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Bruce Springsteen Archives Center American Music Monmouth University
May 09, 2018

A Promised Land for Springsteen Fans

By Felecia Stratton

Bruce Springsteen Archives Center American Music Monmouth University

From the outside, the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University looks like a well-lived-in house nestled at the end of a long driveway. But step inside, and Springsteen fans enter The Promised Land.

The Archives is the official repository for anything and everything Springsteen, and was created to meet the research and informational needs of music fans, scholars, authors, and others with a serious interest in Springsteen’s life, music, and career.

But this is not a museum with memorabilia on display for public viewing. Instead, rooms in the two-story house are stacked floor to ceiling with shelves and racks of boxes holding items organized by type – newspapers, magazines, books, tour books, DVDs, buttons, comics, t-shirts, jackets – and alphabetized within each box.

A research room is equipped with workspaces, a scanner, copy machine, and other necessary equipment. “Nothing leaves the building,” notes Eileen Chapman, director of the Archives. To protect the artifacts, the house is temperature and humidity controlled, and visitors must wear gloves when handling any items.

While today the Archives contain approximately 35,000 items from 47 countries, the collection began modestly in 2001, when The Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection (a group of fans who support the collection) grew concerned that magazine and newspaper articles on Springsteen’s early career were not being kept and preserved. The Friends joined with Backstreets Magazine, a publication focused on Springsteen, and organized a campaign to collect important documents from each phase of Springsteen’s career.

Fans responded in droves, contributing more than 1,500 items. To accommodate that inventory, the Special Collection was moved from the Backstreets office to the Asbury Park Public Library, which maintained the collection until it outgrew the space. It then became necessary for Friends members to store items in their homes. “The collection became splintered,” Chapman explains. “There was no room or staff to take care of it.”

Concerned for the future of the collection, Chapman got involved in 2006, and with the help of other Springsteen devotees, was eventually able to convince Monmouth University to accept the collection. In January 2017, the Boss himself sanctioned the Archives as the official full-time repository for his works.

“The Collection has almost 1,000 books and magazines on myself and the band – more stuff than every place except my mother’s basement!” Springsteen said in 2001.

He wasn’t joking. Adele Springsteen’s scrapbooks, filled with what seems like every letter, press clipping, and document related to her son, many from long before he became famous, are among the most interesting items in the collection, according to Chapman.

“She kept everything,” Chapman notes. “For instance, a letter from Springsteen addressed to ‘Landlordess’ apologizes for being late on the rent, and explains that his new record company would be sending the rent check” (the record company gave him a big advance). Another interesting clipping is an interview from E Street Band member Steve Van Zandt’s high school newspaper, where he talks about his dream of someday becoming a famous rock and roll musician.

The items fans and scholars most request to see are the Time and Newsweek issues from 1975, when Springsteen made history by becoming the first rock star to land on both covers in the same week. His high school yearbook photo is also a popular item.

Chapman emphasizes that the Archives are not just for researchers and scholars; anyone interested in Springsteen’s career and music is invited to visit. “Sometimes fans just want to look up a specific concert they went to, or a favorite song they want to learn more about,” she says.

The collection still relies on donations to keep it growing, and Springsteen himself has donated several boxes of personal items. Chapman urges fans who are downsizing to consider donating their Springsteen memorabilia to the Archives “for historical reasons, rather than throwing it out.”

The Archives are branching out into areas outside the collection itself. It is currently involved in an oral history project, filming the recollections of noted musicians in the Asbury Park area, many of whom had a huge influence on Springsteen.

And, in April 2018, the Archives hosted its inaugural academic conference entitled Darkness on the Edge of Town: An International Symposium, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of Springsteen’s 1978 album.

Research access to the collection is available by appointment only. To learn more, call or email Eileen Chapman at (732) 571-3512 or echapman@monmouth.edu.