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  • Writer's pictureHesh Meister

A postcard.

The obvious: The classic “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” The postcard came long before the record. But it was the perfect vehicle that encapsulated all the scenarios, characters, and vignettes that made up Bruce Springsteen’s first album. He wanted to make his first recording about the place that formed him musically, with the characters he met figuring prominently. So he undoubtedly plucked one copy from one of the gift shops dotting the boardwalk and had the graphic designer create a large version that fit across the album cover. As if to say: This is me, and this is where I come from.

I found a Canadian pressing of the album at a great little record store in Jerusalem, Z-Music. It was one of those instances in which the Jersey Shore, my fabled personal promised land, reached around the world to find me in The Promised Land and reminded me … hey, hang on, don’t forget me, I’m still here, I’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready. And with about 15 shekels burning a hole in my wallet, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ was mine. I already had The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, and Nebraska … I was THE Bruce fan to everyone that knew me. But I didn’t have Greetings till that moment … which, as far as I was concerned, was the moment.

Unfortunately, that record somehow disappeared. I brought it back to my dorm room and looked uncomprehendingly at the lyrics, figuring I’d understand once I’d heard the music a few times, just as I had with all the other records. I brought it next door that night, the night after I bought it, to Emil’s house[1], where I was essentially receiving my education in rock’n’roll. Emil had some time to sit with me and listen to it. We got as far as “Mary, Queen of Arkansas,” with its clumsy imagery and clunky arrangement. Emil asked, “Queenin’? What does ‘queenin’’ mean?” I didn’t have an answer; I was also listening to the record for the first time! But then he had to go attend to his family, and I couldn’t listen to the rest of the record. I folded it up and brought it back to the dorm room. I showed it to (classmate & dorm-mate) Scott F., who said his mother had bought it for him, together with Bruce’s next two albums, because she saw that he appreciated songs that told stories. But Scott didn’t care much for the albums … not enough drugs. The objection of a lot of rockheads, especially of the 60s variety, to Bruce’s music.

And then the record disappeared. I asked Scott and Emil if they had seen it. They said they didn’t. I always wondered where it went. I have my suspicions, but let’s let that go for now.

That summer I went back to the US for the first time since I moved to Israel. My ultimate destination was none other than Asbury Park, finally. But before that, I spent time in Long Beach, NY; Washington, DC and Potomac, MD; Miami Beach, FL; and Wilmington, DE—all the haunts of my childhood (‘cept Miami, which I visited so I could hang with the friends I had made as a senior in HS). It was at a record store in Georgetown, DC, that I got my permanent copy of Greetings, together with a whole bunch of other LPs. I didn’t get the chance to listen to it until I finally got to Asbury in mid-August.

It was a picture-postcard-perfect summer afternoon at the Shore when I finally got to listen to it end-to-end. I sat in the Rosenfelds’[2] living room. Everyone was either gone or going about their business. And now I got the chance to penetrate to the roots of Bruce Springsteen’s Asbury Park, which over the course of the preceding five years had somehow become mine as well. The most amazing song on the record was “Lost in the Flood,” conjuring up images of the coast artillery at Sandy Hook. There were also “Spirit in the Night” and “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” bringing to mind the scenes in and around Asbury that summer. Maybe it wasn’t what Bruce had intended, but isn’t it great when you can take what you see and hear and make it yours? Well, that’s what Bruce’s album did for me. Like its namesake, the album was a postcard of the city it represented, and no matter where I’d eventually end up, whether Jerusalem, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, or right back to the Jersey Shore, that album would always be the sound of Asbury Park.

I always said that if Greetings would be tightened up and produced with arrangements akin to those of Born to Run, Bruce would have had a killer first record. I wonder if he ever considered re-releasing it. He probably has better things to do than to mine his past and fixing what went wrong with it.

But I wanted to do it … and in 2007 or so I became involved with a project called Greetings Again From Asbury Park, in which local, current artists on the scene would do their interpretations of the songs on Bruce’s album. I was the first to contribute … with my Soul In Exile–ish, dual-piano version of “Lost in the Flood." Jon Caspi wanted to contribute “For You” but I don’t know if he managed to do it. Nobody else stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and the record never got made.

One day, I’m going to put out my own Bruce tribute album. It’ll have my cover versions of Bruce’s songs … “Glory Days,” “Lost in the Flood,” “Blinded by the Light,” and others not yet recorded. But in a way, my Soul In Exile records are themselves tributes to Bruce … especially the second one. Even if there are no actual cover tunes on them. So, I really don’t need to put out an all-covers album. But it’s still an idea.

All in all, what Greetings does is open up the entire genre, or milieu, of place-related art for me. Everybody whoever made a point of illustrating where he was from, and incorporating images depicting that place, and wrote songs about it, took their cues from Bruce and Greetings. My own art certainly was, and continues to be. That same Jersey Shore and Asbury Park were part of my life, too, and not [purely, initially] because of Bruce; but Bruce was the first to make art of it, and showed everyone who came afterward—including me—how it’s done.

Greetings Fom Asbury Park, N.J.
The classic Greetings postcard.

[1] Emil Leuchter, my musical mentor and big-brother figure, who lived two houses down from my high-school dorm.

[2] Friends of my family who later became my in-laws, and subsequently my ex-in-laws.

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