Steven Van Zandt is sick. While he recovers, let us pay our respects.
In 2004, music was on the verge of a full-on shift towards pop.
Chris Brown and Rihanna were both set to release their debut's within the year, and thanks to bands like All American Rejects and The Fray, a more melodramatic, pop-infused sound had permeated rock music. Steven Van Zandt, the actor, songwriter, producer, activist, and legendary musician was emboldened by this change. "That was the beginning of the war," Steven Van Zandt told a New York Times reporter in 2004. "How could our culture have gotten to the point where we have a format for everything except rock 'n' roll?"
This awkward Van Zandt interview is everything www.youtube.com
Van Zandt has maintained the same flourish and colorful swagger since he was a teenager. His fashion, much like his career, is that of a cultural chameleon. He has continued to find creative ways to remain part of the conversation both musically and otherwise, often doing whatever it takes to stay relevant, all while dawning his signature silk headscarves and an endless range of tie-dye button-ups, eye shadow, and antique, rustic jewelry. He wanted to host a two-hour radio show dedicated to Garage Rock in 2004, but because of the social climate, syndicators had no interest. As a response, Van Zandt started his own radio show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage," and distributed it himself. He employed a small staff and pushed the show out of his actual garage.
Two years later, the show was playing across 136 stations, with Van Zandt becoming an executive producer of three channels for Sirius satellite radio, including one for garage rock. Then, in 2004, he created and hosted the "Little Steven's International Underground Garage Festival" on Randalls Island, with headliners including Iggy and the Stooges and The Strokes. Van Zandt almost single-handedly revived garage rock in a time when the genre's mainstream popularity had severely waned.
Little Steven on Letterman www.youtube.com
"You're responding emotionally to something," Van Zandt said of rock and roll's importance. "Bits of information come through, so, suddenly, you find yourself learning about Eastern religion [from the Beatles] or about orchestration. Learning about literature from Bob Dylan."
In 2007, Van Zandt started a program called TeachRock through his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. It was the first-ever "School of Rock," with lesson plans such as "The Birth of Rock," "Songs That Defined History," and "The Indians That Rocked The World," offered for free to educators for grades K-12.
Van Zandt has been a musical trailblazer since his youth. He met Bruce Springsteen when they were both teens in New Jersey, and they hit it off right away. "If you had long hair, you were friends. If you had long hair and you were in a band, you were best friends – which was the case with us," he told Rolling Stone. Springsteen was Van Zandt's best man at his wedding, and he has been an integral part of Springsteen's recording processes. During his Born To Run sessions, Van Zandt casually stopped by to help Springsteen with a few songs, and, on the spot, created the funky horn arrangement that defines "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out." To this day Van Zandt is an imperative member of Springsteen's E Street Band, only stepping away a handful of times for even more badass obligations.
Bruce Springsteen - Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (The River Tour, Tempe 1980) www.youtube.com
He took a break from the band in 1984 to create Artists United Against Apartheid, a group created with producer Arthur Baker to protest Apartheid in South Africa. The group curated the compilation album Sun City with the help of 52 other musicians. It was one of the first musical collaborations of major recording stars intended to support a political cause. The project raised over half a million dollars.
He then took another break from music in 1999. David Chase, who was beginning to cast The Sopranos, had seen Van Zandt induct The Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Chase thought Van Zandt's speech was hilarious and that he was a natural-born actor. Despite his lack of acting experience, Chase called him up and asked him to play Tony Soprano. "HBO said no," Van Zandt said. "They were like, are you nuts?" So instead, Chase cast him as Tony's right-hand man Silvio Dante. Van Zandt dominated the role and was able to star alongside his wife, Maureen Van Zandt, who occasionally played Dante's wife, Gabriella. From there, Van Zandt began an unexpected career in acting. While dabbling in a few other projects, Van Zandt eventually went on to co-write, produce and star in Lilyhammer, Netflix's first-ever original series. "On my first promotional tour, I had to explain to people what Netflix was," Van Zandt said of the show. "I was like, 'Well it's kinda like Blockbuster but they're makin' their own stuff now."
The Sopranos - Silvio Calls Out Tony www.youtube.com
Whenever there's a cultural shift, Van Zandt is at the forefront. In every sense, he is an embodiment of rock and roll. He was married to his wife by Little Richard while Percy Sledge sang "When a Man Loves a Woman;" he is best friends with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr; he manages his own record label and created the first two original music channels for Sirius XM radio.
When a cultural figure has loomed so large for so long, it's especially heartbreaking to see him begin to succumb to the consequences that come with having such a packed schedule for so long. Earlier today, Van Zandt was forced to cancel a majority of his current tour due to sinusitis, and he was absolutely crushed by it, to say the least. The 68-year-old has never canceled shows before, and for someone so passionate about music, it's a heartbreaking thing to see. This journalist frankly hopes Van Zandt is being cared for by God himself, lying on a cloud, as Iggy and The Stooges reunite and play unreleased B-sides from their Fun House days. Van Zandt is a pioneer and a hero. Get well soon, Little Steven, rock and roll needs you.
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The Trump-Twitter Industrial Complex continues to fester and mutate.
This week, President Donald J. Trump tweeted a false statement about mail-in ballots.
He wrote that secretaries of state were sending mail-in ballots to every person, when actually states are only sending out ballot applications. For the first time, Twitter jumped in to fact-check Trump's statement, adding a link to a webpage full of information about mail-in ballots.
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Was the Jimmy Fallon Blackface Skit Intentionally Released as a Distraction from the Murder of George Floyd?
Racist police violence is a modern epidemic. So why are we talking about an SNL skit from 2000?
At this point, celebrity apologies are incredibly common. In 2020, it seems like some formerly beloved actor or TV personality is being put through the wringer of public opinion a few times a week.
Most recently, Twitter canceled Jimmy Fallon after an unquestionably racist skit from the 2000 season of SNL resurfaced online. The skit features Fallon impersonating Chris Rock, complete with black face and an offensive imitation of Rock's speech patterns.
Jimmy Fallon Blackface youtu.be
This quickly led to the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty trending on Twitter. While fans seemed split on whether Fallon should be forgiven for the 20-year-old misstep, most everyone agreed that Fallon should apologize regardless. This morning, he did just that in the form of a tweet.
As far as celebrity apologies go, Fallon's is a pretty good one. He doesn't try to sidestep the blame, he doesn't bring up the fact that there were undoubtedly many, many other individuals involved in the creation of the skit, and he doesn't even mention the fact that in 2000, many people still thought it was possible for black face to be done in the spirit of fun, because the deeply racist nature of the act was largely ignored in mainstream (white) media. Of course, we know better now, and it's easy to see that a white person doing an exaggerated imitation of a black person—darkened skin included—can only be a racist, belittling act with a long, dark history of racial oppression. With that in mind, Fallon's only option was to apologize without caveat or reservation. Indeed, it's refreshing to see a celebrity apology that doesn't try to justify or minimize their own misstep. While we can all agree Fallon made a terrible, racist choice 20 years ago, we have to believe that, like all of us, he's grown since then. If cancel culture is to have any efficacy in making the world a better place, it has to leave room for forgiveness and growth. Hopefully, the whole affair will leave Fallon (and those who witnessed it) more racially sensitive.
All of that being said, one has to ask why the clip was brought up now, given that it's been circulated around the Internet before, and the specific YouTube clip that was shared was posted on the site over a year ago. It's also worth noting that the version of the clip that was going around Twitter has a text overlay that reads: "NBC FIRED MEGAN KELLY FOR MENTIONING BLACKFACE. JIMMY FALLON PERFORMED ON NBC IN BLACKFACE."
Megan Kelly, an outspoken conservative, was indeed fired from her job at NBC because she defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, saying on her talk show, "Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween," she said. "When I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up as a character." While Fallon's instance of racial insensitivity was in 2000, Kelly defended blackface in 2019, long after society at large had begun to acknowledge the hurt that blackface and other forms of racial impersonation could cause. This fundamental difference aside, Kelly also has a long history of racial insensitivity that Fallon does not, even once saying, "What is the evidence that what happened to Eric Garner and what happened to Michael Brown has anything to do with race?" in a conversation about the epidemic of racist police officers in America.
Given the text overlay, it's pretty clear that whoever began the #jimmyfallonisoverparty was not necessarily seeking justice for the black community, but was instead trying to imply hypocrisy in the cancellation of Megan Kelly, given that Fallon (who has been outspoken about the flaws of the Trump administration and political pundits like Kelly) is still on the air. One even has to wonder if, given that it's obvious that the #jimmyfallonisoverparty trend was begun by a conservative individual or group, if the trend was meant to be a distraction from the widespread racist police violence that has been emphasized in recent weeks by incidents like the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer on Monday. It seems oddly coincidental that the clip of Fallon should flood the Internet with controversy the day after Floyd's murder, unfortunately serving to help steer conversation away from Floyd's unjust death.
Indeed, under the unquestionably racist Donald Trump administration, more and more black people are being harassed, attacked, and murdered at the hands of racist white civilians and police officers. But Trump and his supporters don't want you to focus on that–so much so that it doesn't feel impossible that the Fallon skit was intentionally weaponized as a distraction.
In the last few weeks alone we learned that Ahmaud Arbery was murdered senselessly by a white man while simply out for a jog, and we all witnessed the harassment of Christian Cooper, a black man who was threatened by a white woman in Central Park who didn't want to put her dog on a leash. It's clear that racism in America cannot be reduced to insensitive skits from 20 years ago but is instead a current and deadly problem. What Jimmy Fallon did in 2000 was racist, yes; but don't let that distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in 2020, don't let celebrity apologies make you take your eyes of our lawmakers, who aren't doing enough to protect people of color in this country. Don't let the latest "#_____isoverparty" trend distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in our laws, culture, and criminal justice system.
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