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Nobody was getting rich outside of Monopoly. In 1970 Asbury Park was the scene of a bad race riot, and the tourists stayed away. "The place went down to the ground, and we rode right down with it," says Miami Steve. There were jobs to be had in a few of the bars, playing easy-listening rock, but Springsteen and his pals disdained them because, as he says simply, "we hated the music. We had no idea how to hustle either. We weren't big door knockers, so we didn't go to New York or Philly." Adds Van Zandt, who lived on a dollar a day: "We were all reading in the papers how much fun rock 'n' roll was—it seemed like another world. We didn't take drugs. We couldn't afford any bad habits."
A lot of the life Springsteen saw then and lived through found its way into his songs, but indirectly, filtered through an imagination that discovered a crazy romanticism in the ragtag boardwalk life.
She worked that joint
under the boardwalk, she was
always the girl you saw boppin 'down the
beach with the radio, Kids say last night she
was dressed like a star in one of the
cheap little seaside bars and I saw her
parked with her loverboy out on the
Tinker, the surfboard manufacturer and manager, called Mike Appel on Springsteen's behalf. Appel, whose major claim to fame until then was the co-authorship of a Partridge Family hit called Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted, was smart enough to see Springsteen's talent and brash enough to spirit him away from Tinker. Appel got Springsteen to work up a clutch of new songs by simply calling him frequently and asking him to come into New York. Springsteen would jump on the bus and have a new tune ready by the time he crossed the Hudson.
Appel also called John Hammond at Columbia. The call was Springsteen's idea, but the come-on was all Appel. He told Hammond he wanted him to listen to his new boy because Hammond had discovered Bob Dylan, and "we wanna see if that was just a fluke, or if you really have ears." Hammond reacted to Springsteen "with a force I'd felt maybe three times in my life." Less than 24 hours after the first meeting, contracts were signed.