op 40 hits, and as an actor who hit heartthrob status playing Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital,” Rick Springfield was one of the hottest stars of the 1980s. Yet, even as he was riding waves of success with his dual career, Springfield was secretly engaged in a life-threatening battle with depression.
Springfield finally came clean with that struggle in 2011, when he wrote his memoir “Late, Late at Night,” a starkly honest take on his experiences that was so harrowing Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 25 greatest books ever written about rock and roll. Finally unburdened of his secret and emboldened by the reception to his prose, Springfield went on to spend the past two years working on a novel, “Magnificent Vibration,” which he will discuss and sign at Vroman’s Bookstore on Wednesday.
Springfield’s debut novel follows the surreal misadventures of a guy named Bobby, who steals a mysterious self-help book from a bookstore and winds up calling the 800-number scrawled inside the front cover. It turns out he has dialed a direct line to God, launching Bobby on a quest — alongside a smart and sexy gal named Alice — to find spiritual and carnal salvation while possibly saving the planet.
That sense of whimsical fantasy stems from Springfield’s childhood roots, in which the Australia native dreamed of becoming a fiction writer before discovering rock and roll. And as such, he is thrilled to be finally working on this side of his creative spirit.
“As a kid I thought I’d be writing fiction, but then music took over my life,” says Springfield. “Suddenly two years ago at Christmas I started finding time to write and it just took care of itself. The original idea came from an idea I had of a guy who had conversations with God. That’s always been a really strong driver in my mind. It’s all something we love to do and started writing from that perspective. It wasn’t planned in any way. I just followed a path.”
That path became filled with unique characters and situations because Springfield believes that the key to his writing — fiction and nonfiction — is getting plenty of sleep and finding inspiration in the dreams that emerge.
He has also found strength in coming to terms with his depression, which he had hidden since he was a teenager. He chose to write “Late” the hard way, forcing himself to sit down and do the actual work rather than reciting high points of his life to ghost writers, as many celebrities do, because he hoped that dealing with harsh truths would help
him move past his demons.
Alcohol is one of those demons, as evidenced by Springfield’s 2011 arrest for DUI while driving recklessly on Pacific Coast Highway. According to published reports, he threatened to kill the arresting deputy and his family if his car was towed. He was arrested again in 2013 for failing to appear for a court date related to his probation on those charges.
Despite the fact it might seem that writing lyrics is vastly different than writing books, Springfield reveals that there are many similarities.
“You’re just trying to find a slightly unique way of saying familiar emotions,” says Springfield. “We all feel the same things, we all have the same issues no matter where we are in our lives. The fact that someone’s a musician, or someone works at a bank, doesn’t change the human condition. One of my favorite writers when I was a young musician was Jackson Browne, because I thought it was amazing how he could write a single line that would sum up a whole emotion.”
Of course, Springfield is no stranger to writing about emotions in his own songs. His most famous song, “Jessie’s Girl,” seethes with barely controlled rage as it depicts the thoughts of a man who is dangerously jealous of a friend because of his girlfriend. But while he laughs when the song is described as “one of the nastiest kiss-offs in rock history,” Springfield points out a couple of surprising facts about the song.
“First off, the guy’s real name was Gary, but it didn’t have the right ring to it as ‘Gary’s Girl,’ so I kept trying dozens of names until we finally settled on Jessie,” Springfield calls. “And second, the real-life girl never knew I wrote it about her. I lost touch with them before it was even released, and Oprah herself couldn’t track her down years later when she tried to find her for a special episode about the women who inspired rock songs.”
Springfield has a truly busy summer to look forward to, with three tours to juggle: the book tour, a full-band tour opening for Pat Benatar, and a solo acoustic tour called “Stripped Down,” which will feature him telling the stories behind his greatest songs. He has managed to stay popular with new generations due to the inclusion of “Jessie’s Girl “ in the best scene of the modern classic movie “Boogie Nights,” and the fact that Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl called on him to write a song with the Foos last year for the documentary “Sound City” gave him fresh street cred.
These are heady times for the ageless rocker. But he isn’t above finding time to reflect on all that he’s done and the changes he continues to go through nearly 40 years into his career.
“As you get older, you know your views change, and when I wrote ‘Jessie’s Girl’ it was all about sex and getting laid,” says Springfield. “I take a wider view getting older, as everyone does. I still write about sex, thankfully, but there are other things as well. The book ‘Vibration’ is an outgrowth of my thoughts on where the world is, and your writing reflects your view of the world.”
Rick Springfield discusses and signs “Magnificent Vibration” at 1 p.m. Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.
I won the title of "America's Funniest Reporter" in a national contest at the Laugh Factory club in Hollywood.
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