The Doctor is In. So is the Rock Singer. A two-phased Rick Springfield just sits back and smiles.
As Dr. Noah Drake, a recent addition to the staff at ABC-TV's perennially popular "General Hospital," Springfield has been recklessly causing heart flutters and raising body temperatures in homes all across America. According to one star watcher, the word so far is that Dr. Drake is "real nice . . .but nobody knows if he's wonderful or secretly evil." His technique -- surgical, of course -- is a topic of discussion every Sunday at the Pierce Street Annex, where a regular cast of 50 to 75 General Hospital fans -- mostly female -- catch up on a week's worth of programming with a five-hour Betamax marathon. Yesterday, Dr. Drake caused a few mild heart attacks when he made a house call a the Annex.
Springfield signing autographs and kissing the ladies inside the bar at the Annex was the eye of a him-icane, just as he had been at the record store, only this time the fans were a little bit older. It was the kind of fan ectasy not seen here for a long time (at least since Leif Garrett did an instore several years ago).But Springfield is reaching a wider demographic than normal and there's a good chance he'll turn into the next true pop idol -- thanks to television.
As soon as Springfield slid in the back door, the 700 waiting women started squealing and screaming affirmation at each other, which was necessary since few of them could actually see Springfield. "He's Here!" "That's Him!" "He's Gorgeous!" they sputtered, standing on top of stools, salad bars and short people's shoulders.The few men in attendance sort of stood around, trying to look innocent even as they were letting themselves be squeezed and pressed by the inexorable flow of fans jostling for position around the bar.
"Get ME one!" they begged of the photograph disperser; then they used the pictures to fan themselves in the neat. "I'm 27 and he makes me feel 17," sighed Natalie Hovener, who manages a retail store in Springfield, Va. (No, the town came first.) "I'm here to kiss him," added 18-year-old Fran Gentile. Connie Alderman and Doris Carbonaria came in from College Park because they'd "never seen a celebrity before." Dorothy Turquman, 19, summed up the more basic emotion succinctly when she panted, "He's a PIECE OF MEAT!" Several of the women around her nodded their heads vigorously in agreement. "But he's a good guy".
Springfield proved to be surprisingly nimble, chewing gum and kissing at the same time. With a strapping bodyguard to break the clinches, he didn't hold any the kisses for very long. He pocketed some of the telephone number-laden notes and smiled when some of the women looked him directly in the eye and said, "I really like it." "It" could mean "General Hospital," his hit record, "Jessie's Girl," or, you know, "it." Some fans tried a different approach. "My name's Jessie," or, "I just broke up with my boyfriend, his name's Jessie." Springfield just laughed. Sometimes he'd pass a kiss with his hand when he couldn't reach across the bar, but enough of the fans stretched across the chasm to make one wish the Annex were a county fair and each kiss meant a dollar. There was a lot of lip-licking by satisfied customers. "He is A FOX!" seemed to be the consensus.
On the music side, Dr. Drake's patience is also being rewarded: His power-pop single, "Jessie's Girl," is getting the kind of airplay that's eluded him despite 10 years in the business. It's a catchy little ditty about wanting a girl just like the girl that best friend Jessie has. Springfield dresses up an old situation with a bright new production that's popped him back into the heady teens of rock's chartlands.
Duality is nothing new to the 31-year-old native of Australia; in 1972, two major record companies put out the exact same Rick Springfield record at the same time. "They're both pretty rare now," he laughs now. At noon yesterday, close to 2,000 fans jammed the Variety Records store at Tysons Corner for a Rick Springfield autograph session. The singer remembers a not-so-long-ago when only two fans showed up for a similar session. r
Springfield, who is handsome the way most people are warm-blooded, speaks in polite tones that never hint at the Australian connection. The accent was painlessly removed when "I went to a voice coach." An actor's voice is his most basic tool, and Springfield says television offers "enough things to worry about -- remembering words, remembering your relationship, your cues, your marks, where the lights are. The thing I didn't need was to remember about an accent at the same time."
When the accent comes back it's either unconsciously -- "when I read a book, it's in my old accent" -- or when a script demands it. Springfield has worked out of the Los Angeles area since moving to this country in the mid-'70s; after working with such acting coaches as Malcolm McDowell, Vincent Chase and Jack Garfein, he started landing roles in assorted television series: "Wonder Woman," "Six Million Dollar Man" and the original pilot of "Battlestar Galactica." In one "Rockford Files" show, the producers let Springfield revive his accent -- he played a British rock star. "The acting kept me alive," he points out.
Springfield's blooming rock career -- building since the late '60s in Australia -- will no doubt benefit from the fact that "General Hospital" shoots in Los Angeles three to four days a week, allowing him to organize tours and wing around the country the rest of the work week. He sees "a lot of similarities" between doing the television show and working in the recording studio, though the latter seldom encourages the "One take -- okay, it's technically perfect" routine.
If the prognosis on Dr. Noah Drake is "increasingly healthy and wealthy," the doctor's advice to the rock star who hasn't toured in five years is "a bottle of uppers. No, just kidding," the trim and taut Springfield says. "I've always taken care of myself. I know how easy it is to get wasted on the road. Malcolm McDowell said to me, 'The first thing you have to do is be fit, because the demands on your body are amazing.' "
Springfield's first shot at the gold ring -- American style -- came in the early '70s when he had a Top 15 single, "Speak to the Sky." It had been a No. 1 hit in Australia, where he was already a top star and award-winning guitarist. Australia has in the last few years sent more than its share of rock and pop success across the water -- acts as varied as AC/DC, Little River Band, Olivia Newton-John and Split Enz. "I always knew there was a lot of talent there," Springfield says. "It's a small scene and you get to know everyone. I kept thinking of it as the Liverpool of the '70s."
Beeb Birtles of the Little River Band and Springfield were both in Zoot, the first band to record their original material. There had also been a Sha Na Na-style revival group called Rock House with which Springfield toured wartime Vietnam "from the DMZ to Cam Ranh Bay, playing at a lot of firebases. One time it was raining so hard they had to strap sandbags around us so the rain wouldn't reach our feet and electrocute us. We got shot at, we got rocketed; we'd be playing on state and suddenly guys would start diving under the table" from incoming mortar rounds.
Having survived the war zone, Springfield fell victim to the American publicity machine, which tried to turn him into one more pretty-baby teen idol by pushing his image through every teen mag in print. Lacking Immigration's Green Card that would let him tour, Springfield could do very little to overcome that glossy print image. There's an irony, of course, in his graduating to soap opera fame, but Springfield insists that he "doesn't want to be just the prepubescent teen fantasy . . .only . . .again, 'cause there's nothing in that. Hey, I'm 31, what do they want?"
His last album before the recent "Working Class Dog" had been recorded in 1976 for a label that went out of business soon after its release. In the meantime, there was the acting, a few bar gigs on the Coast, and long stretches of songwriting and recording in a small home studio. " 'General Hospital' was just another call. Sometimes you need 'em, sometimes you don't. I hadn't worked for six weeks before that, acting-wise." Springfield's signed up for a year, with a one-year option that will depend on his success on the music side.
"The mroe successful I get musically, the better it's going to be for the show," he admits. So far there have been no plans for him to sing on "General Hospital," though his record company has run album, spots during the show. Perhaps there will be a "Hospital Follies" to unveil Dr. Noah Drake's secret rock 'n' roll passion. Springfield's fan mail has increasingly mentioned his record in the last six weeks, so it would't hurt to capitalize on that connection. And if he needs to hit the road for an extended period, the producers could -- in soap opera's grand tradition -- either kill him off or at least send him into a coma. "I'm sure they'll think of it," Springfield sighs.
But in the meantime, back in Washington, there may be a need for a few more Dr. Noah Drakes. There are a number of fans in near-comas wandering around outside the Pierce Street Annex mumbling, "He kissed me!".