Rocker Bruce Springsteen speaks Thursday at the South By Southwest music conference.
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Rocker Bruce Springsteen speaks Thursday at the South By Southwest music conference.

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Bruce Springsteen delivers a personal history of his music influences at music conference

Speaking to more than 1,000 people, he cites his love of Elvis, Dylan, Hank Williams and others

Springsteen is at the South By Southwest conference to help launch his new album

Austin, Texas CNN —  

Anyone expecting outspoken rocker Bruce Springsteen to spend his keynote address here at the South by Southwest music conference talking about his new No. 1 album or the politically divided state of the country may have gotten a surprise.

Instead, Springsteen delivered a rousing, witty and personal history of his varied music influences – from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan to James Brown to Hank Williams – punctuating his points by playing snippets of songs on a guitar. He also offered a little veteran advice for the thousands of young, unknown musicians who have descended upon Austin in the hopes of making it big.

“Stay hard. Stay hungry. Stay alive,” he said in his familiar rasp. “And when you walk onstage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all you have.”

Springsteen is at SXSW to help launch “Wrecking Ball,” his 17th studio album, which voices his frustrations over what he sees as a lack of accountability by government and financial leaders for the country’s economic woes. Several members of his E Street Band were in the audience, and he and the band were scheduled to perform at a 2,000-seat theater Thursday night in Austin before kicking off a North American arena tour Sunday in Atlanta.

Thursday afternoon’s event placed the current Rolling Stone cover boy in an unusual setting: Behind a podium in a packed convention hall – and in the middle of the day, no less. Looking a little bleary-eyed, Springsteen took the stage 30 minutes late, carrying his notes on sheafs of paper, and immediately complained about the time.

“How important can this speech be if we’re giving it at noon?” he asked. “Every decent musician in town is asleep. Or they will be when I’m done with this thing.”