An All American Custom Tour – Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey
The Levys’ Unique New York! is, by its nature, a NY-based custom tour company. But when Mark and I went to Australia in February, selling our custom tours, we got a very special request from an travel agent in Brisbane. “I got one for ya. My clients want to see where Bruce Springsteen grew up!”
Now, I’m no Bruce-obsessed Brooklynite, but I love the Boss as much as the next guy. I’ve seen him twice, Dad’s seen him thrice. He’s a working class hero who practiced his chops on the Asbury Park Boardwalk and played some epic shows in Greenwich Village and in Midtown. His story is the story of the American Dream. So I jumped at the chance to show some Aussies where Bruce was from!
And so was born an epic, 8-hour Bruce Springsteen Pilgrimage to South New Jersey, land of highways and farmlands, field of American dreams and homes of blue collar heroes. The Aussies were a lovely bunch of middle-age couples who wanted to see the working class town where Bruce grew up, head past some of his houses and schools and end up in Asbury Park where he got his start as the Future of Rock and Roll. And what better way to travel than via limo with DVD and CD players, so we could rock out to The Boss all the way to Joisey?!
Lucky for me, Peter Ames Carlin’s definitive biography helped fill out the 90 minute drive down to the Jersey Shore. See the sticky notes!? I also enlisted the help of professional Bruceologist Erin McDonnell, concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel and superfan who’s seen Bruce over a dozen times.
We stopped at the site of the Bottom Line club, on Mercer and W 4th street, now an NYU building, location of the legendary pre-Born to Run promo concerts in 1975. We rocked over to the shuttered site of Kenny’s Castaways on Bleecker street, where Bruce also once performed. Kenny’s is now on its way to becoming a generic restaurant, because this town rips the bones from your back. Its a death trap, a suicide rap. But tramps like me and my four friendly Aussies, baby we were born to run.
Once we were in Jersey, we headed straight to Freehold, and the site of 87 Randolph street, the parking lot where Bruce’s first home stood. It was a century old when it got torn down in 1962, yet it still stands as a Mecca for Bruce fans.
Next stop was 39 1/2 Institute street, Bruce’s formative and teenage home, pictured in the record cover above. When we got there, we met and were totally entranced by local character, Mike Tobias who lives in the house.
Mike went on at length about a few of Bruce’s unannounced visits, some of which sounded entirely too improbable to be true, until he brought out some pictures of Bruce and a (much younger) Mike! Notice the same blue frame house behind Mike is the house in the album cover.
He even told us about epic mistake he made during a house renovation in which he threw his old toilet out on the curb, only realizing much later he could’ve sold it on Ebay!
After a lovely lunch at The Dublin House in nearby Red Bank, we pressed on to Long Branch and 7 1/2 West End Court, where Bruce lived in 1974 and wrote most of his landmark, breakthrough album Born to Run. The cottage is actually for sale, and the right Bruce fan could pick it up for a pretty penny.
Finally, the tour ended in legendary Asbury Park, at the Stone Pony and the Paramount Theater where Bruce busted his chops as a working musician at the many seaside bars and dive joints along the boardwalk. A true American hero and musician, Bruce epitomizes everything great about this country. Happy July 4th Everyone!
By Matt Levy