Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Great Little Steven

I saw this excerpt posted by Sal Nunziato, over at his Burning Wood blog. I couldn't let the almost-always perfect words of Little Steven Van Zandt go by.

And, yes, as a dyed-in-the-wool Springsteen fan, I probably raise Van Zandt and the other members of the E-Street Band a little higher than they need to. (I don't care at all if Max Weinberg leaves Conan O'Brien to become The Tonight Show bandleader, for instance.) That being said, Van Zandt has such a clear and pure vision of what Rock and Roll should be. As in this speech from the South By Southwest Festival. The man understands the history and importance of Rock, and he's one of the more eloquent speakers on the subject I've ever heard.

Excerpt from Steve Van Zandt's induction speech for the Hollies at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame March 15, 2010 New York City

You know, a lot of us in this room have been doing what we do a long time. We can't help it, I guess, if we take it all at least a little bit for granted. Sometimes some of us don't even show up. And we can't help but feel a little disappointed now that the business is pretty much artistically, financially, and spiritually bankrupt. With a few exceptions. And I say a few exceptions so you can pretend you're one of them.

It's temporary probably, a cycle type thing we hope. There's lots of great new bands out there and hopefully we can find a way to create an infrastructure to support them. But we can't help be a little jaded. A little cynical about what's going on, right?

So it's good once a year that we stop for a minute.

And think about what we do. And this is it.

This is our best night, right?

The Grammys, nice people, good show, a lot of fun but, with all due respect, it's mostly bullshit.

The American Music Awards, nice people, a lot of fun, mostly bullshit.

But this Hall Of Fame thing really has just a little bit of bullshit. On the bullshit scale, this is pretty good. As frustrating as it can be. This is as good as it's gonna get. We should respect it and enjoy it.

Because this night makes us think about what we do. And when you rise ABOVE the bullshit for a minute, you realize something that day to day we don't think about often enough. And that is this-

This thing we do, it's beautiful.

Making music, creating art, inspiring people...motivating people... making people feel good...helping them understand a little bit about life, helping them get through the day...feel a little less confused...a little less alone. What Andrew Loog Oldham called the Industry of Human Happiness. It is truly a divine craft that we work our hands in.

Of course we didn't have any of these big ideas when we started. Frankly most of us were just trying to get laid. Maybe get a little famous. Maybe get a little rich. But mostly it was the pussy. And of course trying to avoid having to work for a living. Something really went wrong with that one! I don't want to name any names.

We are a strange combination of troubadours, court jesters, rabble rousers, and magicians, catching and communicating the mystical mystery of music. This would be a wonderful job in any era. But those of us who have lived in the time of what will surely be remembered as a Renaissance Period are truly blessed. I sincerely believe the 20-year period from 1951 to 1971 will be studied and analyzed for hundreds of years to come.

It may sound crazy but I actually believe history will be divided into the pre-60's, and post-60's. Because the '60's was the birth of consciousness. Everything changed. And not all for the better. We're still struggling with the fragmentation that inevitably comes with cultural changes THAT profound. Civil Rights, The Sexual Revolution, Women's Rights, Gay Rights, Questioning One's Government, the Explosion of the Teenage Marketplace, The Anti-War Movement, Computer Science, the introduction of Eastern Religion and thought to the West, the concept of a Global Community, the radical realization that our Constitution wasn't finished, and a new mass media to tell us all about it.

Which included a terrific little magazine called Rolling Stone by the way.

These massive cultural changes both liberated and divided us. And our culture is still searching, still hoping to regain some common ground.

But for a moment our generation was very much as one.

And it was Rock and Roll that provided our common ground, our means of communication, our education, our means of venting our frustrations, our strength against the fear of growing up. It gave us hope and faith and somehow instilled in us a belief that there would be a future. It replaced everything our parents, our schools, and our society had taught us, and it would become our common religion.

The Disciples and Missionaries of this new religion would, for my age group, first come from England. We called it the British Invasion of 1964/'65. Ironically, as it would turn out, they would introduce us young Americans to what would eventually be recognized as a new art form, that much to our surprise, was born right here in our own country.

An art form born to serve the needs of a new species of humanity called the Teenager. Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan would add the eloquence and the specifics, but we didn't need anything more than Little Richard. He opened his mouth and out came liberation.

These unlikely missionaries from England would change society's perception, and history's evaluation, of the Rock and Rollers of the 1950's completely. Their status would change from temporary teenage circus freaks passing through town as an amusing diversion helping kids get through those awkward years from adolescence to adulthood, to Pioneers of that New Art Form. Pioneers that were in fact instinctive creative geniuses whose work will be celebrated forever.

I never would have heard of Little Richard or Bo Diddley or Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis or Carl Perkins or Muddy Waters if it weren't for the British Invasion. Forget about Arthur Alexander or Larry Williams. No chance.

It was the English bands that made us aware of the Pioneers' greatness by their own greatness. They introduced us not just to their own extraordinary music, and not just to the global community of new ideas, but to the very idea of a band.

A band.

The singular profound revelation of my life.

The critically important notion that a group of individuals could be stronger together than apart, complementing and completing each other, communicating friendship, brother and sisterhood, and ultimately Community itself.

Where would we be without that?

It is therefore a joy and pleasure to celebrate these artists, those that came before them, and those that have come since, and thank them in this setting once a year.

So here we are thanking the Beatles, the Dave Clark 5, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Herman's Hermits, the Searchers, the Zombies, the Who, Manfred Mann, the Spencer Davis Group, Procul Harum, and the band we celebrate and honor tonight, we're here to thank the Hollies.

Excellent speech, and excellent points. More than worth reading and considering

...But I still think there's more than a bit of bullshit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, too. The point's been made elsewhere that pop groups (which are certainly part of the rock and roll tapestry, don't get me wrong.) are in the HOF, but more "pure" rock acts Kiss (Love or hate 'em, they are an important band, historically.) or, more horrifying to me, personally, Rush (Come on...30 years, lineup virtually unchanged, they're still selling out arenas and making great records that do sell.) are not. There IS an agenda at the HOF against certain acts that are not loved by the selection comittee, but who's accomplishments obviously make the case for inclusion.

Anyway. Fantastic speech, and I wanted to share. Much thanks, again to Sal over at Burning Wood for pointing this out.

1 comment:

  1. Yes the HOF is more than a bit of bullshit. But, considering the rate of crap the recording industry has offered lately, eventually KISS and Rush will get may take awhile. But, it will happen.