The Wild, The Angry and The E Street Shuffle

Bruce Springsteen, that modern-day Rock and Roll warrior and long-time advocate for hope and human rights, is about to release tommorow from his forthcoming album the first single, titled, “We Take Care Of Our Own,” which will not only have people talking, but also give his fans a long-awaited glimpse of what The Man has been up to for the past year or more.

For months there have been rumors and rumblings about Springsteen’s 17th album, which follows more than a year’s rest for the singer, after almost three years of touring. Most of those lucky enough to get a preview of the new album have come away impressed and moved. Just about anybody who has heard it is calling it his “angriest” album yet (including Springsteen himself) and say it addresses many of the problems (ie: social, economic and political) that continue to plagued America. Today, RollingStone.com was reporting on the new release, calling it “sonically experimental” and quoting Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, who says it is a “big-picture piece of work.” “It’s a rock record,” according to Springsteen longtime manager, “that combines elements of Bruce’s classic sound, and his Seeger Sessions experience, with new textures and styles.”

Its probably no coincidence that Springsteen’s latest musical endeavor is being launched the same week that people around the world observe Martin Luther King Juniors birthday and the same week that Republican candidates for president bicker and feud on their way to a primary in South Carolina. Bruce Springsteen has never been afraid to take on the same issues that affect the people he’s been writing for and about for his whole life. His lyrics have long been topical, and often controversial. The New Jersey native’s voice has always been the voice of the people, from Main Street to Wall Street and all the avenues that lie in between. Springsteen has publicly said over and over that he’s most interested in the problems and concerns that confront the people that he has always written about or as fellow musician Bob Dylan once wrote, “the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones and worse.” Whether he’s been speaking out in his songs about human rights around the world or here in America, or campaigning in support of Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama, Springsteen’s music reflects mainly very populist views and ideals. To many who admire him, Springsteen is a modern day Woody Guthrie or as the New York Times once described him, “John Steinbeck in leather.”

The new album is a departure in a number of ways for Bruce Springsteen. For the past decade plus, Springsteen has worked in the studio either on his own at his home or with producer Brendan O’Brien in Atlanta. But on this new album, Springsteen has collaborated with producer Ron Aniello, who’s worked in the past with such bands as Candlebox and Jars of Clay, as well as with his wife, singer-songwriter Patti Scialfa. According to the RollingStone.com post the new record features members of Springsteen’s E Street Band, as well as “a variety of outside musicians, including Tom Morello and possibly former Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain” to name just a few.

So far there has been nothing confirmed as far as song titles, other than the one track that will be available tomorrow on Amazon.com, “We Take Care Of Our Own.” But you can expect lots of different styles of music on this record and that’s always fun. Rocker Bob Seger got a preview several weeks ago and told reporters that it this LP is unlike anything Springsteen has ever done before. According to another source in the Hollywood Reporter, we can look forward to songs with “unexpected textures – loops, electronic percussion…influences and rhythms from hip-hop to Irish folk rhythms.” Hip-hop and Irish folk rythms!!! That may surprise some, but not anyone who’s paid attention to the broad spectrum of music that Springsteen laid out both in the studio and in concert over the last decade. In fact, it’s long been rumored that Springsteen once worked on a entire “hip-hop record,” so now we’ll finally get to hear what that record might have sounded like.

One thing is for sure. This new release by the 61-year old Springsteen will be plenty controversial. According to that same source in the Hollywood Reporter, Springsteen “gets into economic justice quite a bit.” And in addition to being angry, Jon Laudau also says that the new album has a “very pronounced spiritual dimension.” But none of this should truly surprise anyone who has followed the path that Bruce Springsteen has taken on his records over the last 40 years.
Even Springsteen’s first LP, “Greetings From Asbury Park” featured social and political elements on songs like “Lost In The Flood” amd “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City.”

While some say that Springsteen shouldn’t have anything to be angry about, with the wealth that he’s accumlated, fans of Springsteen scoff at that and say that what is in this man’s bank account is not about to stop him from speaking out about the issues that matter for this father of three. For many, the album comes just in the knick of time, as the “Occupy Wall Street” protests start to lose some steam. Springsteen has always had a fresh and, for most fans, inspiring take on the wicked ways of the world and he’s never been afraid of expressing how he feels in his music. Even the artwork for the song, “We Take Care Of Our Own” has a DIY/Punk look to it.

Just the other day Springsteen was on the streets of Asbury Park, filming a new video to accompany the new album:

So on the eve of the release of the first round or salvo from an “angry” Bruce Springsteen, I say bring it on. Music has always been an essential part of radicalis and revolutionaries. And if we need a revolution to fix this broken country, then let’s join together and start today.

And…um….I don’t know about you, but I could use a little angry rock and roll right about now.

So bring…it….on!!!

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Detroit’s On Fire!!!

Oh my, indeed.

Yes, the city of Detroit is on fire again. Well, not literally. I’m talking about the city’s sports teams.

The Detroit Tigers are currently scrapping it out with the Texas Rangers for the American League Championship and the right to go to the 2011 World Series for the first time since 1984. Young, tall fastball pitcher Justin Verlander and a lineup of crackerjack batters are lighting it up on the mound and at the plate. After two games in Texas, the team returns this week for three straight nights at home and a chance to take the lead in the series and set things up for a pennant victory.

Meanwhile, the shocking and still undefeated Detroit Lions are slated to take on the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football tonight at Ford Field here in the Motor City capturing the national spotlight. It’s the first time in a decade that the Bears have played in Detroit and the Detroit Lions offensive line will do their best to protect young quarterback Mathew Stafford who has a bad history of being knocked out of games by the aggressive Chicago Bears defense.
Stafford has suddenly become the “franchise QB” for the Lions and their new spread offense has been modeled around him. Meanwhile, the 2 wins and 2 losses Bears come to town with something to prove and a chance to bring the soaring Lions back to earth.

Oh yeah. And then there’s always the always sensational Detroit Red Wings, who play hockey at the Joe Louis Arena, right next door to where I live. The Red Wings are so good that most locals have come to pretty much expect them to go to the Stanley Cup finals every season. Anything less than that from this team of fast skating, sharp shooters is considered a disappointment. In fact, most local hockey fans believe the aging Detroit Red Wings are well overdue for another Cup Championship and it would be very sweet to see a Detroit Red Wings-Boston Bruins Stanley Cup final in May of 2012.

Yup, with all the excitement here in Detroit, I almost missed the festivities at the “new Garden” in my beloved Boston, where I was born and spent most of my life. And truth be told, I still miss being back in Boston where I can best root for (gulp) the Red Sox, Bruins and New England Patriots.

But for the time being, I’m still here in Detroit and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it is really a lot of fun to see these Detroit teams playing so well. Heck, if there’s any city in these still United States, it is Detroit that needs something to be proud about. It is Detroit that needs something, anything to rally around. I mean, look what the New Orleans Saints did for that beleaguered city. And the Saints are still going strong as N’Awlins slowly tried to come back from the devastation of Katrina.

So I’ve jumped upon the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions bandwagons and who knows how long that ride will last.

But for the first time since I moved here almost three years ago, I can honestly say that it is kinda fun to live in Detroit.

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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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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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“Amigo” – A Review

Written and Directed: John Sayles
Producer: Maggie Renzi
Starring: Chris Cooper, Garrett Dillahunt, Joel Torre
Opening in select cities nationwide: August 19. 2011
Distributed by: Variance Films (http://www3.amigomovie.com/)

There’s a scene early in John Sayles’ outstanding new film, Amigo, the story of the U.S invasion and occupation of the Philippines during the oft-forgotten Philippine-American War (which lasted officially from 1899 to 1902), in which Colonel Hardacre (played with wry detachment and bemusement by a grizzled Chris Cooper) sits astride his horse barking orders at a group of U.S. soldiers.

“…And get these people out of the dirt, for God’s sakes,” Colonel Hardacre orders, “we’re supposed to be winning their hearts and their minds.”

That expression reminds the viewer, of course, of the failed U.S. involvement in Vietnam, as well as any number of U.S. invasions and subsequently disastrous occupations right up to the present quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That may very well be the intention in John Sayles’ latest film project, which brings to light a forgotten chapter of both U.S and Filipino history, as well as the beginning of U.S. Imperialism around the world.

Amigo comes on the heels of the publication of John Sayles’ new novel, the nearly 1,000-page, A Moment In The Sun (McSweeeneys Books). I spent a few hours with John Sayles and his longtime partner/producer Maggie Renzi in Chicago earlier this summer(http://bit.ly/l5h1KN). It was the second-to-last stop of a book tour in which Sayles and Renzi crisscrossed America by automobile, stopping in basically any independent bookstore they could find to promote the novel.

Sayles told me the book, broader in scope than the film, had its genesis in a screenplay, Some Time In The Sun, written five years ago but not considered viable at that time. Both the book and film mark the beginning of American intervention well beyond our own borders. Sayles has long felt the Philippine-American War was a story that had been hidden in the dark recesses of U.S. and Philippine history for far took long and that the time had come to tell at least a part of the story.

In short, it was a tale dying to be told.

When Amigo begins, all appears to be well in the baryo. Rafael (played with understated emotion by Joel Torre) displays his role as the head Amigo of the village, resolving a minor crisis involving a garden that has been torn apart by a pig, which come to think of it is not a bad metaphor to begin with. Soon all hell breaks loose in the baryo as U.S troops, poorly trained and under the supervision of Lieutenant Compton (the versatile and hugely talented Garrett Dillahunt) move in and assert their power. We soon find that Rafael is not only the head Amigo, but he also has a brother, who leads the local band of guerrillas hiding out and determined to fight the Americans. It’s the type of set-up destined to end badly.

In fact, the baryo in which most of Amigo takes place seems to be a microcosm for what is happening all over the Philippines. When the Americans arrive, the Filipinos are forced to release the Spanish village priest from where he is being held captive. Padre Hidalgo (played with outstanding deception and guile by Yul Vazquez) is caught in the crossfire and torn between protecting the baryo and his obligation to his homeland. The Padre quickly becomes the interpreter for the U.S. platoon, surreptitiously editing and changing the translations of the words he interprets. Crafty Padre.

Like all Sayles films, one recognizes immediately the complexity of life in the baryo and that this tale will be told, like all Sayles films, from many different perspectives. Sayles has a knack for being able to convey the complexities of any situation in an understandable way and this film is no exception. He has great respect and expectations for us, the audience to follow what can be a complicated script, but he also knows the tricks by now (this is Sayles’ 17th feature film) to help us along. Sayles’ style is different, indeed, from many other American filmmakers who present the world only in black and white.

Despite attempts by the U.S. troops to assimilate into the baryo they now occupy, these young soldiers are met by persistent resistance from the guerrillas hiding throughout the tropical island. When they’re not cutting down telegraph wires, they’re killing Chinos or “coolies,” (Chinese immigrants to the Philippines who work for the highest bidder) or attacking the poorly-trained U.S. “greenhorns.” This enrages the Colonel who believes that force and might are the only means to victory in the Philippines. He orders the screws to be tightened. Under his direction, the movement of the Filipinos is restricted by guards and barbed wire and slowly the process of starving the enemy into submission and surrender is employed.

Finally, in an attempt to find the whereabouts of the guerrillas, the Amigo is tortured by a process then called “the water cure” (now called “water boarding” and frequently used with the same unsuccessful result against Iraqi and Afghan prisoners). The Amigo nearly drowns, but agrees to lead the U.S. forces to the guerrilla hideout.

But as you may guess, the day-long trek through the flora and fauna of the Philippines is a ruse, and a wild goose chase ensues. Instead of being taken to the guerrillas’ headquarters, the troops are led by the Amigo into the middle of a deadly ambush. Casualties are taken on both sides. A fuming Colonel Goodacre, now at the end of his rope, decides the Amigo must be die by quite another rope: The Amigo must hang or be “stretched,” to use the barbaric parlance of the day.

Sayles’ Amigo ends, much like every U.S. occupation, with little or nothing truly accomplished. I won’t give away the exact circumstances of the film’s conclusion, other than to say that this is a film that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.

It’s little wonder that this ignoble and embarrassing period of U.S. history was covered up and left out of both U.S. and Philippine textbooks, while the heroics of Teddy Roosevelt on San Juan Hill were a part of every school kid’s education. It’s said that the victors are the ones who get to write the history books, and when there are no victors, perhaps it doesn’t get written at all.

However, the real victor is John Sayles and Co. for shedding light on this little-known “moment in the sun.” George Santayana’s quote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” seems very much applicable here, and its certainly never too late for the truth to see the light of day. Amigo is clearly as good a film as John Sayles has ever directed and certainly ranks up there there with the like of Brother From Another Planet, Matewan and Lone Star. Time will tell if Sayles legion of fans and the general American public will agree.

One thing is for certain. In 2001, writer and director John Sayles has been one busy amigo!

(Four out of four stars and highly recommended viewing.)

You can get more info and also request that “Amigo” be shown in your city here: http://www3.amigomovie.com/theaters/. Also visit the Amigo Facebook page here: (https://www.facebook.com/?tid=1088146166261&sk=inbox#!/AmigoTheMovie)

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The Fantastic, Incredible, Amazing and Totally Confounding World Of Human Beings

I was thinking about humanity today.

I know what you might be thinking. Doesn’t this guy have anything better to do that to sit around and think about…humanity? I mean, when it comes to thinking (which itself is becoming more and more rare), contemplating the future of the human race is a pretty dangerous thing. It can take you down some pretty tricky alleys. Thinking about why human beings behave the way we do is actually pretty frightening. Hell, if you think too much, you might end up…depressed or worse

But earlier I was watching a British television program, Penn & Teller: Fool Us. The basic idea of the show is that magicians from around the world go on this British Saturday night prime time television program, hosted by a bloke who I believe is a magician or the U.S. equivalent of Jay Leno (ie: Not too funny), and try to perform magic tricks that fool the great magic duo of Penn & Teller.

Penn is the guy on the left, a sort of spoof of a carnival barker who’s also a master magician and at six feet eight inches tall is a rather imposing figure. The guy on the right is named Teller and he is probably one of the most well-read and respected magicians in the world. But like Harpo Marx’s character in the Marx Brothers films, Teller is mute. He never speaks, not never, not no way, no how. (Although he does speak in private, he “holds his tongue” whenever Penn & Teller are performing. But magic fascinated me because it can be used to entertain, but also to deceive. Lately, there’s been more than too much deception by politicians in America. So it put me in a very thoughtful, rather cynical mood.

Later in the day, I was doing the rather dull task of mopping the kitchen floor. To me, mopping is a lot like raking leaves. It’s a job that never ends. Also, mopping is not the most demanding psychological task. It gives a person like me a chance to ponder some of life’s larger questions. For instance, one thing I was thinking about was why we now have have an elected body of representatives in Washington who refuse to agree on…anything! For example, there’s been endless debate on taxation and how much money the rich and the poor in this country should be forced render unto our government. Also up for debate has been how that money should be spent; whether it should be used to buy more guns and tanks and weapons to destroy other human beings or, perhaps, on ensuring health care for all Americans, something that we could do as a nation, if we wanted to.

So there I was mopping away my Sunday afternoon afternoon. I began thinking specifically about how humans are capable of fantastic, incredible and amazing things. Humans, as most would agree, are at the top of the food chain, meaning that we’re smarter than chimps and dolphins, we can use our thumbs (which come in very handy when you’re mopping) AND (this is the biggie, so here it comes…) WE CAN REASON. Yes, our ability to use a tiny portion of our brains to reason is the one thing that differentiates us from Harry the dog and Kitty Cat and the rest of the animal kingdom, of which we are, of course, the master of for all time. Yes, human beings are the master race. And if you don’t believe me, check out what good old Charles Darwin had to say way back in the 19th Century:

Darwin established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.– Wikipedia, (that Internet resource of complete and total accuracy.) Ha ha.

There he is…Charlie Darwin, a very serious fellow, indeed, who certainly spent more than his share of time mopping the kitchen floors and thinking about humanity. (Or maybe he had the maid mop for him.)

But if human beings are the top of the pops, the bees knees, the best and the brightest of all living things, then I would like somebody to step up to the plate and explain to me a thing or two. Firstly, I’d like to know why human beings cannot seem to stop killing one another. Since the beginning of recorded history, we humans have hellbent on a crazed and insatiable bloody rampage intended to murder or maim anybody who looks, acts or behaves different from us. It seems to be part of a terrible dichotomy; our ability to at once love and hate one another. Our history as humans is a degrading, beguiling time together filled with either great progress and achievement that can takes your breath away, or else endless murders, wars, conquests, and genocides that should make you and I ashamed to call ourselves humans.

Check it out. 160 million people were killed in the the 20th century alone due to fighting and endless blood lust. Why? This may sound naive, but I’d like a good answer to why human beings seem unable to stop killing one another? Why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t humans make love and not war? Despite the overpopulation of certain areas, it’s a big old world out there and there’s still plenty of space on the planet for everybody. And there should be plenty of food for all too if we could only find a way to distribute it without greed getting in the way. If we could use our brains to create new eco-systems and new resources for energy we could stop living on top of each other and use all the wonderful natural resources that Planet Earth has to offer.

After all, it is a beautiful blue ball. But what we make of it is not so beautiful.

The sad news is this: It may be too late to save the planet. In the last few weeks and months we’ve seen record breaking heatwaves, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods all over the world. Do you think Mother Earth is trying to tell us something? Do you think we might be on the wrong course and in dire need of redirection?

But still there are legions of people who continue to deny “Global Climate Change”. “It’s gotta be some kind of socialist propaganda that Al Gore is still trying to spread,” they say. It can’t possibly have anything to do with these useless giant SUV’s that clog our roads coughing out poisonous, toxic carbon monoxide. And it couldn’t be our oil and coal burning plants belching out endless streams of black smog. And please, please, please don’t tell me that it was all predicted to happen this way and that we are entering the “end times” prophesied in the bible or the Koran or some other book written by crazed extremists. Cause they’ve been predicting the end times practically from the start.

We are in trouble, folks, both locally and globally and nobody is doing a damned thing about it. Sadly, if this isn’t just the decline and fall of the imperialist United States, it could be something much, much worse.

Several years ago, the writer Cormac McCarthy published, “The Road.” It the story of a father and son walking through a ruined America, searching for food, warmth and people who hadn’t yet gone insane. McCarthy never specified the cause of all the destruction. Instead, he wrote of the terrible realities of a society in which people had abandoned all morality and decorum. He painted a picture of a world, that you and I don’t would not want to live to see. A world in which wandering rogue gangs stalk the countryside, enslaving of the weak and old, committing acts of thievery, murder and even eating each other to stay alive. The horror, indeed.

I pray that there is still time left for human beings to recognize their common interests, needs and desires and instead of fearing and fighting and warring we can begin to work together to save the planet, save humanity and save ourselves.

The future is in your own hands.

How will you use your hands? Will you use them to help or to hurt? To build or to burn?

As they say, the rest is up to you.

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