Oct. 11, 2010 -- In his memoir "Late, Late at Night", Rick Springfield writes about his career as a musician and an actor and his lifelong battle with depression.
Springfield, who blasted to rock stardom with his hit "Jessie's Girl," shares the ups and downs of a life lived under the spotlight.
Read an excerpt below from the book and head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE EARTH: L.A. and AUSTRALIA 1981
What's the Point of Being a Doctor if Everybody Dies?
I'm beginning to feel like a visitor in my homeland. Going back to Oz has less of the sensation of a homecoming and now feels more like I'm looking through a box of old photos from a dusty attic. In my upstairs bedroom, I rummage through songs written when I was a teenager, that thankfully will never see the light of day, drawings I made, poems I wrote, dumb things I collected, and I go to sleep in the same bed I have always slept in at my parents house. Downstairs my dad battles the cancer and my mum picks up after him like he's her child. No one talks of dying. I long to ask my father how he is dealing with it, but how do you talk to a five-year-old about death? Instead, we pull out the tinfoil Christmas tree my mother bought years ago in order to save a few real trees, decorate it, and quietly slip our presents to each other beneath its aluminum branches.
My dad always wanted a pocket watch. I give him an antique one that I bought for him at the Pasadena Rose bowl on one of the days I was out there hawking my mirrors. I spent way more than I made that day. I've had his initials -- NJS -- engraved on the inside along with the sentiment, "To Dad, love Rick." I feel like something is missing in our house now Cleo is gone and I go to a shelter and get them a puppy -- with paws the size of snowshoes -- that my mum names "Flora," another frigging name from another century. Flora grows too big for our yard and my mum has to give her away 4 months later. My lifelong atrocious luck with the family/dog combo holds true to form. We take photos and I hug and hold my dad and wish him healing. He says "Good luck son." I board the plane that will take me back "home." I can't bring myself to say "Goodbye dad," so I say "I'll see you later."
I wish it were true.
Barbara is waiting for me at LAX with Lethal Ron in the car. I am excited to be back. "Lethal Ron" soon wears out its welcome as a name so I shorten his name to Ron, then to Ronnie, then to Arnie, then to Arnfarn and so on and so on. It seems my old man's trait for endlessly evolving loopy dog nicknames is alive and well in his second son.
And his second son is definitely falling in love with the feisty little firecracker of a girlfriend he has miraculously managed to keep interested in him. So I do the right thing and go meet Barbara's Dad, having already met her mom. Her mom loves me: her dad, not so much. I figure one out of two isn't bad.
The album is complete but I am concerned about something. I'm giving serious thought to releasing the new records under a "band" name, as I am afraid of all the baggage that goes along with "Rick Springfield." I'm gun shy about my own name (or at least, Pete Watson's version of my own name) after all the negative crap from the 70's. Joe and RCA talk me into keeping the RS moniker on the album, but I am adamant that I will not have another "beauty" shot of me on the front cover. Instead, I tell them that I am dressing my dog up in a shirt and tie (thank you Yan the snappy dresser), putting him on the cover and calling the record Working Class Dog. RCA thinks I'm joking. I am soon to be the new face on a national TV show that is fast becoming a summer phenomenon and I want my dog on the cover??? I am determined to not be swayed this time. I'll mock up a cover and show them what I mean.
I measure Ronnie's neck – 18 inches around – and head off to a Big and Tall men's store to get him a shirt. The conversation goes something like this:
Me: "I'd like a white dress shirt with an 18-inch neck please."
SalesGuy: " Certainly. And what length sleeves are we talking here?"
Me: "It doesn't matter."
Sales guy: "Well, just give me a ballpark number. Is he a 30 inch sleeve – a 35?" I know he's not going to let up.
SalesGuy: "12?... 12 what?"
Me: "12 inches. His arm length is 12 inches" We stare at each other for a moment or two. Somewhere in the distance a lonely cricket chirps and a train whistle blows.
SalesGuy: "How 'bout a short-sleeved shirt then?"
Me: "Sounds good."
More to their credit, when I show RCA the mocked-up cover, they get the idea and we are off and running. We do a hilarious photo session with my patient dog, dressed for hours in the shirt and tie. I tempt and reward him with dog cookies and at the last minute I shove a black and white photo of me in his shirt pocket as a kind of joke to the RCA art department who are insisting, still, that I be on the cover.
In the photo we finally choose, he's smiling broadly and looks like he's having a blast. But now the label is having concerns about the album as a whole. Although everyone can sense disco is wearing out its welcome (thank the Gods of music), as are the big syrupy ballads, no one can guess that they will both shortly be replaced on the radio waves by rock and roll. They are hesitating to release Working Class Dog, thinking it will fall on deaf ears. I start getting anxious. I know the album is good, but honestly, I just don't want all our hard work wasted again.
Another week goes by and RCA pushes the album's release to the following month. This happens no less than three times. I am freaking out. Thank God I at least have the TV thing starting up soon. I will have a pretty decent and regular income for the first time in my life from General Hospital, so that eases some of the frustration I am feeling about the record. RCA finally sets a release date for WCD and assures me they will keep to it. I am relieved, excited and truly happy.
Then my mum calls to say my father's cancer has now metastasized to his brain. They've shaved his head of all the hair he was so proud to have kept, through his many chemo treatments, so they can focus the radiation more directly on the tumor. She sends photos. He is sitting in his chair in our tiny TV room, smiling sweetly and looking like a big bald baby. Because I am not living in their house I can conveniently shift the pain and fear back a little in my awareness. I must get on with my life.
March 3rd, 1981, I go into the GH set for my first day of shooting. I am beyond nervous. The show has been running, with pretty much the same cast, for years and everyone is in the flow and has their cliques and friendships. Oh no, it's the first day of a new school again! I struggle through day one just as I have done so many times before in other settings, and as has always happened, it gets easier; I make friends and begin to find my place. I am elated to be working regularly. After two weeks on the show, people are starting to stare at me on the street. It's unnerving at first and unexpected. This is the power -- I am learning -- of TV. I keep checking myself in store windows to see if I have an errant booger or maybe my fly is open.
Meanwhile, RCA finally keeps its word and, without much fanfare, they release Working Class Dog. Again the promotion department of a record company kicks into overdrive on a record of mine, but things are feeling different this time around. As I fly to New York to do radio and press, word starts coming in that different stations are playing different cuts from the album. I've never had this happen before. Usually you have to kiss their b*******s morning, noon and night just to have them play the d**n single, but stations around the country are picking their own favorite songs and playing them and writing about them in the trade papers. Something else is happening. I'm starting to get decent amounts of fan mail at ABC: something TV producers take big note of. Gloria Monty, GH's producer/Svengali and the woman who hired me, starts putting my character into more episodes.
RCA releases the first single. No, not that song. With 9 of the 10 tracks on the record written by me, they release the only one that isn't – "I've Done Everything For You." I think they figure it will have a better shot because Sammy Hagar's name is attached to it as the writer of the song. I am okay with it. I think it's a good song. I would have preferred one of my own be the single but all that matters is that we launch the album with a hit single. The thing is, radio doesn't play "I've Done Everything For You" and although other tracks from Working Class Dog are being played, "I've Done Everything For You" isn't making the rotations. It bombs.
Then something magical happens. A gift. Word starts coming in to RCA that radio is liking, playing and starting to get strong "phones" on another song off the album. And in a move that couldn't happen today because of radio's tight playlists and corporate fingers in the pie, the radio stations of America choose the single, and that single is "Jessie's Girl."' RCA releases the song and it begins its torturously slow climb up the charts.
RCA gives me $1500 to shoot two videos. For what purpose, I don't know. I write up a script and storyboard the "Jessie's Girl" video but leave the "I've Done Everything For You" video to the cameraman/director Mark Stinson. We shoot everything in 3 days. It's guerilla video-filming at its finest. At 3:00 AM we are shooting the opening scenes to "Jessie's Girl" in a Hollywood alleyway with the song blasting through portable speakers when someone yells the cops are coming. We toss our gear into the van and tear off into the night. It's so f*****g cool.
Our big expense in special effects is the 24 bathroom mirrors I break in the middle section of the song. No one, including myself at this point, understands my reasoning for smashing the mirror in a bathroom setting. They certainly don't know about my adolescent years spent staring into that depressing thing. And that it's precisely there, where the Darkness lives and breathes. Looking at the video now, there's a lot of real pain on my face in that scene as I splinter the mirrors with the headstock of my guitar.
I walk onto the GH set one morning and everyone is talking about having seen the "Jessie's Girl" video. It turns out there was a big boxing match on cable the night before, that ended early with a first round knockout. Some genius TV guy had gone scrambling for something to fill the empty airspace and his fortunate fingers had found my videocassette. So everyone has seen it. And then MTV calls to say they would like to interview me and play the video. I ask what is MTV? Nobody seems to know, but it's press, so next time I'm in New York I find myself in a tiny hole-in-the-wall in a not-great-neighborhood talking to a kid named Martha Quinn who looks like she's 12. She asks me questions about the video of "Jessie's Girl." I believe she is the first to ask the question I have answered more than any other – "So, was there really a Jessie's Girl?" I am suddenly flying all over the place doing TV and radio interviews and playing "Jessie's Girl" for whoever will listen.
I soon find out that it's more than blue-haired little old ladies who watch General Hospital. Our audience includes colleges full of young adults, high schools full of kids, houses full of stay-at-home mothers and, yes, blue-haired little old ladies as well. Stars watch it too, they tell me when I meet Elizabeth Taylor (when she guests on GH), Sammy Davis Jr., (who approaches me as we walk down the red carpet for the first Night of 100 Stars) Brian Wilson (when we do a gig with the Beach Boys) and Little Richard (who sits with me at Sound City one night, singing to me and trying to convince me to record a song of his) to drop some more names. Come on, you know it's expected.
Gloria Monty sidles up to me one day on the set and says, "I hear you're a musician too. We'd like you to sing on the show." I've already started to hear that a few of the album- oriented stations have dropped playing "Jessie's Girl" as soon they found out I am on a Soap Opera. It's the double-edged sword Keith Olsen warned me about. I refuse to sing on GH, as I will later refuse to allow Rick Springfield lunch boxes, girls' swimsuits and will say "no: to doing Converse ads and singing on a McDonald's commercial. I need to keep my music separate from the degree of cheesiness attached to "Daytime Drama."
Jack White, my spirited drummer, has rounded up a few musicians and we are all busy rehearsing for some upcoming shows that promise to actually have an audience that hasn't just wandered in off the street, when Joe breaks into the rehearsal room carrying some glasses and a cheap bottle of champagne. "Jessie's Girl" has just reached #1 on the Billboard charts and is looking like it will be a worldwide hit. Cheap champagne never tasted so good. I am on the way to what I always felt was my destiny - that thing I believed I was saved for when the rope came unraveled long ago in the backyard shed. But there is still a painful detour I must make just up ahead.
I come home from GH one evening and the message light is blinking on my 70's style PhoneMate answering machine. I hit the playback button and my brother Mike's voice, broken and dire, comes out of the small speaker. "Rick. Call home. Dad is gravely ill." I call Mike back. On the other side of the world, my champion sleeps in a stark hospital bed, drugged against the pain. Mum has been sitting with him night and day for 2 weeks but she needs to go home so she can get some clean clothes and check on the house. She dashes out, hoping to be back by her husband's side within 3 hours. My dad, I think, has stayed around at this point because he knows his wife is desperate not to lose him. But it's time to go.
And an hour after his best girl has left the hospital grounds, my father, my champ, my sweet old man, leaves this world forever. Eileen Louise Springthorpe nee Evennett arrives home to the phone ringing, answers it and hears the words she has prepared herself for years to hear, but it still shatters her. Our man is dead for the second and final time. After 2 valiant attempts, Normie at last makes it home. I am woken in the early hours of a Friday morning with my brother's second phone call. He tells me dad is gone. I am at least 20 hours away from my family in Melbourne and I'm scheduled to be on the set of General Hospital in 3 hours. I think about what my dad would I do in my place. His work ethic would say "finish your job son." His heart would say "take care of your mum." So I do both.
I book a flight home to Australia leaving that afternoon and I arrive on the ABC set at 8:00 AM as I am supposed to do. The only one who knows about my dad is Gloria Monty who moves my scenes forward in the daily schedule so I can finish early and get to the airport in time for my flight home. Its still all so raw and new that I just cant tell anyone else because I know if someone comes up to me and hugs me or offers words of condolence, I will crumble. So I make my face into a mask, finish the scripted scenes and get myself to the airport. General Hospital gives me 4 days to fly to Australia, attend the service for my dad and then fly back to resume my shift as Dr. Noah Drake. I take the 14-hour journey home once again. I'm in shock, as we all are, even though we knew it was coming, and my 2 days at home go by like moments spent in someone else's life.
We have a service at my mum's church then family and friends convene at our house to talk, to cry, to miss him together, and to prove to ourselves that life goes on. The doorbell rings, my brother answers and I watch from a distance and through a fog as our dad's ashes, all that remains of him, cross over our threshold one final time. We rent a little fishing boat to take us out on the bay the following morning - it's grey and stormy, the sort of sea my dad loved – and we cast his ashes into the waves that are threatening to overturn our craft. For lack of any initiative from the rest of us, Mike steps into the breach and does the deed, intoning "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." I don't know what these words mean but I have nothing to say myself. I'm numb. My champion is gone and I begin to lose what small faith I have in God.
My spirit commences a long, slow spiral down. Meanwhile, forces already in play on the other side of the world are conspiring to launch my usually sub-sea-level ego toward the stratosphere. In America Working Class Dog is actually climbing the charts. It's the kind of success I've been longing to savor for what feels like my whole life. I've fought for this overture to success for so long, that to just roll into a ball and fully absorb my father's death is not an option. If four days is all I am given by GH: then four days is all I will allow myself to grieve. After that I will grab back onto the brass ring that is about to yank me up. My champion would understand.
But on the plane on my way home, I end up curled in a fetal position on the floor in front of my seat with my stomach writhing and twisting. My body is trying instinctively to roll me into that ball, but when the plane lands, I straighten myself up and walk down the jet bridge to my new life.