RICK SPRINGFIELD ON THE UPSWING
By Paul Freeman
[In more recent developments, Rick Springfield will be reprising his role as Dr. Noah Drake on some March episodes of “General Hospital” and will guest on “Hot In Cleveland.” His best-selling memoir, “Late, Late at Night,” is now available in paperback. For details and the latest news, visit www.rickspringfield.com.]
An entertainment career is inevitably filled with peaks and valleys. Rick Springfield is hitting another peak. He has a new lullaby album, “My Precious Little One” and is currently shooting episodes of the Showtime hit “Californication.”
While Springfield enthusiastically tackles new challenges, his vintage hits like “Jesse’s Girl” ride the rising wave of ‘80s nostalgia.
“To be honest, I’ve been surprised that the ‘80s came back so fast,” the chuckling Springfield said. “As the world becomes increasingly unstable, nostalgia will be coming up faster and faster. Everyone’s feeling unsure and unbalanced. When that happens, you come back to things that made you feel good and secure, when you were a kid, open to listening to new music. Once you get your career or family, you tend to close down your windows of listening to new stuff and you just want to listen to all the stuff that you grew up with. There’s exceptions to that. But I think that’s the general rule.”
Springfield grew up in a military family, living in various bases throughout Australia and Great Britain. The ‘60s English records of the Beatles, the Who, Cream and the Kinks inspired him. By ‘67, he was performing professionally.
At 22, after achieving success in Australia, he moved to Hollywood. “I’ve always written very truthfully. When I first came over here and they put me in all the teen magazines in the early ‘70s, I was writing songs about a guy committing suicide or a husband cheating on his wife.
“The teen magazines said, ‘ The kids won’t understand this. You’ve got to write teen songs.’ I wrote the songs I wanted to write. I tried to write a couple of disco songs in the mid-’70s and, of course, they sounded like garbage. Any time you try to match a market, it’s got less chance to be successful than if you just do what you think is the best stuff you can do.”
While waiting for his songs to find their audience, Springfield veered into acting. “I really fell into it in, because I wasn’t getting what I wanted in the music business. I had no money, couldn’t support myself. I thought, ‘Well, maybe ‘ll try acting.’ My brother had actually acted a bit, when he was younger. That made me sit up and go, ‘Hey, maybe I can do this, too.’ Innocently, I thought I could make money from it... and I actually did,” Springfield chuckled.
He signed as a Universal Studios contract player. “I didn’t realize at the time what a great break it was. It was the first regular money I’d ever seen in my life. It was a great way to cut my teeth as an actor, because I did everything, voiceover, some classic shows, like the first ‘Battlestar Galactica’ movie and ‘The Rockford Files,’ ‘Incredible Hulk’ and all that kind of stuff, great shows.“
Springfield found acting to be gratifying. “There are thrills and challenges. When I do a scene, if I feel like I nailed it, I get a similar charge to when I complete a part of a song I’m working on and I like it. When you’re writing a song, there’s no measure of success, no good or bad. You don’t know if people will like it. All you can go by is whether you like it. And the same with acting. All you can go by is if the director thinks you’re doing the right thing and you think you are. You don’t really know how it will be received until it’s out there, maybe six months later. I think you have to have a certain strength and confidence in yourself. It was really hard for me, iln the beginning, to handle the whole thing. You’ve got to have a faith in yourself.”
In 1981, Springfield broke through on both the music and acting fronts, creating a sensation as Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital” and earning a Grammy for “Jesse’s Girl,” one of several hits from his pop-rock “Working Class Dog” album.
“Success may happen overnight, once it finally happens. People don’t see the 15 years of struggle that went into making that overnight success. No journey is ever easy. People have no idea that you’ve spent your whole life trying to reach that goal.”
Hits kept coming, though Springfield’s 1984 movie “Hard To Hold,” didn’t take hold at the box office.
In 1985, the depression which Springfield had battled since adolescence, deepened. “I was at the end of my rope. I was really going through some serious mental things. Then my first son was born. So I said, ‘I’m going to take a couple of months off and help raise him.’ That turned into five years.
“I went through a lot of stuff, hardcore therapy, serious mid-life crisis. It was growing stuff that was necessary, but pretty painful.”
When he began touring again, his fans proved their loyalty. “I didn’t know if there would be anybody out there when I went back out again. I was amazed. I don’t ever take that for granted. I’ m here, because of people’s interest. As long as I keep doing things that people think is interesting, writing songs that they connect to, then I’ll have a place.”
People are connecting to songs on his lullaby album. “I wrote them for my kids when they were first born, back in 1985, 1986. found them last year in a drawer. I really liked them and the memories they brought back. So I re-recorded them with the thought of putting them out...People are always having babies,” Springfield laughed.
He’s working on the follow-up to his acclaimed 2008 “Venus In Overdrive” rock album. The songs from that one spark exuberant fan reaction in his live shows.
Springfield, who returned to “General Hospital” for another stint in 2005, is currently shooting a four-episode arc on the envelope-pushing David Duchovny comedy “Californication.”
“The writing is so great on these shows. When you have good writing, you’re halfway home. I remember in the ‘70s, when I started acting, there was so much really crappy stuff, real cliche, nothing new, very basic dialogue, stupid stories. Now they’re really taking chances. TV is very exciting.
“Californication is very funny, racy, odd stuff. I play Rick Springfield, but it’s a deviant, twisted, to-the-left version of Rick Springfield. They don’t hire doctors to play doctors. They hire actors. And just because the character’s name is Rick Springfield, it isn’t Rick Springfield... so I’m acting. I still have to do the lines and be real in whatever they write. You’ve definitely got to work it. It’s not a matter of playing myself. It’s very challenging stuff.”
For the real Springfield, the ultimate creative satisfaction comes from making music that touches people.
“I was always a bit older than my audiences. So I wrote about what was going on with me. I wrote about my father before probably most of them had lost anyone significant. They grow into the material. The sexual songs - they’ll go, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t know what that was about. Now I know!’ I wrote about me and they connect with that at some point. The fans who go deep into the albums, beyond just the hits, connect to the songs.They understand.
“Today a woman came up to me in a drug store and said, ‘Thanks for writing ‘My Father’s Chair.’ That really helped me through losing my own father.’ And I wrote that about my father. So that’s a great compliment. It’s that personal connection, I think, that they stay for.
“That’s what I loved, growing up. I’d listen to a song and think, ‘Oh, my God! They said that so perfectly. That’s what I’ve been feeling all along.’ I was just really inspired by that. So when someone does that with one of my songs, that’s the greatest compliment.”
He has found balance in his own life. “I think kids did that for me.. and my wife actually. I’m no longer the most important thing in my life. The great thing about having kids - it takes the onus off of you,” Springfield laughed. “I’ve broken so many bones in ATV accidents. I went thorugh a period when my sons were first born, when I sold all of my machines. There’s a saying, ‘Children make cowards of men.’”
In August , the eternally youthful Springfield turns 60. That doesn’t mean he’s going to start taking it easy.
“For me, that’s time to step on the gas. As long as I’m healthy and still feel like I’m doing the best that I can, I’ll continue. I’m still very hungry, very driven. I’ve never backed off that. And I’ve always been very ambitious. That’s always been part of my own personal drive.
“I have an insatiable desire to be better than I am. Whatever I do, it’s never enough. Every time I sit down to write a song, I try to write the best song I’ve written. And I’m still learning as an actor. As I get older, certainly there’s more to draw from. As a live performer, I’ve gotten more confident and understand what I’m doing more on stage, have a better connection with the audience. And there’s a certain degree of you that gets a little smarter as you get older. Not necessarily a greatly wiser person, but I think certain parts of you do get smarter. I also have a good sense of humor about myself. I don’t take it all too seriously.”