By Steven Van Zandt The kitchen looks exactly as you would expect from a guy whose everyday outfit includes headscarves and patterned shirts.
The black-and-white striped walls and gold-trimmed purple velvet sofa in the back room of her New York home are the epitome of Zany Rock Star Living. But while Van Zandt has always embraced his colorful personality, he is also a laser-focused pro, whether it’s sharing syllables on a microphone with Bruce Springsteen, shrugging and mugging Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos,” in front of his band Disciples of Soul or directing their syndicated radio show, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” (also program the underground garage and Outlaw Country channels on SiriusXM).
Van Zandt’s new memoir, “Unrequited Infatuations,” now available, is a fun read that spans his Italian-American upbringing, his dive bar days with Springsteen, his untimely departure from the E Street Band, his commitment to illuminating the horrors of apartheid, meeting Springsteen and his surprising third act as an actor.
On a free Zoom call, Van Zandt, 70, spoke about working on his memoirs during his quarantine; started them 10 years ago, but struggled to find an end: his allegiance to Springsteen and why he believes The Rolling Stones are doing the right thing carrying on so long.
Q: It tells the story, which I’m not sure many people have realized, about how you created the character of Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos.” Do you have any input 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. I had 86 episodes (of “The Sopranos”) to watch! He’s a great actor. I saw a first cut of the movie and it’s great.
Q: You are such a vivid storyteller. Did you have someone help you write the book, or is this all you?
Van Zandt: My editor, Ben Greenman, really helped me stay on track. Although it starts out as a music book, I didn’t want it to be that way. In the second half of the book, it turns into an odyssey. I wanted it to be a detective novel: you don’t know what comes 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 that this is in my voice is that I’m going to imagine making the audiobook and I’m going to write it that way. It’s not going to be grammatically correct, but if you read it the way I’m going to write it, you will hear my voice.
Q: Did you have Bruce read it before finalizing?
Van Zandt: Yes. I said, if there’s something you disagree with or remember differently, I’ll immediately bring it up because I didn’t want a reporter to mislead him and say, “Stevie said this in his book and you said this in yours.“I have no sense of time. If you want the encyclopedia of our lives, I’m not the type. I will tell you what I remember and how I remember. In the end, I wanted to keep Bruce’s stuff to a minimum, but he ended up being there more than I bargained for because it’s been a huge part of my life.
Q: You write a lot about being at peace with the way fate shook as your career progressed. 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. That will never go away. My life is over. I committed suicide for all intents and purposes and you have to die to be reborn. That was the end of my life, which occurred to me while flying to South Africa (to investigate apartheid). Then my “Voice of America” (album) comes out and I didn’t know that Bruce was going to call the album “Born in the USA” and that it had the same red, white and blue flags. … At that point I was like, oh, I blew it. I blew my life away. A couple of things happen when that happens; you lose all fear. Suddenly I go to dangerous places thinking what is the worst that can happen? Are they going to kill me? OK, I’m ready to go. You tend to suddenly do things in a more committed way, that life is over, so whatever is left, I really have to make it count.
Q: You mention in the book that you’re going to see the Rolling Stones perform “Sticky Fingers” in 2015 and you talk to Charlie Watts about it. What do you think about the band continuing, since obviously they can never be the same without him?
Van Zandt: No, they are not, and they were not the same after Brian Jones or Mick Taylor or Bill Wyman. They were an important part of the band and people underestimate the huge musical role of Bill in that band. So yeah, they’ll be different Rolling Stones, like we’re a different E Street Band, but I agree. what should continue. As long as Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards) are there, it’s the Stones. In the end, you want them to continue because music is bigger than any individual. But we will certainly miss Charlie.
Q: Will we see you on stage next year with the E Street Band?
Van Zandt: Who the hell knows what’s going on? It is very difficult to plan something. Go to give Bruce the first priority and I’ll be there with him if he decides to go. If not, I will try to go back to television. I miss him. I would consider going back to “Lilyhammer” if Netflix wanted to. The show doubled its audience during quarantine. We were the first new (original) show on Netflix (in 2012) and on my first promotional tour I had to explain to people what Netflix was (laughs). It is such a strange and wonderful world.