Book Reviews

Book Review: Unrequited Infatuations by Steve Van Zandt – The Great White Hype

For anyone who is new to me, I’m a *HUGE* fan of Bruce Springsteen. His Born To Run album was the first one I ever plunked my own money down for and brought home. I consider it a perfect album. His music since that day has been the soundtrack to my life. I’ve devoured just about everything written about him, from unauthorized biographies to his own autobiography, Bruce.

I was very interested in Steve Van Zandt’s memoirs, titled Unrequited Infatuations when it came out. Not only has Miami Steve spent a good portion of his life in the shadow of someone I idolize, but he’s also done a lot of good in his own right. Add to that his acting stints on The Sopranos and Lillyhammer, and I thought this had to be a must-read for me.

The beginning of the book is great with his early years growing up in New Jersey. He talks about his family and his humble beginnings. The early years with Springsteen are here and he talks about the struggles they went through trying to break into the music industry. I’d heard some stories when he joined Springsteen on the podcast he hosts on E Street Nation on SiriusXM. In Unrequited Infatuations, Miami Steve builds on those stories.

It’s once Miami Steve decided to strike out on his own and leave the E Street Band that the book takes a different turn. He’s ready to take credit for everything that happened during that time. I can’t exactly say he has an ax to grind, but it seems like he’s bitter about being left in the shadows so many times. When he laments leaving the band just before Springsteen became a superstar, he has regrets over what that would have meant for him. At the same time, he takes credit for the fact that Springsteen eventually married Patti Scialfa and had three kids with her. If Miami Steve hadn’t left the band when he did, Springsteen never would have brought her in to fill in on the backing vocals that Miami Steve used to provide and they never would have gotten married or had kids in his eyes. He talks about the business side of it all and grouses that some of the publishing royalties could have been distributed differently maybe then he could have afforded to have kids too. This left me scratching my head; I mean, other members of the E Street Band have families. Why is it only Steve being unable to afford it?

I was eager to hear about Van Zandt’s involvement in the Sun City project. I worked for a freight company at that time that had a big presence in South Africa and it made me uncomfortable. Reading about how Steve had to be smuggled into the country and to meetings with various people while he was trying to do what he could to bring the situation more publicity is very interesting. However, eventually he goes a bit over the top and pretty much takes credit for Apartheid being dismantled. I’m all for giving him credit for bringing the situation to light to white, middle-class America, but there were a lot of people fighting this long before him. I mean, Nelson Mandela was in prison because of his fight against Apartheid and that alone brought a lot of international attention to the situation long before Van Zandt wrote a song.

Things like this make me doubt some of his claims. Some of his claims about The Sopranos seem to be a stretch, but I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure that he turned down the role of Tony Soprano and suggested James Gandolfini. Van Zandt hadn’t acted before, but the show’s producer liked him and apparently wrote the part of Silvio Dante for him. Mob life agreed with him because he later helped write and develop the show Lillyhammer for Netflix, which was one of the first successful “international shows.” He takes credit for that too, and it may be deserved.

There are a lot of times in Unrequited Infatuations that he seems to feel he should have been more successful or gotten even more credit. He’d go into extensive descriptions of crafting an album of either solo work or with another band, and end the whole sequence with “No one heard it.” It’s more bitterness at the music industry and how they operate than anything else, but it sounds a lot like whining that he never got the credit he thinks he deserved. He talks a lot about working with artists who time had passed by; the former Motown talents that he tried to help resurrect their careers and never took off. He casually throws songs at people when they ask him for one, then either complains that he didn’t get credit for it or that it should have done better “if only someone heard it.” I think some of this might be an attempt at humor or sarcasm, but it is hard to tell if it’s that or just grousing.

I did enjoy reading Unrequited Infatuations despite the drawbacks. There’s no doubt Steve Van Zandt has led an interesting life. With an autobiography, I guess he’s going to toot his own horn a lot. It just contrasts greatly with Springsteen’s own autobiography where he was quite self-deprecating about himself as a person and his talent. There are many things he’s had a hand in that I wasn’t aware of, such as developing a curriculum to keep music in schools. I think it’s worth reading, but keep a critical eye while you do so.

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