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Bruce Springsteen and the National Constitution Center?

February 17, 2012|By David Zucchino
  • The Boss, shown in 2006 in New Orleans, is now a featured exhibit at the National Constitution Center.
The Boss, shown in 2006 in New Orleans, is now a featured exhibit at the National… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

Hitching The Boss to a Philadelphia institution that normally plumbs the deepest meanings of the Constitution and displays busts of the original signers might seem a stretch.

But, yo, this is Philly. Bruce is the city’s adopted son. (OK, so he’s technically from across the Delaware in Jersey.)

Yet it only seems natural that the Constitution Center would eventually honor a sort-of-local boy who made good as America’s troubadour. Friday, the center opened a seven-month exhibit, "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen.’’

The exhibit, which runs until Sept. 3, features the rock 'n' roll totems dear to adoring Springsteen fans:

  • Bruce’s Fender Esquire guitar from the cover of "Born to Run." The outfit the Boss wore on the cover of "Born in the U.S.A." -- T-shirt and jeans, but you Bruce fans knew that.
  • Handwritten lyric manuscripts of your favorite Springsteen tunes, complete with Bruce’s wavy cross-outs and doodles.
  • The 1960 Corvette the Boss bought himself after "Born to Run" hit it big. A snapshot of little boy Bruce and his sister Virginia on a bench on the Asbury Park, N.J., boardwalk.

As the center’s promotional materials point out, the 150 Bruce artifacts are "never before seen outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum!’’ (And Cleveland weeps.)

Amy S. Rosenberg, an "only slightly obsessive’’ Bruce fan who writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer, had a little fun with the notion of analyzing the Boss the way the center analyzes all things constitutional. In an engaging Inquirer piece titled "The meaning of Bruce, debated in a new forum,’’ Rosenberg posited: "Should we apply a strict interpretation to these lyrics or a more expansive one? Historic context or first impression?’’

Chuck Darrow of the Philadelphia Daily News dismisses many of the exhibit artifacts as "somewhat prosaic and not especially interesting.’’ But he does recommend, in a "Why it’s cool’’ analysis: Bruce’s Communion photo. The Boss’s Columbia Records audition tapes. Springsteen’s 1994 best song Oscar, for "Streets of Philadelphia," presented by Whitney Houston.

David Eisner, the center’s president, says in a video interview on the center’s website that the exhibit is "a home run for us."

"Bruce Springsteen’s music is all about achieving the American dream,’’ Eisner says. "The Constitution Center is about the values and the dreams on which the American dream was based."

Not all Inquirer readers agree. In an online poll, the newspaper asked: Does a Bruce Springsteen exhibit have any place at the National Constitution Center? Twenty-four percent of respondents agreed that "Yes, he’s as American as apple pie and the Declaration.’’ Fifteen percent agreed that "Yes, his songs fit into the mold of the great protest singers.’’ Alas, a lot more people – 44% – agreed with "No, merely a commercial way to get people to buy museum tickets.’’

For faithful Springsteen fans, could the appropriate response to that last poll result be something The Boss himself once wrote: "It’s a town full of losers, we’re pulling out of here to win?’’

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