AUSTIN, TEXAS - After strumming the chords and humming the intro of the Animals’ rock classic “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” Bruce Springsteen let attendees of the South by Southwest Music Conference in on a not-so-little secret Thursday.
“To all you youngsters: This is how successful theft is accomplished,” he said as he played a couple of bars of his own staple “Badlands,” which share a near-identical melody.
Talking to the unshowered and hungover masses in Austin for SXSW — "every decent musician is still asleep,” he joked — the Boss gave a noontime keynote speech Thursday that paid homage to his biggest influences, from early doo-wop (“the sound of bras snapping around the country”) to Bob Dylan (“he didn’t treat you like a child”), and Woody Guthrie to James Brown, who once called him to the stage as “Mr. Born in the USA.” Said Springsteen, “He didn’t know my name, but I ran my [tail] up there.” He had an especially good line about being touted as "the new Dylan" early in his career: "The old Dylan was only 30 at the time, so I don't know why they needed a new one."
The point of the history lesson was to encourage all of the roughly 10,000 acts performing at SXSW to follow their influences and their guts. He even stuck up for rap, electronic and other music genres at the fest that are not based around guitar: “There is no right way or no pure way to do it. There’s just doing it.”
Bruce did it on Wednesday in Austin with an unannounced appearance with his favorite Texas rockers, Joe Ely and Alejandro Escovedo, at the Austin Music Awards. He's scheduled to do it again on Thursday with the E Street Band at a still-unannounced location (one where they tape a famous Austin-based music series for PBS).