I'll admit that when I agreed to do an interview with musician/actor Rick Springfield, I hadn't seen the film that we'd be talking about, AFFAIR OF THE HEART. I knew it was a documentary, and I'd assumed it would be about his meteoric rise to fame in the 1980s, his 25 million albums sold, his 17 top-40 hits, his bad behavior in his personal life, his mental anguish that has plagued him most of his adult life, and his return to the spotlight after being out of it for most of the 1990s. In other words, I thought this was going to an expanded edition of "Behind the Music" (which actually did cover Springfield's life and career in a 1998 episode).
I wouldn't call myself a die-hard Springfield fan by any definition, but I also wouldn't turn off the radio or MTV whenever one of his songs came on. His dedication to the craft of creating pop music is undeniable. And his 1981 album WORKING CLASS DOG and the follow-up, SUCCESS HASN'T SPOILED ME YET, were massively successful endeavors that earned him a Grammy and likely wheelbarrows of cash. It just so happened that the music career took off when he was a regular on "General Hospital," so fans could literally see him every day, multiple times per day if they wanted to between the soap opera and his being in heavy rotation on MTV.
His feature film HARD TO HOLD should be sold with a warning label, but more recently, Springfield appeared in several episodes of Showtime's "Californication," as a sex-crazed, hard-partying version of himself, and he stole the show.
The doc we were actually put together to talk about is AFFAIR OF THE HEART, a film that certainly give as cursory glance at Springfield's career highlights and lowlights, but that is not it's focus. The film premieres May 15 on the Epix cable channel. This is a film about his fans, more specifically, it's a movie about fandom as a practice. It's about people who at some point in their lives--often as teenagers--connected with Springfield's music and never let go. It's not exactly a love letter to Springfield's most ardent admirers, but I'm sure most of them will go crazy for this movie, since it features quite a bit of concert performances (the man still likes to show off his tone arms and sometimes even takes off his shirt in concert).
The resulting films is genuinely fascinating stuff, with profiles of several of Springfield's most dedicated fans, who have seen him perform hundreds of times and met him a dozen times or more over the years. Almost without fail, these fans are women in the realm of middle age, but their fanaticism is both awe-inspiring and sometimes terrifying. But the film goes beyond just Springfield's fan and looks at the practice of fandom of any artist. Throughout the course of the film, you get to know these people and what often tragic events occurred that left them in desperate need of salvation that they found through Springfield's music. Sometimes, it was just pure chance; other times, it seems almost predestined. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's actually kind of great.
I also got a chance to ask Springfield about his participation in the great Dave Grohl-directed doc SOUND CITY, about the legendary Van Nuys, California, recording studio, which is out on DVD now. The soundtrack has a very cool new song by Springfield, Grohl and Company, and the enthusiasm the band has when Springfield shows up to record is tremendous. If I'm not mistaken, Springfield's roots with the studio run deep, since he met his wife there when she was the office receptionist for the facility. Anyway, here's my talk with one of the nicest guys I've had the pleasure to talk to over the years, and go take a look at the rundown of a Rick Springfield's Greatest Hits collection. I bet you'll be surprised how many of the songs you actually know. Enjoy…
Rick Springfield: Hey, how are you, Steve?
Capone: Good, Rick. How are you?
RS: Good, thanks.
Capone: I’ve got to admit I was a little surprised that this film is about what it’s about, because when I started to watch it I thought it was going to be more about you, and it turns out it’s about these people that are following you and adore you and love your music. Was that the film you set out to make with Silvia [Caminer, director]?
RS: That was the film that was proposed to me, yeah absolutely. The producer is a long time fan, and she knows the fan community. The director, Sylvia Caminer, is a great, award-winning documentary director who came to me and said to me in an hour-long conversation, “We want to make a movie about the relationship your fans have with you, because we think it’s pretty unique and think it’d make a great doc.”
So that’s basically all it was, and then I just kind of went along and they followed us around playing a lot of stuff and I did some interviews with them. I’m always pretty honest in my interviews, and a they talked to a couple of the fans I had connected with before for different reasons, and that’s kind of spelled out in the documentary. There are some great people in the fan community, and I’m glad they got the attention they got. I think when they see it, they'll feel like it’s for them anyways.
Capone: It really is a love letter to fandom in general.
RS: We’re all fans of somebody, and although some of them may seem a little hyperactive, that’s in us all somewhere if we just saw the right person, you know? I’m still nervous when I meet Paul McCartney and I’ve met him a couple of times [laughs]. It’s there in everybody. That’s there on film.
Capone: Did it take much convincing for you to make it less about you and more about them?
RS: No, I always thought it was a unique approach. That’s what attracted me to it, that I hadn’t seen it before, and I think that’s what sets it apart; it isn’t just a regular rock doc where the guys talk about all of the great times and all the terrible times. It’s about their great and terrible times, so I think it’s a great approach.
Capone: Im sure this happens with a lot of musicians who have been around a while, that the fan community has grown beyond you; these people start to meet each other and form relationships, friendships.
RS: Oh, very much so. I’ve met a lot of people like that. I met a couple of sisters that hadn’t spoken in 20 years and got together a couple of years ago at one of my concerts, and I met them after the show, and they were saying, “We're so glad to be back talking with each other.” There’s a lot of great stories about people hooking up. I know there have been road trips to come out and see the band for a couple of shows in a row, and it is really a lot about the fan community.
Capone: And through that story we get to see how you respond to them. I don’t know how many musicians treat their fans, but I’ve got to imagine you’ve probably embraced them a little more than some other people do. There’s some mention in this film, and I remember hearing about it in the SOUND CITY documentary as well, that you say flat out you were kind of a jerk in the early days.
RS: Yeah, I thought it was me.
Capone: What did you do in terms of the fans that was jerky back then? Did you treat them differently?
RS: Yeah, I thought it was all about me and thought they were all honoring me and the usual stuff of the guy who gets new success, and it’s kind of overwhelming and it’s understandable, and it takes a while. I wanted to have along career and I think that’s when you get a really long view of the reality of the whole situation, and luckily I got that finally. I wasn’t mean or anything, I was just a guy that thought it was all about him.
Capone: It was more about attitude than about actual behavior.
RS: Yeah, I’ve never been mean, like told them to "fuck off" or anything like that. I just didn’t quite have the time for them and I understand that. A lot was being asked, and there was a lot of new stuff being presented to me, so I understand and am glad it turned around.
Capone: What was it that turned it around? What changed you?
RS: I think just being in it long enough. I think one of the things is I retired in '85 when I had pretty severe depression and my first son was born and my dad had just died. So I bailed on everything and pulled the plug. I basically disappeared for a couple of years and got back into it through acting. I remember doing this show in Vegas, the first show I had done in years and I was nervous. I didn’t know if anyone was going to show up, or if they did show up and just kind of sit on their hands and go, “Oh yes, I remember that song. It was a lovely song, yes.” But they were as wild as ever and screaming and jumping and throwing stuff, and the energy was still there, and I’m really happy about that and proud that that’s still there. It still is, too like 30 years into it.
Capone: I love that there are people that are going to couples counseling over you. There’s that one couple from New Jersey, where you meet the husband and he’s wants to hate you, but he soon realizes none of this is your fault.
RS: I do understand both sides, the one that goes, “Let the girls have their fun.” I mean my wife thinks tennis players are hot, so everyone’s got their thing. Nothing untoward ever goes on; it’s just fun, it’s a fantasy thing for them, and they can get away and get a break from the daily grind that they feel. I get to play, so I don’t really have that. I love what I do and it’s a big party, and they come to the party and hang out for a while.
Capone: That cruise certainly looks like a big party. I was kind of flabbergasted that that even happens. That was crazy, especially since you’re sharing the boat with other people that aren't part of your group, which I found remarkable that you can get away with that.
RS: It’s pretty well organized, it's not like walking down in your pajamas at one o’clock in the morning and suddenly someone jumps on you. It’s all very well organized, and we actually have taken it to the land and have made it a land event for the last two years, too. This year we are doing it at Port St. Lucie in Florida, which is a Club Med and we rent it out. We did the last one in Cancun in a Club Med and we rent the whole place out, and they just come down and party for five days, and we get to actually hang out, sit around the pool and play guitar and answer questions and do songs that they’ve never heard live before. It’s a very different event than just going on the road and watching a band play.
Capone: When hearing what these mostly women have to say about how their lives intersect with your music--and it’s usually a specific album or a specific song that they connect with. As you hear these stories and see how they're reacting to your music, do you see things in your music that you didn’t even realize were there?
RS: Yeah, I do find stuff. You tend to write a lot from the subconscious and things will show up later on, and you go, “Oh, that’s what I meant.” It’s actually really a true thing, unless it’s a blatant obvious story in the song, but sometimes I’ve been surprised by things that have shown up later on. I did an album, TAO, that was very spiritually searching album, but I was actually at a low point spiritually when I wrote that record, and in retrospect, it was a call for help, spiritual help, more than it's perceived by the people who know it as this spiritual album. I didn’t know that at the time that I was doing that and the SHOCK/DENIAL/ANGER/ACCEPTANCE record that that woman talks about was a pretty angry record, and you realize that after the fact.
Capone: The song that they play from that album does sound pretty angry.
RS: Yeah, but when you’re writing it you just think you’re writing songs. You know there’s something going on, but to see someone else’s reaction, it eye opening. You can’t be objective; it’s like your children, and you can’t be objective about your own kids. It’s kind of like that when somebody else says that about your kid and you go “Oh yeah, I see that.”
Capone: Toward the end of the film, when we get into the book tour part of things, in the book and in the movie, you talk about The Darkness, this second character that you’ve added to your life…
RS: I wish I had added it; I would have kicked his ass out. [Laughs]
Capone: You say The Darkness is responsible for some of these great songs, but also some of the worst thoughts and feelings you’ve ever had in your life. Have you reconciled that part of your life?
RS: I have. I’m a big believer that there’s never right or wrong; there’s always both. Everything comes as a whole, and that’s the whole part of my depression, there’s a good side to it. There’s a great quote that Napoleon Hill says, who I had followed all my life--the "Think and Grow Rich" guy--that with every adversity comes a seed of something greater, better. That’s his 1920s version of saying yin yang. It does have an upside and it does have a downside, and I do understand that and I deal with it in different ways, and when it crops up I choose to handle it, and it’s kind of a life sentence.
Capone: It’s one of those things that never quite disappears.
RS: You can’t go to rehab and lose a habit that's kind of there.
Capone: I’m old enough to remember what it was like to see your videos on MTV during the '80s, and I remember that people at the time seemed especially--maybe not so much now--distrustful of musician/actors.
RS: With good reason. [laughs]
Capone: Did you ever consider it might be easier to choose one and stick with it?
RS: Yeah, but they both hit at the same time, and I took up acting much later in my career; I started with music when I was a kid. I think the whole soap thing was a bit of a double-edged sword initially, and the young girls have the loudest voice and they’re the ones that make an artist; they're the ones that get the most attention first, and I think that was a lot of the issue. I understand that myself, because if I hear an actor has done a record, I go “Oh God.” But some of them are pretty good, like Kevin Bacon; there are some great actor/musicians out there, and most actors really you do have to have a second job, because you don’t act all the time.
With music, you can just sit down in a room and play, but actors are only working when they're working, so you’ve got to do something else. I knew Gary Sinise for a while, and he started as a drummer, and I guess when you’re not getting work as the thing you want, acting is a good second choice, and that’s really what a lot of the actor/musicians that I know have had happen to them. They wanted to be musicians and nothing was really happening and they also liked acting, so they got into it and had a gift and things took off.
Mine hit at the same time, which is pretty unbelievable, and you couldn’t have planned anything like it. “Jessie’s Girl” was out, I'd already recorded WORKING CLASS DOG and I got this unknown show that I thought just a bunch of old ladies watched called "General Hospital," and it happened to me the biggest show that summer, and all of the college kids watched it at the same time that “Jessie’s Girl” hit number one. And the soaps have been trying to do that ever since. They thought “Hey, let’s do that again. Let’s get another actor guy that can sing.” Ricky Martin did really well with it, and there’s been some others. But that was the first time that they had seen that, and it wasn’t anything planned. In fact, they didn’t even know I was a musician when they hired me on the show.
Capone: I was down at SXSW and saw the SOUND CITY documentary there, which I was just blown away by. Was it cool to just get in there and talk about music, talk about it with musicians, and then create a song with these guys and record it using the same board and just remember some of those times?
RS: Yeah, it was great. The reminiscing was really just from the interview, but the writing the song and doing the whole performance and everything was just a bunch of guys that love music having fun, and the backstage vibe was great on every show we did there, because Foo Fighters are all great guys, and they're fans of everybody that was on the tour, and everyone just got along great. Actually, SXSW was the last show, and we were all like, “Let’s do more!”
Capone: I forgot there was an actual tour with some of those guys.
RS: They premiered the documentary in a bunch of different cities, even London. We went to London for a show. It originally started out as an interview, and then it became, “Well, let’s get different people together, and they can write a song and we'll put a record out as well.” Then it became “Well when we do the premiere, we can all perform, so it kind of grew and grew.
Capone: Dave did a great job.
RS: I thought he did too, and he did all the interviews. He wasn’t shown as doing all the interviews, but he did them all. He loves music and he’s a music fan like really every musician is; that’s why a musician gets into it, because they are a fan and want to do the same thing.
Capone: It’s funny though how they react to you coming in. It’s different than it is with some of the other people. There seemed to be almost heightened excitement, because it’s you, and they’re going to record a new rock song with you.
RS: It was a great energy, yeah. A couple were fans, so it was nervous for me, because you’re stepping on someone else’s territory, and it’s like walking on a set of a show that’s been going on for a couple of years and you’re the new guy. But they were really welcoming and made it real easy and made it really fun too. I think the song came out great.
Capone: I'm a huge admirer of "Californication," and what you did on that show was outrageous. How did they talk you into not just being on it, but just being that guy who is clearly not you.
RS: I read the part and the scene they had for the reading and got the part, and they wrote it around my name. They were looking for someone from the '80s with a history that they could just play with, which is what they did. That guy was not me, it was their concoction, the Rick Springfield on that show. But when they did the first scene, and it wasn’t as wild as the thing that I read for the audition, so I called them up and said, “I’m good to go with this. I know what the show is about, so don’t underwrite for me.” So they took me at my word and wrote this as wild as they could, and they were great. I was up for it. I knew what the show was and I wanted to play something different. If I was going to do Rick Springfield, I wanted it to be someone that isn’t Rick Springfield.
Capone: One last thing about the documentary that I wanted to ask. When you actually sat down and watched some of this footage and watched some of these people’s stories. I’m assuming you knew some of them, if not all of them…
RS: I knew some of them, yeah.
Capone: Were there any that you found incredibly intense or moving or something that even you were surprised by?
RS: I was totally shocked by the reverend.
Capone: Right, the female reverend.
RS: Yeah, her gang-rape story. I had no idea that was coming. That one was very shocking, and I didn’t know the girls thing with their husbands, and that was a real surprise to me too, even though I met them eventually through the film. That kind of set that up as an ending for that story that I didn’t know about.
Capone: The film is not afraid to call into question the level of fanaticism that surrounds you, especially in that scene with the two women on the boat who aren’t part of your group who are grilling that poor woman with all of her memorabilia, which is funny as hell, but I think there might be people in the audience that think those women are speaking to them.
RS: Right, which is what it’s put in there for, I’m sure. There are people that look at rabid fandom as craziness. But like I said, there’s some one that that would woman would be around that she would start shaking, you know? It’s not me but its somebody, whether it's a writer, or a particular guy or person she admired or loved all her life. Everybody has that person.
Capone: So what are you up to now? Are you touring again? Are you making another record?
RS: Yeah, touring. I’ve had a lot of new things coming up and unfortunately I can’t say anything about any of them yet, because none of them are done deals, but there’s some great stuff coming out. We just got a new tour going with a whole new production and screens and everything. I just switched agents to UTA, which is one of the three big ones and got some great people involved there and looking into acting and different writing projects and looking to do more. Basically, I love what I do and I want to do more, that’s the truth of the matter.
Capone: I want to know if you’re coming back through Chicago any time soon.
RS: I’m not sure actually, but I know we will eventually [the closest stop is the Naperville Ribfest; I'm so there]. My wife is from around there. And Chicago is one of her favorite cities.
Capone: Cool. Yeah, I told a female friend last night that I was talking to you this morning and she said, “I’ve seen him three times in concert.” I've known her for a long time and did not ever know that. Rick, thanks so much for taking time out to talk. I really did enjoy the film and I’m going to try to catch you when you come back through.
RS: Yeah, it’s a very high-energy show, and I have a great band; it’s very much like the Foo Fighters stuff too, that kind of energy.
Capone: Are you going to add the song that you did with them into the set?
RS: Yeah, we’ve already added it. Some people that haven’t heard it go, “Hey, this isn’t on your record or anything,” but most people are starting to learn it, and it’s getting some play too, which is great.
Capone: Thank you again, it was really great talking to you.
RS: Yeah, you too. I’ll see you in Chicago some time.