(Editor’s note: The perfect combination is a trip to the Bruce Springsteen exhibit and a stop this Saturday at the Springsteen Memories Roadshow when it hits Philadelphia — see the details about the roadshow here! And don’t miss the on-sale Saturday for what is now two shows in Philly this September, on the 2nd and 3rd. )
My hope is that everyone reading this has either seen the exhibit From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen or will see it in the near future; if somehow you haven’t, please do before the exhibit ends in September. Don’t wait for it to show up in some yet-to-be determined location in the future. See it this summer. You can thank me later.
If you’re a longtime Bruce Springsteen fan like me, none of the exhibit will surprise you — but seeing items you’ve seen in books or online is quite a thrill. First is Bruce’s 1960 back and white Corvette convertible, parked in the lobby of the National Constitution Center. When I was 16, a 1960 Corvette was my dream car (well, it actually still is), and Bruce’s car fills that dream for a variety of reasons. Not only can you walk fully around the car, it’s one of the few items in the exhibit you can photograph. And with the Darkness-era, bigger-than-life-size image of Bruce behind the car, you can imagine Bruce at the wheel.
When you enter the exhibit you’re immediately bombarded with photos of young Bruce Springsteen with his family, scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings, photos, handbills, and other documents related to his years with the Castiles, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, and the Bruce Springsteen Band. Nothing surprising, but a joy to see nonetheless.
For a film fanatic like me, the rare archival footage of performances from the 1970s, displayed on television screens through out the first half of the exhibit, was a treat. You can watch “Lost in the Flood,” filmed at Max’s Kansas City in New York City in 1973; “Sandy,” filmed at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York in 1973; “Kitty’s Back,” filmed at the Carlton Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1975; and “Rosalita,” filmed at the Houston Coliseum in 1978. The remaining films shown in the exhibit, like an excerpt from Wings to Wheels: The Making of Born to Run and MTV Unplugged, are widely available, so I avoided them.
There are two other gems in the exhibit: first are the hand written spiral-notebooks of lyrics. Remember that amazing collection of copies of lyrics we received in The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town a few years ago? Those were nothing compared to reading the actual scribbled drafts of the lyrics to “Born to Run,” “The Rising” and “No Retreat, No Surrender.” Each are a Bruce geek’s paradise.
My other favorite part of the exhibit was the guitars. I knew Bruce had hundreds of guitars somewhere at concerts, I knew they existed, but I never knew each guitar was tuned to specific songs and labeled. Two labeled guitars are hanging in the exhibit, one labeled “Promised Land.”
“[T]he reason there’s a lot of guitars is because there’s a lot of different tunings, you know. To have the listener’s ear constantly moving to different tones and different sounds and different harmonic combinations, I use a lot of different tunings. Almost every song is a different tuning that I’ve kind of sorted out.”
And, of course, there’s the Fender Esquire Guitar (with an Esquire neck and a Telecaster body) made famous on the cover of Born to Run. You can get close enough to the guitar (inside its case, of course) and stare at it long enough to know for sure the legend is true — in some places there’s more glue than wood.
All these treasures are near the jacket Bruce wore on the cover of Born To Run, Danny Federici’s accordion, a saxophone mic used by Clarence Clemons, the 1989 Harley-Davidson motorcycle Bruce rode through the southwestern United States, and a Columbia records reel-to-reel tape marked with #79682 (his audition tape). Everything in the exhibit is a must see for the fanatic to the avid fan. Take my word for it, you won’t be disappointed.