“Rock and roll, it changed my life. It was like the Voice of America, the real America coming into your home.
It was the liberating thing, the out.”
For almost four decades, Bruce Springsteen has thrilled fans by giving voice to the restlessness, hopes, and dreams of ordinary Americans. Millions of listeners have found their experience of the American dream reflected in his songs about the lonely, the lost, the unemployed, immigrants and military veterans. Springsteen’s word and music have the ability to change the listener’s outlook and challenge his/her ideas, exploring in the truest sense the right to expression.
In From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, visitors will travel with Springsteen from the boardwalks of small-town New Jersey to packed stadiums around the world. Throughout the exhibition, listening and viewing stations feature interviews with Springsteen, previously unreleased songs from some of his early musical groups, and footage of some of the most famous performances of his career. Personal artifacts, including family photographs and notebooks filled with song lyrics, help paint a complete portrait of the famous singer/songwriter.
A highlight of From Asbury Park to the Promised Land, Bruce Springsteen’s 1960 Chevrolet Corvette will be on display in the National Constitution Center’s lobby. Springsteen purchased the Corvette in 1975 after the success of the album Born to Run. Photos of the car have appeared on various album and single sleeves, and the car was prominently featured in Songs, a Springsteen songbook, journal, and photo album.
The Center’s lobby also will feature large reproductions of famous photographs of Springsteen and the E Street Band taken by New Jersey photographers Frank Stefanko and Danny Clinch, including a photo of Springsteen with the Corvette taken in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Stefanko famously shot the cover art for Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River; the cover of The Seeger Sessions was taken by Clinch.
From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
“Before rock 'n' roll, I didn't have any purpose. I tried to play football and baseball and all those things and I just didn't fit.
I was running through a maze. It was never a hobby. It was a reason to live. It was the only one I had.”
Bruce Frederick Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949 in Freehold, New Jersey, to Adele and Douglas Springsteen. Springsteen was 14 when he joined the Castiles, a group of Freehold teenagers who, like him, took rock ‘n’ roll seriously. From a first show at Freehold’s West Haven Swim Club in 1965, the Castiles advanced to playing in neighboring towns along the Jersey Shore and at the Café Wha? in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1967. Their repertoire consisted of a broad selection of British Invasion rock, including songs by the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, the Who, and the Rolling Stones. The group broke up in 1968, the same year Springsteen graduated from high school.
In this section of the exhibition, visitors can view photos of Springsteen’s family and his beloved Asbury Park. Also on display are scrapbooks kept by the wife of Castiles manager Tex Vinyard containing newspaper clippings, photos, handbills, and other documents related to his early music endeavors, as well as other memorabilia from the Castiles, including a set list, business card, concert poster, and a bar of Castile Soap (where the group got their name).
At a listening station, guests can hear songs by the Castiles. The never-released “That’s What You Get” and “Baby I” were written by Springsteen and George Theiss and were recorded in the spring of 1966. Additional songs were recorded live at a Castiles show at the Left Foot in Freehold, New Jersey on September 16, 1967. The songs are covers, including Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” and the Yardbirds’ “Jeff’s Boogie.”
"I learnt when I was very young how to build a band that would excite you, impress you, that we're putting on a show for people, … that it's a circus, it's a political rally, it's a dance party, but that also the band is a group of witnesses, witnesses to our times, that our job is to make you laugh, make you cry, and to testify as seriously as we can … about the things we've seen. "
An indifferent college student, Springsteen began to frequent the Upstage, an Asbury Park club where musicians gathered to jam after-hours. With Danny Federici on the organ, Vinnie Roslin on bass, and Vini Lopez on drums, he formed Child, renamed Steel Mill after they discovered another band using the same name. Steel Mill had a large following along the Jersey Shore and in Richmond, VA, where they often attracted as many as 5,000 fans at shows. When Steel Mill broke up in 1971, Springsteen formed the light-hearted Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom while organizing an ambitious 10-piece band.
The Bruce Springsteen Band featured keyboardists Danny Federici and David Sancious, drummer Vini Lopez, bassist Garry Tallent, and guitarist Steve Van Zandt, all of whom would go on to play in the E Street Band. Memorabilia in this section includes a Bruce Springsteen Band concert handbill and poster from The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, PA, one of the small clubs where Springsteen built his audience.
Out in the Streets
“I couldn’t believe it. I reacted with a force I’ve felt maybe three times in my life. I knew at once that he would last a generation.” – John Hammond on Springsteen’s audition for Columbia Records
When Springsteen auditioned with legendary A&R man John Hammond of Columbia Records in May 1972, he was playing on his own. The large band he had been trying to form had dissolved; there were too few gigs and too many performers to make money. But after Columbia signed Springsteen with a $40,000 recording budget, he quickly called his former band mates. This stunned Columbia, which had thought of Springsteen as a solo artist like the hugely successful Bob Dylan. Springsteen refused to budge. With a smaller version of his band reassembled, Springsteen began work on what would become Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Although critically lauded, the album was not a commercial hit.
Visitors can listen to excerpts of Bruce Springsteen’s audition for John Hammond in this section of the exhibition. Other tracks available at the listening station include a 1974 Harvard Square Theatre performance when Springsteen and the E Street Band opened for Bonnie Raitt and a performance at the Agora in Cleveland in 1978, celebrating the 10th anniversary of WMMS, the Cleveland radio station that played a major role in Springsteen’s mainstream breakthrough.
Rare archival performance footage of performances from the 1970s also will be displayed on a television in this section. “Lost in the Flood” was filmed at Max’s Kansas City in New York City in 1973; “Sandy” was filmed at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York in 1973; “Kitty’s Back” was filmed at the Carlton Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1975; and “Rosalita” was filmed at the Houston Coliseum in 1978.
This section also features a personal scrapbook kept by Springsteen featuring numerous stories and reviews related to Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and reproductions of articles from Record World and Rolling Stone Magazine.
The E Street Shuffle
“I had no success, so I had no real concerns about where I was going. I was going up, I hoped, or at least out.
With a record contract and a touring band, I was better off than most of my friends.”
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle came out on November 5, 1973, just 10 months after Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Like its predecessor, the album did not fare well nationally but it was a success in Philadelphia. More than half of the album’s sales in its first year were in Philadelphia, and audiences flocked to see Springsteen and the E Street Band at local venues such as the Tower Theatre and the Main Point.
This section of the exhibition includes memorabilia from the Stone Pony, the legendary Asbury Park rock club and a shirt worn by Springsteen when he appeared on stage at the Stony Pony. Also featured are album notes from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, which include Springsteen’s handwritten credits for his second album; a track listing for the album; and notes about potential album titles and the lyrics for songs such as “New York City Serenade,” “Wild Billy’s Circus Story,” “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” and “The E Street Shuffle.”
Other artifact highlights pay homage to late members of the E Street Band and lifelong Springsteen friends, keyboard player Danny Federici and saxophone player Clarence Clemons. Visitors can view Federici’s accordion and his keyboard-operated glockenspiel, which was featured on such hits as “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” “Candy Room,” and “Born in the U.S.A.” Guests also can view a microphone used by Clarence Clemons for his saxophone.
Born to Run
“[Born to Run] really dealt with faith and a searching for answers … I laid out a set of values. A set of ideas,
intangibles like faith and hope, belief in friendship and in a better way.”
Springsteen released his third album, Born to Run, on September 1, 1975. It became his first hit record, reaching Number Three on the charts. Recording the album was a difficult process and Springsteen initially disliked the result. But the album – and its title song – proved so popular that, when the Born to Run tour ended in Philadelphia with four shows at the 3,000-seat Tower Theatre, ticket requests numbered over 90,000.
Highlights in this area of the exhibition include a Born to Run promotional album, a notebook containing numerous working drafts of the title track, the jacket that Springsteen wore on the album cover, and scrapbooks filled by Springsteen with hundreds of news clippings related to Born to Run. Visitors won’t want to miss the opportunity to see Springsteen’s 1989 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he road through the southwestern United States in 1989.
Guests also can watch an excerpt from Wings to Wheels: The Making of Born to Run and view reproductions of the 1975 covers of TIME and Newsweek, which Springsteen appeared on simultaneously.
Prove it All Night
“You write the song just for yourself, but it’s not good unless you play it for somebody else. That’s the connection between people that is forever lasting and can never be broken apart.”
Before the commercial success of Born to Run, touring was a matter of financial survival for Springsteen and the E Street Band. For many Springsteen fans, the energy of his live shows has never been captured by his studio recordings. On stage, “[what] you're involved in is an act of collective imagination,” Springsteen said. “And that's what we're doing here with the audience. And part of it is pulled right out of the old gospel call and response where I'm singing to them, and I'm speaking to them and they're speaking to me and that's a big part of what we try to do on stage and get going at night.”
This section features the many outfits and awards Springsteen has amassed throughout his career. Outfits include: the iconic outfit and hat worn on the cover of Born in the U.S.A. , the outfit he wore throughout the 1978 tour, stage shirts worn at various shows on the Devils & Dust tour, a stage suit worn during the Seeger Sessions shows in Dublin, Ireland, a necklace worn on the cover of Lucky Town, the shirt worn on the cover of The River, and the jacket worn during Barack Obama’s inaugural celebration.
Awards on display include: the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Streets of Philadelphia,” Academy Award nomination for “Dead Man Walkin’;” 2008 New Jersey Hall of Fame Award; Grammy Award for Best Rock Album The Rising; 2009 Golden Globe Award for the song “The Wrestler;” Springsteen’s 2009 Kennedy Center Award; and a key to the city of Freehold, New Jersey, Springsteen’s hometown.
Book of Dreams
“I'm interested in what it means to be an American. I'm interested in what it means to live in America. I'm interested in the kind of country that we live in and leave to our kids. I'm interested in trying to define what that country is. I got the chutzpah or whatever you want to say to believe that if I write a really good song about it, it's going to make a difference. It's going to matter to somebody, you know?”
Here, guests can view notebooks containing numerous drafts of songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Nebraska, Independence Day, Tunnel of Love, Born in the U.S.A., and The Rising. Also featured are Springsteen’s table and chair where he penned many of his famous songs from his home in New Jersey.
Visitors can watch footage from Springsteen’s 1992 appearance on MTV Unplugged and can try their hand at deciphering the meaning behind some of Springsteen’s most famous songs by participating in the Center’s interactive program Decoding the Lyrics.
Before moving to the next section, visitors can listen to an interview with Bruce Springsteen and Jim Henke, Vice President of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Topics covered in the interview include the thought process behind Born to Run and Nebraska and Springsteen’s audition for Columbia Records. The interview was recorded in New Jersey in 2009.
I’m a Rocker
“[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.”
The final section of From Asbury Park to the Promised Land features the many incredible guitars Springsteen has played over the course of his career, including:
From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen At the National Constitution Center from February 17 through September 3, 2012. Created by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Admission is $24.50 for adults, $23 for seniors and students and $12 for children ages 4-12. Group rates also are available. Admission to the Center’s main exhibition, The Story of We the People, including the award-winning theater production Freedom Rising, is included. For ticket information, call 215.409.6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.
CBS 3 and The CW Philly are the local media partners for the exhibition. CBS 3 (KYW-TV) and The CW Philly 57 (WPSG-TV) are part of CBS Television Stations, a division of CBS Corporation.