On 19 August 1977, Eric Meola and Bruce Springsteen went on a road trip in a red convertible Galaxie 500, making photographs that were eventually used on Bruce’s album The Promise. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of this trip, Eric is now releasing – for the first time on the collectors market – the image above, “Daddy’s Garage”, as a signed limited edition photograph.
First, we wanted to share Eric’s memories from that time.
In August 1977, a few days after Elvis Presley died, I stood in the muggy air on a hot summer night outside a gas station in Nevada owned by Eugene DiGrazia, who bought the property in 1932. “Gas station” is a misnomer, for the Valmy Auto Court, lit by neon like an Edward Hopper set-piece, was once a miner’s shack dating to 1900, that had evolved into a combination general store, post office, Shell station, and Greyhound bus depot. DiGrazia was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s postmaster general and the notice of that appointment was tacked to a wall. At that time a room at the Auto Court was as low as $15 a night, and the population was less than three dozen people and a few dogs.
In a 1987 interview with L.A. Times writer Charles Hillinger, DiGrazia said “I bought the gas station, store, post office, bus depot…when I was 19 for $1,800. There was $300 worth of groceries in the store at the time. I later bought 140 acres surrounding the place for $2,100…the station had only one pump and in the beginning cars and trucks were few and far between. A narrow two-lane road went through here. Gas sold for 25 cents a gallon. I paid 19 1/2 cents for it.” DiGrazia continued, “Bread sold for 10 cents a loaf, milk 10 cents a gallon. President Herbert Hoover stopped here in 1940. He was interested in a gold mine near here. He bought gas, bought some candy and used the out-house. He stood around and talked for a while…we saved for 12 years to get a telephone and have contact with the outside world. I bought 30 telephone poles for $1,500 in 1942 and a friend and I strung a wire along the poles for 2 1/2 miles to tie in with the main telephone line.” And then he added, “Whatever happens, as long as I live, I want Valmy to stay just as it is today, which isn’t much different than what it was when I first came here.”
An hour’s drive west of Valmy if you turn south on State Route 400, you will soon be on dirt and gravel roads leading off to the Humboldt Mountains to the east. I was with musician Bruce Springsteen, who had just come out of a protracted lawsuit about the rights to his music, and I was making photographs which eventually were used on an album called The Promise. After driving for nearly thirty hours straight, on one desert road after another, one of us turned our car left on S.R. 400, swerving and steering through the washboard ruts, towards Unionville on a gravel road that went into the Humboldt Range and beyond, into infinity. I set my Hasselblad camera on a tripod and asked him to drive a half mile down the road, then turn around and drive towards me. Bruce humored me as I made some photographs, and then the sky began to darken. After I shot a roll we left the road and went back to U.S 80 to a nearby roadside cafe.
In less than half an hour the sky turned black and I insisted we go back to the gravel road. As a cumulonimbus cloud formed in the sky above the long, thin, ribbon of a road going off in the distance, I photographed as Bruce drove the car towards me several times, kicking up a dusty plume. Soon it began to rain as flashes of lightning filled the valley floor. The hypnotic scene etched into our eyes and minds, and a few days later Bruce wrote the lyrics to a song called “The Promised Land”. I will never forget hearing these words for the first time:
“There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground…”
Faith. That was the word that stayed with me from that stanza. In two lines, the confluence of “twister” and “faith” haunted me. What held the people to this land and why did they live here? In his father’s obituary in the December 2, 1990, Reno Gazette-Journal, DiGrazia’s son stated that “I don’t think he ever thought he could die…even at 77 he acted like he was 25. He was up and at ’em to the end.” Gene DiGrazia held his ground in Valmy, as a jack of all trades including service for 53 years as postmaster, longer than anyone else in the West; and like Springsteen’s father, he was also a bus driver. A storm in the desert had provided Bruce with the material for an anthem, and he ended each stanza by declaring that “I believe in a Promised Land.”
I always wanted to go back to that day when we drove up on a hilltop and watched as lightning revealed the valley floor in staccato bursts of blazing thunder. Standing in the rain as the wind whipped against our bodies, we leaned into the howling squall, laughing with sheer energy as though we were privileged to be present at a small moment of Creation. I made several images of lightning from the hill, and then we drove down into the valley and back out onto Highway 80, heading west towards Reno.
The limited edition
Here’s the link to where you can purchase Daddy’s Garage online.
Other images from the 1977 session
Signed limited editions of other images from the August 1977 road trip are available to purchase, such as “Drive All Night“, shown below.
You can see the full selection here.