By Guy D’Astolfo
The display has a Youngstown connection.
CLEVELAND — At first glance, the Bruce Springsteen exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a lot like every other special exhibit the museum has assembled.
It has all sorts of memorabilia, lovingly selected to appeal to true fans. The guitar that the Boss had slung over his shoulder on the cover of “Born to Run” is there behind glass. So are personal scrapbooks from the early days filled with clippings from Rolling Stone, back when it was more of a newspaper than a glossy magazine.
There are several whole outfits Bruce wore during the various phases of his career. Highlights include:
UThat grubby (and now quite faded) shredded flannel shirt from “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
UThe cowboy boots from the “Tunnel of Love” tour.
UThe red baseball cap with the farm supply logo that was stuffed into his back pocket for the “Born in the U.S.A.” album cover.
UThere is also a plethora of those cheap-looking concert posters, the kind that were so popular in the ’70s and now look so dated, many advertising Bruce’s first bands, the Castiles, Steel Mill and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom.
UAnd, of course, grainy black and white archival video footage plays on several screens.
But the exhibition seems to possess a special quality, elevating it to a transcendent level that most other exhibitions at the rock hall never reach.
Like Bruce himself (who took a keen interest in the exhibit, hand-picking several items), the exhibit is true to the spirit of those early days — the days when the promise and power of Springsteen bonded millions with a feeling of hope and community and freedom. In short, the exhibition brings the true fan back to the glory days of the Boss: the ’70 and ’80s.
Many of us who grew up as Springsteen fans remember the rush of excitement when he came to town, and those three-hour plus concerts in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We lived for his emotional lyrics and powerful music, part of a huge and passionate community of like-minded fans.
Years have gone by, and Springsteen and his fans have grown older. But the thrill of the early days will come rushing back to any long-time fan who visits the hallowed rock hall.
So will the personal connection between artist and audience member, the connection that Springsteen made with millions.
The stars of the large exhibition — it takes up the entire fifth and sixth floors — are the scores of torn-out sheets of notebook paper on which Bruce wrote the lyrics of his songs. These, more than anything, speak to the Asbury Park, N.J., phase, the seedy Jersey Shore city that has become a mecca for Boss’ fans.
Complete with scribbled out patches, the lyrics to almost every song from “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” are on display.
But there are also songs from throughout his career. In fact, you can detect subtle changes in Bruce’s handwriting over the years, as he went from an unknown to a stadium-filling superstar.
The worn-out wooden table and chair in his apartment where he penned those lyrics is also on display.
The exhibition — titled “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land” — even has a Youngstown touch.
When Springsteen played Youngstown’s Stambaugh Auditorium in 1996, as part of his solo acoustic tour to promote his album “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” he was given the Key to the City of Youngstown by then- Mayor Patrick Ungaro.
It’s a gold plastic memento about 6 inches long, shaped like a key, with the words “Key to the City of Youngstown” inscribed on it.
“The Ghost of Tom Joad,” of course, included the song “Youngstown,” which is a laid-off steelworker’s lament over the downward spiral of his life and his hometown.
Though the key itself looks like it might have come out of a box of Cracker Jacks, it also has an undeniable aura.
Springsteen must have wanted it included; and as such, it is a symbol of the connection he will always share with the Mahoning Valley.