The irony of Bruce Springsteen’s career is that many of his songs about Jersey were really about getting out of Jersey.
“Baby this town rips the bones from your back. It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap.” Hardly a love poem. Still, we love him, and in Monmouth County, especially, odes to Bruce are everywhere. The latest: the Monmouth County Historical Association’s “Springsteen: His Hometown”.
Eileen Chapman, director of the Springsteen Archives at Monmouth University, which contributed many of the more than 150 items in the exhibit, explains the lasting phenomenon of a guy who sang a lot about getting out of here.
“He absolutely did sing a lot about getting out of here, but then I think in his later days, sort of made peace with his childhood and the tone of those songs changed,” she explained. “You know, as a young musician, there was no future for him here. He needed to get out of here in order to make it big, but once he did, and was able to look back, realize the significance of what that upbringing was to him and how his songs evolved through his experiences.”
And a lot of this exhibit speaks to the early days of Bruce Springsteen’s musical and personal life. Rare concert posters, photos, even articles of clothing from shows gone by. But the exhibit’s also about Freehold, specifically the period after World War II, as chronicled in the short documentary “Bruce Springsteen: Home Town,” which runs as part of the exhibit.
At this point, Bruce Springsteen is a citizen of the world. But we know him as a boy from Jersey, most specifically from Freehold. It might surprise you to know, though, that his family roots in Freehold go back to the Revolutionary War. Including John Springsteen, one of co-curator Bernadette Rogoff’s favorites.
“He’s our American Revolution Springsteen. He was 15 years old when he and his father were captured by the British. They were Patriots. They were captured and held prisoner by the British for two weeks on a British prison vessel,” she said. “Right after being released, at the age of 16, he enlisted and fought during the American Revolution. Afterwards he became a small farmer here in Freehold.”
Ironically, Bruce Springsteen is a small farmer, too. But that’s fodder for another exhibit, perhaps. This exhibit, modest in size, but earnest as a Springsteen ballad, got a thumb’s up from Bruce himself on its opening weekend. You can imagine him singing something like, “You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright. And that’s all right with me.”