Rant ‘N’ Roll: A New Jersey Rock ‘N’ Roll Mystery

So the question remains after all these years: Did Bruce Springsteen really kidnap an Aquarian photographer in 1978 to teach him a lesson in privacy? Did he really have him driven to a desolate spot on the highway, take the film from his camera, and leave him stunned and speechless on the side of the road? No one knows but Bruce and the photographer and, for the last 33 years, neither of ‘em are talkin’. Believe me, I’ve tried… with both of them.

Our story starts at a posh press party in New York City to celebrate the release of Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Bruce’s fourth album is, for sure, a masterwork, filled with the universal desperation and longing that a generation and every generation since could relate to. It was the album that made Bruce Springsteen as important to me personally as The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. But at the press party to celebrate its release, emboldened by alcohol, I rudely interrupted the artist as he fielded other questions from a bevy of wide-eyed journalists to ask him why he had never granted the Aquarian Weekly an interview. Hell, for three straight albums, he had spoke to numerous publications, including the Village Voice, a particular sore spot for Aquarian owner and publisher Jim Rensenbrink. “We do the stories and the damn Voice gets the interviews and the ads!” It was a familiar refrain at One The Crescent, our hip Montclair, NJ address. I’d hear it all the time. Now I was in a position to do something about it.

To his credit, the artist turned around and told me he honestly never even realized he hadn’t granted us an interview. He immediately saw the logic of New Jersey’s number one rock star not yet having talked to New Jersey’s number one alternative weekly. And he backed up his honesty by calling over his Columbia Records publicist at the time, Glenn Brunman, to ask why he’s never scheduled an interview with the Aquarian. Brunman hemmed and hawed and garbled out some nonsense about doing national print press first, then radio and television, before regional press. That’s when Bruce ordered the guy to set up an Aquarian interview immediately no matter how busy the schedule.

This was getting interesting! But Brunman was adamant in his refusal, citing the six-month national tour currently under way with hardly a day off. In fact, the only day off was September 23, 1978, the star’s 29th birthday. I was ready to accept my fate when Bruce put his arm around me, brought me to a corner of the room, and conspiratorially told me to meet him on the boardwalk in Asbury Park on that day, “At the bench, to the left of the Casino Arena.”

“Return Of The Native” came out on the cover of the Aquarian Weekly in October of 1978. Bruce met myself and my photographer, took us in a borrowed orange Camaro to the loading docks where his father worked, to the neighborhood he lived, to get a bite, go on the bumper cars and play pinball. He would not permit me to tape the interview, and did not want me referring to him as an “Asbury Park” artist. I remember waking up all hours of the night remembering stuff he said.

That December, I introduced my wife to him backstage at the Capitol Theater on New Year’s Eve at a Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes concert. She marveled at all the earrings in one of his ears. Bruce complimented me on the article and said he loved it. When Bruce ran on stage at the magic hour, jumped on the piano jamming with his good friends in the band, we ran a shot of him on the cover. In Bruce’s mind, that belittled Southside because it was his gig. Promoter John Scher made sure to tell us that.

Now it gets confusing. In early ’79, Bruce was again backstage at some bar to see some band. I knew he’d be there so I dispatched our photographer to get a shot. “Don’t come back without a Bruce shot,” I remember saying. Unfortunately, radio station WDHA also knew he’d be there and leaked it to its listeners. Big mistake. The night quickly devolved into an ugly scene. Rowdy drunken fans kept yelling “Bruuuuuuuuuce” all through the poor band’s set. Bottles were thrown. Bruce peaked out from the wings to see what was going on. That’s when our photographer got the shot. Bruce freaked at the invasion of privacy. This after he had just given us such an exclusive day down the shore!

If the story is to be believed, the photographer was manhandled into the back seat of a car with Bruce who took the film from the camera. They drove to a desolate spot on the highway where the photographer was kicked out of the car and left to fend for himself in the dark Jersey night.

Did this really happen? Or was it a story concocted by the photographer because he simply didn’t get the requested shot?
Mike Greenblatt would like to make Rant ‘N’ Roll interactive. Send him an email at mg2645@ptd.net, and your comments, questions, complaints and complements will be part of this column.