He’s been a confidant to two iconic bosses — Bruce Springsteen and Tony Soprano. But Stevie Van Zandt, guitarist for the E Street Band and actor on The Sopranos, has also made a name for himself as leader of his own band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul; as host of the syndicated radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage; and for his involvement in two SiriusXM channels. Such a varied career may seem worthy of writing a memoir, and Van Zandt, 70, has done that, too, with the newly published Unrequited Infatuations.
We caught up with this Renaissance man to talk about life, rock and more.
You first started working on your book about 15 years ago, but couldn’t finish it. What changed this time?
I just couldn’t really find any kind of ending to it. My life was such chaos to begin with, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to write the book. Hopefully, it would explain my life to me. But I just couldn’t find any kind of real closure at that point. The last three years — ’17, ’18 and ’19 — before the quarantine were the most productive years of my entire life. I put out all my remastered albums from the ’80s, plus two new albums, plus two live packages. So I really reconnected with my life’s work.
Tell me about the title. It’s not your typical rock memoir title.
I think that life, for most people, is summed up by that title. I think most people are a little bit disappointed with life.
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It seems like you’ve lived an incredible life. Are you not feeling the love?
Believe me, I’m the luckiest guy from the luckiest generation in history. I make that very clear. I’m not whining about it. It’s the hunger for something bigger, the search for one’s identity and one’s justification for existence.
You’re a man of many names — Miami Steve, Little Steven — and yet you chose to credit the book to Stevie Van Zandt. Why? Is that what your mother called you?
It’s more of an arrested development thing. I kind of ignore the reality of chronological age. I’m still somewhere between 16 and 25 in my head.
Initially, you weren’t interested in acting. How did David Chase convince you to join the cast of The Sopranos?
He asked me to do the show and I turned him down. I said, “Thank you. It’s a great compliment, but no thanks. I’m not an actor.” And he just said, “Yes, you are an actor. You just don’t realize it yet.” I literally had nothing better to do. I’d blown two rock ’n’ roll careers by then by leaving E Street Band and also my own solo career, which I did not take seriously enough.
What motivated you to start your TeachRock program, which gives schoolteachers free access to lessons based on the history of popular music?
I think it will inspire kids and motivate kids. That’s the reason I started my radio formats and the same reason I started my record company. Why I’ve done everything for the last 20 years was to make sure that rock ’n’ roll and soul music were not an endangered species.
Tell me about your 50-year-plus friendship with Bruce.
You don’t have that many friends that go back that far. We’ve had three big fights in our lives, which are in the book, and we were kind of estranged from each other for a while. But at this point, we’re back together and it’s not that dissimilar to when we were 15 and 16 years old. We both have our separate families, so we’re not hanging out with each other every single day, but we’re still texting almost every day with each other, staying in touch. We really did communicate friendship, which is what a band does and why a band is different than a solo act. It might have been Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, but it was always a band.