Rick Springfield Under Fire ... in Vietnam
There aren't too many guys born in 1949 who would want to appear all but naked on camera, but fans of Showtime's "Californication," airing Sundays, have become very well acquainted with most of guest star Rick Springfield.
Click here for an earlier post in which Springfield talks about playing a funhouse-mirror version of himself, also named Rick Springfield.
But this was hardly the most daring thing Springfield has done in his life. You could argue that took place in 1968, when, as a young musician from Australia, he headed off to Vietnam to entertain the troops.
"I was in Vietnam in '68, '69," he says, "my first overseas plane trip. We played for the troops over there for about three or four months. There was a promoter in Saigon who just brought Australian nationals, because they were the closest Occidental country.
"We thought, 'It's going to be like the USO, protected and everything.' But they'd throw us in helicopters and fly us out to a firebase. Halfway through the show, rockets and mortars would start coming in. They'd hustle us into a sandbag bunker.
"We got shot at going through trails in the jungle. It was really freaky. Almost killed everybody with a hand grenade one night. We stayed overnight with a company in Marble Mountain, outside Da Nang, and they got attacked. I'm throwing mortars down the tubes, and they're all firing in the foxholes with the other guys."
Mortars? Weren't you a musician?
"I know," Springfield says, "but we all thought, 'Yeah, let's do this.' But I was terrified. On top of that, I smoked horrendous amounts of dope, which led to more paranoia. It's very different than putting a sticker on your car saying, 'I support the troops,' to do something physical. I greatly admire people who do that.
"You don't know how absolutely isolating it can be to be a zone like that."
Asked if it was like the old saying about hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror, Springfield says, "Sheer terror, absolutely, and especially with Vietnam. All the guys we spoke to were like, 'Why are we here?'
"Being in that zone does put you in a slightly different head space. Even though we weren't fighting, there was a slightly different danger every day. There'd been a band before us that had been pulled over and shot.
"I think back now, and I'm horrified at myself. You hear things and you see things -- it's a war zone. I can't imagine actually having a weapon and going out, knowing that you could be killed every second. We felt we could, anytime.
"We'd sleep with them; we'd sleep in the firebases. I've got these photos of me in these filthy clothes, in this dust-covered hooch on a cot with a dirty old Army blanket over me. That's why they send the young ones, because they can put up with that. I wouldn't do that now."
Springfield also got to know the soldiers as human beings.
"Those guys in Vietnam," he says, "it was so lonely, and they were so anxious for contact with anything that closely resembled home. We were Australian, but we resembled home.
"After the concert, they'd take us to their tents. All they could spend their money on was stereo gear from the PX. So they'd put on The Doors, light up a joint, pull out the photos. I can't count the number of times I saw the guy's car and the guy's girl and the guy's family, and that's all they wanted to show you."
As the son of an officer in the Australian military, Springfield's experiences in Vietnam left him with an enduring appreciation for men and women in uniform and their families.
"We put out a Christmas CD that comes out every Christmas now," he says. "One of the songs, I wrote. They're very traditional. I don't like rock 'n' roll Christmas. I like 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,' but I prefer the spiritual, mystical, from the 1800s, beautiful melodies,
"I wrote a song called 'Christmas With You' (click here for the video), and the proceeds of that go to Gold Star Mothers, who are parents who've lost kids. I say kids, because they are, in war, specifically the Middle Eastern campaigns. But it's a group that goes back to the Second World War."
Springfield's support continues.
"I think it's a very valid war," he says, "and I support all the guys, and I will continue to. We go to hospitals. We went to Bethesda (Naval Hospital) and visited some of the guys. They looked younger than my sons."
Asked if he'd entertain the troops now, Springfield says, "I was trying to line Iraq up. I was talking to Jon Voight about it, going over there and doing something. I know Gary Sinise. He went over there, some good people.
"I am not afraid to go over there and would do it in a heartbeat."