Bruce On The Loose Part 3
He walks on and everyone in the room stands up and does the traditional Springsteen salutation.
He looks well, although possibly daunted at the idea of a keynote speech and certainly rattled by the early hour. The guy gets a disclaimer in early, claiming that we've not been united about popular music since Elvis Presley. For every excited fan or high-thinking critic, there's a sneering rebuke. "He sucks!" says Bruce, in his best Butthead impersonation.
He can remember when rock was young, when he'd play a cover of 'Mystic Eyes' by Them, just before a doo wop band with elegant pompadours would take the stage. Now the proliferation and the dissipation makes your head spin. To make a point, he rattles off a hundred musical genres, and looks perplexed at the notion of "Nintendo Core". Eh? "It's overwhelming".
Wisely, Bruce avoids the normal discussion stuff about digital culture and downloading and the industry's decline. Too many rooms of the Austin Convention Centre have been full of this during South By South West and frankly it's been a dull process, populated by self-serving panelists with hollow catch-lines. What Springsteen will do is pretty much analogous to his bold delivery in 1975 of 'Born To Run'. He's gonna talk about faith in the middle of a bewildered age. He will remember the soaring tunes of the past. And he'll send his audience away, freshly inspired by the awesome narrative of rock and soul.
That means Elvis and Roy Orbison, Phil Spector and The Beatles. He sells it all so well, relating it to his personal ride but knowing that we can all connect. He is hilarious about the sexual promise of doo-wop and the let-down that a New Jersey boy felt on the way home from another unsuccessful dance. He remembers that The Animals were immense because they were "full-blown class conscious" and that unlike The Beatles, there were no good looking members. Eric Burdon might have had the voice, but he looked like "a shrunken daddy with a wig on". To illustrate the influence, he plays a snatch of 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' and follows it with 'Badlands". Point taken.
He makes the case for Dylan and James Brown, he explains the eureka moment when he finally got Hank Williams, but he was also looking for the social critique in country music. Why did your bucket have a hole in it?
Springsteen got that from Joe Klein's biography of Woody Guthrie, the ultimate ghost in the machine, the conscience in popular song. That particular folk singer didn't play arenas or cultivate the big markets. The point remains though, and the . "Things that come from outside, they make their way in".
Thus, Bruce holds and excites an audience for a full hour. His charisma is tangible from the fifth row. He totally overturns the relativism, the disbelief and the sense of slow surrender that tends to accompany music industry meet ups. He's still engaged and he's urging the young creatives to do likewise. It's about the ability to hold contradictory ideas in your head without going mad.
"Have iron clad confidence, but... doubt. It keeps you awake at night. Stay hard, stay hungry, but stay alive."
As he leaves, Springsteen tells the audience that he's off to listen to some black metal. We know otherwise, that there's a special live show tonight at the Moody Theater. We're off to pick up our passes, our hearts more full than before. More to follow.