Late, Late at Night, Rick Springfield’s tell-all memoir, opens with a seventeen-year-old Rick swinging from a noose, convinced his life is not worth living. Happily for Rick, as well as for the zillions of fans who would, in the 1980s, fall in love not only with his endlessly catchy parade of hit singles, but also with Dr. Noah Drake, the sexy character he played to perfection on the venerable soap operaGeneral Hospital, the noose gave way just in time.
Now Springfield, who turned sixty-one in August, has written the story of his life—from his wild-child upbringing in Australia and hardscrabble early-band years in England and the U.S., through his sudden, massive success as musical heartthrob and daytime television icon, to the years spent grappling with promiscuity, depression, and financial insecurity. Springfield was an enthusiastic—now reformed—libertine, and his surprisingly funny, irreverent autobiography leaves no stone unturned. He recently spoke by phone with Chapter 16 about reading, writing, and rock and roll.
Chapter 16: You insist that, unlike most celebrities, you wrote the story of your life all by yourself. Honestly, you didn’t use a ghost?
Springfield: No, I really wrote it myself.
Chapter 16: Did you find it difficult?
Springfield: No, I always wanted to be a writer. In school, essays were the only thing I ever got any positive attention for. So I always knew I had a voice; I just wasn’t sure what would happen if I tried to write a whole book.
Chapter 16: It certainly doesn’t read like a manufactured story of someone’s life.
Springfield: You know, I started out thinking that I would just find a writer and get a tape recorder, and he or she would write it. But I didn’t want it to just be “and then I did, and then I went,” so I wrote the first 30,000 words and sent them to my publisher and editor, and they loved it. In my songwriting, I’ve always tried to avoid clichés, and I wanted my book, too, to be written in my own voice. Otherwise there’s no point. You might as well just rhyme moon and June, you know?
Chapter 16: Did you read any other autobiographies prior to writing your own—anything that influenced you either positively or negatively?
Springfield: No, not really. I mean, I’m a big reader, but autobiographies aren’t what I tend towards. As a kid I loved horror writers. Actually, I used to steal books because I loved to read but didn’t have enough money to buy as many books as I wanted.
Chapter 16: They don’t have libraries in Australia?
Springfield: If they did, I didn’t know about them. And, honestly, in my state of mind it was much more fun to steal. And there’s something [that seems almost] OK about stealing books. It’s like, hey, I’m not stealing a TV to buy crack: I’m stealing a book because I love to read!
Chapter 16: Your title—Late, Late at Night—comes from “Jessie’s Girl,” arguably your best-known hit. But you’ve often grumbled about being over-associated with that particular song.
Springfield: Well, I have to say I’m proud of it. There’s a whole section in the book where I say that I’m amazed that that particular song has gone on and had a life of its own. But then I say, “Can we forget the fucking song for a minute?”
Chapter 16: So why did you pick a title from “Jessie’s Girl,” then? Didn’t you consider other titles?
Springfield: Well, I thought it was a good title! Actually, my publisher picked it.
Chapter 16: What other titles were you considering?
Springfield: Life of a Working Class Dog—things like that. But they seemed ordinary to me, and I wanted something that would make people ask, “Why did you call the book that?” And you know what? You’re the first person to get that it’s from “Jessie’s Girl.”
Chapter 16: Seriously? Because I have had that song stuck in my head ever since I got this assignment six weeks ago, thank you very much.
Springfield: (Laughs) Sorry about that.
Chapter 16: I thought maybe talking to you would cure me.
Springfield: Just sing “It’s a Small World”—that’ll kill anything that’s in your head.
Chapter 16: You describe reading your diary from 1961, and figuring out that on the very day your wife was born, you were delivering a music box to the girl who was your crush at the time. Was there anything else you discovered while you were digging through old memories and memorabilia? Anything you dredged up—either actual objects, like the old diary, or memories you’d stored away and forgotten?
Springfield: That was the only discovery like that, actually. I did have diaries all through the seventies—and I before I started writing the book I thought, “Well, I’ll probably really use these.” But once I started getting into the story, every time I would stop to read my diaries I would get knocked out of the flow. So I stopped doing it. And honestly? My diaries are really just full of desperate “I gotta make it, I gotta write” cheerleading crap that wasn’t really helpful.
Chapter 16: You make it clear in the book that you have very different standards for music and acting. For instance, you originally refused to play your songs on General Hospital, because you felt it was important to keep your music, which you feel is sacred, separate from acting, which you seem to regard as something that you just do for money.
Springfield: But I do love acting! Though certainly there is a dividing line between the two.
Chapter 16: Where does writing fit on this continuum?
Springfield: Songwriting, to me, is the most sacred. That’s what I do when [I] commune with my muse.
Chapter 16: But writing this book, for instance. Does that occupy the same place as songwriting?
Springfield: Oh, yeah. I mean, I wrote this from my heart, and didn’t leave anything out. I wanted to be truthful. I wasn’t looking to polish an image, or look like a sex god or a really smart guy.
Chapter 16: No, you’re quite hard on yourself, often in a very amusing way. You write that your most autobiographical songs—the songs you composed for your father after he died, for example—are the most meaningful, and the most rewarding. Did writing the story of your life give you the same kind of rush and satisfaction?
Springfield: Yeah, very much so. I looked forward to it every day.
Chapter 16: Most writers wouldn’t say that.
Springfield: No, I did: I really look forward to writing. Though, when I’d finished the autobiography, I actually started to get cold feet. I called up my editor and said, I don’t think I want this book to be released. I don’t want to hurt my wife: even though she knows everything that’s in the book, she’s a very, very private person, and this is like her worst nightmare. She would have done better to marry a guy in the FBI who had to keep everything secret, but she married a guy who always writes about himself. I write fiction, too, and it’s unavoidable—every writer takes some kind of inspiration from his own life. I mean, how many Stephen King novels have a writer as the main character? So I will always use my life. Maybe I just don’t have enough imagination to do anything else.
Chapter 16: How did you get over your cold feet?
Springfield: Everyone talked me down off the ledge. My editor’s a big believer in the book, and she said, “It’s really good writing, you should be proud of it.” And then my wife said, “You know, I don’t want to read it, because I lived it.” There’s nothing in there that she doesn’t know about, and we’ve confronted it all, with each other; it’s not something we’ve swept under the rug. But she said, “I read a couple of pages and I think it’s really good and I think you should embrace it and release it.” So I went ahead and published it.
Chapter 16: You must always get asked to list your musical influences; who are your literary influences?
Springfield: Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde…. As a kid, I would keep certain books by my bedside. The Picture of Dorian Gray was one, and Dracula was another. Moby Dick is one of my all-time favorites.
Chapter 16: What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Springfield: The first one that comes to mind in the last couple of years is The Lovely Bones [by Alice Sebold]. It really drew you in. It was just amazing to me the way she created something different and unique. I thought it was incredible. Right now I’m reading [Justin Cronin’s] The Passage. But the truth is, I’ve got about fifty books piled up next to my bed.
Rick Springfield will discuss Late, Late at Night at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville on October 22 at 7 p.m., and at Hastings Books in Murfreesboro on October 23 at 1:30 p.m.