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Exclusive: The Complete Text of Bruce Springsteen's SXSW Keynote Address

'When Danny and the Juniors sang 'Rock and Roll is Here to Stay,' they didn’t have a clue as to how terrifyingly, fucking right they were going to be.'

March 28, 2012 11:20 AM ET
bruce springsteen keynote
Bruce Springsteen delivers his keynote address at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Bruce Springsteen delivered the keynote speech at South By Southwest earlier this month. The event was streamed live on NPR

Good morning! Why are we up so fucking early? How important can this speech be if we're giving it at noon? It can't be that important. Every decent musician in town is asleep, or they will be before I'm done with this thing, I guarantee you. I've got a bit of a mess up here.

When I was invited to do the keynote speech of this year's conference I was a little hesitant because the word keynote made me uncomfortable. It seemed to suggest that there was a key note to be struck that sums up whatever is going on out there in the streets.

Five days of bands, hundreds of venues from morning till night, and no one really hardly agrees on anything in pop anymore. There is no key note, I don't think. There is no unified theory of everything. You can ask Einstein. But you can pick any band, say KISS, and you can go, "Early Theatre Rock proponents, expressing the true raging hormones of youth" or "They suck!"

You can go, Phish, "Inheritors of the Grateful Dead's mantle, brilliant center of the true Alternative community," or "They suck." You go, "Bruce Springsteen, natural–born poetic genius off the streets of Monmouth County, hardest – hardest working – hardest working New Jerseyian in show business, voice of the common man, future of Rock and Roll!", or "He sucks. Get the fuck out of here!"

You could pick any band, and create your own equation. It's fun. There was even a recent book that focused on the Beatles and decided, you got it, they sucked. So really, instead of a keynote speech, I thought that perhaps this should be a key notes speech, or perhaps many keynote speakers. I exaggerate for effect, but only a little bit. So with that as my disclaimer, I move cautiously on.

Still, it's great to be in a town with ten thousand bands, or whatever . . . anybody know the actual number? Come on, a lot of them, right? Back in late '64 when I picked a guitar that would have seemed like some insane, teenage pipe dream,  because first of all, it would have been numerically impossible.  There just weren't that many guitars to go around in those days. They simply hadn't made that many yet. We would have all have to have been sharing.

Guitar players were rare. Mostly, music schooled bands were rare, and, until the Beatles hit, played primarily instrumental music. And there wasn't that much music to play. When I picked up the guitar, there was only ten years of Rock history to draw on. That would be, like, all of known Pop being only the music that you know that's occurred between 2002 and now.

The most groups in one place I had ever seen as a teenager was twenty bands at the Keyport Matawan Roller Dome in a battle to the death. So many styles were overlapping at that point in time that you would have a doo wop singing group with full pompadours and matching suits set up next to our band playing a garage version of Them's "Mystic Eyes," set up next to a full thirteen–piece soul show band. And still that's nothing minutely compared to what's going on, on the streets of Austin right now.

So, it's incredible to be back. I've had a lot of fun here in Austin since the '70s, and Jim Franklin and the Armadillo World Headquarters. It's fascinating to see what's become of the music that I've loved my whole life. Pop's become a new language, cultural force, social movement. Actually, a series of new languages, cultural forces, and social movements that have inspired and enlivened the second half of the twentieth century, and the dawning years of this one. I mean, who would have thought that there would have been a sax–playing president, or a soul–singing president, you know?

When we started, thirty years old for a rock musician was unthinkable. Bill Haley kept his age a relative secret. So when Danny and the Juniors sang "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay," they didn't have a clue as to how terrifyingly, fucking right they were going to be. When I look out from my stage these days, I look into the eyes of three generations of people, and still popular music continues to provide its primary function as youth music, as a joyous argument–starter, and as a subject for long booze–filled nights of debate with Steve Van Zandt, over who reigns ultimately supreme.

There are so many sub–genres and fashions, two–tone, acid rock, alternative dance, alternative metal, alternative rock, art punk, art rock, avant garde metal, black metal, black and death metal, Christian metal, heavy metal, funk metal, bland metal, medieval metal, indie metal, melodic death metal, melodic black metal, metal core, hard core, electronic hard core, folk punk, folk rock, pop punk, Brit pop, grunge, sad core, surf music,  psychedelic rock,  punk rock, hip hop, rap rock, rap metal, Nintendo core, huh?

I just want to know what a Nintendo core is, myself. But rock noir, shock rock, skate punk, noise core, noise pop, noise rock, pagan rock, paisley underground, indy pop, indy rock, heartland rock, roots rock, samba rock, screamo–emo, shoegazing stoner rock, swamp pop, synth pop, rock against communism, garage rock, blues rock, death and roll, lo–fi, jangle pop, folk music. Just add neo– and post– to everything I said, and mention them all again. Yeah, and rock & roll.

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