Review: Renaissance man Van Zandt adds “storyteller” to resume with “Unrequited Infatuations”

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The cover of Steven Van Zandt’s memoir, “Unrequited Infatuations”.

“I should call this book ‘Unrequited Digressions'”, Steven Van Zandt, a few hundred pages in his new memoir, “Unrequited Infatuations” (416 pp., $ 31, Hachette Books), before embarking on the one that has to see with Billy Ray Cyrus, of all.

Yes, there are a lot of digressions in the book. But it won’t bother you. The style matches his varied and unpredictable career, which is truly unlike any other.

Belonging to one of the greatest rock bands of all time (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band) and one of the greatest TV shows of all time (“The Sopranos”). Write classic songs, produce classic records, lead your own Disciples of Soul groups, take political positions, defend garage-rock music and artistic education …

Over the course of the book, Van Zandt writes about his inspired work with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, of course, and Darlene Love. Then there’s his TV show “Lilyhammer,” which was Netflix’s first exclusively licensed series (and whose behind-the-scenes shenanigans could probably make a pretty good book on their own). And his childhood, and his early exposure to The Beatles (at Shea Stadium) and The Rolling Stones (at Asbury Park). And her long successful marriage.

Plus the time when legendary bluesman Freddie King pointed a gun at him (!). And the way he cleverly managed to avoid serving in the military (!!). And his love of ballet (!!!).

It is not a story that can be told in a simple, linear fashion.

Van Zandt writes about it all with the personality and humor you would expect from one of rock’s greatest characters. Why shouldn’t this Renaissance man also be a skilful memorialist?

The pandemic has given him time to figure it all out, he writes (while sarcastically thanking “Trump’s kakistocracy”), and I guess publisher Ben Greenman (there is no co-author) deserves a part of the credit for making a good, consistently entertaining read.

It comes with an unusual warning, however. “Who knows?” Van Zandt writes, after trying to determine when he was invited to join The E Street Band. “We all make up half of this shit anyway.”

steven van zandt and dylan

STEVEN VAN ZANDT

Van Zandt writes that his favorite profession is musical arrangement, which is unusual for a rock star to write. But it does make sense. He’s good at figuring things out as they go – analyzing where all the pieces go to make whatever he tries to work. And he’s constantly, in this book, tweaking and trying to pinpoint what’s really important and explain why.

But – and I think that’s probably a little unusual for someone with such an analytical mind – he’s also a bold dreamer, readily taking on controversial or commercially doomed projects just because they think they are. worth it.

Most of the people he meets along the way are doing quite well. “I don’t have time for small conflicts,” writes Van Zandt, and that’s a pretty credible claim, given his resume.

But in some cases, he holds a grudge and will name names. The late Frank Zappa, for example, earned his eternal enmity by refusing to participate in the protest single “Sun City”, calling it “meaningless bullshit”.

“His arrogance and obnoxiousness were breathtaking,” writes Van Zandt.

Then there’s Doyle Bramhall II, who was part of a blues-rock band produced by Van Zandt (Arc Angels) and who fought Van Zandt every step of the way. “Every now and then I still see this face in my dreams,” writes Van Zandt.

Unsurprisingly, he writes about Springsteen with brotherly affection, though he also lists the only three times they’ve fought.

Once was, surprisingly, when Van Zandt was out of The E Street Band but Springsteen played “Ain’t Got You” for him. (The song, about a super rich man suffering from an unrequited romantic infatuation, ended up on his Tunnel of love album). Springsteen said he was just trying to be funny and honest about his life.

“I hate to tell you that,” Van Zandt replies, “but nobody gives a shit about your life! Your donation, your work, your genius tells people about their Lives!”

Van Zandt writes a little more about their argument, than concluding the anecdote with this recollection: “We screamed and screamed for a while, then he threw me out.

JEAN BOIS

Little Steven and Bruce Springsteen perform together at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park in 2019.

The book also describes Van Zandt’s encounters with Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan – there are so many Dylan cameos in the book, in fact, that I did a separate article on them – Nelson Mandela, Paul Simon, Patti Smith, Phil Spector, Ronnie Spector (with whom he had a brief affair) and many more.

For a rock star, Van Zandt does not display much vanity. The book has a bit of self-glorification but also a lot of self-mockery, and it shares memories of his projects that didn’t go well, as well as those that did.

One encounter that did not bear immediate fruit was with the aforementioned Billy Ray Cyrus. Van Zandt was hired by Cyrus ‘management to write a sequel to Cyrus’ hugely successful “Achy Breaky Heart,” so he met Cyrus in Nashville and ended up liking him very much. And he wrote a song for him, although Cyrus never published it.

But for Van Zandt, still juggling a million different projects and trying to figure things out, it was always a worthwhile trip. While in Nashville, he came up with the idea of ​​Outlaw Country which is now on SiriusXM Satellite Radio (along with his long-running Underground Garage channel), as a way to broadcast acts ranging from Johnny Cash to The Band. which all other formats ignored.

Also, he writes, referring to that abandoned Cyrus song, “Someone somewhere in Nashville has a hit sitting in a desk drawer waiting to perform.”

Van Zandt has planned a busy book tour. For more information on his appearances, or to order the book, visit unrequitedinfatuations.com or his page at hachettebooks.com.

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