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4th of July, Asbury Park : A History of the Promised Land
Music journalist Wolff tells the history of Asbury Park, New Jersey through successive portraits of the town as it existed on succeeding Fourths of July (and one American Day). His narrative, which frequently references the music of Asbury Park's native son, Bruce Springsteen, and other balladeers of Americana, echoes the words of another of the city's native sons, writer Stephen Crane, who said: "From the very beginning, Asbury Park was a symbol of the nation's hopes and hypocrisy." Wolff describes the semi-utopic origins of the city; the imageries of the American dream that were used to promote tourism to the town; and the class, race, and ethnic divisions that frequently gave the lie to both.
In attempting to blend the social and musical history of New Jersey's faded seaside resort Asbury Park--where Bruce Springsteen first made his name in the 1970s--Wolff has an overabundance of engrossing material that never quite coheres to animate his thesis that the history of Asbury Park is the history of America. Founded in 1871 by James A. Bradley as a Methodist retreat, Asbury Park was designed to attract religious, moneyed vacationers who wanted a resort uncorrupted by alcohol and gambling. But the history of the resort is not so pretty, according to Wolff. The many African-Americans who served the rich there were restricted to the dingiest part of the beach. The Ku Klux Klan moved in, as well as organized crime. Continuing racism led to rioting in the 1970s, when the ghetto erupted in looting and the destruction of local businesses. Wolff (You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke) weaves into his narrative the musical heritage of Sousa, Sinatra and Bill Haley to underscore the social changes affecting the town over time. Asbury Park's current renewal efforts are mired in troubles--but the song Wolff hears there is still one of hope.
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June 25, 2006
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