Recording memories for future generations
Photo from entrance to exhibit at the National Constitution Center (note: no cameras are allowed inside.)

Like Springsteen, Sum Up Your Life Story

From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen will be at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia through Sept. 3, 2012

Before you begin a life story project you have to answer a few key questions.

  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • What events in your life most influenced the way you live?
  • What do you want others to know about you?
  • What do you wish for them?

Begin thinking about these questions before you decide what form your life story project will take: print, audio, video, etc.  You may not want to write a memoir about every aspect of your life, but rather a life story about an important part of who you are. Tell the story.

I’m always looking for good examples. Here’s one celebrity life story about music.

I happened to visit the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia recently, which is showcasing an exhibit of Bruce Springsteen’s musical career through Sept. 3. From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen takes us on a journey from his garage band beginnings in Freehold, New Jersey to his debut album and every album inbetween. We get a look at the man, his music, and his friendships.

In 2009, I had the fortunate opportunity to see the same exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, while I was in Cleveland conducting genealogy research. The Hall of Fame arranged both exhibits.

What I really liked was the story Springsteen tells through the exhibit about the making of his music. He keeps his private life private. That’s another story for him and his wife Patty to tell their grandchildren someday.  We learn how he writes his own music. The lyrics are written out into a series of basic ruled school notebooks. While there are all sorts of drafts and corrections, the notebooks are carefully preserved.  For years, his favorite place to write was sitting at an old 1930’s era claw-footed oak dining table with a matching side chair under him. I can’t say whether the coffee cup stain was there when he bought it or if it was evidence of a late-night writing frenzy.

He shows us the constant workload, the takes, the demo reels, the photo shots, the CD insert proofs. There were parts of old equipment, a motorcycle, hand-painted guitars, hotel keys, his torn jeans from the Born in the USA album, teenage recordings and jewelry. I always thought Bruce just picked something to wear from his closet and left the house. I was so wrong. Just like any other celebrity in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce’s wardrobe and concert costumes were also displayed.

For those who came of age during the 1970’s and 1980’s Springsteen’s music is a part of our own life stories. We deeply understood the troubles – and the joys – he was singing about in his music. Maybe I feel close to this life story because, as a Jersey girl, I am a Bruce fan – not the biggest and, certainly, not a stalker type, but I do own all his music.  Listening to his songs reminds me of things I’ve done and events in my life where his music was playing. Still. It’s not summer in New Jersey without Bruce playing.

As far as I’m concerned, his last tour at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in October 2009 was the single greatest concert I’ve ever witnessed. He pleaded and teased his mother from stage left to join him for a two-step moment during Dancing in the Dark.  Like any adult son and mother, there they were swaying cheek to cheek, whispering to each other. It was no easy feat for Mom to climb the railings from the 100 section, jockey through the crowd and let a bevy of security detail hoist her bottom on stage. When he finished dancing with Mom he simply exhaled into the microphone, “Momma!” I thought the crowd was going to blow the roof off the place.

The concert was memorable for several reasons. It had been 30 years since Bruce and his band first sold out a concert at the Spectrum. This was his last stop before the building was torn down as part of a redevelopment plan. As fans we were a part of that story line. We were there when he sold out his first concert at the Spectrum and his last. As well, he chose to share that moment with his family, his mother and his aunt. It was one of the last times I saw Clarence Clemons perform. The entire band sang out of their socks that night. That’s what I’ll remember.

How does someone who has so much to tell in his story begin to organize it all?

With more than 40 years of art to explain, Bruce describes it simply. On the wall at the entrance to the exhibit reads:


“The American idea is a beautiful idea. It needs to be preserved, served, protected and sung out. I tried to chart the distance between American ideals and American reality. That’s how my music is laid out.”


He summed it up in the equivalent of a social media status update.  From there we were welcomed into the rest of the story.


Bringing this back to you and your life story, what is it that defines you. If people have suggested that you  write some things down then ask yourself what part of you do they want preserved.

Photo from entrance to exhibit at the National Constitution Center (note: no cameras are allowed inside.)

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