Rick Springfield can rock a sci-fi novel too
Wearing a dark jacket over snug-fitting jeans, Rick Springfield strutted before the crowd gathered recently to watch him receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The singer, best known for his early-'80s hit “Jessie’s Girl,” bobbed his head gamely as the song blared from a set of nearby speakers. Then he spotted a young girl holding a worn copy of one of his first albums. In a reflexive rock star reaction, Springfield pointed to her as if to say, “You’re the one!”
Bygone glories rehashed with a touch of self-awareness — these are the rituals for many an aging rocker nearing the end of his career. At 64, though, Springfield is something of an anomaly: an old hand unusually focused on what’s next.
Sure, he’s set to launch a summer tour this month with Pat Benatar, a fellow veteran from the big-haired ‘80s days. But interspersed among the vintage hits every night will be tunes from Springfield’s last several studio albums, all surprisingly strong.
And there beside the T-shirts and shot glasses on the merchandise table will be copies of his debut novel, a thoroughly unexpected sci-fi yarn called — oh, yes — “Magnificent Vibration.”
“You always want to be expanding,” said Springfield, also familiar to soap opera viewers for his recurring role as Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital.” “Otherwise, what’s the point?”
The follow-up to his bestselling 2010 memoir “Late, Late at Night,” “Magnificent Vibration” traces the unlikely journey of a hard-luck divorcé who, after discovering a direct phone line to God, sets out more or less to save the world. (It’s complicated.)
In an interview at his comfortable Malibu home, Springfield — who grew up in Australia before following his show-biz aspirations to L.A. — said the book grew out of his childhood obsession with horror and science fiction.
“I would steal books from this secondhand book store in Melbourne,” he said, “and just read and play guitar all day.” As he spoke he strummed a dobro balanced on his knee, a bit of multitasking the singer attributed with a chuckle to his attention deficit disorder.
David Falk, associate publisher at Touchstone Publishing, called Springfield a fine writer and said he required none of the clandestine assistance celebrities often receive in the literary realm.
“When we acquired Rick’s autobiography, it originally had a ghost writer attached,” Falk said. “But he started working on his own and came to us with 30,000 words and said, ‘Would you mind taking a look?’ Of course, we thought it would be awful. But it wasn’t at all.”
With its serpentine plot and sub-Pynchon character names — Horatio Cotton! Lexington Vargas! — “Magnificent Vibration” isn’t quite as inviting as “Late, Late at Night.” But the novel’s unfiltered goofiness serves as another sign that Springfield is more engaged creatively — and more determined to follow inspiration wherever it leads — than many of his peers.
Though his albums from the last few years haven’t sold especially well, they’ve come packed with convincing musical ideas; “Venus in Overdrive,” from 2008, is particularly vigorous — muscular, melodic guitar rock that might please a Foo Fighters fan.
Springfield actually got in front of Foo Fighters’ audience last year when he collaborated with Dave Grohl on the latter’s “Sound City,” a documentary film (about a well-loved recording studio in Van Nuys) that spawned a series of all-star concerts in several cities. Walking onstage during a gig at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, Springfield drew a reaction no less enthused than those granted Stevie Nicks and John Fogerty.
It’s that experience that appears to have renewed Springfield’s desire to boost his profile. In 2013 he took up with the same management firm that oversees the careers of Maroon 5 and Robin Thicke; last month he even flew to Washington, D.C., to attend that annual media magnet, the White House Correspondents’ Assn. Dinner.
Wayne Sharp, Springfield’s manager, said their strategy has been “not to do the same old thing.” That means that in addition to booking the upcoming tour with Benatar and his own headlining dates — including one Friday night at the Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach — Springfield has been playing stripped-down acoustic shows that Sharp says emphasize his client’s sense of humor and his songwriting skills.
And Sharp isn’t exaggerating — well, not entirely — when he claims that Springfield’s songs still matter: Last year the British boy band One Direction all but covered “Jessie’s Girl” for a sound-alike tune on its smash “Midnight Memories” album.
Is Rick Springfield going after One Direction’s crowd?
“I don’t know if that would be time well spent,” Sharp replied with a laugh. “But we’re definitely going after their parents.”
For his part, Springfield is just happy to be busy. At his house, a knock on the front door turned out to be from Pat Monahan of the band Train, who’d arrived to record an episode of his podcast with Springfield. After that there were arrangements to be made for an upcoming trip to Australia.
The singer doesn’t mind the long flights, since they give him the chance to crack open his laptop and work on a sequel to “Magnificent Vibration.”
“I’m thinking about it all the time,” he said of the next book. “Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and go, ‘Aha!’”
Where: Hyatt Regency Back Bay Amphitheater, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach
When: 8 p.m. Friday
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