Fighting for Rock and Roll’s Right with Little Steven (Relix Revisited)
Yesterday was the official release date of Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise. Little Steven Van Zandt played a major role in the Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions that are the focus of The Promise. So today we look back to our conversation with Van Zandt which ran in the September/October 2007 issue of Relix.
Little Steven Van Zandt is fighting a rock ‘n’ roll revolution. Between his syndicated Underground Garage radio show—which is approaching its 300th episode—Wicked Cool record label and aim to develop a high school curriculum about rock ‘n’ roll’s history (with requisite concerts in the gym), Little Steven is attacking from all fronts in his effort to bring a greater consciousness to its legacy and impact. And this is to say nothing of his work as a member of Springsteen’s E Street band, producer of many an album or his turn as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos.
You’ve often said that the origin of the garage genre starts with one record: “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen. What song is next in importance for you?
I think it [“Louie Louie”] gave birth to two genres really: garage and frat rock.
What was the next important garage-rock song after “Louie Louie”?
Probably “Gloria.” I think that those two are way above almost everything else. So Van Morrison’s “Gloria.”
You’ve talked at length about the state of radio. You talk about the decision to replace ‘50s music with ‘70s music and that it was a decision made by a bad businessman who was uniquely stupid, deaf and dumb. Who?
That’s a really good question (laughing). I wish I knew. I’m not sure they know, you know what I mean? It’s somebody doing fraudulent marketing research. In other words, I don’t think the guys who are deciding this stuff are bad people. I just think that there’s something in the research they’re doing or the way that they’re going about trying to satisfy the lowest common denominator out there that is just fraudulent and a failure, in the most fundamental sense. I think it’s this constant tension between art and commerce that we all live with. I see both sides of it and I really do understand both sides of it.
I grew up during a time when the best music ever made was also the most commercial. So I’m not some sort of artsy person who is trying to impose something on an unsuspecting public. I understand the need to do something that is accessible and understandable and commercial in that sense. But you can’t pretend or impose 100% business on art, either. And that’s what’s happening. In other words, the reason all this works or ever worked is that the artistic side of it came from someone with passion, with vision, with things other than a fucking accounting book.
Defend your statement that “together The Sex Pistols, Audioslave and Wu-Tang Clan aren’t as wild as Jerry Lee Lewis in his prime.”
Well, that’s true. That’s a context statement. In other words, in the context of what’s going on in society and in one’s culture, we don’t really know what rebels are, because our whole consciousness has changed about that. Back in the ‘50s, there was no such thing as rebels. The government was right all the time. There was nobody questioning the government. There was no criticism of the government. There was no discussion of the government. There was no sort of sense of doing anything wrong; it was thankful.
The general attitude after World War II, the general emotion was gratitude. Everybody was so happy that the war was over and now there was a middle class being born for the first time. People had houses in suburbia and people had cars and washing machines. It was like “Wow, how lucky we are to be in America and to have all these luxuries.” It was a time of this sort of ignorance is bliss, everybody is the same, and everybody must conform to the norm. This was all of society.
And here comes Jerry Lee Lewis. A complete freak. I mean, him, Little Richard. These guys were so freaky… they treated them like they treat clowns in a circus. That was the only way they knew how to deal with them, you know? Sort of, “Look at the monkey in the cage” sort of thing. You know, drinking and popping speed pills and amphetamines and marrying his 13-year-old cousin and kicking back the piano with his hair falling in his face. He was right out of the jungle! People like him and Little Richard were freaky. They communicating something so primitive, so liberating that it was unprecedented. Unprecedented!
You’ve said of the older music you play, “I don’t think of this as nostalgia.” What do you think of it as?
The ‘50s and ‘60s was our renaissance and we will be studying it for hundreds of years to come, as far as I’m concerned. When I say I’m not nostalgic about it, what I mean is that I’m still in it. When I hear those songs, I don’t think “Oh, I was with my first girlfriend. That’s the song I got laid to. That’s the song I first smoked dope to.” I don’t think that way. I’m like, “This song is getting my dick hard right now. Right now! As I’m listening to it, this minute. In the present tense.” It’s just as inspiring now as it was then.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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