Thursday, February 4, 2016

Smell like Bruce.

I came upon an interesting bit of disputed trivia, about Bruce Springsteen, the Jersey Shore, 1960s teenage boys, soap, and maybe Star Trek.

As Springsteen fans know, his first real band when he was a short, skinny teenage dork in Freehold, New Jersey, was called the Castiles. Brucebase reports that the band played at least 115 shows, and also made some recordings.

The site also reports that the band was named "after a brand of soap." Peter Ames Carlin, in his book Bruce, said the name of the band was a "tribute to Castile shampoo, the brand local teams seemed to favor".

They're both right and wrong, I think.

Castile is not a brand of soap but a kind of soap; as Webster's tells us, castile soap is not made from animal fat, as many soaps are, but is "a fine hard bland soap made from olive oil and sodium hydroxide" or other vegetable oils, originally associated with Spain's Castile region. Back in the 1960s there was not quite the preponderance of soaps that there is today, and certainly nothing like the vast variety of shampoos. I found precious few trademarks on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site using the name "castile" that dated to that era. So who was making castile soap when the Castiles began playing in 1965?


Kirk's Castile Soap, made with coconut rather than olive oil, has been around since 1839, and is still around today. I suspect this was the soap that the boys in the Freehold area liked, and it would have been perfectly acceptable to use it as a shampoo too. (Pace Carlin, although Kirk's makes a shampoo now, but I would guess that they didn't fifty years ago.)

Bottom line: If I'm right, you can find out what Bruce and his buddies smelled like in 1965 by buying some Kirk's. I got this bar at Walmart.

Is it worth the effort? Well, if you're into non-animal-fat soap, I suppose this is a good option. It's not expensive; it's a nice, soft soap, feels pleasant on the skin, and doesn't seem to be any more drying or less effective at cleaning than your average bar soap. The scent is mild, not perfumey, and not at all coconutty, at least to me, so you don't smell like a big piƱa colada as you mosey down the boardwalk.

As for the Star Trek thing: I was just imagining if the Castiles had actually used the brand name rather than the type of their favorite soap, and called themselves the Kirks. In 1965 they might have sounded like a religious folk group from Scotland. But in September of 1966, they would have sounded like Star Trek fanatics. And they kept playing until 1968, so the name might have grown uncomfortable.

I guess they could have changed it to the E Street Band or something.
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