Bruce Springsteen delivered the keynote speech today (March 15) at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
Taking to the stage 35 minutes after his scheduled time of 12pm, he opened up by saying:
Good morning. Why are we up so fucking early? How important can this speech be if we’re giving it at noon, when every decent musician in town is asleep?
The hour-long talk saw the legendary rock and roller talk about his musical influences. He also picked up and strummed an acoustic guitar on a number of occasions, singing The Animals‘ ‘We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place’. During the speech, Eric Burdon of the band tweeted: “@springsteen, Im across town at @realdaytrotter, truly honored to hear you played “we gotta get outta this place” during your keynote!”
Springsteen, who tonight plays a competition winners-only show as part of SXSW, started his talk by looking back to when he was six years old, saying: “When I picked up the guitar there was only 10 years of rock history to draw on.”
He went on to quote a piece music journalist Lester Bangs wrote after the death of Elvis in which he said Presley was the last music that everyone would agree on being great. Celebrating this diversity, Springsteen heralded the power of songwriters and creatives, saying “Purity of human expression is not confined to guitars… There’s no right way of doing it, there’s just doing it. We live in a post authentic world… It’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters.”
Bruce Springsteen then spoke about his own musical make-up and his ‘musical genesis’, seeing Elvis on The Ed Sullivan show in 1966. He called Elvis “the first modern 21st century man. A precursor of the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement… He gave us a new way of being an American, a human being… You could not put the genie back in the bottle.”
Springsteen said that “inspired by the passion in Elvis‘ pants”, he got a guitar and, with a touch of innuendo, said he enjoyed “beating it and beating it in front of the mirror… I still do it to this day. Don’t you?” to laughs from the audience in the Austin Convention Centre.
He called Roy Orbison “the true master of the romantic apocalypse you know was coming after you whispered ‘I love you’ to your new girlfriend” and then spoke about the sexual quality of doo-wop music, saying it reminded him of getting “blue balls” on his way home from school dances.
Springsteen heralded The Beatles and Phil Spector, even beatboxing one of the producer’s signature song openers. After singing ‘We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ he said: “That’s every song I’ve ever written!” adding that they had “the most unapologetic band name until the Sex Pistols came along”. He played a riff from his own song ‘Badlands’, saying it was a rip off of The Animals, adding: “Listen up youngsters, this is how successful theft is accomplished”.
Telling the crowd that his 1978 album ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ was inspired by punk, he went on to talk about his love of Motown music, Hank Williams, James Brown and Bob Dylan. He explained that he was signed as the new Bob Dylan even though “The old Dylan was only 30!”. He said: “I was signed as an acoustic singer-songwriter, but I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
As the talk drew to an end, Springsteen led the audience in a sing-a-long to Woody Guthrie‘s ‘This Land Is Your Land’, in recognition of the folk music artist’s 100th birthday year. “I was never going to be Woody Guthrie,” he added. “I liked the luxuries and comforts of being a star.”
Bruce Springsteen received a standing ovation for his talk. Check back on NME.COM tomorrow to read a report from his live show tonight in Austin.