Just 10 days after releasing his new #1 album, Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen took the podium at the Austin Convention Center to deliver the keynote address for SXSW Music 2012.
Already making headlines around Texas for making a suprise cameo performance at the Austin Music Awards last night, Springsteen walked out to a raucous audience over half an hour after his scheduled noon CST start time, beginning by saying “Why are we up so fucking early? How important can this speech be if it’s at noon? Every decent musician in town is asleep!”
Beginning his speech by breathlessly listing the hundreds of current rock and roll sub-genres, Springsteen told his audience a lesson he’s learned about making music over the years, saying, “There is no pure way or right way of doing it. There’s just doing it.”
“The Boss” then delved into his own relationship with music history, noting Lester Bang’s obituary of Elvis Presley where the music writer said of the deceased singer, “We will never agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis.”
Springsteen went on to touch on Roy Orbison (“The coolest uncool guy you’ve ever heard of”), Phil Spector (“To use his own words, he hit me and it felt like a kiss”), the Beatles (whose album covers he described as featuring “four gods of Olympus who were your future staring right back at you”), the Animals (who after playing a brief acoustic cover of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” he called “aggression personified”), the Sex Pistols (“They were brave and made you brave”), Bob Dylan (“The father of my musical country now and forever”), James Brown (who once introduced him at a concert as “Mr. Born in the U.S.A.” after forgetting his name), and the immense impact the soul and country music had on his ongoing musical development.
Near the end of his speech, Springsteen spoke about the influence of Woody Guthrie, and why the folk hero’s legend lives on despite never experiencing much fame. He then segued into his experience covering Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land” with Pete Seeger at President Obama’s 2008 before leading the crowded Austin Convention Center in a round of the song’s chorus. It was with that song’s ability to strike unity, Springsteen said, that made him call into question Bangs’ quote about Elvis.
The Boss ended his speech with advice directed toward the many young musicians playing at SXSW this year, saying, “Stay hard, stay hungry, and stay alive. When you walk out on stage, bring the noise. Treat it like it’s all we have. And remember, it’s only rock and roll.” Acoustic guitar held proudly over his head, Springsteen left to a feverish standing ovation.