Thursday, May 23, 2024

Book Review: I Don't Want to Go Home

In 1970, Asbury Park, New Jersey, was ripped apart by race riots that left the once-proud beach town an hour away from Manhattan smoldering, suffering and left for dead. Four years later, a few miles down the coast in Seaside Heights, two bouncers, Jack Roig and Butch Pielka, tired of the daily grind, dreamt of owning their own place. Under-prepared and minimally funded, the two bought the first bar they considered, in a city where no one wanted to be, without setting one foot in the place. They named it the Stone Pony, and turned it into a rock club that Bruce Springsteen would soon call home and a dying town would call its beating heart.

But the bar had to fight to survive. Despite its success in launching and attracting rockers like Stevie Van Zandt, “Southside” Johnny Lyon, and Springsteen, the Stone Pony—like everything in Asbury Park for the past half century—could only weather the drags of a depressed city for so long.

I Don't Want to Go Home: The Oral History of the Stone Pony by Nick Corasaniti will be published June 4, 2024. Harper Collins provided an early galley for review.

Over the past few years, I've read several nonfiction books done in this oral history format (what I like to refer to as "the talking heads documentary style"). I find it works well for me; for other readers the mileage might vary. This time we're swinging down the Jersey shore to a famous watering hole that was the epicenter of a lot of great music.

This slice of history is presented by the likes of Southside Johnny, Little Steven, Bruce Springsteen (and many in his circle), John Cafferty (of the "...and the Beaver Brown Band" fame), and so so many more. The cast of characters alone has over 100 names and runs five pages. Corasaniti has done his research and conducted many original interviews to put this story together.

The remembrances and anecdotes cover a lot of ground, featuring both local acts that got their start in Asbury Park as well as many national acts that passed through town. The reader gets an overall sense of what that music scene was like, especially from the people who worked there night after night, year after year.

For music fans, this is definitely an enlightening read. But, more than that, it paints the picture of the rise and fall and rise again of not just a famous music spot but also a community.

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