By LEE LERNER
Sunny Day News

In June 1982, I finished my sophomore year of college in Florida. On my final day of classes, my head was focused on exams, but my 19-year-old heart was already on summer break at the New Jersey Shore.

On the Saturday after school ended, I hit the road for my birth state. Boardwalks and bar bands beckoned, and my family and boyhood friends guaranteed a summer of fun.

Bruce Springsteen, playing at Asbury Park's Stone Pony club, in summer 1982.  Photo by LARRY GOANOS

To reach my promised land on time, I swore I'd drive all night. My buddies had given me a heads-up that Bruce Springsteen was making surprise appearances at the Stone Pony nightclub in Asbury Park on Sunday nights, with the house band, Cats on a Smooth Surface. I couldn’t miss that opportunity.

In my 1967 Ford Galaxie convertible, I sped the 1,100 miles up I-95. My lasting memory from that nonstop drive from Orlando, Fla., to Jersey was one infectious song that floated hourly from my FM radio. The song was “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come),” sung by Dave Edmunds.

I arrived Sunday at my mom’s house in West Long Branch, seven miles from Asbury Park. I took a nap, a shower, gave mom a hug and wolfed down her specialty of mussels marinara. Then, I went to meet my friends.

Larry, Greg and I entered the Stone Pony to the pop sounds of Cats. This band was fronted by Bobby Bandiera, a Shore music mainstay for years to come. We bought Miller Lite longnecks and watched them play.

Springsteen, with Bobby Bandiera of Cats on a Smooth Surface, at the Pony in 1982. Photo by LARRY GOANOS

After 1:30 a.m., Greg excitedly blurted, “He’s HERE!
I was next to him at the urinals!”

Minutes later, pandemonium as Springsteen takes the small stage, with Cats. The crowd pushes in. Standing on the dance floor, we’re 12 feet from our local hero.

To my wonder, one of the first songs is “From Small Things,” the catchy tune from my overnight trek.

“I love this song!” I shout into Greg’s ear. “I can’t believe he’s covering it.”

Greg sets me straight: “Bruce wrote this song. It’s HIS song!”

Big things, indeed, came that magical summer. We saw Bruce four more times at the Pony, each set featuring vintage covers from Chuck Berry and the like. It was electric, a concoction of Springsteen’s energy and a sweaty throng in a boardwalk bar.

One Sunday, while Larry was surreptitiously snapping photos of Bruce from a Kodak Instamatic, I pushed to the stage front. I found myself 3 feet from Springsteen, whose gyrations shook sweat on us like a soggy golden retriever.

"Cats" was the house band for the Pony in the early 1980s.

Another night, a different friend and I talked our way into staying after closing time. Posers in the inner sanctum, we were privy to the after-party at the home of Butch Pielka, who owned the Pony.

My old convertible fit right into the Springsteen caravan to Pielka’s house. Bruce left the party after 45 minutes. My friend, Mike, and I hung out until daybreak. Then, I made the walk of shame past my mom at the breakfast table.

I awoke that afternoon with a hangover. But my buzz from that summer still  lingers.

 

Bruce Springsteen frequently made Sunday night guest appearances at the Stone Pony with Cats on a Smooth Surface in 1982 and 1983.  Photo by LARRY GOANOS