Steven Van Zandt and his wife Maureen were honored tonight for their support of the music education program Rockit! at its inaugural gala dinner at the Buona Sera Palazzo Banquet Hall in Ocean Township. And Steven took the opportunity to make a funny and passionate speech about his love for rock ‘n’ roll, and his many different efforts to keep the flame burning.
In the speech, he maintained that he’s not doing it because he’s a nice guy. He’s just being selfish, he said. It all just comes down to the fact that “I want rock ‘n’ roll to live forever,” he said.
Rockit! offers classes and performing opportunities at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, where the Van Zandts are on the board of trustees. “The Voice” alumna Jacquie Lee received training through Rockit!, as have musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Keith Urban and Steve Vai. For information, visit rockitlive.org.
Here is Van Zandt’s speech, with only minor editing (mostly, just taking out the phrase “you know”). Below it, you can watch it on an embedded YouTube video. And below that are videos of him performing “I Don’t Want to Go Home” and “Forever” at the event. Thanks to Mitch Slater for posting!
So, I turn on the radio one day in the ’90s, and I’m like, “What happened?” It just seemed like a few days earlier, I could turn the radio on and hear great rock ‘n’ roll. It was over. And I’m like, “Wait a minute. This isn’t right.” I mean, its not like we got replaced by something better. I’m not hearing anything better. Quite the contrary, in fact. So, I really felt a little bit guilty, for the next generation and all generations to come. Why do we get to have all the fun? What do they got? Hip-hop, techno — whatever the hell it is, it’s not rock ‘n’ roll. And yes, I’m a little bit prejudiced. Rock ‘n’ roll happens to be my religion, okay?
So I felt there was an obligation, of our generation. I said, “What are we doing? We’re responsible for what we leave future generations.” So I started a radio show called Little Steven’s Underground Garage. And nobody wanted it. I said, “I’m gonna play all 60 years of rock ‘n’ roll in one place. And everything that influenced rock ‘n’ roll. I’m gonna play the great soul music. I’m gonna play great blues. And they would say, “What, are you crazy? Nobody wants this.” It took a year to get it on the radio. And slowly, we fought our way, and now it’s 14 years, and we’re on over 100 stations in America, and 100 countries around the world.
But I gotta tell you, we do a lot of things supporting a lot of things having to do with music, and it seems like, sometimes people mistake it for thinking I’m like a nice guy. I’m not a nice guy. I do this for selfish reasons. I want rock ‘n’ roll to live forever. That’s what I want. I want to turn the radio on, I want to hear rock ‘n’ roll.
So, okay, the radio show is one thing … and then, I think it was (DJ) Richie Russo turned Maureen on to Rockit!, and then I came down. And I just can’t tell you how exciting it is, for people of our generation, to see young kids enthusiastically embracing rock ‘n’ roll, which, at this point, it’s like being a blacksmith, or a viking. There’s not a lot of reward. It was tough for us, but now it’s almost impossible. That’s the truth. And that’s the other reason why, on the radio show, I’m so happy to play new bands making rock ‘n’ roll, because there’s no logical reason to do it. Yes, it was hard for us, but at the end of the day, you could still make a living. And better than that. You can get rich. You can get famous. You can get the girls. All the good stuff. That’s not so much, anymore. Maybe the girls, but not the money. Sorry, honey.
I mean, in other words, anybody who’s doing it now is doing it for only one reason: passion. Passion. That’s it. There’s no other reason to do it now. There’s not a business anymore, really. It’s not a logical business. So, you’re doing it out of passion, which makes us want to support it even more, on the radio show or here at Rockit!, or whatever we’re doing. So I just wanted to clear that up, in case somebody thinks I’m turning into a nice guy. I’m not.