He’s the Boss

From Asbury Park to the Promised Land, the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the National Constitution Center celebrates the First Amendment’s right of Freedom of Expression and runs from Feb. 17 to Sept. 3.

David Eisner, the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, considers Philadelphia to be “Bruce country.”

Bruce, as in Bruce Springsteen, the Freehold, N.J.-born rock-and-roll legend known as “The Boss.”

Eisner was giddy last week during a preview of From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen.

And why not?

Before the exhibit opened, some 6,000 advance tickets were sold.

The Feb. 15 launch drew a sellout crowd of more than 1,100, including Asbury Park, N.J., Mayor Ed Johnson, invited in recognition of Springsteen’s January 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park. The launch was the biggest since the center opened in 2003.

“We’re expecting to draw tens of thousands of new visitors to the center,” Eisner said.

Springsteen has been in the news quite a bit of late. He kicked off the recent Grammy Awards with his new hit song, We Take Care of Our Own. He’ll be releasing his new album, Wrecking Ball, on March 6. He’ll be in concert at the Wells Fargo Center on March 28-29. And the exhibit will be running through Sept. 3.

“Bruce Springsteen has returned to the ‘Streets of Philadelphia,’” said Eisner, referencing the 1993 Academy Award for Best Original Song he won for the movie Philadelphia. “This, for Bruce, is home.”

The 5,000-square-foot exhibit, which features more than 150 artifacts, is at the National Constitution Center thanks to an agreement with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

Jim Henke, former music editor of Rolling Stone magazine and now vice president of exhibitions and curatorial affairs at the museum, explained that Springsteen saved all kinds of great memorabilia over the years.

Thus, fans will be able to follow him from his days in bands such as Child, the Castiles, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom and the Bruce Springsteen Band through his work with the E Street Band and as a solo artist. There are also items from the Stone Pony, the legendary Asbury Park rock club where Springsteen performed.

The superstar’s first appearance came at a swim club in 1965. He’s gone on to play at packed stadiums around the world.

One highlight of the exhibit is Springsteen’s 1960 Chevrolet Corvette, which he bought in 1975 after the success of the album Born to Run. The album and title song were so popular that, when the tour ended with four shows at the 3,000-seat Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, there were 90,000 ticket requests.

Visitors can also see Springsteen on the covers of Time and Newsweek from that special year of 1975.

There’s also the Harley-Davidson motorcycle he rode in 1989 through the southwestern United States.

The exhibit features listening and viewing stations that include interviews with Springsteen, previously unreleased songs from some of his early musical groups and footage of some of his most famous performances.

In addition, there are personal artifacts, including family photographs, notebooks filled with song lyrics, a surfboard and his Selective Service card. He avoided being drafted and sent to Vietnam because of a concussion and leg injury suffered in a motorcycle accident.

There’s the motorcycle jacket he wore on the cover of Born to Run and the iconic jeans, T-shirt and hat he wore on the cover of Born in the U.S.A.

In the lobby, there are large reproductions of photographs of Springsteen and the E Street Band taken by Frank Stefanko and Danny Clinch.

Stefanko, whose shots served as the album cover art for Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River, attended last week’s preview and presented a slide show. He grew up in South Jersey and recalled listening to Ed Sciaky play the music of a new artist on his WMMR radio show. He called his friend, singer-songwriter Patti Smith, whom he met at the old Glassboro State College.

“You’ve got to look out for this guy Bruce Springsteen,” he told her.

Smith, who later became a Springsteen protege, mailed Stefanko a copy of Greetings from Asbury Park. Springsteen included a note that read, “To Frank, my biggest fan, Patti says.”

Music critics loved the album, but it was not a commercial hit. Two years later, his fan base grew with Born to Run.

Springsteen, 62, began making music when he was 14. He and a group of Freehold teenagers formed the Castiles, named after a brand of soap.

The exhibit includes a bar of Castile soap and a petition to radio stations and record companies to give the “fantastic boys” a chance, that they could someday be as great as the Beatles. The band, which played British Invasion music, existed from 1965-68.

Fans will get to see the Fender Esquire electric guitar that was pictured on the cover of Born to Run and that he used during a halftime performance at Super Bowl XLIII.

Other notables include newspaper clippings, handbills, set lists, business cards, concert posters, Columbia Records audition tapes, a microphone used by popular saxophonist Clarence Clemons, a mini-gift shop and all other things Springsteen. The exhibit is geared to casual and devoted fans of “The Boss.”

“I think it’s a pretty thorough look at Bruce’s life and career,” said Henke, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame executive. ••

The dirt on The Boss . . .

Admission to the exhibit is $24.50 for adults, $23 for senior citizens and students and $12 for children ages 4 to 12. Group rates are also available. Admission to the center’s main exhibition is included.

As part of the “Hungry Heart” food drive, which runs during March, guests will receive a $2 discount for donating a canned good to Philabundance.

The National Constitution Center is located at 525 Arch St. Call 215-409-6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org