New Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Grammy Museum chronicles 50 years on stage – Orange County Register

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are rightly celebrated for their epic live shows – marathon performances of rock and roll passion that often run three hours or more.

It’s a big part of the Springsteen legend, which makes the Grammy Museum’s new exhibit Bruce Springsteen Live an essential ticket for fans of Springsteen and popular music in general.

“For them and their fans, the stage is the church of rock and roll,” a larger poster declares of Springsteen and the E Street Band at the entrance to the exhibit. “The songs their prayers, and the preacher, Bruce Springsteen.”

Fans of Springsteen or rock, in general, will surely enjoy this house of worship. The exhibit runs through April 2, 2023, which provides plenty of time to come and gaze upon all the holy relics on display at the Grammy Museum.

There are, of course, the kinds of things you’d expect to see at an exhibit on Springsteen’s career as a hardworking performer: Tour posters and backstage passes, ticket stubs and fans’ homemade signs. And guitars, oh yes, there are some beautiful guitars.

And then there are the odds and ends that simply delight, like one of eight scrapbooks of his career kept by his mother Adele, or a letter he wrote to his “landlordess” after signing his first contract with Columbia Records, informing her his rent would now be paid by the label and joking that his signature on the letter was practice for autographs to come.

Or the truly impressive collection of hotel and motel room keys, chained together in a large ball, that Springsteen emptied out of his pockets, luggage, and guitar cases on returning home from the road over the years.

“I love the keys,” says Eileen Chapman, who as director of the Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music at Monmouth University in New Jersey, co-curated the new exhibit. “Bruce would take that out at dinner parties and show people his keys.

“But it’s part of that tour process,” she says of the decision to include the keys, still attached to those old-fashioned diamond-shaped plastic key fobs. “You know a lot of people don’t know what happens on tour.”

Posters and pictures

The visual side of rock and roll tours is well represented by the posters and photographs that fill the walls on every side of the exhibit.

At the entrance, a long row of gig and tour posters represent every chapter of Springsteen’s life on stage. Some date back to the earliest years of his career, such as a simple two-tone poster for an August 1973 gig at Rutgers University.

“Bruce Springsteen – Live!” it declares in a foreshadowing of the name of this exhibit almost 50 years later. A benefit for an organization called All You Can Eat, tickets were $2. “Air conditioned,” the poster notes of Records Hall on campus. “Bring a pillow.”

Across the way, a collection of fan signs, brought to shows to express their love for the man and the music, are displayed.

“57 shows waiting for you,” reads one made by Simon, a fan from Leeds, England, with 58 struck through, and 59 then added. “Hey Hey Hey, what do you say?” it adds, quoting a line from the song “Sherry Darling” of the 1980 album “The River,” above a simple signoff of “Thanks Bruce.”

Another wall offers a selection of gorgeous concert photographs from across the years, including two taken in Southern California, one from May 2000 in Anaheim at the Arrowhead Pond, now Honda Center.

Then there’s a particularly lovely one of Springsteen with wife and E Street Band member Patti Scialfa. They’re alone on stage, shot from behind, looking out at the still-empty Sports Arena hours before it would be filled with fans for one of Springsteen’s March 2016 farewell shows to one of his favorite places to play in Los Angeles.

The Springsteen archives

In 2001, a group of fans including the founders of Backstreets Magazine, a Springsteen fanzine founded in 1980, launched a campaign to collect Springsteen archival material. They collected 700 pieces of memorabilia, says Chapman, who at the time was managing the Stony Pony nightclub in Asbury Park, where Springsteen played often in his early career,

The Asbury Park Library eventually ended up with the Friends of Bruce Springsteen Collection, though when not on display it was stored in a broom closet for lack of space, she says.

“And then, you know, Bruce tours, items keep coming in,” Chapman says. “It got to the point where that collection grew so much that members of this organization, which was helping to maintain it, were now keeping items in their houses.”

Chapman, who was associate director of Monmouth University’s Center for the Arts, thought the university might be better suited to manage the ever-growing archives, and with her dean’s blessings, approached the Friends group, who initially turned her down.

“I kept saying it’s important for it to be at Monmouth University,” she says. “It’s where Bruce started his earliest career. It’s the second college he ever played at. He did nine concerts there. It’s five minutes from Asbury Park. It needs to be here.

“I felt if it went to another university it would be an embarrassment,” Chapman says. “So I kept advocating for this. Eventually, it came to us.”

When the Bruce Springsteen Archives came to Monmouth in 2011, it had grown to 15,000 items, she says.

Five years later, Bob Santelli, the founding executive director of the Grammy Museum, a Monmouth grad who had also taught at the university, contacted Chapman with a question.

“He called me and said, ‘What if we go to Bruce and see if he would bring his collection to us?’” Chapman says. “Bob said, ‘You know, I think it’s destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It shouldn’t be in Cleveland. It should be in New Jersey.’

“And so Bob put a pitch letter together and sent it off to Jon Landau, Bruce’s manager, who is also on the board of the Rock Hall,” she says. “Jon said, I like this, being an educational component to it. Let’s take this to Bruce.”

Santelli, who co-curated the new exhibit, Landau, and Barbara Carr, Springsteen’s co-manager, went to the singer-songwriter’s home and made their pitch to place his personal archives at Monmouth with the collection that had already been started.

“Bruce got on his motorcycle, came over to the archives,” Chapman says. “Walked around, and said, ‘I like this. Let’s do it.’”

The classic concerts

Listening stations are scattered throughout the exhibit, inviting visitors to slip on attached headphones and listen to interviews by Springsteen, Landau, Carr, and members of the E Street Band.

One of the listening kiosks includes a list of 10 of the most historic Springsteen shows, an assignment Chapman says was almost impossible for her to do. Her first list of the biggest, best, most important shows included 50. Asked to cut it down she came back with 30, only to be told, no, it needs to be 10, just 10.

“I felt like I was giving away children every time I had to take another concert off my list,” she says, laughing woefully.

Her personal favorite Springsteen show is on the list, a show at the Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey, at which Springsteen, though touring as a solo artist at the time, brought out every member of the E Street Band at some point during the night.

A legendary show at the Roxy in West Hollywood on July 7, 1978, is also one of the 10 shows in the display. Springsteen and the E Street Band had just played a sold-out show at the Forum a few nights before doing this intimate club gig for broadcast on KMET-FM and a few hundred lucky fans.

For over three hours, Springsteen danced on tables and climbed to the balcony as he performed, tossing in the live debuts of such songs as “Point Blank” and his cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” in the course of the evening.

In addition to the listening kiosks, most of which feature interviews, the exhibit includes nonstop footage on-screen inside the Clive Davis Theater from a 1978 concert in Houston at one of the first arenas to be fitted out with cameras and screens to capture the show as it unfolded.

Organizing artifacts

Much of the exhibit is organized by decade, with individual cases representing each by showing instruments, stage outfits, tour itineraries, and bits and pieces of other memorabilia that tell the story of every Springsteen tour.

Chapman says the ground rules for the exhibit were simply to cover every important aspect of Springsteen’s live history. Every tour should be included, and every member of the E Street Band, too.

So you get a Little Steven Van Zandt guitar and scarf-accessorized outfit. There’s a Clarence Clemons saxophone and the large ornate chair – his “throne” – in which the Big Man sat on stage in later years as his health waned. Drummer Max Weinberg’s kit is on display, with a second set of drums part of a display that invites visitors to sit in as Weinberg and play with the band.

There are several Springsteen guitars in the show, including a beautiful Takamine acoustic he used during his Seeger Sessions tour, and the acoustic he played during his On Broadway residency.

The most significant instrument in the exhibit is Springsteen’s 1953-54 Fender Telecaster with an Esquire neck, which was his primary touring guitar from 1972 to 2005, and can be seen on the cover of his classic “Born To Run” album, as well as the covers of “Human Touch,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Live/1975-85.

“When Bruce talks about this guitar, he talks about how it’s an extension of his arm,” Chapman says. “It’s just so comfortable to him. It’s so light. And it’s been retired from the road so we get the opportunity to have it here.” New Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Grammy Museum chronicles 50 years on stage – Orange County Register

Adam Bradshaw

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