Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ: the Album
In 2013, Rolling Stone called Bruce Springsteen’s 1973 album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ one of the “100 Greatest Debut Albums of All-Time.” Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ didn’t receive the initial commercial success that Springsteen would achieve with Born to Run, but people took notice. As Lester Bangs raved in his Rolling Stone review, “Bruce Springsteen is a bold new talent with more than a mouthful to say.”
Although Greetings… was a critical success for Springsteen it was not until three years later that the single Blinded by the Light was a smash hit for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. As a teenager I remember my brother and I straining our ears over the radio to decipher Springsteen’s lyrics, “Madman drummers bummers/ Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat/ In the dumps with the mumps/ As the adolescent pumps his way into his hat.” In order to understand the significance of this album and Bruce Springsteen as a local artist, we have to visit the past and the social issues facing Asbury Park (and the country) in the years just before this album was released.
Setting the Scene: Asbury Park, NJ
July 4, 1970, civil unrest broke out in Asbury Park. Seven days of rioting and looting left many businesses along the historically African-American Springwood Avenue corridor destroyed and the downtown commercial district boarded up. Burned, scarred, and on edge, our city was in ruins.
The Upstage Club (1968-1971), on the top floor of a Thom McAn’s shoe store in a mostly shuttered downtown Asbury Park, was a refuge for local musicians and music lovers. As local historian Don Stine put it, “there was an integration of races, cultures, and musical styles at the Upstage” where musician like Southside Johnny, Vini Lopez, and Steve Van Zandt played. A young Bruce Springsteen joined in, too.
In 1972, when Springsteen was writing Greetings… Emerson, Lake and Palmer played Convention Hall, an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac played the Sunshine In, and the Stone Pony would soon open in 1973. Despite everything, music and musicians were still coming to Asbury Park. Not only was the music a huge factor in Asbury Park’s relevancy, but the art scene was heavily influenced and connected to the music.
Album Art: the Postcard
The Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ album art comes from a contemporary 1970s Asbury Park souvenir postcard, proudly proclaiming Springsteen’s Asbury Park and New Jersey roots. When Columbia Records signed Springsteen to the label in 1972, they wanted to promote him as a New York City artist. He pushed back, “Wait, you guys are nuts or something. I’m from Asbury Park, New Jersey Can you dig it? NEW JERSEY.”
This Greetings from Asbury Park postcard might be the most famous postcard of all time, but the “Greetings from…” format originated at the end of the 19th century. German emigrant Curt Teich began printing postcards for the 1893 Chicago World Fair with the “Greetings from…” tag but it was not until the1930s that “Greetings from…” really took off.
With two weeks vacation year, Jeffrey Meikle in Postcard American notes, the American middle class began to visit the country’s natural wonders and beaches, especially the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, Southern California, and the Atlantic Coast. Asbury Park, NJ, situated in the sweet spot between New York City and Philadelphia, was ripe for visitors searching for that perfect postcard. The “Greetings from…” format continues strong today with most every town down the Shore, if not all beach towns and popular travel destinations across the country, having its own version of the “Greetings from…” postcard. Asbury Park didn’t pioneer “Greetings from…” but we did put it on the map as a geographic and cultural icon that made its way to countless products and souvenirs.
Greetings: The T-shirt
The unrest of July 1970 decimated most Asbury Park souvenir and memorabilia production and led to a lack of demand. Decades later, as Asbury Park began its comeback, everything Asbury Park became desirable again.
In 2011, Fun House began printing our original t-shirts, Greetings from Asbury Park and Tillie (discussed in Helen Pike’s previous blogpost.) Two years earlier we’d started producing original Asbury Park memorabilia, including coasters, magnets, pillows, and postcards, but visitors wanted more. We began with two designs, in two colors: an indigo t-shirt and a black t-shirt. That was it. Both designs in both colors sold out immediately. We’d print more shirts and those would sell out just as quickly. After a frantic summer trying to keep up with demand, we expanded production to include sweatshirts, tank tops, towels, totes, mugs, stickers… and other original designs. But we’ll save that for another blogpost.
In 2020, with demand for Asbury Park souvenirs continuing to build, Fun House began heat setting t-shirts (and magnets, mousepads, and mugs) literally behind the scenes of our Cookman Avenue store. This is the origin of what we now call our “Greetings (Color)” series with my original photos from 2008-2010, when Asbury Park was still fighting to come back. We intentionally did not duplicate the 1970s album art because at Fun House everything we produce must be our original design or original collaboration reflecting our Asbury Park. But, the inspiration is there on each and every design.
Visitors and residents alike are proud to wear Greetings from Asbury Park to show their love for the album, the comeback city, and maybe even the postcard. We’re proud to be a small part of the nostalgia behind the “Greetings From” history. We invite you to visit our collection and contact us with any questions.