Recommended: Bruce Springsteen and American Music

Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

 

Tim Van Schmidt | New SCENE

 

Nestled into a shady corner of a bustling New Jersey university campus is a little white house, seemingly quiet from the outside. But on the inside, it is bursting with rock and roll.

To be more precise, rock and roll history. And to be even more precise, the rock and roll history of Bruce Springsteen.

Bathtub storage (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

This is the Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music on the Monmouth University campus in West Long Branch, New Jersey. And it is a project that is on the move.

That’s “on the move” quite literally. When I visited the archives recently, I was able to speak with Director Eileen Chapman and Assistant Curator Connor Rupp in between trips to Los Angeles where they were opening a new Springsteen exhibit at the Grammy Museum.

Archive storage (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Check out the home page of the museum at grammymuseum.org and that exhibit is one of the newest things there — “Bruce Springsteen Live!” 

But “on the move” also describes the ambitious trajectory of this effort to immortalize the career of one of rock’s biggest stars.

Springsteen family bible detail (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

It started with a fan collection of memorabilia that eventually was donated to the Asbury Park Public Library. When it became too big for the library, it was moved to Monmouth University to become its own entity.

Chapman has been a key player in organizing this archive and the work has paid off. Monmouth now has a working, breathing facility that serves the research needs of rock and roll fans from all over the world — and they had better hang on to it because it is not only cool but academically important.

Born in the USA hat (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

I know how great the archive is because I used it. The Bruce Springsteen Archives have some 35,000 pieces and I was able to search through the holdings online — at springsteenarchives.org — and then see the real stuff when I got there in October.

Among other historical chestnuts, I found two reviews of the very first Springsteen concert I attended — in November 1975 at Grady Gammage Auditorium on the Arizona State campus.

Mother’s scrapbook (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

I also got to see things I didn’t know I could like the red hat that conspicuously appears on the cover of the “Born in the USA” album, the crumbling Springsteen family bible that a donor picked up at an estate sale for $5, handwritten lyrics to an unrecorded song, and the personal scrapbooks Springsteen’s mother created as her son’s career grew.

As a researcher, the Bruce Springsteen Archives was a delightful opportunity.

$1 shows – Handcolored first band poster (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

The little white house was bursting at the seams with material — there were even boxes of stuff stored in the bathroom tub. And wherever there weren’t boxes of stuff, there were student workers and volunteers hunkered down in every corner, indexing the contents.

It’s obvious — this snowballing effort needs more room.

Springsteen Archives Director Eileen Chapman, standing, and dedicated volunteer (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

But also pay attention to that second slug in the facility’s name — “Center for American Music”. As great as Springsteen is to his fans, expanding the vision of the archives to encompass so much more gives them a mission of far-reaching possibilities to help keep the history of American music alive.

Now, there do seem to be bigger plans afoot for the archives — like maybe their own building, expanded services, and a wider vision. So I can only advise music fans to keep an eye on New Jersey — it’s where the legacy of Springsteen lives and where the future of American music history may soon have a home.

Explore “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt” on YouTube.

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