HOARD IN THE USA: Ancient Artifacts Of His Bossness Found At The National Constitution Center

BY COLONEL TOM SHEEHY Bruce Springsteen was a hoarder; he kept things. Whether it was press clippings, leather jackets, album cover mock ups, guitars, reviews from Crawdaddy magazine, or posters and flyers made for some of the earliest gigs he ever played, it seems as if he held on to everything. And now, many of the dozens of Boss artifacts which Springsteen accumulated over the years have been gathered together for the world to see in From Asbury Park to the Promise Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, currently on display through September at the National Constitution Center.

The exhibition showcases Springsteen’s life and career from the earliest days to the present with bands like Child, the Castiles, Steel Mill, the E street Band, the Seeger Sessions, as well as his solo work. There are over 150 items on view including: the motorcycle jacket he wore on the cover of Born to Run; a framed poster for a benefit Bruce played at for presidential candidate George McGovern back in 1972; the hand written lyrics to Born To Run scrawled on a page of spiral notebook paper; a setlist from a 1967 gig by his Stones-y garage band The Castiles; the blue jeans, white T-Shirt, and red ball cap he wore on the cover of Born in the USA; the Oscar he won at the Academy Awards for Best Original Song for “Streets of Philadelphia” and Fender Esquire he’s holding on the cover of Born to Run.

The exhibition officially opened on February the 15th, but two nights prior to that date, the Center held a very special opening gala which was packed with the faithful along with certain dignitaries, all wearing their evening best; the Boss would have been impressed. These folks were eagerly clamoring to get a glimpse of the artifacts assembled throughout the exhibit, so they lined up on the boardwalk installed especially for that evening.

At the beginning of the exhibition, there is a quote from Mr. Springsteen. It reads: “My songs are all about American identity. Rock & Roll changed my life. It was like the voice of America, the real America coming into our home. I wanted the liberation thing, the out.” The first artifact one comes across is the coolest thing you’ve ever laid your eyes on. It is Bruce Springsteen’s 1960 Black Chevrolet Corvette, the one he is leaning up against in that famous photo that Frank Stefanko snapped in Haddonfield in 1978. The American automobile has played a large part in Springsteen’s lexicon; the pink Cadillac from the song of the same title comes to mind. However, this Corvette takes on a special significance as it was a present to Bruce from Bruce, after the success of his breakthrough album Born to Run in 1975.

Walking into the next room, you cannot help but be impressed by the display of all 28 of Bruce Springsteen’s album covers. From 1973’s Greetings From Asbury Park to the soon to be released album Wrecking Ball. Encased on one of the walls are the actual audition tapes from May 3, 1972 made for John Hammond who signed him to Columbia Records. Hammond said at the time that he had not been that excited about a new artist signing in over 10 years, since the time he signed a young man named Bob Dylan. There are listening stations along the way where you can listen to those demos, along with many more Springsteen recording rarities.

And then there is the simple black & white photograph of Springsteen taken at the Harvard Square Theater from May of 1974. What is so very special about that framed shot, is the quotation associated with that performance from a young music critic named Jon Landau. After seeing Springsteen that night in Cambridge, Landau wrote, “I have seen the future of rock and roll, and his name is Bruce Springsteen.” The following year, Jon Landau would co-produce Springsteen’s land mark recording, Born to Run. After which, he became the singer’s manager, a relationship that continues to this day.

There are also larger pieces which are roped off and on display one the floor such as the aforementioned 1960 Corvette along with his 1989 Harley-Davidson motor cycle and the beautiful antique writing table and chair where Springsteen wrote many of his songs. As you move from room to room, you find many pieces of clothing. The leather jacket worn on the cover of Born to Run which appears to have shrunk over the years. One case holds a simple shirt he wore at The Stone Pony back in 1975. Another contains the shirts he wore for the covers for the albums Human Touch and Lucky Man from 1992. However, the most bizarre of all was a Dolce and Gabbana shirt from 2006 which he wore during the Seeger Sessions tour. What was Bruce thinking? Singing This Land is Your Land while wearing top of the line designer apparel?

At one point, I had to do a double take, as I saw former United States Senator Arlen Specter, who is currently teaching law at University of Pennsylvania, closely examining a poster from an Asbury Park club from the 1960’s, which was framed and hung up on the wall. This particular poster was from an exclusive afterhours joint called the Upstage Club where Springsteen hung out, and on a few occasions he jammed there. This was also the club where his band called “Child” came together. The poster from Upstage Club listed a set of rules governing behavior within the venue. Specter was not only reading each rule individually, but he was also taking copious notes. As he read down the list, he seemed to be smiling and smirking as he came across each one. Some of the rules which he seemed to react to were, Rule # 2 which read, “Naked girls will not be tolerated for more than three or four hours at a time.” And Rule # 4, “Topless Girls must stay at least three inches away from the nearest male.” And then there was rule # 7 which stated, “Girls wearing hot pants will sit by fire extinguishers.” ¬†As Senator Specter finished reading the Upstages Club poster, I introduced myself, and then asked him, “Senator, what brought you here?” He quickly replied, “I’m here because I’m an American.” When asked what he thought of the art of Bruce Springsteen on display in the context of a structure that celebrates the American Constitution, he replied, “From aspiration, to inspiration, he reflects America.” Amen, Senator.

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