Hosted at the Monmouth County Historical Association, the exhibit features 150 pieces, including 20 donated by Springsteen himself, and offers a deep-dive into the thematic fabric of his music and lyrics. It opens to the general public on Sept. 29 and will remain open until Fall 2020.
Springsteen attended the gala event, which featured performances by Bobby Bandiera and Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, dressed in a black suit and looking sharp days after his 70th birthday. He took his own walk down memory lane strolling the exhibit’s two floors and a mid-section where fans can leave “fan mail” in a silver mailbox.
Later donning a “Steel City” T-shirt, Springsteen took the stage at around 8:30 p.m, strapped on a guitar and thanked those in attendance for coming.
“I can’t stay long,” he said. “I’ve got my family in the city, but I wanted to just come down and thank everybody for supporting the Historical Association… It’s nice to be honored in my hometown. “
He stayed true to his word, performing one song — “Light of Day” — before leaving.
The stage was set outside the MCHA building, where guests noshed underneath white tents, elegant lighting, and a giant American flag. Outside, fans snapped photos of the original flatbed truck owned by Carl “Tinker” West driven cross-country by Springsteen in 1970, as recounted in his book, “Born to Run,” and theater show “Springsteen on Broadway.”
Co-curator Melissa Ziobro says the exhibit aims to “give you a comprehensive look at Bruce’s career, or as comprehensive as we can get.”
In fact, Springsteen’s life, including baby pictures, his favorite childhood book, “Brave Cowboy Bill” (the inspiration for the future song, “Outlaw Pete”), his high school yearbook, a thesis written about the Judicial system of the Garden State, a photo of his favorite English Teacher, Robert Hussey (“You taught me things I could not get from any book,” Springsteen wrote him in his yearbook), is on display.
Telling the story of his career are the musical artifacts like original tour posters of his bands, The Castiles and Steel Mill, guitars, a set piece from the “Tunnel of Love Express” tour, a ring of hotel keys and the famed TEAC machine used to record the album, “Nebraska.” Personal items from his mother, Adele, are also on display. His mother kept a scrapbook of press clippings, as well as a handwritten letter from original manager, Mike Appel.
The upstairs collection explores the Springsteen family tree, including relatives that served in the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. A rare photo of Springsteen at the grave site of his descendant Thomas J. Fallon, who fought in the Civil War, is prominently displayed over Fallon’s medal of honor. A five-minute film, “Bruce Springsteen: Hometown,” directed by Emmy-Winning Asbury Park filmmaker Adam Worth, offers insight into the story of Freehold and how it shaped his life.
Fans are part of the narrative, too, as gifts and games created and given to the singer are housed in a case. The Springsteen Facebook fan group run by Howie Chaz (also the subject of Springsteen trivia cards testing guest knowledge) and Springsteen historians Stan Goldstein and Jean Mikle also get a nod.
“The story started here,” Springsteen’s cousin, Glenn Cashion says in the film. “We are so close to the stories.”