Article 1999-03-18 Asbury Park, NJ

Springsteen Infuses Asbury Park; He Helps Some Recall Youth or Resort's Faded Glory

When Ed Gubitosa and his wife, Grace, learned that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would be giving a sneak preview of their first concert tour in more than a decade, they dropped everything.

Though they live in Houston, the Gubitosas were not discouraged simply because the two concerts, billed as rehearsals for the world tour, were being staged on two days' notice, more than 1,600 miles away, here in the punch-drunk seashore city where Mr. Springsteen began his career in the early 1970's. And they weren't dissuaded when Mr. Gubitosa, a 45-year-old airline executive, called Ticketmaster and learned that all 3,000 tickets to the performances Thursday night and tonight had been sold in little more than an hour.

All that mattered to the Gubitosas, both natives of the Jersey Shore, was that the concerts were an immediate opportunity to turn back the clock and relive a chapter of ancient history — theirs, ''Bruce's,'' and Asbury Park's — with their children, Andrew, 12, and Gina, 16. And so, as a freezing wind from the ocean lashed the boardwalk outside Convention Hall on Thursday night, the family celebrated spring break by huddling together like dustbowl refugees in a line of perhaps 300 others who were ticket-deprived, hoping a few extra tickets would be made available at the box office just before showtime, as is often the case at Springsteen concerts.

That the Gubitosas were not among the lucky 53 people at the front of the line who were shepherded inside the hall as the concert began did not seem to diminish their experience. ''I'm having a blast,'' Mr. Gubitosa said this afternoon, before he and his family failed again to get tickets for tonight's concert.

It has been that kind of week in Asbury Park.

For a small resort city that has had very little to smile about for decades — its once-thriving colony of 200 hotels has dwindled, famously, to just one, The Berkeley Carteret — the fleeting reappearance of Mr. Springsteen has generated a frenzy reminiscent of the days when Billie Holiday, the Marx Brothers and Frank Sinatra came here to play, followed generations later by The Doors, The Who and the Rolling Stones. The mood was lightened all the more this week by Mr. Springsteen's decision to donate the proceeds from the two shows, which grossed about $100,000, to four local charities.

''When someone like Bruce Springsteen, who has an emotional attachment here, makes a physical investment, that's powerful,'' said Susan Maynard, the executive director of the West Side Community Center on Dewitt Avenue, who learned from a radio report that her social service agency had been selected to get some of the money. ''It's a sign that good things are coming.''

For Mr. Springsteen, who last toured the country three years ago with a dour, acoustic set that left many fans wondering if he had lost the desire to play rock-and-roll, the performances here suggested that he, too, seemed eager to go back in time. Stretching Thursday's night show to 2 hours and 35 minutes with no intermission, Mr. Springsteen, an improbable 49, seemed as gleeful as a child who had rediscovered a long-lost toy, stomping across the stage with his guitar hoisted over his shoulder and smiling giddily at his eight bandmates as they tuned up for a tour that begins next month in Spain.

With the saxophonist Clarence (Big Man) Clemons to his right and the guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt to his left, Mr. Springsteen ignored most of the material he had recorded after 1984, the year the album ''Born in the U.S.A.'' made him a pop icon. Instead, he played chestnuts that were initially heard within the clubs of New Jersey, rockers like ''Spirit in the Night,'' ''Two Hearts,'' and ''She's the One.'' Rounding out a week in which he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he also unveiled a new song, ''Land of Hope and Dreams,'' which fuses gospel and rock to a piano line simulating the roll of a train.

''This is a special night for us,'' he told those standing in the audience, many of them waving cellular phones with open lines to friends, who, like them, probably had slimmer stomachs and fuller hairlines when they first discovered Mr. Springsteen as a scraggly teen-ager from nearby Freehold. ''It's kind of a rededication of our band.''

''I don't know what to say,'' he added, ''except that I'm real happy.''

Standing within arm's reach of the stage, in a venue no bigger than a high school gym, Jeff Gimbal, 47, turned to his brother, Jim, 42, and shouted through ear plugs that the promoter provided to those in the front row, ''He's not the only one!''

The Gimbals, who own an educational recording company in Ocean Township, cheered even louder when Mr. Springsteen pointed near them and recalled where he stood as a fan when an unknown Pete Townshend came to Convention Hall and smashed his guitars in the late 1960's; the brothers had been there that night, too.

''He wore me out,'' Jeff Gimbal said to his brother as the shank of the evening drew near. ''My legs are shot.''

Behind them, Dave Danek, 31, who had flown in on the red-eye from San Francisco, where he works for the Federal Government, couldn't stop high-fiving his buddy Bill Otten, 26, a legal assistant from Elmwood, as Mr. Springsteen played one favorite song after another. When Mr. Springsteen sang ''Backstreets,'' which contains the line, ''We swore, forever friends,'' Mr. Danek's eyes appeared to fill with tears.

''You owe me big time,'' Mr. Otten told his friend, who had so far provided only a steak sandwich in return for his ticket.

Clearly, it will take a lot more than a Bruce Springsteen concert to solve Asbury Park's problems. But officials in this city of one square mile, which owns the 69-year-old red-brick hall where Mr. Springsteen performed, hope that the enthusiasm he generated this week is contagious. At a time when he should be thinking about little other than how to jump-start a long-stalled $800 million plan to rebuild the shuttered waterfront, the city manager, Wilbert Russell, confessed that he had been reduced this week to the role of a full-time ticket broker.

Allotted only enough tickets to sprinkle among a handful of elected city officials, Mr. Russell said that he had turned down offers of upward of $1,000 per ticket — face value $20 — from as far away as London, and had even disappointed a couple of congressmen, whom he refused to name.

''The city has been beaten down,'' Mr. Russell said. ''Asbury really has a tainted name, with people saying 'Asbury isn't what it used to be.' I think Bruce is giving hope that a change is coming about in the city.''

In one sign that Mr. Springsteen may well have begun to prime the pump, however slowly, Chico Rouse, the general manager of the Convention Hall and adjoining Paramount Theater, said that within hours of Mr. Springsteen's announcement of his shows, the city had received serious inquiries from two ''significant'' rock and pop acts about playing Asbury Park. Mr. Rouse, whose father, Charlie, played saxophone with Thelonious Monk, said it was too early to name them.

But he insisted that they would be a departure from some recent billings at the hall. One was billed as March Metal Meltdown, an extravaganza that blends professional wrestling and heavy metal music. Another was an evening with the man who was the subject of Robert Redford's movie ''The Horse Whisperer,'' who filled the hall with clay six-feet deep and demonstrated his gift by talking to several local mounts.

As the crowd spilled out of the hall Thursday night and onto the splintered boardwalk, the happiest man may have been George Panas.

Mr. Panas, an immigrant from Greece, bought the circular Howard Johnson's on the boardwalk in 1961, at a time when the line spilled out the door all day, every day, during the summer. Now, Mr. Panas only opens his restaurant when there is an event at the hall, but even then, he, his wife and their daughter don't see the crowd that they saw last night: nearly 1,000 people passed through their doors.

''Eventually, this will again be one of the great towns,'' Mr. Panas, 67, said from behind the bustling counter. ''Like Disneyland.''

By Jacques Steinberg via The New York Times.
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