Brian Kirk and the Jirks wish the Boss a happy belated
COURTESY JACKIE PREHARTS
By GWEN OREL
Brian Kirk, of Brian Kirk & The Jirks, once played “Rosalita” and “Jersey Girl” with Bruce Springsteen.
Next week, Kirk and his band will play an entire show of Springsteen songs at The Wellmont.
For Kirk, Springsteen helped inspire his whole career.
One day Brian Kirk’s older sister actually invited him into her bedroom, to hear the music he was used to overhearing through the walls.
She needed him to hear Bruce Springsteen. She had a poster of The Boss up too.
“Who’s that guy?” Brian Kirk asked her. She replied, “Oh, he lives nearby.” And she played “Thunder Road.”
It was 1975, and the album “Born to Run” was new.
Brian Kirk, who was 12, and had mostly loved Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, maybe the Partridge Family, was intrigued. Then fascinated. Then bowled over.
And eventually he got a guitar and learned to play.
On Thursday, Dec. 5, Kirk’s nine-piece band, Brian Kirk & The Jirks, will play a belated birthday bash at The Wellmont, to honor Springsteen’s 70th birthday (which was in September).
Springsteen is one of New Jersey’s most beloved stars. He’s won 20 Grammy awards, has been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1999, and has sold more than 135 million records worldwide.
In 2019, Springsteen released “Western Stars,” accompanied by a documentary of the same name.
The show at The Wellmont is a reprise of a show Brian Kirk & The Jirks did at the Count Basie in Red Bank. Livenation saw the packed show and asked Kirk to tour it.
Kirk has played Montclair before, but in bars with music, never at the large Wellmont venue.
This version of the band, which he describes as primarily a cover band, has two singers, including himself, and has been together for 28 years.
Brian Kirk & The Jirks have done other cover shows, but there’s something special about Springsteen.
“His songs in shows elevate the enthusiasm of the audience,” Kirk said. “You can’t do that with Dylan. Bob Dylan’s music is ‘listen to me play this.’ To me Springsteen is rooted in a traditional Irish pub, music-wise. Everybody’s sitting, drinking, enjoying the song. We’re all in a room together enjoying it. Great artists consistently provide that kind of a song. Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer.’ Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al.’”
Kirk loves Dylan’s lyricism, but Springsteen’s music lights up an audience, he said.
Kirk comes from a musical family: his father was a Big Band leader in Jersey City in the ’40s. Most Big Bands couldn’t travel but stayed at one club, while the singers would tour, Kirk said. “He played with Sinatra. I never met him [Sinatra]. I was into Skynyrd, the Beatles, Springsteen, the Stones,” Kirk said with a sigh.
His father bought him a guitar when he was 13, after he’d broken his collarbone, taking him out of the football team. He mostly taught himself to play.
At The Wellmont, Kirk will tell the stories of how Bruce got a song, and then play it.
“In 1973, [Bruce] basically took the bus to Manhattan, sat down, played a guy a song, and got a record deal. We’ll play that song.
“In other stories I’ll talk about how he never had a hit until other people picked up his songs. ‘Blinded by the Light,’ for example. It was ignored. It was on his first album [“Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”], which got great reviews but didn’t do much. Then an English band called Manfred Mann heard it and redid it, in 1976. It’s nothing like the way Bruce did it. They got a number one song. It was Bruce’s first number one hit, though he didn’t record it.”
Over the years Kirk has met Springsteen a few times and even played with him.
A week before 9/11, Kirk was playing Bruce covers in a beach bar in Sea Bright. And Springsteen was there.
“He basically came up and played ‘Rosalita.’ We got it all on videotape. After he was done he looks at me and says, ‘What else do you want to do?’ We played ‘Thunder Road,’ ‘She’s the One,’ ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.’ And then he goes, “Do you know “Mustang Sally?”’”
And half an hour later as Springsteen was getting to leave, Springsteen’s wife Patti [Scialfa] came up and said “Come on Brucey, play me ‘Jersey Girl.’”
So they did.
Many people do not realize that though it’s one of his more famous songs, Springsteen did not write “Jersey Girl”: it was written by Tom Waits and recorded on Waits’ 1980 album “Heartattack and Vine.”
So Bruce does covers, Kirk said. “For a guy who has all these hits, and can play a five-hour show, he ends up playing other people’s songs too that he loves.”
Springsteen’s own songs and their ability to connect people will keep his work relevant long after the Boss is gone, Kirk said. “Even though the topic may be a blue-collar kid struggling to get out of his town, to get in his car and get his girl and get out of there: that’s the theme of rock and roll, and it’s always been. It transcends all of that, and social structures, middle class, poor, rich.”
When you’re in the audience singing “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” you don’t know what it means to the guy next to you, how it connects to his father, to a son. But you know it means something, Kirk said.
For him, that first song he heard, played by his sister, will always connect to his heart.
Kirk said that Springsteen has described the “Born to Run” album as the story of a hot summer night on the Jersey shore, beginning with the lines from the song “Thunder Road”: “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves.”
Today, when Brian Kirk & The Jirks play that song, Kirk is transported back to his sister’s room.
“It was normally a forbidden place. She called me in, to play me this song. That’s in my soul.”