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

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I remember sitting in my little apartment, playing "Hank Williams Greatest Hits" over and over. And I was trying to crack its code, because at first it just didn't sound good to me. It just sounded cranky and old–fashioned. But it was that hard country voice and I'm playing it, and it was an austere instrumentation. But slowly, slowly, my ears became accustomed to it, it's beautiful simplicity, and it's darkness and depth. And Hank Williams went from archival, to alive for me, before my very eyes.

And I lived on that for a while in the late seventies. In country music, I found the adult blues, the working men's and women's stories I'd been searching for, the grim recognition of the chips that were laid down against you. "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It."  "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive," "Lost Highway," the great Charlie Rich song,

(Singing "Life Has it's Little Ups and Downs"):

Like ponies on a merry–go–round

No one grabs a brass ring every time

But she don't mind

(Speaking) Oh fuck, man, that was like…

(Singing "Life Has it's Little Ups and Downs"):

She wears a gold ring on her finger

And it's mine

Oh my God, you know, that can reduce me to tears now. It was so much. It was "Working Man's Blues" – stoic recognition of everyday reality, and the small and big things that allow you to put a foot in front of the other and get you through. I found that Country's fatalism attracted me. It was reflective.  It was funny. It was soulful. But it was quite fatalistic. Tomorrow looked pretty dark.

And the one thing it rarely was, it was rarely politically angry, and it was rarely politically critical. And I realized that that fatalism had a toxic element. If rock and roll was a seven–day weekend, country was Saturday night hell–raising, followed by heavy "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Guilt, guilt, guilt, I fucked up. Oh, my God.  But, as the song says: Would you take another chance on me?  That was Country.

Country seemed, not to question why. It seemed like it was about doing, then dying, screwing, then crying, boozing, then trying, Then as Jerry Lee Lewis, the living, breathing personification of both rock and country said, "I've fallen to the bottom and I'm working my way down."

So that was hard core working man's blues, hard core – loved it. And in answer to Hank Williams question: Why does my bucket have a hole in it? Why?  So along with our fun, and the bar band raucousness, the E Street Band carried a search for identity, and that became a central part of my music. Now country, by its nature, appealed to me. Country was provincial, and so was I. I was not downtown. I wasn't particularly Bohemian or hipster. I was kind of hippy–by–circumstance, when it happened. But, I felt I was an average guy, with a slightly above average gift. And if I worked my ass off on it…And country was about the truth emanating out of your sweat, out of your local bar, your corner store. It held its gaze on yesterday's blues, tonight's pleasures' and maybe on Sunday, the hereafter. And I covered a lot of ground, but there was still something missing. So, somewhere in my late twenties I picked up Joe Klein's "Woody Guthrie, A Life."

And as I read that book, a world of possibilities that predated Dylan's, that had inspired him, and lead to some of his greatest work, opened up for me. Woody's gaze was – it was set on today's hard times. But also, somewhere over the horizon, there was something. Woody's world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism. It was a world where speaking truth to power wasn't futile, whatever its outcome.

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