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‘Little Steven’ Van Zandt on his quarantine radio show, memories of Watertown, and the future of live music

Steven Van Zandt performed in concert with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band during their "The River Tour 2016" at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Steven Van Zandt performed in concert with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band during their "The River Tour 2016" at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.Owen Sweeney

Coronavirus has destroyed the live music scene, and E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt predicts shows won’t go on until next summer — at the soonest.

“I don’t think you’ll see an audience until we see a vaccine," he said. "I’m hoping we can get back to semi-normal, somewhere in the summer of ’21. I don’t know, that might be optimistic.”

In the meantime, Van Zandt, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and “Sopranos” alum, is “trying to keep people entertained, educated, and inspired” with a special quarantine edition of his long-running radio show, and a rock-based curriculum for kids learning from home.

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The special run of “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” radio show called “The Qoolest Quarantine Qollection,” airs Sunday nights on a number of Boston stations and online. It launched in early April and shows include “iconic cohosts and classic interviews.” Upcoming: Brian Wilson on May 3, Ray Davies May 10, and Ringo Starr May 17.

Massachusetts native Steven Van Zandt (right) of the E Street Band performed with Bruce Springsteen after the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Massachusetts native Steven Van Zandt (right) of the E Street Band performed with Bruce Springsteen after the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.REUTERS

You can look up your local affiliate, or listen at www.undergroundgarage.com; recent shows post Mondays.

Online archives house some 1,000 past shows, including a recent show dedicated to Lowell’s Jack Kerouac featuring music from Boston’s J. Geils Band.

For the at-home student, Little Stevie’s got TeachRock.org, free distance learning curriculum with a rock hook. Download lessons like “The Evolution of Sound Recording” or “The Historical Roots of Hip Hop."

A long-time political activist, the colorful Bruce Springsteen sideman has never shied away from sharing his political opinions. In quarantine, he’s writing essays, pondering politics and a podcast, and musing on the zen of nothingness.

Q. On “The Qoolest Quarantine Qollection,” you’ll feature your interview with Peter Wolf, who’s local to Boston.

A. He’s one of the greatest guys to talk to. We could do a 10-part series with him alone. Peter’s been one of my best friends for I don’t know how long. He’s got an endless amount of incredible stories.

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Q. I think he roomed with David Lynch in Boston; he’s got crazy stories.

A. Yeah, Muddy Waters stayed in his house. [Laughs.] I don’t know where to begin with him.

Q. So when do you think we’ll see live concerts again?

A. I don’t think anything’s going to happen until everyone can be tested. I don’t think anyone goes back to work; I don’t think anybody gets together with anybody until there are tests.

Then, if some way can be figured out to do sports or concerts remotely, that will be the next phase: sports and concerts with no audiences.

But I don’t think you’ll see an audience until we see a vaccine. Until then, man, we gotta learn to live online. What’s bothering me is these nonsense solutions coming out of Congress. Just embarrassingly stupid. A $1,200 single payment? Are you kidding me, or what? It’s actually sick.

Q. I saw your tweets about payment plans and how you think payments should be postponed.

A. All payments — bills, loans, rents — that has to stop. Everyone should be getting $2,000 per person per month. That will solve the problem, period.

Q. You’ve got a TeachRock distance learning curriculum.

A. Yeah, it’s an open education resource — it’s free; open for anybody. Go to teachrock.org; we have almost 200 lessons. It’s all based on music. We have Billie Eilish’s lesson; we have a math lesson with the Beatles. History, English, social studies, women’s studies — we have a lesson for almost everything.

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Q. You grew up in Watertown. What are your memories?

A. I left around 7 years old. I remember my grandfather taking me to the Italian section of town. In the ’50s they still had pushcarts; it looked like “Godfather II.” It was the end of that era. And lots of snow. Maybe because I was smaller it looked like more, but I remember building igloos and huge snow houses — 6, 8, 10 feet of snow, it seemed like.

Q. Would you do an online streaming concert?

A. I don’t know; I’m not a solo guy that way. I got a 15-piece band (The Disciples of Soul.) We’ll have to start getting into that at some point, maybe. I might find something else to do, a podcast maybe.

Q. Do you think music will ever be back to the way it was?

A. Not for quite a while. Without a vaccine, I don’t see it. You can’t test for antibodies at the gate. If they make a 5-second test, maybe they could. [Laughs.] That would be cool, right? Take a blood test at the gate. The whole world is science fiction. We might as well think positively. We’re living in a strange, strange time.

Interview was edited and condensed.



Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twiiter @laurendaley1.