When the cops finally busted Madam Marie, the young ne’er-do-well knew it was time to leave the seaside carnival life forever. Riding Tilt-a-Whirls and chasing factory girls underneath the boardwalk…cruising the circuit with switchblade lovers and open-shirt casino boys…it was all kid’s stuff. Someday he’d look back on those barefoot slacker days and sex-seeking nights, and rage against the dying of the pier lights that once cast a protective cover, like a soft beach blanket, over his body and hers.
But now, as the fireworks hailed over his Little Eden on that 4th of July, he determined it was time to move on. And, taking a page from that ancient tome, “Seduction Tactics 101,” he made his plea to his sweet Sandy girl: Love me tonight, for I may never see you again. Not as eloquent as the 17th century pursuer in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (now let us sport us while we may), but every bit as desperate.
Ah, how I miss the beach life lullabies and city-sidewalk serenades that Bruce abandoned long ago! Songs like “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” are among the most visual and desperately romantic works in his catalog. And this one, in particular, is as beautiful and wistful as they come. The lyrics are set to gentle, lilting accordion strains — provided by the late Danny Federici, an original E Street Band member, in one of his finest musical moments.
As a teen listening to “Sandy” in my bedroom late at night with the window open, I could almost hear the crash of the waves and taste the salty air. I could imagine the love conquests in the sand. Why, I could see the whole rag-tag assortment of stone-faced loners and last-chance lovers out on the Kokomo. Over there by the cheap little seaside bar are the pale-faced boys in their high heels. And here comes that heartbreaker of a waitress, bopping down the beach with her radio.
And then there’s Madam Marie, whose banishment by the police foreshadows the end of the two lovers’ carnival life. The character is based on a real-life fortune-teller, Marie Castello, who died in 2008 at age 93. Bruce memorialized her on his website: “Back in the day when I was a fixture on the Asbury Park boardwalk, I’d often stop and talk to Madam Marie as she sat on her folding chair outside the Temple of Knowledge. I’d sit across from her on the metal guard rail bordering the beach, and watched as she led the day trippers into the small back room where she would unlock a few of the mysteries of their future. She always told me mine looked pretty good – she was right. The world has lost enough mystery as it is – we need our fortune tellers.”
Bruce, I’ve long believed you to be a fortune teller of sorts. You once told us soul searchers, misfits and dreamers that there’s a promised land…that heaven’s waiting on down the tracks…that someday we’ll get to that place where we really wanna go, and we’ll walk in the sun.
But till then, maybe it’s good enough to just sit back and enjoy a single soft summer night, watching the fireworks – real or imaginary – hail over our own little Edens.
Here’s Bruce performing “Sandy” live in 1978. Organist/accordion player Danny Federici, who died in 2008, provides the gorgeous accompaniment. The band always dedicates this song to him. “Sandy” is from Springsteen’s second LP, “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.” THIS is the Bruce I fell in love with before the rest of the world discovered him. It’s the Bruce I’ll love forever.
© Dana Spiardi, July 4, 2014