Rick Springfield – heart on his sleeve, strings on his bow

30 March 2019, Saban Theater, Beverly Hills, CA

I’ve been a fan of Rick Springfield for 45 years or so, and yet I only know a handful of his songs well.

I have several friends who are die-hard super-duper travel-all-over-the-country Rick fans, who have met him and talked with him and gone on music cruises with him and he knows them too. Of course they know every word to every song and so they might be appalled when I say I knew him long before they did and yet I hardly know the words to his songs. “Jessie’s Girl”, you bet. “Don’t Talk To Strangers”, pretty much only the chorus. Ditto “I’ve Done Everything For You”. I love Rick, I do, but my admiration for him is about something greater than the songs themselves.

My admiration for Rick Springfield is about his significant role in Australian pop music history. It’s about the photos I swooned over in teen magazines, especially Pink (with a heart instead of a dot over the letter i), a British magazine I subscribed to when I was aged thirteen that always featured our Aussie Rick along with the international heartthrob Davids – Essex and Cassidy. It’s about who Rick was and where he came from before America embraced him, and it’s also about my admiration for his resilience and longevity and bravery (he talks openly about his lifelong struggle with depression), along with his acting chops and book authoring chops and, yes, his amazing musicianship, because he is a consummately talented songwriter, guitar player and singer.

And it is very much about his drop-dead gorgeousness, which any middle-aged woman who was a teenager when he was emerging as a solo artist is bound to dwell on. I’ve met many, many male musicians I admire, but the photo I have from the time I met Rick and chatted with him backstage in 2007 is something I look at if I ever want to remember what it’s like to have the arm of a bone fide rock god draped over my shoulder. Of course you want to see that photo. Here it is. Swoon.

The songs he’s written that reveal so much of what matters to him are intrinsic to who Rick is, so admitting I don’t really know many of them is weird, it is, I know it.

I have had every opportunity to learn these songs. Super Rick fan Claire sent me most of Rick’s albums six years ago when I thought I was going to interview him for the National Film & Sound Archive. The interview didn’t happen – after months of back and forth with Rick’s people, Rick sent me a polite apologetic email saying he wasn’t up for it, which I understood, as it would have been a really lengthy in-depth oral history, and he’d already poured his heart and life out onto the pages of his memoir Late Late at Night, so talking about it all again was probably not so appealing in 2013. If I’d done the interview I am sure I would have learned the songs as part of my thorough research, so perhaps I should just blame Rick for curtailing that endeavour.

Claire, who sent me Rick’s music, is an amazing woman; she wrote a book about how Rick’s music literally changed her life. She also introduced me to Sharla, one of my best friends today. And through both Claire and Sharla I have met other Rick fans, just a few of the enormous community of die-hard Rick fans that know all the words to all the songs. All over America, Rick’s adopted home, these Rick fans are putting me, the Australian music expert, to shame.

What I know really well is “Speak To The Sky”, his 1971 solo hit when he was post-Zoot and jumping on the God-Rock bandwagon in Australia. I can also completely act out the psychedelic guitar licks and sing the very different vocal style of Zoot’s monumental cover of “Eleanor Rigby” that was a Rick-initiated masterpiece. Zoot was a pivotal musical moment in Australian pop history, its members including the beautiful, talented, sadly departed lead singer Darryl Cotton; the phenomenally brilliant singer-songwriter, bass player and founding member of Little River Band, Beeb Birtles; and drummer Rick Brewer, who went on to play with The Ferrets (“Don’t Fall In Love” – perfect pop). But Rick didn’t perform “Speak To The Sky” or “Eleanor Rigby” last Saturday night in his interesting concert at the Saban Theater, He did a different Beatles cover, “She’s Leaving Home”, which for me was the highlight of the set featuring the Santa Monica High School Orchestra.

Rick has been doing these symphony shows with a variety of orchestras now and then for a while. It’s a curious enterprise. His show at the Saban put me in mind of the Go-Gos at the Hollywood Bowl last year, with their fun pop that really did not fit with orchestral backing at all. Most of Rick’s songs didn’t completely fit with an orchestra either, but Rick spoke frequently and passionately about the importance of music education in schools, and the very talented kids and their conductor were having fun, and seeing so many musicians on stage – Rick said more than 100 – was diverting. Not that one really wants to be diverted from Rick. He’s a compelling stage performer. He’s nearly 70 and he’s eye-poppingly handsome. At this show he wore a suit that I’m not sure he was all that comfortable in. He reminded me of Nick Cave, who usually wears a suit to perform in. Of course Rick sounds nothing like Nick Cave and nor are his songs anything like Nick’s. It was just a visual memo, two vastly different Australian singer songwriters wearing suits, two vastly different Australian songwriters who wear their hearts on their sleeves. There the similarities end. But who else is going to put Rick Springfield and Nick Cave in the same paragraph? That’s what I’m here for.

Rick sang songs about his late parents that his fans knew and loved. Although the bulk of his audiences are those die-hard fans, Rick graciously makes allowances and gives visual prompts for those of us who don’t know all the songs, with beautiful photos of his parents (“Irreplaceable”) and of his father’s chair (“My Father’s Chair”), and lengthy introductions that offer the back story to these songs. He also fills the screen behind the stage with hundreds of photos of himself at different times in his career, with videos of him performing his hit songs, with clips from his movies and TV shows. So for anyone who turned up casually to Rick’s concert, there was plenty of edification on offer. The first time I saw Rick perform in LA, at the Greek Theater, I found the plethora of photos and video clips hugely entertaining and amusing. This time I found it quite profound. This is a stellar career, worthy of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, worthy of a biopic. Of course the only actor who could possibly play Rick Springfield is Rick Springfield. And given that at nearly 70 he still looks 40, he really should get on with it.

There are several performance devices Rick is known for and does so well. Somehow the most perfectly cute little girl was at the front of the audience so he could bring her up on stage to sing “Don’t Talk To Strangers” and offer the best photo opportunity imaginable. When he changed out of the suit and into his more familiar casual rock god garb, Rick seemed more at ease, and more apt to shred roses on his guitar, climb through the audience during “Human Touch”, and look sweaty without being self-conscious about it. And then before we knew it, it was over – he’d sung “Jessie’s Girl” and left the stage – and left us wanting more.

Between the show at the Greek in July 2016 and this concert, there was an appearance Rick made at the Grammy Museum, in January 2018, to promote his dark and angry The Snake King album. Looking at the photos I took that night I see he looked neither dark nor angry. He just looked gorgeous, so as I haven’t posted them previously, I will add those here.

The upcoming album, Orchestrating My Life, on which this symphony concert is predicated, is probably a Rick album I would like to have. I’d like to hear the orchestral arrangements to these songs recorded, and I’d like to have this collection of songs as a jumping board to go back and investigate the catalogue of songs I’ve neglected to dive into. But mainly I want to see where Rick goes next on his career journey. He doesn’t perform in LA very often; he seems to prefer to play shows far from home. So the LA crowd went truly wild, on their feet for almost the entire show. I can only imagine how rapturous audiences would be in Australia if he ever makes it back for a full tour. Which he hasn’t, and that’s a whole other story. And this story has been rambling enough. So just enjoy the photos!

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