[ exhibit/rock 'n' roll ]
In the early 1970s, when he was still pretty much "Bruce who?" to the rest of the world, Bruce Springsteen was a Philly favorite. His songs were touted on WMMR and his band played to packed houses at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr and at Tower Theatre in Upper Darby. He was our hero before everyone else caught on.
So it makes sense that Philadelphia is the only city, besides Cleveland, to host the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's exhibit "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen."
The venue, however — the National Constitution Center — has stirred controversy.
"I love that!" enthuses David Eisner, the NCC's president and CEO. "We are in the middle of this interesting conversation. Some people get it right away. They say, 'First Amendment, the American ideal, the artist as driving protest and politics — of course.' And then there are other people who say, 'What does rock 'n' roll have to do with the Constitution Center?'"
For starters, Springsteen is no mere rock star. His music chronicles contradictions between the American dream and a harsher reality. "Lost in the Flood," "Badlands," "Born in the U.S.A.," "Land of Hope and Dreams," "American Skin (41 Shots)" — the list of the Boss's songs that pointedly address life in these United States is as long as his career.
"He writes very personal stuff and he's also addressing larger issues," observes Jim Henke, vice president of exhibitions and chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "He has the social conscience of a Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan; it's a unique combination."
Like a Springsteen song, "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land" operates on an individual and societal level. Chockablock with personal artifacts, family photos, news clippings, interviews, posters, awards, guitars, notebooks of handwritten lyrics, plus audio and video going back to Bruce's earliest musical endeavors, it's a fan's delight that's very much a product of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Eisner points out that the NCC's version of the exhibit has been tailored slightly to fit the venue, "so the themes of citizenship and engagement come forward more strongly."
Perhaps illustrating this, the display begins with this Springsteen quote: "Rock 'n' 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."
The rock angle will draw crowds, and Eisner hopes they stick around for more: "My own yardstick of success is how many of the people who come to see the Springsteen exhibit are also participating in our 'Freedom Rising' production, and how many of them come to Signers' Hall ... whether we're able to inspire the folks that come here for Bruce to be more involved in the national discussion."
"From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen," Feb. 17-Sept. 3, $24.50, National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., 215-409-6700, constitutioncenter.org.