“I was baptized twice,” Stevie Van Zandt told attendees at the U.S. Book Show on May 26. But when Van Zandt—born Catholic and raised Baptist—was listening to a rock ‘n’ roll record as a kid, he was sanctified once more. “I had an epiphany, a thrilling sensation, like a complete body orgasm. At that point, rock ‘n’ roll became my third religion, and remains so to this day.”
Author of a forthcoming memoir, Unrequited Infatuations (Hachette, Sep.), Van Zandt shared his reflections on how the religion of rock ‘n roll shaped a decades-long career that has spanned work as a producer, solo artist, member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, radical activist, and actor on TV shows including The Sopranos.
But at its heart, it was a discussion about writing. Interviewer Ben Greenman, who edited the book, noted that, unlike many books authored by famous people, every word was written by Van Zandt. The author described a process in which he worked to write in a style of a mystery novel with the clarity of a writer like Hemingway.
“At the same time, for those interested, I wanted to drop occasional bits of information about a craft or an insight I might have had, that makes you want to stop and think about it for a minute,” Van Zandt said, pointing to the work of Zorba the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, his favorite author, as another inspiration. “You can zip through the narrative if you want just the story, or you can stop on every page and think about what he just said. It takes weeks and sometimes months to read his books. I stop on every single page and go, damn.”
In Van Zandt’s story, the author recounts growing up during what he calls a renaissance of rock music that lasted from 1965 to 1994. Along the way, his musical work took him on the road with Springsteen. His exposure to the wider world deepened his sense of justice and activism ,including focusing global attention on South Africa’s Apartheid regime with his hit song “Sun City.”
Nor has he slowed down. Writing the book made him even more aware that the last three years have been among his most productive in his many careers—the fruits of which Van Zandt said he is eager to share with others when Unrequited Infatuations hits the shelves this fall.