Category Archives: Profiles

The Upstage Club, Asbury Park: An Interview with Author Carrie Potter Devening



FOR MUSIC’S SAKE: Asbury Park’s Upstage Club and Green Mermaid Cafe – The Untold Stories
by Carrie Potter Devening
255 pages
To order: http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000411026
Or: http://theupstageclub.blogspot.com/

A short time ago, I reviewed a new book (http://bit.ly/ovt5v5) by the daughter of club manager Tom Potter, about the people who created, performed at and frequented the famous Upstage Club in Asbury Park, New Jersey. While The Stone Pony is the bar that is most associated with the early days of Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and dozens of other Jersey Shore bands, it was actually an after-hours club called The Upstage where most of these musicians met, made friends, jammed, formed bands and cut their musical teeth.

Now in Part Two, I talk to the author, Carrie Potter Devening, about creating the book, the many friends who helped her make it a reality and her vision for the future of The Upstage Club.

This Hard Land: When did you first become interested in the history of the Upstage Club?
Carrie: I’ve been interested my whole life, mainly because of my family history and my love for my Grandpa Tom (Tom Potter, manager of The Upstage Club) When I was in high school, I would often use artwork done by my grandfather to inspire me. He was a very artistic man. For example, I remember one assignment we were given was to do a black and white still drawing off a cardboard box full of my favorite things from my Grandpa. This included a book of poetry that my grandfather used to challenge me to memorize; the Spotlight Magazine article which featured Grandpa Tom; a set of his scissors and his license to be a hair stylist. I still cherish that cardboard box to this day.

Carrie: I knew the family history was very unique and that Tom Potter and his wife Margaret and The Upstage Club were very important to so many people who were part of the Sound Of Asbury Park (S.O.A.P) and desperately wanted the memory of the Upstage preserved. You could say that this book has been in my creative storage bin for many, many years.

This Hard Land: When did the idea of writing a book about it begin to take shape?
Carrie: I really didn’t think a book was feasible until my late Uncle Geofrey (Tom Potter’s oldest son), who passed away just a few weeks ago, came to Texas.

He had read Gary Wien’s book, “Beyond The Palace,” (http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Palace-Gary-Wien/dp/1412003148) which goes into quite a bit of detail about The Upstage. He encouraged me to speak to Gary Wien. Gary gave me a really good indication of how folks who had been part of the Upstage scene still felt about the club.

I had kept, literally, hundreds of slides (Tom Potter collected slides of photographs), I had his old scrapbook, and basically two big old storage bins full of memorabilia, including the famous Green Mermaid painting. None of these photographs had ever been published or really seen by anyone, including some great shots of Bruce Springsteen, Little Steven, Southside Johnny and basically all of the musicians who jammed at the Upstage. It was a real “treasure chest” of pictures and artwork that was just sitting in storage. So I took stock of all I had and said to myself, “I think I have the beginnings of a really great book here.”

In December of 2003, I got on a plane and flew to New Jersey and Asbury Park for the first of what would be more than a dozen trips. I checked into a room at the Manchester Inn in Ocean Grove, which sadly no longer exists after it burned to the ground. But for the longest time that hotel was my home base away from home, each and every time I came to Asbury Park.

First thing I did was meet face-to-face with “Beyond The Palace” author Gary Wein, as well as a friend of my grandfather, David Mieres, who showed me around town. The next few days are kind of a blur as I met so many wonderful people who became instrumental in making this book happen. Beofre I left I had met with so many people including Vini “Maddog” Lopez and Ilene Chapman, who’s been for the longest time very involved in Asbury Park’s music scene. It was a fantastic introduction to the people and places of Asbury Park, New Jersey.


Dan and Eileen Chapman Inside The Upstage Club

Carrie: Coincidentally, and I swear I had no idea this was going on, Bruce was performing one of his Holiday Shows at the Convention Center in Asbury Park the very next night. Fortunately and with a little help from my friends, I was able to get into the show. And once I was inside I got it into my head that I had to make the most of my visit, including introducing myself to Bruce. So here I was, this young “whipper-snapper” from Texas with a shopping bag full of my Grandpa’s slides and completely full of myself. I was lucky enough to go backstage for a little white and said a quick hello to Southside Johnny, who was also performing at the Holiday Show. Of course, Southside was his usual self, cracking jokes and asking me more questions than I asked him. It was very funny.

But when it came to meeting Bruce, things got a little sketchy. Apparently he was struggling from a bad cold, but he still took time between the sound check and the show to meet me. He was very kind but a little shocked that such a small person from Texas had such a big idea. I think I kind of caught him off-guard, going on and on about my how I was Tom Potter’s granddaughter. And he told me that he wanted to meet with me some other time to talk about the project. I’m still hoping that we can meet someday soon so I can hand him a copy of the book.

But the show was great, and it gave me a chance to meet a ton of people, so that was awesome. After the show I hung around and was introduced to several key individuals. That was the night I met Vini “Maddog” Lopez who was very nice to me and he has become a true friend and solid supporter of this project.


Carrie and Vini “Maddog” Lopez

This Hard Land: What happened next?
Carrie: Well, when I got back to my hotel I was informed that some important people were coming to meet me who were interested in helping me with this book. This turned out to be Dan “The Tape Man” Eitner and his wife Nancy. I can honestly say that without their love and support, I don’t know what I would have done. Dan is one of the most generous, thoughtful individuals that I have ever met. Ever since that first time I met Dan, he has helped me tremendously.

Dan just knows so many people and he has always had so many great ideas. Even now he’s constantly sending me inspirational emails and text messages that keep me going. I like to call him my unofficial “marketing director.”


Dan and Nancy Eitner On The Boardwalk, Asbury Park, N.J.

Carrie: Really, when I think about it, I have been truly blessed by all of the wonderful and generous people who have taken an interest in this book. And I have to give a ton of credit to Joe Petillo and Tom Jones, who were both extremely helpful. Joe was actually an original member of Margaret Potter’s house band, The Distractions, at The Upstage. Tom Jones runs the Halo Group in Los Angelos and has an incredible media background.

When things were not looking very promising for the future of the building that The Upstage was in, Joe and Tom, as well as a number of original Upstage musicians decided to hold a “Last Jam” inside the Upstage, which I wrote about in detail in my book. In fact, Tom videotaped that jam for a documentary that he’s been working on about The Upstage. Both Joe Petillo and Tom Jones really gave me the strength to continue during the most difficult part of this journey.


Joe Petillo, Carrie and Tom Jones

This Hard Land: What was it like the first time you got a chance to climb those steep steps and walked into The Upstage?
Carrie: You know in the movies when people finally reach the summit and they hear a choir of angels singing? That’s what it was like. In fact there’s one Disney remake, titled “The Secret Garden,” and there’s this scene where a little boy is entering the garden. That’s exactly how it felt. In fact, I get a little misty-eyed every time I think of it.

But getting upstairs wasn’t all that easy. On my first trip, I just walked into the old Extreme shoe store with a few of my new friends. There was an older Asian man running the store and no matter what we said he simply refused to let me go upstairs. He kept saying it wasn’t up to code and that I could get hurt and that kind of thing. I told him about my grandfather, Tom Potter, who ran The Upstage and how I had come all the way from Texas to see it. I tried everything, but he said it was too much of a safety liability for him to take a chance.

Well, then I turned on the water works. I got very emotional and started crying, saying, “I’m not leaving this store until you let me go upstairs.” (laughs) Finally, he gave in and grabbed the keys and up the stairs we went up, the whole group of us. And that’s when I heard the choir of angels singing. I felt like I was finally getting to see what I had been dreaming about for so long.


Steep Steps leading To The Upstage Club

This Hard Land: What was it like up there?
Carrie: Well, there wasn’t much left, just a few tables. But what was really cool was that much of the original art was still there on the wall. The paint was peeling a bit, of course. And there was the huge metal wall where Grandpa Tom used to put all the speakers. But a lot of the original artwork was still intact. The funniest thing was that when I went into the bathrooms there was all kinds of original writing on the walls and somebody had put up “Steel Mill.” I thought that was very, very cool.

But really, it remains today much like it did forty years ago. All of the fixtures are intact. And we had a great time, posing with various people for photos and checking out the place. Every time I come back to Asbury Park, I make sure to stop by and visit the place to make sure it’s all okay. I really hope that the new owner preserves it as much as possible. It really deserves to be preserved in some way as a museum and as a place for young people to come together. That’s my dream.


Carrie with Writer and Rock Historian Robert Santelli Inside The Upstage

This Hard Land: That first trip must have been quite inspiring for you.
Carrie: Oh, for sure. As soon as I got back to Texas, I got right to work. I started the Upstage.net website and I began asking people to send me their memories of the place. One of my biggest challenges was transferring the images from my grandfather’s slides, along with other illustrations to computer images that could be used for the book.

But one day while everything was on hold, my old high school art teacher, Paul Wilkins, and I were talking and I told him about my project and he was very excited about it. He immediately offered to help me transfer the slides. Paul and his wife Beverly took an immediate interest in this book and I’ve spent whole weeks at their house working on the book.

I would work for hours and hours on his computer until my arms were so tired I could barely lift them. Paul taught me the basics of this software program and let me go wild with it. He provided the tech support and gave me the creative freedom. In many ways, Paul and Beverly and Dan and Nancy were for me, what Tom and Margaret were for the kids who played at The Upstage. I could never have done this book without the help of many, many good friends.


Robert Santelli, Carrie and The Legendary Carl “Tinker” West

This Hard Land: This book is, I think, a living and breathing testament to the kind of community that existed back in the 1960’s when The Upstage club was thriving and everyone sort of helped each other, lending guitars and amps. As for you, what are your plans? And what kind of vision do you have for the future of The Upstage?
Carrie: Well, I just had a new baby and as much as I’d love to dedicate all my time to mass marketing this book, I just don’t have the time. But I want so badly for this book to be a success, so buy a copy for yourself or somebody you love. It is a great gift and the holidays are coming up and I think anybody who is truly interested in the history of The Upstage would really learn a lot from this book.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to do what I can. I’m going to keep flying to Asbury Park to do a number of book selling events in Asbury Park in the next few months, I plan to stay involved in helping to lobby city officials so the new owner can get what he needs to use this historic building most effectively.

Most of all, I’d like to see the building continue to be preserved. And I’d love to see it used as a sort of living museum and a place where young people and up and coming musicians can come together. That’s was my grandfather’s dream and now it’s my dream too.

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Filed under Books, Interviews, Music, Profiles

Remembering The Day The World Changed – Ten Year Later


By Janet Graham, Guest Blogger
(This article appeared in the 9/11/2011 Detroit Free Press)

When I woke to the sound of sirens in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, I had no idea that it would be the day the world would change. I never imagined 10 years later that my life, and my country, would feel so different.

It’s typical to hear sirens, lots of sirens, when you’re staying in New York City. But as I looked out the window of my friend’s 36th Street apartment, I saw the giant horizontal plume of smoke emanating from the World Trade Center towers. It looked like a very bad fire. I flipped on the TV to learn a plane had hit one of the towers. I started to feel scared, without even knowing what was yet to happen.

I spent the rest of the day as many did, watching the coverage of the horrific attacks, but I alternated it with going outside on my friend’s terrace and seeing it unfold live. It seemed exactly like a disaster movie as the towers collapsed, one by one, into a cloud of dust shaped like a mushroom cloud.

When I went outside later, I saw survivors walking up from what would soon be called Ground Zero. Many still had bits of the dust in their hair, their faces smeared with dirt and smoke and shell-shocked looks on their faces. It was hard to process the events. I found myself calling my loved ones to hear their voices and let them know I was OK.

The days that followed in New York felt like an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Amid all the confusion and rescue efforts at Ground Zero, the most noticeable thing was the eerie silence. In a city that usually lives at ear-crushing decibels with sirens, horns, loud noises from trucks unloading and more, there was little traffic and a frightening stillness.

People shuffled wordlessly up sidewalks and mostly just nodded. Occasionally, a friend would greet another with a heartfelt hug, saying, “I’m so glad you’re OK.”

Most of the entrances into the city were closed, and hardly anyone was going to work. There were handmade cardboard signs taped to mailboxes saying “No pickups for at least TWO more days.”

The city had an apocalyptic feel, with many residents wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the dust and other poisons that still hung in the air. I would look up and see fighter jets overhead, watching in case the terrorists struck again. I felt mostly numb but also worried about the possibility of another attack.

Remembering those days now, it’s really not shocking that the U.S. reacted to the attacks by invading Afghanistan. Everyone wanted something done, some form of retaliation.

More surprising, in retrospect, is that we followed this with the passage of the Patriot Act and another invasion, this time into Iraq, a country with no apparent connection to the attacks.

Ten years later, life is very different, for our country, and for me. At that time, I was working as a freelance sports writer for Reuters, in New York to cover the U.S. Open tennis tournament and staying a few days afterward to visit with friends. I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to news stories then. Now, I’ve moved from Ohio to Detroit, and I deal with the big news stories, from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the killing of Osama bin Laden, as both a news copy editor and a frequent nation and world editor.

America seems permanently changed as well, and not for the better. Although there hasn’t been another major attack within our borders, it has been a decade of decline with two long wars and the financial crisis. America is dealing with many more unemployed people, and many more without health care or those who struggle to pay for it. There is an ever-broadening gap between the haves and the have-nots. The American Dream is taking a beating.

When I wrote about my experiences 10 years ago, I said the attacks may have robbed us of our sense of security but they didn’t even dent our humanity.

Today, I’m not so sure.

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For Music’s Sake – Asbury Park’s Upstage Club and Green Mermaid Cafe Scrapbook – The Untold Stories


by Carrie Potter Devening
255 pages
To order: http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000411026
Or: http://theupstageclub.blogspot.com/

Part One – A Review

“There once was a place and time that contributed to a generation in a most beautiful way. This place and the characters accomplished many things…In a bustling tourist town saturated with entertainment and intense nightlife, Asbury Park, like much of the East Coast, offered little to people under 21. When there was nowhere to go, the Green Mermaid Cafe and Upstage Club offered them a home.” – Carrie Potter Devening, Introduction

If you ask most rock and roll fans to name the club where Bruce Springsteen got his start in Asbury Park, chances are pretty good they’ll say it was The Stone Pony. But they’d be wrong.

Because it was actually inside another club, up the road from The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, where for three extraordinary years (1968-1971) Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Southside Johnny and many others made their musical mark and met most of the other musicians who would become part of the Sound of Asbury Park (or S.O.A.P) and in many cases band mates for life. Fifty-two steps straight up a steep, narrow stairway, on the third floor of the old Thom McCan shoe store in downtown Asbury Park sat The Upstage Club, where the greatest musicians from all over New Jersey would converge “after hours” from between 1 and 5 in the morning to jam and compete for a chance to play rock and roll. The stage sat at the far end of a long narrow room. The stage had its own amplifiers and behind that stage was a wall of speakers where loud, raucous music would emanate.

To those musicians, it was the highest honor to get a chance to jam, and they played their hearts out till the sun came up.

But in 1971, civil rights unrest and race riots hit across the nation in cities like Asbury Park. The unrest brought about the demise of most of the businesses in downtown Asbury. As if that wasn’t enough, Tom and Margaret Potter, the artistic, bohemian lovebirds who had created this haven for young people were splitting up. The beloved, mercurial, iron-fisted operator of The Upstage, Tom Potter, suddenly found himself alone in Asbury, facing retirement and suffering from increasing health problems. Seeing the writing on the walls of his once-great club, Tom Potter cashed in his chips and moved away from the cold, sea storms of the Northeast to the warm beaches of Florida.

For the next 40-plus years, the legendary Green Mermaid and Upstage Club remained locked up and abandoned. While biographies of Bruce Springsteen and other histories of the Asbury music scene gave The Upstage its due respect, each year the “glory days” of The Upstage began to fade more and more. Springsteen fans and local musicians would always pay homage to the old brick triple-deck structure, but the building remained closed and off limits.

But deep in the heart of Texas, Tom Potter’s granddaughter Carrie was growing up and learning about “Grandpa’s” legendary past and amazing accomplishments. In his final years, the old man moved in with Carrie’s family in Texas and he would tell her stories of his fascinating past. Finally, several years ago, armed with her grandfather’s stories as well as a huge collection of photographs documenting the history of The Green Mermaid and The Upstage, Carrie set out to document the history of those clubs. She went online and asked for stories from anybody who had ever set foot inside The Upstage. And she was flooded with more stories. Eventually, Carrie made the pilgrimage to Asbury Park, several times actually, and met a number of people who were more than happy to help her with her project. She got a chance to go inside the shell of that building several times. And she started putting on slide shows featuring her “grampa’s” photographs.

And all of a sudden, there was a whole lot of interest in The Upstage Club.

With some help from her new friends, Carrie Potter Devening has published a new history of The Green Mermaid and The Upstage Club that is as much a work of art as the club itself. It contains more than 1,000 photos from Tom Potter’s collection and text made up of the memories and recollections of those who went there. The stories are supplied by Upstage notables like Albee Tellone, Joe Petillo, Tinker West, Billy Ryan and many others. This illuminating coffee table book transports you back in time to the place where so many young musicians, artists and fans spent their long evening journeys into daylight.

Carrie begins her “scrapbook” by giving a brief history of her family, including newspaper clippings, portraits of relatives and stories of Tom’s wild years. Tom Potter was an eccentric artist whose main job for years was as a hair stylist (a career which ended after Tom developed allergies to hair products). The future manager at The Upstage also had quite a talent for art and photography (not to mention short story writing), and examples of all are included. Carrie finally introduces the reader to Tom’s partner-in-crime at The Upstage, the tomboyish, horse-ridin’ Margaret Romeo, who eventually would become Tom’s third wife and was, according to Carrie, “the first lady of Asbury Park’s music scene.”

Tom and Margaret’s love affair is described by Carrie as “fast, tumultuous, imaginative and non-stop.” Margaret was 20 years Tom’s junior, so despite “stiff opposition” from Margaret’s family, the two were married in 1961. They settled into a “swinging” apartment above their beauty shop on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park, just two doors down from the Thom McCan store. It was apparently quite a pad, complete with a rooftop garden. (Years later, Bruce Springsteen would live in this very same apartment and wrote some of his first album there.)

Soon after they married, Margaret learned to play guitar; she would later be a fixture onstage at both the Green Mermaid and The Upstage. The reader is also treated throughout Carrie’s “scrapbook” to some tasty samplings of Tom’s funky photography and art, which were featured on the walls on The Upstage.

Tom and Margaret’s place on Cookman was the scene for many years of huge parties and jam sessions for Margaret’s band, The Distractions, and soon it became obvious that more room was needed, especially since Tom and Margaret wanted to have a place for the underage musicians to “kick out the jams.” So they rented the two floors above the Tom McCan store; two floors which would become home to the Green Mermaid and The Upstage. As Joe Petillo remembers in one of dozens of stories, “50 gallons of paint, a few dozen mannequins painted day-glow, several dozen backlights later, we were open for business.”

Petillo adds that Margaret Potter and The Distractions soon became the “premiere Jersey shore band,” as well as the house band at The Upstage. Petillo says Margaret’s band would start off the night with other musicians joining in as the evening progressed. As time wore on, the big difference was that the music on the second floor tended to be more mellow and the tunes played at The Upstage on the third floor more rockin’. There was always food served in both clubs. One full page is dedicated to a full menu, featuring Ham or Roast Beef sandwiches for $1, Pepsi for a quarter, and the big treat, a full half-gallon ice cream sundae, which was free if you could finish it.

However, the meat and potatoes of this scrapbook are the many stories and the colorful photos of young musicians at play: Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt (always hatless), both with hair to their shoulders, chests bare except for suspenders; a 15-year-old David Sancious; an equally fresh-faced Danny Federici; Garry Tallent; Vini “Maddog” Lopez; Upstage favorite Bobby Williams on drums; lefty guitarist Rick Desarno, Bill Chinnock – all legends around the Jersey Shore, even if you don’t recognize the names.

Perhaps the highlight of this long overdue history are the wonderful stories: like that of the “Spoon Girls” whose main purpose was to smack “hot guys” like Steve and Bruce on their backsides with spoons as they passed by (fun!); Tony “Boccigalupe” Amato’s own admission of having to hide under Tom Potter’s desk from his father because he was too young to be out so late, and most of all how each of these young, aspiring musicians would creatively try to gain the favor and respect of Tom and Margaret Potter. Through the stories, one can see how each musician tried to outdo or upstage the other and we see how much respect they all had for each other’s talents. Margaret Potter comes off as something like a “den mother,” while Tom Potter is portrayed as a somewhat-irascible, task-master with a real heart of gold. The greatest thrill, according to many, was to be invited into Tom’s office and offered a beer. If that didn’t happen, then you weren’t among his “favorites.”

And then there are the words that Bruce Springsteen wrote for the back of Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes first album, which Carrie included in this scrapbook, mainly because they describe The Upstage so eloquently. After listing a number of musician’s names, Springsteen writes:

“…they’re names that deserve to be spoken in reverence at least once…because they were each in their own way a living spirit of what, to me, rock and roll is all about. It was music as survival and they lived it down in their souls, night after night. These guys were their own heroes and they never forgot.”

Inevitably, there’s a chapter dedicated to stories and photos of the Asbury Park riots that brought chaos, destruction and fires to downtown Asbury Park. It was, after all, these riots and the civil rights unrest that changed the downtown area so dramatically and brought about the demise of Tom and Margaret’s dream.

Carrie wraps up her history lesson with details or her visits to Asbury Park, a “Last Jam Farewell” that took place inside the empty Upstage in 2006 and some thoughts about the future of that building.

This isn’t a slick book. Instead, in the spirit of the Upstage, it’s an artifact. “For Music’s Sake…” is, after all, a tribute by Carrie Potter Devening to her grandfather and what he accomplished. Its a must-have book for anyone who ever gave a damn about the Asbury Park music scene.

The book is just $50.00 and can be ordered directly, here: http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000411026

Note: In Part II, I’ll feature an interview with the author, Carrie Potter Devening.

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Farewell, Clarence Clemons


Clarence Clemons – January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011

Now there’s a loss that can never be replaced,
A destination that can never be reached,
A light you’ll never find in another’s face,
A sea whose distance cannot be breached – Bruce Springsteen

He was like a family member. And like all family members we fool ourselves into believing that they will never die. Even through sickness and surgeries and suffering and pain, we delude ourselves. We keep telling ourselves things like, “miracles can happen,” and “God will see them through.” We delude ourselves because the pain of considering the alternative seems so huge.

And then some dark and lonely night you get the call that you’ve always dreaded. There’s no way to prepare yourself for it. You force yourself to breath. You place your hands on your head. You say it can’t be true. This person that you loved so much cannot be gone from this world. But it’s true and sometimes there’s nothing to do but cry.

Clarence Clemons, the longtime saxaphone playing member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, passed away last night and E Street Nation today is mourning his passing and celebrating his life. People are gathered at the Stone Pony as I write this to help each other grieve.

As for me, I was foolish in my thinking. I actually believed that Clarence was a force larger than life and was indestructible. I believed that despite poor health, despite countless operations on failing hips and knees, despite the painful recuperations, despite the stroke that he suffered a week ago…despite all this, I believed Clarence would survive. I refused to believe otherwise. I’m still not sure I fully have accepted it.I guess it’s called denial.

Every time I went to see Bruce Springsteen and The Legendary E Street Band perform, I smiled and laughed to hear Springsteen’s trademark, incomparable, built-up description and introduction of Clarence Clemons.

So how could I believe that death would ever touch Clarence Clemons? Bruce’s exaltations were more than a show-biz bit. It was Bruce “testifying” to how much he believed and how much he loved his friend. How could we, as fans, ever believe that Clarence Clemons was anything but indestructible? And now he’s gone, gone, gone.

When the news broke that Clarence Clemons had suffered a stroke, Bruce Springsteen rushed from Europe to be at The Big Man’s hospital bedside in Florida. Bruce Springsteen stayed with Clarence all week long, through the good days when it seemed like Clarence was doing much better to the darker days, at the end of last week, when Clarence’s condition began to worsen. It’s also been written that Bruce was with Clarence all day yesterday, with his close friend, playing music with his children until the end. Wow.

If the news of Clarence’s passing is difficult for fans like myself to accept, one can only imagine the grief that is being experienced by Clarence’s original family, his closest friends, loved ones, longtime band members and, perhaps most painfully, by Bruce Springsteen himself. To them, I send my deepest condolences.

Last night, Bruce issued this statement on his official website (www.BruceSpringsteen.net).

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

Since the news leaked out around 8:00 last night, people from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, people who were his friends and people who barely knew his name have been flocking to Twitter, Facebook and Springsteen discussion boards, like Backstreets.com/BTX to offer condolences, to grieve and to celebrate Clarence’s life and his music.

The first time I ever truly experienced a rock and roll epiphany was in 1976. I was 15 years old and listening to Jungleland. In those glorious 8 minutes, I understood for the first time the full spectrum of human emotions and possibilities. Since that day, I’ve probably heard Jungleland and Clarence’s magnificent saxaphone solo a thousand times or more, but it never ceases to amaze me and strike to the very heart of what it means to be a human being fully realized:

In 1988, I attended the Human Rights Now! concert, in Philadelphia. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were the headliners and before the concert I attended a press conference at the downtown hotel where all the band members were staying.

After the press conference, I had time to kill and, as luck would have it, I happened to bump into Clarence in the hotel lobby. I walked up to Clarence and thanked him for all the many years of happiness that his music had given me. I remember the huge smile on his face as he shook my hand and said, “No, I wanna thank you for being a fan and coming to our shows.” It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Later that night, Bruce unexpectedly called for the band to play Jungleland. Drummer Max Weinberg says the expression on Clarence’s face when he realized he would have to once again perform that taxing sax solo was priceless. But he nailed it. Perfecto!

The last time I saw Clarence perform was the final show of the last tour in Buffalo. It was a special weekend, because on the way to Buffalo, my beautiful fiancee Janet and I stopped and stayed overnight in Niagara Falls, Canada. At dinner the night before the show, with fireworks in the background over the Falls, I got down on my knee to ask her to marry me. (Happily, she said yes.)

That night Clarence, still in pain from all the surgeries and other ailments that were wracking his 69 year old body, moved gingerly and had to sit for parts of the show, just like he had to for most of the last couple of tours. You could tell that his days of touring were numbered, but nobody really wanted to admit it to themselves.

And now that this very spiritual man has made the passage from this world to the next, it is hard to imagine not ever seeing Bruce and Clarence onstage together; hard to imagine not ever seeing Clarence play the Jungleland solo or any other song; hard to imagine an E Street Band show without Clarence.

But I’d rather not think about that now. Instead, I’d prefer to celebrate the life and music of Clarence Clemons. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but Clarence’s spirit lives on forever in his music and the joy he brought into the millions of hearts around the world. Not bad for a guy with a saxaphone.

As Bruce Springsteen said last night, Clarence Clemons loved people and that made people love him. That’s a lesson that we should all take to heart.

All of us who loved him will always miss Clarence Clemons and perhaps we’ll get to hear that sweet saxaphone again in the next world. All I know is that we were all very lucky have had Clarence Clemons be such a huge part of our lives for so long.

Farewell, Big Man.

Sleep long and sleep well.

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Chris Hedges On The Death Of Osama bin Laden

This is the transcript taken from a speech made by Christopher Hedges last night, upon hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden at a Truthdig fundraising event in Los Angeles.

I know that because of this announcement, that reportedly Osama bin Laden was killed, Bob wanted me to say a few words about it … about al-Qaida. I spent a year of my life covering al-Qaida for The New York Times. It was the work in which I, and other investigative reporters, won the Pulitzer Prize. And I spent seven years of my life in the Middle East. I was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. I’m an Arabic speaker. And when someone came over and told Jean and me the news, my stomach sank. I’m not in any way naïve about what al-Qaida is. It’s an organization that terrifies me. I know it intimately.

But I’m also intimately familiar with the collective humiliation that we have imposed on the Muslim world. The expansion of military occupation that took place throughout, in particular the Arab world, following 9/11—and that this presence of American imperial bases, dotted, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Doha—is one that has done more to engender hatred and acts of terror than anything ever orchestrated by Osama bin Laden.

And the killing of bin Laden, who has absolutely no operational role in al-Qaida—that’s clear—he’s kind of a spiritual mentor, a kind of guide … he functions in many of the ways that Hitler functioned for the Nazi Party. We were just talking with Warren about Kershaw’s great biography of Hitler, which I read a few months ago, where you hold up a particular ideological ideal and strive for it. That was bin Laden’s role. But all actual acts of terror, which he may have signed off on, he no way planned.

I think that one of the most interesting aspects of the whole rise of al-Qaida is that when Saddam Hussein … I covered the first Gulf War, went into Kuwait with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, was in Basra during the Shiite uprising until I was captured and taken prisoner by the Iraqi Republican Guard. I like to say I was embedded with the Iraqi Republican Guard. Within that initial assault and occupation of Kuwait, bin Laden appealed to the Saudi government to come back and help organize the defense of his country. And he was turned down. And American troops came in and implanted themselves on Muslim soil.

When I was in New York, as some of you were, on 9/11, I was in Times Square when the second plane hit. I walked into The New York Times, I stuffed notebooks in my pocket and walked down the West Side Highway and was at Ground Zero four hours later. I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.

And it’s about forgetting that terrorism is a tactic. You can’t make war on terror. Terrorism has been with us since Sallust wrote about it in the Jugurthine wars. And the only way to successfully fight terrorist groups is to isolate [them], isolate those groups, within their own societies. And I was in the immediate days after 9/11 assigned to go out to Jersey City and the places where the hijackers had lived and begin to piece together their lives. I was then very soon transferred to Paris, where I covered all of al-Qaida’s operations in the Middle East and Europe.

So I was in the Middle East in the days after 9/11. And we had garnered the empathy of not only most of the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in the name of their religion. And we had major religious figures like Sheikh Tantawi, the head of al-Azhar—who died recently—who after the attacks of 9/11 not only denounced them as a crime against humanity, which they were, but denounced Osama bin Laden as a fraud … someone who had no right to issue fatwas or religious edicts, no religious legitimacy, no religious training. And the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.

We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond. They wanted us to speak the language of violence. What were the explosions that hit the World Trade Center, huge explosions and death above a city skyline? It was straight out of Hollywood. When Robert McNamara in 1965 began the massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, he did it because he said he wanted to “send a message” to the North Vietnamese—a message that left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.

These groups learned to speak the language we taught them. And our response was to speak in kind. The language of violence, the language of occupation—the occupation of the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has been the best recruiting tool al-Qaida has been handed. If it is correct that Osama bin Laden is dead, then it will spiral upwards with acts of suicidal vengeance. And I expect most probably on American soil. The tragedy of the Middle East is one where we proved incapable of communicating in any other language than the brute and brutal force of empire.

And empire finally, as Thucydides understood, is a disease. As Thucydides wrote, the tyranny that the Athenian empire imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. The disease of empire, according to Thucydides, would finally kill Athenian democracy. And the disease of empire, the disease of nationalism … these of course are mirrored in the anarchic violence of these groups, but one that locks us in a kind of frightening death spiral. So while I certainly fear al-Qaida, I know its intentions. I know how it works. I spent months of my life reconstructing every step Mohamed Atta took. While I don’t in any way minimize their danger, I despair. I despair that we as a country, as Nietzsche understood, have become the monster that we are attempting to fight.

For more go to http://www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges

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The Promise: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” Album

It might have seemed, to the casual observer, that Bruce Springsteen was on Easy Street after the completion of his masterpiece, best-selling album “Born To Run. But Bruce Springsteen was, in fact, a deeply troubled man. And he was pretty much on his own again, trying to find his way back home.

As the HBO documentary “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Thom Zimny illustrates so beautifully and personally, Bruce was 27 years old and was a superstar. But as he admits in the documentary, he may have been a rock and roll superstar, but he was still haunted by some hardcore ghosts. For one, he was trying to deal with his newfound success and adulation, while at the same time attempting to untangle his own personal and business relationship with manager Mike Appel.

Although he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek with the release of “Born To Run,” Springsteen was still broke, along with every other member of his band. He was at odds with Appel, with whom he had begun a creative split during the making of BTR. In an effort to bring fresh ideas into the mix to try and rescue both BTR and his record contract, Springsteen brought in Jon Landau and Bruce and Jon became fast friends. Appel, enraged over being cut out of his partnership with Springsteen just as the fruit was about to bloom, slapped a lawsuit on Springsteen that barred Bruce from going into the studio with any other manager/producer without the approval of Appel. Talk about locks and chains.

Springsteen also states in the beginning of “The Promise” that he felt he was, in fact, letting down his friends and band mates. In short, he was a man carrying a major league-sized albatross around his neck. Springsteen says these and many other issues led to the inner turmoil which precipitated the writing of countless of songs (nobody knows quite how many were written but an estimate of 80 to 100 would be a safe estimate) during the Darkness recording sessions.

Springsteen says he always writes in an attempt to answer the questions that plague him. On “The Promise,” Springsteen says he was trying to figure out how to come to a reckoning with the “a life of limitations and compromises” or as he also puts it, “the adult world.”

“Well, the dogs on Main Street howl cause they understand,
If I could take this moment into my hand
Mr., I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in the Promised Land”
– “The Promised Land”

“The Promise” is a documentary that picks up where “Wings For Wheels,” the making of “Born To Run” leaves off and it’s helpful to see the latter if you want to understand the former.

“The success with had with “Born To Run” made me ask, well (laughs), what’s that all about,” says Springsteen at the outset of “The Promise.” Springsteen says the success of “Born To Run” also might have meant that he would have to surrounder all that was his very core, the relationships he had with those closest to him. He admits that more than anything else he wanted to be “great!” And he says that he believed it was the obsessive, selfish quest for greatness that led so many other of music’s “greats” down a dead-end road.

“We all thought we had made it, that we had finally achieved greatness and everything was going good”, says E Street band guitarist Little Steven, along with the other members of the band. “We thought we got it made, we’re gonna make it,” says the Big Man Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s sax player and onstage foil. “And then everything just went….STOP!”

“The Promise” explains that the other major cloud hanging over the future of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band was the end of Springsteen’s relationship with his manager and good friend Mike Appel. Appel still maintains to this day that he was only trying to protect Bruce Springsteen with his original publishing deal. “You gotta take a stand. How are you getting out of your contracts if you wanna get control,” Appel argues.

Springsteen calls the contracts “not evil, but naive.” “It wasn’t a lawsuit about money,” Springsteen continues, “it was about control. The bottom line was, it was gonna be my ass on the line and I was gonna control where it went and how things went down. If that meant I didn’t go into the studio, then I wasn’t gonna go into the studio.”

Springsteen says they tried to make a living playing live, but eventually things got extremely tough on everyone in the band and the organization financially. But Springsteen says in retrospect it was worth standing his ground against Appel.

“You know,” says Springsteen. “You can lose the rights to your music, you can lose the ability to record, you can lose the ownership of your songs, but you can’t lose “that thing”. That thing that’s in you.”

“Tonight I’ll be on that hill cause I can’t still
I’ll be on that hill withe everything that I’ve got
Where lives are on the line
Where dreams are found and lost”
– “Darkness On The Edge of Town

“Not being able to return to the studio after the “Born To Run” record was truly heartbreaking,” remembers keyboardist Roy Bittan. So banned from the studio, the band rehearsed every single day at Bruce’s house in New Jersey. All day and into all hours of the night.

That footage of Bruce singing at home, shot by the essential chronologist Barry Rebo, with Bruce in many scenes sans shirt is bound to have women viewers who fantasize about Springsteen in dreamland. But for the band, it may not have been as fun as some scenes make it look. Bruce was writing like a banshee, churning out new ideas and new songs every day. Song after song after song. “My sense of his reaction to this roadblock,” says the mighty drummer Max Weinberg all these years 30 years or more later, is that his desire, that will, that determination to do things his way got even stronger. Maybe his way of working it all out,” says Weinberg, “was writing all those songs.”

“While this was a time of pain because I was trying to sort out what had happened with Mike,” says Springsteen, “there was also a time of refinding myself and freedom. The freedom of finding out where I belonged”

During Springsteen’s narrative we see incredible behind-the-scenes home studio footage of Bruce sporting his Italian-Afro (as he calls it). A half-naked Springsteen is seen working out the words to one of the most several songs on “Darkness on the Edge of Town,”

“And I take her out easy looking for a place where the world is right
And then I go tearing into something in the night.”
– Early Version of “Something In The Night

We even get to see Bruce perform the rarely performed alternate lyrics..

“Well, I picked this girl up hitching, she stuck her head out the window and she screamed
She was looking for a place to die or redeemed”

This reviewers only minor disappointment with “The Promise” is that we’re not treated to enough to this kind of footage, but nobody really knows how much more of it they have. My guess is that this wealth of information contributes to a lack of cogent, linear presentation and that they could only allocate so much time to home practicing and studio recording scenes. At times, it is difficult for the viewer to follow the highs and lows, ups and downs of Bruce’s recording experience.

Springsteen says that because of changes in the music business, the three years that went by in between records may have seemed longer back then than it would now. He says he started to see pieces in the press asking, “Whatever happened to Bruce Springsteen?” And Bruce says that the time stretched out so long, he started wondering that himself. As time continued to pass, the pressure grew and grew. And so did the number of pages in Springsteen’s notebook of songs.

“You didn’t know if you were going to get another chance,” says Springsteen. “So everything I had inside me, I had to get out.”

Good news came in the summer of 1976 with the resolution of the lawsuits between Appel and Springsteen. “I was happy that it was over because I would have fought to the death…because that’s what this was all about.” In the end, amends were made, and the band went back into a professionally equipped studio with Jon Landau and mixer Jimmy Iovine at the helms.

“The Promise” shows a band with renewed vigor as they try to get this project finished. But Landau recounts that it was strange that nobody really had a clear idea of what kind of record they wanted “Darkness” to be. As things evolved, all anybody could agree on was that they wanted a sound that was very basic or as Landau puts it, “coffee black”. While Springsteen wanted Darkness to be very specific in its focus, he also wanted it to be “relentless.”

This long stretch of writing and working on songs in the studio is displayed in wonderful black and white super 8 film shot by Barry Rebo. Of Bruce and Steve at the piano working out “Sherry Darling” and “Talk To Me,” neither of which would made the “Darkness” album. “It’s tragic in a way,” says Little Steven with his usual love and admiration for his old buddy, “because he would have been one of the great composers of all the time.” Thus, the prolific, nonstop song machine named Springsteen. “The Promise” also tells the great story of how Bruce gave away his brilliant song, “Because The Night” to punker Patti Smith, who was also recording with genius engineer Jimmy Iovine in another studio. Springsteen says he didn’t feel comfortable with writing that love song, so he graciously gave it over to Smith, for whom it was her biggest hit ever.

At one point, it was decided that there wasn’t enough saxaphone on “Darkness.” So it was back to work. “It was always like a giant junkyard that were were working in. So if one part wasn’t working, we’d pull another one out of another car and see how that car runs.” And Bruce just continued to write. And write. And write some more. Bruce continued to work on new songs in his growing notebook of what one band member calls the “magical notebook.”

And so they pressed forward with a number of what Max Weinberg calls a “freewheeling” approach, as opposed to a more conservative and stubborn manner in which BTR was recorded. Looking for a live sound, Springsteen ate up precious studio hours hammering out songs as he went along. He refused to allow the band to rehearse many of the tunes. He wanted them real and he wanted them raw. Springsteen also spend hours or days trying to find a certain drum sound and ambiance. And suddenly they looked around, and the boys were stuck again.

After a while, Bruce, Jon, Jimmy and the band needed somebody outside the band. And a not-so-local hero rode into town in the form of Chuck Plotkin came riding into town with a fresh outlook. All band members agree that Plotkin somehow found a way to take the songs they had and give them a theme, meaning and structure. Chuck Plotkin, according to Bruce, is one of the true heroes of the Darkness recording sessions.

“‘Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a meditation,” says Springsteen, “on where your going to stand, it’s a meditation on with who and where your going to stand. These are basic, essential questions that need to be addressed.”

“The obsessive-compulsive part of my personality came through because I found that I could try to drive you crazy….JUST BECAUSE I COULD,” laughs Springsteen. “The band had to find lots of different wants to get out from under my oppressive grip,” he says.

Springsteen and others address the greatness of the song “The Promise.” “It could have gone on the record it we had finished it,” says Springsteen. “It’s about fighting and not winning. But I felt to close to it at the time” So “The Promise” didn’t make it. Along with a lot of other gorgeous, moving songs. But this is a documentary about the album that was made. And that has been with us for more than 30 years and has helped us on our journey as we ask ourselved the same question.

“Darkness On The Edge Of Town” will always be for so many of us our own coming of age album. And in a way it’s Bruce Springsteen’s coming of age album, as well. It’s an album that raises more questions that it answers, but isn’t that how all great art works? This may not be the masterpiece that Born To Run is, but it’s a major victory of Springsteen’s spirit. To continue to believe in the dream and not be unswayed. Played start to finish it is passionate howl issued into that deep, dark night; a man wrestling with the ache the comes from growing into a man.

As the dogs on main streets howl. And howl. And howl

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“The Motorcycle Diaries” – Not Just Another Road Movie

For the last six years I’ve heard nothing but raves about the on-the-road, buddy film, political manifesto “The Motorcycles Diaries,” but for some reason or other I never got around to watching it. Until the other night, and I am here to add to that chorus and raves and recommend it as one of the great films of the past 25 years.

The truth is, after viewing it, I can’t get this film out of my head; from the gorgeous images that showcase the intense beauty of South America, the passionate camaraderie and love between a 23 year old Che Guevara and his hilarious, sidekick, best friend Alberto Granado, to the gradual political and social transformation of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as he encounters the poor, indigenous people who populate his home in the southern hemisphere. I recommend it not because the cinematography is gorgeous (it is) or because the actors are tremendous (they are) or because it’s a really fun road trip that will make you want to hit the road yourself (it will). I recommend it because like all great art, it will change you, or at least the way you see this part of the world.

“The Motorcycle Diaries” is set in 1952 and is based on the actual diaries kept by Che Guevara, who was then a medical student one semester away from graduating when he decided to go on a long journey up and down that long continent of South America with his friend, biochemist Alberto Granada. Before they go, the two amigos trace out an outline of their journey which they plan to mount atop Alberto’s outdated Norton 500 motorcycle, nicknamed by Alberto “The Mighty One.”

The two men, their bodies, sacks and packs of food and other provisions, are perched like a tremendous behemoth upon this tiny motor bike. And even though their eventual destination is a leper colony in Peru, where they hope to help the sick and dying, these are two young men looking to discover new places and the fun and adventure that is sure to greet them along their intended 8,000 kilometer (5,000 mile route).

They hop aboard “The Mighty One” and head out from Buenos Aires, Argentina across the flatland and up into the Andes and through its snow covered mountains, down the coast of Chile and across the Atacama Desert, where eventually “The Mighty One” breaks down and is sold as scrap. You want to give God a laugh, it is said, tell him your plans.

The tone of the film shifts slowly from one of rambunctious hilarity to something different with serious sociopolitical implications. In their travels, Che and Alberto encounter a group of traveling migrants on the road to Venezuela, and Che (or “Fuser”, as Alberto has earlier nicknamed him) begins to get to know the peasants and downtrodden people of South America. Listening to their stories at night alongside a campfire and under moonlit skies, we see the slow metamorphosis that is happening within Che, as he hears these sad stories of lives lived under the terrible hardship of poverty. One couple tells of how their lives were uprooted and ruined because of their communist beliefs, as many of the others nod in political solidarity.

Finally, when Che and Alberto visit a copper mine, Guevara’s frustration and anger come to a boiling point as he sees with his own eyes the terrible treatment of the men who are merely trying to seek out enough money to feed their families. All this time, Che feverishly documents in a diary consisting of numerous notebooks exactly what he is witnessing and does not want to forget.

For most of the film, Alberto serves as somewhat of a foil, a source of comic relief versus the more serious and gentlemanly young Che. Alberto wants to sing, dance, drink wine and make love. Che seems more interested in learning as much as he can about a world he never knew existed. But both men are moved tremendously and muse both politically and philosophically when they reach the most breathtaking stop on their already transformative journey, the Peruvian ruins of Machu Picchu.

As Che and Alberto both observe with disgust the contrast between this centuries old ruin of Machu Picchu with the the ugly, polluted city of Lima to the south, they find themselves wondering aloud how such beauty and majesty can be so devastatingly destroyed into the waste and greed and avarice they see far below them.

Che speaks of dreams of revolution against rampant capitalism, but is warned by the more practical Alberto who answers, “A revolution without guns? It will never work.” Prophetic words indeed. In the end, the two weary travelers reach their final destination, the leper colony where Che cares for those in dire need of medical attention, refusing the custom of wearing medical gloves, and instead bravely, nobly choosing instead to meet the lepers with his bare hands.

As the film comes to a close, Ernesto “Che” Guevara makes a birthday toast, his first real political statement, in which he confirms how he has been so radically changed and hints at what those changes will mean for his future. In an attempt to put words into action of one day bridging the widening gap between the “haves” of the world and “have-nots,” Che plunges into the dangerous Amazon river and swims from the safe side where the caretakers live and eat over to the sick side, where the lepers are dying. He emerges from the water, a man newly baptized by the water and ready to begin a new, more radical life.

This is a film which will have a powerful effect on you. It will change you in many ways, not the least of which might be the way you think of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a true man of the people.

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