A Beatles album, memoir and potential tour with Bruce Springsteen: it's been a busy year for Steven Van Zandt
The singer and guitarist’s new album, 'Macca to Mecca', was recorded live in the UK
Steven Van Zandt is used to being the coolest man in the room.
Whether providing genre-defining riffs for Born to Run as the guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, or exuding menace and mirth as mobster Silvio Dante in classic TV series The Sopranos, nothing fazes the man in a bandana, who has a new memoir, Unrequited Infatuations, being published on Tuesday, September 28.
Although, as Van Zandt, 70, tells The National, that icy veneer cracked ever so slightly in 2017 when he was offered two experiences he could have only dreamt about when starting out in his career more than five decades ago.
First came the opportunity to appear in a Martin Scorsese film.
“It was The Irishman and a small cameo role, but I didn’t care,” he recalls. “I just said yes because it was always my dream to work with him. You don’t say no to that.”
Satisfied with the US shoot, he jetted to London in time to kick off a UK tour with his acclaimed band Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul.
And then came the second moment.
Sure enough, McCartney arrived at their gig at the Roundhouse in London, and not simply to watch, but also to share the stage with Van Zandt to perform The Beatles classic I Saw Her Standing There.
That show was a tribute to the Fab Four, as Van Zandt’s 15-piece band effortlessly tore through some of the group’s biggest hits, including Magical Mystery Tour and All You Need is Love.
Van Zandt's performance with McCartney is now immortalised as a bonus track on Macca to Mecca, the new live album and DVD by Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, recorded in November 2017 at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club and released in January this year.
Not only was the album a fitting way to end the tour, he says, but its title practically wrote itself.
“Starting from that first show with McCartney in London where he joined us, I was just in a real Beatles mood after that,” he says. “And then playing in the same venue in Liverpool where The Beatles started their careers was a childhood dream of mine come true.
“For my rock ‘n’ roll religion, The Cavern is the first sacred site. It was an honour – no, make that an epiphany – to perform there.”
A sense of closure
Those memories, on-stage moments and appearances on both the small and big screen all feature in Van Zandt’s memoir.
It traces everything from his beginnings on the Jersey Shore music scene alongside his friend, Springsteen, to him spearheading the US pop industry's resistance against South Africa's former apartheid regime through the Sun City group album.
Van Zandt used the unexpected downtime brought on by the pandemic to write the book.
"I tried writing this about 10 or 12 years ago, but I couldn't figure out the ending," he says. "That doesn't mean I am done because I still have a million ideas and I am just getting started. But going back to how McCartney came on my stage gave me that sense of closure.”
There was no plan B
The reflection process also brought up a few piercing insights about the early days with Springsteen and the E Street Band, and the making of their debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.
"We had no plan B," Van Zandt says. "We were a complete cast of misfits and freaks and we didn't know anything else to do. We were either going to make it or die trying."
Van Zandt believes the music business was less cut-throat then.
“We didn’t have a real hit until our fifth album [1980’s The River],” he says. “Record companies then were really investing in you as an artist and the tragedy today is the concept of development is gone.
“The truth is greatness in any form is not born, but developed over years of working on your craft."
As for his acting success, Van Zandt credits The Sopranos star James Gandolfini and series creator David Chase.
“Chase showed me the importance of detail,” he says. "By going into the small, little eccentricities of New Jersey life in The Sopranos, he made the show even more universal and gave us more things we can relate to.
“Springsteen does the same with his songs and this is also why people love them anywhere in the world."
Does Van Zandt care to test that theory further with a regional tour by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band?
“Oh, I hope so and we would love to come to the UAE,” he says. “We love to travel anywhere and play, and right now, with people getting vaccinated, we are thinking of what we can do in 2022 and hopefully that area of the world can be part of the conversation.”
Updated: June 10, 2021 06:05 PM