Bruce Springsteen & Mike Ness - photo by Amy Haben
Bruce Springsteen & Mike Ness - photo by Amy Haben


At the Sea.Hear.Now Fest in Asbury Park last month, The Boss joined Social Distortion on stage and they brought down the house, just as Blondie had one night earlier

A few weeks ago, I had been led into a back room of Asbury Park’s Convention Hall by rock photographer Danny Clinch, where before my very eyes the flannel shirt- and jeans-attired Bruce Springsteen was strumming an acoustic guitar with one leg resting on a chair. The veins were protruding from his forehead as he rehearsed singing Johnny Cash’s, “Ring Of Fire,” with Mike Ness of Social Distortion. They were going to surprise the New Jersey crowd with three songs together as an ending to Social D’s set.

Bruce Springsteen & Mike Ness - photo by Amy Haben
Bruce Springsteen & Mike Ness

I took a few shots of them playing during this surreal moment. I mean, people pay over a grand per seat to see Springsteen on Broadway and here I was getting my own personal show. What was even better for me, was that they were singing Social Distortion songs, along with the Johnny Cash track.

Don’t kill me, but I never got into Springsteen. I can totally understand why people are fans of his music, but what attracts me more to him are his liberal views, humble nature, and hometown hero qualities. Bruce has really helped Asbury Park become a music mecca. The Stone Pony is not only surviving but thriving, hotels like the Asbury have rock n’ roll decor and vinyl DJ’s and local bands have had major support from “The Boss.”

I was casually introduced to Bruce and he extended a brawny hand, his warm, dark, amber-colored eyes looked straight into mine as I said, “Pleasure,” while gripping his hand. What?! I had never used that word in an introduction ever. Maybe never even verbally used it. This guy had an effect on me. I was slightly smitten at first sight.

Bruce Springsteen, Clem Burke & Mike Ness

The man is 69 years old with six-pack abs and almond-shaped eyes. He looks twenty years younger. I towered over his 5’10 frame a little in my heels, but as an Amazon woman living in New York, I’m used to shorter guys. Bruce told my male friend he was “looking good,” to which my friend replied, “Just trying to keep up with you!” Even the guys blush around Bruce. He’s the man.

I had just shamefully read the gossip on SNL’s Pete Davidson and pop star Arianna Grande’s recent canceled engagement. Allison P. Davis of The Cut website very poignantly revealed what stars have “Big Dick Energy,” a quiet, confident vibe that you don’t necessarily have to be a man to exude. Apparently, Pete Davidson has this energy, as well as its physical equivalent. A few other celebrities who have this energy, according to Davis, are Rhianna, Cate Blanchett, Bobby Cannavale, and Bruce Springsteen. I stopped in my tracks. That completely describes “The Boss” better than any other word besides “warm”.

After Mike explained the chorus of his songs thoroughly to Bruce, we all walked over to the side of one of two massive stages sitting on the sand near the ocean. The third stage was set in the parking lot area for this festival, titled: “Sea.Hear.Now” which combines surf culture, art, and music with a focus on local New Jersey artists.

Danny Clinch is the mastermind behind the event, which drew thousands of people to the Jersey Shore. Nicole Atkins, Blondie, and Incubus were just a few bands on the line-up. The focus was to bring native New Jersey talent to the festival, along with a few tourist bands, such as Twin Peaks and the English Beat. A pop-up art gallery on the grounds housed some of Clinch’s photos, including one of Bob Dylan relaxing in an empty looking hotel room while engrossed in a Spanish newspaper. The picture conveyed the loneliness which sets in behind the scenes during a musician’s tour. Even with thousands of screaming fans, you inevitably go back to a hotel room by yourself in a foreign area with nothing but time on your hands until the next sound check.

Other noted photos by Clinch include: Patti Smith hugging the album A Love Supreme by John Coltrane while inside a record store and Willie Nelson braiding his own hair while sitting on a bed with an Indian painted on top of an American flag behind him.

As I stood on the side of the stage watching Social Distortion, Bruce stood next to me, his feet turned in a childlike stance, balancing on the sides of his shoes. He studied his lines with the focus of a college student on Adderall. A consummate professional.

Mike Ness & Bruce Springsteen – photo by Amy Haben 

The crowd freaked out, as expected, when Bruce took the stage. A thousand people at once yelled, “Bruuuuce!” I recorded video footage with a smile on my face as guitarist Johnny Wickersham and Bruce jammed, facing each other. Johnny looked stoked. Mike liked to talk about the perfect Los Angeles weather, slightly rubbing it into New Jersey’s face. The East Coast vs. West Coast battle is apparently not just in the rap game. Mike Ness has been a huge contributor to the punk rock and rock & roll scene ever since the late 1970s when he started playing punk music with Casey Royer. Casey went on to start the punk group D.I. while Ness put out his first Social Distortion single in 1981.

Together Bruce and Mike sang “Bad Luck,” “Misery Loves Company,” and Cash’s “Ring Of Fire.” Their voices complement each other well.

I never thought I’d be seeing a celebrated old school punk from So Cal on stage with Springsteen. But here we are. Ness is the gangster-looking, ex-addict strumming alongside the good New Jersey boy next door. Bruce has never done drugs, never drank heavily and was always a doting son to his mother. I watched a news clip from 1978, where Bruce sold out Madison Square Garden. He spoke of asking his mom to sit in the front row seat he had saved for her. She ended up complaining that she’d miss work if she went. Haha!

Blondie had played the “Sea.Hear.Now” fest the night before, which was their final show of the year in the States. Debbie looked very cool in her mirrored shades which reflected the waves that were crashing beside her. The band played better than ever and I had to think it might be because Debbie, Clem, and Leigh were born in New Jersey. It’s always a pleasure to play to your home state. Or maybe it was the refreshing sea air and the gigantic crowd that fed their energy. Either way, they were the highlight of the entire festival.

Debbie Harry - Photo by Amy Haben
Debbie Harry – Photo by Amy Haben

Photo by Amy Haben

After Social Distortion’s set, I watched a Youtube video of Springsteen and realized that he was wearing the same flannel shirt in the music video as he had worn earlier that evening. As he says, “I am a rich man in a poor man’s shirt.” Growing up in Freehold, N.J. with parents who worked as a bus driver and secretary, little Bruce wasn’t a stranger to sacrifice. He keeps his neighborhood and his memories close to his heart as he writes about the struggle of the working class. Some believe it’s hypocritical since he lives in a mansion now, but I don’t believe the truth of what you went through is ever wrong to write about, even if circumstances have changed. All of a sudden he should be a braggart in his writing? Singing about buying diamonds and yachts? I don’t think so.


Social Distortion‘s set list:

Reach For The Sky

Highway 101

Don’t Take Me For Granted

She’s A Knockout

Born To Kill

Over You

California (Hustle And Flow)

Machine Gun Blues

Angel’s Wings

Bad Luck (with Bruce Springsteen)

Misery Loves Company (with Bruce Springsteen)

Ring Of Fire (with Bruce Springsteen)