Review: ASBURY PARK: RIOT, REDEMPTION, ROCK ‘N ROLL

4 out of 5 stars

A postcard of a seaside town, the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s debut album Greetings From Asbury Park might look like a tacky memento of a long forgotten summer holiday, but it is reminder of how the New Jersey town impacted the singer-songwriter, playing a major part in the laid-back sound of his debut release. Asbury Park was rich with gutsy bravado, a sonic melting pot which led to the bluesy rock ’n roll sound which helped propel Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Southside Johnny into the public consciousness in the 1970s. 

Tom Jones’ Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘n’ Roll looks at the history of Asbury Park, detailing the decline of its impressive blues and jazz scene, the riots during the summer of 1970 (which tore the town apart) and resulted in racial lines drawn being across the east and west of the city. It was during this time that young musicians, still reeling from the one-two punch of Elvis and The Beatles, rose from the city’s ruins, cutting their teeth in the bars and clubs of the city to create a jazz-rock infusion which still echoes across its sandy beaches.

Featuring interviews with Springsteen, Van Zandt and Southside Johnny – the holy trinity of the New Jersey sound, Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘n’ Roll delivers the heart, soul and tales that you would hope for in such a documentary. These men know how to draw you in, infusing their stories of youth with charisma, wit and gravitas. We learn of their musical struggles, how they fought through the dozens of other bar bands to hone their talent and rise to the top when the odds were stacked against them. Asbury Park was a city on its knees in the 1970s, with boarded up windows, empty streets and young men on every corner like scattered leaves. But the power of youth prevailed, as these musicians grabbed their guitars and embraced their musical destiny in the Upstage club, a grimy joint where the patrons came for the music and stayed because of the near religious fervour of what they saw on stage. They might have known that the time was getting late, but they needed to hear these soon-to-be-legends sing their songs, not the the top forty radio hits of the day. 

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘n’ Roll shows how the seaside town was ripped apart and rebuilt, illustrating the healing power and redemptive nature of music. It’s something that is still happening in the town today, as it continues to grow and discover new and rising talent. This is a movie which shows that becoming a legend isn’t just about luck, talent and hard-work – it’s about destiny. 

Read an interview with Tom Jones, director of Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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