The Creators of S.O.A.P. in Concert
The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ
December 9, 2006
By Lisa Iannucci
aturday night I attended a benefit concert honoring the founders of the Asbury Park sound. I skipped what I knew was going to be a great show -- the annual Marah Christmas extravaganza in Philadelphia -- because I knew that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some of these people together on the same stage. They're not young guys, after all, and who knows how much longer any of them will be around.
They had gathered because one of their own -- Johnny Shaw -- had died of a heart attack last spring, and they decided to honor him by getting together and staging a reunion show of sorts. They also dedicated a memorial plaque that honored people that made it happen. Some of the names on the plaque -- Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt -- were famous. Some were virtually unknown outside the Jersey Shore. But their names made it on there because they were once a part of something really special -- the Asbury Park scene.
-John Cavanaugh photo
As Doc Holiday said at the beginning of the night, "If you remember [the Jaywalkers] you should be in bed.") A lot of us, myself included, were too young to have been around in those days. But having cared about this music I was curious about where it came from, and years ago I went to Asbury Park to learn. I hung out at Mrs. Jay's and the Stone Pony. It was a bit of an insular world. I remember walking into the Stone Pony, wide-eyed and awestruck, and feeling like an outsider. I was sure everyone was staring at me. There were so many regulars there -- it was a hangout spot like any other corner bar, and everybody knew everybody. I watched and listened and gradually got to know some of those faces and the names from back in the day: Big Dan Gallagher, Norman Seldin, George Theiss. I was even lucky enough to meet some of them and get to know them a little bit. Asbury was unique even in the early '80s -- a forgotten town left behind and abandoned, a place out of time. But it was a place where musicians famous and not so famous could be themselves. It was a special place, a special time. So, even though I wasn't there in the 60s, I understand what those guys were talking about Saturday night at the S.O.A.P. concert. About how everyone was equal, everyone helped each other, people looked out for one another, and supported each other's music. And when someone like Bruce or Southside made it big, they applauded.
But times change, and people move on. The Internet happened, and people now have all sorts of information they didn't have before. In the old days it would take weeks to find out that Bruce had played at the Pony if you didn't live in the area or weren't a regular on the scene. Now you can get reports from events as they happen; there is no mystery, no suspense. Bruce had a "reunion" tour for all the fans -- and there were many -- who had never seen the E Street Band before, and people loved it. But somewhere along the way, they began to realize what they had missed, and so they began to grab onto any little shred of the Bruce magic that they could. They jostled and fought for tickets to his shows, for spots in "the pit." They lined up outside the Stone Pony and pushed and shoved, not understanding that a Bruce appearance is not a guarantee but a gift. They wanted --maybe needed -- it to be 1982 again. They know they missed something very special. But those days are never coming back, and deep down, we all know it.
There were people there on Saturday night who had flown in from all over the country, spending thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels and tickets -- all for a $15 benefit show. And they stood there staring at the stage like zombies waiting to be led off a cliff. They weren't really watching the show, weren't really listening, just kind of waiting. And as the night progressed, the hostility in the room became palpable. But the musicians on stage didn't care; it was their night, and they were not about to let these people ruin it. You can't buy your way into that world -- you have to show up and support the scene. And if you connect with the music and the people and the place, a deep appreciation develops for all of it. And only then, if you are lucky, lightning strikes, magic happens.
-Tony Saddler photo
For me, it was a great night of music. It was disorganized and shambolic and raw -- just like a late night jam at Asbury's famed Upstage. And I saw three original members of the E Street Band on the stage: Vini Lopez, who has clawed his way back to re-establish his music career on the Shore scene; Garry Tallent, the ageless wonder standing stage right all night with a smile that lit the room; and David Sancious, still looking suave and sophisticated, his grey hair reflecting the stage lights. But the best part of the night for me was watching those original Asbury guys onstage together, enjoying each other's company and musicianship, and finally getting some long overdue respect and acclaim. There will never be another night like that at the Pony and those guys knew it. They are spread far and wide now; many no longer live in the area. And they're not getting any younger.
So while the pretenders complained or looked bored, I really enjoyed myself. It wasn't earth-shattering, it wasn't mind-blowing, it wasn't profound. It was just another jam night at the Pony, just like the old days. And those are the nights no amount of money can ever buy, because the Asbury scene is not and never has been for sale. You can never know when lighting is going to strike, and you can't buy magic.
ROCK AND ROLL FUTURE IS HERE
Barry Schneier's new coffee table book from Backstreets Publishing is a deep dive into a legendary Springsteen show in 1974.
Backstreet Records is the mailorder division of Backstreets, delivering Springsteen merchandise to fans for more than 25 years. We carry numerous collectibles, tour shirts, books, magazines, and imported CDs and records.
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We also post all known concert dates for some of our favorite Jersey Shore (and Shore-adopted) musicians:
Joe D'Urso... and more.
For more information on upcoming shows such as these, check out our Concert Calendar.
Updated Nov 20, 2006
Many from the Springsteen community banded together to preserve this Asbury Park landmark.... and Tillie has now been saved!
Check our Save Tillie page for the latest developments.
Updated June 9, 2006
THE SPRINGSTEEN SPECIAL COLLECTION AT THE ASBURY PARK LIBRARY
Organized by Backstreets and donated to the Asbury Park Library in 2001, this storehouse of Boss books and magazines is the largest such collection outside of Bruce's mother's basement. Thanks to the generous donations of fans around the world, total holdings are now well over 3000. But the collection is by no means complete.
Check out the Springsteen Special Collection page for more info.
Updated Apr. 21, 2006