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Stevie Van Zandt of The E Street Band: ‘Maine is like the new Seattle’

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Stevie Van Zandt of The E Street Band: ‘Maine is like the new Seattle’ (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP, File)

Rocker Steven Van Zandt has led a rich and multi-faceted career over the last five decades. The longtime guitarist and singer for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tells The Maine Edge his life has been so broad and varied in scope that when he sat down to write his new memoir “Unrequited Infatuations” (Hachette Books), he was surprised to discover more than a few things about himself.

How do you deliver a story about a kid obsessed with rock and roll, first as a fan and observer, and then as an active participant in some of its greatest moments? It had to include his life as an anti-apartheid activist, starting in the mid-1980s, and his surprise turn as an actor, beginning with his role as the tough, funny and cool-headed Silvio Dante on 78 episodes of “The Sopranos.”

Van Zandt struck upon the obvious solution when he told his publisher that he would write the book in his voice. If you’ve heard his colorful rock-noir delivery on the radio, you know the voice. The story he tells in that voice is spellbinding, and throughout the book’s voluminous twists and turns, Van Zandt lays it out in often revelatory detail.

Van Zandt reinvented himself as a broadcaster 20 years ago, spinning “the coolest rock and roll records ever made” on the weekly radio program The Underground Garage. The two-hour show airs on more than 200 radio stations in the U.S. – including Bangor’s own WKIT 100.3 – and is syndicated to more than 100 countries. He turned the format into a radio station, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” on Sirius/XM, for whom he also created the “Outlaw Country” channel.

“Writing a book in general is not easy,” Van Zandt said, recalling an early attempt he had abandoned a decade ago. “What do you leave in? What do you leave out? How do you keep it coherent?” he asked. He credits his editor, Ben Greenman, for keeping him on the path, adding “Believe me, this book could have been three or four times longer.”

During the following interview, Van Zandt shares his memories of the historic 1979 “No Nukes” concerts performed by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band and due for release in November. He discusses the biggest challenge he faced when writing “Unrequited Infatuations,” and he shares his enthusiasm for Maine’s musical talent, half-joking that “Maine is like the new Seattle.”

The Maine Edge: Were you ever one to keep a journal or a diary?

Stevie Van Zandt: Boy, I really wish I had, man, let me tell you something. There’s lots of details I’m sure I’m not remembering. My office keeps a lot of biographical stuff which goes back quite a ways. That did help out, especially when it came to the 1990s, which was kind of a lost decade in my mind. It was the first decade I ever started where I had no purpose for the first time in my life. But when you look back, I did a lot of things in the ‘90s (laughing), you know? (Note: Van Zandt is referring in part to a period when he left the E Street Band for more than a decade, a decision he calls his biggest regret.)

The Maine Edge: You mentioned earlier that it wasn’t easy to write a book. What did you find to be the most challenging part of writing “Unrequited Infatuations?”

Stevie Van Zandt: The big challenge was keeping the balance I wanted to keep, which was telling the story, but also to bring the reader back to that time and explain the history to provide a little context to my life. The history that I witnessed was extraordinary. I only missed the first decade of rock and roll, for the rest I’ve been an eyewitness. The third track was all the various crafts that I’ve been involved with from songwriting to producing albums for other artists, producing radio shows, TV shows, movies and Broadway. I wanted the book to be useful and not just my story. It’s more about what I’ve observed, what I’ve learned and what I can pass along that makes the thing more meaningful to me.

The Maine Edge: In the middle of recording sessions for “The River,” (1980 double LP from Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band), the band was asked to take part in the multi-artist 1979 “No Nukes” concerts, which were recorded and filmed for a 1980 concert film. (A composite of the two shows performed by Bruce and the band will be out on Blu-ray, vinyl, and CD, on November 19.) What do you remember about that time?

Stevie Van Zandt: It was a rare opportunity to play with a lot of other bands which we almost never did. By the time I joined the band (in 1975, during the recording of “Born to Run”), the E Street Band didn’t open for anybody anymore. It was like doing a festival, which we’ve really just started doing these last couple of tours. The “No Nukes” shows are most memorable for me because it’s when I met Jackson Browne, who became a lifelong friend and mentor when it came to politics. It began my education about political activism. We also did a benefit show around that time for Vietnam veterans. I had no way knowing that just three years later, I would be dedicating my life to politics.

The Maine Edge: A few years ago, you started your own record label called Wicked Cool Records. Earlier this year, you released a wonderful album called “Still Dirty” by the Maine band Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems. You’re a fan too. What impressed you about them?

Stevie Van Zandt: Oh, they’re just terrific. Kris is an enormous talent. That whole area up there, man, you’ve got yourself a real scene. You’ve got Kris Rodgers, Kurt Baker is from up there (the label has released six albums by the Portland native). Maine is like the new Seattle (laughing). One of the joys of having the radio show is turning people onto new bands. We’ve introduced over 1,000 new bands in 20 years.

The Maine Edge: Where did your gift for storytelling come from?

Stevie Van Zandt: I don’t know. I’ve been doing the radio show for 20 years, and that certainly helped. When I started the book, I asked myself “How can I make sure this thing is in my voice?” I knew I was going to write every word of it, I wasn’t going to have a co-writer. I decided to think ahead to the audio book, because I’ll eventually do one, and write it like I’ll speak it. I explained to the editor and publisher that it’s not going to be grammatically correct, there will be sentence fragments and it’s going to look weird. But if you read it the way I’m writing it, you will hear my voice.

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 October 2021 12:33

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