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Stevie Van Zandt's new memoir documents his life in music and show business
Hari Sreenivasan: Anyone who thinks there are no second acts in life obviously never met musician and actor Stevie Van Zandt. "Little Stevie," as he is often known, has had a second, a third... actually, it's hard to say just how many acts he's had. And now he has a memoir, too. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker talked with Van Zandt about his career choices and success.
Christopher Booker: Stevie Van Zandt believes there are two types of people in the world: solo artists and band members.
Stevie Van Zandt: I'm a band guy. I'm an ensemble guy. I like bringing people together and finding the common ground.
Christopher Booker: But to Van Zandt, 'band' can mean different things. There is his role with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and as frontman in Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul, but then there are also his television roles. He was also part of a criminal band in the Sopranos. As he recounts in his new Memoir, 'Unrequited Infatuations,' his shifting band guy story starts not surprisingly, with rock n' roll.
It went like this: Born in Boston, raised in New Jersey, falls in love with music in the early sixties. Gets a guitar, learns to play and then the Beatles change things for him entirely. First on Ed Sullivan and then with the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, opening his eyes to the artistic possibilities of a life in music. Van Zandt considering himself part of the third generation.
Stevie Van Zandt: And then here we come. We're like, we take it all for granted. Plus, it became a legitimate business in the 70s, you know, so we were really the luckiest generation, I think, in that sense.
Christopher Booker: He may have been among a lucky musical generation, but it still took a tremendous amount of work - the hustle and effort of his early days spent playing night after night in venues like New Jersey's Stone Pony are cemented in musical lore.
Stevie Van Zandt: I am kind of a later starter. You know, I didn't start really actively becoming an artist until my thirties. You know, I didn't become an actor 'til my forties, you know what I mean? So everything was kind of delayed a couple of decades.
Christopher Booker: So you don't consider those periods when you were young and in your 20s - a time when you're playing all the time. You don't consider that period to be an artistic period for you?
Stevie Van Zandt: No, that's a craft period. You know, I think you're learning your craft or multiple crafts. You're a guitar player. You're-- you're a singer, you're a bandleader, you're an arranger, you're a producer, you know. These are all crafts.
Christopher Booker: Van Zandt worked for years on his craft recording, playing and touring some of Springsteen's seminal albums: 'Born To Run,' 'Darkness On The Edge of Town' and 'The River.' In 1982 Van Zandt released his first solo effort and two years later he left the E Street Band right before 'Born In The USA' was released.
Christopher Booker: Was it a painful decision in hindsight?
Stevie Van Zandt: Oh yeah. Yeah. The most painful of my life here. Yeah. Uh, you know, you do what you do, what you're compelled to do.
Christopher Booker: Born In the USA, which Van Zandt co-produced, went on to become a cultural phenomenon, selling more than 30 million copies worldwide. The ensuing tour was a stadium extravaganza.
Christopher Booker: Was it painful because of just how big things then got immediately after.
Stevie Van Zandt: I couldn't even picture that level of success. You know, 'The River' did three million and I thought, that's the most you can ever sell. We're selling out arenas. What else do you need to do. You know? No, no, it was leaving one of my best, my best friend, you know, for, you know
Christopher Booker: Van Zandt stayed plenty busy, though, releasing his own politically charged solo music through the decade while organizing an entirely new type of band. Artists United Against Apartheid urged musicians who had long performed at South Africa's casino resort Sun City to refuse to play there while apartheid stood and Nelson Mandela remained in jail.
Stevie Van Zandt: That was my whole life at that point. So I was completely committed to it, you know?
Christopher Booker: While his efforts were applauded by critics and fellow musicians, his solo career failed to find a wider audience and By the '90s his career had slowed down. But toward the end of the decade, the phone rang with an offer to join yet another band.
Stevie Van Zandt: You know, a guy calls up and say, you know, this is David Chase and you want to be an actor, you know? Well, not really, but I got nothing better to do you!
Christopher Booker: For sevens seasons on what has been called one of the most groundbreaking television shows in history Van Zandt played Silvio Dante the best friend and consigliere to mob boss Tony Soprano. Along the way, he would also rejoin the E Street Band.
Christopher Booker: Was it liberating to write a book and take stock and process all of these periods and try to create one thing?
Stevie Van Zandt: Really going back and living the moments chronologically helped me understand why I made some decisions, you know, that I've always wondered about, you know? I don't I look, I don't look back on anything I did artistically and think and think I wish I'd done something different or better. I really, really quite happy with my work when I went back and really reexamined it. You know, that's the thing. Jump in and 100 percent craft, craft, craft. It comes down to craft. The art takes care of itself.