By Mary Ann Bourbeau
WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University will now be the official archival repository for Bruce Springsteen’s written works, photographs, periodicals and artifacts.
The creation of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music, a collaborative partnership between the rocker and the university, was announced on Jan. 10 during “A Conversation with Bruce Springsteen,” held at the university’s Pollak Theatre.
“Monmouth University is excited by the opportunity to grow our relationship with Bruce Springsteen,” said Monmouth University President Paul R. Brown. “The establishment of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music celebrates and reinforces the Jersey Shore’s legacy in the history of American music while providing a truly transformative experience for our students.”
Springsteen said he was honored yet humbled that this new center was being formed to honor his respected body of work.
The new collaboration builds on a relationship the university has with the The Boss.
The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection at Monmouth University opened on campus in 2011. It is a research facility that contains 35,000 items from nearly 47 countries, covering every stage of Springsteen’s career – books, magazines, fanzines, newspaper articles, comic books, tour books, academic journals and papers. The new center will build on that, promoting the legacy of Springsteen and his role in American music while celebrating other icons, including Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and Frank Sinatra.
“We are excited about the opportunities this creates for our students and the community,” said Joe Rapolla, chair of the Music and Theatre Department and director of the Music Industry Program at the university. “Bruce has a long history at Monmouth, and we look forward to adhering to his high standards of excellence as we begin this new venture.”
After the announcement was made, the conversation with Springsteen began, moderated by Robert Santelli, a former music professor at Monmouth University. Santelli currently serves as executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The two spent time talking about Springsteen’s early history in the Long Branch area, where he played dozens of concerts, nine of them on the Monmouth College campus. Many were with his early bands – the Castiles, Earth, Steel Mill and Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom.
“I remember playing on the great lawn out back in my shirtless days,” he said. “We played here in the gym. We had a pretty good local audience. Those were big shows for us in those days. We pulled in a couple of thousand people. At a buck a head, you could live for a long time on that.”
Springsteen spoke of the small house he lived in on West End Court, where he wrote most of his breakthrough album, “Born to Run.” He also reminisced about playing at the Upstage Club, a small venue above a beauty salon in Asbury Park, and about the up-and-coming bands he saw in Convention Hall, such as The Who, when they opened for Herman’s Hermits.
“The scene was pretty rich with musicians,” he said. “There were a lot of venues for commercial acts and Top 40 bands. But if you played original music, it was tough to find a place to play. It was difficult to find a paying job.”
Santelli noted that back in those days, the Jersey Shore didn’t have the national reputation for its music scene that it has today.
“It had the reputation of a place you want to get out of,” Santelli said.
Springsteen noted that he read in the newspaper the day before that New Jersey leads the nation with the highest number of residents exiting the state for elsewhere.
“I made my living writing about moving away,” he said. “Maybe there was something to that.”
He spoke of his early creative process, when he was greatly influenced by the songs of Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley.
“I decided I was going to be a poet even though I don’t read poetry,” he said. “I had a rhyming dictionary and I was going with it 100 percent. The entire ‘Blinded by the Light’ came from that dictionary.”
Once “Born to Run” was released, Springsteen became such a success that in October 1975, he was famously on the cover of Time and Newsweek at the same time.
“It was a big deal,” Springsteen said. “For the young people in the audience, Time and Newsweek were magazines. I’ve actually outlived them.”
After the 90-minute conversation ended, Springsteen answered some questions from the audience in the 700-seat auditorium. One man wanted to know why Springsteen decided to play the Super Bowl half-time show.
“They were asking me to do it for about 10 years but it seemed a little on the cheesy side, like the music was incidental,” he said.
As the years went on, he became more impressed with the production of the shows and decided to take on the challenge.
“It was the most terrifying and thrilling 12 minutes of my work life,” he said.
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