In an exclusive excerpt from his new memoir, Springsteen’s best friend recounts for the first time why he quit the band, and his big return - https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/stevie-van-zandt-book-e-street-band-1213174/
Money and me, what can I say? We never got along too good. The pattern of my life is investing everything I have in what I believe in. Emotionally. All my time. All my talent. All my energy. And, yeah, usually all my money. Because I hate asking other people for money, and, until recently, never had anybody to do the asking for me. And we’ll see how long they last.
In 1982, I proceeded to spend what little money I had left after taking an eleven-piece band around the world for a year.
Now, the Rock life isn’t for everybody. You’re basically packing your bags and unpacking them thirty years later. It’s a lifestyle that requires dedication, perseverance, patience, ambition, and, most of all, having no desire or ability to do anything else.
People are always saying, “Oh, how proud you must be! How righteous to have withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!”
But no. I’m sorry.
I resist all accusations of nobility.
We were bums. Profoundly unsuited for any legitimate type of work. We did have honor for our outlaw profession. And a work ethic. I’ll give us that.
Part of the rationalization and satisfaction of being a boss working for another boss was the ability to offer suggestions and advice.
I liked being the underboss in the E Street Band. The consigliere. It kept me out of the spotlight but allowed me to make a significant enough contribution to justify my own existence in my own mind. And there was a balance between me, Bruce, and Jon Landau. We had artistic theory and artistic practice covered.
But somewhere in ’82, it started to feel like Bruce had stopped listening. He had always been the most single-minded individual, with a natural extreme monogamy of focus in all things — in relationships, in songwriting, in guitar playing, in friends. Was that impulse now going to apply to his advisers?
At the time, I was hurt by the thought that maybe Jon resented my complete direct access to Bruce. I liked Jon a lot and thought he felt the same about me. If anything, I should have been the resentful one, but I wasn’t. In the end, I don’t think Jon had anything to do with the way things changed. There comes a time when people want to evolve without any baggage. To become something new and different without having to stay connected to the past. This was, I think, one of those moments.
Occasionally you need to be untethered.
Without all this retrospective wisdom, though, Bruce and I had our first fight, one of only three we would have in our lives.
I felt I had been giving him nothing but good advice and had dedicated my whole life and career to him without asking for a thing.
I felt I’d earned an official position in the decision-making process.
He disagreed. So I quit.
We finally made it.
And I quit.
The night before payday.
It was fucking with Destiny big-time.
Or was it fulfilling it?
Briefly, let’s leave emotion out of it and examine the balance sheet of this rather . . . incredible move.
On the positive side, I would write the music that would make up the bulk of my life’s work. Had I stayed, in between tours I probably would have produced other Artists. Or continued writing for others. Or both. But I probably would never have written for myself.
I very possibly wouldn’t have gotten into politics. Would Mandela have gotten out of jail? Would the South African government have fallen? Probably. But we took years off both of those things.
I got to be in The Sopranos and Lilyhammer. They probably never would have happened.
I would create two radio formats, a syndicated radio show, two channels of original content for Sirius (which has introduced over a thousand new bands that have nowhere else to go), a record company, and a music-history curriculum. Would any of that exist?
It would change Bruce’s personal life for the better; that’s indisputable.
He would have been on the road for two years. Would he have had the time to hook up with Patti if she hadn’t been on the road with him? Would their three wonderful kids exist if I hadn’t left?
Patti Scialfa would find the love of her life, a mixed bag for her well-deserved career — a more visible shortcut but forever in his shadow (welcome to the club) — and most importantly, again, would those same three amazing kids exist if she hadn’t joined the band to sing my vocal parts?
Nils Lofgren, hired to do my guitar parts, got a very rewarding second career, or third career if you count Crazy Horse, which he well deserved.
So some good things happened.
I lost my juice.
As Chadwick Boseman, playing James Brown, says in the excellent biopic Get on Upafter he fires his band, “Five minutes ago you were the baddest band in the land; now you’re nobody.”
Let that be a lesson, kids. And believe me, I am nothing if not the cautionary tale.
Never, ever leave your power base.
Not until you have secured a new one.
I not only lost most of my friends and the respect of several different industries, I blew any chance of living a life without ever again having to worry about money.
Who knows what could have been created if I’d had the backing of the masters of the universe, who are nothing but thrilled to invest in the ideas of happy, successful Rock stars?
I might even have been financially secure enough to have kids of my own.
Upon leaving the band, I became persona totally non grata. We didn’t publicize any bad blood. Not one negative word from either of us. We just said that I had left to pursue my own career, but I was seen as a traitor by virtually everybody. People felt they had to choose sides. Guess whose side they chose?
I didn’t think I had much in common with Trotsky, but we were both temporarily written out of history.