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"Working On The Building:" The Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music's Big News

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

Monmouth University - October 18, 2023 - photo by Mark Krajnak; used with permission

October 22, 2023

Last week, it was hailed repeatedly (and correctly) as a badly needed shot of hope and positivity during yet another period when more concerns over deadly violence and war were foremost in so many minds, locally and around the planet. One by one, elected officials took to the podium to tout the positive impact that this project will have on the region. And even Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ms. Darlene Love, the true Queen of Christmas herself, was on hand to herald like an angel the big announcement related to a longtime friend and strong supporter of hers.

The announcement finally made official and public what the university's president, Dr. Patrick F. Leahy, jokingly referred to as "the worst-kept secret in New Jersey." And as expected, Bruce Springsteen himself also was on hand to confirm and celebrate the big news.

Letters To You was there, as well, and we've prepared for you an appropriately extra-large feature for such a major announcement, including some more great shots by our contributing "JerseyStyle Photographer" Mark Krajnak. Below you can read all of the details on this exciting project shared last Wednesday by BASCAM's Executive Director Robert Santelli, accompanied by images shown during his slide-presentation and printed in the event's press-kit. We also have transcribed Bruce Springsteen's public remarks and the closing remarks of BASCAM's Director Eileen Chapman.

And before we get to all of that, we've dug even deeper into some of the important but lesser-known history that led to last Wednesday's announcement. Coincidentally, the big announcement occurred exactly six years after the now-defunct Friends of The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection donated its entire collection, numbering almost 35,000 items, to the then-newly-formed Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music. These donated items currently remain the bulk of the Archives' current holdings of approximately 37,000 items. Click the link below to download and read a PDF of the archived October 18, 2017 Monmouth University press release announcing this major donation:

PR Springsteen Archives Friends Donation FINAL
Download PDF • 90KB

Also check out this archival 2005 video showing members of The Friends of The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection in action at the Collection's original home, Asbury Park Public Library:

And click the arrow to the left to expand and read "A Brief History of the Early Years of The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection," provided to Letters To You by the Special Collection's co-founder and original Executive Director, Bob Crane.

Now let's shift from a detailed look at the past behind The Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music to October 18, 2023's full-scale preview of its exciting future...

Monmouth University - October 18, 2023 - photo by Mark Krajnak; used with permission

Remarks by Robert Santelli, Executive Director, The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music: This is a monumental occasion for someone who not only graduated from here and also was a member of the faculty here, but also someone who basically lived most of his life on the Jersey Shore. And to see this dream come true with my colleagues, to sit here and look at all of you today and realize a dream is about to come true... I'm very touched by it. Thanks to all of you for being here today; it's great.

In 1969, I was a skinny seventeen-year-old freshman, and we had Freshman Orientation. And right here in the back [on the lawn behind Monmouth University's Great Hall,] a band called Steel Mill was our Freshman Orientation entertainment. We actually have a photograph in the Archives of a very similarly skinny Bruce Springsteen leading Steel Mill, a band prior to the creation of the E Street Band.

- from the press-kit for the October 18, 2023 announcement at Monmouth University -

I went on to join The Outlook [Monmouth University's student-run newspaper] staff, became Entertainment Editor, and write about a lot of the music we had here back in the late sixties and early seventies. Bruce and the band played here numerous times, and I got the opportunity to establish a relationship. And as I became a music journalist, having access over the years whenever I wanted to do a story or an interview - Bruce giving access and the members of the E Street Band doing the same - it allowed me to understand the importance of Bruce and the band and their relationship not just to the Jersey Shore, but to all of New Jersey.

And when the opportunity came to bring the Archives... and there is an Archives now. We live on this campus right now. We're overstuffed in a small house here with some 37,000 pieces already. The thought was that when it came time to establish some sort of game-plan that would allow Bruce's archives to stay in New Jersey - after all, there isn't another artist that I could think of that is so synonymous with this state like Bruce - the thought was it had to be here, because as we spoke earlier, Bruce and I recalled that many of Bruce's earliest fans came from [what was then called] Monmouth College, and from West Long Branch. And his having written not just a song, but the entire album Born to Run, just down the street made it an ideal place to do this.

We started out with a dream, and there are two people in particular on my team that I need to bring attention to, because without them, this definitely would not have happened, and quite honestly, I would not have embarked on it without both of them being part of the original team. One of whom you've already met, and that's Eileen Chapman. Eileen and I go back - hard to believe, and I hope it's okay to say this - fifty years or so, in our friendship. Our relationship started with The Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation and Festival, and we've done so many things together over the years. And then the second person is someone that I went to high-school with, and consider my best friend... my sister, actually, who in three days will retire from this endeavor, but I wanted to make sure we announced this [before her retirement] because she had such a big part in getting to this day... Syd Whalley.

What I want to do for you is to give you a sense of what this building is going to look like and what's going to be in it, but in addition to that, also talk about the mission... why we're doing this. We had mentioned [earlier] that there's a Woody Guthrie Center and archives in Tulsa, as there is a Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, as well. There's a Buddy Holly Center - a small one, but it's really the first one - in Lubbock, Texas. So those are the three main, if you will, artist-related centers or institutions that exist in America. What we wanted to do here with the Bruce Springsteen Archives was far more ambitious.

I think when Jon [Landau] and I first asked Bruce about this, and I got a chance to tell him what I thought was my vision and the vision that I represent for Monmouth, we said to him, "This is what we have in mind, and this is what we'd like to do." I think Bruce thought for a minute, and basically he said something that we have never forgotten, and it's simply, "Y'know, this is all well and good... wanting to keep me in New Jersey and keep the archives here. But really, I'm just an ongoing chapter of American music. I'm just a piece of the larger, bigger story that continues to impact who we are as Americans and how the world looks at us."

And so the idea of creating something larger than just The Bruce Springsteen Archives came to be, and we became The Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music. And it was a great idea, because the idea is something that doesn't happen anywhere else in America. We'll be the first place to tell the major story from an educational and academic point of view. This building will house all of these entities under one umbrella, and it will allow teachers, scholars, journalists, students, and certainly fans from all over the world to come here and dig deep, not just into the legacy of Springsteen, but into our incredible, great story of American music that continues to unfold today, and will continue to unfold.

Traveling all over the world, I have the opportunity to lecture in places where... I can go to Chile, or I can go to Argentina, and I'll hear American music. Or Europe, or China, or Japan. Our American music tradition is so strong, so powerful, and so meaningful, to not just us Americans, but also people from around the globe. All you have to do is go see Bruce in concert over in Europe, as I was able to do do this past summer, and feel the love and respect, not just of Bruce and the E Street Band, but of what we've accomplished musically as Americans.

So the hope is that this building allows all of that to live, and breathe, and nourish particularly future generations of Americans. Young kids who come to this particular facility will learn about the story of American music and how it's impacted racism in this country... how it's attacked racism in this country, how it's developed through technology, how we are able to talk about the reflection of our current fundamental values as Americans. All of this is embedded in our music. It's embedded in Bruce's, as well, which is why he's the ultimate, if you will, narrator of this great story in our building.

So that's the game plan. That's the premise by which we started out this project. What I'm gonna do is give you a little bit of a slideshow and show you what it's gonna look like, and I'll explain briefly what is inside, so you get a true understanding of the importance of this institution.

- from the press-kit for the October 18, 2023 announcement at Monmouth University -

The building, by the way, was designed and created by COOKFOX Architects, an acclaimed architectural firm from New York City. Rick Cook is here today - he's our principal architect - as are members of his team. We worked together to put together a building that was reflective of Bruce's roots, Bruce's music, and also the state of New Jersey. So it's a building that basically when you walk into it, you'll walk on... let's just call it a wooden boardwalk. Of course, why not, right? But you'll pass a date that's really, really important... September 9, 1956. This is the date that Elvis Presley appears on The Ed Sullivan Show that Bruce watched, as did many, many other baby-boomers. It was a defining moment in our growth as an American music. And so when you walk past that, now you are entering into what we think is hallowed space when it comes to the American music story.

As you walk into the space, there are two levels. It's a 30,000-square-foot building, as President Leahy said. It's not meant to be overly bombastic or overly rich or elegant in its architectural values. Rick and his team did a wonderful job listening to Springsteen's music and other aspects of American music, and creating an exterior design that reflects it.

- from the press-kit for the October 18, 2023 announcement at Monmouth University -

You'll see here a side-view and notice there is a huge window area that will allow natural space to come in, and basically be a wonderful viewing point for people who are sitting in our theater, which I'll explain [in more detail] in just a second. The grounds will allow students to hang out there, play their music, and it's very, very close to where [Monmouth University Chair of the Music & Theater Arts Department] Joe Rapolla and the Music Industry program create their music for Blue Hawk Records. We hope that it also will be a place where, if you will, pilgrims to our museum and to our campus will be able to hang out and absorb the weather like today's on the Jersey Shore.

- from the press-kit for the October 18, 2023 announcement at Monmouth University -

When you walk in, on the first floor, there will be a long foyer that separates the two main aspects of the institution. On one side is a 230-seat state-of-the-art theater where we will have film series, workshops, lectures, special guests, and intimate performances in the evening. But during the day, there will be shown an approximately fifteen- to seventeen-minutes-long film designed by Thom Zimny, which will tell the story of American music and, put in its proper context, the story of Bruce Springsteen. So as you walk in, that's gonna be the first thing that you see.

You'll experience that, and then walk over to the other side of the first floor of the building. There you will have a major exhibition on American music. This exhibition will be highly interactive. We will work with our partners at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Smithsonian, the Grammy Museum, and a number of other major music-museum institutions that already exist, and we will create the story of American music in a way that is appropriate and relevant to young people, particularly high-school kids. So it's our thought that on a day like this, or even a cold, wintry day in January, that parking-lot that sits adjacent to the building will be filled with school-buses. This will become a major educational resource for high-school and middle-school teachers across the state... actually in the tri-state area. So the kinds of exhibits that will be in this main gallery will play directly to that, so that teachers will be allowed to bring American music into their classrooms, much like [the approach of] another partner of ours, Steve Van Zandt and his TeachRock program, which are first cousins of The Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music. Together we will create lesson-plans and opportunities for teachers and students to learn about this great tradition.

- from the press-kit for the October 18, 2023 announcement at Monmouth University -

We'll then go upstairs, and we'll go into the areas where we have the true archives and more exhibition space. The exhibition space upstairs will concentrate on Bruce's story, and it will allow us to dig deep into his creative process. That's the most important thing. There are many biographies about Bruce; his story is certainly well known. But what we want to do as a source of inspiration, for young people in particular, is to examine the creative process. So you'll find exhibits up there on Bruce as a songwriter. We're going to see him as a person who has drawn from a well of American music greats before him, from Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, and so many others, and examine how that particular set of influences creates his unique sound and body of work.

We'll also recreate... and I think this is really a wonderful thing... Bruce didn't go to college. He never graduated from Monmouth, although he wishes he did, I'm sure. But he's self-educated, and I think a lot had to do with Jon Landau throwin' books his way, saying, "Read this, read this..." The opportunity to recreate Bruce's writing-room, and all of the books that he read as he began this ongoing, life-long self-education process, will be there. So people will be able to see the books that he read, and then also as you walk in you'll be able to hear a personal tour of that room, why he read the books he read, and what they meant to him. So it'll be a great opportunity for teachers of literature, for instance, or sociology, or American Studies... to point out these very, very important books that helped create this great American voice.

On the other side of the building we will also have an E Street Band gallery, in which we will tell the story of the E Street Band, many of whom grew up in New Jersey and have a deeply profound connection to the Jersey Shore and Monmouth, as well. So we'll tell their story, and how they helped Bruce create that sound that we all know and love.

There will be a photo-gallery up there, which will show some of the great photographs in Bruce's career, and [other] American music greats, as well. That will be a rotating exhibit, but it will be something that brings the visual aspects of the story to life.

- from the press-kit for the October 18, 2023 announcement at Monmouth University -

And when you're finished with all of that, then you'll walk over to the Archives. And in the Archives, which is where "the stuff" is held, so to speak... There are many archives around America, and many of them are located in libraries on very prestigious campuses that are hushed and hallowed, and when you walk in, you need to be very quiet because people are reading or studying. This will not be that; it will be loud. There will be opportunities for people to engage in the music in a way that probably no other archives allows. You'll be able to go in there, put on a pair of headphones, and listen to interviews and oral histories, perhaps concert performances... things that will allow what you have just seen in the exhibits to come alive in even greater detail. You'll be able to look at posters all the way back to the days of The Castiles, Bruce's first band, on all the way through [to the present.] We're in the process of engaging in a very serious attempt to get as many oral histories of American music greats as possible, and we are doing that so that when students or scholars come in and do research, not only will they be able to listen to the Jersey Shore sound, whether it be Southside Johnny or Bruce or Max Weinberg or whomever, but also those who are still alive and still able to tell their story. We are in the process of capturing those, as well.

So when you're finished with that, you're talking about a two- or three-hours experience. Then hopefully you'll grab some lunch and head for The Stone Pony, or over to Freehold, where we will be hopefully talking about someday soon a sister-project there that will complete the process and complete the story as we know it.

That in essence is what we're talking about, if all goes well. And it doesn't always, but we're keeping our fingers crossed. We'd like to open these doors sometime in the spring of 2026, and that is our goal. It's an admirable goal... We still have a little bit more to raise money-wise, but as soon as that's done, the shovel goes into the ground and we're ready to go.

We're very excited, but I just want you to know that we're not sitting around just raising money or just thinking how great this building's gonna be. We're already very, very active as an institution. For instance, next weekend, here at Monmouth we will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Bruce's second album, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle with a symposium that's bringing people from as far away, believe it or not, as Israel to come and examine this particular great album. It will be done in a way that looks at it in a serious, not so much academic way, but let's call it an educational way. So those of you who were unfortunate and didn't get tickets because it literally sold out in ten minutes... 700 tickets... we'll archive all of this. So you'll be able to come to the [new] Archives [building] once it's open, and be able to watch this. We did one earlier this year, in January, for the debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Same thing; 700 people showed up, so there's a lot of interest in what we're doing already.

We have exhibitions on the road right now, two or three of them, that are in Boston and California. We'll be premiering a major new exhibition, believe it or not, in February, and it opens at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, and will go to the Bush Library and Clinton Library. The Presidential Libraries are interested in our American music story and the way we tell it, so it's very exciting. We're not standing still until 2026. We are on our way. Finally I'll say that next spring we will be announcing a teacher advisory board, where teachers from all over the state will be able to engage with us, to help us make certain that the exhibits that we build and the archives that we create are relevant to young people, so that they get the most out of it as possible.

Santelli w/ "Mr. Jon Landau" @ Monmouth University - October 18, 2023 - photo by Mark Krajnak; used with permission

I would just like to say to Pat {Leahy] in particular, and to Jon, and to Bruce... It's been an honor for me to lead this project and to be a part of it, both personally and professionally. I was born in Jersey City and moved down to the Jersey Shore, living in Point Pleasant Beach. I went to school here, of course, and was an early music critic at The Asbury Park Press. My roots run very, very deep here. And I have to say, as I said before, as a young journalist starting out, having access to Bruce and the band in the early days when I was struggling just to make a name and get in the magazines... where Jon already was but he never hired me, but that's alright... Anyway, for us to bring it full circle is important to me both personally and professionally. So I want to thank Pat and Monmouth University for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this, and I look forward to seeing all of you at groundbreaking. Thank you.

At this time, I'd like to invite Bruce Springsteen up to say a few words...

Monmouth University - October 18, 2023 - photo by Mark Krajnak; used with permission

Remarks by Bruce Springsteen: Thank you. The first thing I want to say is how happy I am that my archives are going to have a home right here in New Jersey. That means a lot to me, and for that I've got to thank Pat Leahy, Bob Santelli, Mr. Jon Landau, our Director Eileen Chapman, and our donors, of course, because without them there's no building. Many of them are here today. Thank you for your generosity and support. And it looks like here with us... Ms. Darlene Love, who's sittin' right there in the first row.

Now, having a building with your name on it is a tricky thing, because I'm still alive, and in forty years of analysis, the only thing I know is that I'm subject to any kind of behavior. I mean, I could get arrested for shooting tequilas in a public park. That's something that could happen. All I can say is that I will try to do my best to do nothing for the rest of my life to embarrass a building. Just in case, I might suggest to the architect... the letters should be removable.

But believe it or not, there are people who come from around the world, for their vacations or their pilgrimages, to spend their hard-earned dollars in Asbury Park or Freehold, in search of from whence I have hailed, and now they will actually have some place to go other than my house. So I'm glad about that. I'm glad about getting all of the junk out of my house, because it was getting cluttered in there, so now I've got some place to put that stuff.

But seriously, I'm moved by all of your efforts and commitment. At nineteen, as Bob was saying, I played on these very steps out here, and so to stand here today is quite humbling, knowing that I'm going to be a presence on this campus, which I really look forward to being. It's deeply satisfying. I look forward to working with everyone to make the building and its endeavor a great success. Thank you.

Monmouth University - October 18, 2023 - photo by Mark Krajnak; used with permission

Closing remarks by Eileen Chapman, Director, The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music: How cool was that?! Thank you to all of today's speakers for supporting this project so enthusiastically. Your leadership, persistence, and vision have helped us to get to this point. And a special thanks to Bruce Springsteen, whose influence on American music is deserving of such lasting recognition and celebration... and to Darlene Love, who thought she was gonna sneak in unnoticed. Please visit our website and social-media platforms over the coming months as we update our progress. This concludes our program today. Thank you for joining us for today's announcement, and for your support of this extraordinary project... We look forward to seeing you at the grand opening.

Special thanks to Carl Beams, Eileen Chapman, Bob Crane, Melanie Paggioli, and David Wilson


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