Steven Van Zandt has played alongside Bruce Springsteen for a long time. As such, he’s one of the few people in The Boss’ orbit who can take the legend to task and not worry about reprisals. In a new interview with Billboard to promote his new album Soulfire, the guitarist, radio DJ and actor compared his relationship with Springsteen to the character that he played on The Sopranos.
“My relationship with Bruce was the same relationship that Silvio had with Tony Soprano,” he said. “Silvio was not afraid of Tony. Bruce and I grew up together, so I’m never going to be afraid of him. You want a buffer in between the leader and the day-to-day problems that a band has. [Longtime Springsteen tour director] George Travis fulfills that role for Bruce now, but in the old days, I was that guy. I was a very good consigliere.”
The interview gives the impression that Van Zandt stays busy, whether acting as consiglier in the E Street Band, looking for acting gigs or writing scripts. But it seems that even that isn’t enough to keep Van Zandt satisfied. He seems to think that rock is pretty well dead — or at least co-signed to cult status — and in between his many projects he wants to try and rebuild the infrastructure that allowed rock music to dominate the musical mainstream.
“The rock era is over,” he said. “I clock it from [Bob Dylan’s] ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ to the death of Kurt Cobain, which was almost exactly 30 years. At that point we returned to a pop era and rock returned to being a cult, which, to be honest, is probably where it belongs. It was never meant to really be the mainstream. We just staged a coup d’état on the charts in the mid-’60s…The infrastructure that created rock is no longer there. I’m talking to the Hard Rock Café about developing [its clubs into] a rock-and-roll circuit where people can play, but the local radio stations that supported rock are gone. The local clubs are gone.”
In addition to trying to lay the groundwork for a new rock circuit, Van Zandt hopes he can start up a variety show that showcases exciting young performers.
“I’m working on a TV variety show that would be like the old Shindig, Hullabaloo or Ready Steady Go! types of shows,” he said. “I have the radio element [Underground Garage]; I’m trying to get a rock element via the Hard Rock Café, and if I can put together three or four pieces of infrastructure — radio, TV, live, internet — I think rock can become a substantial cult again where people can actually make a living. But right now, you can’t make a living playing rock and roll.”
If anyone could do it, it’s probably the guy who juggles the demands of a superstar and his own acting career. Check out the whole interview over at Billboard.