Going Home

The past few weeks have been particularly difficult. I suddenly found myself in an empty house, the house I grew up in. It’s a place I know intimately, every nook, every corner. Not entirely certain of what to do next, I cooked. I made myself some dinner and filled the kitchen with smells that make the empty room feel full again, garlic, tomatoes, the yeasty fragrance of fresh bread, the sizzle of pancetta in an old cast iron skillet.

 

That heavy black skillet. It’s the pan I remember steak and eggs being cooked in, nearly every morning, as my father made breakfast before school. I got up early, he was up earlier. It was a brief moment when it was just the two of us. There were times we barely spoke, “Do you want some?” Sometimes entire conversations took place with barely a word.

I walked around the house looking at deeply familiar things, they looked different, the whole house was different. I suppose out of habit, I found myself taking pictures, desperately trying to capture something before it was gone.

Growing up, the basement was a playground, a classroom. Sawdust covered everything, the air full of the smell of wood and varnish. Coffee cans carefully labeled with the size of every nut, bolt, screw and nail anyone might ever need.

 

 

Outside is the scene of countless summertime dinners and clam bakes, a patio of carefully laid brick, a stone fireplace centerpiece. The garden delivered not only color from countless flowers, but thyme, parsley, rosemary, tomatoes, squash, eggplant … it was its own little neighborhood ecosystem.

 

 

 

This is the place I played, I grew, I learned the things they don’t teach in school (a terrible cliche isn’t it). Now it’s quiet. The plants need water. It feels as if someone has just left and in a minute or two, the door will open and …  everything will be ok.

Soon there will be another summer, that deep green everywhere you look, the birds, those damned squirrels. It’s different now, but If I stop for a minute, I can hear it, the cacophony of another summer in this house, or a fall, or any other season.  I will always carry it inside of me and I can go home whenever I want. If you don’t mind, I’m going outside to play.

 

Asbury Park

This town clinks like empty beer bottles at 2AM

Bleeds like steam from old pipes

Crackles like the final 5 seconds of an old LP

— graffiti left inside the old casino building

Asbury Park, New Jersey

It’s good to see the town crawling back into the light, a busy boardwalk full of shoppers, bistros with hungry patrons and a beach full of coconut scented sunbathers. It sure wasn’t that way the first time I walked down Kingsley Avenue.

Frankly, I found the decay oddly appealing, the colors and textures of rust and cracked plaster, the remains of Tillie’s neon hanging off his brow like some sort of disheveled cowlick. The last couple of local watering holes were only proof that there was some sort of life left in this windswept no-mans-land between Kingsley and Ocean avenues.

I went to the shore that first time, on a cold, dank President’s Day weekend. The chill and spitting surf just added to the ambiance, fitting perfectly with the Springsteen lyrics swirling in my head. I was there as a rock and roll pilgrim, waiting for the next quartet of local kids to mount the stage at the Stone Pony and take the world by storm.

They didn’t get to the promised land that night, they did play hard and gave it all they had. Musical pilgrims themselves, I’m sure they tried to soak in a little bit of the luck that their heros might have left behind.

Convention Hall is still a beautiful building even if it does seem to be one step ahead of a wrecking ball. Faint echos of roller derbys and Led Zeppelin still drift through the halls. At the opposite end of the beach the bookend to the hall is all but gone. The Palace, a ghost— The Casino, a mere tunnel between Asbury and it’s more “proper” victorian cousin, Ocean Grove.

I’m glad I saw it when I did. Carefully crawling through chain link fences and around sheets of plywood to find my shot, stumbling across some curious graffiti. For a little while, on those cold empty days and nights,  Asbury Park was for me, more than “that place Springsteen sings about,” it was quite literally, each and every word off the first three records.

Right in Your Backyard

I drove past it nearly every day.  There are things in our own backyard that deserve a second look, or even a third.  Guilty of taking the same route to work and then back home. Muscle memory and a travel mug full of coffee and before you know it you’ve clocked in and almost as quickly, returned home.  I missed it again.

This time I finally stopped and took a longer look.

Good Shot, Bad Shot

Having been an art director, I know there are times that you see something different in an image, something that the even the photographer didn’t see.

During Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 Devils and Dust tour, I was asked by an editor, to shoot for his publication. I hustled down from my home in Northern Virginia to Richmond, camera (and film, yes … film) in hand. The venue was as moody and dark as the album, but I loaded the camera and shot. I knew even before the film was developed that I wasn’t going to like the result. I did the best I could under the circumstances; I filed away the negs and was happy that at least I had been able to stay for the show.

Fast forward to 2016 and a phone call from a colleague who asked me if I had shot anything during that tour. I admitted that I had, but I had never been happy with …”someone will email you, send a half dozen!” She quickly said. With that, I rescanned a few of the images and sent them off. A day or two later, one of those images, that I had never really thought much of, had been picked for the cover of the live Devils and Dust tour release. Naturally, that photo, one I had never thought much of, has become one of my favorites.

Did I save the images because I was a fan? Probably, but I would like to think that in the back of my mind I thought “Just in case” as I slipped the negs and proof sheets into a binder. Lessons learned; save your work anyway, and when the word goes out and someone asks to see it … send it to them. You never know.