Intimate Moments With The Boss
By Ilene Dube
If you missed the MetLife concert or any of his four-hour, sold-out stadium performances, there’s still a chance. If you were not among the thousands who waited all night to be in line for one of his recent book signings, you can see The Boss in Princeton. Morven Museum & Garden is now exhibiting Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey.
Traveling from the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, the exhibition, on view through May 14, 2017, features more than 40 photographs, as well as video interviews with the show’s five photographers: Danny Clinch, Ed Gallucci, Eric Meola, Pamela Springsteen, and Frank Stefanko. Capturing his off stage vulnerability, the images take viewers inside Springsteen’s career as a front man and songwriter, and document the American musical legend who, like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan before him, created songs that tap into the American psyche and become instruments for change. And with Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the art form has been elevated to a new realm.
Springsteen’s recording career spans more than 40 years, beginning with the Columbia Records release Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. in 1973. In brief, he has released 18 studio albums, garnered 20 GRAMMY Awards, won an Oscar, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was a 2009 recipient of Kennedy Center Honors and named 2013 MusiCares Person of the Year.
While the majority of the exhibit focuses on Springsteen off-stage, four additional live performance photographs by Barry Schneier depict the Springsteen concert at Harvard Square Theater about which Rolling Stone music journalist Jon Landau uttered the now legendary statement, “I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
Forty-two years later, rather than succumb to the safe and secure, Springsteen, 67, continues to “poke…a finger in the chest of our national leaders and demand…answers as to why we’ve come to a place where the American dream is in jeopardy of losing its soul and promise,” writes biographer Robert Santelli.
The roots of the Freehold native and Colts Neck resident’s social justice concerns were likely formed in the 1980s, when he met a labor organizer in Pittsburgh while on the Born in the U.S.A. tour. He saw how the area had been affected by deindustrialization; a food bank was being set up for unemployed steel workers, and he knew he wanted to do more than just perform and leave town. Guthrie and Dylan had shown how such emotion could be channeled into melody and lyrics. Being an avid reader helped. Santelli noted the musician’s book collection—American history, politics and art, as well as music—during a visit to his Colts Neck home in the ’90s.
While traveling to Washington, D.C., with Pete Seeger to sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” for President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Springsteen was inspired by the folk legend’s version of American history, and his tales of how “We Shall Overcome” moved from a labor movement song to a civil rights song. Five years later, in a tribute at Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, Springsteen recounted how Seeger always sings all the verses of Guthrie’s song, as “he reminds us of our immense failures as well as shining a light toward our better angels and the horizon where the country we’ve imagined and hold dear we hope awaits us.”
“Perhaps more than any other recording artist today, Bruce Springsteen celebrates the power and glory of the gospel of rock and roll,” writes Santelli. “After more than 40 years of strapping on a guitar and fronting a band, Springsteen has reached a point in his career where he could rest on his laurels and few would blame him. Only he hasn’t. And won’t.”
Biographer Santelli first got to know Springsteen in 1973, when he interviewed him for the Asbury Park Press. “I had a first-row seat to see him go from a local artist to one of America’s greatest recording artists,” he said from his office at the GRAMMY Museum, where he is executive director. Previously vice president of education and public programs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Santelli, a Point Pleasant native and blues and rock historian, has been a close friend of Springsteen since writing Greetings From E Street: The Story Of Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band (Chronicle Books, 2006).
In selecting the photographers for this traveling exhibition from among the many who have immortalized Springsteen in silver halide and pixels, Santelli looked for those who could tell a unique story through different points along his career: off stage, singer/songwriter, American citizen. “We worked with each to select images, whether artistic or never seen before,” says Santelli.
Among the behind-the-scenes photographers is Springsteen’s sister, Pamela. A one-time actress (she played the serial killer Angela Baker in low-budget cult films Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland), Pamela Springsteen has photographed Olivia Newton-John, Roseanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Ice Cube, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bill Maher, Dolly Parton, Tom Hanks, Ellen Burstyn, Keith Richards, and Neil Young.
Photographing her brother is different, she says, in that she is not limited to an eight- or 10-hour photo shoot. “It’s much more casual. There’s no hair, there’s no makeup, there’s no wardrobe and no assistants, it’s just me and him and a camera. We go out, we enjoy ourselves, it’s not results oriented, it’s just fun, and what comes of it comes of it.” She spends a lot of time preparing up front so everything will run smoothly. “Then you can let it happen.”
A Photographic Journey shows us the artist “in various moods, in different stages of the artistic process, a man who is deep in thought, or celebratory, in a way that provides a broader picture of how and why Bruce Springsteen is one of America’s greatest rock and roll artists,” says Santelli.
“With all the attention on his tour and book, it’s a great opportunity to add a dimension to understand him and his music.”
Not surprisingly, Born to Run (Simon & Schuster) is well written, beginning with the first paragraph of the forward: “I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I. By twenty, no race-car- driving rebel, I was a guitar player on the streets of Asbury Park and already a member in good standing amongst those who ‘lie’ in service of the truth…artists, with a small ‘a.’ But I held four clean aces. I had youth, almost a decade of hard-core bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians who were attuned to my performance style, and a story to tell.”
And tell the story he does, beginning “on the evenings before air-conditioning, [I] watched the porches fill with neighbors, seeking conversation and respite from the summer heat” and “waiting for the evening bells of the ice-cream man.” We learn how he rented his first guitar, hitch-hiked until he learned to drive in his 20s, about his grandmother who raised him and his mostly unemployed bus driver father. We read about his immersion in Catholicism and a fortuneteller’s wisdom, “marinating” in a family with mental illness and taking Klonopin for depression, the failure of his first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips and the success of his second to band mate Patti Scialfa.
Like Springsteen’s concerts, the book runs long—508 pages. He worked on it for seven years, and a companion album, Chapter And Verse, contains 18 songs that trace his musical history and tell a story that parallels the book.
Morven’s Director of Development Barb Webb first became smitten when she was 15, growing up in Vineland. She and her then boyfriend listened to eight-track cassettes of Greetings from Asbury Park in the finished basement of a friend. “I remember thinking, ‘this is the greatest music ever,’” she recounts. Webb first saw him perform at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia New Year’s Eve 1975, and most recently, along with 90,000 fans, at the Meadowlands. “His high energy brought me back,” she says, and hopes the photographs at Morven will do the same for others. The exhibit fits with Morven’s mission, to interpret the cultural history of New Jersey.
It was through photographer Richard Speedy, whose photographs of the Pine Barrens were exhibited at Morven three years ago, that Webb learned about one of the show’s photographers, Ed Gallucci. Born in Brooklyn, raised in New Jersey and now a resident of Roanoke, Virginia, Gallucci was one of the first photographers to shoot Springsteen, with images going back to 1972 that document his struggle to make a name for himself.
Gallucci’s first session with Bruce was at Kenny’s Castaways in New York’s West Village. Springsteen was so unknown at the time that his name was misspelled on the marquee, Gallucci recounts, and there were six people in the audience. A week later Gallucci was called back to do another shoot in West Long Branch, then went to Springsteen’s Bradley Beach apartment and met his girlfriend, for whom he wrote the song “Rosalita.”
Fans at Springsteen’s recent book signings in Freehold (“My Home Town”), Philadelphia and New York told him how he’d helped them avoid therapy and even cure cancer. So just what is it about Bruce that makes him so adored?
“As a live performer, he makes you feel, though you are just one out of thousands, that he’s performing just to you,” says Santelli. “All great artists have this ability, but he has it in spades. He has his finger on the pulse of the underbelly of America and writes about it in a way that is convincing, powerful, emotional and lasting. His songs are timeless reflections of the American experience.”
“I just wrote about what was around me,” Springsteen told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “which is kind of something I’ve done for most of my life.”
A PANEL DISCUSSION WITH THE PHOTOGRAPHERS WILL BE HELD SUNDAY, MARCH 5, 2017. BOB SANTELLI WILL MODERATE. CHECK MORVEN.ORG FOR DETAILS AS THEY DEVELOP.