Q&A With Steven Van Zandt: ‘No Way You Could Predict My Life’
Rolling Stone recently spoke with Steven Van Zandt about his role in reuniting the Rascals, and the radio host, actor and E Street Band guitarist had plenty more to say. Here Van Zandt speaks about future E Street plans, his 50-year friendship with Bruce Springsteen and learning how to be an actor from the late James Gandolfini.
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What would the teenage you have said if you knew one day you’d help reunite your favorite band?
There was no way you could project in the future and see my life. Making any kind of living at music would have been inconceivable, really. It was such a long shot no matter what. DJ, journalist, musician, producer – any one of those would have been a miracle. So having done all of those things is really quite nice, to justify listening to that transistor radio under the covers in bed, reading every magazine in those days, going to the shows, running up to Greenwich Village on the weekend to see what was gonna be hip in New Jersey a year later. I didn’t care about anything expect rock & roll. So it’s nice that it turned out to be something that you find a way to make a living from. The fact that I could show a little gratitude and thank somebody like the Rascals and thank all my heroes by playing them on my radio show . . . who would’ve believed that I would be the only one playing these people on the radio in 2013 [on SiriusXM’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage]? That’s an extra bonus.
Do you have any plans to release any more solo music?
No. Right now my creative outlet musically has been doing the score of my Norwegian TV show Lilyhammer. I wrote the theme song already in the first season, but this year I’m doing the score itself. So that’s really fun, something I’ve never done completely before. But no plans to tour on my own.
Would you ever hope to see Bruce do a show like this?
This kind of thing could be created simultaneously. It doesn’t have to replace an existing band’s performance and, of course, the existing band doesn’t have to perform in the show. In our case, with the Rascals’ Once Upon a Dream, they’re gonna do this show as long as they want to. And eventually I’ll do a little bit of a rewrite and we’ll probably replace them with actors, turning it more into a Jersey Boys-style show. That could be done with Bruce’s music, the Who, Brian Wilson or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – anybody, really. In other words, create the show, have the band themselves in it for as long as they want to be in it, and then you film them telling their stories on the screen, but actually replace them on stage. So something like Bruce’s story or the E Street Band story or both could be told and created as the actual band continues to perform separately.
Right now it’s hard to imagine any further evolution of what we’re doing as the E Street Band, now that we’ve created this E Street orchestra thing, which is so varied and so comprehensive and so flexible. It was a wonderful creation and something I am quite proud of. We completely reinvented ourselves because we had to – losing Clarence, we had to do something radical. So we had to reinvent ourselves, and we said, “Let’s do a summary of everything.” So if Bruce feels like playing a song by himself, 17 people leave the stage. If he wants something big, 17 people come onstage and play something big, and everything in between. I can’t really imagine being in a better situation with the E Street Band right now. In some ways it’s kind of definitive and a bit hard to imagine where that would go after this.
So that’s a whole entity unto itself, but Bruce’s music being turned into theater is something waiting to happen. He’s one of the most theatrical and cinematic writers in history. If I sat down and thought about it, I could probably create five different shows from his music aside from his biography. So I think at some point somebody will certainly create theatrical events with Bruce Springsteen music, without a doubt.
That brings up two questions: would you want to be the one to do it, and do you believe then Bruce would allow his music to be used in that way?
I am proud and honored to be involved with anything having to do with Bruce. He’s my best friend coming up on 50 years soon, and having a best friend continue to push the limits of what can be done artistically and continue to be so vital and so uncompromising in his standards has been thrilling to watch from up close. Any way I can help him, I am happy and proud to do. I wish I was four or five people, because I would be doing this full-time for 10 of my favorite groups, including him, just to sort of establish this new hybrid. My wife has always been into theater and for me, it’s really new. I really just got it this year, sitting in the audience. It really hit home, this theater thing – there’s something extraordinary about it.
Any updates on new music from the E Street Band or U.S. dates?
We have Australia in February, and that’s all I know. As far as I know February will be the end of this particular Wrecking Ball tour, which [began] almost exactly two years. Honestly, I’m probably the last guy to find out what’s going on. The fans are gonna know what’s going on way before I do – they always do. So you’re better off going to the Twitter-verse as far as information about the E Street world.
Are there songs you’d like to see performed with this new orchestra, as you call them?
There are a number of possibilities. First of all, we have barely touched one of our most recent releases, which is The Promise album. Calling these songs outtakes is really not fair or accurate. It’s a legitimate album unto itself and one of our best ever, right there with the second disc of Tracks. It absolutely is one of my favorite albums we’ve ever done and that Bruce has ever assembled. We barely touched it the entire tour, which is a little bit of a shame, because we had so many other things to do. As far as the band itself, who knows? Maybe Bruce, at some point, will write a record for this particular 17-piece orchestra, which he hasn’t done because it didn’t exist when he was writing the last few things. The band was assembled after the last album was done, so he has to create something for this particular lineup. But he keeps me guessing, and just like everybody else, I anxiously look forward to whatever he’s doing next. It’s always a surprise, it’s always interesting and it’s always a very high standard. And you really can’t ask for more from someone, can you?
Is there one area you’re learning more about?
Getting into the TV world is still fairly recent to me. I did 10 years on Sopranos, but the whole craft of acting is relatively new to me. I’m still learning that, and I’ll be learning that forever. I had the wonderful good luck of having Jimmy Gandolfini as my mentor and David Chase as my godfather, two of the most talented guys in the history of television. So that still feels new to me. Lilyhammer is only the second show I’ve ever done. Between TV and the theater world, that’s a lot of new stuff to explore.