Story 2018-05-06 Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ

Induction Speech

Bruce Springsteen:
Though born in Boston, Massachusetts, there is no purer distillation of the Jersey ethos than Little Steven Van Zandt. He is his own purest creation. Words you will never hear on the street: “Wow, that guy looks just like Little Steven.”

Roaring into New Jersey at 7 years old, baptized at 13 in the holy spirit of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, The Stones on “Hollywood Palace,” Steve’s vocation, rock ‘n’ roll, chose him early. I first laid eyes on him at the Middletown Hullabaloo Club, in 1966. As I walked in, there was Steve with his band The Shadows, knocking out a record-perfect rendition of The Turtles’ “Happy Together.” Who knew I had just met my black-vested, paisley-tied, teenaged wild-eye bro? One look at Steve and I knew that we both drunk the same Kool-Aid. Then it was fast friendship, weekly trips to Greenwich Village and the Cafe Wha?, to watch the bands, argue about who was better, Led Zeppelin or the Jeff Beck Group, The Beatles or the Rolling Stones, who had the perfect clothes, the perfect guitar, the perfect hair. And thousands of hours of preparation for the day when folks would argue about us.

Of course, this all culminated in our brotherhood in the E Street Band. Steve’s service, playing, singing, producing as my irreplaceable lieutenant, and our lifelong friendship.

While I’m always blessed to have Steve at my side, his solo work speaks for itself. The incredible songs and productions he created for Southside Johnny, such as “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “It’s Been a Long Time.” Steve is one of the greatest living white soul performers and writers we have. His timely and classic “Sun City” recording, with an organization he created, Artists United Against Apartheid, was not only brave music but worked hard to combat apartheid in South Africa. His incredible work with his ongoing group, the Disciples of Soul. And all of this before you get to Steve’s great contribution to Jersey lore as an actor: Silvio in “The Sopranos.”

Did I mention, he’s a radio host, an entrepreneur with Little Steven’s Underground Garage, where he plays all the music you need to hear, and captains the Wicked Cool record label, where he releases great records and gives young bands a shot they deserve? Steve also has a long career as an activist, too lengthy to go into here, but let’s just say he walks it like he talks it. His Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and his TeachRock program brings an essential curriculum of music and culture into school and makes it available at no cost to educators. In a time of cutbacks of arts funding, Steve programs are keeping kids engaged in the arts, and in school. This is his greatest legacy.

This is a man who was married to his lovely wife Maureen by Little Richard, serenaded down the aisle by the great Percy Sledge, is the sole creator of the male babushka, and is the only man I know besides Hugh Hefner who has figured out how to spend his whole life in his pajamas.

By Bruce Springsteen via

Acceptance Speech

Steven Van Zandt:
So, destiny is a funny thing. You know, like Bruce was saying, when and where you’re born, and the circumstances you’re born into, really count. If I had been born 10 years earlier, I probably would have been a teenage juvenile delinquent car mechanic, drag racing my car every weekend, and I’d be dead now. If my mother didn’t marry Bill Van Zandt, I never would have left Boston and ended up in New Jersey.

Growing up in New Jersey ended up being a very good thing. It was less pressure than a major city. So I got a chance to develop. At the same time, it wasn’t so great that it made you want to stay there the rest of your life. It gave you some motivation, you know?

Like I said at Rutgers, my life has really been about chasing greatness. I seek it out, I support it when I find it, and I create it when I can. But I wouldn’t have known what greatness was if I hadn’t grown up in the middle of a renaissance period, when the greatest art being made was also the most commercial. That set your standards very high, forever. We were lucky to grow up when we did. Like I’ve said many times, nobody is born great, greatness is developed. And being born when our country was so rich that it allowed the teenage leisure class to exist, and gave (greatness) time to develop, was very lucky. And the suburbs of New Jersey in the ’60s was the perfect place to do it. So destiny and a little growing up goes a long way.

Most importantly, if I hadn’t been in New Jersey in the ’60s, exactly where I was, doing what I happened to be doing, in the manner I was doing it, I never would have met Bruce Springsteen. Now, we’ve done a lot of good work together, and there’s still more to come. But what was most important, was he was the only other person I had ever met for whom rock ‘n’ roll was everything. Not a job, not a convenience, not a way to fortune and fame, not a way to get laid, although it would be all those things. But you have to understand, when we decided to do it, it wasn’t a legitimate business yet. And the only successful bands were from England, 3,000 miles away. Not New Jersey. So we needed each other’s reinforcement, you know?

And with Bruce and the E Street Band, we would do what only a few had accomplished in history before us. We did the impossible. We made New Jersey hip. And then 20 years later, I had the most extraordinary and unlikely fate of watching New Jersey become fashionable twice in one lifetime. Unbelievable. If I hadn’t been in New Jersey I wouldn’t have met David Chase, I wouldn’t have been on “The Sopranos.”… So thank you New Jersey. You have been very, very good to me. And I hope someday, if my luck holds out, to eventually return the favor.

By Steve van Zandt via
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