HISTORY HAS REVEALED THAT POP MUSIC experienced its most ambitious expansion—its unqualified Golden Age—in the 80s, when sharply-crafted hits from well-heeled acts like Duran Duran and Culture Club shared mainstream real estate with infectiously kitschy pap like “She Blinded Me With Science,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna struck iconic status while chart-busting power pop outfits like Loverboy and the Knack never slipped loose of the shackles of their era. Of the chromatically-brilliant roster of the artists who composed the soundtrack of the 80s, the era’s greatest unsung hero remains Rick Springfield.
Although Rick struck gold with “Jessie’s Girl,” that timeless ode to shattering the Guy Code, only a slack-jawed fool would presume to view him as a one-hit wonder. To wit: seventeen top forty hits, over twenty-five million records sold, star of television, film, Broadway — and even featured in his own cartoon.
He’s a Grammy award-winning, New York Times bestselling author who recently stole the show in Dave Grohl’s documentary project, Sound City:Real to Reel and is now celebrating the release of his first work of fiction, a comic novel about a loser lost in midlife crisis who finds God’s hotline number scrawled in the back of a stolen self-help book.
Yeah! I’m really excited. We’ve got some great early reviews in and we are ready to plug the hell out of it.
Kirkus gave you a excellent write-up and they’re notorious for being harsh.
Literary magazines love to slam guys like me who sing and then say, You know, I think I’ll write a novel…. So we’re encouraged by good things from the real deal literary press.
What kind of books and authors are you into?
I’m a big sci-fi fan. Sci-fi and horror, historical novels. I love Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury. Bram Stoker. Oscar Wilde.
Me too. The only autographs I collect are authors – in their books.
How is songwriting similar to writing a novel?
It is a similar process as it begins with a something truthful and you go from there. Every song starts from an actual incident and takes on it’s own life. Characters in the book do the same but then they react to different elements of the story based on who they eventually become.
So your novel is based in truth? Like how “Jessie’s Girl” was inspired by a real story? (Rick took a class on making stained glass, met a guy and his girlfriend there. Rick had the hots for the girl but it was not reciprocal. – ed.)
For me, it has to start from a real place. There are a lot of diverse characters in the book but they all have an element of me. We all have different emotions and moods at different eras so there’s so much to draw from.
Late, Late at Night was named one the 25 Best Rock Memoirs ever by Rolling Stone magazine and I think it’s because you were so upfront and honest about your struggles. Being a sex addict and having an unlimited supply… that must have been chaos.
Writing helped me see that wasn’t an answer — no external answer. It was all internal. Sex might distract you for awhile, like a drug, but it doesn’t change the inside. You still wake up with yourself, staring in the mirror at the same guy.
As a kid, I thought nobody was on top of the world more than Rick Frickin’ Springfield, man. Girls adored you, guys thought you were cool, TV star, movie star – but you were struggling with depression and feelings of worthlessness the whole time. You said success was never enough to give you peace of mind. How did you work through that?
Oh…well, I believe the process of writing my autobiography showed me there’s an upside to depression. I think a lot of creativity has come from that difficult place because I’m a person who looks within and tries to figure out what’s going on. I don’t really know many writers who are shiny happy people.
So was it medication? Therapy? How did you get back to a good place?
I tried meds and therapy but in the end you just have to take it moment by moment. Having a dog. Taking time to meditate. Putting that energy into something creative. Writing helps me a lot because it feels like I am getting something back and not just getting beat into the ground with these emotions. I’m actually putting depression and sadness to use and that helps me deal with it better because I’m taking an active step and using this thing that a lot of people view as a curse as a positive thing.
So you had to make peace with yourself.
You have to. It’s the only place you can.
No, seriously. I played that song about a billion times. Drove my mom nuts.
I wrote “Bruce” in 1977, before the big hits really. It was just something I had been experiencing and I wanted to turn it into something funny and self-depreciating. That was probably one of the better ones that came out of that writing era. At first being mistaken for Springsteen bugged me but then I thought it was hilarious. I wrote a new one that actually still mentions that.
Well, you mention positives that can come from struggling with self-worth. In “Bruce” you poke fun at yourself and even in “Jessie’s Girl” you play the sad sack guy. People relate to that. They trust and like a guy who’s not too sure, who can laugh at himself.
Not everybody’s happy with taking the “mickey” out of themselves. It’s actually a big Australian trait, ingrained in our psyche. It’s a cultural thing.
Speaking of Aussies, what do you think about AC/DC possibly having to call it quits?
What? I haven’t heard that.
Apparently Malcolm’s suffered a health crisis and the band might not be able to go on.
Man, I hate to hear that. You know they’re all getting up there and leaving a lot of great music behind. I knew Bon Scott and he was just a fabulous guy. He went way too early.
You and Bon were buddies?
Yeah, we were in competing teen bands. Bon was in The Valentines and I was in a band called Zoot. They wore red and we wore pink.
You never hear anything bad about Bon Scott.
Bon was an absolute sweetheart. Just a really good guy.
I was listening to your anthology, Written in Rock, and it was just hook after hook, one killer pop/rock radio smash after another. The Hall of Fame kisses Bruce and John Cougar’s backsides plenty enough – why do you think they’ve been slow to recognize your accomplishments?
Ah, you know it’s probably my coming out of the teen thing, the General Hospital thing. I think that’s a bit of a turn-off to those kind. All I can do is stay in and just keep writing the best stuff I can possibly write. The only thing I can control is what I do, not what anyone else does or the way they view me.
I am getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next week though. To me, that’s a long time coming too. So that’s nice.
Give me a quick snapshot, one favorite memory from the Working Class Dog era.
Man… I think it was the first time I played “Jessie’s Girl” for an audience and they immediately recognized that opening riff. That was such a highpoint for me. I used to go see bands and scream whenever the hit came on and you dream that one day, that could be you.
One of the best-loved songs of all time, a true classic.
I didn’t even think “Jessie’s Girl” was a single. I was bummed when the label picked it for the first release.
Gotta share this before we go. I was first trying to play guitar and my buddy’s big sister challenged me to learn “Red Hot & Blue Love” and —
Oh no! (laughs)
Geez, what’s with all those crazy chords? It was like friggin’ jazz or something.
Yeah, a lot of the songs on the album were kind of three chord things so I wanted to come up with something a little more complex. I decided to throw something off the wall in — a few diminished chords and such.
Learning that song killed me but I kind of had a kid crush on that girl so I kept at it until I got it right.
Did she like it?
Yeah, I think so. Plus I learned some cool jazz chords.
Well then, it turned out good.
So you’re out on the Stripped Down tour now, your first acoustic tour?
First solo tour, yes. I’ve got some other guitars coming but it’s the first storyteller type of show. We’re doing a summer tour with Pat Benatar and then Australia in October for a solo tour.
See you in Nashville?
Oh yeah. In fact, I’ll be there soon.