About seven years ago, the Monmouth County Historical Association presented an exhibition on Freehold’s Karagheusian Rug Mill, where Bruce Springsteen’s father once worked, and Springsteen himself came by one day to see it. Now, the organization has put together an impressive exhibition on Springsteen himself, in its modest Freehold home.
“Springsteen: His Hometown” opens on Sept. 29 and will run through the Fall of 2020 and possibly later. It features about 150 items from the MCHA’s collection and from the collection of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University in West Long Branch.
“We also worked with the Springsteen family and team, to borrow some of their items as well,” said archives director Eileen Chapman, an advisor to the exhibit.
There have been other Springsteen exhibitions over the years, of course, at various locations. But what makes this one — which is being mounted, of course, in the city where he grew up — unique and special is the fact that it doesn’t just tell the story of Springsteen’s career, but also takes a deep look at his family roots, and the environment into which he was born.
There are two levels to the MCHA building, and “Springsteen: His Hometown” is on both of them. The bottom level is more music-focused, with items such as the tape recorder with which he recorded his Nebraska album; a painting from the legendary Asbury Park Upstage Club; a scrapbook that his mother kept, documenting his career; and the carnival ticket booth that was fancifully used, onstage, during the Tunnel of Love Tour.
There are lots of old concert posters, and some alternate album covers (photos he was considering using, but didn’t) that are just as evocative as the ones he ended up using.
A letter from then-Sen. Bill Bradley in 1984 reads, in part, “I believe you’re just beginning to hit your stride.”
In a nice touch, some fan-created art and fan-taken photos are on display on the stairway from the first floor to the second floor. It’s a subtle way of saying, “Hey, the fans are part of the story, too.”
The second floor is mostly about Springsteen’s family and Freehold itself. In one room, an insightful short film on the history of both will run continuously. Elsewhere, Springsteen’s family tree is traced all the way back to Joost Casperse Springsteen, who came to the United States from the Netherlands in 1652, at the age of 14.
There is some memorabilia upstairs that relates to Springsteen’s own life as well, though. The late George Theiss’ high school yearbook, for instance, includes a droll message from Springsteen, reading, in part, “You’ve got a great band” (they were in the same band, of course: The Castiles).
The exhibition also has a copy of Springsteen’s hand-written school report on “The Judicial System of New Jersey” (he got a B).
As in any exhibition on the life of a rock star, some of what can be seen in “Springsteen: His Hometown” is fun but trivial: A collection of hotel keys used by him on tour, for example.
But when it comes to Springsteen, his songwriting is so autobiographical that more knowledge about his life enhances your appreciation of his artistry. The publication of his “Born to Run” book in 2016 and the rich experience of watching his Broadway show, after that, both made that point abundantly clear.
“Springsteen: His Hometown” does so, too, in showing, exactly, where he came from, and shedding light on his background in a way that has never really been done before.
I have a feeling that a lot of Springsteen fans, from all over, will be making the pilgrimage to see it.
The exhibition will be open from Wednesdays through Sundays, starting Sept. 29. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students, students and MCHA members; Freehold Borough residents will be admitted at no chart. Visit monmouthhistory.org/springsteen.
The Sept. 28 kickoff event and preview party featuring live music by Bobby Bandiera and Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers is sold out.
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