Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bruce Springsteen's Famous Madame Marie Dies

She was immortalized in one of Bruce Springsteen's earliest recordings. It is both fitting and ironic that one week before this 4th of July weekend, Madame Marie, the boardwalk fortune teller immortalized in Bruce's song "4th of July in Asbury Park (Sandy)", died. In the song the singer asks, "Did you hear, the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin' fortunes better than they do?".

Her little blue booth called the "temple of knowledge" was painted with the all seeing eye and advertised readings, tarot card, crystal ball. It survived the years of failed promises of the revival of Asbury Park. The booth stood through the declining years of the 70's, the failed promises of the 80's, the rock bottom Beirut at the Jersey Shore years of the 90's and now, the dawning promise of the new millennium and redevelopment. Madame Marie Castello was in her mid-90's. She told fortunes on the Asbury Park Boardwalk since the 1930's.

I have a 4th of July ritual of listening to The Wild, the Innocent and E Street Shuffle, the album that made Madame Marie famous to rock and roll fans from New Jersey and around the world. The reason this album and so much of Bruce's music resonates with me is it is about my youth. 4th of July in Asbury Park captures what it was like to be a teenager in the 70's at the Jersey Shore. My family had a place in Ocean Grove during those years and I hung with a gang of kids that passed their days on the beach and their nights prowling the boardwalk in Asbury Park. I spent many nights posing as a pin ball wizard in the Casino, with my smoldering Marlboro hanging off the edge of the glass and a row of quarters lined up on the front so everyone would know the pinball machine would be occupied for the next hour or so.

When we finally got old enough to drive we would find who ever had a car and cruise the circuit in Asbury Park. We piled in the car after work, (we all worked at restaurants or as step guards or umbrella boys or at the concession stands) and headed to Ocean Ave. Cruising the circuit involved starting at the south end, drivng along the beach to the north end and then back again. We would do it over and over again to pass the night. We would blast the radio (WABC or WNEW fm), hang out the windows and try to be cooler than the kids in the other car. Sometimes we would turn the radio down to listen to the music coming out of the clubs on the circuit. The bands playing in those bars became the stuff of legend and created the sound of Asbury Park. Sometimes we would stop at The Wonder Bar or Mrs. Jay's and try to get served. We hoped we might catch the eye of a member of the opposite sex, but mostly we were just having fun being young and alive,wild and free.

Today Asbury is not the same town I grew up with. It went through three decades of the worst kind of economic depression and political corruption any town in the USA has seen. The beginning of this decade, the developers finally started building and it's future is a high priced ocean front for wealthy aging baby boomers. The great thing is that there are people there who still remember. The Palace Amusements that once sported Tillie's face smiling down on us kids has been demolished for townhouses, but a replica of Tillie's face now beams from The Wonder Bar. Madam Marie's is still there. Hopefully it will stay in the family and someone will still be there telling fortunes better than the cop's do.

I posted this video as a memorial to Madame Marie. It is Bruce Springsteen in his early days, singing 4th of July in Asbury Park.

the Madam Marie booth is by Absinthe Green the Tillie face is by sister72. Both licensed by Creative Commons

1 comment:

Tom Aarons said...

Thank you House Hubby. I found you on Foodbuzz while feeling hungry and bored, and I'm leaving with Bruce Springsteen on the stereo, and fresh ideas about what to cook.