Phantom Traces

Hazy Davy Reflects On His Hometown

They say Kabul used to be a city of culture. The images on the tube of the war-ravaged capital make it hard to believe that assertion. Long-time residents must be stricken with grief and despair, left with few, if any, visual reminders of the days prior to the Russian invasion a quarter century ago. Children and young adults see only complete annihilation, knowing nothing more of Kabul's past than what they hear as folklore.

Asbury Park; now what went wrong in that city? I'm positive there weren't any bombs dropped or revolutions fought on the boards and backstreets along the Jersey Shore. Despite that reality, I've heard people compare Asbury's physical appearance to a war zone. And Bruce Springsteen's song "My City of Ruin," which conveys his personal anguish over the calamitous downfall of a once-prosperous place, reminds us that, like Kabul, Asbury Park was once a center of culture, health, and well being.

Asbury Park was indeed considered the shopping, business, recreational, religious, and civic center of the entire North Jersey Shore area for many decades. The city was founded in 1871 by Mr. James A. Bradley, a New York manufacturer who was in ill health. He was in search of a location where, as he put it, his "wearied body and brain might rest, lulled to sleep by the murmuring sea at night and awakened in the morning by the song of birds." Completely restored to good health after a short stay, he threw his energies into building a seashore city that was to be unequaled anywhere. The city placed second in its population class in the 1939 National Health Contest sponsored by the American Public Health Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 1948, the city had more than 120 acres of public parks, which was the largest percentage of park area relative to size of any city in America. The Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce's slogan was, "America's Foremost All-Year Resort City."

My hometown is Ocean Grove, Asbury Park's "sister city." But from 1986 through 1998, I lived in Maryland and hadn't set foot back in the city at all during those 12 years. One of the first items on my list of to do's when I moved back in September of '98 was to walk the boards in Ocean Grove and head north. Everything looked as usual in The Grove, which was comforting, until I saw a tree growing out the roof of the skating rink in the Casino on the border of Asbury and The Grove. The doors of the Casino were chained, creating a barrier between the two neighboring communities. I detoured through the alley dividing the power plant and amusement area, negotiating a layer of glass shards glistening in all colors of the rainbow. Complete desolation was all that greeted my eyes as I trekked north on Ocean Avenue. The Empress Motel, the Palace Amusements, Mrs. Jay's Beer Garden, the Stone Pony, The Empire Bar, and all the other old haunts were boarded up or demolished. Not a single concession on the boardwalk was open for business. This was depressing, and a nervous anxiety overcame my soul. Could it be that my adventurous trip through rock-n-roll history down in Asbury many years ago was a figment of my imagination? I wanted to lay down and cry but strange, menacing people on the boards prevented me from taking the risk to even stop for a moment to gather my thoughts. This was a stunning revelation. Why had this city been subjected to this disgraceful plague, and who was responsible for allowing it to happen? I wanted to learn the answer and that meant getting involved.

Active participation can take you places beyond the scope of your imagination. I found this out early in life down in Asbury. We've all heard the clichè, "one thing leads to another." But that's exactly what happened to me as a kid growing up on the Jersey Shore and Asbury Park in particular. Reaching out created memories that have lasted a lifetime.

My first true love was surfing, and there wasn't much I wouldn't do to have the opportunity to pursue it. An old cigarette advertisement read "I'd walk a mile for a camel." Well, this boy would walk five miles or more with a fifty- pound surfboard balanced on his head to catch a wave. Because of surfing, a chain of events evolved that I can only characterize as fate. Defining fate is a tricky proposition, akin to debating the existence of supernatural Godly forces. In spite of this absence of proof, I unconditionally believe and consider as true that karma dwells in every cell of our being. I'm not exactly sure when this belief manifested itself internally, but I suspect the spell was cast in 1966 and re-affirmed numerous times since. Here was a kibbutz I wanted to be part of, no matter what obstacles stood in the way. Let's start a commotion in our little spot of this world. Let the chips fall where they may, because our passion was soon to be the fashion.

Down in Belmar, New Jersey, I became fast friends with a dude who was almost old enough to be my father. He hooked up an association to sell his custom surfboards in the Cold Wall Surf Shop, which was one of three in town during the early 1960s. His nickname was Tinker. When he relocated from California, I spent considerable time hangin' out at his homes in Shark River Hills. Two years after meeting Tinker, fate intervened in a mysterious way, beginning a trip that seemed to have a pre-determined destination.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association banned surfing, in spite of the fact that postcard racks in the Grove were filled with welcoming images of youths riding waves. I did the sixties thing and became an activist to overturn this hypocritical law. Newspapers took an interest in my cause, and during an interview we mentioned how ironic it was that a surfboard manufacturer was setting up shop in Neptune Township. Under the present circumstances, Tinker's glossy new products would never float in the ocean off the shoreline of Ocean Grove. On September 21, 1967, a front-page article about my crusade appeared in The Asbury Park Evening Press. Now, this is where it gets really spooky. Flip over to the third page of that edition and there's a photo of two chicks and one cat placing a poster on a door. These kids are from Freehold, New Jersey and they're promoting the first dance at their teen club located in the West Freehold School. In big, bold letters, the name of the inaugurating band, called the "Castiles", can be clearly seen. This is, in all likelihood, the first known reference in the media to a Springsteen band. A year and a half earlier I'd seen this band take the stage for their second-ever performance. To read more, and see the article and photo, please jump to www.hazydavy.com/conquering_nature.htm.

But it would still be over a year until fate placed all the pieces of the newspaper puzzle into place by bringing together the surfer from the Grove, the kid from Freehold, and the surf-board manufacturer. That kid from Freehold named Bruce came to a teen club called UPSTAGE in Asbury Park, which the surfer and his friends helped open. They also witnessed his first performance there. Tinker opened his surfboard factory in Neptune, which the surfer and his sidekick Monk frequently visited on the way home from school. They told Tinker about their club and the kid from a band called the Castiles who played there. Tinker's surfboard business was floundering, so to diversify he became the manager of a band, Moment of Truth. That band invited Bruce to a rehearsal, and asked him to stay on as the leader. Tinker converted an Army surplus fabricated igloo building into a studio and attached it to the second surfboard factory on Sunset Avenue in Ocean Township. And Tinker, Bruce, and David ultimately converged on the igloo for the first rehearsal of the group that would eventually morph into the world-renowned E Street Band.

Fate, coincidence, you be the judge. On an October night in 1998, I caught the tail end of Bruce Springsteen talking about the old club UPSTAGE during the Legends series on VH-1. Bruce reminisced about a contest I had developed to determine who was the "Fastest Guitar on the Jersey Shore." I was surprised he remembered, because that was a challenge from thirty year's past. Listening to Bruce stirred up a lot of my own recollections of those days. This, coming on the heels of my recent return to the area and the despair I felt about conditions in Asbury Park, opened the door for me to want to delve deeper into the matters of the city. It was time again to start a commotion in our little spot of this world.

This led to me assisting the "Save Tillie" organization and attending the first fund-raising affair at the Cleopatra Steps Out Art Gallery, less than one hundred feet from the old UPSTAGE Club. Bruce was obviously impressed with the group's commitment and donated twenty five percent of the proceeds from the March, 1999 rehearsal shows to "Save Tillie." To read more and get involved in "Save Tillie", please jump to www.homestead.com/savetillie/.

So, I got off my ass and made some connections. The reward factor has been sweet indeed. A week before the rehearsal shows in March, 1999, Bruce invited a small contingent of fans into the Asbury Park Convention Hall. I immediately posted a review on the Internet and can say I was the first to critique the E Street Band's Reunion Tour. Additionally, I was asked to become a staff writer for www.greasylake.org, arguably the most popular Springsteen site on the web. I have my own section called UPSTAGE, where I provide some accounts of what it was like down in Asbury in the 1960s and '70s, and growin' up with Bruce. Next, I launched my own site, www.hazydavy.com, which gives me the opportunity to speak about many more topics related to Asbury Park. On the site I also offer a CD I produced titled "To Make A Long Story Short," featuring Lance Larson, Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Gary Tallent, Bobby Bandiera, Billy Hector and a host of other well known Jersey Shore musicians.

As you can see, "one thing does lead to another!" I directly attribute all my excellent experiences and new-found projects to one action -- taking a serious interest and participating in the affairs of Asbury Park. For the future, who knows what surprises lay in store? A lyric from a Springsteen song comes to mind, "Momma always told me not to look into the sights of the sun, Oh but mama that's where the fun is." ["Blinded By the Light", copyright 1972 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)] There are plenty of meaningful efforts that provide a chance to bring forth ideas or to devote some purposeful time. Stand up, be heard, rock the boat, and find your prize buried in the sand along the Jersey Shore.

Hazy Davy

Editor's Note: David Mieras got the nickname "Hazy Davy", along with other characters who hung out in Asbury and Ocean Grove's Greasylake, from Bruce Springsteen. Hazy Davy, Wild Bill and Crazy Janey are all real people mentioned in Springsteen's "Spirit in the Night" from his debut release, "Greetings from Asbury Park N.J." According to Mieras, this was done by Springsteen to show his appreciation of the people around him.

This piece was edited by Nadine Gray.

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