Springsteen car imagery in exhibit
NEWARK, N.J. — From Thunder Road to Racing in the Street, in pickups and pink Cadillacs, Bruce Springsteen spent the last 30 years riding shotgun with his fans down life’s highways, dirt roads and dead ends.
On June 17, the Newark Museum opens its first major exhibition dedicated to the poet laureate of the Garden State Parkway, Springsteen: Troubadour of the Highway.
The show includes more than 60 photographs, videos and other memorabilia that explore “the artist’s use of cars and highways as motifs in his music and in related visual imagery,” according to the museum.
With elements that include Annie Liebowitz’s American flag photos for 1984’s Born in the USA cover and copies of a handwritten draft of Springsteen’s Prove It All Night, the show is sure to please fans who otherwise might never set foot in Newark.
“We’re really hoping that this exhibit introduces a whole new generation of New Jerseyans to the Newark Museum,” museum director Mary Sue Sweeney Price said.
But the show is also a serious examination of Springsteen’s automotive imagery, placing him in a tradition of American artists who employed the highway as a metaphor for Americans’ alternately optimistic, restless and rootless spirit.
The show runs through Aug. 29 in Newark, the final leg of a four-city tour that began in September 2002 at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis. Springsteen viewed the show there that year during The Rising tour.
Springsteen fan Colleen Sheehy, the Weisman’s director of education, put the show together over two years after attending an E Street Band reunion concert in 1999. Sheehy, 50, an American studies scholar with roots in the Minneapolis music scene of the 1980s, wrote the title essay in the show’s program, which reads like a fanzine for musicologists.
“In Thunder Road, recorded on his breakthrough 1975 album, Born to Run, the highway is a path to liberation,” she wrote. “When Mary’s screen door slams at the beginning of the song, the car door opens, giving the lovers an escape from a dead-end town.”
By the time of 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, Sheehy wrote, “the highway promises nothing. It’s illusory, confusing, heartbreaking.”
Sheehy said a contemplative Springsteen didn’t say much while viewing the show in Minneapolis, but then dedicated a song to her while performing that night. “It was a little bit of an out of body experience,” Sheehy said of her time spent with The Boss.
Unique to Newark’s leg of Troubadour of the Highway, the museum attempts to connect Springsteen to his artistic forebears represented in its permanent collection.
Highlighted works in the museum’s Road Map to Picturing America include artist Frank Stella’s eerily incandescent Factories of the Night, a 1929 work that summons the “refinery’s glow” cited in the opening line of Springsteen’s State Trooper.
That Troubadour of the Highway ends its tour in Springsteen’s home state is a lucky accident, said Sheehy. Born in Freehold, N.J., the 54-year-old Springsteen still lives in Monmouth County.
His 1972 debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, re-created a vintage postcard from the seaside resort where Springsteen has often performed at The Stone Pony.
The city’s crumbling grandeur is a physical embodiment of the failed dreams and faded glories of Springsteen’s subjects; in his song Something in the Night, Springsteen wrote of driving down Asbury’s Kingsley Avenue “just to get a drink.”
Amid exhibition photographs by David Gahr, Joel Bernstein, Frank Stefanko and sibling Pamela Springsteen, a text panel describes Springsteen’s role as New Jersey’s ambassador.
“Springsteen has made the state of New Jersey a richly mythological place,” the panel reads, “raising it from a local landscape to a symbolic realm that people around the world recognize as familiar territory.”
Just like The Boss himself.
Springsteen car imagery in exhibit