Bruce Springsteen’s mind blowing insight into creativity.

(Note to reader: when I posted this yesterday The Boss’ speech was all over Youtube in it’s entirety.  Now we have a bunch of sponsored clips. Thank you, capitalism.)

There are few lessons about creativity greater than those taught by a conscious, creative genius.  If you’re serious about understanding the creative process, and you missed Bruce Springsteen’s recent keynote speech at South by South West in it’s entirety here are my notes; the highlights and flashes of enlightenment that moved me:

Bruce talks about “The one thing that has been consistent over the years, the genesis and power of creativity…

“The elements don’t matter… the purity is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips…

“There’s no right way, no pure way of doing it. There’s just doing it…

“Everyone has their genesis moment, whatever initially inspires you to action…, my genesis monument was in 1956… Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. I discovered… that you could call upon your own powers of your imagination, that you could create a transformative self.”

Bruce’s comments on the Doo-wop that emanated from his mother’s radio with the 6″ mono speaker, at about the 15:25 mark, are epic poetry and ecstasy.

At 23:05 you hear the Bruce we all know and love being born, as he sings The Animal’s “We gotta get out of this place.”  When he finishes this story he confesses “that’s every song I’ve ever written.”

At 28 and a half minutes Bruce shows how he stole a riff from another Animals song for Badlands, then counsels, “listen up youngsters, this is how successful theft is accomplished.”

He talks at length about his many influences from Roy Orbison and The Beatles, to James Brown and Bob Dylan, to the Sex Pistols and Woody Guthrie. How he forced himself to decode Hank Williams to try to understand the authenticity of his music.

When he strums along with “This land is your land” you can almost believe… you can almost feel hope…

In closing The Boss proves why he is in the top tier of management of rock, as he advises the next generation, “Young musicians, open your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry, and worry your ass off. Have iron-clad confidence, but doubt, it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town. And… (believe) you suck!

“It keeps you honest. It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. Stay hard. And stay hungry. And stay alive.” (I explored the tension of this dual mindset a few months ago in a piece entitled “I’m not creative enough.”)

Rarely do we get to witness creative brilliance this connected to reality, this down to earth.


Tom Monahan is the Head Creative Thinking Coach at Before & After, a company that works with major marketers and ad agencies worldwide, including Target, Virgin, Novartis and Unilever, among others. Previously, Monahan was founder and Executive Creative Director at ad agency Leonard/Monahan, an incubator for creative talent in the 1980s and ’90s. Monahan has published The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy under the Adweek imprint, was advertising columnist for Communication Arts for over a decade and was the youngest creative director written up in The Wall Street Journal’s long-running “Creative Leaders” series.