. Someone is getting married, getting dead or being born. We line the churchs front walkway, waiting, my sister and I picking up fallen flowers or thrown rice to be packed away in paper bags for another day to shower upon complete strangers. My mother is thrilled, her face alight. Organ music, and the wooden doors of our church swing open upon a bride and groom exiting their wedding ceremony. I hear my mother sigh, Oh, the dress . . . the beautiful dress . . . The bouquet is tossed. The future is told. The bride and her hero are whisked away in their long black limousine, the one that drops you off at the beginning of your life. The other one is just around the corner waiting for another day to bring the tears and take you on that short drive straight out Throckmorton Street to the St. Rose graveyard on the edge of town. There, on spring Sundays, visiting bones, boxes and piles of dirt, my sister and I run, playing happily amongst the headstones. Back at church, the wedding is over and I take my sisters hand. By nine or ten years old, weve seen it all plenty of times. Rice or flowers, coming or going, heaven or hell, here on the corner of Randolph and McLean, its just all in a days work. FOUR THE ITALIANS A nuclear surge of energy erupts constantly from the tiny mouths and bodies of Dora Kirby, Eda Urbellis and Adele Springsteen. My mother and her two sisters have screamed, laughed, cried and danced their way through lifes best and worst for more than 260 collective years. It never stops. Their Marxian (Brothers) high-voltage insanity constantly borders on a barely controlled state of hysteria. Somehow this has rendered them not only near immortal but triumphant. Falling for the Irish to a woman, they have outlived all their husbands, war, tragedy and near poverty and remained indomitable, undefeated, undeterred and terminally optimistic. They are THE GREATEST. Three mini Muhammad Alis, rope-a-doping the world. Here on the Shore the Italians and the Irish meet and mate often. The coastal town of Spring Lake is locally known as the Irish Riviera. There, on any summer Sunday, the fair-skinned and freckled can be found tossing down beers and turning lobster-red in the frothing surf off the Victorian homes that still bring style and substance to their community. A few miles north lies Long Branch, New Jersey, once home of Anthony Little Pussy Russo, my wife Patti Scialfas next-door neighbor in Deal, and the Central Jersey mob. Its beaches are filled with olive-skinned beauties, belly-busting husbands and the thick Jersey accent of my Italian brothers and sisters wafting through the air on cigar smoke. A Sopranos casting call would need to look no further. My great-grandfather was called the Dutchman and I suppose descended from some lost Netherlanders who wandered down from New Amsterdam not knowing what they were getting themselves into. Thus, we wear the name Springsteen, of Dutch origin, but prominently, heres where Irish and Italian blood meet. Why? Previous to the Mexicans and African-Americans who harvested Monmouth County crops, the Italians were in the fields with the Irishmen and working the horse farms alongside them. Recently, I asked my mother how they all ended up with the Irish. She said, The Italian men were too bossy. Wed had enough of that. We didnt want men bossing us all around. Of course they didnt. If there was bossing to be done, the Zerilli girls would be doing it, although somewhat surreptitiously. My aunt Eda told me, Daddy wanted three boys but he got three girls instead, so he raised us tough like men. That, I suppose, explains some of it. As a child, I would return from dinner at my aunt Doras house exhausted, my ears ringing. Anything more celebratory than dinner and you were taking your life into your hands. You would be fed til stuffed, sung and shouted at til deaf and danced with til dust. Now, as they all move brazenly into their nineties, it continues. Where did it come from? What is the source of their unrelenting energy and optimism? What power has been sucked from the spheres and sent coursing through their tiny little Italian bones? Who set it all in motion? His name was Anthony Alexander Andrew Zerilli. He came to America around the turn of the century from Vico Equense, a stones throw from Naples in southern Italy, at the age of twelve; settled in San Francisco; and found his way east, graduating from City College to become a lawyer at 303 West Forty-Second Street, New York City. He was my grandfather. He served three years in the navy, had three wives, spent three years in Sing Sing prison for embezzlement (supposedly taking the rap for another relative). He ended up on top of a green and gracious hill in Englishtown, New Jersey. He had some money. I have pictures of my mother and her family decked out in impeccable whites in Newport, Rhode Island, in the thirties. He went broke in jail. Their mother, not well, went MIA back in Brooklyn, abandoning my mom and her sisters, then still teenagers, to live alone and make their own way at the farmhouse where they raised themselves. As a child, this modest farmhouse was a mansion on a hill to me, a citadel of wealth and culture. My grandfather had paintings, good ones. He collected religious art, robes and antique furniture. He had a piano in his living room. He traveled, appeared worldly and just a little dissolute. With gray hair and huge dark circles under big brown Italian eyes, he was a short man with a thunderous baritone, a voice that when cast your way brought with it the fear of God. He often sat, an old Italian prince, on a thronelike chair in his den. His third wife, Fifi, sat knitting just across the room. Tightly dressed, made up and perfumed enough to knock you out, she would plant a huge red lipstick kiss, bringing a warmth to my cheek every time we dropped by. Then from the throne it would come, rolling the Br out to infinity, adding and emphasizing an a, surfing long and low on the u, then just touching the ce: BAAAARRRRUUUUUUUUUUUCE . . . Come here! I knew what was coming next. In one hand, he held a dollar. I received this dollar every Sunday but I had to go get it. I had to deal with what he had in his other hand: the pinch of death. As you reached for the dollar, he would grab you with the other hand, pinching your cheek between his thumb and the first knuckle of his forefinger. First, the incredibly tight eye-watering pinch, followed by a slow upward twisting motion, abruptly shifting to a downward reverse circular tug. (Im caterwauling now.) And then the release, a quick flourishing pull, away, out and back, finishing with a snapping of his fingers, accompanied by a hearty laughing, BAAAARRRRUUUUUUUUUUCE . . . WHATS THE MATTER? Then, the dollar. At Sunday dinner, he held court, yelling, ordering, discussing the events of the day at the top of his voice. It was a show. Some might have thought it overbearing, but to me, this little Italian man was a giant! Something made him seem grand, important, not a part of the passive-aggressive, wandering, lost male tribe that populated much of the rest of my life. He was a Neapolitan force of nature! So what if he got into a little trouble? The real world was full of trouble, and if you wanted, if you hungered, youd better be ready for it. Youd best be ready to stake your claim and not let go because they were not going to give it to you for free. You would have to risk . . . and to pay. His love of living, the intensity of his presence, his engagement in the day and his dominion over his family made him a unique male figure in my life. He was exciting, scary, theatrical, self-mythologizing, bragging . . . like a rock star! Otherwise, when you left the house at the top of the hill, as soon as you hit roadside pavement, in my family, WOMEN RULED THE WORLD! They allowed the men the illusion of thinking they were in command, but the most superficial observation would tell you they couldnt keep up. The Irishmen needed MAMA! Anthony, on his hilltop, needed Fifi, HOT MAMA! There was a big difference. Anthony had separated from Adelina Rosa, his first wife, from an arranged marriage, while they were in their twenties. She had been sent to the United States as a young girl from Sorrento to be an old-world bride. She lived for eighty-plus years in the United States and never spoke a sentence of English. When you walked into her room, you walked into Old Italy. The holy beads, the fragrances, the religious items, the quilts, the dusky sunlight reflecting off another place and time. She, Im sure, unfortunately, played the Madonna role to Anthonys other inamoratas. My grandmother suffered mightily from the divorce, never remarried and had little to do with the world at large again. She and Anthony were never in the same room with each other for a long, long time. Not at funerals, not at weddings, not at family gatherings. Every Sunday after church when I visited my aunt Doras, shed be there in her hairnet and shawls, scented exotically and cooking delicious Italian dishes. Shed greet me, smiling, with hugs and kisses, murmuring Italian blessings. Then one day, on the hill, Fifi died. Sixty years after their divorce, Anthony and Adelina reunited. Sixty years later! They lived together in their mansion for ten years, until Anthony died. After my grandfathers death, in the summers, I would ride my bicycle from Colts Neck to Englishtown and visit. She was usually there alone, and we would sit in the kitchen, conversing in a smattering of broken English and Italian. She claimed she only went with the old man to protect her childrens inheritance . . . maybe so. She died peacefully and wit sharp at the age of 101, having seen the invention of the automobile and the plane and men walk on the moon in her lifetime. Anthony and Adelinas house on the hill remained in a state of suspended animation for twenty-five years. When I walked through it as a fifty-year-old man, it was exactly as it had been when I was eight. To the sisters . . . it was hallowed ground. Finally, my cousin Frank, the jitterbug champ, who taught me my first chords on the guitar and whose son, Frank Jr., played with me in the Sessions Band, moved in with his family and filled the house with children and Italian cooking again. The power of the pinch of death has been handed down to my aunt Dora, who has developed her own version, the headlock of doom. This little five-foot-two, ninety-year-old Italian lady could rip your neck into permanent whiplash or kick the ass of Randy Macho Man Savage should he be foolish enough to bend down for a kiss. While I no longer fear Big Daddys pinch of death, still, on many nights, right around eight thirty, Anthony lives . . . as the house lights go dark, the backstage curtain opens and I hear that long, drawn-out . . . BAAAARRRRUUUUUUUCE. Work, faith, family: this is the Italian credo handed down by my mother and her sisters. They live it. They believe it. They believe it even though these very tenets have crushingly let them down. They preach it, though never stridently, and are sure it is all we have between life, love and the void that devours husbands, children, family members and friends. There is a strength, fear and desperate joy in all this hard spirit and soul that naturally found its way into my work. We the Italians push until we can go no further; stand strong until our bones give way; reach and hold until our muscles fatigue; twist, shout and laugh until we can no more, until the end. This is the religion of the Zerilli sisters, handed down by the hard lessons of Papa and the grace of God and for which we are daily thankful. FIVE THE IRISH In my family we had aunts who howled during family gatherings; cousins who left school in the sixth grade, went home and never left the house again; and men who pulled hair from their bodies and heads, leaving great gaping patches of baldness, all within our little half block. During thunderstorms, my grandmother would grab me by the hand and rush me past the church to my aunt Janes house. There, the gathering of women and their black magic would commence. Prayers were murmured as my aunt Jane threw holy water over all of us from a small bottle. With each flash of lightning, the quiet hysteria would ratchet up a notch, until it seemed like God himself was about to blast us off our little corner. Folktales were told of lightning fatalities. Someone made the mistake of telling me the safest place in a lightning storm was in a car because of the grounding of the rubber tires. After that, at the first sound of thunder, I caterwauled until my parents would take me in the car until the storm subsided. I then proceeded to write about cars for the rest of my life. As a child, all of this was simply mysterious, embarrassing and ordinary. It had to be. These were the people I loved. We are the afflicted. A lot of trouble came in the blood of my people who hailed from the Emerald Isle. My great-great-grandmother Ann Garrity left Ireland at fourteen in 1852 with two sisters, aged twelve and ten. This was five years after the potato famine devastated much of Ireland, and she settled in Freehold. I dont know where it started, but a serious strain of mental illness drifts through those of us who are here, seeming to randomly pick off a cousin, an aunt, a son, a grandma and, unfortunately, my dad. I havent been completely fair to my father in my songs, treating him as an archetype of the neglecting, domineering parent. It was an East of Eden recasting of our relationship, a way of universalizing my childhood experience. Our story is much more complicated. Not in the details of what happened, but in the why of it all. My Father To a child, the bars of Freehold were citadels of mystery, filled with mean magic, uncertainty, and the possibility of violence. Stopped at a red light on Throckmorton Street one evening, my sister and I witnessed two men on the concrete outside of the local taproom beating each other toward what seemed certain death. Shirts were torn; men surrounded, shouting; one man held the other by his hair as he straddled his chest, delivering vicious blows to his face. Blood mixed deeply around the mans mouth as he desperately defended himself, his back to the pavement. My mother said, Dont look. The light changed and we drove on. When you walked through barroom doors in my hometown, you entered the mystical realm of men. On the rare night my mother would call my father home, we would slowly drive through town until we drew to a stop outside of a single lit door. Shed point and say, Go in and get your father. Entering my fathers public sanctuary filled me with a thrill and fear. Id been given license by my mom to do the unthinkable: interrupt my pop while he was in sacred space. Id push open the door, dodging men who towered over me on their way out. I stood waist-high to them at best, so when I entered the barroom I felt like a Jack whod climbed some dark beanstalk, ending up in a land of familiar but frightening giants. On the left, lining the wall, lay a row of booths filled with secret assignations, barroom lovers, and husband-and-wife tag-team drinkers. On the right were stools filled by a barricade of broad working-class backs, rolling-thunder murmuring, clinking glasses, unsettling adult laughter and very, very few women. Id stand there, drinking in the dim smell of beer, booze, blues and aftershave; nothing in the outer world of home smelled remotely like it. Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon ruled, with the blue ribbon stamped on the bartenders pouring spout as the golden elixir was slid expertly into tilted glasses that were then set with a hard knock on the wooden bar. There I stood, a small spirit reminder of what a lot of these men were spending a few moments trying to forgetwork, responsibility, the family, the blessings and burdens of an adult life. Looking back, it was a mix of mostly average guys who simply needed to let off a little steam at the end of the week and a few others, moved by harder things, who didnt know where to draw the line. Finally, someone would notice a small interloper amongst them and bemusedly draw me over to my dad. My view from the floor was bar stool, black shoes, white socks, work trousers, haunches and powerful legs, work belt, then the face, slightly discolored and misshapen by alcohol, peering down through cigarette smoke as I uttered the immortal words Mom wants you to come home. There would be no introductions to friends, no pat on the head, no soft intonation of voice or tousle of the hair, just Go outside, Ill be right out. Id follow my bread crumb trail back out the barroom door into the cool evening air, into my town, which felt somehow so welcoming and hostile. Drifting to the curb, Id hop into the backseat and inform my mother, Hell be right out. I was not my fathers favorite citizen. As a boy I figured it was just the way men were, distant, uncommunicative, busy within the currents of the grown-up world. As a child you dont question your parents choices. You accept them. They are justified by the godlike status of parenthood. If you arent spoken to, youre not worth the time. If youre not greeted with love and affection, you havent earned it. If youre ignored, you dont exist. Control over your own behavior is the only card you have to play in the hope of modifying theirs. Maybe you have to be tougher, stronger, more athletic, smarter, in some way better . . . who knows? One evening my father was giving me a few boxing lessons in the living room. I was flattered, excited by his attention and eager to learn. Things were going well. And then he threw a few open-palmed punches to my face that landed just a little too hard. It stung; I wasnt hurt, but a line had been crossed. I knew something was being communicated. We had slipped into the dark nether land beyond father and son. I sensed what was being said: I was an intruder, a stranger, a competitor in our home and a fearful disappointment. My heart broke and I crumpled. He walked away in disgust. When my dad looked at me, he didnt see what he needed to see. This was my crime. My best friend in the neighborhood was Bobby Duncan. Hed ride with his pop every Saturday night to Wall Stadium for the stock car races. At five oclock sharp a halt would be called to whatever endeavor we were involved in and at six, right after dinner, hed come bounding down the front steps of his home two doors down, shirt pressed, hair Brylcreemed, followed by his pop. Into the Ford and off theyd go to Wall Stadium . . . that tire-screeching, high-octane heaven where families bonded over local madmen in garage-built American steel either roaring round and round in insane circles or at fields center smashing the hell out of one another in the weekly demolition derby. For the demo, all you needed was a football helmet, a seat belt and something you were willing to wreck to take your place amongst the chosen . . . Wall Stadium, that smoky, rubber-burning circle of love where families came together in common purpose and things were as God intended them. I stood exiled from my fathers love AND hot rod heaven! Unfortunately, my dads desire to engage with me almost always came after the nightly religious ritual of the sacred six-pack. One beer after another in the pitch dark of our kitchen. It was always then that he wanted to see me and it was always the same. A few moments of feigned parental concern for my well-being followed by the real deal: the hostility and raw anger toward his son, the only other man in the house. It was a shame. He loved me but he couldnt stand me. He felt we competed for my mothers affections. We did. He also saw in me too much of his real self. My pop was built like a bull, always in work clothes; he was strong and physically formidable. Toward the end of his life, he fought back from death many times. Inside, however, beyond his rage, he harbored a gentleness, timidity, shyness and a dreamy insecurity. These were all the things I wore on the outside and the reflection of these qualities in his boy repelled him. It made him angry. It was soft. And he hated soft. Of course, hed been brought up soft. A mamas boy, just like me. One evening at the kitchen table, late in life, when he was not well, he told me a story of being pulled out of a fight he was having in the school yard. My grandmother had walked over from our house and dragged him home. He recounted his humiliation and said, eyes welling . . . I was winning . . . I was winning. He still didnt understand he could not be risked. He was the one remaining, living child. My grandmother, confused, could not realize her untempered love was destroying the men she was raising. I told him I understood, that we had been raised by the same woman in some of the most formative years of our lives and suffered many of the same humiliations. However, back in the days when our relationship was at its most tempestuous, these things remained mysteries and created a legacy of pain and misunderstanding. In 1962, my youngest sister, Pam, was born. I was twelve. My mom was thirty-six. That was pretty late to be pregnant in those days. It was wonderful. My mother was a miracle. I loved the maternity clothes. My sister Virginia and I would sit in the living room in the final months of her pregnancy, our hands resting upon her stomach, waiting for our new little sister to kick. The whole house was caught up in the excitement of Pams birth and our family came together. With my mom in the hospital, my dad stepped up and took care of us, burning breakfast, helping us get dressed for school (sending me there in my mothers blouse, to Virginias roaring laughter). The house lit up. Children bring with them grace, patience, transcendence, second chances, rebirth and a reawakening of the love thats in your heart and present in your home. They are God giving you another shot. My teenage years with my father were still not great but there was always the light of my little sister Pam, living proof of the love in our family. I was enchanted with her. I was thankful for her. I changed her diapers, rocked her to sleep, ran to her side if she cried, held her in my arms and forged a bond that exists to this day. My grandmother, now very ill, slept in the room adjoining mine. One night at the age of three, Pam left my parents room and for the only time in her young life climbed into my grandmothers bed. She slept there all night, lying beside my grandmother as she died. In the morning, my mother checked on my grandma and she was still. When I came home from school that day, my world collapsed. Tears, grief, werent enough. I wanted death. I needed to join her. Even as a teenager, I could not imagine a world without her. It was a black hole, an Armageddon; nothing meant anything, life was drained. My existence went blank. The world was a fraud, a shadow of itself. The only thing that saved me was my little sis and my new interest in music. Now things got strange. My fathers generally quiet desperation led to paranoid delusion. I had a teenage Russian friend he thought was a spy. We lived a block away from the Puerto Rican neighborhood. My father was sure my mother was having an affair. As I came in after school one day, he broke down in tears at the kitchen table. He told me he needed someone to talk to. He had no one. At forty-five he was friendless, and due to my pops insecurities, there was never another man in our home except me. He spilled his heart out to me. It shocked me, made me feel uncomfortable and strangely wonderful. He showed himself to me, mess that he was. It was one of the greatest days of my teenage life. He needed a man friend and I was the only game in town. I comforted him the best I could. I was only sixteen and we were both in way over our heads. I told him I was sure he was wrong and that my mothers love and dedication to him was complete. It was, but he had lost his grip on reality and was inconsolable. Later that evening I told my mother and for the first time we had to confront the fact my father was truly ill. Things were complicated by some strange occurrences around our home. One Saturday night someone shot a bullet through the window of our front door, leaving a perfect slug-size hole in the glass seconds after Id just walked up to bed. The police were constantly pulling in and out of our driveway and my father said he had been involved with some labor trouble at work. These occurrences fed all of our paranoid fantasies and created an atmosphere of terrible unease throughout our household. My sister Virginia became pregnant at seventeen, and no one realized it until she was six months along! In her senior year she dropped out of high school, was tutored at home and married her boyfriend and the father of her child, Mickey Shave. Mickey was an arrogant, leather-jacketed, bull-riding, fighting greaser from Lakewood and eventually all-around great guy. He traveled the competitive rodeo circuit from Jersey to Texas in the late sixties. (Unbeknownst to most, Jersey is home to the longest consecutively running rodeo in the United States, Cowtown, and once you hit the southern part of the state, theres more cowboy there than one might think.) My steadfast sister moved south to Lakewood after trouble brought its consequences, had a beautiful son and began to live the working-class life of my parents. Virginia, who had never boiled water, washed a dish or swept a floor, became the toughest. She had soul, intelligence, humor and beauty. In months, her life changed. She became a hard-core Irish workingwoman. Mickey worked in construction, suffered through the recession of the late seventies when building ceased in Central Jersey, lost his job and took work as a janitor at the local high school. My sister worked the floor at K-Mart. They raised two lovely young men and a beautiful daughter and now have a slew of grandkids. At that young age and on her own, she found the strength my mother and her sisters have always carried with them. She became a living incarnation of Jersey soul; I wrote The River in her and my brother-in-laws honor. SIX MY MOTHER I wake in the half-morning light to the sound of weight on the steps leading up to the small landing outside of my bedroom. A door creaks, a turn, a squeak, the running faucet, then the sound of water moving through the pipes in the wall between my room and our bathroom, a turn, then silence, a click, the sound of plastic on porcelain, my mothers makeup case on the sink, time . . . then the last-minute rustling of garments before the mirror. These are the sounds that greet me every morning of my teenage life at 68 South Street. They are the sounds of my mother getting ready for work, preparing to present herself to the world, the outside world, which she respects and where she is confident she has duties to fulfill. To a child these are the sounds of mystery, ritual and reassurance. I can still hear them. My first bedroom was on the second floor, off the back of our house, over the kitchen. A lazy turn to my right in bed and through my window I had a perfect view of my dad on fifteen-degree mornings down in the yard, back to the frozen ground, cursing and grumbling underneath one of our junkers, that he might get er running and make work . . . brrrrrrrr. I had no heat in my room, but there was a small iron grate on the floor I could open or close over the gas jets of the kitchen stove on the east-facing wall. As physics has taught us, heat rises. Hallelujah! For in our first years on South Street those four jets provided me my only warmth and salvation through many a cold New Jersey winter. A voice calling, two half notes, a step up and a rise to the whole note, shouting through the grate, Bruce, get up. I plead unmusically, Turn on the stove. Ten minutes later, with the smell of breakfast cooking on the kitchen gas burners, the edge has come off of my icebox and I roll out of bed into the cool and unwelcoming morning. This will change when, with my little sister at her side, my grandmother dies in the room next to mine. At sixteen, I will be visited by a black melancholy I never dreamt existed. But . . . Ill inherit Grandmas roomheat!and the early-morning symphony of my mother preparing for work. I get up pretty easy. If I dont, my mom hits me with a glass of cold water, a technique shes refined from dragging my father out of bed to the job. My sister Virginia and I are at the kitchen table, toast, eggs, Sugar Pops; I snow more sugar on, and we all hustle out the door. A kiss and were off to school, lumbering with our book bags up the street, my moms high heels clicking lightly in the other direction, toward town. She goes to work, she does not miss a day, she is never sick, she is never down, she never complains. Work does not appear to be a burden for her but a source of energy and pleasure. Up to Main Street and through the modern glass doors of Lawyers Title Inc. she glides. She walks the long aisle to her desk, farthest in the rear and closest to Mr. Farrell. My mom is a legal secretary. Mr. Farrell is her boss and the head of the agency. She is secretary numero uno! As a child, I delight in my visits here. Alone, I wheel my way through the door to be greeted by a smile from the receptionist. She makes a call to my mom and Im given permission to walk the aisle. The perfumes, the crisp white blouses, whispering skirts and stockings of the secretaries coming out of their cubicles to greet me as I stand exactly breast high, feigning innocence while being hugged and kissed upon my crown. I walk this gauntlet of pure pleasure until I end up back at my mothers desk in a perfumed trance. There Im greeted by Philly, the beauty queen of Lawyers Title, a knockout and the last stop before my mom. She has me shy and speechless until my mother comes to my rescue, then my mom and I spend a few minutes together as she entertains me with her typing skills. Tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack, keys hitting the margin, then the typewriters decisive bell, slide and bang as her fingers, flying, continue to type out the vital correspondence of Lawyers Title Inc. This is followed by a lesson on copy paper and a crash course on getting rid of unwanted ink smudges as I stand fascinated. This is important stuff! The business of Lawyers Titleand essential business it is to the life of our townhas been momentarily suspended for me! Occasionally Ill even see the Man himself. My mother and I will wander into his wood-paneled office, where Mr. Farrell will sternly tousle my hair, say a few kind words and send me on my privileged way. Some days, come five oclock, Ill meet my mother at closing time and we will be amongst the last to leave. With the building empty, its fluorescent lights out, its cubicles deserted and the evening sun shining through the glass doors and reflecting off the hard linoleum floor of the entryway, its as if the building itself is silently resting from its daily efforts in the service of our town. My mothers high heels echo down the empty aisle and we are out onto the street. She strides along statuesque, demanding respect; I am proud, she is proud. Its a wonderful world, a wonderful feeling. We are handsome, responsible members of this one-dog burg pulling our own individual weight, doing what has to be done. We have a place here, a reason to open our eyes at the break of day and breathe in a life that is steady and good. Truthfulness, consistency, professionalism, kindness, compassion, manners, thoughtfulness, pride in yourself, honor, love, faith in and fidelity to your family, commitment, joy in your work and a never-say-die thirst for life. These are some of the things my mother taught me and that I struggle to live up to. And beyond these . . . she was my protector, stepping literally into the breach between my father and me on the nights his illness got the best of him. She would cajole, yell, plead and command that the raging stop . . . and I protected her. Once, in the middle of the night, my father returning from another lost evening at the tavern, I heard them violently arguing in the kitchen. I lay in bed; I was frightened for her and myself. I was no more than nine or ten but I left my room and came down the stairs with my baseball bat. They were standing in the kitchen, my fathers back to me, my mother inches away from his face while he was yelling at the top of his lungs. I shouted at him to stop. Then I let him have it square between his broad shoulders, a sick thud, and everything grew quiet. He turned, his face barroom red; the moment lengthened, then he started laughing. The argument stopped; it became one of his favorite stories and hed always tell me, Dont let anybody hurt your mom. As a young girl of twenty-three, she struggled with the early years of motherhood, ceding far too much control to my grandmother, but by the time I was six or seven, without my mother, there was nothing. No family, no stability, no life. She couldnt heal my dad or leave him, but she did everything else. My mother was a puzzle. Born into a relatively well-off family, used to much of lifes good things, she married into a life of near poverty and servitude. My aunts once told me that when she was young, they called her Queenie because she was so spoiled. They said she never lifted a finger. Huh? Are we talking about the same woman? If this is so, this was someone Id never met. My dads family treated her like the help. My father could be sitting, smoking at the kitchen table, and his parents would call on my mother to go to the store, get the kerosene for the stove, drive them and our relatives where they needed to goand she did it. She served them. She was the only person my grandmother would allow to bathe her in the last corrosive months of her cancer. She covered for my dad constantly, bringing home the bacon on countless mornings when, depressed, he simply couldnt get himself out of bed. She spent her life doing it. Her whole life. It was never over. There was always one more heartache, one more task. How did she express her frustration? With appreciation for the love and home she had, a gentle kindness to her children and more work. What penance was she doing? What did she get out of it? Her family? Atonement? She was a child of divorce, abandonment, prison; she loved my dad and maybe knowing she had the security of a man who would not, could not, leave her was enough. The price, however, was steep. At our house, there were no dates, no restaurants or nights out on the town. My father had neither the inclination, the money nor the health for a normal married social life. I never saw the inside of a restaurant until I was well into my twenties and by then, I was intimidated by any high school ma?tre d at the local diner. Their deep love and attraction and yet the dramatic gulf between my mother and fathers personalities was always a mystery to me. My mother would read romance novels and swoon to the latest hits on the radio. My dad would go so far as to explain to me that love songs on the radio were part of a government ploy to get you to marry and pay taxes. My mother and her two sisters have an unending faith in people, are social creatures who will merrily make conversation with a broom handle. My father was a misanthrope who shunned most of humankind. At the tavern, Id often find him sitting solitarily at the end of the bar. He claimed to believe in a world that was filled with crooks out for a buck. Nobodys any good, and so what if they are. My mother showered me with affection. The love I missed from my father she tried to double up on and, perhaps, find the love she missed from my dad. All I know is she always had my back. When I was hauled into the police station for a variety of minor infractions, she was always there to take me back home. She came to my countless baseball games, both when I stunk up the place and the one season lightning struck and I turned into a real fielding, hitting player, with my name in the papers. She got me my first electric guitar, encouraged my music and fawned over my early creative writing. She was a parent, and thats what I needed as my world was about to explode. SEVEN THE BIG BANG (HAVE YOU HEARD THE NEWS . . .) In the beginning there was a great darkness upon the Earth. There was Christmas and your birthday but beyond that all was a black endless authoritarian void. There was nothing to look forward to, nothing to look back upon, no future, no history. It was all a kid could do to make it to summer vacation. Then, in a moment of light, blinding as a universe birthing a billion new suns, there was hope, sex, rhythm, excitement, possibility, a new way of seeing, of feeling, of thinking, of looking at your body, of combing your hair, of wearing your clothes, of moving and of living. There was a joyous demand made, a challenge, a way out of this dead-to-life world, this small-town grave with all the people I dearly loved and feared buried in it alongside of me. THE BARRICADES HAVE BEEN STORMED!! A FREEDOM SONG HAS BEEN SUNG!! THE BELLS OF LIBERTY HAVE RUNG!! A HERO HAS COME. THE OLD ORDER HAS BEEN OVERTHROWN! The teachers, the parents, the fools so sure they knew THE WAYTHE ONLY WAYto build a life, to have an impact on things and to make a man or woman out of yourself, have been challenged. A HUMAN ATOM HAS JUST SPLIT THE WORLD IN TWO! The small part of the world I inhabit has stumbled upon an irreversible moment. Somewhere in between the mundane variety acts on a routine Sunday night in the year of our Lord 1956 . . . THE REVOLUTION HAS BEEN TELEVISED!! Right underneath the nose of the guardians of all that IS, who, if they were aware of the powers they were about to unleash, would call out the national gestapo to SHUT THIS SHIT DOWN!! . . . or . . . SIGN IT UP QUICK!! As a matter of fact, the arbiter of public taste in circa-1950s USA, MC ED SULLIVAN, was not initially going to let this Southern, sexually depraved hick sully the American consciousness and his stage. Once the genie had been let out of the bottle on national television . . . IT WOULD BE OVER! THE NATION WOULD FOLD! And we the great unwashed, the powerless, the marginalized, THE KIDS! . . . would want . . . MORE. More life, more love, more sex, more faith, more hope, more action, more truth, more power, more get down in the gutter, spit on me, Jesus, teach my blind eyes to SEE REAL-LIFE RELIGION!! Most of all, we would want more ROCK N ROLL!! The polite charade, the half-assed circus acts, the anemic singers, the bloodless (and often highly enjoyable) shit that passed for entertainment would be revealed for what it was. In the end, ratings and money did the talking and Ed (actually, on Elviss first appearance, Charles Laughton, covering for Ed, whod been waylaid by a car accident) did the walking, right out to the center of his stage to cough out, Ladies and gentlemen . . . Elvis Presley. Seventy million Americans that night were exposed to this hip-shaking human earthquake. A fearful nation was protected from itself by the CBS cameramen, who were told to shoot the kid only from the waist up. No money shots! No shifting, grinding, joyfully thrusting crotch shots. It didnt matter. It was all there in his eyes, his face, the face of a Saturday night jukebox Dionysus, the shimmying eyebrows and rocking band. A riot ensued. Women, young girls and many men, screaming for what the cameras refused to show, for what their very timidity confirmed and promised . . . ANOTHER WORLD . . . the one below your waist and above your heart . . . a world that had been previously and rigorously denied was being PROVEN TO EXIST! It was a world with all of us in it . . . together . . . all of us. HE HAD TO BE STOPPED! And of course, in the end, he was stopped. But not before the money got made and the secret slipped out from between his lips and his hips that this, this life, this everything you know is a mere paper construction. You, my TV dinnersucking, glazed-eyed friends, are living in . . . THE MATRIX . . . and all you have to do to see the real world, God and Satans glorious kingdom on Earth, all you have to do to taste real life is to risk being your true self . . . to dare . . . to watch . . . to listen . . . to all the late-night staticky-voiced deejays playing race records blowing in under the radar, shouting their tinny AM radio manifesto, their stations filled with poets, geniuses, rockers, bluesmen, preachers, philosopher kings, speaking to YOU from deep in the heart of your own soul. Their voices sing, Listen . . . listen to what this world is telling you, for it is calling for your love, your rage, your beauty, your sex, your energy, your rebellion . . . because it needs YOU in order to remake itself. In order to be reborn into something else, something maybe better, more godly, more wonderful, it needs US. This new world is a world of black and white. A place of freedom where the two most culturally powerful tribes in American society find common ground, pleasure and joy in each others presence. Where they use a common language to speak with . . . to BE with one another. A human being proposed this, helped bring it to pass, a boy, a nobody, a national disgrace, a joke, a gimmick, a clown, a magician, a guitar man, a prophet, a visionary? Visionaries are a dime a dozen . . . This was a man who didnt see it coming . . . he WAS it coming, and without him, white America, you would not look or act or think the way you do. A precursor of vast cultural change, a new kind of man, of modern human, blurring racial lines and gender lines and having . . . FUN! . . . FUN! . . . the real kind. The life-blessing, wall-destroying, heart-changing, mind-opening bliss of a freer, more liberated existence. FUN . . . it is waiting for you, Mr. and Mrs. Everyday American, and guess what? It is your birthright. A man did this. A man searching for something new. He willed it into existence. Elviss great act of love rocked the country and was an early echo of the coming civil rights movement. He was the kind of new American whose desires would bring his goals to fruition. He was a singer, a guitar player who loved black musical culture, recognized its artistry, its mastery, its power, and yearned for intimacy with it. He served his nation in the army. He made some bad movies and a few good ones, threw away his talent, found it again, had a great comeback and, in true American fashion, died an untimely and garish death. He was not an activist, not a John Brown, not a Martin Luther King Jr., not a Malcolm X. He was a showman, an entertainer, an imaginer of worlds, an unbelievable success, an embarrassing failure and a fount of modern action and ideas. Ideas that would soon change the shape and future of the nation. Ideas whose time had come, that challenged us to decide if we would all be attending a funeral of national destruction and decline or dancing while birthing the next part of the American story. I dont know what his thoughts were on race. I dont know whether he thought about the broader implications of his actions. I do know this is what he did: lived a life he was driven to live and brought forth the truth that was within him and the possibilities within us. How many of us can say that? That we committed all of ourselves to something? Dismissed as a national joke, he held out a dream of the kind of country this could be, and soon we would go there . . . kicking, screaming, lynching, burning, bombing, saving, preaching, fighting, marching, praying, singing, hating and loving our way forward. When it was over that night, those few minutes, when the man with the guitar vanished in a shroud of screams, I sat there transfixed in front of the television set, my mind on fire. I had the same two arms, two legs, two eyes; I looked hideous but Id figure that part out . . . so what was missing? THE GUITAR!! He was hitting it, leaning on it, dancing with it, screaming into it, screwing it, caressing it, swinging it on his hips and, once in a while, even playing it! The master key, the sword in the stone, the sacred talisman, the staff of righteousness, the greatest instrument of seduction the teenage world had ever known, the . . . the . . . ANSWER to my alienation and sorrow, it was a reason to live, to try to communicate with the other poor souls stuck in the same position I was. And . . . they sold em right downtown at the Western Auto store! The next day I convinced my mom to take me to Diehls Music on South Street in Freehold. There, with no money to spend, we rented a guitar. I took it home. Opened its case. Smelled its wood (still one of the sweetest and most promising smells in the world), felt its magic, sensed its hidden power. I held it in my arms, ran my fingers over its strings, held the real tortoiseshell guitar pick in between my teeth, tasted it, took a few weeks of music lessons . . . and quit. It was TOO FUCKIN HARD! Mike Diehl, guitarist and owner of Diehls Music, didnt have any idea how to teach whatever Elvis was doing to a young shouter who wanted to sing the elementary school blues. Despite incredible access to these amazing machines, he remained clueless about their real power. Earthbound like everyone else in 1950s America, he was all Buzzing on the B string, staff paper and hours of stupendously boring technique. I WANTED . . . I NEEDED . . . TO ROCK! NOW! I still cant read music to this day, and back then, my seven-year-old fingers couldnt even get around that big fret board. Frustrated and embarrassed, shortly, I told my mom it was a no-go. There was no sense wasting her hard-earned cash. The sunny morning I had to return the guitar, I stood in front of six or so of the neighborhood guys and gals in my backyard. I gave my first and last show for quite a while: I held the guitar . . . I shook it . . . I shouted at it . . . I banged on it . . . I sang voodoo nonsense . . . I did everything but play it . . . all to their laughter and great amusement. I sucked. It was a joyful and silly-assed pantomime. That afternoon, sad but a little relieved, I dropped the guitar off back at Diehls Music. It was over for now, but for a moment, just a moment, in front of those kids in my backyard . . . I smelled blood. EIGHT RADIO DAYS My mom loved music, Top 40 music; the radio was always on in the car and in the kitchen in the morning. From Elvis on out, my sister and I shuffled out of bed and downstairs to be greeted by the hit records of the day pouring out of the tiny radio that sat on the top of our refrigerator. Slowly, certain songs caught my attention. At first it was the novelty recordsthe Olympics, Western Movies; the Coasters, Along Came Jonesthe great narrative clowning records where the groups let loose with rock n roll comedy and sounded like they were just having fun. I wore out the jukebox at our local luncheonette pumping it full of my moms dimes to hear Sheb Wooleys The Purple People Eater over and over again (Mr. Purple People Eater, whats your line? . . . Eatin purple people and it sure is fine). I stayed up all one summer night with my tiny Japanese transistor radio tucked under my pillow counting the times they played Lonnie Donegans Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)? Records that ultimately held my interest were the ones where the singers sounded simultaneously happy and sad. The Drifters, This Magic Moment, Saturday Night at the Movies, Up on the Roofrecords that summoned the joy and heartbreak of everyday life. This music was filled with deep longing, a casually transcendent spirit, mature resignation and . . . hope . . . hope for that girl, that moment, that place, that night when everything changes, life reveals itself to you, and you, in turn, are revealed. Records that longed for some honest place, some place of ones own . . . the movies, downtown, uptown, up on the roof, under the boardwalk, out of the sun, out of sight, somewhere above or below the harsh glare of the adult world. The adult world, that place of dishonesty, deceit, unkindness, where people slaved, were hurt, compromised, beaten, defeated, where they diedthank you, Lord, but for now, Ill take a pass. Ill take the pop world. A world of romance, metaphor; yes, there is tragedy (Teen Angel!), but there is also immortality, eternal youth, a seven-day weekend and no adults (Its Saturday night and I just got paid. Im a fool about my money, dont try to save). Its a paradise of teenage sex where school . . . is permanently out. There, even that great tragedian Roy Orbison, a man who had to sing his way out of an apocalypse waiting around every corner, had his pretty woman and a home on Blue Bayou. Through my mothers spirit, love and affection, she imparted to me an enthusiasm for lifes complexities, an insistence on joy and good times, and the perseverance to see the hard times through. Has there ever been a more comforting, sadder song than Sam Cookes Good Times? Its a vocal performance steeped in weary self-knowledge and the ways of the world . . . Get in the groove and let the good times roll . . . we gonna stay here til we soothe our soul . . . if it takes all night long . . . Slowly the musical sounds of the late fifties and early sixties drew down into my bones. In those days if you were broke the only family entertainment you had was a drive. Gas was cheap, thirty cents a gallon, so nightly my grandparents, mother, sister and I cruised the streets to the outer edges of town. It was our treat and ritual. On warm nights, with the windows in our big sedan wide open, first wed roll down Main Street, then on out to the southwest end of town to the edge of Highway 33, where wed make our scheduled stop at the Jersey Freeze ice-cream stand. Wed bounce out of the car and up to the sliding window, where you had your choice of two flavors . . . count em . . . two . . . vanilla and chocolate. I didnt like either but I loved those wafer cones. The guy behind the counter who owned the place would save me the broken ones and sell them to us for five cents or slip me one for free. My sister and I would sit on the hood of the car in silent ecstasy with the Jersey humidity smothering all sound but for the night crickets humming in the nearby woods. The yellow outdoor lighting would act like a neon flame for hundreds of flitting, circling summer bugs. Wed watch as they buzzed the exterior of the whitewashed ice-cream stand, then we were off and away as the huge plaster Jersey Freeze ice-cream cone, perched precariously on top of the little cinder-block building, slowly disappeared in our rear window. Wed ride the back roads to the north end of town, where scratching the sky in the fields bordering the Monmouth Memorial Home was the town radio tower. It had three bright red lights rising along its gray steel structure. As our radio glowed with the otherworldly sound of late-fifties doo-wop, my mother would explain to me that there in the high grass stood a tall dark giant, invisible against the black night sky. The ascending lights were merely the shining red buttons on his jacket. We would always end our journey with a ride past the buttons. As my eyes grew heavy and we turned toward home, Id swear I could see the outline of the giants dark figure. Fifty-Nine, 60, 61, 62, 63 . . . the beautiful sounds of American popular music. The calm before the storm of the Kennedy assassination, a quiet America, of lost lovers laments wafting along the airwaves. On the weekend, sometimes the ride would take us all the way to the shore, to the amusements and carnival of Asbury Park or the quieter beaches of Manasquan. Wed park facing the waters of the inlet. Besides the kitchen table, the Manasquan Inlet was my dads favorite spot in the world. He would sit for hours alone in the car watching the boats come in from the sea. My sister and I would eat hot dogs at Carlsons Corner, changing into our pajamas with a towel wrapped around us on the beach as my mother stood guard. On the way home wed stop for a double feature at the Shore Drive-In, falling asleep in the backseat, to be carried to our beds by my dad once back in Freehold. As we grew older, wed step rock by rock out along the dark Manasquan jetty, which jutted east, disappearing into the night sea. There at jettys end wed stare out into the pitch-black nothing of the Atlantic, with only the distant sparkling lights of night-charter fishing boats revealing the horizon line. Wed listen to the ocean waves crashing rhythmically on the shore far behind us, the sea lapping against the rocks onto our bare and sandy feet. You could hear a Morse code, a message moving in over that great black expanse of water . . . with the stars burning the night sky bright above us, you could feel it . . . something British this way comes. NINE THE SECOND COMING From over the sea, the gods returned, just in time. Rough days at home. My face exploding with acne, that old bastard and now national hero of mine, Ed Sullivan, was doing it for me one more time. Let the battle begin. Ladies and gentlemen, from England . . . the Beatles!! Ed said the words the Beatles better than anybody else in the world. Hed wind up on the the, quickly punch and emphasize the Beat, and then he was outta there on the les. All rushing by me while jolting my system with ten thousand watts of high-voltage anticipation. I sat there, heart pounding, waiting for the first real look at my new saviors, waiting to hear the first redemptive notes come peeling off the Rickenbacker, Hofner and Gibson guitars in their hands. The Beatles . . . The Beatles . . . The Beatles . . . The Beatles . . . The Beatles . . . The Beatles . . . an it aint no sin to be glad youre alive mantra and simultaneously the worst and most glorious band name in all of rock n roll history. In 1964, there were no more magical words in the English language (well . . . maybe Yes, you can touch me there). The Beatles. I first laid ears on them while driving with my mom up South Street, the radio burning brighter before my eyes as it strained to contain the sound, the harmonies of I Want to Hold Your Hand. Why did it sound so different? Why was it so good? Why was I this excited? My mom dropped me off at home but I ran straight to the bowling alley on Main Street, where I always spent my first after-school hours hunched over the pool tables sipping a Coke and eating a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. I slammed myself into the phone booth and called my girlfriend, Jan Seamen. Have you heard the Beatles? Yeah, theyre cool . . . My next stop was Newburys, the five-and-ten-cent store in the center of town. In the front door and an immediate right brought you to the tiny corner record section (there were no record stores in those days in our neck of the woods). There were just a few racks of singles for forty-nine cents a pop. There were no real albums for me, just a few Mantovani records or middle-of-the-road vocal artists, maybe a little jazz on the bottom shelf. They were never looked at. They were for adults. The teenage world was a world of pure 45s. A small circular piece of wax with a half-dollar hole in the center you had to fill with a plastic adapter. Your record player at home still had three speeds, 78, 45 and 33 RPM. Hence, 45s. The first thing I found was something called The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Guests. It was a rip-off. The Beatles backing some singer Id never heard of doing My Bonnie. I bought it. And listened to it. It wasnt great but it was as close as I could get. I went back on a daily basis until I saw IT. The album cover, the greatest album cover of all time (tied with Highway 61 Revisited). All it said was Meet the Beatles. That was exactly what I wanted to do. Those four half-shadowed faces, rock n rolls Mount Rushmore, and . . . THE HAIR . . . THE HAIR. What did it mean? It was a surprise, a shock. You couldnt see them on the radio. It is almost impossible to explain today the effect of . . . THE HAIR. The ass whippings, insults, risks, rejections and outsider status you would have to accept to wear it. In recent years, only the punk revolution of the seventies would allow small-town kids the ability to physically declare their otherness, their rebellion. In 1964, Freehold was redneck ugly and there was no shortage of guys who were willing to make their rejection of your fashion choices a physical affair. I ignored the insults, avoided the physical confrontations as best I could and did what I had to do. Our tribe was small, maybe two or three in all of my high school, but it would grow to be significant and mighty, then meaningless . . . but not for a while . . . and in the meantime each sunrise held the possibility of a showdown. At home all it meant was more fuel for the unpleasant fire burning between my dad and me. His first response was laughter. It was funny. Then, not so funny. Then, he got angry. Then, finally, he popped his burning question: Bruce, are you queer? He wasnt kidding. Hed have to get over it. But first, it would get a lot nastier. At school I made my way. I only got in one real scrap on my walk home from high school. Id had enough with the jokes and squared off against a kid I was sure I could beat in the driveway of a neighborhood home. We were soon surrounded by a small circle of sensation seekers. Before we started, in the spirit of full disclosure, he told me he knew karate. I thought to myself, Bullshit. Who knows karate in 1966 New Jersey? . . . NO-FUCKING-BODY! I threw a few haymakers and he caught me with a perfect karate chop to the Adams apple . . . aaarrrrrgh. I spit up. I couldnt speak. It was over. Another great victory. We walked the rest of the way home together. That summer, time moved slowly. Every Wednesday night I sat up in my room charting the weekly top twenty and if the Beatles were not firmly ensconced each week as lords of all radio, it would drive me nuts. When Hello Dolly grabbed the top spot on the charts week after week, I was beside myself. Nothing against Satchmo, one of the greatest musicians who ever lived, but I was fourteen and on a different planet. I lived for every Beatles record release. I searched the newsstands for every magazine with a photo I hadnt seen and I dreamed . . . dreamed . . . dreamed . . . that it was me. My curly Italian hair miraculously gone straight, my face clear of acne and my body squeezed into one of those shiny silver Nehru suits. Im standing tall in a pair of Cuban-heeled Beatle boots. It didnt take me long to figure it out: I didnt want to meet the Beatles. I wanted to BE the Beatles. After my father refused to pay a rent hike, we moved to 68 South Street and had . . . hot water! But to get it, we moved next to a Sinclair gas station, into another half house. In the half we didnt occupy lived a Jewish family. My mom and dad, no racists or anti-Semites, still felt the need to caution my sister and me that these were folks who . . . DID NOT BELIEVE IN JESUS! Any theological issues were immediately forgotten when I saw two gorgeous daughters, my new next-door neighbors, who carried with them a fabulous voluptuousness, full mouths, smooth dark skin and weighted breastsoy! I immediately began imagining warm nights on the front porch, their tan legs pouring out of summer shorts, as we debated the Jesus question. Personally, I wouldve quickly thrown over our savior of two thousand years for one kiss, one run of an index finger over the coffee-colored ankle of either of my new neighbors. Unfortunately, I was shy and they were chaste, still solidly under Yahwehs and Mom and Pops sway. One evening when I did bring up the Jesus thing, it was like Id said fuck. Sweet palms were quickly raised to rose lips, followed by red-faced girl giggling. There would be many restless teenage nights at 68 South Street. We had black friends, though only rarely did we enter each others homes. There was a d?tente in the streets. The white and black adults were cordial but distant. The children played together. There was a lot of easy racism amongst the kids. Insults were exchanged. Arguments were either brushed off, settled by an apology or resolved by a quick beating, depending upon the severity of the offense and mood of the afternoon; then the games would continue. I ran into racist kids, kids who learned it at home a few houses down from mine, but I never ran into kids who wouldnt play with black kids until I bumped into the middle and upper-middle class. On the bottom, we were all lumped in together because of physical proximity and the need for another guy to play the outfield. Fifties racism was so presumed and casual that if a black friend was excluded from a game one afternoon at our better friends house, so be it. Nobody took up the flag. A day later the usual gang, black and white, would all be playing together again and it would be forgotten . . . by us. I was pals with the Blackwell brothers, Richard and David. David, a lanky, thin black kid, was my age and we hung out quite a bit. We rode bikes, played ball and spent a good amount of time together. We fought to see who was toughest. Hed clock me on the kisser with a couple of good rights and it was over; then wed go back to playing. His brother Richard was a little older, tall and one of the coolest things Id ever seen. Hed developed his own walk. It was a piece of art: a step forward with one leg and then a slow drag pulling up the other, a slight bend at the hip, the other arm bent at the elbow, wrist cocked as if smoking a cigarette in a holder; never in a hurry, hed stride through the streets of Freehold like a jazz musician, his face expressionless and his eyes near half-mast. He spoke long and slow. Hed grace us with a few moments of his time and wed leave like wed been blessed by the pope of cool. Racial tensions at Freehold High exploded into violence. If you entered the wrong restroom, it was lights-out and a beating. I entered the first-floor restroom one afternoon, walked up to the latrine next to a black friend. I went to speak. He just looked at the wall and said, I cant talk to you right now. I was white and he was black; the lines had been drawn, even amongst neighborhood friends. There would be no communication until it was over, and it wouldnt be over for quite a while. The town erupted in rioting. There were harsh words spoken between two cars at a South Street light and a gun was fired into a car full of black kids. At my corner sub shop there was a demonstration after an elderly black man had been thrown out and had fallen and been injured. I stood on my porch watching just two houses down as the proprietor rushed into a black crowd wielding a meat cleaver. It was taken from him and it was amazing no one was killed. Someone was chased up onto the porch of the house next to mine and pushed through the front window. The times they were a-changing . . . the hard way. TEN THE SHOW MAN (LORD OF THE DANCE) My showmanship skills developed early. Seasoned by the Zerilli blood that flowed through my veins, I was born 100 percent grade A ham. So to grab the spotlight before I could play, I DANCED! . . . somewhat. The main thing was I was willing to risk the ridicule of half of the neighborhoods population (the male half) because Id found out that the other half found a guy who would dance with them to something other than a bone-grinding slow song enthralling. Bimonthly on Friday nights, St. Rose of Lima would open up its basement cafeteria and host a heavily chaperoned Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) dance for its wild-hormoned teens. On the dance floor I already had a head start. Id been pulled out onto the living room rug at family gatherings to Twist with my mom ever since Chubby Checker smashed the hit parade to bits with The Twist. (My mom even took us to the Atlantic City Steel Pier to see Chubby live as he lip-synched to his hits. Then we went across the boardwalk and caught Anita Bryant on the same sun-filled summer afternoon.) Also Id been going over to the YMCA Friday night canteen, just fifty steps from the door of my South Street home. This was absolutely forbidden territory by nuns decree, and you would be racked and tortured in front of the smugly satisfied class of eighth graders on Monday morning if word leaked out that youd joined the heathen class and their satanic Friday night rituals. It was here, high in the shadowy bleachers, that I experienced my first kiss (Maria Espinosa!), my first dance floor hard-on (unknown, but could as well have been a wet mop) and the atmosphere of a basketball gym, lights seductively lowered and transformed into a greasy hardwood-floored wonderland. Before Id stand on these same boards, strapped with my sky blue Epiphone guitar in my first band, the Castiles, Id dance with anyone whod have me. Often, still horribly insecure, Id have to wait for the last few desperate records to get up the guts to cross the no-mans-land between the camps of the boys and girls and pop the question. But on a good night Id spend the evening dancing with strangers from St. Roses crosstown rival, the intermediate (gasp, public!) school. Who were these tight-skirted, smoky-eyed young girls, unfettered by the green St. Roses jumper that tapped down the budding womanhood of my schools female population? Here were girls in their dimly lit, scented glory, gathered in small hushed circles that suddenly erupted into soft giggles as they eyed the guys across the room culling the herd. I was a complete outcast. I didnt really know the guys who were cloistered into their cliques, and there were only a few other eighth-grade Catholic school students who braved the Young Mens Christian Association soirees. Id been lured to the Y by a secular neighborhood pal for after-school hoops and the pool table in the musty basement. But once Id gotten the smell of the canteen (some mixture of leftover basketball sweat and dance-floor sex) in my self-consciously Roman nose, there was no going back. Here I danced for the first time in public and limped those fifty steps back home, blue-balled after some close encounter with a woolen skirt. The chaperones sat up in the bleachers, armed with a flashlight that they flickered on you during the slow dances if things were looking a little hot and tight. Still there was only so much they could do. They were trying to stop a millennia of sexual hunger, and for that job a flashlight just wasnt going to cut it. At the end of the night, by the time Paul and Paulas Hey Paula was spun on the decidedly lo-fi gym sound system, every man and woman alike was throwing themselves onto the dance floor just to feel a body, almost any body, up against theirs. There in those death-defying clinches lay the promise of things to come. By the time I got to the CYO dance at my own alma mater, I had some rudimentary skills. The poor souls who comprised most of my Catholic male colleagues didnt yet realize that GIRLS LOVE TO DANCE! So much so that theyll get on the dance floor with just about any geek whos got a few moves. That geek was ME! I had a ridiculous assortment of gyrations copped and exaggerated from the dances of the day. The Monkey, the Twist, the Swim, the Jerk, the Pony, the Mashed PotatoI mixed them all up into a stew of my own that occasionally got me on the floor with some of the finest women in town. This shocked my classmates, whod only known me as the poor soul at the rear corner desk in class. Id hear, Hey, Springy, whered you learn that? Well, Id practiced and practiced hard. Not just with my mom and at the Y but heavily in front of the full-length mirror tacked up to the back of my door in my bedroom. Way before I played broomstick guitar in front of it, me and that mirror spent hours together in a sweat-soaked frenzy, moving to the latest records of the day. I had a small suitcase stereo with a 45 adapter that held me in good stead, and Id Frug and Twist and Jerk my way to a soggy T-shirt that wouldnt be rivaled til many years later in the midst of a fevered Devil with a Blue Dress On in front of a cavernous hall of twenty thousand screaming rock fans. Then . . . come Friday, Id slip on my tightest black stovepipe jeans, a red button-down shirt, matching red socks and black winklepicker shoes. Id previously stolen some of my mothers hairpins, pinned my bangs down tight and slept on them so theyd come out as straight as Brian Joness. Id comb them out, then sit under a ten-dollar sunlamp my mother had gotten at the corner drugstore to try and combat some of my fiercest acne. I squeezed a half tube of Clearasil on the rest and stepped out of my bedroom, down the stairs, out the front door and onto the street. Show me the dance floor. ELEVEN WORKINGMANS BLUES My parents had no money for a second shot at the guitar, so there was just one thing to do: get a job. One summer afternoon my mom took me to my aunt Doras, where for fifty cents an hour I would become the lawn boy. My uncle Warren came out and showed me the ropes. He demonstrated how the lawn mower worked, how to cut the hedges (not too short, not too long), and I was hired. I went immediately to the Western Auto store, an establishment in the towns center specializing in automotive parts and cheap guitars. There amongst the carburetors, air filters and fan belts hung four acoustic guitars, ranging from the unplayable to the barely playable. They looked like nirvana to me and they were attainable. Well, one was attainable. I saw a price tag hanging off of one funky brown model that read Eighteen dollars. Eighteen dollars? That was more money than I had ever held in my hand at one time. A lot more. After a while I noticed my living expenses were cutting into my savings from my job at Aunt Doras, so I was going to have to step up my workload. Across the street from my aunts house was a lovely, older white-haired lady named Mrs. Ladd. She wanted her house painted and her roof tarred. My grandfather, when his electrician business went south, had become a housepainter, and Id wielded a brush on the walls of our own home a few times. How hard could it be? I enlisted my pal Mike Patterson to join my workforce and together wed finish it off in no time. Mrs. Ladd bought the paint, showed us what she wanted, was meticulous: black shutters, white house, period. If she didnt like the way the paint was lying, you did it again. One week I had to miss a days work. Mike said no problem, hed handle it. When I came back, one whole side of the house had been painted yellow! Mike . . . Did you clean the brushes? I thought I did. One more time. We got it done, it didnt look too bad and we went on to the roof. I knew nothing about tarring a roof, so Mike led the way. It was midsummer New Jersey, 90 percent humidity, Fahrenheit ninety-five degrees; the tar was hot, sticky and burning as we slathered it on in the midday sun . . . hell on Earth. It was done. Me and my twenty dollars went straight downtown. The salesman pulled my ugly brown dream out of the window and snipped off the price tag, and it was mine. I skulked home with it, not wanting my neighbors to know of my vain and unrealistic ambitions. I hauled it up to my bedroom and closed the door like it was some sex tool (it was!). I sat down, held it in my lap and was utterly confused. I had no clue about how to begin. The strings were thick as telephone wires, so I just started making noise, playing by ear. If I accidentally hit on something that sounded like music, I tried to remember it and do it again. I concentrated mainly on the lower-sounding strings, trying to make a thunk, thunk sound, a rhythm. It hurt like hell. My soft, pink fingertips were not prepared for the cables strung across this wooden box pretending to be an instrument. I stood up, went to the mirror on the back of my bedroom door, slung the guitar across my hips and stood there. For the next two weeks, until my fingers screamed for mercy, I worked up a whole repertoire of non-tunes to be played on an untuned guitar. I convinced myself I was getting somewhere, then fate and family intervened. My mom, Virginia and I went one Sunday to visit our aunt Eda. Her son, Frank, was an ace accordionist and every time wed visit, hed be called on to bust out his box and swing through Lady of Spain or some other accordion anthem. (Inspired, I actually took a shot at the accordion one Christmas, ensuring job security for E Street keyboardist and accordionist Danny Federici forever after. It was impossible.) One Sunday, Frank came into the living room with a guitar instead of his candy-wagon accordion. He proceeded to wail through the folk hits of the moment. The folk boom was full throttle at the time. Hootenanny was a prime-time television show and Frank had picked up the guitar and was playing it pretty well. That weekend he sat on the living room floor, guitar in hand, wearing a white T-shirt, black socks, black chinos and white sneakers (I thought this was the coolest thing Id ever seen up close and I immediately returned home and tried to emulate the look). He was doing a lot better than I was. He took me into his room, showed me how to tune the guitar, taught me how to read chord charts out of an American folk music collection, gave me the book and sent me home. I tuned my guitar as best I could and realized immediately Id have to start from scratch. All of my non-tuned tunes were now revealed as the complete crap they were. I opened up the book, went to Greensleeves, read the opening E-minor chord (only needs two fingers!) and set back to work. It was a beginning. A real beginning. Over the next few months, I learned most of the major and minor chords; scrubbed my way through as many folk standards I could; showed my mother what I was accomplishing, to her encouragement; then put together the C, F and G chords that allowed me to play Twist and Shout. This was my first rock n roll song. It was good-bye to lawn boy and the only real job I would hold my entire life. Well shake it up, baby! TWELVE WHERE THE BANDS ARE Five months later, Id beaten my Western Auto special half to death. My fingers were strong and callused. My fingertips were as hard as an armadillos shell. I was ready to move up. I had to go electric. I explained to my mother that to get in a band, to make a buck, to get anywhere, I needed an electric guitar. Once again, that would cost money we didnt have. Eighteen dollars wasnt going to cut it this time. In my room I had a cheesy pool table Id gotten the Christmas before when I planned to follow in my fathers footsteps as a pool shark. I got pretty decent playing in the basement of the Y on canteen nights, but I never got good enough to challenge my old man. However, it still was good cover to get my girlfriends up into my bedroom. Once Id romanced them to the bed Id lean up once in a while and toss the pool balls across the table to keep the old man happy down in the kitchen. But by now the thrill was gone. Christmas was coming. I made a deal with my mom: if Id sell the pool table, shed try to come up with the balance for an electric guitar Id spotted in the window of Caiazzos Music Store on Center Street. The price was sixty-nine dollars and it came complete with a small amplifier. It was the cheapest they had but it was a start. I sold my pool table for thirty-five dollars; a guy tied it to the roof of his car and headed out the drive. So there on one slushy Christmas Eve, I stood with my mother staring into Caiazzos window at a sunburst, one-pickup Kent guitar, made in Japan. It looked beautiful, wondrous and affordable. I had my thirty-five dollars and my mother had thirty-five dollars of finance-company money. She and my father borrowed from season to season, paying off their debt just in time to borrow again. Sixty-nine dollars would be the biggest expenditure of my life and my mother was going out on a limb for me one more time. In we went. Mr. Caiazzo lifted it out of the window and stuck it into a leatherette cardboard case, and we drove home with my first electric guitar. In the living room I plugged in my new amp. Its tiny six-inch speaker roared to life. It sounded awful, distorted beyond all recognition. The amp had one control, a volume knob. It was about the size of a large bread box but I was in the game. My guitar was as cheap as they came but compared to the junker Id been playing, it was a Cadillac. The strings were smooth wound. Their distance to the fret board was minimal and allowed for easy intonation with the slightest pressure. I got better fast and was soon meeting at a friends house for jam sessions. I knew a drummer, Donnie Powell. We convened in his living room while his parents were out and made the most god-awful racket youve ever heard. Being able to play a little was one thing; playing together was something else . . . uncharted territory. The one tune every aspiring ax man struggled to master in those days was Bill Doggetts Honky Tonk. It was unbelievably rudimentary, theoretically within the grasp of the most spastic idiot, and a hit record! Honky Tonk was a two-string blues concerto, a low-down dirty strippers groove, and is still a cool record today. Donnie, the drummer, taught it to me and the two of us hacked at it like ax murderers. Years before the White Stripes, the two of us beat the crap out of the blues . . . except we stunk! Singing? . . . Into what? With what? No one had a microphone or a voice. It was just way below garage-level thrashing, lasting all night long until his parents came home. We called ourselves the Merchants. A few other neighborhood kids came in, there were a few more exuberant, painful rehearsals, and then the day was done. It was finished and back to my room I went. But . . . there was one kid in the neighborhood who could really play. Hed taken a few years of guitar lessons. His dad was a successful businessman. He had a Gibson guitara real instrumentand a real amp. He knew how to read music. I spoke to him and drafted him into a revamped Merchants, now called the Rogues (Freehold version, not to be confused with the later Shore version consisting of actual playing, singing musicians). Suddenly, we sounded close to music. My amp was a joke, so he let me plug into the spare channel of his. We even found a bass playerwell, someone who had a bass and, more important, another amp. He joined our combo. He couldnt play but he was a nice, handsome Italian kid and his friendship would literally save my ass from a beating years into the future in a funky little backwoods dive down Route 9 called the IB Club. We plugged on, rehearsing semiregularly, with one radical and rebellious idea: someone would sing. Showtime In small-town Jersey in 1964, no one sang. There were vocal groups with backing bands. There were bands with no vocalists who performed strictly instrumentals, taking the Ventures as their guiding light, but there were no self-contained playing, singing combos. That was one of the revolutions the Beatles brought with them when they came to America. You wrote the songs, you sang the songs, you played the songs. Before that, a typical local bands set list would consist of Pipeline by the Chantays; Sleep Walk by Santo and Johnny; Apache, Out of Limits, Penetration, Haunted Castleall purely instrumental pieces. In the early sixties at a high school dance, a top hometown band like the Chevelles would play all night, unmiked, without a word being uttered to the audience of frantic dancers. The Chevelles were the instrumental kings of our local scene (challenged up Route 9 by the Victorians). They were real musicians, teachers at Mike Diehls music school, with good equipment and matching suits. One day our young combo heard of Sunday matinee shows for teenagers at the Freehold Elks Club. It cost thirty-five cents to come in and all the bands played for free to a crowd of about seventy-five locals. The show was run by an unusual husband-and-wife team of entertainers, Bingo Bob and Mrs. Bob. They were a circus act and a little on the freaky side but for a few months, until someone stole one of Mrs. Bobs maracas and Bingo launched into a psycho fury, locking us all in the Elks Club until someone pulled a maraca out of their ass, it was a good place for your first baptism by fire. The almost strictly instrumental bands would set up in a circle and square off for a few hours. With anxiety somewhere around preSuper Bowl levels, my bandmates and I loaded our gear into our parents cars, hauled it down to the Elks and set up. Being the newest group, we went on last. We spun through our tunes; panic and cold sweat aside, we werent bad. Then . . . we released our secret weapon: me . . . singing Twist and Shout. I blared my way through it, putting on the hip-shaking show of my young life, or so I thought. There was a huge, grilled forties-style microphone plugged into the Elks few horrible squawk box speakers, which passed for a sound system. I hid behind the big microphone and screamed my head off . . . Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhhh . . . well shake it up, baby, now . . . An embarrassing performance but I felt pretty good about it. Some kids even told us we sounded great. I thought almost everyone else was better than us. They had nicer equipment, more experience, but . . . barely anyone sang. From there we were booked at a high school dance opening for the Chevelles. Being booked to play at your high school was the top, top gig in town. It was a risky booking for us. That night we went down to Diehls and rented an extra Gretsch amplifier with reverb! Reverb, that magic echo chamber that seemed to make you immediately sound like all your favorite records and lent an air of professionalism to what you were doing. Down to the Freehold Regional High School gymnasium we went. We were going to blow the sheet music out of the Chevelles and send them and their fancy music lessons crying back to Mike Diehls music school. We were the new wave. No matching suits, no music school, just blues shouting and rock n roll. Trouble began almost immediately. Our lead guitarist had forgotten his guitar strap, so he had to play the entire set with one knee propped up on his amp supporting his guitar . . . not cool. Also, unfortunately, our bass player remained unable as of yet to play a note, so he stood, knee up (no strap either) on his amp (the one that got him in the band), with his bass turned firmly off for the evening. I brayed into the high school public address system microphone and a nightmare of unintelligible sound poured forth from somewhere in the rafters of the gymnasium. What was even worse, we were so excited about acquiring reverb, my lead guitarist and I plugged into our rented amp, turned the reverb on full and reduced our sound to a quivering, echoing mash, a cheese-ball shitstorm of submerged instrumentation that sounded like it was being puked up from the bottom of some dragon-infested ocean. Our new effect reduced whatever we were playing to meandering gibberish. (Full reverb in a high school gymnasium . . . dont try it, young uns!) It was humiliating. You could tell as it was going by. I stood there head down, red faced, knowing we sounded awful and without a clue as to what to do about it. The crowd huddled close in front of our band expecting . . . something; wed been bragging all week. Their faces told the story . . . What the fu . . . ? Then the Chevelles came on and smoked. They were professionals. They played real music, as boring and corny as it was. They knew how to control their instruments and perform before a crowd. We stood there watching, newly humbled, with a few die-hard pals telling us we werent so bad. We went back to the drawing board, except this time, Id end up there alone. I was informed shortly after our gig by my pal, the guy Id brought into the band, that Id been voted out. My guitar was too cheap and wouldnt stay in tune, and he unnecessarily added that hed seen the same piece of junk in New York City for thirty dollars. Ouch . . . that hurt. I told my mom that day as I walked her home from work that Id been kicked out of the band but I didnt have the heart to tell her why. Shed anted up everything she had for that piece of junk and I was going to make it work. In My Room That night I went home, pulled out the second Rolling Stones album, put it on and taught myself Keith Richardss simple but great guitar solo to Its All Over Now. It took me all night but by midnight I had a reasonable facsimile of it down. Fuck em, I was going to play lead guitar. For the next several months (years!) I woodshedded, spending every available hour cradling my Kent, twisting and torturing the strings til they broke or until I fell back on my bed asleep with it in my arms. Weekends I spent at the local CYO, YMCA or high school dances. Dancing was over; I was silent, inscrutable, arms folded, standing in front of the lead guitarist of whatever band was playing, watching every move his fingers made. After the dance, when the other kids were hanging out, heading for pizza at Federicis or trying to make it with the girls, I rushed home to my room and there til early in the morning, my guitar unplugged so as not to disturb the house, I tried to remember and play everything Id seen. Before long I began to feel the empowerment the instrument and my work were bringing me. I had a secret . . . there was something I could do, something I might be good at. I fell asleep at night with dreams of rock n roll glory in my head. Heres how one would go: The Stones have a gig at Asbury Parks Convention Hall but Mick Jagger gets sick. Its a show theyve got to make, they need a replacement, but who can replace Mick? Suddenly, a young hero rises, a local kid, right out of the audience. He can front: hes got the voice, the look, the moves, no acne, and he plays a hell of a guitar. The band clicks. Keith is smiling and suddenly, the Stones arent in such a rush to get Mick out of his sickbed. How does it end? Always the same . . . the crowd goes wild. THIRTEEN THE CASTILES I was sitting in my South Street home one afternoon when a knock came at our front door. It was George Theiss, a local guitarist and singer whod heard through my sister that I played the guitar. Id seen George around the Elks. He told me there was a band forming and they were looking for a lead guitarist. While I hesitated to call myself a lead guitarist, I had been hard at it for a while and worked up some very rudimentary chops. We walked across town to Center Street and into a little half-shotgun house fifty feet up the block from where the metal-on-metal war of the rug mill spilled out open factory windows onto the streets of Texas. In Texas Id slip on my guitar and join my first real band. There I met Tex and Marion Vinyard. They were friends of George who had decided to surrender the fifteen square feet of what was called their dining room to local teenage noisemakers. It was a very informal neighborhood, black and white separated somewhat by the rug mill but generally hanging around the streets together, with Tex and Marions tiny apartment seeming to be the hub of some sort of neighborhood teen club. They were in their thirties and childless, so they took in strays, kids who either didnt have much of a home life or were just looking to get out of the house to someplace less confining and a little more welcoming. Tex was a temperamental, redheaded, comb-overed, loudmouthed, lascivious, pussy-joke-telling factory worker. Like my pops, he was rarely spotted out of his uniform, khaki work shirt and pants, pocket protector and all. He was also generous, loving, sweet-hearted and one of the most giving adults Id met up to that time. Tex and Marion seemed stranded between the teen world and adulthood, so they made a home for themselves and a surrogate parental life somewhere in the middle. They werent your parents but they werent your peers either. As we howled away, pushing out the walls of their little home with banging guitars and crashing drums, with the neighbors a mere two inches of drywall away (what tolerance!), they made the rules and set the agenda for what would fly and what would not. Band practice started at three thirty and ended at six, taking place immediately after school. Tex became our manager and Marion the house mother and seamstress to a team of misfit townie rock-n-rollers. There was a small collection of teenage girls (bring the guitars and they will come). There was flirting, listening to music, Texs cackling innuendo followed by Marions Teeeeeeexxxxx . . . cut that out! Some kissing, hand holding, but not much else, not in the house anyway. George, who bore a resemblance to both Elvis and Paul McCartney (the King AND a Beatle, the true double whammy!), was our resident lothario and did pretty well for himself. The rest of us took what we could clumsily find but it was mostly all about the music. The band consisted of George, myself, drummer Bart Haynes, bass player Frank Marziotti and a revolving set of tambourine-killing hatchet men. The front man position was one for which few locals qualified at the time because you needed to actually have rhythm and sing. We were all little white boys with weak time and voices, but hey, that didnt stop the Stones, and the Stones were our Holy Grail and blueprint of cool. We needed our Mick, a guy out front. First we just took the toughest guy we knew and put him out there. He couldnt sing a note and was visibly uncomfortable as we lessened and lessened his duties until they were reduced to the breathing section in Ian Whitcombs wheezingly lecherous You Turn Me On. This was a guy who was now in the band just to breathe! We knew it wasnt working out and drew straws to see which one of us would get a whipping when he brought the bad news. Hey . . . thats what you have a manager for! We let Tex do it. Our singer went peacefully with a sigh of relief. After that we picked the best-looking guy we could find, the guy with the coolest hair in school. He looked great onstage and played a pretty good tambourine but, alas, could not sing. George was the best vocalist we had. He had a real voice and charisma and did the job well. I was considered toxic in front of a microphone, my voice the butt of many of Texs jokes, and years later, after selling millions of records, I would visit Tex and he would take grand pleasure in sneering at me, You still cant sing. George is the singer. Tex was my first surrogate father figure. He was loving in his own twisted way. More important, he was accepting. He cherished and encouraged your talents, took you for who you were and put his time, muscle, money and big black Cadillac, hauling equipment, all in service of your dreams. Wed stand together slobbering into the window of Caiazzos Music over a new Shure microphone. Caiazzos stood next to Rings Barber Shop and just twenty feet across the street from the Vineyards front door. At night as we sat on Texs tiny stoop, Caiazzos windows glowed with white pearl drum kits, metal-flake guitars and enough amplifier wattage to wake that dead, shit dump of a town from its stupefying slumber. Tex would sit there, silent, cigarette smoldering, and finally shout, Fuck it, when I get paid on Friday, were going to bring that baby home, and he would. Then hed watch like a proud papa as his boys crowed like young roosters into the shiny new microphone and say, Damn . . . that new Shure, now, thats a sound. There were adults like Tex and Marion all across the United States, real unsung heroes of rock n roll who made room in their homes and in their lives to cart the equipment; to buy the guitars; to let out their basements, their garages, for practice sessions; whod found a place of understanding between the two combative worlds of teen life and adulthood. They would support and partake in the lives of their children. Without folks like these, the basements, the garages, the Elks clubs, the VFW halls wouldve been empty, and skinny, dreaming misfits wouldve had no place to go to learn how to turn into rock n roll heroes. Our First Gig The Castiles were named after a brand of shampoo George Theiss used. It was a name that fit with the times. There was still a remnant of the fifties doo-wop groups in it but it would also suit to take us toward the Valhalla of the rock and blues skiffle we emulated. Our set list was a mixture of pop hits, R and B, guitar instrumentals, even a version of Glenn Millers In the Mood taught to us by Frank Marziotti so we would have a diverse repertoire. We even tucked an original song or two in here and there. Our first gig was at the Angle-Inn Trailer Park on Route 33, just east of the Shore Drive-In. It was a summer afternoon cookout social for the residents. We set up in the shade under the overhang of a little garage and stood in front of an audience of maybe fifty souls. Our equipment was at its most primitive. We had Barts drums, a few amps, and a mike plugged into one of the extra channels of our guitar amplifiers. The opening act was a local country group that featured as its singer a little girl about six or seven who stood on a stool singing Patsy Cline songs into a big radio broadcasting microphone. They were pretty good . . . and competitive. When we started making our noise, they got really pissed off because the crowd was responding. Dancing broke out. Always a good sign. Our lead singer did his breathing in You Turn Me On, sending George and me into silent hysterics, and we finished up withyou guessed itTwist and Shout, as the trailer court went its summer, down-home version of bonkers. It was a huge success, convinced us we could make music and put on a show. And also that our front man must be fired immediately. I still remember the exhilaration . . . we moved people; we brought the energy and an hour or so of good times. We made raw, rudimentary, local but effective magic. Wipe Out Frank Marziotti, our bass player, was a veteran of the local country music scene. He was still in his twenties but had the appearance of a rotund Italian wedding singer. He had wavy black hair combed straight back above an ethnic face and looked like hed just come off the line working next to my father rather than like he played bass in a blistering, young, soul-rebel rock n roll band. He struck a rather discordant note in our image. He was the only true musician amongst us. He taught me plenty of country-style guitar and played the smoothest bass you ever heard. The only problem was at every gig wed hear the same question: Whys your dad in the band? It didnt bother us but it started to bother him, so he made his graceful exit and blond-haired Curt FluhrBrian Jones haircut, Vox amp, Hofner violin bass and allcame in to fill the position. Bart Haynes, our hell-raising drummer, was impossible to put a leash on. He claimed to be mentally challenged and one of his famous quotes was I am so fucking dumb. He was a solid timekeeper with one bizarre quirkhe could not play the drumbeat to Wipe Out. In 1965, the performance of the Surfaris Wipe Out was the yardstick for all aspiring drummers. This simple syncopated beat played on the tom-toms was considered the final sign of your mastery. Listening to it now, you can easily recognize it, great though it was, as a part for slobbering morons. But . . . the bottom line was at some point during the evening, if a drummer wanted to go home with his bona fides intact, he would HAVE to play Wipe Out. Bart could not. No matter what he did or how hard he tried, his wrists simply refused to tap out that rudimentary rhythm. There was plenty of decent drumming in the blood and bones of Bart Haynes but Wipe Out was nowhere to be found. As the nights wore on, the smirking calls would come from competing drummers in the rear of the crowd: Play Wipe Out. At first they would be ignored, then Bart would rejoin with a few fuck-yous under his breath. Then . . . worst of all . . . he would be goaded . . . Go on . . . Go on . . . Hed say, Play that motherfucker. So we would. And the moment of the great drum break would arrive and he would fail, time and time again. His sticks clacking together in his hands, the simple beat somehow going haywire until a stick dropped, his face would run fire-engine red, and the showd be over. You fuckers! Bart would shortly give up the sticks for good and join the marines. Rushing in one last afternoon, a goofy grin on his face, he told us he was going to Vietnam. He laughed and said he didnt even know where it was. In the days before his ship-out, hed sit one last time at the drums, in his full dress blues, in Marion and Texs dining room, taking one final swing at Wipe Out. He was killed in action by mortar fire in Quang Tri Province. He was the first soldier from Freehold to die in the Vietnam War. Vinnie Skeebots Manniello replaced Bart Haynes and was a swinging jazz-influenced drummer. Young, already married with a child by Mrs. Bots, he contributed enormously to the professionalism of our band. From there on out it was YMCAs, CYOs, high schools, ice rinks, roller rinks, VFW halls, battles of the bands, Elks clubs, supermarket openings, officers clubs, drive-in theaters, mental hospitals, beach clubs and any place you could set up a five-piece band that wanted decent local entertainment at a cheap price. To the East Freehold stood dead center between two socially incompatible teen cliques. The rah-rahs turf stretched east to the Shore and the greasers territory ran south down Route 9. The floor at a Freehold Regional High School dance was a no-mans-land of circling cliques, with the rahs in one corner, the greasers in another, the black kids in theirs. There was some communication amongst the upper echelons, in the interest of either stopping or starting a fight, but otherwise it was everyone to their own little world. The rah-rahs danced to pop music, Top 40, beach music; the greasers took the floor to doo-wop, and the black kids to R and B and soul music. Motown was the only force that could bring d?tente to the dance floor. When Motown was played, everyone danced together. That tenuous brother-and-sisterhood ended with the last beat of the music and everyone slunk back to their UN-designated square of gym floor. The rahs were the jock, madras-wearing, cheerleading, college-bound, slightly upscale teen contingent who were the homecoming kings and queens and who lorded it over most local high schools. Im sure they continue to do so today as preps or whatever their latest nom de guerre is. You were either in or out. I was way out. The ground zero of rah-rah territory was the Sea Bright/Middletown/Rumson area of the Jersey Shore. There was money there and they did not let you forget it. When we came east to play upon their beaches on hot August afternoons, we were immediately put on notice that we hailed from the wrong side of the tracks. To get to the beach you had to wind your way through the stately homes of Rumson, Central Jerseys most prestigious and exclusive neighborhood. Old-growth trees and palatial estates tucked behind walls of lush green and iron gates let you know you can look but you better not touch. When you hit the shore at Sea Bright, the beachfront was a long strand of private beach clubs serving the well-heeled. A wall of cabanas and parking lots blocked access to Gods own Atlantic Ocean. The sea was there somewhere, but unless you slipped onto the one public beach, you were going to have to pay and pay big to get your toes wet. The teenyboppers, however, needed rabble-rousing entertainment on the weekends to get them off of Mom and Dads ass while their parents were getting sloshed on martinis at the beach bar. So . . . east meets west . . . With our rep slowly growing, we were imported from the wastelands to do the dirty work. First we had to lug our equipment onto the sand, where an extension cord had been laid for us to power up our amplifiers. It was sweltering, mid-August, and we were dressed in our full gear: black denim trousers, black Beatle boots, black faux-snakeskin vests purchased at the Englishtown auction, white tuxedo shirts, long hair (still a rarity) and very white inlander skin. We were not the Beach Boys. The response was always the same. The parents were amused and bored, the girls flirty and curious, the boys hostile. As little tanned bikini bodies lined up in front of us, a grumbling from the crew-cut sportsters rose up behind them. We had only one option: to play. Play until they liked it, until they could hear it and, most important, until they DANCED! You had to get the girls dancing! Once the girls started to dance, everybody got happy and suddenly, you were not some threatening alien presence rocket-shipped in from the rings of Greaserville, you were just in a band. We knew our work and the day usually ended on a good note, with the kids talking to us, wondering about the way we looked, where we came from (the dark interior), and occasionally with a hard-ass trying to start a fight. These were pretty well-supervised events and there was always an older lifeguard or an adult chaperone to keep the lid on. The parking lot was where you had to watch your back. Youd be busting your balls trying to squeeze your equipment back into the car and youd hear, Whatd you say? Whatd you say to me . . . ? Of course, you hadnt said anything. You were just being set up for a friendly takedown. Time to go home. To the South South of Freehold there were other challenges. The greasers were a teen subcult, leather-jacketed, sharkskin-suit-wearing, see-through-nylon-sock-clinging, beat-your-ass-with-an-Italian-shoe, pompadoured, preening, take-more-time-to-get-ready-for-school-in-the-morning-than-my-auntie-Jane, fight-you-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, Italian-descended, dont-give-a-fuck-about-you inhabitants of their own little terrestrial universe. Many of my better friends were grease (so named for their extensive use of hair products and fine, oily Italian skin). They were easier to deal with and understand than the rah-rahs as long as they didnt hold a grievance with you. These were the kids destined to live the decent hardworking lives of their parents and take up their fathers trades, the future farmers, homemakers and baby makers, if they could scoot through these few years of wild pounding hormones without getting hurt or hurting someone else. If they could keep out of jail for this short stretch, most would go on to be the spine of American societyfixing the cars, working the factories, growing the food and fighting the wars. Also south, down Route 9, stood Freewood Acres, the first subdivision any of us had ever seen. What distinguished Freewood Acres was not just its first ever status as a planned community but the fact that it counted as its inhabitants descendants of Genghis Khan: Mongolians. It was a long ride from the Russian steppes, but due to the grace of Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of Leo of War and Peace fame, theyd arrived locally in the late forties after the war. Alexandra had a foundation that assisted in getting them out of the Soviets reach, so, persecuted by Stalin and rabidly anti-Communist, they settled in Monmouth County. It was Siberia or New Jersey, a close one, but they were sprung from Stalins cages and ended up literally on Highway 9. Their children became my classmates at Freehold High. The Mongolians were physically very big Asians and they went strictly grease. Imagine the biggest Asian youve ever seen in three-quarter-length leather, dress shirt and trousers, winkle-picker shoes and a slick black pompadour that added another inch or two of height on an already-north-of-six-foot frame. These guys had great-great-granddaddies who rode hard and conquered the world, and their New Jersey offspring looked like they could do it again if pressed. The greasers copped their whole look from the schools black community, which they were friendly with while at the same time virulently racist against. They were in deep pursuit of uptown style. The pristineness of the suits; the high-collared pink, lime green and baby blue shirts; the high-water trouserstheir grooming was precise and not to be fucked with . . . YOU DO NOT TOUCH MY HAIR . . . YOU TOUCH MY HAIR AND WE FIGHT. A sensitive crew. The greasers were led by someone Ill call Tony, a godfather before there was The Godfather. He walked through the halls of school with the most perfect coal-black pompadour youd ever seen, attired impeccably in a three-quarter-length black waistcoat, with an Italian sex gods face out of every good little cheerleaders wet dream. He wore it like a king and was the head of the local gang. Outside of school youd see Tony regularly in the teen clubs, often wielding a silver-headed cane (occasionally against someone). Hed drift in, a small-town Caesar, mirror-shiny shoes barely touching the ground, surrounded quietly by his minions. Wherever he walked, people made room. South, into the greaser turf all along Route 9, was where we went next to ply our trade. Route 9 held a chain of nightclubs and pizza parlors that on weekends catered to the teen set. First there was Cavatellis Pizza near Lakewood. It was just a small highway pizza joint where the owner decided to pick up some extra cash on Friday and Saturday nights by turning out the tables and chairs, hiring a band and holding small dances in front of the pizza counter. The place was ruled by a hard-core contingent of greaser girls with teased bouffant hair, white lipstick, white skin, heavy eye shadow, leather boots, tight skirts, dive-bomber brasthink the Shangri-Las or Ronettes crossed with Amy Winehouse. The most powerful of these ladies was a gal named Kathy. You came in, you set up your stuff, you started to play . . . and nobody movednobody. A very uneasy hour would pass, all eyes on Kathy. Then when you hit the right song, shed get up and start to dance, trancelike, slowly dragging a girlfriend out in front of the band. Moments later, the floor was packed and the evening would take off. This ritual played itself out time and time again. She liked us. We found out her favorite music and played the hell out of it. We became officially sanctioned as one of Kathys bands. It was all great, as long as she didnt like you too much. That would be very dangerous. Though Cavatellis Pizza was to my memory mostly a girls night out, there were always guys around the edges, and a murmur, a rumor, a sign of something more than friendship would not be good for your health. Along Route 9 you tried to cross no one. Finally, we worked our way up to the IB Club. This was the big show down south. A greaser heaven on Earth. The best groups, real hit doo-wop recording acts, played there. Nicky Addeo was our local doo-wop god, with a falsetto that wet many a pair of cotton panties and could send chills up Satans spine. He was the real deal and king of the old-school crowd that gathered at the IB. When he sang the Cadillacs Gloria, greaser church was in session. The dance floord be packed and all you could hear was the rustling of sharkskin hard-ons rubbing against cheap nylon stockings. Doo-wop was still the music of choice amongst the rocker contingent even in 1966, years after the British invasion. Ive sung Whats Your Name and the Five Satins In the Still of the Night many, many times. Along Route 9 in the sixties, a handful of doo-wop numbers was essential to your survival. For the Castiles this was a big booking. The floor was awash in leather and wed tailored our set to satisfy. The secret ingredients were doo-wop, soul and Motown. This was the music that made the leather heart skip a beat. It took the dark, bloody romanticism of doo-wop, the true-to-life grit of soul and just that small hint of possible upward social mobility embedded in Motown to define what this crowds lives were all about. Except for their Top 40 hits, the bohemian poses of the Stones or their other sixties brethren held little relevance to these kids experience. Who could afford that? You had to fight, struggle, work, protect what was yours, remain true to your crew, your blood, your family, your turf, your greaser brothers and sisters and your country. This was the shit that would get you by when all the rest came tumbling downwhen the bullshit was washed away in the next fashion trend and your gal was pregnant, your dad went to jail or lost his job and you had to go to work. When life comes knockin, its the heartbroken doo-wop singer who understands regret and the price of loving, the hard-living soul man who understands I take what I want, Im a bad go-getter, yeah . . . and the Motown divas, men and women, who know youve got to play a little bit of the white mans/rich mans game. You have to make thoughtful compromises that dont sell out your soul, that let you reach just a little bit higher until your moment comes and then you set the rules. This was the credo all along Route 9 and youd better understand it or else you would die an ugly musical death while risking bodily injury on Saturday night. The Reckoning It was a Saturday night like any other; we were booked into the IB Club and looking forward to a great gig. Though we were now dressing more like a British R and B group (we had outvoted Tex and ditched the uniforms), wed established a good rapport with the crowd and were popular amongst the locals. It was all cool as long as you stayed away from their girls. We were now on our third lead singer, Ill call him Benny, a significant improvement. He wasnt great-looking, he was a little older than us and out of high school, but he could sing all right. He was hanging around town, lived alone near me in the neighborhood, had a little bit of an older guys cool and savvy, so one thing led to another and he ended up shaking his maracas in front of our band. The club was full, maybe six hundred people, wall-to-wall leather, teased hair, pompadours and enough grease to keep your local garage in business for years. From the stage I saw the Red Sea part as Tony came in with his crew. It was the usual promenade, fun to watch actually. They filtered through the front door, suddenly changing the pace and temperature of the room. The night was now officially on. The Howell Township police visiting the IB Club for fights was not an uncommon occurrence. Public disturbance was many of the IBs patrons passion and hobby. Hopefully, there were no beefs to be settled and everybody would go home happy and in one piece. Out of the blue during a band break word filtered to the stage that if Benny did not come down and surrender himself to Tonys crew, they were coming up onstage within minutes to cripple everything and everyone on it. Huh? What happened? In Middletown, New Jersey, there were two natural, physical phenomena, Gravity Hill and Thrill Hill. It was a common rite of passage to drive out from Freehold in your car and park at the foot of Gravity Hill, and (due to the lay of the land? The mystical magnetic properties of the Earth? New Jersey hoodoo?) once you shut your car dead off, it would mysteriously appear to slowly roll itself backward up the hill. Id sat in my 60 Vette on many occasions impressing some gal on a late-night date with this little blacktop parlor trick. Thrill Hill was simply a radical and improperly graded rise in the road that when combined with enough speed would lift your car off its wheels, launching you and your passengers into the night for a little airtime. The catch was that just over the rise of Thrill Hill was an old, low-hanging steel railroad bridge. The thrill was cutting that distance between your roof and the bridge. Too much height and you were going to have a really bad night. As folklore had it, Benny had been on Thrill Hill one night driving a car of four, the sister of one of Tonys friends riding along. They supposedly caught enough of the bottom of the bridge to seriously injure his passengers while escaping with limited injuries himself . . . until now. The brother had petitioned the Godfather for justice, and it was about to be delivered. It would all be settled that night in the next few minutes. Benny offered to surrender himself. I dont think he meant it, and anyway, we wouldnt let that happen. I knew Tony through an old bandmate, which might save me from a beating, but everything elseband, equipment and allwould go. There was only one thing to do. The last shameful respite of any self-respecting Route 9 denizen . . . call the cops. Now! Thats what the manager of the place did on our behalf. Benny was escorted off the stage and out of the building by police, walking through a gauntlet of hard stares and leather into the township police car and out of our lives forever. He never played another note with the Castiles, his tambourine permanently retired. Work The Castiles were now a pretty well-honed unit. We played regularly in many different venues for a wide variety of audiences. Firemens conventions, the Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital (where, yes, the inmates sang along vigorously to the Animals We Gotta Get Out of This Place). One evening we were playing the Surf and Sea Beach Club on the Sea Bright strip, deep in the heart of rah land. We were opening up for a well-known traveling Top 40 cover band. There were a few bands of this type. They didnt have hits of their own but had gotten so good at what they did, they broke their local bonds and were actually able to make a traveling gig out of playing other artists music. The place was packed with surly, suntanned faces, chinos and madras skirts. We came out and started playing our recent concoction of psychedelic blues, and I felt something wet. We were being spit on, literally, way before it was a punk badge of honor. It was only a few guys, but it was enough. We played our set and left, furious. A year later, the same people would be cheering us at Le Teendezvous, a club in Shrewsbury catering primarily to the rah-rah crowd but the best gig going along the Shore, with their girls hitting on us. Wed come back and victoriously play Surf and Sea many times, but not that night. We took our hundred dollars and headed back inland to our lowly townies. Though I had a group of good rah friends Id met along the beach, between the rahs and the greasers, I guess I felt I had more in common with my pompadoured brethren back toward home. They would administer swift justice but would not lord it over you the way our madras-wearing, beer-drinking cousins to the east would. I guess it was just a class thing. I could still feel the shadow of that spit that hit me long ago when I moved to Rumson in 1983, sixteen years later. At thirty-three years old, I still had to take a big gulp of air before walking through the door of my new home. Carrying on, there were battles of the bands, occasional weddings and our first performance for an entirely black audience as the only white act on the Tri-Soul Revue. The Tri-Soul Revue was held at the Matawan-Keyport Roller Drome and promoted by a young black hipster. He liked what we did and booked us. We also opened for and backed the Exciters. The Exciters, a classic early-sixties vocal group, had a big hit with Tell Him and were the first real recording artists wed ever come in contact with. The night consisted of a record hop with an onstage deejay and live music (us). We were set up down on the dance floor amongst the dancers. The Exciters met us in the roller rink locker room, where the gorgeous girl singers stripped down and got into their slinky gold lam? gowns right in front of us. (Teenage heart attacks and rock n roll heaven!) Then they went out onto the stage, whered they lip-sync to their records, following it up by performing live versions of the same hits down on the floor, backed by the Castiles. We finished our set filled with soul, soul and more soul. Wed decently won over a black crowd suspicious of the white-boy hippies and backed the Exciters without embarrassing ourselves. Wed been rehearsed that afternoon by Herb Rooney, their singer and group leader. I watched the way he led a bunch of musically illiterate teenagers through their paces til they could reasonably back his group. We went home that night adding another notch to our belts for a job decently done, for lessons learned and for entertaining a tough audience that couldve gone the other way. My Kent guitar had long given way to a teal-blue solid-body Epiphone, a real instrument. Epiphone, a subsidiary of Gibson, made good guitars just under the price range of the world-class Gibsons. Mine was a sweet hand-me-down from Ray Cichon, lead guitarist of the Motifs, who were local legends and the first real rock n roll band Id ever seen. The Motifs Walter and Ray Cichon were two brothers from Howell Township, New Jersey. Ray was so tall he was always hunching forward, either over his guitar, which he wore strapped high up on his chest, or over you, raining down a spray of spit from between the gap in his teeth as he spoke. He wore his hair short and slicked back and dressed grease. When he dug into his guitar he had a lock of hair the pomade simply couldnt hold that would tear loose and come cascading around his ear ? la Jerry Lee Lewis when the piano kicking started. He was a big and unusual presence standing at the center of his band. He was uncomfortable with himself in the way of some big guys who are not completely at home with their size. There was never quite enough room for Ray Cichon. Something was always being bumped into, knocked over. He had a tender goofiness and was a fierce and eviscerating guitarist, stunning the local community with his intensity and fluidity. Ray taught me a lot. Wed seen the Motifs at our local high school dances. They frightened and riveted the crowd with their drama, musical ability and surly stage presence. They wiped the dance floor with the Chevelles, making them seem so painfully old-school they practically hung it up then and there. The Motifs were not high schoolaged punks. They were men who made music. When Ray first walked into the Vineyards home on a request from Tex, we couldnt believe our eyes. A visit by Jimi Hendrix himself couldnt have caused more thunder. Big Ray was there in our neighborhood, in the flesh, gracing our humble dining room practice area (which he barely fit in) with his presence, sharing his great guitar knowledge with undeserving young wannabes like us. Ray had mastered all the riffs the excellent Jimmy McCarty played on Mitch Ryders great Detroit Wheels hits and hed lay them out for you note for note. Rays hands were huge and moved effortlessly over the fret board in configurations physically impossible for me to achieve. He would play, his marble-size knuckles bulging, and the sound that would come out of his Ampeg amp filled me with aspiration. The shocker was that when Ray wasnt inhabiting my local Mount Olympus, shutting down every pretender who thought they knew a hot lick or two, he was a shoe salesman! I visited him once at the shoe store even though the sight, the incongruity, of Big Ray Cichon, my neighborhood guitar god, hunched over trying to squeeze his massive body onto a little shoe stool as he fit some old gal into a size 6 wouldve been too much for me. There he was, smiling, as sweet and polite as ever, bringing out the shoe boxes, asking when Id be at Texs cause hed stop by for a little guitar tutoring. Ray remains one of my great guitar heroes, not just because of his musicianship but because he was there, reachable, a tangible local icon, a real man with a life who took the time to pass down what he knew to a bunch of not necessarily promising kids. He was no distant guitar genius but a neighborhood guy with all his eccentricities and foibles on view who taught you that with a little help, timely mentoring and the right amount of work, you might be exceptional. Walter Cichon was another story entirely. The longest hair on man or beast Id ever seen. The first true star Id ever been close to. A full-blooded rock n roll animal with the attitude, the sexuality, the toughness, the raw sensuality pouring out of him, scaring and thrilling all of us who came in contact with him. Walter was not your everyday guy but something vastly different. With his hooded eyes and olive skin, he was perfect in that very imperfect Brando-esque way. He fronted the Motifs like a lost Asian king. We were the supplicants at his feet, there to admire the hard, cool indifference with which he stood in front of his microphone mumbling out the lyrics to the Motifs secret canon of R and B juju. A shaman, a rebel, a Jersey mystic and someone you could not completely believe entered the world through the same human loins you did. It took all the guts I had to wander up to Walter after a dance one night and stutter . . . Uh, you were great . . . Walter packed up his percussion kit, muttered something and wandered off. He was living proof that the real thing could exist right there in Central New Jersey. He lived like he wanted. (Walter took no longhair bullshit from anybody. Both brothers reputations as willing and effective fighters put an end to that.) Walter proved you could stake a rebels flag right into the heart of the Shores summer asphalt and make it stand . . . if you carried enough personal weight and magic. If you were powerful enough you could be different, your own man. The nine-to-fivers, the straights, the high-on-Mamas-and-Papas-money frat boys would just have to eat it. You could be who you were and the rest would just have to stand down and let it be. Once you got beyond this persona, Walter could be as down-to-earth and funny as Ray, though never as easily approachable. The Motifs were rounded out by Vinnie Roslin, a spirited, charismatic bass player. He lent the Motifs a degree of accessibility. He played a Danelectro Longhorn bass, dangling at knee level, with his shoulder-length hair covering his face til in one moment hed throw it back, revealing a bright smile and the joy he was getting out of playing music. Vinnie would later join me in Steel Mill. Johnny Lewandoski was their slicked-back-blond-haired drummer, as masterful on his instrument as Ray was on his guitar. Johnny set the high bar for drumming, in Dino Danellis Rascals style, in our area for years to come. It was Walter and Ray, however, who had the greatest impact on me and our group. Simultaneously above and amongst us, they gave us a touchable link to the mystic power and possibilities of rock n roll. No giants from across the sea, they blazed a trail that changed what it meant to be a band at the Shore. More than that, they were righteous figures whose music did not compromise and whose lives were livable, imaginable, within our grasp, but also entirely their own. Walter and Ray Cichon came to tragic ends. Walter was drafted in the army, where he served as a rifleman in Kontum Province, South Vietnam. There, on March 30, 1968, while attempting to seize a hill, he received a head wound, was examined and was left for dead as his unit was forced to withdraw under enemy fire. However a later body recovery team was unable to locate Walters body and there were subsequent reports of an American with a head wound, who fit Walters description, captured in that area on or about that date. At the end of the war, Walter was one of the many thousands of servicemen deemed missing in action, whose bodies were never recovered. Years later, Ray, accompanying a friend who had some trouble with some local men, was badly beaten. He came home and died days later from head injuries. No one was charged with his murder. Their deaths anger me to this day; they were our heroes, they were our friends. In 1967, I would crush my leg and suffer a concussion after being T-boned on my small Yamaha motorcycle by a 63 Caddy on my way home up South Street. The bike crunched and slid under the cars front end. I went sailing (no helmet law, no helmet) twenty feet into the air, landing on the hard-ass blacktop on the corner of Institute and South Street. I was knocked out cold for thirty minutes, all the way from Freehold to the hospital in Neptune. I was hauled into the emergency room and had to have my clothes cut off of me due to the swelling of my leg. While this was going on, I was the butt of jokes amongst a few of the staff about the length of my hair. The next day, as I was laid up in the hospital bed, there were doctors who declined to give me follow-up treatment for my head injury. Back home, as I was unable to move, laid up on the couch, my pops had a barber come in and relieve me of the offending locks. That was the last straw. I screamed and swore at him. It was the only time I told my dad I hatedHATEDhim. I was hurt and furious, and to make matters worse, I couldnt work with my band for the rest of the summer for fear the volume of the garage assault of the Castiles might create complications from my concussion. Billy Boyle, the soon-to-be mayor of Freehold, who represented me in our legal case, was so disgusted by my appearance, he told me on the way into the courtroom that if he was the judge hed find me guilty (of what?), then said, Doug, how do you put up with this? Its disgraceful. My father shook his head and shamefully answered, Bill, I cant do anything with him. We won. FOURTEEN ONCE THERE WAS A LITTLE STEVEN When you werent doing your own gigs, you were checking out the competition. After the British invasion, teen shows exploded onto prime-time television. Shindig! featured the Shindogs, with the great James Burton on guitar; Hullabaloo brought your favorite British and American groups into your life on a weekly basis. At home the battle for control of the television set was in full throttle. The fight became ugly and brutish. My father, stretched out on the couch in his white tee and work pants, howled when I switched the channel from his favorite western to see if my latest musical heroes were hitting the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Hullabaloo started a franchise of clubs around the nation, taking over any vacant supermarket or warehouse, fitting it out with never-before-seen black lights (a lighting effect that made anything white, including your teeth, glow phosphorescent), a few big posters and lots of dancing room. They booked the best local bands along with the occasional national act coming through town on tour. In Freehold, in a newly abandoned supermarket, I witnessed the majesty of Britains Screaming Lord Sutch. The first Hullabaloo Club we went to was in Asbury Park. I walked in one night with my pal Mike Patterson, and onstage were Sonny and the Starfires, featuring at the drums a preMad Dog Vincent Lopez. All Chuck Berry and rockabilly blues, Sonny, a good-looking guy with greased blond hair and black Ray-Ban sunglasses, really knew what he was doing. (He still plays in the area today, as cool as ever.) The next Hullabaloo Club we hit was in Middletown. When I walked in I saw a guy onstage wearing a gargantuan polka-dot tie that stretched from his Adams apple to the floor. He was the lead singer in a band called the Shadows and they were cruising their way through a version of the Turtles Happy Together. Whoever he was, he was funny, and they had a very tight band. Theyd picked the records they covered clean; their arrangements and their harmonies were authentically precise. At the Hullabaloo Club you played fifty-five minutes on and five minutes off, all night long. If there was a fight, you had to go back on immediately and play to distract the crowd in order to keep a full-blown brawl from breaking out. During the Shadows five-minute break I was introduced to their front man, Steve Van Zandt. The Castiles by now had a significant reputation, so he knew who I was; we talked a little shop, we hit it off and he went back on for his next set. So began one of the longest and greatest friendships of my life. Over the next years we would visit each others gigs often. I caught him one summer night in our local battle of the bands at the Arthur Pryor Band Shell on the boardwalk in Asbury Park as the Shadows ran through their Paul Revere and the Raiders routine, playing Kicks, outfitted in white chinos, white tuxedo shirts and black vests. They captured first place. We formed a mutual admiration society of two. Id finally met someone who felt about music the way I did, needed it the way I did, respected its power in a way that was a notch above the attitudes of the other musicians Id come in contact with, somebody I understood and I felt understood me. With Steve and me, from the beginning, it was heart to heart and soul to soul. It was all impassioned, endless arguments over the minutiae of the groups we loved. The deep delving into the smallest details of guitar sounds, style, image; the beautiful obsession of sharing, with someone who was as single-minded and crazy as you were, a passion you simply could not get enough ofthese were things you could not fully explain to outsiders . . . because as the Lovin Spoonful so perfectly put it, Its like trying to tell a stranger bout rock and roll . . . do you believe in magic? Steve and I believed big-time and together we created a world of our own, all rock n roll all the time. Steve lived in Middletown, a long hike from Freehold for the wheelless. When Steve formed his new group the Source, Id visit his gigs at Le Teendezvous. Steve was an early country-rock acolyte, mastering the Byrds and the Youngbloods repertoire. When he eventually moved to playing lead guitar he got real good real fast. The Castiles by this time had added an organist, Bobby Alfano, and moved into the psychedelic blues territory of 1967. Steve showed up at many of our gigs and our friendship grew. Caf? Wha?, Greenwich Village The Castiles had cut a single in a small studio in Bricktown, New Jersey: Thats What You Get for Loving Me backed by Baby I, our two self-penned originals. We walked out of the studio that afternoon with a two-track tape and some acetates (little 45-RPM-looking records that were good for only a few clean plays). We already knew wed hit a wall locally. There was just no place left to go, with either our record or our career. We were now the big dogs in town. One Saturday afternoon we sat around Texs and decided that to be discovered wed have to get out of Jersey. Since Frank Sinatra, no one of import had known the Garden State existed or had come far enough south down the parkway to realize there were people there, much less rock n roll being made. You could play for ten zillion years, wailing your genius into the void, and no one beyond the locals would ever know. New York City . . . thats where bands found fame and fortune. We had to break in there. Tex made a few calls and somehow got us booked into Caf? Wha? in Greenwich Village for a Saturday matinee audition. This was major. Few of us had ever been out of New Jersey, and the Village in 68 was something wed never seen. We set up on the cramped basement stage at the Wha?, faced out into the pewlike rows of black tables filled with Long Island teenyboppers sucking on overpriced, strangely named alcohol-less beverages and cut loose. We got the gig. We didnt get paid. They simply agreed to let you play, get your foot into the big time of New York and hope somebody stumbled in and decided you were the next big thing. That didnt happen. Our experience in the Village, however, was critical. None of the bands we saw were well-known but almost all of them were better than we were. There was Circus Maximus, with the young Jerry Jeff Walker singing and playing guitar. There was the Source (New York City version) with future New York congressman John Hall of the band Orleans on vocals and guitarist Teddy Speleos playing Jeff Beck as good as Beck himself. Teddy was an outstanding whiz. Steve and I made the bus trip on many afternoons just to sit there slack-jawed at his sound, technique and nonchalance. He was just a teenager like us but became a huge hero to Steve and me. We were never going to get within fifty feet of Jeff Beck, but this kid, there he was, inches away from our faces, and like the monkeys staring at the monolith in 2001, we sat there primitively hypnotized by style, substance and flash we could not comprehend. Steve and I rushed home to our guitars, hoping to catch some of the richness of distortion, the molasses thickness of tone Teddy was squeezing out of his Telecaster. Unfortunately wed end up with a howling, screaming, murdering chain-saw massacre of sound squealing up out of the basement from our Teles. How did he do it? He KNEW how, THATS how! The bus trips became a regular part of our weekends. The arguments on the way up about who was better, Led Zeppelin or the Jeff Beck Group; the immersion in Village life, with the hippies, the gays, the drug dealers, Washington Square Parkwe basked in the freedom of it all and it became our true home away from home. Just a brief year or two after Jimi Hendrix played the Wha?, the Castiles played regularly on Saturday and Sunday next door to the Fugs on MacDougal Street. The Mothers of Invention were around the corner at the Warwick Theater. Steve and I caught Neil Young promoting his first solo album, his signature black Gibson plugged into a tiny Fender amp, blowing out the walls of the Bitter End. Nobody paid us much attention with the exception of a small group of bridge-and-tunnel teenybopper girls who latched on to our band and showed up regularly. This was the big world, the free world; in Greenwich Village in 1968, I could walk with my freak flag held high and nobody was going to bust me. It was a world I could call my own, a little piece of my future beckoning. I had a friend, a very good New York City guitarist, who was sidelining as a drug dealer. Id occasionally spend the night in his hotel room with pills of all colors spread out over the night table like spilled Skittles . . . no interest. Back in Jersey drugs were just beginning to become a part of high school life; though I did none myself (too scared), I lived next door to, and was friends with, one of the towns first radical drug experimenters. I was once called into the principals office and asked a lot of drug-related questions about which I truly knew nothing. Given the times and my appearance, no one believed a word I said. Who cared? As graduation time drew near, the principal of Freehold High, a basically good guy with whom I had a pretty decent d?tente for most of my high school years, took it upon himself to suggest at a graduation meeting that to let me attend the ceremony looking like I did would be a discredit and disgrace to the class. He subtly hinted that perhaps someone should do something about it. That was it for me. I would not be the subject/victim of meatheaded vigilante retribution. On my Freehold Regional High School graduation day, I woke up at dawn. That morning, while the house was asleep, I got dressed, went down to the bus terminal and boarded the six a.m. Lincoln Transit Commuter straight to New York City. I disembarked at the Port Authority, grabbed the subway to Eighth Street and walked up the stairs into the early-June sunlight of Greenwich Village feeling free as a bird. My world. I was done. Let them have their little party. I spent my graduation day wandering around the Village, eating pizza, hanging in Washington Square Park, stopping in at the Wha? and meeting a new girlfriend. My folks finally caught up with me at the Wha? and via phone told me everything would be all right if I would just come home. I caught a bus, bringing my new tagalong gal pal with me. We arrived in the early evening, just hours after the ceremony. My father met me at our front door, the house filled with relatives attending my family graduation festivities, and after he took one look at my gal friend, straight back to the bus depot we went. Once my dad and I were back at home, he ordered me to my room and unscrewed and confiscated my lightbulbs so Id have to sit in the dark, meditating on what Id done. I was visited shortly by my aunt Dora, who tried to sweet-talk some sense into me. At that moment, I just didnt care. Id had it with the school, the family and the whole ten-cent dog and pony show that was fucked-up Freehold, New Jersey. A week later, with summer descending, I walked into the school administrations office and picked up my diploma. Summer of Drugs Two horrible events occurred that summer. The first was a massive heartbreak when my trusty girlfriend dumped me for screwing around with an old ex of mine. Struck with an immediate case of buyers remorse, I spent the rest of my summer pursuing her through the beach towns of Central Jersey. Filled with angst, I cruised the teen clubs with my prep school road buddies, Sunshine Kruger, Bird and Jay. We traveled in the Batmobile, an old black Caddy that belonged to one of the clan. Sunshine was a member of the Pershing Rifles, a corps of semimilitary teens who could do things with a rifle, bayonet attached, that would curl your pubic hairs. They twirled them like batons, and I once watched Sunshine slice his calf performing one of his maneuvers in Bermuda shorts. These were my boys and that summer they saved my life. Wed cruise the Jersey Shore, top down, soothing my selfishly broken heart til they dumped me off in the wee wee hours back in Freehold. My house would be completely locked down, so Id climb up the latticework by the kitchen onto the side roof, pushing in the fan that was in my bedroom window, to be greeted by my dad in his boxers, Irish skin white as a polar bears in the dawn, wielding a plunger, ready to beat the hell out of the early-morning cat burglar come to steal his riches. Id tape the shades down in my room, sleep through the day, and come night, continue my po-faced vigil. This all culminated with my catching up to my girl one early-fall night as she returned from her summer at the beach. I professed undying love, told her my dream that we would someday visit Disneyland together, and she let me down as easily as she could, but I knew I was screwed. On the first day I was due to attend community college, I pulled another one of my vanishing acts and headed to the Village, spending the afternoon on a bench in Washington Square Park. A fall breeze gently blew over me and it was done. I returned home, reported one day late for my opening semester at Ocean County College and left my high school days and love-struck blues behind me. Also that summer, the first drug bust in the history of Freehold, New Jersey, occurred. I was standing on the street next to my phone booth outside the corner newsstand. This was the booth Id spent countless high school hours in, through snow, sleet, rain and sweltering heat. Each night you could find me ensconced there, romancing my current love interest. My father refused to allow a phone in our home. He said, No phone, no phone bill. No phone and they cant call you for extra duty if somebody else is a no-show at the job. Once planted at the kitchen table, my dad truly did not want the furious flights of his imagination, fueled by Mr. Schaefer, disturbed. On this night, a sticks and bones local goofballlets call him Eddiesuddenly came running. Eddie was an early, rabid drug taker. He was a little skinny kid but heavy into the hallucinogens. I just saw Mrs. Bots in the back of a police car with Baby Bots, he said. Baby Bots was her and Vinnies child. Get ouuuuuuutttttaaaaaa heeeerrrre, I told Eddie. Youre hallucinating. Nobody gets arrested with their baby! That night, the Freehold Police Department swept up more than half the Castiles in the towns first drug crackdown. They were all taken, right outta Mamas and Papas arms in the middle of the night. It was a town scandal, trouble all around and the finale of the Castiles great three-year run. Our band was fraying anyway. George and I had begun to have some tension between us and the bust gave us all a final out. My epic elementary school of rock was closed forever. The group Id taken my first baby steps with and strutted my way to small-town guitar-slinging glory with was over. There would be no encore. FIFTEEN EARTH By 1968 hard-rocking psychedelic blues trios had superseded the beat groups. The era of the guitar god was in full swing. Cream with Clapton and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were having hit records. Long, intense, blues-drenched jams were the order of the day and I was ready. Id been over to see a friend of Texs, an ex-marine who said he had a guitar collecting dust in his closet. Upon my visit, he pulled out an unstrung hollow-bodied Gibson with the longest neck Id ever seen. I brought it home, cleaned it up and strung it. It was a strange piece. My guitar strings barely reached around its distant oversized tuning pegs. When I plugged it into my Danelectro amp, MAGIC! . . . The thick chunky sound of Eric Claptons psychedelic painted SG came ripping out at me. The Sunshine of Your Love guitar sound flooded my little practice room and I was transported into another league. Nobodynobodydown there in New Jersey was getting this kind of guitar tone. My Gibson only had one pickup and the frets were awfully far from one another, but the sound . . . the sound said, BRING ON ALL COMERS! After the Castiles I found a bassist, John Graham, and a drummer, Michael Burke, whom I enjoyed playing with. They were well versed in the techniques it took to play as a three-piece unit. We rehearsed a little and started gigging immediately. From the beginning we wowed the locals. For this new sound we were the only game in town. We had the look, with my Italian Afro and their hair down to their shoulders; the ferocity; and a repertoire of modern blues standards popularized by Clapton, Hendrix, Beck and the like. I took flight as a guitarist; the night was an endless series of long, slashing solos on my miracle Gibson. We were the monster rock kings of our piece of the Shore. We added Bobby Alfano back on organ to give my aching fingers a rest and for a while, we had a pretty nice little band. The psychedelic era had finally landed at the Shore. The crowd came to sit Buddha-style in front of us for a set and then trance-dance the night into oblivion. One night, some kid who knew his guitars shed some light on the miracle in my miracle Gibson. He walked up and congratulated me on the brilliant idea of stringing an old Gibson six-string bass with guitar strings and playing it as a solo instrument. I nodded coolly while thinking, Holy shit . . . its a six-string bass! Id been soloing like a madman for months on a bass guitar! No wonder its sound was so thick and its fret board so impossible. It worked! Around this time I was starting to write some acoustic music. Id bought a twelve-string Ovation acoustic guitar and was penning some prog-style, Donovan-and-Dylan-influenced originals that Id end up singing in the local coffeehouses when I wasnt thundering through the blues. We had new managers, a couple of college guys, one of whom had just frozen and chopped off the end of his toe to avoid the draft. I figured that was just the kind of commitment we needed, so they started to finance some equipment and book some gigs for us. This occasioned my first trip to Mannys Music in New York City, guitar Valhalla and home of the hit makers. On a three-grand loan from one of our managers daddies, we walked out of there fully loaded and ready to storm the barricades of the big time. An epic Valentines Day gig at the Long Branch Italian-American club was followed by a booking in Manhattan at the Diplomat Hotel (a later venue for the New York Dolls). We charged a fee and bused our fans through the tunnel, straight onto the Diplomats ballroom floor. It was a great afternoon in the city. As we were packing up I was approached by a Greek guy named George. He introduced himself as a record producer, said he didnt care much for the band but loved what I was doing. He gave me his card and told me to call him. Finally, a connection to the real music business, somebody whod actually seen the inside of a studio and could make something happen. Excitement isnt the word. I felt thrilled, vindicated, validated; my head spun with the possibility of actually making something of all this. I called immediately and was invited to Georges apartment in New York City. Id never seen anything like it. It had big windows opening out onto the avenue, high molded ceilings and rich wood paneling, all topped off by Georges gorgeous blond girlfriend, an afternoon soap opera star. He had a two-track tape deck we recorded some of my music on. Tim Buckley was a great inspiration for me at this time; thats why I had the twelve-string. Thats what Tim played, and I did my utmost to ape his vocal timbre and his writing style. That night we went to a session George was producing. I sat in the darkness of a real studio and watched an actual recording session being conducted. I left that night finally feeling a musical future in front of me. I saw George somewhat regularly. I had some scheduling conflicts because I was still in school. My aunt Dora had pulled some strings and wheedled me a place amongst the Ocean County student body and I didnt want to blow it. Unfortunately, it wasnt a great fit. In the late sixties the counterculture was still a slow train coming in South Jersey. I was once again one of a small handful of freaks in a low-tolerance zone. Just getting to school and back was trouble enough. I could catch a ride there with a pal for gas money but coming home, I often had to improvise. In the winter, Id stash myself beside a roadside billboard, waiting in the icy Route 9 cold until a bus appeared over the horizon. Id move out to the roads shoulder, wait for the bus to catch me in its high beams, then wave for passenger pickup. It was fifty-fifty, depending on the attitude of the driver. Many a night Id be greeted by a shake of a crew-cut head and the big wheels would keep on rolling. Often I had to rely on my usual ticket to ride: my thumb. It was a long, cold hike in the dark that brought its own dangers. Id had cars slow down as if to give me a lift, then throw open the passenger-side door to knock me into the ditch. You had to be on your toes. I had a wild booze-fueled ride on the back roads between Toms River and Lakewood with a young black dude roaring and laughing, a bottle of Jack between his legs and the steering wheel, until I was spilled out onto the pavement in front of the Lakewood Greyhound station kissing mother blacktop. My dad would occasionally come to get me but that made matters even worse. In a rage at the inconvenience, hed haul ass north on Route 9 toward home, pedal to the metal, using our old junker like it was a death-proof weapon of mass extinction. I couldnt comment. All I could do was ride shotgun on the terror train, waiting for the screeching wail of sheet metal that would signal the end for the both of us. Wed pull in the drive, hed skid to a stop and, saying nothing, hed hop out, slamming the door behind him. Id walk into the house and find him already sitting, smoking, at the kitchen table looking like hed never seen me before in his life. It was a transitional moment. My parents wanted me to further my education and I wanted to stay out of the draft. This was 1968, postTet Offensive America. The streets were in an uproar, and it wasnt just the hippies but the truckers too. Informed by Walter Cronkite, the influential news anchor at CBS, the country was getting the idea that Vietnam was a losing game. Id had two close friends, Walter and Bart, killed at war and I had no intention of joining them. Back in New York George asked me if I wanted to be a full-time musician. I said, Hell yeah. He asked me if I was committed to school. I said, Hell no. Then he said I should quit school and dedicate myself to who I was and the music I loved. I said, Hell yeah, but what about the draft? I was nineteen and prime cannon fodder. He said, Guys get out of the draft all the time. You leave it up to me. Its something we can fix. That night, filled with new resolve, I went home, gathered my parents in the kitchen, told them about George and about what I wanted to do. They were hesitant, unsure. I heard the arguments about work that was real and steady, the same arguments Id give my own kids today about the music business, but I was determined. George had given me confidence and I could feel the early light of the success I longed for. Finally, my parents said it was my life and they reluctantly agreed; they wished me well, and ring-ring goes the bell, my school days were over for good. I was never able to get George back on the phone again. Draft Dodger Rag Now a full-time musician, I went about my business, playing gigs and bringing home what money I could. One fall morning, I popped the metal lid of our mailbox and saw a letter addressed to me. I opened it. It read, Congratulations, you have been chosen to serve your country in the United States Armed Forces. Please report for your physical on such-and-such a date to the draft board in Asbury Park. Here it wasthe reckoning. I felt cold in my stomach. Not shocked, but momentarily gut-punched by the real world hitting hard. I was chosen to be a player in history, not of my own accord or desire, but because bodies were needed to stem the perceived Communist menace in Southeast Asia. My first thought was, Is this real? And what does it possibly have to do with me, my life, my ideas? The answer to the first question was You bet your ass. The answer to the second question, I decided, was Nothing . . . nothing at all. Maybe I was just frightened and didnt want to die. I was not going to have the chance to find out because I decided then and there I was not going to go. Whatever it tookand I did not know then what that might beto not go, I was going to do. I hid the letter from my parents. There was nothing they could do. This was just about me. The induction was a month or so off, so there was time for a little research. By 1968 there was plenty of information on the street about how to beat the draft. In my travels I had met and talked to young men whod fed themselves fat, starved themselves skinny or mutilated extremities. I heard about the wealthy with their doctor notes specially designed for remaining stateside and safe at home. I didnt have recourse to anything so extravagant. The irony was I, Mad Dog Vincent Lopez and Little Vinnie Roslin were all to make our debut at the draft board in Newark on the same morning. So, brothers leery of arms, we put our heads together. We had a friend whod said hed covered himself in milk and slept like that for three days, and by the time he reported for his physical the stench was so awful they sent him home immediately . . . sounded pretty good. The one surefire answer that kept coming up time after time with successful local dodgers was mentally unfit. Mentally unfit . . . hell, that was true. We were mentally unfit for Uncle Sam. All we had to do was prove it to them and get that beautiful 1Y mental deferment. We proceeded as follows: STEP 1: Make a mess out of your forms. Let them know theyre trying to corral a drug-addicted, gay, pathologically bed-wetting lunatic who can barely write his name into the US military. STEP 2: Make them believe it. Act the mumbling, bumbling, swishing, dont-give-a-fuck-about-orders freak on STP, LSD and anything else you can get your hands ona hippie-outcast, destroyer-of-troop-morale, corroder-of-discipline, much-more-trouble-than-youre-worth, get-the-fuck-out-of-here joke of a recruit. STEP 3: Previously, have a bad enough motorcycle accident to truly scramble and concuss your brains, making you a medical risk on the battlefield. Fill in that section of the form truthfully, go home and receive your 4Fphysically unfit. (I tried it all, but in the end, that was my classification.) We drove to Newark that morning on a bus filled with mostly young black kids out of Asbury Park. Almost everybody had a plan. I sat next to a strapping blond rah football player in a quarter-body cast he confided to me was totally bogus. There were draft boards, especially in the South, where this shit would not fly and your ass would be delivered straight to boot camp. But Newark had the reputation of being one of the easiest draft boards in the country. I guess it was. An amazing percentage of the guys on the bus were rejected because they pulled some personalized version of the above-mentioned shtick. At the end of the day, after wed all driven the US Army around the bend, there was a small table at the end of a long, empty hallway. There sat a bored young soldier looking at you like he was about to give you the worst news of your life. I am sorry to inform you but you have been judged unfit for military service. Looking back down at his paperwork, hed add, You may enter through the next door if youd like to sign up for some voluntary service. Behind that door was one very empty room. You were then handed a ticket that allowed you a free meal, for being a good sport and taking the ride up, at a restaurant two blocks down the street. We all skipped over there, our feet barely touching the ground. We stepped into a lovely sunlit diner. The smiling host at the door greeted us like we were his long-lost millionaire cousins and escorted us to a set of stairs that led down into a dank basement room. There at one long, musty hardwood table with my fellow yella bellies, I had some of the worst food and one of the best meals of my life. The bus ride out of the city was pandemonium. There were many fine young black women on the summer streets of Newark and my Asbury Park brothers let them know they were appreciated. Many had been called, few had been chosen. The bus door hissed open in front of the Asbury Park train station, discharging Mad Dog, Little Vinnie and myself, all now free men, intact, with our lives, wherever they might lead, in front of us. As the bus pulled away, the street turned quiet. Wed been up together for three solid days. We looked at each other, exhausted, shook hands and went our own ways. I felt relieved but I also felt like crying. I hitchhiked the fifteen miles back to Freehold. With days of no sleep and little food, wired and weary, I walked up onto the back porch and through the kitchen door of my house to my father. I called my mom in, told my parents where Id been, that Id hid it from them so that they might not worry and out of embarrassment that New York George and my big music plans had come to nothing. I told them I failed my draft physical. My dad, who often dismissively uttered the words I cant wait til the army gets ahold of you, sat at the kitchen table, flicked the ash off of his cigarette, took a puff, slowly let the smoke escape from his lips and mumbled, Thats good. As I grew older, sometimes I wondered who went in my place. Somebody did. What was his fate? Did he live? Ill never know. Later on in life, when I met Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July, or Bobby Muller, one of the founders of the Vietnam Veterans of America, both men who fought and sacrificed, returning from the war in wheelchairs, men who became strong activists against the war, I felt a duty and a sense of connection. Maybe it was another dose of my survivors guilt or maybe it was just the common generational experience of living through a war that had touched everyone. It was New Jersey men like them who went and fought in my place. All I know is when I visit the names of my friends on the wall in Washington, DC, Im glad mines not up there, or Little Vinnies or Mad Dogs. SIXTEEN THE UPSTAGE CLUB Tom Potter was a fifty-year-old salt-and-pepper-haired, big-gutted, pirate-belt-wearing, sexually preoccupied, goateed boho who opened and ran the strangest music club Id ever seen. His wife, Margaret, was a pixie-cut-wearing, sexually ambiguous, guitar-playing beautician and bandleader for Margaret and the Distractions. She had a very young, boyish appearance and I didnt initially make Margaret out for a gal until I saw the little round tit popping out from her T-shirt and resting upon the upper body of her Telecaster guitar as she wailed Tommy Jamess Mony Mony in the upstairs room of the Upstage Club. A more fabulously incongruous husband-and-wife team I have yet to come upon. Dusk til dawn, eight p.m. to five a.m.: those were the operating hours of the Upstage Club on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park. Tom closed the joint for one hour between twelve and one a.m. to sweep out the refuse and get fired up for the night shift. With no booze and theoretically no drugs, the place was a unique all-night haven for Shore street life through the late sixties. The two floors of the club consisted of an upstairs jam floor and downstairs coffeehouse, all dementedly decorated by Tom himself. The interior scheme was mainly a lot of glow-in-the-dark paint and black light, and featured a papier-m?ch? Day-Glo mermaid who swung swimming from the ceiling. Tom, a self-fashioned beatnik artist, was dictator, top banana and big dog there and he let his impulses run wild. He was a loud, yelling, throw-your-ass-down-the-stairs-and-out-the-front-door, very funny guy if he liked you. If he did not, he was unpleasant to be around. Asbury Park was not my turf, though Id visited there throughout the fifties with my parents on holiday weekends. By the late sixties, it had faded from its onetime Victorian splendor into a deteriorating blue-collar resort. The upside of Asburys decline was it had become a bit of an open city. Gay bars sat next to all-night juke joints, and with the race riots of the near future yet to come, there was a little bit of anything goes. The Castiles had never played there. Ocean Avenue was all bars and beach joints for the over-twenty-one summer drinking set; phony IDs were sold at a premium, and the whole layout felt like a working-class, fading, faux Fort Lauderdale. When I walked into Upstage, I walked in cold. No one had ever laid eyes on me or seen me play. Id heard you could jam there. Along with the strange hours, Tom Potters stroke of genius was that at the end of a long rectangular box of a room, two flights above a shoe store, he had built a small stage. Behind that stage, the wall from one side of the room to the other was honeycombed with ten-inch, twelve-inch and fifteen-inch speakers. An unforgiving, solid and real wall of sound. The amplifier heads were built into a small cabinet at your feet, so all you had to do was bring your guitar, reach down and plug in. No other equipment was necessary. This innovation and the clubs unusual opening and closing times made it a mecca for musicians on the Shore scene. Every band that came into the area to play the Jersey Top 40 clubs ended up at the Upstage playing the music they really loved til dawn. In summer at three a.m. there was a line outside the door waiting to get in. It was an incredible clearinghouse for musicians. The first weekend I was there I saw Dan Federici and Vini Lopez in a group fronted by guitarist Bill Chinnock, the Downtown Tangiers Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues Band. The place was a steaming sauna of summer bodies and I knew Id found my new hang. A few weeks later I returned with my guitar (cue the theme music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). I waited. The club was not yet full. Someone told me you had to book a jam slot with Tom Potter. It was like booking a table at the pool hall. Theyd write your name on a list and say from two to two thirty a.m., you had your shot if you could find musicians to sit in with you. My moment arrived and I walked to the stage, the drummer and bass player agreeing to stay on duty for my half hour. I plugged into Toms mighty wall, stood back and kicked into Rock Me Baby, cutting loose with everything I had. I fried the paint off the place with all the guitar pyrotechnics and wizardry my eighteen-year-old fingers could muster. Id had a lot of playing experience by now, but in Asbury I was the Man with No Name, a stranger who was in the process of burning your club down. I watched people sit up, move closer and begin to pay serious attention. I saw two guys pull chairs onto the middle of the dance floor and sit themselves down in them, arms folded across their chest, as if to say, Bring it on, and I brought it. The insane wall of speakers was vibrating so hard I thought the whole place might just cave onto the shoe-store sales floor below. It all held for thirty scorching minutes of guitar Armageddon, then I walked off. I made some new friends that night. The two guys on the chairs were Garry Tallent and Southside Johnny; downstairs in Tom Potters office, I had my first conversation with a freckle-faced Danny Federici. He introduced me to his wife, Flo, also freckle-faced and wearing a blond bouffant wig. Danny hailed from Flemington, New Jersey, and was the same bemused, nonchalant character I would stand next to on his deathbed many adventures and forty years later. I was a hit. There were many very good guitar players in Asbury ParkBilly Ryan was a real blues master; Ricky Disarno had Clapton down. They had great tones and technique but the stagecraft, the singing and the front man skills Id built up in my apprenticeship with the Castiles moved me ahead of the pack. I would address you, excite you and play guitar like a demon, demanding that you respond. I shortly ran into Vincent Lopez in the coffee shop on the first floor; head shaved near bald, fresh out of jail, he felt the need to explain his appearance to me (the jail) and then asked if I was interested in joining a version of his group, Speed Limit 25. I was a free agent at the time, and Speed Limit had an Asbury Park rep and was making money. I needed some of that. I liked the Asbury scene and so I said, Sure, lets see how it goes. A few rehearsals with some of the other Speed Limit members didnt quite click so Vini and I decided to put together something ourselves. Vini knew Danny from Downtown Tangiers, so we all gathered with bass player Little Vinnie Roslin from the Motifs in a cottage on Bay Avenue in Highlands, New Jersey, and started working. This was the band that would initially call itself Child, then morph into Steel Mill, then the Bruce Springsteen Band, and eventually become the core of the original E Street Band. The accidental presence of a club like the Upstage in Asbury Park was a unique and invaluable resource for the local music scene. I brought Steve Van Zandt there. He wowed them too. Steve and I were the best lead guitarists and front men in the area, and our presence in the club led to the gestation and formation of many bands that became the center of the Asbury Park music scene. With Big Bad Bobby Williams, a three-hundred-pound earthquake of a drummer, and Southside Johnny, Steve started the Sundance Blues Band. Steve and Johnny were deep into the blues and created a powerful unit that played throughout the Shore. Southside Johnny was from Ocean Grove, the Methodist camp town next to Asbury Park. He was our local king of the blues, ergo his sobriquet Southside. He was a softhearted, crabby closet intellectual, very soulful and slightly unhinged, but he knew everything about the blues and soul artists, their careers and their records. He came from a home with a serious record collection and had immersed himself in the bible of R and B and soul music. We all met down at the club. Homesteaders At home, my father finally decided hed had enough. The town and his illness had beaten him. He decided he was going to go to California to start a new life. He wanted my mother and all of us to come along but said hed go alone if he had to. Freehold, New Jersey, would not have Doug Springsteen to kick around anymore. My sister Virginia decided to stay in Lakewood with her new family. I decided to stay in Freehold, where I could make a small living on my already growing reputation as bar band king. Six months later, in 1969, at nineteen, I stood in our driveway, waving as my parents and little sister Pam pulled away. They had all of their belongings packed on top of their 1960s Rambler. They took $3,000 with them, all the money they had. They slept a night in a motel and two nights in the car and drove three thousand miles, East Coast Okies headed for my fathers promised land. With the exception of my dad in the war, none of us had lived outside of Central New Jersey. Our only source of information about the West Coast was a hippie girlfriend of mine who told my parents to go to Sausalito, the artsy tourist trap near San Francisco. When they got there, they realized it was not for them. My mother claimed they pulled into a gas station and asked the attendant, Where do people like us live? He answered, You live on the peninsula, and for the next thirty years, thats what they did. In a little apartment in San Mateo, they tried for a new beginning. When my father announced his plans to leave for California, my sister Virginia was seventeen, with a new child, couldnt make toast and had a new rough-and-tumble husband. I was living at home on the twenty bucks a week I made from playing. If we chose to stay, we would have to fend for ourselves. It is her greatest regret and the single thing in life she still feels guiltiest about. But off they went with my little sister in tow. My mom and pops were bound by an unknowable thread. Theyd made their deal a long time ago; she had her man who wouldnt leave and he had his gal who couldnt leave. Those were the rules and they superseded all others, even motherhood. They were two for the road. They would never part. This was how it began and this was how it would end. Period. My father was able to draw from my mom, a saving and selfless mother, her own ambivalence about family. In this uncharitable terrain, strange bedfellows are regularly made. They wanted us with them. They asked us to go. But they could not stay. So we all made do. My sister vanished into Cowtownthe South Jersey hinterlandsand I pretended none of it really mattered. You were on your ownnow and forever. This sealed it. Plus, a part of me was truly glad for them, for my dad. Get out, Pops! Out of this fucking dump. This place thats so often been no good to any of us. Run if you need to. How much worse off for you can it be? Whatever their motives, sane or insane, runnin or searchin, it took guts and a last-chance need for a belief in tomorrow. This was just something I could not begrudge my old man. I wanted it for him. Whatever had to be left behind had to be left behind. Even if it was his children, even if it was us! My sister Virginia, in more dire straits with the baby coming at the time, took it harder, a lot harder. Understandably so. In the end, whatever hard feelings I had I just tucked away, and in truth, all I remember is mainly feeling excited to be left on my own. By nineteen, I was gone already. Into that other world. And in that other world, well . . . there were no parents, there was no home, there were just dreams and music, where the clock stuck and was set permanently at quarter to three. Into the diaspora rode the Freehold, New Jersey, Springsteens, and everything that went with em. We were no more. Vini, Danny and I took over the rent in my house on South Street. My first family moved out and my second family moved in. About a week later, we were joined by a very large and lovely woman who went by the name of Fat Pat. She had fallen on hard times, needed a place to stay for a little while and became an adjunct of Dannys family. Danny and Flo now had a young son, Jason, on his way. Fat Pat was soon to become nurse and second mom to the first E Street baby. None of us were yet out of our teens. Add a hell-raising, house-trashing, freely shitting mutt named Bingo to the mix and it didnt take long to reach meltdown. My family home of seven years was instantly transformed into a hippie frat house. My fathers sacred kitchen sanctuary was now a hotbed of group meetings, dirty dishes piled to architecturally impossible heights, with half-empty cereal boxes and dishevelment the order of the day. The room where my beloved grandmother had died was turned into the radio room. Danny, a gadget freak, was addicted to the wonders of CBcitizens bandradio. To the uninitiated this was a system mostly used by long-distance truckers to communicate with one another about the location of Smoky (the highway patrol), observe pregnant roller skates (VW Bugs) and give a big 10-4 (affirmative) to whoever was in broadcasting range. There were large home units so you could communicate with other nerdily inclined lonesome joes in a wider arc around your area. Danny and Mad Dog would spend hours in the radio room conversing with the mostly rural redneck characters who favored CB communication. These innocents were unaware they were speaking to a house of raving freaks until invisible friendships were made, blind dates arranged, invitations extended, and soon, knocking at our door was the CB-cult population of Monmouth County. They were stunned to walk in and find they had become chummy with a house full of longhairs, leading to bizarre and hilariously uncomfortable evenings of cross-cultural outreach in my mom and pops old living room (in the end, the bond of CB was usually stronger than cultural estrangement). To do CB right you needed a big antenna, preferably placed somewhere very high. Vini and Dannys hunger to rope in an even broader swath of the strange and uninitiated led them to scale the roof of my South Street home, kicking out not-to-be-replaced windows along the way, drawing a crowd as they attempted to attach something to our roof that looked like we were trying to communicate with alien life-forms beyond the rings of Saturn. The signal roared, and weirdos came at all hours of the day and night to our door. During this time Vinis Mad Dog persona was in full swing, his temper flaring. He sent a quart of milk exploding off the refrigerator door in an argument with Dannyover what I dont know; broadcasting rights? Airtime? Next a brawl in our South Street driveway between Vini and Shelly, a short-lived tenant, had me rushing into the street to break up the fight in front of my longtime neighbors. Finally, everyone in the neighborhood had had enough and it led to a knock on the door, the landlord explaining he was closing the house for renovations and we would have to leave. After Id spent seven years there with my folks, we lasted exactly one month. Late one night we packed all our belongings into our manager Carl Tinker Wests forties flatbed truck, and we threw the living room couch on top. I climbed onto it and we slowly inched our way out of the driveway, our sterling future impeded only by the local police, who explained there was a local ordinance against moving after dark. We shrugged our shoulders and they watched us slip out of town, probably just glad to see us go. It was a beautiful, balmy night and as I lay back on the old couch, the trees and scrolling stars above me, I was seized by a wonderful feeling. I was slipping over the streets of my childhood, no longer a painful player in my or my towns history but a passing and impassive observer. I was struck by the sweet night smell of honeysuckle and remembered the treasure of honeysuckle bushes that lay behind the convent. My gang and I would gather there on dead summer afternoons to suck out the small flowers sweet juices. I felt filled with the freedom of being young and leaving something, of my new detachment from a place I loved and hated and where Id found so much comfort and pain. As Tinkers truck glided over streets that still concealed hard mystery upon mystery, I felt a lightness, a momentary untethering from the past. A spark of my future self came up burning brightly inside me. This . . . all of thismy town, my familys legacyfor now was done. I was nineteen; my parents, unreachable, were thousands of miles away, with my beloved little sister. My beautiful older sister, Virginia, had vanished south, down Route 9, into an adult life I would have little understanding of or contact with for a long time. I would come back and visit these streets many, many times, rolling through them on sunny fall afternoons, on winter nights and in the deserted after-hours of summer evenings, out for a drive in my car. I would roll down Main Street after midnight watching, waiting, for something to change. I would stare into the warmly lit rooms of the homes I passed, wondering which one was mine. Did I have one? Id drive on past the firehouse, the empty courthouse square; past my moms now-dark office building; past the abandoned rug mill, down Institute Street to the Nescaf? plant and baseball field; past my copper beech tree, still rooted and towering in front of the emptiness that was once my grandparents house; past the memorial of white crosses for our fallen war heroes at the towns end; past my dead at the St. Rose of Lima Cemeterymy grandmother, grandfather and aunt Virginiathen out onto the pitch-black rural highways of Monmouth County. I would visit there even more often in my dreams, stepping up onto the porch of my grandmothers house, walking into the front hall, the living room, where on some evenings she and my old family would wait, while on others, emptiness, hollow rooms, probing, puzzling, trying to ferret out what had happened and what were its consequences for my current life. I would return and return, in dreams and out, waiting for a new ending to a book that had been written a long time ago. I would drive as if the miles themselves could repair the damage done, write a different story, force these streets to give up their heavily guarded secrets. They couldnt. Only I could do that, and I was a long ways from being ready. I would spend my life on the road logging hundreds of thousands of miles and my story was always the same . . . man comes to town, detonates; man leaves town and drives off into the evening; fade to black. Just the way I like it. From my perch on the couch atop the truck I watched our wheels cross the town line, turn left on Highway 33, pick up some speed and head for the ocean breezes and new freedoms of the Shore. With the warm night whistling by me, I felt wonderfully and perilously adrift, giddy with exultation. This town, my town, would never leave me, and I could never completely leave it, but I would never live in Freehold again. SEVENTEEN TINKER (SURFIN SAFARI) Carl Virgil Tinker West hailed from Southern California, studied to be an engineer and ended up a surf dog working at Challenger Western Surfboards. He came east in the early sixties, where in a squat brick building amid a sandy and deserted industrial park, he opened up Challenger Eastern Surfboards. He was called Tinker because there was nothing he couldnt fix. Tinker could redesign anything at all, patch it up, jury-rig or jimmy it back into working order. He could also catch it, skin it and eat it. When Black Friday comes and the Apocalypse rolls back the clock to year zero, youll want and need only Tinker at your side. I watched him beautifully restore cars and boats from the ground up, build an entire heating system in his garage studio using just an oil barrel and ductwork, and design and build a recording studio and a sound system that kept us on the road for many years. Once under the hood he could make anything run, anywhere, all the while turning out some of the sweetest long boards on the Jersey Shore. A misanthropic genius, Tinker loved and cherished work. It was people he couldnt stand. If you werent working, he had no use for you. While he wore a ponytail, came from the Golden State and smoked the occasional joint, Tinkers tolerance for the hippie, laid-back ethos was near zero. Ten years older and in twice as good shape as anyone in the band, he rode herd on the surfboard factory like the big kahuna he was. If you walked in and had personal business that took more than thirty seconds, he shoved a broom into your hand, said, Make yourself useful, and ordered you to sweep the floor. He wasnt joking. You started sweeping or you left. Tinker surfed only the biggest days of September and October, hurricane surf, on an original old balsa-wood surfboard that weighed a ton. Hed walk out to the end of the jetty, huge waves crashing all around him; throw in the board at the end of the rocks; dive in after it; and take off on the biggest, darkest thing rolling up out of the East Coast leviathan depths. Wed all be on the beach watching, shaking our heads . . . Tinker. Hed have us preparing for the revolution, shooting bows and arrows, packing and loading cap-and-ball pistols, a vicious streak of fire and light exploding from their barrels as we shot them into the dark of our little teenage wasteland. Springsteen, hed saythats all he ever called meSpringsteen, you got the goods and you dont fuck around like all these other assholes. I had the goods and nope, I didnt fuck around, no drugs, no booze, girls . . . yeah, but not if they got in the way of the music, fuck with that and youre out of my life. There would be no wasted days and wasted nights for me. Id seen that and I wanted no part of it. Tinker and I would get along just fine. I met Tinker at the Upstage Club. He corralled me after a set, told me he thought I could really play and mentioned he had some connections with the Quicksilver Messenger Service organization in San Francisco. He knew James Cotton, the great bluesman, and said he thought Janis Joplin was looking for a guitarist and I might be a contender for her new band. All of the above was true. He had a spare room in the factory that we could practice in and if there was anything he could do, I should come up and see him. Here was a guy with a business, a few connections, a financial base, a forceful personality, and he was interested in me. I was always in the market for a surrogate and appreciative daddy, so I latched onto Tink. Tinker loved music and knew talent when he saw it. It was the only thing he made allowances for: ability. Upon leaving Freehold, we initially took up residence a few blocks off the ocean in Bradley Beach. I had an idyllic surf summer and fall, and the first E Street baby, Jason Federici, arrived. We were still teenagers ourselves; he was a child in the care of children. We gathered around him and treated him like the little piece of magic he was. Steel Mill took up artistic residence in the surfboard factory using an extra concrete room Tinker had off the rear of the place as a rehearsal hall. In Bradley, unfortunately, it was always a near-death experience when it came to paying rent. Mad Dog and I would soon make the surfboard factory our primary address (no rent!). We moved in. Vini slept on a mattress in the bathroom, his head inches from the rumbling toilet. I slept in the master suite, a room ten feet away, my mattress in one corner, Tinkers in another that contained a refrigerator and a television set. Over the next several years I would suck in enough fiberglass and resin fumes to deaden the brain cells of a hundred men. Quarters were tight and Tinker and I were forced to romance our ladies in rather close environs. Privacy was at a minimum. Sex was quick and not that pretty at the surfboard factory, performed on concrete floors; up against the brick exterior of the building; in a room a short distance from other sweating, grabby lovers; orlast hopein the backseat of an abandoned car out in the dusty swales of the industrial park. You could not be too picky. We managed. Vini Lopez learned to work as a shaper, tapering the fine lines of Tinkers new short boards so theyd skim like lightning through the murky Jersey surf. Hed stand there, covered head to toe in fiberglass dust; take off his surgical mask; and head to the back room for band practice. We called ourselves Child, and we played the bars and nightclubs of the late-sixties Shore. We played original music with some covers, and the simple fact that we were so good was all that kept us working. The Shore, north to south, was still the fiefdom of Top 40 cover bands. You could get arrested unless you played the hits. We played a few but compromised very little. Our ability to excite and entertain, and having our craft down cold, kept us alive. I was living the life of an aspiring musician. A circumstantial bohemianand as Ive mentioned, I didnt do any drugs or drink. One of my ex-roommates, a fellow guitarist, would end it all with a gunshot to the head after a short life of ingesting too many chemicals and ending up a wasted talent on the skids. Id seen people mentally ruined, gone and not coming back. I was barely holding on to myself as it was. I couldnt imagine introducing unknown agents into my system. I needed control and those ever-elusive boundaries. I was afraid of myself, what I might do or what might happen to me. Id already experienced enough personal chaos to not go in search of the unknown. Over all my years in bars an out-of-line drunk in my face was the only thing that could get me fighting mad. Id seen my dad and that was enough. I wasnt looking for outside stimulants to help me lose or find anything. Music was going to get me as high as I needed to go. I had friends who were real drug-experimenting radicals and then I had my construction-worker brother-in-law, who, with the exception of bashing a few longhairs like myself, had no sixties experience whatsoever. He remained his whole life a man of the fifties (with greatly increased tolerance, however). I was a faux hippie (free love was all right), but the counterculture stood by definition in opposition to the conservative blue-collar experience Id had. I felt caught between two camps and I didnt really fit in either, or maybe I just fit in both. Last of the Bar Bands The Pandemonium Club, the Shores newest nightclub, had opened at Sunset Avenue and Route 35. That put it right at the bottom of the hill from the surfboard factory. We could walk there. You played on a small stage right behind the bar, with a small alley of booze bottles, ice, beer and bartenders all that separated you from the patrons sitting at the bar. The bartenders ass (a great one made the night slip on by), the bar, the stool huggers, those standing gathered around the bar, some tables and the dance floor were all spread out in a 180-degree panorama around you. The Pandemonium did not have to work very hard to live up to its name. It drew an eclectic and often incompatible clientele. Truckers rolling home up Route 35, kids from Monmouth College, summer bennies there for the sand and surf of the Shore, hippies whod come to hear the music and barflies of all shapes and sizes gravitated to the Pandemoniums currentness and pseudo-ritzy d?cor. Many of these patrons were culturally at odds. You could go to the Pandemonium to listen to music, be congratulated on a recent set and get hassled for the length of your hair by some long-haul trucker, preppy football player or polyester-laden Mafia wannabe out of Long Branch. It was usually cool . . . but not always. When you play a bar inches behind the bartender you witness the unfolding of human events from a unique perspective. The formula was always familiar; the timing was all that changed. Woman + booze + man + booze + second man + booze = brawl. I would bemusedly watch this play out night after night until chairs were thrown, punches were landed, blood was spilled, female faux shock was registered and bouncers swarmed. You could read it like a gathering storm. This was how some gals got their kicks. Sometimes you could warn the bouncers and they would cool it off before the first punch was thrown. But it often hit with the suddenness of a summer squall and was over just as quick. Cut to the last scene: bouncers breathing heavily, their sweaty shirts torn asunder; random small bloodstains; a gawking crowd gathering in the floodlit parking lot; the celebratory red lights of local law enforcement turning faces muted red; the cops hauling the disheveled revelers away. Everybody goes home. One Giant Leap for Mankind July 20, 1969, the night man first walked on the moon, was our first night of a weeklong booking we had at the new club. This was a gold mine for us and we needed to do well. If we could make a steady booking out of the Pandemonium, some of the living hand-to-mouth would be taken out of our lives. We could concentrate on writing, rehearsing and maybe even recording a few of our own tunes. The Pandemonium was managed by Baldy Hushpuppies. He was so named because he was a hopelessly middle-aged swinger type who was bald and wore Hush Puppies. On this particular evening, Baldy Hushpuppies was out of town and Son of Baldy Hushpuppies, his kid, was running the joint. It just so happened the band was scheduled to start a set exactly as the first manned moon landing was occurring, 10:56. Half the small crowd of thirty or so wanted us to start playing and half wanted us to solemnly observe this epochal moment in human history. Wed start and some would run to the bar shushing us as the landing grew near; wed stop and some would complain that the band wasnt playing. Ultimately we decided, Fuck the moon landing, thats just a trick of The Man; fuck you, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, lets rock. Myself, Mad Dog Lopez and Danny were in favor of boogying. The holdout was bass player Little Vinnie Roslin, a bit of a sensitive techie, a man of science, who said we were full-of-shit cretins ignoring history and he would have no part of it. He put his bass down and walked offstage. He was right, but the line was drawn. A small black-and-white television in the corner of the bar was all they had broadcasting the event. It was surrounded by a small group of promoon landing clientele, glued to the fuzzy images being sent across two hundred and forty thousand miles of space. The fuck-the-moon-landers were all huddled over their stew at the bar near us. Finally Mad Dog had had it. He shouted into his microphone, If somebody doesnt turn that fucking TV off, Im coming over and putting my foot through it. Upon hearing Vinis throw-down, Son of Baldy Hushpuppies came barreling around the bar and explained to Vini that it was his TV and Vini had better shut the fuck up or wed all be out on our asses. Mad Dog Lopez did not, and does not, cotton to such talk. Attired typically and eccentrically in a Chinese robe and nothing else that evening, Vini managed to get in a minor scuffle with SOBH. We were fired on the spot. Six nights of a good-paying, close-to-home bar gig vanished into thin air up Vinis Chinese robe. We walked back up the hill, pissed, everybody giving Vini the silent treatment for blowing the gig. We would not be much longer for the Shore bar circuit anyway. The concert business awaited. EIGHTEEN STEEL MILL We found out another group had registered the name Child, so, at a late-night brainstorming session at the Inkwell Coffee House in the West End neighborhood of Long Branch, New Jersey, we searched for a new band name. The Inkwell was a longhair-friendly local institution one block in from the Long Branch beachfront. Its proprietor was Joe Inkwell, a Hitlerian presence who would take the skin off of you for looking at him the wrong way. Nevertheless, he and I got along great and the place was a safe late-night haven for weirdos of all stripes. It was done up inside completely Beat generation. You could grab a cheeseburger, flirt with the blue-jeans-and-black-leotard-clad waitresses and spend a little time in an environment where you felt reasonably secure you would not be under attack, except possibly by the owner. I think it was Mad Dog who volunteered Steel Mill. That was the direction we were going in. It was blue-collar, heavy music, with loud guitars and a Southern-influenced rock sound. If you mixed it up with a little prog and all original songs, you had Steel Mill . . . you know, STEEL MILL . . . like LED ZEPPELIN . . . elemental-metal-based, bare-chested, primal rock. We started playing long guitar-crunching concerts under that name and we began to draw and draw big. First hundreds, then thousands came to impromptu appearances in parks, at the local armory, at the Monmouth College great lawn or college gymnasium and any other location that would hold our growing tribe. We became something people wanted to see. We had a raw stage show and songs that were memorable enough for people to want to come back, hear them again, memorize their lyrics and sing their choruses. We began to attract and hold real fans. Tinker took us down to the University of Richmond in Virginia, where he had a few connections. We played for free in the park, gave the locals a taste of us and then got hired for school events. We became enormously popular in Richmond, drawing up to three thousand people at our Southern concerts, with no album to our name. Our voodoo had worked outside of the Garden State! We opened up for Grand Funk Railroad in Bricktown, New Jersey, stole the house and headed south, where we opened for Chicago, Iron Butterfly and finally for Ike and Tina Turner at the Virginia War Memorial. We quickly built ourselves a second home in Richmond. Now we had two cities we could play quarter-annually, charging a buck at the door and coming home with thousands of dollars that would get us through the dry times. The catch was you could not overplay either area and there were only two! Once every four months was a lot. Wed become too big for the bars, too small for the big time, so we became a strange victim of our own local success. We could draw thousands when we played but in order to keep interest and our value up, we had to make ourselves scarce. We scouted around for a few more locations, opening for Roy Orbison at a festival in Nashville, Tennessee, playing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but it was our Jersey and Virginia fans who kept us in subs and cheeseburgers. The long weeks in between shows gave us a lot of time to practice, refine our band and settle into the unique position of authentic neighborhood superstars while remaining totally unknown outside of our given areas. So . . . what to do? Go West, Young Man Tinker always regaled us with tales of San Francisco. Hell, it was 1970. Lets get out there and show them what we can do. Wed played with and done well against national bands for a year now. Bring on the big guns, the San Francisco groups. We were cocky as hell and sure we were good enough to make our mark anywhere. We felt we were the best undiscovered thing wed ever seen, so we begged Tinker to take us to where the hippies ran free. A deal was struck. Tinker said if we each saved one hundred dollars and copyrighted our originals for their protection, hed lead us to the far coast. Danny and I sat for two hours one evening at our dining room table and only managed to get one song onto staff paper. We figured, Fuck it, just fill in the rest with a bunch of notes; Tinker will never know. Thats what we did. We held one final concert at the surfboard factory for seed money, built a plywood box that would sit tucked inside Tinkers flatbed, covered it with an army tarp to protect the equipment from the rain and set up a separate station wagon (Dannys) with mattresses and water for the drivers rest and recuperation. With these two vehicles, a hundred dollars each and a prayer, we would make the great crossing in three days. We had a paying New Years Eve gig at Californias Esalen Institute in the mountains of Big Sur. Esalen was one of the first human-potential spas in the United States. At that time, no one had ever heard of such a thing. It was just a gig for us, and we didnt have a clue as to what we were walking into. With the exception of Tinker and our short trips around the Southeast, none of us had ever been out of New Jersey. The night before we left for California, Mad Dog and I visited our local cinema to see Easy Rider. It was not such a good send-off. As we watched the story of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hoppers journey across America, a slow, creeping dread overtook us. When Hopper was blasted off his motorcycle at the end of the film by a Cro-Magnon redneck, it dawned on us it might not be too friendly for folks like us out there. Tinker of course had taken that into consideration; no peace-loving hippies, we were armed. We had our cap-and-ball pistols, all perfectly legal, in the cab of our truck. Wed run into bad vibesan attendant who might not want to gas us up, a tension-filled roadhouse dinerbut no trouble. Tinker spoke the common language of automotive mechanics. Its amazing what a cross-cultural barrier breaker a little engine talk can be. We were in a vintage piece of hardware. People were curious about our old Ford truck and what the hell we were up to. Tink couldve broken the ice with the grand pooh-bah of the Ku Klux Klan with his laconic command of the mystical ways of the internal combustion engine. Tink had gearhead knowledge accompanied by a strange and mighty confidence that put folks at ease. If those should fail, he seemed like the kind of guy who might shoot you. The morning came, the truck was loaded, the station wagon prepared; I was twenty-one, and we were going west. West . . . dream time. West . . . California. Thats where the music was. The Haight, San Francisco, Jefferson Airplane, the Dead, and Moby Grape, one of Steves and my all-time favorite groups. West . . . free. Even my folks were there. Id heard about the deserts, the palm trees, the weather, Seal Rocks, the great redwoods of Muir Woods, the Bay, the Golden Gate . . . On our few phone calls, my mom had told me tales of their new life in the West. I hadnt seen my parents and younger sister in almost a year. Back then no one could afford cross-country bus, plane or train travel. Id never met anyone whod been on an airplane. So here it was. It would be a combination family reunion and career juggernaut that would set everything straight. Our caravan of two left at dawn, rolling away from the surfboard factory, out of the industrial park and onto Route 35, over to 33 West, then to the New Jersey Turnpike South. It was winter and wed take the southern route across the country to avoid as much snow and ice as possible. We were seven: Tinker, myself, Vinnie Roslin, Mad Dog, Danny, a pal headed west who would help drive and Tinkers favorite living thing, J. T. Woofer, his dog. The cabin of Tinkers forties flatbed comfortably held Tinker and me plus J. T. The rest of our travelers rode in Dannys sixties vintage station wagon. We had three days to get to California. We had no extra money for motels and no camping gear, so we would not be stopping. We would drive in rotating shifts around the clock, pausing roadside only for food and gas. I didnt drive . . . at all. I had no car, no license; at twenty-one my transportation was a bicycle or my thumb. I had hitchhiked everywhere I went since I was fifteen years old and had gotten very comfortable with it. When I say I didnt drive, I mean I DID NOT KNOW HOW. I could not safely operate a motor vehicle. My old man never had the patience to teach me, and after one sprint spinning and jerking my way through the Freehold Raceway parking lot, Tex himself had thrown up his hands and quickly quit too. I was completely incompetent behind the wheel. I was not counted as one of the drivers for this trip. Thats why we were glad to have the extra guy. There would be no racing in the street for me for a few years. The trip was going well; then we hit Nashville, Tennessee. Somehow in Nashville, Tink, J. T. and I became separated from the car of drivers with Phantom Dan Federici at the wheel. The story later was We looked around and you were gone. This created an enormous problem. All the drivers were with Danny. To make it to Big Sur, California, three thousand miles in three days from New Jersey, we had to drive around the clock. To make it there New Years Eve for our date, the big wheels had to keep on turning. There were thousands of miles left and Tinker couldnt do it himself; the dog couldnt drive, so that left me. At midnight that evening Tink simply said, I cant drive anymore, its your turn. I said, You know I cant drive. Tinker said, Theres nothing to it. Besides, you have to or we wont make the only job we have on the West Coast. I got behind the steering wheel of the big truck, an ancient behemoth, reminding one of the truck in Clouzots The Wages of Fear that hauled nitroglycerin through the jungles of Central America. What followed was so, so ugly: a massive grinding of fine vintage gears that left us jerking all over the highway, steering that left the huge truck with all of our band equipment and everything of value that we owned in its hatch weaving barely within the lines of our lane. A head-on collision with the unknowing, trusting souls coming our way seemed imminent. Still, it had to happen. Heres how we did it. Once we realized it was impossible for me to start from a dead stop, Tinker would get the transmission in first gear and get the truck rolling, and then we would switch seats in the tight cab, stepping on J. T. as she howled from the floorboards, and I would take over from second gear through fourth for as long as the highway held. We drove thousands of miles, the rest of the way, employing this method. We never saw or heard from Danny or the other vehicle again. We had no backup plan for someone getting lost. There were no cell phones, no way to communicate. All we had was a common destination, so we headed into the sun. It was not a restful ride for Carl Virgil West. Id be driving through the desert night during his sleep break, weaving all over the highway, and Id look over to see him with fear flooding his wide-open eyes. I couldnt blame him. My driving sucked. We were lucky I didnt kill us. The big truck did not get easier to manage. I just drove, no license, no permit, no experience. When we came to a state-line crossing, a toll booth or a weigh station, Id poke Tinker in the ribs and wed switch seats again without coming to a stop. We got pretty good at it, but when we hit the mountain passes, terror set in. The truck was an old manual shift without particularly responsive steering. You had to clutch, shift, clutch, shift, clutch, shift, the engine begging for mercy, racing forward and back. I was killing that thing, but by the time we got to California I knew how to drive and Tinker had spent many a sleepless hour sprouting more than a few gray hairs. West The country was beautiful. I felt a great elation at the wheel as we crossed the western desert at dawn, the deep blue and purple shadowed canyons, the pale yellow morning sky with all of its color drawn out, leaving just the black silhouetted mountains behind us. With the eastern sun rising at our backs, the deep reds and browns of the plains and hills came to life. Your palms turned salty white on the wheel from the aridity. Morning woke the Earth into muted color, then came the flat light of the midday sun, and everything stood revealed as pure horizon lowering on two lanes of blacktop and disappearing into . . . nothingmy favorite thing. Then the evening, with the sun burning red into your eyes, dropping gold into the western mountains. It all felt like home and I fell into a lasting love affair with the desert. On we soldiered, through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to the California border, then north to the Big Sur mountains. We were almost there but we had one more Halloween horror show of a night. Highway 1 to Big Sur had been washed out in a coastal storm, not an unusual occurrence, so Tinker searched the map for an alternate route. We stopped at an outpost of a filling station for a little local guidance. Tinker pointed at a squiggly thin line on the map and asked, What about this? The attendant answered, Itll get you there but you dont want to take this truck over that road. Tinker and every perverse can-do bone in his body only heard the first part. We took it. For the first few miles, a beautiful freshly paved highway stretched out in front of us, then in one swift mountain bend, the road transformed into sliding dust and gravel. It became a barely passable one-way hell drive with a mountain within reach out the drivers-side window and a guardrail-less sheer cliff and empty grave awaiting outside the passengers window. Tinker had gone mute at the wheel, eyes burning like a zombies. He bumped, slid and rolled us for thirty miles and three hours of midnight over this impossible mountain pass. J. T. lay pinned to the floor like mortar fire was threatening her short canine life. She sensed we were hanging by the short ones and after an hour or so, my own stomach couldnt take it anymore. The view from the cab was way too zero sum. I lay down on the seat and closed my eyes. I did not sleep. The truck slipped and swayed, loose mountainside gravel raining on the cab roof like hail. We took one last turn and it was over. The highway opened up before us and we shortly made our way through the gates of the Esalen Institute at Big Sur. The night was pitch-black, without a light source anywhere. I found myself hustling down a small path, searching for our accommodations, on the black side of a mountain in California. Gophers Palace We would be staying with Gopher, a friend of Tinkers, on the working side of a small creek that separated Esalens wealthy belly-button contemplators from its service staff. It was not easy to find. Gopher lived on the steep side of the mountain in a tree. He had built his home around a towering eucalyptus whose roots and trunk sprouted out of his living room floor on up through a sleeping loft and out the roof (hello, Big Sur). There was a fireplace, no facilities and no running water. You climbed the tree in the house to get to the sleeping loft. It was a place fine for a leprechaun but its miniature rooms were full with Tink, myself, J. T. and soon, rustling up out of the brush, the lost platoon of Danny and the two Vinnies. Theyd followed the sound of my strumming guitar to Gophers palace and we all had a joyful tall-tale-telling reunion. At some point during the early evening before our arrival, Gopher had thought he heard a perpetrator amongst the bushes, unloaded his shotgun into the night and knocked out the electrical power for the entire side of the mountain. We sat by firelight, like Neanderthals huddled together in the heart of an unseeable new world. Finally, exhausted, we drifted off to sleep. When we woke at dawn and stepped out of Gophers front door, we stood speechless before what we saw. Giant old-growth trees, vegetation so lush youd get lost a few feet in off the walking path, color, winter blooming flowers all set on a verdant mountainside that looked out high over the sun-fired emerald-green Pacific. If you watched for a while, you could see whales spouting in the distance. Id never stood in the midst of nature like this and you could feel its humbling and intoxicating power. I approached a tree the likes of which Id never seen before, covered with what appeared to be strange multicolored leaves. As I walked toward its base, thousands of butterflies exploded off its branches and shot into the hard blue sky. This was another world. We quickly got the lay of the land. We were in the workers quarters and that was basically where we were supposed to stay. It would be a few years before I would start gazing into my own wealthy belly button, and so across the creek at the institute there were things going on we simply could not comprehend. The first thing Mad Dog and I witnessed was a group of people curled up on a green lawn in white sheets returning to their amoeba stage. This struck Vini and me as uproariously funny and we quickly came to believe, rightly or not, that the place, while gorgeous, was home to some good old first-rate Jersey carny quackery all dressed up in some new-age doublespeak. They did have great hot springs tucked into the side of a cliff overlooking the sea. There were the springs, a cold bath and everybody naked. This greatly appealed to unworldly Jersey folk such as ourselves and we spent what time we could there charming the rich ladies and bathing in natures sweet revivifier. A few of the fellows made friends with paying guests, leading to midnight creeps around the mountainside. For food, the staff would slip us some breakfast out the back door of the kitchen in the morning and wed spend the day exploring, watching the dog and pony show at the lodge or practicing in a little shed by the sea for our big New Years Eve stand. One afternoon I took a long walk deep into the forest. I stayed on the path so as not to get lost and began to follow the sound of a distant conga drum. About ten minutes in, deep in a wooded clearing I came upon a tall thin black man dressed in a dashiki hunched over a conga drum entertaining the wildlife. He looked up and I found myself face-to-face with Richard Blackwell, my homie from Freehold, whom Id grown up with. What are the odds! We had a Dr. Livingstone, I presume moment, couldnt believe the two of us had ended up there thousands of miles from home at this exact place and time, decided it was destiny, and I asked him if he wanted to sit in with Steel Mill for the rest of our West Coast stretch. First stop, New Years Eve. When the night came, it all broke loose West Coaststyle. Out of the nearby mountains came tattooed earth mamas, old grizzled mountain men, nubile young hippie girls fueled by acid, talking in tongues and ready to fuck. There were a lot of drugs and the show took off accordingly into the nether lands of California acid culture. Trance-dancing, the locals mixed merrily with the paying guests, and we played the crowd into a frenzy, with Richard Blackwell from the block, joined by Tinker, creating an unending pulse with their conga drums. It went on for a long time, and as a straight-edge Jersey boy it was about all the fun I could take. Everybody wanted to give you drugs all the time. I was a stubborn young man and set in my fearful ways. I wasnt going there, so I played and played, and they went, the mountain hippies, their bonfires blazing, ancient faces with eyes rolling back alongside well-off middle Americans trying to find a new light whod come west and were paying big for what wed have done for em in New Jersey for two bucks. Finally around dawn it quieted. Folks drifted back up into the hills and we sat exhausted. Wed entertained them and had been thoroughly entertained, but it was different from back home. Here music was a part of some larger tribal consciousness-raising event. The musician was more shaman and psychic facilitator. More mystic man than hard rocker or soul entertainer. I had the band and the skills to pull it off but I wasnt sure it was my stock-in-trade. We stayed on for a few days afterward enjoying the pleasures of Big Sur. The morning we left I sat on a bench overlooking the Pacific with a very straight middle-aged entrepreneur from Texas. He was lost in freak land and a seeker at the facility. I asked him why he was there. He said simply, Ive made a lot of money and Im not happy. Itd be years before Id have to wrestle with that one, but there was something about him that touched me. He wanted something more than the world of commerce that his life had offered him. Hed come all this way, laid down his cold hard cash and opened himself up to try to find it. I wished him well and hoped he was in righteous hands. A few hours later I sat on a rocky green outcropping on the side of Highway 1. In my lap I held my travel bag; the sun was high and dry as I watched a small army of ants slipping between my boots, carrying bits of dust toward their hillside empire. I searched north up the highway and waited. The smell of eucalyptus bark and high grasses, that uniquely California smell, surrounded me and reminded me I was a young traveler in a strange land. It felt good. A hawk circled above me in the flat blue sky as forty minutes passed, then an hour. A car slowed down and pulled to the side of the road where I was sitting. Through the suns glare reflecting off the front windshield I saw two big smiles. It was my mom and pop coming to welcome their only son to their promised land. Promised Land My mom and dads land of hope and dreams was a small two-bedroom apartment up a flight of stairs in a complex in the California suburb of San Mateo. It consisted of a living room/kitchen combo, a bedroom for my folks and a smaller bedroom for my little sis. They were proud of it. They loved California. They had jobs, they had a new life. My dad had taken up watercolor painting by numbers, and he played the home organ, its sour notes squealing beneath those mitts he called hands. He seemed to be all right. Leaving Freehold had done him some good. My mom was once again a respected legal secretary, at a firm in the Hillsdale Shopping Center, and my pop drove a bus at the airport. I slept on the living room couch, ate some home cooking, shopped at the nearby St. Vincent de Paul or Salvation Army thrift stores and enjoyed being home. I was in the living room watching TV as my eight-year-old sister attempted to make me a homecoming cake. She had a big bowl of batter and an electric mixer set up on the kitchen table. The next thing I heard was a shattering scream, like a squirrel with its tail caught in the family mower. I ran to find batter splattered all over the kitchen walls and my little sis howling with the electric mixer still running and pressed close to her scalp. At first I couldnt figure out what I was seeing. Then I realized the mixer had run straight up a strand of her lovely long brown hair, which had drifted into the mixing bowl, and was now vibrating like a banshee against her little skull. A pull of the plug, a pair of scissors, a few kisses, some laughs and she was okay. Soon the entire band would be sleeping on my parents living room floor. It only lasted a few days. We were there to be discovered and that would take work, so we packed up and headed into San Francisco for our first audition. We pulled up to the Family Dog, home of the Quicksilver Messenger Service and a venerable old San Francisco ballroom that was looking for some new bands to open up for their main acts. Tinker had got us a shot. I recollect there were three or four bands auditioning that sunny afternoon. The first two werent much, so we confidently took the stage and played well. We played about twenty minutes of the stuff that had made us superstars back home and didnt doubt wed get the gig. After our set, the fourth band played. They were good. They were musically sophisticated, with several good vocalists and some very good songs. They didnt have the show that we did but that didnt seem to concern them. They just played . . . very, very well. They got the gig. We lost out. After the word came down, all the other guys were complaining wed gotten ripped off. The guy running the joint didnt know what he was doing, blah, blah, blah . . . That night I went back to my parents house and lay awake on my couch thinking. They were better than us, and I hadnt seen anybody, certainly anybody who was still unknown, that was better than usbetter than mein a long time. The guy doing the booking was right. My confidence was mildly shaken and I had to make room for a rather unpleasant thought. We were not going to be the big dogs we were back in our little hometown. We were going to be one of many very competent, very creative musical groups fighting over a very small bone. Reality check. I was good, very good, but maybe not quite as good or as exceptional as Id gotten used to people telling me, or as I thought. Right here, in this city, there were guys who in their own right were as good or better. That hadnt happened in a long while and it was going to take some mental realignment. A few days later we were back at it. We auditioned at a club called the Matrix and this time we got the job. We would open for Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite and garner one of our first unequivocal raves, in the San Francisco Examiner from music critic Philip Elwood. It was titled, due to the San Francisco rain outside, A Wet Night with Steel Mill and was everything we couldve hoped for. Mr. Elwood wrote, Never have I been so surprised by completely unknown talent. It gave us the shot in the arm we needed to impress the folks and newspapers back home and allowed us to think there might be a future there for us yet. Our pay at the Matrix was toll money across the Bay Bridge and hot dogs. That was it. We played for free. The experience was great. We got to meet and talk to some real recording artists. We werent the band people were coming to see, so we had to work hard, and we did. I dont think we scared anybody but we impressed our share of the crowd one show at a time. Our next stop was the San Francisco Valhalla of Bill Grahams Fillmore West. In the Hall of the Gods Everybody had been on this stagethe Band, B. B. King, Aretha, all the great San Francisco groupsand every Tuesday the Fillmore West held audition night. We nailed down a Tuesday slot and, nerves a-jingle-jangle, we headed down to stand on that stage and make our mark. You were one of five or six bands that would play for an hour or so to a paying crowd seated on the floor. Everybody there was goodyou had to be to simply get an auditionbut I didnt see anybody very exciting. Many simply droned on, playing in that very laid-back San Francisco style. When the workingmen from New Jersey took the stage, all that changed. We rocked hard, performing our physically explosive stage show, which had the crowd on its feet and shouting. We left to a standing ovation and some newfound respect, and were asked back for the following Tuesday. Later in the evening, as I hung around the ballroom talking to the locals and basking in as much West Coast glory as I could, somebody else was lighting up the stage. A band called Grin, its lead guitarist, Nils Lofgren, playing his guitar through a Hammond Leslie speaker, rocked the house til its closing. We went home satisfied, counting the days til the following Tuesday. We came back one week later and did it one more time to the same tumultuous response, then were offered a demo recording session at Bill Grahams Fillmore studios. Finally, just what wed come three thousand miles for: our shot at the gold ring. One crisp California afternoon, Steel Mill pulled up to the first professional recording studio wed ever seen. It was a classic West Coast wood-paneled, potted-plant-infested rock star hangout, the likes of which I would be spending too much time in over the coming years. We cut three of our best originals, The Judge Song, Going Back to Georgia and The Train Song, as a demo for Bill Grahams Fillmore Records. When you first hear yourself on professional recording tape, you want to crawl, in a cold sweat, from the room. You always sound better inside your head and in your dreams than you do in the cold light of the playback room. There, the way you truly sound initially lands on you like a five-hundred-pound weight. Inside your head, youre always a little better of a singer, a little better of a guitarist and, of course, as with the layman, a little better-looking. Tape and film have no interest in the carefully protected delusions youve constructed to get through your day. You just have to get used to it. Not being quite as good as I thought was unfortunately becoming a theme I was revisiting throughout our West Coast jaunt. The demo was as far as wed get. The deal never happened. We were offered some sort of retainer fee but nothing that showed any real interest. Still, something was happening. Wed been reviewed. We had a semi-steady gig at a big city club, the Matrix. Wed drawn the attention of Bill Grahams Fillmore organization and we were now drawing a small enthusiastic crowd of our own. I saw my folks occasionally, preferring to stay close to the action with the band in a variety of crash pads in Berkeley, Marin County or wherever someone would allow us to take up some floor. I managed to get arrested hitchhiking (my specialty) on the California freeway. I had little money, no ID, no official residence. That seemed to be enough for them to pull me in. Reprising a role shed played many times in New Jersey, where Id managed to be hauled into local police stations for hard-core crimes as varied as not purchasing a beach badge, hitchhiking and getting caught in my girlfriends fathers borrowed Cadillac, my mother came down, bailed me out and dropped me off at the Matrix for the nights gig. I was still a kid and it was nice having her around to depend on, but soon we had to face the facts. Progress had come to a halt. We had no money, no paying work and no prospects. Unlike in New Jersey, we couldnt do our quarterly concert to make ends meet. Here, we had no viable, financially sound business model. We were as discovered as we were going to get. There were simply too many good groups around for someone to pay us to play. I was right when I allowed my parents to leave without me and stayed behind in New Jersey. We could survive as musicians only on our little sliver of the East Coast. We had to get back. Tinker borrowed some fast money for road expenses back home, and feeling not quite like complete failures but not like the successes wed imagined, we packed immediately. I bade my folks adieu and we hit the road to Richmond, Virginia. Richmond, one of the two places we could make a buck. If we could get there, we could work, make a few dollars and pull back into the Shore area, hopefully resuming our previously underappreciated status as local rock gods. Six Days on the Road Our caravan of two once again headed south. Just a little ways out of San Francisco, Danny, leaning down to fix the radio while driving, managed to swerve off the highway, smash into a Men at Work sign, send the road crew scattering into the nearby brush, dent the hell out of our esteemed station wagon and continue happily on, Jersey bound. No problem. The problems would come soon enough. I was riding with J. T., the dog, in the back of the station wagon. We stopped on an Arizona highway for a piss break and got back in, and an hour later I realized there was an awful lot of room in the back of that station wagon now. J. T. had been left somewhere back along the highway. We signaled Tinker to pull over and I gave him the news. His eyes drifting out over the desert, containing his complete disgust, he mumbled, Go back and get her. Two hours after we left J. T. by the side of the road, we pulled back into what we thought was our original piss location. Nothing . . . just dry silence, so silent you could hear the blood running through your veins in the thin desert air. Emptiness . . . vast, unending emptiness. Then to the west there was just a smudge of movement on the horizon. Something was alive and moving out there. We climbed back into the car and a half mile or so up the road, there was J. T., heading back toward the California border. We threw open our car door and one panting, tail-wagging, happy hound bounded into the rear seat, licking everything in sight. Two hours after wed left him, we pulled up to Tinker leaning on his truck, standing sentinel by the side of the road. J. T. hopped out and into Tinkers cab, and a stone-faced Tink said, Lets go. Two days out of Richmond Dannys station wagon, on its last legs, rolled to a stop. Dead. We didnt have the spare parts and even Tinkers mighty skills couldnt get it running again. Okay, we were booked in Richmond. We had five guys. We had room for three plus the dog in the trucks cab. That left two by the side of the road. Tinker eyed the big plywood box containing our band gear on the back of his flatbed. After thirty minutes of repacking, in between the gear and the end of that box we were able to squeeze out about two feet of crawl space. Two of us were going to have to ride locked in there. Now, it was midwinter and it was fucking cold; there was little heat in the cab and none in the rear box. I dont remember how we called it but Little Vinnie and I climbed in the back, and winter coats and all, we squiggled down into our sleeping bags. We were locked in, face-to-face, inhabiting a two-by-eight-foot space of freezing blackness. We had some water, a flashlight and each other. With no way to communicate with the cab, we were packed tightly in behind several thousand pounds of rock n roll gear, so if the truck hit a steep incline and the weight shifted . . . problem. We were pressed up against the rear gate on one side and our Marshall amplifiers on the other, our fate entwined with that of Tinkers truck. Anything happens to the truck, were padlocked in with no way out. We had an empty container for piss and a guarantee from those up front to stop every two hours to check on us. Two days went by. Mad Dog spelled one of us every once in a while. Danny had some confinement issues and the tight black box wasnt for him. After a while, you just sat there in the cold dark and let your mind wander. Whatever its results, the California trip would have a lasting impact on me. I got to see the country. I came up against some real talent and held my own, but the band that took us out at the Family Dog stayed with me. They had something we didnt, a certain level of sophisticated musicality. They were better than us and that didnt sit well with me. Its not that I didnt expect to come up against superior talent; that happens, its the way God planned it. I was fast, but like the old gunslingers knew, theres always somebody faster, and if you can do it better than me, you earn my respect and admiration and you inspire me to work harder. I wasnt afraid of that. I was concerned with not maximizing my own abilities, not having a broad or intelligent enough vision of what I was capable of. I was all I had. I had only one talent. I was not a natural genius. I would have to use every ounce of what was in memy cunning, my musical skills, my showmanship, my intellect, my heart, my willingnessnight after night, to push myself harder, to work with more intensity than the next guy just to survive untended in the world I lived in. As I sat there in the black, I knew when we got back home, there would have to be some changes made. NINETEEN HOMECOMING We arrived in Richmond exhausted but glad to be back in familiar territory. We played, they paid us. How sweet it is. We trucked back into Jersey as the conquering heroes and for proof we had . . . our . . . our . . . REVIEW! We had been recognized by a big-time newspaper music critic as Jersey badasses gone to teach those West Coast sissy boys something about THE ROCK! If you didnt believe us, you could read all about it in the Asbury Park Press. They covered our return like it was Odysseuss return to Ithaca. Wed put Jersey, the butt of so many hack comedians one-liners, for a brief moment on the rock n roll map. More would follow, but for now we played a celebratory homecoming show and I stashed away some cash in my bank, a sock in the top drawer of my dresser at the surfboard factory. Then I sat down to reconfigure the band. On our West Coast safari a seam had opened up between Little Vinnie and the rest of the band. It happens. Only the luckiest bands dont grow apart. There was some disagreement over rehearsal time and effort put in. Everyone moves differently, and no two musicians commitment is exactly the same. You can fall out of the arc of a group without even noticing it. Vinnie was a good guy, a charismatic bass player and one of my original rock n roll heroes in the Motifs. He hailed from the same greaser neck of the woods I did and had been through the cauldron of our California trip. It wasnt going to be easy letting him go. So I chickened out and let Mad Dog do it. The Dog, being a good deal less sentimental than myself, probably handled it with his usual no-bullshit aplomb. I imagine he just spit it out, made Vinnie feel glad he hadnt been assaulted and went on his way. It was time to call on my old paisan Steve Van Zandt. Despite our friendship we were both front men and lead guitarists, so wed never played in the same band together. Steel Mill had built up a substantial enough name that I thought Steve might consider helping me out playing bass for a while. We drove together up north to a music shop, where Steve bought himself a clear Ampeg see-through bass and an amplifier. We headed straight back to the factory, where we immediately began rehearsal, breaking Steve in on our original material. We timed it perfectly to have Steve setting up his equipment just as Little Vinnie came by to pick up his. Nice. Steve stepped into the next room, Vinnie gave us hell, we took it and picked up rehearsal where wed left off. With Steve on the bass, his playing and our long friendship kicked some new spirit into the band. Rock n Roll Riot We went back to our old circuit, running A to B, Jersey to Richmond, then back again. In the late sixties and early seventies it seemed to be just a part of the cultural lay of the land that you were going to have some police trouble. If you played a few minutes over time, they sent out the local coppers to stop the heathen racket. It became almost routine. The police would gather behind the stage, a debate of sorts would take place between the principals and usually some compromise would be reached. Most of the cops were just interested in getting the concert over, the kids home and themselves back to the doughnut shop, but sometimes youd run into hard-asses. When Steel Mill played, in conjunction with our audience, we owned the room. We owned it by possession. We didnt have an attitude about it and generally wanted to be cooperative but in those days, culturally opposing forces attracted one another. At the end of an evening of great fun in the University of Richmonds gym I noticed a heated discussion taking place in the small room containing the gyms power switches. The power room lay only a few feet behind the drum riser. I watched the argument escalate until I saw Billy, our road man, and a local police officer square off against each other in an Abbot and Costellolike wrestling match, each trying to keep the other away from the power switches. The power went on. It went off. It went on. It went off. Vini Lopez, never one to take the interruption of our endeavors sitting down, hopped off his drum kit and joined the melee. The blue-uniformed invaders were literally beaten back and the show continued on with great fuck the man drama. Shortly after the show, as we packed our equipment into Tinkers truck we noticed we couldnt find Vini. We searched the hall and the streets around the building and waited for him to show. Nothing. Then a student told us that ten minutes before, hed seen the police quietly slip up and take a cursing young man away in handcuffs. Vini was transported straight to the county jail, not to be seen again for a tumultuous month. Without access to enough bail money, wed have to do what we did best and play a Free Mad Dog concert. It was booked at the Clearwater Swim Club in Middletown, New Jersey. Several thousand showed; wed imported a drummer from Richmond, rehearsed him thoroughly and were ready to gig. The night began uneventfully, but trouble started when the Middletown police sent a plainclothes narcotics officer to stroll through the crowd and bust those smoking natures weed. The crowd, sensing strength in numbers, did not stand for this and threw the narc, clothes and all, into the swimming pool at the center of the complex. Tempers began to rise and the situation escalated when the police chief of Middletown sent over a bus full of officers in their newly acquired SWAT gear to make sure this thing got shut down on the button. Wed always play a little longer than usual and in this case it was perceived as provocative criminal intent. The power was cut (d?j? vu all over again). Tink, living up to his name, found a bypass to restore electricity to the stage. The crowd cheered. That did it. The cops stormed the place with billy clubs flailing; some of the police came up the front side of the stage and challenged the band members. A little skinny officer was poking at me in the gut and yelling, Cmon, motherfucker, cmon. I turned to notice Danny lifting the very expensive Marshall amplifier head off his large stack of cabinets. I saw some officers approaching the stage from the rear, then I saw Dannys speaker stacks accidentally go tumbling over upon them. (This would feel roughly equivalent to a box of eight bowling balls rumbling over on your ass.) Some got trapped underneath, crawled out howling and took off. Another officer leapt onstage, immediately grabbed Dannys arm and tried to place him under arrest. Flo, Dannys Jersey-girl-to-the-bone wife, leapt onstage and grabbed her mans other arm. A Keystone Kops tug-of-war ensued, with Danny playing the part of the rope between his wife and the officer as he resisted arrest. A big kid Id seen at a few shows climbed on the stage, approached the officer to within inches of his face and let loose with the popular invective of the day: Pig, pig, pig, pig, etc. . . . The officer flipped, let Danny go and leapt off the stage, chasing this kid into the crowd. Phantom Dan slipped away into the night. For a week the local papers were filled with ROCK N ROLL MELEE! headlines. Guns and knives were reportedly found under the stage (not true); a police chief was allegedly assaulted with an amplifier (true). The ACLU came down, investigating police brutality, and everybody was happy. We all hid out, but then a permanent warrant for Dannys arrest was issued for assaulting a police officer. We now had no drummer and no organ player. With the money we made from the catastrophic Middletown swim club fiasco we were able to bail Vini out of jail in Virginia. Now, what were we going to do about Danny? He did not want to surrender. It was understandable; police treatment for longhairs in sixties New Jersey could be rather intemperate. Wed all heard of a dark hole in the Freehold jail where you would reside naked as an ape until you agreed to let the jail barber give you the standard cons haircut. No, compassionate treatment was not a sure thing, so Danny stayed on the run. Problem: we needed to play and we were booked for a big show at Monmouth College in the upcoming weeks. As the date closed in we tried several replacement organists, none quite up to snuff. Finally, the Phantom said he would chance playing. Once we were onstage, we figured, the police wouldnt dare arrest him in front of three thousand screaming hippies. That became our plan. The night arrived and all we had to do was get Danny in and out of the gym without the cops all over us. We set up; the crowd entered; Danny was hidden in the backseat of a friends car in the gym parking lot waiting for the high sign. At five minutes before our eight oclock start time, I slipped out the back door, tapped on Dannys rear window and uttered the password, Showtime. All I heard was Im not coming. Huh . . . ? Im not coming. There are cops all over the place. Ive seen them on the roof. I stood up, looked around; all I heard was the chirping of the crickets in the nearby trees. I scanned the roof. Nothing. I searched the parking lot. Nothing. Then Danny rolled down his window and the smell of something pungent and sweet wafted into the night air. Danny had smoked himself into a mild state of paranoia. I explained to him in clear language that he would be leaving the vehicle. His safety would be in my hands, and he would be fine. Following the usual Phantom complaining, begging, cajoling and my stepping into the tiring shoes of the voice of reason, he got out of the car and, unimpeded, we entered the building. The minute we were in the door, Dannys friend Party Petey, another local organ grinder, greeted him with a boisterous shout-out: Daaaannnnyyyy! He was coldcocked seconds later by Mad Dog Lopez, and we had to step over Party Petey to get to the stage. We blasted into The Judge Song, and the concert was rollickingly under way. We danced in our shoes, congratulating ourselves on our brilliance at putting one over on the local PD. Nobody but nobody would bust Danny in front of this crowd. At the end of the evening in a gesture of hippie solidarity I pulled the brothers and sisters out of the audience until the stage was an undulating mass of glazed eyes and tie-dye. Danny slipped away from his organ, off the front lip of the stage and out the front door, still free. Power to the people! But at what a fucking exhausting cost. We couldnt continue on like this, so we convinced Danny to turn himself in the following week. We bailed him out, and there was a small trial, my memory being everything ended up a wash. That was it. Id had enough. Outlaw days over. Steel Mill with Steve and me continued to be great fun. Besides the enjoyment of having my pal by my side, Steve had an aggressive, bold style as a bassist, and he added some nice vocal harmonies. Id always doubted myself as a singer. I felt I didnt have enough true tone and range. I didnt give myself credit for being able to immerse myself in what I was singing. Joe Strummer, Mick Jagger and many of the great rock n roll and punk front men did not possess great voices but their blood-and-guts conviction, their ownership of their songs, made up for it and lent them deep personal style. Still, I thought we could improve our band in the area of our lead vocals and I was willing to step back as full-time singer to do so. There was a fellow named Robbin Thompson in a great group out of Richmond called Mercy Flight. I thought he had one of the best undiscovered rock voices Id ever heard. He was a cross between John Fogerty and Rod Stewart and fronted his band with a lot of power and style. Raiding another group for their best guy, particularly a group you know, is not a very neighborly thing to do. I didnt lose too much sleep over it. I wanted the best group I could imagine. I told the rest of the band my idea; they didnt think it was necessary, but they deferred. Robbin Thompson came north and for a while we were the Sam and Dave of hard rock. It was a good band. Probably not as good as our original four. Robbin was a great vocalist, but there was something in the tightness of the smaller unit and the ownership of my material that ultimately made us better suited to have me singly fronting the band. It was another lesson learned and one I would revisit again thirty years later with the E Street Band. I had stylistically outgrown Steel Mills heavy rock, roots n boogie. I was listening to Van Morrison, and Joe Cockers Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and was interested in returning to my soul roots. I talked to Mad Dog and Steve about moving forward with me into something completely different, a ten-piece horns-and-singers-augmented rock and soul band, playing nothing but new original material. Id recently been to Upstage and heard a young black keyboardist who floored me. He was sixteen years old and one of the greatest musicians Id ever heard in Asbury Park. Davey Sancious had pure musical genius and incredible stage presence. He was a star in the making and I wanted him in my band. David had the courage to cross the tracks and enter the primarily white rock world of the Upstage Club in search of musical adventure. In turn he was a completely new presence on the scene and stirred enormous excitement. There was some drifting back and forth across the color line in Asbury in those days, but not a lot. Garry Tallent played with Little Melvin and the Invaders, an all-black soul band with a young Clarence Clemons on sax, in the black clubs surrounding Asbury. Id wander over to the Orchid Lounge on Springwood Avenue when they brought in my favorite soul acts. As a white man at the Orchid, you were an oddity but never hassled. Wed all shop at Fischs clothing store, the premier superfly outlet in the black community. The riots changed all that. They made the two communities more suspicious of each other, burned Fischs down to the ground and made a trip to Springwood a lot less welcoming, but they also seemed to throw the more musically adventurous into each others arms. Davey joined my new Bruce Springsteen Band and I left my days of long-haired, guitar-slinging glory behind. TWENTY ENDLESS SUMMER At the factory life went on. Mad Dog and I had learned to surf from the kids who came in to have their boards worked on and for a while, we got seriously into it. This led to a lot of sleeping on the beach underneath the pilings at North End Beach in Long Branch. Mad Johns Surf Shop was on the pier above us and if it rained youd find us jammed and crumpled like sardines in our sleeping bags with the other homeless surfers squeezed in amongst the surfboards inside the shop. Come morning wed stumble out into the mushy Jersey surf for a day of water and waves. We surfed from dawn til dusk and I had a couple of the nicest summers of my life. It was all music, girls and waves, just like the song said. I had a secondhand Challenger Eastern long board I really learned how to ride. I loved that board and had the most fun Ive ever had in the ocean on it. When the short board revolution hit, I felt pressured to pick up a six-foot rocket ship. Tinker built em because it was what the young surfers wanted, but he was stone-cold old-school and never liked em. When I first caught a wave on mine, it was so surprisingly fast and maneuverable, it came shooting right out from underneath my feet. Whoa, Silver. I broke my front tooth on it as a landlocked and stunned Steve Van Zandt watched from the shore at Bradley. I walked up on the beach, looked at Steve and said, Something dont feel right, theres too much air. Stevie, his eyes as big as dinner plates, said, Your tooth is broken, your front one. For the first time in my life, I visited a dentist (previously, itd been my old man with one end of a string tied to the doorknob and the other to my loosening tooth). He capped my tooth and straightened my other front one, readying me for the big time. Later that fall, I nearly drowned in hurricane surf I should never have been out in. Mad Dog and I had sat on the beach all morning debating whether to go out or not. Finally around noon some cowboy bopped along and talked us into going out with him. We were having a blast; then an outside set rose on the horizon. I paddled like a windmill, immediately rediscovering my faith in Catholicism as I prayed like never before: Lord, please let me slip over the peak of this monster. No dice. I got pounded, thrown toward the rock jetty and dumped on by two more outside crushers; my surfboard was instantly stripped from my hands in the pre-surfboard-leash 1970s. My poor swimming barely saved me as I crawled up onto the sand, like the first creature slipping out of the pre-Jurassic soup, bruised and hurting. I lay there for a long time, breathing in gulps, my heart pounding, thanking the God I did not believe in. Aloha, Hawaii. There would be no fifteen-foot pipeline for me. We held auditions for singers for the Bruce Springsteen Band, my new calling card, at the factory. Brave young women answered our ad in the Asbury Park Press, driving up into the dark industrial wilderness toward what must have looked like a rapists paradise just to test their talents. We had Vegas-style songbirds; opera singers; horrible, hilarious pre-karaoke wannabes who tested our good manners and self-control. I even spoke on the phone to a high schoolage Patti Scialfa, dispensing the fatherly advice that this was a traveling gig and itd be best for a young lady to stay in school. Finally a couple of good black gospel singers from the west side of Asbury, Delores Holmes and Barbara Dinkins, wandered in and perfectly fit the bill. The horns were even harder to find. Jazzbos ruled and it was simply tough finding guys willing to play rudimentary R and B parts for no cash. We did it and it was a good band. I wrote You Mean So Much to Me Baby, later covered by Southside Johnny and Ronnie Spector on Southsides first album. We played maybe a dozen shows and I found it was impossible to keep a band of that size financially together at our stage of the game. I learned early that people pay for the franchise name. Steel Mill was no longer and neither was my drawing power. The Bruce Springsteen Band, even billed as formerly Steel Mill, did not attract the same life-sustaining numbers my old band did. Id declared democracy and band names dead after Steel Mill. I was leading the band, playing, singing and writing everything we did. If I was going to carry the workload and responsibility, I might as well assume the power. I didnt want to get into any more decision-making squabbles or have any confusion about who set the creative direction of my music. I wanted the freedom to follow my muse without unnecessary argument. From now on, the buck would stop here, if I could make one. I look back on this as being one of the smartest decisions of my young life. Ive always believed the E Street Bands continued existenceand its now been forty-plus years since its inceptionis partially due to the fact that there was little to no role confusion amongst its members. Everyone knew their job, their boundaries, their blessings and limitations. My bandmates were not always happy with the decisions I made and may have been angered by some of them, but nobody debated my right to make them. Clarity ruled and allowed us to forge a bond based on the principle that we worked together, but it was my band. I crafted a benevolent dictatorship; creative input was welcomed within the structure I prepared but it was my name on the dotted line and on the records. Later, when trouble came knocking, it came my way. So the last word was going to be mine from here on in. Even then, problems arose, but we had in place a reasonably well-defined system to contextualize and deal with them. The first hit I took for this decision was the loss of most of the audience that was drawn to Steel Mills heavy power, and the steady money that came with it. Then the Bruce Springsteen Band dwindled from nine to seven when we lost our horn section. We did some work in the South based on our Steel Mill rep and found there were some places, even in 1971, that didnt want us to bring along our black singers. They claimed they didnt want that sound and were simply requesting something more like my old bands rock steady. During a Richmond stint, I received a phone call from one of the girls, whod brought along a troublesome boyfriend. I went to their motel and when she opened the door I found theyd argued and hed hit her so hard her face was opened to the white bone; the boyfriend was gone. We played that night as a five-piece, limped back home to Jersey, lost our singers and all of our road work. Around this time, Tinkers misanthropic tendencies had gotten the better of most of the group. Merry insults and abuse were a natural part of Tinkers day. He aimed them at virtually everyone, with the exception of me. The resentments built up, along with quarrels over some of Tinkers managerial decisions. That, and a natural burnout of the relationship, brought an end to Carl Wests tenure as manager. Tinker had done a lot for me and he would soon do more. We had a real friendship, and neither Tink nor I had many of those. The Challenger Eastern surfboard factory in Wanamassa was now no more and we had a new clubhouse in a garage in Highlands. Highlands was then a risk-your-ass, redneck fishing town in the lowlands of Central Jersey where the lobsters meet the land. Wed built the interior of this dilapidated space ourselves, banging the nails, raising the walls and insulating our recording studio. The whole thing was a classic off-the-grid, below-the-radar Carl West production. We were ghosts in the machine, a bunch of non-tax-paying, under-the-table-living townies, completely divorced from the straight world. I went by the garage one fall day to deliver the news. Tinker was out front underneath his truck, his legs hanging out into the street, working on the engine. Tink . . . I hear the cool clink of tools being picked up and set down on the pavement but all I can see is his body from the waist down. Yeah . . . The guys have decided its time to go our own way, handle ourselves for a while and see how it goes . . . Whatever you want . . . Silence. Tools being shifted on the concrete . . . more silence. I walked away. The new sound I was pursuing, an amalgam of good songwriting mixed with a soulandR and Binfluenced rock music, would eventually be the basis for the sound of my first two records, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. There would be no more guitar histrionics. I now valued ensemble playing at the service of the song. I soon found out that though this was more personally and musically satisfying, in the Garden State, it was simply not as financially fruitful a soil as pounding hard rock, and surviving got harder. I became very dependent upon Tom Potters $20 a night for jamming at Upstage on the weekends. I could live on thirty or forty bucks a week with no problem. Then Tom decided to close the Upstage Club and head to Florida. I moved into Tom and Margarets apartment. Theyd separated along the way and Tom was now living there alone. It was sad. The place was a freak show specifically built for two, two lovely but very strange people. It had a bizarre hard black-and-red color scheme, thousands of bottle caps glued to the kitchen ceiling, constructions of soda cans and bottles everywhere you looked, a refrigerator completely covered in Playboys Playmate of the Month centerfoldsevery piece of junk was used to create something youd never seen before in Toms boho-on-acid design style. The whole effect looked like the backseat of Tom Waitss Cadillac. Looking back on it, it was a true piece of outsider art. Living in it was something else, but thats what I and two buddies did. Tom Potter, crazy, bragging, barrelhouse, fuck-the-world, pirate Tom, was heartbroken. Margaret was gone, her strange attractions with her, and she wasnt coming back. The old hell-raisers spirit had been beaten out of him. He was quiet, reflective. Hed break into tears and was a sad shadow of the guy whod ringmastered the Saturday night circus of probably the wildest teen club in the nation. The shortest miniskirt contests would be no more. The crawling out of the club at dawn to wander to the boardwalk and crash on the beach was over. Black Tiny, White Tiny, Big Bad Bobby Williams, Southside, Garry, Steve and me, Big Danny, Little Danny, Party Petey, the outlaw motorcycle drifters, the stray teenyboppers, the late-night strippers and the hundreds of Shore musicians who flocked to the place like it was Mecca in summer would have to find a new home. The Upstage, the place Id formed my most powerful musical friendships, the real birthplace of the E Street Band, was finished. On the morning Tom left for Florida, we gathered out in front of the club, gave him our thanks for being there when we needed him and for the fabulous mess hed created. After a few handshakes and hugs, he climbed into his junker and headed south, never to be seen again. TWENTY-ONE BEATNIK DELUXE A first-floor drugstore, a second-floor fully equipped abandoned beauty salon complete with two rows of huge beehive hair dryers. This is where Tom and Margaret once worked their day jobs and I wrote the body of Greetings from Asbury Park. The third-floor living quarters had a big bay window that looked out upon the Nation of Islams storefront headquarters. Tom had a gigantic bed hed set four feet up on stilts that commandeered 80 percent of the room. If it couldve talked, Tom wouldve had to cut its tongue out. I had a back bedroom that led to a small kitchen and a funky roof garden. It was the coolest crib in town, where two friends and I chipped in sixty bucks each for a months rent. That sixty bucks was about to get a lot harder to come by. Gigless, shut out of the Shore Top 40 scene by our playlist, our concert days over, we needed a new source of income. Steve and I had an idea. Wed canvass Asbury on a peak summer-season Saturday night from one end to the other. The club that was doing the lousiest business was where wed make our pitch to play. We worked north to south and around midnight, we walked into a bar called the Student Prince. It had just been purchased by a bricklayer from Freehold. He was bartending, and with exactly Steve, myself and one other bereft patron haunting a stool down the far end of the bar, we figured this was it. Outside, Asbury was buzzing, but here we had found its black hole. Our pitch was simple. He doesnt pay us a dime. We charge one dollar at the door, play what we want, take the door receipts and go home. He cant lose. We laid it out; he thought a minute, then said, What are you gonna play? Whatever we want . . . Uh . . . I dont know. The place was high-season empty. That is the loneliest feeling a bar owner can have on the Jersey Shore; it sits like a fist in your gut. And still the resistance to original music in our hometown was so great, he didnt know?! He gave us the gig. We showed up the next Saturday, the final five of us, Mad Dog, Steve, Dave Sancious, Garry Tallent and myself. We charged our dollar. We played to fifteen people. Five fifty-minute sets, from nine to three a.m. We made fifteen dollars, three dollars apiece, and went home. With Steel Mill, we had made as much as $3,000 a night with no recording contract and $1 admissions. When that money was split, after expenses, band members went home with hundreds of dollars in their pockets. Do you know how long you could live on hundreds of dollars in 1971 or 1972 with no taxes, no dependents and no rent? A long, long, long time. Now I sent my men home with three dollars. The following week, we did it again. We played to thirty music lovers and made $30. Six bucks a man. The next week, we played to eighty, then a hundred, then one twenty-five, then we started playing Fridays and Saturdays, then Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, drawing from one hundred to one hundred fifty people, the club maximum, at a shot. We were making a living. Wed found a small core of fans who gravitated to the only independent music in town. They kept us alive. It was a cool little scene. Friends started to show up and jam. Danny Federici and Flo came down and she busted him with a heavy beer mug for flirting with another girl. Another night a gun was discharged. No one was shot. The club was like a private house party held three times a week for the local street, a pretty hip group of people. The bricklayer was happy. The band was happy. The people were happy. The Student Prince is where the cultural event of my generation would find me on the weekend of August 15 to 17, 1969, as five hundred thousand people descended on White Lake in Bethel, New York, to flop on Max Yasgurs farm and bring all that had been building to a head. For me, it was a weekend like any other, playing in this little club for a shot-and-beer audience of locals and friends. From where I stood the whole thing up north looked like too much of a hassle, too much traffic, too many drugs. Even though at the moment, in comparison, it didnt look like much, I was on my own adventure. Big Man Walking I was still interested in my rock and soul sound and still on the hunt for a good sax player. I had immersed myself in the records of Gary U.S. Bonds, King Curtis, Junior Walker, and Dion and I just loved the sound of a ripping rock n roll saxophone. One guy, Cosmo, showed up, jammed with us and was really good. He had a head full of frizzy red hair and a semipsychotic fuse rumored to be shorter than the Mad Dog himselfs. Two of those and wed all have our mug shots on the Asbury Park post office wall. Garry said he knew a guy named Clarence Clemons. He said hed played with him in Little Melvin and the Invaders, the local soul band that worked the black clubs in and around Asbury Park. He said Clarence was magic. The problem was nobody could find him. Then by happenstance Clarence was playing the Wonder Bar at the north end of Asbury the same night we were at the Student Prince on the southern end of town. Hed heard about me by now and came with his horn to see what all the fuss was about. It was a dark and stormy night. A noreaster had blown in and swept the circuit clean. Ocean and Kingsley were a gusty, wet no-mans-land with streetlights rattling in the wind. The town was deserted. We were onstage playing for a few hearty patrons whod wandered in to warm up, grab a drink and hear some music. As the Big Man approached the front of the Prince, a mighty gale blew down Ocean Avenue, ripping the club door off its hinges and down the street. A good omen. I looked to the back of the room and saw a big black figure standing in the shadows. There he was. King Curtis, Junior Walker and all my rock n roll fantasies rolled into one. He approached the stage and asked if he could sit in. He stepped up onto the bandstand, took his place to my right and let loose with a tone that sounded like a force of nature pouring out of his horn. It was big, fat and raw, like nothing Id ever heard before. My immediate response was that this . . . this was the sound Id been looking for. More than that, there was something in the chemistry between the two of us, side by side, that felt like the future being written. The night, however, was just a teaser. C had a steady working gig and I didnt have much to offer yet, so at the end of the evening, we talked, complimented each other and promised to stay in touch. I would meet Clarence again but first I had forty miles of bad road to run. Some stability had been resumed. One hundred and fifty bucks a night and we all brought home $30 three nights a week. That was $90 a week, depending on the small fluctuations of the crowd. Easy enough to live on and even save a few dollars. During this time, I fell in obsession with a lovely surfer girl, a drug-taking, hell-raising wild child who played by nobodys rules. She was a perfect antidote to the control freak in me and opened up my hunger for every blond perfect thing I never had. She was so alive, funny and broken, I couldnt resist her. She stirred up my Catholic-school-bred messianic complex, then did the bone-and-heart-crushing dance over it that it deserved. Shed been around a little, California and back, knew a few grade-B-level rock stars, brought them down to discover my band, then slept with them. I got a handshake and a you guys are great T-shirt out of the deal. I stayed with her and her girlfriend in an apartment in Long Branch, New Jersey. While surfer girl played in the dark, the girlfriend let me know what was really going on, comforted my bruised ego, told me I deserved better and you know the rest. She had a small lovely child and I played Daddy for a little while. It was sweet but we were truly a couple of street kids with this beautiful little thing tagging along with us. The one thing Id saved from my childhood, despite all my moving around, was my first rocking horse. It was made of wood, only about twenty-four inches high, painted a pale cream with light red spots, a playground Appaloosa, and I loved that thing. I gave it to her for her little girl. Eventually the whole setup threw me for a loop, so in a perfect state of confusion, I decided Id strike out west once more to try my luck someplace where nothing reminded me of anything. Sandy, my boardwalk days are through. My surfer girl disappeared and our girlfriend went traveling with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, our paths occasionally crossing on the road. Years later I would occasionally run into mother and daughter at the Stone Pony together, both still beautiful. Before I left Jersey, however, one last significant thing would happen to me on the East Coast. Meeting Mike I was hanging out with a friend of mine, Louie Longo, alongside a trailer park in Highlands, New Jersey. Tinker was living in a small cottage across the street. We kept up our friendship and would see each other rather often. Id visit him at the new factory we built on Main Street as he designed sound systems and befriended, enraged and insulted the neighbors. Here he lovingly restored his vintage cars and boats, subverted the government, hatched million-dollar schemes and generally went on tinkering. One day he pulled up to Louies as I sat on the front steps counting blades of grass. Im going to New York to see this record producer. You ought to ride with me and play a few songs. Wanna come? For some reason, that afternoon I was hesitant. Maybe I was worn out from all the phony opportunities Id run into. By now Id had quite a few years of meeting folks who coulda/woulda/shoulda got us a foot in the music-biz door and none of it had panned out. But . . . I had recently begun to write some pretty good acoustic music and still felt I was the best undiscovered player Id ever seen, so I hopped in Tinkers station wagon and up the yellow brick road to the Emerald City we drove. We pulled up to a building on Fifth Avenue and took an elevator up to Wes Farrell Music. It was after business hours when we stepped out into a darkened office building with a long aisle of writers cubicles. Standing in front of me was a thirtyish or so short black-haired man who greeted Tinker in a hard New York accent. Tink introduced me and I shook the hand of Mike Appel. We stepped into Mikes office, a small box of a room with a piano, a tape recorder, a guitar and a couple of chairs. It was Brill Building austere, a small space where writers spent their time under contract to a music publisher trying to come up with tomorrows hits today. In Mikes case that publisher was Wes Farrell, and Mike had had a hand in writing the Partridge Family smash Doesnt Somebody Want to Be Wanted. Mike spieled me on who he was and what he could do (publish, produce, manage), and I played him a few songs that were the precursors to the songs Id write for Greetings from Asbury Park. Mike expressed some interest and I explained how I was leaving soon for California on my heartbreak 71 tour. I might be back sometime in the future or never. He gave me his number and said if I came back to give him a call. TWENTY-TWO CALIFORNIA DREAMIN (TAKE TWO) In the days before Christmas, Tinker and I prepared to cross the country one more time, via his old Ford station wagon. It would be the same routine, seventy-two hours, three thousand miles, no sleep, straight through. On our way south, we decided to stop in our old stomping grounds of Richmond, Virginia. We ended up in a strip club, where Tinker bonded with a belly dancer. He decided to spend the night with his new pal and I stayed with an old Southern girlfriend. When we met at the station wagon the next morning, there was the belly dancer, her bags packed. Shed decided shed had enough of the new South and threw her lot in with us to head for the new West. She was a nice gal and a pleasure to have along for the ride. She had some friends on the coast and talked about opening a belly-dancing studio in Northern California, just the sort of area where that kind of thing might take off. The trip was pretty uneventful except for some vicious snowstorms we ran into crossing the western mountains. I still didnt have my license, but as usual, those were the details. We hit areas of the highway where eighteen-wheelers were parked, engines running, drivers asleep in their cabs, backed up for miles, unable in the ice and snow to make it up the steep mountain grades. One night the road vanished before our eyes; there was so much snow it was impossible to tell the location of the highways shoulder. We had chains on our tires but we still did plenty of ice-skating over some very treacherous terrain. Our belly-dancing gal pal was getting pretty nervous, so we pulled to a stop. Tinker and I got out on a high mountain pass where there were no other cars visible. There was just a city of snow falling from the sky and gathering around us. It was quiet, dead desert quiet. A truly heavy snowfall can be unnerving. Back east we usually experience the freedom that comes with a good snowstorm. No work, no school, the world shutting its big mouth for a while, the dirty streets covered over in virgin white, like all the missteps youve taken have been erased by nature. You cant run; you can only sit. You open your door on a trackless world, your old path, your history, momentarily covered over by a landscape of forgiveness, a place where something new might happen. Its an illusion but it can stimulate the regenerative parts of your spirit to make good on God and natures suggestion. A lot of snow, howeverI mean a whole lotis a different thing. That feeling of freeness turns to confinement. The sheer physical weight of the snow becomes existential and the dread of a dark, covered world sets in. Ive felt it twice. Once in Idaho, where it snowed circus clowns for seventy-two hours, all power and light gone, eternal night and judgment day upon us. The other was that highway evening on the pass. There was too much quiet, too much weight, too few boundaries and no dimension. The world had been planed down into a snow-blind table you could easily slide off the edges of. It had been simplified into the passable and impassable. The early ocean mapmakers had it right: the world was flat and a wrong move too far to the left or right could bring you to the brink of the abyss, and beyond there be monsters. We hopped back in the coffin of our car and Tink inched us along the highway, the misanthrope in him elated by the prospect of worlds end, until we hit some lower elevations, returned to the land of the living and safer roads. The rest of the trip was truck stops, roadhouses, tales of the erotic life from our passenger and the usual endless highway. We hit the California border and Tinker dropped me off in San Mateo at my folks front door. My parents met me in their pajamas; I headed inside, threw down my bag and crashed on the couch for twenty-four hours of solid sleep. I planned on a new life in a new place far away from my lovers blues. I had saved maybe three hundred bucks. That was my get started money. The first thing I needed to do was find a paying job playing somewhere. I quickly found out, once again, that while there were places I could play my acoustic music for freeopen-mike nights, etc.none of them would pay. I was a complete unknown again. Id left my rep as bar band king on the East Coast and was simply another wannabe with a guitar and a pocketful of songs. No luck there, so I set my sights on joining an established club band who needed a singer and guitarist who could rock the house. With that in mind, I went clubbing. One night in San Francisco, I came upon a very good funk and soul band that had the crowd hopping. During a break I struck up a conversation with one of the players, who mentioned they were looking for a guitarist to replace their guy who was leaving. It looked like a perfect fit. Their music was a little jazzier than my style but I figured I could cover it, so we exchanged numbers and set a date for me to come out and jam. One weekday night I pulled up to a warehouse in southern San Fran, walked in, met the guys and plugged in. We played for about forty minutes. Their music pushed me but I thought it had gone well. They took a break, convened in another room; the fellow I had spoken to in the club came out and I was sent jobless on my way. I hadnt felt so completely rejected since my last San Francisco trip. I was starting to get an attitude about the place. I spent the next three weeks searching high and low for a paying job playing music. Finally, I thought I should just put a band together, audition somewhere, set a club on fire and let nature take its course. I was walking through the Hillsdale mall and I stopped in a one-hour photo shop to develop a few pictures I had taken on the trip. I got talking to a kid who looked in his early twenties behind the counter and he mentioned he played bass. He had a small group looking for a guitarist and asked if Id like to come out and play with them over the weekend. They were down in San Jose, which was a bit of a drive, but hell, by now I was desperate and running low on cash. That weekend I borrowed my folks car, drove the hour south and followed my directions into a middle-class suburb slightly outside of the city. It was straight-up Ozzie and Harriet land: modest ranch houses, side by side, the standard two-car garages and swatches of green front lawn. I came upon my friends house and there they were, my new band. The garage bay was open, and I could see my pal on bass and what looked to be a couple of fourteen-year-olds on drums and guitar. They were set up in classic formation, facing the street, a few small amps surrounding a kid who looked like Dennis the Menace with long hair on drums. They were kids, real kids, little kids, just learning to play. Kids with guitars they probably got for Christmas from Mom and Dad. And here I was. I hauled my guitar out of the car, set up and put on a show for them all afternoon. I pulled out every trick I knew, and over the afternoon hours, I managed to draw a few folks away from their lawn mowers and barbecue grills. I played like I was at Madison Square Garden. I just needed to. At dusk, I packed up, thanked them for a lovely time and headed north toward home. I felt sad, foolish and happy. I wasnt going to make it. California wasnt going to be mine. From fifteen years old on, Id made my own money. From the time I picked up a guitar, Id never taken a dime from my parents, and I wasnt about to start now. They simply didnt have itnot twenty dollars, not ten dollars to spare. My life would be the couch, a pillow, a blanket in my folks living room and spare change. My teen-beat afternoon clarified everything for me. I had to get back to where I was who I was, a son of New Jersey, gunslinger, bar band king, small-town local hero, big fish in a little pond and breadwinner. Right now, the only place my talents could sustain me was my little fiefdom on the East Coast. Suddenly my girl troubles seemed very small and I started to make plans to go home. Mexico (Montezumas Revenge) During the remainder of my stay my father asked me to accompany him on a trip to Mexico and said he was planning to stop in Long Beach, where the Queen Mary was docked. This was the ocean liner hed shipped out on for World War II and he wanted to see her one more time. His plan was to go from there down to Tijuana, catch a jai alai game, tourist around a little bit and meet my mom and little sister at Disneyland on the way back. In the spirit of healing old wounds I said yes and off we went. He insisted on bringing the family dog, Smokey, a half sheep dog, half who knows what, whod just torn the shit out of our Christmas. Wed gone off to midnight mass and on our return, we opened the front door on a scene that looked like Santas elves had just finished gangbanging Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in our living room. Tinsel, Christmas balls, water, wrapping paper and ribbon were strewn all over the small apartment. The Christmas tree had been toppled to the floor and every gift had been chewed open. In the middle sat Smokey, panting, waiting to be congratulated. From the beginning, the joie de vivre in the car wasnt what one mightve hoped for. We were doing our best, but we still got under each others skin. Our stop at Long Beach flopped. I was a punk, grumbling my way through the whole Queen Mary tour. My dads journey on this ship was probably one of the most meaningful of his life and I couldnt respect it. Id pay anything now to be able to walk that ship with my father again. I would treasure every step, want to know every detail, hear every word and memory hed share, but back then I was still too young to put the past away, too young to recognize my dad as a man and to honor his story. We headed south to Mexico, crossed the border at San Diego and holed up in a motel on the outskirts of Tijuana. We locked the dog in the room and headed into town. We caught some jai alai and cruised the tourist district, where my dad bought a watch from a street vendor, bragging to me about the deal he got until it stopped dead exactly twenty minutes later. I had my picture taken on a jackass that had been painted to look like a zebra, my pops smiling in the cart behind me. We wore sombreros; mine read Pancho and his Cisco. When we got back to the motel, Smokey had chewed the hell out of the door, leaving scratches and shavings from the knob down; cursing, the old man had to ante up for the damage. Adios, Mexico. Back to El Norte. We headed to Disneyland, met my mom and sis, spent an afternoon at the happiest place on Earth and headed back by way of some cryptic shortcut of my fathers that added three night-filled, spooky hours onto our trip home. Everybody was frazzled. Shortly after our return, Tinker phoned me up, said he was headed back east, and I told him to count me in. I said good-bye to my folks and little sister, told them I loved them, and then it was seventy-two hours, three thousand miles straight through, til we hit Jersey. Through using the same facilities at the apartment, all I left behind for my pops was a case of crabs I picked up somewhere along the way. Good-bye, son, thanks for the memories. TWENTY-THREE ITS A BAR, YOU IDIOTS Immediately on my return I heard Steve, Southside and their Sundance Blues Band were booked at the Captains Garter in Neptune, New Jersey. I grabbed my guitar and headed straight down to the club to get in on some of the action. The place was packed and we rocked the joint like old times, with the crowd cheering, everyone glued to the stage and the music. It was a great night all around. At the end of the evening, Steve and I headed back to the managers office to pick up our money and obviously solidify some future bookings. Wed just turned this guys club inside out and we were expecting some kudos and work. The manager was a very large, completely white-haired, stolid young man in a red lifeguards windbreaker. Expressionless, he stood on the far side of his desk and did not offer kudos. We asked what the prospect for future bookings would be and he calmly explained to us that there would be none. He said that yes, the crowd was large and enthusiastic, but no one was drinking. They were too busy listening to the music. He then added, as if we hadnt noticed, Its a bar, you idiots. They made money by selling liquor. The bartenders made money from tips from selling liquor. No liquor sales meant no money. No money and our little world there on Highway 35 in Neptune stopped spinning. They were not in the concert business and so we, in turn, would not be a part of the bar business at the Captains Garter. This was my first meeting with bar manager/lifeguard/navy SEAL Terry Magovern, a man who would work with me as my assistant and become my close friend for twenty-three years. He fired us. Plan B (Return to the Emerald City) I still had my room in Tom Potters beatnik pad in Asbury. I decided my bar band days at the moment were burning out. I needed to travel light and be able to blow somebody away with just my voice, my guitar and my song. Voice . . . guitar . . . song . . . three tools. My voice was never going to win any prizes. My guitar accompaniment on acoustic was rudimentary, so that left the songs. The songs would have to be fireworks. I decided the world was filled with plenty of good guitar players, many of them my match or better, but how many good songwriters were there? Songwriters with their own voice, their own story to tell, who could draw you into a world they created and sustain your interest in the things that obsessed them. Not many, a handful at best. Dylan was preeminent amongst these types of writers. Bob Dylan is the father of my country. Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived. The darkness and light were all there, the veil of illusion and deception ripped aside. He put his boot on the stultifying politeness and daily routine that covered corruption and decay. The world he described was all on view, in my little town, and spread out over the television that beamed into our isolated homes, but it went uncommented on and silently tolerated. He inspired me and gave me hope. He asked the questions everyone else was too frightened to ask, especially to a fifteen-year-old: How does it feel . . . to be on your own? A seismic gap had opened up between generations and you suddenly felt orphaned, abandoned amid the flow of history, your compass spinning, internally homeless. Bob pointed true north and served as a beacon to assist you in making your way through the new wilderness America had become. He planted a flag, wrote the songs, sang the words that were essential to the times, to the emotional and spiritual survival of so many young Americans at that moment. I had the opportunity to sing The Times They Are A-Changin for Bob when he received the Kennedy Center Honors. We were alone together for a brief moment walking down a back stairwell when he thanked me for being there and said, If theres anything I can ever do for you . . . I thought, Are you kidding me? and answered, Its already been done. As a young musician, thats where I wanted to go. I wanted to be a voice that reflected experience and the world I lived in. So I knew in 1972 that to do this I would need to write very well and more individually than I had ever written before. Id saved a few dollars playing here and there since I got back and for the first time in my life I stopped playing with a band and concentrated on songwriting. At night in my bedroom with my guitar and on an old Aeolian spinet piano parked in the rear of the beauty salon, I began to write the music that would comprise Greetings from Asbury Park. I called Mike Appel. He remembered me and told me to come on up, so I took Lincoln Transit to New York City, met Mike at Wes Farrells and played him my new stuff. He said these were songs we could knock down some doors with. He got crazy excited, as only Mike could. The words flew a mile a minute, the hand gestures threatened dismemberment, his face lit up and in thirty seconds he compared me to Dylan, Shakespeare, James Joyce and Bozo the Clown. Mike could raise hard-ons in half a cemetery with his enthusiasm. It was what drew me to him. He could get you excited about yourself. Mike had the carny barkers and tent preachers 110 percent belief in whatever was flying out of his mouth at any given moment. Its a gift. By the time I left his office, my superstardom had been preordained. All we had to do was get a somebody to listen to a nobody. I kept writing, kept visiting and met Mikes partner, Jimmy Cretecos, a milder, sweeter version of Mike. We started to work together and make some basic tapes. I visited Jimmys spectacular apartment in Tuxedo Park. He had a gorgeous wife and a ritzy place, so it looked to me like these guys had it made. Theyd had some bubblegum hits but Mike said they made most of their money writing jingles. I went with Mike to one of his sessions and ended up playing harmonica on a Beech-Nut Gum commercial demo. In the meantime, we planned and schemed while only one thing stood in the way. Before Mike would consent to use his many talents on my behalf, he explained, he would have to be protected. That meant contracts. Id never signed a contract in my life, didnt know shit about them and therefore was extremely suspicious of them. Id lived off the grid for so long, I was totally ignorant in the ways of the law, musical or any other kind. I knew no lawyers; Id been paid in only cash my entire life and had never paid a cent of income tax, signed an apartment lease nor filled out any form that might bind me in any way. I had no credit card, no checkbook, just what was jingling in my pocket. I had no college-educated friends. My Asbury Park was an island of misfit, blue-collar provincials. Smart, but not book smart. Id never gotten to know anyone whod made an actual record or been signed to a big-time recording contract. Id never seen a contract of any kind or been in touch with any businessmen. I had no professional resources. Mike explained each contract, what it would do for me and how we would be protected. Productionthat was our recording deal. I was signed to Laurel Canyon Productions, Mike and Jimmys company, and they would produce my records and sell them to a major label. PublishingMike and Jimmy would publish my music under Laurel Canyon Publishing, in theory working to get other artists to cover my songs. I would receive my writers half of the royalties but none of the publishing revenues. Managementlike Elvis and the Colonel, Mikes business model, we would split everything fifty-fifty. The problem would be all the expenses would end up coming out of my half. The whole thing was overreaching and counterproductive on Mike and Jimmys part, leading to a lot of damage in the end, but who was I to say? The bottom line was I liked Mike and I knew he understood what I wanted to do musically. We werent aiming for a few successful records and some modest hits. We were aiming for impact, for influence, for the top rung of what recording artists are capable of achieving. We both knew rock music was now a culture shaper. I wanted to collide with the times and create a voice that had musical, social and cultural impact. Mike understood that this was my goal. I was not modest in the assessment of my abilities. Of course I thought I was a phonythat is the way of the artistbut I also thought I was the realest thing youd ever seen. I had a huge ego, and Id built up the talent and craft to pursue my ambitions with years of playing experience and study. I had my doubts and I had a sense of humor about the balls I had and the big bite I was trying to take, but damn, thats where the fun was, and . . . I was a natural. It was in my bones. In the end, I wouldve signed Mikes jockey shorts, if hed presented them to me, to get my foot in the door. I was closer than Id ever been to the real work I wanted to do. I could feel it. I spent a few nights on my own trying to get through the biz speak, the legalese, of the contracts myself. It was a joke. I sat with Mikes lawyer, Jules Kurz, who mildly explained the basic provisions of the contracts, but in the end, I just said fuck it; I had to get in, and if these meaningless papers were the price, so be it. If Im a bum, then all this stuff adds up to zero, and if Im champ, then who cares? Ill have gotten there and the rest will be sorted out. I didnt look back until much later, and by then, of course, it was too late. Frightened, slowly, reluctantly, recklessly, contract by contract, I signed, finishing the last one, one evening, on a car hood in a New York City parking lot. Done deal. TWENTY-FOUR ONWARD AND UPWARD Our first audition was at Atlantic Records. All I remember is going up to an office and playing for somebody. No interest. The next thing Mike finagledand I couldnt believe itwas an audition with John Hammond. John Hammond! The legendary producer who signed Dylan, Aretha, Billie Holidaya giant in the recording business. Id just finished reading the Anthony Scaduto Dylan biography and I was going to meet the man who made it happen! The motor mouth of Mike Appel was a fierce and surgical instrument when put to proper use. Mike couldve talked Jesus down from the cross, Santa Claus out of Christmas and Pam Anderson out of breast augmentation. He talked us off the street and into the inner sanctum of John Hammonds office. My man was a managerial genius. To give you an idea about how much the music business has changed, John Hammond, a historical figure in the industry, was receiving complete no-names like us off the streets of New York in his office! Im sure Mike laid down a hell of a spiel, but still . . . John later told me his trusted secretary and gatekeeper, Mikie Harris, after she spoke to Mike, simply said to him, I think you ought to see this guy. The doors to El Dorado opened and in we strode. I had no acoustic guitar of my own so I borrowed a cheap one with a cracked neck from Vinnie Skeebots Manniello, my old Castiles drummer. He had no case, so I had to haul it Midnight Cowboystyle over my shoulder on the bus and through the streets of the city. Its a hokey feeling, as if youre showing off and are about to burst into song at any moment. Bare guitar in my hands, Mike and I walked into John Hammonds office and came face-to-face with the gray crew cut, horn-rimmed glasses, huge smile, gray suit and tie of my music business hero. I wouldve been in a state of complete panic except on the way up in the elevator Id performed a little mental jujitsu on myself. I thought, Ive got nothing so Ive got nothing to lose. I can only gain should this work out. If it dont, I still got what I came in with. Im a free agent. I make my way through the world as myself and Ill still be that person when I leave no matter the outcome. By the time I got there I almost believed it. I walked in nervous but confident. Immediately, as the door opened, my representative, Mike Appel, showed a personal tendency for unnecessary confrontation that would weigh on us as time passed. I figure once the door is open you can stop kicking at it. Not Mike; he walked in swinging. Straightaway, with no discernible self-consciousness and before Id played a note, he told John Hammond of Columbia Records I was perhaps the second coming of Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha and hed brought me there to see if Hammonds discovery of Dylan was a fluke or if he really had ears. I found this an interesting way of introducing and ingratiating ourselves to the man who held our future in his hands. Mike then sat back on the windowsill, pleased as punch hed had his no bullshit say, and handed the ball off to me, an act we would repeat often in the future. John later told me he was poised and ready to hate us, but he just leaned back, slipped his hands together behind his head and, smiling, said, Play me something. I sat directly across from him and played Saint in the City. When I was done I looked up. That smile was still there and I heard him say, Youve got to be on Columbia Records. One songthats what it took. I felt my heart rise up inside me, mysterious particles dancing underneath my skin and faraway stars lighting up my nerve endings. He went on, That was wonderful, play me something else. I played Growin Up, then something called If I Was the Priest. He loved the Catholic imagery, pointed out the lack of clich?s and said arrangements needed to be made for me to play for Clive Davis. He told me hed had his successes and his failures in the acts hed signed at Columbia and these days, Clives say was final. He then asked to see me perform live that night. Mike and I said wed try to find a club that would accommodate us for a few songs; we shook hands and left his office. We got into the elevator and when we slipped out of CBSs big Black Rock building and hit the street, hell broke loose. Wed climbed to the heavens and spoken to the gods, who told us we were spitting thunder and throwing lightning bolts! It was on. It was all on. After the years of waiting, of struggling toward that something I thought might never happen, it had happened. With Skeebotss junk guitar, the sword wed just pulled from the stone, now proudly, nakedly slung over my shoulder, we had a celebratory cheeseburger and, floating down the street, jumped into a cab and headed for the Village. I was twenty-two years old. We started at the Bitter End; no good. The Caf? au Go Go; nope. My old stomping grounds, Caf? Wha?; closed. And finally, a basement club on MacDougal Street, the original Gerdes Folk City. Sam Hood was the current manager, a fellow whod support me greatly in the future when hed run Maxs Kansas City on Union Square. He said they had an open-mike night and between eight oclock and eight thirty I could go on. John Hammond breezed in a little before eight and took his place amongst at best six other patrons, and the show was under way. Playing live was something I knew how to do. Id tell stories, make jokes and dramatize the songs I was singing. Saint in the City, Growin Up, If I Was the Priest, a song called Arabian Nights, a few others, and the show was over. John was beaming. I could perform. Things started to happen . . . slowly. A few weeks after I met John, he ushered me into Clive Daviss office, where I was warmly welcomed. I played Clive a few songs and with gentle fanfare, I was invited to join the Columbia Records family. John took me into their Fifty-Second Street studio and we made a demo he produced. It was the last days of the fifties-style recording studio system. Everybody wore suits and ties and were adults. The engineer, the assistants, all longtime, old-school recording men. I sang a dozen or more songs into a microphone in the middle of a very antiseptic room. I played piano on a few others. It was all very bare bones; thats the way John heard me. Listening to those demos today, I dont know if Id have chosen that kid to lay all my money down on, but Im thankful he did. I was now living on the remainder of my bureau drawer savings, a few bucks from Mike and the kindness of strangers. I had a sweet girlfriend who tipped me some eating money once in a while and a gal lightly on the side who owned her own business and drove a fancy sports car. She was fabulously Jewish, a little older than me, and would occasionally sweep me up off the corner of Cookman Avenue to spend a night in her condo apartment high overlooking the beaches of Asbury Park. There we occasionally engaged in what, Im sure, was some of the worst sex of our lives (if such exists). She held all the aces, which I didnt mind, and we had a nice, screwed-up semirelationship for a while. The periodic evenings in her solidly middle-class digs took the chill out of street-level living in Asbury, and were comforting and most welcome. My recording advance had not yet clocked in and these were some very thin times, some of the thinnest. For the first time in my life, I actually went completely broke and had to scavenge a little bit for meals. We couldnt even come up with the sixty dollars rent on Toms pad. In extremis one night, I called Mike and told him times were desperate, homelessness was at hand, and he said he could give me thirty-five dollars if I could make it into the city. I drained my bureau drawer of its remaining pennies, counted them one by one and figured I had just enough to borrow my gals Dodge Seneca (with its push-button transmission), pump in a few dollars gas and have the exact amount for tolls to make it into town. I budgeted myself down to the last cent. I got the car, threw a few dollars of gas in it and headed for the city. All went well until I hit the Lincoln Tunnel. There in the window of the tollbooth stood the famous No Pennies sign. Pennies were all I had. I handed a dollars worth, my last dollar, to the attendant, who said, I cant take these. I said, Maam, thats all the money I have and I dont have enough gas to get back home if you force me to turn around. I put myself at her mercy. She said, Well, youre going to sit here while I count every one. And thats what she made me do. Very meticulously, intentionally slow as molasses, the coins scraping across the hard metal counter in front of her, she counted out one hundred pennies, penny by penny, for the one-dollar Lincoln Tunnel toll. Then, with a poker face, she stuck her hand in the drivers-side window and said, I cant take this, youll have to turn around. Pinched in between her thumb and forefinger was one Canadian penny . . . one. I got out of the Pontiac to a cacophony of horns behind me fed up with our little theater and I began to carefully go over every inch of the inside of that car while she raised holy hell. In 1972 there was no self-respecting car in America without a penny trapped somewhere under its seats. After some very long minutes of mining, I found one, in the rear backseat between the cushions. I stood up, handed it to her amid what now sounded to me like a beautiful, profane opera of barking horns and shouting voices from the pissed-off parade that stretched out behind me. All she said was, Go ahead . . . but dont come back here with these pennies again! Lesson: In the real world, ninety-nine cents will not get you into New York City. You will need the full dollar. I met Mike, got my thirty-five dollars and went home. My partners still couldnt make their share of the rent and we would soon be evicted. We snuck out in the middle of the night and I slept on the beach in my sleeping bag with my surfboard and a small kit of all my earthly possessions at my side. A low point. The next day, on my way to Loch Arbour Beach, my favorite local surfing spot, at the north end of Asbury, I passed by an old pal sitting on the roof balcony of a small summer cottage. Big Danny Gallaghers size was Clarence Clemons plus. He was a giant. He had a blinding shock of red hair and when older wore an Old Testament fiery-red beard that made him look like a character out of Irish folklore. In his youth, he cut quite a fearsome figure and occasionally had the temperament to match. As I passed he told me his brother had just died of a drug overdose. He sat in a trance trying to make sense of it. He asked me what was happening and I told him Id just been tossed from Potters and was now indigent. He immediately invited me to bunk in with him. It was a little upstairs apartment, just two rooms. The bedroom held Dannys king-size waterbed, which took up all available space. Then there was a small kitchenette and connected living room, where I took up residence on the floor in my sleeping bag. This is where I lived while I recorded Greetings from Asbury Park. Id bus to the city; work opening for Dave Van Ronk, Biff Rose or Birtha, one of the first female metal bands at Maxs Kansas City; get paid a few dollars; and make it to the Port Authority just in time for the last bus to Asbury. Sam Hood had hired me at Maxs and I attracted a nice crowd of hipsters: Paul Nelson, the great music writer; Paul Williams, creator of Crawdaddy magazine, the first serious word on rock n roll; and David Blue, the folksinger and Village legend. He introduced himself to me after my set one night, then squired me around to meet Jackson Browne at the Bitter End (on tour for his first album) and Odetta, the great folksinger, after her late-night set at a local coffeehouse. Jackson let me sit in during his set on David Blues word and I played Wild Billys Circus Story. I was young, traveling light and excited to be in their company. Greetings from Asbury Park Up in Blauvelt, New York, in Brooks Arthurs 914 Studios, we began to record Greetings in an atmosphere of tension. Mike and Jimmy were producing. Mike had his own engineer, Louis Lahav, a former Israeli paratrooper whod come to America and fallen in with Mike and Jimmy. On the first day of recording my first album, very little recording occurred. Mike was in a running battle with the union engineer from Columbia, who insisted on doing his job and manning the sound board. In several years this would all change and artists would independently choose their producers and engineers of their own volition. Nineteen seventy-three was the dawn of this kind of artistic control, a dawn that had not yet completely broken over the recording industry. The day would devolve into a series of arguments, insults and irate phone calls while I sat around waiting. Mike was his usual ridiculously funny, combative self, putting this poor guy through the wringer. Finally an agreement was reached between the union, record company and Mike and Jimmys Laurel Canyon Productions. Louis Lahav would engineer, Mike and Jimmy would produce, I would record and the union engineer would show up, get paid a full salary and sit on the couch reading the newspaper. Peace in the valley! Some version of this went on for my first three albums. The studio was located on Route 303 next to a Greek diner. Here we could get a cheap recording rate; carry on as we pleased out of sight of the nosy record company bigwigs, who might be too curious about how their money was being spent; and eat at the Greek diner, where I found for a muse a waitress who had the finest body Id seen since my aunt Betty. It was all good. Id convinced Mike and Jimmy I needed to record with a band. John Hammond, Clive Davis and Columbia had thought theyd signed a folk singer-songwriter. The stock was way up on singer-songwriters in those days. The charts were full of them, with James Taylor leading the pack. I was signed to Columbia, along with Elliott Murphy, John Prine and Loudon Wainwright, new Dylans all, to compete in acoustic battle at the top of the charts with our contemporaries. What I had over my company in the field was that Id secretly built up years of rock n roll experience out of view of the known world and in front of every conceivable audience. Id already seen the roughest the road had to offer and was ready for more. These long-honed talents would go a ways in distinguishing me from the pack and helping me get my songs heard. Mike Appel had never seen me play with a full band in front of an audience until after we recorded Greetings, so my own main man was clueless about what I could do. I tried to tell him, You dont understand, put me in front of a band and an audience, and I will bury the house. When we started to tour in support of Greetings I had Mad Dog, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent and Clarence Clemons at my side. Mike was no dummy. He saw our first gig and said, Hey, you know what youre doing. Til then, I believe he thought he was just humoring me by letting me use my guys in the studio. On Greetings I managed to bring in my homeboys Vini Lopez, Davey Sancious and Garry Tallent, with a cameo performance by Steve Van Zandt shaking my Danelectro amps reverb unit at the intro to Lost in the Flood. Steve was to be on the record but we opted out of electric guitar in my concession to the singer/songwriter I was signed to be. We cut the whole record in three weeks. Most of the songs were twisted autobiographies. Growin Up, Does This Bus Stop, For You, Lost in the Flood and Saint in the City found their seed in people, places, hangouts and incidents Id seen and things Id lived. I wrote impressionistically and changed names to protect the guilty. I worked to find something that was identifiably mine. We turned it in and Clive Davis handed it back saying there were no hits, nothing that could be played on the radio. I went to the beach and wrote Spirit in the Night, came home, busted out my rhyming dictionary and wrote Blinded by the Light, two of the best things on the record. I was able to find Clarence, whod been MIA since that first night in the Prince, and I got his cool saxophone on those last two cuts. It made a big difference. This was the most fully realized version of the sound I had in my head that I would get on my first album. The preE Street band did their best to sound studio-worthy while the words flowed like a storm surge, crashing into one another with no regret. I never wrote completely in that style again. Once the record was released, I heard all the Dylan comparisons, so I steered away from it. But the lyrics and spirit of Greetings came from an unself-conscious place. Your early songs emerge from a moment when youre writing with no sure prospect of ever being heard. Up until then, its been just you and your music. That only happens once.
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  • Mans Search for Meaning /     (by Viktor E. Frankl, 1946) -   Mans Search for Meaning /
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame /     (Disney, 2012) -   The Hunchback of Notre Dame /
  • Sycamore Row /   (by John Grisham, 2013) -   Sycamore Row /
  • Atomic Habits /   (by James Clear, 2018) -   Atomic Habits /

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