ARCHIVE: S’pose They Gave a Symposium…

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(First published on Red Bank oRBit September 23, 2009)

Inside the Third Avenue Pavilion on the Asbury Park Boardwalk last Friday night, the place was packed as Danny Clinch — the photographer of preference for Bruce Springsteen over the course of the past ten years — hosted an opening reception for a retrospective of his E Street-related images from 1999 to the present. The mingling crowd spilled out onto the famous herringboned hardwoods as the artist participated in an impromptu jam with special musical guest Nicole Atkins, and the glitterati in attendance included such instantly familiar faces as — well, we did manage to spot Dave, who we used to live next door to. Hey Dave!

So where’s the guest of honor while stuff like this goes down? If you talk to the crew over at Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank — where Springsteen remains a regular and faithful customer in good standing — his idea of a night off well spent is often no more complicated than a home-screened video, taken in with a movie buddy or two. Of course by “movie buddy” we mean an acquaintance who’s a major motion picture star.

According to C. Rex and company, Bruce stopped in recently to say howdy, mentioning in passing that Tom Hanks — serial Oscar winning star of Volunteers and Every Time We Say Goodbye — had been over the pad the other night to take in a flick. The choice of the armchair auteurists? The generational touchstone that is SuperBad!

Then just a couple of weeks back, Bruce was back on the Jack track again, this time with guest Jon Stewart in tow. No confirmation that the Emmy-lauded Daily Show host — who’s rumored to be looking at properties in the area — stuck around for a BluRay of Half Baked with live commentary, but the point here is that no matter who you are, nirvana is often no further away than the dollar DVD vending machine outside the local Foodtown. And a home movie nite goes down easy when you’re looking to ignore the latest cumbersome milestone that life rolls you.

Yes, today is The Boss’s 60th birthday, and if there seems to be a whole lot more furtive activity in and around the breakroom, well, that’s because a number of people — many of them hailing from the out-of-state branch offices — have been busily putting the finishing touches on a “surprise” party to beat them all. A party that unfolds with dignity and a minimum of “over the hill” gag gifts from Spencer’s; one that addresses the dilemma of what to get your Boss for his birthday without appearing like too much of a suck-up.

Beginning tomorrow, September 24 and continuing through Sunday evening, an internationally assembled collection of dignitaries — including lords of academia, cultural philosophers, musical historians, medical professionals and Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez — will convene in and around Asbury town for an ambitious slate of events presented under the umbrella title Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium; a schedule of Brucentric offerings to which you’re invited as well, provided you come up with the registration fee of $345.

Glory Days — and let’s not dwell too long upon the song’s lyric regarding “boring stories of glory days” — has been organized by Mark Bernhard, director of continuing and professional education at Virginia Tech, in partnership with likeminded colleagues at Penn State Altoona and our own Monmouth University.

The West Long Branch campus of MU and the nearby Sheraton Eatontown Centerwill be the setting for much of the G-Days gauntlet, a “jam packed agenda” of “speakers, performances, tributes, tours” and more — including artist Q&As, songwriter round-robins and the reading of scholarly papers on the topic of Mr. Springsteen. About 130…very, very scholarly…papers.

This is not to suggest that the reading of scholarly papers cannot by nature be “sexy” or at least “rock” in a pleasingly midtempo, Bob Seger kind of way. Truth to tell, the roster of guest presenters and panelists features a number of people we admire, not least of whom is MU’s own Eileen Chapman, a woman whose deep and longstanding connection to the storied Shore music scene (flowing free as “the River Jay”) is worth a seminar in and of itself.

Among the speeches and presentations will be “Born (Again) in the USA: The Age of Springsteen,” as delivered by author Jim Cullen. Columnist Eric Alterman of The Nation will make an appearance reading “Springsteen’s Political Development: From No Nukes to Now” — and a panel on “Springsteen and Social Consciousness” will involve pedigreed musician/activist Jen Chapin, Shoreguy Joe D’Urso and Kathleen DiChiara, the president and CEO of Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

A trio of formidable figures in medical education — Yale University professors Stephen Southwick and Linda Godleski, plus Dennis S. Charney, Dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine — will team up on a talk entitled “Springsteen: The Road to Resilience in Hard Times.” And Michael Riley — trusted columnist at the Asbury Park Press and our very favorite ordained Baptist minister — will read from his own writings on Springsteen and the theme of spirituality.

Some of our other favorite titles: “Beyond Blood (Br)others: Homoeroticism and Queer Authenticity in Bruce Springsteen;” “Bringing Bruce to Criminal Justice Classes;” “Discursive Jouissance and the Boss;” and (this from MU’s theater honchoJack Burke) “Underneath This Dirty Hood: A Semi-Fictitious One-Act Performance Play Featuring the ‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ Bruce Springsteen.”

It ain’t all water pitchers and podiums at this party, however, as the Pollak Theaterat Monmouth will play host to a pair of tuneful presentations over the weekend. Honorary Shore rocker, Grammy winner and longtime Springsteen pal Joe Grushecky offers an intimately scaled, songs-and-stories program on “Collaborating with Bruce Springsteen” at 4:30pm on Friday — while Saturday afternoon at 4pm sees Chapin and D’Urso joined by SOAP scene stalwarts Joe Rapolla and Lisa Lowell, plus Scott Kempner (a charter member of The Dictators— where’s their symposium?) for a “Songwriters by the Sea” session that’s said to mix Springsteen covers with the performers’ own originals.

No Kollege of Bossly Knowledge would be complete without night-school classes at the satellite campus of The Stone Pony, where a hat-trick of programs gets underway on Thursday at 9pm with a set starring Boccigalupe & The Badboys, erudite singer-songwriter (and secret Ph.D) Jon Caspi — and Hans Ludvigsson & the Hungry Heart Band, Europe’s premier Boss homage. The music’s preceded at 7:45pm by a “Celebrating the Stone Pony” presentation hosted by former Asbury Park Press music writer turned rock and roll curator (He’s now president of The GRAMMY Museum, and previously director of education at the Hall of Fame) Robert Santelli, with Chapman, Lopez, recovering Juke Kevin Kavanaugh and Pony personification Lee Mrowicki.

Bedrock Springsteen influence (and beneficiary of the Boss Bump for a couple of albums in the 1980s) Gary U.S. Bonds headlines Friday night’s dance card at the Pony, with Jobonanno & The Godsons of Soul and retro-pop sensation Jillian Rhys making for an interesting mix of musical millennia. Pittsburgh’s pride Grushecky returns to top the ticket for Saturday’s Stoney soiree, with NYC cult fave Willie Nile (backed by Grushecky’s Houserockers) and Motor City blue-eyed soulman Stewart Francke triangulating the trifecta. Admission to all of the Pony shows, by the way, is by a separate $25 ticket per show (gettable via Live Nation); check the club’s website for more details.

There’s way more where that came from — including tours of Significant Springsteeniana Sites conducted by Rock & Roll Tour of the Jersey Shore authors (and veteran newspaper folk) Stan Goldstein and Jean Mikle, plus a special tribute to the late Danny Federici and even a closing chat with Marilyn Rocky, once upon a time the landlord of the West End “Born to Run” house that we highlighted in a story that broke nationally from right here in oRBit.

Details on registration, directions and more can be found on the event’s official site— and a comprehensively updated PDF schedule of all affiliated events in the Glory Days Symposium can be viewed right here. Whether the birthday boy himself would deign to show up at this Chuck E. Cheese is entirely open to speculation — surely the organizers would be happy to tear up their carefully crafted timetable for a chance at one of those famously spontaneous Boss cameos, but until such time, they can only soldier on with occasional glances at the door as if scouting for Godot or the Great Pumpkin. And, Boss, if you’re looking to keep a low profile while this is all going on, we’re up at the apartment Saturday night with a double feature of Waiting and Still Waiting.