Rock legend Bruce Springsteen gave the keynote speech at this year's SXSW, or as he preferred to put it, "a series of keynotes," because pop is no longer unified into something assessable by a single keynote address.
In a flowing half-hour speech that was part slam poetry, part personal history and part singalong, Springsteen expounded his opinion that pop music has fractured itself into endlessly exclusive sub-genres. He rattled off a list of them that sounded like the shrimp speech from the Tom Hanks' film Forrest Gump that concluded with "nintendo-core."
"What I want to know is, what the fuck is nintendo-core?" Springsteen asked.
He felt this was the realization of famed rock writer Lester Bangs' thesis that no one would agree on anything after Elvis.
"From this day forward, you'll have your heroes and I'll have mine," Springsteen quoted.
That there were a thousand bands in one town and doing something different was a marvel. This was something that he said would have been impossible when he started playing rock music because of the numbers alone.
"There just wasnt enough guitars yet," he said. "We all would have had to share.
But Springsteen said that for all their differences, the core remains the same: artistry.
"Artistry is not confined to tubes or guitars," he said. "There is no right way of doing it, there's just doing it."
Springsteen then recounted his own personal musical journey in the hopes that it would help others find their way. The shockingly humble and earnestly reverent stories of Springsteen finding his way through rock, soul and country, and trying to crack the code of Hank Williams songs may or may not have inspired members of the audience to find their way. But his rolling delivery, rife with lewd metaphors and peppered with singalongs was immensely entertaining.
A major theme was that executing a top-notch live perormance was crucial, something that can best be learned on the stage. He recounted the horror of trying to follow James Brown.
The speech crescendoed with Springsteen recounting playing a Woody Guthrie song with Pete Seeger at the Obama inaugaration. Guthrie, as Springsteen noted, was a man who had never had a hit or played a stadium.
"That experience made me realize that sometimes things from the outside, make their way in to become the heart of the nation," he said. "So maybe Lester Bangs was wrong."
"So rumble, young musicans, rumble," Springsteen concluded. "Open your ears and open your hearts. Believe you are the baddest ass in town, but doubt. It keeps you honest."
"And now, I think I'll go catch some death metal," he said.