Grab your headphones and find a task you can do without your ears. Professor Bruce Springsteen has delivered the keynote speech at South by Southwest festival and it's well worth a listen. Start to finish, give yourself an hour.
Call me a geek -- At North Side High School, I wrote my junior thesis on the history of rock-and-roll -- but Bruce philosophizing on the singers and bands that changed his life is like a free master class in music.
My favorite excerpts:
On Roy Orbison: "The true master of the romantic apocalypse you dreaded and knew was coming after the first night you whispered, "I love you" to your new girlfriend. ... Roy was the coolest uncool loser you've ever seen ... He seemed to take joy sticking his knife deep into the hot belly of your teenage insecurities ... He was tortured by soft skin, angora sweaters, beauty and death, just like you."
On Phil Spector: "If Roy was opera, Phil was symphonies, little three-minute orgasms followed by oblivion." (Listen closely, that's Bruce beatboxing the iconic drum opening of The Ronnettes' "Be My Baby."
On The Beatles: "Liverpool wharf rats" whose teenage acne humanized them and told an aspirational Springsteen "there must be a way to get there from here."
On The Animals: The well from which Springsteen stole, er, borrowed, "every song I've ever written."
"They were cruel, which was so freeing. ... The name was unforgiving, and final and irrevocable. It was in your face. It was the most unapologetic group name until The Sex Pistols came along."
On Soul: "Adult music ... of the sex-soaked heavens"
On Motown: "The soundtrack of the civil rights movement."
On James Brown: So good, no one in his right mind should ever have agreed to go onstage after him.
On Bob Dylan: "He didn't write about something, he wrote about everything that mattered at once in every song."
On Country: The "fatalism attracted me. ... If rock-and-roll was a seven-day weekend, country was Saturday night hell-raising followed by heavy Sunday morning coming down. ... Country was about doing then dying, screwing then crying, boozing then trying."
On revering, emulating but knowing he could never, ever be Woody Guthrie:
"I liked Elvis and I liked pink Cadillacs," not to mention pop music and "big f------ noise."
"And in my own ways, I like the luxuries and comforts of being a star."
Seriously, folks, this speech is almost as good as your favorite Springsteen record.
And at one point in his speech, Bruce makes a sly reference that he has even more to say, making me think this guy could do his own TED Conference or record a single-subject documentary on contemporary pop culture.
"Movies, films," Springsteen says, "that's another discussion."
-- Monica Yant Kinney