Boss under glass

Dan DeLuca, Inquirer Music Critic

Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 12:23 AM

Exhibit installer Andre Sepetavec (cq) with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame places Springsteen scrapbook (kept by him and his mother) from the early to mid-1970's as he works as he works with staff at the National Constitution Center work February 9. 2012, on setting up for upcoming exhibition "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen." ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer ) EDITORS NOTE: 127022 THUR DDABRUCE14cTG 2/9/2012 Story: DDABRUCE14 WKBOSS17 / Preview of Bruce Springsteen show at the National Constitution Center.

Toward the end of the National Constitution Center exhibit "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen," which opens on Friday, there's a section called Book of Dreams.

Prior to the exhibit's opening, an empty display case at the National Constitution Center awaits Springsteen's favorite Fender Telecaster - the one featured on the cover of the "Born to Run" album. Bruce planned on using it during the Grammys telecast, but ended up playing another guitar instead. The Fender is actually a hybrid. It has a 1954 Telecaster body with a 1952 Esquire neck. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Springsteen's Harley-Davidison motorcycle anchors a display. He rode it through the southwestern United States in 1989, covering "several thousand miles," with three friends. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Exhibit installer Andre Sepetavec, with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, places a 1970s scrapbook kept by Bruce Springsteen and his mother as he works with staff at the National Constitution Center setting up the upcoming exhibit "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen." (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
The scrapbook is among the 160 or so pieces of memorabilia selected by the Rock Hall of Fame's chief curator James Henke for the NCC exhibit. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Bruce's 1967 Gibson Les Paul guitar and a Springsteen quote. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
After the success of Born to Run, Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the same week - Oct. 27, 1975. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
The 45rpm single from the "Born to Run" album. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
The leather jacket worn in photos on the "Born to Run" album. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Sepetavec places an Epiphone Wilshire electric guitar onto a display, joining Bruce's first electric (left), a Kent, bought for him by his mother when he was 16, and later memorialized in the song, "The Wish." (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Dozens of drafts of Springsteen's handwritten lyrics in notebooks appear in the exhibit, complete with his cross-outs and rewrites. This second verse of "Growin' Up" from his 1973 album, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." shows the change Bruce made to the original line, "...I had a sweet shop graduate for a first mate..." to the version fans know as"...I had a jukebox graduate for first mate; she couldn't sail but she sure could sing..." (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Handwritten lyrics, "Born in the U.S.A." (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" album. It was the best-selling album of 1985, and Springsteen's most successful album ever. It produced seven Top 10 singles. The iconic photograph was made by Annie Leibovitz. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
The front of the red cap that is only visible scrunched in the back pocket of Springsteen's faded blue jeans on the cover of "Born in the USA" album. The original jeans, t-shirt and belt are also in the display. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Bruce Springsteen and his sister Virginia in a family photo in Asbury Park, from around 1954. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Bruce Springsteen's first communion picture when he was eight years-old, at the altar of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Freehold, New Jersey. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Springsteen's first band, The Castiles, formed when he was in high school. (Left to right: George Theiss, Vinny Maniello, Bruce, Paul Popkin, and Curt Fluhr). (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
A Castiles business card. The band recorded two original songs at a public studio in Brick Township and played a variety of venues, including Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village.(TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Poster for Springsteen's band Steel Mill, featuring Danny Federici, Vini Lopez, Vinnie Roslin and later Steve Van Zandt and Robbin Thompson. Initially called "Child" (another band had the name first), they performed from 1969 through early 1971. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Detail from a poster for a Springsteen appearance in the 70's at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
A $5 booklet of ride tickets from Palace Amusements, featuring the grinning face of "Tillie" that was painted on the side of the Asbury Park landmark. The Palace appeared in the background of publicity photos and was used by Springsteen as a lyrical reference point in the songs "4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Tunnel of Love," and "Born to Run." (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
A poster for Springsteen appearance at the Main Point in Mryn Mawr from the early 70's. By the time Bruce was playing to sold-out arenas, thousands of Philadelphians would claim to have seen him perform live at the small coffeehouse venue on Lancaster Ave. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Bruce showed his political leanings as early as 1972, when he performed at a benefit concert in Red Bank, NJ for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. More recently, he played several shows in support of Barack Obama's campaign. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Springsteen's original 1972 audition tapes for legendary record producer John H. Hammond. "The kid absolutely knocked me out," Hammond said. Columbia Records signed Bruce as a result, and the label released his first album, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.," in January 1973. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Motel keys collected while Springsteen and the E Street Band toured during the winter of 1978-79 (including Johnstown, PA). (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Springsteen's Oscar for his song "Streets Of Philadelphia," written for the Tom Hanks' movie, and a certificate naming him "Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska." It's an honorary title from the landlocked state. His sixth studio album, "Nebraska," was released in 1982. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Backstage passes, tickets and brochures from Springsteen tours in the 80's and 90's. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Detail of a Takamine EAN-70 acoustic guitar used during the Seeger Sessions Band Tour in 2006. It was one of six Takamine's commissioned by Bruce and hand-painted by Michelle Holme and Ian Cutter. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Bruce's 2008 New Jersey Hall of Fame Award. He was among the first group of inductees into his home state's Hall of Fame. Behind it are his Grammy Awards, for 2002's Best Rock Album for "The Rising," and 2007's Best Rock Song for "Radio Nowhere." (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Wanda and Vince Shannon of Souderton look over Bruce's 1960 Chevrolet Corvette in the lobby of the NCC. The car is featured in a photograph by Springsteen photographer Frank Stefanko, whose work, along with Danny Clinch, is part of a photo exhibit during the show. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The gift shop (at end of exhibit) featuring the Constitution Center's "Freedom Rocks" paraphernalia, as well as Bruce book, photos and tchotchkes. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
The National Constitution Center at night. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Photo Gallery: Photos: Springsteen exhibit

To get there, you walk by the 1960 Chevrolet Corvette that Springsteen bought in 1975 after the success of Born to Run, and pass through rooms lined with fliers advertising gigs by early Springsteen bands like Steel Mill and Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom. There are trophies like the 1994 best-song Oscar for "Streets of Philadelphia," and artifacts such as the jeans and T-shirt the Boss wore on the cover of 1984's Born in the U.S.A.

One morning last week, exhibit installers from the Constitution Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where the exhibit originated, were busy unpacking guitars, like the black Takamine acoustic used during the recording of the 1982 album Nebraska. Grammys were lying around in bubble wrap, and the faded red baseball cap Springsteen had stuffed in his rear pocket on the cover of Born in the U.S.A. was still in its box.

Meanwhile, back in the Book of Dreams section, Constitution Center chief executive officer David Eisner was checking out a display of Springsteen's spiral-bound notebooks, which included scribbled drafts of the lyrics to "The Rising" and "No Retreat, No Surrender."

"So much of his thematic territory is really about the American Dream and the distance between where the American Dream is and what our aspirations are," Eisner said in response to the question, what's a Bruce Springsteen exhibit doing at the Constitution Center? "And when you read the lyrics to songs like 'Born in the U.S.A.' and 'The River' you can really see that that sense of chronicling where we are in the evolution of the American Dream is just dead center for him."

James Henke, the chief curator of the Rock Hall of Fame who selected 160 or so pieces of memorabilia in the exhibit from a warehouse somewhere in New Jersey ("I can't say where") where the Boss keeps his stuff, agrees that if any rock songwriter belongs in the Constitution Center, which is the only institution this exhibit will travel to, Springsteen is the one.

"Bruce is a very American musician," Henke says, on the phone from the I.M. Pei-designed Rock Hall pyramid in Cleveland. "His songs deal with a lot of American themes, much as, say, Woody Guthrie's do. His songs talk about the working class and the things that they go through. So if you were going to pick a rock artist to do there, he makes sense."

The Springsteen show is essentially the same in Philadelphia as it was in Cleveland. There are the childhood photos of Springsteen growing up in Freehold in Monmouth County, N.J., cutely labeled From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), after the song Springsteen gave to Dave Edmunds in 1982.

There are the listening stations with audio selections, such as Springsteen's 1972 and 1973 auditions for Columbia Records A&R man John Hammond, and the 1974 Cambridge, Mass., show witnessed by Springsteen's soon-to-be-manager Jon Landau, who famously (and awkwardly) wrote later, "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."

It's uncertain whether one planned element will be in place for the show. The Fender Esquire guitar Springsteen holds on the Born to Run album cover is meant to be one of the final artifacts in the show. But before it arrived at the Constitution Center, Springsteen decided he wanted to play it on the Grammy telecast Sunday. It will make the trip from L.A. to Philadelphia this week, but there's no telling whether the Boss will want it back for his Wrecking Ball tour.

There are key additions to the Philadelphia version of the show. One is New York's Morrison Hotel Gallery photo exhibit "From Darkness to a Dream," featuring the work of Springsteen shutterbugs Frank Stefanko and Danny Clinch. Their pictures, including a Stefanko shot of the Boss posing with the Corvette on the snowy streets of Haddonfield in 1978, will be hung outside the exhibit entrance.

The other difference is how the introduction to each section of the show, put together by exhibition developer Erin McLeary, stresses what a political animal Springsteen has always been. (Though the Boss was reluctant to endorse a presidential candidate until he aligned himself with John Kerry with the "Vote for Change" tour in 2004, the exhibit contains a handwritten flier from a 1972 Red Bank, N.J., benefit for George McGovern.)

The Book of Dreams section leads with a pair of Springsteen quotes.

"I'm interested in what it means to be an American. I'm interested in the kind of country that we live in and leave our kids. I'm interested in trying to define what that country is," he says in a quote from a 2007 interview on 60 Minutes. "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?"

In a Today show interview in 2007, Springsteen said: "I try to make music that's both - you know, you can kind of vacuum the floor to it, or you can sit down and somewhere in there should be a comment on the events of the day. And I like the songs to be read both personally and politically."

Having an exhibit running in its only East Coast location for seven months, in a year when Springsteen will be touring with the E Street Band behind a new album - the Wrecking Ball tour is due at Wells Fargo Center on March 28 and 29 - also means big news "from a marketing perspective," Eisner says.

The most popular Constitution Center exhibit thus far was the 2005 show "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World," which drew 187,000 visitors.

"We're being conservative, but we are very excited about box office expectations," Eisner says. "We're hoping this takes first place."

Before Eisner arrived at the center in 2009, it hosted traveling shows less connected to the American experience than this one, focusing on the likes of Princess Diana and Napoleon. That doesn't mean Springsteen will appear to be a no-brainer to everyone.

"I think there are people who see us promoting an American rock-and-roll star and think, 'What the heck does this have to do with the Constitution Center?' " says Eisner, who jokes that he's "humble in calling myself a Bruce fan, because I've seen maybe 15 shows, and I know so many people in the Philadelphia area who've seen 150.

"It's on the edge where a lot of people will say, 'This is about freedom of speech, the American Dream, the artist as a protester,' and others will say, 'What does rock-and-roll have to do with the Constitution?' The fact that we're on that cusp and able to engage in that debate, that's actually really constructive for us. Because it puts us in a position where we can talk about the extent of the contemporary values of the Constitution, and how it really is relevant in a broader scope of life than people might think."

It doesn't bother Eisner, either, that Springsteen - an active campaigner for Barack Obama in 2008 - is a self-styled left-leaning populist.

"There's no question that he's staked out a very partisan position on the political landscape. For us, that really is a strong example of the role an artist can play in politics, and I think it's really interesting that the party he opposes has in many cases embraced his music and used it at rallies," he says, referring specifically to Ronald Reagan's attempted coopting of the song "Born in the U.S.A." in 1984.

"There are so many interesting side tributaries you can go down around this artist with music and politics. It's the soundtrack of the American story."

For behind-the-scenes video of the Springsteen exhibition, go to www.philly.com/brucevid

Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, deluca@phillynews.com, or @delucadan on Twitter.

Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/inthemix.

Dan DeLuca, Inquirer Music Critic

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