Wednesday, July 4, 2012


This Fourth, I'm thinking a lot about the farewell of Bruce Springsteen's song "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" from The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle.

Funny, the line "the aurora is rising behind us" -- I had always figured "Aurora" was the name of a ferris wheel or roller coaster or something. It just fit. I'm guessing now that he was using it in the generic sense, synonymous with "aura" but implying a solar source -- a bright, bright star radiating light. The star, of course, is the boardwalk itself and the fireworks of the Fourth of July.

Bruce is leaving in this song, and the boardwalk itself is leaving. This is the early 1970s. Asbury was already headed down the steep incline from its peak in the 1950s and '60s, to bottom out in the late 1990s with the boardwalk especially looking like a shuttered ghost town. Disillusioned and lamenting "our carnival life on the boardwalk," bored with "hanging in the dusty arcades, slamming those pleasure machines," he pleads with "Sandy" to love him tonight "for I may neee-ver see you again."

"Sandy" is the perfect name for his beloved: the beach, the resort, the magical unreality of the boardwalk's "Palace Amusements" and Madame Marie's mysticism.

Photo by Russ Meseroll

His next stop would be the grittier reality of Born to Run's "Meeting Across the River," themes of harsh, wounded souls, flayed, struggling and doomed, that he would develop more fully in "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and his later poetic masterpiece, "Nebraska."

The line of themes of childhood loss of innocence, desperate struggle, a growing maturity and sense of community that pace Springsteen's long discography are naturally reflected in the man himself. In his philanthropic gifts to Asbury Park, the emphasis has never been heavy on rebuilding the amusements, the carnival life. Instead, his focus was, and is, on schools, community projects, helping the underserved who struggled during the long years of the city's economic stagnation.

Along those lines it interesting to me that, here in Asbury Park -- and in New Jersey -- we take such pride in "Sandy" and "Born to Run". All those who know these (and that may be just about everybody in the world by now) recognize the sadness, the critical love, even condemnation, and longing after escape in both songs.

Judging by Springsteen's evolution as an artist and as a human being, it is easy to believe that nostalgia for Asbury Park's amusements is misplaced. It is easy for me to see a resonance with my belief that the town's emphasis on money over community has always been one of its greatest flaws.

But maybe we're not so wrong to be proud. We represent the community and the culture that produced him, after all and we can take some small credit for having nurtured him toward his great achievements, his massive success.

If in the final estimate, we as New Jerseyans are just "a town full of losers," then at least one of us got free and we can cheer him on his heroic journey. If he is the best we can do, that's ain't half bad.

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1 comment:

  1. Spending a rainy 4th in Boston listening to every version of Sandy I can find, I began to wonder whether I was right in assuming that the Aurora was a roller coaster. That brought me here, and to your elegant explanation of why some of us are ridiculously in love with this song. Thanks!