Does Everything For You
by Ronald Sklar
To look at him, even today (and he’s looking pretty kick ass for age 61), you would never know that Rick Springfield has been battling the demons of depression since his childhood in Australia.
“I had a little inkling [about depression] when I tried to off myself,” he tells me from his home in Los Angeles. “I was hanging myself in my parents’ garden shed at age sixteen or seventeen, so I had a pretty good idea that there was something going on then. But I didn’t understand. I never heard the word depression. I actually didn’t hear it until the ‘80s. Until the ‘80s, I didn’t realize that it was maybe something that was there for good, for life. I was a moody person.
“It was right at the height of puberty and I wasn’t doing well at school and I had no friends. I felt very unattractive and unpopular. I was staying away from school and I was just going down and down and down. It was a downward spiral. And one day, it just got [to be] too much, and I went out to the shed.
“Luckily, the rope came untangled from the beam that I tied it to. I wouldn’t have had the story to tell. So I challenge anyone who is thinking of [suicide] to give it a little time, because things will change. If I could be an example of that, then there was a reason for me putting it in the book other than shock value.”
Fortunately for Springfield, it was all uphill from there, but the skies didn’t exactly clear for him. The book of which he speaks, Late Late At Night (Touchstone Books) is a self-examination of his life, his career and his chronic depression. It has struck a definite chord with a larger audience than just his millions of fans, as it has been listed on The New York Times Bestseller List.
Rick Springfield – Late, Late at Night
The career-making role of Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital (when that soap was the hottest show on television), combined with the mega-success of his signature 80s album, Working Class Dog (1981) assured his place in pop music and TV history. Nevertheless, his dance marathon with depression actually, surprisingly jet-propelled his ambition.
“I’ve done a lot of pretty in-depth therapy, so I’m fairly clued in to what’s going on inside,” he tells me, “but there were a couple of surprises. Seeing a thread of depression from an early age can also be responsible for some good stuff, like my drive and my will to succeed. And I think a couple of good songs too.”
He must be talking about, for starters, “Jessie’s Girl,” which naturally is on the must-play list for all 80s retro parties. However, he was determined to make his rock-and-roll dream come true long before that overnight success.
He grew up as an Army brat in Australia, but dropped out of high school to sing and play in bands, including a concert tour of Viet Nam at the height of that country’s conflict.
Shortly thereafter, he boogied over to Los Angeles in 1972, and recorded a huge national pop hit called “Speak to the Sky.” This led to, of all things, a Saturday morning cartoon series on ABC, Mission Magic, in which he starred as his animated self and performed his own songs.
His determination to lose his accent resulted in more acting work.
“That was a whole psychological thing,” he says of his accent reduction. “[I did that] in the mid-seventies, when I started acting, because no one [in America] had ever heard Australian back then. And I wanted to be competitive.”
It paid off big time, eventually landing him a regular role as a proto-McDreamy on the soap General Hospital. Good timing: both the series and Springfield’s recording career were on the brink of becoming a cultural phenomenon.
“It was the biggest show on TV,” he says. “It was the only show that they arranged college classes around, because people wouldn’t show up while the show was on. It was gigantic, and I was very fortunate to be on it. I serendipitously walked on to the set just about the time that it was to become huge.”
In a classic case of cross-marketing, his RCA album Working Class Dog, featuring “Jessie’s Girl” and “I’ve Done Everything for You,” went multi-platinum, while General Hospital’s ratings would scour heights never again seen by an American television soap.
“Now, soaps are having a little bit of a tougher time,” he says. “Soaps are a lot of work. People don’t understand how hard soap acting is. Acting and directing, everything to do with a soap is a 24/7 gig. It’s the hardest acting gig there is.”
These days, his life is a bit smoother sailing, including a third-go-round making a personal appearance on a Bahamas blast called The Rick Springfield and Friends Cruise.
“It’s a guilt-free, partying and drinking and playing week,” he says. “It’s the most fun we have on the road for the year. It’s a really incredible thing. Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon is our musical guest this year. I have some soap opera friends that will be representing, and Mark Goodman from MTV is the host. It’s really become an enjoyable thing to do. We’re there the whole time. It’s really friendly, and we do a lot of things that we don’t normally do on the road. We play songs we’ve never played before and have a question-and-answer session. We end up doing a beach show and then we all go swimming.”
Also going swimmingly is the soon-to-be-released documentary feature Affair of the Heart, which follows the yellow-brick road of some of Springfield’s fans, and how his music has shaped their lives.
“[The film crew] have been following us around for a year,” he says. “They’re everywhere, they go everywhere. Everywhere I go, there is a camera stuck in my face. I think it’s going to be really interesting. It’s from a fan’s perspective, and what growing up with my music meant to them. There are a lot of amazing stories. That’s one of the reasons I got started getting close with some of the fans, because of hearing these amazing stories, life-changing things, just having a positive influence through my music around them.
“There was one woman who was dying. She was in a car accident and her life signs were going down, and her friend put on headphones [on her] with my music in it, and her vital signs started picking up. It’s really not my music; it’s her reaction to my music, and what it means to her. I’m not saying that my music will cure cancer or anything. It’s everybody’s attachment to music. It’s very, very powerful. They’re documenting fans’ testaments to my music.
“I’m one of those guys who likes to meet his fans. That wasn’t always the way, but now I realize that it’s not about me, it’s about them.”
Fans may also be surprised by a new type of music he is recording: lullabies. My Precious Little One: Lullabies for a New Generation was released last year on his own label, Gomer Records (named after his dog), to critical acclaim.
“I actually wrote that for my own kids when they were first born, starting in 1985,” he says. “They were written in a different songwriting period when I was writing all that stuff in the 80s, so they have that flavor. I just wrote it for my children. I didn’t write it for anyone to hear other than my kids. About a year and a half ago, I found the tape in the drawer and I really liked it, so I re-recorded them. I got a lot of great memories from it.”
His two sons, Liam and Joshua, now grown, have helped him to stay grounded.
“They’re kids going on with their lives,” he says. “They’re proud when it crosses their field. They congratulated me when the book made the NY Times [bestseller list], so they are aware of stuff going on. And it’s been that way all their lives, so they just accept it.”
In the meantime, he is taking it one day at a time, staying one step ahead of his depression.
“You learn to deal with it and you learn to cope with it,” he says. “It doesn’t go away – well, it goes away at times. It’s not like it’s a constant visitor. It’s like anything else, alcoholism or any of that stuff: you have to keep watch.”
In the meantime, he has his family, friends and fans to keep him warm.
“It feels like a very current career,” he says of what he is doing today. “It doesn’t feel like a retro career. And I think they [my fans] feel that too. They know it’s not just about the past.”
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 14, 2010.
Photo Credits:#1 © 2010 Courtesy of Marleah Leslie. All rights reserved.#2 © 2010 Courtesy of Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.#3 © 2010 Courtesy of Marleah Leslie. All rights reserved.#4 © 2010 Courtesy of Marleah Leslie. All rights reserved.#4 © 2010 Courtesy of rickspringfield.com. All rights reserved.