Springsteen’s rock ‘n’ roll history lesson

Springsteen’s new album, Wrecking Ball, debuted this week at No. 1 on US record charts.

Reuters March 16, 2012


After years of experience, Bruce Springsteen now knows what it takes to make it big. The rocker told young musicians that in this new age of digital music in which he can carry all the songs he’s ever loved on a player in his pocket, two things haven’t changed: inspiration and the power of creativity.

In a keynote address at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, Springsteen took the audience on a journey through his musical history. In doing so, he gave the up-and-coming musicians a lesson in how other artists might inspire their own music, just as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and others inspired him.

Springsteen, who is nicknamed ‘The Boss’, said his musical “genesis moment” came in 1956, when Elvis appeared on TV’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” and showed a passion that inspired a young Springsteen to try out the guitar. “I realised a white man could make magic,” Springsteen said.

Springsteen spoke of being influenced by Phil Spector, the Beatles and The Animals. He sang a bit of The Animals’ “Gotta Get Out of This Place”, adding: “That’s every song I’ve ever written”. He continued his journey with an interest in punk and The Sex Pistols, soul music and Motown and James Brown. Bob Dylan, he said, came along at a time — the 1950s and 1960s — when everything felt false but young people didn’t have the words to describe it. Dylan’s lyrics like, “How does it feel to be on your own?” spoke to those who felt their parents didn’t understand the changes taking place in society, he said. “He gave us the words to understand our hearts,” Springsteen said.

As he moved into his late 20s, Springsteen found his way to country music. He described listening again and again to Hank Williams, trying to “crack the code”, until he understood its beautiful simplicity. He also admired Woody Guthrie, who didn’t fill arenas or have his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone, but who spoke truth to power, Springsteen said. The singer then picked up his guitar and led the audience in a few choruses of Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” before leaving the stage. 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2012.

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