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SXSW: Who's the Boss?

Posted by James Reed  March 15, 2012 02:57 PM

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As if I even need to answer that question. As this year's keynote speaker at SXSW, Bruce Springsteen just delivered a moving discussion on why music is so important, so necessary. I could write a short book on his one-hour talk, but essentially Springsteen traced his own roots in rock and connected them to the larger culture.

He kept the timeline short but potent. He still remembers the shock and awe of seeing Elvis Presley on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956. Doo-wop was the sound of unrequited desires, of "bras popping" in backseats of cars.

Roy Orbison was the king of adolescent heartache. "The coolest uncool loser you've ever seen," Orbison was the guy whose pop songs stabbed like a knife into the belly of teenage insecurities. From there it was a short leap to Phil Spector and his fabled Wall of Sound productions. "If Roy was opera, Phil was symphonies," Springsteen said.

The British Invasion struck closer to home, full of bands whose members were closer to Springsteen's age and gave him hope that he could be a musician, too. He wisely noted that punk rock wasn't shocking, but rather frightening. Meanwhile, James Brown separated the boys (including the Rolling Stones) from the men.

On Bob Dylan's influence, he neatly summarized. "He gave us the words to understand our hearts," Springsteen said. As did the stark simplicity of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. And I couldn't help but let out a gleeful "yes!" when Springsteen sang the refrain from a song by country crooner Charlie Rich, which happens to be my favorite:

Springsteen left the stage as a respected elder statesmen of rock 'n' roll, with a final bit of advice for younger musicians: "Learn how to bring it live, and do it night after night after night. Your audience will remember you."

Amen.

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