Sunday, June 13, 2021

Reflections on a Visit to 'Springsteen: His Hometown'

Act 1: Greetings From Freehold

You should grab a $15 ticket to "Springsteen: His Hometown" at the Monmouth County Historical Association, located in Freehold, NJ.

Highly recommended. With a limited run through July 31.

As described at the link above on the MCHA website, the exhibit gives a comprehensive look at how the Freehold area has been thematically woven into Bruce Springsteen's music and art throughout his career. Over 150 unique items are on display.

Here are some photos I took during a recent visit, beginning with this Facebook post:

Below are two favorites on display. The scrapbook compiled by Bruce's mother Adele, and a ring of hotel keys from the E Street Band's early tours (although I couldn't find one from South Bend, IN, and the 1976 Lawsuit Tour, see Act 2):

Act 2: Bruce and Me

Driving to the exhibit from Bergen County, my wife and I followed Waze's directions off the Parkway and down Route 9.

I didn't realize Freehold was as far inland. I thought it was closer to Asbury Park, which I've visited often in recent years. I remarked to my wife, "I don't think I've ever been on this road before."

Then it occurred to me, this was the very "Highway 9" made famous in the lyrics to "Born to Run." (Also featured in that song is a reference to Asbury's Palace Amusements, demolished 17 years ago this weekend. Here's a great video about the Palace and the iconic Tillie.)

I've been a Bruce fan all my life... or, I should say, from the time I first played "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle" on my record player while at the University of Notre Dame, garnering the approval of the music-aficionado roommates from Canada who lived down the corridor at Pangborn Hall.

A group of us snapped up tickets for his performance on campus in October 1976. It was the first rock concert I had ever attended, and it was so good, no other concert has since measured up. It's an irrevocable memory that inspires me to this day.

That's why I call him simply "Bruce." And why, when I finally visited Freehold, I also took photos of his old house at 39 1/2 Institute Street, his old high school, and St. Rose of Lima, his family's parish church:

Act 3: Howling at the Moon

Just this week, there's more of Bruce in the news, with the announcement that "Springsteen On Broadway" will return with a limited run through Sept. 4.

Now that I've written this homage to Bruce, and posted my masked and smiling face at the Monmouth County Historical Association, I'm going to take a moment, put aside the photos, and howl at the moon in a block of text few might ever read.

I want to consider this: is Springsteen a poet for the rich?

We've all grown up now, and it seems we can afford the starting price of $600 a ticket* for a few hours of entertainment.

Does that make it worth it? Does that make it right?

As homelessness continues to sprawl on the streets off Broadway, the harsher realities of our world become harder to ignore.

It's not how much people earn. Few people seem concerned with Bruce's wealth. Not in a world where Jeff Bezos earns more than $2 million every 15 minutes, every day. It's not just Bruce, after all. Many people will benefit from New York City's revival, in many ways.

What concerns me is, how much we will pay? And for what?

A song? A story? Free shipping?

We are desperate for something of value.

Mine is a stolen moment that evokes a $6.50 ticket to a concert on an October night in Indiana, when everyone was young, and I was surrounded by friends, and everyone sang along.

The more time passes, the more money I might pay to try to recapture the past.

Bruce, the poet of the rich, knows this about me.

What he may not know is that the better me, the me I'm still trying to become, walks the streets off Broadway with more desperation each day, longing for words of hope from the poet of the poor.

I believe there's something of more value to be found in a town full of losers when we're not inspired to pull out of there to win.


*- Prices started at $600-$850, with just a few at $75. The lowest priced ticket on today for the June 26 performance is $649, with prices up to $2,500. The $600 coincidentally matches what eligible individuals received in the federal government's recent Economic Impact Payment.

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