LAMag’s “The Originals”: Stevie Van Zandt on What Sex and Singing with Springsteen Have in Common

The E Street Band’s guitarist dishes on writing his memoir, hating that Beatles doc and why one shouldn’t eat garlic before sharing a mic with The Boss

On the eve of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 2023 world tour, The Originals host Andrew Goldman puts the band’s guitarist, Stevie Van Zandt, who is also an author and actor, on the couch for a funny, sometimes intense conversation that gets into the meaning of success and failure and how the decision he long believed destroyed his life might have instead provided untold opportunities for achievement and fulfillment.

Here are four big takeaways from the latest “The Originals” episode from LAMag.

1. Van Zandt tortured himself endlessly after quitting the E Street band on the eve of the massive success of Springsteen’s 1984 album Born in the USA. “I had gone through my whole life feeling like I blew my life when I left the E Street Band,” he says. “That was always in the back of my mind. Always. Because making a living playing rock and roll was an impossible dream for a kid from New Jersey. We had been working for 15 years before we had any success. We finally have success with [Springsteen’s 1980 album] The River. I’m 30 years old. We finally have success and I leave. I think my life is over.”

2. The process of writing his 2021 memoir, Unrequited Infatuations, allowed him to reexamine the decision to leave the band in a brand-new, more forgiving light. “Analyzing it now…as it turns out, everything I’ve ever accomplished in my life that has any meaning I did after I thought my life was over,” he says. “Really everything that actually matters happened after…I’ve created a music history curriculum for schools. I created two new radio formats. I became an actor and did two very successful TV shows. We were extremely instrumental in ending the South African regime and getting Nelson Mandela out of jail.”

3. He didn’t care for Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary, but not because it was boring. Van Zandt, whose career choice, like that of his best friend Springsteen, was profoundly influenced by a love for the Beatles, found Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary almost too sad to bear. “Everybody loved the series, but to me, I was just watching one of my favorite bands break up,” he says. “That’s all.” Plus, Van Zandt was particularly appalled that members of the band, including George Harrison himself, believed that the Beatles might have been just as good or better with Eric Clapton on guitar. “I don’t want to see George Harrison apologizing because he’s not Eric Clapton,” Van Zandt says. “I mean, what the fuck was that?… This is not their first rehearsal. This is 10 years into the fucking band! And he is apologizing for not being Eric Clapton! George Harrison is just a terrific guitar player. I mean, I’ve had to play his solos [while performing onstage in 2017] with Paul. I had to play the ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ solo. It’s not easy, man that rockabilly thing that he understood so well.”

4. He proffers advice for anyone sharing a microphone on stage with Bruce Springsteen, as he does often. “Make sure you brush your teeth and make sure you have mouthwash, and you make sure you make it a pleasant experience as you would if you were about to make love to a woman,” Van Zandt says. “I would not suggest eating garlic or peanut butter. You’ve got to be conscious of these things. You’re going to have an intimate moment, so be prepared for it.”

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