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.

Good Shot, Bad Shot

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

Sometimes people see something different in your 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 said yes. Are you kidding. of course I said yes. I hustled myself 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 probably wasn’t going to like the result. I felt I had done the best I could under the circumstances; I filed away the negs and was happy that I had been able to stay for the show.

Fast forward a decade and a phone call from a photographer friend who asked me if I had shot anything during that tour. I admitted that I had, but I had never been happy with … she quickly said, ”someone will email you, send a half dozen at least!” With that, I pulled the negatives, rescanned a few of the images and sent them off. A day or two later, one of those images, one that I had never really thought much of, had been picked for the cover of a live Devils and Dust tour release. It became part of a series of live performances being offered through brucespringsteen.net, his official website.

That dark, grainy photo, one I had never thought much of, has since become one of my very 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 strips of exposed film and proof sheets into a binder. Lesson learned; save the work anyway, and when the word goes out and someone asks to see it … send it to them. You never know.