When I launched Lee Lee’s Room back in August, I put together a wish list of key people I wanted to interview about Bruce Springsteen. On my short list was the Curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Thankfully, some goals and dreams really do come true. I called the Vice President of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs, Jim Henke and pitched the idea. He agreed to a phone interview. (I would have preferred to travel to Cleveland to do the interview face to face but the funds aren’t exactly in the Lee Lee’s Room budget…yet!)
The phone interview was all about Bruce with a focus on the recent exhibit at the Hall of Fame- “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land.” Here’s a so-called transcript of our conversation.
LeeLee: Jim, I must thank you for the Springsteen exhibit. You were responsible for “ From Asbury Park to the Promised Land.” It was fantastic. I loved it!
Jim: Thank you, Lisa.
LeeLee: I visited the Hall with my husband and three boys in April of 2010. Cleveland was part of our road trip.
Jim: Where do you live?
LeeLee: I live in Rhode Island but I grew up in Jersey and I love BRUCE! Speaking of Mr. Springsteen…it must have been quite a challenge to put Bruce’s life on exhibit. Was it overwhelming? And how did the idea come about?
Jim: Essentially we were looking for an exhibit and basically I called Jon Landau, Bruce’s Manager and ran the idea past him and not that much longer, they called back and said that Bruce was into the idea of doing it and it made me very happy that he was really into it. It was cool.
LeeLee: You’re not kidding. I would be freaking out. So you get the ok, what was the next step?
Jim: Basically they said that they had this warehouse and they sent me out to look at that. I went through it with one of Bruce’s assistants. He did have a lot of stuff and I made a wish list of everything that I wanted from what I had seen in this warehouse and sent that off to them. They put this guy, Toby Scott, who’s one of Bruce’s recording engineers, to be the point person on their end. So what happened, I essentially made this wish list and then Toby and then Bruce would find things. They would email me…Bruce found this…are you interested in that? That went on for a few months. Back and forth between me and Toby. And then I realized he had so much stuff. It made sense to do his life chronologically. The first floor of the exhibit was his life up until Born to Run. The second floor had the wall of guitars, his songwriting, awards, and personal stuff.
LeeLee: What was the warehouse like? Were the spiral notebooks with all the original songwriting just stored away in a bin?
Jim: There was so much stuff in there. It was great.
LeeLee: You mentioned that Bruce personally got involved. No pressure, right?
Jim: (laughing) Well to my surprise and his management’s surprise, Bruce wanted us to have all the notebooks and this table he has in his house. It’s the table where he’s written most of his songs through the years.
LeeLee: The notebooks…they were so inspirational to look at. I just love that Bruce is so old school. I really respect that. The lyrics are all written out long hand. He doesn’t work on a computer. You really get to see the creative process unfold.
Jim: Absolutely, Lisa. Let me tell you a funny story. The last day the exhibit was opened, Bruce actually came here. So we went through his exhibit and then we walked around the Hall. One of the things he liked- he liked a lot of different guitars and he also liked the handwritten lyrics and stuff like that. We ended up talking about the fact that it’s sort of a thing from the past because now people work on their computers and they change stuff. It gets erased and you don’t see the process.
LeeLee: It’s so much better when you get a glimpse of how the creativity evolves. Do you have a favorite so-called artifact from the exhibit?
Jim: I don’t know if there’s a favorite but I really liked all the notebooks, the table, and obviously, the esquire guitar.
LeeLee: The Esquire…that guitar is beyond amazing. Wow! I was mesmerized and didn’t want to walk away from it. Anyway, in the book you wrote for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame about the exhibit, you were able to get a quote from Bruce about the esquire that really means a lot to me.
“For me, when I put it on, I don’t feel like I have a guitar on. It’s such an integral part of me. It’s the only instrument when I put on…I can’t feel anything on me. It’s an extension of my body. That thing is just an extension of who I am. It, literally, was the receptor of all my hopes and dreams, the symbol of my ambitions and desires.”
What are your thoughts when you hear that quote?
Jim: That guitar is Bruce Springsteen. And well the cool thing is…let me tell you a story about that guitar. One day I got an email from Toby Scott that said, “Jim you’re not going to believe this, we don’t believe it either but, Bruce wants you to have the esquire.” And then it was interesting because he had one of his guitar tech guys personally deliver it. The tech made the trip from New Jersey.
LeeLee: That is an incredible story. Do you have a favorite Springsteen album?
Jim: I pretty much like them all. I love the early days and I like the live shows too.
LeeLee: Is the exhibit going on tour?
Jim: No. Although it did go to the Constitution Center in Philadelphia as a special request. But now it’s being all returned to Bruce.
LeeLee: Looking at today’s music industry, do you think there’s anyone out there that’s sort of channeling Bruce?
Jim: There are some groups… like Gaslight Anthem comes to mind. I think they’ve been influenced by him.
LeeLee: Bruce is first and foremost a storyteller and writer to me. Do you think his fans really pay attention to the details and the story he’s revealing through his music?
Jim: I think a lot of fans pay attention to the words and I think that’s one of the reasons he’s been as successful as he has and I think people do respect him as a lyricist and writer. A lot of people do listen to what he’s saying in the songs and I really think that’s a big part of why he’s successful. He does pay attention to his audience and takes it all very seriously.
LeeLee: Thank you so very much Jim. This has been a wonderful experience.
Jim: My pleasure. Good Luck with the site and send me a link.
Needless to say, talking about Bruce with Jim Henke was an incredible highlight. I’m grateful to Jim and honored to share the conversation through LeeLee’s Room.