Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
1100 Rock & Roll Blvd.
As I sat in my hotel room on Saturday night, I found myself thumbing through the Cleveland tourist guide. When I reached the fifth or sixth page, there was a half-page ad for the Bruce Springsteen special exhibit "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land." All I could think was how could I come to Cleveland and leave without seeing what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame had to share regarding the life and music of one of my all-time musical inspirations. While I do not agree with his political positions on most things (more on that later), I do feel that he represents the average working man, woman and family in America. Anointed the future face of rock and roll back in the 70’s, today he is one of the most prolific song writers and performers. Cover boy of Time and Newsweek back in 1975 . . . he was the most recent cover story on AARP’s magazine as he turned 60 in September.
With my Sunday meeting scheduled to go until 12:00noon and a 2:45pm flight, my challenge was to figure out a way to squeeze in a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. Luck was on my side, as our meeting adjourned shortly after 9:00am making a 10:00am opening hour a real possibility! I figured that would give me about 90 minutes to take in the Springsteen exhibit. When I told folks of my plan, everyone said "Oh it is six floors of great exhibits . . . you’ll need at least three or four hours to take it all in." That’s OK I responded . . . I only need to do two of them!
David and I visited the tribute to music along Cleveland’s Lake Erie back in 2004 so I didn’t need to view the costumes, vehicles, music and other exhibits of the many outstanding hall of fame members. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to really take in the stories of all the music that I grew up with. I remember back in 2004 how cool David thought it was to see the car from the ZZ Top Eliminator tour. Yes, that was pretty cool, indeed. There is a lot to see and experience and I would encourage anyone making their first (and perhaps only) visit to allow at least half of a day.
For me, it was to be a breeze through visit. Once I had my ticket and wristband, upstairs I headed to the "special exhibits" floors (the top two of the pyramid shaped building). If there was any disappointment, it was that they had the two smallest floors dedicated to the Boss. Surely they could have filled two of the larger floors with the music and life spanning over 40 years. That’s OK . . . what they had was outstanding!
Before I headed upstairs, however, the friendly guide on the main level said that while I had limited time and didn’t plan on taking in the other exhibit areas she strongly recommended I check out the Springsteen "car" on display on the lower level. OK sure, I though as I hustled by the wrist-banding station to seek out "the car". I wasn’t even sure what make or model car I was looking for. I figured, however, I would know it when I saw it.
As I turned one corner, there was a huge purple Lincoln Continental, circa probably 1965 or so, from the Elvis Presley collection. Wow, a Lincoln I thought . . . I expected a Cadillac. From there, the next turn brought me upon a beautiful white on black 1960 Corvette. I immediately recognized the car from the many photos taken of a young Bruce cruising probably post "Born to Run". The body was in good shape from what I could tell; the interior was a bit worn which was nice actually. The leather seats were showing the age of a car that is nearly 50 years old. Like Bruce, this was a classic to be admired for many years to come.
After checking out "the car" I headed up to the fifth floor. As I exited the elevator, it was total Bruce emersion. While it emptied you right at what most know as the beginnings of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, it was on the far side of the room where visitors needed to start the tour to fully trace his life and music.
The memorabilia included show posters and ticket stubs from his days with the Castiles (1966-1968), Child (1969), Steelmill (1970-1971) and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom (1971). Story goes that in 1971 he formed the Bruce Springsteen Band from just about anyone who could play an instrument. How fortunate for E Streeters everywhere, he eventually connected with the likes of Clarence Clemons, Steve Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan to form what would later become the E Street Band.
Springsteen’s first release "Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ" was a commercial flop by most standards (it sold around 25,000 copies the year of release). It would however, set the stage for those who were fortunate enough to see him when he was truly a nobody, playing local bars and music clubs up and down the eastern seaboard. I fondly remembered my first "Bruce Spring-who?" concert in 1974, right after the release of his second album "The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle."
OK enough about my waltz down memory lane. In that same area are photos and drawings that are contained in scrapbooks. While the books are there in the museum area under glass, they have done a nice job of scanning all of the pages and photos to create a video slideshow. It was interesting to see his skill as a sketch artist through his pencil drawings. I suppose for those who have artistic talents, they are not limited to lyrics or musical composition.
Nearby was a poster for a show in Red Bank, NJ for George McGovern’s 1972 Presidential campaign. It would appear that Bruce has long been supportive of the Democratic Party and the liberal positions taken more recently by Presidential hopeful John Kerry and our current US President Barrck Obama.
Back where I entered the fifth floor was a continuous running film of Bruce and the various band members discussing the events leading up to and after the 1975 "Born to Run" explosion. Everyone felt the pressure, probably not as much as Bruce himself as the record label needed for his third release to be not only a creative success, but also a commercial success. Who would be ready for what was to come next?
The video is a beautiful weave of storytelling and performance, including Bruce strumming his guitar singing lines from such classics as "Jungleland" and "Tenth Avenue Freezeout" . . . which Springsteen states "I have no idea what that means today." Me neither Bruce, but I can appreciate having "my back to the wall" and looking for a way out only to be hit with a Tenth Avenue Freezeout!
Bruce and the members of the E Street Band share the recollection of the pressure to produce something that the label would find financially rewarding. Bruce explained how he wanted to tell the story of people wanting and needing to get out; out of bad situations, relationships, whatever. As he strummed and began humming and then singing the words to "Thunder Road" I could feel tears welling up as I remembered the first time I heard that song . . . "Roy Orbison singing for the lonely . . . that’s me and I want you only . . ." There always has been something about how he writes, the images he projects and ultimately, the passion within that he captures that has drawn me to his music. The moment there, alone, was beautiful!
(continued in part two)