Bruce Springsteen Inducts Steven Van Zandt Into New Jersey Hall of Fame
Bruce Springsteen did the honors of inducting Little Steven Van Zandt into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last night (May 6) at Asbury Park's Paramount Theatre. While the appearance was previously unannounced, it was widely anticipated given the two Jersey boys' friendship and on-again, off-again collaborations of more than 50 years. You can watch both of their speeches below.
Van Zandt was already inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame as a member of Springsteen's E Street Band, but last night's honor focused on his solo efforts.
"Though born in Boston, Mass., there is no purer distillation of the Jersey ethos than Little Steven Van Zandt. He is his own purest creation," Springsteen said in his induction speech. "Roaring into New Jersey at 7 years old, baptized at 13 in the holy spirit of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, The [Rolling] Stones on Hollywood Palace, Steve’s vocation – rock ‘n’ roll – chose him early."
Springsteen spoke of their first meeting at the Middletown Hullabaloo Club, where their lifelong friendship began. "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."
Watch NJ Hall of Fame Speeches by Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt
Calling Van Zandt the "greatest living white soul performer and writer," Springsteen praised his service in the E Street Band, his work as an actor (best known for the role of New Jersey mobster Silvio on The Sopranos) and, of course, his solo work with his own band, the Disciples of Soul. He also lauded Van Zandt's activism through music, saying "he walks it like he talks it."
"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," Springsteen added, referring to the 1985 coalition Van Zandt assembled to raise awareness of the issue and encourage a cultural boycott.
Springsteen noted that Van Zandt's greatest legacy, however, lies in his advocacy for children's arts education through his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and Teach Rock programs, where "in a time of cutbacks of arts funding, Steve's programs are keeping kids engaged in the arts, and in school."
He concluded by cracking, "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."
Watch Bruce Springsteen Join Steven Van Zandt at the NJ Hall of Fame
Van Zandt accepted the honor saying that New Jersey has been good to him. "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.
"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," he continued, eliciting cheers from the audience. "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?"
The Disciples of Soul then joined Van Zandt for a performance of the title track of his 2017 album Soulfire, before inviting Springsteen back on stage for a rendition of "I Don't Want to Go Home," a song Van Zandt penned as the title track for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' debut album in 1976. He also invited all of the evenings honorees — including Blondie's Debbie Harry, Gloria Gaynor, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro, publisher Steve Forbes, authors Harlan Coben and Anna Quindlen, astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, and John Roberts of Bob's Burgers — to join him on stage and sing along. You can watch that performance above.