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I meet Rick Springfield at the counter of Starbucks in the Malibu Country Mart. He is ordering a beverage as I blow through the doors (five minutes late, traffic on the PCH) to meet him to talk about his debut novel Magnificent Vibration. He doesn't know that the day before my therapist had jokingly suggested I offer myself up as his sexual sobriety companion -- per his accounts of infidelity on the road -- when he hugs me hello.
There are no introductions. I know who he is; his PR rep has explained who I am. He's 64 -- “I’ll be ready for Medicaid this year,” he tells me -- but has clearly drunk from the waters of Ponce De Leon, black t-shirt clinging tight to his chest, same mussed-up mane from his 1984 appearance on “Solid Gold.”
To clarify: I'm not a Rick-aholic (I didn’t even know the term existed until I looked it up). I don’t own a vintage “Working Class Dog” concert tee (although I did trawl eBay looking for one thinking it’d be funny if I showed up wearing one), and I only have “Jessie's Girl” in my head from doing research for this interview and not because I fawned over him all throughout junior high. I didn't invite him to my bat mitzvah like some people I know. (“I would have gone. Better than prom,” he’ll later reveal.)
Sure, I watched him as Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital, but I was way more into Days of Our Lives. I did buy “Working Class Dog” and I did listen to it, several times a day for an entire year if I’m honest about it, but my favorite tracks were the b-sides: “Red Hot and Blue Love” and “Inside Sylvia,” and mostly because I’d read “The Bell Jar” one too many times and assumed he was as obsessed with Sylvia Plath’s glamorous depression as every other preteen girl.
Still, at this moment, as he pays for my venti unsweetened black iced tea and we head to a back corner table, I am convinced that Rick Springfield is a genius. This is an astounding revelation that will undoubtedly have a profound impact on my professional life as an entertainment journalist and consumer of pop culture. I know what you’re going to say. My taste in literature has obviously plummeted since Cornell when my reading syllabi consisted of Laclos and Dostoyevsky and Nabokov. But you’re wrong. Rick’s book is good. And deep.
“But most of us will spend our last hours in small, antiseptic, windowless rooms, hooked up to beeping machines, attended by a scrubbed impersonal staff, when a good death is that is really and truly desired,” Rick writes in one chapter.
What really grabbed my attention about the book is the fact that Rick has written openly and honestly about his lifelong struggle with depression. He’s been depressed for pretty much his entire life, ever since the age of 7. At 17 he attempted suicide by hanging himself from a noose in his parents’ garden shed (the rope gave way). And, as someone that, since the age of 6, has also battled, day in and day out, clinical depression, I feel a kinship. On the page and in person, Rick understands me. Rick and I are both depressed and I am exultant!
“I thought about bringing you a gift basket,” I tell him when we first sit down. “My therapist and I were trying to figure out what to put in it and since I read that the three things that help you with your depression are hugging dogs, performing on stage and meditating, I figured that I’d bring you a meditation CD, a puppy --”
“Some Prozac,” he laughs.
This is not the shiny, happy heartthrob whose image was plastered on the covers of Tiger Beat and Bop, his shaggy brown hair and sea green eyes the ultimate American girl aphrodisiac. This is a complicated, soulful human being.
The day that we meet, in fact, is the 33rd anniversary of his father’s death. Norman Springthorpe, a career soldier, died of cancer just as “Jessie’s Girl” was climbing the charts and Rick was on the fringe of stardom.
“That’s my yin yang,” says Rick. “When everything was taking off, everything was collapsing. I’ve now lived longer than my dad lived.”
“Are you afraid of death?” I ask him.
“It’s really the big question,” he says. “I fell on that quite early, but now I’m a little bit more at peace with it. The big thing for me is that someone I loved, if there is another side, is now on that other side and knows all the things that I want to know, you know?”
He talks about the sequel to his book that he’s working on -- off the record; I promise him that I will not reveal more lest his inspiration disappear into thin air -- and I tell him about the two books I published and my current memoir-in-progress, and he asks me to send him copies. I also promise to send him “God Knows” by Joseph Heller, one of my favorites.
“I think it will inspire you in the writing of your next book,” I tell him. “It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.”
“Go writers!” he says, and then we fist pump. And it is magical.
It’s about an hour-and-a-half into our conversation when the sadness sets in. I never want this conversation to end; I never want Rick Springfield to leave. But this is what it’s like.
My job basically consists of getting really close to people for anywhere between 15 minutes to 3 hours, and then never seeing them again. It’s a hyper-intimacy that is short-lived, teasing at the possibility of lasting friendship but ultimately never extending beyond the confines of whatever café or trendy L.A. eatery at which we’ve gathered. Unless you royally mess up in the way of some glaring factual error on the page, you will never hear from their PR reps again.
Can I come on tour with you? I want to ask Rick. But, since I’m actually not crazy, just really depressed and searching for more most of the time, I say this: “Well, I’ve got pretty much everything I need. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.”
“Thank you,” says Rick. “This was great.”
We get up, hug goodbye. His clutch emanates warmth and artistic wisdom.
“Make sure to send me that book,” he says as he turns and slides on his sunglasses. And we part ways, so I can write it all down and turn it over to a copy editor who’ll check for typos and insert semi-colons and em-dashes. And Rick will kick off his multi-city tour with Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.