International superstar Bruce Springsteen rose to fame in the 1970s and ’80s by penning Rock ‘n’ Roll hits about his blue-collar roots, from “Born in the U.S.A.” to “Glory Days.” But before he became known as “the Boss,” Springsteen was an angsty, guitar-playing teenager trying to fit in while growing up in Freehold, New Jersey.
Visitors to Springsteen’s hometown will soon be able to explore the 72-year-old musician’s early years and the trajectory of his storied career in a new exhibition, reports Chris Jordan for the Asbury Park Press. Per a statement from the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University, which organized the project in collaboration with the Borough of Freehold, the exhibition space is slated to open in mid-2024.
Springsteen returned to Freehold to announce the exhibition last Tuesday.
“Everything I learned of deep importance, I learned in this town,” said Springsteen in a speech, as quoted by Variety’s Michele Amabile Angermiller and Jem Aswad. “You learn most of what makes you who you are by the time you are 12, maybe; maybe your teen years. I had all the usual joy and heartbreak of growing up in a small town like this, and of course the minute the opportunity arose—I got the hell out.”
Town leaders plan to relocate the Freehold Fire Department and renovate its historic downtown building to accommodate the exhibition, which will feature photographs, interviews, artifacts, interactive displays, concert footage, voice recordings and film clips. Springsteen is especially excited about the show’s location.
“That’s the coolest building in town,” he said last week, per Variety. “I sat three blocks from here and came up with a few songs and things that I liked and the idea that 50 years later anybody was going to be interested in them at all, I mean what are the odds, folks? They are very small.”
Springsteen was born in 1949 in nearby Long Branch but spent most of his childhood and teenage years in Freehold, a small, working-class borough about 20 miles northwest of the Jersey Shore. He is best known for writing songs that reflect the struggles of American working-class communities.
The singer references the borough—now home to some 12,000 residents—in songs such as “My Hometown” and “Freehold.” Today, he lives in nearby Colts Neck Township, just a 15-minute drive from Freehold, according to NJ.com’s Bobby Olivier.
During last week’s ceremony, town historian Kevin Coyne said that proposals for honoring Springsteen initially included erecting a statue of the artist in front of Borough Hall. But that idea fell flat.
“That’s not who we are, and that’s not who he is,” Coyne, who will help curate the exhibition, added, per Variety. “The ties that bind Bruce and his hometown are deeper and more complex than an empty shrine like that could express.”
Freehold leaders say they expect people from around the world to travel to New Jersey to see the exhibition, which will also welcome local school groups and community programs.