Rick Springfield was already onto his second phase of American stardom when his 1981 single "Jessie's Girl" went into heavy radio rotation and a craze emerged for "General Hospital," featuring Springfield as the dreamy Dr. Noah Drake.
The dude abides, continuing a show-biz life full of highs and lows that he thoroughly chronicled in his 2010 memoir, "Late, Late at Night." That confessional book details his relationship with a 15-year-old Linda Blair, his lifelong love of dogs and a weird day after school in rural Australia when his fourth-grade teacher asked him to spank her.
Springfield is in cineplexes as Meryl Streep's love interest and bandmate in the movie "Ricki and the Flash," on cable as an unsettling-looking therapist in the second season of "True Detective" and working on a follow-up to his 2014 novel, "Magnificent Vibration." Still making jeans and black T-shirts look good as he turns 66 (and married now for three decades), Springfield continues to tour. His live recording "Stripped Down" was released earlier this year, and his new album, "Rocket Science," is due in January.
Springfield, born and raised in Australia as Richard Springthorpe, spoke by phone recently from his home in Malibu, Calif.
How many dive bars have you played like the one in "Ricki and the Flash"?
I was only playing covers until I was about 16 or 17. Then, I started joining bands. I wrote songs, and we had hits. We played crappy places, but they were more like town halls, where a fight would break out and the guys would only stop when they'd had enough.
The venues early in Australia sound pretty rough and tumble.
I was in a band called Zoot, and unfortunately we dressed in pink for the first year of our career. In a macho country like Australia, where all there is to do is drink and fight, it would get pretty hairy at times. We had more success when we dropped all that and went heavier. Led Zeppelin was on the horizon, and I did this arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" that sounds now like Black Sabbath. It was our biggest hit.
How bad a guitarist was Meryl Streep when you started rehearsing?
She actually had been woodshedding for about three months. She had it down enough that she could wear it in character and sell it. It was pretty astonishing. But she wasn't trying to be a shredder.
Did you get to play more guitar than you thought you would?
Yeah. It's all recorded live. Jonathan Demme had done "Stop Making Sense" and some documentaries with Neil Young, so he knew what live music looked like on film, and it didn't look like lip-syncing. He was determined that this would be played live with no overdubs. To do that, he needed an actor who could actually play guitar and shred a little bit, because it's a story point that Greg's actually a pretty good guitar player. It was a lot of fun. Not being the singer, I could focus more on the playing.
Are people noticing you as a guitarist more right now?
I play guitar in our live shows, and what I really get more often than not is, "I didn't know you could play guitar like that." I've been playing since I was 14. If I haven't learned a few licks, then there's something wrong.
You toured South Vietnam with a band when you were 17. How vivid is that for you?
Very. A private promoter just shipped us out there, and we'd play fire bases. We got shot at and rocketed and mortared. We were all pretty scared. A war zone lives in your memory forever.
You had plastic surgery at 23?
I was under a lot of pressure, coming from Australia to the big country of America. It's just one of those dumb things you do as a kid, I guess.
Sort of related: Where did the creepy look for Dr. Irving Pitlor on "True Detective" come from?
He was described as having hair plugs and a face-lift in the script. So they did weird stuff with my hair so it looked like a bad wig, put orange makeup and tape on the side of my face to pull the skin tighter. All that kind of stuff helps you get in character.
You like unconventional roles?
Playing against type is the best. I love it. The "Californication" thing I did, I played a guy called Rick Springfield, but it was definitely against type: a hedonistic people abuser who did too much blow. It surprised people.
I didn't prepare a "General Hospital" question.
(Laughs) I appreciate that.
You're about to start an '80s tour with Loverboy and the Romantics. Have you made peace with the late 1970s and 1980s?
I do embrace that period, because it was the start of a career that I'd wanted since I was a little kid. But my focus has always been new things, what's ahead. I was never the guy who hung platinum records on his walls or put awards around. I've always stayed focused on what new things I could do. I've never wanted to just tour as a nostalgia act. I've wanted to feel current in my soul.
But you are touring with Loverboy and the Romantics.
It's what they call a package tour. You play much bigger places, and people get more bang for their buck, I guess. And honestly, it wouldn't make sense to go out with anyone who's current now, because it's two different audiences. But for myself, I look forward to creating new stuff. That's really what keeps me going.
You wrote a novel, "Magnificent Vibration." You're working on another book?
I'm working on a sequel. I'd better get it out fast, because the world is in pretty sore shape.
Is that what your book's about?
Yeah, to a degree. It's dark humor. "Magnificent Vibration" talks about it, too, but it's with humor. Preaching sucks. (Laughs)
Greg in "Ricki and the Flash" is grounded by basic life lessons. Do you see yourself that way?
No, not really. I have to deal with depression, so I'm kind of up and down all the time. I don't think you could talk to anyone who really knows me who'd say, "Yeah, he's a really grounded guy." I'm pretty different from Greg. He screwed up, his wife left him, and his kids are still mad at him. But to a degree, he's found some comfort and acceptance of where he is, and he has a love interest he's focused on. I didn't realize it when we were working on it that Greg was the rock of the film.
Rick Springfield will perform Wednesday, Sept. 2, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, in Hollywood. Loverboy and the Romantics will open the show. Tickets cost $54.10-$75.10. Call 866-502-7529 or go to MyHrl.com