(Getty Images)Rick Springfield is a hugger.
In the 15 minutes or so before our interview at Austin, Texas' Four Seasons hotel, he doles them out generously, a man clearly used to making people — mostly women — nervously giddy. He flashes a soap star smile for photos, thanks a longtime fan for voicing her appreciation for his work. Decades have passed since Springfield's days as a teen idol, but it's clear the rocker has a stronger relationship with his fans than he ever did before.
Springfield admits he wasn't always so gracious with his fans — It's not easy to connect with screaming teenagers.
"They wouldn't talk, they were just younger — you couldn't really communicate," Springfield explains of his fans during the '70s and early '80s, when he was pegged as a pretty boy teen idol. "But now they've gotten older and some of them have families, and we kind of talk as adults rather than star to teenage kid, you know."
It's a dynamic explored in depth in the upcoming documentary An Affair of the Heart, which airs on EPIX in May. In the Sylvia Caminer-directed film, a number of die-hard Springfield fans explain how the "Jessie's Girl" singer helped to shape the course of their lives. There's a pair of happily married moms who've traveled thousands of miles to see Rick perform, a woman who took solace in Rick's albums when she was bedridden for months, a teenage musician who credits Springfield with motivating him to learn how to play guitar.
Springfield is thrilled the film deviates from typical rockumentary clichés, calling it "really human." But the movie does touch on intensely personal moments in the singer's life, including his battles with depression and sex addiction, which he detailed in his 2010 memoir Late, Late at Night. "That's what I write about, I write about my life," Springfield says. "I'm not one of those writers who makes up stories about the working man or some other thing, I write about what goes on in my head. There are private things, you know, my family I keep to myself, but I feel like that's really all I have to offer, is who I am."
Not everyone understands Springfield's intense relationship with his fans, of course. One woman admits she thinks her friend's undying admiration for Rick is a little insane. Rick laughs when I mention the scene, and insists he's never weirded out by any of it. "I've been a fan of artists for 40 years, so I get the connection," he says. "I've been around someone that made me incredibly nervous because I think they're so amazing and I'm finally meeting them," adding that he sees himself in his fans, too.
I ask what it's like for his wife of almost 30 years, Barbara, to be married to someone with such an ardent female following. "She's been there from the very beginning and was with me before anything happened, so she's really responsible for a lot of it," Springfield says, adding that the adage about there being a strong woman behind every successful man is indeed true.
"I think things started to turn around for me career-wise when I met her, because being with her gave me a confidence that I'd never had before. I felt very loved by this person that I thought was amazing, and I still do, I still... she's the best person that I've ever known."
Below, check out Rick Springfield's musings on his first musical loves, the pressures of being a pop star, and his parents' reaction to his rock star aspirations.
Zimbio: There's a common refrain in the documentary among your fans, that your album was the first that really spoke to them. What were your first musical loves?
Rick Springfield: Hayley Mills. It was the first record I ever bought, but it wasn't really the music. I just thought she was super hot. I was 12 and she was 13 and I liked older women.
My first was really a band called the Shadows, which was Cliff Richard's band. I lived in England, so they had some hits there. It was an instrumental band, kind of like the Ventures, like surf music only better. They had an amazing guitar player, Hank Marvin, who inspired Clapton and Jimmy Page and Brian May, Ritchie Blackmore — all these great English guitar players that America knows, but they don't know Hank that well. He's still an amazing player, and he inspired all those guys. He was the first real English guitar hero. This is like 1959, 1960. So they were the ones that really opened it up for me. And living in England, discovering music and girls at the same time, was pretty powerful. [laughs]
Which current artists are you into?
I listen to a lot of stuff. I love Porcupine Tree, Mutemath I really think are fabulous. Some of the early Muse stuff I really like. Queens of the Stone Age, when they put a record out, which they don't often. I love bands, I'm a band guy. I always thought I'd just be in a band as a guitar player. But also I love songs too; I heard a One Direction tune a couple of months ago and thought, 'That's a great freaking song!' It was a great pop song. You know, as a writer, I listen for the song as much as anything.
At his SXSW keynote speech, Dave Grohl was saying that "Gangnam Style" was one of the best songs of the decade, and you know, it has to be true, if it can resonate with that many people.
Totally. There's always a reason something is successful. It's not like everybody is a fool, there's something there. There are certain artists I don't get that are icons, you know, some of the female artists. I love like Joni Mitchell and the darker ones like Imogen [Heap] and women like that, but I don't get some of the other ones, but millions and millions do, so I know there's something they have that people see.
Earlier you mentioned One Direction, and I'm not sure how familiar you are with Justin Bieber. He's been having a bit of a rough patch in the press.
The thing is, it's a microscope now, it wasn't a microscope. You could've gotten away with a lot more back then, now they're all over you. It's very difficult, especially for young guys, really. Little mistakes that you just go, 'Eh, I screwed up,' little mistakes just become a giant freaking issue, and it affects you. Like when I got a DUI [in August 2010], if I hadn't been a celebrity, it would have been [easier to get over]. But it blew up into this gigantic thing and my mug shot was everywhere, and it does affect you. You're not immune to that just because you're a celebrity.
A lot of the reason why these kids go off the rails is 'cause they can't handle the pressure. I think they need a really strong, guiding hand and someone to tell them what's really happening. And not get carried away with all the garbage press.
He's kind of an industry in and of himself and he's surrounded by all these people who rely on him for their paychecks. It's probably hard for anyone in his circle to tell him the truth.
I don't mean people that you're paying, but I mean a real close friend or a family member or someone who knows your soul. That's really important. That really helped me. I was lost in America for a while, until I found Doug Davidson [an actor on The Young and the Restless] and his family. I met him when he was 19 and I started dating his sister and his mom took me in, and ... I felt cared about. And I had Barbara too, when things started to get crazy. And I think that's really important. Every artist should have that, but they don't always. And some of them have really freaking loopy parents, I don't get that at all.
How did your parents feel about your decision to become an artist?
My mom fought it for a long time. Because I was terrible at school, all I wanted to do was play guitar. I eventually got kicked out of school because I'd stayed away too much, and they just said 'Richard shouldn't come back next year.' It was a public school, so it was pretty f**ked up. I thought I'd failed, and I wasn't having a good time with girls. The only thing that I had was I could play music.
And my mom was just beside herself, thought I was just going down the tubes, and she went to a family doctor and said, 'I don't know what to do with my son, all he wants to do is play music.' And the doctor said, 'Why don't you let him?' And she went, 'Oh. I hadn't thought of that.'
I was going to go back to school and redo the year I'd screwed up, I had to go to a private school because I couldn't go to a public school, I'd been kicked out — this was in Australia — and I was really depressed. I didn't really want to do it, but I felt it was the 'right thing to do,' and I was scared to just leap off and go be a musician. I mean, my dad was in the army — my dad was all for it because he was a singer, but he was in the army and we were in an army encampment and all their friends were going, 'What's up with your son? How did he get so fucked up?'
Then this guy came, a fairly famous Australian artist, who had seen me play at a club. He came to the house and said, "I'd like Richard to join my band." So I had a choice. And it was just two weeks before I was going to go back to school, and I asked my parents, 'What should I do?' And they said, 'Do what you want to do.' They didn't say, 'You should get a trade,' because that was my mom's saying – "You should be an electrician or something to fall back on' — they said, 'Do what you want.' So I went with the guy and joined his band, and they've supported me ever since.