I get a lot of Springsteen-related material sent my way: Some of it is great, some of it not so much. (For instance, “Please listen to my cover of I’m On Fire” is usually a setup for disaster.) But a recent offering really got my attention.
“For Music’s Sake,” a book first published in 2011, fell into my lap recently thanks to its author, Carrie Potter Devening, who happens to be the granddaughter of Tom Potter. Springsteen historians will recall him as the owner of the Upstage Club in Asbury Park, one of the seminal venues from Bruce’s earliest years. There’s a great segment in Peter Ames Carlin’s “Bruce” where Tom’s wife Margaret runs excitedly to get him after a young Bruce first takes their stage. (A story retold in this volume in Margaret’s own words.)
Far from just owning the Upstage, though, Tom was an ardent artist, photographer and writer (and hairstylist, for that matter), and Potter Devening’s book — subtitled “Asbury Park’s Upstage Club and Green Mermaid Cafe – The Untold Stories” — captures all elements of his life and background in scrapbook format. It’s clearly a labor of love, and it’s fascinating.
It’s not a Springsteen book per se, but he certainly looms large as an important chunk of the Upstage’s glorious (and sometimes sketchy) history. One segment tells of the group of young female patrons who would regularly whack Bruce and Stevie Van Zandt in the butt with spoons as they passed on the way to the cafe. “Stevie didn’t know what to make of the spoon attacks,” says their Upstage cohort Albee Tellone in the book. “I had to reasure him that the girls thought he was hot and that’s how they expressed it. I think Bruce enjoyed the attention.”
That story turns tragic when the group’s ringleader, Anne Furlong — “Bruce’s number one fan,” according to her friend Nancy Ferriss — was killed by a vagrant in AP. Potter Devening includes a news clipping about her death, just one example of how the author paints a complete and touching picture of that place and time.
And then there are the photos — the book is absolutely plastered with them from start to finish, alongside letters, news clippings and oral histories. The images are priceless, particularly the full-page spreads of Springsteen and Van Zandt rocking out on the tiny stage, long-haired and shirtless (or in one instance for Bruce, in a red Mickey Mouse t-shirt). You can absolutely smell the atmosphere.
I’m still working my way through it — it’s the type of book that needs to be savored in chunks rather than read straight through. But it’s clearly a must-have for anyone interested in Springsteen’s earliest years, a special era in Asbury Park or just about how one special couple’s efforts to reach out to the young and artistic in their community made a real difference. You can order a copy here.