Montclair Literary Festival: Stevie Van Zandt on disappointment
By TALIA WIENER
“There’s gonna be disappointment in your life, there’s gonna be some frustration in your life, no matter who you are,” Stevie Van Zandt said. “And when that happens, when you experience that frustration or that disappointment, what do you do then?”
On Sunday, E Street Band member, “Sopranos” actor and anti-apartheid activist Van Zandt posed that question to the audience as he joined Budd Mishkin, broadcast journalist for 1010 WINS radio, to talk about his memoir, “Unrequited Infatuations.” The event, held at First Congregational Church, headlined Succeed2gether's Montclair Literary Festival 2021.
The first half of the memoir follows a kid from New Jersey as he “makes good,” Van Zandt told a crowd of about 350 gathered in the church Sunday evening. The second half is where “things start to get more interesting.”
“It starts to become a search for identity, a search for purpose, the search for justification of one’s existence, a search for spiritual enlightenment,” he said.
For Van Zandt, who said he doesn’t tend to dwell in the past, the book offered an opportunity to go back and revisit the many important moments and events in his life, including the painful ones.
From playing in bars along the Jersey Shore as a teenager to being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, from working construction on Interstate 287 in the early 1970s to founding Artists United Against Apartheid in 1985 and creating a collaborative with over 50 musicians to bring attention to injustice in South Africa, Van Zandt said many of the twists and turns in his life felt like destiny.
“I didn’t really plan much of my life,” he said, because “the things I plan never happen.”
But the book not only gave him a chance to reexamine his life, it gave him space to look back at his work and what it represents, he said.
“You hope other people get a chance to hear it, you hope you can make a living from it,” he said. “But it doesn’t really matter as far as value. … It sounds like a cliche, but the art really is its own reward.”
There were points when Van Zandt felt his music career was over and he would never be successful again, he said. But the accomplishments he feels most proud of have all happened since — including writing, directing and producing “The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream” on Broadway in 2013 and producing Darlene Love’s album, “Introducing Darlene Love,” in 2015.
Looking back on his life and the inflection points in his career, Van Zandt said he hopes readers are able to connect with his stories of overcoming disappointment and frustration. He said he wants “Unrequited Infatuations” to be “more than just a music book for music people.”
“In the end you wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “You found a way to move forward somehow and when you reexamine that, you say, ‘Well, I know I did the best I could,’ and you realize your potential.”
Van Zandt’s body of work does what really great art does, Mishkin said at the end of the event.
“It elates us during happy times,” he said. “And I speak from personal experience here, [it] has sustained us during hard times.”
The event was co-sponsored by The Coccia Institute for the Italian Experience in America, based at Montclair State University.