In Asbury Park, Waiting for Springsteen With His Photographer Pal, Danny Clinch

But would Bruce come? The question echoed, soft but insistent, on the evening of Friday, Sept. 18, in a converted yoga studio on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J. The rock photographer Danny Clinch was celebrating the opening of “Be True,” his first single-subject exhibit: Bruce Springsteen, in his natural habitat. Several hundred people had turned out to view the rare, often intimate photographs lining the walls. There was Bruce at Giants Stadium, soaked in sweat, leaping off the piano. And there he was sunk into a couch in his Jersey farmhouse, a fedora tipped low over his brow, hugging an acoustic guitar.

The organizers had secured the location at the last minute (Mr. Clinch had said he would only mount the exhibit if it could be on the iconic boardwalk), and the floor was still covered in interlocking foam rubber squares.

The photographer, 45, stood in the center of the room, greeting friends. A Leica M6 was slung over his shoulder like a guitar. “I have it with me all the time,” he said. “It’s kind of my main axe, you know?” Dirty-blond and mutton-chopped, wearing jeans, a vest and an untucked shirt, Mr. Clinch reminisced about the days before he had an all-access backstage pass to any show he liked. He started to build his concert portfolio, which now includes Bob Dylan, Jay-Z and Radiohead, by smuggling his camera past security in pieces. “I would take the lens off, give it to my girlfriend, who’s my wife now. She’d hide it; I’d hide film. I’d take the camera body and stuff it down my pants. Then we’d get in and I’d have to sneak up to the front and assemble everything back together.”

Outside, a mellow overflow crowd drank beer on the boardwalk, mingling expectantly in the late-summer evening air. Where was Bruce? Speculation deepened with the night. He’d roar in on his Harley. He’d sneak up in his Range Rover. He’d have a posse. He’d come alone.

Andra Napoleon, an attractive, dark-haired woman in a black-and-white polka-dot dress, was circling the exhibit with 10 copies of a letter she had written to Bruce in her purse. Each letter was sealed in an individual red envelope, and each envelope bore large, clear handwriting: “1984 – I was 21, you were 34 – Stone Pony.” The reference, Ms. Napoleon said, was to a night she shared a small table and two rounds with Mr. Springsteen at his fabled shore haunt. He told her about his upcoming album—Born in the USA, it would be called—and she tried to sell him a membership to Jack LaLanne, where she was a manager. “We were hanging out for over an hour, and we just clicked.”

The letter, which she was inspired to write after listening to the title track of Mr. Springsteen’s latest album, Working On a Dream, recounted that evening a quarter-century ago, and hinted at what Ms. Napoleon claimed was a lucrative business proposition. “I wish I could blurt it out, but I can’t!” she said. She had promised her mother that she would tell no one but Mr. Springsteen himself. “I want Bruce to launch it, because it is as big as Bruce.”

Ms. Napoleon’s horoscope that morning in Star magazine, which she said she never reads, but had opened while in line to buy lottery tickets at the 7-Eleven, had read: “Make friends with the boss!”

As the event wound down, this seemed less and less likely. Just as the Transom was wondering whether to skip the last train back to New York, Mr. Clinch got a text from Mr. Springsteen himself. The Boss wasn’t coming. Word on the boardwalk was that he had gotten stuck at a birthday dinner for his mother-in-law.

  In Asbury Park, Waiting for Springsteen With His Photographer Pal, Danny Clinch