SXSW 2012: it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
Some days, all you can do is sit back and admire your heroes. Some days, you have to take a break from the usual SXSW routine, the routine which involves checking out brand new acts with songs in their heads …
Some days, all you can do is sit back and admire your heroes. Some days, you have to take a break from the usual SXSW routine, the routine which involves checking out brand new acts with songs in their heads and dreams in their hearts, and admire a master at work. Some days, you have to admit that the man who saved your life and blew your mind when you were a teenager growing up in the middle of Tipperary, a place as far and remote from what Austin, Texas is about this week as you can get, is still capable of doing it, is still capable of casting that spell. Heroes are heroes for a reason.
Bruce Springsteen, though, was doing this for the kids out there on those streets. He knows all about those crazy dreams which get you into a band, get you into a van and get you to Austin in March to play a bunch of shows, sleep very little, eat very little and have a nagging terror in the back of your mind that you should have stuck with that job or stayed in school. Yesterday, in what was easily the best keynote speeches by a musician I’ve ever heard, Springsteen was all about the power of inspiration.
He simply told his story and he told it with style. To hear him talk about doo-wop and The Animals and country music was to hear a fanatical music fan talk about what moved his heart, his soul, his head, his gut, his hips. This was the real deal, a hugely successful musician breaking it all down and bringing it all back home. For an hour, he told stories (there was a great one about James Brown hauling him onstage at a show – JB didn’t know his name, he knew him as “Mr Born In the USA guy”), sang a few songs to illustrate his points, talked about the passion, demonstrated a fantastic way with words (just listen to him go through the hundreds of music genres out there) and reminded us that the biggest rock’n'roll stars are often just music geeks and nerds with massive record collections and a liking for long, silly arguments into the night about music and why it moves us. It was truly inspiring.
I’ve mentioned that word twice, haven’t I? But it was that. This was a battle-cry for the thousands of bands slogging their guts out in Austin and beyond. It’s the kind of speech you’d want any musican – young or old, new or established, successful or semi-successful – to hear and take to heart. With Springsteen, it really is still and always was and always will be about the music. Here’s how he ended the speech (full video below):
“So rumble, young musicians, rumble. Open your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have unclad confidence, but doubt. It keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town — and you suck! It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideals alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have — and then remember it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.”
Later, Springsteen and The E Street Band – new and old members in the line-up – played a show at the Austin City Limits theatre out in the warehouse area, a venue which is like Vicar Street with an extra balcony on top. It was only the second time the band had played together, but you can see a new chapter in the Springsteen story emerging.
Built largely on songs from the excellent new album “Wrecking Ball” and paying a few visits to “The Rising” – though there was also room for “Badlands”, “Promised Land”, “Thunder Road” and “E Street Shuffle”, amongst others – this was about pushing more soul and gospel to the front of the mix. There’s now a damn hungry brass section (including the late, great Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake, who can play up a storm) and backing singers to amplify those notes, yet the electrics are still in there too, exemplified by a few guest turn from Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.
He was one of many guests last night – Jimmy Cliff was sensational on “The Harder They Come”, it was cool to see Eric Burdon there after Springsteen paid tribute to him at the keynote and Arcade Fire’s Win and Regine, Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo and Garland Jeffreys also stepped up – as the band pounced this way and that.
At the heart of it all was the man from New Jersey, the man who delivered that stirring, majestic, soulful speech at a time of day when he quipped that most decent musicians are still in their beds. Last night was Springsteen putting those words into action. Last night was about blowing into town, making people forget their cares and worries for a few hours and getting the hell out of there to the next town before everyone wakes up. Last night was a reminder that they’re not making ‘em like Springsteen and this band of brothers and sisters any more. Last night was about the music and keeping the faith and knowing that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive. Last night, man, I wouldn’t have traded last night for anything.
Watch the keynote in full here.