For our readers in the path of Hurricane Sandy, we wish you safety through the storm. Here in New York, they are shutting down the subways and making other preparations. Meanwhile, the residents have been out stocking up to prepare for the worst. It’s interesting to see the choices folks are making at the grocery stores in the face of possibly being holed up without power and refrigeration for some time. It seems the pessimists are grabbing up the water jugs, while the optimists are buying ice cream.
As a Bruce Springsteen fan, I cannot think of the name “Sandy” without thinking of “Fourth of July (Sandy),” one of the great early E Street Band songs. In this early recording, featuring the late Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons, the band performs at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland on August 15, 1978. (The audio is a little off from the video, but it is still a cool video.)
Almost every line in the song is an arresting image in itself, whether the singer is telling us about the “tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag” or that “the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.” Here and in the original, Springsteen sings to Sandy, “Love me tonight, and I promise I’ll love you forever.” But I have heard him change the words in other versions to an even more honest line, “Love me tonight, and I promise . . . I promise there won’t be any promises.”
In Songs (1998), Springsteen explained that he wrote “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” in mid-1973 after moving in with a girlfriend in a garage apartment five minutes from Asbury Park in Bradley Beach, NJ. The 23-year-old wrote it as “a goodbye to my adopted hometown and the life I’d lived there before I recorded. Sandy was a composite of some of the girls I’d known along the Shore.” He later explained the themes he was trying to address, “I used the boardwalk and the closing down of the town as a metaphor for the end of a summer romance and the changes I was experiencing in my own life.”
When the band planned to record the song, Springsteen hired a church children’s choir to sing on the track. But the kids did not show up on the day of the recording, so Suki Lahav — the wife of Springsteen’s sound engineer — sang the backing track and they overdubbed her voice to make it sound like a choir. It’s her voice you hear on “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973).
In the late 1980s, I took a road trip with a friend from Cleveland to New York, and along the way we stopped in Asbury Park. I was surprised to discover then that there actually was a fortune teller there named Madam Marie. She was closed that day, so I did not get my fortune told. But it made me realize how Springsteen was able to take things from real life and transform them into great poetry. Although Madam Marie is no longer in Asbury Park because she passed away in 2008, here is hoping that Asbury Park and other areas along the shore survive Hurricane Sandy.
What is your favorite version of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”? Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)