The Rick Springfield Phenomenon

Let’s do the math—and brace yourself. Rick Springfield’s breakout U.S. hit, “Jessie’s Girl,” hit the charts in 1981, twenty-five years ago. And now you’re humming it.

So can it be true that in 2006, Springfield can sell out a five-night engagement at the Northern Lights Theater. Show up from May 10th to the 14th and find out!

“I didn't just keep doing the same thing and I've had something to say,” Springfield has noted. Indeed, he has eighteen releases under his belt, and they are anything but formulaic while remaining accessible to fans of his heyday. So perhaps it’s understandable that Springfield is an artist whose appeal merits a five-night stand, a booking that has no equal or precedent at Potawatomi Bingo Casino’s Northern Lights Theater.

To see the musician onstage today—he appears to have arrested the aging process somewhere around forty—makes it seem impossible that a quarter century has passed since he wished that he had Jessie’s Girl (that tune’s still rattling around up there, isn’t it?). Perhaps Springfield’s disinterest in simply trotting out a nostalgia act is a key to his longevity; his recorded output in the years since is that of an engaged, evolving artist, which makes the live shows a hot ticket.

Coast to Coast and Around the World

They come from near and very, very far to see the former Dr. Noah Drake (as he was known on the soap opera “General Hospital.”) And it’s rare to speak to a fan who plans to attend a single evening.

“Some fans will just buy tickets for the weekend shows,” notes Vivian Acinelli of St. Louis, who calls herself, with some exaggeration, one of Rick’s “senior citizen fans” and started following his career in 1981. As the former president of a Springfield club (“Rick’s Loyal Supporters,” from 1989 to 2005), Vivian typically attends all five concerts, and her husband enjoys them as well. Her club was charity-based, and the membership was able to contribute thousands of dollars to worthwhile organizations over the years. “We also raised the $15,000-plus required for Rick’s future star on the Walk of Fame,” she notes (all Walk of Fame stars must be paid for before the honor is bestowed).

“The Potawotami shows are like a pilgrimage for Rick Springfield fans,” Vivian says. “They all gather there, from New York to California, north, south; they come to visit with their friends, see the shows and have a good time.”

They also come from across the ocean. Monika Koenig of Germany plans her vacation around Rick Springfield’s annual five-night stands at Potawatomi. This year will mark her third trip to Milwaukee for the shows.

“I always travel with my friend Sylvia Schaefer, from Eisenach, Germany,” Monika says. “We’re well organized; Sylvia books our flights and I book the soundcheck and the hotel room.”

Coordinating tickets, hotels and transportation has become somewhat easier with the internet, but there is still a great deal of pressure to contend with. “Just a few weeks ago I called Sylvia at midnight out of her sleep because the soundcheck for Milwaukee was on sale at RicksMerch,” Monika remembers, referring to Rick Springfield’s official website. “I made it in time to get the passes and just minutes later they were all gone. The general on-sale date and time is always at night if you’re from somewhere in Europe. Those sleepless nights are killing me, but they’re part of our preparation each year.”

The Music Came First

Lest the uninitiated make the mistake of tagging Rick Springfield as an actor who traded on his soap opera fame to dabble in touring and recording, a true fan will point out to you that before starring as Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital,” Springfield was a member of the band Zoot in his native Australia. The band was one of the more successful of the later sixties, and Springfield went solo in 1971 when the unit broke up. He scored a U.S. hit the following year; “Speak to the Sky” made it all the way to number 14. Subsequent records didn’t lift off, however, and conflicts with his record company kept Springfield from recording until 1976.

In the meantime, he began studying acting and accumulating television roles, including that of Viper pilot “Zac” in 1978’s “Battlestar Galactica” debut film. Unfortunately, “Zac” is the first victim of a treacherous Cylon sneak attack, going down in flames heroically about seventeen minutes into the episode.

But everything changed in 1981. While recording an album for RCA, Springfield was cast in the daytime soap “General Hospital” and became a heartthrob overnight. When his album Working Class Dog was released, it flew off the shelves fueled by fans who knew him primarily as the swoon-worthy Dr. Drake. But it wasn’t all teenie-bopper appeal—he won a Grammy for the smash “Jessie’s Girl.” (Admit it—you’re still humming the song.)

More hits followed; Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet” spawned the singles “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “What Kind of Fool Am I?” 1983’s harder-edged Living in Oz went platinum with chart-toppers “Human Touch,” “Souls,” and “Affair of the Heart.” 1984’s “Love Somebody” was his last top ten hit, from the album Hard to Hold.

Though he had obvious pin-up appeal to draw upon, Springfield routinely deflected “pretty boy” status (he put his dog on the cover of two of his albums, for example) and has admitted that he actually prefers a more non-mainstream sound. “I've always liked the heavier stuff,” he’s said. “I've always loved Tool and System of a Down, Korn and Nine Inch Nails. I listen to that more than say, Franz Ferdinand, although I appreciate great pop, I always have.”

He’s certainly doing something right, as five consecutive full houses for three years running can attest. Count fan Monika Koenig as one of his many fans committed in the long-term. “We start planning for the next trip the day our plane hits the ground back in Germany,” she says.

Now, just see if you can get the chorus of “Jessie’s Girl” out of your head…


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