"Rumble, Young Musicians, Rumble!"
The Boss was late, and the crowd was getting restless.
"Bruuuuuuce! Bruuuuuuce!" they chanted, as the clock ticked ... and ticked, and ticked.
But when Bruce Springsteen finally took the stage, a half-hour behind schedule, to deliver the keynote address at South By Southwest this afternoon, it was well worth the wait. During his speech -- equal parts nostalgia, fandom and fatherly advice -- New Jersey's fortunate son proved himself to be just as engaging and inspiring behind a podium as he is behind a guitar.
Clearly in awe of the mind-boggling array of artists playing at thousands of showcases during the five-day music convention and festival, Springsteen began by running down the long list of genres represented at the event -- everything from "Nintendo core" (which turns video game sounds into music) to roots rock to "melodic death metal" to rap to folk.
No matter what label you give it, though, the common denominator that defines good music is authenticity, he said. "There's no right way of doing it," he told the standing-room-only crowd, packed into a ballroom in the Austin Convention Center. "There's just doing it, with authenticity. At the end of the day, it's about the power and purpose and your music."
The Boss then took the audience on a trip down the backroads of his musical upbringing, with stops at doo-wop ("the sound of snaps on bras popping"), the British Invasion, the 1960s folk movement and his discovery of Woody Guthrie, the "underrated" James Brown, Roy Orbison and Hank Williams ("hardcore working man's blues").
But it was the Animals that made the biggest impression on the young Bruce Springsteen, he said. In distinct contrast to most of the popular bands of that time, the Animals weren't afraid to shine a lighter into the darker corners of human existence, the Boss recalled.
"To me, they were a revelation," he said. "Those were the first records with full class consciousness I'd ever heard."
To demonstrate his point, he asked for someone to bring him a guitar, and started strumming a few familiar chords.
"In this dirty old part of the city, where the sun refused to shine/ People tell me it ain't no use in tryin' ..." he sang. "We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do/ We gotta get out of this place/ Girl, there's a better life for me and you."
Leaning the guitar against the podium, he said, "That's every song I've ever written. That's "Born to Run", "Born in the USA, all of 'em." Echoes of the Animals are especially strong in his song "Badlands," which was directly influenced by "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," Springsteen said.
The Animals were also inspiring, he added, because of what they lacked: Sex appeal.
"There were no good-looking members,which was good for me, because I considered myself hideous at the time," he said, flashing his famous self-deprecating half-grin.
Springsteen ended his address with a few words of advice for the scores of musicians in the crowd, so many of whom have come to South By Southwest hoping to get noticed and claim their spot in the limelight, where Springsteen has been lucky enough to hold sway for four decades and counting.
"Rumble, young musicians rumble," he encouraged the crowd. "Open your ears and your heart. Take yourself seriously, but not too seriously."
And finally, he added, be confident -- but not too confident. "Believe you are the baddest ass in town .... and you SUCK!" he said. "It keeps you honest."
To see a podcast of Springsteen's South By Southwest keynote address, visit NPR Music's web site at http://www.npr.org/series/sxsw/.