Monday, July 24, 2006

Things I Like Vol. 33

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) The New York Dolls. Nuff said.
2) The Complete Stories of Truman Capote - Say what you want, the man was a master.
3) Amy's Omelette House - Long Branch, NJ
4) The Bitter End - New York, NY
5) Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Catch the new clean, sober Ryan and prepare to be amazed all over again.
6) The Ryan Adams Archive and - Trying to organize the crazy world of Ryan Adams is a monumental pain in the ass. These guys have done a great job and deserve mucho kudos. The definitive Ryan Adams sites.
7) Concerts in the Studio - Freehold, NJ - The Costanzos are in it for nothing but love of the music, and that's the best part.
8) "Message to the Boys" - The Replacements. Three-fourths of the band playing a not-so-new Paul Westerberg song is still better than 90% of what passes for music these days.
9) Holme - Proof that cover bands don't have to suck.
10) The Baronet Theater - Asbury Park, NJ - Recently reopened and fighting eminent domain catastrophe. The last movie theater in Asbury Park. Catch it while you can.

Hero of the Week: All those who are fighting eminent domain abuse around the country and here in Monmouth County, NJ. People have the power!
Villain of the Week: Larry Fishman and the ghouls at Asbury Partners.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Things I Like Vol. 32

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) Capote: A Biography - Gerald Clarke
2) Rockwood Music Hall - New York, NY
3) Hudson Falcons - what happens when Joe Strummer meets Bruce Springsteen
4) The Deep - Asbury Park, NJ - punk lives in AP
5) Bobby Bandiera - still the coolest guy on the Jersey Shore
6) My Life So Far - Jane Fonda - you may not always like her but you gotta respect her
7) Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll (DVD) - Chuck Berry & friends
8) The Complete Reprise Sessions - Gram Parsons - Cosmic American Music
9) Three of Cups - New York, NY - vino and good friends
10) Daniel Wolff - a great writer and a great friend

Hero of the Week: Spike Lee & Jonathan Demme (and anyone else making a documentary on New Orleans)
Villain of the Week: George W. Bush - do I need a reason?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

You're Missing

The city is not the same without you in it. It lacks sparkle and glow and energy. It is still the greatest city in the world; of that there is no doubt. It is a diamond isle, the land of dreams. But without you in it there is nothing to look forward to, no humor, no vibrancy. Its light is dimmer, its voice muted.

Tonight you are not there and the city is filled with nonsensical youngsters dressed in what they think is fashion with no imagination, no sense of adventure. Shhh, be quiet, they are Looking For Fun. The city smells of flowers and cigarettes and subway and beer, it is a romantic smell filled with hope as though something were about to happen. There are older single men in guinea tees carrying shapeless plastic shopping bags out for their daily walk to get the paper and bet the numbers (they have lived there forever and it’s summer and they are not about to start getting dressed up to go out now, pally.) There are pairs of women everywhere (why do women travel in pairs—are they afraid of something?), women of all ages talking and laughing. There are street vendors and flower salesmen and coffee and donuts and guys on bikes that weave and whiz through the traffic performing death-defying acts. There is the Chrysler building, its glittering silver tower shining brightly in the night sky. There is even a full moon peeking out from behind the scattered, shifting clouds, casting its glow on the city streets below. But you are not there; there is no one to shine on and so it moves along back from whence it came.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I am the Scarecrow

I am not one of the lucky ones whose problems all work out, whose life and loves and ups and downs all balance each other and are in harmony and everything finds some resolution. I am a tangled knot of loose ends and pieces that don’t fit. I am the misshapen remains of last night’s party, slightly hung over and bent out of shape, sore and misguided. There are pieces of me spread everywhere like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. There’s my brain drifting off somewhere taking me back to times and places purged of pain and heartache by memory so I see only the good, only what I wish had happened instead of all that actually did.

There’s my heart, scattered in pieces. It is in the distant echoes of epic Springsteen marathons long gone; it is in every corner of that pizza oven with a stage, my beloved Stone Pony. It is in the sunny meadows and cool, dusty barns of my youth, long since torn asunder by bulldozers and real estate greed. It is in the warm haze of childhood playgrounds and bicycles and Popsicle sticks. It is in the great city of Washington, misbegotten and forgotten, cast aside and trampled upon by the country it serves, the country that misunderstands and uses and forgets. It is in the rainy Sunday jaunts to the Smithsonian with my dad (before he got sick when he could still walk and everything was ok), in the hours spent wandering the musty halls of art museums and technology exhibits, watching free puppet shows and riding the carousel on the Mall and waving my arms in the air and smiling. It is in the cool salt water rushing over my head, the freedom of just you and the ocean and being a teenager, when anything seemed possible. It is in the great state of New Jersey, where so many wonderful things have happened to me; where I fell in love and shared my life with someone for the first time. It is in New York, the place that haunted my childhood and now drives my imagination.

But these days, the biggest piece of my heart belongs to someone who will never acknowledge it. There is nothing I can do but wait and hope, and that is not enough. I am the scarecrow, and there are pieces of me everywhere.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

So We Beat On...

Life sends you things that you don't need when you don’t really want them. And then it sends you exactly what you need when you don’t even know you need it.

Last night I went to see Southside Johnny at his old stomping grounds, the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. A lot of my friends from the old days don’t come out much any more; it takes something like this annual Fourth of July Weekend bash to get them to hire out babysitters and get out from under. Walking into the Pony at the annual event is (as my good friend Lori said last night), like coming home. It’s like walking into your living room and someone has organized a surprise party for you and all the most important people from you life are there. Only it’s different ‘cause you’ve been going there for 20 years and every square inch of the place holds memories. I have loved and lost here; I have seen the best rock’n’roll has to offer grace this stage—its legends, its upstarts, its stalwarts. I have fought with my best friend here. (I made so many friends here over the years. And lost a few along the way, too.) I have felt my heart swell with sorrow and anguish at what the years have done to people. And I have felt it swell with joy and pride and happiness watching musicians—my friends now—get up on that stage and make magic happen.

Last night was one of those nights. You have to understand, the Pony was where everyone hung out. When they weren’t up on the stage, musicians hung out in the back, shot the breeze, exchanged gig information, gossip, and girlfriends. It was where deals were made and hearts were broken. Where beers were consumed and love was found and lost. Down here on the Shore, there once was a thing called a musicians’ community; so much great music happened here. In the beginning, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were the friggin’ house band!. There was Cats on a Smooth Surface and Joey and the Works and John Eddie and the Front Street Runners and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band and La Bamba and the Hubcaps. And those were just the regulars. Every Saturday night was national act night, and you could see legends like Gary U.S. Bonds and Ronnie Spector and Gregg Allman. You could see established acts like Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker and Ian Hunter. You could see up and comings like the Smithereens and Concrete Blonde and the BoDeans. And every now and then Somebody Famous would drop by. Somebody who lived right up the road and was on the cover of Time and Newsweek. You wouldn’t recognize him from seeing him walk around the club, for that was when he looked like just another face in the crowd, just another Jersey Shore musician out for a good time. But when he got onstage, which he did every now and then, he was magically transformed, as though someone had plugged him into an electrical socket and turned him into the very Spirit of Rock’n’Roll. This happened fairly regularly for a while, and when it did and you were lucky enough to be there, it was enough to get you through the week, through your shitty workaday job, your boring ass life. The Stone Pony was where the magic happened; it was where your life changed forever. It was the only place to be if you were a music fan, the only place you wanted to be, the only place that mattered.

But those days are gone. They came to an end, as all good things must. We grew up and got older and the music changed and people moved on. But every now and then, on nights like last night, you can go back again like Peter Pan and be young again.

Last night, one of my very favorite young bands, maybe pete, played on the indoor stage opening up for Southside Johnny. This alone meant the world to them. You see, they would not be playing music if it were not for SSJ and his world-class band of misfits and geniuses. Frankie and Kelly met and fell in love over this music; they used to sneak into the Ritz in NYC when they were 16 to see their heroes in person. And now they were sharing a bill with them. But that was not enough. Previous to their set, Jukes guitarist Bobby Bandiera had run into Frankie in the men’s room and asked if he could sit in. Frankie agreed, not really believing that this was going to happen. Life deals you many cruel hands as a musician, and you learn very quickly not to get your hopes up. So they played their set as always, and when it came time for their closing number, a cover of the Stones’ version of “Just My Imagination,” Frankie called for Bobby to come up. For a minute or two, nothing happened. And then suddenly, through the crowd came a diminutive, instantly recognizable figure. It was Bobby, and he was going to play with them. It wasn’t earth shattering, it wasn’t transformative, but for a moment there, I thought my heart would burst in two seeing my friends up there so happy, so in the moment, with their hero giving himself so generously (as he always does; he’s just that kind of guy) and making their night special, giving them something they could take with them from this place for the rest of their lives. I spoke with them after the show and they still couldn’t quite believe it. I do believe it will take them weeks to recover.

Oh yeah, there was an amazing Southside Johnny show after that. I’ve seen him a lot and it was a Top 5 show for sure. My ears are still ringing and my feet and legs are sore and I am hung over and a bit sad that it is all over, that the reunion has come to an end for another year. But that’s not important. What’s important is that, in some small way, people like Bobby Bandiera make the Stone Pony magic continue.

There will never be another place like the Pony. When it is finally gone, it will leave a huge gaping wound in my heart. For there was where we were once young and alive, and anything seemed possible. It is a place out of the past; its best moments are long gone. But people like Bobby know what it has meant to us, what it continues to mean. He understands. And so, on a night when we were all carried back into the past, Bobby helped bring the spirit of the Pony into the future.