Steven Van Zandt’s cooking looks exactly what you might expect from a man whose everyday outfit includes scarves and printed shirts.
The black and white striped walls and purple velvet sofa with gold accents in the backdrop of the room in her New York home are the epitome of Zany Rock Star Living. But while Van Zandt has always embraced his colorful personality, he’s also a laser-focused professional, which he shares syllables on the mic with Bruce Springsteen, shrugging and assaulting like Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos,” in front of his. Disciples of Soul group or running his syndicated radio show, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” (he also broadcasts Underground Garage and Outlaw Country on SiriusXM).
Van Zandt’s new memoir, “Unrequited Infatuations,” is an exciting read that covers his Italian-American upbringing, the days of bar diving with Springsteen, his untimely departure from the E Street Band, his commitment to illuminating the horrors of the apartheid, reuniting with Springsteen and his surprising third act as an actor.
In a freewheeling Zoom call, Van Zandt, 70, spoke of working on his memoir during his forties – he started it 10 years ago, but has struggled to find an end – his loyalty to Springsteen and why he thinks the Rolling Stones are doing the right thing by continuing for so long.
Q: You tell the story – which I’m not sure many people realized – of how you created the character of Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos”. Have you had any comments for John Magaro, Who is playing the role in “The Many Saints of Newark”?
Van Zandt: He did it all on his own. He didn’t need me. He had 86 episodes (of the “Sopranos”) to watch! He’s a great actor. I saw a rough cut of the movie and it’s great.
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Q: You are such a keen storyteller. Did you have someone to help you write the book, or is that all you?
Van Zandt: My editor, Ben Greenman, really helped me stay the course. Even though it started out as a music book, I didn’t want it to be that. From the second half of the book, it becomes an odyssey. I wanted it to be a detective story: you don’t know what will come next because I didn’t know myself. I wanted to write every word and I explained to the editor, the way I’m going to be sure it’s in my voice is I’m going to imagine making the audiobook and I’m going to write it that way. It won’t be grammatically correct, but if you read it the way I’m going to write it, you’ll hear my voice.
Q: Did you have Bruce read it before you finalized it?
Van Zandt: Yes. I said, if there is something you disagree with or remember that is different, I will immediately remove it because I didn’t want a reporter to catch it off guard and say : “Stevie said that in his book and you said it in yours. I have no notion of time. You want the encyclopedia of our lives, I’m not the guy. I’ll tell you what I remember and how I remember. Ultimately I wanted to keep Bruce’s stuff to a minimum, but he ended up being there more than I expected because he’s been such a big part of my life.
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Q: You write a lot about being at peace with how fate has shaken throughout your career. But is there still a part of you that regrets leaving the E Street Band in ’84, just before the “Born in the USA” tour?
Van Zandt: Totally. Forever. It will never go away. My life ended. I have committed suicide for all intents and purposes and you must die to be reborn. It was the end of my life, which came to mind as I flew to South Africa (to research apartheid). Then my “Voice of America” (album) comes out and I didn’t know Bruce was going to call the album “Born in the USA” and have the same red, white, and blue flags. … At that point, I was like, oh, I missed it all. I blew my life away. Two or three things happen when this happens; you lose all fear. All of a sudden I’m going to dangerous places thinking about the worst that can happen? Are they going to kill me? OK, I’m good to go. You tend to suddenly do things in a more committed way, this life is over so whatever is left, I really have to make that count.
Q: You mention in the book that you’re going to see the Rolling Stones play “Sticky Fingers” in 2015 and tell Charlie Watts about it. What do you think of the fact that the band continues, given that obviously they can never be the same without him?
Van Zandt: No, they’re not, and they weren’t the same after Brian Jones or Mick Taylor or Bill Wyman. They were part of the band and people underestimate Bill’s huge musical role in this band. So yeah, they’ll be different Rolling Stones – like we’re a different E Street Band – but I’m okay with them continuing. As long as Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards) are there, they’re the Stones. At the end of the day, you want them to continue because the music is bigger than any individual. But Charlie will certainly be missed.
Q: Will we see you on an arena stage next year with the E Street Band?
Van Zandt: Who the hell knows what’s going on? It is very difficult to plan anything. I’m going to prioritize Bruce and I’ll be there with him if he decides to go. Otherwise, I’ll try to get back to TV. I miss it. I would consider returning to “Lilyhammer” if Netflix wanted. The show doubled its audience during confinement. We were the first new (original) show on Netflix (in 2012) and on my first promo tour I had to explain to people what Netflix is (laughs). It is a strange and wonderful world.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Steven Van Zandt talks about Springsteen, ‘The Sopranos’ in new memoir