For all the good things that go with being a teen idol (fame, adoration, older women), the most depressing thing has to be the inability to follow it up. "Middle-aged idol" just doesn't have the same ring. Once the wrinkles set in and the hairline recedes, it's usually straight to the unemployment line, hoping Surreal Life will call before the creditors do.
Believe it or not, Rick Springfield has avoided this curse.
If they consider him at all, most music fans consider Springfield to be a one-hit wonder. Monks living in a Middle Eastern monastery without electricity have probably heard his international superhit, "Jessie's Girl." Yet only a true diehard or possibly Rick's mom would be able to name more than one of his five other Top 10 hits. Even mom would be hard-pressed to name the additional 16 songs that hit the top 30.
Rick's acting work is no different. Much is made of his time as a palpitating young doctor on General Hospital, but he's also had a series of minor roles in the canon of television. How many chart-toppers can say that they appeared on the unholy triumvirate of TV shows that was The Six Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman? Not to mention The Rockford Files and the pilot of Battlestar Galactica? Hell, the guy's done eight TV movies of the week and even helmed a few series.
You probably don't know this because Rick's got a tendency to be a generic thespian. This milquetoast appeal likely helped him score a role in the mid-'80s series, The Human Target. Based on a comic book, Springfield played Christopher Chance, a mercenary character that would assume the identity of a subject in mortal danger. But a generic actor in grave danger equals generic danger which equals bad TV. Not surprisingly, the show had the life span of a half-smoked cigarette butt in the ashtray at the homeless shelter.
Yet for the oddest role the Australian-born Springfield has played, you'd have to look back to his earliest incursions into the U.S. market. Rick scored a minor role as early as 1972 with Speak to the Sky, but most American children and parents came to know him the following year through the poorly animated Saturday morning cartoon, Mission Magic.
The show was a spin-off from the Brady Bunch cartoon series, one of a number of kids' shows at the time with humorous occult themes. It featured an overly muscled and flowing-haired Springfield in a white sweatshirt emblazoned with a superhero-like lightning bolt as his chest emblem. The show's creators even gave him a sidekick-a pet owl named Tolamy.
Each week Rick and a group of high school kids would embark on an adventure under the watchful eye of their teacher, a witch named Miss Tickle. It's doubtful that in today's post-Nipplegate, PC world that a network would permit a cartoon character like Miss Tickle, who was known to draw magic circles that opened portals into other worlds and partake in other such pagan rituals. In 1973, however, this was standard kiddie fare. Rick would even sing a tune every episode.
While the show could have made him a household name, it turned into the kind of career move that could permanently sink an artist. Rick, however, showed amazing resilience. He soon became a perennial TV guest star, landing that coveted spot on General Hospital after four tries and releasing his breakthrough album Working Class Dog in 1981. His 14 minutes of fame provided his second top-10 tune, "I've Done Everything for You."
It had taken him over a decade, but Rick Springfield was finally an overnight sensation and he's been successful ever since-never really a star in any specific thing, but never far from the spotlight.
When he looks at himself in his expensive, imported vanity mirror at night, Rick no doubt views himself a musician first. After all, he hit the charts in Australia way back in 1969 with his band Zoot. But Rick has hedged his bets by becoming an all around entertainer-have talent, will take any damn job you offer. Recent projects range from his new album shock/denial/anger/acceptance, released last month, to a stint as the star of the Las Vegas music spectacular, EFX.
His music is harmless enough-basic frat-rock songs rooted in Chuck Berry and sensitive, overwrought ballads. It's the sort of generic fare that you'd expect from the Bacon Brothers of the world. The difference is Springfield's refusal to stand still, moving briskly from project to project and fortuitously hitting a number of pop culture high points on the way.
Currently, he's in musician mode, on a world tour that makes a local stop in San Diego. While he'll likely push his new recording (bathroom break?), it's also likely he won't be pushing any musical boundaries. He'll stick to the formula of his hits, fully aware that the audience is marking time until he plays "Jessie's Girl."
And he'll play it. But know that this remarkably successful 21-hit wonder is just biding his time until the next palpitating acting gig comes his way.Rick Springfield plays at Sycuan Casino, 8 p.m. on March 10. $45. 619-445-6002, ext. 1139.