Monday, June 17, 2024

Little Steven van Zandt Praises Knockout HBO Doc About His Extraordinary Life: “More coherent than the way I lived it”


EXCLUSIVE Fans of Little Steven van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes got a real treat Saturday night at the Tribeca Film Festival. We got to see the first screening ever of “Stevie van Zandt: Disciple,” a nearly three hour documentary which will debut on HBO June 22nd.

We weren’t the only ones to see “Disciple” for the first time. It was also the first time for Little Steven to sit in an audience and watch Bill Teck’s sensational film. On stage afterwards, the self-effacing van Zandt said of the film’s take on his wild life, “It was pretty coherent, more coherent than the way I lived it!” (He also joked, “I wanted to see you tell how I lived my life.”)

Despite its length, “Disciple” moves fast and tells the comprehensive life arc of Bruce Springsteen’s self described consigliere, the leader of the E Street Band famous for his gypsy wardrobe and searing guitar, his run as Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos,” as a political activist, educator, and rock philosopher.

The audience was pretty starry down at the Tribeca Fest and later at Drew Nieporent‘s still delicious Tribeca Grill, with the great Jackson Browne, Ruben Blades, Luba Mason, Michael des Barres, former Senator Bill Bradley, rock legends Darlene Love, Eddie Brigati of the Rascals (with wife Susan), and Gary US Bonds, plus Springsteen manager Jon Landau, Soprano Vinny Pastore, record producer Russ Titelman, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos, newsman Brian Williams, director Thom Zimny, and Steve’s popular, talented, beautiful wife, Maureen van Zandt.

If you’re a fan — and who isn’t? — “Disciple” is a well crafted gift that tells van Zandt’s story as it ebbs and flows with Springsteen’s, how the rocker became part of the “Sopranos” cast and later star of his own Netflix series, “Lillyhammer.” There’s also the fabled saga of how van Zandt became socially aware on many subjects, particularly how he led the way to get musicians not to play Sun City in South Africa until apartheid was toppled. Nelson Mandela makes an appearance.

Director Teck managed to get his hands on lost archival film never shown before including unseen footage of Springsteen, “Southside” Johnny Lyon, and Little Steven playing together years ago. (Apparently there’s a whole concert of this stuff in Bruce’s archives.) What Teck captures through the film is van Zandt’s unending passion for rock and roll and R&B, whether in performance or just in conversation starting from his earliest days.

There are plenty of interviews conducted over the last few years including Springsteen, Paul McCartney, director Chris Columbus, “Sopranos” creator David Chase, musician Jesse Malin, Bono, rocker Palmyra Delran, most of last night’s guests, van Zandt’s brother and sister, and several other characters from van Zandt’s world. We even get to meet his first manager, a lovely now-94 year old named Big Mama McEvilly.

All these famous people are great, but it’s because van Zandt — who is such a charming and endearing storyteller — that we care about “Disciple.” Just as much a genuine product of New Jersey as Springsteen, van Zandt — who is Italian despite the last name — tells it like it is. He just narrowly avoids saying fuhgedaboutit. But you know he’s thinking it. He’s actually an erudite artist as well as a gifted musician. He also has incredible amount of optimism. Even through dark times, he managed to pull himself up by the boot straps. We’re certainly glad he did.

PS Van Zandt and Landau head back to Europe today, Sunday, to join up with the Springsteen tour when it resumes this week in Madrid.

 Circle the whole night of June 22nd for a not to be missed event.

Here’s a bit of the Q&A that followed the screening.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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