The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Travel

October 3, 2013

Springsteen's American dream remembered in Asbury Park

ASBURY PARK, N.J. — About 90 miles south of New York City lies a hard-luck town that helped propel Bruce Springsteen to rock 'n' roll stardom.

Back when Springsteen was just another guy with a guitar, he scraped by playing at local music venue The Stone Pony, and eventually used the town's name in his 1973 debut album "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J."

Once a popular summer retreat for New Yorkers on the Atlantic Ocean, Asbury Park's boardwalk was packed with tourists in the 1960s. But a highway built in the 1970s funneled beachgoer traffic further south to the big hotels and casinos of Atlantic City.

Don Stine, president of the Asbury Park Historical Society, said that by the 1980s the town had lost its luster as a tourist destination, which had a terrible impact on the economy. Local young people turned pessimistic and saw no hope for achieving their dreams.

Springsteen witnessed this decline as he was ascending the ladder to superstardom. Vini Lopez, who played with Springsteen for six years starting in 1968, recalled their dreams of becoming famous musicians and leaving Asbury Park.

The anguish of a dying town found its way into Springsteen's lyrics. A line in his first hit, "Born to Run," goes, "In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream." His depiction of proud but desperately struggling and marginalized youth struck a chord with people at the time. Springsteen's focus soon turned to social problems, including his friends who were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and cities ravaged by depression.

According to Lopez, Springsteen's songs were so popular because they captured the state of America at the time. Springsteen continues to produce songs critical of modern U.S. society, addressing themes such as the nation's widening wealth disparities since the financial crisis of 2008.

"I spent most of my life as a musician measuring the distance between the American Dream and American reality," Springsteen said last year. He added that he hoped to address this dilemma in his music.

Asbury Park's troubles continue today. New Jersey's population has soared over the past 50 years, but the number of town residents has plateaued at around 16,000.

The ocean is still a beautiful blue, but inland one is struck by the emptiness of the streets. About 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Yet Springsteen still finds time to visit the town, have a beer with his old friends and even play at The Stone Pony. Maybe he visits his roots to remember what people stuck between dreams and reality are like.

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