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Bruce Springsteen Delivers Keynote Address at SXSW

Bruce Springsteen
Michael Buckner, Getty Images

The annual South By Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival in Austin kicked off proper today with a rousing keynote address from Bruce Springsteen. In an hour-long speech that was streamed at NPR Music, the rock legend prove that he learned more from a three-minute record than he ever learned in school. He spoke with depth, passion and humor about his roots and gave advice to the thousands of young musicians hoping to use the prestigious conference as a springboard in their careers.

Bruce, whose new album ‘Wrecking Ball‘ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week, began his address by pointing out the subjectivity of rock, how one could say that Kiss, for example, either brilliantly captured the imagination of hormonal teenagers or that “they sucked.” After listing but a handful of genres and sub-genres of music these days, Springsteen referenced critic Lester Bangs‘ famous lines written in the wake of Elvis Presley’s death, “we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.”

From there it was a master class in rock history, punctuated with occasional bursts of profanity. Upon seeing Elvis on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ he learned that, “you did not have to be constrained by your upbringing, how you looked, or what oppressed you.” He spoke of the inherent sexuality of doo-wop, the emotion torture of Roy Orbison, the sheer force of Phil Spector and the liberating feeling of the Beatles.

Most telling was when he discussed the influence of the Animals, saying that they had, “the most unapologetic group name until the Sex Pistols came along.” Picking up an acoustic guitar, Springsteen sang the first verse and chorus of ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ and said, “That’s every song I’ve ever written.” He also showed how he lifted the riff from their ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ for his own ‘Badlands,’ finishing it off with, ‘Listen up youngsters. This is how successful theft is accomplished!”

From there it was on to the lessons he learned from soul music, in particular from the Godfather of Soul. “There is no greater performance than James Brown burning ass on the T.A.M.I. Show,” Springsteen said of the 1964 film. “I f—–’ love the Stones, but James Brown? Boys and men.”

Naturally, Bob Dylan got credit. Remembering how he and others signed in the early ’70s were hyped as “New Dylans,” Bruce said. “The old Dylan was only 30 [at the time]. I don’t know why they needed a f—— new one.” He added that Dylan is “the father of my musical country, and I thank him, now and forever.”

Springsteen took it even further back to Woody Guthrie, and how he discovered him in his early-30s. Guthrie, he said, never had the marks that we associate with fame today – going platinum or making the cover of Rolling Stone, but, he’s “a big, big ghost in the machine.” He picked up the acoustic guitar and sang, ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ with the crowd joining in after Bruce said, “This song is meant to be sung by everybody.”

He closed with more words of wisdom to all the upcoming bands flooding Austin, “Don’t take yourself too seriously… and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off…When you walk onstage tonight, treat it like it’s all we have. And remember, it’s only rock and roll!” Quoting his own song, ‘This Hard Land,’ he said, “Stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive.”

Watch Bruce Springsteen’s SxSW Keynote Address

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