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

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In the late fifties and early sixties doo wop dripped from radios in the gas stations, factories, streets, and pool halls – the temples of life and mystery in my little hometown. And I would always be enraptured by its basic chord progression. Isn't there supposed to be a guitar around here somewhere? Anybody got one?

(strumming guitar and singing opening lines of song, "Backstreets") One soft infested summer, me and Terry became friends...

It all comes from the same place. Well anyway, then into my thirteen–year–old ears came 60's pop. Roy Orbison, besides Johnny Cash, he was the other Man in Black. He was the true master of the romantic apocalypse you dreaded, and knew was coming after the first night you whispered, I love you, to your new girlfriend. You were going down. Roy was the coolest, uncool loser you'd ever seen. With his Coke bottle black glasses, his three–octave range, he seemed to take joy sticking his knife deep into the hot belly of your teenage insecurities.

Simply the titles, "Crying," "It's Over," "Running Scared."  That's right, the paranoia, oh, the paranoia. He sang about the tragic unknowability of women. He was tortured by soft skin, angora sweaters, beauty, and death – just like you. But he also sang that he'd been risen to the heights of near unexpressable bliss by these same very things that tortured him. Oh, cruel irony.

And for those few moments, he told you that the wreckage, and the ruin, and the heartbreak was all worth it. I got it, my young songwriters, wisdom said to me: Life is tragedy, broken by moments of unworldly bliss that make that tragedy bearable.  I was half right. That wasn't life, that was pop music.

But at twenty–four, who knew the difference? So I was on my way. Then Spector and the Wall of Sound. Phil's entire body of work could be described by the title of one of his lesser–known productions, "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)."  Phil's records felt like near chaos, violence covered in sugar and candy, sung by the girls who were sending Roy–o running straight for the anti–depressants. If Roy was opera, Phil was symphonies, little three–minute orgasms, followed by oblivion.

And Phil's greatest lesson was sound. Sound is its own language. I mean, the first thing you would think of with Phil Spector is (soundbite of mimicking a drum beat). That was all you needed. And then, the British Invasion. My first real guitar, I actually began to learn how to play, and this was different, shifted the lay of the land. Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material. There was no longer gonna be a music producer apart from the singer, a singer who didn't write, a writer who didn't sing. It changed the way things were done. The Beatles were cool. They were classical, formal, and created the idea of an independent unit where everything could come out of your garage. The "Meet the Beatles" album cover, those four head shots. I remember, I seen 'em at J. J. Newberry's. It was the first thing I saw when you ran down to the five–and–ten cent store. There were no record stores. There weren't enough records, I don't think, in those days. There was a little set by the toys where they sold a few albums.

And I remember running in and seeing that album cover with those four headshots. It was like the silent gods of Olympus. Your future was just sort of staring you in the face. I remember thinking, "That's too cool. I'm never gonna get there, man, never."  And then in some fanzine I came across a picture of the Beatles in Hamburg. And they had on the leather jackets and the slick–backed pompadours, they had acned faces. I said, hey, "Wait a minute, those are the guys I grew up with, only they were Liverpool wharf rats."

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