Tom Spencer and I sat in slatted wooden seats on the aisle halfway back from the stage in the Asbury Park Convention Hall at our first concert. The Hall’s open doors and windows allowed the peaceful ocean breeze to float in and around to cool us. It was 1961 and we thought we were the only Joan Baez fans on the entire Jersey Shore.The mesmerizing overflow crowd stunned us.
Until then, our only experience at a live performance was the Manasquan High School variety show. We lived in the remains of the 1950’s cultural wasteland where the middle class would never spend time or money on concert-going. Ignorant of concert etiquette, we refrained from singing aloud but mouthed all the words as our folk hero transported us — All My Trials, House of the Rising Sun,10,000 Miles. Just before intermission Joan Baez introduced a friend from Greenwich Village, Bob Dylan. Oh no! I saved my babysitting money to see Joan Baez, not some unknown. Onto the stage came this scruffy little curly-topped blue-jeaned boy who played guitar and sang a solo, “Freight Train Blues”. They sang “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Pretty Peggy-O” together. Tom, even though his favorite singer was the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, shared my instant joy and devotion to the twangy-voiced Bob Dylan.
Dylan and Baez sang their love for the poetry of those old folk songs. And we shared a love for the singers with strangers from our own land.
That summer, Tom and I had created a hangout in my mother’s garage with an old couch and a rickety TV table for our record player so we could listen to music and drink beer undisturbed during the day when everyone else was at the beach. My mother accepted my summertime retreat since she never used the garage and was happy to be removed from the sounds of folk music, Motown and Elvis. She seemed to like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, but she had no real interest in listening to music, not even on the radio.
We saved money from our part-time jobs to buy our 45 rpm records. Tom caddied at the Spring Lake Golf Club. I babysat for the neighbors. He had a crush on my younger sister, Erin, ever since we moved into the Sea Girt house down the street from his in 1959. They dated briefly the previous year but she lost interest and he and I became inseparable friends for one important summer.
One day my mother found us in the garage with empty beer bottles, practicing the Twist and the Mashed Potato. She proclaimed us degenerates and told us to go to the beach. We ignored her and roiled with laughter since being degenerate characterized the beat generation. We were reading A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and writing beat poetry. Her proclamation boosted our view of ourselves as beatniks.
The chilly weather and school reopening gradually closed the garage door. Tom’s studies took up his time. And I sought other hideaways where I could drink beer all day and listen to music.