By Mary Ann Bourbeau
WEST LONG BRANCH – There are countless places to gather information about Bruce Springsteen – articles, websites, books, magazines and documentaries. There is even a new online museum, www.BlindedByTheLight.com, that went live this month, but it comes with a $9.99 a month price tag.
Authors, scholars and fans who feel they still need to discover more about The Boss’ life and music – and do it for free – can visit The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection at Monmouth University.
There are tens of thousands of items in the archive, which is housed in a Cape Cod-style house on campus next to the Lauren K. Woods Theatre. Every item is stored in archival boxes with room-darkening shades and a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment for maximum preservation. Visitors must wear protective gloves when handling the items.
The idea for the collection came about in 2001, when Backstreets Magazine and the nonprofit Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Collection organized a fan campaign to collect and organize documents from each phase of Springsteen’s career. The hope was to ensure that the historic record would be publicly accessible to all who have a serious interest in Springsteen’s life and career. The collection was first housed in the Asbury Park Library but eventually grew so large, it needed a new home. The archive opened its doors to the public at Monmouth University in September 2011.
Springsteen, who has never visited the archive, commented on it during a concert at Convention Hall in Asbury Park the night of the dedication.
“The collection has almost 1,000 books and magazines on myself and the band – more stuff than every place, except my mother’s basement,” he said.
Eileen Chapman, assistant director of performing arts at Monmouth University who is manager of the archive, said the university has been very supportive of the collection, providing the facility while the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Collection maintains the collection.
“It’s an important resource for fans and researchers,” she said. “The ‘Friends’ could have taken the collection anywhere, but it belongs here in Monmouth County, and Bruce has such a history of performing at the university.”
The collection contains documents from nearly 50 countries, covering every stage of Springsteen’s career. There are thousands of books, magazines, fanzines, newspaper articles, comic books, tour books, academic journals and papers. Visitors have access to Internet articles, official and unofficial cd releases, vinyl recordings, videos, DVDs, posters and historic memorabilia. A small collection of items, such as buttons, backstage passes, coasters, playing cards, Halloween masks and a WNEW-FM orange juice container labeled Bruce Juice, is also housed there.
“The items people want to see most are yearbooks and the iconic covers of Time and Newsweek magazines,” Chapman said. “That’s what really helped push Bruce’s career.”
About 100 people have visited in the past three years, coming from as far as Belgium, Tokyo, Ireland, France and Australia. A Springsteen cover band from Italy, the J Street Band, stopped in for a visit and donated a T-shirt that said “Greetings from Naples,” a takeoff on Bruce’s “Greetings from Asbury Park” album cover.
But for anyone interested in viewing the collection, make no mistake –this is not a museum. It’s a research facility, and as such, visitors must make an appointment at least two weeks in advance. They must also visit the website and choose in advance the items they would like to view.
There is no fee to view the collection and visitors can see as many items as they would like but the university limits materials to four publications at a time. Visitors may bring a laptop computer, non-flash camera, pencils and loose notepaper. All other items, including backpacks, briefcases, bags, and notebooks, must be stored in a closet. Cellphone use is prohibited, as is food and drink. For a nominal fee, the staff will make copies of certain documents.
For more than 20 years starting in the early 1980s, Chapman was the manager of the iconic Asbury Park music clubs Mrs. Jay’s, the Fast Lane and The Stone Pony, so she was an eyewitness to Springsteen’s rise to fame.
“It was a really interesting time for music in Asbury Park,” she said.
Chapman’s involvement with the local music scene goes even deeper. She is on the board of the Asbury Park Historical Society and a former board member of the Asbury Park Musical Heritage Foundation.
“Bruce’s fans recognized the need for preservation and to have all these items under one roof,” she said. “We still have room to grow, but eventually we will have to break ground on a larger facility.”
The Friends have started recording oral histories from former and current band members, including former E Street Band drummer Vini Lopez and Tinker West, the manager of one of Springsteen’s early bands, and hope to one day have these available online.
There has been talk of expanding the archive collection to other Jersey musicians, and having exhibits and lecture space in the future. Chapman has been in contact with Bob Santelli, a former professor at Monmouth University who is now director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. In fact, the Grammy Museum has curated a Bruce Springsteen photography exhibition, featuring iconic photos taken mostly offstage. The exhibit debuted at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa and will come to the Rechnitz Gallery at Monmouth University in Fall 2015.
For those who can’t wait, many behind-the-scenes Springsteen photos are displayed in the lobby of the archive. Those photos include the one taken for the cover of Born to Run, one of only 10 originals, signed by photographer Eric Meola. There are also several photos by photographer Ed Gallucci showing Bruce at home and with the band shortly after he was signed by John Hammond in 1972.
“Ed heard about our collection and offered to donate the pictures,” Chapman said.
Fans from all over the world have made donations and the archive’s website lists items that are needed to make the collection complete.
“We’ve heard from quite a few fans that are downsizing their living quarters and have items that have been sitting in boxes for years,” Chapman said.
Chapman loves working in the performing arts department and overseeing the archive because it keeps her involved with music, for which she has a real passion.
“I’ve met some wonderful and interesting people at the archive and I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “People have a lot of stories to tell and we have information to give back to them.”
She also believes the Jersey Shore would be a great place for a museum honoring Springsteen, whose music has touched countless fans over the last four decades.
“Bruce offers incredible lyrics, his voice is engaging and he can really rock you out,” Chapman said. “He’s a very talented guy.”
The collection is available to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except holidays.
Appointments can be made by contacting Chapman at email@example.com or 732-571-3512.
Vibe writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.