Sunday, December 11, 2005


Stake my future on a hell of a past
Looks like tomorrow is coming on fast
Ain't complaining 'bout what I got
Seen better times but who has not?

Silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

With season five's final episode of The Sopranos airing here this weekend, I thought it might be timely to check in on Tony's loyal and trusted lieutenant Silvio Dante aka Steven Van Zandt of legendary fame as guitarist in Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band.

Van Zandt is an interesting cat whose sincere, life long rock 'n roll attitude towards music, community, loyalty and brotherhood, comes though in every aspect of his personality and style. Van Zandt's is a quirky "trip hip" gypsy style that suits him and is uniquely his own.

Honest as the next jade rolling that stone
When I come knocking don't throw me no bone
I'm an old boll weevil looking for a home
If you don't like it you can leave me alone

Beyond Springsteen and The Sopranos, Little Steven has been busy gaining new fans around the world with his own radio show out of New York City called Little Steven's Underground Garage. Van Zandt created the show three years ago and his playlist is dictated simply by what he chooses to play. He features guests such as Brian Wilson, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr, Donovan and others, to help present the music on his programs, which aim to define the essence of rock 'n roll cool.

Heard by over two million listeners at over 143 radio stations around the world, Little Steven's Underground Garage plays to the alienation experienced by many in our modern day culture who are desperately looking for something real in music beyond traditional nostalgia.

It's a laudable enterprise and increasingly successful. I'm somewhat of two minds about it myself however, as firstly, I love the whole idea of casting a fresh spotlight on great pioneer rock 'n roll artists such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry while blending those greats into the mix along with newer artists and great & deserving bands who deliver real music made by real musicians. On the other hand, I find it a bit difficult to accept the regrettable notion of Van Zandt's [expressed in a recent interview] that in his opinion, it was the master, Bob Dylan, who somehow spoiled the party for rock 'n roll and it’s disciples.

Bob Dylan rocks harder than most in his shows these days with an amazing band that absolutely blows the doors off and keeps the joint jumpin' from the very first notes. I've been to several shows in recent years and believe me, you will not get a bigger bang for your rock music buck anywhere on the planet than you will at a Bob Dylan show. Dylan and his band kick serious butt "live" so as Tony Soprano's loyal lieutenant Silvio Dante might say..."hey, forget about it, Stevie …Springsteen's ok, but Dylan is the real Boss…that cat only answers to the “Chief Commander” …of this world and the one you can't see."

Interestingly, Van Zandt's young fans want to know about the past and older fans also want to find new music. The younger ones want to hear songs by groups like The Kinks, The Animals and The Hollies! This confirms a current trend, but, I believe it speaks also to a much deeper, more pervasive sense of loss which young people are aware of in realizing what it is they're really missing in today's debased, hugely watered down syndicated music culture. Corporate music product is designed to sell sex and in no way is capable of producing the hopefulness that genuine music culture ought to foment and always does where authentic culture is created and experienced.

Steven Van Zandt's slices of authentic traditional music culture are great and yet somewhat cynically offered as the bigger picture is obviously controlled and promoted by a completely amoral corporate culture with no deeper sense of responsibility to listeners than to the enticements of it's corporate bottom line concerns. Its product in this particular case is nostalgia and communal inclusiveness, which again, may beat narrow format radio programming hands-down, but it's still not truly authentic, bottom-up culture that is emerging. It’s just more of the same marketing driven programming we’ve known for years, meant to satisfy the niches of boomers and babies alike.

Today's monolithic, corporate music product is hopelessly cynical, virulently nihilistic and aimed at perpetual cross-platform merchandising of its products to a debased and superficial culture. A culture hopelessly adrift in it’s own relativism and mired in entropy.

The past is great to reflect upon, especially from an historical rock music perspective, but still, it's little wonder kids are killing other kids and offing themselves at an ever more alarming rate this past few years. The young have no honest music to raise their spirits up higher like we did when our music was new and fresh and springing up from authentic cultural roots and true artistic inspiration.

All they get today is narcissistic ear candy laced with poison.

I can snap my fingers and require the rain
From a clear blue sky and turn it off again
I can stroke your body and relieve your pain
And charm the whistle off an evening train

I give what I got until I got no more
I take what I get until I even the score
You know I love you and furthermore
When it's time to go you got an open door

I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain
You give something up for everything you gain
Since every pleasure's got an edge of pain
Pay for your ticket and don't complain

Little Steven Van Zandt is doing something he has a true passion for in attempting to revive the beat of a heart grown cold and from where I view his gig, I believe it's a cool enough trip. In the absence of any truly inventive and creative alternatives from the corporate music world, LSUG represents a diversion which some may receive as a breath of fresh air. It's also got a huge fun factor going for it, which is a much needed element in music again, whatever the vintage. But Bob Dylan matured the art form. He came to praise rock, not to bury it. So, Little Steven Van Zandt's opinions on Bob Dylan and rock ‘n roll itself notwithstanding, I say, with a few reservations on submitting your soul entirely to the grayer forces of the underground garage, that hey...ya gotta dig those grooves baby.

That's rock 'n roll.

Forget about it, Silvio...I gotta go.

One of these days and it won't be long
Going down in the valley and sing my song
I will sing it loud and sing it strong
Let the echo decide if I was right or wrong

Silvio, Silver and gold
Won't buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio, I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

"Silvio" written by Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter
From the Columbia album "Down In The Groove"
Copyright © 1988 Special Rider Music and Ice Nine Music

Talking Points: Believe it or not, I had this piece written when I discovered to my amazement that my friend and site link partner Right Wing Bob had also written a piece on the same Van Zandt interview statements I've alluded to in this post. It shouldn't surprise me as nothing passes RWB's keen and authoritative scrutiny when it comes to all cultural critiques regarding Bob Dylan and his music.

But it is a bit spooky to discover that each of us was writing on the same subject essentially at the same time unbeknownst to the other.

Read Right Wing Bob's post on Van Zandt as I believe it will inform more clearly in terms of argument where SVZ is off base in his views.

I highly recommend a visit to Little Steven's Underground Garage though 'cause hey...I'm a musician...I just really dig that whole trip.

I simply can't help gettin' down in the groove!

Frank Trainor


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