I come today in praise of old friends. And live music. In my book, two of life’s highest imperatives.
Saturday night I saw Southside Johnny and the superb current incarnation of The Asbury Jukes do their best to tear the roof off of the Hard Rock Café in NYC’s Times Square. My slightly aging friends and I, in turn, did our best to try to keep up with them. The occasion was the First Annual Gala for the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, the brainchild of Steven Van Zandt and the prodigious apparatus through which he pursues his massive mission to rescue arts education in public school curriculums. One of my oldest friends, Dan, was being honored for his contributions to the organization, and thus a throwback gathering of much of our extended high school crew had assembled: Dan, Linda, Hoosh, Jody, Duck, Kim, Zuck, Karen, myself and Laurie. So much history exists among us, and it’s such a short trip to revert to old stories, old jokes, and old behavior (a mixed blessing, perhaps, but still). And nothing lubricates those wheels of nostalgia – no, not even liquor – like knowing the words to an old song and belting it out arm-in-arm with your buddies.
The band took care of that. Sounding even better than I’d had reason to expect, the 70-year-old Southside soulfully reeled off hit after hit, while throughout the night welcoming guest appearances by rock luminaries Eddie Brigati of The Rascals, legendary ‘Quarter To Three’ shouter, Gary U.S. Bonds, and the man of honor himself, Little Steven (Dion was also spotted as present yet somehow did not make it onto the stage; I guess he’s The Wanderer for a reason). But even among The Jukes incredible crowd-shaking catalogue, the song that captured the evening’s magic vibe of reminiscence for us was ‘It’s Been A Long Time,’ an unapologetically sentimental and autobiographical soul ballad written by Van Zandt, reflecting back on youthful days around Asbury Park for three old friends: himself, Southside Johnny, and their third buddy, Bruce Springsteen. The video for the song (below), shot live at the spiritual home and epicenter of the Jersey Shore music world, The Stone Pony, depicts the three of them trading lead vocals and leaning in, arms around each other’s shoulders, to share mics on harmonies. Really, it’s just a record of old friends, blood brothers, you might say, telling tales about their lives growing up together, their glory days, and testifying to the ties that bind. Little Steven, Southside and The Boss are singing it, but it might as well have been about all of us. “My friends, it’s been a long, long time.”
It’s Been A Long Time – lyrics