Monday, July 18, 2022

Home: I Don’t Want To Go Home

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: I Don’t Want To Go Home

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d been spending a lot of time preparing for my 40th college reunion, which was a lot of fun. But I want to talk today, a little, about our 25th reunion. At that time, although I was an active alumnus, in the sense that I went to reunions and sporting events and was proud of my college, I did little or no volunteer work for my class or school. In my mind, the reunion just sort of happened, and although I knew that classmates were involved in organizing it, I had no clue as to how much work it takes, and how hard it is to do it. I know now. Trust me, I know now. 

When I showed up at our 25th, in addition to receiving a uniquely beautiful garish jacket, I found out that our entertainment for one of the evenings was going to be Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I had always enjoyed their music, had played them occasionally on the radio during college, and was surprised that they would be appearing at our reunion. Typically, classes hire cover bands of various styles, and to my knowledge it was unusual to have a “name” band, even one whose best years seemed to be behind them, as entertainment. I later discovered that the band was paid for by a wealthy classmate, so that the cost was not passed along to the rest of us, which was nice of him. (This appearance appeared to set off a bit of an arms race among reunions classes, with appearances by acts such as Joan Jett, Duran Duran, Naughty By Nature, some version of the Beach Boys, and others until it seems that the University has discouraged this practice. Also, Phil Lesh played with his son, who was graduating, one year at an off-campus eating club, and Stanley Jordan joined in.) 

They were great, if a little loud under our tent, and the picture above is from his performance (and thanks to the classmate who provided me with this and other pictures from that night for our slideshow, because that was 2007, before everyone carried a digital camera in their pocket). 

Southside Johnny (John Lyon) and Bruce Springsteen met as young, aspiring musicians in the late 1960s, became close friends, and were both involved in creating the New Jersey/Asbury Park sound. A number of musicians played with both men, including Gary Tallent and Vini Lopez, who went to high school with Lyon, and Steve Van Zandt. But where Springsteen went on to become The Boss, Southside’s success was more limited. There are tons of articles on the Internet discussing their friendship, which continues, but I found one from 2012, an interview with Lyon, that seems to lay it out pretty clearly. According to that article, even in the early days, Lyon knew that among all of the musicians in their group, Springsteen stood out. As Lyon remembered, “He just had that presence where you couldn’t take your eyes off him.” Lyon described the difference between the bands: “He's got more straight ahead rock 'n' roll roots and I have more rhythm and blues roots. And I have a horn section and he doesn't." 

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ first album, I Don’t Want to Go Home, is excellent, and the title track, written by Van Zandt (who also produced the record), is maybe the band’s signature track. It’s a blusey, horn-drenched rocker, telling the story of someone who, well, doesn’t want to go home and face the fact that his love has left him. For what it is worth, I’m using a live version of the song, from the 1980 album Reach Up and Touch the Sky, because I like it a little better. 

Lyon has continued to perform and record pretty much non-stop with various lineups of the Jukes, solo, and with other side projects, but has generally flown under the radar. But, at least back in 2012, Lyons seemed comfortable with his career. As he said in that interview: 

I like where I am. I'm friends with a lot of these guys who have become big rock stars and it's not for me. I treasure my privacy and l like being left alone on the street. Garry Tallent and I were talking a couple of years ago and realized everybody pretty much got what they wanted. Steven always wanted to be active politically and to play music and now he's an actor as well. Bruce always wanted to make his music count for people. He carried himself as a person who has something to say, and still does. And I've always wanted to be as free and odd and eccentric as I wanted, because I'm just naturally that way - and I can. I haven't put on a suit for 40 years.