By Chris Rotolo |
Within one of the Jersey Shore’s most beloved houses of musical worship — The Saint in Asbury Park — sits a worn out piece of linoleum flooring, a metallic mat mixed among the patterned tile that nods to some of our music community’s most enthusiastic supporters, who have literally danced the paint off the deck.
It was a position called home on many a late Asbury evening by a devoted lover of live music named A.J. Heagney, and a platform from which he exclaimed his distinctive rallying cry of, “We love good music, baby!”
Heagney was an integral part of the local music community and soon joined the cast of creatives surrounding one of the area’s most emotionally stirring songwriters, Cranston Dean.
“A.J. was an incredible friend and a lover of music who would travel all over the place with us for shows,” said Dean, an Atlantic Highlands native. “He was always with us, and it wasn’t an act. He was genuinely happy and full of life and I think that’s the scariest part about what happened to him.”
In August of 2016, Heagney, a Rumson resident, died at the age of 23 after a heroin-related incident, one of the 610 deaths charged to the opioid epidemic in Monmouth County from 2012 through 2017, according to statistics provided by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO).
However, for Dean, what makes this case particularly troubling is that the songwriter did not recognize in Heagney any of the telltale signs of addiction, nor does he believe Heagney was a longtime user of heroin.
“He wasn’t an addict. It wasn’t as if his passing came after some long struggle against an addiction,” Dean said. “He passed out of the blue. We spent a lot of time together and, as far as any of us could tell, this was the first time he tried it.”
So often true beauty blooms in the wake of tragedy, and from the seeds of a terribly somber moment in Dean’s life grew the makings of tune titled, “Brother, Oh Brother.”
The song is a homage to a dear friend no longer with him, and one that resides at the heart of Dean’s latest full-length collection “High Beams.” However, this powerful composition was written with a greater reach in mind.
“This is a song that was inspired by our friend A.J., but it’s written to honor the memory of anybody that we have lost in this fashion,” said Dean. “It’s written to the people who are still struggling with an addiction and feel outcast from society.”
Dean went on to speak of friends, neighbors and other members of his community who are currently entangled in a bout with opioid addiction and the suffocating loneliness and isolationist tendencies that can consume them.
According to Dean, the ensuing psychological stress and strain of an addict can be as severe an ailment as the drug use itself. “They feel so outcast from society, and in a way they absolutely are, because no one is really trying to spend time with a junkie, except other junkies,” he said.
“But we can’t give up on these people. These are our friends and family. They’re not bad people. They’re just struggling with something,” said Dean. “I’ve seen them overcome this and continue to be outstanding members of society. They rise above it and have used their fight as just another mark of their great character.”
In the refrain of “Brother, Oh Brother,” Dean’s gruff delivery carries sentiment, as he sings of reaching out and pulling a friend from the swallowing tide. It’s a musical lifeline he hopes will find those in need and inspire others to forge rescue efforts of their own.
“There are people I know personally who are struggling with addiction, or are in recovery and continue to struggle. And I hope the music finds them. I hope it reaches those who need it most,” Dean said.
“I hope it finds these people and lets them know that there are friends and family around them who really do care and love them. And for those who have someone in their life battling addiction, I hope it inspires them to be there, because reaching out can really make all the difference,” he added.
The MCPO recently reported an encouraging trend, as the number of heroin/opiate-related deaths dropped from 148 in 2016 to 110 in 2017.
Dean will be performing his impassioned compositions live at the Chubby Pickle in Highlands on Feb. 16 and at Langosta Lounge on the Asbury Park boardwalk on Feb. 24.
Dean’s album “High Beams” and the Ty Harrison (Thriving Era)-edited and produced music video for “Brother, Oh Brother” can be streamed at CranstonDean.com.
This article was first published in the Feb. 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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